Month: February 2018

Reach Houston vision tour April 16-18

HOUSTON Pastors and others are invited to see firsthand what God is doing through Reach Houston, a church planting initiative that combines church planting and revitalization in America’s fourth-largest and most ethnically diverse city. 

A Reach Houston vision tour will be April 16-18 to help churches learn how they can partner to reach Houston’s 350 ethno-linguistic people groups—speaking more than 220 languages—with the gospel. 

Cost for the vision tour is $75 per person, which includes lodging and transportation during the vision tour. Breakfast is included at the hotel. Lunch and dinner will be at the expense of each attendee. 

The vision tour kicks off at noon Monday with lunch and a Reach Houston overview followed by a visit with a Baytown-area church planter. Dinner that night will be with Pearland-area church planters.

On Tuesday, attendees will visit with Inner Loop-area planters and then have lunch with an Alief-area planter. Later, they will meet with church planters from Tomball/Cypress and New Caney. Dinner that night will be in Pearland.

The tour will conclude after a debriefing Wednesday morning.

To sign up, contact Ben Hays at 832-489-3908 or bhays@sbtexas.com, or Gayla Harris at gharris@sbtexas.com. 

More than a dozen new church plants are spread across Houston, many of them needing volunteers to help them recover from Hurricane Harvey. 

Barry Calhoun, SBTC director of missions mobilization, noted that Texas has the longest border with Mexico of any state, and the Reach Houston initiative, among others, helps carry the gospel into Mexico as people are reached and carry their newfound faith back home to friends and family.

Pastors also have opportunities for Reach Houston vision tours before and after the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Vision tours are set for June 8-9 and June 14-15. 

REVIEW: “Early Man” is mostly family-friendly, with a few caveats

“Dug” is a smart, forward-thinking boy living in a village of mostly unmotivated and dim-witted people.

Such is life for a young caveman in the prehistoric Stone Age. He wants to hunt buffalo, but his fellow tribesmen are content with small rabbits. He wants to fight the army that attacked his village, but the tribesmen want to retreat.

Then there’s the subject of football – or as we Americans call it, soccer. Dug knows very little about this new sport, but he’s confident that he and his Stone Age villagers can master it. He’s so confident, in fact, that he challenges the adjacent (and more powerful) Bronze Age city to a match.

If “Real Bronzio” wins the game, then the Bronze Age kingdom will continue ruling over Dug’s Stone Age village. But if the Stone Age villagers win, then they will be able to live in peace in their beautiful, lush valley – and the Bronze Age army will have to leave them alone.

It’s all part of the stop-action animated film Early Man (PG), which is in theaters and stars Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) as Dug, Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) as Chief Bobnar, and Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) as the evil Lord Nooth.

It was directed by Nick Park of Aardman Animations, the stop-action studio that also gave us Chicken Run (2000) and Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015). Early Man isn’t as enjoyable as that latter film, but it’s still funny.

The film opens in the “neo-Pleistocene Age, near Manchester, around lunchtime,” with dinosaurs living alongside humans, when an asteroid strikes earth. That asteroid, it turns out, is shaped like a soccer ball, and people begin kicking it. The film then fast-forwards to the Bronze Age, with Lord Nooth and his army soon ransacking the Stone Age village.

Despite its tame PG rating, Early Man has a few elements that may concern some families.

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. An asteroid hits earth, presumably killing lots of life. We see people fall into a volcanic-like pit. Mammoths, dressed in bronze and topped with soldiers, attack a village. They toss spears at the citizens (none hit their target). Someone at the soccer match gives the throat-slashing symbol. Lord Nooth tells a solder to “kill him … slowly.” (The person doesn’t die.) A giant duck attacks the villagers. We see images of people working in a mine, and we see a shadow of a solder whipping someone. During the soccer game, the action gets out of hand and extra-physical.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Cavemen appear in various amounts of dress and undress, sometimes only in a loincloth-type garb. During a soccer match, we see a player nude from behind (we see his bottom), and then again we see him from the front, with his private parts covered. We also see cave drawings of cavemen mooning other players. One of the Stone Age women gets excited that the men are wearing “tight shorts.”

Coarse Language

None, other than stupid (3), crap (1) and screw it up (1).

Other Positive Elements

As the Stone Age villagers are preparing to hunt, the chief says a prayer. “We give thanks,” he says at the beginning.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The giant duck poops all over a character. When Dug’s soccer ball is flattened, he breaks into the Bronze Age city’s stadium to steal a ball. Someone eats “primordial soup.”  

Life Lessons

It’s tempting to label Early Man a pointless silly movie, but it does give us lessons on teamwork (the Stone Age team), humility (a major character late in the film), good sportsmanship (several characters), and girls in sports (a Bronze Age girl joins the Stone Age team because she isn’t allowed to play on her home team).

Worldview

For Christians who hold to a young earth view of creation, Early Man is a mixed bag. It shows dinosaurs and humans living at the same time – something that young earth creationists would embrace but mainstream scientists would reject. Yet it also promotes the idea that mankind slowly gained intelligence over time – something that creationists discount.

No doubt, the filmmakers developed a plot they didn’t intend to be taken seriously. It’s up to families to decide the best approach for this movie.  

What I Liked

The humor. Well, most of it. I’ve always enjoyed Aardman Animations’ films. They’re funny, creative and largely family-friendly. The stop-action animation is – as always – amazing.

What I Didn’t Like

The animated rear ends. Why are filmmakers so infatuated with bottoms?

Discussion Questions

  1. What does Early Man teach us about teamwork? About sportsmanship?
  2. In the real world, did mankind gain intelligence slowly over time – as the movie implies? What does Scripture teach?
  3. Describe Lord Nooth’s actions as a referee. In the real world, who makes the rules of a game? Can a referee make up the rules?   

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Early Man is rated PG for rude humor and some action.  

REVIEW: Is “Black Panther” family-friendly?

T’Challa is a young prince who also happens to be heir to the throne of Wakanda, a Third World African country that’s among the poorest nations on Earth.

At least, it seems that way.

Hidden within the jungles of fictional Wakanda is a rich, technologically advanced city that boasts towering skyscrapers, futuristic airplanes and magical weapons. It’s all powered by “vibranium,” an other-worldly metal that explorers and villains alike have sought for centuries. The peaceful Wakanda just happens to have the world’s largest vibranium mine.

Although most of the world knows nothing about Wakanda’s wealth, a handful of villains do know about it – and their lust for vibranium leads to the killing of T’Challa’s father, the king.

Now on the throne, T’Challa is given the crown and the name “Black Panther” – the title inherited by every Wakandan ruler. He also inherits a ton of perks, including the Black Panther superhero suit and the just-invented black panther shoes (they’re cat-like quiet!).

The future for the selfless and peace-loving T’Challa seems bright – that is, until a long-lost relative shows up and demands that T’Challa step aside so the weapons can be used to start a worldwide racial war. Will T’Challa prevail against this threat?

It’s all part of the new Marvel film Black Panther (PG-13) starring Chadwick Boseman (42) as T’Challa/Black Panther; Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four) as his nemesis, Erik Killmonger; Letitia Wright (The Commuter) as T’Challa’s brilliant younger sister, Shuri; and Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes series) as Ulysses Klaue, a villain.

Black Panther is getting rave reviews, and rightfully so. It’s a fun film that breaks the mold on Marvel movies. In a multicultural society, we need superheroes from different cultures. But while much of the attention has highlighted the race and African heritage of these new superheroes, we shouldn’t overlook the other ways they differ from most other Marvel superheroes. Gone are the sarcastic one-liners and the playboy qualities found in some of the most popular superheroes. Instead, we get a mature superhero in the Black Panther who is full of mercy and altruism – on the individual and national level. No doubt, other Marvel heroes have exhibited compassionate qualities, but in the Black Panther they are more evident. This is one reason Black Panther is near the top of my favorite Marvel films.

Here’s more good news for families with children: The film contains less language and sexuality than most other Marvel films. The caveat: The violence is excessive.

Let’s examine the details:

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Excessive. It might be the most violent PG-13 Marvel movie yet. The film opens with a gun fight and gives us another gun fight minutes later that includes fighting and people being stabbed with spears. We see a lady pass out/die from food poisoning. Security guards are shot dead at point-blank range. Black Panther gets involved in several close (and lengthy) hand-to-hand fights that result in bloodied faces. We watch an intense car chase through city streets that includes gunfire. A bad guy shoots and kills someone at close range; we see blood on the shirt. Two characters get into a sword fight; someone is speared. A bad guy puts his hand around a woman’s throat and lifts her into the air; she doesn’t die. The movie ends with a battle that involves lots of gunfire and fighting, including people being stabbed with spears and knives (although it remains mostly bloodless).    

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal/moderate. Throughout the film we see African women in belly-revealing outfits, and a few men without their shirts. We see African women dance. A couple of women wear somewhat low-cut dresses. We see characters kiss twice.  

Coarse Language

Minimal. He—(4), s—t (3), a—(1). (None by Black Panther.)

Other Positive Elements

Black Panther shows mercy on multiple occasions, refusing to kill people when he can even through they’re his enemies. He also displays a deep love for his countrymen, not wanting to see them harmed.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Black Panther’s sister jokingly flips him off. One scene takes place in a casino where whiskey and alcohol are consumed.

For Black Panther to remain on the throne, he must physically beat any challengers.

Life Lessons

The movie gives us life lessons on self-sacrifice (Black Panther, his family, others), mercy (Black Panther), the desire for peace (Wakanda, Black Panther), and outreach to the poor (Black Panther). It also tackles issues related to foreign aid and the refugee crisis. (Some people in the film want Wakanda to change its isolationist policy.)    

Worldview

T’Challa and his people practice a form of ancestral worship.

“Praise the ancestors,” we hear several times.

The Wakandan people even perform a ceremony that allows T’Challa to visit and talk to his deceased father. Another character does something similar later in the film.

If you have children, this might be worth a post-movie discussion. Scripture says we are to worship God alone and that when we die, our spirits go either to heaven or hell. Jesus is our lone intercessor (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  

Sponsors

The drink company Brisk is the most well-known movie partner for kids.

What I Liked

The landscapes. The music. The story. The compassion for others shown by Black Panther.

What I Didn’t Like

The excessive violence. The gunfighting seemed more in line with a James Bond film, not a superhero flick.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Black Panther different from other superheroes?
  2. Is Black Panther’s desire for peace naïve?
  3. What did you think of Erik Killmonger’s goal for the weapons?
  4. What would you say to someone who told you they pray to their ancestors?
  5. What did you think about the controversial decision T’Challa’s father made?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.  

Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations Part 3

This is the final installment of my reflections on the beginnings of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We are celebrating 20 years of God’s favor and blessings upon our group of churches.  

The first year was a challenge to say the least. After looking through the affiliation forms I was surprised to find there were only 120 churches at the time of the constituting of the convention. At the first Executive Board meeting in January 1999, there was quite a bit of contention. Motions were made to seek to control the convention by a small group. Courageous men and women affirmed the positive direction set at the inaugural annual meeting two months before. The SBTC would belong to the churches.  

There was no office, phone or equipment for the SBTC staff. Ronnie Yarber served as a part-time ministry staff person. Judy Van Hooser was employed as a ministry assistant. The hunt was on for an office location. My cell phone was the official number for the SBTC. I had a file cabinet I carried in my car that held all of the convention documents. My family and I lived in an extended stay hotel for the first six weeks. By February 1999, our family had a house. By March the convention had leased office space in Las Colinas. The offices moved into a debt-free building on April 2, 2004. 

Throughout the rest of 1999 there were minor skirmishes about the direction of the convention, but by the end of the year there would be no further issues. The course was set. Another 120 congregations were added in 1999 to bring the affiliated church total to almost 250. The SBTC was off and running. 

In 2001, I sent a letter to all the Baptist entities in Texas offering a fraternal hand. The SBTC has maintained the founding principle to work with those who share our theological convictions. The SBTC never desired to own or control a school, children’s home or other ministry services. When possible the convention would contribute and support ministries that affirmed our faith statement. In 2000, the SBTC adopted the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement approved in the same year. If an entity or school wanted to receive funds or be in a ministry relationship, they would have to affirm their willingness to work within the parameters of the BF&M 2000. 

After my letter was circulated, an editorial was written by another Baptist paper calling me a “liar and a horse thief.” I admit that I have lied. But being a horse thief can get a fellow hanged in Texas. It was never the intention of the SBTC to take over a school or entity. I would pose the question, “Why would a church or person affirming the BF&M 2000 want to send their students to a school or participate with an entity that refuses to affirm their faith statement?” Criswell College, Jacksonville College and Texas Baptist Home for Children are the three ministries that have affiliated with the SBTC in a working relationship based on our common faith statement. The SBTC was forged in the fires of theological controversy. Standing strong on biblical inerrancy and being a confessional fellowship appealed to conservative Southern Baptists who were looking for a home. 

In 2001, an attempt was made by the other state convention to reduce the Cooperative Program funding it passed on to the SBC. To help mitigate the SBC’s loss to its operating budget, the SBTC raised extra funds, sent designated dollars and began the process of raising the percentage passed on to the SBC from 50 percent to 55 percent. The churches in Texas responded in giving, and the SBTC simultaneously had the largest one-year jump in church affiliations. 

Within four years the fledgling group went from 120 churches to 1,000. Cooperative Program giving grew exponentially. Every year churches gave faithfully. Year after year the SBTC expenditures would be less than receipts, enabling gifts to be made for kingdom work in North America and around the world. The SBTC is missionally driven by the Cooperative Program. Without the CP there would be no Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Churches chose how they would invest their mission dollars. The Cooperative Program still goes further, accomplishes more and changes more lives than any one investment made by the local church. In this 20th year, my prayer is that we will have the highest Cooperative Program receipts ever. 

In keeping with the SBTC core value of being Kingdom Focused, a pledge was made to keep a small number of full-time ministry staff. In the very beginning the pledge was to not exceed one full-time ministry staff person per one hundred churches. As the SBTC grew in number of churches, new ministry areas were able to be staffed. By 2005 virtually all ministry areas had developed. Today there are 2,650 affiliated congregations with 24 full-ministry staff. The SBTC has consultants, specialists and part-time employees that provide invaluable assistance to the churches. The SBTC staff aids churches with tools and expertise in more than 100 ministry areas. Church planting and evangelism remain the priority in funding and staffing.  

God has been gracious to honor those who honor his Word! I give him the glory for all the churches started, people who have come to faith in Christ, and the maturing of many believers. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention exists by the pleasure of the churches to advance the gospel. My prayer is that in the next 20 years we will see a great spiritual awakening and that God would allow the SBTC to be a catalyst. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Partnerships are win-win for sending churches, plants

CLEBURNE If you were to take a long look at Cleburne, Texas, you’d likely come away with all sorts of observations. At 30,000 people, it’s not a big city—nor a small town. It’s a community full of young families with a large contingency of older citizens who have called it home for decades. It’s just on the fringes of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

But when church planter John Turner looks at Cleburne, he sees a city desperate for more gospel-preaching local churches.

“We’re a year old,” Turner said of his new Cleburne church plant, The Hill Church. “They were either traveling out of town to find a church that meets the needs of the family or people who were in town but hadn’t found a church that was for them.”

In its first 12 months of life, the new church has doubled in attendance from 30 to 60. Turner believes the church is on the cusp of even greater growth in 2018.

But it’s only possible because of partner churches like Graceview Baptist Church in Burleson. Turner says Graceview’s partnership, and in particular his relationship with the church’s pastor, Aaron Scarbrough, has helped him have a sense of community and support during an intense first year of the church’s history.

“Having community with other men doing ministry who are open to dialogue, open to share their experiences, open to sharing their resources, that’s a big deal when you’re starting a church,” Turner said.  

Graceview is one of 25 churches that the Southern Baptists Convention of Texas honored in 2017 with its Antioch award, as a partnering church to a new church plant. David Alexander, the SBTC church planting director, says the award brings to the forefront the sacrifices partners make. Partners like Graceview play a key role in the convention’s efforts to start churches throughout the state.

“Partnering with a new church plant is a significant investment of time and resources,” Alexander said. “We wanted to acknowledge that. It’s very important. Church planters couldn’t do it without the investment from primary sponsoring churches.”

Alexander noted that when people talk about supporting church plants they tend to think first about finances. Although the financial support from sponsoring churches is critical to a planter’s ability to get a new work started, he says it may be the least important kind of support partnering churches provide for new church starts. He noted both the critical part prayer support and mentoring play in the development of new churches. The mentoring relationship doesn’t just develop between the partnering pastor and the church planter but also extends to the lay leadership efforts of the two churches, such as the deacons and the finance teams. 

“This [new church plant] is their child,” Alexander said. “The convention is not planting this church. We are facilitating this SBTC church that has decided to become the primary sponsor. We are helping them give birth to this new church. We want partnering churches to take primary ownership of this church plant.”

Graceview got involved in church planting partnerships after Scarbrough led the church through a replanting process in 2011. Scarbrough says he wanted to help other church planters learn the lessons he and his team learned the hard way. Graceview became an SBTC church planting center, where prospective church planters could come and learn from the church and then be sent out. Graceview worked with two different SBTC church plants in 2017 and is beginning the process of partnering with a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student moving to Boston to plant a new church. 

As Graceview prepares to send outnew church planters, Scarbrough meets weekly with them as a group and one or two times a month. The church planters also participate in elder meetings, lead one of the church’s small groups and attend the church’s yearly planning meetings.

“It’s more of an immersion into the church than it is a program,” Scarbrough said. “That’s really the only way guys can learn the things we know. You can sit in a classroom and you can tell them all of those things, but until you have to interact with someone in a small group who might not like their teaching or get up in the pulpit and preach through a passage they had to struggle through because they are not used to that genre yet, you haven’t properly prepared them. Those are the kind of things I try to walk through with them.”

Scarbrough says the benefits of supporting a new church plant aren’t just felt by the planter or the planting church. The sending church is blessed, too. 

“That’s something church planting does that no other thing really can do. When you have a foreign mission focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good over there.’ When you have a local missions focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good down the street.’ But very rarely do we think of the towns surrounding us, because we tend to think that other churches are taking care of that. Church planting says, ‘no,’ we have to be intentional everywhere.”

Aaron Scarbrough, Pastor of Graceview Baptist Church in Burleson

“It’s definitely good for Graceview because [our congregation] recognizes that the gospel isn’t just important for our church but for other churches, too,” Scarbrough added. “That’s something church planting does that no other thing really can do. When you have a foreign mission focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good over there.’ When you have a local missions focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good down the street.’ But very rarely do we think of the towns surrounding us, because we tend to think that other churches are taking care of that. Church planting says, ‘no,’ we have to be intentional everywhere.”

Scarbrough notes that his own personal ministry has been stretched through his relationship with church planters. 

“It keeps me out of a rut,” Scarbrough said. “When I work with these guys, I am constantly having to examine my life. I have to examine my convictions and ask myself if I have fallen into a pattern of the ‘same old, same old.’”

To learn more about the church planting ministry of the SBTC, visit sbtexas.com/churchplanting.  

Our path takes us somewhere

In the early 1990s I attended the quadrennial meeting of the Disciples of Christ in the city we lived in at the time. I was particularly interested to hear the reports of two committees. One was reporting on what, if any, role Scripture played in the salvation of people. The other recommended a more welcoming and affirming response to homosexuals. Both reports and related actions were decided by a delegate vote. I wrote a column about the oddity of a Christian religious body deciding these issues as if God has not spoken objectively in Scripture. It’s hard to imagine a Christian denomination starting without this foundation. What happened? 

A little later I wrote a column about the beginning of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination-like body of Baptist churches that disagreed with Southern Baptists about biblical authority. I didn’t make any connection with the two groups at the time; the CBF was generally a little left of me but mostly just indignant to have lost 12 years of SBC elections. My point then was that they were a separate denomination even though they preferred to keep a foot in the SBC. 

Twenty-six years later I see similarity between the now solidly liberal Disciples of Christ and the CBF. On Feb. 9 the CBF coordinating council acted on behalf of the fellowship by altering a 20-year ban on hiring those who engage in homosexual behavior. CBF partisans have responded from both sides; the more conservative wing disagrees with the decision and the liberal wing wants a clearer affirmation of homosexual behavior. I was intrigued by their decision-making process. 

After 18 months of deliberation, interviews and listening sessions, the committee chairman said that the resulting statement was “informed” by Scripture but that being Baptist means that we “don’t dictate the beliefs of individuals and churches in a top-down fashion.” Instead, they listened to churches and individuals “in all their diversity,” before deciding that some roles (excepting top-level management and missionary field personnel) will be open to those who practice homosexuality. 

So, it’s a little top down in the sense that the council is opening some positions and closing others. The decision is clearly informed by listening to diverse churches and individuals. By opening the door just a little to leaders and employees formerly considered immoral, they can tell the more conservative members that it’s not as bad as it might be and the less conservative ones that it’s better than it was. 

“Informed by Scripture?” Not so much. I do understand the hermeneutic of those who pit what the apostles wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit against what they imagine Jesus might have said if he had explicitly taught on this type of sexual behavior. I think that’s what the fellowship’s moderator means when he claims that this decision will show the world that “Christ is our center and can hold us together for the sake of the gospel.” 

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s path and destination were not as clear when they left us more than 25 years ago. At the time, the leaders were those who had formerly led Southern Baptists. But it was clear that they were on a different path. If you go down a path, you get to where it leads. What was clear then was that CBF leaders were willing to compromise biblical authority for unity. An early leader of the fellowship said that he believed in the virgin birth of Christ, that the Bible taught it, but he did not believe it essential that his pastor or seminary professor believe it. That was the path. The fellowship was a diverse group of people who were unified around little except not being Southern Baptist. In the following years they resisted nearly any effort to describe more or less acceptable doctrine and practice. So the fellowship included seminaries funded by a Baptist convention in Texas with professors who taught that God is not all-knowing, a lesbian married couple who co-pastor a church in Washington, D.C., and a generation of young people who’ve come out of the movement unable to explain or believe the gospel. This recent decision is nothing I imagined when they started; it’s nothing Keith Parks, Dan Vestal or Cecil Sherman imagined. But they should have. It was just over the horizon on the path they chose.

Brothers and sisters, Christian bodies do not get more orthodox because people are nice and well-intentioned. It is serious work to lay a foundation of biblical doctrine and build a church or institution on that foundation. It can be heartbreaking work to keep those commitments when it means that we must lose friends over it. But we are not merely “informed” by Scripture. We are bound to it as God’s revelation of himself and the Savior of the world. If it is not true, we are of all men most foolish. 

Perhaps you have seen in your life hundreds of others go astray in the same way as the CBF. You and I can both name churches and schools that took a path that later took them. It is a warning to us all. The path we take determines our destination.

Church’s unity includes Cooperative Program giving

KILGORE Forest Home Baptist Church, with nearly 800 worshippers on Sundays, reaches another 1,200 viewers worldwide from its 60-acre campus in East Texas.

The church has a unity “that comes from loving each other,” pastor Earl “Buddy” Duggins said. It’s a unity that encompasses Forest Home’s media outreach—and its commitment to Cooperative Program missions and ministry in the U.S. and abroad.

“We’ve been doing that for years,” Duggins said of Forest Home’s allocation of sending 15 percent of its undesignated offerings to Cooperative Program outreach, “and it’s been a blessing for the church.”

“We’ve never lacked. We’ve been able to give because God has blessed us,” Duggins said. “The Cooperative Program helps us carry out the Great Commission. We have the blessing of giving; it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The longevity of its vocational staff has helped the church flourish, Duggins told Baptist Press. He began leading the church in 1989 just a year after Pat Monk began serving as minister of education and four years before Mark Fried became music minister.

“The key to that is that we love each other,” Duggins said. “We let God be God, and we have never had a cross word with each other; that’s God’s truth. They’re very kind and do what I ask them to do. They trust me and I trust them.”

Forest Home was a “country church” near Kilgore, Texas, when Duggins arrived as pastor, he said. Then the city built a high-traffic loop that passed in front of the church. When the church built a $5.5 million worship center seven years ago and began televising its Sunday worship, attendance nearly doubled.

“Currently we have people accessing our services through our website in 52 countries,” Fried said, referencing audiences in China, France, Canada, the Netherlands and Romania. “On a weekly basis, we have about 1,200 people who access our service.”

Fried manages the church’s internet presence anchored by its website: fhbckilgore.com, and has added a YouTube channel to expand the church’s reach.

Mentoring the next generation of church leaders is an important component of its total ministry vision, Duggins said.

“We have several that through the years have surrendered to the ministry,” Duggins said. “Part of the glory of God is seeing young people go out and make disciples.” Four of its members attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s L.R. Scarborough College.

The church has expanded its campus to include a $1.5 million youth building, gives a monthly scholarship gift to East Texas Baptist University, and financially supports the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at the two-year Kilgore College.

Ministry that guides “the next generation” starts with more than 50 preschoolers in a Mothers’ Day Out program twice a week. Missions education programming includes Mission Friends, Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors.

Forest Home’s Woman’s Missionary Union, through its Women on Ministry groups, makes lap quilts for homebound residents, conduct cooking and sewing demonstrations, study the Bible and missions at monthly meetings, host birthday parties at nursing homes and prepare lunch for Kilgore College’s BCM.

A nursing home ministry includes weekly facility visits to share the Gospel through songs and testimonies.

Annual activities at Forest Home Baptist include an Easter cantata, a patriotic July 4th service, a Thanksgiving banquet and an expansive drive-through living nativity that drew 4,000 people over three nights at Christmas 2017. The living nativity tells the Bible story from Genesis through Jesus’ resurrection, involving at least 100 cast, crew and hospitality workers.

“Always we want to reach more people,” Duggins said. “We need just the Spirit of God to keep blessing. We need the leadership, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve got enough sense to know that.”

Monk leads the men and youth in various community initiatives including disaster relief, lawn care and house cleaning for the elderly. The church has housed up to 100 Gulf Coast storm evacuees and has helped reconstruction efforts in hurricane-stricken areas.

“Any need comes to the church office,” Duggins said. “They come to me and I make a call and get it done. The deacons are very active…. We’re blessed to have a strong, loving church. They’ll do anything to help anyone.”

Among the church’s many mission trips are recent travels to Houston, New York City and Guatemala. Locally, members participate in the Helping Hands of Kilgore community-based ministry. Duggins, known for a resonant voice, has joined Fried in leading over 100 revivals, most in Texas.

Every Sunday, Duggins encourages his congregation to love the Lord, keep the Lord’s commandments, and bring the Lord’s tithes and offerings to the church.

“Staying true to the Gospel is important to us,” Duggins said. “We’re Bible believers.”

REVIEW: “Samson” is an impressive Bible adaptation

Old Testament movies on the big screen don’t have a solid track record in the modern era. 

The 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings got a lot of things right but also largely omitted, well, God

That same year, the movie Noah took so many liberties that by the end of it you were left wondering: Was that supposed to be a Bible story?

Which brings us to the new film Samson (PG-13), which is out in theaters this weekend. Made by the faith-based studio Pure Flix, it stars Taylor James (Christmas Eve) as Samson, Caitlin Leahy (Black-ish) as Delilah, Golden Globe winner Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins) as Samson’s father Manoah, Billy Zane (Titanic) as King Balek, and Jackson Rathbone (The Twilight Saga) as Rallah (Balek’s son).

It tells the story of an Israelite gifted by God with supernatural strength whose own weakness to sin led to his downfall. But in the end, God still used him.

Samson surprised me. I went in with low expectations and with the assumption that I wouldn’t like it, but walked away impressed. It’s one of the best Old Testament film adaptations of the modern era, combining biblical accuracy with solid acting and impressive action scenes.

That’s no easy accomplishment when considering the story of Samson: He slayed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5), killed a thousand men with a jawbone (Judges 15:16), and burned the countryside by fastening torches to fox tails (Judges 15:3-5). The Pure Flix filmmakers could have skipped those incredible feats, but to their credit, they left them in the script, and the movie is stronger for it. The film does a nice job of bringing Samson’s quirky exploits to life.  

He essentially was the world’s first superhero — a Rambo before there was a Rambo – who credited God for his abilities.

“Our God is not weak!” he shouts at the beginning of the film.

Samson takes some creative liberties but keeps God at the center of the plot. Still, it’s not a perfect film. More about that in a moment.  

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate/excessive. Although it remains largely bloodless – similar to a modern-day Marvel movie. Soldiers pull people from their homes, looking for Samson. We see a soldier stab someone from behind with a sword, killing him. A Philistine beats up several men before Samson shows up and saves the day. A male character (not Samson) threatens a female character with violence. We learn that Samson’s wife was killed. Samson fights (and whips) Philistines several times, killing some of them. Samson witnesses one of his family members killed. Samson kills solders with a jawbone. A member of the royal court stabs another member.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Samson is seen shirtless several times throughout the film. We see him kiss women about four times, but it remains relatively tame. The film contains no nudity or bedroom scenes. The Samson-Delilah angle stays family-friendly.

Coarse Language

None.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Throughout history, Christians have considered Delilah as a cunning woman – the woman you would never want your son to marry. The Zondervan book All the Women of the Bible even calls her “one of the lowest, meanest women of the Bible—the female Judas of the Old Testament.”

Yet in the movie Samson, Delilah is portrayed in a positive light, as someone who truly loved Samson and who regretted her actions.

Life Lessons

The movie gives us lessons on temptation (Samson), consequences (Samson), regret (Samson), trusting God (Samson) and redemption (Samson, God).

Worldview

At first blush, the story of Samson is one of failure. Think about it: He was chosen by God to help deliver Israel but ended his life in chains – all because of his sinful lust.

But dig a little deeper, and Samson’s story is one all of us should embrace. It’s a tale of God’s love and discipline (Hebrews 12:4-11), and of God’s power (Judges 13:5). It’s also a story about how God accomplishes His will through sinners like us. Even after Samson succumbed to sin and abandoned God countless times – and even after he was blinded and chained – God used him to “save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

“His God is with him. He’s invincible!” the Philistines says during one poignant moment.

God uses sinners! For that, we should be grateful.

What I Liked

The action scenes. The way the film credits God for Samson’s strength.  

What I Didn’t Like

The characters are too groomed and wear too much makeup. More dirt and messy hair, please! To the defense of Pure Flix, though, lots of history-based mainstream movies also are too clean and crisp.

Additionally, the film would have benefited from more Middle Eastern-looking actors and actresses.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did God give Samson strength one more time?
  2. What can we learn from Samson’s story about sin? About temptation? About consequences? About second chances?
  3. What did you think about the film’s depiction of Delilah?
  4. What was the purpose of Samson’s long hair? Why was he forbidden to cut it?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Samson is rated PG-13 for violence and battle sequences.

Platt asks trustees to begin search for successor

RICHMOND, Virginia—International Mission Board President David Platt has asked the mission agency’s trustees to begin searching for his successor. Platt announced his decision to IMB field personnel and staff on Monday, Feb. 12, in person and via email to those not in Richmond.

While requesting that the search for the IMB’s next president begin immediately, Platt will continue as president at IMB until a new president is elected. A presidential search committee will be comprised of IMB trustees selected by trustee chairman Dr. Rick Dunbar, a member of First Baptist Church Madison, Mississippi.

Platt told trustees, missionaries and staff that during his nearly four-year tenure at the IMB, he has been “burdened to continue preaching and leading in the local church,” which led to assuming a teaching pastor role at McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia, alongside his leadership of the IMB.

“I am more passionate today than I have ever been about getting the gospel to the nations, and I want to spend what little time I have left on this earth with urgency toward that end,” he said. “This passion is what drove me to become IMB president, and I have sought to honor Him and you in this role over the last four years.”

Founded in prayer

Platt said his decision to begin the process seeking a successor for his current role is founded in concentrated prayer and fasting alongside counsel from various leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention over recent months.

“I have come to the realization that it is not viable long-term for me to lead as president of the IMB while serving as teaching pastor in a church,” Platt said. “This realization has been sobering, for I don’t believe I can choose between preaching and leading in the local church, and mobilizing and shepherding people in global missions. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that if I am going to serve in this way in the local church, then I need to serve in different ways for the cause of global missions.”

“I love this IMB family, and I want to encourage you continually with God’s Word, I want to mobilize limitless missionaries to join you, and I want to work with you overseas in any ways I can help you,” Platt said. “In short, I want to do anything I can to see missions succeed across and beyond IMB and the SBC for the glory of God.”

Senior IMB leaders, including Platt, have stated their commitment to the continuity of IMB’s work during the search. Platt said they will continue to implement the initiatives that leaders in Richmond and around the world have put in place aimed toward fulfilling the agency’s mission as the IMB. During Platt’s tenure, IMB has achieved a stable, healthy financial position; clarified its mission; and recalibrated internal systems and structures around that mission.

Clear vision for future

“We have set the stage for a limitless mission force that is focused on the missionary task with urgent motivation and strong biblical, theological, ecclesiological, and missiological foundations,” Platt said. “We have sought to create collaborative processes in the IMB such that what we do doesn’t revolve around one leader, but around all of us working together. Consequently, our vision for the future remains the same: we will continue partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

Specifically, Platt encouraged Southern Baptists’ 3,500-plus missionaries around the world to remain steadfast in their devotion to the missionary task in the place and the role where God has placed each of them, noting they “know better than anyone else: the nations need the gospel.” He implored the missionaries to not let this news distract them from getting the gospel to those who have never heard it.

Trustees offer support

“I am thankful that David will continue to lead until a new president is elected,” Dunbar said. “He wants to continue IMB’s momentum and progress in reaching this lost world and making us a more effective organization to do that.”

Platt was named IMB president in August 2014, succeeding longtime Oklahoma pastor Tom Elliff, who served as president for three years. Trustees will begin their search for the 13th president of the 173-year-old entity following their next board of trustees meeting.

“We are sad, but also feel confident in the future as we move forward,” Dunbar said. “We trust that David’s gifts of preaching, teaching and writing will continue to bless the work of the IMB for many years to come, and we look forward to a long-term relationship.”

The next IMB board of trustees meeting is Feb. 28-March 1 near Richmond, Va. The meeting will include a Sending Celebration recognizing the appointment of new Southern Baptist missionaries.