“Burdened for those that don”t know Jesus”
Filmmaker Andrew Hyatt understands why Christians are hesitant to trust Bible-based films out of Hollywood. As he acknowledges, the track record hasn’t been so great.
That’s why – ahead of the release of his film Paul: Apostle of Christ (PG-13) this Friday – Hyatt wants Christians to understand that the people behind the movie are Christians, too.
“We’re believers,” he said. “We’re passionate about the biblical story just as much as our audience is. It was just as important to us to get it right – to stay in line with Scripture.”
The story stars James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) as Paul and Jim Caviezel (The Passion of The Christ) as Luke. Irish actor John Lynch plays Aquila, and British actress Joanne Whalley is Priscilla.
The TEXAN recently spoke with Hyatt:
Question: Why did you want to make Paul?
Hyatt: “I just was really inspired to dig into Bible stories and Bible characters and find the community in them. We felt like it was so rare to find biblical movies that take not only truthful and scripturally accurate approach to these characters, but that also revealed the human side to them. I just started writing the script. I started with a massive, A-to-Z story that was way too long and needed to be 10 movies. And we eventually whittled it down to what you’re going to see on March 23.”
Question: When you look at the story of the apostle Paul, there’s a ton of material. How, then, did you decide what story to tell?
Hyatt: “We asked: How do we show the world, how do we show the audience, a real glimpse of who this man was, who this guy was? That’s how we landed on this idea of Paul at the very end of his life. Who was the man who wrote ‘I’ve finished the race’? – who for 30 years has been traveling the world, preaching the gospel, stoned twice, put in prison often, beaten, shipwrecked? Who is this gritty, rough guy? So, we landed on this idea: Let’s tell the story of Paul at the very end and let him share something with the world.”
Question: What year does the story take place? What is the setting?
Hyatt: “Our story takes place right around A.D. 66-67. This is Rome at the time of Emperor Nero. It was believed that Nero burned half of Rome down. He wanted to burn it down and rebuild it in his own image. It didn’t work out for him, and he saw this upstart group and blamed the Christians. That’s where you get this widespread, massive persecution. Our movie jumps right into that moment. Paul has already been tried and convicted, and he’s awaiting the execution in the cell. In the movie, Luke sneaks into Rome just to bring his friend some comfort in his last days. But what comes out of it is this beautiful palette of: What did the Christian community in the first century look like? What did they do to take care of each other? How did they live in such a persecuted place and still love each other? It’s about Paul in his last days speaking some wisdom and reminding them: ‘This is where it all started. It started with Christ. It’s about loving each other.’”
Question: And there’s some drama in the story, with Luke trying to get Paul’s story told in Acts without the Romans catching him.
Hyatt: “We liked this idea: Where did the Bible come from? Where did Scripture come from? It came out of a current need. So when Paul is writing 2 Timothy, it came out of a real love and a real relationship. The same with Acts. Why did Luke sit down and start writing Acts? It came out of a need. The community needed to hear from Paul and hear about his life. We play on this idea that Paul is preparing for his death and Luke is saying: ‘I’m going to write this stuff down because there’s going to be a whole new wave of Christians who are never going to meet you, and this is how they can meet you – through this story.’”
Paul: Apostle of Christ is rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images.
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)
Some churches are known for their music programs, others for their children’s or youth ministries, others for some sort of “niche” that appeals to a large audience. While all such ministries can be good and helpful for both reaching your community and encouraging the church, it’s interesting to look back at what the first church devoted themselves to. In Acts 2, after Peter’s Jewish audience heard the gospel proclaimed, they responded with repentance and faith, were incorporated into the church through baptism, and they devoted themselves to a common faith and a common life.
It’s no accident that the first devotion mentioned was to the apostles’ teaching. We too should be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, but what is their teaching? In Acts 2:22-26, Peter preaches the good news concerning Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation as Lord and King. In Acts 4, Peter and John annoy the Jewish leaders because they were “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v.2). Then the Jewish leaders charged them not “to teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v.18). Then in Acts 5, the apostles’ teaching is referred to as “the words of life” (v.20-21). But again, the Jewish leaders “strictly charged them not to teach in this name” (v.28). Nevertheless, after they were released, Luke says of the apostles: “And every day in the temple and from house to house they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ” (v.42). I trust you get the idea of what the apostles’ teaching entails.
Still, there is a little more going on in Acts 2:42 than first meets the eye. You see, faithful Jews were to be devoted to Moses’ teaching. By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the early church understood that they were under a new authority—King Jesus, the new and better prophet than Moses. The apostles’ teaching is nothing other than all of Scripture, now interpreted through the lens of Jesus. This is, after all, how Jesus himself viewed all of Scripture (Luke 24:44-49). All Scripture is inspired by God and points to Jesus.
For this reason, we should want what we do together as a church to be Word-saturated (all of Scripture) and gospel-centered (interpreted through the lens of Jesus). In light of this gospel commitment, here are four areas in which we should encourage our church to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
If our churches are to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, then our members need to be personally devoted to the apostles’ teaching. At the very least, we need to encourage regular Bible reading. To be sure, there is no shortage of daily Bible reading plans, and many of our folks get confused by all the offerings. Personally, I’ve found that a simple Bible reading plan is best. When it comes to personal devotions, I encourage our folks to be faithful in three ways: plan, time, and place. If you set a regular time and find a regular place for your personal devotions, it will likely develop into a fruitful practice. And if you commit to a simple, doable plan, you will more likely maintain it. Most Bible reading plans fail due to complexity and/or overzealous daily goals. It’s more important that our people be in God’s Word regularly than that they finish the Bible in a set time. And if our folks want accountability, encourage them to read the Bible with one or two or three others.
Your church may or may not have Sunday School. At High Pointe, we call it Life Classes, and we offer topic-specific classes. Still, we want to make sure we root these classes in Scripture and point our people to Christ. Imagine an entire church studying the Bible together from the youngest to oldest. They may be working through books of the Bible or addressing specific topics. Regardless, they are learning how to understand and apply God’s Word to their daily lives. When we teach all of God’s Word through the lens of Jesus, instead of telling our people what the Bible requires of them and leaving them to their own strength to figure out how to obey, we empower them to obey on the basis of what Jesus has already done for them. Through Christ, we are empowered to obey because we have new hearts and we have the Holy Spirit living in us.
Perhaps your church has small groups that meet throughout the week. These groups should also be Word-saturated and gospel-centered. Whether each group is studying something different or discussing Sunday’s sermon, they should be speaking the truth of God’s gospel Word to one another, building one another up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). At High Pointe, we discuss Sunday’s sermon because we want the one message that every member hears on Sunday morning to reverberate throughout our church during the week. We prepare discussion questions to guide the group time. Our aim is for all our groups to speak the truth in love to one another when they meet in homes throughout the Austin metro area.
It is a great joy when God’s people gather to declare our joint allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is a weekly reminder that we are God’s people on mission. It is also a time when we are reminded of the graciousness of a God who has communicated to his people by his Word. Therefore, when we gather for corporate worship, it too is a time that is to be saturated by God’s Word now read through the lens of Jesus Christ. When we gather together, we gather to SING the gospel Word, PRAY the gospel Word, READ the gospel Word, HEAR the gospel Word preached, and even SEE the gospel Word in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
As we seek to shepherd our churches faithfully, may we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, and may we encourage our churches to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is the foundation of Jesus’ church (Ephesians 2:20). And there is no other foundation upon which we may build his church (1 Corinthians 3:10–17).
SBTC President Juan Sanchez issued a challenge in the last TEXAN. He sent out a video with the same message. He wants every church to be “All In” through the Cooperative Program during our celebration year of 2018. The SBTC will be 20 years old this November. The Cooperative Program makes it possible to reach Texas and touch the world together. Church plants, evangelism strategies, revitalization, over 100 local church ministries and much more are accomplished through the CP.
Although Hurricane Harvey and a downturn in the oil economy have impacted some churches, God has sustained the ministry efforts through 2017. There are ways for more churches to be involved to help with the work in Texas and beyond. Let me suggest five ways for Southern Baptists to be “All In.”
1. Pastors, please speak about the Cooperative Program to your congregations.
By explaining what it is and how it accomplishes Great Commission ministry, you will motivate your people to become more generous. Sunday morning has become the one major gathering of churches in most Southern Baptist contexts. People know what the pastor values. If he endorses the Cooperative Program on Sunday morning there will be greater participation by church members.
2. Laypersons need better education about the Cooperative Program.
This includes an understanding of how CP works and to know what it does. Lay involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention has reached an all-time low. If laypersons fully grasp what the CP does in reaching the nations, more will participate. Since the CP is not a direct appeal to wealthy donors, there is no threat to the local church’s ministry. It seems reasonable that church members will give more through the church if they are invested beyond their community. Small groups, one-on-one instruction or involvement in convention life at a state or national level would expose church members to the greatest missions funding tool ever devised.
3. Debt is one of the greatest hindrances to gospel advance.
Building costs are exorbitant. Sometimes a church funds its building program by reducing missions giving. The Cooperative Program seems impersonal, making it the easiest target for reductions. The Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation can help with loans and provide stewardship resources to assist a church in making good decisions without harming mission work through the CP. The Cooperative Program is people. There are over 3,000 international missionaries, 15,000 seminary students and 100-plus SBTC church planters depending on the CP. To each one of them, the CP is personal.
4. Unashamed identification of churches as Southern Baptist is essential.
Even without “Baptist” in the name of the church, there needs to be an honest expression of theological affinity to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Southern Baptist churches should participate in the Cooperative Program. The SBC is like a bicycle. It has two wheels, doctrinal agreement and shared funding. A bicycle has to keep moving or it will tip over. Both wheels have to turn. The SBC will cease to exist if either element disappears. Before the Conservative Resurgence the liberalmoderate faction wanted to make the SBC solely turn on one wheel, the Cooperative Program. Doctrinal compatibility took a back seat if present at all. Now, with biblical inerrantists in SBC leadership, doctrinal affirmation is expected but we hear less emphasis on the Cooperative Program as a shared giving plan to assist each church in carrying out the Great Commission. Unless there is a return to cooperative giving, the SBC will be nothing more than the Baptist Bible Fellowship.
5. Continue to give CP while you go!
Before the creation of the Cooperative Program, churches were constantly bombarded by ministries requesting funds. This approach is known as the “societal” method. Larger churches and wealthy members were called upon to undergird the work of the convention. We have seen more direct mission efforts by churches in the last 25 years than in all the years preceding. There are wonderful benefits to the mission trips with hands-on involvement. My doctoral project and paper were about establishing a mission trip ministry in the local church. It is not either/or but both/and. Yet some churches have chosen to give to direct mission projects by omitting or reducing the Cooperative Program. There are not enough large churches or wealthy individuals to sustain the Southern Baptist system of cooperative giving. Local churches give through the CP to enable ministries in North America and around the world. Without local churches investing in Great Commission ministries through the Cooperative Program, the greatest mission and ministry force the evangelical world has ever known will unravel.
Generosity is not about keeping the Southern Baptist Convention alive. It is about reaching 18 million lost people in Texas. It is about planting churches across North America. It is about training the next generation of leaders. It is about sending missionaries with the gospel to the hardest-to-reach places on the planet. April 8 is Cooperative Program Sunday. If this date does not work for you, plan to observe CP Sunday on another date. Join with other SBTC churches and be “All In” with the Cooperative Program.
Bart Millard is a young boy with big dreams. Perhaps this 1980s kid will be a space pilot. Or a Jedi knight. Or a sports star.
Sadly, though, Bart’s father—always angry and often abusive—doesn’t share his son’s joy for life.
“Dreams don’t pay the bills,” the dad tells him. “Nothing good comes from it.”
To underscore the point, Bart’s father burns his son’s space helmet – the homemade one he made out of cardboard – in an outdoor barrel.
Such hate-filled antics are not uncommon. During the day, Bart endures his father’s verbal and physical abuse. At night, Bart lies in his bed and listens to music, hoping that his unstable father—and his belt—simply stay away.
Bart is living a nightmare, and it doesn’t improve during his high school years, either. When Bart’s father breaks a kitchen plate over his teenage son’s head, Bart realizes he’s had enough. He leaves home with dreams of being a singer – and with the hope that he’ll never see his father again.
The film I Can Only Imagine (PG) opens this weekend, detailing how MercyMe’s Bart Millard became inspired to write the 2001 song In Can Only Imagine, which remains one of the most popular tunes in the history of contemporary Christian music.
It stars newcomer J. Michael Finley as Millard, Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (The Rookie, Soul Surfer) as Millard’s father, Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein) as his grandmother, and country music artist Trace Adkins as Millard’s manager.
The movie follows the unlikely rise of MercyMe but also gives us an Apostle Paul-like conversation story in the process. As Millard’s character says at the beginning of the film about his father, “If Christ can change that dude, he can change anyone.” In the final years of his life, Millard’s dad – the same “monster” who whipped Bart so bad that he once had to sleep on his stomach – found the Lord.
I Can Only Imagine is the fourth film from directors Jon and Andrew Erwin, who also made Woodlawn, Mom’s Night Out and October Baby. It’s also their their best movie yet. The screenplay is gripping, the soundtrack is perfect, and the performances by Quaid and Finley had me squirming, laughing and crying. It’s one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen – so much so that I gave it five out of five stars.
It’s family-friendly, although it might not be appropriate for small children. (More on that below).
Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!
Minimal/moderate. We see a young and scared Bart lying in bed, listening to his father scream at his mom. As a young boy, Bart takes a swing at his father; his father grabs him, pushes him to the floor and considers punching him—but doesn’t. Later, when Bart is a teenager, the father breaks a plate over his head. After Bart leaves home and returns, we hear him describe one of his beatings to his father. The conversations between Bart and his father are uncomfortable to watch, but are necessary for the story.
None. A young girl kisses a young Bart on the cheek.
Other Positive Elements
Tons of them, but most occur in the film’s final 30 minutes. Let’s keep this spoiler-free. You won’t be disappointed.
Other Stuff You Might Want To Know
Bart’s mom leaves the family to escape the father’s abuse. We see someone pass out at a restaurant.
I Can Only Imagine gives us lessons on regret, forgiveness, redemption, hope and the power of the gospel.
Viewed from a worldly perspective, it’s easy to scoff at the central message of I Can Only Imagine and proclaim: “Any man who beats his family doesn’t deserve forgiveness.” And that’s true. Bart’s dad didn’t deserve forgiveness. But neither did Paul after he jailed Christians and watched them murdered. Or Peter after He denied Christ. Or David after he committed adultery and had a man killed. None of us deserve forgiveness. None of us are righteous before a Holy God (Romans 3:10-12).
But the gospel message is powerful because of is power. It’s not limited to the “little” sins. It covers the “big” ones, too.
The Good News is for the whole world – even for the worst among of us. Even for an abusive father who finds redemption in his final moments of life.
What I Liked
Bart’s quirky actions. The movie’s redemptive theme. I could watch the final 30 minutes over and over again. Also, the period music from the 1980s, along with the rest of the soundtrack, complement the film well. Finally, Quaid, Finley and Adkins are marvelous in their roles.
What I Didn’t Like
- If you were God, which sins would you refuse to forgive? Why?
- What can we learn about the gospel by studying the life of Bart’s father?
- Why do you think the song I Can Only Imagine was (and is) so popular?
- Could you have forgiven Bart’s father? Why did he come around to forgive his dad? How does sickness and death impact our ability to forgive and heal?
I Can Only Imagine is rated PG for thematic elements including some violence.
Entertainment rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Meg is a timid, insecure girl living in a world that doesn’t embrace such flaws. At school, she gets ridiculed. At home, she lays awake at night and wonders why she’s not liked.
Even the principal thinks she’s a bit awkward.
“You shut everybody out, and then wonder why they don’t like you,” he tells her.
But Meg knows where her life went wrong. It began four years earlier when her father – a brilliant-but-misunderstood NASA scientist – went missing. Most assume he’s dead, but Meg is holding out hope he’s alive … somewhere. If he could be found, she tells the principal, “the world would make sense again.”
Then one day, otherworldly beings start visiting her home. One is called Mrs. Whatsit, another Mrs. Who and still another Mrs. Which. They tell Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, that their father – “Mr. Murry” — may be alive but lost in another part of the universe. If Meg, Charles and their friend Calvin will join the search, they just might find him!
Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, approximately 56 years after Madeleine L’Engle’s novel by the same name was released. It stars Storm Reid (12 Years A Slave) as Meg, Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) as Mrs. Which, Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) as Mrs. Whatsit, and Mindy Kaling (Inside Out) as Mrs. Who.
The book and film get their name from the father’s belief that time and space can be “folded” or “wrinkled,” allowing for space travel through billions of light years in only a few seconds. This is done by something called a “tesseract,” which involves harnessing the power of the mind.
As Meg, Charles and Calvin crisscross the universe and search for Mr. Murry, they soon discover they also must defeat the evil “It” – a dark energy force that can spoil everything that is good.
A Wrinkle In Time is family-friendly in the common use of the phrase, but is it any good? I’m sorry to say it’s not. It’s heavy on eye candy and short on emotion and a plot. The first third of the movie is passable, but then we’re placed on a galaxy ride that leaves too many questions unanswered: Why is the father lost? Why can’t he get back by himself? Why is it up to the kids to do all of that?
Then there’s the worldview. The book had its problems, but was full of Christian references and themes. They were stripped from the film. In their place, we are left with a mixture of science fiction, Eastern mysticism and pantheistic pablum.
Warning: minor spoilers!
Minimal. One character hits another character in the face with a basketball. In a scene that might trouble small children, Meg and Calvin are chased through the woods by an evil-looking dark force (it looks like a sand storm); it turns into a monstrous tornado.
Minimal. Meg’s mom and dad hug. Calvin and Meg grow to like one another romantically, but they never kiss. (They hug.) A beach scene shows a couple of women in bikinis. A man and woman kiss at the end.
Other Positive Elements
We see Meg’s father and mother express unconditional love for their children. Adoption is shown in a positive light (Charles is adopted). Meg refuses to leave her brother when he is in danger. Calvin stands up for Meg and tells her he’s not embarrassed to be seen with her. Meg gains courage to be herself and refuses to change her ways just to fit in with her snobby friends.
Other Stuff You Might Want To Know
Bullying is a major theme; on the anniversary of the disappearance of Meg’s father, her classmates post a note on her locker that reads: “Happy anniversary. … If only you’d disappear, too.” We hear a reference to someone being “billions of years” old.
A Wrinkle In Time gives us lessons on courage (Meg, others), standing up for what is right (Calvin, Meg), dealing with grief (Meg), the distinctiveness of each person (something Mrs. Which says), workaholism (Meg’s father) and being yourself (Meg).
A Wrinkle In Time never mentions God or Jesus – a disappointment for those who were hoping for Christian themes. Buddha gets a nod. The most we hear are things like “we can’t take any credit for our talents” and the question: “What if we were here for a reason?”
The rest of it is a hodgepodge of Eastern mysticism and pantheism. We’re told that the universe is a mixture of light and dark. Humans are light and the “It” is the darkness that spoils everything. We are to “become one with the universe,” Mrs. Which says.
Scripture teaches something very different: Jesus created the universe, and he is the light. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” (John 3:19). Yes, we are to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8), but that only occurs when we are reflecting Christ in our deeds and thoughts. For children, it’s helpful to consider the moon in such discussions. Is the moon bright? Sometimes, yes. But why? Because it’s reflecting the sun. In a similar way, we are to reflect the true light.
- What does the Bible say about darkness and light? Are people dark or light?
- Are we to be “one with the universe”?
- How does grief change people? What is the secret to overcoming grief?
- What does A Wrinkle In Time teach us about being yourself? When is that appropriate and not appropriate?
Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
GALVESTON David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention who recently announced his transition out of the organization he has led for the past four years, assured a group of SBC state newspaper editors Feb. 14 that the IMB is conducting business as usual.
“[T]he IMB is not David Platt,” he said, but instead a “coalition of over 47,000 churches working together for thousands of anonymous missionaries whose names and [locations] cannot even be mentioned in public because in spreading the gospel, they bring great risk to themselves and their families. They are the IMB.”
IMB personnel continue to work hard, Platt said, summarizing the organization’s “pretty full” week following his announcement—including training pastors in South Asia, spreading the gospel through media in the Middle East, seeing six converts from an unreached people group in Eastern Europe, and worshiping with 85 new believers in a Asian country where evangelism and baptism are illegal.
“Disciples are being made. Pastors and missionaries are being trained all over the world. And the gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed,” Platt said. “We’re still doing what we’ve been doing for 173 years.”
Describing a recent trip to Brazil, Platt recounted visiting Sao Paolo’s notorious Cracolândia district southwest of the city’s Luz station, calling the few city blocks an “urban jungle” where the government sequesters crack addicts.
“Picture a city square filled with people of all ages … all strung out on crack,” Platt said, labeling the heavily-policed scene among the “most hopeless” he had ever witnessed.
At the edge of Cracolândia sits Cristolândia, a food kitchen established by IMB partners and also visited by Platt, who served breakfast and presented the gospel to addicts gathered for a meal. A few responded to Platt’s invitation to a transformed life.
“They began a process that day,” Platt said, explaining Cristolândia’s rehab program. Soon after, Platt saw the results of that program while attending a conference of 1,000 Brazilian pastors. A few dozen former crack addicts, sporting yellow tee-shirts emblazoned with “Jesus Transforma” in Portuguese, led the worship, praising Jesus with strong, sober voices.
The work in Sao Paolo continues what Texans William and Anne Bagby, the first Foreign Mission Board missionaries to Brazil, began in 1881, Platt said, evoking the IMB’s history.
“Hold fast. Stay fast,” Platt said he encourages contemporary missionaries to remember, calling the IMB’s potential “limitless,” especially when more than North Americans are involved and “people from the nations [go] to the nations.”
Platt affirmed his commitment to leading the IMB until a new president is found.
“I don’t want to put pause on what we are doing. Nobody in the IMB wants to put pause on what we are doing. The last thing the unreached people of the world need from the IMB is a pause.”
David Platt affirming his commitment to leading the IMB until a new president is chosen
“I don’t want to put pause on what we are doing. Nobody in the IMB wants to put pause on what we are doing,” he added. “The last thing the unreached people of the world need from the IMB is a pause.”
The IMB is “financially healthy, biblically strong and practically ready to send and support,” Platt said, admitting being “overwhelmed” by both the “power of the gospel” to transform lives and by “God’s mercy” in his own life, which enabled him to hear the good news of Jesus when so many have never had the opportunity.
“I realized the only difference between these people and me is the mercy of God,” he said of the addicts mired in Cracolândia.
When asked about the Cooperative Program, Platt said his appreciation for the CP and the entire SBC “ecosystem” had increased throughout his tenure at the IMB, even in recent days.
As for the IMB’s allocation of resources, Platt was adamant that the IMB would not “shrink” from pursuing even those people groups resistant to the gospel.
Regarding the relationship between local church evangelism and the sending of missionaries, Platt admitted a correlation. “We often say there’s no transformation by aviation. We … want to send Southern Baptist missionaries to share the gospel around the world who are sharing the gospel right now where they live.” He called upon pastors to be “intentional” about encouraging both missions and candidates.
He also recommended downloading the IMB prayer app, available for both Android and iPhone users. (Visit imb.org/imb-apps.)
In his letter to IMB trustees announcing his intentions, Platt confirmed he remained “passionate” about reaching the lost.
As teaching pastor of Virginia’s McLean Bible Church, he will lead a congregation of 100 nationalities strategically located near Washington, D.C., he told editors, confirming that IMB trustees had expressed a desire for his continued involvement in the “IMB family.”
When asked about his IMB successor’s challenges, Platt cautioned against complacency and stagnation, while urging that mission work will grow increasingly complex in an “ever-changing world.”
LAS COLINAS—With 18 million unreached, Texas is no longer the Bible belt, Shane Pruitt, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention director of evangelism, told about 2,000 assembled at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas for the Monday evening session of the 2018 Empower evangelism conference, held Feb. 26-27.
The conference broke records with a registration total of over 2,827, Pruitt confirmed, praising the multi-generational make-up of attendees.
Empower featured something for everyone.
Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg entertained guests at Monday’s Classics Luncheon, followed by praise and worship by the Erwins and sermons from Junior Hill, Herb Reavis, and Tom Elliff.
Monday’s events included a men’s and women’s dinner, a Next Gen leadership reception, a late-night session with Bob Goff, while Tuesday featured the Cooperative Program luncheon and the African American fellowship dinner.
Apodarlos, the SBTC Hispanic ministries event at First Baptist Euless held prior to Empower, Feb. 24-25, attracted 500 and featured both Christian performer Julissa and evangelist Luiz Diaz Pabon, recording 47 professions of faith, said Bruno Molina, SBTC language evangelism associate.
“It was a very inspirational time,” said Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of Hispanic ministries.
Monday breakout sessions were led by Kie Bowman, Robby Gallaty, Leah Holder, Shane Russell, Juan Sanchez, Grant Skeldon, David Stockwell, Dennis Watson, Scott Kindig and Barrett and Jenifer Johnson.
Monday evening featured recording artists Shane and Shane, who led music in the main sessions Tuesday morning, afternoon and evening.
In an unexpected appearance Monday night, Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy expressed thanks to all who had helped his church in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings which claimed 27 lives. Pomeroy explained the ongoing evangelistic impact of the church memorial and called on pastors Paul Buford of River Oaks Baptist and Mark Collins of FBC Yorktown to pray.
Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and founder of Replicate Ministries, led off the evening program, speaking on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, using a kayak fishing analogy to pose the question: “As leaders of the church…could it be possible that we have been trying to row the Christian life with one oar, evangelism, and we have neglected the other oar, discipleship?”
In Matthew 28 Jesus gave us a “strategy to change the world,” Gallaty said, challenging pastors to pray, read Scripture and share the gospel: “Jesus emulated discipleship; go and do the same.”
Lamenting spiritual infancy even among long-time Christians, Gallaty urged, “Baptism is not the finish line. It’s the starting line . . . where the real work begins.”
Following Gallaty came Bob Goff—New York Times best-selling author, lawyer, honorary Consul of the Republic of Uganda and founder of the international relief organization Love Does—who encouraged the audience to “get real” with Jesus, evoking frequent outbursts of laughter while telling stories of relating to “messy” people.
“I spent my whole life avoiding the people Jesus spent his whole life engaging. You know why? I didn’t want to get any on me. The simple message of the gospel of Christ: ‘Get it on you,’” Goff urged.
With stories of building schools in Uganda, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan to dealing with witchcraft practitioners and terrorists, Goff stressed that “The only thing that matters is faith expressed in love.”
“Following Jesus means a life of constant interruptions,” he also urged, telling the audience to answer their cell phones and be available.
“Hungry people, thirsty people, creepy people, sick people, naked people, people in jail–find some people you’ve been avoiding and see what will happen,” Goff said, adding, “I want to fail trying. I don’t want to fail watching.”
J.D. Greear of The Summit church in Durham, North Carolina, followed Goff, assuring the Texas audience that Davy Crockett was his distant uncle, according to a family Bible.
Greear described his church’s missional strategy of planting 1,000 churches by 2050, explaining what he humorously called the “Mormonization strategy of The Summit church,” whereby college graduates are encouraged to pursue careers in regions where they could also be involved in strategic church plants.
Joking about the “warm glow of God’s word on faces,” Greear asked the audience to call up Acts 4 on their smartphones, reminding all that evangelism is “quite simply reaching people for Christ.”
He cautioned against getting distracted by certain doctrinal issues and political agendas that “bog down” evangelism, citing seven-year forecasts predicting the closing of 55,000 churches and an expected attendance drop from 17 to 14 percent, before exploring Acts 4.
Invoking Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, Greear underscored the urgency of the gospel, reminding all of that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Cautioning against arrogance, he affirmed the authority of Scripture and Jesus.
Stressing the importance of having a platform, Greear explained The Summit’s commitment to community action and emphasized the intimacy of a relationship to Christ.
Finally, Greear discussed dependence upon the Holy Spirit, adding that Old Testament revival is “always described as Israel remembering what God had done.”
Tuesday Empower events included morning sessions with Ryan Fontenot and Jim Richards, afternoon sessions featuring Gavan Spinney and DZ Cofield, and an evening program with Robert Smith, Jon Akin and OS Hawkins.
Smith, Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, roused the crowd with a message from Acts 8, the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
Smith called for a “theology of integration” rather than “avoidance,” illustrated by the example of Philip and the eunuch who first sat down “together in the chariot” before going “down into the waters” of baptism.
“Reconciliation will not take place in the baptismal pool until we sit together in the church,” Smth said, later describing the “learning, burning, yearning” experience of the Gaza, Emmaus and Damascus roads, and urging all to “preach Jesus.”
Jon Akin, director of young adult engagement for the North American Mission Board, spoke next on Acts 16, emphasizing Jesus as the “hero of the book of Acts” and focusing on what “Jesus continues to do through his church on the earth” today.
Highlighting the salvations of Lydia, the demon-possessed girl and the Philippian jailer, Akin emphasized the “simple teaching of the word of God” and cautioned against categorizing people: “There is no one Jesus cannot save.”
Emphasizing the “big tent in the SBC,” Akin urged audience members to reach their relational networks with the gospel: “Our role is to share. God’s role is to save.”
O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone, concluded the evening with a message from 1 Kings 17, stressing that, in evangelism, “being comes before doing” while describing Elijah’s experience “absenting” himself at the brook Cherith where he experienced God’s provision.
“The brook Cherith always leads to the Carmel experience,” Hawkins said, describing Joseph, Moses, Joshua and even Jesus spending years waiting for God’s “recognized plan” and emphasizing the importance of obedience and trust.
Monday evening also featured the presentation of the Roy Fish evangelism award to evangelist Mike Courtney and the W.A. Criswell lifetime achievement award to pastor Tommy Oglesby.
Empower will return to the Irving Convention Center Feb. 25-26 next year. For more information, visit sbtexas.com/evangelism.
LAS COLINAS—Joshua Crutchfield, vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, affirmed the SBTC’s commitment to the Cooperative Program (CP) of the Southern Baptist Convention to 490 guests filling the grand ballroom of the Irving Convention Center for the CP luncheon held Feb. 27 in conjunction with the 2018 Empower evangelism conference.
“For the past 10 years, the SBTC has sent 55 percent of all undesignated CP gifts to the SBC, with 45 percent retained for missional ministry in Texas,” Crutchfield said.
As the SBTC celebrates its 20th year, Crutchfield encouraged Texas congregations to be “all in,” supporting the Cooperative Program, challenging churches to hold a special offering April 8, CP Sunday.
Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies, introduced a video on the CP’s “nuts and bolts,” featuring local, national and international ministries made possible through CP giving. Priest described videos, bulletin inserts, even speakers available to promote the Cooperative Program, accessible at http://whatiscp.com/. He also highlighted SBTC stewardship resources, including the SBTC Foundation.
Michael Criner, pastor of First Baptist Bellville, discussed the “big picture” of CP giving as a means of fulfilling the Great Commission, tracing the CP from its beginnings in 1925. On average for every church, CP giving in 1925 was 11 percent; today it is between 5 and 6 percent, Criner said.
“Do not give to the Cooperative Program. Give through the Cooperative Program,” Criner urged, adding, “Get in the game.”
Steve Cochran of Round Rock’s Crosswalk Church detailed the history of his church plant which grew to 250 in five years.
“I am here to give glory to God and gratitude to you for the SBTC CP dollars [making] it possible for us to do what we’ve done,” Cochran said.
“CP has been our lifeblood. I am not talking about all that we have received. I am talking about God’s blessing as we have participated to give through the Cooperative Program,” he said, confirming that Crosswalk has donated 8 percent of its receipts to the CP annually from the start.
“When the Bible says give, we are going to give,” Cochran said, relating examples of extraordinary blessings Crosswalk has received.
Mike Dean of Fort Worth’s Travis Avenue Baptist Church, called his church’s CP giving a “serious and sacrificial” practice. Dean cited the example of a predecessor, C.E. Matthews, who halted CP giving only to come down with a life-threatening tooth infection shortly after. Matthews, later director of the Home Mission Board, believed his illness occurred because he had counseled the church to cut missions giving. He called for a reversal of that decision.
“Since then, I have been very, very leery of touching the Cooperative Program,” Dean said as the crowd laughed.
CP giving reflects “our purpose to be a balanced Great Commission church,” said Dean, highlighting CP-supported entities and programs: seminaries, church revitalizations, disaster relief and missions efforts.
Nineteenth century missionary William Carey told his friend Andrew Fuller, “I will go down into the pit if you will hold the ropes,” Dean said, adding, “That’s what we get to do as partners in the Cooperative Program.”
“You can’t afford not to give,” Crutchfield reminded guests in closing, promoting April 8 as CP Sunday.
The prison official shouts, “Give me their names!” But Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, tied up in a dark-and-dingy Romanian prison torture chamber, remains silent.
His face is bloodied, and his feet scarred from relentless beatings. The guards had offered him a deal: If he hands over the names of Christians to the Communist government, he would get a reduced sentenced – perhaps even be freed. He refuses.
“It’s only a matter of time,” the prison official tells him. “… Be reasonable. Your life belongs to me now.”
A weak Wurmbrand, struggling for breaths, responds, “My life is not my own. I belong to Christ.”
The gut-wrenching and inspirational story of Wurmbrand is well-known to Christians worldwide thanks to a series of books he wrote, but on Monday night (March 5) moviegoers will have a chance to watch his story unfold on the big screen when Tortured for Christ – based on the 1967 best-selling book by the same name — debuts. It was produced by The Voice of the Martyrs and will be in theaters only one night.
Wurmbrand was a Romanian Christian pastor in 1944 when Russian troops entered his country. Atheism became the official state religion, and those who proclaimed Christ were arrested and tortured.
Neither Wurmbrand nor his wife and children remained silent. His kids even made a game out of saying “God bless you” to the Russian soldiers. The children got away with such antics, but Wurmbrand and his wife did not. He spent 14 years in Romanian prisons and was frequently tortured. His wife, Sabina, was sentenced to hard labor.
The movie was filmed in Romania with Romanian actors, and some of the scenes even were filmed in a prison where he stayed.
Tortured for Christ shows Wurmbrand taking a stand for Christ from the get-go. When other church leaders succumbed to Communist doctrine at a “Congress of Cults” – a large public gathering of church and government leaders – Wurmbrand didn’t back down. His wife encouraged him.
“If I speak now, you’ll have no husband,” he whispers to his wife in the film.
She retorts, “I don’t need a coward for a husband.”
Wurmbrand took the podium that day and preached the gospel. Incredibly, he avoided immediate arrest.
Perhaps even more incredibly, Russian soldiers were open to the good news – and many became Christians due to his bold witness. To avoid confiscation of Bibles, Wurmbrand and his fellow believers had special Bibles printed with Karl Marx on the cover. “Marx on the cover, Jesus in the pages,” he says in the film. He even baptized one Russian soldier in his bathtub.
He was preaching on borrowed time, though, and he eventually was arrested and put in prison. The Russians assumed he would cut a deal and give them the names of all the Christians, but he refused.
Thus began 14 years of torture. He was beaten. He was burned. He spent three years in solitary confinement. In one particularly horrifying incident, he was forced to stand for hours and days in a box surrounded by sharp spikes. And through it all, he refused to recant his faith.
The film isn’t easy to watch, even if it inspires you. How many of us would be willing to face a gruesome death for Christ? How many of us would continue praying in a cell, knowing that such an action would result in physical punishment? And how many of us would be filled with so much joy in prison that we would sing hymns and make music with our prison chains – as he did?
Tortured for Christ is part documentary, part film. An actor voicing Wurmbrand’s words narrates it. It is unrated, although it likely would have received a PG-13 based solely on the violent images. It’s not gory, though. Most of the torture is implied. The film contains no coarse language or sexuality.
“We loved the Russians so much that we risked everything to bring them the gospel,” Wurmbrand says in the film.
Wurmbrand’s story is one that all Christians should know.
Tortured for Christ is unrated. It is not appropriate for young children. Find a listing of theaters at torturedforchrist.com
Michael Foust is a movie critic, a husband, and the father of four small children.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.