Month: September 2019

SBTC Disaster Relief responds to Harvey-like damage in southeast Texas

HOUSTON As torrential rains caused Harvey-like damage throughout southeast Texas on Thursday, Sept. 19, Southern Baptists in Texas mobilized to serve the region. As of the time the Southern Baptist Texan went to press on Sept. 20, an SBTC team was on the ground in Houston and preparing for a statewide response to the damage caused by Tropical Storm Imelda on Thursday.

Four SBTC units headed to First Baptist Church of Vidor on Friday, Sept. 20, where their first task will be to clean up the church so it can serve as a base for future teams. Shower, feeding, and at least one mud-out unit will be among the teams who will be on site Friday afternoon.

The response comes after Tropical Storm Imelda hit the same general area as Hurricane Harvey did two years ago, causing many observers to draw parallels between both storms’ intensity and the impacted area. The storm was the first named storm to hit the Houston area since Harvey.

The Houston Chronicle attributes two drowning deaths already to a “relentless downpour” from Imelda. By Thursday night, flood waters had begun to recede. The Chronicle notes that Harris County officials had reported at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations. Though the area had been bracing for the arrival of Imelda, its intensity and longevity surprised the region.

As of the Texan’s publication, SBTC Disaster Relief team members were beginning plans to gather and deploy more teams to the impacted region. All SBTC Disaster Relief units have been put on alert status for further deployment to southeast Texas.

Scripture on ordination

2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
This passage stresses the need for preparation, spiritually and otherwise. The approval of God, relative to the task, is the basic element of being set apart.

1 Timothy 5:22
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
Here Paul emphasizes deliberation before setting apart someone for ministry.

Acts 14:23
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Here is a model for the way we think of ministry ordination, committing them to the Lord.

Acts 6:3
Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
We commonly think of this verse as the foundation for deacon ordination. Notice the role of the congregation in this.

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Although this is an admonition to observe the positive example of their leaders, it also sounds like a general call to discern the integrity of a leader’s ministry by the way they live.

1 Timothy 3:1-7
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? …
This is the go-to passage for qualifications for a pastor. Paul stresses high standards in all aspects of a spiritual leader’s life—again, observed by those with whom he worships.

Revelation 2:2
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
The Ephesian church is praised for testing (by the Scriptures) the message and lives of those who claim to be spiritual leaders.

1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
“Elder” in this case refers to maturity rather than a role but the usual pattern for examination of a ministry candidate
is that the ordainers are more experienced and the ordained is new to vocational ministry.

James 3:1
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
With a high calling comes high accountability. One purpose of examining a ministry candidate is to protect him and his hearers from  false teaching and foolish talk.

SBTC promises grief counseling training as part ongoing aid

EL PASO Irene walks among the mounds of flowers placed along a span of green construction fencing at the makeshift memorial for the victims of the Aug. 3 shootings at the Cielo Vista Walmart.

Weeks after the tragedy, she culls dead stems and plucks shards of broken glass from pavement filled with notes, glass candles depicting Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe, crosses bearing the victims’ names and flower arrangements that comprise the somber garden.

“I have to come here,” the El Paso native said, declining to provide her full name but willing to quietly share her story in a place where nearly everyone speaks in hushed tones.

Irene’s daughter had commented on Facebook that seeing the pictures of the 22 victims was like “opening a family photo album.”

“It’s true,” Irene said. “Everyone resembles someone in our family. God did make us brothers and sisters.”

And so Irene comes daily to “barely make a dent” in the debris until the El Paso heat drives her away. “They are all family,” she said.
Carlos also stops by, his first visit to the memorial since the day of the shootings, when the airport security guard waited to catch his bus connection at the Sun Metro station beside the Walmart parking lot.

“I don’t believe that anybody from El Paso would have done this,” Carlos said.

Marissa Monroy, who lives in Austin, returned to her hometown to celebrate the birthday she shares with her mother, Linda. With Marissa’s sister, Amanda Madrid, the three El Paso natives walk along the memorial, stopping to take pictures and read placards.

“This is the first thing she wanted to do when she got to town,” Linda said of her daughter.

“I can’t really put it into words. I just wanted to come and pay my respects,” Marissa said.

They walk on, the sound of heavy machinery rumbling behind the fence obscuring the view of the Walmart. The machines are not bulldozers; the company has announced that the store will not be razed but redone, with new fixtures, flooring and merchandise—a total restoration of one of the busiest Walmarts in the nation. The reconstruction will include a memorial to the victims and should be open by the holidays, the company announced Aug. 22.

The people of El Paso are likewise in need of a restoration of the heart that churches and pastors—including those from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—are helping to shape.

By Aug. 7, four SBTC Disaster Relief chaplains, all pastors, had driven from across Texas to minister in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath. Immanuel Baptist, a two-minute walk from the Walmart, hosted a prayer vigil two days prior with more than 350 in attendance.

The evening of Aug. 22, some 50 pastors, wives and SBTC representatives gathered for a prayer rally at Immanuel and Executive Director Jim Richards delivered a message reassuring the group of the SBTC’s continued support in ministering to community.

“When people are being killed because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity or even their religion, it is nothing but evil. Human help and power fail us,” Richards said as he preached on Nahum 1:7. “It’s only God who can help us get through these evil days.”
Needs remain in the wake of the tragedy.

Juan Vazquez, pastor of Agua de Vida church, told the TEXAN that gatherings such as the prayer rally were beneficial, adding that more training in grief response would help. That opinion was echoed by Mario Martinez, pastor of El Buen Pastor church, and Sergio Lopez, pastor of La Verdad Community Church.

Lopez said that prayer is needed is not only for the community but also for authority figures, calling for “unity between all churches, Spanish and English.”

Richards confirmed that SBTC trainings in grief counseling, church safety and prayer are scheduled for El Paso this fall.

Daniel Moreno, Jezreel pastor, has already invited licensed counselors to provide emotional support to the members of his church. Moreno, a bivocational pastor who works for a federal agency, knows the counselors, all Christians, from work. Four families in Moreno’s church were directly affected by the shootings: two people worked at the Walmart and two worked nearby.

The church’s youth were especially affected, according to Jezreel youth pastor Oscar Gonazalez, who said counseling has been provided for them.

Moreno said he was scheduled to be interviewed by Spanish Christian Radio Manantial FM 91.1 to discuss counseling at the church once services were established.

“We are going to have a presence here from our staff who will minister,” Richards said.

Grief counselor training was scheduled for Sept. 28 at Iglesia Bautista Jezreel, according to SBTC prayer strategist Ted Elmore.

The church security workshop is scheduled Oct. 12 at Immanuel Baptist and led by Dallas-based Teamworks Consulting Inc. The SBTC’s Prayer Bootcamp is scheduled for Nov. 12, also at Immanuel.

Trainings will be in Spanish and English.

The SBTC is also reprinting and making available Elmore’s 20-page manual, “Incident Preparation & Recovery,” in both English and Spanish. Plans are underway to offer the resource to other state Baptist conventions, with options for customization for individual states.

To prepare the manual, Elmore drew upon his experiences as the liaison between the convention and First Baptist Sutherland Springs following the Nov. 5, 2017 shootings at that Texas church.

“This madness has got to be stopped,” Elmore said. “The gospel is the ultimate answer to violence. We must address the ‘problem of the heart,’ which is the heart of the problem.”

He advocated prayer: “We know from the book of Acts that every time the church prayed, they prayed themselves into unity and God did things no human can do.”

Elmore’s manual contains a section on prayer, but churches may also download other resources at

“We are blessed if you pray for us,” Mario Martinez told the TEXAN, his request pertinent not only for his congregation but for El Paso residents like Irene, who continue to mourn.

Accomplishing the mission – Who”s your one?

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …’ (Matthew 28:19).

In his book Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, John Piper suggests that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”

At first the idea that missions (and evangelism) is not the ultimate goal of the church may shock some; yet, I propose that we cannot understand the necessity of missions and evangelism until we understand the priority of worship. Once we understand that worship is the ultimate priority of every believer and every believing community, then we will see that worship is the goal and fuel of evangelism and missions, and we will gain a genuine passion for both. Let me explain.

We were created in the image and likeness of God to image or reflect God’s glory (Genesis 1:26-28). Essentially, we were created to worship. But Adam’s sin marred God’s image in us, for each of us participated in Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12). As a result, we have inherited Adam’s sin, guilt, corruption and condemnation (Romans 5:12-21). So we come into the world no longer able to reflect God’s glory truly and faithfully, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). A quick look at headlines proves the doctrine of inherited sin. And because we are born sinful, instead of worshipping the one, true and living God, we worship those things he created, including ourselves (Romans 1:18-32).

The good news is that through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Father is seeking genuine worshippers, those who will worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). To worship in spirit means to worship God out of the overflow of the Holy Spirit in your life. To worship in truth is to worship God on the basis of the truth of who Jesus is for us. Spirit and truth worship, then, engages both heart and mind. We were made for this true worship.

Here’s the point: There are people in this world who presently do not worship God through Christ. Their hearts and minds are geared toward self-worship or some other distorted worship. Since the Father is seeking genuine worshippers to worship him, Jesus now calls us to go into all nations and gather them. But because the people who presently do not truly worship God can only become genuine worshippers by a transformation of heart and mind that comes by the grace of God, through faith in Christ, then our mission is to declare the truth about Christ—the gospel—to all who would listen, beginning in our homes and unto the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). So, missions and evangelism is really the gathering of true worshippers who have turned away from their sin and turned to Christ in faith.

Because there are over 18 million people in Texas who presently do not worship God, the theme of our annual meeting in Odessa, Oct. 28-29, is “Who’s Your One?” Imagine if each of us in our more than 2,700 churches prayed for one person. Imagine if each of us shared the gospel with one person. Imagine if each of us saw one person come to faith in Christ. Those 18 million lost people constitute a big number, but each of us can begin with just one of them. We must begin to reach the lost—one at a time.

Will you join us in Odessa as we encourage one another to faithfulness in evangelism and missions so that those who presently do not worship God may become true worshippers? It is my prayer that we will all grow in evangelism fueled by the worship of the living God, and that the Lord would allow us to see much fruit from our evangelism. See you in Odessa Oct. 28-29! 

REVIEW: “Ad Astra” is an awe-inspiring celebration of family, love and life

Roy McBride is an introspective and emotionless man who has always lived in the shadow of his space-faring father — the great H. Clifford McBride, who was the first astronaut to travel to Jupiter and then Saturn.

Roy was 16 when his father left Earth. He was 29 when his father’s spaceship stopped transmitting a signal, apparently due to a tragedy near Neptune that claimed his life.

The youngest McBride — who also became an astronaut — still hasn’t recovered from the loss.

“I’m angry,” Roy says. “He left us.”

Roy, though, has moved on in life by keeping his emotions in check. He doesn’t make decisions on a whim. His choices, he says, are always pragmatic.

He’s also calm under pressure, which is one reason why the U.S. government wants to send him through the solar system to investigate a threat to Earth.

It seems electrical surges from space — technically, the “uncontrolled release of antimatter” — are causing explosions all over the planet. Thus far, 43,000 people have died, and if it continues, the rest of humanity will be gone, too.

Can Roy find the cause before it’s too late?

The science fiction movie Ad Astra(PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Brad Pitt (Ocean’sseries) as Roy, Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Blackseries) as Clifford McBride, and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Gamesseries) as Thomas Pruitt, a family friend.

The film is set in the “near” future, when civilians can travel to the moon and a trip to Mars take less than three weeks.

Ad Astra, though, is not a shoot-em-up space film. Instead, it’s quiet, and slow-paced, and cerebral, and entertaining, and wonderful. Some critics are comparing it to 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet it tackles some of the same weighty subjects of more recent science fiction movies like Arrivaland Interstellar.

Ad Astra examines what’s most important in life — family and love and even faith. It encourages us to find the right balance between our home life, our work and our hobbies. It even reminds us of the uniqueness of our planet — and urges us to be grateful for it. 

Except for a few unnecessary strong words (more on that below) and a few bloody images, it could have been rated PG.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. People fall off a tall tower. (We don’t see them hit the ground.) Astronauts engage in a laser-gun battle on the moon with pirates; a few people are killed. A primate attacks astronauts in space, killing one of them. (We see a bloody face.) We see a fight inside a spaceship. (Three people die, although it’s not bloody.) 



Coarse Language

Moderate. H-ll (3), GD (3), f-word (1).

Other Positive Elements

We see an old clip of Roy’s father, from space, saying: “I thank God” for everything that’s been accomplished. He adds that he’s “feeling his presence so close”

Later, when an astronaut dies in space, the crewmates prepare the body; before pushing it into space they say a Catholic prayer: “May you meet your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God forever.”

“Amen,” another astronaut adds.

Life Lessons

Emotions are not a curse: Roy spends his life trying to suppress his feelings, which prevents him from experiencing the greatest of emotions, including joy and love. Before the film ends, he corrects his ways.

Family is priceless: Roy, while in space, expresses regret for the way he treated his wife. He has power and fame, and yet is focused on his home life — millions of miles from Earth.

Humanity is depraved:Sure, you already knew that, but watching nations battling for minerals on the moon drives this point home even further. 

It’s never too late for redemption: I won’t spoil the plot for you, but Roy gets a second chance — in several areas of life. 

Earth is a blessing: Once they reach the outer limits of the Solar System, the astronauts begin yearning for life back home — not only for their families but also for things like oceans and birds and trees.


Spoilers ahead! The best movies celebrate the good in life. They discourage the bad. They force us to examine our own lives. They encourage us to live better lives.

Ad Astradoes all that.

Roy’s father traveled to the other side of the solar system looking for intelligent life, but abandoned the very intelligent life closest to him — his own family. He chased after his dream at the expense of those who loved and needed him, including his son. “He missed what was right in front of him,” Roy says.

It’s only science fiction, right? Not really. How many of us make that mistake every week or every day? We chase our dreams, our hobbies and our paycheck and forget about our family back home. As his wife tells him, “You seem preoccupied with your work. I feel like I’m on my own all the time. … You’re so distant, even when you’re here.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do we tend to embrace the fleeting at the expensive of what’s most important in life?
  2. When are emotions a good thing? A bad thing? What’s the key to finding the right balance?
  3. Can regret be a positive emotion? Was it a good thing for Roy?
  4. Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

Entertainment rating:4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Ad Astra is rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

The church has left the building

SPRING  North Oaks Baptist Church of Spring in suburban north Houston believes its duty is to serve God in the community, with an aim to take the gospel into every interaction and event.  

So on Aug. 10, for the fourth straight year, the church hosted a back-to-school outreach as 22 church members distributed 800 door hangers in two low-income trailer communities a few miles from the church campus and shared the gospel with residents. The hangers announced the upcoming Operation BackPack the following Saturday, Aug. 17, featuring free backpacks, school supplies, haircuts, food and entertainment at the church. 

“It is important for our church to go out and serve the community,” said NOBC Pastor Caleb Fleming. “Operation BackPack is a project that offers witnessing opportunities, reaps professions of faith and results in new members.” He said since the project was initiated by the church, attendance has grown steadily.

Leading up to the event, coordinator Beverly Jones organized volunteer collection efforts for supplies and backpacks for 350 students—100 more than the previous year. She said most of the items were donated by church members and a participating store. Volunteers worked the night before and that morning to set up the school supply stations, a food truck, two bounce houses, tables, chairs, and stations for free haircuts, food, cotton candy and snow cones.

About 9:30 a.m., parents and excited children started to arrive at the sign-in station and from there were directed to backpacks and school supplies. After filling those needs, families exited to another room where they were offered New Testaments and gospel tracts, free haircuts from Salvation Stylists, free family pictures,  lunch and outdoor attractions, including a fire truck manned by Klein Fire Department volunteers. 

Erin Taylor, who brought her daughter, a niece and some neighborhood children to the event, said she recently moved to one of the trailer communities, received a door hanger, and is happy she attended the event. “We would be struggling to provide school supplies for our children without the support of the church,” she said. “My daughter is having a great time, and now we are ready to start the school year.” Prior to leaving, Taylor spoke to Fleming about her faith in Christ, and she promised to visit the church again.

Deacon Venkat Koripalli said the communities served this year for Operation BackPack are mostly Hispanic, move often and are economically challenged, so kids without the assistance of NOBC or other community resources enter the classroom without a backpack, and school supplies, creating the hardship of a negative stigma for the rest of the school year.  He said the annual event has become a “labor of love for the church, done in obedience to Christ.”

Gary Schill, another deacon, noted that the church provided about 100 volunteers for the event. “I think the church demonstrated what it means to be Christian,” he said. “More than 200 kids received supplies, had haircuts, ate and played games. It went very well.”

NOBC’s sphere of influence was extended into the community as families departed with needs being met. 

“My heart is full this afternoon,” Fleming reflected. “It is such a joy to serve the people of North Oaks Baptist, and the people of our community. Today, people’s physical needs were met and the gospel planted to satisfy eternal needs. God is good.”  

2019 Presidential Appointments

The following committees were appointed by the state convention president. 


Scott Pomeroy (CHAIR) Barksdale Baptist Church, Barksdale

Mario Martinez Iglesia Cristiana Genesis, Odessa

Nathan McCravey South Side Baptist Church, Abilene

Awi Sang Bethel Christian Church, Midland

Lila Stueart Midway Baptist Church, Lamesa 


Christopher Graham (CHAIR) First Baptist, Dallas

Celeste Barnett Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, Mesquite

David Galvan Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, Dallas

Jo McGuire Cornerstone Baptist Church, Haskell

Steve McMeans Indiana Avenue Baptist Church, Lubbock

Terri Stovall Cross City Church, Euless

Del Traffanstedt Mission Dorado Baptist Church, Odessa

Daniel Walker High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin


Ken McMeans (CHAIR) College Baptist Church, Big Spring

Jose Arzate Paramount Baptist Church, Amarillo

Clayton Bennett First Baptist Church, Odessa

Bruce Burk Heartland Baptist Church, San Angelo

Joshua Fitchett Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist Church, Haskell

Terry Hovey First Baptist Church, Higgins

Johnny Knowlton Calvary Baptist Church, Pampa

Mario Martinez Iglesia Cristiana Genesis, Odessa

Teresa Martinez Iglesia Cristiana Genesis, Odessa

Tammy Pomeroy Barksdale Baptist Church, Barksdale

Wes Terry Broadview Baptist Church, Abilene

Blake White South Side Baptist Church, Abilene


Barry McCarty Cross City Church, Euless

Terry Wright First Baptist Church, Vidor 


2019-2020 Chair: Sonny Hathaway, LaBelle Baptist Church, Beaumont

Term Expiring 2022

Juan Gaona Iglesia Bautista El Mesias, Odessa

Tom Goodman Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin

Mary Kay Stelter Southcrest Baptist Church, Lubbock

REVIEW: “Downton Abbey” is marvelous (with one major caveat)

Lord Robert Crawley is a distinguished 20th-century gentleman who is caretaker of Downton Abbey, a historic English estate fit for a king, with dozens of bedrooms and a large staff to cook and clean.

Perhaps that’s one reason the king and queen have chosen to pay a visit.

Yes, King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom are visiting Downton Abbey for one night during a stopover on their journey to another town, and “Lord Grantham” (that’s Crawley), and his family and servants have exactly two weeks to get ready.

The servants will polish the silver, dust every nook and cranny, and purchase the freshest food for the finest meals.

Then again, maybe not. The servants learn that the king has his own butler and his own servants to tend to matters. Even worse, the king’s servants are, well, snobs.

This means Lord Grantham’s beloved servants won’t be needed for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Instead, they’ll be serving the servants. Not fair? You better believe it. As Daisy (one of Lord Grantham’s cooks) says, “We’re not footballs … and we don’t deserve a kicking.”

The film Downton Abbey(PG) opens next week, continuing the story from the popular PBS miniseries of the same name that ran from 2011-2016. It has the same actors and actresses (Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary), the same music (with a slight twist), and the same pace. Most fans of the series will walk away pleased. Lord Grantham’s mother, Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), returns with multiple zingers, while her intellectual counterpart, Isobel Grey (Penelope Wilton), returns to counterpunch.

Yet the movie isn’t a one-dimensional “get-ready-for-the-king” film. It has several romantic side angles, a surprise or two, and even a few good lessons.

The film also has a major caveat — a gay angle that will turn off many viewers (details below).

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal. Someone tries (but fails) to shoot and kill someone.


Moderate. Several couples share brief kisses, although the film has no bedroom scenes. We see Lady Edith in a corset.

The film continues the story about Thomas Barrow’s homosexuality, although it seems more noteworthy during the span of a two-hour movie, instead of the plot being spread out over six seasons. We see him and another male character go to a gay nightclub, where men are dancing with one another. We see two men kissing. Later we see Thomas and his companion briefly kiss, too. Referencing the taboo nature of homosexuality, Thomas says, “Will they ever see it our way?” His companion responds, “I don’t know. Fifty years ago, who would have thought men could fly?”

Coarse Language

Minimal. I counted only two words (a single “my G-d” and a single use of the British slang “bloody”). Kudos to the filmmakers for not filling it with coarse language, as happens far too often when TV shows are turned into movies.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The film opens with a recap of the TV series, in which a rape is referenced. The flashback also references a “gay man in 1920s England.”

When the Crawleys wake up to sunshine instead of rain, someone says, “God is a monarchist.”

Life Lessons

Serving is a virtue: The servants take pride in their work. Mr. Mosley embodies this trait best, wanting to wait on the king and queen.

Humility is appealing. The film puts both snobbery (demonstrated by the king’s servants) and humility on display. The latter is demonstrated by the entire household, including by Lord Grantham and Lady Mary, who don’t view their servants as beneath them.

Your sins will find you out: One minor character discovers this biblical truth. 


At first blush, Downton Abbey would appear to be a film about greed (why are the Crawleys hoarding their possessions?) and elitism (what else would you call a plot about aristocracy?).

In fact, though, it’s just the opposite.

When Lady Mary wants to sell the castle and become a normal person, Anna Bates, a servant, tells her, “You employ people. You give people jobs. Without your family, this community would crumble.”

The Crawleys are anything but snobs. When portable chairs must be moved during a downpour, Lady Mary and Lord Grantham get to work — opting not to force the servants to perform the task.

What Works

The music. The plot. The grandeur. Seeing the castle on the big screen is more enjoyable than watching it on a tiny television at home.

What Doesn’t

The gay angle with Thomas Barrow wasn’t surprising — the TV series tackled the subject, after all — but it will make it less palatable for some families.

Discussion Questions

  1. Name five positive characteristics about Lord Grantham and his family.
  2. Do you think the Crawleys are humble?
  3. What does the film teach us about finding joy in work?
  4. What can we learn from Thomas about loving those with which we disagree?
  5. Would it have been better to sell the castle? Was Lady Mary right?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language.

Thinking about leaving your church?

Our church is planning an anniversary celebration this month and part of the planning is for us to have about twice as many people as we had last Sunday. As I thought about who might return I realized that many of them are still local. It seems more interesting to think about why they left us than why they are coming back for one day.

Your church has probably had some upsets in the past 20 years or so. It’s a rare church that doesn’t have a few pastor turnovers during two decades; those transitions are unsettling. Most churches have had some financial hard times and drops in the attendance during that period. If you are involved enough to actually have friends at your church you’ve likely disagreed with somebody over something during your time as a member. Disappointment, discouragement and disagreement are three big reasons I’ve seen for church members leaving but staying local. Is that you?

Setbacks in local churches are as old as local churches. Read Revelation 2 and 3 or one of Paul’s letters for examples. Your disappointments seem unique to you and mine to me but they are probably not. Let me share a few questions I ask myself during challenging days in my relationship with my church.

Am I right to be as discouraged as I am? Be fair here; sometimes a person is just in a bad mood, or even wrong to be upset. If the actual problem is my attitude the situation won’t change because I stay home or sit at the back of some other church on Sundays. My spiritual health is not determined by the health of my church.

What exactly do I want to change? Most of our disappointments are with people. Do we need that person to leave? Repent? Change personality? Apologize? This is often a hard question to answer. I can get out of sorts but can’t say what I’d consider to be a solution. Again, that points inward. It’s not reasonable to expect another person to move aside to suit us, and it’s not usually true that an apology will make us happy.

Who do I need to forgive, or apologize to? I nod inwardly when someone says, “I’ll forgive but I probably won’t forget.” If forgiveness actually takes place, the offense still did happen and lives in the permanent record. So what? We won’t bring it up again or do things based on the former offense if we’ve forgiven it. A sincere reconciliation is a commitment to move on and to do intentional things that will strengthen the relationship. You can’t fix the other person but you can stop pouting, and you can make amends for wrongs you have done to another. The air smells cleaner after you do that.

What is the impact of my leaving? Maybe there are some things you do that will be neglected. If you’re a tither your departure will be felt by the church finances. If you neither give nor serve, your seat is still empty and those who greet you each week will miss you. This latter thing, the participation of an immature Christian, is not inconsequential. Discouragement flourishes amidst dropping numbers like mold in a leaky bathroom. You’ll also establish a habit of leaving rather than mending relationships. Don’t leave because staying is harder or you’ll be a wimp forever.

Is my leaving an act of hostility? Sometimes it is; and I can name names. If you feel unappreciated, maybe somebody will be sorry your gifts are no longer around. If you have been slighted or insulted, that person will be stung to see the consequences of his sin. If you don’t like something the church has done maybe they’ll see their mistake when you hold back your tithe or quit your Sunday School class. I am ashamed to entertain those thoughts. I’ve been in churches where some have left in anger. No one has repented and no church business has been rescinded because someone else joins My Couch Community Church.

A church is a body, a family, a connection that we didn’t select the way we choose from a menu in a restaurant. Part of God’s molding of our lives is done in fellowship with people with different gifts, bad habits and weird tastes in music. You dodge those annoying people and you dodge the sanctifying work of God given to them for your good.

I know that some disappointments in churches are objectively disappointing. My point is not that anyone who gets upset is making up an offence. These things come like sickness comes to your body. Think about how to heal those problems rather than detaching the offending member. It is rare that withdrawing from our church results in greater godliness in our lives. Pay the difficult price for reconciliation and healing. Maybe you’ll look back on this season as the time your church membership became more a blessing to everyone, including you.