Month: November 2017

As churches weigh health care options, GuideStone offers solutions

DALLAS Inaction by Washington on reforms to the Affordable Care Act has led to much uncertainty for those in the health care exchanges created under the 2010 law’s authority.

In many counties around the United States, there is only one option on the state or federal exchanges, and in some places it is possible there will be no options by the beginning of the year.

GuideStone Financial Resources is prepared with solutions for churches looking to help their pastors and staff members obtain health care coverage for themselves and their families. 

“GuideStone has offered health coverage benefits to Southern Baptist churches and their employees for over half of our century of service,” Scott Charbonneau, managing director of insurance plans, said. “With the uncertainty in the health care marketplace, GuideStone seeks to be a stable, competitive solution for churches and ministries we are privileged to serve, both in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the greater evangelical community.”

GuideStone is increasing access to individual plans and group products. Those solutions include GuideStone’s Personal Plans, microgroups—for churches with as few as two employees—and group plans for larger and medium-sized churches and ministries.

“Churches from single-staff member congregations to multi-campus megachurches with hundreds of employees have options available to them through GuideStone’s health plans,” Charbonneau emphasized. “If you have had trouble finding a health care solution or are looking for additional options, GuideStone is here to help.”

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said serving the “pastors at the crossroads”— those who serve far from the limelight but serve faithfully among the people God has called them to shepherd—is foundational to the work GuideStone does each day.

“Those smaller churches that find themselves trying to navigate the complex realities of our nation’s broken health care system have an advocate with GuideStone,” Hawkins said. “Not only are we committed to providing solutions for pastors and churches of all sizes, but we are committed to doing so by offering benefits in line with our shared Christian beliefs and values.”

While medical inflation, claims experience and the continued uncertainty in the health care industry brought on by inaction in Washington continue to impact rates, GuideStone has worked to control health insurance rates—average rate increases for Personal Plans are 8.8 percent and for Group Plans are 7.5 percent—with more than half of all groups seeing rate increases of 2 percent or less.

Churches interested in learning more about solutions available to them should call 1-844-INS-GUIDE (1-844-467-4843) or visit GuideStone.org

Staff Christmas Memories

Again this year, I’ve asked our staff to submit a meaningful Christmas memory, a movie or song. Here’s what I heard back from them. Enjoy!

 

Mike Gonzales, Hispanic Ministries

Our must-see movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We also love to attend the Christmas Eve candle light service at our church. Having Christ in our lives is a “Wonderful Life”!  

Garrett Wagoner, Evangelism

One of my favorite memories is watching the Claymation Rudolf and playing with the homemade ornaments on our Christmas tree. In a weird way, I loved the way the ornaments and the fake tree smelled. 

Emily Smith, Church Ministries

Well let’s just say I can now recite all of Santa’s reindeer since this has become one of my 3-year-old’s favorite Christmas songs and we have to listen to it all year long. 

Deborah Smith, Pastor/Church Relations

At night, for my nieces and nephews, I turn off all of the lights and tell the story of Jesus in the dark only using a flashlight to “light” the way through a gospel presentation. The toy figures we use to play each role change each year, such as Megatron as Herod, and usually ends in laughter because it is a surprise. Then, we finish with a discussion about God and salvation. 

Sheryl McFadden, Evangelism

On Christmas night each year we went with our children and a group of friends caroling to the widows and elderly couples who didn’t have family visit over the holiday.

Laura Adkinson, Pastor/Church Relations

When my kids were very young, I bought a Christmas count down calendar. It’s a Santa face with 24 little burlap sacks below it to stuff a few pieces of candy in. I hung it up every year and filled it with candy for my son and daughter. It was so fun to see them check it every day for the pieces of chocolate tucked away in the little sacks.  

Shane Pruitt, Evangelism

Our family’s favorite song is Gene Autry’s version of “Up on the House Top.” Our two oldest daughters and I will scream the lyrics, “Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go? Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go?” at the top of our voices, much to Kasi’s dismay. The next request is “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”  

Barry Calhoun, Missions Mobilization

A favorite of mine is the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmie Stewart. It reminds me of the importance of simple things in life, helping our neighbor and the extreme impact our lives have on others in our sphere of influence. We are our brother’s keeper! Gen. 4:9

Bruno Molina, Evangelism

Our Christmas is a bicultural event. Due to our Dominican heritage, our big celebration happens on Christmas Eve. We gather our extended family and enjoy merengue dancing and the Jerry Vale Christmas album. After a great meal and a time of prayer, we exchange presents and go off to a sound sleep.  

Tammi Ledbetter, Communications

My kids and I baked a sugar cookie nativity scene each year. We were lucky if a shepherd, the largest cookie, survived to go in the barn. Over the years we spread the baking party to neighbor kids and church families. I look forward to sharing this with my grandkids. 

Mark Yoakum, Church Ministries

“Merry Christmas Darling” by the Carpenters: It turns my thoughts to all our service men and women who are on the field in other countries and cannot be with their loved ones. I pray that God will give them extra grace to deal with this season.

David Alexander, Missions

I grew up always looking forward to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and Fred Astaire narrating the Santa Claus story. We would decorate our Christmas tree with homemade sugar cookies and spend the days up to Christmas eating them off the tree.

Dennis Parish, Field Ministry Strategist 

“I’ve seen all those Christmas shows on TV

Blankets of white powder; my, how grand!

But while you’ve got snow and holly, I’m feastin’ on tamales

Sittin’ on my back porch with an iced tea in my hand!”

Gayla Sullivan, Communications

We always read the Christmas story from Luke before opening any presents; a tradition that continues. And then we watch “Elf.”

Anna Whitson, Missions

 “Silent Night” was always the final song played at our annual Christmas Eve service. My childhood church was multi-cultural, so it was so sweet to hear voices from around the globe worshiping Christ. The soft strum of guitars would gently lift up our words of adoration, capturing the holiness of that night so long ago.

Lauren Heinfeld, Evangelism

Every year growing up we would listen to Bing Crosby’s CD, “White Christmas,” my mom’s favorite Christmas music. My mom passed away almost six years ago, and to this day, and when I see it and hear it, it’s a reminder of her and what love looked like for our family. 

Mitch Kolenovsky, Field Ministry Strategist

My favorite Christmas Sing is “It’s About the Cross” by the group Go Fish.

The song is a reminder that there never would have been a cradle without the cross.

Ted Elmore, Pastor/Church Relations

In our kids growing up years we had a minister of music at our church, who, every year, would sing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” in his deep, baritone voice. Each year as we gather, one or two of our four will break out into a deep imitation of the song. We all laugh, and then some good reminiscing begins.

Chris Enright, Operations

When our kids were growing up, we used the watch a video that was narrated by Andy Griffith called “The Very First Noel.” As kids tend to do with movies they like, we watched it over and over every season. Andy Griffith’s voice thankfully made it tolerable and the clear gospel message for our children made it valuable. 

Tony Wolfe, Pastor/Church Relations

Around Christmas for the past several years, Vanessa commandeers the TV remote to give the Hallmark Channel a monopoly on our television screen. The boys and I roll our eyes and grunt. Every evening, you can cut the sarcasm with a knife. Aaron likes to divulge the entire plot of the movie within the first two minutes. Even for the ones we have never seen; he nails it every time.   

Panel: Pastor is the key to evangelistic churches

Whether or not a congregation will be spurred and equipped to evangelize weighs heavily on one factor—the pastor. And although not all pastors would claim the gift of evangelism, they all are required to personally share the gospel and encourage their congregations to do likewise, said three current and former pastors during a panel discussion at the SBTC annual meeting Nov. 14.

“If the pastor’s not going to lead the flock in that gospel conversation and to love people and have gospel conversations, then it will not happen,” said John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless.

Meador admitted his own shortcomings until convicted by the admonition of 2 Timothy 4:5.

“It spoke to me powerfully,” Meador told an audience that included pastors and lay leaders. “I [had] spent a lot of time teaching but not a lot of time doing the work of the evangelist among our people.”

Meador and his fellow panelists—Matt Queen, associate dean for doctoral programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Kevin Bautista, pastor of missions and evangelism at First Baptist Church of Dallas—discussed with panel moderator Shane Pruitt, SBTC director of evangelism, the tools they’ve utilized in training their congregations to share the gospel. But each said it is crucial for pastors to lead in the effort.

Evangelism “slowly becomes part of the culture” when the congregation sees church leaders acting on their admonitions from the pulpit to share the gospel, Bautista said.

What excuses do pastors use for not developing a personal habit of evangelism? Pruitt asked.

“I think pastors don’t have a plan,” Meador said. “They do not spend the time. They do not see the call of mobilizing the gospel as a priority when it is their call.”

Bautista said accountability among staff members goes a long way in keeping FBC Dallas members mindful of their witnessing role.

Queen credited SWBTS President Paige Patterson’s heart for the lost as a significant motivating factor in his own evangelism efforts.

The panelists’ efforts at sharing the gospel varied from public invitations at the end of every worship service to intentionally striking up gospel conversations with strangers and acquaintances. Most of the methods included training church members on how to engage people in gospel conversations.

At FBC Euless, “Can We Talk?” a six-week gospel training program, grew out of the church’s realization that the ethnically changing neighborhood surrounding the church was not being drawn to the church.

“I found out many of our people were not equipped to have that conversation well,” Meador said.

Two-and-a half years after the first “Can We Talk?” training, 750 members have been equipped to share their faith, area churches have asked to use the program, and FBC Euless created a non-profit organization—One Conversation—to expand evangelistic training.

To date, 500 pastors in 20 states have been trained to use “Can We Talk?” for equipping and encouraging their congregations to share the gospel.

While “Can We Talk?” is primarily used in follow up meetings with people who have visited the church or utilized one of the church’s ministries, Queen said the “Everyday Evangelism” he uses is an old-school throwback of sorts. Patterson’s evangelistic zeal spurred Queen and seminary students in 2009 to begin a door-to-door campaign to share the gospel with every home within a one-mile radius of the campus.

That done, Queen said it would have been easy to rest on their laurels having accomplished a years-long evangelistic outreach. Instead they went the second mile, expanding their gospel-sharing radius to two miles, striking up gospel conversations at mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, universities, coffee shops and more front doors.

“Now we do ‘Everyday Evangelism’ with everybody, everywhere, every way,” Queen said.

At least one person a week since 2014 has made a profession of faith and been connected to a local church through the seminary’s outreach, Queen said.

Pruitt asked if other means of witnessing, like “relationship evangelism”—beginning relationships before sharing the gospel—are effective ministry tools.

“I’m all for relational evangelism as long as there is a relationship and there is evangelism,” Queen said.

Sharing your faith from the beginning of a relationship makes broaching the gospel message a natural part of conversation, he said. But having the desire to share your faith does not prepare a Christian to do so, Meador said, emphasizing the need to have a plan and prepare for intentional, effective gospel conversations.

The panelists concluded where they began—pastors must have a personal practice of evangelism and lead their congregations to do likewise.

“It doesn’t take a scholar to see the [biblical] imperative commands,” Meador said. “If a pastor doesn’t do gospel work, I’m not sure he’s qualified to pastor his church.”

Even if no one responds with a profession of faith, sharing the gospel benefits the person sharing the message, Queen said.

“Sometimes there is no greater encouragement for you than to go out and share the gospel,” Queen told the pastors in the audience. “You are reminded of why God loves you and sent his son Jesus to die for you.”

Why Fill out the Annual Church Profile (ACP)?

The end of the calendar year is quickly approaching and it is time to get your Annual Church Profile completed and turned in. The SBTC’s online Church Portal makes this easier today than ever before (www.sbtexas.com/acp). However, even if you are not able to complete the ACP online, you can quickly record the information on the ACP card we provide and mail or email it to the office. When your church reports ACP data through us, we share it with the SBC and with associational DOM’s upon their request. This means that if you use our system, you only have to report one time. And we work very hard to make that one time as simple as possible. 

 

Ten reasons to fill out the ACP:

1. To celebrate what God has done!

Churches sometimes decide not to report ACP data when baptism or giving numbers are down. But the threshold for celebration in God’s kingdom is one. We want to celebrate what God has done even when it looks like one baptism or one dollar. 

2. To rejoice in cooperative effectiveness.

We want to celebrate the cooperative wins, too. But we cannot rejoice over what we don’t know. Accurate yearly ACP data give cooperating churches the privilege of rejoicing together in the collective wins. 

3. To plan for ministry funding.

When you report your church’s annual giving information, we are able to plan for and/or make necessary changes to our state convention’s ministry model year after year. 

4. To hold ourselves accountable.

When I was a pastor, no one from the convention office ever called to chastise or rebuke me. But the simple stroke of a few keys every year enabled me to rejoice in kingdom victories and to hold myself accountable for missed kingdom opportunities. 

5. To better understand needs of the churches.

We want to provide services and support that our churches actually need. ACP data help us understand those needs as they change through the years. 

6. To keep contact info up to date.

Your SBTC staff tries very hard to keep in contact with every one of our churches. But when we work from old information (staff positions, contact numbers, emails, etc.) this becomes difficult, if not impossible. 

7. To identify trends through the years.

Narratives about the effectiveness of Baptist work are informed by ACP data. If numbers are not being faithfully reported, it is impossible to share accurate narratives about denominational trends.

8. To evaluate present strategies.

The ACP is our best mechanism for evaluating current statewide strategies for evangelism, revitalization and outreach. Accurate evaluations are impossible without accurate data.  

9. To develop strategies for the future.

Trends are evaluated from the past, in the present, to give direction for the future. ACP data enable us to develop strategies for reaching people tomorrow whom we did not reach yesterday or today. 

10. To be part of something bigger than myself.

The SBTC/SBC is a Great Commission movement of 2,600-plus churches in Texas and 46,000-plus across the United States. Filling out and reviewing ACP data every year reminds us that while we are individually strong in Christ Jesus, we are even stronger together. 

Together, We Can Do More!

Thank you for electing me as your SBTC president for 2018. I am humbled that our Lord would allow me to serve you in this capacity. And I consider it an honor to be able to represent the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, our leadership, staff, and churches, as the Lord gives me opportunities. 

One of the marks of a wise leader is that he readily admits the job is too great for one man, so he seeks the Lord’s help. Shortly after Solomon became Israel’s leader, God appeared to him and offered him a virtual “blank check,” saying, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5). What would you have asked God to give you? What would I have asked God to give me? Solomon knew the difficulty of the task of leadership, so he asked God for wisdom – “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern your great people” (1 Kings 3:9). I need wisdom! And I pray that God would allow me to be wise in serving you. But I also invite you to pray for me—that our Lord would grant me wisdom to know how to serve you, Dr. Jim Richards, the SBTC staff, and the SBTC churches well. This task is beyond my ability to fulfill in my own strength, so I ask for your prayers. 

And you can rest assured that I will also ask for your help. You see, a wise leader not only seeks God’s help, he also seeks the help of others. All of us stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. And I thank God that the SBTC has been in God’s hands and under faithful leadership for its first 20 years. I am confident that our next 20 years together, should the Lord tarry, will be even better than we can imagine if we continue to build on the work that our faithful brothers and sisters have done before us. We are not innovators; we are stewards of the resource that is the SBTC—its people and its churches. So, together we can continue to build upon the good work already being done. I need you! So, I ask you for your help. Be ready! 

Finally, I want to ask you not just to help me, but to help each other. We need each other! Together, WE are the SBTC—young and old, rural and urban, male and female, small church and mega church, Traditional and Calvinist, church planter and established pastor, Anglo and African-American, Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor! We can do more together than we can apart. Together, we can see the Cooperative Program reach new heights. Together, we can plant more churches in the ever-increasing population centers of our state. Together, we can revitalize more plateaued or dying churches. Together, we can share the good news with more of the millions of Texans who do not profess faith in Christ. Together, we can do more! Will you pray for me? Will you help me? Will you join me? 

Navajo nation volunteers inspired to help Harvey victims alongside SBTC DR

PORT ARTHUR For generations the Navajo have been on the receiving end of volunteer mission teams. Buddy Evans chaperoned one such trip in 1985. For two weeks his team led Vacation Bible School in the mornings, revival meetings in the evenings and, in between, explored the desert high country of New Mexico—a stark contrast to their home in Port Arthur, Texas.

Evans found the Navajo culture intriguing and the people’s openness to the gospel encouraging. Almost a generation later Evans would again be encouraged when the Navajo Nation’s first disaster relief team arrived at his flood-ravaged home and offered aid in the name of Christ.

“I was just amazed how eager they were to come and help me,” Evans told me, his voice faltering momentarily. 

News of Navajo families living in Hurricane Harvey’s devastated regions concerned Navajo Christian leaders including tribal President Russell Begaye, a former NAMB missionary, and Vice President Jonathan Nez. But their inability to respond quickly to needs outside the reservation demonstrated a weakness in Navajo churches—they had always been receiving missionaries, not sending them.

That changed in the wake of the storm. Church and ministry leadership pooled their experience and resources to recruit, train and deploy the first Navajo Nation Christian Response Team (NNCRT) Oct. 21, just eight weeks after Harvey rolled into southeast Texas.

Navajo-led church and parachurch ministries within the reservation have for decades provided material support, including building and repairing homes, for the needy in and outside the reservation. But the NNCRT is the first of its kind and draws exclusively from the Navajo Christian community across the reservation to deploy disaster response teams at a moment’s notice.

“We are the largest tribal nation in the U.S. We need to emulate service. The world calls it volunteerism. As believers, we call it service.”

Jonathan Nez

“We are the largest tribal nation in the U.S.,” Nez said during a break from floating drywall at Trinity Church in Port Arthur. “We need to emulate service. The world calls it volunteerism. As believers, we call it service.”

The first team deployed for a nine-day trip, clearing debris that remained in homes after the initial mud out, including Evans’ home, of flooring and drywall. But another assessment determined the ceiling had to come out as well. The NNCRT made quick work, a grateful Evans said.

What initially drew the NNCRT to the region was a Navajo family living in Port Arthur. Providing assistance for their own people was the impetus for the response teams’ development. But once in the region, Mike Liles, SBTC disaster relief coordinator, facilitated additional work and arranged their stay at First Baptist Church, Groves.

Within a week of returning home from the first mission trip, the NNCRT deployed its second crew to Port Arthur Nov. 5 for a week of hanging drywall in the gutted Trinity Church. A disaster relief crew from Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., also assisted at the church and the surrounding community, having deployed fresh volunteers every week for months.

Each work day began with a morning devotional, which Nez led Nov. 7. Drawing from 1 Corinthians 12, he reminded the mixed-race work crew that the spiritually effective Body of Christ is made up of all kinds of people. The message could not have been more poignant, said Mike Due, Trinity Church pastor.

Due, who is Caucasian, pastors a predominantly Hispanic, bilingual congregation. The relief crews repairing their church were Navajo and also the Tennessee brothers and sisters in Christ volunteers who were black and white.

“The humbling thing is it’s the grace of God,” Due said as he surveyed the repairs being made to his church building that had taken on 14 inches of water and held it for a week. 

The multi-generational Navajo crew caught Liles’ attention. He’s used to seeing DR teams composed of middle-age adults or retirees. But the all-male 12-member team hanging drywall and doing repairs were in their early-to-mid 20s through middle age.

It was the younger generation—tech savvy and with a heart for their people to know Christ—that got the NNCRT up and running. Once they had the go-ahead from Begaye, Nez and ministry leaders Seth Stevens, 25, Kyle Curley 30, and Adam Dehiya 23, all associated with Western Indian Ministries, created the non-profit organization. They solicited donations and pooled the human and material resources to launch the teams.

Crew members are hopeful the publicity back home about the NNCRT will open more opportunities to share the gospel. John Emerson, a Navajo who works with Cornerstone Ministries, a home repair and construction outreach, knows it is the biblical “man of peace” who may have an easier time getting a hearing for the gospel among the Navajo than someone from another culture.

“If I go to them and tell them about the gospel,” they might be more apt to listen, Emerson said.

The U.S. government’s historical treatment of the Navajo has been, and for some continues to be, a source of tension. Past injustices have left deep scars. That is the context into which Christians—Navajo and non-native American—must speak. 

 Nez did not dismiss those grievances. But he believes that even in difficult times, God has always had a plan for the Navajo people. And healing can be found among the Navajo, who generally value resilience, and in Christ, who requires forgiveness, he said.

“That’s the story of Christ—moving forward, forgiving,” he said. “That’s more relevant than ever.”  

Christmas is a time of rejoicing

Christmas is a time of rejoicing! God invaded humanity in the form of a babe in Bethlehem. The angels announced the Messiah’s birth with joyous chorus. Shepherds came to worship in amazement at the most unpretentious place, a barn. Joseph was hiding in his heart the news he had received from heaven. Mary held in her arms the Savior of the world. The wonder of it all is the good news about Jesus!

Not everyone was excited about Jesus’ birth. Conniving Herod sought to find the one he considered a usurper to his power. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus fled to Egypt to avoid the threat. Herod acted in demonic hatred by killing the male children of Bethlehem. 

The first Christmas was a mixture of delight and sorrow. This is a description of many families’ experiences at Christmas. Christmas is bittersweet even to those who know the Lord Jesus. 

A few months ago, Hurricane Harvey struck South Texas. From Corpus Christi to the Louisiana state line at least one hundred miles inland Texans were inundated with wind and water. Over sixty people lost their lives. Hundreds of churches were damaged. Hundreds of thousands of homes were ruined. While Christmas will still come to the affected area, it will be different. 

Last month, a demonically inspired gunman unleased his fury upon an innocent congregation at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Precious lives were taken by evil. There will be empty chairs at Christmas dinners this year. There will be no toys under a Christmas tree for some children because those children have gone to heaven. Christmas, which often means interactive family time, will have some families looking at only memories. Christmas will still come but it will be different.

As the years pass, we lose loved ones, see others move away and are forced to change our familiar traditions. Yet, Christmas is not different. Christmas is the good news that Jesus came born of the virgin, lived a perfect sinless life, died a bloody, sacrificial death, and resurrected bodily and literally never to die again. Christmas provides the hope of eternal through repentance and faith. Christmas is about Jesus.

Whatever our circumstances this December 25, when we celebrate Christmas it is about our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing and loving him does not make the bad go away but it enables us to rejoice in the promise of a better day. Because of Christmas Jesus will walk with us until we get there. That is enough to make you say, “Merry Christmas!” 

REVIEW: “Coco” is no innocent children”s movie

Coco has multiple worldview problems – especially when viewed through a Christian lens. Like 2016’s Moana, it shows the main character disobeying authority. Like Moana, it presents children talking to deceased relatives. And like Moana, it promotes a practice that is clearly prohibited in Scripture.

Miguel is a gifted and energetic boy with big dreams of becoming a famous singer just like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz.

Miguel’s family, though, doesn’t share his passion for music. In fact, they hate it. That’s because Miguel’s great-great grandfather—also a singer—traded his family for his musical career, and they haven’t seen him since. All forms of music are now banned in the home.

That’s too bad, because Miguel has a knack for playing the guitar—a talent he discovered while sneaking away from home. In fact, he shows so much promise that some townsmen are encouraging him to enter the upcoming talent show.

What will he do? Finally, he decides: He will run away and take part in the show.

“I don’t want to be in this family!” he tells everyone.

There’s just one problem with his plan: He doesn’t own a guitar. So, Miguel breaks into the town’s own “Ernesto de la Cruz memorial” and steals the memorial’s guitar — a deed he rationalizes as OK because he and the famous singer apparently are related.

Oh yeah—all of this is taking place on the night of Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), a Mexican holiday in which families build small-but-elaborate shrines to deceased ancestors so as to commune with and remember their relatives.

When Miguel strums his stolen guitar, magic happens. He is transported into the Land of the Dead, a beautiful megacity full of walking-and-talking skeletons (who wear clothes). He even meets some of his relatives! Perhaps if Miguel can find Ernesto de la Cruz himself, the famous singer-relative will bless Miguel’s musical career.

The Disney/Pixar movie Coco (PG) opens in the U.S. this weekend, one month after it debuted in Mexico and became the highest-grossing film ever in that nation. It stars Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernalas as his skeleton friend Hector, and Benjamin Bratt (Despicable Me 2) as de la Cruz.

Coco comes from the same studio (Pixar) that gave us such family-friendly flicks as the Cars and Toys Story series, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. But Coco is no innocent children’s movie – especially when viewed through a Christian lens. Like 2016’s Moana, it shows the main character disobeying authority. Like Moana, it presents children talking to deceased relatives. And like Moana, it promotes a practice that is clearly prohibited in Scripture (see Worldview, below).

Let’s examine the details …

Warning: spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. In a Looney Tunes-like scene, a singer is killed when a giant bell falls on him. Coco contains no fighting, but it has plenty of disturbing elements that could trouble small children. Characters’ arms, legs and heads frequently fall off, and they simply pick them up and put them back on. It’s quite common in the Land of the Dead to pass around one’s own head. (Such as for selfie pictures – of course!) Dragon-like spirit creatures inhabit the Land of the Dead. We learn of a murder plot in the real world.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. We see a female skeleton, without clothes, posing for a painting. (Miguel covers his eyes as if he’s embarrassed.)

Coarse Language

None. I heard one instance of “jerks.”  

Other Positive Elements

Despite their musical quirk, Miguel and his large family are tight. They love one another. They take care of one another. (Everyone makes shoes.) They just disagree about music.

We learn that a singer chose his family over his career. (“Nothing is more important than family,” we hear.)

Other Negative Elements

See Worldview, below.

Life Lessons

When a choice must be made between family and a career, what should you do? Too many people in our culture get that one wrong, but Coco delivers a rather satisfying answer.  

Worldview

Give Pixar credit: The film’s presentation of the Day of the Dead is factual. In Miguel’s home, photos of deceased relatives fill the altar. We see trinkets of the deceased’s favorite things. The living even set out samples of their deceased relatives’ favorite foods. Finally, flower petals are scattered between the grave and the home, allowing the spirits to find their way.

It’s the “one night of the year our ancestors come visit us,” says one of Miguel’s family members.

According to Coco, the goal is to keep alive the memory of the deceased so that their spirit will remain alive. If the deceased are forgotten in the real world, then their spirit enters “final death.”—and they disappear from the Land of the Dead. Where do they then go? According to the movie, “no one knows.”

The problem: Every bit of this is unbiblical. When we die, we face judgment (Hebrews 9:27) and are either with God or separated from God—forever. There is a heaven and hell, but there certainly is no Land of the Dead. Jesus even says that the deceased cannot cross back over to the real world—and the living also cannot go back and forth (Luke 16:19-31).

Scripture even commands us not to commune with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Isaiah 8:19).

Finally, let’s examine our natural desire to study and remember our past: our great-grandparents, our grandparents and parents, our aunts and uncles. By itself, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s even a good thing. Remember: Family is one of God’s great gifts. Without family, we wouldn’t exist! When we are sharing stories of deceased loved ones, we are honoring God by not forgetting His many blessings. In a sense, their story is our story, too. But God already has told us: Don’t try and communicate with them. And worship Him alone.    

Sponsors

For children, Subway is the most well-known partner.

Family-Friendly?

When I’m ready to teach my children about the Day of the Dead – that is, when they’re older – perhaps I’ll pull out Coco. But I’m not comfortable doing that when they’re five. For discerning teens, Coco is family-friendly. But for young children? No. It’s far more problematic than Moana.

Thumbs Down?

Visually, Coco is a beautiful movie – the colors, the beauty of the Mexican culture, the loving bond seen within Miguel’s family. But it includes a worldview I cannot endorse for Christian families with young children. Thumbs down.

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Creamer appeals for changed lives that let love guide behavior

When dirty or racist jokes are told by a person claiming to be a Christian, when women are demeaned by sexual harassment in the church, or when the immorality and impurity of the surrounding culture seeps into the church, then believers have failed to heed Paul’s warning in Ephesians 5:1-6, said Criswell College President Barry Creamer.

“Before you were saved you valued certain things. Then you came to Christ begging him to change you,” Creamer told the messengers gathered at Criswell during the SBTC annual meeting. “Unfortunately, we get to the point, very often, we just go back—[while] doing ministry—to exactly the same kind of stuff we’d been doing, the same stuff as if we never had Christ to begin with.”

The pattern is all too familiar, and pastors are not immune to the temptation of it, Creamer said. So he urged pastors to remember who they are: God’s “dearly loved children” who are also loved by the Messiah. Sandwiched between those truths of God’s love for believers, Creamer noted, is God’s call for his children to imitate him and “walk in love.”

And that love has an aroma. Just as Christ gave himself as a fragrant sacrificial offering, Christians are to do likewise. The people of ancient Ephesus, familiar with the aromas emanating from the sacrifices burning in the temple of Diana, understood Paul’s metaphor. Jews who had spent any time in the temple would also appreciate the comparison.

The human senses, like smell, can trigger memories, good or bad. Creamer told of staying in the home of another family years ago, and while using their shower, he popped open their shampoo bottle.

“Immediately I was in Pompano Beach, Fla., as a 13-year-old. It was the weirdest thing,” he said.

The shampoo’s aroma vividly brought to mind a decades-old family trip. In his mind’s eye he saw the beach, the seagulls and tacky 70s-style shorts. Likewise, he said, as pleasing as Christ’s fragrant sacrifice is to God, so too should the living sacrifice of Christians be to the lost.

“If people are going to smell holiness—God on us—it’s going to come rushing in on them only if it is love,” Creamer said.

Imitating Christ, as messianic figures, is an essential part of ministry. Creamer said, “What we are commanded to do if we are going to imitate Christ is give our lives up for the very people who are trampling over us on their way to finding God.”

Slipping back into the life from which they had been saved—giving no distinction between the “dearly loved children” and the “sons of disobedience”—should be unthinkable. Christians are to hold each other accountable, even, if necessary, purging from the congregation professing Christians who refuse to repent of ruinous sin, he said, citing 1 Corinthians 5.

Also, hearing and repeating off-color or racist jokes should be unheard of in the fellowship. And drawing attention to a resolution passed just an hour earlier, Creamer called on the pastors to admit that women of the church have been demeaned and even abused, sometimes by men claiming to be Christians.

So what’s wrong?

“We say, ‘I am a Christian. I love God. I am obedient to him.’ And Paul said, ‘Are you?’” said Creamer. “Love would guide your ministry. It’s what would come out of your mouth. It’s what would come out of your behavior. It’s what would come out of your self-sacrifice. It’s what would come out of your willingness to give up everything so that others—even if they’re trampling over you—can come to the Lord.”