Month: August 2018

Long-term commitment aids Czech church growth

Soaring 333 feet into the sky, higher than any other cathedral in the Czech Republic, the spire of the 13th-century St. Bartholomew Cathedral draws residents and visitors to the Pilsen town square where the city’s forefathers laid the church’s and the city’s foundations in 1295. But the city’s Catholic footing has slipped as time, war, Communism and growing secularism have left Pilsen’s residents with no firm faith foundation.

But 1.4 miles southeast of the historic square, in a rented space off a busy street, Mozaika, a small Baptist congregation, flourishes. After a 10-year partnership with First Baptist Church Forney, which ended this summer, International Mission Board missionaries Larry and Melissa Lewis see their congregation following the Texans’ example of stepping out in obedience to share the gospel and make disciples.

“These young believers are growing in their faith, encouraging each other and reaching out to their communities,” Melissa said in an email to the TEXAN. “We are looking beyond Plzen and working and praying to start new churches in surrounding communities.”

Plzen, Czech for Pilsen, is home to 200,000 people and the world-renowned Pilsner brewery. Like much of Europe, Pilsen’s residents have grown indifferent to their Christian roots.

“Many people say it’s an atheist country. In our experience that’s wrong,” said Rod Cushing who, along with his wife, Marnie, traveled several times to Pilsen with FBC Forney. “We have seen the vestiges of Christianity throughout their culture.”

The FBC Forney mission trips predate the Lewis’ arrival by a year or two and laid the groundwork on which the missionaries and the fledgling Christian community would build. Before Pilsen had an IMB missionary or Baptist church, the Texans committed themselves to 10 years of short-term mission trips to the city in the western Czech Republic.

Before committing to a years-long mission effort, FBC Forney inventories the skills its volunteers offer. By matching the teams’ abilities with the needs of a prospective area, the church has learned how to most effectively use their time and resources to the benefit of the community they hope to engage.

In Pilsen that meant sending one team a year to help the Lewises facilitate gospel-infused English camps, a popular event the community has come to anticipate each summer. The camps have grown from 69 students—children through adults—to 250. Some of the FBC Forney members, like the Cushings, have visited more frequently.

Eventually, the stranger-wary Czechs began to warm to their Texas visitors.

“The churches who are willing to invest their time and money again and again speaks volumes to Czechs,” Melissa Lewis said. “It is very hard to gain the trust of a Czech.”

By investing in the life of Pilsen, the Lewises and their three children Laini, 16, Larissa, 22, and Zachary, 24, and his wife, Hana, who is Czech, earned their trust. Larry coaches the Pilsen Patriots American Football team and teaches English and archery. Melissa has taught English at a local high school for nine years. That school, with historically Christian roots, has hosted the English camps for a decade.

The Lewis children have played an integral role in the ministry by serving in the church and witnessing to their peers. Like the cathedral spire, Christian hospitality has drawn neighbors and the spiritually curious to the Lewis home for Bible study, children’s clubs, babysitting, and one-on-one language lessons and discipleship.

The summer partnership with FBC Forney allowed the Lewises to expand the English camp far beyond the means of the 40-member Mozaika church. The week-long program creates an environment that forces people—Americans and Czech—to do something they might not be inclined to do: converse with a stranger who speaks a different language.

The English teachers use songs and Bible stories for reading and speaking practice. Participants, most with no church upbringing, are told this at the outset yet still register themselves and their children.

And faith conversations extend beyond the camps. Melissa intentionally arranges housing in order to place the Texans in the homes of non-believers who graciously welcome the strangers. Rod and Marnie Cushing have cherished those stays and the faith conversations they have had in those homes. 

The Forney teams have done more than expand the Lewises’ ministry opportunities for one week out of the year.

“They have befriended our family, loved on our kids, brought us surprises from the states, sent packages to our son in college,” Melissa said. “The list goes on and on. We love the church family at FBC Forney and count them as dear friends. This relationship has been priceless to us.”

Each subsequent visit from the Texans has nurtured trust and friendships with the Czechs. Faith conversations flow from those relationships—conversations the Texans entrust to the local Christians when they leave.

This summer FBC Forney said their final good-byes. The church committed to 10 years of service and that time has expired. They began their work in Pilsen with little more than the conviction God wanted them there. They leave grateful to have been a part of his handiwork.

No new cathedral fills the city square. Instead, a growing congregation of 40 faithful Christians meets regularly in rented space blocks from the city’s famous landmark. Czech pastor Daniel Kuc shepherds the church.

Because of the work done during the camps the gospel has been heard throughout the year in the school that has hosted the event and where Melissa Lewis teaches.

“We are very happy that you are here teaching English, but we are most excited that you have given everyone a Bible and for what you are sharing,” the principal told Larry Lewis after the first camp.

And Forney’s relationship with the school continues this fall as Rod Cushing returns to teach English for the year.

Most significantly, the church planted by the Lewises and watered by FBC Forney is bearing fruit. While the Lewises and the members of Mozaika will miss their Texas friends, the congregation stands ready to emulate their work.

The day Larry announced FBC Forney would not return, a young mother approached Melissa and told her God had been urging her to offer Christian day camps to the children in her neighborhood. She had resisted, not wanting to duplicate the English camps. Then she heard the teams would not return.

In one month, she offered two Bible camps.

“Both camps were full almost immediately. The children loved the camps and were excited each day for the Bible stories and songs,” Melissa said.

The Lewises hope to partner long-term with another American church to engage churches and evangelize in Czech cities where no such work is being done. But the relationship will be from a different vantage point, Larry Lewis noted.

“The advantage at this point is that now there is a ‘mother church’ in Plzen, so mission teams coming can have valuable input and leadership from Czech believers,” he said. “American mission teams still can very much bring their gifting, excitement, encouragement, etc., in ways that are invaluable to the Czech church.” 

On the protection of children entrusted to our churches

The heartbreaking report of a Pennsylvania grand jury alleging that 300 Catholic priests sexually abused 1,000 people in their care over the course of 70 years should be an occasion of grief and an alert to churches of all types. This violation of such a high trust is horrible, whether it is in a Catholic church or a Baptist one. Although Baptist churches do not stand in an authority relationship with one another that allows the same kind of cover up the Catholics have experienced, some of our churches have failed to protect children. I affirm SBC President J.D. Greear in his call for “bold steps” to prevent sexual abuse in our ministries. It is a call for pastors, church leaders and congregations to take seriously the risks and reality of destructive sin in our own ministries.

Pastors must recognize their own mortality and need to strive for holy living. They must not neglect their own souls and relationships with God. The sexual abuse of those in our ministries begins as a spiritual problem.

Church leaders must be diligent to ensure that staff ministers and all those who minister to children and youth have a criminal background check before they begin that service to the church. This is common sense, a legal imperative in our day and a moral obligation to those who trust their children to our churches.

Congregations must ensure that policies and practices are in place and strictly implemented to protect the integrity of the church’s ministry and the safety of children. Churches should also recognize that their pastors are also brothers in Christ who need encouragement as they grow in godliness.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is prepared with help for churches that need to implement wise safeguards within their ministries. Our Church Ministries department regularly helps churches across the state in this work. Additionally, the SBTC has scheduled a Sexual Abuse Summit to address this issue. The conference is October 23 at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth and you can register by calling us at 817.552.2500 or going to

We must all recognize and address this tragic failure on the part of some of our churches to ensure basic protection for those entrusted to our spiritual nurture. I pray and believe that we can work together to end sexual abuse in our churches. 

M3 camps yield 603 decisions

Moment. Mission. Movement. These three words define the summertime M3 Camps.

This year, students in grades 7-12 traveled from all over Texas to attend these annual camps in: Highland Lakes, Spicewood, Texas (June 18-22); Camp Zephyr, Sandia, Texas (June 25-29); and Glorieta Camp in New Mexico (July 20-24). 

Total attendance this year was the largest ever at 2,865 students with  Glorieta holding the top count at more than 1,600. Over three weeks, there were 603 total decisions, 178 salvations and 96 calls to ministry.

Across all three camps, keynote speakers included Chris Lovell, Sammy Lopez, Brian Mills and Chad Poe. Featured emcee was comedian Jason Earls and worship was led by Jared Wood, Mike Romero Band, and Micah Tyler. In addition, hip-hop artist Dillon Chase performed in concert.

Brent Burden, minister of students at Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro, saw a moment turn into a mission that became a movement within his group at Glorieta. 

It started when Saul Williams, a rising high school senior and star running back on the football team in his hometown, gave his life to Christ during the worship service on the second night at camp. He said, “It was time to stop running and turn it all over to Jesus.”

After worship, Rock Hill students gathered for church group time. Burden said, “What I’d planned for the group quickly changed when Saul said he wanted to share what had just happened to him. It was neat because here was a guy who had been a believer for maybe 10 minutes. He didn’t know how to share the gospel, but he did.”

Saul, who’d gotten caught up in the wrong crowd from time to time, stood in front of his peers and said, “I don’t know where you stand with God, but it’s time for us to stop running and give our lives to Jesus.”

“There wasn’t much meat to it,” Burden said. “It was simple, but bold. He encouraged the other kids that they could have the same freedom in Christ. It really touched the hearts of some guys in the group—even two of our guys who I thought were saved.”

After Saul’s impromptu testimony, seven students received Christ that night.

After camp, Saul was baptized and now feels led to stand up in front of his teammates to share what Christ has done in his life. 

Burden said, “What I’m praying is that God uses Saul to really go on mission with his peers. He’s started a gospel movement, which is exactly why we go to this camp.”

Trent Kelley, student minister at First Baptist in Groesbeck, saw something similar happen in his own group. Eleven students were saved in the first night at Glorieta and three more came later in the week, including one of the adult leaders.

“I’d already shared the gospel with one kid, Brendan,” Kelley said. “We’d had three dinners—that’s nine hours of discussing Jesus prior to camp. Every day, I’d ask him if he was ready to believe. He kept saying there was something he couldn’t pinpoint, but he just couldn’t trust Jesus. That first night, he was so ready and got saved. It’s nice to see the fruit of all the planting and watering.”

As for the adult leader who trusted Christ, Kelley says it was unexpected. 

“I never would’ve thought it was true had he not told me,” Kelley said. “He said he’d struggled for 20 years, off and on, to make it a real thing. He would hear a good sermon here and there, but he never actually made the decision—until he came to camp with us this summer.”

Of the 45 students that went, Kelley says one-third are committed to church, one-third are occasional church-goers and one-third have no relation to church at all. He says the camp offered breakout sessions on current cultural and social issues they’re facing, like sex and sexuality, suicide and depression, and more. They left feeling empowered and encouraged by the discussions.

“Some of my seniors went to the breakout session on racism and oppression. They weren’t satisfied with the answers they got, so the guy who led it stayed an extra two and a half hours to talk them through everything. The staff really took time to listen and respond,” he said.

Kelley says the number of decisions that took place in his group has given his church the firepower it needs to continue reaching these students, start new discipleship initiatives and create a movement within their own community.

Garrett Wagoner, student evangelism associate for SBTC and point person for M3 Camps, said: “We want to see students, youth pastors and adult leaders come here to have these moments where they encounter Jesus so their lives are changed, they begin to live on mission with him, and they start gospel movements when they go back home.” 

Pastors strive for unity and racial reconciliation

GRAPEVINE Thirty pastors and staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention continued a conversation around unity and racial reconciliation Aug. 8 at the “We Are One Symposium.”  

SBTC personal evangelism and fellowships associate Richard Taylor addressed the need to wrestle with the racial reconciliation divide, seeing the discussion as a launching point for having a conversation about unity.

“We are in a highly polarized and contentious environment in our communities and even in our churches,” Taylor said. To move down the path, Taylor said Southern Baptists need to discuss what it means to be unified and reconciled.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, said Southern Baptists and Bible-believing Christians in America contend for biblical truth, “but haven’t put the same energy into contending for biblical unity.” He pointed to the first 15 chapters of Acts as a model of Jews and Gentiles coming together as followers of Christ, united as the family of God.

“There’s something wrong or dysfunctional or sinful when family members don’t look out for one another or are insensitive or indifferent to the pain of others,” he added, recalling the “one another” references cited in the New Testament to bear one another’s burdens, forgive and prefer one another.

“We’ve done horribly with the one anothers because we’ve not appropriately and biblically considered the ‘we.’ If you are just some whatever that ‘other’ is, I can dismiss you in a way that I can’t if I’m seeing you as my brother or sister,” Smith explained. 

Economic, ethnic, cultural or ideological sub-identities often override the definitive identity that believers have with one another in Christ. “Your commitment to Jesus Christ should be able to check every other commitment in your life.” 

Using the analogy of a family, Smith spoke of the hurt of “going through something and you think nobody in the family cares.” In the broader evangelical life, he said, “Indifference and insensitivity is killing us.”

Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, gave a historical snapshot of the perspective of African Americans in the development of the United States. “When we look at how slavery has impacted our country and racism got started, it is something we have to understand has always existed from the beginning of America,” he said. 

“Most theologians accepted that all black people are cursed, and they deserve slavery and mistreatment,” Turner said, referring to “the erroneous theology that Ham was cursed in Gen. 9:20-27.”

Turner recalled that even the respected preacher Jonathan Edwards warned that if the massive slave population was freed, “they would cut our throats; they would endanger the peace” and “be so idle that they would not provide themselves with necessities,” but rather, “live by thievery and plundering.” 

Citing research from his book, God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families, Turner spoke of the psychological impact of slavery that continues to affect the generations that followed. 

“What happens in one generation affects the next generation,” Turner said. “When you find what we’re dealing with in our society, a lot of it has to do with post traumatic slave syndrome and how we’re still affected,” he explained, citing studies by sociologists and psychologists. “We now have a cultural trauma that we deal with much like the Jews have the Holocaust.”

Turner said, “God sees everything through his amazing grace, yet there is a trickle-down effect of racism in our country,” describing 246 years of slavery, Jim Crow laws that relegated African-Americans to an inferior legal status, 150 years of white supremacy movements beginning with the Ku Klux Klan and social risk factors that create racial inequalities.

“The Look Like Heaven movement started by [SBTC Executive Director] Jim Richards and myself with the intention of bringing together all of our races to love one another, care for one another and make a difference in this convention has spread across the whole Southern Baptist Convention,” Turner said. Challenging the group to embrace the unity of racial reconciliation, he concluded, “I believe we’re getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Pastor Dennis Watson of Celebration Church in New Orleans introduced a brainstorming session by addressing how Christians in America remain divided racially, having forgotten where they’ve come from spiritually and historically. 

“Professing Christians have omitted the contributions of people of color in our nation,” he said, adding that “pastors in churches have resisted speaking against blatant racism and inequality” and forgotten that “the Lord has saved us so that we can together change the world and be his witnesses.” 

Watson called on believers to “intentionally befriend people across cultural and ethnic lines” and “to ask about the other person’s perspective about the economy, politics and racial issues going on in our world and listen without interrupting.”

Gathered around tables, the pastors and SBTC staff shared ideas on strengthening unity across racial lines. One pastor said, “We have to be intentional in how we confront our own biases toward each other and begin to dismantle the stereotypes constructed over years and see that we are all one family.”

In times past believers have failed to discuss issues in a calm manner without becoming frustrated or angry, another participant said. “I treasure all of my relationships with my various brothers of different ethnic makeups, but if we can’t talk about the subject rationally without letting anger set in or allowing ourselves to get caught up in shallowness so we don’t adequately express what we really feel, then we miss the whole point.”

Discussion that “drives us to action to dismantle some of the systemic things we see in our communities and churches” was encouraged by another pastor. “True repentance doesn’t happen until action is employed,” he said.

In praying for the group, Richards confessed “that we as a nation have sinned against you, not just against those of different skin colors or ethnicities or languages—we’ve sinned against you for not being like Jesus.” He asked God to challenge those present “not just with our minds, but to love our neighbor as ourselves” and to walk together with arms linked in ministry. 

Back-to-school prayers for our children

FORT WORTH  I don’t know where I first heard it, but I have always loved the saying, “Having happy children is good, but a parent’s real job is to mold great adults.”

It is with this thought running through my mind that I make my list of prayer requests for my children this school year.

Yes, I would love for my children to ace all of their classes, always have someone to sit with at lunch and receive all of the best awards at the end of the year.

However, would the ease of a great year truly build strong character and emotional endurance? Yes, it would be easy, but muscles are not built by a life of ease. In the same way, my overarching prayer for my children this year is that their spiritual, emotional and academic muscles will grow stronger and their endurance through instruction and personal relationships will grow deeper and wider.

Specifically, these are the three ways I will pray for my children during the coming school year.

1. I pray they will grow in their love of God and learn to trust Him more.

As of just recently, all four of my children have accepted Christ as their Savior. I pray this year they will continue to grow in knowledge of Him. 

I wish this was as easy to measure as their physical growth, but this year I will look for opportunities to gauge where they are in their walk with Christ. I pray that my children will see Him move in ways they have not experienced before. I know this cannot always be done with sunny skies and cool breezes. I pray when the hard days come for my children, I can help them turn to Christ for comfort or direction.

Of course, this means that I myself need to strive after the Lord wholeheartedly as well. If I desire them to draw closer to Christ, I must draw closer to Christ as well.

2. I pray they will continue to grasp the command of Colossians 3:23: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

As they do their math homework, as they do their chores, as they help a sibling, I want them to grow in their understanding of God-focused work. The sin tendency within us automatically gravitates towards laziness and self-centeredness, but I pray we will learn to counteract that tendency with a heart toward working for the Lord in whatever we find ourselves doing.

In the same vein, the second part of this verse is equally important. Many tasks are attached to immediate rewards, either personal or social. A child does his schoolwork in hopes of a good grade. She completes chores with the expectation of an allowance. He practices an instrument to impress the instructor. Earthly rewards are not bad for children, and in some instances they help spur them on to work harder.

However, the insatiable desire to please their Savior and honor Him with a good work ethic is important over a lifetime. Therefore, my prayer this year is that my children may simply grow in their understanding of what it means to “work as unto the Lord.”

3. I pray my children will have opportunities to learn to love well.

At school, there are many different personalities. Each instructor, each peer will have good days and bad days.

I pray that my children will flex their love and compassion muscles to show grace to those around them. Honestly, this does not come easily for all my kids, but to love those around us is a way we can point people to Christ in a very tangible way. 

I pray my children will look for opportunities to be kind and to love with the same love that Christ has so greatly given us.

When I first began to pray intentionally for my children in this way, they were in pre-school and early elementary. Now, they span middle elementary to middle school. Each has grown a lot in knowledge and stature. Their walk with the Lord is living and active, and it is the true joy of a parent to watch the Lord work in them personally.

One of the greatest benefits of praying for your children is to see their daily struggles and triumphs. It is when I pray for them that I slow down and think, in depth about each of my children, each personality, each circumstance, each talent, each struggle. As this school year starts, it is my desire to continue praying for them with renewed purpose. May this year be fruitful and powerful in drawing each of us, myself and my children, closer to the Lord. 

Melanie Lenow and her husband Evan, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, are parents to four children. This column first appeared at, a blog of Southwestern Seminary.

How”s your church doing?

made an unusual number of visits to the doctor(s) this year. Nothing unusual going on except I had neglected normally annual things for too long and had to catch up with the labs and scans and pokes that are usually spread over three years. I knew I was overweight but it wasn’t real until I was standing in the hall in the clinic looking at the scales. I swear I could hear a judge’s gavel land as the very young woman behind me called out (yelled out really) the number. Hard facts are facts whether we face them or not. With the help of a small army of medical professionals I have faced mine this year. 

It’s not always fun to face objective appraisals of our health or work. Maybe that is why it has become so difficult to get church leaders to examine and report the statistics of their own ministries. Our state convention struggles to get 50 percent of our churches to report basic information on an Annual Church Profile. It is pretty basic, too. At one point the ACP was as detailed as the U.S. Census report—baptisms by demographic, mission training attendance grouped in six categories, music ministry by age-graded choirs, and much more. Our current report has five questions—membership, worship average, Bible study average, baptisms and total giving. Most pastors or church administrators could complete the information in five minutes. But why should you? 

Facing the facts: As in my story of doctor visits, it is beneficial to know how you’re doing. It’s not enough to feel fine or to think you’re in better shape than “that guy”; what do the facts indicate about how you’re doing? But it’s just numbers, right? Sure, but whether that number is the number of people you’ve been privileged to baptize this year or an indication of high blood pressure, numbers stand for something that we should consider important. 

Benefit from analysts: The SBC is just chock full of people who think about how we are doing at our most important tasks. Not only are they studying the trends of our denominational groupings of churches, they are also able to help you see trends in your own ministry—even to help you seek reasonable solutions. You could do it yourself but it is hard to be objective about your own work. You could hire someone, but they’d likely ask for much more information than those five basic questions. 

Be honest with your sister churches: We do not control one another but we are connected in our Great Commission work. You have a row to hoe and the church down the street does too. Are you making progress? Do you have something you might add to the understanding of another church facing the same challenges? Is there a reason you’d dread another pastor or church knowing how your ministry fares? I know one pastor friend who considers such reporting to be immodest or distracting and he will not participate. That’s his conscience and I leave it to him, but I also know of at least one case of a pastor who stopped reporting because his ministry was declining and he wanted to move to another place. Is it easier to report your stats when the trend is up? Are you at peace with the heart behind that self-conscious pride? 

Feed your analysts: From a denominational perspective, the more information we can gather about the progress of our mission together, the more on-target our efforts to help churches will be. We know anecdotally how churches are doing and we have reports from some quarters that suggest needs, but the picture is less hazy as we have more reports. 

Build an effective and relevant denomination: The work denominational employees are about is a response to what churches have directed, enabled and suggested by their specific needs. It’s your work, then. If you want it to succeed, help those who serve your church know what needs to be done. A church or regional collection of churches whose numbers are all down suggests a completely different situation than a church whose baptisms are way up and Bible study numbers are leveled off or declining. Seeing signs of more and less health in a church prompts your servants to reach out for more details and to offer help or encouragement particular to your church. The help will be increasingly less relevant if we aren’t directed by facts to areas, or churches, in greatest need. 

The fact that church reporting has become easier and minimalist (you can mail your five answers in, you can register them online, you can give us the information by email—we’ll even call you and fill out the report over the phone) but still declining in percentage suggests that making it easier is not the issue. As is the case with some other aspects of denominational life, I suspect the perceived value of our fellowship and cooperative work is in a downward trend. 

I’ve heard it said pretty often that the denomination is irrelevant, that it adds little of value to a church’s ministry. That is more likely to be true if we have no report from the churches. Simply reporting can be a first step to accessing expertise and resources that could change the direction of the reports you make in coming years. 

REVIEW: “Alpha” is a beautiful film ¦ if you can stay awake

Keda is a timid teenage boy living in a society where such qualities can get you killed. It is Europe, 18,000 B.C. – a time when you either hunt or die. Keda has a big heart, but his survival skills leave a lot to be desired.

He can’t start a fire. He can’t toss a spear. And when his father – the tribal leader – asks him to cut the throat of an injured bison, Keda refuses.

Still, his father believes his son can become a great warrior in a world ruled by buffalo, wolves and hyenas.

“Find your strength,” he tells him.

Perhaps Keda will discover his forte during the annual hunt for the “great beast,” which involves chasing hundreds of bison to a cliff and killing enough of them to survive the winter. Every male in the tribe, even the teenagers, are required to participate.

The hunt, though, ends in disaster. Keda’s clothing gets caught on the horn of a bison, which then tosses him off the cliff. Keda lands on a ledge; the tribe – assuming he’s dead — abandons him.

Can Keda learn to survive the wild on his own?

The live-action movie Alpha (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men: Apocalypse, The Road) in the lead role of Keda, who befriends an injured wolf (named Alpha) and battles the elements as he tries to make it back to his family.

It’s the type of animal-laden film that children – like mine – will want to watch, especially after viewing the trailer or spotting the movie poster. Indeed, the huge animals and beautiful landscapes are a highlight.

But this isn’t a Disney-type action film. For starters, it has subtitles, from beginning to end. It’s also slow-paced … very slow-paced. Finally, it shows quite a few animals being killed – something that might trouble sensitive children.

In summary, it’s a somewhat family-friendly film if you can stomach seeing animals killed. It will excite some children and bore others.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal/moderate. With plenty of hunting and killing. Tribesmen chase buffalo off a cliff and kill others with a spear. An animal kills a child in the middle of the night. (We don’t see it.) Wolves attack a person. A rabbit is killed. Someone nearly drowns. A frozen dead person is discovered. Worms, bugs and raw meat are eaten. Parents might want to steer younger children away from this one.    



Coarse Language


Other Positive Elements

They may be primitive people, but Keda and his family show a strong love for one another. Keda also puts his life on the line for Alpha the wolf.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The tribal people practice ancestral worship and discuss how the “spirits” lead them. They believe the stars at night are lights from their ancestors. We also hear discussion of people dying and going to the “other world.”

Life Lessons

At its core, Alpha is a movie about the will to survive and the many ways Keda learned to avoid death. But digging deeper, we see Keda teaching us about patience, determination, forgiveness and mercy. We also learn about familial love. Speaking of that …  


Have you ever wondered why so many movies spotlight the family? Even films not considered family-friendly – like Furious 7 and the Fate of the Furious – make the family a major theme. It’s as if Hollywood screenwriters and studio bosses were engrained by God to want a family. Of course, they are. We all are. Family was God’s first institution. No wonder it’s a recurring theme at the box office.

“I miss my parents so much,” Keda tells Alpha. And so Keda sets out to find his parents, even if it means he might freeze to death during the coming winter snow. For their part, Keda’s parents are struggling with the thought that their son likely is dead.

Sure, the tribesmen practice a false religion. But that doesn’t mean that God’s design – from the family to the stars to the animals — isn’t seen in Alpha.        

What Works

The landscapes. The cinematography. Alpha is a beautiful film.

What Doesn’t

The pace. Let’s put it this way: If you wanted to make a slow-paced movie about a prehistoric boy getting lost and finding his way back home, then this is about as good as it gets. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Discussion Questions

1. How far would you go to be reunited with your family?

2. Name five positive character traits of Keda. Does he have a character trait you need to work on? What are his weaknesses?    

3. Keda and his people practice a false religion. What makes it a false religion? 

4. Is there anything Keda did that you’d struggle to accomplish in the wild? Could you eat worms? Bugs? 

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

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril. 

REVIEW: “The Meg” is a dull “Jaws,” even if it has some solid lessons

Jonas Taylor is a middle-aged man enjoying the easy life in Thailand – a country where he doesn’t have to worry about underwater rescues or that huge, 70-foot man-eating megashark he saw years ago.

No one believed him then, but they do now. That’s because a trio of marine biologists who were on a research mission to the deepest depths of the ocean were attacked by a sea creature they had never seen. Even worse, their miniature sub was disabled and they have only a few hours of oxygen left before they perish.

Taylor is being recruited to rescue the scientists and get them to the surface before they run out of oxygen – and before they’re attacked again by the mysterious monster. Can he do it?

The Meg (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a group of scientists who accidentally stumble upon a megalodon — a species of shark they thought went extinct years ago and is so big that it can kill a whale.    

It stars Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) as Taylor; Bingbing Li (Transformers: Age of Extinction) as a female scientist named Suyin; and Rainn Wilson (The Office) as a billionaire named Morris.

According to the plot, megalodons have lived underwater for ages – 2 million years, we’re told – but were set free when scientists were searching for a section of the ocean that’s never been explored.

They then must find a way to stop the megalodon before it eats people and panics the population.

The Meg is one of those summer action movies that I wanted (and expected) to like, but didn’t. The plot is thin, slow and predictable, and the action lackluster. Perhaps we should blame Jaws, which set a high bar for every other shark movie that followed. I think a movie about a megalodon could have worked, but this one didn’t.   

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Moderate. The meg eats people – lots of people.  But it remains non-gory, and we don’t see any limbs floating in the water. We also experience several tense dark underwater scenes with the megalodon.   


Minimal. We hear a lame joke about “sex” and “insertion.” We see Taylor wearing only a towel and talking to Suyin, who likes him. We see people in swimsuits on the beach.  

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 24 coarse words: h-ll (9), OMG (4), d—n (4), a—es 2, misuse of “Jesus” (1), s—t (1), b—ard (1), SOB 1, GD 1. We also wear the word “a-hole” once.

Other Positive Elements

The mother-daughter bond between Suyin and her elementary-aged girl is touching. They watch out for one another.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Characters drink beer.

Life Lessons

The Meg provides lessons on self-sacrifice (Taylor and Suyin), redemption (Taylor), living life with regret (Taylor), and having the right perspective on your accomplishments and mistakes (Taylor). We also hear a scientist say in the film, “We did what people always do – discover and destroy.” That alone is worth discussing.   


Years ago, Jonas Taylor had helped lead a botched rescue mission that resulted in several deaths. Yes, many people got out alive, but he only thinks about the men who didn’t make it. In fact, he says he thinks about it every day. Then he is given a chance to rescue the scientists. He also meets Suyin, who tells him, “It’s not about the people you lose. It’s about the people you save.” Taylor gains a new perspective on life while also taking advantage of his second chance.

The apostle Paul told the church at Philippi that he forgets “what lies behind” and strains “forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13-14). That’s good advice for the Christian who is tempted to live life with regret. The Meg reminds us of that biblical lesson, even as we watch people run away from a scary, giant shark. 

What Works

The filmmakers take their time showing us the shark; instead, we hears bumps on the submarine and see the consequences of the meg’s power. The beauty of the deep sea is enjoyable, too.

What Doesn’t

Any movie that seems like a “new and improved” Jaws is tough to enjoy. Jaws won three Academy Awards. Also, the characters in the movie take actions that are nothing short of stupid.  

Discussion Questions

1. Taylor is told, “It’s not about the people you lose. It’s about the people you save.” Does that logic apply to anything in your life, too?

2. Biblically, what should we do when we’re living life with regret?

3. Does God want us to look forward in life or look backwards? Or a little of both?

4. Name a biblical story where someone was falsely accused.

Entertainment rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language.

Speakers’ Tourney yields lasting fruit

ARLINGTON “The Speakers’ Tournament has been a reality check for me. It holds me accountable. And after people have heard your speech—the people who look up to you—they expect you to live by it.”

This account came from Kailyn Newsom, a recent high school graduate and member of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington. 

The “reality check” she talks about is the Speakers’ Tournament, an annual competition hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for students in grades 10-12 who deliver speeches four to six minutes long on biblical topics provided by the SBTC. This year’s state competition was in mid-April.

The program exists so students can mature in their faith, share God’s Word with others, become skilled and comfortable with public speaking and earn college scholarships (for those who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the state levels).

Each fall, students begin the challenge by picking topics, developing outlines and writing their speeches. Over the winter, in the company of coaches, they refine, memorize and practice. By spring, they’re ready to present to their churches and associations with the hopes of advancing to regional, state and even national competitions.

Mark Haire, a speakers’ coach at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, said students choose from a list of 10 topics per year.

“The idea is for them to pick something that’s biblically related—usually having to do with spiritual disciplines or how to engage the culture—and drive them to wrestle with the verses they choose in order to formulate a coherent speech. It becomes life-impacting for them,” Haire said.

In the past, topics have ranged from “Being Christian in a Pagan World” and “The Christian Life Is Not a Popularity Contest” to “Acting My Age” and “The Greatest Spiritual Lesson I’ve Learned So Far.” Some students choose to take an inspirational approach, while others present in an argumentative format.

Haire said, “A lot of times students will select a historical figure—like a martyr, great missionary or notable speaker—and use that as their inspiration.”

The whole experience is more than just memorizing a script; it’s also practicing to make perfect a powerful delivery, refining the composition, working on vocal inflection and eliminating verbal tics.

“I tell our speakers that one of the most powerful things they can do in their culture is to become effective public speakers,” Haire said. “The skill is rare, so it will set them apart. This program is a hard sell to this teenage culture, but it’s impactful for those who do participate. They can go and have tremendous influence in their churches, jobs and families. My own kids have grown up to see the value in it.”

Rickey Wilson, an elder and tournament preparation leader at Cornerstone in Arlington, assembles a team of up to 20 students each year. He’s been involved with the ministry in his church for more than 20 years, since his own daughter was a speaker.

During that time, he’s seen the age of social media emerge and spread among teenagers, causing a shortage of face-to-face and verbal communication. Being glued to a phone may seem like a hindrance, but Wilson says students are still interested in what the program is about. 

“We try to connect with them and encourage them to have an encounter with God during the process,” he said. “They gain a unique skill set. It prepares them for college presentations, but also to share the gospel with others. Our former kids come back and let us know how valuable it was for them.”

According to Cornerstone’s Newsom, the Speakers’ Tournament was a spiritually transformative experience. She’s done Bible Drill for years, but she says God used the speakers’ competition to encourage her in very specific life lessons at the right times. “Every year, when it was time to pick a topic, the Holy Spirit said to me, ‘That’s the one.’ Little did I know how it would impact me later,” she said.

During her junior year, Newsom was a track star headed for the varsity team. Then she sustained a hip injury that doctors couldn’t put a finger on. She said, “All I’d known was track. It’s what people knew me for. When I stopped doing that, I didn’t have a purpose.”

That year, the topic she chose was “Having Peace in a Troubled World.” Newsom found a new purpose in writing and speaking in front of people. As she waited for her hip to heal, she also began writing poetry, doing debate, and started a Christian club at her high school called Awaken.

This past year, she picked the topic “True Love Waits.” She memorized the verses and dug deep into the topic so that it was engrained in her.

“I’ve never had a boyfriend before and didn’t when I chose the topic, but I just recently started dating someone,” she said. “I had heard about the struggle, but I didn’t know the struggle was that real. I’ve been able to go back to what I wrote and learned, to call upon the verses in my speech and be encouraged toward purity.”

Newsom says she’s learned how to hide God’s Word in her heart over the last few years because of the Speakers’ competition. This fall, she’s headed to the University of Texas in Austin to study communications, and where she hopes to use what she’s gained thus far.

“Through this ministry and these speeches, Scripture gets into the hearts of these students,” Wilson said. “They’re not just saying words; their hearts are affected and they minister to others who need to hear God’s Word.”

Karen Kennemur, SBTC children’s ministry associate, agrees that the Speaker’s Tournament helps students prepare for college. “The time spent in speech preparation requires digging into the Scriptures and researching topics,” she said. “It improves writing skills and enhances public speaking abilities.”

In addition to giving students opportunities to compete for college scholarships at the state and national levels, she said the SBTC pays for the winning student and one parent to attend the national tournament.

Next year’s regional competition occurs April 5-6 at First Baptist Church in Euless and April 12-13 at Spring Baptist Church near Houston and First Baptist Church in Odessa. Winners progress to state competition April 27 at the SBTC offices in Grapevine.