Monday, November 30, 2009

In Praise of Guidestone

Blog Owner's Note: Keith Sanders is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Keller, Texas, and is a close friend from childhood onward. Keeping up with his journey has brought me to pray regularly not only for him but also for the over 1 million Americans presently suffering from Autism and the many more to come. Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the United States, with a growth rate of around 1,148% (source: Autism Society of America).

This very fact—the rapid growth of autism—may be evidence of an increasing occurrence of autism, or may be evidence of an increasing understanding of autism, and therefore an increasing ability to diagnose what were once undiagnosed cases. In either case, insurance providers like Guidestone find themselves, with regard to autism and other ongoing developments in the realm of health care, attempting an in-flight modification of our insurance plans to adapt to circumstances that never remain static. I am thankful for their hard work.

Following is Keith's personal account of their saga. I invite you to join me in praying for the Sanders family as the grace of God carries them through this difficult time.


Last January, my wife and I sat holding hands in an examination room of a well-respected developmental pediatrician’s office. We were there to receive the results of an extensive round of testing for our three year old daughter. For several months we had noticed a regression in her speech development and social interaction. She walked on her tiptoes and seemed to be unusually sensitive to sounds and textures. Having done research on the internet, we were not surprised by the results of this formal evaluation. However, the matter of fact way in which the doctor spoke left no doubt in our minds about the severity of the diagnosis.

“Your daughter is autistic,” she said. “As far as we can tell, she falls somewhere in the moderate to severe range.” Our silence must have led her to believe that we failed to appreciate the enormity of the moment. After a long pause she continued, ‘This is devastating.” With that, she exited to give us time to absorb what we had been told. As we embraced and cried, I knew that the diagnosis of our daughter’s condition was correct, but determined that autism would not devastate our family. After all, our faith was strong, we had the support of our extended family, and our church was eager to help bear our burden.

The latest scientific research reveals that one percent of children will be diagnosed with autism before age eight. Autism has no known cause or cure. However, some treatments have proven to be beneficial over time. Some children have even lost the diagnosis of autism after years of treatment and gone on to live normal lives. While praying for God to heal our daughter, we began to explore every possible avenue of treatment. Though the types of treatments for autism are diverse, one thing is consistent with almost all of them, they are incredibly expensive. At the time we received the diagnosis the best estimates for the costs of treatment were between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. With that knowledge, I was certainly thankful for the generosity of the church that I pastor that enabled us to purchase the highest level of coverage offered through Guidestone. However, that thankfulness turned to frustration, and frustration gave way to anger when we began to file claims related to our daughter’s condition. We soon learned that Highmark Bluecross Blueshield , the company who issued our policy, only covered a minimal level of autism treatment. Facing the prospect of being unable to afford the healthcare that could potentially help my little girl was one of the most difficult moments of my life. As I began to pray for God’s provision, I determined to do everything in my power (within the law) to make sure our daughter had the best opportunity to improve.

Several weeks before our daughter’s diagnosis was finalized, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. O. S. Hawkins the Chief Executive Officer of Guidestone. I was impressed by the genuine concern he had for pastors and their families. Desperate for help, I called Dr. Hawkins office and he graciously took my call. At the conclusion of our conversation, he assured me that he would be on top of the situation and his team would get to work immediately to help us. Before we ended our conversation, he prayed for my family by name. Though I am sure I made myself a nuisance to Dr. Hawkins and his staff with my many calls and letters in the ensuing days, everyone at Guidestone always treated me with patience, grace and dignity.

Dr. Hawkins was true to his word and after negotiations between Guidestone representatives and Highmark, our insurance now covers our autism treatments including speech and occupational therapies. It is too soon to know how effective the treatments will be, but giving our daughter every opportunity to improve is worth more to my wife and me than almost anything we can imagine. It is also gratifying to know that because of the trial that our family has gone through, other Guidestone participants will have the same opportunity for their children. Our family thanks God for Dr. Hawkins and the staff at Guidestone. We also thank God that we serve a church who values its ministers and provides for their needs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dollars or Percentages? Which Matters to the Great Commission?

First of all, the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the national denominational apparatus of employees) has no business whatsoever lecturing any church about what it gives or doesn't give to missions. We believe in and practice the association of autonomous local churches. It is not only the privilege, it is the responsibility of each local church to determine and submit to God's priorities for the spending of God's money. I am therefore opposed to efforts to set litmus tests for denominational service based upon arbitrary percentages given through the Cooperative Program. If an autonomous church gives $10 through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention's only suitable response to that is to say "Thank you."

All that just to say that there's no political football here. I've voted for and supported a lot of pastors as SBC officers and leaders whose leadership was exhibited in areas other than their CP giving.

However, as a thinking exercise and not a political exercise, I want to consider this idea that missionaries spend dollars and not percentages, and therefore that it doesn't much matter what percentage a church gives through the Cooperative Program so long as it gives a large number of dollars. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea, but I think that the present demographics of our convention's life suggest otherwise.

People cite a plateauing or even decline of Southern Baptists statistics. These figures seem to suggest a stasis in Southern Baptist life, but that is misleading. I suggest that Southern Baptists are on the move, and in a radical way. Americans are moving rapidly out of rural areas and into the cities. Commensurately, Southern Baptists are migrating out of small rural churches and into urban (generally larger) churches. Thus, although the average SBC church is small, the average SBC person goes to a much larger church than the "average church" figures would lead one to believe.

So, you've got people who grew up in a small SBC church that gave 15% through the Cooperative Program. They move off from that small country church and wind up at a metropolitan church that gives 2% through the Cooperative Program. Let's say, for a hypothetical point of comparison, that 20 such churches are entirely emptied out into a single metropolitan church.

That metropolitan church, although it only gives 2% through the Cooperative Program, is actually giving a much higher dollar amount (by an order of magnitude!) than were any of those smaller churches. But that's not a fair point of comparison. The dollars given to missions by the metropolitan church must be compared to the dollars given by the association of churches that has been eviscerated by the American move from the country into the city. At that point, it becomes clear that percentages ultimately add up to dollars (or else we'd all set them really high).

This blog post does not provide an answer to the question, but it does show how the answer can be calculated. The dollar amount most important to the calculation is the per capita dollar amount given through the Cooperative Program for any given church. I'm willing to suggest that some of our larger churches do pretty well in this regard. At the heart of the question, as it deals with changing circumstances in the SBC, is the simple matter of how many members of the large, urban church that gives a small percentage through the Cooperative Program are people who (hypothetically) could not have been reached by a church giving a higher percentage to missions. Certainly, if we are dealing with transfers rather than new converts, every person who moved from a smaller, higher-CP-percentage church to a larger, lower-CP-percentage church has contributed to a larger number of dollars going to missions from that particular church, but to an overall missions-giving decline.

It would be a mistake to throw stones in any direction over these statistics. Megachurch pastors aren't fueling these developments, nor are the pastors of smaller churches. This is a matter of societal demographic trends, and we're all carried along in some ways on the current of them. We would, however, do well to consider that our convention is in the midst of transition from a convention of many small churches to a convention of fewer larger churches (and historically, the church of 200 counts as a "larger church" in the SBC). If the model for larger churches is one of lower percentage giving through the CP, then the Southern Baptist Convention's cooperative enterprises will be forced to learn to get by on much less money.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prayer, Big Decisions, and Business Meetings

A story in today's Baptist Press quotes reorganization task force chairman Ronnie Floyd as saying that the recommendations of the task force will not be presented in full until the SBC's Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, on June 15–16. Previous statements had suggested that the task force would unveil its recommendations no later than the time of the February meeting of the SBC Executive Committee.

The task force has obviously been hard at work, and for that they deserve the appreciation and admiration of Southern Baptists. They should take their time and come to good, careful conclusions. We do not need them to rush.

Then again, neither do they need us, the Southern Baptist messengers, to rush. I am hopeful that the task force will extend to Southern Baptists throughout the nation the same time for prayerful consideration that they have needed. They need to report in Orlando, and I pray that they will, but I hope that someone from the task force will move that any proposed measures unveiled in Orlando be postponed until 2011 for a vote, in order for the Southern Baptist people to have adequate time to pray about the proposals before voting.

In our own congregation, our recently adopted Constitution & Bylaws requires that our church staff publish an agenda for every church business meeting a week in advance. The membership of the congregation is encouraged to read the agenda and to devote time to pray over the items mentioned therein. Congregationalism presumes not an ultimate democracy, but "democratic processes" as a means to the lordship of Christ over the church, facilitated by the influence of the Holy Spirit upon praying believers.

Items not listed on the agenda may be proposed at the business meeting, but such motions are automatically referred to appropriate committees or are automatically postponed for consideration at a later meeting. The rationale is that we ought not to be voting about anything unless we have prayed about it first. I believe that "Pray first; then obey" is the only right way to make decisions.

Surely this concept is no less important for our national convention than it is for our local congregation. Surely if we will see a renewed pursuit of the Great Commission among Southern Baptists, it will not come as a result of prayerless and unconsidered action by our messengers! Some may say that the issues on the table are too important to move slowly. I say that they are likely to be too important to move hastily. We ought to be more careful in our Southern Baptist voting than is our United States Congress. We ought to have read these proposals and deliberated over them at length before we take any action.

This is not about factions or victories or losses or human power. This is ultimately about the ultimate mission. Our structure will not accomplish the Great Commission. Our money will not accomplish the Great Commission. Our size, large or small, will not accomplish the Great Commission.

Our obedience cannot help but accomplish the Great Commission.

And thus, if our sole emphasis is upon obedience to the commandments of Christ, then we will find few attributes of the process more important than the careful and unhurried building of Southern Baptist consensus by which we all reach a prayed-through confidence that the task force's recommendations are indeed God's will for the SBC, and together by our Holy Spirit forged unity we are able to redeem from its ignominy the sentiment and the phrase, "Deus Vult!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Eve of a New Decade

Rarely do I place the contents of my monthly newsletter article for the church into this blog. For some reason, I feel so inclined this month. God bless!

The eve of a new decade is an exciting time. I have thought so ever since I was born on December 31, 1969! After all, we only get to roll over the tens digit so many times in our lives (a web site that claimed to be able to gauge my life expectancy indicated that I will see a new decade come 10 times in my life). Milestones like this turn our minds toward the future as we imagine what the adolescence of this century will hold for ourselves, our families, our community, and our world.

Obviously, we don’t really know the answer to that question, and folks who tell you otherwise aren’t being honest. For example, Daniel Fagre, a U. S. Geological Survey ecologist working at Montana’s Glacier National Park eerily warns that Global Warming will entirely do away with the park’s glaciers by 2020. The BBC, on the other hand, reports that global temperatures have actually decreased over the past 11 years and that we are in for a decade of global cooling. Which will it be? Seeing how well the world’s scientists are able to predict the weather two weeks from Thursday, I’m prepared to believe that neither group has a clue. What’s more, I don’t believe that we really have much control over what the weather will be like in 2020.

Will I be alive in 2020? Will the economy be strong and provide ample resources for my family in the next decade? Will the Swine Flu or some other disease cause a pandemic? Will the Cowboys win any of the next 10 Super Bowls? All of these things are mostly beyond your control (unless somebody is forwarding our little newsletter to Jerry Jones).

But here’s something that does lie within your influence: You can grow spiritually in the 2010s. You can have an entire decade of your life in which you read your Bible (several times through!) and pray every day. You can mentor a younger Christian for this decade. God can help you to find victory over that pesky temptation that has been a chronic weakness for you.

You can start to tithe in this decade. If you are in debt on the way into this decade, you can be out of debt before it ends. Our nation can embrace the fiscal responsibility of earlier generations and exit the 2010s no longer terrified of what the Chinese might do with all of our nation’s debt that they hold.

You can participate in an international mission trip in the coming decade. You can present the gospel to every person in your neighborhood, or to every person in your family. You can adopt an orphan, volunteer in the CASA program, or assist a troubled child.

Together, we Southern Baptists can plant enough new churches to change the spiritual climate of our nation in the upcoming decade. We can start to take back our cities. We can put a missionary in every people group on the planet. Yes, there is so much that we cannot control, but in every important way, the decade of 2010 will be what we make of it. On your mark. Get set!

Bro. Bart

Monday, November 16, 2009

Secondhand Smut

Washington Post Staff Writer Monica Hesse draws our attention to the increasing problem of winding up trapped in an airplane or subway seat next to someone watching porn on his mobile electronics. Thanks to her article, I've found a new blessing for which to give thanks—it has never happened to me before. Apparently, according to the article, such incidents are on the rise and it is only a matter of time before I'm on a Southwest Airlines flight trying to avert the view of my kiddies from the iPhone in 13B.

Hesse creatively nicknames the phenomenon "Secondhand Smut."

Her article comes at a time when I'm seriously thinking about abandoning Twitter to return to an exclusive relationship with Facebook. Being a Twitter member, for me, has meant the constant fending off of attempts by porn mistresses (or are they 27-year-old male geeks living in their parents' basements? Who knows?) to get me to "follow" them.

As a historian, I long ago learned to be skeptical of the tiresome refrains of "The world has never been this evil before!" We forget so quickly—being the most evil is a stiff competition in human history. We're pretty good at evil, and have had several distinguished competitors in the Hall of Infamy.

But I'm tempted to make such a proclamation these days. Technology is making a difference for the worse. Will people ever develop the widespread willpower to overcome their addictions to porn?

"Secondhand Smut." I like the phrase. I just think it deserves wider application. The secondhand effects of smut are so much more than an uncomfortable airplane ride. It manifests itself in husbands who lose interest in their wives, in women objectified and used, in diseases spread and people dead, in "actresses" and "actors" whose lives are thrown away, and in a modern plague of human slavery and sex trafficking.

I'm praying that we reach a tipping point where people can see that pornography is so much more corrosive than tobacco, and that societal ills are just as worthy of legal disincentive as are physical ills.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Veterans Day

I recall a time, not too long ago, when the word "veterans" in my mind conjured up images of people much older than I. No longer. Today's veterans include people from a generation younger than me, including my own nephew.

So I find myself on this Veterans Day doing something that all of us ought to get used to doing as we age a bit (I'm 39). I'm looking DOWN (age-wise) with respect as well as up. As of Veterans Day 2009, in addition to a laudable generation who saved us from the Kaiser, a generation that saved us from Hitler, and a generation that held back Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, we have a generation who all volunteered, and most of them during an ongoing war. For each of those generations I am thankful.

In the 19th century, armies tended to hemorrhage soldiers as conflicts lingered and languished. Desertions were numerous in both armies during the later years of the Civil War. I think it says something admirable about the younger generation of soldiers that so many of them have volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has been my job on some past occasions to teach about Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, Isaac Backus, John Leland, and all of the other theological heroes of religious liberty. This is a worthy and important calling, and if you find yourself unable to identify any of those names, I recommend that you engage in some edifying study. Nevertheless, I confess that my teaching about religious liberty has not in the past accorded enough credit to the non-theological heroes of religious liberty—the many common men and women who have sacrificed so much in wars that, whatever else they were about, safeguarded my freedom to worship without governmental interference.

Today, this Veterans Day, I correct that oversight and offer my thanks to those legions who are equally the heroes of the struggle for religious liberty—even those who fight today in the region most notorious for withholding from people the basic faith freedom that is the foundation of all other freedoms.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Acts 29 Discussion Question

Is the Acts 29 Network a denomination? Why or why not? What makes a denomination a denomination?

Monday, November 9, 2009


I've enabled Google Adsense on this blog. I think that I might earn as much as 10¢ per month off the ads, so it isn't for the income of the thing. Rather, it is simply a matter of principle. With the increasing hostility toward earners in our nation these days, I wanted to do something to affirm Capitalism.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ignored Honor Killings

I have very little to add to this excellent bit of analysis other than to extend my deepest sympathies to those family members who give a rip about Noor Amaleki. This, of course, will not be classified as a "hate crime," since it is an accepted dogma in the United States of America that only conservative Christians are capable of hate. This, on the other hand, is mere multiculturalism.

And I'm sure that somehow, someway, Israel and George W. Bush are at fault.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Seminaries and the Cooperative Program

I just wanted to direct you to Dr. Thomas White's latest post. Since I've been blogging a good bit about the Cooperative Program lately, it seemed appropriate to direct you to it.

And one other thing: I've decided to re-open my CP series. Most of the previous material, plus a few extras, went into my article for the Southern Baptist Texan. I had thought that I would exhaust all that I had to say there, but then I remembered why I love blogging—none of the word-count limitations inherent to print media. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to what I consider the greatest state paper in Southern Baptist life, but I think that there is enough material left on my cutting-room floor to stitch together another thing or two.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Husband's Praise to His Deceased Wife

My readers might find this interesting. It is a grieving husband's eulogy for his wife. The entire item is lengthy, so I give you selected excerpts:

Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event.

Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

We have preserved all the property you inherited from your parents under common custody, for you were not concerned to make you own what you had given to me without any restriction. We divided our duties in such a way that I had the guardianship of your property and you had the care of mine. Concerning this side of our relationship I pass over much, in case I should take a share myself in what is properly yours. May it be enough for me to have said this much to indicate how you felt and thought.

Your generosity you have manifested to many friends and particularly to your beloved relatives. On this point someone might mention with praise other women, but the only equal you have had has been your sister. For you brought up your female relations who deserved such kindness in your own houses with us. You also prepared marriage-portions for them so that they could obtain marriages worthy of your family.

You begged for my life when I was abroad - it was your courage that urged you to this step - and because of your entreaties I was shielded by the clemency of those against whom you marshaled your words. But whatever you said was always said with undaunted courage.

When peace had been restored throughout the world and the lawful political order reestablished, we began to enjoy quiet and happy times. It is true that we did wish to have children, who had for a long time been denied to us by an envious fate. If it had pleased Fortune to continue to be favorable to us as she was wont to be, what would have been lacking for either of us? But Fortune took a different course, and our hopes were sinking. The courses you considered and the steps you attempted to take because of this would perhaps be remarkable and praiseworthy in some other women, but in you they are nothing to wonder at when compared to your other great qualities and I will not go into them.

When you despaired of your ability to bear children and grieved over my childlessness, you became anxious lest by retaining you in marriage I might lose all hope of having children and be distressed for that reason. So you proposed a divorce outright and offered to yield our house free to another woman's fertility. Your intention was in fact that you yourself, relying on our well-known conformity of sentiment, would search out and provide for me a wife who was worthy and suitable for me, and you declared that you would regard future children as joint and as though your own, and that you would not effect a separation of our property which had hitherto been held in common, but that it would still be under my control and, if I wished so, under your administration: nothing would be kept apart by you, nothing separate, and you would thereafter take upon yourself the duties and the loyalty of a sister and a mother-in-law.

I must admit that I flared up so that I almost lost control of myself; so horrified was I by what you tried to do that I found it difficult to retrieve my composure. To think that separation should be considered between us before fate had so ordained, to think that you had been able to conceive in your mind the idea that you might cease to be my wife while I was still alive, although you had been utterly faithful to me when I was exiled and practically dead!

What desire, what need to have children could I have had that was so great that I should have broken faith for that reason and changed certainty for uncertainty? But no more about this! You remained with me as my wife, for I could not have given in to you without disgrace for me and unhappiness for both of us.

But on your part, what could have been more worthy of commemoration and praise than your efforts in devotion to my interests: when I could not have children from yourself, you wanted me to have them through your good offices, and since you despaired of bearing children, to provide me with offspring by my marriage to another woman.

Would that the life-span of each of us had allowed our marriage to continue until I, as the older partner, had been borne to the grave - that would have been more just - and you had performed for me the last rites, and that I had died leaving you still alive and that I had had you as a daughter to myself in place of my childlessness.

Fate decreed that you should precede me. You bequeathed me sorrow though my longing for you and left me a miserable man without children to comfort me. I on my part will, however, bend my way of thinking and feeling to your judgements and be guided by your admonitions.

But all your opinions and instructions should give precedence to the praise you have won so that this praise will be a consolation for me and I will not feel too much the loss of what I have consecrated to immortality to be remembered for ever.

Natural sorrow wrests away my power of self-control and I am overwhelmed by sorrow. I am tormented by two emotions: grief and fear - and I do not stand firm against either. When I go back in time through to my previous misfortunes and when I envisage what the future may have in store for me, fixing my eyes on your glory does not give me strength to bear my sorrow with patience. Rather I seem to be destined to long mourning.

The conclusions of my speech will be that you deserved everything but that it did not fall to my lot to give you everything as I ought; Your last wishes I have regarded as law; whatever it will be in my power to do in addition, I shall do.

These are words from the Laudatio Turiae, one of the lengthiest Roman inscriptions surviving from the ancient world. I think that the palpable grief and reverential love of this husband for his wife are beautiful. This inscription was produced in Rome during the approximate time of the authorship of the New Testament. I was pleased to discover that this famous Latin funerary speech is well-attested on the Internet. You can peruse the entire document here.

Someday you might find yourself preaching from one of the several passages in the New Testament that deal with family relationships. People are often tempted in the course of such preaching to deliver pronouncements about what family life was like back in those days (e.g., "Women were mere property" and the like). Before you are led astray by such exegetical skulduggery, you would do well to dedicate some time to reading actual primary sources from the period. Those people weren't exactly like us, but neither were they all that different from us in the ways that matter. There were good marriages and bad marriages in that day. People obviously faced terrible struggles in life, some overcoming together and some failing. Rather than being foreign and ancient literature, the New Testament was written to and for people just like us, and it means simply what it says.

Hey; if nothing else, you'll have read something romantic today.