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Foursquare pastors, leaders and church members from across the nation and around the world gathered at 6 p.m. on Memorial Day at the Hilton Americas—Houston for the opening service of the denomination’s annual convention. The conference—with more than 3,100 registrants—is being held from May 26-29, was launched under the theme, “The Unchanging Christ and the Unshakable Kingdom.”

The evening service began with a special video celebrating the convention’s time in Houston and celebrating Memorial Day with a tribute to America, followed by the crowd coming to their feet after a special rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Pastor Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, made some opening remarks and then introduced the Honorable Bill White, mayor of Houston.

“The Word of God is getting out to a lot of people in Houston, Texas, right now,” said Mayor White. Commenting that Houston is the fastest growing city in the U.S., White noted the city has grown to 6 million people in a short time. “We are so proud that a faith community like this has come from [all over the world],” added White, rallying an already excited crowd with words of faith.

The packed house got to their feet to worship with Eric Green, pastor of worship at New Life Foursquare Church in Canby, Ore., and Carolyn Foster, a ministry associate at New Life Foursquare Church in Everett, Wash. The crowd excitedly sang and clapped along with the popular worship number “You Are Good.” The talented duo turned from praise to worship, concluding with “This Is the Air I Breathe.” As worship came to a close, Pastor Jack encouraged attendees to gather in small groups for a time of personal prayer.

Native Houstonian Joel Osteen, best-selling author and senior pastor of Lakewood Church, offered his welcome to congregants via a special video message.

“We love Dr. Hayford and all he stands for; he’s been like a father to me,” said Osteen. “We want you to know we are behind you, everything you are doing. God likes to do more than we can ever ask or think. Stay faithful; stay full of integrity. We’re standing in faith with you and believing your best days are still out in front of you.”

Pastor Jack noted each session would include an Impact session, which will feature “someone God used to make impact in distinct ways,” and introduced the first Impact speaker, Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Houston, which he founded in 1983 and has since grown to a multi-campus church.

Riggle spoke specifically to pastors: “We’ve gathered in the room in these days that we might hear from the Lord,” adding that the adversary wants pastors to simply go through the motions. However, he encouraged that we gather with “the sense that God is coming with transforming power” and “we have a unique calling, and it is a calling to change the world, to lead people to transformation … the Lord is invited to come, evil is withstood and pressed back.”

Riggle told three stories about his grandchildren, tying-in the points that people in the church come to pastors when they are sick, but that Jesus comes to heal the broken-hearted, and we live to declare the works of the Lord. He concluded by telling pastors that “out of the word of God and the worship of God this week with a living God, [I pray] that you leave Houston, Texas different than you came.”

Riggle’s message concluded with a time of prayer and “Praise the Name of Jesus,” led by Pastor Jack.

Pastor Jack then introduced Jonathan Hall, the newly appointed missions director for The Foursquare Church, who was in attendance with his wife, Beth, and their three daughters. The family previously served as missions directors of Brazil.

In a welcoming gesture toward the missionaries and pastors that had traveled internationally, the 44 missionaries present stood and were applauded, followed by 35 national leaders and 50 guests with them from around the world. More than 100 Foursquare chaplains also stood for recognition and received an especially hearty round of applause in honor of their service on this Memorial Day.

Jonathan Hall then introduced Soroya Moraes, a Grammy-award winning singer from Brazil, who sang a worshipful number. A person in the crowd stood to his feet to wave a Brazillian flag.

The crowd then stood to their feet to join Pastor Jack in welcoming Doris Holland, the wife of former Foursquare President John Holland, who died last year. Doris thanked the Foursquare family for their support during John’s passing, as well as for Foursquare’s spiritual support. She also offered a “hug from heaven.” A video was then presented in memoriam of faithful Foursquare ministers who died in 2007, honoring their years of service to The Foursquare Church.

Next in the order of service, Sterling Brackett and Jim Scott briefly explained the new voting procedures for Convention 2008, and noted that business sessions would start on Tuesday.

After a brief time of worship, Pastor Jack introduced Robert Morris, founder and senior pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas/Fort Worth. Pastor Jack noted he often visits the church and appreciates Robert Morris’ openness and genuineness.

In a message titled, “Put God First,” the first plenary speaker of the convention spoke on giving, which he noted was his “life’s message.” Robert Morris is also the author of The Blessed Life (Regal Books), which has been translated into 18 languages—with all proceeds going to the church.

Speaking on giving, Morris began with warm anecdotes that had the crowd laughing, while noting the importance of giving—that giving is a gift, and that God gives abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Morris noted the following key points, from scriptural references:

  • The first-born must be sacrificed (if clean) or redeemed (or unclean).
  • The first fruits must be offered.
  • The tithe must be first.

He then told stories of generous people, encouraging the attendees that the most important thing in their lives isn’t wealth, but family.

“I’ve got a wife that loves me and loves god, and kids that love God,” he said. “Living the life of a giver is the best life you can give.”

Pastor Jack, who also noted the importance of giving and personal sacrifices, offered some words in closing along with his wife, Anna. After singing the hymn “I Surrender All,” wherein he encouraged the group to surrender their fear first and foremost, the first session in Houston concluded.

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