Saturday, November 19, 2016

REALLY? One disagreement, and we throw away all that we share?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

As Christians, and especially Baptist Christians, we should be able to disagree and then go on to work together, in the many areas where we agree, to carry the grace of Christ to a hurting world. There is too much need in the world for us to keep pushing each other out of "the circle" of shared ministry.

Grace. We have a hard time with grace. Sometimes we have a hard time accepting it. But we have an even harder time giving it - sometimes we don't even try.


Tuesday, at our annual TBC Breakfast at the BGCT, I called BGCT leadership to account for what I consider a violation of local church autonomy. (See
Local church autonomy, inclusion, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.)

For almost six years as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, I had never publicly criticized BGCT leadership until now. Even in staking out this position on Tuesday, I made clear that BGCT leaders are my friends and are friends of TBC.


Even in taking issue with them on this one matter, I made clear that TBC - and I - continue to celebrate the many wonderful things that BGCT ministries and institutions are doing for the Lord. This one area of disagreement doesn't diminish my support of all the good that the BGCT is doing.


For 5-1/2 years in the TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup e-newsletter, I have regularly highlighted and celebrated the work of the Christian Life Commission in advocating for ethics and justice, and feeding people worldwide through its Hunger Offering; Texas Baptist schools and their students; the remarkable ministry of Texas Baptist Men and Texas Baptist Disaster Relief and Recovery; the mission ministries led by Texas Woman's Missionary Union; the stories of people's lives changed by Buckner International; numerous church starts that have brought Christ into so many lives; the support provided our churches by the Connections and Interim Ministry areas, and I could go on.


And I won't stop doing that just because I disagree with the BGCT on this one matter.


Texas Baptists Committed has an almost 30-year history of supporting the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which has included preventing it from being taken over by hostile Fundamentalist forces in the 1990s and working since then to educate churches on Baptist principles and helping them find solid pastors who are committed to those principles, to help prevent them from leaving the BGCT and moving to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.


Now TBC has stood up - after all that support - and said the BGCT is wrong on one issue.


This one instance neither overrides nor diminishes our support of the BGCT through all these years and in so many areas.


On Thursday, I received an email from a dear friend, a pastor who has supported Texas Baptists Committed faithfully through the years. He wrote to let me know that he disagrees with my criticism of BGCT leadership at the Breakfast, which he attended. Therefore, he informed me, he is withdrawing his support of Texas Baptists Committed.


REALLY? This one issue overrides all that Texas Baptists Committed stands for and all of the support that we have given - and continue to give - to the BGCT in all other areas? Was his support conditional that he must be able to agree with us on everything we do?


I ask the same question of the BGCT - REALLY?


Wilshire and FBC Austin have faithfully supported the BGCT through all these years, in so many areas; they have led other churches throughout this voluntary network of cooperating churches to give more; they have contributed, in more ways than I can count, to the ministries of churches throughout Texas; they are in agreement with the BGCT in every essential doctrine and then some. They have taken one step that happens to be out of step with the majority of BGCT churches.


And the BGCT and its cooperating churches can't - as Baptists - brook this one area of disagreement? They're willing to overlook - because of this one disagreement - all that Wilshire and FBC Austin have done for the Lord and for the BGCT? REALLY?


As Wilshire members prepared to vote on this matter 2 weeks ago (full disclosure - I'm a Wilshire member), George Mason said he had one thing to say to any who were thinking about leaving - then he simply said thank you to them for all they had given. In announcing the outcome of the vote this past Monday, in which over 61% voted for considering all members as part of a single membership "class," George assured those 39% who voted otherwise that they, too, were still equal, that all members could go forward and work together on the things on which we all agree - missions, ministries, advocacy, as we together build a community shaped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.


Wilshire and Texas Baptists Committed can do ministry with those with whom we disagree. I'm not willing to throw away all I love about the BGCT over the one thing with which I disagree.


Would that my friend who sent the email - and BGCT leadership and messengers who voted Tuesday to impose their own "standard" on other churches - would find it in their hearts to exhibit the same grace.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Local church autonomy, inclusion, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

(The following is excerpted from the TBC Update that I delivered to the 2016 Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast at the BGCT Annual Meeting in Waco on Tuesday, November 15.)

Texas Baptists Committed continues to respond when Baptist principles are compromised.

In 2004, my wife and I left a church where we were longtime members. For 17 years, I had brought Baptist principles into Sunday School conversations - priesthood of the believer, soul competency, religious liberty and the strict separation of church and state, local church autonomy - and Southern Baptist leaders' violation of those principles, and got mostly blank stares, an occasional argument, but mostly blank stares. They either didn't understand or just didn't care, or both. The last few years we were there, I challenged the pastor on his violation - from the pulpit - of those principles. It didn't go well.

But I remember how lonely I felt when David Barton's video was shown in a worship service, a pack of lies about our nation's Founding Fathers, turning the principles of both our nation and of Baptists on their head.

I remember how lonely I felt when the pastor brought partisan politics into the pulpit.

I remember how lonely I felt when the pastor announced that - because of a revelation he had received from God - women would no longer be permitted to teach men in Sunday School in our church, and that, if you disagreed with this edict, God would soon prune you from that church.

I remember the loneliness I felt as others accepted and even applauded all of this.

So I responded with understanding and empathy when a longtime faithful TBC supporter contacted me recently to tell me about proposed changes to his church's bylaws and constitution, which will be voted on early next month. Changes motivated by what church leaders perceive to be threats from changes in the culture and the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. His church leaders propose to adopt the 1998 Baptist Faith and Message amendment on the Family, which places women in a submissive - and subservient - position in both the church and the home. Moreover, it places final authority for scriptural interpretation in a Leadership Council and requires all members to affirm that they agree with the church's stated doctrinal positions.

In other words, creedalism, which is anathema to the Baptist spirit, the Baptist movement, and our Baptist history.

We hold to these Baptist principles not to be contrary or to protect some personal privilege. We hold to these Baptist principles, because - ever since Thomas Helwys and John Smyth took their band of separatists from England to Amsterdam and, in 1609, formed the first Baptist church - Baptists have believed that it is these principles, which together distinguish us as Baptists, that enable us to be most faithful to the spirit, the teachings, the life of Jesus Christ, and to carry Christ's offer of grace, forgiveness, and love to a hurting world.

This faithful TBC supporter is experiencing the same loneliness that my wife and I experienced for 17 years, a loneliness that is inimical to the Baptist experience, because we have from the beginning been a minority, dissenters in a conforming world. I responded with my support and the feedback that he requested concerning these proposed changes, and I'm praying for him as he goes into what must be a lonely battle to call his church back to being Baptist.

This is what Texas Baptists Committed has been about from the beginning - holding Baptists accountable for being Baptist, holding fast to the convictions that together make us Baptist, and thus enable us to carry Christ to the world, as well as to our own neighborhoods.

There were a lot of actions that could have been the last straw for us at that church where we labored for 17 years, but we persevered through it all. Then one day, when the pastor and I were meeting on another matter, he casually told me that he was talking to New Orleans Seminary about partnering with them in starting a seminary in Russia - BUT the agreement was conditional on New Orleans Seminary dictating to our church which missionary organizations we could and could not partner with. That was the last straw. He was compromising local church autonomy, and I realized that the game was over. Any hope I harbored of moving that church to truly being Baptist was lost. So we left shortly thereafter.

Local church autonomy – a bedrock Baptist principle, a cherished Baptist principle. In Baptist life, each individual believer is a priest, and there is no authority over that person’s soul except Jesus Christ. As our dear friend James Dunn loved to say, “Ain’t nobody but Jesus gonna tell me what to believe!”

Authority flows from the believer to the local church. Baptist polity is that baptized believers make up the local church, and they collectively determine the direction of that church. The pastor takes direction from the people. This Baptist polity recognizes the primacy of the Holy Spirit’s work in each person and the Holy Spirit’s work through the body of believers known as the church. Churches then freely choose to cooperate with denominational bodies, through which they work together to carry out missions activities, benevolent ministries, and educational institutions such as these faithful Texas Baptist schools represented here today.

TBC has always celebrated – and we celebrate today – the ministries that Texas Baptists carry out together through the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The Christian Life Commission (and Gus Reyes is with us today, as well as Ferrell Foster and Kathryn Freeman) – including the Hunger Offering, Ethics and Justice initiatives; then there’s Disaster Relief and Recovery, Buckner International (Albert Reyes is with us today), Christian education, including theological education through our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries.

In fact, as I’ve published the TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup e-newsletter for the past 5-1/2 years, one of the greatest privileges for me has been the opportunity to highlight all of the good work being done through the BGCT.

That’s why it grieves us to have to now shift to our role as watchdog and call BGCT leadership to account for what we at Texas Baptists Committed consider a violation of that cherished Baptist principle of local church autonomy.

All of you know by now that BGCT Executive Director David Hardage has asked both First Baptist Church, Austin, and my home church – Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas – to leave the BGCT fellowship over, as the Baptist Standard headline put it, “the gay issue.” I’ve discussed this issue over the past 2 years with both David Hardage and Associate Executive Director Steve Vernon (who is with us today), and know their stand on this issue, so David’s letter did not come as a complete surprise to me.

Before I go on, I want to be very clear on one thing – David Hardage and Steve Vernon are friends of mine, and friends of Texas Baptists Committed, and our discussions on this issue – even where I have disagreed with them – have been collegial and respectful. Even where we disagree, I respect that their position comes from their desire to be faithful to scripture, and I hope and believe they respect the same on my part.

And I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of the position in which David Hardage, Steve Vernon, and the Executive Board find themselves. The BGCT is losing churches to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention – which, by the way, has since its beginning lied about the BGCT’s stance on this matter. So I understand and sympathize with the BGCT leadership’s sensitivity on this issue. The BGCT has been hammered hard for a stance it has never taken. So I respect, sympathize with, and appreciate their efforts to keep churches in the BGCT fold, not just for the convention’s sake, but because churches that leave for the SBTC almost inevitably wind up disillusioned and often find their fellowship destroyed and their witness for Christ a thing of the past. The BGCT is by far a better home for churches than the SBTC.

The crux of our disagreement is not where we stand on scripture regarding homosexual behavior; debating theology is not the role of Texas Baptists Committed. Standing for Baptist principles, however, IS TBC’s role. Our disagreement is over the need that BGCT leadership perceives to divide the BGCT fellowship – asking churches to leave – over this issue. Over the past few years, I’ve discussed what scripture has to say about homosexual behavior with numerous moderate Texas Baptist pastors. I’ve had several express adamantly to me that scripture calls it a sin; and I’ve had just as many express just as adamantly to me that it does not. I’ve heard persuasive arguments from both sides.

What I know is that churches all over Texas – well beyond Wilshire and First Austin – are struggling to minister to the gay people among their congregations and their communities. David Hardage acknowledged this to me in our first discussion of the matter; in fact, when I said that urban churches especially are having to deal with this, David volunteered that rural churches are as well. And different churches are finding different paths to carry out such ministry. Some, like First Austin and Wilshire, have chosen to include all people – regardless of sexual orientation – in what they call ‘the full life’ of their church. Other churches have chosen a different path.

I contend – on behalf of Texas Baptists Committed – that BGCT leadership is violating local church autonomy. Now some will say, ‘well, we’re not telling them what to do.’ But neither did the Fundamentalists who took over the Southern Baptist Convention force any churches to do anything – they just threatened loss of fellowship. In fighting the Fundamentalists’ attempt in the 1990s to take control of the BGCT, we called such threats a violation of local church autonomy. On that basis, Texas Baptists Committed – led by David Currie – fought to keep the Baptist General Convention of Texas free from Fundamentalist control. Yet now BGCT leadership is taking a similar path. Where does it stop?

TBC is not asking the BGCT to change its historic position that scripture calls homosexual behavior sinful. I’m well aware that the BGCT’s position reflects that of the vast majority of BGCT churches, and I respect their right to hold that position. In turn, however, if the BGCT is going to continue to call itself Baptist, we expect it to respect the right of its cooperating churches to disagree. That’s what makes us Baptist – we disagree, we dissent on those matters that are not central to our faith, and where we stand theologically on this issue is not central to our faith and should not determine whether we can faithfully cooperate with each other in sharing Christ with a hurting world.

There are churches and pastors in the BGCT who strongly affirm the BGCT’s stance on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior but who also oppose the disfellowshipping of those who disagree with them. They recognize that churches like Wilshire and First Austin are in agreement with them on the main things that the BGCT has always been about – missions, evangelism, ministries of compassion, educating students, training ministers . . . and they don’t want to lose such churches and all they bring to this fellowship of Texas Baptist churches. As I told David Hardage last year, Baptist churches all over Texas are struggling to find their own path to ministering to the gay people in their congregations and communities, and the current hard-line policy provides them no room to do that.

I love the Baptist General Convention of Texas; Texas Baptists Committed loves the Baptist General Convention of Texas. That’s why we call it to be true to its name: Baptist.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Roundup 5 years later - I didn't know what I was getting myself into!
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

This week marks the 5th anniversary of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, originally titled TBC Midweek Baptist Roundup. TBC published the first issue on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

I didn't know what I was getting myself into - a commitment that I would need to fulfill every week before I could rest. And that's no exaggeration! I have published the Roundup from Hong Kong (in September 2011, when Joanna and I were there visiting her family); and Israel (in April 2012, when we went there with a group from Wilshire & Temple Emanu-El in Dallas).

From April-June 2013, following our son's stroke, I was spending 15-16 hours a day in hospitals, so I published the Roundup from a number of hospital rooms for those 2-1/2 months. In the stress of that trying time, the Roundup was my therapy, my 'salvation,' if you will. And many of you joined us in praying for Travis's recovery, and we are deeply grateful for your prayers and concern. Three years later, Travis is doing well and ready to go back to work (in other words, he's looking).

But it IS a commitment, one that I feel very keenly. That May 11, 2011, issue was opened by 482 people; at present, around 800 people are opening the Roundup every week, and about 1,500 open at least one issue every five weeks. Over the past 5 years, as I've attended conferences throughout Texas and other states, I can count on several people coming up to me during the conference to tell me how much they appreciate reading the Roundup every week. So I have a commitment to people who are counting on finding the Roundup in their email every week.

In those 5 years, the Roundup has evolved drastically in content and format, but then so has the world of Baptist news and opinion, especially opinion, as the number of Baptist bloggers & op-ed sites has grown by leaps and bounds.

By a quirk of scheduling fate, the May 11, 2011 issue and the 5th anniversary issue coming up this Saturday share an almost identical item - in May 2011, we promoted, in Upcoming Baptist Events, the Baptist History & Heritage Society Conference being held in Texas, specifically at Dallas Baptist University. So, too, here in May 2016, we are promoting the upcoming Baptist History & Heritage Society Conference to be held in Texas; this one will be May 23-25 at Baylor University's Truett Seminary in Waco.

I began the Roundup with the purpose of keeping the name of Texas Baptists Committed in front of a wide audience every week, but it quickly became much more than that, as I realized its usefulness as a forum for promoting the good things going on in Baptist life and various opportunities for Baptists both to serve and to be served in their time of need.

So I added Did you know . . . ?, in which we highlight various Baptist resources and opportunities; and sections of student news, both in Texas and beyond, to highlight what our Baptist students and schools are doing. Of course, from the beginning, there was Upcoming Baptist Events to keep people informed of events both in Texas and elsewhere and provide links to schedules and registration.

From time to time, I receive requests to promote a special event or other newsworthy Baptist item, and I try to fulfill those requests whenever possible. I appreciate the opportunity.

What has been most fulfilling to me, as I read upwards of 75-80 articles each week for inclusion in the Roundup, is that I have been encouraged by the good things that Baptists are doing - disaster relief; advocacy on issues that affect the "least of these," such as payday loans and human trafficking; mission efforts at home and far afield, meeting the most desperate human needs in the name of Christ; and in-depth theological education, to name just a few. And I've been similarly encouraged by the good things that Baptists are writing - opinion and analysis articles that challenge Baptists to carry out the Gospel of Christ, that challenge us to go deeper in reading Scripture, to go beyond the comfortable understandings of faith that we grew up with.

My wife and I are members of a Sunday School class in which we all push each other's buttons. We challenge each other's suppositions and presuppositions, and we usually come out with more questions than answers, but that's good, because we have something to chew on all week; the discussion sets us to thinking. The Opinion and Analysis section of the Roundup seems to picture a similar discussion. The disparate perspectives show us that Baptists can't be pigeonholed; the old saw that 'where two Baptists gather, three opinions sit between them' may be inadequate these days. And that's a good thing! It shows the Holy Spirit uniquely at work in each of us.

I enjoy bringing all of this content together - or 'aggregating,' which I was recently advised is what I'm doing - but the real work is done before I get started. The real work is done by all of those reporters, editors, op-ed writers, bloggers, and other news service staffers who prepare all of this content upfront. All I do is link to it. So TBC and I - and you Roundup readers - owe a great debt to all of these who do such excellent work, week in and week out, and I say thank you to all of them.

Finally, thank you to all who read the Roundup regularly and especially to those who have made a point of expressing your appreciation to me. It means a lot.

Now, on we go to the next 5 years!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Remembering Dan Williams: Vignettes from a friendship
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Dan Williams passed away last week, after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Any attempt to pay tribute to one who has meant so much to so many is bound to be feeble at best, but I need to try. I want to convey our friendship in "snapshots" of my encounters & experiences with Dan over the years.

Dan Williams was first and foremost an encourager who faced his share of challenges and met them head-on with faith, love, hope, and humor, qualities with which he blessed everyone he met.

I met Dan almost 15 years ago, and we became good, close friends in short order. In the fall of 2001, I heard that the Texas Baptist Laity Institute (TBLI) would be conducting training for "mentors" (TBLI's name for teachers) at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. Being interested in getting more actively involved in Baptist life, I thought this sounded like a good opportunity.

Dan Williams was TBLI's president and facilitated the training. After an opening general session, we broke off into workshops for training on specific courses that we were interested in teaching. I chose the workshop that focused on my greatest passion - Baptist Distinctives, which was led by Bill Pinson, who had developed the course.

One requirement to be certified as a TBLI mentor was endorsement by two ministers from your home church. That was no problem; I went to my pastor and music minister, and they were pleased to endorse me. However, when I showed my pastor the syllabus for the Baptist Distinctives course, he firmly instructed me, "I don't want you teaching that stuff about the SBC controversy here."

So I decided not to teach any courses at that church. If I could not teach ALL of the course, then I would not teach ANY of it.

Discouraged, I called Dan. He assured me that he would find me a place where I could teach freely. Discouragement had a short life in the presence of Dan Williams.

Several other visits with Dan spring to mind:
  • In the summer of 2004, Joanna and I left that church in Plano, where I had tried for 17 years to inform and educate people on Baptist principles and the dangers of Fundamentalism, with a spectacular lack of success. We wound up joining Wilshire in Dallas, where we are still members today. However, before deciding, we also visited First Baptist, Richardson, where Dan and Anita were members. We visited Anita's Sunday School class. Joanna and I had barely entered the room before Dan and Anita's son, Nathan, greeted us and made us feel more welcome than I've ever experienced in visiting a church for the first time. Nathan has that encourager "gene," too!
  • That August, Dan and I met for coffee. As we sat and talked, Dan told me that he had arranged for me to teach TBLI's Church History course at First Baptist, Richardson, in the spring of 2005. However, Dan also informed me that, though he had not yet made it public, he would soon be resigning as president of TBLI.
I taught two courses - Church History and Baptist Distinctives - over the next two years at FBC Richardson and Wilshire. It was a rewarding experience, and I came to appreciate the work that both Dan and his successor, Linda Cross, did through TBLI.
  • In late 2007, Dan was called as pastor to First Baptist Church, Shawnee, Oklahoma. Shortly before he and Anita left Texas, Dan and I met for coffee, and I gave this Baylor grad a quick "primer" on Shawnee and my alma mater, Oklahoma Baptist University, albeit from a perspective of 30+ years earlier. Not sure how helpful I was, but Dan enjoyed my attempt to educate him on the "OBU culture."
It was bittersweet, though, as Dan and I had met fairly regularly at this La Madeleine Cafe in Plano for coffee and conversation, and this would be the last time.
  • I went up to Shawnee in November 2008 for Homecoming; it was the 35th anniversary reunion of my 1973 graduating class. That Saturday afternoon, Dan and I met for coffee at one of his favorite Shawnee hangouts, McAlister's Deli. It turned out that Nathan worked there, though he wasn't working this particular afternoon. One of the young managers came over and told Dan that Nathan had been named employee of the month; Dan just beamed.
That evening, at the Homecoming Musical Gala in Raley Chapel, I sat with Dan and Anita; afterwards, Dan introduced me to David Whitlock, then only recently installed as OBU's new president.
The next morning, I worshipped at First Baptist (where I had been a member during my freshman year at OBU 39 years earlier). My best memory of that morning was Dan sitting on the chancel steps doing the children's sermon, and the children's obvious love for "Pastor Dan." Seeing the joy with which he bantered with the kids, I got the feeling that this might be just about his favorite part of pastoring.
  • In 2010, Dan and Anita were called to another place with special meaning for Joanna and me - Hong Kong. (Joanna was born and raised in Hong Kong.) Dan served International Baptist Church as pastor. In September 2011, we took a trip to Hong Kong to spend time with Joanna's sister, Betty, and her family.
On Sunday, September 11, Joanna and I visited International Baptist Church, and went to lunch with Dan and Anita afterwards. We had a great visit, with Dan and Anita sharing about their experience there, and Joanna sharing her own special memories of Hong Kong. We were pleased to hear that their experience in Hong Kong was such a positive one; they were loving that church, and the church loved them.
  • The last time I saw Dan was November 2014, when he attended our Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast at the BGCT annual meeting in Waco. He sat next to me, and it was wonderful to visit with him.
Earlier today, I went through our email exchanges from over the years. There wasn't a negative word about anyone in those emails, just a common thread of encouragement, love, and occasional flashes (some "hot," as you'll see) of humor.

A few nuggets:

  • Baptist life
    • "Diversity is a grand thing. Many Baptists used to know that. We have 16 nationalities at IBC." (International Baptist Church, Hong Kong)
    • "Tell the gang, in spite of being in Hong Kong I will always be a Texas Baptists Committed person at heart." ("the gang" refers to the TBC Board)

  • Family
    • (Upon sharing that, following a visit to Texas, he and Anita had returned to Hong Kong without Nathan, who had been accepted into an assisted living workshop for special needs adults) "I had no idea he would be accepted and move right in while we were in Texas. I am grieving because of our good relationship, and I miss him terribly."

  • His health
    • (In an email to a number of friends after his prostate cancer had returned) "Paul puts the way I feel this way in Romans 8: 26 ff. 'In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.' Thank you all for being the kind of friends and family we can call on and count on to pray for this process."
    • "I am on a hormone blocker, and the worst of the side effects is HOT FLASHES! All I can say is, 'Set my soul afire, LORD!' I told Anita in a moment of humor that she would be pleased in having a new soprano in the church choir! She laughed! We both did."

    This week, a friend of Dan and Anita's posted to Facebook a video clip of Dan, Anita, and their family singing The New 23rd Psalm only weeks before Dan's death. I've watched it several times, and I cry every time. It's overwhelming to see such faith lived out in the face of death. Watching them sing "Even when walking through the dark valley of death . . . valley of death . . . I will never be afraid for He is close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way," I see a living picture of the victory that we have in Christ, the hope that doesn't just "spring" eternal, it IS eternal.
    Tomorrow we will gather - family and friends - at First Baptist Church of Austin, to celebrate the life of Dan Williams and to mourn our loss. But our loss is only temporary. A reunion is in our future!

    Thanks be to God for the life of Dan Williams and for letting me know him as my friend for these past 15 years. Thanks be to God for the influence and example of Dan Williams, not only as a minister of the Gospel, but for the example he set as a loving husband and father, and for the wife and children who are his greatest testimony, as well as the many others whose lives he has touched through the years with Christ's grace . . . and for the way that he showed us to both live and die - with faith, love, hope, and humor. Thanks be to God!

    Discerning the Law (Mark 2:23-27)
    by Dan Williams

    (Dan Williams, longtime pastor and former president of the Texas Baptist Laity Institute, passed away on April 28 after a long battle with prostate cancer. Dan wrote the following as a Lenten devotional a few years ago while serving as pastor of International Baptist Church in Hong Kong.)

    A tornado was once spotted in West Texas. Two boys were missing. The search began. Finally, the parents heard noises coming from the washroom. Entering, they saw their sons in the tub splashing around. “What are you doing?” screamed the parents. The older brother reminded the parents of two rules in their home. One was never enter the tub without taking a bath. The second was when you hear the siren, find your brother and get into the tub for shelter.

    The Sabbath was pronounced a day of rest (Exodus 20:8) for the same reason a field was “fallowed” every seven years (Exodus 23:11). People and land need a break. Obedience requires discernment. Discernment helps us know when to hold on to the letter of the law and when to acknowledge the spirit, doing the right thing.

    For reflection:
    1. Are there mutually exclusive rules in your life?
    2. Are you tempted to hold others to the “letter” of the law, while enjoying the “spirit” of the law?
    Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for being such a powerful example of how to keep both faith and practice true, while being sensitive to particular situations and the greatest needs at hand. Forgive us for our lack of discernment.

    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.