The Response

"He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself. And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you. Reprove a wise man and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Proverbs 9:7-10

Calling people to prayer takes the courage of a lion and the hide of a rhinoceros. When the focus is on calling pastors to return to the priority of prayer, I suggest gargling with testosterone, and adding extra body armor. From the disciples in the Garden to the ministers of today, there has always been a subtle temptation to drift away in slumber from the priority of prayer. Waking up someone from a deep sleep seldom results in a pleasant response. The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis, held in Houston's Reliant Stadium on August 6th generated a wide pendulum swing of reactions. They ranged from open hostility, to benign neglect, to active participation. Excuses were many, criticsim was great, but God's call to pray was heard by thousands in spite of the opposition. The harder the opponents of The Response kept shoveling out the criticism, God kept shoveling in His favor. They shoveled out. God shoveled in. God's shovel is bigger than theirs. Always has been. Always will be. Nuff said.

In "Words to Winners of Souls" (1877), Horatius Bonar quoted the personal confession of pious Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter,

"And for myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life; so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men's salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood. Methinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove it, it would be so."

Bonar added his own confession, "We are not in earnest either in preaching or hearing. If we were, could we be so cold, so prayerless, so inconsistent, so slothful, so worldly, so unlike men whose business is all about eternity?"

For 73 intense days, Dana and I were privileged to take part in an effort to mobilize Texas Baptist pastors to participate in The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis. It was Governor Perry's Joel 2 call for a solemn assembly held at the Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on August 6, 2011. You may want to mark that date down for future reference. Something special took place more important than any Super Bowl that will ever be played in that stadium.

My small part in this great day began when I was invited to attend a meeting in Houston re: The Response on May 24th by David Lane, a long-time friend. David and I met for the first time in August of 1980, while Dana and I were serving as Minister to Single Adults on the staff of Dr. John Bisagno, Senior Pastor of Houston's First Baptist Church. During those three years at HFBC, we were so pleased to see David meet and fall in love with his future wife, Cindy. It was not love at first sight, but Cindy heard from God, and obeyed His call. She took on the daunting mission assignment, and married David. When she got on board the Lane train, we hosted their rehearsal dinner in our home, and our oldest daughter, Ashley, was a flower girl in their wedding. Years later, when I pastored in Fort Worth, David served as one of my finest deacons. He has always been a pastor's friend. God has placed a call on David's life to encourage pastors to turn their hearts to God, and to lead their people to turn the nation back to a focus on a Holy Spirit awakening. He prays for me every day. Dana and I have always felt honored to have him ask us, "Can you help me?"

The meeting in May was hosted by Doug Stringer. Doug and Lisa lead "Somebody Cares," a tremendous ministry in Houston with a world-wide impact. They are two of our newest friends. Their lives are a remarkable story of God's grace, and they bring to the table powerful prophetic and diplomatic skills that can cross generational, ethnic and linguistic lines with superb organizational ability. Doug stook his neck out for The Response, but without losing his head. He became the on site coordinator and communicator for The Response, and God used him to bridge divides and smooth waters that prepared the way for a movement of the Spirit in Houston prior to August 6th. Doug, John the Baptist would be proud of you, and maybe even a litte jealous. Baptists are like that sometimes.

The first week of June, I received a call from the Director of The Response, Luis and Jill Cataldo, dear friends from I-HOP in Kansas City, to assist the amazing Alice Patterson with mobilizing Texas Baptist pastors to take part in the event to be held in Houston on August 6th. I called Alice and asked her to pray for our efforts. After that, she never looked back. The lady is a lazer of light in the darkness. Alice, "Many daugthers have done nobly, but you excel them all." (Prov. 31:29). The web site went public for the first time on June 6th, and our first Response Team conference call took place on June 9th. For anyone who is counting, that is roughly 60 days lead time to mobilize pastors to get their people to a stadium in Houston that seats 71,000 people. We needed a miracle, and God was on the move.

To put the challenge into a more personal focus, I am an interim pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. This a great country church with an attendance of thirty people, meeting for the past 107 years, 50 miles north of Fort Worth. It is a wonderful group of sweet people, but not considered the kind of platform from which to leverage Texas pastors who often associate size with significance. When I walked into the church's one Sunday School class on July 31st, they had prominently written across the little white board, PRAY FOR THE RESPONSE IN HOUSTON - AUGUST 6TH. I was moved to tears by their participation. So was God. The prophet Zechariah contained a warning in his question, "Who has despised the day of small things." Not God! He is not leveraged by the prominent or the dominant. He is moved by the slightest whisper of the smallest saint who calls out to Him for help. There must have been ALOT of small churches praying to a big God. Some larger churches sat on the bench. Mt. Pleasant brought their A-Game. Just sayin'.

In some cases the response to the call to prayer in Houston was underwhelming, but often, it was soul-stirring. I was so honored that pastor friends, Ricky Griffin of Amarillo would take time from serving as a pastor at Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo and take his place in prayer. Lakan Mariano drove from San Angelo to Houston to pray for 30 seconds on the platform of The Response. John Yarborough, made the journey from the mountains of north Georgia to intercede for an awakening. They were not alone, but these three men are poster boys for many men who set aside time out of busy schedules to "pray" their part in a call to God to do something only He could get credit for.

In July 2010, Dana and I began our fledgling prayer ministry, TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! After ten months, we were hardly in a position to set aside a ministry we were trying to get off the ground, and volunteer for two months for The Response. In spite of our 35 year investment in Texas Baptists, we felt inadequate for the task of mobilization on several levels.

In light of this, God impressed me I needed to take my personal preparation for The Response to another level. I began to read, "Preacher and Prayer, by E.M. Bounds. I reopened, "Words to Winners of Souls," by Horatius Bonar. It contained, "The Ministerial Confession of 1651." This is a remarkable, startling corporate confession of the ministers of The Church of Scotland during a national crisis. I soon learned calling people to pray and praying are two different things. The Father began to awaken me at 4:oo AM every morning, and I spent three hours of prayer with Him before I began my work of mobilizaiton. It has been an amazing time. Getting up has not been a problem. One morning, I awakened to the sound of someone pounding on my front door. I bolted out of bed and with heart racing, and adrenaline pumping, I looked through the spy glass on the door, but no one was there. I think I heard the Holy Spirit say, "Good morning!" Believe me I was awake before the coffee was made.

The next person I called in this mobilization effort was Ted Elmore. Ted and Cheryl have been leading Texans to pray for years. In the middle of their battle against Cheryl's breast cancer, Ted met me for prayer every week, and took time to provide great counsel and assistance in getting word out to Texas pastors re: The Response. His intimate association with Southern Baptists of Texas was key to this. Many thanks to Jim Richards, Executive Director of the SBTC, and Gary Ledbetter, Editor of The Texan for their willingness to cheer Ted on and to encourage SBTC pastors to support an event they did not plan. May your tribe increase!

Everyone who took part in preparing for The Response, those who attended in Houston, attended a simulcast or logged in on their computer have a story to tell. This is mine. About a week out from August 6th, I began to sense we were going to have a crowd. My concern shifted from mobilizing pastors to sending a personal invitation to an Audience of One. I began to believe we were getting traction for The Response, but I feared we might draw a crowd and miss putting the welcome mat out for The One Person who could make all the difference in the world. I began to pray to The Father to allow His Holy Spirit the elbow room He needed to take part in The Response, and to glorify The Manifest Presence of The Risen Christ, His Son, and Our Savior, Jesus Christ. This was more about me getting it right, than God getting an invitation, but I'm glad I prayed this way. It calmed my fears, and focused my eyes on Him.

Another person who stepped in at crunch time was an old friend, Ron Harris. He helped me to make connection with radio stations throughout Texas who he knew would be willing to assist us with getting the information out regarding The Response. Thanks Ron for lending us your impeccable professional credentials and solid reputation at a critical time when we needed help in clearing the air of all the negative media coverage. Among many, Sharon Geiger at KCBI was a messenger from God. I am grateful, and God was pleased to use your influence to give us favor for such a time as this.

Each team member and attendee of The Response had to overcome obstacles to get to Houston. Some fought cancer, unsupportive church boards, suspicious and cynical critics from the right and the left, and all faced scorching August heat. Dana and I live by faith, and and get paid by works. We had worked hard prior to The Response, blessed with several ministry opportunities. It looked like our needs were being met in time for the big day in Houston. Our work was growing, but our faith underwent a test when the checks we were expecting to arrive were still in the mail before we had to leave home. We left Fort Worth with gas in our car, and eight dollars in our pocket. Our personal and ministry accounts had enough money to allow us to purchase gas to get to Houston. We were not sure we had enough to get back. At best, we would be traveling on fumes when we pulled back into town late Sunday night. We prayed, and went anyway.

Our weekend schedule was tightened and brightened by our daughter Allyson's graduation from Dallas Baptist University on Friday. After she received her M.A. in Leadership from DBU, we grabbed a few quick pics, a quicker lunch, and headed to Houston. We made it to and through Houston in four hours during the peak of rush hour, a miracle indeed. We arrived in time to serve at the welcome desk and register program participants for an organizational dinner at the Reliant Stadium. It was our first time to meet many of the people we had only known by conference calls. Jim and Sharon Garlow, from San Diego arrived together as the sun was setting and the heat/humidity index was oppressively hot. During the ramp up for The Response, she and Jim have been fighting a battle with her cancer at M.D. Anderson. She could see Reliant from her hospital room. She would look from her window during treatments and pray for God to meet her there. Her prayers were answered. She showed up and so did God.

I was able to introduce Dana to Rebekah Ayodele, a beautiful Nigerian prayer warrior who had been praying for years for this kind of solemn assembly to be held in Reliant. From the day the stadium opened its doors, she had been praying and annointing the entrances with oil, asking God to bring His Presence to Houston for a day such as this. The stadium may be the home of The Texans, but The Saints were in the house! It looked like a gathering of the United Nations. Late Friday night, we checked into the hotel and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Dana, Allyson and I were asked by Wayne Hamilton, an amazing and gifted special event coordinator to assist his team with some final behind the scene responsibilities. Dana and I have come to love and appreciate all they do to make events like this move from dream to reality. We also responded to Jill Cataldo's request to assist with the Hospitality Team. This meant we arrived at the stadium at 7:45 AM, and would be on our feet all day. My back went out that morning as we were leaving the hotel. I had to lean on a chair most of the day, but I had a great view of what God was doing out front, and behind the scenes at The Response. When the doors opened, Allyson and I were standing stage right, just beneath one of the huge projection screens. I was praying that the people would come. In spite of all the preparaton, my heart was still in my throat. THEN IT HAPPENED. The doors opened, and the aisles filled with people racing down the steps to the main floor. It was an unending stream of people, RUNNING to enter the room, and to get to the FRONT of the stage. I remember saying to Allyson, with tears in my eyes, "They're coming!" I had to add, "They must not all be Baptists because they're not sitting in the back. They are moving to the front!"

From 8:00 AM-10:30 AM there was a steady flow of people entering the room, and taking part in the prayer and praise that was being offered up for personal and corporate repentance. One of the stadium representatives told us their estimate at that time was 35,000 people. It's their house. They should know. With the coming and going of the day from 8:00 AM-6:00 PM, I would not be surprised if the number of people who came to the event did not exceed 50,000. You feel free to watch the video on http://www.theresponseusa.com/ and make your own guesstimate.

You may not appreciate all of the music or the volume of it, but it didn't seem to bother God. He was there, smiling like a proud parent at a child's birthday party at "Chuck E. Cheese." Senior adults looked on with smiles on their faces as they watched young people worshipping God in a way that they could not fully comprehend, but they totally embraced. My favorite memory of the event involves Richard Ford. He moved from the reserved section out onto the floor of the arena. While the young people danced to the Lord, Richard whirled his battery operated chair in a circle with his head thrown back and a huge smile beaming toward Heaven. Richard is my new hero. I want to be like him when I grow up. Side note: It probably helped that I left the stadium with Bill and Vonette Bright's son, Brad and drove him to Walgreens to buy all the ear plugs they had. When we returned Brad handed them out to grateful senior saints. He could have sold them for a bundle. Remember the eight dollars? The thought crossed my mind, but Brad is a better Christian than I am.

This one thing I know. God's people prayed up, and God showed up. My prayer was answered when The Audience of One arrived on the scene. No one stole the show away from God. No one took His seat of honor. The focus was on Him from the beginning to the end. Governor Perry disappointed his critics by not turning it into a political rally. However, he probably angered them more by praying in the name of Jesus. Throughout the day, children, young people, and senior adults did the same thing. Personal prayer times and prayer groups were initiated from the audience, as well as from the platform.

In mid-July, I was invited by Luis and Jill Cataldo to participate in prayer on the platform at The Response. I love spending time with this couple. They know how to pray and how to laugh. A great way to live. They brought incredible energy and endless grace to a huge task. It is not easy to tell preachers of international prominence to keep their remarks under seven minutes. They kept control of the platform and made sure the prayer meeting did not turn into a preachathon. I am proud to call them friends. I was given 15 seconds to express a prayer focusing on the First Commandment. It doesn't sound like much time, but Luis encouraged us all to be in prayer as we walked to the stage, and allow him or Doug to simply place the microphone before us. They would break into our intimate converstation with the Father, and let others listen in. It made sense to me, so I timed the words, "Father, forgive us for exalting our systems and overshadowing our Savior, in the Name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen." When I got to platform, we were told we were ahead of schedule so the game plan changed to, "Ignore the timer, and let 'er rip." It is hard to believe, but I was a little annoyed. I had already memorized a perfectly good prayer, and now I had to shift gears. So much for prepared prayers. They never seem to work for me.

On a personal note, when I left the platform, I walked back stage and was met by my daughter, Allyson, who gave me a big hug. Right behind her was my wife Dana. She had her cell phone to her ear. I could see from her face that the conversation was important, but it was apparent that it delivered good news. She looked up at me with a smile on her face and announced, "The checks arrived!" What timing! We would be able to get home after all. It always pays to TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!

The Response was a call to prayer for a nation in crisis. That crisis continues, and will not be solved by the change of political leadership, turnaround of the economy, or restoration of national pride. Trusting in politicians, pursuing wealth, and building armies have put us where we are today. The paradox of our dilemma is not lost on God. We worship money, but our currency is engraved with the words, "IN GOD WE TRUST." God is not mocked, and doesn't suffer fools gladly or endlessly. The Response was a call to repentance. Tony Evans took only six of his seven minute time slot and left 60 seconds of change. He pointed us to an exit ramp, that requires the bridge of God's grace for us to continue to cross over the wrong road. He reminded us that turning to access the entrance ramp to the right road must continue. Turning our lives individually and corporately in the right direction is a begining, not an end in itself. We must remain focused with our eyes on Jesus long enough to see His face clear enough to know when He knows enough is enough. A look from Jesus should be enough to give His Church direction, protection and correction.

We left Houston in love with Jesus. A look from Him will quickly remind us if we ever leave our First Love. Until then, join us and enjoy the journey towards a First Love Awakening as Dana and I learn to TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!