Month: December 2017

The 15 best family-friendly films of 2017

It’s never easy making a “best-of” list for an entire year. I’m always asking: Did I leave anything out? And did I include anything that really didn’t belong?

It is, though, a little easier if you narrow it down to family-friendly films. There just aren’t that many of them.

Here, then, are my favorite family-friendly films of 2017. An asterisk (*) notes a film that might not be appropriate for young or very young children.

The Case For Christ* – An award-winning newspaper journalist sets out to disprove Christianity and is surprised with what he discovers. Based on the life of Lee Strobel. Rated PG for thematic elements, including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking.

Cars 3 – An aging Lightning McQueen tries to make a comeback against a field of newer and faster cars. Animated. Rated G.

Despicable Me 3 – Gru, our favorite villain-turned-hero, considers turning back to villainy after he is fired from his job and meets his long-lost brother. Despite the potty humor, this one has some good life lessons. Animated. Rated PG for action and rude humor.

Dunkirk* — The British live to fight another day in World War II thanks to one of the largest military evacuations in human history. This one’s not appropriate for children, even if it is one of the least violent war movies of the modern era. Contains about eight coarse words. Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. I counted eight coarse words: misuse of “Christ” (2), h-ll (2), misuse of “God” (1), f-word (2), s–t (1)

Is Genesis History? – Del Tackett interviews more than a dozen scientists and scholars as he examines the science behind the creation account and the flood. Unrated. 

Leap! – An orphan who dreams of being a ballerina escapes to Paris and enrolls at a world-famous dance school. The film’s “follow-your-heart” theme doesn’t stand up to biblical scrutiny, but the rest of the film is nevertheless fun. Animated. Rated PG for some impolite humor, and action.

The LEGO Batman Movie – Our caped crusader has always been a loner, but in this animated film he sets out to prove that he doesn’t need anybody. Animated. Rated PG for rude humor and some action. It has a few potty-type words but also some great lessons.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie – A masked high school-aged superhero discovers that the town’s hated villain is his father. Animated. Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

The Man Who Invented Christmas* – Author Charles Dickens is running out of ideas (and money) until he conceives of a character named Scrooge and writes A Christmas Carol, which helps popularize the holiday among the masses. Rated PG for thematic elements and some mild language. I counted one coarse word (a–) and several instances of “bloody.”

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone – The phrases “good comedy” and “faith-based film” usually don’t mix, but this movie fills both roles. It’s hilarious – and inspiring. The plot: A washed-up famous actor tries out for a role in a church play. Rated PG for thematic elements, including a crucifixion image. No language or sexuality.

Same Kind of Different As Me* – A homeless man impacts the life of an international art dealer – and helps save his marriage, too. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including some violence and language. The film has about four coarse words: h-ll (1) and the n-word (3).

The Star – The Nativity story as told through the eyes of animals. Genuinely funny. Animated. Rated PG for some thematic elements.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi* — The saga of Rey, Finn, Kylo, Luke and Leia continues. It’s one of the best Star Wars films ever. (I’ve got it at No. 4). Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. I counted six coarse words: h-ll (2), da—it (1), d—n (1), ba—ard (1), a—(1).

Steve McQueen: American Icon – Actor Steve McQueen never found purpose – until he found Christ. One of the best documentaries you’ll ever see. Unrated. It contains no language or sexuality.

Wonder* – A boy with facial deformities enters middle school after being homeschooled his entire life. Perhaps the best anti-bullying film ever made. Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language (a handful of OMGs and one misuse of “Jesus” by a bully).

“Darkest Hour” is inspiring .. and mostly family-friendly

Nazi Germany is on the move, but everyone in 1940 Britain can rest easy. Winston Churchill is finally at the helm as prime minister.

If it were only that simple.

The courageous and resolute Churchill we’ve learned about in history books is certainly courageous and resolute in Darkest Hour (PG-13) – a biographical movie now in theaters – but he has few supporters.

“We have a drunkard at the wheel,” says one members of Parliament.

“I wouldn’t let him borrow my bicycle,” says another.

Even King George VI doesn’t trust Churchill, instead supporting his rivals, including predecessor Neville Chamberlain.

“Winston lacks judgment,” the king says.

The fretting is no small matter. Hitler has conquered most of Western Europe and is on the verge of occupying France. Britain likely is next. As we learn in Darkest Hour, Chamberlain and a handful of powerful MPs – all members of Churchill’s own party – are plotting to remove him from power. Their goal: Sign another peace agreement with Hitler and hope for the best. Churchill, though, is determined to go down fighting – even though his entire army is surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

“You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” he tells his own party.

Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) as Churchill; Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as his wife, Clemmie; Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One, The Dark Knight Rises) as King George VI; and Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) as Churchill’s young secretary, Elizabeth Layton.

It’s one of the most inspiring biographies I’ve seen, and it succeeds largely because it depicts elements of Churchill’s story many Americans don’t know. He came to power following a coup and then nearly was toppled in a coup. He had to fight isolationist and dove-like tendencies within his Conservative Party, despite the ominous threat from Hitler. And he was a man full of weaknesses, including fear and doubt.

Of course, likely any Hollywood film based on real events, it’s full of some fiction, too. Stay tuned for those details.

Warning: spoilers!


Minimal. For a film based on a war era, there is a surprising lack of violence. That’s because most of the scenes take place in Parliament, in Churchill’s home, or on the streets of Britain. But we do watch several bombs drop, and we do see a field hospital with several wounded men. We also hear talk of war strategy, including whether some men should be sacrificed so a larger number will survive.  


Minimal. We hear Churchill in the bathtub, and we then see the bottom half of his bear legs walk across the floor.

Coarse Language

Minimal. I counted only a handful of coarse words: d—n (3), misuse of God (2). There are also several uses of British words such as “bloody,” “bum” and “bugger.” The phrase “up your bum” is heard a few times in one scene in reference to something Churchill naively did in a newspaper picture. (He showed photographers a backwards peace sign, which at the time was considered vulgar.)   

Other Positive Elements

The love between Churchill and his wife is obvious. During one poignant scene after he makes his secretary cry, his wife scolds him and says: You aren’t as nice as you once were. “You’ve become rough. … I want others to love and respect you as I do.”

To his credit, Churchill learns to treat his young secretary gentler, and they become a good team.

During his speeches, we also hear a couple of references to God.

Other Negative Elements

Churchill smokes (cigars) often, drinks often, and eats a lot of unhealthy food, too. When the king asks him how he manages to drink so much – including drinking in the morning – Churchill answers, “Practice.”  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The film’s overarching message is true to history, but some of the scenes are fictional. Specifically, a scene in which Churchill boards a subway and talks to everyday British citizens – a scene that led me to tears – is fictional.

Life Lessons

The on-screen Churchill provides us lessons on courage, determination, steadfastness, and overcoming fear and doubt. It also gives us a solid example on opposing evil.


When Christians debate the necessity of war, World War II is often cited as an example of a just war. Consider: A murderous mad man was marching across Europe, killing indiscriminately and wiping out an entire ethnic class. What would the world look like today if Britain and Churchill hadn’t stood firm?

War is a terrible thing, but in a fallen war, it is sometimes necessary (Ecclesiastes 3:8). After all, one of the primary responsibilities of government is to protect its citizens (Romans 13:1-4). Sometimes, such efforts won’t be successful, but thankfully during the 1940s, it was.

The movie also tosses a few ethical dilemmas our way. For example, Churchill must decide if he will send a group of 4,000 soldiers to their near-certain-death in order to distract the Germans and protect 300,000 men at Dunkirk.

What I Liked

Learning about the real Churchill – the one who had everyday struggles just like the rest of us. Additionally, the Parliament scenes are impressive. I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between Churchill and those around him, including his wife, his secretary and the king. Oldman and James are marvelous in their roles.

What I Didn’t Like

The overtly fictional stuff that was inserted into the film. Churchill’s story is already entertaining. Why make something up?


Darkest Hour is suitable for older children, provided parents don’t mind them hearing discussions of war and a few British slang words. Younger children likely would be bored.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Was World War II necessary and justified? Explain your answer.
  2. Name a war you believe wasn’t a just war.
  3. Why was Churchill so persuasive? And why did he intimidate people?
  4. What did you think about Churchill’s health choices – specifically his smoking and drinking?
  5. Did Churchill make the right choice?
  6. Do fictional scenes in biographical movies trouble you? Why or why not?

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

Darkest hour is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements.

Next Gen Pastors” Network hosts Platt, Gaines, Gallaty and Allen

DALLAS “Only 38 percent of evangelical pastors are under the age of 40, the lowest percentage in history,” Shane Pruitt, SBTC director of evangelism, told the TEXAN before the start of the SBTC’s Next Gen Pastors’ Network Roundtable Nov. 13 at Criswell College. More than 100 young pastors assembled in Criswell’s Horner Hall and library for breakout sessions, dinner and a panel discussion before the 2017 SBTC Annual Meeting was convened.

The Monday gathering marked the merger of Next Gen with another young pastors’ group, Forge, said Tony Wolfe, SBTC director of Pastor/Church Relations.

In addition to hosting events at the Annual Meeting and Empower Conference, the Next Gen Network will sponsor five phone conferences scheduled every other month from January to September in 2018 featuring David Platt, Steve Gaines, Robby Gallaty, Frank Page and Jason Allen.

Wolfe praised the turnout at the Criswell meeting, the first portion of which was structured around six half-hour breakout sessions. Participants chose two sessions and sat in chairs arranged in semi-circles around presenters, a who’s who of pastoral experience, each concentrating on a “core competency” of pastoring, Wolfe explained.

Jimmy Draper, retired president and CEO of LifeWay, addressed leading and developing staff. Criswell College president Barry Creamer spoke on presenting Christ in the public square. Russ Barksdale of Arlington’s Church on Rush Creek discussed discipling and leading one’s family. David Galvan of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in Dallas addressed personal evangelism. Chris Osborne of Central Baptist in College Station spoke on staying sharp in the pulpit. Danny Forshee of  Austin’s Great Hills Baptist discussed creating a culture of prayer in the church. 

Following the breakout sessions, the group moved to Criswell’s library for a casual dinner and fellowship time, followed by a panel discussion featuring Draper, Creamer, Forshee, Galvan and Barksdale, attended by pastors and wives.

Before the panel, Wolfe introduced Nathan Lino, who spoke to the group about Southern Baptist life, including the function and importance of the Cooperative Program, which he called the “heart and soul” of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I am part of SBC life by choice for a few reasons,” Lino said of his 15 years as a Southern Baptist pastor. “I believe it’s the best vehicle for missions, church planting and revitalization, leadership training and cultural engagement.”

Lino noted the six to seven thousand missionaries deployed by the IMB and NAMB and discussed the importance of the ERLC and SBC seminaries. He explained the place of “our state family,” the SBTC, and its “very effective ministries,” including church planting and revitalization.

Following Lino’s remarks, Pruitt welcomed the guest panel, who took turns responding to questions. 

“If you now could go back and visit you as a leader in your twenties or thirties, what would you tell yourself?” Pruitt opened. 

Draper took the mic first, mentioning his 68 years as a preacher and advising that “people are opportunities; they’re not obstacles.” Draper recommended building relationships with church members, discovering their needs and meeting them on “their own turf.”

“Be kind,” Draper added. 

Galvan echoed Draper’s advice to “meet people where they are.” 

“Just be faithful,” Forshee urged.

“I’d spend less time preaching ‘agin’ it,” Creamer said, adding that he would focus on encouraging his people to “demonstrate the love of Christ.”

When Pruitt asked which preachers the panel listened to themselves, answers included Paige Patterson, Mark Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, W.A. Criswell, Jimmy Draper, Tony Evans and Billy Graham.

Asked about difficult times in ministry, the men discussed occasions where their churches lost members, difficult staff changes proved necessary, personal attacks occurred or they faced job loss.

“People will disappoint you,” Draper said, advising that, when criticized, pastors must listen to see if the criticism is true and correct the matter if so. “You will never do well by attacking back,” he continued. “Respond graciously. Treat people with courtesy.”

Draper said that during the Conservative Resurgence, he learned, “You can be a strong conservative and be nice.”

“A pastor can be constantly around people and still be the loneliest person in the room. Can you have good friends [in your congregation]?” Pruitt asked. 

The consensus was yes, although Forshee cautioned against showing favoritism. The panel stressed the importance of a network of accountability, too.

As for challenges facing pastors in the next decade, answers included the continued expansion of technology, cultural hostility to the church, issues of marriage equality, the struggle for sexual purity, the demands of the 24-hour society and declining contributions.

While their husbands attended the breakout sessions, 25-30 wives gathered for the Next Gen Pastors’ Wives roundtable in the library conference room. 

“A panel of seasoned pastors’ wives in full-time ministry for 25 years or more addressed a few questions and discussed various scenarios unique to a pastor’s family,” said leader Carolyn May, who co-hosted the group with Jennifer Garcia. 

Discussion questions addressed included raising PKs (preacher’s kids), living in a fishbowl, handling criticism, serving out of giftedness, handling friendships and navigating family life.  

Texas churches build a wall in Ecuador to break down barriers

Largato, ECUADOR The impoverished parish of Lagarto, nestled near the coast in the province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, is changing, thanks in part to a dozen Texas Southern Baptist churches that discovered that to break down barriers, you sometimes need to build a wall.

The Ecuadorian partnership was connected to the International Mission Board’s emphasis on reaching unreached people groups and primarily involved churches in the Dallas Baptist Association.  

The churches—including ten predominantly African-American congregations—sent teams to Lagarto for the past four years under the coordination of Barry Calhoun, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention mobilization director and church planting associate. 

The black Texans ministered to black Ecuadorians, the bulk of Lagarto’s population and a group Calhoun called historically “marginalized and disenfranchised.”

Calhoun said that one translator from Quito helping his groups even announced, in tears, that she had “never been around black people before.”

“And she was Ecuadorian,” he exclaimed.

During the first two years of the partnership, teams focused on providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the local high school. Attended by students and teachers, the classes provided rare English instruction in the town where schools did not offer the subject, although Quito schools had taught English for decades.

This has changed, as Lagarto public schools now include English. 

In recent years, missions teams emphasized discipleship instead of ESL, hosting VBS programs and Bible training for adults. 

They also built a wall.

For decades, the middle school Unidad Educativa Aurelia Becerra de Quiñonez, surrounded by red brick walls on only three sides, remained vulnerable to vandals and transients who stole from both school and teachers. 

“As a project last year, we decided to the finish the wall,” Calhoun said. 

Little did they know the significance of this gesture, which provided needed security for the schoolchildren.

So important was the wall, that townspeople, frustrated by the government and school system’s repeated failure to complete it, had boycotted the major local festival in protest earlier that year.

“That tells you how big a deal the wall was to them,” Calhoun said. “When we put the wall up, they were ecstatic.”

This October, when groups returned to dedicate the wall, Calhoun expected a short ceremony. Instead, some 800 students, plus teachers and administrators, poured into the schoolyard for a three-hour celebration featuring special foods and cultural dances.

“It was their celebration of thanksgiving to us,” Calhoun explained. “It was really special for us to see this.”

Rather than a plaque, a bench inscribed with the school’s name formalizes the building of the wall by the African American churches of the SBTC for the people of Lagarto and the children of the school.

While the formal Ecuadorian partnership is ending after its planned four-year run, relationships between the African American churches and the Afro-Ecuadorians will continue. 

At the request of Hilda Alvarez, vice-president of the board of trustees of the parish of Lagarto, Calhoun and teams have agreed to return next year to participate in the Life Transformation Conference, scheduled for Oct. 23-29, 2018, addressing community concerns such as drug and alcohol abuse and teenage sexual promiscuity.

“It was impossible to say no. Their teen pregnancy rate is epidemic, even sub-teen rates are up,” Calhoun said, adding that incidences of ten-year-old girls becoming pregnant had even

The outdoor event will include from 1,500 to 2,000 kids and adults. Calhoun plans to use the “True Love Waits” curriculum from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and other resources.

“We’ll do some teaching. We’ll also try to reach the parents. We’ve got to change the culture of the parents before we can change the culture of the kids,” he said, adding that a logo had already been sent to organizers in Lagarto to show Ecuadorians that “the American churches are coming to help.” 

Calhoun summed up the Lagarto experience with one word: “hope,” noting that discussions were in progress with a young local man who had expressed a desire to become a pastor. 

While the Ecuadorian partnership is formally ending, work is just beginning in Havana, Cuba.

“We are still in conversations with a number of people [about Cuba],” said Calhoun, alluding to church planting goals still in the early stages.

SBTC staff attended the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention annual meeting this November, Calhoun added, noting that both stewardship and revitalization summits are planned for at least two islands, possibly more, in 2018.

In the continental United States, revitalization efforts in Montana continue, Calhoun said. Near El Paso, Texas borderlands strategies also remain effective, as does the Reach Houston effort, where the Bi-Stone Baptist Association of churches recently agreed to send teams, starting next year, to assist church planters. 

REVIEW: “Jumanji” is not like its innocent predecessor

Martha, Bethany, Fridge and Spencer are an eclectic group of high school students with only one thing in common: They’re all serving in detention.

That’s what happens when you smart off to the teacher (as Martha and Bethany did) or cheat on a paper (Fridge and Spencer). You’re then forced to clean out the school basement, which is filled with old newspapers, magazines and electronics, including a 1990s-era video game system with a cartridge titled “Jumanji.”

Faced with cleaning the basement or wasting time with a joystick, our unsupervised foursome does what most any group of teens would do. Play the video game!

But they soon discover that this is no ordinary game. It has magical powers, and within seconds they’re sucked into the game and battling for survival in a wild jungle. And instead of remaining in their bodies, they’re adjusting to a new life in the bodies of their avatars.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (PG-13) opens in theaters this week, 12 years after Robin Williams starred in the first Jumanji movie and 36 years after Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji children’s book was released.

It stars Dwayne Johnson as Spencer, Kevin Hart as Fridge, Jack Black as Bethany (her avatar is a middle-aged male) and Karen Gillan as Martha.

Despite having a few good messages, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is very different from its predecessor. Robin Williams’ 1995 version was considered mostly family-friendly, with few language concerns and zero sexuality. By contrast, the newest Jumanji is filled with so much coarse language and crude sexual jokes that moms and dads will be blushing – if not walking out of the theater, too.

Four male writers and a male director teamed up on this one, which explains the film’s crude infatuation with the female anatomy and its not-so-subliminal message: Women are merely sex objects. Yes — surprise, surprise — Hollywood has ruined another fun, fantasy franchise.

Most of the comedy falls flat, primarily due to its sophomoric focus on sex and body parts. An immature fifth-grade boy could have written it. (Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a creative PG-13 comedy, watch Logan Lucky.)

Ready for the details?     


Moderate. Each of the characters in the video game has three lives. When one person dies, he or she disappears, and the new person/life then falls from the sky. It sounds gruesome, but it’s mostly bloodless. Bethany dies in one instance when a hippo eats her. Later, Fridge gets trampled by hippos. Bad guys on motorcycle shoot at the foursome, with machine guns and missiles. Fridge and Spencer punch one another several times. We see a large snake. In perhaps the most disturbing scene, we watch a scorpion crawl out of a man’s mouth and bite another man, killing him. A large jaguar chases the group.


Excessive. Jumanji contains no nudity, but plenty of everything else in this category. Martha (in her new female body) sports a belly-revealing outfit and short shorts throughout the film. Bethany (in her male body) tells herself as she tries to gain confidence: “You can hook up with whoever you want.” She jokes about going to school in a bikini and flashing skin. There’s a joke about breasts, and two jokes about sex that I won’t print here. Bethany (in her male body) teaches Martha (in her new female body) how to flirt with guys and walk provocatively. We then see Martha do exactly that, awkwardly. There are multiple jokes among the group about the male anatomy, including a lengthy, uncomfortable scene in which Bethany (in her male body) is forced to urinate in the jungle. The two men in the group teach her how to do it. Outside the jungle, Bethany shows various amounts of skin at school, including in a belly-revealing outfit in gym class. Two characters kiss twice.

Coarse Language

Excessive. I counted about 55 coarse words: H-ll (16), a– (13), OMG (20), d–n (2), s–t (2), misuse of “Jesus” (1) and b–ch (1).

Positive Elements

We get a peek at the home life of Fridge and Spencer and their respective moms. Each seems to have parents who truly love them.

The film has a solid anti-clique message (see below).   

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Fridge enjoys drinking alcohol, and he gets drunk. Bethany, in the real world, is addicted to her social media account. She posts a staged picture of her waking up, and then frets because a certain boy never “likes” it. Spencer and Fridge collude to cheat, with Spencer writing a paper for him; they get caught.   

Life Lessons

Mixed in with the muck are lessons on overcoming fear, getting out of one’s comfort zone, not bullying, and not judging on appearance alone. Meanwhile, our heroes – comprised of an athlete, a popular pretty girl, and a couple of other teens who don’t fit in – learn to break down the social walls at school and mix with people outside their cliques.     


The new Jumanji film takes place inside a fantasy world ruled by spirits.

But the film’s message about cliques – which dominate high schools across the country — deserves the most attention. As Christians, we know cliques are unhealthy, unbiblical and even riddled with sinful thoughts. Taken too far, cliques promote an “us” vs. “them” mentality and are void of love for others.  

Jesus, of course, broke down the walls within the church, telling us there should be no divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10). That is ultimately possible only with the power of Christ. It is something we should strive toward in every realm of society – inside the church and inside our schools.  


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is not family-friendly.

What I Liked

The messages about cliques and breaking down barriers.   

What I Didn’t Like

The humor. Some of it is funny. Most of it is not.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs down.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do we form cliques? How can we overcome them?
  2. Name some creative ways we can reach out to people different from us.
  3. Each member of the group learned to get outside its comfort zone. What are some ways God might want you to get outside your comfort zone?
  4. What did you think about the movie’s view of women and sexuality?

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

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.  

Making BIG requests of our God in 2018

The Bible encourages us to approach God boldly in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). Of course, the Bible also teaches us that we’re to pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). The reason we can come boldly before God in prayer is not because of who we are or what we’ve done; we come boldly before God in prayer on the basis of who Christ is and what he has accomplished for us by his life, death, resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand. 

In Jesus, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12). Our confidence before God in prayer is grounded in our relationship with Christ. That’s why we pray in Jesus’ name. 

When we boldly approach God in prayer in Jesus’ name, asking God to accomplish his will, such prayer pleases our heavenly Father. When we come before God in Jesus’ name and ask according to God’s will, we can boldly ask, seek and knock. Note the progression of increasing intensity. We’re to ask persistently of God things that will glorify him; we are to seek earnestly in prayer those things that honor God; we are to knock urgently on the doors of heaven for those things that will advance God’s kingdom. 

When we take such joy in God, his will and his glory, the Bible reminds us that God will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

As we begin a new year, I invite you to pray with boldness and make BIG requests of God that will advance his kingdom purposes and thereby bring him great glory. First, I invite you to ask God to do BIG things in and through your church. What if all the members of your church joined together to regularly pray that God would accomplish his will and glorify his name through your church? 

Together, you could pray for every member of your church: for their spiritual growth, their physical needs. If you have a church directory, use it as a prayer guide for your members. You should also pray for your pastors, staff members, deacons and volunteers. Pray for all the ministries of your church using your church budget as a prayer guide. Pray for the outreach efforts of your church in your community and throughout the world. And pray that God would bless your church members and cause them to be generous in their giving so that your outreach and ministry efforts may be multiplied. 

Pastors, take time out in your Sunday gatherings for such prayer. And if you’re not a pastor, might you be the person, under the pastor’s leadership, to help organize such a prayer effort in your church in the new year?

Second, I invite you to ask God to do BIG things in and through the SBTC. What if all the churches in the SBTC regularly prayed for all our other SBTC churches, staff and officers by name? Our churches could pray for one another, beginning with the churches in our associations. Use the “Find a Church” button to see what other SBTC churches are around you, and pray for them by name. Pray for them in your Sunday gatherings. Pray also for the SBTC staff and ministries by name and by departments, asking God to do a great work through each leader and ministry team for the glory of God and the good of our churches. 

Pray that God would multiply the evangelism and church planting efforts of SBTC churches with the help of your convention. Pray that our churches would grow in their generosity through the Cooperative Program so that the work of the SBTC and the SBC may increase exponentially. Pastor, lead the charge! But again, if you’re not a pastor, might you be the person in your church, under the pastor’s leadership, that would organize such a prayer effort in your church in the new year?

As we begin a new year, we make resolutions about all the things we will do this year. I’m not against resolutions. But as you’re resolving in 2018, let’s resolve to rest in the work Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us through his life, death, resurrection and exaltation. And in Christ, let us come boldly before God’s throne and make our requests known. Our Father desires to give good gifts to his children in order that his will would be accomplished and his name glorified. May the Lord allow us to witness great things that he would do in answer to our BIG prayers for his glory and for our joy.  

Hope rebuilt in Refugio

REFUGIO, Texas—In the town of Refugio—with a population just under 3,000, located 55 miles north of Corpus Christi—few structures emerged unscathed from Hurricane Harvey, whose winds ravaged homes and businesses in an already economically disadvantaged area. 

Yet hope is alive in Refugio.

Coach Jason Herring, contractor Brian Miller and a network of Southern Baptist churches and disaster relief (DR) volunteers want to keep it that way.

“This isn’t about football, it’s about God.”

—contractor Brian Miller

“This isn’t about football, it’s about God,” Miller proclaimed from atop a pickup truck Dec. 2, as Herring negotiated the crowd of 150 in front of the Refugio ISD building, awaiting the reveal of the restored home belonging to Charlie and Nichole Henderson. 

Much in Refugio is about football: 84 of the high school’s 95 boys play. Townspeople watch the 2A Division 1 Bobcats, under long-time head coach and athletic director Herring, trounce opponents from larger schools and perennially make playoff runs.

In this season’s second game, wide receiver Casey Henderson suffered a paralyzing injury to his C4 and C5 vertebrae and was care-flighted to San Antonio where doctors cautioned he might never walk again. 

“He could only move his finger,” Casey’s aunt, Rhonda Scott, told the TEXAN. 

“I normally am not on the field, but I saw that it was a grave injury and so I did go out,” said team chaplain T. Wayne Price, pastor of First Baptist Church in Refugio where Herring teaches Sunday school. “It was bad.”

Even before Casey’s injury, Herring started helping the Hendersons repair their small, hurricane-damaged home across the street from the high school. He first arranged for a new roof. 

“We were already downtrodden and the hurricane multiplied that,” Herring said. “I was going to slowly rebuild the house for them. Then Casey breaks his neck the very next Friday.” 

After visiting Casey in a San Antonio hospital the day after the injury, Herring realized the situation’s urgency. The parents needed to stay with their son and could not work on the home. The FEMA trailer housing the other children would soon become unavailable.

Driving home later that Saturday, Herring phoned the pastor, Price, who spoke with Mike Northen, an SBTC DR task force member and associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Pflugerville, on Monday.

Herring also started fundraising, initially putting up $1,000 himself, then “calling and texting and tweeting,” raising money online and in the community. 

“God multiplied that thousand to $52,000,” Herring said of the amount eventually raised.

Meanwhile, in Pflugerville, Brian Miller was packing for a trip to Houston to assist Harvey victims. For 30 years, Miller had felt called to missions and ministry and had recently discussed options with Steve Washburn, his pastor at FBC Pflugerville. DR volunteering seemed an ideal start for a building contractor.

Northen rerouted Miller to Refugio. Expecting just to replace siding, Miller arrived that Tuesday with his son and one of his employees, plus trailers of supplies and a skid steer. He was stunned by what he saw. 

The Henderson residence was almost beyond repair: mold and roach-infested with a faulty sewage system, the ground beneath soggy from water that would not drain to the street, the foundation unstable and floors uneven. 

“We had to tear it down to the studs,” Northen said.

Repair and rebuild took 10 weeks, including the installation of new water and gas lines, air conditioning and a rebuilt kitchen. Sod was laid, the yard regraded. Crews reconfigured the interior, creating five bedrooms plus living and kitchen areas, per Miller’s design.

God met needs in unexpected ways, starting with workers.

Northen contacted First Baptist Church of Wimberley, a church active in SBTC DR. The two congregations share a unit that they jointly maintain. Volunteers from California’s Saddleback Church—part of the PEACE relief plan in which FBC Wimberley also participates—were already in Refugio, with others expected.

PEACE teams from California, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Maine and Ohio had been laboring throughout South Texas, said Scott Tidwell, FBC Wimberley’s pastor for community

Tidwell estimated that 20-25 FBC Wimberley members worked on the Henderson home, in addition to 50-60 from PEACE-affiliated churches nationally and several dozen from FBC Pflugerville, Trinity Baptist in San Antonio and FBC Refugio, which lost much of its own roof during Harvey.

When a contractor couldn’t finish installing the donated A/C unit, a California man phoned to say he would fly in to finish the job. When sheetrock crews proved unavailable, a Maryland church team arrived with two contractors who completed sheetrock and exterior work.

As for the home’s interior, Herring approached a friend of a friend, Ben Steiff, owner of Ashley Homestores in Victoria and Corpus, hoping that Steiff might “cut a deal” for furniture.

Steiff instead offered to furnish the entire home, without charge, the first of seven his stores pledged to furnish—an unexpected $20,000 donation. 

Miller, who supervised the project, saw it as more than a repair job.

“As we were pulling siding off the house, we were peeling back layers and layers of stuff that God needed us to peel back,” Miller told the crowd before the Saturday reveal. “We’ve been praying for this family,” he said, indicating the Hendersons. “We hope this house will [be] a community for Christ.”

Miller expressed hope that kids would gather in the home, turning to Casey: “You can bring your friends in. And keep going to church, please, because that’s what this is all about. It was all God’s hand that did this. And I just give glory to him.”

Crews wrote verses of Scripture on the studs of the Henderson home; Joshua 24:15 adorns the entryway, where two crosses salvaged by Nichole from the hurricane wreckage hang.

“The family has made some decisions to become more Christ-following. They have been impacted spiritually,” Northen said.

Washburn prayed before the reveal, closing by asking God, “Bless Casey and his family. Do great things in their family. Do great things in the community through this house. We thank you,” his prayer followed by loud “Amens” from the crowd.

Casey, now walking but still undergoing physical and occupational therapy, exclaimed of his home rebuilt by believers from across the nation, “I love it. It’s awesome!”

The house has become, Herring said, “a tremendous symbol of hope.” 

If you are interested in being a DR volunteer visit

Widow”s dulcimer passion opens door for ministry

KENNARD In July of 1994, Margaret and Jerry Wright visited the north central Arkansas Ozarks town of Mountain View.  They had come to the area only to explore Blanchard Springs Caverns, a nearby cave. Or so they thought.

Checking in at a campsite, they learned that folk music “jam sessions” took place each evening at the Ozark Folk Center and in front of the Stone County Courthouse on the Mountain View town square.  Margaret was intrigued by “real people playing real instruments with down-home, homespun character,” which sparked a musical interest in both Margaret and Jerry.

Driving a short distance each evening to hear the new style of music, they passed a little dulcimer shop. On their last day in town, they decided to stop.

Inside the store, Margaret, a penny pincher at heart, said to her husband, “This is fun, but we ain’t buying no dulcimer!”

Jerry, a woodworker, went straight to the back of the store where dulcimers were being crafted.  He was intrigued by the detail that went into making each one.

Lynn McSpadden, owner of The Dulcimer Shop, handed Margaret a dulcimer and asked if she wanted to try it.  A little crowd gathered around as Margaret began to play the four-stringed instrument for the first time.  On another instrument, McSpadden played a harmony along with her.

“Playing came naturally to me,” Margaret said.

Charmed out of her pennies, Margaret recalled that the store accepted her MasterCard payment, and Jerry proudly carried Margaret’s first dulcimer out of the store.

What began that day in Mountain View became a passion shared by the entire family.  For the next 22 years, Jerry crafted nearly 40 dulcimers, and was gifted at playing a guitar-like instrument called a pickin’ stick. The Wrights’ teenage sons also began to play—Hollis took up the autoharp, and Lloyd learned the dulcimer—something they still enjoy today.

In March 2016, Jerry died after a two-year struggle with cancer. Margaret recalls that those years caring for Jerry had been very demanding.  The Wrights had been married for over 40 years. 

Margaret had been widowed for a year when she began to realize that she had time on her hands and she wanted a way to use that time and her talents. But she was unsure of what to do.

The answer came to her during a game of 42 at her East Texas home church, First Baptist Church in Kennard.  During the domino game, Margaret impulsively blurted out “I’ve got all these dulcimers.  Would anyone want to learn how to play?”

Before Margaret knew it, someone had started a sign-up sheet, and six people took her up on the offer.   What began as an impromptu thought, has become Margaret’s ministry.

Last April a group of 12, spanning from sixth grade to age 84, began meeting on Monday afternoons. According to Glenn Faris, former pastor at FBC Kennard, Margaret’s dulcimer group has reached out to people who would not normally be outgoing or involved in ministry.  

The group, known as The Pineywood Dulcimers (and sometimes as “The Hashbrowns”), has performed in churches, at funerals, and in nursing homes and retirement centers. In 2016, Margaret taught children to play the dulcimer during Vacation Bible School. “It was a big hit,” said Faris.

Faris added, “I believe that one way Margaret overcame grief is that she was able to share with others one of the special bonds she had with Jerry. . .music.  She took action and refused to allow grief to consume her.”

Two in the dulcimer group, a mother and son, both made decisions for Christ in September.  Faris noted that one reason they became involved in the church was because of Margaret’s dulcimer ministry which has “helped people get over their shyness” and become involved in other ministries.

Margaret never intended for a ministry to be born from playing the dulcimer. “But,” she said, “God gave me a gift to be able to use with others.”

The Wrights did explore that cave on the last day of their trip in 1994. But God had more in mind for their trip—an unplanned stop at a roadside shop led to a musical gift that is making a difference today.  

Praying for a better year?

Sure, I get it. We’ve had our own drama during 2017. On top of that we all personally experienced, a huge natural disaster hit Texas, and then we had frequent opportunities to witness expressions of human evil. I’d just as soon have a little less of that next year. But consider what we’ll miss in the absence of those challenges.

This year, our little family did some hospital time—a bout with cancer and then the lengthy hospitalization of a newborn granddaughter. It’s not what I’d wish for but we saw God’s glory and mercy in those events. The kindness and competence of so many strangers lifted us up during a surgery followed by a short period of twice-daily radiation. Friends said and wrote and did encouraging things as they had opportunity. Tammi and I were soberly reminded of how much we love each other. My granddaughter’s adoption was finalized in the midst of all this after an anxious and overlong period of not being sure if it would go through. It did, and we have many people to thank for it—much to thank God for. After my daughter’s twins were born (by definition a high-risk pregnancy), one of those little girls struggled to breathe on occasion. She was in the hospital for nearly a month. It was stressful but we were surrounded by families who couldn’t even hold their babies (we could) and nurses who were pastoral in their care for stressed-out parents (and grandparents) and sick babies. The little girl came home; she and her sister are fattening up nicely. Our “thank you” list is long but so is our list of things for which we can only thank God. I’m glad to be past it rejoicing but I’m also grateful to have seen the best in scores of friends, church members from two or three churches, and family members.

And then there is Hurricane Harvey. The impact of this enormous event has made me more sympathetic to those in other Gulf Coast states that experience this kind of thing more often than we do in Texas. Our state’s economy was wounded in ways just now healing. The state convention has felt the tension of increased opportunities to help and decreased missions giving related at least somewhat to Harvey. It was a statewide event days before the water stopped rising. I spoke last week with a happy lady who is living in a house with floors stripped to the pad and unpainted drywall. Thousands of families and a few churches are still displaced and many will have to start over. But I also talked with pastors who waded to church to open the doors to their neighbors who had to flee rising water. Some of these churches had nothing to offer but a dry place to sleep. One church told of sending a member out in a bass boat to find food to feed those sheltering in their building. Many, scores of our churches, immediately got to work after the water receded a bit. They cleaned out, hauled off, disinfected and did a little restoration in the homes of their church members and neighbors. It was an overt and unmistakable expression of God’s love reflected into all those around. And over 400 people that we know of professed Christ as Lord during the time that our folks were ministering to them. Other state conventions sent volunteers and gave generously to help our churches. The devastation of the region and sorrow of those affected made more conspicuous the glory of God revealed in the love of his people. It’s left a mark on millions but it has been a spiritual high point in the lives of many.

The shootings at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, were also a historic event, at least in scale, for our country and state. Nobody could be unmoved by the pain caused on that November Sunday. But God gave grace and power far beyond our ability to understand. The pastor and his family showed amazing courage through the funerals for their daughter and many of their own friends. The community came together to grieve, and national and state leaders showed up to acknowledge the sovereignty of God over the healing of souls. When asked by a reporter why a large prayer rally was helpful, I told her that it served the same purpose as a funeral: It reminded us that we are all mortal and that our hope is in the God of heaven. Our state and our nation were reminded of those immutable facts. It is a valuable lesson and always hard-won.

So don’t be bitter about how things have gone this year. Don’t despair that next year won’t be any better. Some of us have learned this year a bit more about how to rejoice in the Lord always. When we grumble there are always things for which we can honestly thank the Lord. I’d like to see more of that in social media next year, gratitude I mean. These messengers of Satan teach us that God’s strength is sufficient when all creation violently heaves in the aftermath of sin. Never stop being amazed at the provision of God when those things happen—the provision of rescue in some cases, healing in some cases, but comfort and hope in all cases for those who love him.