Month: December 2016

REVIEW: Is “Sing” OK for kids? (And why is Nicki Minaj”s “Anaconda” in it?)

Buster Moon is an energetic, enthusiastic koala bear who owns and operates a Broadway-style theater in the big city. But while Moon’s theater has enjoyed its moments of glory, it has fallen on hard times—so much so that he longer can pay his actors. His friends at the bank won’t even give him a loan.

The ever-imaginative Moon, though, has a plan: He will attract attention to his fledgling theater by hosting a city-wide singing contest where the winner will receive a grand total of … $1,000. The competition seems destined for failure due to the small prize, but Moon’s half-blind secretary—a green iguana who has a glass eye—ensures there will be a large pool of contestants when she mistakenly prints fliers with not a $1,000 prize but a $100,000 prize. Soon, the line of competitors circles the block.

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Illumination’s Sing (PG) opens in theaters this week, spotlighting Moon and a cast of hilarious characters as they seek to win the animal version of American Idol. Thanks to the movie’s partnerships with McDonald’s and Post Brand—the makers of popular cereals—plenty of children will be asking their parents to take them to the local cinema. And many of those same parents want to go, attracted by the all-star cast and the selection of popular radio tunes.

But as we’ll soon discover, not everything in Sing is kid-friendly. Let’s look at the details.

The Good

Sing—which was made by two of the producers behind Despicable Me—is easily one of the funniest movies of the year, and I laughed out loud multiple times. It also has a great story.

The film takes a commendable stance on what should be required to become a singer. That is, the ability to sing. Sadly in today’s music industry, beauty comes first and talent second. But in Sing, all sorts of animals make the finals—including a shy-and-bumbling female elephant named Meena (Tori Kelly) and an aging and slightly overweight pig mom named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon). In this movie, the voice is preeminent.

Sing also soars as simply a celebration of music—one of God’s great gifts that we are to enjoy. Even though the film includes some non-kid-friendly songs (more on that below), it also includes plenty of mainstream songs that I can appreciate with my children.

It has a good message about sacrificing and working hard to reach goals.

Finally, the movie does a nice job of showing the loving bond between parents and children—first in revealing how Moon’s father sacrificed for his son, and then in showing the father of a singing gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton) going to great lengths to tell him he was proud of him.

The Bad

It’s impossible to critique Sing without discussing song selection. Why, for example, is Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” (which uses samples from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”) in the movie? This is a film for kids … right? Yet the song is auditioned by three posterior-shaking rabbits as the lead bunny says to a rhythm, “Oh, my gosh, look at her butt.” And, to make it worse, Moon (Matthew McConaughey) smiles and relishes the performance. The rabbits thankfully don’t make the cut to the finals, but they return later in the film—and we see them shaking their rears again. Despite all of the movie’s great moments, many kids will remember only that. And then they’ll sing it at school and home. Why, Hollywood, why? (And, yes, the song is on the CD soundtrack.)

There are other questionable songs—Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” among them—but we don’t hear any objectionable lyrics from them.

In essence, Sing is a reflection of all that is right and wrong in popular music. Sure, much of it has a great rhythm that will stick in your head, but much of it also is filled with sexually suggestive lyrics that can poison your mind.

Rosita’s dance partner tells her to “take off” all of her clothes. (She doesn’t; he reveals a skin-tight dance outfit.) Songs by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga also are featured, and although the lyrics are OK for this movie, too many of their other songs aren’t.

The movie has other problems.

Moon steals electricity and then utility water, without repercussions. At another point in the film, a porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johansson) comes home to find her boyfriend—who she was living with—singing with another female porcupine. Ash kicks them out. 

There are no major language problems. (Four examples of “oh my gosh”; one “old fart”; one “artsy fartsy.”) There are a couple of light jokes about speedos.

The Verdict: OK For Kids?

My kids are 8 and 4 and—although somewhat discerning for their age—tend to remember every bad thing in a film. (For example, they talked about the Sing TV commercials and its “look at her butt” lyrics for days and days—much to my frustration.) That said, I might wait for this one to come out on DVD and then watch a filtered version. I have no doubt that Sing is acceptable for many if not most families, but there are just too many points of concern for me.

Discussion Questions

What makes a contemporary song popular—the lyrics or the beat? (And is that good or bad?) In what way do popular songs affect how we view sexuality and other issues? Is talent or beauty more important in popular music? Was Buster Moon wrong to steal the electricity and water? Was Johnny morally responsible for his actions when his father was teaching him how to rob? Which character did you like the most, and why?

Sing is rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril.

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Is “Rogue One” OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)

Jyn Erso is like a lot of young people in the Star Wars universe—separated from her parents at a young age, she has grown up with a streak of defiance and a dogged determination that either is going to make her the hero or the goat.

In other words, she is just the type of person the Rebel Alliance needs in its quest to halt the Empire’s march of death through the galaxy.

She’s also at the center of the newest Star Wars movie, a stand-alone film called Rogue One (PG-13) that opens this weekend. Unlike last year’s The Force Awakens, which handed us surprise after surprise, the plot of Rogue One is well known. It is set just prior to A New Hope (1977) and follows Jyn and her band of Rebels as they embark on a secret mission to try and steal the plans for the Death Star (which has the power to blow up planets—but hopefully you already knew that). With those plans in hand, the Rebels will be able to attack the Death Star and destroy it before it does any further damage.

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Of course, the fun for Star Wars fans and other moviegoers is in finding out how Jyn and her friends accomplish their mission. Here’s the good news: Disney and director Gareth Edwards have given us plenty to enjoy along the way. Here’s even more good news: This one is mostly family-friendly—even more so than The Force Awakens—although it still has its typical worldview problems that are worth discussing.

But is Rogue One appropriate for small children? And what should parents expect to see? Let’s take a look. (Warning: a few spoilers ahead!)

The Good

Rogue One has no language—not even a “heck”—and no sexuality. That’s rare for movies nowadays.

Self-sacrifice and selflessness are upheld, as Jyn and her friends Cassian (Diego Luna), Baze (Jiang Wen) and Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) put their lives on the line in order to defeat evil and save the galaxy. They could have hidden and been safe, but they chose to stay and fight. “Rebellions are built on hope,” Jyn says.

The loving bond between Jyn and her parents is a nice touch. Although her mom is killed early in the film, her father survives and works to keep Jyn safe. Separated from her father, she strives to be reunited. There’s even a positive adoption theme: A Rebel named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) takes her in and raises her.

Finally, it’s worth crediting Disney with giving us another positive, non-sexualized female character. Even though Hollywood may be giving us an overabundance of female heroes—at least, in such a short time span—it’s nice to know you can watch a movie with your daughter and not worry about how the heroine is portrayed.

The Bad

Rogue One is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action,” and deservedly so. All of it is bloodless, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen in any previous Star Wars film, but there is a lot of it. Think: war in a Middle Eastern city, but with lasers and Stormtroopers. There’s some martial arts-type violence with a new character, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). Darth Vader uses the Force to choke someone.

Chirrut, who is blind, delivers the film’s biggest worldview problems, saying and chanting repeatedly, “I’m one with the Force. The Force is with me.” That sounds a lot like pantheism, which holds that God is everyone and everything, and everyone and everything are God—a major departure from Christianity. Hinduism and some strands of Buddhism are pantheistic. This worldview is not new to the Star Wars series, but it is still worth discussing with the family on the ride home. 

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

This is the eighth Star Wars movie. It’s not as good as The Force Awakens, but it’s still better than any of the three movies that made up the prequel. That’s because the story is good (not great) and because the special effects aren’t the centerpiece. It is fun to see lots of old characters, including Darth Vader, and the movie’s final minutes are simply spectacular. Disney did make one big blunder by not giving us the traditional intro music and scroll. Instead, the movie simply starts … like any other movie. I missed the music. (It’s also worth noting that there are scenes in the trailer that are not in the movie, which is weird.) Still, Rogue One gets thumbs up from me.

OK For Kids?

My 8-year-old son watched Rogue One with me, and I’m glad I took him. Although The Force Awakens was borderline for his age last year, Rogue One has fewer content problems. It is no scarier than the first Star Wars (1977), although its extended gun battle sequences might give some parents a reason to think twice about younger ages. I have 4-year-old twins, and I’m not sure I would take them to this one. But I’m sure other parents will reach a different conclusion.

Discussion Questions

How did Jyn growing up without her parents affect her? Did you agree with the decision her father made related to the Death Star’s construction? Why is our culture so crazy about Darth Vader, even though he is bad? What are the differences between pantheism and Christianity? Why is pantheism a false worldview?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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SBTC A/V consultant takes skills behind bars

HUNTSVILLE—When the sound guy for a gathering of 250 to 300 worshippers read in the TEXAN about the availability of worship technology ministry consultants, he knew that was just what they needed. Unpaid volunteers dealing with the occasional hiss and pop of the sound system could use the help of professionals like Rex Lake, an audio-visual consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

On the day Lake showed up to assess the situation, over a dozen choir members gathered for practice along with the band featuring trombones, a saxophone, drums, keyboard, and acoustic, rhythm and lead guitars. The fact that they were all dressed alike had nothing to do with expectations of a worship leader. Their prison whites were normal attire for the Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville. 

“Worship that brings us to the point where we’re able to hear and receive what God says in his Word is every bit as important here as it is in the free world,” explained chaplain David Beaty. 

A handful of inmates volunteer to run the sound for the five or six prison chapel services each week, but one named Jim knew they could use some outside help. As a teenager in a Southern Baptist church he had volunteered with the audio-visual crew and later spent some time touring with a band. Not long after arriving at Ellis, he got plugged into using his skills in chapel.

But for guys like Ray, it was on-the-job training. “We learned hand-me-down from other sound guys and needed help understanding the real dynamics of where we’re at and where we need to go” to provide support for the worship services, he said. 

“In prison you’re all wearing white, and there’s an attitude that you can’t tell me what to do,” Jim explained. Even though that is kept to a minimum within the context of chapel, he joked, “Having Rex here to be the professional takes the heat off of me.”

Lake moved around the room, interacting with one instrumentalist at a time, listening to how he played. “I have to see how they’re working together as a band and then listen to the vocals,” he explained. 

“Everything he does here has an effect back there,” Lake said, pointing to the back of the room where the sound is controlled.  “Then we can work together as a team.”

Jim smiled as he watched the process come together, expressing appreciation for the help from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “This is a place where you can kind of get away from being in prison and just spend time with the Lord.”

With their outstretched arms interlocked with the men on each side, the choir members lifted their heads as their prayer time concluded. Together they shouted their purpose: “It ain’t about us. It’s about Jesus. One-two-three, Jesus!” 

Top 10: 2016 Book Recommendations

As 2016 comes to a close and the Christmas season is upon us, the TEXAN staff put together a list of books that might be good to add to your 2017 book list or to buy as a Christmas gift. After reading a number of books this year, these are the ones we’ve found helpful for life or ministry. Maybe you could buy an extra copy and start meeting with someone every week or so to discuss it.

Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus
by Mark Dever

Discipleship is a growing buzz word today, serving as the answer to many problems churches face. But if the Great Commission calls every Christian to be a disciple-maker, what does that actually look like? How do you create a culture of discipling in your church? Mark Dever defines discipling as “helping others follow Jesus” and offers a clear, organic approach to discipling that is both simple and intentional.
He weeds through objections, calling Christians to re-orient their lives toward others and to initiate discipling relationships. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, new or seasoned believer, this book will help you walk in obedience as you fulfill your part of the Great Commission.


Christian Care
Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting
by Dave Furman

All around us, our Christian friends are struggling with pain, grief, depression, difficulty and loss. Dave Furman, a pastor who battles daily with a physical disability in his arms, shares from his experience and Scripture how Christians can care for one another in their times of need. Furman’s pastoral heart shines through as he offers practical advice on what compassionate Christian love looks (and does not look) like. This book is helpful for pastors, church members and caregivers of all ages.


The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption
by Matt Chandler

King Solomon once said, “of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12), and this is certainly true of the number of books written on marriage. However, Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, offers a refreshing approach to love, dating, marriage, and sex in his book The Mingling of Souls, which draws lessons from another of Solomon’s writings—The Song of Songs. Walking through the Israelite king’s love ballad, Chandler follows the many stages of romantic love from initial attraction to dating to courting to marriage to lifelong marital commitment. Chandler holds up the biblical standards for love and marriage and offers practical advice on relationships between men and women, addressing conflict, and maintaining intimacy for the long haul. The audiobook version is a great way to spend a road trip.


The Unwanted Gift: Hearing God in the Midst of Your Struggles
by Tom Elliff

How does a person handle problems that seem too large for human grasp? Is it possible to hear from God during these moments? In The Unwanted Gift, Tom Elliff describes the kind of problems that drain energy, bring emotional fatigue and test one’s faith. When he and his wife Jeannie learned that cancer had begun spreading throughout her body, they found themselves scrambling for answers. Initially knocked off balance, the Elliffs still sensed God’s sovereign control. They turned to 2 Cor. 12:7-10 to study the Apostle Paul’s acceptance of a “thorn in the flesh” and found guidance to believe and behave in a manner that honored Christ. As they sought to understand the purpose of suffering, they found motivation to aggressively cooperate with God and discover how this “unwanted gift” could be transformed into a platform upon which God would display his “unfathomable grace.”


Why Trust the Bible?
by Greg Gilbert

This short book answers the questions of the skeptic and strengthens the believer’s trust in the Scriptures as Greg Gilbert walks through a reasonable defense for why we can believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired, inerrant Word of God. He examines the reliability of English translations along with the trustworthiness of the manuscript evidence. He asks if the books of the Bible authorized as the canon are accurate and if the original authors were telling the truth. Ultimately, he says, the historical reliability of the bodily resurrection of Jesus should convince us of the Bible’s truth. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then we can trust the words of a resurrected man who fulfilled the prophecies about him and proved that he was indeed God in the flesh. The book is accessible for all reading levels and recommends more technical books for those who want to dig deeper. Read it with older children or another believer, or use it to start gospel conversations with unbelieving friends, co-workers or family members.

Spiritual Growth
Praying the Bible 

Orando la Biblia (Spanish Edition)
by Don Whitney

Have you ever felt like your prayer life was boring? Maybe you find yourself praying the same old things about the same old things. Don Whitney addresses this in Praying the Bible (which is available in English and Spanish), offering a simple, practical method on how to use Scripture as a guide to prayer. After reading this book, your quiet times and prayer life will become more effective and enjoyable as you grow closer to God and pray for friends, family and your church.


Pastoral Ministry
Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church
by Thom S. Rainer

Change is unavoidable and necessary in the church, but it also contains the potential for knocking a church off track in pursuing its vision. Too many churches and pastors have been damaged by unwise navigation on the seas of change. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, draws from conversations with pastors and research from thousands of churches to offer tools for pastors and church leaders to lead a congregation through changes, both big and small, without ending up in the ditch. He discusses how to evaluate the readiness of the church for change, garner support for the vision, navigate conflict and address problems along the way.


The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert
by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

In this thought-provoking autobiography, tenured English professor Rosaria Butterfield shares how she went from secular feminist in a committed lesbian relationship to a follower of Christ who left a homosexual lifestyle and eventually married an evangelical minister. After writing a critique in the newspaper on evangelicals’ gender politics, she received a letter from a local pastor inviting her to his house to discuss her views. What developed from this unlikely display of Christian hospitality was a friendship that exposed Butterfield to the gospel and turned her world upside down. This book, along with her follow-up book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, presents a biblical view of sexuality and a reminder that no one is too far from the love of God.


Children’s Fiction
The Owlings
by Daniel A. DeWitt

This worldview adventure introduces young readers to a young boy named Josiah and a group of friends—talking owls—he meets in his back yard. The owls help the young boy and his friend Addi discover one of the greatest truths in the entire world: that there is more to this world than just nature.

Parents will enjoy reading The Owlings series to their children and discussing a Christian worldview.


Christian Classics
The Incarnation of the Word of God

by Athanasius

Athanasius was the bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, and a tireless adversary of the Arian heresy, which claimed that Christ was not fully God. The Incarnation is one of his great works and deals succinctly with one of the most difficult doctrines of the Christian faith. The Incarnation is devotional, inspirational and readable theology—essential to anyone’s library. Modern printings are available on paper and digital for less than $10. Buy a version with the introduction by C. S. Lewis, on the virtues of old books—worth the price of admission.

Teen gender transitions harmful, pediatricians say

NASHVILLE—An association of pediatricians has released a research paper citing scientific evidence that permitting gender-confused adolescents to impersonate the opposite sex through surgery or hormone therapy is harmful.

“The treatment of [gender dysphoria] in childhood with hormones effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent,” the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) stated in an Aug. 3 document titled “Gender Dysphoria in Children.”

“There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves; adolescents cannot understand the magnitude of such decisions,” according to ACPeds.

The document defines gender dysphoria as “a psychological condition in which children experience a marked incongruence between their experienced gender and the gender associated with their biological sex.”

With its latest release, the College expanded on a 17-point summary statement released in March. The socially conservative ACPeds is distinct from the larger American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In contrast to ACPeds’ recommendations, the AAP website lists as one therapy for gender dysphoria “potentially delaying puberty” with drugs, then employing cross-sex hormone therapy to help the patient establish characteristics of the opposite sex, “and finally [gender reassignment] surgery.” The AAP adds, “Counseling is paramount to assist the teenager with any dysphoria and to explore gender roles before altering the body.”

Such recommendations have drawn pointed criticism from ACPeds, which favors “the standard approach” of “either watchful waiting or pursuit of family and individual psychotherapy.”

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 100 percent of children who received puberty suppression treatments eventually opted to undergo hormone therapy and identify as transgender. “This is cause for concern,” ACPeds stated, because multiple studies have found 80-95 percent of children with gender dysphoria effectively grow out of it and accept their biological sex by late adolescence.

“A protocol of impersonation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires lifelong use of toxic synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible nor harmless,” ACPeds stated.

Among the research paper’s other conclusions:

  • Environmental factors like family dynamics and childhood sexual abuse are the predominant cause “in the development and persistence of gender dysphoria.” In 80 percent of cases where one in a set of identical twins is “trans-identified,” the other is not, according to twin studies, ruling out the possibility that so-called gender identity is controlled chiefly by genetics.
  • “There are now 40 gender clinics across the United States that promote the use of pubertal suppression and cross-sex hormones in children.” Such therapy is “growing really fast” because “parents are demanding it,” according to a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
  • While surveys suggest some adults with gender dysphoria “express a sense of ‘relief’ and ‘satisfaction’” following sex reassignment surgery, such procedures do not “result in a level of health equivalent to that of the general population.” Heightened levels of depression and suicide are among the trends studies have discovered among “post-operative transgender adults.”
  • State bans on so-called “conversion therapy” treatment “prevent [state licensed] therapists from exploring not only a young person’s sexual attractions and identity, but also his or her gender identity. Therapists are not allowed to ask why an adolescent believes he or she is transgender; may not explore underlying mental health issues; cannot consider the symbolic nature of the gender dysphoria; and may not look at possible confounding issues such as social media use.”


Psychologist and neuroscientist Matthew Stanford told Baptist Press pastors should read the ACPeds research paper.

“The statement is a wonderful synopsis of” the cultural discussion about transgenderism, said Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston. Studying it will help pastors provide scientific information to parents of teens struggling with gender identity.

Stanford urged pastors to find pediatricians in their communities who agree with the statement and to refer children struggling with gender identity to those doctors.

“Some people will be gender identity dysphoric because we live in a fallen world,” Stanford said. “That’s not a reason for us then to give in and say [to a boy], ‘Yeah, it’s okay. Just go ahead and live as a girl,’ because the science shows us that doesn’t really help. Number two, that’s not what God intended.”

Scott Huitink, a Nashville-area pediatrician who is a member of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., told BP he is aware of individuals who have “crossed over” to an appearance opposite their biological sex. Huitink said he fears there may be psychological needs other “than gender identity going on.”

In some instances, other issues may be “just manifesting as gender identity,” he said.

Gender dysphoria is a “complex issue,” Huitink said, and many pediatricians have not studied it in depth. A fundamental principle by which he operates is to treat all patients as “made in the image of God,” regardless of whether they share his views of gender identity.

In its research paper, ACPeds affirmed the instincts of all pediatricians who are hesitant about supporting gender transitions.

“The College recommends an immediate cessation” of puberty suppression, cross-sex hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries in children and adolescents, the paper stated, “as well as an end to promoting gender ideology via school curricula and legislative policies. Health care, school curricula and legislation must remain anchored to physical reality.”

Looking for bargains, thrift store shoppers find gospel ministry

VIDOR, Texas 

Visible through the plate-glass front window of Main Street Thrift Store is the traditional red-bricked, white-steepled edifice of the store’s benefactor, First Baptist Church in Vidor. The view across N. Main Street, either from the vantage point of the church or store, serves to remind the congregation of Christ’s call to go into the world and to care for their neighbors.

Compelled to establish a presence in the community beyond the church walls, FBC Vidor 10 years ago purchased the strip-center store sandwiched between a mom-and-pop drug store and Chef Leo China Bistro. From there the church offered a host of gospel-infused ministries before deciding to transition the entire space to a thrift store. The store’s success since opening last year speaks to its popularity but not its purpose. With the funds raised by the store, the church will open a women’s shelter to further the gospel’s influence in Vidor.

Like the volunteers staffing the thrift store, FBC Vidor pastor Terry Wright said he always believed he had a responsibility to care for his community, and he long believed the church’s efforts served that purpose.

“It was effective, to a degree,” he said.

From a small office nestled between the back of Main Street Thrift Store’s tidy shopping area and the store’s receiving and storage area, Wright and Jayson Larson, executive director of Main Street Ministries and FBC Vidor associate pastor, spoke of the store’s success and the future women’s shelter.

Wright said while the church’s benevolence ministries offered assistance for persons in or on the brink of crisis, they only treated the symptoms of deeply ingrained troubles that weekly counseling sessions could not correct.

“We would lead them to Christ,” Wright said, “but the intensity of their discipleship required more than putting them in a Sunday School class.”

Wright and others concluded that only by Christ-centered, long-term care offered through men’s and women’s shelters could real change be effected. But the expense of operating such programs was beyond the means of FBC Vidor or Main Street Ministry, which operates as a separate 501 (c) 3 from the church.

In 2014, SBTC Evangelism Director Nathan Lorick took Wright and a small contingent of like-minded pastors to Florida to visit the Christian Care Center, a ministry founded 30 years ago by First Baptist Church of Leesburg and offers services addressing the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the community.

During the visit, Wright toured the Christian Care Center’s thrift store and learned the fundamentals of what it would take to duplicate a similar store back home. FBC Vidor hired Larson in February 2015 as an associate pastor and manager of Main Street Ministries, the umbrella non-profit organization for many of FBC Vidor’s existing ministries.

With a heart for ministry evangelism but no experience in operating a store, Larson joked, “There’s no starter kit.”

So he sought advice, culled through the operating manuals of similar ministries, and trusted God’s provision. A year later the store, staffed mainly by FBC Vidor volunteers and two paid employees, is financially self-sustaining and drawing closer to being the funding source for the women’s shelter.

“The Lord’s bringing together a lot of people,” Larson said.

The first provision came in the form of a donated nursing home. The facility, damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Rita and abandoned, was purchased by an area businessman, who donated it along with $60,000 for repairs to Main Street Ministry. Through financial contributions and volunteer assistance, repairs to the facility are 95 percent complete.

With a goal of opening the women’s shelter by summer 2017, the search for staff will begin shortly after the New Year. At a minimum the shelter will need an operating budget of $150,000. Clients will stay for at least three months, Wright said, adding, “We will let them know we are unashamedly working this facility with the gospel.”

Larson said they set capacity for the shelter at 20 women at a time in order to facilitate the personal, discipleship care they want to provide. He hopes part of the ministry will be the reconciliation of mothers with the children they have abandoned or lost to the custody of Child Protective Services.

“If there is any way for us to make families whole again, we’ll help with that,” Larson said.

That redeeming work is already being seen in small measure at the Main Street Thrift Store, where once-unwanted items are given new purposes. Budget-minded customers can purchase clothes and accessories, kitchen supplies, toys, furniture and even a 19th-century pump organ. Looking for bargains, customers often find much more.

“We hear life stories,” said Karen Davis, a store volunteer. “I’ve stopped in the middle of something and prayed with someone. That’s what they need right then.”

Volunteer Scherrie Nix told of a woman who came to the store in need of a dress to wear to her grandfather’s funeral. But instead of finding her sorting through the rows of women’s clothing, Nix discovered her weeping in front of the toy department.

A gentle inquiry revealed the tears were not for the grandfather she missed but for her six children taken from her by CPS. She desperately wanted them back and the toys only reminded her of their absence.

Nix, who has been a foster parent, understands why children are taken from homes and, more importantly for the woman, how families are reunited. After crying and praying with the mother, Nix encouraged her to do everything CPS officials required of her. That, she said, would help ensure the reconciliation of her family.

Nix recognized the encounter was not a coincidence. She said, “I felt like God let me be here.”

Churches challenged to share CP stories

Pastors and churches across the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention are encouraged to share their stories of the impact of the Cooperative Program from the pulpit, in newsletters and through social media using #ourCPstory.

“We not only need to have a passion for promoting the Cooperative Program, but also need to pass this message on to future generations,” shared Caleb Lasater, social media and IT catalyst for SBTC. “Many people in the pews know they give to missions but do not realize the importance the CP plays into this.”

Local SBTC churches give a portion of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program through the state convention, which sends 55 percent to the Southern Baptist Convention for missions and ministries in North America and around the world. The portion that remains within the state is used to start new churches, strengthen church ministries and partner with educational institutions and family ministries. 

Examples of the impact of CP giving include the student who is the beneficiary of reduced tuition costs for seminary education, the family who received help from disaster relief volunteers after storms damaged their house, and the church planter taking the gospel into a community with no gospel influence.  

“In 2017 we are looking to leverage the sustainability of the Cooperative Program and viral nature of social media to get the word out of what God is doing through the CP. These stories can create an awareness of the CP and the many lives being impacted,” he predicted. 

Videos and photographs can be posted to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ourCPstory, offering practical examples of how the Cooperative Program is changing lives and expanding ministry.

Initial posts include a discussion on church revitalization with a Houston church that has lost its pastor and its building and a church replanting strategy in San Angelo.

Thirty percent of churches within the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have increased giving to the Cooperative Program over the past year. When compared to the same point in 2015, the increase among this group from $8,379,523 to $10,469,232 amounts to an average of 25 percent per church.

At the same time, 36 percent of SBTC churches have decreased giving, collectively in what amounts to an average decline of 17 percent per church. Another 28 percent of churches are not giving at all.  Together, these factors have contributed to a net loss of $143,506.

“With a realistic view of where we are in terms of CP giving so far this year and an encouraged mindset from the churches that have made significant increases from 2015 to 2016, we must ask ourselves what we can do to not just finish this year strong but set the tone for next year as well,” Lasater said. 

Churches that have not been giving are encouraged to start by allocating one percent of their undesignated receipts for CP. Those that have established a track record of CP support are asked to consider increasing that portion by one percent.

Reaching the world with the gospel is a daunting task, Lasater admitted, but he appealed to Matt. 28:19-20 in reminding believers of the Great Commission mandate. “Individually, it’s overwhelming, but together the possibilities are endless.”