Month: August 2013

5 reasons to tell children the gospel, from birth

I won’t ever forget the first time I shared the gospel with my oldest son. It was right after he spit up on my shoulder, and just a few minutes before I placed him gently in his crib. I don’t think he understood much at all that evening. He certainly didn’t ask any questions. In fact, I’m pretty sure he already was asleep.

He was an infant, about six months old.

I’ve repeated that routine every single night since then, and have now incorporated it into a bedtime song. For his twin brother and sister, I began telling them the gospel message much earlier, right after birth.

Parents sometimes wonder when their children are “ready” to learn certain difficult concepts. The gospel, though, shouldn’t be on that list.

We say “I love you” to our infant children when they’re only days old, long before they know even a single word. Why should we wait until they’re older to share with them a much greater message? That is, that the God of the universe loves them, too, and far more than we could ever love them.

For my three children, I told them from the start that: Jesus died on the cross for them, that they’re sinners, that he rose from the grave, that he’s the Son of God. Gradually, I wove in other concepts.

With that said, here are five reasons why it’s a good idea to tell the gospel to your children, from birth:

  1. It’s biblical. In Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites to teach their children the “statutes and ordinances,” which included all sorts of commands that referenced death and animal sacrifices. No age is given. Scripture seems to assume that children—even ones not told the entire gospel message since infancy—are able to “handle” the concept of death. Kids step on ants and see lifeless animals on the road. They watch flowers wilt and leaves fall. Death is all around them. Why should they think humanity is any different? Teaching children the story of the cross is quite simple, but only because death did not write the final chapter.
  2. It prevents parents from wondering when the “right time” is to teach their children the full gospel message. The time is now, no matter the age. Sadly, some children’s Bibles skirt this central fact by saying Jesus “went away” for a while, as if he got lost on a long hike. But Jesus’ death was necessary (Hebrews 9:22) for our salvation, and, besides that, it’s not the end of the story. This story has a far better ending that any book our children will ever read.
  3. It allows parents to practice. Some parents struggle for the words to talk to their children about Christianity. Perhaps they didn’t grow up in a Christian home, or they’re new believers, or just aren’t comfortable discussing their faith. By sharing the gospel message to a child early, the parent has the luxury of messing up until they get it right. The baby, after all, won’t even know.
  4. Because we love our children. We sacrifice for our children every day. Why would we wait until later in life to tell them about the ultimate sacrifice, the greatest story ever told? The gospel message is far too wonderful—and significant—to wait.
  5. It allows children naturally to understand and comprehend the gospel message. Not once has my oldest son asked me, “Wait, Jesus was killed?” It’s all he’s ever known.

—Michael Foust blogs about the family and parenting at He is the former associate editor of Baptist Press.

Old Testament study gets experiential for Brownsboro youth

BROWNSBORO—It was a journey of biblical proportions and more than a year in the making.

The Jarhead and Soul Sister youth groups from Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro participated in a hands-on Bible study, building replicas of fixtures from the Old Testament temple. Early in the summer, a long line of students, parents, church members, deacons and the pastor marched seven-plus miles from Brownsboro to their new facility located on Highway 31. They were guided and protected by the Brownsboro Fire Department and a police escort.

The march itself was a symbolic journey, not only to drive home the arduous methods in which the Jews cared for their hallowed Ark of the Covenant, the lampstand, the showbread table, the table of incense and other prescribed items, but it was also a call to step out boldly on faith.

Robert Welch, pastor of Rock Hill, led the way, representing the high priest, according to the Old Testament.

“These kids worked over a year on this project and learned a lot about the Bible, about their relationship with God. I think that speaks well about this next generation. I know a lot of people down this next generation—but when these kids took their Saturday mornings, their Sunday evenings, all the preparation and hard work—they gave all that to the Lord. They did a lot more today than many older adults have ever done for the Lord. I’m proud of them and I’m proud to be their pastor. And I’m proud of what God is doing in their lives and through Rock Hill.”

During the year-long process, some students experienced peer pressure against participating in learning about the Old Testament, the temple, and how God called his people to be set apart.

“It hurts me to know that some of these kids suffered ridicule. This was to learn more about God and their faith, what they believe in. But to truly know who Jesus Christ is, why he came and the full purpose and value for his sacrifice, one needs to understand the true nature of the Old Testament,” said one of the parents. “After all, this is part of Jesus’ heritage, and to really know him one should want to know all about him. Right?”

Katy Robertson, a high school student and a member of the Soul Sisters, commented on the peer pressure she saw other students experience. “I know it taught me a lot about commitment. Some people dropped out and lost their connection with God and became more ‘worldly.’ As a group, we experienced a lot of peer pressure doing this. There were a lot of people who made fun of us. It became very personal.”

“Back when it first started, I don’t think we understood how big of a ‘personal journey’ it would be,” wrote Tristan Moore, a member of the Jarhead group. “Some kids thought it (the project) was pointless and didn’t get as involved as they should have, but I didn’t let them get to me. It went from being pieces of wood to actual objects that meant something biblical. During (the work) I’ll admit it wasn’t the ‘fun-nest’ thing ever, but afterwards, I’m definitely glad we did it. It will be an experience we’ll never forget.”

Jerry Don Satterfield, also a member of the Jarhead group, remarked of the peer pressure, “There was slight persecution, but in reality, when it’s for God, it doesn’t matter. The March to the Rock project was a lot of work and dedication. I’m glad I did it.”

The deacons of Rock Hill participated as well, and since the replicas of the holy temple were precursors to the coming of Christ, they thought it only fitting to build a large wooden cross that would follow the procession. The deacons took turns physically carrying the 10-foot cross down the highway to show their support for the youth’s dedication.

“It was a very moving experience,” commented Tom Williams, Rock Hill deacon chairman. “I didn’t know what to expect, but as the day went on there was a really deep sense of accomplishment and feeling like God was with us.”

When asked about what emotions he experienced stepping onto the grounds of the new facility, Williams said, “Well, not so much as walking up to the new church, but walking and reflecting, carrying the cross, and thinking about what Christ had done for us and what little bit it was to take two or three hours of our day to carry a wooden cross. These kids are our future. We marched our future right up to the new church and hopefully they will continue on.”

Brian Cooper, a coach in the Brownwood school district, also came to show his support for members of his team. “These kids put themselves out there. They showed some leadership and their faith as they walked in front of their friends and their community unashamed. It was something special to see these kids do this.”

Many cars slowed to view the students carrying heavy wooden objects and the long procession of adults who came out to support the youth. In the end, all the students agreed that if they caused people to weigh the faithfulness of their relationships with Christ or whether or not they even had one, it was worthwhile.

“I think it’s significant that this march was one of the first events we held at our new facility, which was done by our students,” Welch said. “This speaks to me of what this is all about—it’s about the next generation, about reaching our future. I’m so proud to have been a part of it and all their hard work. I mean, this is their building. This is their church. I’m glad that they’re already stepping up and leading it.”

Talent in the pews made filmmaking an option for Retta Baptist Church

BURLESON—Movie making may not technically be a spiritual gift, but Pastor Chuck Kitchens believes that God places individuals in specific churches for his purposes. The Lord brought Jarod O’Flaherty to Retta Baptist Church in Burleson and the rest is film history.

The movie “My Son,” a RettaVision production, was screened for 400 guests in Burleson on Aug. 16. The movie will premiere Sept. 20 at Burleson Premiere Cinema. An agreement with the Web platform company Tugg for distribution in theaters nationwide has been reached.

So how does a church of 300 produce a full-length feature film?

It starts with talent.

When Kitchens became pastor of Retta Baptist nearly three years ago, he noticed that the church had produced several Christian music videos directed and filmed by Jarod O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty had also produced a documentary on World War II in honor of his grandfather, a World War II veteran.

Kitchens thought, “This guy has got what it takes.” Kitchens became convinced that God wanted Retta to do a feature film. He mentioned his idea to O’Flaherty, who was skeptical. The two scheduled a meeting to discuss the idea. O’Flaherty intended to decline.

“I had planned to go tell Pastor Chuck that it would be a great idea to do the film, but I would not be involved because my work schedule would not permit it,” O’Flaherty said.

That same day, O’Flaherty’s employer, an IT hosting company, announced a program allowing tenured employees to take two-month paid sabbaticals to “do something they were passionate about” and would otherwise be unable to do, O’Flaherty said. He no longer had an excuse.

The 31-year-old O’Flaherty’s proficiency with videography began 10 years ago when he started filming church youth events and editing the footage for church presentations. He filmed weddings, sporting events and, eventually, music videos.

O’Flaherty’s personal equipment was used in the production of “My Son.” What O’Flaherty couldn’t supply was provided by the church.

“A good portion of our film production budget that the church raised was used to purchase equipment for the film,” O’Flaherty said.

The budget for “My Son” was miniscule by Hollywood standards, a mere $25,000. However, this amount is sizable for a church of 300. No lengthy fundraising campaign was necessary.

“We announced the project one evening and all the funds came in almost immediately,” O’Flaherty said. “The members of our church were excited to hear about the film.”

Even before the formal announcement at church, the movie’s plot had been scripted.

 “We had developed a writer team from our church and asked them to come up with multiple script proposals,” Kitchens explained. Then a three-member executive team of O’Flaherty, Kitchens and associate producer Michael Dennis met to rate the script ideas.

“Nobody [initially] picked the idea that ended up becoming the movie,” Kitchens recalled. Yet as the team talked, the idea “came to life” in the meeting. The three men decided to go home and pray about the matter.

“When we got back together, we were all chomping at the bit to tell one another what had happened. As we talked, more and more of the conflict that would become the script came to life,” Kitchens said.

The movie’s plot involves the story of a young couple, Jess and Cadon, who lose custody of Jess’s young son under “questionable circumstances,” according to the film’s official website, Cadon approaches a friend to help regain the child. Tensions escalate; a hostage crisis in a church ensues; the main characters face life-changing decisions.

The movie is Christian in theme, the gospel integrated into the story line. The film also deals with issues of race and racism.

“In so many Christian films, it almost seems like they stop acting and the characters … start witnessing to the camera,” Kitchens said.  “We wanted [the gospel] to be part of an ongoing story so that it looked natural.”

“We decided we are going to have a movie that is not your typical church movie,” said Kitchens, who expressed hope that the film would reach the unchurched.

The scriptwriters were inexperienced. Differences of vision between director and writers were resolved in an eight-hour meeting and prayer session. By the end of the meeting, the writers and production team were in “complete unity,” Kitchens said. The entire script was blocked out on a white board.

Funding quickly followed the completion of the script.

Casting the movie came next.

A volunteer casting committee advertised for actors. Auditions were held at Retta Baptist. In some instances, people just knew folks who fit the part. No one was paid or a professional performer. Some were members of Retta; two came from First Baptist Burleson.

Joseph Madlock, who plays Andrew, actually worked at O’Flaherty’s company. Though the two had never previously spoken, O’Flaherty asked Madlock to audition and the novice actor won the role.

Kitchens initially approached Restin Burk, who plays Cadon, to serve as a technical advisor to Madlock, whose character has been recently released from prison. Burk had actually been in prison himself. Burk surprised Kitchens by asking to audition for a role in the movie.

“Restin has an incredible testimony that we have incorporated into the gospel tract we put together to accompany the film,” said Kitchens, who called Burk’s casting “one of those miracles that God just worked out.”

“Restin’s life could be a movie itself,” Kitchens said.

O’Flaherty remembered Kate Randall from a music video he had worked on in 2009 with a youth pastor in Ohio.

“I kept telling our casting team that we needed someone like Kate for the female lead. By this time she had married a soldier and was living in California. I sent her a message asking her to consider coming to Texas for three weeks to shoot a movie. It worked with her schedule, and she flew out from California and stayed with a member of our church during the filming,” O’Flaherty said.

“We are not a church that is just bursting with acting talent,” O’Flaherty added. “God obviously knew what he was doing. He had this girl 1,000 miles away he was going to bring to fill that role. Kate was better than we ever could have expected.”

Kitchens was chosen to play the father of Kate Randall’s character.

The bulk of the filming took place in July and August of 2012. Unexpected blessings abounded.

“We filmed every day, pretty much morning till night,” Kitchens said. Locations were offered free of charge: a courthouse, two restaurants, convenience stores, churches. An ambulance company donated vehicles and services one day for free. The Johnson County sheriff’s department donated time, people and the use of their vehicles.

Sometimes, he noted, it even seemed God was providing special effects.

“During filming, sometimes light would be shining on walls at different times that worked out better than we could have ever imagined. We would just stop and say, ‘Look at that! Look at what God has done for us.’ Everything seemed miraculous.”

Work continued after filming was completed. O’Flaherty, director and main cinematographer, also became the film’s editor, sound mixer and color expert.

College student Connor Watkins composed an original movie score.

“No one in the credits could be considered a professional, or experienced, or even trained in acting, lighting, recording and sound. That the story is coherent is miraculous,” O’Flaherty marveled.

Thus far, response to screenings has been positive. An independent focus group of 10 critics offered suggestions at an early screening. “When asked if they enjoyed the film, all 10 said yes,” said O’Flaherty, who added, “We urged them to give honest opinions and even pushed them to say no.”

“Our goal in making this film was not so much to entertain a Christian audience but to reach an audience that would not show up in church and would not watch traditional Christian films,” O’Flaherty explained. “Ten or 20 years from now we will still be able to watch this film. Hopefully it will still be relevant, an act of ministry that won’t go away.”

Apologetics conference to tackle certainty in an unbelieving age

The value of Christian apologetics may be seen in the “many convincing proofs” Jesus gave to his disciples over 40 days following his resurrection (Acts 1:3) or the instruction to “contend for the faith” in Jude, says Bruno Molina, language evangelism associate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Molina said he first became convinced of the value of studying apologetics—the art of defending the faith—while developing a strategy to reach Muslims with the gospel several years ago. He went on to earn a certification in apologetics with the North American Mission Board through a program NAMB offered in conjunction with Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., one of the first institutions with a degree program in apologetics.

Molina said that because Jesus spent 40 days offering those “many convincing proofs” that he was the risen Christ, we must follow his example.

“What must be remembered is that some people have honest questions, they aren’t just suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” as the unbelievers described in Romans 1 were, Molina said. “We should respond by contending earnestly for the faith.” 

To that end, the SBTC is offering the Confident Christianity Conference, Sept. 6-7 at Hillcrest Baptist in Cedar Hill.

This year’s theme is “Proclaiming the Certainty of Christ in an Age of Unbelief.”

“The overall concern we wanted to address this year is how we are to hold our biblical standard up in an environment in which our postmodern culture constantly assaults our foundational beliefs,” Molina said.

In addition to a lineup of breakout session speakers, keynote speakers include J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and a leading apologist; Sean McDowell, a popular speaker and a Ph.D. student in apologetics and worldview studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Barry Creamer, vice president for academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College in Dallas; and Mary Jo Sharp, an author and assistant professor of Christian apologetics at Houston Baptist University.  

Conference sessions will deal with such topics as the trustworthiness of the Bible, same-sex marriage, relativism, the intellectual integrity of Christianity, discerning popular media messages, and the biblical woman in a media-driven world. Training on non-Christian religions is also included.

“For me, the study of apologetics has greatly strengthened my own faith in God and the reliability of his Word,” Molina said.   

“We need to remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word, and apologetics is part of that,” he added.

Cost is $35 per person with a student price of $15. Registration is available online at A Spanish-language track with Pastor Edgardo Ferrer will also be available.

Settling the science by fiat

In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” ol’ Rip falls asleep for 20 years that include the American Revolution and wakes to find that his world has thoroughly changed. These days I feel like that after my allotted seven hours a night. People are saying and doing inexplicable things as if they were nothing but good sense. Specifically, and because it is so basic, I’m talking about draconian measures to normalize bizarre ideas about human sexuality. Here are a few notable and current examples.

Bradley Manning, convicted of leaking classified documents and sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth, claims that he is a woman named “Chelsea.” He wants the military to provide hormone treatments to make him more physically feminine. Earlier this year, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic manual eliminated the term “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental health disorders to remove the implication of mental illness from the syndrome.

New Jersey’s Republican governor has signed a law making it illegal to therapeutically assist minor children in understanding their own sexuality and orientation—also called “gay conversion therapy.” Gov. Chris Christie said that although he hesitates (though not for long) to limit the choices of parents in caring for their own children, there is no “clear evidence of benefits that outweigh [the] risks” of depression and thoughts of suicide. Besides, the expert consensus is against such treatment.

Perhaps you’ve seen our recent stories about a proposal to ban unpopular views of human sexuality from those who wish to serve or do business with the city of San Antonio or the story about an Air Force sergeant (also in San Antonio) who was relieved by his commander for refusing to affirm (he did not criticize) same-sex marriage.

Woven throughout these stories are “facts” apparently proven while I was asleep. Someone somewhere has proven that teenagers are never confused about sexuality. Perhaps that same person has proven that there are actually more than two sexes represented in the human species. Still someone else has decided that the scorned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military has become “Must Affirm, Must Say So.”

Of course, none of these things were proven. Each is based on dogma—a religious or philosophical worldview beyond scientific verification. In these cases, the priests of a new religion are overturning some of the most basic understandings of human society—man, woman and family. Their disciples are discarding beliefs that have a track record thousands of years long in favor of ideas less than 50 years, less than six months in some cases, old. To use Professor Lewis’ example: If a man claims to be a poached egg, he cannot in our day be called insane if sympathetic experts vote in his favor. Would you want such a man driving a car, or holding state secrets? Be careful how you answer.

We are not being called on to be tolerant; we are being required to change our minds, our very view of reality, by politicians and opinion makers (and military officers) who are not experts themselves. It is an abuse of all kinds of power. In the case of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, we are being required to help a disturbed young man appear to be a woman and perhaps even house him in a women’s facility. In the case of the New Jersey law, Gov. Christie has unmistakably stepped between parents and their children and certainly based on little “clear evidence” that a compelling state interest justified his actions. In the two San Antonio examples, we are being required to mouth an opinion that happens to contradict the Texas Constitution in order to have commerce with the city.

Rip Van Winkle faced no change as surprising as these examples of bald abuses of influence and authority. Those who claim that there are no First Amendment violations built into this riot of folly are insincere or unqualified to hold the influence entrusted to them.    

Lackland Air Force sergeant files complaint after ousted for gay marriage views

SAN ANTONIO—Attorneys for a senior master sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base punished for refusing to affirm same-sex marriage have filed a formal complaint with the military against the airman’s commanding officer alleging Maj. Elisa Valenzuela violated Air Force policy and the airman’s freedom of speech and religious liberties.

In the Aug. 20 letter to Valenzuela, attorney Mike Berry of the Plano-based Liberty Institute called for a meeting to address the grievances of Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, a 19-year veteran. Berry said the fact that Monk was relieved of duty following a disagreement over a matter of conscience is a violation of Air Force and Department of Defense policy. As the only training base for Air Force recruits, Berry said the message sent to trainees at Lackland is chilling. Monk was not willing to “take his lumps” but instead wanted to send a different message.

“He feels a duty to all airman. He doesn’t want this happening again,” Berry said in a phone interview with the TEXAN. “Our rights are not abridged or forfeited due to military service.”

The point of contention between Monk and Valenzuela—same-sex marriage—did not arise until the sergeant began an investigation of another airman charged with making anti-homosexual remarks. In the course of discussing disciplinary options with Valenzuela, a lesbian, Monk was pressed for his opinion on the subject. Valenzuela reportedly became incensed when she realized Monk did not agree with her view on same-sex marriage and he was relieved of duty.

Berry said initial testimony vindicates Monk of wrongdoing and, instead, reveals he became the target of a vendetta by the commander, who meted out punishment for perceived anti-homosexual discrimination.

“By virtue of the fact that she was the commanding officer and held all the cards … she felt at liberty to abuse that position,” Berry told the TEXAN in a conference call with Monk in early August.
Berry contends Monk’s dismissal was due to his Christian convictions, not actionable conduct. He stated in the letter that Valenzuela’s actions were a violation of specific military codes and religious liberty protections under the First Amendment.

Until the dispute, Monk, 38, served as the intermediary between enlisted personnel and the commanding officers at Lackland. His duties required he meet with Valenzuela about pending disciplinary actions against a junior airman who spoke against homosexual marriage while teaching a class. Following an interview with the instructor, Monk concluded the remarks were not intended to insult or provoke but were used to make a point about unity despite differences.

But some airmen complained, sparking the investigation and Monk’s meeting with Valenzuela. In late June Monk suggested his commander use the situation as a learning experience for the unit, teaching about diversity within unity.

Instead, “She took the position that his actions were discriminatory and he should be punished severely,” Monk said.

During the course of the discussion, Monk found himself the center of Valenzuela’s personal inquiry into his views about homosexual marriage and what constitutes discrimination.

“You’re not on the same page as me,” Monk recalled his commander saying. “If you can’t get on the same page as me I’ll find you some place else to be.”

In response to her queries, Monk told her he recognized discrimination when he witnessed it. But his commander became angrier as the discussion progressed, according to Monk. Valenzuela pressed Monk about his views and even implied opposition to homosexual marriage was a violation of Air Force policy.

After she asked him if opposition to same-sex marriage was discriminatory, Monk said he realized his answer could determine the fate of his job.

“I believed I was being coerced to answer in the way she wanted,” Monk said. “As a Christian I could not answer the way she wanted me to.”

Monk told his commander his opinion was grounded in Christian conviction, not any animus toward homosexuals or disrespect to Valenzuela in particular. Not satisfied with his response, Valenzuela relieved him of his duties. On Aug. 9 he received a call informing him he was separated from his unit and his reassignment to the Lackland medic unit was being expedited. Although the reassignment was planned before his confrontation with Valenzuela, Monk was in the midst of a weeks-long process of training his replacement when he was relieved of duty and told to refrain from all contact with his replacement.

He was also told to clear out his office but was barred from doing so while Valenzuela was in hers just down the hall.

“I was made to feel that because I have a deeply held religious view different from hers, I was unworthy of being in her vicinity,” he said.

Monk said he was dumbfounded, adding that his faith and his job as senior master sergeant demand he treat everyone with respect. A self-described introvert, Monk is uncomfortable with the media attention about his situation. But he told his pastor, Steven Branson of Village Parkway Baptist Church, that he couldn’t walk away from the situation for the sake of his family. That would send the wrong message to his sons, ages 12, 14, and 16, he said.

Monk said he also believes he represents countless service men and women who feel they are under scrutiny because of their faith—evidenced by dozens of email messages of support after his case made national news. Berry said he isn’t surprised, noting the majority of U.S. military personnel associate with Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Berry said the timing of Monk’s experience is noteworthy in light of an Aug. 22 report by Judicial Watch indicating Department of Defense training material depicts some conservative organizations as “hate groups” and “extremists.”

“We’re crossing a line. You can now be punished for believing something,” Berry said.

By filing the formal complaint, Monk said he is trying to send a message to all enlistees but he also wants to clear his record. Berry said being relieved of duty, especially a high-ranking post like senior master sergeant, is a mark against his character and clean record.

In the meantime Monk said support has also come from his church, which is making sure Monk and his family have what they need. He said he appreciated Branson accompanying him to a local television station for his appearance on the national morning news show “Fox and Friends.”

Growing up a military brat, Monk said he never lived in the same place more than four years and never felt like he had a church home until now.

“It feels good to know you’re surrounded by people who care about you,” Monk said.

This is not the first time Monk has been involved in controversy at Lackland Air Force Base. In 2012, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker was convicted of the sexual assault of female recruits. Rumors of Walker’s actions had been circulating around the base when commanders told Monk to “get to the bottom of it.”

Monk’s initial interview with one of the first victims led to the investigation of Walker and his ultimate conviction. Monk, a master sergeant at the time, helped facilitate the investigation.

When Burleson church set out to make a feature-length movie, it never planned on an R rating

BURLESON—Pastor Chuck Kitchens of Retta Baptist Church in Burleson has been surprised by a number of things associated with his church’s recently produced film, “My Son,” which was screened for 400 invited guests in Burleson on Aug. 16.

After all, a church of 300 non-Hollywood types produced a full-length, watchable movie with novice actors, an untried crew, and a budget of only $25,000, and still received praise from critics.

But most surprising—shocking really—to Kitchens, the film’s executive director, director Jarod O’Flaherty and all those involved with the movie, was the film’s R rating handed by down by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

News of the rating reached Kitchens and O’Flaherty just before the screening. Kitchens debated making a statement before the screening, then decided to let the audience see the movie before announcing its rating.

“When people have seen the film, they are shocked by the rating,” Kitchens said.

Response to news of the MPAA rating at the screening came close to an “uproar,” said Kitchens, who finally asked audience members to email their opinions to him. So far, more than two-thirds of the respondents have recommended keeping the movie’s content as is.

In a statement posted on the organization’s website, Joan Graves, MPAA senior vice president and chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), explains the process of rating a film.

Filmmakers pay a submission fee to obtain an MPAA rating. The film is then screened “in context” before an independent group of parents who fill out rating cards. Discussion follows. The film receives its rating.

Filmmakers who wish to achieve a different rating may edit their films and resubmit to CARA, and the process begins again, Graves said. Filmmakers who disagree with the MPAA rating and do not wish to alter their films have another option.

“They can go to an appeals board which is a different board made up of industry people, distributors and exhibitors,” she added.

Kitchens and crew are examining their alternatives. As of now, they intend to go ahead with the movie’s scheduled premiere at Burleson Cinemas on the weekend of Sept. 20-21, despite the R rating.

Simply tweaking the film is not easy, Kitchens explained. The MPAA will not specify which scenes need to be changed or cut in order for the film to earn a PG-13 rating. The movie features some violence and drug use, yet these scenes are neither gratuitous nor excessive and are essential to the plot, Kitchens said.

“One scene features marijuana use by a couple of characters, but this is the reason why the main female character loses custody of her child,” said Kitchens, who noted that the film’s plot hinges on this event and that the film would lose realism and indeed would “not make sense” were the scene to be deleted.

And that scene may not even be the problem. Kitchens fears the process of editing and resubmitting the film could take so long that its premiere would be delayed.

Editing a film presents special complications for a volunteer crew operating on a shoestring budget. For example, each edit necessitates adjustment of the musical score, and the soundtrack’s composer, a college student, is already back in school and has no time for repeated edits.

Kitchens said he believes the process of submitting and resubmitting the film to the MPAA could “go on forever.”

“We are concerned about producing the first Christian film with an R rating. But we have no choice right now. We will go on with the R rating and hope for the best,” Kitchens said. “It is to the point where we either gut the movie or nickel and dime it to death.”

Most viewers have told the filmmakers to leave the movie alone. Many have suggested that the R rating is what God wants, that the rating may make the film even more appealing to the unchurched, Kitchens noted.

Ironically, some who objected to the release of the film with an R rating had “no problem” with the film and its content until they heard it was rated R, Kitchens said. Pastors have indicated they are reluctant to recommend any R movie to their congregations.

Kitchens said he understands this, but he also knows that the distribution of the film to theaters nationally through the Web platform company Tugg depends in large part on the presale of tickets. Filmmakers are depending upon church support to help get “My Son” into theaters.

Kitchens even wonders if there is an anti-Christian bias at the MPAA, noting the fact that the MPAA gave the Sherwood Pictures film “Facing the Giants” a PG rating because of “proselytizing.”

Regardless, Kitchens and O’Flaherty now have a feature film with a controversial rating. Responses from audiences and critics have been positive. “The film is way beyond what we should have been able to do,” Kitchens said.

And the R rating is way beyond what they ever expected.

“We were hoping for just the right ‘God moment’ [at the August screening],” said Kitchens, indicating his desire that a journalist or movie distributor in attendance might become interested in promoting the film and “run with it.”

The current rating is not what he had in mind, but the controversy generated is likely to draw attention to the film in the most unanticipated of ways.

Diligence necessary in leading kids to Jesus

“Some people were bringing little children to Him so He might touch them, but His disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” —Mark 10:13-14

The most important decision your child will ever make is to follow Jesus. While we as parents long to see our children make that choice and pray earnestly to that end, we also want to know that they are making it with as much understanding as they can for their age. 

As we worked with our own four children, with children in Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools, and sought the counsel of godly parents who had gone before us, we began to realize that there were some important concepts our children needed to understand. 

When a child is born, his parents are in many ways like God for him. When you think that God is the one who provides for us, protects us, loves us unconditionally and set our boundaries for us, that is what parents do for their children. And so, in your child’s earliest years, you are developing his understanding of what it means to have someone who loves him who does those things for him. What are the attributes and actions of God that your very young child will begin to learn in his relationships with you?

Forgiveness. God tells us that he removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. When your child disobeys and you have dealt with it, it is done. If he does the same wrong thing tomorrow, deal with it again. But once it is dealt with, don’t keep bringing it up to him. God does not do that with us.

Consistency. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He keeps his word.  Your child needs to know that your yes means yes and your no means no. His whining should never work! If you say no, think before you say it, and then stick with it. Your child should see a consistent response from you for his behaviors. 

Boundary setter. God in his Word sets boundaries for us to live by, because he loves us and knows what is best for us. In the same way we set loving boundaries for our children. Just as we submit to God, we should expect obedience from our children, knowing that the boundaries we set for them are because we love them and know what is best for them.

Unconditional love. God promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. Our children need to know that no matter what they do, we will always love them and be their parents. This does not mean that we excuse or tolerate disobedience. It does mean that we deal with them in a straightforward way, setting and enforcing godly standards in their lives while offering loving forgiveness for their transgressions. 

Our culture has created its own definition of love, which in many cases depends on the behavior of others toward me and how they make me feel. God’s love does not depend upon my behavior or upon feelings, for which I am thankful. In John 3:16 we see that God showed his love by giving himself even unto death for me, for the purpose of leading me to godliness and a holy life. In the same way we are to love our children, dying to ourselves in order to demonstrate consistency, boundary setting, forgiveness and love to them, not for the purpose of always giving them what they want but for their goodness and righteousness. This is how we show God’s love to them.

Can a parent do all of these things perfectly every day? Of course not. We live in a fallen world, and even though God’s Spirit dwells within us to convict us, guide us and empower us to live ever more godly lives, we still fail. Children seem to be blessed with very understanding hearts and seem able to overlook and even accept our frailties when they know that we are doing our best to follow God and raise them in a way that pleases him.

What are concepts that a child needs to understand for him to make a decision to follow Christ?

Sin. Your child needs to know that sin is disobeying God. He will learn this more easily if he knows the boundaries you have set for him and that disobedience to you has consequences. The first verse we ever taught our children was John 3:16; the second was Ephesians 6:1. As your child begins to understand what sin is, he probably will not need to repent about robbing a bank. But if he understands that when he disobeys you he is also disobeying God, and that that is sin, then he can begin to see that he needs to deal with God about his disobedience as well as with you.

Disobedience is not just a “bad choice,” it is sin. Your child may not need to repent about a bad choice; he will need to repent about sin.

Repentance. There is a difference between being sorry that you are caught in a sin (regret) and being sorry you committed the sin (repentance.) As you pray for your child and as God deals with his heart, this is a difference that your child needs to learn. Repentance is not just sorrow for sin, it is also a turning away from the sin with a desire to let the Holy Spirit help us to choose godliness in the future. Even if your child seems to demonstrate repentance, will he sin again? Do you? Just as God forgives and seeks to move us as adults ever closer to himself, so he will with your child.

Lordship. We don’t have lords in America, so this may not be as easy a concept for your child to grasp. We used the word “boss” with our children. Did they want Jesus to be the boss of their lives, to try their best, with his help, to obey him and follow him?

As each of our children, in turn, chose to ask Jesus to be their Savior, I always prayed that God would give me some assurance that they were understanding as best they could the decision they were making. With each of them, I was amazed and grateful to hear, within just a few days, them discussing a spiritual concept in such a way that I knew their insights had to be from the Holy Spirit in their lives. And with each child we realized that although the work of our earnest prayers for his salvation might have been completed, there was still much work to be done over the years, as we began the process of discipling these very important new young believers. As our children now are following God in their early young adult years, we can echo the words of 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

—Betsy Owens is a mother and the wife of Waylan Owens, dean of the Jack D. Terry Jr. School of Church and Family Ministries and associate professor of church and family ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.