Month: February 2017

REVIEW: Is “Split” family-friendly? Is it too scary for teens?

“Hedwig” is a 9-year-old boy who enjoys dancing to pop music. “Patricia” is a well-dressed woman who likes to put people at ease. “Dennis” is a violent man who relishes kidnapping young women and placing them in his dungeon.

They all reside within the mind of Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has 24 personalities and who is the disturbed individual at the center of Split (PG-13), the year’s most surprising hit and the top-grossing film (so far) of 2017.

Kevin (James McAvoy) can be warm and gracious, such as when he visits the home of his psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), or he can be downright evil, such as when he carjacks an automobile with three high school girls and locks them up in his home.

Split was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the same filmmaker who brought us The Sixth Sense (1999), Signs (2002) and The Visit (2015), and it stars McAvoy, who is known for his role as Professor X in the X-Men movies and as Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  

Split has an incredibly creative plot for a psychological thriller, even if its basic premise—can the girls escape before he kills them?—is as old as Hollywood itself. Dennis suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), which supposedly began as a youngster as a way for his mind to cope with the pain caused by psychological and physical abuse from his mom.

But DID isn’t the typical split-personality condition seen in our real-life world. According to Dr. Fletcher, the personalities are literally multiple people living within the same body, complete with different IQs and physical abilities. That’s why Kevin’s 24th personality—“The Beast”—is so dangerous. The Beast supposedly is far stronger and angrier than any of the other personalities.

Still, we’ve got to ask: Is Split a film that families can enjoy together?

The Good

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Dr. Fletcher’s views are the stuff of science fiction, but her deep desire to help Dennis and others with DID is commendable. “My patients have become my family,” she says. She even puts her life on the line toward the movie’s end. 

The film has a nice anti-bullying message. The trio of females that Dennis locks up is comprised of two popular girls and a loner, but they come together (for the most part) to try and find a way out. (The loner girl, Casey, was invited to the birthday party of one of the girls, after which they all were kidnapped.) The girls are likeable, making it easy for moviegoers to cheer for them in their quest to escape.

Finally, McAvoy is terrific, demonstrating a range of emotions and characters that is rare for an entire career—much less in a single movie.

The Bad   

Not surprisingly, Split is a very violent film, even if it does not give us the wall-to-wall gore seen in horror flicks. And while the girls are never tortured in the common use of the term, the final 20 minutes delivers enough suspense, blood and stomach-turning shock that you’ll likely walk uneasy to the car. That’s because Dennis finally turns into The Beast and—spoiler alert!—begins eating two of the girls. (We see one of them disemboweled, and we hear and sort of see him eating another one.) He also kills a third character by giving her a bear hug and cracking her spinal column. (I’ve got to pause here and ask: Why am I supposed to find cannibalism entertaining?)

Split succeeds as a psychological thriller, showing The Beast climbing walls and surviving point-blank gunshots, but it requires a suspension of common sense that made it less scary to me. Still, Split is a film that will frighten most moviegoers. (Dennis calling himself “we” throughout the film is eerie enough.)

The movie contains about 10 coarse words: a–(3), sh–(2), misuse of “God” (1), misuse of “Jesus” (1), he–(1), OMG (1), f-word (1). It has no sexuality, although at the beginning of the film Dennis forces one of the girls into a room alone with him. (She urinates on him, making him angry; she later says he wanted to dance with her.) One of the girls is forced to walk around in her bra for a few short scenes and another girl walks around in her underwear for a couple of scenes. During a flashback, we also learn that one of the teens was sexually abused as a young girl; nothing is seen.

My biggest complaint about Split, though, is the ending. I like movies where good clearly wins, evil is defeated, and I can drive home with positive vibes. Instead, the filmmakers give us none of that.

The Worldview

Perhaps it’s a slight stretch, but Split should force us to ask: Do we have split personalities? I’m not referencing dissociative identity disorder or anything that would be diagnosed by a psychiatrist. I’m talking about how we act throughout the week: We’re one “person” at church and a different “person” at work. And then a different “person” at home, where our old sinful nature is most seen. We wear masks, not wanting people to see us as vulnerable sinners. Paul wrote: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). It’s silly to think of split personalities as the movie proposes, but we also should acknowledge that we often try to hide our true self.   

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

Split deserves its PG-13 rating, and I would not take any child younger than 13 to see it. Maybe this one is OK for older teens—maybe—but that’s a decision each family will need to make.

Discussion Questions

In what ways is the movie realistic? Not realistic? Is it ever OK to say “the devil made me do it”? Which girl did you most relate to? Do Christians sometimes have “split personalities” in the way they conduct themselves at church, work and at home? Why we are drawn to scary movies? Are scary movies a good thing, bad thing, or neutral? (Explain your answer.) Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

Split is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.


One year after fire, Atoy Baptist Church worships in new facility

RUSK—In 1991, Atoy Baptist Church was established in Rusk.

“We had a nice church, a nice building. We had pews for maybe 70 people. We functioned for 25 years,” said Dan Rankin, the church’s pastor.

But in October 2015, a devastating fire completely destroyed Atoy’s building, leaving Rankin and the congregation without a church home.

From the ashes of destruction, God began to work, and help started pouring in from all around.

Rankin said other churches, businesses, and individuals offered assistance almost daily, and in the weeks and months that followed the fire, the outpouring of love and support were overwhelming.

The local Methodist church shared its building with Atoy BC to host services, so the congregation never had to miss a Sunday of meeting together.

A former church member hauled off the old facility’s charred remains at cost, and a local builder offered his services to begin construction on a new church building.

Someone paid for trusses and wood, and someone else donated the foam insulation and the sheet rock.

New kitchen appliances, an alarm system, hymn books, an organ, a piano, chairs, and a baptistery were all generously given.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Rankin said. “But when you think about it, it shouldn’t be overwhelming because we serve a great and wondrous God who wants to do for us, if we’ll get out of the way and let him.”

In October, just one year after the devastating blaze, Atoy BC members gathered together in their own facility once again. Dexter Jordan, who spearheaded the building’s construction, said his goal was to finish the job without the church having to take out a loan. With the help of volunteers and the generosity of the community, that goal was met.

“That’s just the Lord working,” Jordan said. “It was a God thing.”

“We’re functioning like an old church now,” Rankin said.

With the remaining funds the church didn’t spend on the facility, the congregation hopes to construct a new youth building soon.

Though the initial experience of losing a church building was discouraging, the process of watching the body of Christ come together across cities and denominations has “refreshed” Rankin as a pastor, and it allowed both him and his congregation to learn to wait on God’s timing and faithfulness.

“God is an awesome God, and if we allow him to work, he will show us how awesome he is,” he said. “God can take any situation of life and turn it around for our benefit.”

Proactive strategies protect schools, churches against active shooters

DALLAS—The attack by a knife-wielding assailant at Ohio State University in November caused colleges nationwide to revisit their emergency-response plans, the Wall Street Journal reported in December.

Many schools employ variations of the “Run, Hide, Fight” plan used at Ohio State.

The basics of “Run, Hide, Fight” are outlined in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security pamphlet on responding to active shooters, which recommends individuals evacuate, leaving behind belongings, and call 911 when safe. If escape is impossible, people should hide, preferably out of the line of sight of the shooter. A final resort is to take action, throwing items at the shooter, acting aggressively and yelling.

Bob Dyer of the pre-K through 12th grade Trinity Christian Academy in Addison confirmed that his school has moved away from the traditional lockdown model and embraced special training along the lines of “Run, Hide, Fight.” School personnel are trained in age-appropriate “proactive strategies” he said.

“Too often there is an assumption law enforcement will get there on time,” Dyer said. “The training we have had helps us become first responders, to take back control from an intruder and to create options for as many survivors as possible.”

In a study of active shooting incidents from 2010-2016, the FBI reported 200 events, most involving a single shooter, 70 percent in commercial or educational environments, in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Most events ended before the police arrived. Until 2013, incidents averaged 11.4 per year. The years 2014 and 2015 saw 20 attacks each.

The escalation of violence makes preparedness essential.

“We, like any other institution, value safety,” Brad Corder, police chief of Criswell College in Dallas, said, recommending “some type of armed presence on campus” to deter would-be offenders.
Beyond a uniformed presence, making effective use of technology such as security cameras and biometrics can help, Corder said. Using cards rather than keys to enter buildings enables security to shut off access immediately.

If such “bells and whistles” as cell phone access and biometrics are beyond the budget of an institution, “the old fashioned method of getting out and pounding the pavement, shaking hands, doing patrol and being a presence still works very well,” Corder said, emphasizing the importance of relationships.

“It is important to foster an environment where the police or security department works hand-in-hand with employees and students on campus. They become your eyes and ears to notify you in a timely manner when something is taking place.

“Community members know they can turn to you and can trust you. That goes a long way.”

Corder advised putting “sound protocols” in place before an incident occurs.

At Criswell, this begins with staff training and regular conversations about potential emergency scenarios. Corder said he regularly spends a few minutes at staff meetings discussing security, including emergency responses to a range of events from inclement weather situations to active shooter scenarios.

Corder even invited an FBI agent to address Criswell staff.

“When it comes to dealing with active shooters or bomb threats, the FBI is a vital resource. They have developed materials and a video presenting an actual scenario teaching the run, hide and barricade, and resist plan,” Corder said.

“Each scenario is different,” Corder added. “Flexible response is needed depending upon the institution and the situation. We pray every day that such an emergency response is not necessary.”
Like Dyer, Corder recommended “being proactive,” examining ways to eliminate the possibility of a threat before it happens.

Tangible ways to prevent incidents can be surprisingly basic. Something as simple as maintaining a clean, well-lit campus can deter intruders who assume the “people inside are on top of things,” Corder added.

It is vital to be vigilant and encourage others to do the same.

Similar rules apply to churches. Corder, with several other police officers, serves on the security team at his church.

“We have a security staff to deal with situations, but we are also not disinclined to talk to greeters and ushers, getting them on the same page, getting them to be the eyes and ears for our campus,” Corder explained. 

“This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the classroom talking about scenarios, but the little things you do in a meeting might shed light on how to make any church a safer environment.”
Background checks for volunteers and workers also help prevent problems, Corder added.

Corder said he plans to conduct additional emergency-response scenario training this summer with Criswell employees and students and recommended the FBI website as a valuable resource for schools, churches, businesses and other organizations concerned with safety.

Former atheist shares how she became a pastor”s wife

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.—Pardon Tiffany Bowen for laughing when the following question was posed to her and a room full of other ministers’ wives: “Did you think you would ever marry a minister?”

During The Good Cup event for ministers’ wives, held during the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in November, the question served as a reminder to her of God’s apparent sense of humor.

At the time she met her future husband Jason Bowen, now pastor of First Baptist Church, Trenton, Tiffany was a self-professed “atheist, feminist bartender.”

Tiffany was working her way through the University of Tennessee in Knoxville when she met Jason, then a self-described “lukewarm” Christian who was working at the same restaurant. He asked her out three times before she agreed to date him, and it was only going to be for one hour, she recalled.

That one-hour date lasted much longer and the next day she told her stepmother that she had met her future husband. “I had never met someone so transparent and genuine,” Tiffany recalled.

Not long after they began dating, Tiffany met Jason’s mother, Charlotte Bowen, a Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary nurse who had traveled to Knoxville with a pastor who had been injured in an accident.

“When I met with her face to face I was overwhelmed with how she was not like anyone I had ever met,” Tiffany said. “She had no judgment in her heart. She was not OK with me being an atheist, but the love she showed to me was no different than had I been a Christian.”

The two women developed a relationship that continued after Charlotte Bowen returned to Africa. Via email, Tiffany kept asking questions, and Charlotte answered them honestly, she recalled.

Tiffany noted that her future mother-in-law explained that “Jesus was alive and that was what made her different because she had a real, personal relationship with him every day.”

Though an atheist, Tiffany had Christian friends and had even attended church despite being raised in a home where going to church was discouraged.

“I may have heard the same words from other people, but I never understood that Jesus was alive until I met someone like [my mother-in-law]. He was obviously alive in her.”

Tiffany began to read the Bible “and my heart started to change,” she recalled. She was sitting in the parking lot of a Knoxville business talking with Jason when God suddenly revealed to her that he was real and alive and that he “would be the Lord of my life for the rest of my life.”

Tiffany said she looked over at Jason and said, “Jesus is the Son of God” and then told him, “I think I just got saved.”

Later, the couple was married in Africa while visiting Jason’s mother. They returned to his hometown of Jonesboro, Ark., to live and began attending Central Baptist Church, where Tiffany was baptized and the couple was discipled.

After attending the church for about a year, Jason was asked to do pulpit supply at an inner-city church. He was asked to come back, and he did—for about two years. “After the first year I felt God was asking me to pray for my husband because he was going to surrender to his call to be a pastor,” Tiffany said.

She added that she believes God was giving her a “heads up” so she could also pray for herself. “I was not pastor’s wife material,” she laughed.

Sixteen years later (which have included seminary training for Jason and other pastorates) she admitted, “I’m still not but I pray every day that he uses me anyway.”

Tiffany noted that both her and her husband’s transparency about their past has helped their ministry in the churches where they have served. They openly tell their congregation that “God uses us because of his great grace, not because of our perfection.”

“I don’t hesitate to share my testimony so people will understand God’s grace and forgiveness of my sins wasn’t because I had forgivable sins. It was because his grace is sufficient to cover the sins of someone who denied him for 21 years of her life and tried to convince others to deny him as well.”

Tiffany Bowen

“I don’t hesitate to share my testimony so people will understand God’s grace and forgiveness of my sins wasn’t because I had forgivable sins. It was because his grace is sufficient to cover the sins of someone who denied him for 21 years of her life and tried to convince others to deny him as well.”

Tiffany is more than willing to share her story anywhere, anytime. “If it brings God glory, then I’m an open book,” she noted.


5 tips for witnessing to atheists

 SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.—As a former atheist, Tiffany Bowen knows the language of those who deny the existence of God. She lived it for 21 years before she was saved by God’s grace and mercy.
“Atheists know the truth,” she said. “They just don’t understand the truth.”

She noted most atheists at one time or another had a bitter experience either with the church in general or individual Christians. “We need to help atheists have a non-bitter experience,” she stressed.

Now the wife of Jason Bowen, pastor of First Baptist Church of Trenton, Tenn., Tiffany shares five tips on how to witness effectively to atheists.

1. Go to them free of a judging spirit.

2. Be genuinely invested in them as a person.

3. You need to know the hope that is in you and genuinely know what Scriptures give you your hope.
“For me I use Romans 10:9 because that’s what happened to me. I believed in my heart and confessed with my mouth.”

4. Understand that anyone who has never been given forgiveness does not understand what the word means. The same goes for words such as grace, compassion and love. “You have to demonstrate what those words mean.” That’s what her future mother-in-law did for her, she added.

5. Don’t lose heart. “It’s not our job to change someone’s heart. It’s merely our job to be transparent and steadfast with the truth. God will do the rest.”

Andrew, the overlooked apostle

I wonder if Andrew experienced discouragement as his ministry played out? He and his brother Peter were called by Christ at the same time and then selected by Christ to be among the 12. But, then their paths diverged. Peter got to be one of the three, Andrew didn’t. Peter went up on the Mount of Transfiguration, Andrew didn’t. Peter preached the famous sermon at Pentecost, Andrew didn’t. Peter was THE apostle to the Jews, Andrew wasn’t. Peter wrote books of the Bible, Andrew didn’t. I wonder if Andrew was ever tempted to question the impact of his ministry or to wonder if he had done something wrong?

I hope Andrew figured out that in every generation, the Lord raises up a few Peters to attain to needed extraordinary influence, but the truth is, the kingdom of God gloriously runs on 1,000s of Andrews—ordinary, faithful pastors and pastor’s wives shepherding the flock of God to which he assigns them. And like Andrew surely felt discouraged at times, we do to. Jealousy, disappointment, loneliness, resentment, loss of joy for ministry, church conflict and personal family pressures are very real issues we face in the ministry.

I want to personally invite you to the upcoming Encourager Conference designed to provide both personal and practical ministry encouragement for pastor’s wives and pastors. We are going to be reminded we can be ordinary pastor’s wives and pastors and experience fruitful, satisfying ministries. The kingdom of God needs 1,000s like us—Christ-called, Spirit-filled pastors’ wives and pastors faithfully shepherding the sheep of God’s hand. This will be a weekend to recharge and find renewal; extraordinary encouragement for ordinary pastor couples.

Join us in College Station April 21-22. For more information, go to

Baptists contribute to historic Dead Sea Scrolls cave discovery

QUMRAN, West Bank—Working alongside a team directed by archaeologists from the Hebrew University, Criswell College professor Lamar Cooper assisted in the discovery and excavation of a cave at Qumran that represents a milestone in Dead Sea Scrolls research.

Ever since Bedouins first discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, scholars have believed that only 11 caves at Qumran contained scrolls or scroll fragments. Based on discoveries in this cave, researchers proved that scrolls were once stored there and have suggested it be numbered as Cave 12 (Q12).

“This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea Scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea Scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave,” said Oren Gutfeld, archaeologist at Hebrew University and team leader. “Finding this additional scroll cave means we can no longer be certain that the original locations (Caves 1 through 11) attributed to the Dead Sea Scrolls that reached the market via the Bedouins are accurate.”

Gutfeld was assisted in the effort by Ahiad Ovadiam, also of Hebrew University; Randall Price, distinguished research professor and curator of the Liberty Biblical Museum; David Graves of Liberty University; and Criswell’s Lamar Cooper. Bruce Hall, an M.A. in Archaeology student at Southwestern Seminary and bi-vocational Texas pastor, was part of the cave discovery last January and found a storage jar intact containing parchments with no writing on them.

Cooper began teaching at Criswell College in 1978 and has served as the dean of graduate studies, vice president for academic affairs, executive vice president and provost, and interim president. He worked on his first site in Israel in 1969 and began working on Qumran excavations in 2006 at the invitation of Price.

“When I went through seminary, I listened to all of the things that were told me by scholars—some of whom didn’t hold Scripture in very high regard,” Cooper said. “When I got here, all of [the discoveries] showed me that what is in the Bible is true because what we were bringing out of the ground were things that relate to the Bible.”

Based on the contents of the cave, the team determined Bedouins looted it for any scrolls and other antiquities sometime during the middle of the 20th century. Although no scrolls were found, they did discover broken jars and lids, fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that had been part of a scroll.

“Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,” Gutfeld said.

Cooper, who worked to catalogue the items found in the cave, said the find was a monumental step not only for Dead Sea Scrolls research but also for Criswell, a school founded on the primacy and inerrancy of Scripture.

“Because we stand strong on the Bible—the authenticity of Scripture—it’s been a thrill for me to be associated with everybody who works here because we all believe that the Bible is the Word of God,” he said. “I’ve kept plugging at this for that reason because whatever I do and whatever I find—every dig that I’ve gone to—tells me more and more that everything that happened at that place is what the Bible says.”

The dig was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in conjunction with the IAA’s “Operation Scroll,” which plans to systematically excavate and survey more caves in the Judean Desert.

REVIEW: Is “The Lego Batman Movie” OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)

Batman saves the world on a regular basis as the hero of Gotham City, but if you look just a little bit closer, you’ll discover that all is not well with our Caped Crusader.

He eats alone. He watches movies alone. And when people want to be his friend, he rejects them.

“I don’t need anyone,” he says.

The happy child who was orphaned at a young age is now a superhero filled with anger and rage, and he has no intention of changing. Well, that is until a young boy—himself an orphan—enters Batman’s life and challenges everything he believes.

It’s all part of The Lego Batman Movie (PG), which opens this weekend, three years after The Lego Movie dominated at the box office and finished as the fifth-highest grossing movie of 2014. The newest Lego movie stars Will Arnett as the voice of Batman, Michael Cera as Robin, Zach Galifianakis as the Joker, and Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

It’s a movie that many American children will want to see, even without the partnership the film has with McDonald’s.

Here’s the good news: Lego Batman is mostly family-friendly. Here’s even better news: It has more solid, practical lessons about life than many adult-oriented films do.

The film opens with Batman saving Gotham City from the Joker, who is shocked when the Dark Knight tells him that he is not Batman’s “No. 1 bad guy.”  

“Batman and Joker are not a thing,” Batman says. “You mean nothing to me. No one does.”

A distraught Joker then sets out to prove that he is, indeed, Batman’s top nemesis.

That’s the plot, but we still need to ask: Is Lego Batman OK for kids of any age? And, if so, what can they learn? Let’s take a look.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

The Good

Lego Batman has both a tragic and uplifting message about families. As we know, Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, witnessed the murder of his parents as a child. That’s not seen or mentioned in the movie, but we do learn that he was an orphan and we watch him look at pictures of his parents. “Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. I saved the city again today. I wish you could have seen me,” he says to the photo. It’s sad, yes, but we’re given a redemptive moment after Batman accidentally adopts a boy from an orphanage—a boy who always has looked up to Batman. Batman initially wants to “ship” the boy back to the orphanage, but he eventually comes around and embraces him. (The boy becomes Robin.)

But the movie’s primary themes involve Batman’s ego and loneliness. When he’s talking to impressionable kids, he says all the wrong things: “If you want to be like Batman, take care of your abs.” When Gotham City’s new commissioner, Barbara Gordon, proposes that the police and Batman fight crime together, Batman rebuffs the idea: “Batman works alone.” When he’s asked about his greatest fear, he refuses to give an inch: “I’m not afraid of anything.” It is only after he sees that he can’t save the city by himself, and when his new friends are in danger of being killed, that he learns to trust others and allow them to receive some credit. Imagine that: a humble Batman. And a great lesson for children. “Sometimes losing people is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean that you stop letting them in,” he says toward the end.

Batman hugs his new son for the first time, and we hear Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror: “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

Amidst Batman’s transformation, there is a lesson about coping with tragedy. Batman rejected people out of fear of more pain, but he soon learned that those people—his friends—were what he needed to heal.

Lego Batman includes more plot surprises than I expected. It’s also funny, even for adults (although not as funny as the first Lego Movie).

The Bad

Lego Batman has no coarse language, although it includes more potty language than I’d prefer. (Butt, 7; oh my gosh, 7; “Ironman sucks,” 2; farts, 1; heck, 1; darn, 1.) 

It has no sexuality, but when Batman is told that the kids call his son “Dick” instead of “Richard” he responds, “Children can be so cruel.”

The violence is cartoonish and not excessive.

Batman steals a weapon from Superman known as a “phantom zone projector,” and although he’s not arrested, he faces plenty of negative consequences.

Lego Batman has several scenes that would be scary if this were a live action film, but it’s not. Instead, the scenes come across as humorous.  

Finally, Batman and the Joker tell each other at the film’s end: “I hate you.”

The Worldview

Scripture tells us that life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. God gave Eve to Adam in the Old Testament (Genesis 2:18), and God established the church in the New Testament as a community to support and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25, James 5:16). As Batman discovered, a self-centered life is a miserable life. That’s a good discussion to have with our kids.

The Verdict: Kid-Friendly?   

I took my 8-year-old son to Lego Batman, and I’d probably take my 5-year-old twins to it, also. I’d rather it have fewer “butt” jokes, but the scary scenes aren’t at all scary, and the lessons about selflessness, teamwork, community and friendship are great.

Discussion Questions

Why is Batman full of anger? Why didn’t Superman and his friends invite Batman to their party? (Should they have done so?) Was it wrong for Batman to steal? Did he “get away with it”? What is it like to be around a self-centered person? What is it like to be around an angry person? How would people characterize you? How should we treat people who are angry or egotistical? What did Batman learn in the end?

Lego Batman is rated PG for rude humor and some action.

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

Passion and Purpose

We have heard for several years now that up to 75 percent of SBC churches are either plateaued or declining. Other than church planting, revitalization has become one of the most needed ministries in our convention because, on average, about two SBTC churches a month close their doors. I may be guilty of being overly simplistic, but I believe there is a cure for the disease that is decimating our ranks. It is called intentional, personal evangelism.

Old school terminology would use the term, soul-winning. Paul charged his understudy, Timothy, with the responsibility to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). For the church to have a successful evangelism effort, it must be pastor-led. Every church can rebound if they will be committed to reaching their community with the gospel.

For this reason, let me invite you to the SBTC Empower Conference at the Irving Convention Center Feb. 27-28. There are multiple options for conferences across the Baptist landscape, but few are dedicated to equipping, educating and motivating churches in personal evangelism like Empower. This conference is the best place to start a renewal of our love of evangelism. (See more on the conference on pages 8-9).

It is not for a lack of methods that churches are drying up and dying. In many cases it is a lack of passion and purpose.

In addition to the conference, various tools are available. “Can We Talk” is an easy approach to share the gospel ( The 1Cross App allows you to give the Good News in a wide range of languages ( Three Circles is a little booklet that gives the message of salvation in a clear presentation ( The SBTC has gospel tracts, videos and other materials for churches (

I once heard an evangelistic pastor say there is no problem in a church that can’t be fixed by soul-winning. If you need money, win people to Jesus and teach them to tithe. If you need workers, win people to Jesus and train them. If you need to fill empty pews, win people to Jesus and you have a congregation. Soul-winning is definitely the first step in curing the ills of our sick churches.

I have no greater joy than to share the gospel and see someone come to Christ. I’m not a very good or consistent soul-winner, but occasionally I get the thrill of seeing a person place his faith in Jesus. It seems like it was easier when I was a pastor to connect with lost people on a personal level. By being soul-conscious, we can be ready to give the gospel when the opportunity arises. Sometimes we have to create the opportunity.

Coming to the Empower Conference is a great place to join with others who have a desire to impact the vast lostness of Texas and our world. Let’s ask God to break our hearts once again for those who will go to hell without Jesus. See you in Irving!

El Paso area church takes over local bar

SAN ELIZARIO, Texas—The congregation of Iglesia Bautista Dios con Nosotros, translated in English as “God with Us Baptist Church,” experienced both the opposition of drug traffickers and the protection of God in recent months as the church sought to expand its presence in a strip shopping center in San Elizario, a city of 5,000 in El Paso County.

The congregation quickly outgrew the 250-square-foot space rented in 2012 and expanded the storefront. Within a few years, they again needed more room, but the owner of Amigos Bar at the opposite end of the strip center had other ideas. He wanted them off the property entirely.

“The bar owner said that he did not care for us to be there, even if we were a church,” Pastor Marcos Jacinto said.

Jacinto replied to the bar owner, “Do what you need to do. God is with us.”

The owner indicated he knew “a lot of people in town” who could “do something against the church” to force them to leave, Chuy Avila, SBTC church planting associate, told the TEXAN.

Undeterred, the congregation continued to hold church services, unaware that El Paso County sheriff’s deputies, FBI agents and DEA agents were conducting a lengthy investigation into alleged drug trafficking activities at Amigos Bar and other sites in Socorro, Clint and San Elizario.

The El Paso Times reported that on June 22, 2016, that law enforcement agents armed with search warrants recovered weapons, cocaine and cash from the properties. Amigos Bar was closed, its owner eventually arrested with others.

Amigos Bar was no longer a threat, but Dios con Nosotros faced another problem: the church desperately needed additional space. The answer came in an unexpected way as Jacinto and Sunday school teachers began praying for a solution during a meeting last fall.

“As we prayed we heard a knock at the door,” Jacinto said. “It was the owner of the shopping center. He came to offer us the bar space, but we couldn’t afford to pay rent on something so big.” When the church leaders hesitated, the owner asked them to come to his office the following day.

“He made us an offer of half what the bar paid,” Jacinto said. “His exact words were, ‘As soon as you sign the contract, this place will be yours.’”

Church members began transforming the more than 3,000-square-foot former bar into a church. The first services in the new facility were dramatic performances held the weekend before Christmas that attracted many from the neighborhood.

“They had a full house for three days of services,” Avila said. “People wanted to know what was going on inside.” Avila admitted that the “smell of the bar” was still “pretty strong” in that first service, but has since vanished.

Jacinto said the choice of the San Elizario area for the church was deliberate. “We had spent some time praying for guidance, seeking for a place to begin. The Lord gave us this place and the rent was accommodating. Also, we felt that we could relate with the people since we were part of the same culture and economic status.”

Local residents have noticed the transformation. “Anywhere we go in the neighborhood, even non-Christians, congratulate us, affirming that God helped us win the battle that we faced with the bar. People I had never seen before knew our story. We could feel God with us, which translates to our church name, Dios con Nosotros,” Jacinto said.

“Church planting is the most successful tool that the Lord gave us to transform our community with the power of Jesus Christ,” Avila added. “If somebody is seeking to go into church planting, don’t hesitate to step by faith. The Lord will provide everything that they need in order to support a project.”

For more information on church planting through the SBTC, visit