Living Witnesses: Caring and Hope

October 15, 6pm, at First Baptist Church Allen Collin Baptist Association calls all our churches to meet in worship for A Night of Caring and Hope. We state our shared vision this way: “We live for the day when every girl, boy, woman and man within our reach experiences a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Gospel literally means “Good News.” Our world is full of bad news—I hope you will come hear how God works through people to bring Good News through his church.
It is a fact bad news abounds. The last two months have seen unprecedented natural disasters in our own backyard. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pounded Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, flooding homes, destroying business and claiming over 300 lives. The Mexico City earthquake shattered homes and buildings, also claiming over 300 lives.

Human inflicted horrors also abound. The worst mass-murder in Plano history occurred just last month– 9 young adults, including the murderer, killed. Today, as this article is written, our nation experienced the worst mass murder in our history in Las Vegas. An insane man massacred over 50 people putting even more horrific carnage scenes in front of our eyes. The amount of pain, suffering, and horror inflicted on so many people, in so many places, in such a brief time span is staggering.
Against this backdrop of horror and pain, we see God quietly loving and caring for people through his church, through His people. God’s people served many thousands of meals, prayed with thousands of people, removed countless tons of storm and flood debris and cleaned thousands of homes. God’s people are literally giving their blood in response to the Las Vegas massacre plea for plasma to treat the 100s of wounded. Our own CBA churches and people have been part of this response (come hear the details October 15).

The last few months profoundly highlight death, destruction and lostness. God calls and commands every follower of Jesus to be a living witness to a lost and dying world. What does being a living witness look like in the face of such death and destruction? Consider God’s servant Job.

When told of the loss of his children and wealth, Job fell on the ground and worshiped God.
20 Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, 21 saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything. Job 1:20–22 (CSB)

When Job was afflicted with infectious sores all over his body and his wife told him to blame and curse God and die, Job continued to worship.
9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said. Job 2:9–10 (CSB)

The temptation to curse God and to blame God for all the ills of the world is strong. Job never did. Job did not blame God despite his own wife’s urging. When Job’s friends came to comfort him, they too wanted to determine why these horrific things occurred. Not being as personally impacted, instead of blaming God they blamed Job. Job’s wife blamed God, Job’s friends blamed Job. Job wondered why he was even born.

They were all wrong. They answered the wrong question. We tend to begin with, “Why did this happen?” which quickly moves to “Whose fault is this?” question. We want to assign blame. The right and more constructive question is, “How do we respond to this evil darkness?” Witness, works and worship are much better responses than asking answerless questions. Only God can answer “why” and only God can assign blame. God asks you and me to be living witnesses to the Good News. Living witnesses that pray for God’s kingdom to come (Matt 6:9-15), care for those in need–“clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned” (Matt 25:31-46), share the truth of Jesus–“proclaim the Good News to the poor!” (Luke 4:18)

Over the past five years CBA focused on becoming a network of churches that connect, collaborate, and engage with one another in being a living witness (prayer-care-share) where we live (households) and work (marketplace) to all people (people groups) everywhere within our reach. This past year’s work advanced this strategy significantly. Our network’s response to Hurricane Harvey (stories will be shared October 15 at A Night of Caring and Hope) by collecting goods, sending volunteers, and connecting with other organizations (SEND Relief, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief and local churches) mobilized 100s of people and untold thousands of dollars. One team from a CBA Asian-Indian church started a Bible study for Asian-Indians in Beaumont that is the beginning of a new church there!

Regional examples of our connect, collaborate, and engage strategy include church starts (8 receiving funding, 4 new this year, all include multiple partner organizations/churches) and the launch of with Unite Greater Dallas (a specialized search engine and referral system for free and reduced cost services). In the area of evangelism and discipleship, CBA connected churches with Revive Texas and No Place Left ministries. Churches involved in these efforts saw their members engaged in direct evangelism that led to baptisms and discipleship. Church members that had never shared their faith with words discovered people do want to hear about Jesus! These efforts and many other examples are chronicled in The Encourager Magazine ( Give it a read and see what God is doing!

It is exciting to see God move in our churches! It is exciting to see girls, boys, women and men experience a living witness to Jesus Christ. Our network of churches is working! Thank you for the privilege of serving the CBA Church Network.

Living for the day…

Kingdom Perspective



The Lord’s prayer is the first “real” prayer I memorized as a child as it is for most of us who grew up in church. Certainly, I learned “Now I lay me down to sleep” and “God is great, God is good” first, but the Lord’s Prayer is the first prayer from the Bible. Praying it has brought me great comfort over the years. In times of grief, fear and stress I discover myself saying the words in my head without realizing I started. Knowing God is in heaven and is in control when all that surrounds me is out of control brings great comfort and peace.

I just completed five years as your associational missionary. As I reflect on the shift from local church pastor to associational missionary, it is somewhat ironic that the greatest lesson I have learned is embedded in this prayer—one I have known since I was 3 or 4 years old. That lesson is one of emphasis — the emphasis is on the kingdom of God.

We all know this command–“seek ye first the kingdom of God.” It is in the same chapter as the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:33). As a local church pastor, I certainly understood that the work of the church is kingdom work. What I did not understand, however, is what that work looks like when viewed as a whole.

What I did not, and could not, understand from that position is how the work of the kingdom is interconnected. I had to leave the seat of pastor and move to the seat of area missionary to see more clearly how and why God has so many different expressions of church. I can see more clearly how the Holy Spirit is in control and moving across our region. I see how God puts flesh on our living witness in this region from church to church in ways I could not see from the perspective of one church.

This is a lesson only learned with a change in perspective. I lived in South Dakota for six years. It is known as the “Rushmore State” and one of the sayings is “Great Faces, Great Places” because of Mt. Rushmore. Mt. Rushmore is one of those experiences that the postcards cannot capture. To truly understand and experience what was chiseled out of rock by men hanging in leather straps, one must see it in person.

When one is driving on the road behind Mt. Rushmore you cannot see its true grandeur. One sees the stone and the trees and you know it is called Mt. Rushmore, but from that perspective, you only see a beautiful mountain—big deal. It is not until you come around to the monument side of the mountain that the picture become clear and you see the “Big Deal!”

The kingdom of God is a “Big Deal!” I thought I had kingdom perspective as a local church pastor and I did, but it was a limited perspective. I have a different perspective now because God moved me to a different role in the kingdom. In this role, I can see how big, great and good the kingdom truly is. I can better appreciate what “seek ye first the kingdom” means. I more clearly understand what I am asking God when I pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” and “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.” We are indeed praying for God to bring His kingdom into every nook and cranny of Collin County and beyond. We live for the day when every girl, boy, woman and man experiences a living witness to the Kingdom of God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for calling me to serve the church from my missionary seat. The view from this side of the kingdom is incredible! Let us keep praying together for His Kingdom to come and for his will to be done with confidence for His is “the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

NOTE: This version of the Lord’s Prayer is the “Catholic Children’s Version.” I am not exactly sure why it is the version I was taught growing up in Baptist churches, but nevertheless it is the one I learned. The textually correct prayer is found in both Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

Seeing Joy through the Pain

As a Senior in high school. I was forced to read the Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Yes, let’s be honest, nobody chooses to read Dickens, especially that one. But it does contain one of the best openings ever written  – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

At age 18 those words meant very little to me. I had not yet lived long enough, or experienced enough of the world and all that life has to offer, to understand life’s many paradoxes. Now, many years later, after having spent the majority of my career as a journalist, I am just beginning to understand the depth of what Dickens was trying to communicate. He was not being whimsical, or cleverly stringing together phrases, but instead trying to make sense of the world around him. As best he could, he was trying to bring some sense of order to the chaos of the age. I wonder, if Dickens were a contemporary writing about our lives, would he choose to word things any differently? Somehow, I doubt it.

A month ago, I walked recently-flooded streets in north Houston, Beaumont, and Vidor and talked with people who were gutting their houses of everything they owned. There were stacks of furniture, clothes, wedding albums, homecoming mums, baby pictures, prom dresses, and more…memory upon memory stacked in reeking water-logged heaps. But there were also smiles, and people grateful for the friends, neighbors, and strangers who had come to help.

When I met Kevin, he was working on the back patio of his home, his living room empty except a few photos on the walls which contained a water-line much taller than Kevin’s six-foot frame. The ceiling fan, blades drooping like the branches of a weeping willow, also gave testimony to how high the waters surged. As we talked, Kevin fiddled with his fishing rod, putting drops of oil here and there, almost oblivious to the destruction around him, focused only on one small thing he could control in his life. Kevin was not at home at the time of the flood. His neighbor, Larry, was not so lucky. “I was watching the news in my living room at 5:30 that night,” said Larry. “At 5:30 the next morning I was wading through chest-deep waters with my dog lifted over my head.”

As with many disaster situations, capitalism found a home as “I survived Hurricane Harvey” and“Texas Strong” t-shirts flapped in the summer breeze attached to makeshift roadside stands, many next to restaurants and other businesses that had yet to reopen. John was running one of those stands. When he saw the word “chaplain” embroidered on my shirt, he broke down in tears and asked me to pray for him, his daughter, and his new grandchild who was born the night of the storm. At the time, his daughter was still in the hospital, but their home was flooded, and John did not know where they would live when it was time for her to leave the hospital. I prayed for John and went home with a “Texas Strong” shirt in my hands. I wish I could have done more.

Yet, even through the loss, confusion, and sadness, a sense of humor about the situation worked its way into the strange patchwork fabric of the mountains of soaked drywall and housing insulation that lined the streets. Messages left on spray-painted plywood warned visitors of looting and other potential crimes. “You loot, we shoot” was a common placard. After all, we are in Texas. But my favorite was, “Yard of the Month.” Dickens was right. We do have the capacity to see joy through the pain.

I also met an army of yellow-shirted volunteers – Southern Baptist relief workers, who know first-hand what it is to see the other side of disaster. They sacrificed vacation days, time with family, and the opening weekend of college football season. They came from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and even as far away as Alaska. There were those who assessed the damage, others who cooked meals, some who brought trailers with showers, and others who ripped walls from studs and carried wheelbarrows of debris to the curb. They came only to serve. They came to show that while it may be the worst of times, there are those who have come to be the hands and feet of Jesus in times like these, in an age like this.

Long before Dickens penned his famous prologue, King Solomon struggled with life’s incongruous mysteries as well. His conclusion, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…,” he wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV). We may never know why natural disasters occur, and why some people must endure them while others do not. However, we have evidence that the worst of times brings out the best in people. I pray that if you have not yet donated financially, or sacrificed your time to help those who are still hurting, may this be the day you are called to be a living witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Writing the Book of Acts

In the opening phrases of the Gospel according to Luke, the author writes, “it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” You see, it is good to chronicle the many things that God is doing in His work here on earth. Why is this endeavor good? So that we may have certainty.

I know that I am not alone in my times of questioning and doubt. But, what the Bible does promise us is certainty in our faith because there were men and women who witnessed the mighty acts of God, the inexpiable presence of the Holy Spirit, and the miracles of Jesus. They saw them with their own eyes. And, though they may have on many occasions not have immediately believed what they had seen. There was no denying that they experienced something different than anything they had experienced before, so much so, these men sat down and began to chronicle their encounters with God.

Twenty-four chapters later, Luke ends his narration of the life of Jesus, and launches into his second book which describes how this good news, the Gospel, the story of Jesus traveled throughout the region as thousands upon thousands heard and responded to the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As a writer, I cannot imagine how certain stories were chosen for inclusion into the Gospels and the book of Acts, while others have been lost to time. The apostle John finished his book about Jesus by saying, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

As I have researched and compiled stories for this edition of The Encourager Magazine, I have been awestruck by the number of stories I have heard which give evidence to this great movement of God we are experiencing in Collin County. Unfortunately, there are not enough pages in this publication to share with you the many ways in which God is touching the lives of the people who live here.
I have heard of a family of Muslim men who were in their living room reading the third chapter of the Gospel of John when someone randomly knocked on their door asking if they could pray for them. And, when the visitors were allowed to enter the home, they were asked to help explain the scripture passages the men were reading.

I heard of a couple whose marriage was bitter and coming to an end. After trying everything they could think of, they said to each other, “we just need someone to pray for us.” Minutes later, a knock came on the door.

I have heard of a man who is native to another country who recently gave his life to Jesus as a result of someone coming to his home to share with him. Not only did this man become a believer himself, but he returned to his native country so he could share Jesus with his family back at home. And the entire family believed and was baptized.

And, I have heard stories about childhood friends being reunited, and relationships rekindled because someone randomly knocked on a door to share the Gospel with the stranger who lived on the other side of the door.

I have talked with people who have started to change the regular rhythm of their lives to purposefully schedule time in their week to seek the lost in their community, to pray with and for them, and to share with them what Jesus has done in their own lives.

In short, I have been witness to a revival, a fresh movement of God’s spirit like never before. And, the more this movement grows, the more churches who actively engage their lost neighbors with the Gospel, the more these stories begin to multiply.

I have spent the past decade as a photojournalist and chronicler of God’s stories, in America and beyond. I am no stranger to being in remote locations, or urban cities, or on trains, planes, or buses and finding that God is at work in the lives of people, even to the ends of the earth. However, I can say these past months have been different.

In Collin County, as we are looking at our mission field…the lost among us…many pastors speak of the people who live here and compare them to the parable of The Rich Young Ruler, (You remember that one, where Jesus tells the man “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me”, but the man could not because he cared more about his possessions than he did of his spiritual life.) And yet, the people of Collin County are coming to Jesus. The stories I have mentioned are just a handful of the stories which are being added to weekly.

It sounds like the book of Acts, doesn’t it?! I never imagined I would have the opportunity to write such extraordinary stories about a modern-day, Acts-like movement of the spreading of God’s word. I can truly say, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) I pray this fresh wind of God’s spirit will continue and that each quarter as we prepare The Encourager Magazine, it will be impossible to tell all the stories about how God is at work in Collin County, Texas.