Month: March 2017

Empower Conference: Christian unity must undergird gospel witness

LAS COLINAS  “Pragmatically, the failure of the Christian church to pursue unity … undercuts all the praying and the crying and the snotting we do about revival,” Kevin Smith told attendees at the Southern Baptists of Texas Empower Conference. Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, was one of about a dozen main session speakers who addressed the 2,082 registered for the annual evangelism conference at the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas, Feb. 27-28.

Noting racial, political, generational and economic divisions in society, Smith exhorted Christians in a sermon from Ephesians 4:1-6 to not let these divisions put them at odds with fellow believers.

“Stop freaking out, read the Bible, don’t be ashamed of the gospel, and don’t be ashamed of the people that the gospel calls,” Smith said.

“We can’t be ashamed of each other. We can’t back up from our fellowship and our relationship and our love for one another. We live in a divided culture; we live in a divided society; and nothing is a more refreshing witness than the unified people of God of every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation.”

Smith said he does not like to use the phrase “racial reconciliation” because even atheists can champion that cause. While reconciliation between ethnicities is important, he said, additional divisions exist that need reconciliation in the culture, all of which only a relationship with Jesus Christ can fix. 

“It’s more than just race. It is totally understanding that Jesus can save anybody; and if Jesus can save anybody, our congregations will have people coming in and gathering among us who are different than we are, … and we must be eager about that.”

—Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware

“It’s more than just race,” he said. “It is totally understanding that Jesus can save anybody; and if Jesus can save anybody, our congregations will have people coming in and gathering among us who are different than we are, … and we must be eager about that.”

Smith spoke of Southern Baptists’ commendable determination in recovering biblical fidelity during the 1980s and ‘90s, saying, “The effort we put into sound doctrine and the effort we put into personal holiness, we ought to likewise put effort into pursuing Christian unity.”

Of course, this type of Christian unity must have theological boundaries, Smith insisted. The seven “ones” outlined in Ephesians 4:4-6 make up the parameters of “the unity of the bond of peace.” 

Within those boundaries, Smith said Christians need not be ashamed of one another and must put forth every effort to show humility, gentleness and patience toward one another.

“As Southern Baptists have pursued different approaches to the political system in a fallen culture, where there are no perfect solutions, our interaction with one another has not necessarily been characterized by humility, gentleness and patience. Sometimes when we don’t understand one another’s church methodology, our interactions are not characterized with gentleness, humility and patience. If we’re going to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we have to have a disposition toward our brothers and sisters where we at least want to give one another the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to start suspicious of my brother or sister.”

Ed Stetzer, a professor and executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, challenged pastors and church members to reflect Jesus’ compassion for the lost. 

“When we pray that Jesus would send people to his harvest, we feel the depth of compassion for his mission and the people, and in doing so our hearts align with his,” Stetzer said in a message from Matthew 9:35-38. “When we pray, we see people for who they truly are—in desperate need of the Good Shepherd for their souls. 

“I’m actually not so convinced the issues are that we don’t know how to share or whether we should share. I think the issues are that we don’t hurt for people like the Good Shepherd hurts for his lost sheep.”

—Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College

“I’m actually not so convinced the issues are that we don’t know how to share or whether we should share. I think the issues are that we don’t hurt for people like the Good Shepherd hurts for his lost sheep.”

Stetzer noted that Jesus’ command to his disciples to pray for gospel workers directly preceded his sending them out as those workers. Part of the answer to their prayer is their own obedience, he said.

“Praying for an evangelistic outpouring without knowing your neighbors is ultimately a fool’s errand,” Stetzer told the crowd. He then narrowed his focus to the pastors in the room and exhorted them not just to preach the gospel but to also share it with their own neighbors.

“If you won’t do it, don’t expect your church members to do it,” Stetzer said.

Jerry Vines, former SBC president and pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., delivered a message from Psalm 126 and said every church must prioritize evangelism.

“Intertwined into the warp and woof of all of the programs in our churches has to be the golden strand of evangelism,” Vines said.

“Somewhere along the way we got the idea that the lost are supposed to come to the church, and so we think all you have to do is put up a sign that says, ‘Come on in you sinners and get saved.’ Yet the Bible makes it very clear that the lost are not invited to come to the church, but the church is commanded to go to the lost.

“You know what Southern Baptists need? We just need to get back out there on the field sowing the seed.”

SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., preached from Acts 2:14-41 on the necessity of gospel preaching, which he said must be prophetically declared, scripturally based, Christ-centered, evangelistically persuasive, and spiritually fruitful.

“There is nothing going on in this world that God cannot repair through biblical preaching. Gospel preaching, in my opinion, is the need of the hour,” Gaines said.

“God is looking for men who will share Jesus from the pulpit and preach the Word of God.”

In 2018, the Empower Conference will return to the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas, Feb. 26-27.

Cooperative giving advances the gospel, Richards says at SBTS chapel

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Southern Baptists need to unite in order “to advance the kingdom of God together for God’s glory,” Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards told students at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during a March 21 chapel service.

“What we have [as churches in the Southern Baptist Convention] is definitely much more in common than we have apart. And our heart and our soul is that we are to be together,” Richards said.

Preaching from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Richards’ sermon focused on how Southern Baptists can work together. Church cooperation through associations and conventions created efforts to train ministers and support feeble churches, he said. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program supports worldwide missionary efforts and promotes doctrinal accountability.

“Together, through the Cooperative Program giving, your ministries are multiplied, but only God gets the credit,” Richards said. “It’s not about Southern Baptists; it’s not about an organization. It’s about advancing the kingdom of God, and it’s a tool that God has given us. And ministry is not just about going; it’s about giving.”

Richards presented four values of cooperation found in Ecclesiastes 4: rewards, rescue, relationship and resistance. Rewards from cooperation come through the Cooperative Program and the results of “God’s work [being] exponentially increased when we do it together.” Rescue represents the relief efforts Baptists are able to accomplish together including in disaster worldwide and in crisis within one’s own city. Relationship refers to the trust churches need to have with each other in order to establish the foundation of faith. The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) provides the parameters and theological foundation so that churches can work together with a shared belief.

“So there’s plenty of room for all of us in the BFM, but it does provide parameters, it tells us what we as a group of churches agree to believe about the nature of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the way of salvation, the nature of man, the church, the ordinances, and on and on, explicitly laid out for us,” he said.

Richards concluded by describing how cooperation provides resistance in spiritual warfare. This resistance should be directed toward the battle with the devil and not at the association of churches. Instead, he said, strength for the resistance of evil is found as churches unite together and stand to fight for one another.

“We as individuals are in a spiritual warfare, but we as the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ are in a spiritual warfare, and we must provide resistance to that force of evil that is against us,” Richards said. “We fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. We do not need to be fighting against one another.”

Audio and video of Richards’ message are available at

ERLC trustees, Russell Moore release statements on ‘Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention’

NASHVILLE—An extended statement, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” has been issued by Russell Moore and the executive committee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Moore, in a 1,691-word portion of the March 20 statement, clarified criticism he had leveled at Christians who supported Donald Trump for president in the November 2016 election. The ERLC executive committee, in a 536-word portion of the statement, affirmed Moore’s ongoing leadership as president of the SBC entity. [Both statements are presented in full at the bottom of this story]

The ERLC executive committee acknowledged criticisms of Moore and stated “we are convinced that Dr. Moore has sought to be attentive and responsive to those who have brought concerns to him.”

“We realize that divisions do not heal overnight, and as needs arise our board will be happy to address them. But in terms of leadership and support, Dr. Moore is the man to whom it has been entrusted to lead this entity—speaking prophetically both to our culture and to our convention. He will continue doing so with the confidence of our support,” the ERLC executive committee stated.

Moore acknowledged that he had spoken “often quite sharply” about Christians who said moral issues and character didn’t matter in the election.

He said he was not intending, however, “to talk about Southern Baptists and—and there were many—who were open about all of these issues but believed in supporting candidates, however flawed, who would appoint good people and carry out good policies on some issues.”

And he was “not meaning to suggest it was sinful for Southern Baptists or others to advise candidates or to serve on advisory boards in order to bear some influence there,” Moore said. He said close friends were among those “wounded” by “contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh.”

Moore said Southern Baptists “have too much at stake, and too much for which to be grateful, to be divided. The gospel wins over everything in the end. I pray that the gospel would win in our denomination, in our churches and in my own heart. The same gospel that reconciles us to God is the same gospel that allows us to be reconciled to one another.


Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention

From the ERLC Executive Committee

Our country has come through one of the more challenging political cycles in recent history. Evangelical Christians, and Southern Baptists in particular, faced difficult issues and decisions, which, at times, frayed and threatened even to tear the fabric of our civic and denominational unity.

It is in this difficult context that Dr. Russell Moore has exercised leadership with integrity and with boldness. We affirm Dr. Moore in his leadership of the ERLC. He has spoken with clarity and conviction on ethical matters that have been identified in our Baptist Faith and Message and various Convention resolutions. These included issues related to religious liberty, racial reconciliation, character in public office, and a Christian understanding of sexuality. Most importantly, he has endeavored clearly and graciously to articulate the Christian gospel and its implications. For us not to stand in affirmation of the principles that Dr. Moore has espoused would be unfaithful to the mission entrusted to us by the Convention.

Speaking to these issues is rarely convenient and often unpopular. While the manner, tone, and extent to which we speak to these issues is a matter of wisdom and timeliness, the fact that we must speak to these issues is clear. Christians, however, can disagree on delivery, tactics, and approach, and we find that many of the criticisms levied against Dr. Moore fall into these categories. Even still, some of the criticisms in this vein Dr. Moore himself has received and apologized for. Meanwhile, some other criticisms we have heard have voiced objection to stands Dr. Moore has taken in affirmation of our Convention’s stated doctrine, resolutions, and the mission established by the Convention for the ERLC. We believe we would be in error to accept these criticisms.

Over the last few months, Dr. Moore has engaged in numerous private conversations with many of those who had criticisms of him. As an Executive Committee, who historically have worked most closely in advising and evaluating the performance of the president, we have encouraged these conversations and received updates. We have also encouraged private efforts rather than public comments. These conversations will remain private, but we are convinced that Dr. Moore has sought to be attentive and responsive to those who have brought concerns to him. At the same time, as he has pursued these conversations and listened to others, Dr. Moore has expressed a desire to make a public comment beyond these private conversations, which we have shared with our entire Board and happily affirm.

In many respects, it was the trustee system that allowed for the Conservative Resurgence in our denomination. As committed Southern Baptists with a great appreciation for our Convention, we take our fiduciary responsibility as trustees of the ERLC as a sober and serious stewardship. As an Executive Committee, we believe that Dr. Moore has taken appropriate measures to address this situation. We realize that divisions do not heal overnight, and as needs arise our Board will be happy to address them. But in terms of leadership and support, Dr. Moore is the man to whom it has been entrusted to lead this entity—speaking prophetically both to our culture and to our Convention. He will continue doing so with the confidence of our support.

From Russell Moore

Some of my earliest memories are of Sunday mornings, putting quarters in offering envelopes, to tuck in my Bible. Those envelopes would go with me to my little Southern Baptist church to fuel missionary advance all around the world. On Sunday nights, I was right there in Baptist Training Union, learning what it meant to be distinctively Baptist—including a believers’ church and of a free church in a free state. On Wednesday nights, I was right back there, in Royal Ambassadors, learning the names of our missionaries and why it matters that we cooperate together to hold the rope for them.  

As the son of both the long Baptist tradition of missionary cooperation and of the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence, I consider it a privilege to carry out my assignment as a servant to our Southern Baptist churches, for the sake of our mission together, so that the kingdom of God would be seen in gospel churches of those from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.

As I look back over the last year, I am grieved by the tensions in our denomination over the state of American politics and the role of religion in it. I want to do everything in my power to be an agent of unity, because I still believe in what those offering envelopes represent: the joy of cooperation together to see the world won to faith in Jesus Christ.

As I thought about my own role in this division, I attempted in December to write a reflection on how I sought to go about the task of attempting to speak to issues of conviction for me during the tumult of an election year. Some who saw things differently than I did received those words, and we’ve gladly joined arms in unity. Others didn’t receive them, not because of any deficiency of grace on their part, but due to my own fault. So I want to share my heart in trying both to foster unity and to explain what I was trying—and sometimes failing—to do.

First, let me say that my concerns last year were not primarily about the election as the election. My main objective is not normally the questions of who is up and who is down in political races (though some are called to do just that, and do so well). I see my calling as seeking to offer resources to help churches form consciences of Christians to connect the gospel to ethical and moral and social questions. Citizenship is one part of that, though not by far the most important part for those of us who belong to a kingdom that is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).  

The 2016 presidential election was different than any in our lifetime. Good and godly people had to make very hard decisions. Even when Southern Baptists differed about how best to talk about the potential difficulties facing us, we all were united in biblical convictions we share about such matters as the sanctity of all human life, the scriptural definition of marriage and family, and the importance of religious liberty. I give thanks for these shared convictions even when we were led sometimes to different conscience conclusions about the best way to get to our common goal.

What I was concerned about primarily last year were three things: gospel clarity (as it applies to telling the outside world and those inside the church what we consider it means to be saved and what it means to be an evangelical), the importance of affirming sexual morality and the effect that sexual immorality has on both personal character and on society, and racial divisiveness and injustice. Those are convictions at the core of my ministry for 25 years. Not everyone saw the same challenges to those convictions that I did, and for reasonable and defensible reasons. 

I was asked often during the election about evangelicalism as it related to moral issues and character, and in so doing I spoke, often quite sharply, about those Christians who said or implied that such concerns don’t matter or shouldn’t be talked about. I was not, in so doing, intending to talk about Southern Baptists and others—and there were many—who were open about all of these issues but believed in supporting candidates, however flawed, who would appoint good people and carry out good policies on some issues. Again, I understand that, and find it reasonable and defensible, even when my own conscience differs. The Bible teaches us to give latitude to one another’s consciences on matters not explicitly defined in Scripture since “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23), and my prayer is to be quick to extend this kind of charity towards others.

To be clear, I was also not meaning to suggest it was sinful for Southern Baptists or others to advise candidates or to serve on advisory boards in order to bear some influence there. I was almost never asked about that, and I didn’t see it as a point of confusion, either for lost people or for the church. What I was attempting to talk about were those—most often prosperity gospel teachers—who were willing to define the gospel in ways that I believe untrue to the plan of salvation, or to dismiss the moral concerns other Christians had.

As the year progressed, I felt convicted—both by my personal conscience and by my assignment by Southern Baptists—to speak out on issues of what the gospel is and is not, what sexual morality and sexual assault are and are not, and the crucial need for white Christians to listen to the concerns of our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friends. Some of that was due to contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part. 

I was aware that there were many—including many very close to me—who were quite vocal in critiquing on those areas even candidates they were able to support. These people made clear what they were supporting and what they were rejecting on the basis of the biblical witness, and did not celebrate or wave away the moral problems. I did not speak much about those people because I wasn’t being asked about them, and I didn’t think they were causing the confusion that frustrated me as I was talking even to people I was seeking to win to Christ. But I didn’t clearly enough separate them out. Again, that is a failure on my part, and I apologize.

One of the strongest convictions that I have is that I am a sinner. That’s been clear to me from when I first prayed the sinner’s prayer for mercy from Christ. That means that I am not a competent judge of my own heart or my own motives. Instead, I am a man under authority, and I happily have submitted and will continue to submit to both my board of trustees and to the elders of my local church to make those kinds of determinations.

What I do know is that I—or anyone in this job—will have to talk about all sorts of controversial things. There may be times when what I believe is an issue of biblical truth or Baptist distinctive is wrong. There may be other times when I might be right, but many—maybe even most—people disagree with me. I don’t expect people to agree with me. My job is to speak to consciences, and to endeavor to provide the resources to pose the right kinds of biblical questions—even if you come to different answers.

When my predecessor, Richard Land, spoke to issues, I often agreed with him and sometimes disagreed, either in content or in tone or in emphasis, but he always made me think and go back to God’s Word to sort out how to live the Christian life and how to disciple others on issues of thorny cultural or moral consequence. I endeavor to do the same. I also pray that you—and lost people overhearing or, most importantly to me, my children—will always know that whether right or wrong I am trying to tell you the truth as I honestly see it, not trying to evade issues I think will get me in trouble. I may fail at that, but I pray not to fail at that, by God’s grace.

My goal is to redouble my commitment to stand for what I believe in—on seeking first the kingdom of God, on the need for personal character and sexual holiness, on racial justice and reconciliation. I also commit to work together for our denomination’s cooperative consensus. 

When I look out across our denomination, we have too much at stake, and too much for which to be grateful, to be divided. The gospel wins over everything in the end. I pray that the gospel would win in our denomination, in our churches, and in my own heart. The same gospel that reconciles us to God is the same gospel that allows us to be reconciled to one another. I learned that from y’all. That’s why they gave me those Southern Baptist missions offering envelopes. I pray that our quarters, and more importantly our gospel unity and clarity, go out to our first-rate Southern Baptist missionaries and church planters and evangelists and seminary students for the sake of what will outlive our ministries and will outlast the Southern Baptist Convention—the glory of God and the souls of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

REVIEW: Is “Beauty and the Beast” OK for kids? (And what about that gay character?)

He was a handsome young prince living in a beautiful castle, and—like all charming men of royalty—many women flocked to him.

But as good-looking as he was on the outside, he was dark and hideous on the inside. He taxed the villagers so he could acquire nice things, and he teased the women with no desire to settle down. Then one night, as he danced from partner to partner in the ballroom, an elderly woman came begging, simply wanting shelter from the rain. Yet he ordered her to leave, repulsed by her appearance.    

This woman, though, was no ordinary vagabond. She was a beautiful enchantress who cast a spell on him and the castle, turning him into a beast and his home into a dreadful-looking filthy fortress. As the narrator tells us, “she had seen there was no love in his heart.”

The only way he can change back to a prince is by finding a woman who will love him—a seemingly impossible task for a horned creature filled with hate.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (PG) opens this weekend, giving us a live-action remake of the studio’s 1991 animated hit that was the third-highest grossing movie that year. The 2017 version stars Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast, and Luke Evans as the vain and annoying Gaston, who has his eyes on Belle. The film was directed by Bill Condon.

It’s a story that is packed with wonderful (even biblical) lessons for kids of all ages—beauty is found on the inside, and arrogance has a price—but this remake comes with some modern-day baggage. For the first time, Disney has introduced an openly (and obvious) gay character in a children’s film—LeFou (Josh Gad), who is Gaston’s servant. For many families, it will stain what otherwise is a marvelous, instant classic.

So, just how overt are the gay moments? And is Beauty and the Beast OK for children? Let’s take a look.

The Good

Setting aside the controversy for the moment, Beauty and the Beast is marvelous. Its music easily surpasses that of the 1991 version; its dance numbers are fun; and the film’s visuals—the flower-filled hills of Belle’s village countryside and the snow-packed landscape of the Beast’s home—are stunning. No doubt, many will leave the theater and download the soundtrack.

It’s also very funny, led by the back-and-forth between the teacup and mantel clock.  

The story’s message about the true definition of beauty dominates the film. The narrator tells us in the opening scene that “beauty is found within,” and later Belle repeats a line from Shakespeare: “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” (More on this in “The Worldview” section below.)

Scripture tells us that pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18), and Beauty and the Beast affirms that truth. The prince’s arrogance results in him being turned into a creature, and Gaston’s pride prevents him from winning Belle. It is only when the Beast learns to place himself second that she falls for him.

By contrast, Belle is humble. When her father is placed in the Beast’s prison early in the film, she sacrifices her safety by trading spots with him, against his will. Later, when Beast saves her from a pack of wolves and is left beaten and bloodied, she opts against an escape and instead takes him back to his castle where she nurses him to health.

Finally, the film provides children a good message that it’s OK to be different. The townspeople label the bookworm Belle a “peculiar” girl who is “nothing like the rest of us,” but she refuses to change, knowing that there is nothing wrong with an educated woman.

The Bad

The film has no coarse language. Beast does reference “eternal damnation” and being “damned” for eternity, but the words are used in their original sense.

It has a moderate amount of violence. Gaston punches another man and fights Beast. Gaston also shoots someone. The villagers rush the castle and try to find Beast, but the teacup and others discover unique ways to stop them.

There is no sensuality and only two or three kisses.  

LeFou’s homosexuality is the primary concern. I walked into the theater wondering if the controversy was much ado about nothing, and walked out believing it was well deserved. No, the word “gay” is not in the film, and LeFou and Gaston never kiss, but it is obvious from the get-go that he is not straight.

I counted five gay moments: 1) As Gaston gazes at Belle through a scope, LeFou responds, “Who needs her when you’ve got us?” 2) When Gaston chases women in the town square, LeFou follows him around, making clear that it’s not just the females who like him. 3) As Gaston sits in an armchair in a tavern, LeFou leans toward him seductively, although Gaston doesn’t notice. He also briefly gives Gaston a massage. 4) When the people in the tavern start singing and dancing about Gaston’s superiority, LeFou spins and suddenly finds himself being held from behind by Gaston. LeFou says, “Too much?” Gaston responds, “Yes.” 5) In the movie’s final big dance number, LeFou is partnered with a man—a man who just moments earlier was enjoying wearing women’s clothes. Each of those latter two scenes lasts only a couple of seconds, but Disney’s message is clear: LeFou has found his man. Overall, it detracts from the main story.

Now for the question that many parents are asking: Will children even notice all of this? Some won’t. (He is, after all, a secondary character.) But other children, particularly older ones, will. Cartoons in the past have showed men dancing together or even hugging, but it was laughed off or treated as a mistake. Yet LeFou enjoys the contact. He also is effeminate for much of the film (although not in every scene).

This Hollywood trend is touching every aspect of entertainment. 24: Legend has a gay angle. Downton Abbey did, too. Even a Nickelodeon cartoon has featured two dads. Disney even included a scene with several same-gender couples kissing in the Feb. 27 episode of the children’s cartoon “Star vs. the Forces of Evil,” available on the Disney XD network website.

Sadly, families are being forced to discuss an issue they’d rather save for later, when the kids are more mature.

It doesn’t even matter if parents take the kids to watch Beauty and the Beast. Their friends will see it. And the kids will come home with questions. We better be ready with answers. 

The Worldview

It is sad that Disney chose to make Gaston’s sidekick gay. That’s because this film has a message about beauty that all of our children—particularly our girls—need to hear. It is this: True beauty has nothing to do with physical looks. The Bible tells us that beauty, as the world sees it, is “fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30) and that God “looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I tell my young daughter that the definition of beauty is “to love God and to love others.”

In the film, a girl who could have married any man in town instead falls for a ghastly Beast because, as Belle sings, “There is something in him I did not see.” What a story! Tragically, though, many Hollywood films preach exactly the opposite message.   

The Verdict: OK for Kids & Teens?

Beauty and the Beast is certainly scarier than the 1991 cartoon version, although filmmakers seemed to have gone to great lengths to keep it in PG territory. Comparing it to recent kids’ films, it’s as scary as The BFG and The Jungle Book. There are several intense scenes, including two involving packs of wolves trying to catch people. The final fight scene between Gaston and the Beast also is a bit frightening.

But the LeFou controversy is the sole focus on many traditional families. If not for it, I likely would take my 5-year-old daughter to see it. Now, we may just wait for the DVD.

Discussion Questions

What is beauty? How does the world’s definition differ from the biblical definition? Does God care about physical beauty? What does it mean to be arrogant? How can we fight arrogance and pride? What made Belle change her mind about the Beast? Why didn’t Belle want to marry Gaston? Which characters exhibited grace? Which characters exhibited humility? What does Scripture say about homosexuality? How can we tackle this issue with grace, while standing for truth?

Beauty and the Beast is rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.   

CP giving allows seminary student to pursue God”s calling

The son of Southern Baptist international missionaries, Tim Chatman saw firsthand the impact of Cooperative Program giving as he was growing up.

“CP money has helped me my entire life,” he said.

While he never expected to follow his parents’ footsteps into full-time ministry, Chatman began to sense God leading him in that direction in recent years, and again, he found support from the Southern Baptist community. 

 “I knew God was calling me to seminary, and so my wife and I moved, and it would not have been possible for us to do that without Cooperative Program money.”

Through scholarships provided through CP giving, about half of Chatman’s seminary costs are covered, allowing him to obediently pursue his theological education. 

“Sometimes it feels like I’m all on my own, but I have to remember that I have thousands of Southern Baptists thinking and praying for me, and not just praying for me, but they’re actually sending supportive money to help me out in my degree and to fulfill my calling
that God has placed on my life.”

Unity Accomplishes the Mission

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity,” (Psalm 133:1). The Psalmist spoke of joy in fellowship. Sharing common beliefs is a basis for unity, but it takes more. Unity is possible when everyone is willing to put aside personal goals or preferences to achieve a desired goal. 

Reaching Texas and Touching the World with the gospel of Jesus Christ is the loftiest of goals. Let’s admit it, just reaching Texas is actually out of reach. We cannot do it. Once we are honest with ourselves then maybe God will move through us to accomplish his will. Reaching Texas is a God-sized task that only God can effectuate. The unimaginable truth is that God wants us in on his plan. One church alone cannot get its arms around this state. A small group of churches cannot do it. It will take all of us to make it possible. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is a large number of churches combining their efforts to do what God wants done. We must stay together to see God move in our state. We need a spiritual awakening. Prayer, humility and a supernatural act of a sovereign God can make it happen. This will only happen when we are in unity around the heart of God.

Churches in Texas share a common giving channel to accomplish much of the work. Local churches experience financial challenges. Buildings, staff and other demands take funds, but reaching a community or area for Jesus has to be a priority. One pastor told me several years ago, “We have to take care of the Mother Ship. If this Ship doesn’t sail, nothing else will either.” The church reduced their Cooperative Program giving to a bare minimum. They got their spiritual house in order. Within three or four years, the church was giving more than it had previously. A strong local church will be able to contribute to state, national and international ministries. The best way a church can carry out an Acts 1:8 strategy is in unity with other churches. Working together and giving together we impact beyond our local ministries.

Unity of purpose and participation brings about unity of product. More church plants receive funding now than ever before in Texas because churches are in unity. More churches are being revitalized now than ever before because we are in this together. Students are coming to Christ and answering God’s call to ministry because we are able to provide the venues for them to hear the Spirit’s voice. Hindu background believers are being baptized in Houston because churches in West Texas, the urban centers and out in the country are unified. Countless examples beg to be told of how unity through giving produces results. There is more to unity than giving, but giving is a part of unity. When you give you are saying that we can make a difference in the lives of people we may never meet this side of heaven.

Cooperative Program Day is April 9. I will be preaching for Morris Horner in El Paso. Journey Church is a 3-year-old church plant that has reached scores of people with the gospel. Those who gave through the Cooperative Program had a part in every one of those saved and baptized. 

Join in the unity of the gospel by giving through the Cooperative Program. Let a SBTC staff member come share life changing stories with your congregation. Show a video that gives the testimony of those who have been made new by Jesus. Do something that will let your congregation know that you are in the unity of gospel through giving. 

Joy and harmonious fellowship is not an end in itself. The result of unity brings others into the kingdom.

For more information and resources related to Cooperative Program Day, visit

How to provide a welcoming environment for guests on Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday, April 16, our SBTC churches will welcome many visitors to our worship gatherings. A lot of these guests will step into a church service for the first time. Many, I suspect, do not call themselves Christians. Guests notice and usually comment on how loving a fellowship is (or is not) by their willingness to welcome newcomers. If your church already welcomes guests well, then praise God for his work among you and continue to remind your members about the preciousness of others. The following are just some ways we can help guests feel welcome and at home each Sunday, but especially this coming Easter Sunday when so many will visit your church for the first, and possibly, last time.

Leave the parking spaces closest to the entrances for your guests, expectant mothers, and senior adults. Clearly mark your guest parking areas. Honor guests by leaving these spaces open for visitors. Also, encourage those who can to utilize the farthest parking spaces so that senior adults, expectant mothers, and families with younger children will not have as far to walk. And remind your members of issues that are specific to your situation—special parking, overflow parking, etc. Finally, if necessary, organize a parking team for Easter Sunday. This team may not only direct guests to parking, but they can serve as your first greeters, letting visitors know where to enter your building.

Greet everyone you see with a smile whether you know them or not. From the time you step out of your vehicle, greet everyone with a friendly smile and tell them how glad you are to see them. Use the time from the parking lot to the pew to greet visitors and to get to know other members.

Introduce yourself to those you don’t know. If you don’t know someone, take the time to greet them and introduce yourself. And try to meet a new person or family each Sunday, not just on Easter Sunday.  

Assist those who don’t seem to know where they are going. Remember, you may know where everything is in your church building, but your guests are not familiar with your facilities. Take time to show them around, and offer to take them to where they need to go.

Fill the seats at the front of the meeting room first when you enter to worship. We all run behind schedule at times for various reasons. Late comers and guests do not like to parade before the entire congregation on their way to find a seat. If you fill the seats up front (and scoot in toward the middle), then visitors and late comers can slip in without having to walk in front of the entire congregation.

Don’t rush off after the service. Instead, take a few minutes to greet visitors and other members you do not normally see. Thank them for attending your services and invite them to come again.

Prepare a gift for your visitors. Each week we prepare gift bags for our guests that contain information about our church, a free ESV New Testament, and other helpful materials. Guests may pick up their gift bag at our Welcome Center in the front foyer. We also make our gift bags available in the nursery. But even if you only do it for Easter Sunday, prepare a little something for your guests, so that even if they don’t come back, you know that they have gospel materials that will point them to Christ.

Invite visitors to your home for a meal. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to share a meal together. Practice Christian hospitality by inviting someone to eat lunch with you after worship.

Invite first-time visitors to worship with you again. You will be amazed how much weight a personal invitation carries. Encourage visitors to return and worship with you on a regular Sunday.

Above all, pastors, preach the gospel! While all these ideas are helpful and provide a welcoming environment, they mean nothing if we don’t preach the gospel! If the whole Bible is about Christ, the gospel should be present in our sermons each week. But if not, pastors, please be sure to preach the gospel and make Christ compelling. Preach as if this will be the only time these guests will hear about Christ.

Right or wrong, visitors will form an opinion about our churches within the first few minutes after they arrive. Make every effort to welcome guests this Easter Sunday (and every other Sunday) through genuine, Christian love and hospitality. And be sure to point them to Christ—the whole point of Easter Sunday!

Southern Baptist compassion and care ministry fueled by the Cooperative Program

Tornadoes, floods, fires … the worst of natural disasters provide the greatest opportunities for Christians to serve God by serving humankind in disaster relief, something the Southern Baptist Convention has been doing for a half century through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR).  

SBDR marked its 50-year anniversary in January 2017, a milestone of service made possible by funds provided through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

“Of those 50 years, we’ve responded to thousands of disasters, both domestically and internationally,” Mickey Caison, executive director of SBDR for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said. “As part of that, we’ve seen thousands of people come to Christ out of that environment of damage and destruction.” 

Dewey Watson, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention DR task force director, said disasters provide opportunities for churches to send out missionaries in the form of DR volunteers. 

Disaster relief workers “reach people for the Lord in a way no one else can. When people are in need or are in crisis, their hearts are open, not only to the gospel but also to the love of someone else approaching them, helping them, through disaster relief,” Watson said.

NAMB reported Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has 65,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, making it one of the three largest mobilizers of trained DR volunteers in the United States, with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. SBDR has 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw work, mud-out operations, shower and laundry services, water purification, communication, command and other tasks. 

“We help people get their lives back in order so that they can function again after a disaster. The Cooperative Program helps us maintain a lot of our equipment. It helps us in training. We have to have funds to get people trained so they’ll know what to do when they are on deployment doing disaster relief,” Watson said. 

“A person told me one time that people really didn’t care how much you knew until they knew how much you cared. In disaster relief, we care,” Watson added.

The Cooperative Program accelerates gospel ministry

Although the “Cooperative Program” has been around a long time, the work accomplished through CP giving is constantly changing. Ministry moves at a rapid pace at the SBTC as we work to provide resources to meet ministry opportunities of the local church. 

As Southern Baptists, cooperating together in giving is part of our identity. CP is the engine that drives our cooperative efforts to reach next door and around the world. CP dollars work in places we will never go, touching people we will never meet. CP allows us all to “belong” to something of worldwide proportion. How else could we build a strategy to bring the gospel to the world? Working together, we belong to a great kingdom effort.

As you think about the ministries that are accomplished in Texas because of your giving through the Cooperative Program, consider these highlights: 

  • 113 church plants were funded in 2016. From Amarillo to Brownsville, and El Paso to Alvin, churches are planting churches across our state.
  • Over 4,300 students participated in youth events last year with 240 making professions of faith and 221 surrendering to the call to ministry.
  • Domestically and internationally, SBTC disaster relief volunteers ministered 51,500 hours, served 172,283 meals, presented the gospel 698 times and saw 195 professions of faith.
  • Over 500 online training videos are available at covering a multitude of local church ministries.
  • Ministry training touched 2,200 Sunday School leaders, 1,906 involved in children’s ministry, 795 in women’s ministry, 1,620 in men’s ministry and 490 in discipleship.
  • An average of 120 children are under care of the Texas Baptist Home for Children, and close to 40 of them find “forever homes” each year through TBH.

There is no better investment of your ministry dollars than the “Cooperative Program.” An effective strategy, multiplied by our efforts together, is bringing the gospel to the world.

IMB trustees launch investigation, express concern over board representation

HOUSTON—A Texas pastor serving as a trustee of the International Mission Board said several of the smaller state conventions could be in danger of losing representation on the board if changes are not made in how the board is comprised.

David FlemingDavid Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston and an IMB trustee, will serve as a member of a trustee representation study group that he said will evaluate the process of trustee representation on the board and present any findings and/or recommendations for discussion at or before the board’s June meeting in Phoenix.

Fleming said the move to form the study group came as officers of the board of trustees at the IMB “learned recently that several of the smaller state conventions have lost or will be losing their seat on the board per SBC and IMB trustee selection guidelines.”

Currently there 77 IMB trustees representing the following states: Alabama, 5; Arizona, 1; Arkansas, 3; California, 1; Colorado, 1; Florida, 4; Georgia, 6; Hawaii, 1; Illinois, 1; Indiana, 1; Kansas/Nebraska, 1; Kentucky, 3; Louisiana, 3; Maryland/Delaware 1; Michigan, 1; Mississippi, 3; Missouri, 3; Nevada, 1; New England, 1; New Mexico, 1; New York, 1; North Carolina, 5; Northwest, 1; Ohio, 1; Oklahoma, 1; Pennsylvania/South Jersey, 1; South Carolina, 3; Tennessee, 5; Texas, 12; Utah/Idaho, 1; Virginia, 2; West Virginia, 1.

IMB trustees are elected by messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention annually for a four-year term based on a formula set forth in the SBC Constitution and the IMB charter indicating the board includes one member from each cooperating state and the District of Columbia, one additional member from each state having 250,000 members, and an additional member for each additional 250,000 members. The president of the SBC also is an ex officio member on the board.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards currently serves as chair of the SBC Committee on Nominations, which reviews the qualifications of potential nominees to fill SBC trustee and committee vacancies and nominates a slate of names to messengers at the SBC annual meeting each year.

“Several states including Texas lost trustee positions on the International Mission Board due to the formula that is used,” Richards said. “Proportionate representation is ideal. Hopefully, an equitable system can be proposed.”

Fleming, in response to questions posed by the TEXAN, said he cannot predict a possible outcome of the effort to study this process.

“We certainly respect the guidelines but have concerns about churches and state conventions not having a voice on the IMB,” Fleming said. “The officers would like to have a sub-committee study the issue and bring any recommendations back to the board.”

The move to study the process was announced March 1 at the close of the IMB board meeting by board chair Scott Harris, from Brentwood, Tenn., who said the issue was discussed in the final moments of the IMB’s Feb. 28 trustee forum.

Fleming confirmed the trustee officers asked him to serve on the team.

“We hope to have a discussion with the full body of trustees to see if there are positive ways to make sure all Southern Baptists are represented,” Fleming said.