Month: June 2019

Minister”s Housing Allowance case over for now; remains constitutional

Litigation challenging the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance has formally ended after the Freedom From Religion Foundation chose not to appeal a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The FFRF, which won a challenge to the housing allowance in a district court on December 31, 2017, lost during an appeal to the Seventh Circuit when a three-judge panel ruled unanimously to overturn the lower court’s decision. The minister’s housing allowance was codified in federal tax law in 1954,

GuideStone® Chief Legal Officer Harold R. Loftin Jr., who has monitored this and other challenges to the housing allowance, and attended the oral arguments before the Seventh Circuit panel in Chicago, praised the ending of the case. GuideStone has actively engaged in the various challenges to the housing allowance exclusion, filing amicus briefs alongside Southern Baptist and other denominational benefit plans and advocating with legislators and regulators.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation said that they believed given the composition of the Supreme Court that the could not prevail in the case,” Loftin said. “We believe that their case had no merit, regardless of the ideological makeup of the court, but regardless, are thankful that this matter has been put to rest for the time being.”

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins echoed Loftin’s sentiments.

“We are thankful for so many, including the U.S. Justice Department, that so ably argued on behalf  of the constitutionality of the minister’s housing allowance,” Hawkins said. “It is our belief that had the case made it to the Supreme Court that the housing allowance would have been upheld as constitutional. Regardless, pastors and churches needn’t worry about in the near-term about the housing allowance.

“GuideStone will continue to monitor alongside our Southern Baptist family, and as part of a coalition of large and historic pension boards, both litigation and legislation related to the housing allowance to advocate on behalf of the pastors we are privileged to serve.”

In 2017, the Freedom From Religion Foundation won a district court ruling that declared the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. That decision was stayed, pending the resolution of all appeals. It was overturned early in March 2019. A similar ruling, made by the same judge in 2013, was overturned on appeal in 2014.

Southern Baptists affirm stances on sex abuse, racism

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—By overwhelming votes, Southern Baptists strengthened their stances against sexual abuse and racism during the opening day of their June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, told messengers after their votes, “I believe this is a very significant moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. And I believe that every one of us needs to thank God for this moment.”

Messengers cast their votes—raising booklets that contained their printed ballots—for amendments to the SBC constitution to specifically state that sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity are grounds for a church to be deemed as “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.

Messengers likewise voted to amend the SBC’s bylaws to repurpose the SBC’s Credentials Committee into a standing committee to make inquiries and recommendations for action regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.

“May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse,” Floyd said. “May this world know that this convention of churches—47,000 churches, plus a few thousand congregations, just under 52,000 churches and congregations—has given a clear signal not only about what we believe about sexual abuse, but we also stand against all ethnic discrimination in the United States and around the world.”

Repurposing the Credentials Committee, which formerly dealt with the messenger registration process, “is an incredible move for the future of this convention,” Floyd said. “While we may not understand it all and how it’s all going to work, we have done our very best to present to you a process.”

The constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds messenger vote at next year’s SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The repurposing of the Credentials Commission required only a two-thirds vote this year as an amendment to the convention’s bylaws.

The Credentials Committee will consist of nine members: the chairman of the Executive Committee; the SBC registration secretary; three members nominated by the Executive Committee; and four members nominated by the SBC Committee on Nominations.

The changes to the bylaws included the creation of a Registration Committee to handle the duties of the former Credentials Committee.

Floyd acknowledged to messengers that the bylaws can be changed as may be needed for optimal functioning of the Credentials Committee.

“If it’s not working the right way in our minds, we can always change it,” he said. “But thank God we have today, once again, sent a clear signal, a concrete statement, that it’s not only about what we say, but it’s about what we do” in calling Southern Baptist churches to be “faithful to the things of God and to the ways we treat one another.”

“And to God be the glory for what He has done this day,” Floyd said.

Recommendations for the constitutional amendments and repurposed Credentials Committee were placed before messengers by the Executive Committee, which approved the proposals during their June 10 session preceding the annual meeting.

Messenger deliberation over the constitutional amendment on sexual abuse spanned nearly 20 minutes; there was no discussion of the racism amendment or the Credentials Committee.

An amendment to the sex abuse wording was proposed by Ryan Hutchinson, a messenger from Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., who proposed replacing “Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse” with “Does not condone or dismiss or leave unaddressed sexual abuse within their church.”

Hutchison voiced concern for greater clarity for the constitutional amendment, stating that the only official statement of the convention’s beliefs regarding abuse is a brief mention in Article 15 of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement of beliefs.

EC chairman Mike Stone spoke in opposition to the amendment, citing the many hours the Executive Committee had spent on crafting the wording. The proposed amendment did not “afford the proposed clarity” the messenger sought, Stone, a Georgia pastor, said. In addition to the Baptist Faith and Message, he said the convention’s beliefs on sexual abuse also are lodged in the Word of God, which the convention believes is “inspired, inerrant, authoritative and completely sufficient.”

Hutchison’s amendment failed to draw a majority of messengers’ raised ballots.

Other business

Messengers approved:

— an addition to the Southern Baptist Convention Organization Manual regarding trustee training, stating, “Entity administrators should reinforce with their trustees the principle that entity trustees are to represent the interests of the entire Convention as well as those of the entity.” The action stemmed from a messenger’s motion at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

— approved a 2019-2020 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $196,500,000, up from the SBC’s current $194,000,000 budget. The budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the IMB and 22.79 percent to NAMB. The convention’s six seminaries and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives will receive 22.16 percent; the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, 1.65 percent; and the SBC Operating Budget, encompassing the work of the Executive Committee and SBC annual meeting costs, 2.99 percent.

— approved a 2019-2020 Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $5,874,350.

— approved resolutions of appreciation for two SBC entity presidents, Chuck Kelley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, who retires July 31, and Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources, who retired on Feb. 28.

REVIEW: “Men In Black: International” and the universe”s meaning

Molly is a young, determined woman who has one goal in life — to fight bad aliens within the secretive Men in Black organization.

Her passion began as a young girl when she saw an alien. She even saw the MIB agents, who erased her parents’ memories but failed to erase her memory.

But so far, no one will acknowledge the Men in Black even exist.

That’s OK, though, because she has a plan. She’ll hack the Hubble Space Telescope, track alien objects heading toward Earth, and then find them when they land on our planet. Then, perhaps, she’ll watch the Men in Black workers capture the alien at that specific location before the evidence is erased.  

Incredibly, her plans works. She spots an alien and then finds it on Earth. She then follows the MIB vehicles back to an obscure building, where she boards an elevator before being captured for trespassing.

“It took me 20 years to find you,” she tells the employees.

She quickly wins over the head of MIB, Agent O. Molly says she’s smart and motivated. She also tells her she wants to discover the “truth of the universe.” 

“I want to know everything. I want to know how it all works,” she says.

Agent O lets Molly into the MIB on a probationary period. Molly is given the famous black suit and the ultra-cool black sunglasses. Most of all, she’s given a title: Agent M.

Men in Black: International(PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, telling the story of Agent M as she is paired with Agent H to help keep peace on Earth. It stars Tessa Thompson (Creedseries, Avengers: Endgame) as Agent M, Chris Hemsworth (Avengersand Thorseries) as Agent H, Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as Agent O and Liam Neeson as Agent High T.

The plot follows Agents M and H as they travel to Marrakesh, Morocco, to meet up with a friendly alien. But when he gets killed, they learn that two evil aliens (they’re twins) are hunting for the most powerful weapon on the planet — a gun that can kill everyone and destroy Earth. They also discover the Men in Black organization has been infiltrated by a mole who is working with the evil twins. But who is it?  

Men In Black: Internationalis the fourth film in the Men In Blackseries, following Men In Black 1 (1997), 2 (2002) and 3 (2012).

Its three predecessors featured Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, two actors who had near-perfect chemistry and timing. Thompson and Hemsworth don’t rise to the Smith-Jones level, but they’re still entertaining and funny.

All four Men in Blacksfeature two basic elements: the hunt for bad aliens and the use of “neuralyzers” to erase the memories of people who see aliens.  

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. Much of the film includes tame-looking aliens like the ones in the Star Wars bar scene from 1977. But the film has a few alien scenes that might disturb kids — including the twin “bad guy” aliens that look like evil spirits before they steal a man’s identity. (This results in the man’s body falling to the ground in a puddle of mush.) Although they look human, their eyes occasionally light up. The film has multiple laser gun fights between our two heroic agents and the alien twins. Cars blow up. Roads are destroyed. Buildings crumble. We see a street race with a futuristic bike. We also see a fist fight between two men and two women. Still, the movie has less violence than found in most Marvel films. 


Minimal/moderate. We see Agent H wake up in a bed with a female alien who is still asleep. (She’s covered; he’s shirtless. It’s implied he slept with her as part of a deal to obtain an anecdote for a snake bite.) We hear several jokes about appearance and sex. (An alien says about Agent H’s looks: “He’s so yummy.” Agent M is told an alien thinks she’s “hot.” We hear a lame joke about how “it” is done between humans and aliens. We hear the words “sexual,” “fetish” and “fornicating.”) A club scene includes a few belly-revealing shirts  

Coarse Language

Moderate. Misuse of “God” (7), h-ll (4), OMG (2), d–n (2), a– (2), d–ck (2), p—ed (2), s–t (3), “a–clown” (2), jack— (1).

Other Positive Elements

Molly comes from an intact, loving family. (We see her parents early in the film.)

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Agent H drinks and gambles as part of an undercover operation. Agents H and M discuss the importance of lying in order to accomplish their mission. (They agree it’s essential.) 

Life Lessons

Yes, love is important: For much of the film. Molly (Agent M) argues that love and romance will only “distract you from what’s important.” She even says “physical attraction is nothing more than chemical reactions in your brain.” She never finds romance in the film, but Agent H seems to get the upper hand when they have an intellectual conversation about love.

Lying is wrong:In the real world, ethics classes often debate whether lying is ever permissible. (“If you were hiding soldiers in Nazi Germany and soldiers came to the door, what would you say?”) Agents M and H tell us lying is essential, but their lies rarely rise to that Nazi Germany-question level.

Honor the dead by living your life— That’s what the tiny alien Pawny does when a friend dies. “The best way to honor the dead is to go on living.” It sounds like a throwaway line, but it carries a lot of truth.

Rivals can become friends— That’s what happens between two key characters by the end of the film.


Men In Black: Internationalis a comedy with an evolutionary/pantheistic framework. 

“The universe has a way of leading you to where you’re supposed to be at the moment you’re supposed to be there,” Agent High T says.

When Captain M argues that romance is just a “chemical reaction,” Captain H retorts: “Isn’t the whole universe a chemical reaction? … It feels pretty real.”

We see a young Molly reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. As an adult, she’s searching for the “truth of the universe.” Yet she doesn’t find it.

No doubt, the universe and even our bodies are comprised of chemicals, but those chemicals came from somewhere. The Bible tells us they’re from an all-powerful, loving God who is controlling them. Besides, we’re not justchemicals. We have a soul, too. 

What Works

The aliens. They’re tame enough for younger audiences. (If only the dialogue were, too.)

What Doesn’t

Men in Black: Internationalisn’t awful. But it’s not great, either. Maybe the sequel will be better. Or maybe three Men in Blackmovies were enough. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it ever OK to lie?
  2. Is love just a “chemical reaction”?
  3. Can the universe “guide” us?
  4. What does it require for enemies to become friends?

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

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material.

SBTC DR aids Oklahoma flood victims; Webbers Falls resident: “If anyone can help this town, it would be Southern Baptist Disaster Relief”

WEBBERS FALLS and BLACKWELL, Okla.  In flooded Webbers Falls, Okla., the news that the Southern Baptists were coming to help came as no surprise to one resident.

As rising floodwaters from the nearby Arkansas River threatened their home, Hal and Sue Myers, both in their 80s, were evacuated with their fellow townspeople from Webbers Falls, population 610. Mrs. Myers grabbed clothing for a few days, personal items, medicine and her Bible, her daughters, Tulsa residents Dawn Hart and Susie Rose, told the TEXAN.

Mr. and Mrs. Myers got the call to evacuate within 13 hours at 10 pm, May 21. Their daughters drove over to help.

“We didn’t actually load up enough stuff,” Rose said. “Mom didn’t think they’d be more than two or three days out of their house.”

“They just didn’t fathom what would happen,” Hart said, adding that her mother, a devout Baptist, insisted, “If anyone would be able to help the town of Webbers Falls, it would be the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.”

The family grew up Southern Baptist, Rose said.

“Mom couldn’t believe it when she heard you all were coming to town,” Hart added.

Of the town’s 190 homes, 174 suffered flood damage. Residents were allowed to return June 2. Hal and Sue found their 2200-square-foot residence, an apartment plus shop area inside a converted hotel, filled with sludge.

It had seemed the perfect place to retire: a brick building located blocks from the Arkansas River. “Dad could tinker and have all his toys and treasures [there],” Hart said.

The Myerses knew the town had flooded before, but not since 1942, Rose and Hart said. Like most of the other residents of Webbers Falls, they had no flood insurance and were shocked when floodwater swept in, not only from the river but also from run-off from nearby submerged fields that remained swamped days later.

A Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief mud-out crew cleared the Myers home of debris and ruined belongings, stripped walls of soggy sheetrock, and sprayed the premises with anti-mold treatment.

SBTC DR crews even “kicked out” the Myerses who were “overdoing it,” Hart and Rose said, chuckling and explaining that volunteers urged the couple to get some much-needed rest.

“These are great people with a can-do attitude,” Terry James, SBTC incident leader, said of local residents. James also praised the pastor and people of nearby First Baptist Warner for hosting 24 SBTC DR volunteers, including feeding, shower and laundry and administrative teams in addition to mud-out crews. A dozen newly-trained Oklahoma DR volunteers joined the SBTC crews.

James said the Oklahomans planned to work alongside SBTC DR crews to learn how the Texas teams operate.

“We are not even a week into this and we feel like we are pros now,” newly-minted Oklahoma DR volunteer Sydney Kilgore told the TEXAN.

“They are good teachers. We are partial to Texas now,” Shannon Kennedy, a second new volunteer added, laughing.

More rainfall, and, ironically, the lack of water complicated recovery efforts in Webbers Falls; service had not been restored as of June 7, James said. The situation prompted SBTC DR logistics volunteer Linda Mitter to improvise when the local fire department offered to help.

Mitter purchased couplings to attach SBTC DR equipment to the water supply in the firetruck so DR crews could power wash houses.

James praised local government, police and fire officials.

SBTC DR crews moved to Webbers Falls from Blackwell, Okla., June 2 in response to a request from Oklahoma DR Director Don Williams.

“We had finished everything we could do at Blackwell. We were at a natural stopping point,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said.

Mike Jansen, SBTC DR incident leader at Blackwell, commended that town’s Immanuel Baptist Church and pastor Matt Smith, an OKDR volunteer himself.

“The church had fed 600 people the weekend before we arrived Tuesday, May 28,” Jansen said. “When we arrived, many parts of east and north Blackwell were still impassable because of high water. The church had already collected a list of people who needed assistance.”

Of 54 Blackwell work orders, SBTC DR crews completed 40, many involving flooded basements and sealed crawlspaces under houses. They assisted all victims whom they were able to contact, Jansen said.

“Everyone just worked hand-in-hand. We shared the gospel with everyone we possibly could: making 44 total spiritual contacts. Many of the people said they were going to check out Immanuel Baptist because they saw them active in this,” Jansen added

“We are glad to be in Oklahoma to serve to help Oklahomans and Oklahoma DR,” Stice said, confirming that SBTC DR crews are expected to be in Oklahoma 2-4 weeks more, as part of a nationally-coordinated Southern Baptist effort to help May flood victims across the Midwest and South.

REVIEW: “Secret Life of Pets 2” is better than its predecessor

Max is an opinionated dog who hates children. Well, sort of.

His views on kids began to change when his owner, Katie, married a man named Chuck and they had a baby, Liam.

At first, Max wasn’t impressed. Liam slept. He ate. He slept some more. But then Liam began to talk. And then he began to crawl. And then he began to play with Max.

And then Liam said the words that melted Max’s heart.

“I love you Max.”

From then on, everything was different. Max and Liam became friends. They played a lot. They laughed a lot. Most of all, Max became his guard dog. 

“He’s perfect,” Max says, “and I’m never going to let anything bad happen to him.”

The animated film Secret Life of Pets 2 (PG) opens this weekend, continuing the story from its 2016 predecessor about Max (Patton Oswalt) and his animal friends, including the dogs Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Gidget (Jenny Slate), and the rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart).

The 2016 film Secret Life of Petsshowcased the relationship between pets and their owners, while the newest film spotlights the unique and even adorable bond between pets and children.

Secret Life of Pets 2adds another layer to the story when Max, Duke and their owners (and, of course, Liam) visit friends on a farm, where Max and Duke interact with sassy cows, a kooky turkey and a no-nonsense dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford).

The film is nearly the perfect family-friendly film thanks to an engaging story, the right type of humor and great lessons for parents and kids. It’s a celebration of childhood, parenting and, of course, pets. It’s also better than its predecessor.

The movie includes three primary plots: 1) Max’s trip to the country, 2) Gidget’s search for a lost toy (it belonged to Max), and, 3) Snowball’s attempt to free a tiger cub from an abusive circus owner.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal. Two spooky-looking cats in a vet’s office say, “We start fires.” (It’s played for laughs.) Gidget sneaks into an apartment to retrieve Max’s toy; she see cats in the dark with eerie eyes. We see Snowball dreaming about being a superhero and beating up bad guys. The most disturbing scenes for children may involve the tiger cub being whipped by a cruel owner. It’s not over the top but may trouble children who love animals. (He threatens to turn animals into coats if they don’t obey.) Wolves chase an animal through the city. 


None. Gidget dreams she and Max are married, taking care of his toy, “Busy Bee.” They nearly kiss in her dream (she wags her tongue). 

Coarse Language

Minimal. P—ed (1). That’s still a bad word in my house. We also hear “stupid,” “idiot,” “turd,”  “butt” and “holy cheese and crackers” once each.

Other Positive Elements

Snowball and several animals free the tiger cub. Rooster acts like a bully at the beginning of the film, but we see his heart soften by the movie’s end. 

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A cat coughs up a hairball. A cat is given catnip and becomes high, and then acts like a human who has smoked marijuana.

Gidget performs a trick that leads a group of cats to think she’s supernatural. “She is the chosen one,” one cat says. They then say, “All hail” the queen.

Life Lessons/Worldview

Children are a blessing:We watch a character, Max, transform from hating children to loving them, simply because he experienced the joy of being around a kid. Psalm 127:3 tells us “children are a gift.” That’s the message, minus the Bible verse.

Parenting is a blessing:We watch Katie and Chuck lovingly care for Liam. But the parenting lessons are best learned through the eyes of Max and Duke, who act likethe parents. They protect him. They love him. They see their view of the world transformed. (An exasperated Max says: “Was the world always this dangerous?”) But Max and Duke wouldn’t have it any other way. They are selfless and want what is best for Liam.

Pets are a blessing:Who wouldn’t want Max or Duke in their home?

Enemies can become friends: Rooster and Max don’t get along at the beginning but learn to be good buddies before the credits roll.

Courage is obtainable:With one action, Max learns to be brave.


McDonald’s, CapriSun, Drybar, Furbo, Blue Dog Bakery, FAO Schwarz, Petco, Progressive, Puffs, Tile, Wisdom Panel, Quaker.

What Works

The plot. The humor. The message.

What Doesn’t

It could have been a perfect film without the edgier stuff discussed above.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do children and pets get along so well? What could adults learn from watching pets and children play?

2. What can parents learn about parenting from Max, Duke and Rooster?

3. What does caring for a pet teach children? What does it teach adults?

4. For children: Why didn’t Max and Rooster get along? What changed?

5. What is different about caring for a pet and caring for a baby? 

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

Rated PG for some action and rude humor.

SBTC DR crews assist Salvation Army along the Texas/Mexico border

EL PASO and DEL RIO   When James and Dana Greer accompanied Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers to Del Rio along the Texas/Mexico border to support Salvation Army feeding operations responding to the migrant crisis, their experience as former missionaries to Tanzania helped them break language barriers.

Greer used language apps on his cell phone to facilitate communication. With the assistance of a local Spanish-speaking pastor, they held an impromptu church service attended by around 50 migrants, some of whom were believers and some of whom seemed unfamiliar with the songs and message.

The Sunday services continued in succeeding weeks. DR volunteer Jerry Lawrence, 81, of Jasper found the people receptive, warm and full of faith.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Lawrence said, explaining that the migrants he met were in family units, often with two parents. “They joined in services. All had Bibles. They were eager to participate and to learn English.” Lawrence enjoyed interacting with the children.

Greer, Top o’ Texas Baptist Association director of missions, told the TEXAN he was not surprised to receive some criticism for joining other SBTC volunteers in providing shower and laundry support at the border. He stressed that the migrants served had entered the country legally and had destinations and sponsors in the states.

 “Our job has not changed over the calling that comes from the Gospels, and that is to share the gospel clearly and precisely. I would rather stand before my Father with the certainty that I was doing what I was led to do than to stand before him knowing that I had not when I could have,” Greer said.

Migrants had passed through security, been vetted by the border patrol and undergone medical screening before arriving at the temporary shelter, Lawrence said.

Since SBTC DR answered the Salvation Army’s request for help in mid-May, small crews have rotated in and out to man the shower/laundry unit. The SBTC’s DR bunkhouse is also on site, housing Salvation Army and SBTC volunteers.

The Del Rio mission and a similar deployment to El Paso, where small teams of SBTC DR feeding volunteers are assisting Salvation Army efforts to feed migrants detained in a local shelter, mark a “renewed partnership with the Salvation Army,” said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director.

Since May 5, DR volunteers have helped prepare and serve from 600 to 1,400 meals per day in El Paso, DR task force member Dewey Watson confirmed.

The El Paso deployment is expected to continue through the end of June while volunteers will remain in Del Rio till June 16.

An ultra-marathon of endurance

It was a grueling 543.7-mile endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia—the world’s longest and toughest ultra-marathon. In 1983, 150 world-class runners converged on Sydney for the event.

On the day of the race, a toothless 61-year-old potato farmer and sheepherder named Cliff Young approached the registration table wearing overalls and galoshes over his work boots. At first, people thought he was there to watch the race, but to their surprise, Cliff Young declared his intention to run and requested a number.

Cliff Young had grown up on a farm without the benefit of luxuries like horses and four-wheel-drive vehicles. When the storms rolled in, Cliff headed out to round up 2,000 sheep over a 2,000-acre farm. Sometimes he had to run them two or three days to complete the round up.

The incredulous staff issued Cliff #64. As he mingled with the other runners at the starting line, spectators couldn’t believe their eyes. “This must be a joke!” some mused.

When the gun went off, bystanders snickered at Cliff, left behind in his galoshes and overalls as the other runners with their sculpted bodies and running gear briskly began the race. Snickers gave way to laughter when Cliff began to run, not like the other runners, but with what could only be described as a leisurely, odd shuffle.

All of Australia was riveted to the live telecast as they watched the scene unfold. “Someone should stop that crazy old man before he kills himself!”

Five days, 15 hours and 4 minutes later, Cliff Young came shuffling across the finish line in Melbourne, winning the ultra-marathon! He didn’t win by a few seconds or even a few minutes. The nearest runner was 9 hours and 56 minutes behind.

Australians were stunned at this remarkable yet seemingly impossible victory. How did it happen?

Everyone knew that the only way to win the ultra-marathon was to run for 18 hours, then stop and sleep for six hours. This routine was repeated for five punishing days. But no one told Cliff Young. He just shuffled along, day and night, night and day, without stopping to sleep. Cliff broke the previous race record by nine hours and became a national hero overnight.

Interestingly, professional runners began to study and experiment with the odd shuffle that Cliff used in his running. Many long distance runners have since adopted what has come to be called the “Young shuffle” due to its aerodynamic and energy efficiency.

Likewise, victory in the Christian life comes through endurance. The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash. It is a marathon. In the short distance race, speed is important. In the long distance race, endurance is what leads to success.

As Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us run with endurance the race set before us.” Each of us must run the race in our own special way using the gifts and talents God has given us. Against all odds, we run the race.

“For the joy before him” Jesus endured, we read in Hebrews 12:2. You and I are his joy!

As Scripture tells us in Hebrews 12:3: “Consider him, who endured such hostility of sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

When we run the Christian ultra-marathon with endurance, keeping our focus on Jesus, we can be assured of finishing strong and hearing those cherished words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

David Allen is the dean of the School of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Try something old for a really good read

In the Twitter age, story too often is reduced to badly phrased punchlines. The soul craves more. 

Why not a good book? 

What should Christians be reading? The Bible, of course. Devotionals, sure. But how about a good book, preferably one that stretches you to think deep thoughts and understand just a bit better the nature of humankind—made in the image of God, yes, but fallen. 

If you are looking to read more these days, if only to escape the 24/7 news cycle, why not reach for something more potentially rewarding than the latest best-seller, Christian or secular?

In an online article posted in The Federalist, Focus on the Family’s Glenn T. Stanton makes the case for reading books that stand the test of time. Stanton suggests imagining a dinner party with two guests: one who has read all the New York Times best-sellers for the past two years and one who has spent the time to read 50 of the greatest books of the ancient and classical worlds.

Which guest would your friends choose to hear? Which would be able to tell you more about humanity, crisis, virtue, ideas, hope, faith?

Literature can be transformative. Jesus taught using story. Good literature resonates with the soul. 

The TEXAN informally polled a dozen Christian college English professors and secondary English teachers, asking the question: What would be the top five works of literature you would recommend every Christian read? Answers varied. The results are summarized below. These recommendations are given with teenagers and adults in mind.

With a few exceptions, most of the choices listed are not too long. Moby-Dick is a personal favorite but can be slow reading, so it did not make our very incomplete list.

Even if you have already read them, these books are worth another look. They have stood the test of time for a reason.

American classics

The Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is not all about Daisy and the American dream, despite what you thought as a high school junior.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee’s classic … try it again.

East of Eden: Steinbeck’s epic illuminating the power of forgiveness and God’s gift of free will, all set in California. His classic “The Grapes of Wrath” should make the list, too.

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle’s masterpiece is not just for kids. The same is true of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories: This Southern gothic writer will surprise you. Her use of exaggerated, grotesque characters shouts to the spiritually deaf that humanity needs a Savior. If you like O’Connor’s stories, try the collection of her prose: Mystery and Manners.

British favorites

Dickens. Anything by Charles Dickens. Period.

Austen. Anything by Jane Austen. Period. Start with Pride and Prejudice. Or try the shorter Persuasion.

Jane Eyre: As one respondent put it, “a tale of true faith, of faithful mentors, of the purity of love given freely when God is invited in as the third strand.”

The Screwtape Letters: C.S. Lewis’ classic depiction of Satan’s methods yet rings true.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Tolkien’s tale never gets old. Don’t depend on the films.


Les Miserables: Victor Hugo’s masterpiece is more than a musical, but you might try an abridged version, which will also be long but worth it.

Cry, the Beloved Country: Alan Paton’s tale of South African apartheid and the love of fathers and sons. Beautiful and short.

Anna Karenina: Tolstoy’s masterful exploration of family, temptation, stubbornness, love. It is long but readable. Also worth the effort: Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov.

The Aeneid: Virgil’s masterpiece tells of the founding of Rome. As one of our teachers polled put it: “Like the Roman roads, The Aeneid paved the way for an understanding of a Savior king and brought the message far and wide throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond.” Try the Robert Fagles translation. Don’t forget Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, too.