Month: November 2017

Tragedy in TX: church shooting sparks call for prayer

SAN ANTONIO—The 14-year-old daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor was among at least two dozen people killed when an armed man opened fire during Sunday morning (Nov. 5) worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a congregation about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio.

The pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and his wife were both out of town when the attack occurred, said Mitch Kolenovsky, a field ministry strategist with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who contacted the pastor.

Medical helicopters evacuated at least 15 injured people, which reportedly included several children, among them a 2 year old.

Witnesses told reporters the gunman was wearing tactical gear when he entered the sanctuary about 11:30 a.m. and reloaded his weapon multiple times during the attack. Authorities had not identified the shooter, who reportedly is dead, at the time this story was posted. His motive is not known at the moment. Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. told reporters the gunman fled the church after the shooting and was pursued by deputies. It is not known whether he was killed by law enforcement or died of self-inflicted injuries 

The congregation is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and reports average Sunday school attendance of 65 and worship attendance of 100. Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said chaplains are being mobilized to help members of the community deal with the trauma.

Richards told Baptist Press: “We’re calling our churches to prayer for our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs. We don’t know the details yet but early reports indicate that several people have lost their lives in this tragedy. We will … find ways to support this dear church. We pray God’s mercy and comfort on those who are grieved and those who are wounded.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., echoed the sentiment:

“We are praying for the families of those who were killed as well as those who were wounded. We pray that God will lay His merciful hand of healing on all who have suffered and have been injured. May God bring healing and hope to the church and the city. May God bless all the police officers serving in that area. And may God prevent further incidents like this throughout our nation in the days to come. Our hearts and prayers are with you.”

Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, also called on Christians to unite in prayer for families affected by the shooting.

“I am calling the Southern Baptist Convention to prayer for the people of Sutherland Springs Texas and particularly for our sister church members at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Texas,” Page said. “Sadly, another morning of worship and praise and Bible study turned into a horrific scene of violence and many innocent lives were altered in an instant. God help us all as we deal with an evil that takes the life of the innocent.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Twitter: “Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response.” President Donald Trump tweeted, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.”

And the darkness did not overcome it

John’s prologue is my favorite Christmas passage. John shows us in theological outline what happened in Bethlehem’s stable. We know that Jesus is, “the Word,” the light that shines in the darkness, but with somber joy we read that the darkness could not resist or defeat the light. I thought of that passage this week as I considered the darkness manifested November 5 at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. As I write this, hours after the event, pundits are talking in the background about causes and solutions—“coming together” as a nation, gun laws and our culture of violence. In due respect to those wiser than I, there is no solution by means of inspiration or policy. The darkness hates the light; the darkness hates life; the darkness really hates churches that celebrate the risen Savior. That is not new. And it will not change.

But we grieve. My heart lurches within me at the grief of a pastor and his wife who lost their precious daughter to the darkness or the grandparents who never met their unborn grandchild and lost their pregnant daughter. I try to imagine the picture of an entire congregation shot down—wounded or killed. It’s just too horrible. I look ahead to the grief the entire congregation will experience for years, even decades, as a result of this day.

But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our pain is not without consolation, or without end. These brothers and sisters gathered on the first day of the week because our Savior rose, victorious over death. Paul calls death, “the sting of sin.” Sin is another word for the darkness; the root cause of the darkness. And the darkness cannot overcome the life that is the light of men. The believers killed on November 5 were at church because they were expressing a heavenly hope that death is defeated by resurrection. Jesus is the proof and the first fruits of those who would rise after him. That’s you and me, because we will die. This church sang songs about their hope in Jesus and they heard sermons about their hope of eternal life in Christ They are joined with me and you because we believe what they believe, celebrate what they celebrate, and look to the same God for comfort and consolation as the darkness closes in around us. We grieve, but only for a time, and not out of despair.

I don’t gainsay the work of those who try to keep us safer. Policies and protocols help hold the darkness back in some limited ways. Paul calls those who serve our communities in these ways servants of God for good. It’s important work and a great benefit to God’s people. But these magistrates are servants of the light, whether they know it or not; they are not that light. Human, political answers have the same expiration date as this world—sooner every minute. Those who look for laws or psychology or even first responders for answers to the darkness are not looking to the source.

Thousands grieve the lost of Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas, and New York, and Nice, and London, and so on for thousands of years. And many will try to respond in ways that provide real comfort and healing to those who are most personally affected. Implicit, and very explicit, in our comfort is that promise that Jesus has gone to prepare and a place for us so that where he is, we may be also. It’s a place where there is no darkness, no grief, no sin. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Early reports indicate that 20-24 members of Sutherland Springs Baptist Church were shot and killed during their Sunday service, Nov. 5. SBTC personnel are in the area and reaching out to the church but for now, we’re asking you to pray.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards made the following statement early Sunday afternoon:

“We’re calling our churches to prayer for our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs. We don’t know the details yet but early reports indicate that several people have lost their lives in this tragedy. We will have chaplains available to SSBC and will find ways to support this dear church. We pray God’s mercy and comfort on those who are grieved and those who are wounded.” 

REVIEW: Is “Thor: Ragnarok” OK for kids? (And are there any scary parts?)

It’s always difficult when you discover that your long-lost sister is the goddess of death. It’s even worse when you learn that she can whip you in a fight.

But for Thor – the god of Thunder – it’s a new reality.

It all started when Thor and his adopted brother Loki were conducting a galaxy-wide search for their father, Odin, the ruler of their home planet Asgard. They found him on Earth – Norway specifically – where he proceeded to deliver some life-changing news. Odin was dying, and his passing would allow his first-born child, an evil daughter named Hela, to be released from prison and take over Asgard.  

As the goddess of death, Hela wants to change Asgard from a peaceful place into a wicked kingdom and use it as a base to rule the universe.

Of course, the virtuous Thor wants to stop her, but their first battle doesn’t go so well. She destroys his hammer. Then she banishes him to the strange, alien planet Sakaar, where he quickly gets imprisoned. Can he escape Sakaar in time to save the citizens of Asgard?

Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13) opens this weekend, giving moviegoers the third chapter in the film series that is based on the Norse mythology character. It is the sequel to Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) and stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Cate Blanchett as Hela. We also get to see two other Marvel characters: Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Hulk (voiced by Mark Ruffalo, who also plays Bruce Banner).

Thor: Ragnarok is entertaining and funny, although it contains plenty of material that may give parents pause.

Warning: minor spoilers!


Excessive. And too much to mention, even if it is mostly bloodless. A scary-looking skyscraper-sized “fire demon” fights Thor. Demonic creatures chase Thor. Hela defeats an army of soldiers, stabbing some of them with swords in the chest. The leader of Sakaar kills someone by literally melting him into a pool of liquid. Hela resurrects a deceased army (and a giant wolf) using an eternal flame. We hear discussions of executions and an executioner. A taser-like device is used to immobilize people, causing them to convulse. Thor, Loki and Hela partake in multiple fights and battles. Thor and Hulk battle one another in a coliseum-like setting. A pair of machine guns is used to kill multiple soldiers. One character loses an eye and is subsequently seen, on-screen, without his eye.  


Moderate. Several female characters display cleavage. Thor is seen without a shirt. Hulk gets out of a hot tub and we see his (computerized) backside. A character tells Thor that the leader of Sakaar – the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) – used a spaceship for “orgies.” (We hear the word twice.) A portal to another world is called the “devil’s anus.”

Coarse Language

Moderate. I counted 17 coarse words: he– (7), d–n (2), s–t (2), OMG (2) SOB (1), a– (1), misuse of “God” (1), p-ssed (1).

Other Positive Elements

Similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy series, Thor: Ragnarok is part superhero film, part comedy. But there’s one key difference: The humor in Thor is far more clean and appropriate (minus two big exceptions, as detailed above). I laughed — a lot. Contrast that to the Guardians films, which are packed with bawdy and sexually suggestive jokes. It is a welcome difference.    

Other Negative Elements

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a major female character and a friend of Thor, loves to drink and get drunk. Her love of alcohol is played for laughs, but few people around me were chuckling. It’s an annoying schtick.      

Life Lessons

Like most superhero films, Thor: Ragnarok contains lessons on self-sacrifice and courage.

“I choose to run toward my problems and not away,” Thor says. “Because that’s what heroes do.” 

Thor and Loki deliver a solid lesson about family and brotherhood.

Thor’s home planet also serves as an object lesson. “Asgard is not a place. It is a people,” we’re told as its destruction becomes possible.  


Thor: Ragnarok, of course, is set in a fictional Norse mythological world with multiple gods and goddesses – both good and evil. We even hear talk of Thor fulfilling a Norse “prophecy.” Then there’s Doctor Strange, who performs sorcery.

Yet even in such a twisted polytheistic world, the movie gives us a clear distinction between good and evil, right and wrong.

Of course, we tend to brush aside such anti-biblical worldviews as “just being part of the plot.” But for Christian parents with children, it’s likely worth a post-movie discussion about the one true God. 


Red Robin is the most well-known sponsor.


I wouldn’t be comfortable letting my 5-year-old twins watch Thor: Ragnarok. The violence is excessive, and the disturbing images are plentiful. My 9-year-old son wanted to watch it, but I didn’t take him. In hindsight, I made the right decision. It deserves its PG-13 rating.   

What I Liked

The humor. Let’s face it: Without some laughs, only comic book geeks would enjoy a movie about Norse mythology.   

What I Didn’t Like

The two sexually suggestive jokes stand out in a movie that is mostly void of such talk. They’re unnecessary. Thor also swears a lot for a superhero – a fact that might bother some parents. Finally, there’s the issue of male-vs.-female violence. Call me traditional, but I don’t find it entertaining to watch men hitting women – even if the woman is an evil goddess.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Minus some caveats, this one is a thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Name two positive character traits of Thor. Name two negative ones.
  2. Why did Thor want to return to his home planet? Why didn’t Valkyrie want to return to her home planet? Was she wrong to feel that way?
  3. What is a home? Is it a place or a people? Or both?
  4. Contrast the movie’s teaching about god with Scripture’s teaching about God.
  5. The violence was bloodless. Is that good or bad?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief continues in Golden Triangle area with churches at forefront

VIDOR AND BEAUMONT—“This feels like Ike and Katrina,” Christopher Moody, lead pastor of Beaumont’s First Baptist Church told the TEXAN at the Golden Triangle Baptist Network (GTBN) leadership meeting Oct. 5 at First Baptist Vidor.

Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented onslaught has stretched traditional Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) resources, prompting Golden Triangle area churches to lead in coordinating work in that region.

“We have areas where we have not been able [as of Oct. 5] to send in [SBTC DR clean up and mud-out] teams yet. There’s not enough. We’ve got several areas where only the local church has been able to work their area,” said Daniel White, SBTC DR task force member and pastor of First Baptist Kountze, who helps regionally coordinate both the SBTC DR response and the work of other volunteer groups. By the time SBTC mud-out units arrived in the area the churches had done so much work that the units were no longer needed.

SBDR feeding and laundry/shower teams from Texas and across the nation deployed throughout Southeast Texas in support of church volunteer groups.

“[The churches] had to take the helm,” Moody said, praising churches that sent workers. “They came to us. We’re on the back end of the disaster and the back end of even the work.”

Moody said Beaumont’s First Baptist lost electricity and water for two weeks but was otherwise undamaged by the storm. Soon after the hurricane, churches began to call to offer help.

“The network of friends and the cooperative heart and spirit of Southern Baptists has leveraged a lot of resources to our church,” Moody said. “It’s amazing how you can go 10, 20 years of making friendships and building relationships and that all comes to bear at a time like this.”

So many offers of help came—such as the call from Tim Skaggs, pastor of Brownwood’s Coggin Avenue Baptist Church—that Moody and staff decided to “share the love” with LaBelle Baptist Church, where Pastor Sonny Hathaway found himself coordinating DR efforts in southwest Jefferson County. With several other teams coming to help FBC Beaumont, Moody sent the Coggin group south.

Hathaway confirmed that while no official SBDR teams had made it to his area—including the communities of LaBelle, Hamshire and Fannett—DR work was occurring thanks to volunteers from churches around the state and as far away as North Carolina.

LaBelle Baptist was undamaged by Harvey and sheltered some 100 community members during the storm. Homes a few miles away took on six feet of water. The pastor’s home suffered wind-blown water damage.

Hathaway said the county commissioner estimated LaBelle was about 50 percent flooded, Fannett up to 60 percent, and Hamshire, 70 percent.

Fort Worth’s Normandale Baptist has adopted LaBelle Baptist in the SBTC’s Adopt-a-Church program, Hathaway confirmed. See related article on Adopt-a-Church.

Like Moody, Hathaway said that pastors contacted him personally: “People I’ve known or people who have known people I’ve known.”

A team from western North Carolina arrived at LaBelle the same week as a second group from Coggin. The North Carolinians were friends of a friend who serves with the IMB, Hathaway said, and plan to return with teams to do construction work.

For a church of about 100 active members, receiving outside help is a heady and humbling experience that Hathaway is sharing with SBTC churches in neighboring towns.

A Coggin team worked on the home of Leonard Lauve on Oct. 5. Over the weekend, when 21 youth and adults joined the DR effort, Hathaway divided the group, sending some to make food deliveries and perform door-to-door surveys, and others to do sheetrock work at another LaBelle home and at Ridgewood Baptist Church, Port Arthur.

LaBelle member Lauve was in Dallas when the storm hit but said his area experienced 18 inches of rain in an hour and a half. His eyes teared up as the Coggin team covered gaping holes in his roof with plywood, tore out damaged flooring, and removed nails from studs. Lauve had lived in the house since 1971.

Coggin’s two groups totaled 37, with 11 serving the last week of Sept. and the rest the following week. With other church teams, they formed network of mutual assistance that, for now, has pastors at the forefront as incident managers.

Coggin associate pastor Bill Allen commented that Hathaway told him the storm had opened doors to sharing the gospel, the tangible help resulting in more spiritual conversations with residents in the last four weeks than in the previous four years.

Coggin pastor, Tim Skaggs, who served during the first week, said the experience unified members of his church team: “Nothing bonds you like rolling up your sleeves and working together.”

Skaggs also praised the “amazing perseverance” of residents who had “lost everything” during Harvey.

White praised Hathaway and LaBelle Baptist for “doing a great job” in the area.

Meanwhile, Terry Wright of FBC Vidor emphasized the importance of communication to GTBN representatives, distributing a daily report form for pastors to submit numbers of work orders and completed jobs so that volunteers and equipment could be tracked through the GTBN.

In a massive event like Harvey, it takes a village of churches to help a village recover.

SBTC DR team completes key relief projects in Puerto Rico

Guaynabo, PUERTO RICO—Flooded streets, potable water shortages, communications disruptions, power outages and six-foot-long iguanas were among the obstacles encountered by eight Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers as they completed two key projects to facilitate Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) efforts in Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The SBTC team deployed Oct. 15th to 23rd, responding to SBDR national director Sam Porter’s request to establish a communications center at the Seminario Teologico Bautista in Guaynabo, southeast of San Juan. The Baptist seminary property is also home to the offices and conference center of Convencion de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur en Puerto Rico y Islas Virgenes, the Southern Baptist Convention in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Porter also requested a small construction team to reroof buildings on the five-acre seminary grounds. With its kitchen, chapel, shower facilities and capacity to sleep 60, the seminary site is expected to become a headquarters for SBDR recovery efforts, Porter said in an Oct. 9 email to SBTC DR director Scottie Stice.

Stice affirmed the decision to assist Puerto Rico, noting that while SBTC DR continued to respond to Harvey, communications teams were no longer in the field and a roofing crew could be spared.

“We went with able hands and bodies to do whatever needed to be done,” said DR volunteer Paul Cothren of Atlanta, Texas.

Using corrugated metal over wood slats, SBTC volunteers reroofed three dormitories and a guest house, said George Yarger of Mabank, SBTC DR communications unit director.

The volunteers first had to secure their own outdoor sleeping area from wind-blown rain by covering the open porch of the dorm above the kitchen and meeting area with plastic sheeting.

“You’re on an island. There’s a chance of rain every day,” Yarger laughed.

“We made the decision to stay [at the seminary] to get the greatest amount of work done. We hunkered down,” Cothren said.

Cell coverage was initially unreliable. Yarger set up a VHF, UHF and HF ham radio communications station at the seminary, enabling those onsite to maintain contact with the Red Cross VHF network.

Cell phone repeaters provided by the North American Mission Board also proved instrumental in improving communications early in the deployment, Yarger said.

“The VHF net was for emergency services. We checked in [regularly],” he explained, adding that cell service was eventually restored, possibly negating the long-term need for ham radio operations.

“We left all the equipment behind for the next team to use,” Yarger said. “I am not sure they will need it, since the last 72 hours we had very good cell phone data. That’s the hope anyway.”

The volunteers also used a mobile radio unit to contact team members running errands in the group’s rented van. Yarger estimated he drove “2,000 miles back and forth to Home Depots.” Usually GPS navigation on cell phones proved reliable, but not always.

Obtaining water proved challenging. Volunteers got water from gas stations and joined locals in filling jugs from nearby springs. The springs, which normally flow in ditches alongside roads, were channeled via PVC pipes which “mysteriously appeared” after the storm, Yarger said, adding that none of the residents he asked knew who had provided the makeshift conduits.

The SBTC crew used a small filtration system belonging to Yarger, then a larger UV-operated unit provided by NAMB, to purify water for drinking and cooking.

The lack of electricity continues to stall recovery in Puerto Rico. The SBTC team reported lines of 200-300 people waiting to get inside Walmarts or Sam’s Clubs, many hoping to purchase generators.

“Everything hinges on electricity. As long as the power is off, [Puerto Rico] is not going to be a modern society,” Yarger commented, adding that local sources indicated power would not be restored till mid-November.

Although electricity was scarce, eternal connections were made, not only on the ground in Puerto Rico, but also in the air during the team’s 25-hour journey home from the Caribbean.

On the flight from St. Thomas to Miami, Yarger sat next to Jackie, a 65-year-old resident of the Virgin Islands whose son had died in the hurricane when the roof of his home blew off and a wall collapsed.

“My son was a Christian. He always wanted me to go to church with him. I never took him seriously. Now I wish I had,” Jackie told Yarger.

Yarger and another passenger, also a believer, led Jackie to Christ.

“I will see you all again,” Yarger told both women, referencing heaven as they debarked in Miami.

As Cothren said, “It is always a joy to serve the Lord.”