Everyone faces temptation, but what's the difference between temptation and trials? Which one is a sin and better yet, where do these come from?
Yeah, I know - "There's nothing new under the sun."
It's a wise saying from a wise man and it still holds true.
However, as we seek to lead well and pastor with integrity in a swiftly changing culture, the fact is that often we (the church, pastors, leaders, etc.) find ourselves just doing the same things over and over again and wondering why we aren't seeming to gain any ground.
Now, I am referring to methodology here, not doctrinal soundness. To be clear, the unchanging truth of the Gospel remains the solid footing upon which we stand. There is no changing of the Gospel. There is no value in "watering it down." There is no viability in "making the Gospel relevant" because in and of itself, the Gospel is always relevant, for all people, in all cultures, at all time.
What I am speaking of are the methods of "doing church" in our culture. I grew up in a Baptist world where regardless where I lived (Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, etc.) the way we held church weekly was virtually unchanged. Sunday School was always at 9:45am on Sunday morning. That was followed by an 11am worship service. Most Sunday afternoons were short in that we were back at the church building for Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training and an evening worship service. Tuesday was church-wide visitation and Wednesday was filled with "Prayer Meeting" for adults and a combination of choirs, missions education and student worship services for the rest of the congregation.
In most of my Baptist church families, the bulletin on Sunday mornings were the same (we all bought them from the Baptist Book Store - now LifeWay) and in many cases, the layout of the facilities were identical. This was due to the fact that our family often joined churches that were small in size and received building blueprints from the Baptist Book Store or somewhere in Nashville, so the L-shaped or U-shaped buildings with a "Sanctuary" on one end and offices and Sunday School rooms on the other were common.
There comes a time when the methods for connecting and reaching people in the community (i.e. mission field) where God has placed His church must change. In most cases, churches struggle with this because we tend to lean on old models that worked decades ago and therefore put money and effort into plans ultimately designed to reach people who no longer exist.
Tony Morgan has recently blogged about the reality and danger of churches that are so predictable in all they do that, for the most part, they are finding themselves being ignored by a culture who does not care what they are "selling." Unfortunately, this is not just reserved for those who are outside the church. Some who have attended for years are wondering how they found themselves in such a rut.
In Tony's post titled "Predictable: 9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rut" he gives some great insight. (You should click the link and read his full list as well as related posts in the "Predictable" series.)
His first reason is this:
When I read that, I thought "YES!!! Someone finally said it. Thank you, Tony!"
I cannot tell you how many meetings I have had over the years with pastors, in our church and in our network, and other leadership team members when a new idea was thrown onto the table that resulted in someone saying "Surely someone else is doing something like this. Let's go see them or visit their website or talk to them."
Now, I fully agree that the wise leader will seek information and detail from others who have gone down a similar path, but the fact of the matter is that when God reveals new and creative ways to do ministry for the sake of His name and the intent of reaching the people (i.e. mission field) surrounding one's church, there is likely NO ONE doing ministry exactly how you will do it, or should.
We live in the age of the mega-church. So many great and creative ideas have been developed and new ways of connecting with people have been birthed. While the Gospel remains unchanged, there are few, if any, vibrant, healthy churches that look like the churches I attended back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Just because City Church, Passion City Church, Saddleback, North Point, Summit or any host of other solid churches around our nation and network do ministry a certain way does not mean that is the exact way you should.
Know Your Community & Culture
If your community (you know, the mission field) is full of people who wear camouflage, drive four-wheel drive trucks, listen to outlaw country music, own big dogs, hunt and fish and love their Budweiser, it is likely that preaching in skinny jeans, bowties, hairstyles where the back of your head is shaved and the top just flows like a One Direction member, referencing kale salads and soccer games is not the "new, creative" steps needed to engage. However, I don't advocate becoming something you are not, pastor, in order to connect. Sure, be all things to all people, but ultimately, be authentic. Most anyone can see through fake-ness.
Fear Stifles Creativity
Hopefully, you have a leadership team (these are not always paid staff members, by the way) who have the freedom to think creatively. Celebrate that freedom, especially if you are not naturally bent to be creative. Listen well and take some chances. Predictability may be safe, but there are many "safe churches" who are closing their doors.
Remember, this calling we have is not a calling to safety, but a dangerous calling for His sake.
We are the "sent out ones."
So, while there may be someone who has done it before (whatever "it" is) please quit stifling what the Holy Spirit may be birthing for sake of safety.
As I was preparing to preach the ordination sermon for Robert L. Powell last Sunday morning, I started writing down names on my church bulletin of men and women who were (and in some cases, are) members of our church who in the past said "Yes" to God regarding the calling to full-time Christian ministry. Of course, as I began to write down the names, it became clear that I would miss some. Nevertheless, here is a sampling of some of the names of those who have been a part (even if just for a short time) of the ministry at our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) who have stepped forward in answer to the call to serve. In some cases, there are couples who serve together. In most cases, many are still serving in ministry full or part-time (pay is the only part of ministry that is part-time, by the way.) Here's a portion of the listing, in no particular order, of those who have or are serving on ministerial staff at a local church, in a ministry, on the mission field. These are in no particular order:
- Eddy & Monica - worship pastor, worship leader
- Art - evangelist and pastor
- Susan & Karl - missionaries
- Karla - worship leader
- Kerrie - missionary, church staff
- Shanna - church ministerial staff, pastor's wife
- Andy - pastor
- Michael - church ministerial staff
- Heather - minister's wife
- Neil & Kaytee - church planters, missionaries
- Jason - missionary
- Brian - church ministerial staff
- Brian - men's pastor
- Robert - children's pastor
- Brandon - student pastor, worship pastor
- Lee - associate pastor, group home leader
- Michael & Carrie - church planters, missionaries
- Jon & Mandi - church ministerial staff
- Nik & Mandy - church ministerial staff, children's minister
- John & Monica - orphan care ministry, director of orphanage
- Austin & Nicole - church ministerial staff
- Kenzie & Ryan - church ministerial staff
- Crystal & Jacob - church ministerial staff
- Callie - Christian camp staffer
- Patrick & Selena - mercy ministries pastor
- Scott & Brittany - church staff & mission support ministry
- Boyd - pastor
- Curtis - missionary
- Patrick - military chaplain
- Nicole - missionary
Now, here's the problem with this list. . .I know I've left some off. I don't, at this time, know which names have been left off, but I am getting older, so I know I've left some names off. So, if you would add names of those who were a part of our church for a season (and that could be through the student ministry) who have answered God's call to full-time ministry in the comments below, I would appreciate it.
Following the ordination of Robert (Bobby) Powell on Sunday, one of our deacons shared with me this truth:
"If all those over the years who have said 'yes' to the calling had stayed in their small groups and in this church over the years, we may have a couple of dozen more in the seats on Sunday, but think of all the hundreds who would not have been reached by these faithful men and women."
It's true. While I affirm the sovereignty of our God and the reality that He doesn't need us, I celebrate the reality that He so chooses to invite us into His great story.
All Christians are called by God to serve. Some are called to the noble role of pastor and many others to serve in full-time ministry. The church is God's instrument to affirm the "calling out of the called."
I am humbled by how God has done so here and how He continues to draw men and women to Himself.
I have had the honor of seeing many young men and women step up and say "Yes" to God regarding calling into ministry. As I reflected on the men and women serving Him in various churches, missions, ministries and even in the workplace that I have had the honor of knowing over the years, I have been humbled by God's grace.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of licensing and ordaining Robert L. Powell to the Gospel Ministry. Robert grew up in Orange Park as a regular attender and member of First Baptist Church. At age twelve, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and as a high school senior, he said "yes" to the calling into full-time ministry. He has since graduated from The Baptist College of Florida and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Children's Ministry Assistant Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Baker, Florida.
He has been called out, equipped, sent out and set apart for God's glory and His ministry.
Ever tried out for a sports team as a kid and discovered, much to your surprise, that when the final cuts were made, you were NOT on the team? That was my seventh grade baseball experience and effectively shifted me to basketball and a career of bad church softball.
There is a truly awkward feeling to show up at at party, thinking you are in the right place, only to discover that you weren't really invited.
Sometimes people feel this way in church or around believers. It's not a clique issue (though those are issues) but one of family. When the conversations go places spiritually and you just feel lost, thinking "What are they talking about?" there is a sense that you're standing at the punch bowl at the party, but truly aren't part of the group.
Some, tragically, have committed their lives to church or religion and missed Christ in the process. This type of faith is a superficial, dead faith and when trials come, is revealed for what it is.
Maybe this is why there are so many non-attending church members in our churches today, relegated to the "Whatever happened to them?" files.
This message looks at James chapter 1 and digs into this reality.
Yet, here's the good news of the Gospel - there is an open invitation to join the family of God. The gift of salvation awaits. Listen to this message and if you need to talk to someone personally about where you stand with Christ, comment below.
There are some things that identify my community every fall. I live in Jacksonville, Florida (well, actually a suburb of Jacksonville.) When I meet people from out of state, I find that they have heard of Jacksonville, but aren't too sure where on the state map it is located. So, just in case you need a geography primer, Jacksonville is located at the "bend." We are located in the northeast corner where the panhandle meets the Atlantic Ocean and turns south.
Jacksonville is the kind of area where people who are transferred here due to work (CSX and US Navy, mostly) decide to stay after retirement.
It's the "biggest little town" I've ever known with over 1 million residents.
I would say the largest religious preference in our community isn't Baptist, Catholic or another denominational tagline, but would have to be "Football."
Every fall, the weekend schedules for many center around high school, college and professional football.
Like many, I too am a fan and love to cheer on our local teams and sit back and watch the roller coaster of emotions of others in our community when their teams fail to perform to expectation.
Back when I first moved here, this city was as excited as I have ever seen it. The NFL had awarded Jacksonville with a franchise that would dramatically change this "little big town" (not the country band, BTW).
I did exactly what others did at the time. I jumped on the bandwagon of fans at the outset and put aside my other allegiances to become a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. I was at that first Monday Night Football game when the Jags beat the Steelers in the last seconds. Wow!!! What a night. The years of Brunell, Boselli, Thunder & Lightning and playoff runs were unbelievable. While the most recent years have tested the faith of those who love the teal and black, the Jags are still our home team, and I'll remain a fan.
So, as I think back to those first seasons, I remember when many local pastors would preach sermons that intended to guilt their church members regarding their Sunday activities. In other words, beyond the beach and time with the family at the lake, there now was a community-wide gathering just about every Sunday at 1pm in the fall. This gathering was at the now-named EverBank Field as fans gathered to watch the Jaguars play.
Over the years, I have heard less guilt-driven sermons intent on making Christians feel bad for watching football on Sunday. Well, it wasn't really that pastors were upset that their church members were watching football on Sunday. It was more that pastors were frustrated that church members tended to leave early on Sunday to get to the game or stayed all afternoon and in the days of "Evening Worship" would miss the church gatherings.
Let's just say that "guilt-driven" sermons based on football viewing did little to sway the attendance patterns of fans. Now, the play on the field did much to affect attendance, but that's a subject for another day.
Churches Aren't Too Good At Creating Crowds
For years, churches in the west have attempted to create crowds for events, services and programs. Sometimes, they (we) have found success, but mostly these are short-lived. Sometimes, the crowd-gathering efforts seem weak and are often viewed as an end and not a means to an end.
The truth of the matter is that most churches do not create crowds well. When the money and effort is finalized and the crowd hasn't arrived (or the intended crowd, at least) the church faces feelings of failure.
Go Where The Crowd Already Is
The missional movement among churches helped leaders view things differently in the community. Over the years, I have shared this concept with our leaders and with other pastors. Rather than try to create a crowd, why don't we go where the crowd is already gathered?
In many cases, whether at community events, concerts, high school games, or festivals, our church has sought creative ways to serve at these events. Serving at these gatherings is much different than "crashing the community party" and gives authentic, practical opportunities for connecting with those outside the church walls.
That brings us to our new endeavor as a church. I asked the questions to our Leadership Team, "What if we brought the church to where the crowd is already gathered on Sundays in the fall? What if we 'did church' at the Jaguars game?"
The Jaguars play in EverBank Field. Located on the same piece of property, next to our minor league baseball park and basically in the parking area for EverBank is an old church building. This church building - Old St. Andrew's Church - is owned by the City of Jacksonville and maintained by the Jacksonville Historical Society. We have contacted the leadership of this group and initially were told we could rent the facility on Sundays, other than home game dates for the Jaguars. Then, we explained what we desired to do. We wanted to have a church service specifically on those home game dates, for fans who already have tickets, are early arrivers (tailgaters) and who may desire or at least be curious about possibly attending a church service prior to kickoff.
After a few weeks of conversations and negotiations, we are attempting to move forward with GameDay Church. Since the church building is not available on the date we need, we will be unable to meet indoors, but have been given permission to erect a large tent on their lot for this gathering.
So, on Sunday morning at 10am on December 13, GameDay Church will launch on the grounds of Old St. Andrew's Church. We are still in the planning stages, but on this day, the church will gather for worship, teaching from the Word of God and perhaps some time of fellowship (i.e. tailgating) with BBQ and other grilled items and maybe some games prior to the big game!
While we acknowledge that the majority of people who will likely attend are already church members/attenders in our community, we are praying that some of them will bring a friend or two to this church gathering in the parking lot of the Jaguars stadium?
Is this a Mars Hill moment? There may not be many philosophers gathered as Paul encountered, but there will be a crowd, nonetheless. There will likely be some interesting conversations as well.
Many in our community do not think about going to church on Sunday mornings. What if the church went to them? Sounds biblical to me.
More to come on GameDay Church. In the meantime, check out the website here - gamedaychurch.org.
While I was gone over Labor Day Weekend, our Worship Pastor preached at First Orange Park. His message is titled "What Do You Want?" and I've provided it here and on our podcast for you to hear.
Yesterday, we began a new teaching series at First through the New Testament book of James. The title of the series is "Talk Is Cheap" and leads us through a journey of living out authentic faith in Christ.
The International Mission Board is Bringing Home Hundreds of Missionaries. Who's to Blame & What's Next?
Over the past few days, I have read numerous accounts regarding the financial situation of our International Mission Board and the announcement that up to 800 missionaries will be pulled off the field through early retirement and other means over the next six months.
Dr. David Platt, President of the IMB has been making the rounds to SBC agencies, seminaries and churches sharing this update and has recently posted an "OPEN LETTER" to all Southern Baptists regarding the announcement. The letter can be read in its entirety here.
On or around September 10, many veteran missionaries throughout the world will receive word from the IMB that they are part of the 600-800 being offered voluntary retirement incentives (VRI.)
This is a difficult time for Southern Baptists, but it does not have to be so.
Once the IMB made the announcement, there have been varied responses from church leaders, church members, missionaries and pastors.
Blame the Churches
Some have taken the opportunity to express that churches are to blame for abandoning mission education programs such as RAs, GAs, Acteens and WMU. While there is a definite need for mission education, I believe that our current situation would not change even if more churches had these programs. (Our church no longer has these programs in place.)
There have been others who have shared that lower giving to the Cooperative Program has resulted in this. Some churches give to specific missions and missionaries by reducing their CP giving. Others do not give systematically to CP at all.
Some blame churches who have abandoned giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions as well) and that is what has led to this situation.
Blame the Church Members
Blame is being placed upon the shoulders of believers who are members of local churches, too. A church budget is only functional based on the tithes and offerings received by members (and guests.) Some push against the teaching of the tithe, but I feel it's not only right, but biblical. When church members are content to "tip" rather than "tithe" the overall receipts suffer and ultimately, giving to missions decreases. Now, this presupposes that the church where the members are giving are good stewards of funds received and using them for Kingdom purposes.
Blame the State Conventions
Bureaucracy builds automatically in organizations. It just happens over time. Some state conventions have taken the bold step restructure and move quickly to a 50/50 distribution where half of the collected funds from member churches stay within the state and the other half is given to the SBC, which includes IMB through CP giving. My state, Florida, is moving quickly to be a 49/51 state, where less than half stays in state. According to a posting on Baptist 21. . .
“If by decree tomorrow (impossible by our polity and rightly so), every state convention moved to a 50/50 split, then that would mean $55.4 million more to the SBC and $27.7 million more given to the IMB. That’s without any increased giving at all!” That would have been a big chunk of the IMB’s nearly $35million yearly shortfall!
Blame the Economy
The economy is always in flux. It always has been. The economic bottoming out a few years ago pushed many families, churches and non-profits into a frenzy. It's true the economy has affected giving greatly. However, it is time to stop blaming the economy for every financial issue we face.
Blame the IMB
There are some who are putting much blame on Dr. Platt and the trustees of the IMB. In addition to Dr. Platt, leaders from the past are being thrown under the bus as well. Questions relating to the "suddenness" of the announcement are pushing these blames to the forefront. I believe Dr. Platt answered well in his open letter:
No blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership. Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Ultimately, I praise God for the people who came to Christ over these last years because missionaries stayed on the field, and because we used our resources to keep them there.
Yet when staff and trustee leaders alike looked at the realities before us, we realized that plan is no longer viable, for we cannot continue to overspend as we have. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.
Blame Isn't Helping, So Now What?
There's definitely enough blame to go around, it seems. However, I'm not sure how helpful or healthy it is to continue playing the "blame game." The fact of the matter is that over the decades, God has used the SBC to impact the world for the Kingdom. He has allowed an incredible model to be developed that enabled thousands of missionaries and families to be on the field. The harvest is plentiful, I hear. The workers have always been few, but in these decades, we have had a good number serving.
Now that number is going to diminish.
Is blame the best response? Maybe there's no reason to blame anyone? We're all in this together, it seems. And, just in case it has been forgotten, God was not taken by surprise here. So maybe, just maybe, He's up to something.
In the midst of this story, where there are people on all sides lamenting the realities of what will happen this fall, there is hope.
Though some pastors celebrate the downsizing of the IMB, likely because they love when things are new or restructured for better work, the reality is that these 600-800 people who will receive these notifications soon are just that . . . PEOPLE.
These are men and women who wrestled with a call from God many years ago to leave their homes and their culture to go "somewhere else" for the sake of the Kingdom. While it was likely adventuresome at first, even while on the field there were likely days when they thought "Did I hear God correctly?"
Yes, they heard God correctly and were placed in the center of His calling. In most places, they went to dark areas where the Light of Christ hadn't shown for years, if ever.
These missionaries are more than two-dimensional images on postcards plastered on our refrigerators. These are men and women of God, serving Him in full-time and long-term in areas where most of us will never trod.
Not all will accept the VRI. Not all should. What does that mean? It means that for many, as long as they are affirmed that God has not said "Go back to the States" they will remain on the field. Their funding will be changed. The IMB may not be able to offer what they have in the past. If fact, that's not a "maybe" that is pretty much a certainty.
Yet, for churches who are partnered with these missionaries, there will be a crisis of belief.
Many of our churches are the ones who sent out (or "cast out" as the original language in Matthew 9 states) these lifetime missionaries. For others, we have come alongside them through mission emphases, mission trips and a love for the people in the region they serve.
I'm not exactly sure what this means for all, but in many cases, God will choose to leave these men and women on the field and then will speak to His churches regarding their support.
In our church's case, this in no way will impact our giving to the Cooperative Program. Yet, we will seek God's lead on what to do with our missionaries. We may not be able to fully fund them, but perhaps, along with other means, those whom God has not said "Finished" to yet, will have the means to remain where He has called them.
For all of us, missionaries, pastors, churches, and church members, we must pray intently and strategically. We must have "ears to hear" and ensure that what we hear is God's voice and not our idea or plan to fix a decades long problem.
I support Dr. David Platt, the IMB and our Trustees. I know their decision has come after much prayer and seeking God. I don't like the answer that leads to removing missionaries. In fact, based on what I've heard and read, they don't like it either. Nevertheless, we are beyond just sending press releases and creating videos and begging churches to give more.
Don Dent, a Southern Baptist missionary recently posted notes regarding the decision on Facebook. In one posting, he states:
The loss of another 600-800 colleagues is going to be painful, just as the drawdown of 900 was painful several years ago. Let’s pray for everyone who will be affected. I am praying that a leaner IMB will actually be meaner. I am not implying that things will be better without these colleagues, because the failure to support them is tragic. However, the IMB will still be one of the largest agencies in the world, and one of the most effective. Southern Baptists are going to lose some precious resources in this process, but God can still use the 4000 harvesters that remain. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are too few, so unless God himself tells you to come home then sharpen your sickle and get back to the harvest.
Therefore, I am seeking the Lord of the harvest and waiting on His lead.
I pray our other SBC churches will as well.
It's been in the news for weeks, and finally it's coming to a head. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky is now nationally known and has is being jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her jurisdiction.
This was inevitable following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
I actually figured the story would center on a pastor first before hitting a clerk's office. Nevertheless, Kim Davis has become the face of latest battle between law and religious conviction.
Depending where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, Davis is either a woman of faith standing upon her convictions or the image of all that is wrong with religion in this country.
Her own stories of marital failures and infidelity are now coming to light and some are using those as proof she is a hypocrite regarding the faith argument. However, even in the NBC News story, it is clear that her religious convictions developed four years ago when she stated she had a "message of grace" from the Lord. That may not make any sense to most who read this, but for those who are followers of Christ, that would best be translated into a "crisis of belief" and a new birth moment. The old is gone and the new is here.
Her quote here makes it clear: "I am not perfect. No one is, but I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God."
To that end, it is clear she feels strongly about honoring God through her work and has been conflicted in this area regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Personally, I applaud her convictions and am praying for her. Though she is likely facing a losing battle in this case, she has sought to stand strong.
I'll leave it to others to dissect the legalities and the threats on religious liberty in this case.
The Story I Predicted
One story that made headlines a week ago and has not been referenced much lately refers to something I shared with other pastors recently. For most of the pastors I know and serve alongside in our denomination, there is a solid agreement that they will refuse to oversee weddings between those of the same gender.
However, the question to my pastor friends was this, "Prior to a wedding, will you seek to discover if the man and woman standing before you were born the gender they now live as?"
I'm usually met with silence.
My prediction was that soon a pastor in our nation, who has strongly stated he would not oversee a same-sex wedding, would have a couple share with the media that, in actuality he did, unknowingly.
It already has become news in the case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk.
Here's the headline from The Guardian:
"Kentucky Clerk Unknowingly Issued a Marriage License to Trangender Man"
While I will be chastised for not referring to the transgendered man as a man, the fact of the matter is that in this case, a marriage license was issued to a couple who were born the same gender. Full story here.
Some may say that a same-sex marriage is different than this, but I would disagree.
What does this mean for pastors?
It means that as stories will continue to pile up and fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds regarding transgenderism and the other aspects of LGBT life, pastors must understand fully what is at stake for them. The SCOTUS ruling was not an end and now people of faith, who hold convictions against a redefined marriage will come under even more pressure as boundaries are stretched.
Pastors will likely have to add another question in their "Uncomfortable Questions" list for couples seeking marriage. In addition to "Are you both born-again followers of Christ?", "Are you living together?" and "Are you engaging in sexual intercourse?" Pastors will need to ask "Were you born the gender you are now?"
It may be offensive to those being questioned, but it will likely become inevitable.
Will pastors be arrested?
Probably. At least some will be. Some probably should be (oops, did I just write that?)
There are voices in the legal world stating that those with religious convictions regarding weddings and marriages will continue to have their rights and their views protected, the reality is that most of us who hold firmly to what we deem at biblical teachings regarding marriage just don't believe those voices.
To be clear, I am opposed to same-sex marriage based upon my convictions of what Scripture states.
In full disclosure, there are those within the world of American Christianity and religion who state loudly their love for God and differ with me regarding the validity of same-sex marriage. I understand that difference and applaud and will fight for their right to differ, but it is clearly a difference. I respectfully disagree and believe God was clear in his expression of marriage and gender and identity.
So what do we do?
Well, before picking up protest signs and creating another boycott (maybe that should be avoided completely) pastors and all Christians should do that which God has told us to do.
We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that everyone in our culture has a biblical worldview and begin to live as the missionaries God has called us to be.
Perhaps this needs to be our theme verse in this age:
Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)
I saw this story in the news today about a sheep in Australia that wandered away from its flock and became lost. It seems that this sheep was in the bush, alone, for about five or six years.
The Bible is full of illustrations and parallels using sheep, shepherds and flocks.
In Jesus' trifecta of "lost" parables found in the Gospels, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son) he challenges the religious leaders and explains God's heart for the lost and how he does what is needed to reach them. However, there is something in these stories that often is overlooked, at least by me. In each story the lost element (sheep, coin, son) belonged to the owner or to the family. There was a belonging that was evident in the genesis. So, the sheep was at one time part of a flock. The coin at one time was safely in the possession of the woman. Ultimately, the son was a full member of the family. He was not a stranger and held all the rights and privileges of sonship. Yet, in each story something happened. In each case, that which was home and in the right place became lost.
Is this a message on salvation? Perhaps. I don't discount that God seeks and draws all humanity to Himself. I believe that God desires that all be rescued and apart from a relationship with God through Christ, people are lost.
However, in these situations, it seems that Jesus is speaking of those who once were a part of the flock, home, family (i.e. church.)
In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus states. . .
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)
In the case of today's news story, the missing sheep remained lost for years. I'm sure the shepherds and others probably chalked it up as a loss, forgot about it and moved on. Yet, there he was. He's been named "Chris." Apparently, humans have a need to name animals of all kinds in order to feel better about them.
The news reports give this account on Chris' rescue: Chris was found near Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary outside Canberra by bushwalkers who feared he would not survive the approaching southern summer. He was found several miles from the nearest sheep farm. A bushwalker named him Chris after the sheep in the “Father Ted” television comedy series. (AP)
The photographs of Chris the sheep are incredible. I included it in this post above. They're sad and funny in that this animal, unbeknownst to himself, looked terrible. He had lived alone for so long that he likely thought that to be normal and had nothing been done to help him, likely would not have survived the coming summer.
Chris had no idea he was lost!
As I looked at the photos of Chris, I thought "That's what happens to Christians who never engage in the mission. They may be in the building, but they hide in the crowd. They settle for just sitting and soaking in the stuff of church."
In a very real sense, there is "lostness" among those in the church today. Like Chris, they don't even know they're lost.
Oh, and as for the the ones who are far from the church, who have run from it and abandoned its teachings and ultimately abandoned the Gospel. . .they look like this, too. Spiritually, at least. And they don't even realize it.
The best part of the parable as recorded by Luke, in my opinion, is this phrase - And when he comes home.
There are many in our churches praying for lost friends and family members and at times, the natural thing to do is lose hope. This story of a lost sheep gives a clear thought that the one who once belonged in the flock, though straying from truth, will be sought and will be found and will come home one day.
Every church and many families have a "Chris the Sheep" in their story.
Keep praying and keep believing. One day. . .hopefully soon, "Chris the Sheep" will come home.
What happens then?
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
This has been a landmark year for advocates of the LGBT community.
In addition to the SCOTUS ruling that changed state recognition of same-sex marriage, a prominent celebrity (Bruce Jenner) slid to the far right of the acronym to announce that he is transgender and will begin living not as the gender he was born, but as a woman.
To be clear, I do not support the shift in gender that Jenner has and is going through. I don't even know the man, but my belief in identity and bestowed gender, founded on what I believe the Word of God to reveal, means that I cannot affirm this lifestyle choice. I wrote about Jenner's announcement here. I also believe that God loves Jenner as he loves all. Love, nevertheless, is not synonymous with affirmation and acceptance of life choices.
Since Jenner's "coming out" as Caitlyn, the entertainment and sports media has pointedly fought to find more details about Jenner and this has effectively pushed him back on the cover of magazines, on the stage at awards shows and as the lead story on many entertainment "news" shows. Some say this was what he desired all along. Perhaps, but I doubt that was the driving force.
It's Not About Political Correctness
In a culture where political correctness reigns and celebrities, politicians, and athletes spend more apologizing for saying or Tweeting things that have been labeled as insensitive by the self-proclaimed political correctness police, I am not calling for the end of Jenner jokes and other LGBT jokes for this reason.
Like most guys, I love a good joke. Like most jokes that are really funny, there's always a hint of truth in them. Sarcasm is easy for me. Humor that may offend some has always been a default for me as well. While I find no humor in jokes laced with profanity, racial stereotypes or hurtful words, there are times I have told jokes, or at least laughed at some that are hurtful. What's worse than couching hurtful language in a joke that may cause an individual to feel personally ridiculed is the hurt that takes place for God and His Kingdom.
It Is Mission Critical
When missionaries are sent to international lands, they are sent with a mandate - a Commission. This is to love God fully as they love people with the intent of leading people to the rescue that is found only in Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are not taught to "Americanize" the natives. They are not taught to look down on those whom they been sent to serve. They are not led to water-down the Gospel for any reason, just to be accepted either. They are sent equipped to live among the culture that does not know Jesus, or in some cases is loudly opposed to Jesus.
Christians in America are discovering that the mission field is no longer only overseas. It's not just on another continent where a different religion reigns supreme. The mission field is here. In some cases, the mission field is within one's home and family.
Our culture is growing more loudly opposed to Christ and Christians. The marginalization of the church in cultural life is upon us. Yet, rather than lament the reality, we must celebrate that God has seen fit to place us here, now, for "such a time as this." Apparently, he is equipping us to be His ambassadors and His church for a mission field that is very dark.
While #LoveWins has trended recently as a call for unity and celebration by the LGBT community, the truth of the matter is that Love who wins has already won. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And. . .lost people do not know that. Sometimes, they have been blinded to that truth because of religion, unfortunately.
So, Why Stop the Jokes?
Maybe you've never told or laughed at "gay jokes" or "transgender jokes." Or ... maybe you're like me. Here's why I feel the conviction to stop. I believe God has given us a unique opportunity to share His love and hope with those in our community who struggle with same-sex attraction and even deeply troubling gender issues. I know that previous statement is a challenging one, especially for those who are LGBT and are not struggling with it, by their own admission. Nevertheless, based on my faith convictions and understanding of Scripture, I would stand by my wording.
That being said, the Great Commission does not have an asterisk by it that eliminates certain people from our love through Christ.
This is the biggest challenge - loving truly without affirming sin (and I mean any kind of sin - so don't think I'm just saying LGBT lifestyles. I do mean adultery, fornication, thievery, gluttony, etc.) If we can't love people who sin. . .well, we have to eliminate much Scripture.
Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier
I believe humor is a gift from God. It's not a spiritual gift. It's not even a primary gift. I just believe that God, in his sovereignty and glory has gifted us with the ability to laugh (at ourselves mostly) and circumstances. Laughter can be healing (Ever see "Patch Adams?")
However, jokes can be hurtful.
How many times has someone said something hurtful to another and then tagged "just kidding" at the end, thinking that makes it all okay?
- It would be like a white Christian missionary being sent to a tribal area in an African nation and telling "black jokes"...
- It would be like an American moving to Europe and continually making fun of European accents and customs...
- It would be like moving to Miami and telling jokes that make fun of Cubans...
- Or living in South Texas and telling Mexican jokes...
It would be like doing all these things and more and then expecting to be able to share the Gospel message with those you have just made fun of, expecting a good response.
I know, some of you are already poking holes in my premise by stating that the LGBT community is not a racial or cultural people group. I agree. It is different. I do not equate them as the same. I oppose the use of the Civil Rights Movement in our nation as a parallel to the LGBT causal movement of today. They are vastly different.
However, this is what we do know to be a reality. The LGBT community is just that - a community. In most cases, there is unbridled acceptance within the community (unless you are vehemently opposed and then there is no place at the table.) Most are not angry gay men or lesbians. Many just want to live their lives and be left alone. There are some (and they're loud) who advocate pretty harshly. Harshness often attracts harshness.
Love Without Affirmation of Sin
The church is going to have to make a decision in this world where the biblical worldview is being pushed aside and redefined by many (wrongly, I might add.) Some denominations in our culture are already capitulating. In other words, they are wimping out and have sacrificed the authority of Scripture and adherence to such for short-lived applause by those who really don't like them anyway.
The church that stands firmly on Scripture and does not bend in this area, must decide if those within their membership (and there are quite a few) and those who are seeking God really are worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel.
While some say that's an offensive statement, I say no. If we truly love God then we can truly love people (all people, not just those who live with church approved sins). If we love people, we must show that love so that ultimately LOVE WINS. This is not a bait and switch. This is what we have been called to do.
We are missionaries to a culture that is as dark as any unchurched part of the world. Let's live well, live holy, live uncompromisingly on the Gospel and love well and tell some good jokes along the way, but let's not build unnecessary walls.
Yesterday I finished up our series on parenting and family aptly titled "The Fam."
While not initially planned on my part, but due to an overwhelming push (or maybe a pull) by God, I felt compelled at the close of my message on "Rites of Passage" to step away from my notes and shared with our church family some struggles and difficulties my wife, children and I have been facing for a few years.
The Elephant in the Room
For some, it was the "elephant in the room" in that most who know us well know that we have been challenged as parents of adult children. For others, mostly new church attenders and members and those who are not as fully engaged in the life of the church - it was totally new information. In fact, for some, it was probably news that I am married and even have children.
Nonetheless, I confessed that by preaching and teaching on the "rites of passage" that parents should take their children through in order for them to enter into authentic adulthood as God designed, I felt a bit like a hypocrite.
The frustration and feelings led me to almost shelve the message totally. However, I sensed God imploring me to press on.
My struggle is that I have missed numerous "rites of passage" with my son due to his continued rebellion against our family, the Gospel and God that began a number of years ago. Not to go too deeply here, but to put it plainly, in our lives, the story of the "Prodigal Son" is not just a parable from the Bible that makes for a good Sunday School class lesson. It feels like our biography.
So, I shared this with our church family.
I felt I had done something dangerous.
I felt I had done something risky.
I felt I had revealed, maybe too much.
I felt vulnerable.
I have never been one to embrace the false "perfect pastor" persona that many have created. I fully understand and receive the role God has called me to fulfill. I feel the heavy responsibility to divide the Word rightly and to preach the Gospel clearly. I know that I am called to make disciples and to equip the saints. I do not minimize any of these realities.
I also know that I am to live out my faith in all areas of my life, at church, in the schools, in the community and especially at home.
And. . .I know I am human and though redeemed by God through the blood of Christ, I still, at times, mess up. Call it what it is - I sin.
Like many parents of adult children, I look back wishing I could do some things differently. I look at old photographs of days gone by and wonder "What if that was a moment where I could have spoken into my child's life in a way that would have changed the present?"
So, I shared what I shared.
Not too much. . .but clear nonetheless.
I don't think so. Not this time, at least. Here's why I say that. Following the service I had numerous (and that means more than ten) adults and parents come to me saying things like "I don't know your details, but know this - you're not alone. We've been struggling through this same story as well. We're in the same boat as you." Some say there's comfort in misery, but this is not the case. The comfort here was two-fold: I was affirmed that the majority of our church loves God, loves people and loves my family. Many were affirmed that their pastor really does understand some of the struggles of life. Perhaps, they needed reminding that the myth of the "perfect family" with no difficult chapters is just that - a myth.
The greatest reminder (And why must we always be reminded of this? Oh yeah, because we're uber forgetful) is that God is sovereign. His love endures. He loves our children even more than we do. He loves us in spite of our failings. He has been in this story before. In fact, He is the author and hero of the story. There is hope.
So, pastor, as you study, pray and prepare to bring the sermon God is leading to your church next week, understand that there is a great possibility you may hit a "TMI" moment (Too much information) but don't preach with a fear of saying too much. Trust God to use your transparency to bring Him glory. . .and perhaps even bring you healing.
“When does a child become an adult? When does a boy become a man? When does a girl become a woman?”
- Age 13 – Teenager, no longer eating off the kids menu (legally.)
- Age 15 – Driver’s permit?
- Age 16 – Driver’s license?
- Age 18 – Legal to vote?
- Age 21 – Legal to drink?
- When puberty hits? (Different for everyone?)
- When puberty ends? (Somewhere around 25 or maybe 30?)
- When they get a job?
- When they have sexual relations?
The culture is confused, in so many ways, but this challenge of growing up is being stunted and causing more problems for families and individuals than ever in the past.
Have you ever heard of the term “adultescent?”
This is the moniker attached to adults who “fail to launch” and choose to remain home, stay unmarried, refuse commitments and continue to live as if they were 16 well up into their 30s. Unfortunately, some of this trend can be traced to parents who, though well-intentioned, have lacked the tools to usher their children into adulthood. In most cases, the parents never had a defining moment of adulthood, so creating one becomes the challenge.
Male and female genders are intentionally and strategically created by God for the individual even before conception. Authentic manhood and womanhood are bestowed. God has intended for parents to lead out in this area.
But, what about those who grew up in homes where there was no father or mother speaking truth into their lives?
What about parents who don’t know how to do this?
What about the teenagers who are living far outside the boundaries of morality and godliness?
Many parents just laugh it off and say “Let kids be kids.” While I think kids should be able to have fun and be kids, the frustration is that when adults who have all the trappings of adulthood live as though they are little more than kids in big people clothes.
Rites of passage are essential
Watch this video from our ROPE series. This is one designed for parents of 13 year olds.
It’s one thing to say “You need to create rites of passage for your kids at different stages and ages” and something totally different to say “Let us help you in this journey.”
Parents, grandparents, kids - We’re here to help you in this journey.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (ESV)
Click the image below to be taken to the Rites of Passage Experiences (ROPE) page.
I have heard the comments throughout the years, but it seems that over the past few months they have grown with regularity. I wouldn't really file these away as gripes, but they are close. Maybe it's a sign that there's a holy unrest among a generation seeking more? At least, that's how I define it. The common thread is that I am hearing from members of a certain generation who are tired of being a part of a ministry that is content at remaining shallow.
Some of the things said in passing are things like. . .
"I really want to be a part of a ministry that is more than just focused on fun."
"I don't think just getting together to play games constitutes ministry."
"I love being with people, but shouldn't we be doing something for the Lord rather than just talking about it?"
"The trips are fun. It's just that they're only trips. We don't do anything related to God, the church or ministry."
"All we do is eat."
Sounds like young adults who grew up in a youth ministry that was built on pizza parties, trips to the beach or amusement park and maybe game nights. As a veteran of student ministry and student of the culture, this is one of the reasons many teenagers leave church when they graduate. They were never invited into ministry, never given significant tasks within the church and eventually they either desire more or see church as frivolous.
The thing is, the comments I'm hearing now are not from the younger, Millennial generation. These comments are coming from senior adults.
I don't categorize them as gripes, but as honest questions from men and women who have more chapters read in their life stories than I do. Most desire to finish well and do not see empty "ministries" as allowing them to do so.
It's funny, they're not saying they don't want to play games, eat and fellowship together or even take trips together on the big bus somewhere. Their frustration is that these activities alone are called "ministry" and yet, should not be.
In other words, if the church only offers activities for seniors that the local community senior center can, there is a good chance that what is offered is not ministry at all.
It is offensive to me when pastors and leaders who serve senior adults treat these seasoned saints as if they're little more than old versions of preschoolers.
We live in a culture that does not value the aged. This is evident in how many view senior adults. There is a treasure of wisdom available, but many just walk on by and never experience it, destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations by ignoring wise counsel.
Now, just because a person has lived long on the earth does not mean that person is living holy, redeemed and wise. These attributes are Spirit-given and often choices of the individual. Nevertheless, the church in the United States that rightly seeks to reach Millennials and young people with the Gospel must also discover ways to not push aside those who still have much to offer the Kingdom.
Intergenerational ministry is key. . .and it's not defined by games, meals and bus trips.
When you hear principles of parenting or marriage and you know the information is right and good, do you ever feel that for you and your family "it's too late"?
"If I knew then what I know now" is heard over and over again.
Knowing that God redeems our past is incredible, but sometimes even that doesn't bring the comfort needed. Why is this? In this message, I share plainly how we, as believers, are often victim to the lies that keep us from living as redeemed children of God in a redeemed family.
After weeks of prayer for Drew Wood regarding his surgery and hospital stay, the Wood family was back in church on August 16 and wanted to share their appreciation to the First Family.
The audio of the family is attached.
Yesterday, we launched our First Family Initiative at our church. We hosted counselors and authors, Sissy Goff and David Thomas of Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. They are authors or co-authors of numerous books and have a combined 75 years of experience in family counseling, working primarily with parents and children.
The insights provided yesterday regarding the essentials of godly, healthy parenting were incredible.
The attached audio file is from our Sunday morning gathering and features Sissy & David speaking on the subject of "Intentional Parenting."
Check out our online bookstore here for a full list of available resources from these two and other authors.
Also, go to the Raising Boys and Girls website at raisingboysandgirls.com for resources & updates.
CAUTION: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC INFORMATION
Last week, in the midst of "news" stories about the Kardashians and the Jenners, was a story that was most likely skipped by many in our nation, but should be heard.
It is the story of Kayla Mueller. The 26-year-old woman from Prescott, Arizona was a humanitarian aid worker who had gone to Syria to help refugees in that country. She worked with agencies such as Doctors Without Borders.
It was in August 2013 that the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS and ISIL) kidnapped her and gave her over to one of their leaders as property - a sex slave.
In a story by Doug Stanglin of USA Today that ran yesterday, details regarding her experiences as the slave of Abu Sayyaf are troubling at a minimum. The evil barbarism perpetrated in the name of religion is something that many in the west are opposed to acknowledge.
Stanglin reports. . .
Mueller, 26, from Prescott, Ariz., was taken captive in Syria in August 2013 while leaving a Spanish Doctors without Borders hospital in Aleppo.
Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed "caliph" of the Islamic State, brought her "live and in person" to the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian in charge of oil and gas revenue for the group, counterterrorism officials have told ABC News over the past several months.
The details of Mueller's treatment were initially reported by several Yazidi girls who were held at the house, including a 14-year-old and her sister who managed to escape in August 2014, The Independent reported. The teen's version has been corroborated by U.S. officials.
Additional information came from Abu Sayyaf's wife, Umm Sayyaf, who was captured in May by U.S. Special Forces. Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid, which also yielded a treasure trove of intelligence about the terror group.
According to the accounts by the Yazidi girls, many Yazidi women passed through the Sayyaf house on the way to being given as "presents" to Islamic State fighters. They said rape was a "reward" for military victories. The girls also told interrogators that Umm Sayyaf organized the sex trade.
During lengthy American interrogation in Iraq, Umm Sayyaf confirmed al-Baghdadi had "owned" Kayla, the Muellers said they were told by American officials. Last week, the White House announced that Umm Sayyaf would be prosecuted in Kurdish Iraq and would be “held accountable for her crimes.”
"They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means," Carl Mueller, Kayla's father, told the AP on Friday, which would have been his daughter's 27th birthday.
Reports are that Mueller died in February of this year when a Jordanian airstrike hit the compound where she was kept. The Islamic State reports this, so there's a strong possibility that the Jordanians had nothing to do with her death.
A Theology of Rape
Last week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC presented in their newsletter "The Weekly" in harrowing detail, the theology of those in the Islamic State that leads to affirmation of sex slavery and rape. As I read this article, partnered with the report on Mueller. This information is valuable for all to know:
Here are five facts you should about how IS views and justifies the practice of sexual slavery:
1. IS considers rape of sex slaves to be a form of worship
In The New York Times article, a Yazidi girl was was enslaved by IS claims:
“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s. Like some others interviewed by The New York Times, she wanted to be identified only by her first initial because of the shame associated with rape.
“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship.
2. IS has an eschatological justification for sex slavery
Islamic State publishes a glossy propaganda magazine called Dabiq. In the October 2014 issue, IS included an article titled “The Revival Of Slavery Before The Hour,” which explains the justification for sex slavery.
In Islamic terminology the “hour” refers to the Day of Judgment, a time of reckoning either for an individual upon death or on mankind. According the article, IS asked its own Sharī’ah (Islamic law) scholars to render a verdict on whether the Yazidis (a minority religious group in the Middle East) could be enslaved. They determined that “enslavement of the apostate women” was not only justified by the Quran but was a sign prefiguring the Day of Judgment.
3. IS condones the rape of young girls
Last fall the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (ISIS) released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves:
"Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?
"It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."
4. Acquisition of sex slaves is used as a recruiting tool
As The New York Times article notes, the practice of slavery has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden. Capturing sex slaves has become nearly as important for IS’s objectives as capturing territory.
5. IS has about 3,000 girls and women engaged in sexual slavery
According to Human Rights Watch, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated in its report on March 13, 2015 that about 3,000 people, mainly Yazidis, allegedly remain in ISIS captivity. However, local officials, service providers, and community activists estimate that the number of Yazidis still held is much higher.
Why Bring This Up?
While stories of the Islamic State have been presented for months with images of beheadings, Christians being killed for not converting to Islam and numerous other atrocious and heart-wrenching activities, the sad reality is that most just see the stories as presented and respond with "That's too bad" or "Someone needs to do something."
Simply put, dealing with the Islamic State is more than a creation of a trending hashtag or creating 140 character statements about it. This is more than a talking point for political pundits or potential candidates.
This is evil and must be addressed as such.
When World War II ended, General Eisenhower instructed his soldiers to take the residents of nearby cities through the concentration camps that most profited from, but simply ignored. Many Germans intentionally ignored what was happening in those camps. Eisenhower wanted to ensure that passive ignorance was addressed. Some criticized him for this. I applaud him.
In this case, with what is happening globally (and locally, might I add) regarding the slavery of women and girls for sex, the church must not be silent. Regarding the evil that exists in the name of the Islamic State, ignorance and political correctness are not the answers either.
Prayer is the first response
It sounds like a weak response to those who do not fully understand what I'm speaking of, but for those who are walking with God, thinking with the mind of Christ and seeking His will, prayer is the first, best response.
Prayer for the deliverance of the women and girls being held as slaves throughout the world, especially those held by ISIS.
Prayer for justice to reign in the story.
Prayer for evil to be defeated.
Prayer for those who hold a non-biblical worldview to have their eyes opened to what is truly happening.
Prayer for nations to rise and fight this evil by all means necessary.
Prayer that we will recognize that victory is already won through Christ.
Prayer that those who hold to a worldview that seeks to ignore the reality of evil done in the name of religion for fear of offense will have their eyes opened.
Prayer that the church will awaken.
Prayer for the families of victims. Prayer that the peace that passes understanding will cover them.
God is not silent. He is not unaware. He is not slumbering. He is in control and present.
Yesterday we began a teaching series at First Orange Park called "The Fam." This is a pivotal series for us and due the response by those in the church, I am posting the full transcript of this introductory sermon as well as the audio link for the podcast.
Do I Know How to Pray?
About two months ago when our Pastor, David Tarkington, began a series on prayer, if you asked me if I knew how to pray my answer would have been an indignant “well of course”. After Pastor David began going through the template that Jesus gave in Matthew on the Lord’s Prayer I realized just how little I knew. I was one of those that could recite the Lord’s prayer with no problem but had really never taken the time to look at the six elements and figure out what they mean. I began to try to pray through the template and I got hung up on a few things. This is where a 7 year old taught me how to truly pray.
It was about this time that Drew Wood was put in the hospital and his future hung in the balance. Pleas were put out on Facebook (even by me) to earnestly pray for this little boy as he was fighting the battle of his life, along with his parents, Jon and Mandi. On a July Monday morning when I knew that Drew was supposed to have surgery later that day I began to have a discussion with God on the way to work. I argued with him that I didn’t understand why the doctor didn’t try such and such after all I am a nurse and I know things. Looking back now I can’t believe I was arguing with God about this. He very gently said you may be a nurse but I am the Great Physician and I’ve got this covered. Talk about being put in your place. I came close to having to pull my car over. As I prayed that morning I was finally able to pray the one thing I had been having trouble with – Your will be done. When praying God’s will I had to realize that when I ask for healing it may not come in the form that I expect. That day as those of us in the church office cried together and prayed together (sorry folks not much work got done) I realized that praying God’s will was really very easy because whether I approve of it or not doesn’t really matter His will is going to be done anyway. How freeing!
Drew, I don’t know if you know it yet but God has used you in so many ways to bring glory to Him. He certainly used you to teach this more than middle aged woman how to pray as he instructed. I am sorry that you had to go through what you did but I thank you and your parents for allowing God to work in and through all three of you to teach us some much needed spiritual lessons.
Shari Barbaro is a friend of mine. She serves on the staff of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. She is a child of God, deacon's wife, mother to two, choir member, small group leader and mentor to teenage girls. She recently blogged about how God taught her how to prayer. Permission granted to share her post. Here's a link to her blog.
Earlier this week our Leadership Team attended the SEND Conference in Nashville. This conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board and International Mission Board, featured challenging messages, vital insights into culture and incredible worship music as well as an opportunity to connect with others focused on pushing back the darkness in a culture prone to wander.
One of the many breakout sessions offered was Thom Rainer's on Millennials and the Future of the Church. His bullet points are available here for now.
(BTW - Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s)
I went to this breakout session with a few of our Millennial Leadership Team members. I did notice a few other grey haired guys in the room, so I was not totally out of place.
When looking at research on generations and the broad strokes of identification that often come with descriptive terms for groups, the data can be overwhelming and more often than not, negative in scope.
Millennials are therefore, often relegated to a descriptor by older generations that ignores who they truly are, what they have to offer and the questions they continue to ask.
Churches that ignore millennials, or who simply relegate them to a satellite ministry in attempts to be relevant are missing perhaps the greatest mission field and potential great awakening in years.
Rainer's research revealed truths that I had not known.
Here are some facts about this generation with my thoughts in red.
- The Largest Generation – More than 78 Million live births from 1980-2000. This is amazing to me. For years, the Boomers were spoken of as the largest generation. Then, with the development of "the pill" and the legalization of abortion, it has been presumed (by me) that this generation was smaller.
- The Lost Generation – Our best estimate is that just 15% of the Millennials are Christians. This is not surprising. Youth groups are declining in number (though many students attend, there is a tendency to jump from church to church, group to group, and para-church to para-church simply for events) and many are graduating high school and church as well. Church attendance does not equate to relationship with Christ, but there are a vast majority of young people, even within the church, who do not know Christ. This is even more clear as social media has grown and personal theologies have become more exposed.
- The Unchurched Generation – About 20% of Millennials attend church at least twice a month. Regular church attendance, with split families and other reasons, is now only twice a month. More attend church than know Christ.
- The Relational Generation – Relationships are key to Millennials. It's all about relationships. There's no devotion to an organization, by and large, but there is to friendships and relationships. People matter. This is the social media generation. Numerous follows, likes and "friends" are key to this generation. True friendships, however, may be fewer and farther between.
- The Mentee Generation – Mentoring is desired by Millennials. The younger generation actually desires relationships with older people. This, however, must be a two-way street. As with any descriptor, there are exceptions.
- The High Expectations Generation – They want to be at a church that makes a difference in its community and the world. The word "missional" may be overused by some, but living missionally as a church in a community is vital if Millennials are to connect.
- The Stewardship Generation – This generation asks “What are we doing with our resources and are they being used in the best way and to God’s glory?” This question must be answered clearly by the church. Just giving to a fund for an organization will not elicit excitement and ultimately will run dry. Millennials will give. . .but they need to know it's for a purpose.
- The Committed Generation – They are committed to that about which they are passionate. This one is hard for older people (like me) to fathom, but as Rainer explained it, I see the truth here. In a world where it seems that no one is committed, this generation will commit to a movement, a belief system, a project. . . if it's seen as valuable. Some say that they change jobs every two years (and likely churches, too, if they're involved) and that is a sign they're not committed. However, what is revealed is that the workforce is often seen by business as a resource, not family. Therefore, when people are not viewed as valuable. . .in a relationship. . .there is no commitment to offer. If churches view Millennials as simply a resource, they will not reach this generation.
- The Cross-generational Generation – They desire to learn from those who have been there and have experience. Again, this is founded on authentic relationships. The church should take this to heart and ask the hard questions regarding programming. Should every program, ministry and event be "age-divided"? Maybe the Millennials will lead the church back to a first century model?
- The Generation of Opportunity – There is a great challenge in reaching Millennials, but the opportunity is greater. Millennials are the largest mission field in American history. It’s up to us to reach them with the gospel. The message here is "Wake Up Church!" We cannot ignore this generation. How tragic to be presented with the largest generation of unchurch people in our nation's history and miss what God is going to do through them.
There is much more to be said about reaching and connecting with this generation. The bottom line is this - we cannot afford to miss that which God intends to do through this generation. I believe we will be held accountable in how we effectively engage and serve alongside those categorized as Millennials.
In a relay race, the baton matters. Crossing the finish line without the baton is a loss. We must pass the baton on to those who will run the next leg of this race.
There are two stories that seem to be trending in the media this week. These are unrelated stories, but show an interesting contrast on cultural views of life, ethics and value.
Cecil the Lion
The story of Cecil the Lion is a tragic one. Walter Palmer, a dentist on a "hunt" in Zimbabwe killed a lion that had been collared and was part of an ongoing study at Oxford University. Details of the story continue to come out and the debate in the public continues to rage.
His statement of regret is seemingly falling on deaf ears and many have declared it empty.
"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have."" - Walter Palmer
Those who advocate for animal "rights" and celebrities have joined the story to share their opinions of Palmer. Mia Farrow tweeted Palmer's home address and thus, protesters arrived.
Others have shared what they think should happen to Palmer.
"Anything loose, they should cut off." - Betty White
"I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well-deserved. If he was my dentist I would never set eyes on him again." - Bob Barker
The story is gaining ground and mainstream media outlets as well as entertainment outlets continue to push it on the front page or as the lead story of the day.
Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts
The other story that is working its way through social media and some mainstream outlets focuses on the leaked, undercover videos by a pro-life organization showing doctors and leaders of Planned Parenthood admitting to and expressing how they sell organs of aborted babies for profit.
Planned Parenthood has existed for decades. This non-profit organization declares itself as the primary provider of reproductive health and women's services in the nation. This is a sanitized, politically correct way of stating that they provide more abortions than any other organization in the United States.
The first video released is embedded below. Be warned, it is not easy to watch.
The latest is even more disturbing. . .
Amazingly, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board has issued this statement in response to the video, as part of a well-orchestrated dance attempting to diffuse this story in the national media.
“People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful.” - PP Clergy Advocacy Board
At first, I was surprised that Planned Parenthood even had a Clergy Advocacy Board. However, there is a clear version of "Christianity" in America that has forsaken the truths of the Gospel and the truth of His Word. Therefore, statements like these should not surprise us, though they are greatly disturbing.
Joe Carter, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition referenced it this way:
That some clergy from denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and American Baptist Churches would turn a blind eye to the sale of body parts from children slaughtered in the womb is not surprising. Almost all mainline denominations officially support unrestricted access to abortion.
But these ministerial shills have the audacity to frame their support for America’s largest abortion provider as a defense of women. Their kneejerk support for Planned Parenthood reveals a willful ignorance of one of the most anti-woman organizations in America.
How These Stories Are Connected
The story of Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood actually have nothing to do with each other. One is about a hunting trip in Africa that resulted in one animal being wrongly killed.
The other is about the deception of an organization that I believe does evil work and is responsible for the killing of millions of human beings.
What does connect them is the story of life and the message of ethics and truth.
Why It's Easier to Care for a Lion Than Babies
It is easier to jump on the bandwagon that is attacking Dr. Palmer than show offense to what is being done at Planned Parenthood.
It's easier because the crowd is louder that speaks against Dr. Palmer.
It's easier because others will celebrate you if you "stand up for Cecil."
It's easier because the platform is wide and welcoming for those who would show anger and frustration toward Dr. Palmer.
It's easier because other than tweeting and posting opposition (other than the few who are organizing protests and other actions) there really is no personal engagement in the Cecil the Lion story. Just tweet your anger and use the appropriate hashtag and go about your life.
However, when you assert your offense at what organizations like Planned Parenthood do, you are labeled. You are placed in a category that isn't celebrated by the masses. You will be on an opposite side of celebrities and those who are often worshipped by the masses.
The politically incorrect will not be celebrated.
You will be declared a hater of women (the enemy loves pulling out the "hater" tag for those who stand up for truth) rather than a lover of life and an advocate for babies.
You will have to stand on a narrow platform.
You will have to do more than state your opposition to abortion.
Christians who state their opposition to abortion must in the same breath state and show their advocacy for helping pregnant women, providing for single moms, standing in the gap for teens who are pregnant, affirm and support foster care and adoption services.
It is hypocritical to be against abortion and ignore the role of the church in these other areas. There's no way to be unengaged and be holy.
That's why it's easier.
But then, who said living holy and grounded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be easy?
What Must Be Done
I affirm the calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I am not convinced this will ever happen, but at least the conversation has begun again, and more earnestly than in the past. To know that we are all guilty by proxy of the trafficking of human body parts through our taxes is offensive and atrocious. It's time for the federal government to do the right thing here and for the people standing upon that narrow platform to stand unwaveringly and push strongly for this.
Praying By Name
Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on how we should pray for those who are the names and faces of Planned Parenthood. The God of life is the only one who can transform a heart. Pray for those who do evil, especially those who unknowingly do so. How can they know evil apart from knowing the truth?
Trevin's full post is here.
Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reminded us of our role clearly.
The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).
The heart of man is dark. Jesus is the light and has stated that we are His Light of the world. Let's shine this light brightly.
Love God - Love People - Make Disciples
The final portion of the Model Prayer gives us instruction to seek protection from God by asking Him to not lead us into temptation and protect us from evil. This is a prayer seeking moral provision and is needed by all. What may seem confusing and even contradictory at first glance is proven to be neither.
Left to our own devices, we do not land on holiness.
While we pray for God's forgiveness for past sins, as instructed by Christ in the same prayer, the wise Christ follower also understands the need to seek guidance and protection for possible future sins. These are God's guardrails for our lives.
Sometimes you need to look back to understand where you are.
The new film Woodlawn, opening October 16 in over 1,500 theaters, appears to be another "based on a true story" football film reminiscent of others like Remember the Titans. However, it does not take long to discover that this story is about more than high school football in the age of bussing.
Woodlawn is a film by the Erwin Brothers (Mom's Night Out, October Baby) based on the true story of "Touchdown Tony" Nathan, a high school football star in the early 1970s at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama. The film opens with images, some from old newscasts, others made just for the film, that highlight the intensity of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. News footage from the late 1960s and early 1970s showing Birmingham churches burning and bombed out, Alabama Governor Wallace's famed speech about never allowing desegregation at the University of Alabama and interviews of those living in a city being called "Bombingham" sets the stage for the depravity and division in our nation from just a few decades ago. Some would say we have come far as a nation. Others, referencing recent acts in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston would say that perhaps we have not progressed as much as previously thought.
The stage is set for the story of Tony Nathan.
The version of the film my wife, Tracy and I saw with other leaders in our city is a pre-edited, or more accurately, a mid-edited version. There are scenes where dialogue will be added, and special effects will replace visible green screens and empty stands during football games.
I imagine some other scene trimming will take place to get the film under the two-hour mark.
Nevertheless, this is a very watchable and engaging film. This is a film that is worthy of an incredible opening weekend. The acting is excellent, beginning with Oscar-winner Jon Voight as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Sean Astin plays a pivotal character in the film. Astin is Hank Erwin, the Woodlaw High School team chaplain, who also happens to be the father of Andrew and Jon Erwin - the "Erwin Brothers" who brought the film to life.
Of course as soon as Astin appears on the screen in a period-piece football movie, I wanted to yell "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" but my wife wisely discouraged that.
Lesser known actor, but wonderful in this breakout role, is Caleb Castille. He plays Tony Nathan, but didn't get the role until three days prior to shooting. It's clear the Erwins casted the right man. Castille not only carries his scenes with class and skill, even those shared with more seasoned actors like Voight and Astin, but he is a football player - not just an actor pretending to be one.
Castille was a walk-on at the University of Alabama where both of his brothers (Tim and Simeon) and his father (Jeremiah) played football. His father and brothers all played in the NFL as well. After three years of playing and winning two national championships at Alabama, he decided to walk away from football and pursue acting. He was given the go-ahead by his parents as long as he remained in school.
Originally cast as the understudy and body-double for football scenes for the actor originally scheduled to play Nathan, it became clear prior to shooting that Castille was the guy and he received the role.
Other well-known actors and entertainers appear. C. Thomas Howell steals scenes as the Banks High School coach, Shorty White. Nathan's parents, played by Sherri Shepherd (who offers perhaps the funniest line in the film when she meets Tony's potential new girlfriend) and Lance Nichols are superb.
Also - this is set in the 1970s, so the sideburns on just about all male characters are great. This film may usher in a new retro-facial hair style to replace the ever-popular goatee.
The football scenes in this film are as engaging as any I have seen in movies.
Sports movies, in my opinion, have often done a poor job of conveying the action on the field or court well. In some cases, the interaction between players, fans and referees is so unreal that any athlete (or former athlete) just cringes when watching the film (remember Teen Wolf?) In more recent years, it seems that directors and writers work to ensure the games on film are more realistic, recognizing that many in their potential audiences will notice flaws.
Woodlawn does a wonderful job at leading the audience to believe actual football games are being played out on screen. Castille and the other actors make this convincing. Of course, there was one moment during the film when my wife leans over and asks "Does anyone other than Nathan ever get the ball for Woodlawn?" I laughed and then, almost like the writers heard us, the next scene showed another Woodlawn Colonel running the ball.
Making a period-piece sports movie, especially a football one, as an independent filmmaker must be tough. There will be numerous fixes in post-production. Legion Field in Birmingham is old, but the modern Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew advertisements on the scoreboard need to be replaced. This is not a big deal. . .but, I noticed it. Unless these soft drinks have paid for product placement, they will likely be replaced. When actual footage of the Woodlawn and Banks (the rivalry school) game is shown, I was reminded how different football helmets and uniforms looked in the 1970s. The shoulder pads were larger, the face masks and the logos on the helmets were different. This is not a knock on the film. I understand the creative license and the Woodlawn helmet used in the film looks much better than the one in archive footage. These make for cleaner, clearer images in color.
It's a Great Film, But Now What?
Faith-based, or "Christian" films are trendy now. The quality is much better and getting the church out of the church-house and into the local cinema has been effective. Most Christians understand the value of opening weekend and many churches, mine included, look to help quality independent films like this one do well when it counts.
However, this time, I sense something different must be done. There was a Q&A time with those in the audience seeking info on creative and new ways to get the right people in the cinemas to see it. In other words, the discussion was focused not on how to get the church into the theater, but to get others into the theater to see the film and then into local churches.
This isn't a "grow your church" campaign disguised as a movie. This is a real effort to see what the next chapter in God's great awakenings will look like and in an age where entertainment and sports reign as the gods of our nation, the question remains "What can we do?"
I heard a number of people share ideas - though, to be honest, they weren't really ideas. One pastor said, "To make a long story short. . ." and I knew what that meant. He would share anything but a "short" story.
Others echoed ideas that sounded like they had been birthed in the 1970s.
I wondered if anyone in the room heard the host say "Let's pray and share some creative and out-of-the-box ideas regarding the message of this film."
Alas, the church often fails when it comes to creativity, much to the dismay of people like the Erwin brothers, who obviously live on the edge of creative arts.
Here's What We Will Do
I shared my idea and still believe that this is our best, first-step. Our church is located in a suburb of Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville and our area have a long history of racial divide. Things are better than in the past, but I don't hear anyone saying that we have arrived and are where we desire to be. Every day on the news there is another story of a shooting. Sometimes it's gang related. Sometimes "black on black" crime." Other times, it's "white on white" and since we're diverse, there are still multi-racial crimes being committed. Our sin is equal opportunity.
There are some amazing God-sized stories happening in our community as well. These are powerful and God is birthing new churches and revitalizing legacy churches. More multi-racial work is being done by churches that in prior generations would not have happened.
It seems that we are on the precipice of something big.
The church is ready, but by and large. . .we're still holed up in our buildings.
I believe what we saw acted out in this film is more than just a story about what happened years ago, but a reminder that God does not sleep, is the same yesterday, today and forever.
What if high school students in a city grabbed hold of the message of the Gospel? What if the Gospel grabbed ahold of these students? Our church will seek to purchase all tickets for a showing or two on opening weekend. This will likely be on Saturday evening, since high school football is king each Friday evening. The tickets will not be for church members but for members of our local high school football teams. Maybe even putting two schools in the same theater . . . rivals, even? Our teams are not segregated (at least not intentionally) as they were in the 1970s, but what is the same is the reality that the vast majority of our students do not know Jesus Christ. They are spiritually void and need to know there is a God who says "It doesn't have to be this way."
Will the players attend?
Many schools and coaches are more afraid than ever of being sued for the breach of the "church/state" issues. Here's what I know. If students decide to go to the movie, it is legal and there is no issue for the school. If the coaches attend, it is legal. This is a public theater and so far, other than guidelines regarding age and ratings, people can attend the movies of their choice.
What would happen if by viewing a true story of spiritual renewal through a high school football team, God decided to do it again?
What if He decided to do it in my neighborhood, in my community, in my schools. . .or in yours?
I'm still dreaming about how to get kids to see the film, but more than that, I'm dreaming about another great awakening.
Will God Do It Again?
Yes. The question is "Will we miss it or be a part of it?"
It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.
Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.
Jon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace.
A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.
Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well.
Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.
Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.
Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.
Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.
Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .
One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.
The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:
- Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
- Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
- Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
- Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.
These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."
At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.
We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.
The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.
I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)
Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment.
This prayer time was no gimmick.
It was no religious routine.
It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering.
It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.
Then, We Waited
Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.
While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.
Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.
When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.
Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)
God bless the reading and believing of His Word.
We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.
At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.
The delay was then extended to the next day.
Surgery Day - Tuesday
Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.
Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.
There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.
Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.
The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.
Look What God Has Already Done
Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.
May God be glorified.
We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing.
In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.
The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged.
Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts.
The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed.
Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.
Well Done Church
Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."
We don't have to fake it.
God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey.
Keep the faith.
Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.
As you share your prayers and thoughts on social media, use the #PrayForDrew hashtag, please.
When Jesus gave us permission to come to the Father and seek forgiveness of debts, he was likely referring to financial issues, but as we delve deeper into this model prayer, it is clear that finances were just a sliver of the depth of the prayer.
All is good when Jesus says we can ask God to "forgive our debts" but that next line causes some concern. It's difficult. It's challenging. In fact, it's frustrating at times. We are instructed to seek forgiveness "as we have forgiven others." Does this mean that the level of forgiveness we receive will be in line to that which we offer? That's a scary thought. I mean, how many of us love to carry grudges, falsely believing that our grudge is our "right" and actually serves as retribution to those who have harmed us? What a crazy theory.
Maybe it means we are to offer forgiveness to others in the same way we receive it from the Father?
Nevertheless, we discover that in the midst of the Model Prayer (or Lord's Prayer, if you choose) we are expected to be in relationship with the Father, through the Son, so that forgiveness of our debts (lawlessness and sin) may be forgiven and through that relationship we have the ability we do not own on our own - that to forgive others.
If we fully received and held this as truth. . .it would change everything.
It does change everything.
When Jesus told us we could ask God for "our daily bread" he was speaking about more than dinner. In fact, the reference to bread hearkens back to an Old Testament story where God provided for the needs of his people while journeying through the wilderness.
Often, we struggle with the difference between needs and wants. Things we often say, and believe, we need are little more than wants. Do I really need the latest smartphone? What about dessert? Do I need that? I want it, sure, but need? That's a different topic.
The message available here goes into this aspect of the model prayer (i.e. The Lord's Prayer) and seeks to discover how we can begin to get this right in our prayer lives.
Like many churches in our area, the summer schedule is a bit challenging. Some call it the "summer slump." We just realize that most families have just about eight weeks a year to schedule vacations and in addition to church-sponsored mission trips, camps and other events, weekly attendance is affected. (This, however, doesn't necessarily mean that those who miss a couple of services are bad Christians.)
Nevertheless, our mid-week gatherings are unique during the summer. We schedule church family BBQ nights, evenings at the local baseball game, movie nights and other such events.
Last week, we scheduled a "Community Prayer Walk." Truth be told, the attendance was. . .well, pretty low. Apparently there is truth in the old adage that if you want to guarantee low attendance at a church gathering, just call it a "prayer meeting".
Yet, I was greatly encouraged.
As we first gathered together, prior to walking throughout the community, we discussed the value of intercessory prayer and the reasoning for doing such a prayer walk. We asked God to open our eyes and ears so that we may see and hear Him clearly. As we walked, we saw neighbors and homes and prayed over each.
After about an hour, we met together again to share what we had heard from God through the walk. Here are some of the things shared by the church:
- I saw homes that I drive by weekly and never think about. I realized that each home represents an individual or family in need of God.
- The longer we are in a community, the less we see.
- There are great needs in our community.
- We should do this regularly, not just every now and then.
- We must continue to go on mission elsewhere, but have to view this community, each day, as the mission field. God has placed us here for His glory.
- Most, if not all great awakenings and times of spiritual renewal in the history of the church began with God calling a small group together for prayer.
- Evangelism is talking to people about God. Intercession is talking to God about people.
- Many in our community live in the "shadow of our steeple" and do not know us.
- Many, if not most of our neighbors do not know Jesus Christ. Eternity hangs in the balance.
This was an encouraging night for me as a pastor and a challenging one as well. Prayer, as we know, is essential for spiritual renewal and growth. God does all the heavy lifting. It is He who does the saving. Yet, he has invited us to join him in this great endeavor and prayer is our first connection with Him. May these prayer gatherings, prayer walks and times of intercession never be viewed as less than vital.
The family unit has for centuries been comprised of one husband, one wife and in many cases, children. The changing cultural landscape of the twenty-first century seems to be calling that definition into question. Regardless what is deemed acceptable or normal in the world, the Bible affirms the family unit as described above. In addition to the primary members of what has been termed the “nuclear family,” the Scripture teaches and affirms multi-generational and extended family members serving together, ideally for the glory of God and the propagation of the Gospel. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to pass biblical truth and godly teachings on to their children and subsequent generations. This is God’s desire and yet, there are many families who fall short of that standard. Therefore, throughout the years, the local church has sought to shore up the deficiencies in these areas by creating age-graded ministries and programs. These programs and ministries have been proven helpful and valuable. Yet, over time, a dangerous precedent has been set.
Many individuals and families in our culture have become outsourcers. The age of expertise reigns and while past generations understood the need to be proficient in various skills and tasks, that is not the case today. When simple repair work is needed around one’s home, a contracted carpenter is hired. Many, due to lack of time, desire or skill-set, will outsource yard work to professionals. The same is true for simple automobile maintenance and other tasks that not too long ago were accomplished in-house. While a discussion on the value of outsourcing may be interesting, the danger of such exists when people outsource biblical responsibilities. Simply put, the discipling of one’s children should not be outsourced to “professional Christians” or church program directors. The responsibility for these tasks remains with a child’s parents and while the church plays a major role, it cannot supplant the responsibility of those originally entrusted with such.
Much attention is given to helping children develop physically, intellectually, and even socially and emotionally, but parents are not given a lot of help in knowing how to aid in the moral and spiritual development of their children. Due to the lack of easily identifiable steps and handles upon which to hold, many parents have apparently simply prayed that their children would grow in their faith due to the leadership and ministries offered at their local church.
When surveyed, Christian parents have revealed their understanding and belief that they are to play the primary role in the spiritual development of their children. Nevertheless, the same surveys show that these parents have failed in making discipleship a priority within their home. Parents believed they were fulfilling their responsibility for their children’s spiritual formation and development simply by involving them in the programs of the local church. While it would be easy to blame these parents for dropping the ball in this vital area, the church must own its responsibility for fueling a failed model that distances itself from biblical examples. The model most often implemented needs an overhaul, as Dave Kinnaman has noted in a 2006 Barna Research Group report, not because churches have failed in drawing crowds but because the results have been an unsustainable faith for many students beyond high school.
Churches have systematically created and replicated programs that seemingly work. If a nearby or popular church has a program that draws numerous children and teenagers, others will seek to copy it. The scorecard for success is built on uneven ground and attendance numbers and yet, the biblical mandate is not to “Go and make attenders” or even “Go and make church members,” but to “Go and make disciples.” The problem is that in a consumer-driven society, disciple-making is hard to gauge and nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, this is the mandate for the church and must be strategically sought and implemented.
The Bible consistently shows the value of family and the expectation of inter-generational ministry and teaching. The Scripture teaches of God’s plan for the family to be primary in the faith development journey of His people. While this truth is studied and known to be true by many who claim to be followers of Christ, due to the fall and the inherent sin nature, the simple reality is that even well intentioned people do not naturally do what they ought to do. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God does not affirm the delegating the discipleship of one’s child to religious professionals. The responsibility remains within the home, in the context of family. Where there are single-parent households or orphans, the church fills those gaps as the spiritual family.
With numerous family ministry models available, the truth is that no church program has the power to transform lives and make disciples. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can rescue and transform a life. The church must strategically partner with parents and guide them into this truth. This will change the scorecard.
 Anthony, Michael J., Michelle Anthony and Karen E. Jones. “The Family in Foundational Years.” In A Theology for Family Ministries, 22. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2011.
 "Making the Transition to Family-Equipping Ministry." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Jay Strother, 254. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.
 Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother. "The Task Too Significant To Hire Someone Else To Do." In Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, 23. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009.
 Strother, 254.
 "Bring Them Up In the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Robert L. Plummer, 47. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.
 Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, 18.