Month: July 2019

Executive Board approves new staff, proposes $28.9 million budget

GRAPEVINE—Hiring two new convention staff members, proposing a 2020 budget of $28.9 million and approving a special needs ministry strategy were among actions of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board when it convened July 30 in Grapevine.

Joshua Owens, 25, was approved as SBTC communications associate. Previously, he served as a social media strategist with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Owens will help produce SBTC social media and news content and develop new channels—such as podcasts—for disseminating convention news.

Director of Communications Gary Ledbetter said the SBTC will continue producing a print edition of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, as well as online news content, and has developed a team to assist with that ministry. “What we don’t know as well is digital communications. Josh has experience working with three SBC entities in this area. For a young man, he has wide and very pertinent experience for the direction we see our news apparatus going in the coming years. 

Owens developed and managed social media channels for both the ERLC and Southwestern. At Southwestern, he also was tasked with analyzing daily Baptist and secular news for the seminary’s executive leadership team. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern’s undergraduate college and a master of science in strategic communication from Texas Christian University.

Over the past two years Owens has served as an IMB journeyman, and he is fluent in Spanish. In addition to assisting with development of missions strategy, he participated in IMB field work and training in Africa, Europe & the Middle East. In all, Owens has traveled to 29 countries on five continents.

Montana church planter Dave Carroll was approved as SBTC church ministries associate, a position in which he will consult with churches about worship arts, music education and worship technology.

In 2013, Carroll, 41, planted Elevation Church in Billings, Mont. The congregation grew to 500 in Sunday worship attendance during his tenure, saw 520 professions of faith in Christ and became one of the fastest-growing Southern Baptist churches in Montana.

For the previous 12 years, Carroll served on church staffs in Florida, including worship and youth ministry duties, and assisted with church planting in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Carroll cited his wide-ranging ministry experience as preparation for service in Texas.

“South Florida brings some diversity [in its] variety of people. Montana has prepared us for the smaller places. We got to see what it looks like in rural America,” Carroll said, adding, “I’m excited to see what God has in store for us in the area of worship.”

The Board accepted the Administrative Committee’s 2020 budget proposal, which represents a $12 decrease from the current year’s $28.9 million budget. The budget requires approval of messengers at the Oct. 28-29 annual meeting in Odessa.

While receipts for the first half of 2019 were $443,951 behind budget, a “good strong July” made up the shortage and put the convention ahead of budget for the year to date, CFO Joe Davis reported.

The special needs ministry strategy adopted by the Board included a grant of up to $30,000 from SBTC reserve funds to cover, among other items, a consultant or part-time employee to oversee the equipping of churches to reach and disciple special needs families.

The strategy was based on recommendations from a task force appointed by the Executive Board in April and chaired by Board member Tommy Oglesby. In appointing the special needs task force, the Board was acting on a 2018 messenger motion that the convention “study the needs of special needs families and develop a strategy for churches to minister to special needs families and reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Oglesby, pastor of South Jefferson Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, told the Board “there is a great open door for churches to be involved in those special needs situations.”

Ministry to special needs families “can be a huge community outreach,” Oglesby said. “I’m delighted at the end of the day at the progress and recommendations that have been made” by the special needs task force.

Potential special needs ministry initiatives include, according to recommendations presented to the Board:

  • Enlisting regional specialists to consult with churches upon request;
  • Placing a “Special Needs Sunday” on the SBTC calendar; and
  • Developing digital resources to assist churches with special needs ministries.

Eighteen churches were approved for affiliation with the SBTC while 14 were removed—11 having disbanded or merged and three requesting removal. The action brings the total number of affiliated churches to 2,726.

The Board heard reports from Criswell College President Barry Creamer, Jacksonville College President Mike Smith and Jason Curry, president of the Texas Baptist Home for Children.

Criswell College is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Creamer said, and expects “the biggest transition in school history” in coming months with construction the college’s first residence hall.

Until now, Criswell “has been a commuter school” with largely nontraditional students, Creamer said. A campus dormitory will open doors to “reach traditional students and engage them with” local ministries “while giving them four years of education.”

Creamer added, “We’re blooming in the neighborhood where God has planted us.”

Jacksonville College, Smith said, is thankful for Cooperative Program gifts through the SBTC because sustaining the college “would be difficult without that financial support.”

Smith and other Jacksonville staff members presented testimonies of God’s work through CP at the college, including a mission trip to Nigeria, the sharing of online courses with other small colleges and salvation decisions made by students during chapel services.

The Texas Baptist Home for Children (TBHC) facilitated foster care for 287 children last year and saw 24 adoptions, Curry said. A five-year expansion plan for the ministry calls for staff increases and potential facility changes in Garland, Bedford and Denton among other sites.

TBHC is seeking to recruit additional foster families from Texas Southern Baptist churches, Curry said. Many Texas children need safe, loving homes, and will never hear “the message of the gospel outside of coming to a foster home.”

In other business:

Disaster Relief Director Scottie Stice reported on SBTC ministry at migrant relief shelters in Del Rio and Brownsville, where migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. receive meals, showers, clothes, backpacks filled with snacks and a gospel witness before heading to destination cities assigned by the federal government.

The Del Rio shelter serves approximately 30 immigrants per day who have been released by the government to settle in U.S. cities. “This is a happy place,” Stice said. “There are big smiles,” and “people are so appreciative of a shower.”

The Brownsville shelter, set up at West Brownsville Baptist Church, is “an evangelistic hot spot,” Stice said, with some 4,000 immigrants passing through during the past six to eight months and approximately 3,000 professions of faith in Jesus Christ over the same time period. “It is unbelievable what they’re doing down there.”

Though the number of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border is projected to decline during the hottest months of the year, SBTC DR volunteers still are needed as are volunteers through Texas Relief, an initiative that allows believers not credentialed in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief to join the ministry.

Bart McDonald, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation, reported that the Foundation currently manages some $53 million in deposits from more than 390 churches. Those investment accounts will earn $1.2 million in interest over the next 12 months.

From its pool of deposited funds, the Foundation offers loans to churches and SBTC ministries for construction projects and other capital needs, McDonald said. More than $50 million in loans have been approved over the last five years.

“It’s a win-win situation,” McDonald said. “We offer competitive terms” and “tell our borrowers 100 percent of what you’re paying in interest is used to fund kingdom causes.”

The next Executive Board meeting is Oct. 30 in Odessa in conjunction with the annual meeting.

Waiting, for his glory

I have seen the joy on families’ faces when they have finally adopted. Whether adopting privately or through foster care, an infant or older child, this is the moment—the one they have been waiting for. For most people the expectations are similar: “Will it be a girl or a boy?” “What will they look like?” “How old will they be?” “Will I be a good father, a good mother?”

The journey to adoption is up and down and can’t be expressed here. But if you know someone or are experiencing the process yourself, the greatest challenge in the journey is in the waiting. Waiting on all the different people needed to adopt is demanding. However, what if I told you that everyone who is waiting is not waiting on people—they are waiting on the Lord. God could be building the space necessary in your heart for a child from tough circumstances. He could be nurturing your spirit to love the biological family. And ultimately learning that it’s not your will being done but his. 

God is framing our hearts, fostering our objectivity and fulfilling his purposes. Every narrative in Scripture reveals God’s prevailing timing. The blind man Jesus heals in John 9 was blind into his adulthood so that the glory of God would be revealed. God has a plan! 

Since 2004, TBHC has had the privilege of helping more than 300 children find forever families. We would love to help you in your journey. If you or someone you know is waiting, just pray that God would work. One fulfilling aspect of life is being a mom and dad. When you feel that a loving God is denying you that it is difficult. So yes, take time and test your heart and your objectivity according to Scripture. But never assume you’re waiting because of God’s punishment. You are waiting for his glory! Thanks for helping bring kids home. 

A good start

I think it was near our 40th wedding anniversary when a friend at church overheard me mention it and said, “Congratulations! That’s a pretty good start.” His own marriage was closer to 60 years old and it put the whole thing in perspective for me. I tend to think of these things, seniority and experience, as rungs on a ladder; once you’ve reached a step, no one can take it away from you. But it’s really not that way at all. Everything good we do is a race, and nothing matters if we don’t finish. 

Tammi and I will pass 43 years this summer and I don’t take that for granted. God has grown me substantially through my relationship with this woman. But I’m humbled a little in my pride of attainment when I see people my age falling by the wayside in their marriages for relatively trivial reasons. (I would call abuse a nontrivial reason, by the way.) Perhaps at one point in the journey they figured they had finished something that couldn’t be lost. From my observation, it can easily be lost. 

I tend to be hard on young people who are at the front end of a lifelong marriage. I emphasize the promises they make to their families, their church, to each other and to God as greater than any personal feeling likely to come their way. This is a debt, an oath freely entered into and binding. But it’s easy to assume that those who have weathered the difficult years of raising kids and building a career are somehow beyond the risks of abandoning their marriage covenant. I once heard Chris Osborne say to a group of young pastors that Satan would rather trip up someone in his last few years than at some point earlier in his career, and I believe the same is true of our marriages. Consider what’s at risk. 

Your long life and happiness are at risk. A retired friend recently abandoned his wife for another woman. In the process he split with lifelong friends, disappointed his extended family and placed his short future in the hands of a near stranger. That’s no way to go into old age. 

Your influence is at risk. Many of us don’t think about this enough. By retirement, most of us are working alongside people the age of our children. They know the age gap and don’t disrespect it as much as we might assume. These young people may project on us a little of the wisdom they have seen in their parents or grandparents—they may listen to us and learn from what we do. Our call in these relationships, and those of younger families at church, is not to be perfect, but to be who we say we are. It costs them something, as it costs us something, when we treat their respect as something small by breaking our most important human commitment. 

Your family is at risk. When Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa blow up their marriage, the wreckage roars downhill. Your kids and grands will still love you, but you’ve slammed shut an opportunity to teach them how to handle what happens next with integrity. Intellectually, the young and the beautiful know that their own winter is coming. They can be relatively carefree from that reality because they see those who are weathering it gracefully. That’s how the lives of those 20-30 years further down the road have always looked to me. It was a comfort to know that someone has gone the way I’m going without catastrophe.

Your spiritual growth is at risk. Granted, a man or woman who abandons a marriage already has some spiritual troubles. This life-changing sin is along the path seeded with a hundred “mundane” sins. But this one is life changing nonetheless. I think of it as the difference between anger and murder. Jesus said that the man who is angry with his brother has killed him in his heart. The point is, we are not sinless just because we have not committed a legal felony. I can repent of and apologize sincerely for anger more easily than I can apologize or make amends for murder, a sin with life-altering consequences. If you are a bad husband, abandoning your marriage is doubling down on that sin. The road back will be more painful and destructive. 

There is a positive way to say these things. Long marriages are a testimony of faithfulness and hope. The potential they have to bring joy to the couple and encouragement to those around is demonstrated in your life and in mine. We’ve seen it and, to some degree, we’ve lived it. But sometimes those benefits are hard to see in the face of the difficulties of later life. My point is that we risk trading difficulty for tragedy, and that is not at all hard to imagine. 

Think of your 10 years or 30 years or even 60 years of marriage as a “good start.” You know the race is not finished because you are still here. Your joy and influence are real, even when they are not apparent to you. We must carefully husband those precious things until the finish line. 

You are the convention!

One of the most exciting events of the year is coming up in three short months, when the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will send messengers to the 2019 Annual Meeting (#SBTCAM19). This year we are gathering at First Baptist Church, Odessa, where pastor Byron McWilliams and the gracious congregation will host us. They have a beautiful new building. There is a new hotel near. It is going to be a wonderful setting.

Several years ago, under Nathan Lino’s leadership, the SBTC began a transition from a more formal approach to one designed to facilitate the churches in their gospel assignment. Now, attendees experience a cross between a church ministry seminar and a Bible conference. Pertinent topics such as mental health needs, evangelism, sexual abuse awareness and religious liberty will be addressed in panel discussion format. Five SBTC preachers will bring expositional messages from 2 Corinthians, chapters four and five. The theme “Who’s Your One?” is highlighted in the passages of Scripture. SBTC President Juan Sanchez will open up on Monday night. Tuesday morning Andrew Hebert, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church, Amarillo, will bring the next in the series. Tuesday afternoon Pastor Charles Lee, Acts Fellowship Church, Austin and Caleb Turner, associate pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church are scheduled. I will bring the concluding section of Scripture. 

Two other preachers will bring messages during our time together. Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board is slated for Monday night. This is a tremendous opportunity for people to hear and meet God’s man leading Southern Baptist global missions. I am personally thrilled that he made the effort to be with us in Odessa. I want to encourage every Southern Baptist church in West Texas to do everything possible to bring people to hear Dr. Chitwood. Tuesday morning will be treat number two. The new president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Adam Greenway, will bring God’s Word to us. Although all six seminaries “belong” to the Southern Baptist Convention, we Texans like to claim Southwestern as our own. Join me in supporting the ministry of Dr. Greenway. The future is bright on the hill in Fort Worth. 

Every year we have uplifting worship music. Testimonies will be shared about those who came to Christ through “Who’s Your One?” What we do together as 2,700 churches in missions and ministries is worth celebrating! Each week, roughly 2,000 people move  to the Lone Star State. If we started a mega church a week we would not keep up. New churches are making a difference, and we need more. Four thousand students attended SBTC staff-led camps this summer, and we saw hundreds come to Christ! This is an investment in the next generation. Disaster relief has gone non-stop in 2019 because of natural calamities and the border crisis. No church is so small that it doesn’t matter, and no church is so large that it can do it alone. Cooperative Program giving makes over 100 areas of services to churches and the public possible. #SBTCAM19 is a praise rally to Jesus!

Legally, the SBTC exists only when the messengers constitute the convention. The churches through the messengers own the convention. Some business will take place, and there is no greater business than gospel business. People will be elected to serve the churches, a budget is to be adopted and resolutions stating our positions on current issues will be presented. Our work is done together as a confessional fellowship centered on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which gives a minimalist expression of what we believe about the inerrant Word of God.

Finally, there is one other unique facet about this year’s annual meeting. The closing gavel will sound on Tuesday afternoon, and there will be no Tuesday night session. You can be home before midnight if you live in Ft. Worth, El Paso or Amarillo. Everyone needs to stay for the conclusion. 

Attend #SBTCAM19 because we need fellowship with one another. Attend because we need accountability to one another in gospel work. Attend because this is your convention. You are the convention. There is so much more to tell you about our family gathering in Odessa. Please plan to be there. It will be worth the trip to be with family.  

Amid revitalization, Houston church leaves the “comfort zone” to grow

HOUSTON  During its first year of a revitalization process, the congregation of Forest Oaks Baptist Church broadened their prayers.

Members who had mainly limited their praying during corporate prayer times to intercession for people’s physical needs began praying for God to move in the hearts of the unconverted, to strengthen the church and to guide the congregation to a closer walk with him.

“After we started moving into revitalization, if nothing else, the effect has been the excitement in people’s hearts,” Pastor Kevin Barefield told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “The worship has improved. There’s evidence of prayer answered. The hope of the people has returned.”

Organized in 1953, Forest Oaks Baptist members were “comfortable” with their church when they called Barefield as pastor in 2001. It’s comfort that led to a consistent decline as the aging congregation in southeast Houston began to die and finances dwindled.

“I took a $700-a-month pay cut six years ago, after I had been at the church for six years, and tried to communicate the need to do something different,” Barefield said. “I had been trying to turn them outward, doing community outreaches and evangelism, but we weren’t seeing results and the people were discouraged.”

Problems escalated. The worship center and fellowship building’s air conditioning system went out. The church steeple was struck by lightning. Then came Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, and the insurance company declined coverage.

That became good news, the pastor said, because after that came an email from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention asking churches if they needed hurricane recovery help. Barefield responded, and SBTC Revitalization Consultant Mike Landry contacted him.

“When I first met Kevin Barefield, I found a pastor who had a heart for the Lord and for people. He was open and willing to do whatever it took to see Forest Oaks become the church God wanted it to be,” Landry said

“Mike shared the revitalization process with me and asked me to connect with the church about entering into a contract with SBTC about revitalization,” Barefield said. “It was a unanimous vote to do so.

“It [a willingness to change] had been coming on,” the pastor continued. “Things had been moving in that direction, but I guess we were trying to do revitalization on our own.”

Several pastor friends were encouraging him, Barefield said, “but it wasn’t working. I think a lot of the lack of progress had to do with the fact I was very inexperienced in revitalization and did not have anyone to consult with or give me guidance or help me kind of focus. 

“Between Kenneth Priest and Mike Landry and everyone at the SBTC, though, I was able to get what I needed: encouragement, support, guidance and focus,” Barfield continued. Forest Oaks Baptist also received financial assistance for the repair of the wind-ravaged roof and interior water damage caused by the hurricane. 

The last Sunday of January 2018, the pastor gave each member a “congregational analysis” they were to fill out and return the following Sunday.

“I remember looking at the results and thinking that the church members think they are OK as they are,” Barefield said. “In worship, prayer, evangelism, discipleship and fellowship, they thought they were in good shape. They thought we were ‘over the top’ in our health concerns.”

As the months went by, the congregation learned about healthy churches from Sunday morning messages with scriptures suggested by the SBTC revitalization team. Those messages were augmented by Sunday School Bible studies that covered the same topics.

“That was pretty much by design,” Barefield said. “We wanted to hasten the church along in understanding what revitalization entailed, and their part in it.”

At the time it seemed to be a slow process, but in retrospect everything moved quickly, the pastor said.

“I think I actually got to the point where I gave up,” Barefield said. “I stopped trying to do it on my own. Then God stepped in and said, ‘OK! Now that you know who’s in charge, watch what happens.’”

The congregation, resistant at first to change, “knew something was wrong; they just weren’t ready for revitalization,” the pastor said. “We were picking at things, trying to find something that would work, instead of doing the hard work of change. 

“We looked for old techniques and old programs that worked years ago, that we felt comfortable with, thinking, ‘If we do this, it will make people come.’ We weren’t willing to change internally, to see that the problems existed on the inside. We just wanted to fix the outside, the roof, the ceilings, the drywall.”

SBTC gave $75,000 to Forest Oaks Baptist to help with the extensive repairs needed after Hurricane Harvey. The repairs coincided with the congregation’s acceptance of their need to change, just as the building changed. 

“I was getting a lot of feedback and encouragement from the congregation that they were being encouraged,” Barefield said. “They were beginning to see the necessity, the importance, of turning themselves outward to the community, reaching the community and working toward congregational health. They were beginning to see it was not God’s problem. It was our problem, the way we were approaching it.”

Prayer that at times was a ritual became heartfelt as the congregation responded to what they were seeing God do in their midst, the changes he was making.

“We’ve seen God move,” the pastor said. “There’s evidence of answered prayer.”

The changes Landry noted include the now-encouraged pastor’s new vision, the congregation’s increased focus on the Great Commission and their learning what it means to live on mission.

“Revitalization is all about the spiritual health of the people,” Landry said. “The church has also experienced an increase in attendance and baptisms.”

Forest Oaks Baptist is again averaging about 80 in worship, a new believers’ class has been started and some church members are helping with community outreach events, including its recent Easter Egg hunt that drew about 800 people to the church property and a “Highways and Hedges” ministry every other Friday. 

In this ministry, members prayer walk for one week down assigned streets. Two weeks later they’ll return to the same street and put up door-hangers, inviting people to church.

Five years ago, Forest Oaks started a Hispanic ministry, now led by Sisto Vidauri, which draws about 30 people to the church on Sunday afternoons. It, too, is involved in the revitalization process.

“We’ve been working hard, trying to establish the vision and mission of the church and getting excited about it,” Barefield said. “We’re also looking at developing small groups. 

“My advice to those in churches needing revitalization is to surrender and have patience,” the pastor continued. “Wait on God and remember, you can only do so much.”  

Mandrell elected as LifeWay’s 10th president

ATLANTA—LifeWay Christian Resources trustees unanimously elected Ben Mandrell as the organization’s 10th president during a special-called meeting June 28 in Atlanta.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead in such an important season for LifeWay,” Mandrell told trustees during the plenary session. “My first priority is to get our family to Nashville and begin loving the people at LifeWay. There is already an amazing team in place, and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and work alongside them.”

Mandrell, 42, comes to LifeWay from his role as lead pastor at Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, Colo. Two days after the June 21 announcement of his nomination to lead LifeWay, Mandrell delivered a heartfelt sermon to his congregation explaining his decision to relocate his family to Nashville.

“All through Scripture, we learn that God is a calling God,” Mandrell said in his sermon. “He dials our number and we have to answer. We have to take His calls.” When considering the decision to accept the search committee’s nomination, Mandrell said he had “a wrestling match with God like I have never experienced before.”

Mandrell has served as lead pastor of Storyline Fellowship since its founding in 2014.

A ‘man of character’

“This is a significant and momentous day in the history of LifeWay,” said trustee chairman Jimmy Scroggins as he thanked the search committee for their hard work and commitment to the task.

“Ben is a man of character, integrity, godly strength and humility,” said Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I appreciate his relentless commitment to seeing people come to know Christ and to see churches that preach the Gospel have the resources they need to advance the Kingdom.”

Kent Dacus, who led the presidential search committee, said the process of finding the next CEO of LifeWay was extensive, methodical and deliberate with the team examining a diverse field of candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds.

“All throughout the process, we were focused solely on the best person for the position and for the person God was already preparing to lead LifeWay in this new season,” Dacus said. “We found a man who is deeply committed to God’s Word and has an incredible passion for the local church.”

Dacus praised the search committee for their prayerful and steadfast effort the past 10 months. “These men and women have worked in one accord and sought the Lord’s guidance every step of the way,” he said.

LifeWay’s presidential search committee was appointed in August 2018. The committee included chairman Kent Dacus (Calif.), Bill Langley (Ky.), Millie Burkett (Ore.), Brad McLean (Texas), Madeline Harris (Penn.), Todd Fannin (Okla.), and Luther McDaniel (Tenn.).

Southern Baptist leaders respond

When Mandrell’s nomination was announced last week, Southern Baptist leaders began to share their excitement.

“Ben Mandrell is the kind of visionary, disruptive leader that LifeWay needs just at this moment,” said SBC President J.D. Greear. “I am thrilled with this choice.”

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, echoed Greear’s enthusiasm. “Ben Mandrell has proven himself as an incredible church planter, pastor and innovative leader. He has a passion to connect and communicate Jesus to a lost world,” Ezell said.

“Ben has invested his life in equipping new believers to grow and walk faithfully in the Lord. He has a unique ability to connect with people of all ages and will be an outstanding steward of LifeWay’s future.”

David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Orlando, which served as the sending church for Storyline Fellowship, described Mandrell as a strong leader with insight and discernment. “[Ben] has a deep passion for following Jesus and an incredible resolve to do exactly as the Lord leads him.”

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said Mandrell is a leader with a “compelling vision to reach all people in our generation. How exciting it is to have a pastor like Ben Mandrell called straight from the church to lead LifeWay to assist and resource churches all around the world for gospel advancement.”

A native of Tampico, Ill., Mandrell is a 1998 graduate of Anderson (Ind.) University. He also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Union University.

Mandrell and his wife Lynley have been married 18 years. The couple has four children: Ava (15), Max (13), Miles (12) and Jack (11).

“I can see the hand of God preparing me for this significant moment at LifeWay,” Mandrell said.

Read more about Mandrell’s nomination at LifeWay.com/CEOSearch.

REVIEW: “The Lion King” is a superb family-friendly remake

Simba is a young lion cub who can’t imagine life without his father, Mufasa, the king of the pride lands.

“Dad, we’re pals, right?”

“Right,” his father tells him.

“And we’ll always be together,” Simba says.

Well, not exactly, but just like any good father, Mufasa explains his future death in language that won’t shock his son.

Yet nothing can prepare Simba for what happens a few days later.

Simba gets caught in a stampede of wildebeests. His father rescues him, but then is killed due to a nefarious action of a jealous brother, Scar.

Believing he is responsible for his father’s death, a guilt-ridden Simba runs away from the only place he’s ever known, and Scar — a power-hungry evil lion — takes the throne.

Disney’s The Lion King (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, starring James Earl Jones as Mufasa, JD McCrary as the young Simba, Donald Glover as the older Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner as Timon.

It’s a live-action remake of the 1994 animated film that won two Oscars. Jones had the same role in that earlier film. Composer Hans Zimmer also worked on both projects.

The film follows the same plot, and in some scenes is nearly an exact reproduction. But the remake is 30 minutes longer than the original. It gets there by lengthening a few scenes and adding other ones that weren’t in the 1994 movie.

Overall, the 2019 The Lion Kingis an entertaining and well-done remake, although with a slower pace at times. It’s a redemptive story about tragedy and triumph. Overall, it’s superb. 

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. The scenes seem more intense in a live-action film. Hyenas chase a young Simba, trying to eat him. (“Kill him,” Scar says.) Mufasa’s death is identical to the original, but the emotional impact of Simba mourning over him is greater, as is Scar’s falsely blaming Simba for the tragedy. The movie ends just like the first one, with hyenas and lions battling and then two lions going one-one-one (and one lion falling off a cliff toward a fire). 

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. Zazu, a red-billed hornbill, gives Mufasa his daily report and says he saw two giraffes “necking.” 

Coarse Language

None/minimal. We hear one “my G-d” and one “farted.” The latter takes place in Pumbaa’s song, Hakuna Matata. In the original film, Timon places his hand over Pumbaa’s mouth, preventing him from saying it.

Other Positive Elements

Mufasa’s love and care for his son is admirable. It’s the heart of the story. Meanwhile, Simba is just as cute and cuddly as the original

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Watching Mufasa die, and Simba mourn over him, could trouble children (or anyone) who has lost a parent. (“Wake up,” Simba says.)

Pumbaa passes gas.

Life Lessons

You can’t change your past, but you can change your future. That’s what Pumbaa and Timon tell Simba. It’s good advice.

Don’t answer evil with evil: Simba has a chance to kill Scar the same way Scar killed his father. Simba, though, displays mercy.  

Children are a blessing: Mufasa and Sarabi truly care for Simba.

Worldview/Application

The 1994 film and the 2019 version tell us there is a “circle of life.”

But is there? Well, yes and no.

There certainly isa circle of life in the physical realm. Just look at a forest through the seasons: Trees bloom in the spring. Leaves turn green in the summer, and then fall off in autumn. Then, on the ground, those decayed leaves provide fertilizer for — you guessed it — new trees in the spring. The film illustrates this by showing us a tuft of Simba’s fur changing ownership — from a bird nest, to a giraffe’s accidental meal, to a dung beetle, to a leaf-cutting ant.

In the Kingdom or spiritual realm, though, there is no circle of life. There is no reincarnation. We have a soul, and it spends eternity either with or apart from God. This means Mufasa is spouting real-world nonsense when he tells Simba that “the great kings of the past look down on us from the stars” to guide us.

Mufasa comes close to the truth when he says of his land: “It is ours to protect — a great responsibility.”

The Bible says we are stewards of the planet, entrusted to treat it as we would our own home — with care.

Sponsors

McDonald’s, General Mills, Yoplait, Go-Gurt and Ocean Spray are sponsors well-known to children.

What Works

The animal recreations. The interaction between Mufasa and Simba. The tiny details, such as recreations of ants and worms. 

What Doesn’t

The slower pace. The movie doesn’t drag, but there are a few moments where the original movie easily outshines the newer version.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the key to overcoming guilt about your past? What does the Bible say?

2. Why was Scar jealous? Should he have been jealous? How would the story have been different if he were supportive?

3. One character says “life is meaningless.” How would you have responded?

4. Is there a “great circle of life”?

5. Are our ancestors in the stars, looking down on us? What does the Bible say?

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

Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.

The provoked and the provocateur

Imagine the simplicity of being tempted to judge others solely based on face-to-face encounters or face-to-face gossip! I’m being a little sarcastic because it’s always been tough to resist destructive attitudes and conversation. But it’s also true that we now have the ability to observe so many more people (and their words) casually, and to hear many anonymous reports of those we have never met. It would be one thing (trivial to me) if this dynamic only applied to celebrities and politicians, but it is also rife within the body of Christ. Our amazingly broad reach and immediate access make it possible to form opinions about the nature of a person’s life without ever hearing his voice or seeing his face. For me this is dangerous.

I watch a lot of newsmakers, news sites and reporters through social media—both in our large Baptist pond and our larger global one. As I said, political decisions in Cape Town and Sacramento are relatively small potatoes on my menu, but the opinions of SBC entity heads, professors, authors and pastors are of great interest to me professionally. It is necessary to read their posts in order to keep up with the news of the convention. The illusion is that I “know” these people from short posts, comments and wise cracks. It has made me unfollow some folks to avoid knee-jerk judgment.    

This has helped my attitude. The trick is to keep as many channels of information open as possible without getting angry or discouraged (and thus feeling guilty) because of the perceived attitude of prominent Baptists. A man has to know his limitations and guard his heart without being overly concerned about missing something. Some do “social media fasts” or unplug for a time each day or a day each week. If that works, I affirm the practice. Turning off your beeps and buzzers at some point well before bedtime seems as minimal as closing the blinds after dark. For an analyst, someone who’s always trying to put isolated data together to discern meaning or trends, it’s not enough; we can’t not know something just because we leave the thread. I struggle to forget my first impression of a stranger based on the most distant observation of him possible. So what to do?

Consider trimming your follows if you find yourself disappointed, discouraged or judgey after reading the words of near strangers. If some folks provoke you, but rarely to good works, lose them. It may be your fault and it may be theirs but remove the temptation.

Work for opportunities to meet or at least hear live some of the folks you deem important but find vexing. Second best to hearing someone live is listening to them speak on YouTube or reading something long form they have written.  

Repent. Maybe you are wrong to extend so little grace to a stranger. I have done this very thing with a couple of folks who still don’t know me from Adam.

As a content producer, consider how many consumers of your content—readers, hearers or buyers—you lose by popping off. I think this is easier for me (who didn’t regularly use a computer until I was 34) than it is for someone who was surrounded by virtual “friends” they’d never met since puberty. But still, I have a hard time wanting to read some writers or benefit from the ministries of some leaders because of too-clever throwaway lines on Twitter. If I’m the only one, you’ve only crashed one potential relationship by a self-indulgent aside. Maybe I’m not, though. It may be easier for a non “digital native” to avoid virtual throw downs but some things are harder for every generation compared to another. It’s no excuse.

If I judge too quickly, it’s my responsibility to repent of that. If I am unkind to you in thought or deed after you knowingly insult my political convictions or generation or theological tribe, I’m wrong. Reverse the roles and I’d be wrong to insult you in these ways regardless of what you do wrong in response. We should both be under conviction about this exchange, or we should decide to not discuss politics since we can’t play nice. Whether it’s politics, theologically secondary issues or implacably different perspectives, grace goes both ways if we are to even bother with the conversation. Virtual conversations can include thousands we didn’t intend to address. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind all those who are watching. 

What passes today for a conversation can be hobbled by the media we use. But that limit should inform us rather than absolve us, whether we are the easily provoked or the gleefully provocative.