Month: June 2018

REVIEW: America could learn a lot from “Won”t You Be My Neighbor?

If you believe what the experts say about success in television, then Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood never should have been a hit.

It had a low production value, a simple set, and an unlikely star.

But from 1968 through 1991, millions of American children grew up watching the soft-spoken and thoughtful Fred Rogers teaching them everything under the sun — from how to make friends, to how mail gets delivered.

His underlying message: You are unique and loved.

“It worked because he was saying really, really important [things],” the show’s producer, Margy Whitmer, said.

The documentary film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (PG-13) is expanding nationally in theaters the next two weekends, giving Americans a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most unusual people the country has produced.

Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was set to be a Presbyterian pastor until he had a change of heart, believing he could use his ministry skills and his knowledge about child development to help America’s children. He rarely discussed his faith on the program but brought many of the teachings of Scripture into nearly every segment, especially its commands on love and forgiveness.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? isn’t 100 percent kid-friendly, although adults (like me) who watched it growing up will find every scene fascinating. It follows his trajectory, from a humble man of the 1960s who wanted to redeem television, to a man who retired in 1991, having seen his likeness parodied on Saturday Night Live.

He believed “love is at the root of everything” in a child’s life. The more love a child receives, the more likely he or she would be to have a successful adulthood.

“Fred’s theology was love your neighbor as yourself,” said his friend, the Rev. Fred Wirth, in the documentary.   

The film includes interviews with Wirth, family members (Rogers’ wife and sons Jim and John), crew members, and cast members, too: the actress who played Mrs. McFeely (Betty Seamans), the actor who played Handyman Negri (Joe Negri), and the actor who played Officer Clemmons (François Clemmons).

Rogers was ridiculed by society’s cynics, but my guess is that Jesus would want us to learn a few things from Mister Rogers.

He stood up for civil rights. When he learned that black families weren’t being allowed to swim in pools with white families, he added a subtle-yet-brilliant segment to his show. It showed Rogers washing his feet in a kiddie pool on a hot summer day and inviting Officer Clemmons – an African American – to do the same. Clemmons did.

He taught children they were special and loved. Rogers famously invited Jeff Erlanger – a quadriplegic child in a wheelchair – on the show to teach kids about disabilities. They sang a duet, It’s You I Like.

He taught kids about grief. Rogers had special programs following RFK’s assassination, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and 9/11. He was so discouraged after the terrorists attacks of 2001 that he initially didn’t know what to say – and didn’t know if it would make a difference – but after a pep talk from his producer told the audience that we all are called to be “repairers of creation.”

Rogers, though, wasn’t always right, and eventually rejected the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.

The documentary details how Rogers told a gay cast member to stop visiting a gay bar. If the cast member went back to the bar, he would be off the show. Rogers, though, eventually “came around” on the issue, his wife says – although the film doesn’t quote him on the subject.

Still, we can learn a lot from Mister Rogers – about civility, about friendship, about forgiveness, and about love, too. His theology wasn’t perfect, but millions of children got a small glimpse of Jesus’ teachings, even if the Bible wasn’t quoted. That’s light years ahead of what’s on television these days.

Content Warnings:

Violence/Disturbing – Minimal. We hear the Vietnam War discussed, and we see soldiers and war planes. We see the aftermath of RFK’s assassination and hear discussion about it. In TV clips, chemicals are poured into a swimming pool to force black citizens out of it. We see two people in a boxing ring.  

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity – Minimal. A cast member discusses divorcing his wife and coming out as gay. A friend discusses whether Rogers himself was gay (He wasn’t.) We see a picture of a male cast member’s bottom when, as a joke, he “mooned” the camera. 

Language – Mimimal: a– (3), misuse of “God” (2), f-gs (1), “negroes” (1), ba—ard (1), d-ck (1), b—ch (1). If you’re curious, we never hear Rogers curse.

For a list of theaters where it’s playing, visit focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor.

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

SBTC DR teams meet physical and spiritual needs in response to Rio Grande Valley June floods

McALLEN—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (SBTC DR) units deployed to the Rio Grande Valley shortly after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in the region following widespread flooding after two days of torrential rainfall from a tropical storm system.

The governor’s June 22 pronouncement specified Aransas, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, San Patricio and Willacy counties. Prior to the announcement, mayors of McAllen, Mission, Weslaco and Edinburg—the largest cities in Hidalgo County—declared states of emergency for their cities, the Valley Morning Star reported.

It was not a typical flood event from an overflowing river or burst dam.

“It came from the sky. [The water] just dumped on them,” George Yarger, SBTC DR incident commander, told the TEXAN. Yarger, who arrived in McAllen on June 25, said he had observed hundreds of flooded homes, many clustered in neighborhoods or low lying “pockets” where the water could not drain. Thousands of homes may be affected, he added.

By June 27, volunteers in chaplaincy, assessment, clean-up and recovery, feeding, administration, and incident management were fully engaged in efforts to assist victims throughout the affected Rio Grande Valley area.

Assessors started work June 26, Daniel White, SBTC DR task force member, reported. By the end of the next day, some 40 work orders had been received and clean-up and mud-out operations begun.

A clean-out crew came from Broadview Baptist Church of Abilene, under the leadership of Brian Batchelder, consisted of individuals recruited from various locations and largely unacquainted with one another before the deployment, Yarger said.

More than 80 spiritual contacts involving prayer, gospel presentations, and/or the distribution of Bibles and tracts occurred in the early stages of the deployment, with more expected, White and Yarger reported.

Chaplains and assessors are sometimes called to share out of their own heart-wrenching experiences, as DR volunteers Wayne Barber and Julian Moreno discovered after approaching Tom, a flood victim in his sixties working in his yard.

“If you lost your life in this flood, do you know where you would be?” Barber asked Tom, only to be surprised at the man’s response. Tom indicated he hoped God would “open the door” so he could “slap him,” Barber recalled, explaining that Tom’s bitterness stemmed from the death of his child, years before.

“He [also] said he had seen too much death from working in hospitals,” Barber said, noting the Tom couldn’t understand how God could allow such tragedy.

Moreno explained to Tom that he also had lost a child, his first, in infancy. Moreno shared how heartbroken the death had left him, but how he had found peace through faith.

Tom was visibly affected by Moreno’s testimony and transparency, said Barber, who afterwards asked the man if he, too, wanted to trust Christ as savior.

“You could tell the change had already started. He said yes,” Barber said.  “He was a totally different man, with the peace that only God can give. God used this experience to bring him to Jesus.”

It was one of 11 salvations to date during the deployment, Yarger confirmed, adding that DR work is expected to start on Memorial Baptist Church in Edinburg and continue on individual homes, and praising the generosity of First Baptist Church of McAllen for hosting the SBTC DR teams.

Other SBTC DR teams will transition into the area over the June 30th weekend and a laundry unit from FBC Kountze is also expected, Yarger said.

FEMA is scheduled to assess flood damage in the area this week, KRGV.com reported. Public officials are also preparing for an “expected explosion of disease-carrying mosquitoes” as floodwaters recede, the Valley Morning Star reported.

Meanwhile, Barber said, SBTC DR personnel will continue to look for “divine appointments.”

SBTC DR volunteers have also recently deployed to assist tornado victims in Connecticut.

SBC resolutions affirm women, denounce abuse

DALLAS Messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention affirmed the dignity and worth of women, denounced all forms of abuse and called for sexual purity among Christian leaders in adopting 16 resolutions June 12.

Passage of the resolutions on women, abuse and pastoral purity by nearly unanimous votes late in the afternoon session came after months of disclosures of sexual abuse and misconduct by male leaders had rocked Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches and institutions. 

The resolution on women recognized May 15 as the 100th anniversary of female messengers to the SBC meeting and honored “the immeasurable contribution of women to our cooperative mission of Great Commission work.” 

It also affirmed women’s gifts “in their distinctive God-assigned roles” and urged Southern Baptists “to encourage, cultivate, and celebrate the diverse gifts, callings, and contributions of women in biblically appropriate ways.”

The measure on abuse renounced “all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful” and called for decisive action to report abuse allegations to law enforcement authorities. It also offered compassion to abuse victims, “being careful to remind the abused that such injustice is undeserved and not a result of personal guilt or fault.”

In the resolution on clergy purity, messengers repudiated actions that undermine the New Testament standard of holiness for Christian leaders and urged churches “to exercise appropriate redemptive church discipline” when needed.

Messengers also continued to address racial reconciliation by adopting a resolution renewing the SBC’s “public repudiation of racism in all its forms,” including “the curse of Ham” teaching that God determined the descendants of this son of Noah would have dark skin and live in subordination.

In a measure on immigration, messengers again requested reform—as they had in 2011—that secures the borders and proves a pathway to legal status “with appropriate restitutionary measures.” The resolution also calls for “maintaining the priority of family unity.”

Messengers also approved resolutions that: 

  • Affirmed the “full dignity of every human being.” 
  • Called for “caution and wisdom in our media and social media” communications.
  • Encouraged government authorities to establish policies that would curtail gun violence while functioning according to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. 
  • Urged pastors and churches to be informed about the dangers of opioids and to minister to people impacted by opioid abuse.
  • Pledged to pray for Arab Christians in the Middle East and around the world.
  • Mourned the February death of evangelist Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist, and celebrated his life and ministry.
  • Thanked God on the 100th anniversary of GuideStone Financial Resources.
  • Voiced gratitude to God on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. 
  • Offered thanks to God for 50 years of ministry through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
  • Expressed gratitude to God, as well as Southern Baptists in the Dallas area and all others who helped with this year’s meeting.

 Messengers also passed a multi-subject resolution that reaffirmed commitment to the trustworthiness of the Bible and “unswerving belief” in the one true God, continued to call for Southern Baptists to welcome refugees into their churches and homes, and urged church members to pray about adopting or fostering children. 

Galveston church has storied past and bright future

GALVESTON  Historic First Baptist Church of Galveston is cultivating a climate of giving and growth, continuing a work begun before Texas became a state. 

Elkie and family—who run a janitorial service—epitomize the spirit, insisting on donating extra hours of cleaning to First Baptist. 

“We want to do this for my church,” explained Elkie, who discovered the church after meeting Beth Turner, wife of FBC Pastor John Turner, at the dance class their daughters attend.

Elkie’s family moved from maintenance to membership, swelling the number of new believers (mostly adults) baptized to nearly 50 since Turner arrived in October 2016. 

“Elkie understands the concept of giving and serving the church,” said Larry Gore, church administrator and historian. 

Gore understands that concept also: the retired hospital administrator who founded Galveston’s Lone Star motorcycle rally, donates his time—50 to 60 hours per week—to what he jokingly calls “the best job I never had.

“I get up every day thankful I get to come up here and work … because the leadership is so incredible,” Gore added, referring to Turner.

Raju Samuel, associate pastor, also donates his time.

FBC Galveston looms over its street corner: a red brick, white-columned, steeple-crowned edifice with outbuildings covering a quarter of a downtown block. This building is the fourth occupied by the 178-year-old church that, despite its rich history, is a revitalization effort today.

“Call it a resuscitation,” Gore quipped, displaying the historic church register, its yellowing parchment chronicling the founding members, including Sam Houston’s wife and mother-in-law, and Gail Borden Jr., Texas revolutionary and inventor of sweetened condensed milk. The record reveals First Galveston accepted black members starting in the 1840s. 

The church closed during the Civil War, then reopened. The 1930s and ’40s saw its heyday, when legendary pastor Harold Fickett Sr. drew weekly crowds of 1,200 to 1,600 (and as many as 2,600 on Easter). Fickett’s live Sunday radio broadcasts were so popular that the station manager gave strict orders not to cut away when the sermons ran long. Fickett’s son, Harold Jr., became a California pastor known for originating the Living Christmas Tree.

Before there were mega-churches, there was First Galveston.

Attendance had dwindled before Turner’s arrival. Since then, 147 people have joined.

The addition of a new members’ class—Discover First—has contributed to the growth. In a jam-packed 90 minutes, Turner shares the gospel, his testimony and doctrinal basics to attendees paired with “encouragers” from the congregation. 

Turner, who pastored a church near Wharton, Texas, and later served three years as administrative pastor at Shades Mountain Baptist in Birmingham, Ala., said he borrowed the concept of a single-session new members’ class from Shades Mountain. Turner taught the content to the whole Galveston congregation one Sunday. 

During Hurricane Harvey, NAMB used FBC Galveston as a distribution center, housing disaster relief workers. Harvey volunteers swelled midweek services then, but Wednesday nights remain popular, with about 100 coming for dinner, prayer and Bible study, children’s and youth activities.

“Prior to John, if we had 25 people total, it was a good night,” Gore said. 

The church has expanded its visibility in the community. An egg hunt once held for church families after Easter services has changed locations and dates, to Lindale Park the Saturday before Easter. In 2017, the event attracted 550 for hot dogs, Easter eggs and games while church members gave out Gideon Bibles and shared the gospel. Other city outreaches include a fall festival with a “How Can We Pray for You?” booth.

Turner’s road to FBC Galveston was unlikely. A native of Friendswood, near Houston, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in accounting from Baylor. He learned he had passed the CPA exam shortly after finishing his master’s.

“I will never have to study again,” he told his wife, a statement soon to prove ironic.

After starting a career in corporate and public accounting, SEC auditing and consulting, Turner “surrendered to the ministry” at 28, eventually earning master’s degrees in Christian education and divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he recently completed his final doctoral seminar. 

“Everything we do is with a purpose,” Turner said of First Galveston. Even the introduction of new members occurs on special Sundays when new families are called up one-by-one, followed by the congregation.

“We lay hands on them and pray for them as the early church did for Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:2-3. We commission them as missionaries into the church and outside the walls of the church,” Turner said, crediting the example of Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain, where new members are similarly welcomed. 

Turner understands the significance of the laying on of hands. He was scheduled to preach at Shades Mountain the week he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Wood called forward members to surround him in prayer then and again later, when Turner preached the Sunday before surgery.

First Galveston affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention shortly after Turner’s arrival. 

“We affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and we appreciate the 55 percent of donations the SBTC sends to the national Cooperative Program,” Turner explained, later pausing before a wall of portraits of past FBC Galveston ministers, a lineup of photographs dating from the 19th century to the 21st, the present acknowledging the past, the future in view. 

High regard for women woven throughout SBC meeting

DALLAS One hundred years after women were first seated as messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Hot Springs, Ark., dialogue on women’s roles, dignity and worth infused the 2018 SBC meeting in Dallas. Substantive discussions of abuse and the #MeToo movement informed speeches and panels, while a #ChurchToo rally outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center aimed to raise awareness. 

The emphasis was precipitated by recent events including the termination of Paige Patterson as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president emeritus in light of allegations including the mishandling of a sexual abuse complaint while he was employed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

SBC President-elect J.D. Greear spoke on women’s issues following his election, affirming that churches must be safe places for women to report abuse and that governmental authorities must be notified.  

Resolutions and motions

Two SBC resolutions addressed the dignity and protection of women. 

Resolution 1, on the “dignity and worth of women,” recognized the “significant role in ministry, evangelism, and disciple-making” of women in Scripture and acknowledged their historical contributions to SBC missions and churches, calling for the encouragement of women’s “diverse gifts, callings and contributions” in “biblically appropriate ways.”

Resolution 2, decrying “abuse” and affirming the church’s responsibilities to properly address it, passed with the following italicized changes: “We deplore, apologize, and ask forgiveness for failures to protect the abused, failures that have occurred in evangelical churches and ministries, including such failures within our own denomination.”

Joy Aull, the Alabama messenger who proposed the added language, said her work with victims convinced her the SBC must “validate their experiences by asking forgiveness.”

Jason Duesing, chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, told reporters the resolutions were crafted in response to the committee’s receiving numerous proposed resolutions on both topics.

The committee also wanted to acknowledge the centennial anniversary of women as convention messengers, thus prompting the first resolution, Duesing explained, adding that the committee was not surprised by the request to add words of apology to the resolution on abuse.

Additionally from the convention floor, two motions on protecting churches from sexual predators were referred to the Executive Committee, as was a motion asking the EC to study biblical authority for a woman to serve as SBC president. 

From the seminaries

All six SBC seminary presidents discussed female students and faculty, specifically focusing on issues of sexual abuse and misconduct, during their reports.

Jeffrey Bingham, interim president of Southwestern, announced to applause that his “priority is to create a safe environment and a campus culture that protects and cares for the victims of abuse,” adding, “At Southwestern we denounce all forms of abuse, all behavior that enables abuse, all behavior that fails to protect the abused and all behavior that fails to protect those that are vulnerable to abuse.” Bingham said he had instructed faculty and staff to complete a course in sexual harassment by July 31 and that the seminary was consulting with third-party agencies to develop proactive responses. 

All of the presidents of the other five seminaries issued statements deploring abuse and pledging safety on campus.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin affirmed his institution’s commitment to a “complementarian understanding of gender roles” in church and family. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said women do not serve as preaching professors at NOBTS, though both the associate dean of undergraduate studies and associate dean of graduate studies are women.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. said every professor in the school of theology must be qualified to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist church. 

“That means that every faculty member in the school of theology and every faculty position is going to be filled by a man,” he said. “And we say that without an apology. 

“But at the same time, we have other schools and other programs in which there are many women who are on the faculty and wonderfully serving.”

Mohler said he thinks that distinction is “really important,” and he added that “there is not a man in this room who is not indebted to women who have taught him.”

#MeToo and the SBC

During the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission report, ERLC President Russell Moore announced an upcoming women’s summit and the entity’s partnership with LifeWay Research to conduct a study on the extent of abuse in churches. 

In the exhibit hall, an SBC Voices podcast discussion on sexual abuse featured a panel including LifeWay author Beth Moore, Russell Moore and Matt Carter, pastor of Austin Stone church, for a conversation concerning child abuse and women’s issues. 

Carter said he now more carefully prepares sermons, with victims in mind: “One of the last things we want to do is open up new wounds for these women who have been traumatized.”

Beth Moore emphasized the benefits of assisting victims: “In every bit of this being exposed, God is doing something wonderful for the church,” because as women receive help, this spreads to their “spheres of influence” and makes the whole church “healthier.” 

She also noted that since assault and abuse involve misuses of power, proper power must be used “immediately for the victim and her safety,” stressing the importance of reporting incidents to authorities and providing female advocates to assist in counseling. 

Moore later cautioned against confusing sexual “immorality” with “criminality,” adding that “both require repentance to be restored, but one calls the police.”

All three panelists expressed the need for firm policies and third-party assistance in handling abuse incidents. 

“It starts with your staff,” Carter said, confirming volunteers and staff underwent a weeklong training recently and that the church consulted with the organization MinistrySafe this spring, an indirect reference to the well-publicized resignation of a Stone pastor accused of mishandling a sexual assault case at a prior church. 

Carter also said his staff created videos chronicling stories of victims to create a “safe environment” empowering women to seek help.

Calling for a balance of grace and justice, Russell Moore cautioned against abusers using “grace as something to hide behind,” and added that “repentance and restoration never entitle someone to any particular type of leadership.”

The ERLC also sponsored a panel discussion on “Gospel Sexuality in a #MeToo Culture” featuring Russell Moore, author and speaker Trillia Newbell, LifeWay author Jamie Ivey, MinistrySafe founder and attorney Kimberly Norris, and James Merritt, former SBC president and current pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Sugarloaf, Ga.

Newbell recounted an experience which she, as an 18-year-old college coed, was molested on a band trip by an older male student. The university took appropriate steps; the man was convicted and jailed, yet the experience affected Newbell for years. 

“It is time for this whole subject matter to come out of the closet in evangelical contexts. Stop putting on the happy evangelical face,” Norris stated.

Moore echoed remarks he made earlier in the podcast, “Abuse is not a public relations issue to be managed,” adding that Jesus “exposes sin in order to redirect and to heal it.”

“God has given us an opportunity to stand up and say wrong is wrong and we will no longer be silent and [will] do what Jesus wants us to do.,” Merritt said.

“If a woman doesn’t feel her voice will be heard in the church, she is less apt to say what has happened to her,” Ivey added, affirming the need for women in leadership positions in church. 

Outside the convention center, some 50-60 participants rallied at lunchtime June 12 to raise awareness of abuse. 

“We’re just here to come alongside the church, encourage them to get involved, to lift up women the way Jesus did,” rally speaker Carolyn Deevers told reporters. Deevers said she was abused by her former husband, a pastor in another denomination.

Another rally speaker, Mary DeMuth, an abuse survivor who attends a large local SBC church, told the TEXAN she had not experienced abuse in her own church and that we “must be careful about judging all SBC churches,” but that the issue must be taken “seriously.” When assured the subject was being addressed inside the SBC, she called the news “encouraging.”

At the SEBTS-sponsored women’s leadership breakfast featuring author Jen Wilkin, who spoke on the “terrifying and exhilarating” experience of being a woman in ministry. “It must never be about you moving into a new space. It is always about the woman who is sitting in the pew who doesn’t know she needs advocacy,” Wilkin said before speaking on heroic women of Scripture. 

SBC Dallas 2018 in many ways became the unofficial “convention of the woman,” a century after women gained the right to vote in the convention, an achievement which occurred two years before the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote in the United States. 

—This article also contains reporting by Tom Strode, David Roach and Tammi Reed Ledbetter.

Supernatural God can lift Southern Baptists

DALLAS Amid the perplexing and potentially divisive issues facing the denomination, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said the formula for unity and restoration is surprisingly uncomplicated.

“Stop talking about how big your problems are, and start talking about how big your God is,” Gaines said in his presidential address June 12 at the SBC’s annual meeting in Dallas.

Believing and trusting in the supernatural abilities of God is the key to overcoming all obstacles that Southern Baptists are facing, said Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.

“What is going to be the solution to our decline? What can God do with us? First of all, you have to believe in a bigger God than you believe in right now,” Gaines said. “You need to believe in the God of the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gaines delivered a message on four supernatural characteristics of God—His promises, protection, power and provisions—that can bring harmony and, more importantly, help the SBC fulfill its gospel
mission.

“God’s supernatural power is greater than any problem that Southern Baptists have,” he said. “God’s supernatural power is greater than any problem you have in your church.”

He opened his message by citing both biblical and personal examples of instances in which God showed His supernatural promises being fulfilled.

First, Gaines referenced the story of the apostle Paul in which he, while being held as a prisoner, became shipwrecked on the island of Malta—and God provided for all his needs. Paul was able to use the miracles to point the other passengers toward God.

“Encouragement is putting courage back into people,” Gaines said. “Discouragement is when the devil, or the world, or sin, pulls courage out of you. Paul encouraged the sailors” who had experienced the shipwreck.

Gaines then shared a story of how God’s supernatural powers appeared in how own life, when his son Grant was restored to health after doctors had feared that, at age 2, he might have leukemia. Grant now serves as pastor of a growing church.

“I can assure you that every promise of God comes true,” Gaines said. “If you have a need, God has a promise.”

Gaines also spoke of the protective powers of God in referencing Paul’s ability to literally shake off a snakebite. The same type of protection is given to Christians today who believe in God’s abilities, he said, noting that this is true for each facet of everyday life—the guarding of marriages, the protection of children and the safeguarding of financial needs and
challenges.

“God can protect you completely and absolutely in every way when you pray it through, when you seek to live under an open heaven and when you steadfastly obey the living God,” Gaines said. “He will be your shield until it is time to take you heaven. No human is stronger than almighty God.”

God’s supernatural power is as much on display today as it was in biblical times, Gaines said. “Our God can still move mountains,” he said. “Our God can still say, ‘Hush, be still’ to raging seas. Our God can still heal the sick and raise the dead. He can save you if you are lost.”

God’s healing power can include deliverance from all types of sexual immorality and other moral crises, Gaines said. “God is still alive, God is still sovereign,” he said. “He is the same yesterday, today and forever. If you will exercise faith, God will exercise power.”

Gaines—who said many Christians are more focused on their resources than their true source of joy and comfort—closed his message by challenging messengers to spread the hope and joy of the gospel into their everyday lives.

“I believe one of the greatest things we could walk out of here with in a few days is to tell the world that God is still on his throne,” Gaines said. “I believe there is a supernatural God. And I thank God that the hero of our Bible is not dead.”

Seeing Heaven on Earth

The Vegas performer David Copperfield recently went through every magician’s worst nightmare—secrets to his magic trick had to be revealed. Copperfield was sued by a volunteer from the crowd who claims that he was injured during the performance. As a result, Copperfield’s producer had to show the courtroom the play-by-play as to how this trick is performed. With every detail, the mystique of the magician dissipated along with the smokescreen and the awe of the crowd. Once the magic is explained, the wonder disappears.

It seems today that much of the church can be explained and as a result there is little wonderment for its existence. We find that most churches exist because of shared lifestyles and interests. People gather with others who are most like themselves. This is true of ethnicity, education, profession and just about anything else that functions as an identifier. So, when the world sees the local church, the world sees something they can explain in terms much like their communities’ social clubs and affiliations. The church looks more like a natural phenomenon that is easily explained away than a supernatural movement that can only be explained because of God. The church is heaven’s outpost on earth and a demonstration of God’s supernatural work.

I love preaching about heaven. But I hardly preach about heaven in the way that you might expect. I do not preach about the place that you go to when you die, but what has erupted on earth because of the supernatural work of God. When Jesus walked the earth, He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven had come and commissioned his disciples to say the same (Matt. 10:7). The King had come with power and authority and began to overthrow the dominion of darkness with every blind eye opened, every deaf ear unplugged, every dance of the lame and every song of the mute. Jesus came and gave us glimpse of heaven as he gave us a glimpse of himself. Where Jesus is, heaven is also there.

But upon his departure, Jesus poured heaven out upon his people and filled them with the Holy Spirit. By the presence and work of the Holy Spirit the church comes together as a diversely unified body with one hope, one Lord, one baptism and one God (Eph 4:4–6). This is not a programmatic organization, but an enigmatic organism that cannot be explained except that God has brought and is bringing all peoples together as a manifestation of heaven on earth. People who want to know what heaven is like should be able to join you for worship on Sunday with your church family and find out.  

For the month of July our state convention encourages our churches to demonstrate the supernatural and look like heaven. Of course, their desire is that we would always demonstrate the supernatural, but for this month more emphasis is given on reflecting heaven on earth. Pastors are invited to share pulpits with those who might not share their ethnicity, or choirs in congregations whose culture might not be the same. While the churches that make up our convention are diverse in just about every kind of category, they are unified together through a shared Savior who has provided the same Spirit for every gospel-centered, God-glorifying assembly. Consider how you and your church family can reveal the supernatural work of God in your community.    

When our congregations begin to see that Jesus is the common denominator who brings all peoples together, then the world will begin to see the supernatural—heaven on earth. Those outside the faith community will see the extraordinary because there is nothing ordinary about a church filled with peoples from every culture, every background, and from every walk of life, coming together as a family for the purpose of loving God by loving one another. A church who comes together like this does not do so with smoke, mirrors or lights, but by the supernatural, awe-inspiring power of God who reveals heaven on earth through a people who look and live like heaven. 

Five takeaways from the Southern Baptist Convention

First I would like to express my appreciation to Southern Baptists for joining us in the greatest outreach effort in the history of the SBC. More people professed Jesus as their personal Savior during Crossover than ever before. We give God all the glory! There were numerous meaningful events preceding and following the SBC that did not get as much attention. These gatherings benefited the churches. Thank you to the SBTC staff and churches who contributed to make these ministry activities a blessed experience.

Every year churches have the opportunity to make decisions at the Southern Baptist Convention that literally will impact millions of people. This year was no different. Major actions were taken that could help shape a better day for the SBC. I am hopeful for a renewal of cooperation among the 47,000 churches. In my optimism I found five takeaways that encouraged me. 

1. We are undeterred from our missionary focus – The Southern Baptist Convention remains a group of churches that finds commonality in getting the gospel to those who need Jesus. This was evident from the Evangelism Task Force and the Discipleship Study Group reports. The IMB commissioning service pointed us to the unreached. The Great Commission remains great among Southern Baptists.

2. Decorum prevailed – Tough topics were discussed with generally positive decorum. Although there were tense moments, from the person in the seat to the president’s moderating a Christ-like attitude prevailed for the most part. Messengers exhibited the desire for fairness in deliberations. People were allowed to share their concerns before the body. 

3. Opinions expressed in resolutions brought clarity to issues – Southern Baptists’ renounced racism, affirmed human dignity, addressed abuse and called for holiness. There was much more but there is no doubt about Southern Baptists’ commitment to a biblical inerrancy that calls for a biblical sufficiency to instruct believers to walk in the Spirit.

4. The future is now – A generational shift was evident not just by the election of J.D. Greear but by the number of attendees who were of the rising generation. For years there has been handwringing about the absence of younger leaders. This year started a new trajectory for the SBC. Younger leaders are participating in the life of the convention in the greatest numbers I have ever observed. 

5. God’s people worked and witnessed – this was evidenced by the staff and volunteers of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. From the record attendance at the SBTC reception to the partnership with the ERLC for the Global Hunger Relief run, every effort was made to be a good host to the thousands who came to Texas. The SBTC was allowed to host the prayer room for the convention. Many SBC organizations expended energy to accommodate their fellow Southern Baptists. Numerous service people in the convention center were touched by the gospel. Our witness as Southern Baptists was strengthened, not diminished.

As we go back to our churches we can be confident the entities will carry on the work of the convention under the watchful eye of Southern Baptists. Participation through the Cooperative Program is vital for the excelling of ministry expansion through the SBC. Join me in praying for God’s favor to be upon us as a convention to see the furtherance of the gospel. As God’s Spirit leads us through his Word, we can believe that our best days are still ahead. Let’s stay together and keep moving forward with the gospel!

REVIEW: Is “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” OK for younger children?

Claire Dearing is a “dinosaur rights activist” who refuses to let these marvelous creatures disappear from Earth a second time.

Formerly operations manager of the now-defunct Jurassic World theme park, she heads the Dinosaur Protection Group, which is pressing Congress to rescue the few remaining dinosaurs from Isla Nublar – the same dinosaurs that were abandoned after they escaped and began threatening (and eating) visitors three years earlier. It seems a volcano is days away from erupting and killing all of them.

Many people question Dearing’s sanity, but her motives are pure. As she tells a congresswoman: Don’t we want our grandchildren to experience what we’ve witnessed? Dinosaurs, she says, deserve the same protections as other animals.

All hope seems lost when Congress refuses to take action, but then a wealthy dinosaur lover — Benjamin Lockwood – offers to help. He was involved in the previous dinosaur-cloning phase and now wants to make things right by placing them on another island — and then leaving them alone.

“We will save them … for a gift for our children,” he says.

Dearing successfully recruits dinosaur whisperer Owen Grady and a team of enthusiasts to help out. Can they transfer the dinosaurs to the other island without chaos ensuing?

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, Pete’s Dragon) as Dearing, Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy series) as Grady, and Rafe Spall (The Big Short) as Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills. It is the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park series and the second movie in the modern trilogy.

The newest film is every bit as intense as those earlier films and deserves its PG-13 label, even if it is fun for older moviegoers.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. The film opens with an eerie stormy scene, and we see a man chased by a T-rex and then eaten by another dinosaur. Grady and the men chase a dinosaur in the forest; the men shoot it with a tranquilizer. A man is shot with a tranquilizer in the forest and left to die. We watch an intense chase scene that involves two people trying to climb a ladder. The volcano erupts, sending people and dinosaurs fleeing. Dinosaurs fight one another several times in the film. Two main characters nearly drown. We see a T-rex eat a live goat. A dinosaur bites off a man’s arm and then eats people in an elevator (we see the former but don’t see the latter). Grady gets involved in a fight that involves shooting and punching. A meat-eating dinosaur chases a little girl up the stairs and down the hallway of a house. (She survives.)   

Sexuality/Sensuality

Minimal. Grady and Dearing kiss. Dearing displays cleavage in one scene.

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 17 words: d—n (4), OMG (3), h-ll (3), misuse of “Jesus” (2), misuse of “God” (1), SOB (1), s—t (1), ba—ard (1) and a—(1). Also: pi—d (1) and an unfinished s—t (1).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Dearing and Grady drink beer in a restaurant. A character tells a Senate panel that “God’s not part of the equation” as to whether the dinosaurs live or die.

Life Lessons

Dearing, Grady and the film’s other “good guys” aren’t after money. They simply care about the safety of the dinosaurs. They also display an amazing amount of self-sacrifice and are willing to die to save one another.

Worldview

It’s tempting to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and assume the movie doesn’t apply to us. After all, cloned dinosaurs don’t exist in our world – and most scientists say it’s impossible, anyway. But scientists are debating cloning the wooly mammoth, another extinct animal. In the newest Jurassic World, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) continues his warning about the ethical implications of the science.

If we dig a little deeper, we will see even more worldview (and application) from the film. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a society without scientific ethics or boundaries. Dinosaurs are created solely for monetary gain. And what does our scientific world look like? Children with the DNA from three parents are being created in laboratories. Excess “parts” from aborted babies are being used for research. “Designer babies” are being formed in petri dishes. Babies in the womb are being aborted based on their gender or genetic makeup.  

No, we’re not resurrecting dinosaurs. What we’re doing is far, far worse.  

Sponsors

If you haven’t seen items sporting the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom logo, you soon will. Walmart, Dr. Pepper, Doritos, Mars candy, Kellogg’s and Dairy Queen are all partners.

What Works

The computerized dinosaurs are more detailed and more realistic than the 1990s versions. It’s impressive. The chase scenes – even though we know how most of them are going to end — never get old. Also, the film does a nice job in setting up the third film. 

What Doesn’t

An underwater scene in which two characters nearly drown. It’s odd and unrealistic. Also, I’m growing tired of watching a bigger dinosaur attacking a smaller dinosaur just when it’s threating a human. That movie trick has been used too much.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you support the real-world effort to bring back the mammoth? Why or why not?
  2. Would you bring back the dinosaurs if you could?
  3. List three forms of unethical scientific research in our world.  
  4. Was the correct decision made by pressing the button? What would you have done?
  5. One character said of the dinosaurs: “God’s not part of the equation.” Did you agree or disagree?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.