Month: April 2019

REVIEW: A spoiler-free parents” guide to Avengers: Endgame

When I entered the theater this week to watch Avengers: Endgame, I knew very little about the plot.

Yes, I had watched the trailer, and, yes, I had seen its predecessor Infinity War, but I hadn’t read any reviews, stories or—aghast—nuggets from rumor sites.

I treat Marvel movies just like I treat Christmas presents under the tree. I don’t want to know what’s inside.

Thus, if you’re a parent who’s curious if Endgame (PG-13) is appropriate for children, then keep reading. There are no spoilers ahead. There’s even a spoiler-free examination of the worldview.

First, though, let’s set the table by recapping 2018’s Infinity War. It brought the various elements (the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe together to fight the supervillian Thanos, who was hunting for the universe’s six infinity stones in order to gain God-like powers. His goal was to wipe out half the universe’s population because, he said, there weren’t enough resources to support all of us.

Thanos did obtain that final stone at the end of Infinity Warand followed through with his pledge. He also wiped out many of our beloved heroes. Among the survivors were Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Bruce Banner.

That’s where Endgamebegins. It’s the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also the longest, at three hours, one minute. Visit the restroom before entering … and go easy on the sodas.      

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

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. Endgame has plenty of hero-on-villain fighting, as is expected from a Marvel film, but it’s not as violent or bloody as last year’s film Black Panther. Here are some generic details: A character’s arm and head are chopped off (it happens quick and semi-off screen). Two people duel with swords; one gets his throat slashed (we do see some blood) and is killed. One character undergoes mild torture. We see machine guns fired during a heist. Missiles launch. Stuff blows up. The film includes a major battle (as does every superhero film) with lots of bloodless violence.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. But we hear characters reference “America’s a–” twice in reference to a male character’s derriere.

Coarse Language

Moderate. Endgame has about 25 coarse words: h-ll (6), s–t (5), a– (5), OMG (3), stand-alone misuse of “God” (3), GD (2),  d–n (2), p-ssed (1), SOB (1) and Jesus (1). We hear a non-human say something that sounds a lot like an f-word.

The profaning of God’s name is particularly disappointing, as is the misuse of “Jesus.” Infinity Warhad neither word. (If you’re curious: Hawkeye says GD once and misuses Jesus’ name. Ant Man says GD, too).

We also hear the normally straight-laced Captain America curse twice (SOB and s–t).  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

There is no mid-credit or post-credit scene.

Worldview/Application

The Infinity War/Endgamestory involves a world where magicians, sorcerers, gods, heroes, villains and aliens battle for survival. The God of the Bible is never mentioned—at least, not in a good way—but his attributes are at the center of the plot. That’s because Thanos wants to be all-powerful and all-knowing.

Thanos’ evil desire borrows a page from Scripture. Before he was the prince of evil, Satan was a heavenly being (Isaiah 14:12) who was cast out because of his desire to be god. Later, Adam and Eve sinned because of their desire to be likeGod (Genesis 3:5).

Of course, those wicked desires exist within us, too. We want to be the master. We want the power. We want to be God. By definition, that’s what sin is. When we sin, we might as well be shouting at God: Your commandments are wrong. I’m in charge.  

That’s why we need a Savior. 

Movie Partners

Endgameis a cultural event, so it’s not surprising it has a lot of partners. Among them: McDonald’s, General Mills, Coca-Cola and Geico.

Indeed, McDonald’s already is selling EndgameHappy Meals. I’m a little uncomfortable pairing a PG-13 film aimed at teens and adults with a toy-themed meal for impressionable 3-year-olds.  

Thumbs Up or Down?

Endgame—despite a few content concerns—is fun. It’s better than Infinity War and ranks near the top of my favorite Marvel films. Moviegoers in my theater applauded multiple times. I wish I could say more, but I promised a spoiler-free review, right?

Spoiler-Free Discussion Questions

1. Have you ever wished you were God?

2. What would you do if you had God’s powers?

3. If you could look into the future, would you?

4. If we had God’s powers, would we be tempted to use them for evil?

Entertainment rating:4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:2.5 out of 5 stars.

Endgame is rated PG-13 for violence/disturbing images and some strong language.

Lighthouse Baptist Chapel thriving in East Texas town of Frankston

FRANKSTON  In 2015, there were only five people left. They called themselves “the board.” They kept the grass mowed and utilities paid, but the church wasn’t financially stable. It was only a matter of time before they closed the doors of Lakeside Baptist Church.

It was never meant to be a mega-church. It was formed solely to reach the small country community in and around Frankston, located in East Texas. But as time passed, and elderly members along with it, the congregation dwindled. They didn’t officially disband, deciding instead to meet in a “house church” nearby, but they did finally call it quits and walk away.

Fast forward to May 2017. George Folmar and his wife, Linda, both natives to the area, had recently retired and returned to the area after more than 47 years of pastoring churches. He was still ministering as an interim and supply preacher, but he’d decided to break from full-time pastoring.

Even so, the potential to reach people in Frankston wasn’t lost on him. He’d already pastored churches in the area on three different occasions and had returned to a community where he was known.

Several times a week, he drove by the abandoned Lakeside Baptist Church, started in 1975 by a group of people from First Baptist Church in Frankston. He wondered why this long-time church had closed its doors. 

On May 18, 2017, George went to a nearby LifeWay bookstore in Tyler. As he browsed the aisles, he ran into a man on “the board” at Lakeside Baptist. He learned what had happened and was offered a chance to kickstart the congregation again. They prayed together right there in the bookstore.

“I didn’t have a desire to be the pastor, but I didn’t have a desire to not be the pastor either,” George said. “Two weeks later, he called. We met a few more times so they could answer my questions, but I knew my answer was ‘yes.’ I’d already been praying out of Acts 16:9 where Paul, at midnight, received a call from Macedonia to go and help them.”

Once they voted and made it official, George was taken to the bank where everything was turned over to him. He was handed a checkbook and told he had $800 to work with.

“My wife and I were literally the only people in the church at that point,” George said. “There were still three members of the church who had started going somewhere else, and they decided to come back and be a part of congregation. I’d never walked into a situation like this in all my years of pastoring.”

George got to work. The church was renamed Lighthouse Baptist Chapel. All the funds passed on were used to continue paying the bills. And then he began to pray, “Lord, you put me here, so now we need your help.”

He called a professional cleaning company to sanitize the musty, unused building. They quoted him $1,800, so George apologized for wasting their time and explained the situation. At the end of it, they had cut the bill in half and started to work immediately. 

He called a leveling company to repair major foundation issues. They quoted him $25,000. There was no way they could pay that amount, but George says the money they needed to pay the crew every day showed up. God provided. 

On July 15, 2017, Lighthouse Baptist Chapel reopened its doors and the first service took place. Because of a local newspaper article about the rebirth of Lighthouse, the handful of charter members who showed up that morning to worship were joined by 90 other people in the community. Today, they run a steady 65 in a country church that comfortably seats 80.

All along, God has continued to delight the membership with one miracle after another: free air conditioning repair; worship leaders who show up each week without asking for a dime; an excavation company that completed nearly $35,000 worth of work for nothing; and a brand-new portable building donated to be the church office.

“We hadn’t even been meeting a month when a couple came to me and said they had $35,000 to give to the church,” George said. “They said, ‘We’re probably not going to join your church, but we want this used for a local benevolence fund. You know the people and who needs help.’ Over the past two years, we’ve been able to help numerous people out of it and keep it going through contributing from our own funds.”

The church has even received support from other churches. Jerry Lundy, the pastor of Harmony Baptist Church in Louisville, Miss., and long-time friend of George, called and said, “Our church feels led to give your church 1 percent of our monthly income.” They’ve received a check every month since then.

On May 21, 2018, heartbreak occurred.

Linda, George’s wife, passed away from Phase 4 ovarian cancer. They were married for 46 years and she, his biggest cheerleader, was sold on serving Lighthouse Baptist Chapel from the moment God called them. As a public school teacher for 37 years, her calling and passion was children’s ministry.

“She fought the good fight,” George said. “She was so helpful and supportive of me and of this church. She loved kids and got excited about children’s ministry—Sunday School and VBS. Through the church, God has been so loving and kind. It’s been heaven on earth—before and after she died. Her memory and legacy live on here.”

In July 2018, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of Lighthouse Baptist, the church celebrated by adding five new members and baptizing three people, one of whom is the local mayor in Coffee City.

“I started out as a chaplain in law enforcement. Long ago, I felt like God put me there to identify with and minister to that specific group,” George said. “Having that background, I visited the mayor of Coffee City when her husband, a law enforcement officer, passed away. She asked me to do his service and started coming to our church about a month later. The Holy Spirit convicted her that she was lost, she accepted Christ, and we baptized her.”

Today, the congregation, made up mostly of unchurched people, is bursting at the seams and looking to expand by way of a new 250-seat auditorium and classrooms.

“If I were to suggest borrowing money, the church would do it, but I don’t believe we need to do that,” George said. “We’ve been asking God to meet our needs daily. I tell our church that God is big enough. We trust him with our souls, so we need to trust him with the smaller things like a building. I’ve always trusted God to provide—and he has. This is a church who knows who they are and who God is, and there are God-sized things happening here.”  

E. W. McCall, Sr. grew California church, served SBTC as ministry specialist

E. W. McCall, Sr., an African-American ministry specialist for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, died April 19 at the age of 79. McCall was instrumental in the formation of the African-American Fellowship of SBTC, having served the state convention for the past nine years.

Noting that McCall “graduated to heaven on Good Friday,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards described him as “a giant among us” who was “faithful to the end.”

McCall pastored St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, Cal., for 37 years. During that time the congregation grew from 35 members meeting in a house to thriving church of more than 4,000 members. Under his leadership, the church developed ministries to the community for children and youth, addressed the needs of the homeless population and senior adults.

Active in the local Baptist association and state convention, McCall also served on the board of trustees at California Baptist University, eventually holding the offices of secretary and chairman. He was elected a trustee at Golden Gate Theological Seminary and became the first African-American to serve as the board chairman. As a member of the Executive Committee of the SBC, he served as second vice president and chairman.

McCall receive his B.S. degree in elementary education at Grambling State University in Louisiana, later teaching for 20 years. He earned his M.Div. and D. Min degrees from American Baptist Seminary of the West and did further studies at UCLA, California State University and Pepperdine.

In 2013, SBTC’s board of trustees endowed an education scholarship for African-American master of divinity students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in honor of McCall.

The family will celebrate his life and legacy April 27 at 11 a.m. at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill.

Texas Baptist Home brings gospel hope to women

John 4 contains one of my favorite examples of Jesus expressing kindness as he reached out to a woman who represents many women in our culture today. Imagine for a moment this woman’s story—the circumstances of her life: It could have been that she was childless, each of her five husbands rejecting her because she could not give them an heir. Perhaps she started her adult life by being raped or choosing to have premarital sex and having children out of wedlock. 

For whatever reason, she found herself in one relationship after another. This woman might say of herself, “I’m strong, I’m self-made.” She could have had some pride in her accomplishments because she had faced adversity and was a survivor. But then Jesus enters her story.

What if I were to contrast her story with the story of a modern-day woman in crisis? The story of the typical biological mother who walks into Texas Baptist Home for Children can be told in much the same way. They have had life hit them hard, with great challenges. They have been cast away by people again and again, and with strength and a little bit of pride they have made their way in the world. What is so unfortunate is that so many of these women’s stories don’t end with … “but then Jesus.”

How can we engage the woman in crisis? Jesus met this woman where her needs were. She needed water for the day, and Jesus met her there. How about you and me? How can we meet women at their point of need? 

So many opportunities to engage hurting women are available to foster parents, at crisis pregnancy centers and in life’s greatest needs. TBHC is engaging with crisis pregnancy centers in north Texas, offering women who desire to give their children life through adoption the chance to get on their feet. We are always improving our services and hope to help women find hope again. Join us as we seek and engage the lost world with the hope that only Jesus brings. Thank you for your support and thanks for helping bring kids home.   

The Humility of Parenting

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” —Ephesians 6:4

Before Jeanine and I were married, several people told us that marriage would be hard. In fact, they said that the first year of marriage would be the hardest. By God’s grace, we found that was not the case. But, I have to confess, parenting is the hardest, most humbling task I have ever had to do. If I ever think I have already obtained the goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus, parenting helps me realize how far I have yet to go. Parenting our five daughters magnifies my sins, especially, the sin of impatience. But this is God’s design. If we humble ourselves before God, he uses our children to expose our own sin and to sanctify us. In other words, all those times our kids make us want to pull our hair out are opportunities for growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And, they are opportunities for gospel conversations with our children, both believing and unbelieving children. Here are a couple of thoughts on why the humility of parenting is of great benefit to us.

Parenting exposes the progress of our sanctification. Before we ever teach our children the truth of who God is for us in Christ, we are displaying our faith as we live it out before them. Our children are watching us, noticing our hypocrisies, lies, speech, and conduct. Parenting is hard and humbling because our family observes us when we respond to the difficulties of life, when we have conflict with our spouse, and when we have conflict with one another. It is at home where living in light of the gospel counts the most, but for too many, especially pastors, this is where it matters the least. Sadly, there’s something about being at home and around those we know have to love us that we let down our guard and stop fighting against our own sin. Let us, instead, make it a priority to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ so that we may live holy lives before our families. May we, as parents, provide a picture of the gospel at home.

Parenting helps us better understand and apply the gospel. This is good news! Unfortunately, much parenting has behavior modification as its goal. When this is the case, we instill in our children a works-righteousness mentality—“do this, and/or you’ll get this.” I don’t mean to imply that we should not hold our children to a biblical standard or that we should not discipline our children when they transgress God’s standard. My point is simply that keeping commandments is not the ultimate goal of parenting. The ultimate aim of parenting is that our children would “set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7) or as Paul says, that our children would become “wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). If they love Christ, they will keep his commandments.

A biblical understanding of the gospel takes into account human inability to justify ourselves before a holy God; therefore, we set God’s standard before our children to show them what God requires and to expose their rebellion. Sinfulness and rebellion against God’s standard receive God’s judgment. So, when our children rebel against God and his Word, we discipline them accordingly with the purpose that they would understand God’s justice and, hopefully, escape his final judgment.Throughout our parenting we should continually display God’s covenant love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness so that our children would see that while their rebellion deserves punishment, God forgives repentant sinners through the person and work of his own son, Jesus Christ.  

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do (pastoring is a very close second), and I know many other parents find it hard too. But let me encourage you. If you were a perfect parent, your children would not need Jesus. If your children were perfect, they would not need Jesus. As it stands, we all need Jesus, so we’re all in the same boat. Personally, I’ve been helped by a number of resources on parenting, but recently, I read Paul Tripp’s book titled Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that can Radically Change Your Parenting, and I was greatly blessed by it. Pick up a copy; read it with your spouse; and humble yourselves before the Lord, asking him to allow you to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and to give you the grace to raise children who hope in God.  

New leadership in the SBC

Welcome back to Texas, Dr. Greenway! The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention enjoys a strong relationship with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although technically the Seminary is an SBC entity, most of us Texans claim Southwestern as our own. I am personally grateful for the convictional positions outlined by Dr. Greenway using an illustration of four poles. The four poles of the Southwestern big tent fit well with the SBTC. Biblical inerrancy is a foundational element for both ministries. The Baptist Faith and Message Statement 2000 is the confessional basis for our work together. Our convention’s Great Commission emphasis is seen in SBTC staffing and funding. Cooperation, especially through the Cooperative Program, makes both ministries possible. I am grateful to have a good partner on the Hill.

The Lone Star State is also proud of her native son, Ronnie Floyd. He is a man of incomparable leadership, an evangelist and a man of prayer. He has worked to bring races together. No one knows how the Southern Baptist Convention works like Dr. Floyd, and he is well prepared to lead the Executive Committee. His tireless passion will help unite the disparate groups in SBC life. In a mega church he led the way in Cooperative Program giving in his state by giving a million dollars each of the last few years. I served in Northwest Arkansas as an associational missional strategist before coming to Texas. Ronnie worked with me in helping start new churches. He hosted an off-campus extension for Southern Seminary that I led. Ronnie Floyd will give every last ounce of his energy to see the kingdom advance, and I am grateful to have a good partner in Nashville.

Paul Chitwood has no direct connection to Texas but he will be preaching at the SBTC Annual Meeting in Odessa on October 28. The International Mission Board could not have found a more thoroughgoing Southern Baptist to be president. He is administratively gifted, and his heart is for reaching the lost in every far flung corner of the world. Having been a state convention executive director, he understands the connectivity in Southern Baptist life. While Lottie Moon will remain a major funding stream for IMB, Paul will champion the Cooperative Program.
I am grateful to have a good partner in Richmond.

There are two vacancies at SBC entities at the time of this writing. Calls have been made to consider a non-Anglo for several recent vacancies. I want to join the call for at least an interview of a non-Anglo for the two remaining leadership positions, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and LifeWay Christian Resources. This is not a baptized Rooney Rule (NFL requires minority interviews for head coaching jobs). There are non-Anglos who should be considered. At LifeWay I would even advocate for a woman to be considered for the president’s position. There have to be hundreds of Southern Baptist women who are capable of running the business/ministry of LifeWay. Diversity has to be intentional. We can get this done. It may not be God’s will this time around but it will happen.

Regardless of the persons who lead our entities, they must be committed to our doctrinal statement and the Cooperative Program. We are Southern Baptists because of what we believe and how we work together. We need good partners in all of our SBC entities. We don’t need to nitpick our differences. We are not about building our own little kingdoms. I urge all Southern Baptists to pray for the search teams. When we gather in Birmingham for the convention, let’s stay together and move forward for the glory of God!  

2019 EQUIP Conference expands scope

HOUSTON  Described as “leadership training for all aspects of ministry,” this year’s EQUIP church ministry conference will include more than 90 speakers and some 260 breakout sessions covering an expanded range of ministry contexts.

Organizers for the Aug. 10 event at Houston’s Champion Forest Baptist Church, sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, hope to exceed in number the 1,600 people who attended last year’s conference at North Richland Hills Baptist Church near Fort Worth. This year’s theme is “Reaching Gen Z.”

“This year we’ll also have Spanish-language, Korean-language and black-culture equipping tracks,” Mark Yoakum, SBTC’s director of church ministries, told the TEXAN. “We have a particularly strong lineup this year in preschool and children’s ministry, with offerings such as ‘How to Teach Kids When They Can’t Stop Wiggling.’

“We’ll have four sessions on ministering to special-needs kids,” Yoakum said. “In the youth area there’s a session on ‘Teens and God’s Design for Gender’ and a session on ‘Ministry for Spiritual Orphans,’ aimed at leaders of teens who attend church without their parents.”

EQUIP 2019 will include 20 breakout sessions in the Spanish-language track led by ten session leaders; 12 Asian ministry sessions led by five different speakers, including four specifically for pastors; 32 sessions for churches that worship in the black church context, led by nine different speakers, and much more. The 260 breakout sessions will cover 21 ministry categories (see sbtexas.com/equip for a complete list). 

Keynote speaker Steve Parr is expected to address his current research on “Gen Z,” those born since 2001. In 2015, Parr wrote Why They
Strayed/Stayed
, addressing Millennials’ spiritual attitudes. Parr, vice president of staff coordination and development for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, was well received at last year’s Heart of the Child Conference, Yoakum noted. 

“A lot of people are talking about Millennials—those born between 1985 and 2000—but not many are focusing on those born since,” Yoakum said. “The older people get, the harder it is to reach them. If we can reach them for Christ as children and teens, they’ve got a whole lifetime to serve him, and if we don’t reach them now, it’s going to be harder and harder to reach them.”

EQUIP is attractive to church volunteers who work during the week because it is a one-day training, said Sonny Hathaway, pastor of LaBelle Baptist Church in Beaumont. 

“I like that in my role as an Ephesians 4 equipper, the SBTC is committed to come alongside me in helping our leaders and future leaders grow in their confidence and passion for the church,” Hathaway said, referring to Ephesians 4:12-13, which speaks of the pastoral role “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up … to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

“The number and quality of the breakouts is top notch,” Hathaway continued. “I’ve been in pastoral ministry at churches of all sizes and I can tell you that any pastor and/or church would benefit from sending their volunteers to EQUIP.”

In 2014, SBTC leaders began hand-delivering the promotional materials for the conference, including the EQUIP program, to churches within a 60-mile radius of the host church. The conference alternates between sites in north and south Texas.

“Now it’s just grown by word of mouth,” Yoakum said. “We bring in some of the best speakers and leaders available. This is probably the number one training event in the nation for lay leaders.”

Breakout sessions include age-graded, as well as gender-, culture- and ministry-based categories.

“Leading with Love” will be led by Janice Pender, pastor’s wife at Fallbrook Baptist Church in Houston, a fast-growing church that worships in a black cultural context. “Tightening the Marriage Knot” is another in EQUIPs “women’s category.” Among topics in men’s ministry: “Reaching Men Who Don’t Fit in Your Box” and “The Father’s Family Blessing on a Post-Modern Family.”

For pastors: “Marks of a Mentor” and “Preaching with Relevance,” “Black Church Revitalization,” “Jumpstarting your Church,” and “Introducing Change without Blowing Up Your Church.”

There are 20 sessions planned on ministering to families that tackle single-parenthood, blended families, ministering to those who parent grandchildren, and engaging families who have alternative lifestyles.

Charles Draper of Houston-area Spring Baptist Church told the TEXAN it’s important to him to be able to take his entire teaching team to an affordable conference that gives them access to “top-notch ministry leaders from all over Texas and the United States.”

The $10 per person pre-registration incudes a Chick-Fil-A box lunch. It’s $15 per person the day of the event, which opens for registration at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10. The first session starts at 8:45 a.m. 

REVIEW: “Penguins” is a kid-friendly, hilarious nature film

Steve is a male Adélie penguin on a 100-mile annual expedition to Antarctica’s shore.

For the past few months, he’s been out at sea with his fellow Adélie penguins, simply trying to survive. But now that spring has arrived, he’s heading to the place he was born—the place where everypenguin he knows was born—in order to breed.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. For starters, Steve just entered adulthood. (He has never had to find a mate.) Then there’s the problem of locating a spot on a shore with millions of other penguins. (All the good spots are taken.) Finally, there’s the pesky problem of protecting the egg and then feeding the chick. (How do you do that?)

But Steve is ready to learn. He’s also ready to rely on his instinct—which comes in handy when he has to barf food into the mouth of his hungry chick.

Disney’s Penguinsopens this weekend, telling the “coming-of-age” story of Steve, a two-foot-tall, 15-pound penguin who is slower than most other Adélie penguins but who makes up for it with a resolve and determination to keep his babies alive.

It is the 10th movie from Disneynature, which releases a kid-friendly nature-themed film every year or two, often around Earth Day. Penguins(G), though, contains nothing controversial, and all sides of the environmental political debate can enjoy it. Actor Ed Helms directed it.

It gives us the same type of awe-inspiring cinematography seen in Planet Earthor Frozen Planet, minus the evolutionary talk that concerns many parents.

My 3-year-old son tagged along with me, cackling from beginning to end. I laughed a lot, too. It is nearly the perfect kid-friendly nature film.

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. Penguins hit one another. Birds eat one or two penguin eggs. Killer whales and leopard seals hunt penguins. (We see a leopard seal pull a penguin underwater.) All of Steve’s family members survive. 

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. The word “mating” is heard a few times. Steve wonders if he’s “attractive” enough. We hear the phrase “love birds.”

Coarse Language

None. Oh my gosh (2), geez (2).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A penguin throws up. We hear two popular mainstream songs: REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feeling and Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again.

Life Lessons

Steve teaches us about determination, perseverance, caring for your family and fatherhood.

Worldview/Application

It’s hard to watch Penguinsand not see God’s handiwork in a creature — the Adélie penguin — that survives and thrives in a harsh climate.

These penguins (there are millions of them!) return to the same shore every year. They set up camp at the same spot. Often, they find the same mate. Perhaps like Steve, it’s all new to them. Yet they work by instinct. They build a nest out of rocks. They regurgitate food to feed their young. They play dead when caught by a predator, hoping it will get bored and let them go. (It works!) 

And let’s not forget their value as champions of comedy. It’s as if an intelligent designer created them, simply to make us laugh.

Random chance caused all of this? I’m not buying it. The penguins operate the way an all-powerful God designed them to work (Luke 12:24).

What Works

The cinematography. The drone shots. The underwater scenes.

What Doesn’t

I prefer my nature documentaries without Whitesnake rock songs, thank you.

Discussion Questions

1. Name three positive character traits of Steve.

2. Was Steve a good father? Why or why not?

3. Name three things you learned about penguins.

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

REVIEW: “The Pilgrim”s Progress” film hits the allegorical bullseye

His name is Christian, and he’s just read a life-changing book.

It describes a grand far-off land, the Celestial City, that’s ruled by a peaceful and loving king.

It also warns of a future war that will destroy his hometown.

Christian wants to journey to the other city and escape the coming destruction, and he wants to take his family, too. But his skeptical wife doesn’t want to go. She laughs at him.

“Ever since you started reading that book a few days ago you’ve gone on and on like some lunatic,” she says, telling him to choose between his family and his fantastical dream.

Christian tries one more time.

“I only want what is best for us all,” he tells her. “If the city is destroyed, I don’t want you, the children or anyone else for that matter to perish.”

But she’s still unpersuaded, and so Christian sets off, on his own, to the Celestial City with the goal of returning someday and taking his family with him.

The animated film The Pilgrim’s Progressplays in theaters Saturday, telling the story of Christian’s dangerous-but-determined journey to the far-off land that has everything he’s never experienced. It is based on John Bunyan’s classic 1678 allegorical work of the same name and is the first theatrical adaptation.

It stars comedian and voice actor Ben Price (Australia’s Got Talent) as Christian, John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings series, Raiders of the Lost Ark)  as Evangelist, and Christian singer Kristyn Getty as the narrator. It was directed by Robert Fernandez, who also helmed more than a dozen of the popular TorchlightersChristian heroes series.

The story — if you’re new to it — is allegorical. Christian represents the typical believer on the Christian walk. His friends represent Christian and non-Christian friends around us. The Celestial City represents heaven. The king, of course, represents Christ.

The animation is far from Pixar-quality — what is?— but the voice acting more than makes up for it. Price and Rhys-Davies are truly talented, and Getty does a fine job, too. 

Yet the story is what makes the movie soar. It’s engaging, entertaining and — for children — funny.

Most of all, it’s allegorical.

An annoying friend named Obstinate urges Christian to turn around and come back to the City of Destruction (I’ve had friends like that). An encouraging friend named Evangelist tells Christian to stay on the straight and narrow (I’ve had friends like that, too).

He falls into the quicksand-like Swamp of Despondency. He travels through the easy-to-get-lost-in Worldly Woods. He stumbles upon the legalistic Morality Hill. One of his final hurdles is the theme-park-like Vanity Fair, which has everything our modern world has to offer. When he’s asked what the Celestial City has that Vanity Fair doesn’t, he responds, “Peace, joy, love, unselfishness, patience, contentment, and a crown that never fades away among other things.”

“Do we sell those kind of things?” the Vanity Fair prince asks.

“Of course not,” the prince is told. “This is Vanity Fair.”

It’s convicting to watch Christian persevere despite countless obstacles and temptations. He’s living life the way Jesus called us to live. But too often, we get lost in the Worldly Woods or enamored with the Vanity Fair. Too often, we don’t want to journey toward the Celestial City. Too often, we fail to keep our eyes on the eternal prize.

The Pilgrim’s Progressis a film children will enjoy watching … and families will enjoy discussing again and again.

For a film based on a classic, it hits the allegorical bullseye. 

The Pilgrim’s Progress is unrated.

Content warnings: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ contains no sexuality or language but a few disturbing scenes that may trouble sensitive children. Giant people place Christian and a friend in a cage. Demonic-like dragon creatures (symbolic of Satan) chase Christian. Christian stabs a creature with a sword.

For theater listings and times, visit Pilgrims.Movie.

Discussion Questions

1. How is Christian’s journey similar to your own Christian walk? How is it different?

2. Why is it so easy for us to become distracted by worldly things?

3. Why was Christian determined to make it to the Celestial City?

4. What can we learn from Christian’s journey?

5. For fans of the book: What did you like most about the film adaption? What did you not like?

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