Month: November 2017

Josh Smith: Display, discern and declare light of Christ

DALLAS—Josh Smith, pastor of  Irving’s MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church, joked Nov. 14 that preaching right before special guest Tony Evans at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting was like an NBA rookie who got his first rebound the night the legendary Wilt Chamberlain snagged 55 boards.

“I have one goal tonight: to get one rebound,” Smith quipped. “The rest of my life I can talk about how Tony Evans and I nailed it on the last night of the conference.”

Smith’s sermon drew from Ephesians 5:8-14 as he called believers to display, discern and declare the light of Christ as part of their sanctification.

Calling sanctification a “complicated process,” Smith mused, “Are we to simply let go and let God? Do we need to just abide?”

“God works in different people in different ways in different times with all kinds of different means” to sanctify, yet we are all charged with obedience. 

“When God by his will saves us, he frees up our will and then demands that we—by an act of our Spirit-infused will—obey,” he said, referencing Ephesians 5, where Paul describes sanctification with the illustration of darkness and light.

“Light bears fruit,” Smith said, drawing from verse eight. Smith also said believers must “display the light,” noting the apostle’s juxtaposition of children and light: “Children bear the fruit of their parents.”

“The things that annoy you most about your children are the things they got from you,” he said.

While we have “baggage” from our father, Adam, our fruit should be evidence that we belong to the family of God, Smith elaborated. “Slowly we begin to change from looking like our original father, Adam, to our Father in heaven.”

We display the light by “being good, right and true” and also “kind, holy and honest,” Smith said, drawing from verse nine. “A man who simply walks in moral integrity will shine. Those who don’t will be exposed.”

In addition to displaying the light, Smith said Christians should “discern the light,” referencing Ephesians 5:10.

“This Christian life demands something that we hate to give it: thought,” Smith said. “Those who fail to take the time to discern the way to walk in the light always have a dim light.”

Finally, Christians must “declare the light,” Smith said, quoting Ephesians 5:11 where believers are cautioned against the “unfruitful works of darkness.”

“There are no neutral works,” he explained. “Works are either increasing the brightness of the light or dimming the light.”

Exposing the works of darkness does not involve constantly pointing out the sins of others, though some think it their duty to do so. Rather, light exposes darkness as the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed.

“Through the preaching and proclamation of the gospel we declare the light,” Smith said. “God uses the foolishness of preaching to turn the light on in dark hearts.

“The gospel must be declared,” he added. “If those who have light choose to walk in darkness, how are those who are walking in darkness ever going to see the light?

Smith concluded with several warnings. “We cannot be a people who are known for what we are against. We have to be a people known for what we are for … the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Also, if a preacher is known more for political associations than the light of the gospel, he warned, “You are in the wrong business.”

Display, discern, declare the gospel, and thus work out your salvation, he said.

Ed. Note: Josh Smith now pastors Prince Ave. Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. He preached his last sermon at MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church on November 19.

Hebert: Discipleship transforms people

What defines “victory” in the discipleship of a new believer?

Andrew Hebert, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, used to believe biblical head knowledge was a good indicator that a person had crossed a spiritual mile marker, if not finish line, in their discipleship. But coming to the understanding that discipleship is a process—not a waypoint—Hebert now looks to a believer’s character to see if what they have put in their head has made it to their heart.

Continuing in the convention theme, “Belong,” Hebert preached Nov. 13 from Ephesians 4:17-24, emphasizing that the milestones of discipleship are marked by “the way you walk” and “what you wear.”

Anyone who confesses faith in Christ should exhibit a changed life, as Ephesians 4:17 commands. Just as the residents of Ephesus had surrendered to the city’s idolatrous, lascivious culture, Christians should surrender to Christ.

The Scripture passage declares that new believers will shed the old self, continually renew themselves and put on a new character. To make the point, Hebert told of going to a restaurant years ago with his boss, but upon arriving he learned the restaurant had a dress code. Wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt, Hebert was stopped at the dining room entrance by the maître d’, who informed him of the dress code and then reached into a closet filled with suit jackets and put one on Hebert.

“I borrowed this coat because I was insufficiently dressed,” he said. “As soon as I put that coat on he said, ‘Welcome to our restaurant’ and he seated me. Is that not what the book of Ephesians tells us that God does?”

Empowered by the Spirit, behaving like you belong

Whether it is in the physical and emotional brokenness of catastrophes or in the day-to-day struggles common to all people, God calls Christians to live like they belong, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told messengers to the annual meeting Nov. 14.

Continuing the theme of “Belong” in Ephesians 4, Richards said Christians must exemplify their new life in Christ by their deeds and, as Ephesians 4:29-32 commands, their words.

But behaving like we belong to God is possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit, he said.

Paul did not simply condemn the Ephesians’ offensive language and the spirit behind it, but he encouraged them with examples of best practices. Abiding by any list of “Do’s and Don’ts” is often criticized as “legalistic.” But Richards said obedience to scriptural admonitions is a “lifestyle” that allows believers to present themselves as citizens of another kingdom.

Christians do not have a license to speak as they wish but must control their words, lest they grieve the Holy Spirit. And words inspired by the Holy Spirit, like Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, are eternal. Drawing from several passages of Scripture, Richards reminded the messengers of the power of the tongue to edify or to destroy. Words can have eternal consequences.

Paul’s exhortation to remove all bitterness, anger, wrath, insult, slander and “all wickedness” can only be accomplished by the daily filling of the Holy Spirit, he reiterated. Paul’s imperative in verse 32 to be kind, compassionate and loving toward one another is a call to daily live like Christ.

Richards said he has seen that lived out in Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, whose 14-year-old daughter was among the 26 killed by a gunman during church services Nov. 5. Before he began his biblical exposition, Richards showed a video recorded earlier that day by Pomeroy, who urged believers to turn from anger.

“We need to lift up hands of mercy, not hate,” Pomeroy said. “And we need to praise the Lord for everything that he has given us and is giving us and will continue to give us.”

Following the video Richards told the messengers: “If there is anyone who epitomizes a person who has been totally and completely controlled by the Holy Spirit of God over these last eight days, it is Frank. God has just anointed him and enabled him and empowered him. And he is behaving like he belongs.”

REVIEW: “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is an instant Christmas classic

Charles Dickens is having writer’s block – and he’s short on money, too.

The year is 1843, and the man who wrote The Adventures of Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is struggling to come up with another hit. His newest books are getting bad reviews. His publisher even is threatening to cut him off.

“I’ve run out of ideas,” he tells a good friend.

It’s no small problem. An author without ideas is an author without a paycheck. And with several mouths to feed and another baby on the way, Dickens is feeling the pressure.

But then he gets inspired from a series of real-life events. He sees a rich man disparage a beggar. He hears about a poor man tossed into debtor’s prison. Perhaps his next novel could spotlight a cold-hearted miser who despises not only poor people, but Christmas, too. Dickens will call the character … “Scrooge”!

The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG) opens this week, telling the incredible story behind the origins of one of Dickens’ most popular books, A Christmas Carol. It stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Dickens and Christopher Plummer (Up, The Sound of Music) as Ebenezer Scrooge.

The film gets its curious title from the impact of A Christmas Carol on our modern-day celebration of the holiday. The book popularized the phrase “Merry Christmas,” sparked a rise in generosity and helped revive Christmas as an important date on the calendar. Until then, it often passed with little fanfare (and, for the record, Jesus – not Dickens – invented Christmas).  

The Man Who Invented Christmas is an entertaining and inspiring tale of an author who simply wanted to promote charitable giving and who wanted to – in his words – deliver a “hammer blow” to selfishness. It’s also an instant Christmas classic.  

Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor spoilers!


Moderate. We see flashbacks of Dickens as a boy, when he and another boy got into a fight. We also see Dickens take a swing at an imagined ghost. For young children, the most disturbing element involves the images of the various ghosts in the story, including the Ghost of Christmas Future. Children who are troubled by the black-and-white film or by Dickens’ book should skip this one.



Coarse Language

Minimal. One instance of “a–.” Several uses of the British word “bloody.”  

Other Positive Elements

Dickens has a heart for the poor. When given a chance to send a man to debtor’s prison, he refuses. His goal is to see society’s wealthy assist the poor.

He also wants his story to end with hope – that is, with Scrooge repenting (see “Worldview,” below).

Other Negative Elements

Dickens believes his father squandered his life. The two men have a bad relationship. Dickens even tells his father, “Go away … I am sick of the sight of you.” But by the film’s end, the two men reconcile.

We also see Dickens and a friend get drunk.  

Life Lessons

The Man Who Invented Christmas includes lessons on generosity (Dickens, Scrooge), the danger of riches (Scrooge), redemption (Scrooge, Dickens’ father) and family (Dickens and his father).


“People don’t change,” an imagined Scrooge tells Dickens.

Dickens, though, refuses to believe it. He wants his novel to tell the story of a miser who – yes — wasted his life, but who also sees his errors. He wants the miser to repent.  

The Bible is full of warnings about the dangers of riches, but it’s also full of stories of redemption. Roughly half the New Testament was written by a man who once hated and murdered Christians!  

The Man Who Invented Christmas is not a faith-based story in the strict sense. But it is filled with biblical principles that are worthy of discussion on the ride home.   

What I Liked

The screenplay. It’s not easy making a movie about a man writing a book. Think about it: How do you depict his mental struggles on the big screen? The filmmakers accomplished this by showing Dickens literally talking to Scrooge. Scrooge sort of “helps” Dickens write the book, but Dickens often pushes back against the miser’s self-centered beliefs.  

What I Didn’t Like

The title.


Young children who are sensitive to the disturbing elements of A Christmas Carol shouldn’t see this one. But for most parents and children, it would be considered family-friendly.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language.

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

Vassar: preach the Gospel in truth

Dallas Basing his message on Ephesians 4:25, J. R. Vassar, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, challenged listeners to view the church as a place of truth, restoration and generosity as he delivered the convention sermon at the SBTC annual meeting Nov. 14.

“Christianity is not primarily about a new start; it’s actually about a new self,” not experienced from the “outside-in,” but “from the inside-out,” Vassar said.

In the “new community” formed by the God of Jews and Gentiles, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geography, “the church stands as a sign to the world of the truth of the gospel,” Vassar said.

“It’s not enough to simply stop sinning,” Vassar said, adding that Christians must “grow in virtue,” seeing people as Jesus sees them. For example, the tongue can “bring righteousness to life” when instead of gossiping, it spreads news of Jesus.

Putting sin to death means letting the Holy Spirit work, Vassar said, calling for “a people of truth”  to renounce the lies, spin, exaggeration and half-truths we employ to “make ourselves look good.” Instead, “the gospel gives us all the validation that we need.”

He urged the audience to “Speak Jesus to each other. Have Jesus saturate your conversations.” 

Reminding his audience that the church is “primarily a people and not a place,” Vassar warned that a church’s goal must not be to “capture the market share of the Christians in the community. When you treat [the church] as a place, you don’t raise up disciples, you raise up consumers.”

Instead, Vassar reminded listeners of  Proverbs 27:6, “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” countercultural in a world of college safe spaces and the “ultra-fragile psyche[s].”

“If we love others we will speak truth and allow others to do that…. The truth hurts but we welcome it…. Ultimately, the truth was hurt for us. The truth was crucified for us. We need not fear,” Vassar said, adding, “We don’t need to recover from the truth. We need to let the truth recover us.”

“We are a people of restoration,” Vassar also exhorted listeners, citing the example of Jesus encountering the man with the withered hand in Mark 3 and discussing the restorative place of righteous anger.

“The absence of right anger itself might be a sin,” he claimed, mentioning changes motivated by anger such as Wilberforce’s crusade against the slave trade and today’s Human Coalition prolife campaign.

“We should be angry at the evil in the world,” Vassar continued, admitting that the 24-hour news cycle desensitizes us to violence. Sin in the church—racism, infidelity, pride, sexual abuse—should engender an “appropriate anger,” but “true righteous anger is always mixed with grief and tears,” as it was with Jesus.

Calling “Judge not lest ye be judged,” the “only verse modern America has memorized, Vassar explained that Jesus commanded we first remove the log from our eyes so we can “gently remove the speck” from another. 

Some have the gift of making money, he noted, remembering his childhood when his parents struggled financially: “If it wasn’t for our church dropping groceries off on our doorstep we would have gone hungry.” Indeed, the “rhythm and pattern of the gospel is that we would go broke to help others.” 

Truth, restoration and generosity must mark the lives of those who know the truth, Jesus Christ. 

Tony Evans praises Southern Baptists as “tethered tightly” to Scripture

DALLAS Tony Evans, popular author and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, took the stage Nov. 14 for the final sermon of the 2017 annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Evans praised Southern Baptists for continuing to hold “the torch high for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and staying “tethered tightly to the truths of the text of Scripture.” 

Calling ecclesiology—the doctrine of the church—his “passion,” he characterized Ephesians as “an ecclesiological document,” applicable to personal life yet dealing with the church, noting the apostle Paul’s frequent use of the word “church” or its synonyms throughout the letter.

The church is first mentioned by Jesus, “its head and creator,” in Matthew 16, Evans said, referencing Jesus’ conversation with his disciples by calling them the “Galilean Baptist Convention.” 

“Who do y’all say the Son of man is?” Evans loosely translated verse 13, noting the plural form of the Greek word for “you” to explain that both question and answer, “upon this rock I will build my church,” were directed to the whole group, not just Peter, who received a name change and promotion from Simon (“pebble”) to Petros (“rock”). 

Jesus did not imply that he would build his church upon one man, Evans said, but a “collection of stones minted together to form a larger cliff, rock or slab.” 

The Greek word translated “church” is ecclesia, the “called out ones,” Evans said, explaining that in Jesus’ day, the term referred to civil government, the Lord’s word choice suggesting the purpose of the church, albeit “dumbed down” today, was “to legislate from God to man… from heaven to history, from eternity into time.”

So important is the church to God, that he refuses to act independent of it, Evans continued, quoting Ephesians 3:10 and proclaiming, “Don’t expect God to change the White House if he can’t … change the church house” and issuing a political warning: “Christians are looking to the wrong house. We’ve let that house divide the church,” referring to Republican and Democratic issues although “God doesn’t ride the back of donkeys or elephants.”

Often the church falls short, its presence “hardly felt,” Evans lamented, despite its having “the keys to the kingdom.”

“The church exists for the kingdom. It does not exist for the church. The moment a church exists for the church, it is a failed church,” he warned. 

God created the church to continue his kingdom program abandoned by Israel’s rejection. The church, as the manifestation of the “fullness” of Jesus described in Ephesians 1:23, had better get its act together, Evans explained, stating “If Jesus comes tomorrow, we don’t have to worry about any of this. If he waits 200 years, you better worry about all of this.” 

SBTC messengers pack Criswell College for worship, fellowship and business

Dallas Gathering Nov. 13-14 around the Ephesians 4-inspired theme of “Belong,” the messenger count for the Annual Meeting was the largest for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention since 2008. Officers set out to design an environment of encouragement for pastors and it couldn’t have come at a better time than in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the most deadly church shooting in American history a week prior in Sutherland Springs.

A series of eight sermons preached sequentially through Ephesians 4 and part of chapter five featured Juan Sanchez of Austin, Nathan Lino of Humble, Andrew Hebert of Amarillo, J. R. Vassar of Grapevine, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards of Keller, Criswell College President Barry Creamer of Dallas and Josh Smith of Irving.

SBTC officers crafted breakout sessions that gathered pastors and laypeople in small groups based on their location in Texas and the size of their churches. Before leaving each discussion, participants exchanged contact information with at least one other person in order to develop a supportive relationship for future ministry.

“We wanted our pastors to go home invigorated and re-inspired, believing that the Holy Spirit is for them and with them,” said Lino, who served as SBTC president the past two years. 

Messengers and guests packed Ruth Chapel for worship led by musicians from Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and a series of expositional sermons from Ephesians.  They also handled the business of electing new officers and approved a budget, committee recommendations, nine resolutions and a few other matters. 

Couples offered scripture readings and prayer during each of the sessions, including Shanon and Sophia Thomas of Rockwall Friendship Baptist Church in Royse City, Pete and Niha Raiborde from The Lighthouse Church International Ministries in Coppell, Donald and Lisa Tittle from First Baptist Church of Flower Mound and Ryan and Heather Fontenot from The Mount in Keller.

In addition to worship through music, the reading of Scripture and expository preaching, messengers and guests took part in auxiliary meetings, alumni gatherings and after-hours fellowships. They also heard reports from the ministries churches support all year through their gifts to the Cooperative Program, the funding mechanism Southern Baptist churches use to accomplish missions and ministries in the state and around the world.

The Tuesday afternoon session compresses the business that is indispensable to the work of the convention as messengers set the future course for their cooperative ministries.


Resolutions addressed prayer for Sutherland Springs, gender identity, sexual harassment, the ministerial housing allowance, adoption tax credit, the centrality of Scripture, and Hurricane Harvey, while also expressing appreciation for Lino’s leadership and the hospitality and generosity of Criswell College and others whom God used “to bring about a meeting characterized by evangelism, worship and true Christian fellowship.” (Turn to page 10 for more information on resolutions.) 


Messengers approved a 2018 budget of $28,880,178, a 2.56 percent increase from the current year. This budget is funded by $28,528,178 in Cooperative Program gifts and $352,000 from partnerships with the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

The convention continues to send 55 percent of its budget for SBC Cooperative Program ministries—the highest percentage of any Baptist state convention—while designating 45 percent for Cooperative Program ministries in Texas. 


Tellers accounted for 1,040 messengers and 225 guests with several hundred more in attendance who did not register.

Forty-three Southern Baptists from small, medium and large churches were approved as new members of the Executive Board, committees addressing missions, evangelism, church ministries,  ethics and religious liberty, pastor/church relations, credentials and order of business, or on boards of Criswell College, Jacksonville College, Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation and Texas Baptist Home for Children. In total, 150 pastors and laypeople from affiliated churches serve throughout the year on SBTC committees and related boards, and another 39 serve on committees that function during the annual meeting.

2018 Meeting

The 2018 SBTC Annual Meeting celebrates the 20th anniversary of the founding of SBTC by returning to Houston Nov. 12-13 to meet at Second Baptist Church North. Messengers at this year’s meeting approved Jordan Rogers, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Nederland to deliver the convention sermon, with Jacob Fitzgerald, pastor of Denman Avenue Baptist Church in Lufkin, as the alternate.  

Resolutions pass ranging from sexual harassment to prayer for victims of hurricane and church shooting

DALLAS With the passage of nine resolutions messengers at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention added their collective voices to the national conversation about issues affecting the church and the culture at large. 

All nine resolutions passed on a show of ballots, but an amendment to the one on “Gender Identity” required a ballot vote. Criswell College President Barry Creamer, messenger from Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas, supported the resolution but offered the amendment to change a five-word phrase that he called “unnecessarily provocative.”

The resolution committee disagreed with the substitution because the term Creamer offered, like the issue of gender identity itself, is ever evolving and subject to interpretation.

“In preparing this resolution the committee looked thoroughly at the issues at hand and feels that the resolution as originally presented effectively captures the message of Scripture,” resolutions committee member Sharayah Colter told Creamer and the messengers during discussion of the amendment. “Since the Bible is our sole authority and not the current scientific climate, we chose to limit the scope of the resolution to what is presented clearly in Scripture.”

The resolution, drawn in part from the “Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality” published early this year, addresses gender identity ideology and its rejection of binary human sexuality and its presumption that people can choose their gender.

The resolution pushes back against the rising tide of gender identity politics by affirming the “imago dei” in all humans and that God created humans male and female. The paragraph Creamer sought to amend says: “Whereas, individuals born with physical disorders of sex development are also created in the image of God with equal intrinsic worth, and are able to live abundant lives in joyful obedience to Christ…”

The word “intersexuality” was what Creamer recommended as a term to replace the phrase “physical disorders of sex development.”

“In the interest of speaking always with grace and savored with salt I find this language unnecessarily provocative,” Creamer said when offering the amendment from the floor.

“Ultimately, we just went back to Scripture and tried to capture the heart of Scripture as closely as possible,” Sharayah Colter told the TEXAN as amendment ballots were being counted.

When drafting the resolution only a few people on the eight-member committee were familiar with the term “intersexuality.” Committee research revealed the term is used to describe a medical condition in which a person’s sexual organs, genitalia and chromosomes do not fully develop as singularly male or female. But transgender rights activists—and even medical professionals—use the term to promote transgenderism and ideology of gender fluidity—the idea that a person’s sex is not defined by their physical biology but by their choice. Describing the physical condition instead of using a word that can be politicized better served the resolution’s purpose she said.

The amendment failed by a 13-vote margin of 175 in favor and 188 against and the resolution passed on a show of ballots with less than a dozen people voting against it. Far more messengers and guests were present than the 363 people who voted in the afternoon session.

Creamer told the TEXAN he was willing to vote for the original language and ultimately did when it resurfaced. He noted that most messengers are well aware of the drift in the culture on such issues. 

“However, because we are so uncomfortable with where the culture is going, we withdraw from the spaces where those issues are being discussed and debated,” he said, referring to social media interactions and news coverage. “That withdrawal has two negative consequences, he noted. “It means we forfeit the issue in the public marketplace and it means we remain several steps behind in terms of terms, issues and debates,” he said, encouraging believers to get up to date on gender identity issues.

Surprised by the close vote, Creamer said, “I just wanted to register my minor dissent and give messengers an opportunity to process the issue of cultural engagement.” He is hopeful that Southern Baptists are giving significant thought to what it means to speak with grace to those who are outside the faith.”

The resolution calls on government officials to support policies that recognize the “God-given distinctions between male and female” and to allow people who espouse that truth in the church, teach it in their homes or discuss it in the public square to do so without repercussions.

But, most significantly, the resolution urges Christians to act graciously toward all people, sharing the truth of salvation in love, and remembering that all humanity bears the image of their creator God.

Sexual harassment resolution

Sexual harassment violates federal and state statutes but, more importantly, it is a violation of God’s command to “show proper respect” for all persons, according to the third resolution on “Sexual Harassment,” rebuking the demeaning, hurtful, and antagonizing nature of the acts.

Reminding messengers that the Bible condemns sexual sin in all its forms the resolution calls on churches to create personnel policies addressing the issue, to take seriously reports of sexual harassment within the church, and treat people with the “respect merited by persons created in the image of God.” 

Prayer for victims of Harvey and church shooting

Two resolutions declare gratitude for SBTC and its member churches, the Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board for their quick, effective and compassionate response in the aftermath of the murders at First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs and Hurricane Harvey.

The resolution “On Prayer for Sutherland Springs” calls for the continuous prayer and support for the small community devastated by the murder of 26 people and wounding of 20 more as they worshipped at their church Nov. 5.

The daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri was among those murdered by a lone gunman and the resolution asks the convention to care for the pastor as tries to minister to his church family.

The SBTC, its member churches, SBC and NAMB came to the rescue of residents in southern and southeastern Texas following the unprecedented storm event and the resolution on “Hurricane Harvey” calls on churches to continue its ministry in the  recovery work.

The resolution recounts the human loss caused by the storm but it also tallies the human compassion poured out on the region: SBTC disaster relief crews clocked 72,830 volunteer hours in the 54-county impact zone. While providing for physical needs the volunteers shared the gospel 2,187 times and reported 417 professions of faith.

The convention also served 295,691 meals and helped mud out 639 homes.

Financial aid poured into the convention from 47 states, Canada and an overseas APO address.

But the resolution states there is still work to do as people try to rebuild their “lives and livelihoods in the midst of difficult circumstances.”

Housing tax exemption

Once again, pastors may have to contend for their ministerial housing allowance as a federal judge in October declared unconstitutional the housing tax exemption that has been in place since 1921. The fourth resolution on “Ministerial Housing Allowance” recognizes the positive role pastors and their churches play in their communities and the financial relief the exemption affords pastors who might not otherwise be able to afford to stay in the ministry.

The resolution urges government officials to recognize those pastoral contributions and asks the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling. And all churches are asked demonstrate their value to the communities by providing volunteer services that exceed the tax benefit. 

Centrality of Scripture

Recognizing the authority of Scripture for salvation and spiritual growth, the sixth resolution on the “Centrality of Scripture” asked the messengers to affirm that truth and commit to “live, teach, and preach the Word of God” and urge churches and families to scripture memorization and daily Bible study.

The eighth and ninth resolutions on “Appreciation for President Nathan Lino” and “Appreciation to Criswell College” commend the leadership of the outgoing president and the hospitality of host campus Criswell College.

Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, served from 2016-2017 “with grace, energy, creativity, and integrity, demonstrating a Christ-like spirit” the resolution said.

Criswell College is supported by the SBTC convention. In passing the resolution messengers expressed gratitude to the school’s staff and area churches for their work in facilitating the annual meeting which was “characterized by evangelism, worship, and true Christian fellowship.”

REVIEW: “Wonder” one of the best films of 2017

Auggie is a smart and funny young boy who knows he isn’t – in his words — “ordinary.” He sounds different. He looks different. And when other kids see him on the playground, they run.

Born with major facial deformities, he has undergone 27 surgeries to improve his vision, hearing and breathing, but even those operations haven’t made him look normal. So he wears an astronaut’s helmet.

He’s also been homeschooled, which means he hasn’t faced the bullying and name-calling that could ensue.   

But now that Auggie is old enough to enter middle school, his parents believe it’s time to integrate him into a more public setting – that is, a mainstream school.

Will other children accept him? Can he make friends?  

It’s all part of the heart-warming film Wonder (PG), which opens this weekend and is based on the popular children’s novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio. It stars Jacob Tremblay as Auggie; Owen Wilson as his father; Julia Roberts as his mom; and Izabela Vidovic as his teenage sister, Via.

Wonder is an emotion-laden comedy-drama that is, well, wonderful. You feel for Auggie, you laugh with Auggie, and by the end, you’re cheering him on. It’s the box-office tonic our divided society needs to watch. I cried … and cried. It’s also one of the best films of 2017.

Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor spoilers!


Minimal. We see two middle school students fight in the hallway. Later, we see a group of boys fighting another groups of boys in the woods (in self-defense).   


Minimal. Two high school students share a kiss, twice. (We also see them hug and hold hands.) We also see a mom and dad kiss.

Coarse Language

Minimal. I counted four coarse words: OMG (3), misuse of “God” (1), misuse of “Jesus” (1). We also hear three or four other common crude words.

Other Positive Elements

Although some of the kids are slow to accept Auggie, by the film’s end they are good friends with him. Auggie’s sister, too, shows unconditional love for Auggie, even though she has largely been ignored.   

The movie’s anti-bullying message is front and center. The principal tells one set of problematic parents: Auggie can’t change the way he looks but “maybe we can change the way we see.”

Wonder is a pro-life film, even if it doesn’t deal with the subject of abortion. That’s because it showcases the value and worth of a little boy who would have been cast aside in many cultures.     

Other Negative Elements

Auggie’s mom, excited about their family’s progress, jokes with her husband: “Let’s get drunk.”  

Life Lessons

Wonder is filled with positive lessons. The film gives us lessons on self-sacrifice (the mom had put her career on hold to take care of Auggie), bullying (see above), befriending those who look different, and standing up for what is right.


Several months ago, I was sitting in a restaurant when my 9-year-old son saw a disabled woman at a restaurant and asked: “What’s wrong with her, Dad?” It was a teachable moment, and I made four points: 1) that’s the way she was made, 2) she is valuable to God, 3) she is just like us, and, 4) God expects us to stand up for her. Those are the same points I’d make to my son if he asked, “What’s wrong with Auggie?” Auggie was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and is valuable to him. God expects us to stand up for him – and he will judge those who mistreat the afflicted (Amos 2:6-7; Isaiah 35:3-4).

What I Liked

The screenplay – it tells the story from the perspective of different people in Auggie’s life — and the humor. The film also does a great job showing Auggie as a normal kid. He loves sports. He enjoys light saber battles. He simply looks different. And that’s no big deal.   

What I Didn’t Like

The fighting. Sure, it can be rationalized by labeling it as self-defense and standing up for the oppressed. But I fear children will watch the film and walk away believing violence is the only option.   


Overall, Wonder is mostly family-friendly. I’d likely take my 9-year-old son to watch it. But my 5-year-old twins? I’m not sure. Different parents will reach different conclusions about young ones viewing it.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Wonder is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language.

REVIEW: “The Star” is funny, entertaining and inspiring

Bo is a first-century donkey full of spunk and energy – and he’s determined not to live his entire life inside a Nazareth grain mill.

“We were meant for something greater than this,” he says.

But … for what? 

Perhaps that bright star in the sky – a star he gazes at each night – is a sign. Perhaps it’s even a sign for him!

Finally, Bo gets a big break. His barn mate helps him break out, with the owner in tow. And a chase through the streets of Nazareth ensues, until Bo loses his owner and winds up in the backyard of a young couple named Mary and Joseph. Maybe Bo really was meant for something great!

It’s all part of The Star (PG), an animated film that opens this weekend and tells the nativity story through the eyes of animals who follow Mary and Joseph and witness the birth of Christ. It stars Steven Yeun as Bo, Keegan-Michael Key as Dave the dove, Aidy Bryant as Ruth the sheep, Gina Rodriguez as Mary and Zachary Levi as Joseph. Tyler Perry (Cyrus the camel), Oprah Winfrey (Deborah the camel) and Patricia Heaton (Edith the camel) and Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse) also have roles.

It is being released by the same company – AFFIRM Films – that released War Room and Courageous.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t like the trailers for The Star. But I really enjoyed the film. It’s one of the best animated films of the year – funny, entertaining and inspiring – and also faithful to Scripture (even if it does “fill in the blanks” with scenes not in the Bible). My movie-crazy children (ages 9 and 5) loved it.

The film follows Mary and Joseph and the animals as they try and make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But Herod, wanting Jesus killed, sends out one of his henchman – a large dude carrying a spiked ball-and-chain flail – to find and harm the young couple. (That character, of course, is not in Scripture.)    

Warning: minor spoilers!


Minimal. Herod’s henchman nearly catches Mary and Joseph a couple of times, but is always stopped by the animals, who are played as heroes. At one point he also grabs a person by the neck. (It’s played for laughs.)  



Coarse Language

None. We hear the word “poop” (in reference to something the dove does), the phrase “well-placed No. 2” (again, by the dove) and “butt” (referencing Bo).

Other Positive Elements

Mary and Joseph’s steadfast trust in God plays a prominent role.

“Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy,” Mary says.

A couple of mean animals repent.  

Other Negative Elements


Life Lessons

We see lessons on grace (when good animals save the mean animals from dying), God’s providential care of Jesus (when Bo and his friends stop the henchman), and trust in God (by Mary and Joseph). There’s also a scene of repentance.

What I Liked

The humor. It’s not easy to make me chuckle during a film, but I (and my children) laughed a lot. The movie also has one or two Pentatonix Christmas songs. It’s hard to beat that.  

Obviously, I liked the movie’s message, too.

“People are going to remember this night,” one of the camels says following Christ’s birth. “What happened here around this manger will be celebrated for thousands of years. Families will come together and exchange presents and sing carols — and all to remember the grace of this moment that we are witnessing right now.”

What I Didn’t Like

The jokes continued until the credits rolled. It wasn’t irreverent, but the ending would have been more powerful if the manger scene was joke-free. Additionally, The Star – like nearly every modern-day depiction of the nativity – gets the timing of the wise men’s arrival wrong. (They weren’t there the night of Jesus’ birth.)

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

This one’s easy: thumbs up.


The Star is one of the most family-friendly movies I’ve seen, with only a minor caution for sensitive children. Otherwise, it’s appropriate for all ages.

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Star is rated PG for some thematic elements.