Month: March 2019

REVIEW “Apollo 11” is a splendid celebration of achievement and God”s creation

Apollo 11’s mission to the moon was among the greatest achievements in world history, but — sadly — it wasn’t captured with today’s high-definition video cameras.

Instead, we’re left only with grainy footage showing Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and Walter Cronkite describing the action.

Then again … maybe not.

A new documentary, appropriately named Apollo 11 (G), brings that 50-year-old mission to life thanks to a newly discovered batch of 65mm film and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings — most of which we’ve never seen or heard.

The result is a 90-minute movie that nearly has the appearance of being filmed yesterday and makes you feel like you’re living in 1969.

It’s among the best documentaries I’ve seen and — minus two moments of coarse language — is squeaky-clean for the entire family.

It was directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller, who is best known for his work on another documentary, Dinosaur 13. He said he wanted to avoid using the footage the public already had seen.

“I’m such a fan of space films, and when we started this project, I was seeing everything again ad nauseum, so I knew what was out there,” he told the entertainment site

Miller succeeded in his quest. For example, the iconic black-and-white film of Armstrong stepping down the ladder isn’t even in the movie. Instead, we watch a color film that was recorded inside the lunar lander by his crewmate, Buzz Aldrin.

The rest of Apollo 11 follows a similar pattern, as we enjoy never-before-broadcast footage of event after event. Instead of grainy television footage of the launch, we’re treated to an up-close 65mm footage of the rocket lifting from the pad and piercing the clouds. That alone is worth the price of admission.  

The movie also succeeds because it has no narrator. We only hear the astronauts, the Mission Control workers, and, of course, Cronkite. His booming, nostalgic voice sets the tone.

“It’s three hours and 32 minutes until man begins the greatest adventure in his history,” Cronkite says at the beginning “If all goes well, Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are to lift off from pad 39A out there, on the voyage man has always dreamed about.”

At the beginning of the movie, we watch the mammoth Saturn V rocket make its way to the launchpad on the crawler-transporter. Later, we see the astronauts donning their suits and climbing into the capsule. The movie ends with the world celebrating their return.

Yet it’s the miniscule details, recorded on once-forgotten footage the day of the launch, that makes the documentary entertaining: Americans drinking coffee on the beach, lining up at concession stands, waking up in a Florida campground, and cramming together on a hotel balcony — all ready to see history being made. It happened when coffee was 5 cents, beehive hairstyles were in, and everyone wore crazy-looking glasses. (Yes, those details are in the film, too.)

Apollo 11 is a must-see film for those who lived through it and those who are just learning about it in school. It’s inspiring and educational, and it contains a few edge-of-your-seat moments you likely didn’t expect. It’s a celebration of achievement, teamwork and our shared humanity.

It also raises a few worldview questions, led by Buzz Aldrin’s pronouncement that the mission was a symbol of the “insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.” But why do we have this insatiable desire to explore? Perhaps it’s because God planted within us a hunger to discover what’s out there. Perhaps it’s because God’s universe is so incredible it’s worth exploring. Or perhaps it’s because we have the imago dei — the image of God — that gives us the ability to build rockets and learn more about what God’s creation.

Whatever the reason, Apollo 11 is worth watching.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think mankind has the desire to explore the unknown?
  2. Was the Apollo 11 mission worth the cost?
  3. What do you remember about Apollo 11? Where were you? (For children: Ask a parent or grandparent what they remember about the mission.)

Content warnings: The film contains no violence or sexuality and two coarse words (h-ll heard in the John Stewart song Mother Country, and a muffled “d–n” by Collins from space when he says he feel “d–n good.”

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Apollo 11 is rated G.

School funding reform takes center stage in Texas Legislature

AUSTIN  With the introduction of two identical bills out of the Texas House and Senate, each earning the blessing of Gov. Greg Abbott, property tax reform promises to highlight debate during the 86th Session of the Texas Legislature. But the bills’ proposed property tax rate cap of 2.5 percent a year concerns some legislators who believe the cap could create shortfalls in local essential services and, particularly, school districts.

House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 reduce the amount a local taxing entity can raise rates each year from 8 percent to 2.5 percent. Voters must approve anything higher. Critics claim the lower rate supplants local control and hinders school districts from raising funds as needed. But revenues from the state’s thriving economy can offset anticipated local deficits, said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who, along with Abbott and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, introduced the bills in a Jan. 31 press conference at the Capitol.

The long-promised property tax reform has become a more pressing need in recent years, said SB 2 author Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, during the press conference. Property tax rates remained constant or even rose as property values have also gone up, hitting property owners twice on their tax bill, he said.

“The Senate and the House have agreed already we will be using billions of those dollars to support our local school districts,” said Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton.

But the legislative leadership failed to cite the specific revenue sources that would finance anticipated shortfalls caused by the 2.5 percent cap. And that concerned Democrat Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio and Eddie Rodriguez of East Austin.

While critical of the plan, they did not dismiss it out of hand during a press conference following the legislation rollout. In addition to concerns over school funding, Martinez said the cap would negatively impact city and county services, particularly first responders.

“This raises more questions than it does answers,” Martinez said. “I have made a commitment to the people I represent that there is nothing more important then making sure we leave this session with a responsible school finance plan that is going to tell the state to do its part.”

He thanked Bonnen for stating the plan requires input from the entire House, which Martinez noted includes 12 newly elected Democrats.

Rodriguez called the rate cap a “non-starter.

“I don’t see how we can look at a bill like this without understanding what school finance reform is going to look like,” he said. Without that information, discussion of the revenue cap “should slow down.”

Bipartisan cooperation will be essential in drafting legislation that will give property tax relief and meet the educational needs of all 1,247 Texas school districts, according to Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood and Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, the Senate Education Committee chairman and vice chairman, respectively. 

“As a state, our baseline measure of adequacy should be ensuring that the needs of all students are met,” Lucio said.

The senators’ districts in suburban Houston and the Rio Grande Valley represent the diverse socio-economic student population that make equitably funding local schools a challenge.

For decades the state’s school funding mechanism has been on trial. Property-rich school districts can raise—and spend—far more money than property-poor school districts, and that funding disparity creates educational inequity among Texas’ school children according to critics who have sought relief in court since 1983.

In a 2016 decision that essentially declared the funding system flawed but constitutional, the Texas Supreme Court, for now, removed itself from the debate. The Legislature, not the court, must determine what is equitable, they unanimously ruled.

“The Legislature was always reacting, essentially, to what the [Texas] Supreme Court was saying was necessary to make the system constitutional,” said Kara Belew, senior policy advisor at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

This session marks the first time in decades the Legislature will draft school funding proposals without the court or a lawsuit dictating the content, Belew told the TEXAN. The governor’s 2.5 percent property tax cap is a “great start” but falls short of the TPPF’s end-game – eliminating nearly half of the property tax burden by ending the school maintenance and operations property tax.

“Ours is the only plan that genuinely lowers property taxes where you will see your bill go down from one year to the next. All of the other plans just slow down the growth tax,” she said.

The TPPF plan also employs a 2.5 percent per year rate cap and, using the state’s surplus revenue, pays down the local tax bill until it is eliminated over 10-12 years.

The revenue surplus comes from reduced spending, Belew said. Sales taxes generate the greatest source of revenue for the state, and in a booming economy that means more money in state coffers. The TPPF plan also relies on revenue generated from the Permian Basin oil reserves.

But in his January report on revenue estimates for 2020-21, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar warned that “any consideration of public education finance should recognize the higher inherent volatility of state revenue.

“The sales tax that supplies well over half of all state tax revenue is vulnerable to the effects of economic downturns,” he said. “Severance taxes are even more volatile, often varying by 50 percent or more annually.”

But building a surplus also comes from limited and reduced spending at the state level, Belew said.

Lucio, whose district includes some of Texas’s poorest counties, wants to ensure impartial education opportunities for all students, including proper funding for special education.

Despite different spending priorities—and the bitter political divide on the national front—Taylor said the “relationships across the aisle are quite congenial” at the Texas Capitol.

And their shared Christian faith guides their work.

“Legislators should take seriously God’s command to love one another, for how we treat others is a true test of our love for Christ,” Lucio said.

REVIEW: “Wonder Park” is a wonderful tale about joy during trials

June is a young girl with a big imagination and an even bigger smile.

Each day, she and her mother sit in June’s room and design an imaginary theme park that June “brings to life” through stuffed animals, boxes and colorful toys.

In June’s imagination, families visit a park called “Wonder Land” that is hosted by talking animals — Boomer the blue bear, Peanut the monkey and Steve the porcupine.

And when June asks for creative help from her mom, she gets a gentle rebuff.  

“I like it when the ideas come from you,” her mom says, smiling. “Now, think.”

Her make-believe theme park covers the room. Occasionally, she even designs a “real” outdoor roller coaster that stretches across the neighbors’ yards and attracts dozens of friends.  

For June, life couldn’t be better.

But then her mom gets deadly sick and has to visit the hospital. Sad and depressed, June packs her stuffed animals and toys into boxes and puts them away. Wonder Land, it seems, is closed for the season.

The animated movie Wonder Park (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, telling the story of a girl who loses her imagination when her favorite playmate — her mom — becomes ill. The film stars Jennifer Garner (Miracles From Heaven) as the mom, Brianna Denski as June, and Ken Hudson Campbell (Home Alone) as Boomer.

Wonder Park is a film that outperforms its trailer. No, it won’t be the best animated film of the year, but it includes positive messages not seen in most family films.

The animation is colorful and the funny moments truly funny. It’s also (mostly) void of potty humor. That always gets bonus points from me.

All of this makes up for a slightly disjointed plot.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

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


Minimal. June accidentally rides her real-life homemade roller coaster car through traffic. In her imagination, we see animals survive a few harrowing moments on a roller coaster ride. The film’s most disturbing scene involves hundreds of “Chimpanzombies” chasing her. They look like small harmless monkeys.


None. One animal has a crush on another animal. At the end of the film, he gets a kiss on the cheek.

Coarse Language

None. An unfinished “son of a.” Three instances of “gosh.”

Other Positive Elements

June’s mom and dad are role model parents. They love her unconditionally. The dad also tells the mom that they’re not dating enough. June’s friends and family try cheering her up when her mom becomes ill.

Life Lessons

The film’s lessons can be understood only by revealing the plot. (Spoilers ahead!) After the mother becomes ill, June’s father sends her to summer math camp. But June runs away with the goal of hiking home through the woods. It is there that she discovers a run-down theme park called — you guessed it — Wonder Land. The animals tell her that the park was in operation until “the darkness” arrived. (The darkness is an eerie-looking swirling cloud in the sky.) June then works to bring Wonder Land back to life.

The symbolism is ripe. Wonder Land represents her imagination — perhaps even her joy — while “the darkness” represents everything that stole her joy. The darkness may even represent her.

The movie has multiple lessons: finding joy in the midst of tragedy, re-discovering your imagination, and encouraging others who are facing trials.


Wonder Park raises solid questions about tragedy, even if its answers are incomplete.

June says her mother would not want her to be sad. “She got sick … and I got scared — so scared of losing her that I lost myself. She would hate to see how I changed,” June says.

The movie, though, doesn’t give us a remedy. It’s impossible to find true hope during trials without the hope found in Scripture (Romans 5:2-5). Christians have hope during tragedy because they have an eternal perspective that the world cannot provide.    

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever experienced a trial that caused you to lose joy?
  2. What does the movie get right and wrong about finding joy during trials?
  3. What is the key to discovering joy during trials?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action.

REVIEW: “Five Feet Apart” and the meaning of life

Stella is an energetic and optimist young woman living in a world where hopelessness abounds.

She has cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that causes mucus to accumulate in her lungs. Her life expectancy is a few days, a few months or a few years. No one knows.

Her home is the hospital, where she patiently awaits a lung transplant while getting regular check-ups and closely following her drug regiment.

She vlogs about her condition. She also lives vicariously through her friends, who visit her often and video chat with her from locations she can’t go. They tell her about the things they do and the men they date.

But lately, Stella has had her own budding romance. It’s with Will, another cystic fibrosis patient who has a similar prognosis. In many ways, they’re polar opposites. Yet they bond over their common battle against a disease that could take their lives.

Can it last? And can they continue a romance while following a hospital rule that requires them to never sit close, hug or hold hands—much less kiss?

The romantic drama Five Feet Apart (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a couple who must decide if their love for one another is worth risking physical contact that could cost them their lives. The film gets its name from a hospital rule that cystic fibrosis patients must remain at least six feet apart to prevent cross-contamination. Stella and Will decide to cheat and stay five feet apart — or as Stella says, the length of a pool stick.

It stars Haley Lu Richardson (Split) as Stella, Cole Sprouse (Riverdale) as Will and Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Vice Principals) as their nurse, Barb.

The film succeeds as a romance—albeit, with some content concerns—while raising some of the most significant questions about life and death.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal/moderate. Patients spit up mucus. A character dies; we see a nurse performing CPR, and then we see people grieving. Death is discussed often.


Moderate. The film has no nudity or bedroom scenes but does include basic discussions about sex (without detail). Stella and Will strip down to their underwear to show each other their scars. One cystic fibrosis patient, Poe, is gay. His dating relationships with other men is mentioned several times. He says he loves one of the guys.

Coarse Language

Moderate. S–t (11), OMG (5) d—n (3), misuse of “God” (2), a– (2), GD (1), f-word (1), b–ch (1).

Other Positive Elements

Stella’s friends are role models for how people should treat those with chronic diseases. They go out of their way to improve Stella’s life.

Life Lessons

The film’s opening scene shows a baby while emphasizing the importance of human touch — something we take for granted but something Stella and Will are unable to experience. Whether it’s a hug, a peck on the cheek or a pat on the back, we need human touch “almost as much as we need air to breath,” as the movie puts it. What would it be like not to be able to hug your family or friends? That’s the reality for Stella and Will.


If you had a chronic condition and knew you could die at any time, how would you live differently?

Stella and Will approach this question differently. She wants to follow the drug regiment perfectly, holding out hope for a cure. He is just the opposite and often skips doses. But neither is living life with the right balance. One thinks only about medicine. The other is careless about his life.

Finally, Stella sees the error in her ways: “This whole time I’ve been living for my treatments instead of doing my treatments so that I can live. I want to live.” Perhaps we should ask: Are we living life with joy? Or are we so busy that we’ve forgotten God’s many blessings and the simple pleasures of life?

The movie also encourages us not to fear death. Faith isn’t mentioned, but Stella believes in an afterlife. Will does not.

“I refuse to believe” there is no afterlife, she says.

As Christians, we can have the boldness to face death without fear (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you more like Stella or Will? Why?
  2. If you had only a few weeks to live, how would you live differently than you are now? Why aren’t you living that way right now?
  3. Why is human touch so important? How is it different from mere words?

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

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material.

Greenway elected 9th president of Southwestern Seminary

FORT WORTH—Adam W. Greenway has been elected the ninth president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The election occurred during a special called meeting of the seminary’s board of trustees on the Southwestern campus, Feb. 26-27.

Trustees also elected Randy L. Stinson as provost and vice president for academic administration of Southwestern.

Greenway, 41, comes to Southwestern from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he served as dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. Greenway’s election signifies a return to Southwestern, as he completed his master of divinity on the Fort Worth campus in 2002. See related Baptist Press report.

Greenway was selected as a candidate by Southwestern’s presidential search committee, which was chaired by trustee Danny Roberts. Other members were Denise Ewing (Ill.), Jamie Green (At Large, search committee secretary), Guy Grimes (Calif.), Todd Houston (N.C.), Tom James (Ky.), Philip Levant (At Large), Andre Palmer (N.Y.), and Calvin Wittman (Colo.), search committee vice chair). Trustee chair Kevin Ueckert and vice chair Connie Hancock served on the committee ex officio.

During the special called meeting, Roberts recommended to the board that Greenway be elected president as well as professor of evangelism and apologetics. 

Trustee Bart Barber, speaking on behalf of the Academic Administration Committee, recommended Stinson, former senior vice president for academic administration and provost at Southern Seminary, for provost. 

The results of both votes weren’t made available to the public.

Prior to these elections, Ueckert, chairman of the board, thanked D. Jeffrey Bingham amidst a standing ovation for his leadership of the seminary during this academic year.

“No matter when our applause would have stopped, it would have been insufficient,” Ueckert said. “Dr. Bingham, you have been exemplary in your godliness, fearless in your leadership, and the greatest example for those who aspire to trust the Lord. We are grateful. In our seminary’s history, we will include a huge asterisk by your name to the significance of how you led us at a time where only God chose to use you.

“And as much as you will defer those accolades to those around you, I want it to be publicly known that the trustees of Southwestern Seminary believe that God uniquely used you in the most amazing way. And we are forever indebted. Thank you.”

The meeting concluded with the board gathering around Greenway and Stinson for a time of prayer. Danny Roberts voiced the prayer on behalf of the board, asking for the Lord’s blessing upon Greenway and Stinson’s families and ministries, the Lord’s guidance through the coming months, and a bright future of Great Commission fulfillment by the Southwestern family.

The brothers of Christ

It is important to note that some of the most effective evangelistic efforts of our churches involve ministry to those who are at rock bottom, and that often means poor people. Yet natural disasters, a surprise pregnancy or an incarceration can make someone poor and needy in a very short span. Efficiency is not the main reason to follow the command and example of Christ on this score, but it should motivate us to observe that ministries to the poor and otherwise desperate bear fruit.  

Poverty is not essentially an economic status if you read Matthew 5:3. We are all beggars when it comes to the deepest needs of our lives. Why did the rich man of Mark 10 approach Jesus urgently and go away sad? Why did King Solomon accumulate great wealth, sample every good and bad thing and still call all of that experience “vanity”? Being well-fed can distract us from our need for the bread of life (John 6:35) just as the feeling of security can delude us that we don’t need God (Luke 12:14-21). The hungry or imperiled yearn for that delusion and the fat and safe take it for granted. When it’s stripped away we see some things that are true that we did not believe before. The experience of those who go to prison and then go home at the end of their sentences can be like that—everything stripped away.

Let’s set aside the legitimate role punishment for crime plays in a nation of law. I stipulate that it is the God-given duty of government to punish those who do bad things. But what about our duty to those who are locked up, or to those who come back to our neighborhoods after getting out? These men and women will live among us for decades but they are often stripped of all they depended on previously. 

Governmental leaders are aware of this multi-faceted problem and have responded with bipartisan changes in state and federal law to make justice less permanently devastating. The passage of the First Step Act addressed this need on the national level at the end of 2018, and laws in Texas since 2007 have cut the percentage of former inmates who return to prison, allowing Texas to close three prisons over the past decade. Reforms included greater judicial discretion in sentencing and more efforts at rehabilitation for inmates still inside. Given the numbers of men in particular who are locked up or who were locked up, this is a step in the right direction. 

Individuals, churches and parachurch ministries involved with prisoners are acknowledging the worth before God of our incarcerated brothers who sing the same songs and read the same Bible we read every week. I have preached in prisons and taught in prisons. I am always surprised to find seemingly vital congregations in this difficult setting. I don’t romanticize the poor or the prisoners but I observe that they are mostly like the rest of us, though often with a greater awareness of their neediness. God uses neediness for physical things from health to freedom to teach us of our spiritual need. Christians should be there when that happens. Great is the reward of evangelistic chaplains, pregnancy resource center counselors and disaster relief volunteers. They often find themselves in the obstetric ward of God’s kingdom. 

I’m provoked by the testimony of Douglas Cupery (see Christianity Today, August 2018) when he tells of the importance of how his church responded to him when he was released from prison and how things might have been different. He says, “If not for my church family, my marriage would have failed, my children would have grown up without a father, and I likely wouldn’t be following Jesus.” 

I’m unaware of anyone in my church who has been a prisoner, but I wonder how an ex-offender might perceive our response to him upon learning his story. Is it similar for couples who divorce or nearly divorce in our churches? How about unmarried church girls who get pregnant?? Are those who are past their great crisis and seeking restoration going to find it in your church or mine? If they do, they’ll need new friends of the come-to-my-house-and-hang-out variety. They’ll need people to give them rides and advice, and pray with them and listen to them as compassionate brothers and sisters. All God’s children are messy, but some of us are messier than others. We’re still part of the same family, though.

I’m not soft on crime any more than I was generally soft on disobedience with my children. There is righteous punishment for those who disobey the law, and then there is a time of moving past it, back into the fellowship of the family. It’s inconsistent and unloving for believers, who are more aware than most of their own sin’s costs, to champion punishment more vigorously than restoration. 

Frankly, no one should do it better than we do. We were uniquely set up and empowered to love and lift up the guilty and helpless ones Jesus called “these brothers of mine” in Matthew 25.  

Second Baptist Church Houston provides assurance of policies in place to prevent sexual abuse

HOUSTON—In response to a request from the Bylaws Workgroup of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, Second Baptist Church, Houston, provided evidence of detailed procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse, ranging from mandatory background checks to sexual abuse awareness training.

The request was prompted by a Feb. 18 report by SBC President J. D. Greear in which he named nine SBC churches referenced in reporting on sexual abuse cases by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, and said they should be asked to show the convention they are working to correct their policies and procedures relative to sexual abuse.

Among the allegations of sexual abuse within SBC churches, the investigative series released in February included the case of former Second Baptist Church employee Chad Foster, hired in 2007 to serve the Cypress campus, then fired in 2010 for “lying and other inappropriate behavior,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

Another area church not affiliated with the SBC hired Foster but by November of 2011 authorities charged him with online solicitation of a minor, and in a separate case, sexual assault of a minor. Both churches denied any knowledge of Foster’s illegal activities while he was employed by them. However, it was during Foster’s time as youth pastor at each church that he developed relationships with the victims. He pleaded guilty to the charges in 2013 and was sentenced to five years in prison. Released in 2017, he lives in College Station as a registered sex offender according to the Texas Sex Offender Registry.

In a Statement on Sexual Abuse that was offered to both the Chronicle and the SBC Executive Committee Bylaws Workgroup, Second Baptist Church assured the SBC and its community of strict policies dealing with sexual conduct and abuse.

According to material supplied by John Card, media relations director for the church, background checks on all staff were begun in 1994, and expanded in 2001 to church volunteers working with children and youth. New employee training addresses physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as clarification of abuse reporting requirements. Video cameras are positioned in all nursery areas to assist with security and maintain safe spaces.

In addition to prohibiting any form of sexual harassment, the church conducts a full day of sexual abuse awareness training for all staff working with babies, children and youth. Participants are taught to recognize characteristics of sexual abusers and behaviors in “grooming” a child for sexual abuse, how to avoid one-on-one situations, looking for physical barriers that impeded views of gatekeepers, as well as explaining proper and improper physical contact and inappropriate communications.

The Statement also outlines the process for ordination, including 45 to 50 hours of weekly classroom meetings on knowledge and skills needed for a pastoral position. Extensive required reading, research and response papers are completed prior to confirmation by an ordination council.

“Policies, systems and procedures have been and are in place to do everything we can to ensure each person that sets foot on any of our campuses is safe from sexual predators,” the statement reads. Admitting that Second Baptist “is far from a perfect church,” the statement acknowledges grief over “every hurting individual that walks through the doors of our church, including sexual abuse victims,” and pledges ministry to those affected by sexual abuse. Eleven licensed Christian counselors are available at no cost to church and Bible study members.

The Bylaws Workgroup of the SBC’s Executive Committee outlined a 4-point standard to judge whether a church is “evidencing indifference” to threats of sexual abuse. Violation of one of the following points would trigger an inquiry: employing a convicted sex offender, allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors, continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or willfully disregarding compliance with mandatory reporting laws.”

The committee concluded no further inquiry is warranted based on information provided by Second Baptist Church, Houston. “It appears that the church has had, and continues to have significant, detailed procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse and properly respond to charges of abuse.”

REVIEW: “Captain Marvel” delivers a positive role model for girls

Her name is Vers, and she’s a Starforce soldier from Hala, the capital planet of the alien Kree civilization.  

At least, that’s what she’s always been told.

She remembers little about her past, but she often has flashbacks to a more peaceful time when she was a happy child and then a free-spirited teenager on another planet—a planet that had beings that looked just like her. You know, human beings.

But enough with the reminiscing. She’s currently on an intergalactic mission against Kree’s long-time alien nemesis, the lizard-faced Skrulls, who have the ability to change into any shape they desire. Vers has her own powers. She has super strength and can fire energy projectiles—think, “laser balls”—from her hand.    

She’s nearly unstoppable. Yet during a spaceship battle with the Skrulls, she is forced to crash land on planet C-53—Earth—and continue her search for the bad guys. Pretty soon, our planet is caught up in a cosmic fight we didn’t expect. And Vers—better known as Carol Danvers—starts to realize she formerly lived on this strange rock.

The film Captain Marvel (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling how Danvers discovers who she is and then becomes the most powerful female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a film that reveals the origins of Captain Marvel but also the origins of other Marvel elements, including Nick Fury, his famous eyepatch and even the word “Marvel.” It also quickly answers the obvious question: Why is Captain Marvel void of emotion in the trailers?

“There’s nothing more dangerous to a warrior than emotion,” she is told. “Humor is a distraction.”

It stars Brie Larson (Room) as Danvers/Captain Marvel, Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers series) as Fury and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the leader of the Skrulls.

Set in 1995, Captain Marvel is the first Marvel movie with a female superhero in a film to herself and the first Marvel film with a female director, too. (Anna Boden co-directed with Ryan Fleck.)

It differs in other ways. It relies less on CGI (the Skrulls are actors with masks and makeup) and it includes a few Star Wars-like space battles. It has no romantic angle.

Those are acceptable (and even fine) changes, but there’s a lot else to like. Larson’s character isn’t sexualized. She has role model qualities. In many ways, she’s someone you wouldn’t mind your daughter emulating (minus the fact she mixes it up often with the bad guys).

Still, Captain Marvel is rated PG-13, meaning it has content that will concern some parents.    

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. Captain Marvel has plenty of violence, but it’s less than that of the popular Avengers films. It’s mostly bloodless, too. Danvers spars with a male partner. (She wins by blasting him with a projectile.) We see a battle with laser guns. Someone is shot and dies. A somewhat disturbing scene shows Danvers suspended upside down as Skrulls extract her memory. (It’s a lightweight form of torture.) On multiple occasions, she whips 10 or more people by punching, kicking and using her super-energy powers. We see an autopsy performed on a deceased Skrull. The Skrulls’ transformation from alien to human being is impressive movie magic but could give children nightmares. A plane crashes.    


None/minimal. Danvers’ suit is form-fitting, although the camera doesn’t ogle her figure. In fact, for much of the film, she’s in regular clothes. A young woman is seen in short shorts at the beach. Two men, at the Skrull autopsy, make it a point to find out what sex the Skrull is. (We don’t see what they see.) We see a nude female mannequin.

Coarse Language

Minimal/moderate. About 16 coarse words: h-ll 5, d–n 3, a– 3, s–t 2, OMG 2, b—-rds 1.

Other Positive Elements

It’s refreshing to have a lead female in a PG-13 film who isn’t scantily dressed and sexualized. If only Hollywood held to that standard for every film.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Captain Marvel doesn’t include the phrase “girl power,” but the concept is woven throughout the film. During a flashback scene (which we see twice), she is told by a male pilot that flying isn’t for women. She is told (by men and women) to control her emotions. Then, in the movie’s final minutes, she beats up the bad guys as No Doubt’s Just A Girl plays in the background.

Life Lessons

Carol Danvers, like most superheroes, clings to what is good and fights evil. She says early in the film: “I want to serve.” Later, we see her put generosity and integrity on display. She’s courageous.

The Skrulls teach us that looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to friends, acquaintances and strangers.

The film’s primary theme—discovering who you are—can teach us a few lessons, too, even if we don’t have amnesia. As Christians, our identity is in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9). He has a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).


“Control your emotions.” It has a negative ring in some circles. It’s what Captain Marvel is told, over and over, at the outset.

Yet Scripture tells us to control our emotions. We are to be “slow to anger” (Proverbs 16:32), to guard against fleshly impulses (Galatians 5:16-24), and to display self-control (1 Peter 1:5-6). Perhaps Captain Marvel’s mentors were onto something.

Finally, Marvel itself deserves applause for giving us a female superhero who gets attention for her talents, not her looks. Hollywood’s history is filled with films that did just the opposite. Young girls need the former message, not the latter.    


Hertz, the WNBA, Dave & Busters, Citizen, Alaska Airlines, Synchrony and Visible are partnering with Captain Marvel.

What Works

Rediscovering the 1990s. We experience slow-as-molasses Internet, UNO cards and a Blockbuster store. Marvel even set up a retro 1995-like Captain Marvel website: It’s a hilarious step back in time.

What Doesn’t

The first half hour gets lost in science fiction detail. The last half hour has one or two plot holes.

Discussion Questions

  1. How are female superheroes different from male superheroes? Should they be different?
  2. Captain Marvel is told to control her emotions. Is that a good or a bad thing?
  3. Name three positive characteristics of Captain Marvel. Can you think of any negative ones?

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

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.

FBC Colleyville pastor uses technology to help pastors make disciples

COLLEYVILLE Pastor Craig Etheredge realizes the trends don’t look great for many local churches. The vast majority of churches today have hit growth plateaus. The culture seems to be becoming less godly with every passing year.

“Pastors see the writing on the wall,” said Etheredge, pastor of First Baptist Church of Colleyville. “And they want to know what to do about it. We’ve been doing evangelism hard, but people are going out the back door after decisions are made. Pastors are looking for help.” 

Etheredge believes the answer can be found in following Jesus’ pattern of making disciples.

“Disciple-making is not a program,” Etheredge said. “It’s following and emulating a person. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. But we need to see people that we can see doing it. We need pastors and other leaders in our churches who are passionate about walking the way Jesus walked.”

Three laymen at the first church he pastored opened Etheredge’s eyes to disciple-making. He had noticed these businessmen were leading men to Christ, discipling them and reproducing themselves, so he asked them if they could show him how they did it.

“What I didn’t learn from seminary or from other pastors, I learned from three businessmen who taught me how to walk with God, how to memorize Scripture, how to read the Bible for myself, how to share my faith, how to invest in another man and how to show him how to do the same thing,” Etheredge said. 

The disciple-making patterns Etheredge learned from those three businessmen became a regular part of his life and ministry.

“Those three businessmen really ruined me for ministry,” Etheredge said. “I always thought at that point that ministry was about programs and preaching and pastoral care. If you do those three things, you’re good. If the church grows, that’s all the better. I really had no idea how to make disciples who make disciples.” 

When he became the senior pastor of FBC Colleyville in July of 2007, Etheredge began training his congregation to make disciples using the pattern with which he had become familiar. A few years later, FBC Colleyville partnered with the SBTC to start the Flashpoint Disciple-Making Conference to help other Christians learn how to make disciples similarly. 

To Etheredge’s surprise, pastors all across the country were signing up for the conference with the hope they could take what they were learning back to their churches and make disciples there. 

“We realized that it’s great to give pastors a conference with great speakers and lots of information, but unless a pastor has been discipled, he will never reproduce that in his church,” Etheredge said. “So we pivoted and began really focusing on the pastor himself.”

DiscipleFirst, a disciple-making ministry Etheredge started, established forums for pastors to get a glimpse at what disciple-making is and what it can look like in their churches. The ministry then provides pastors with an online disciple-making cohort where they get discipled themselves and learn to disciple others. 

The pastors in the cohort go through a seven-week curriculum Etheredge wrote, entitled “Walk with God,” that teaches how to follow Jesus, how to listen to God, how to pray and how to obey God, among other topics. 

Two subsequent seven-week studies focus on evangelism and discipling others. 

Thanks to video conferencing technology, DiscipleFirst involves pastors all across the United States in these cohorts. Currently, Etheredge leads two online cohorts himself and has pastors in them from Houston to Winnipeg. 

Etheredge says that once the groups get going people forget that it’s online and the cohorts aren’t much different from groups you lead around a table.

The discussions get deep, he adds. Etheredge mentioned one recent conversation where he asked the pastors participating to describe a time when they heard God’s voice. One of the pastors responded that he doesn’t know if he ever has.  

“Number one, he is being vulnerable, and he is being honest. That’s a good thing,” Etheredge said. “But it just shows you that many pastors felt the call to ministry, they went to Bible college, maybe went to seminary. Then they just started preaching and doing what they’ve seen other pastors do, but they’ve never really been taught to walk with God and invest in other men.”   

Lance Crowell, who focuses on disciple-making at the SBTC, says when the convention pivoted a few years back to focus more attention on disciple-making, he began looking for pastors who were practicing it in the state.

“A couple of things became apparent,” Crowell said. “One, most people didn’t have a clear understanding of what disciple-making was. The second thing is, if you’re really going to make disciples in a church, the senior pastor is going to be a key component of that in every church. It trickles down from him. If the pastor isn’t disciple-making, then the church is going to struggle to do it. Then the third thing is, most of the time senior pastors we interact with have never been discipled. … That leaves many pastors asking the question, ‘How do we do disciple-making?’”

The SBTC is hosting a Disciple-Making Forum at its office in Grapevine on April 11 to help answer that question for Texas churches. Etheredge will join four other Texas pastors to discuss disciple-making and how to implement it in churches.

Etheredge makes a distinction between discipleship and disciple-making, saying discipleship has become too broad of a term.

“When we say the word, ‘discipleship,’ that’s usually a broad bucket where everything about spiritual growth gets thrown into it,” Etheredge said. “I’ll talk to pastors and they’ll say, ‘We do discipleship. I preach. That’s discipleship. We have worship. That’s discipleship. We do Sunday School. That’s discipleship. We do Beth Moore studies and men’s breakfasts. All of that is discipleship.’ But if discipleship is everything, really it’s nothing. But disciple-making is the intentional process of training someone to walk with God, reach their world and invest in others. The end goal of disciple-making is multiplication.” 

Ethredge notes that implementing disciple-making in your church can transform it and help you make a bigger impact on the community. 

“This is what pastors are looking for,” Etheredge said. “I really believe that. Pastors want more people to volunteer, more people to share their faith, more people to serve. They want all of these outcomes. Those are the outcomes of what a disciple does. But you need to back up and show them how to be a disciple so you can get those outcomes.”

For more about the April 11 Disciple-Making Forum and to register, visit