Why Change Is So Difficult & Yet, Needed

Over the past few weeks, the Leadership Team at our church has been praying and mulling over some potential changes in schedule, function and emphasis. As with many other organizations, change is often needed. We can all give illustrations of organizations that refused to change when given the opportunity and are now just examples of being left behind (Blockbuster Video, anyone?)

Tumblr_nkyjwgtQ581sfie3io1_1280The added challenge of change when implemented in the local church is that the church is more than a business or community organization. The church is a living, breathing organism given an incredible mission and mandate by God to make disciples and grow His Kingdom. Since we know the "gates of hell will not prevail" against His church, some question the legitimacy of change. While all change is not good, we can all agree (I think) that at times it is needed. 

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word. 

That needs to be said numerous times and, like most pastors, I repeat it often. Structures change. Organization charts change. Buildings change. Worship times change. Worship styles change. Even church leadership changes.

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word.

Recently, Dr. Charles Stone, a minister gifted in leadership skills and nearleadership, especially, wrote an article titled "8 Reasons Why Church Change Is So Difficult." I believe he is accurate in his assessment and I share the main points below:

Brain insight helps us understand hidden processes around which we can design our change initiatives. Awareness of how people’s brains work in response to change can help you craft more lasting changes. Here are eight reasons why change is hard…

  1. People naturally assume the worst. Our brain is wired to pick up threats and negative possibilities around us more than the positive. 
  2. People usually fill in knowledge gaps with fear instead of faith. Uncertainty about the future (and change) breeds this fear. The less information and the more people have to fill in the knowledge gaps, the greater the fear and resistance to change.
  3. We don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. Poorly introduced change will always start your change on the wrong footing.
  4. Emotions influence receptivity to change. Although we may prefer it not to be so, most people make decisions based on emotion.
  5. The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly can engage the brain’s fear center and cause people to resist, thus hindering change (Hemp, 2009).
  6. Old habits die hard. The older we get we more easily default to what we know. 
  7. Resistance to change often increases the closer you get to the change. Uninformed optimism gives way to informed pessimism.
  8. The brain often interprets change as a threat which in turn creates resistance. The brain is organized around a fundamental principle: Minimize threat-maximize reward that results in either resistance or openness. Change seems like a threat which often breeds resistance from others. Change brings uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty.

We know that the reality is that change for the sake of change is a waste of energy and capital. Therefore, to make any adjustments in ministry, staffing, organization, small groups, worship times, etc. just on a whim is unwise and asinine. 

However, as we begin to better understanding the makeup of the 21st century culture (we've been in this century for 15 years now, so it's about time we analyze it, right?) the truth is that change is happening at breakneck speed all around us. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the process of sharing the Gospel and gaining an audience with those who see no need for God or the local church must change. 

Without change in processes, we will remain stuck in time, wondering why our strategies that worked in the 1980s seem to fall flat. Rather than adjust strategies or schedules, many churches will collectively shake their heads, blaming the media, government, school systems, community leaders or other likely targets for influencing our children, grandchildren, neighbors and co-workers too much and abandoning Christian values.

And, in about 25-30 years, as 70% of funding toward evangelical churches in America disappears (as reported by John Dickerson in his book The Great Evangelical Recession) the unchanging Gospel will remain strong, but the unchanging local church buildings will be up for sale.

The challenge is clear. Change must happen, but our human nature HATES it. There are at least eight resistors to change hard-wired into our brains. This is not God's cosmic joke, but His divine plan in the creation of our brains and neurology. Resistance does not mean stopped. We can change and we must change, but often it is not enjoyable (at least through the process.)

Yet, even as Christians we celebrate change. That's the message of the "personal testimony" or "story." As a child of God relates his/her story of salvation, the joy is in the change. God takes our hearts of stone and changes them into hearts of flesh.

We are given a new nature when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are given a new heart when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are changed from death to life through Jesus Christ.

While not all change is good (remember New Coke?) we must understand that wise, prayed over, God-led change is needed. No, the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ's Church. That truth is solid. Let's just ensure we have our ears and eyes open so that we can hear and see how God is leading us, His church, into a culture for His glory and as His change agents.

________________________

Click here for Charles Stone's blog and full article on change.

 


Broken: Part 13 "Broken Finances"

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Yesterday, I presented a message from 2 Corinthians 8 regarding the calling to live generously. I also expressed how the prosperity "gospel" has infected western Christianity to such a degree that false hope and lies disguised as truth have made it difficult to discern the true Gospel for many. I normally do not post my sermon transcripts, but am posting most of it today for the sake of clarity.

As we continue through our series in 2 Corinthians, today we talk about the reality of broken finances – or at least a broken view of finances.

God unveils some amazing truths about himself through Paul’s writings, both to the church in Corinth, and amazingly to us today.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 (ESV)

As a lead in and foundational statement regarding a life of generosity, there’s this concept of grace. This is an amazing thing, when you contemplate it. Paul says “We want you to know about the grace of God among the church.”

I heard a story Pastor Tim Keller shared a while back about a woman in his church who came to have a discussion with him.

She said, “This grace thing – that’s a scary idea! She said ‘It’s good – scary, but it’s really scary.’”

Keller responded, “What is so scary about unmerited, free grace?”

She answered, “If I was saved by my good works, there would be a limit to what God could ask of me. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. But, if it’s really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace at God’s infinite cost, there’s nothing he can’t ask of me. And, that’s scary. Good – scary, but scary.”

You know, that’s why some of us are more comfortable being legalistic. It’s why Christians want to come to church and hear a “Just tell me what to do” sermon. It’s easier, isn’t it?

Yet, God’s grace – that overwhelming, unmerited, amazing grace, is the fulfillment of law, and is so very freeing.

Here’s the deal – we must see the act of giving as not bound in a legalistic setting, but freed by grace as God intended.

This is a major shift for many, for when this happens in your life, you will no longer be asking “What do I have to give?” when it comes to God and His church. You will begin to enjoy – yes, enjoy – the freedom of living with a generous, grace-filled heart.

This is what had happened to the Macedonian Christians. Look here – in their testing, their affliction, the severity of the persecution they were facing, their identifier became the “grace of God” that resulted in what? Abundant joy! Their extreme poverty didn’t define them. Their joy overflowed at such a level they were identified from there on out by their generosity.

You know, whenever a pastor or church leader begins to speak about money or giving, there always seems to be a collective groan that appears. You know why? Because the grace of God does not abound where legalism resides. Even if the church as a whole isn’t legalistic, or at least pushing against legalism intently, many of us find ourselves struggling with individual legalism.

Why? Because it’s the enemy’s strategy and legalism is EASY.

But, grace is greater.

These Macedonians appear to be the type of people that do the right thing, not looking for accolades – and yet, here we are two thousand years later, bragging on their obedience and longing to be like them.

For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. - 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (ESV)

  • The legalist asks “How much do you want?”
  • The hoarder asks “This is all mine. What do you want now?”
  • The cheapskate asks “What’s the minimum payment?”

Yet, the generous giver lives on a different plane apparently. The generous of heart begs for the opportunity to give.

I wish I could say that I’m guilty of that. I’m not. Why? Because, like you. . .I don’t think like that. Oh, there are times, maybe after a winsome video showing a hungry child needing a few bucks a month to eat and be clothed, but even then it’s a marketing strategy that begins with “Only so much a day. . .”

But in this passage we see something different. Something weird.

It’s the grace of God that abounds and changes perspective. There’s also something here that is often overlooked in messages focused on giving.

“They gave themselves first.”

Sometimes, we get this out of order, or miss this step entirely. This is where the truth is seen. This is the answer to the question “Does God really care about my money?”

You see, of all the Ten Commandments, which we all break easily, there is one that is broken most often, if not universally. It is this commandment that many feel they’ve done pretty well with, but in actuality have failed to obey. It’s the one about “not having any false idols.”

Richard Halverson once stated this “Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.”

It’s about idolatry.

Tweet: God cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship. @davidtarkGod cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship.

It’s interesting that when Jesus met the tax collector named Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus said that he would give back money he had taken wrongly and even pay back interest, Jesus replied “Today salvation has come to this household.” Yet, when Jesus encountered the rich, young ruler who would not dare part with his goods, Jesus lamented that the young man had missed the larger story.

It’s about the money, but it’s not really about the money.

It’s about the throne. It’s about the worship. It’s about the heart and a heart bound with legalism will create a pseudo-Christianity that is both unattractive and ungodly.

But, what about the prosperity gospel? You know, the one that says if you give, God will give back and make you rich and give you favor?

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor/martyr from Germany stated, “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”

Tweet: The prosperity gospel is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement concocted by the enemy. @davidtarkThe prosperity gospel is a false gospel. It is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement that the enemy has concocted within the church that offers a lie as a truth.
  • "Give to God and He’ll give you a Mercedes."
  • "Give to God and your kids will be successful."
  • "Give to God and you’ll get a promotion."

That’s not gospel – that’s idolatry.

That’s using God for one’s own good.

That’s selling God and his grace to those who will buy into anything if they think there’s a tangible return on investment that will give them money, power, influence, or some such status. 

When we come to God for what we can get out of him, the gifts received are therefore elevated above the giver of good things. It’s like the kid who sees his parents not as protectors, nurturers, providers, but simply as human ATMs useful only for cash and “stuff.”

While that offends us, the prosperity gospel abounds.

And, it’s subtle, isn’t it?

It’s dangerous.

Ultimately, a powerful passage that speaks so strongly about heart issues and attitude, is often mis-read and falsely applied to say that which it doesn’t say:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." - 2 Corinthians 8:6-9 (ESV)

This is a calling out passage. The church in Corinth had said they’d give. They understood the need and for a moment – though just for a moment – the generous heart abounded there in Corinth.

Then, they stopped giving.

They forgot their brothers and sisters.

They changed their minds.

Paul is subtly, or not so subtly reminding them of their promise and he gives warning.

This is not a name-it, claim-it passage. This is an affirmation of the generous heart that results from the grace-filled giver.

We give because he gave.

We are free from slavery of that which we “own.”

Here in the states, our money still says “In God we Trust” but it seems to be a lie, doesn’t it?

What do you do with this? What does this change? Cheerful heart? Grace filled giver? Generous?

"He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."

Forever – that’s a legacy. That’s eternity. Generous disciples live and give in such a way that eternity is impacted for the Kingdom of God. Now, I love animals, but I just cannot fathom why a Christ-follower would give more to an animal shelter or cause than to the church (and not even this church) or ministry that is on the front-lines for eternity’s sake? People leave money in their wills to their cats? Really?

  • Legalism keeps us thinking that “what’s ours is ours.”
  • Prosperity gospel keeps the idol of self on the throne of life.
  • Love of creation over Creator leads us to invest in that which does NOT matter.

Let’s refuse to allow the enemy any more footholds in our lives.

The full audio version of this message is available in this posting, as an iTunes podcast, on the Stitcher Radio app and on opfirst.org on the "Sermons" page.

Lightstock_190182_small_david_tarkington


"Disappointed, but Not Dismayed" - The Florida Adoption Conscience Bill

It has been a challenging five weeks in Tallahassee for our faith-based orphan care ministries such as our partners in the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. We have asked for prayer and contacts to congressional representatives and senators. Thank you to all who have joined in the task. Rest assured, your prayers are powerful and effective. While the bill in question will not be brought up again this session, we are confident that God remains enthroned, in control and sovereign. Of course, those declarations were never in question.

IMG_5844Last week, my wife, Tracy and I joined Dr. Haag, employees of the FBCH, the Board of Directors, fellow pastors and spouses and the children living on the Jacksonville campus for a celebration dinner highlighting the work of the Children's Homes and ministries under their umbrella (Orphan's Heart, The Porch Light and others.) We are firmly committed to continue supporting this ministry and pray that as we enter this season of funding through the annual Children's Homes Offering (also called "The Mother's Day Offering") we will collectively be able to fund work for the sake of children throughout our state and beyond. As for the convictions of our ministries, I am confident that God will provide resources needed so that our biblical convictions will never be broken and that the hundreds of thousands of children served annually will continue unhindered.

Here's a copy of Dr. Haag's email regarding the Conscience Protection Bill (HB 7111) from May 1, 2015.

Dear Ministry Partner, 

I wanted to give you an update on where the conscience protection bill (HB 7111) stands today!  We are grateful for each of you standing with us for the past five weeks. Together, our voices were heard for children as the bill passed in the House Health & Human Services Committee, Judiciary Committee and on the House Floor. Through the help of your prayers, phone calls and personal meetings with your legislators, God saw fit to clear the way for the bill to be heard by the Senate Rules committee!

We have learned that the bill will not be brought up again in a Senate Committee meeting this session. The Florida House's session has ended, and they will not be taking any modified bills back from the Senate (which is what needs to happen in this case). We are certainly disappointed, but not dismayed. We know that legislation often takes multiple years to pass. The momentum for this legislation was great, and we know God can make it possible for the same momentum to pass the bill next year to protect our organization as we remain committed to our beliefs while focusing on helping one more child every day. 

For now, we are thankful that our entire focus can return to helping children in need as we also begin to strategize for next year's legislative session. As I arrived back on campus in Lakeland this week, I was reminded again why every meeting we had in Tallahassee was worth it. It was worth it because of the little boy living in our emergency shelter right now!  He's worth it, and we will remain focused on helping him and every child God places in our path. 

I know you have done so much, but if I could ask you to do one more thing: Will you please promote our annual offering this Mother's Day, or even after, to provide critical funds needed for children in care? 

Thank you again for your advocacy and prayers! 

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES 

 

You may give to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes through our church's online giving option here.

Fbch offering 2015
 

 


Active Prayer Needed. . . Now, More Than Ever

This has been an interesting week, to say the least. Ever since the beginning of the year, I have felt convicted to be more adamant in my prayers and to view prayer as a gift. So often prayer is viewed as the passive response to the issues of the day. How many times have you heard someone say something like "I want to help, but all I can do is pray"? It's as if prayer is viewed as the last resort, rather than the first response.

As the world watches, tragedies are unfolding. Some have mode global impact. Others have been regional. Still others are impactful for small communities or individual families. Yet, the pain and uncertainty is just as relevant. 

It is no accident that the National Day of Prayer is soon here. The first Thursday of May has been this designated moment for years and while it is vital to pray on this special day, we should view prayer as less of an officially sanctioned public gathering and more of an intimate connection between the individual child of God and the Heavenly Father. Of course, that is what prayer should be. Yet, even the disciples showed that prayer is not always easy. In fact, they walked with Christ for three years and still admitted that they were missing something in their prayer lives. 

I guess we're in good company.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us a template to use in our prayers. While reciting the "Lord's Prayer" isn't necessarily bad, remember that it is a template given by the Son of God for us to use when coming to the Father. The template gives us a reminder of His sovereignty and holiness and also gives us permission to plead boldly for the needs and concerns we have.

So, in no particular order, these items have been pushed to the forefront of my prayer list. Join me in seeking God's face and His will in these areas (and others):

11137842_1553289194933616_1856060174_nPray for Nepal

Every time I check the latest on the devastating earthquake in Nepal, the numbers of victims increases by hundreds. Pray for this nation and those impacted by the disaster. Also, pray for our IMB missionaries and other believers serving in the area and offering relief and hope. Click here for some recent information from the IMB regarding the quake. 

Pray for Baltimore

Almost a year ago, my wife and I joined hundreds of others at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in the city of Baltimore. We were struck by the beauty of the city and the inner harbor and now, as we turn on the news, we see pandemonium. The rioting and the unnecessary violence is heart-wrenching. The police need our prayers. The citizens living in fear need our prayers. The latest divide among the races shows that we have far to go when it comes to racial reconciliation. We see how the enemy is using this to appear powerful, but there is hope. We know the Lord can heal and He will. Pastors and Christians in the city are uniting in prayer and we join them. Yes, black lives matter. . .and so do white lives, brown lives, yellow lives, etc. Ultimately, all lives matter and the Gospel expresses that message clearly. Pray for people to have ears to hear and that healing may begin.

Supreme Court Judgments

The SCOTUS is hearing oral arguments regarding states' rights to define legal marriage as that being between a man and a woman. In no other point of our history has the culture seemingly shifted so quickly on a values issue such as this. Those making arguments before the justices need our prayers. So, too, do the members of our Supreme Court. Though it is my conviction that the government shouldn't define marriage in that the government didn't invent it, the facts of the matter are that this family and marriage definition impacts not just the government or a handful of states, but every citizen and every church in our nation. 

Conscience Bill in Florida

I have blogged numerous times about the Florida Conscience Bill (HB 7111) that moved through the Florida House and is now in the Senate Rules Committee. This bill will allow faith-based groups like our Florida Baptist Children's Homes to continue to function based on convictions regarding child placement in adoptive homes. Apart from the passage of this bill from the Senate and the subsequent signing into law by our Governor, the Children's Homes and other faith-based groups serving children will most likely have to find alternate funding and may have to serve fewer children in the future, leaving many to fend for themselves.

Grieving Families

I have preached at twelve funerals this year and attended others from people in our church family. Rarely has a week gone by without a death in our church family or an extended family member. While we all know that death is the "destiny of every man" as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, the truth is the grief that comes in times like these can be overwhelming. The God of Peace is real and our prayers are needed for each other.

There are many other items on the prayer list and at times, "overwhelming" seems to be the descriptive term of the day. Nevertheless, prayer is powerful and God honors the intimate, repentant prayers of His children. May we never be guilty of "just praying" when all else fails, but to respond and even see prayer as a pre-emptive strike against the Enemy's attacks.

Won't you pray with me?


ENGAGE: Experiencing Life On Mission

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Yesterday was ENGAGE Sunday for the First Family. This emphasis is the final of our four discipling steps and is intended to help us make tangible steps outside the walls of the church facility, within our community and the world for the sake of the Kingdom. 

On this Sunday, we highlighted three ministries in our county with whom we partner.

The videos highlighted in the sermon are available below:

BASCA, Inc.

 

 

Mercy Support Services

 

 

Orange Park Clothes Closet & Food Pantry

 

 


How Must the Church Respond to Transgendered Children & Their Parents?

Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.

This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.

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Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification. 

Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.

As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.

I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.

Some background. . .

Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.

 

As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.

  • "He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgotSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
  • "Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
  • The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
  • Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
  • The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
  • "What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true? 

More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.

How Will The Church Respond?

The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.

The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.

We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.


We Can Be Debt-Free By 2020

As of March 31, 2015, the First Family (i.e. the membership of First Baptist Church of Orange Park) owes just over $1.5 million on our facilities. Now, to be honest, when I see numbers like that, I am overwhelmed. Yet, after we (the Leadership Team & Finance Committee) looked at the breakdown of what this amount actually means, I was excited. I have an excited feeling of anticipation as I can see us paying off this debt in just a few years. 

VISION 2020
After crunching numbers and looking at the principal and interest owed to our mortgage holder, and counting the almost $16,000 given monthly through our budget offerings toward the payoff, it is clear that if just a portion of those who gave any amount toward the BUILDING PROGRAM last year would commit to give JUST $20 monthly toward this effort, we would be DEBT-FREE BY 2020.

$20 A MONTH
That's a workable amount. I can do this. I imagine most of us can. Just imagine. That's only $5 a week for the average month. That's one cup of coffee. That's one lunch at a restaurant. That's just $5 and yet, if we all did this, we'd erase this debt together.

FOR A CAUSE
I fully understand that there's little excitement from many by just paying off debt. However, when you think of the ministry that could be accomplished and the causes for Christ that could be funded if we just broke free of the debt, it's overwhelming. . .in a good way.

IF YOU ARE A PART OF THE "FIRST FAMILY," WILL YOU CONSIDER GIVING AT LEAST $20 A MONTH TOWARD THE BUILDING FUND?
Being set free from our debt will happen, but will only happen if we do this together. God has been so faithful through the years and He has blessed us with facilities that have been used for His glory to show His love to His church and the community at large. 

DESIGNATION FOR BUILDING FUND 
Our online giving option through our website and app give you an option for direct donations toward our Building Program. You may also use the provided giving envelopes in the Worship Center and in the FMC on Sunday mornings to designate funds toward the Building Fund. Be sure that any gifts given toward this are over and above your regular tithes and offerings.

Give here


Florida Senate Action Needed for Faith-Based Adoption Agencies TODAY

If you've been following the news and/or my blog regarding HB7111passed by the Florida House giving faith-based children's agencies (such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes) the ability to remain true to their convictions regarding placement of children in families for foster-care or adoption, you are well aware of the next steps needed.

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I received the following update from my friend and President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes today. Please read this carefully, contact your state Senator (if you live in Florida) and share the information with others in your churches and faith-communities. Previous postings giving a fuller understanding of the issue are linked below, as well.

Dear Ministry Partner,  

I have a quick update and pivotal call to action for you and your church. The Senate Rules committee heard all the testimony yesterday regarding the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). They asked a lot of good questions, and many responded positively to our testimony. Unfortunately, because time ran out, the bill was temporarily postponed, which means the bill could be tabled. The Senate Rules Committee has the ability to call a special meeting for situations like this, and they have in other cases. Please ask all of your church members and partners to contact their senators today to ask them to do everything they can so that this bill will be passed on the Senate floor this session so faith organizations can continue serving children while remaining committed to their religious beliefs.

The support of our churches is critical for this legislation to pass. Below is a quick FAQ that may be helpful for your members who are willing to advocate on behalf of FBCH and many special children.  

  • Which Florida senators need to be contacted to help pass this bill?  We need every Florida Senator to know about this bill and support it. For a list of senators, visit http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators.  
  • Where does HB 7111 stand? The bill has passed through the Florida House and has been heard by the Senate Rules Committee. However, it has been temporarily postponed because time ran out at the meeting yesterday. Since this was the last official Rules Committee meeting this session, the bill could be tabled unless a special meeting is called to fully hear the bill. Special meetings are often called, and that is what we need to happen.
  • What do I say to my senator? 
    • If your senator is part of the Rules Committee, ask them to support this bill and request a special meeting be called to fully hear the bill. To find out if your senator is on the Rules Committee, visit this page http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/RC/.
    • If your senator is not part of the Rules Committee, ask them to contact their fellow senators on the Rules Committee so that this critical legislation can pass this session. Ask for them to support this bill if and when it is debated on the Senate floor.
    • If your senator is David Simmons, Darren Soto or Andy Gardiner, ask these Senate leaders to call a special meeting and make sure this bill reaches the Senate floor this session.
  • My senator might say: "I'm sorry, but it is simply too late in the session for me or anyone to do anything about this bill." How can I respond? Tell them that you realize the last Senate Rules Committee has taken place, but special meetings are often called and can be called for this critical legislation to pass. The Florida House recognized how important it was for this bill to be passed and did everything they could to expedite it and make sure it was heard on the House floor. That is what we are asking of the Senate, to make this step for children!
  • If this legislation does not pass, will Florida Baptist Children's Homes be forced to shut down? Absolutely not. However, the way we deliver care for children will likely be forced to change as we remain committed to our beliefs.
  • How can my church pray? Pray for our Senate leadership, that they will see the importance of this legislation and will allow it to reach the Senate floor. Proverbs 21:1 says, The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases. 

I am sincerely grateful for your calls to legislators and your personal notes of encouragement. Thank you for standing with us for children. We stand firm on our founding beliefs and are absolutely committed to Help One More Child!

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES


The New "Star Wars" Film & the Longing of the Human Heart

It's almost forty years old. 

It became a game-changer for the film world.

The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.

Even poor sequels made tons of money.

It's Star Wars.

And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.

Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)

According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1

It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.

The Perfect Storm?

Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories. 

I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.

Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.

Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.

 

In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months. 

And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.

The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.

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Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.

And, it's weird.

And dangerous.

The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.

Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.

His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.

For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction. 

In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough. 

It's a longing for peace.

Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)

________________

1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.


The Florida Conscience Bill for Fostering & Adoption Goes to the Senate

Last week the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7111 with a vote of 75 for passage and 38 against. This bill, as referenced in previous postings is a protective one designed to allow faith-based children's organizations such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes to stand upon their convictions when determining with whom to place children. 

While those opposed to the bill state that it is discriminatory, especially to same-sex couples and those in the LGBT communities, it actually is a statement about the viability of religious liberty and freedom to lead organizations based on personal convictions. The term "discrimination" has been attached to the bill and the debacle surrounding the Indiana religious freedom law has moved those in leadership and power positions to a very narrow place if they choose to stand for religious liberty while still leading and ensuring that personal rights are not forsaken.

As stated in previous postings, I am strongly in favor of the passage of this bill into law here in Florida and elsewhere.

Therefore, I share with you the latest update from the President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes regarding this issue.

I wanted to give you an update on the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). The bill has been referred to the Florida Senate Rules Committee which will take place during the afternoon of Monday, April 20. We are thankful for another step! This week, we have been personally meeting with senators on the Senate Rules Committee and would ask that you also contact them directly before Monday to ask for their support of this critical legislation for children.

The members of the Senate Rules Committee are: 

Chair: Senator David Simmons  850-487-5010 Simmons.David@FLSenate.gov
Vice Chair: Senator Darren Soto 850-487-5014 Soto.Darren@FLSenate.gov
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto 850-487-5030 Benacquisto.Lizbeth@FLSenate.gov
Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla 850-487-5040 Portilla.Miguel@FLSenate.gov
Senator Don Gaetz 850-487-5001 Gaetz.Don@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Galvano 850-487-5026 Galvano.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Audrey Gibson 850-487-5009 Gibson.Audrey@FLSenate.gov
Senator Arthenia L. Joyner 850-487-5019 Joyner.Arthenia@FLSenate.gov
Senator Jack Latvala  850-487-5020 Latvala.Jack@FLSenate.gov
Senator Tom Lee 850-487-5024 Lee.Tom@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Montford 850-487-5003 Montford.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Joe Negron 850-487-5032 Negron.Joe@FLSenate.gov
Senator Garrett Richter 850-487-5023 Richter.Garrett@FLSenate.gov

As you contact these senators, here are two points to consider:

  1. Contrary to opposing views expressed by some, Florida's old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will not protect us. Without the conscience protection bill, we will face lengthy and costly litigation. We need every resource we have to be focused on the care of children, not legal battles.  
  2. The same sex adoption bill (SB320/HB7013) passed in the Senate this week. The conscience protection bill (HB 7111) will allow us to continue to help children without violating our religious beliefs. The bill covers foster care, care for victims of child sex trafficking as well as adoption. FBCH helped 1,026 children in the care of Department of Children and Families (DCF) this past year.
We ask that you pray at 1 p.m. on Monday for the Senate Rules Committee as they take up this bill. I will be testifying before the committee and would appreciate your prayers as I represent the children we serve.
 

As we pray for our leaders, Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind: The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

JointheCause-MinistriesPrograms


Broken: Part 11 "Broken Excuses"

041215_1045_Broken_11

There are many reasons why people give for not saying "Yes" to Jesus. To the believer seeking to win them over, these sound like nothing more than excuses. However, to the person who is resisting Christ, these are legitimate reasons.

Some that I have heard over the years are. . .

  • They don’t believe in God.
  • They don’t believe in Jesus.
  • Their life is good already so they don’t need religion or Jesus.
  • The Christians they know aren’t people they want to be like.
  • They have bad examples of Christianity around them.
  • They don’t want to stop having fun.
  • They will get right with God later.
  • They haven’t ever heard the Gospel – the real Gospel.
  • Christian life is boring.
  • Too much stuff in their past – too far gone.
  • Christians are judgmental.
  • Christians hate everyone.
  • Some think they already know Jesus but have been sold a false Gospel.

The audio link attached to this posting is a sermon I preached at First Church on April 12. I address these reasons and seek to help us understand the legitimate reasons why many say "No." 

This is vital in being men and women who understand the times and seek to live in such as way that God is glorified, the Gospel is proclaimed and the Kingdom grows. 

Truth be told, without changes to how we have been doing "church" in America, the dwindling numbers will continue to be the norm and the resistance to Christ will be affirmed in the minds of non-believers.

DSCF7236


Indiana Was Just the Beginning - Discrimination or Religious Freedom?

For the past couple of weeks, I have shared details regarding a proposed bill moving through Florida's House of Representatives. The bill - HB 7111 - was passed on Thursday in the House, but not without some powerful debate.

Depending on which version of reporting on the issue you read, this was either a "declaration for religious freedom and conviction" or a "license to discriminate." Sound familiar? These are the same elements that Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana legislature were facing just a few weeks ago.

The Bill As Viewed From Both Sides

HB 7111 is a bill, developed quickly as a response from constituents who declared the dangers of a previously passed bill intent on helping foster and adoption within the state. The new bill is designed to allow faith-based foster and orphan care organizations in the state to stand firmly on their religious convictions when placing children in foster homes or adoptive families. 

Ultimately, the issue is the placement of children in homes where both parents are of the same gender. In many faith-based groups, being forced to place children in such homes would cause a conflict with deeply held convictions.

The divide is clearly visible.

Groups opposing the passing of the bill on the grounds of LGBT discrimination have made the following statements:

 

 

During the debate on the House floor, representatives on both sides of the issue at hand were vocal and clear in their personal convictions. Scripture was used. . . by those opposed and by those in support of the bill. Applause was heard numerous times within the chamber, leading the Speaker to call for quieter support throughout the remainder of the discussions. By and large the debate was civil, but it is clear that this issue will fester and grow and become a political hot button for our state, regardless what the Senate and the Governor eventually do.

To give you better understanding of the depth of the debate, click on the video link here or the image below. The debate on HB 7111 begins near the 58 minute mark.

Screenshot 2015-04-11 18.42.28

To be clear, I am biased regarding this bill. As a pastor of a Baptist church who supports financially and in other ways the work of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, I firmly believe the passage of HB7111 was needed. In fact, I believe more is needed as we now await possible movement in the Florida Senate and then a potential signature from Governor Rick Scott. Religious liberty is at stake, regardless how the argument is framed. I am not "hiding behind religious freedom" as some politicians have stated, in order to discriminate against those in the LGBT community. Nevertheless, some will never view it this way. The hashtag #KidsFirst has been used by those opposing the religious freedom declaration of HB 7111. In my opinion, the push against this bill and potential law has little to do with the #kids and much to do with adults, agendas and those who oppose any who have religious convictions that are not concurrently held by all.

The bottom line is that Florida Baptist Children's Homes, as well as other groups within our state may be forced to cease offering services for fostering and adoption if religious liberty is not protected. While many faith-based groups do receive state money, it should be noted that there exist areas where religious conviction and categories of conscientious objection allow for services to not be offered (i.e. abortion services in certain hospitals and clinics) even when it would be legal to do so. Since there are over eighty children's services organizations within the state of Florida, it stands to reason there would remain many that are not religiously affiliated and therefore, would not have a conscientious objection to certain placements as would others.

106,000 Children

If the Florida Baptist Children's Homes were to forced to cease offering these services, over 106,000 children would not be served annually. Truly, this is for the kids. 

 


Standing On Dangerous Ground. . .Yeah, I'm Talking About Women's Ministry

First of all, regardless what some may have heard -

I believe that women's ministry is a viable and needed ministry in the local church. 

There, that's pretty clear.

Now, let's talk about the reality of what this facet of ministry should look like, while seeking to keep the default of "silo building" out of the story.

I have seen (as an observer, not as a participant) various forms of women's ministry start and die over the years in our local church. Every time a new version is birthed, there is excitement (at various levels) and good attendance at events, only to wither away over time as leadership changes, calendars get over-filled and structure adjusts.

DeathtoStock_Medium5And, of course, there's the perception (maybe a reality) that, as the Lead Pastor, I don't champion women's ministry as I should. I get that and own it. This is likely due to the fact that. . .I'm not a woman. Nevertheless, I do deem women's ministry as valuable for the spiritual well-being of the individuals and therefore, the families and the church as a whole.

Over the years, God has led me to develop a ministry for men called Battle Ready. In this we have weekend advances and other studies and activities. Most are grassroots efforts of small bands of brothers gathering for prayer, Bible study and the sharing of lives. Our Men's Minister keeps a tab on these groups and serves to lead and encourage them along the journey.

When it comes to women's ministries, we have had retreats (I've spoken at two,) small groups studies, nationally recognized authors and guest speakers, live simulcasts, and some incredible grassroots gatherings develop over the years. We still have these groups meeting and from what I'm hearing from some of the leaders, there are some amazing life-changing breakthroughs taking place.

These are worth celebrating!

Yet, there seems to still be a gap. It's likely due to not having that one director or point person over this ministry at this time. We have had ladies serve in this position in the past and they have fulfilled the role exceptionally well, but life happens and schedules change and callings from God get affirmed. 

That being said, we have a few ladies I know are being called to serve as the Leadership Team in this area, and we will soon be meeting to pray and seek God's lead in the "next steps."

The Changing Face of Women's Ministry

I continue to hear comments about what ladies desire in a women's ministry. Many are based on what they have experienced in the past. Some are based on a felt need that is very real based on life stage, family status or other external factor. A common thread is that women are seeking not to just gather for no reason. To that I say "Amen!"

Not too long ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a poignant article on ChurchLeaders.com titled "Why We Don't Need 'Women's Ministry'" and while I thought it was a declaration for not having a women's focus within the church at first, I soon realized that Sarah was just stating the need for a healthy, Christ-focused ministry as the need. Here's part of what she wrote. . .

The women of our world aren’t looking for a safe place to cry about housework and ooh-and-ahhh over centerpieces. We’re not all mothers, some of us work outside the home, some of us have kids, and others don’t or won’t or can’t. Is womanhood only about wifehood and motherhood? What about those among us that are not wives and mothers? We’re not all in the same season of life. We are – or should be – diverse image bearers of a Divine God.

We need Jesus. We are seeking deep spirituality. We are seeking fellow travelers. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen to another, to love well. But above all, point me to Jesus–not to the sale at the mall.

You know what I would have liked instead of decorating tips or a new recipe? I would have liked to pray together. I would have liked the women of the church to share their stories or wisdom with one another, no more celebrity speakers, please just hand the microphone to that lady over there that brought the apples. I would love to wrestle with some questions that don’t have a one-paragraph answer in your study guide. I would like to do a Bible study that does not have pink or flowers on the cover. I would have liked to sign up to bring a meal for our elderly or drop off some clothes for a new baby or be informed about issues in our city where we can make space for God. I would like to organize and prioritize, to rabble-rouse and disturb the peace of the rest of the world on behalf of justice, truth, beauty, and love. I’d love to hear the prophetic voice of women in our church.

Please, may we be the place to detox from the world – its values, its entertainment, its priorities, its focus on appearances and materialism and consumerism?

So here is my suggestion: Please stop treating women’s ministry like a Safe Club for the Little Ladies to Play Church.

We are smart. We are brave. We want to change the world. We run marathons to benefit our sisters, not so that we can lose weight. We have more to offer to the church than our mad decorating skills. I look around, and I can see that these women can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and even, yes, teaching. We want to give and serve and make a difference. We want to be challenged. We want to read books and talk politics, theology, and current events. We want to wrestle through our theology. We want to listen to each other. We want to worship, we want to intercede for our sisters and weep with those who weep, rejoice with those that rejoice, to create life and art and justice with intention.

It's an in-your-face statement about the state of many women's ministries, but based on the comments on her article and those shared with me personally, I think she's right.

Why We Need Women's Ministry

As our church (First OP) moves into a more strategic era of family discipling and ministry, the need for women's ministry is vital. The study groups are awesome and yet, we need more than the latest DVD series with the celebrity Christian speaker.

We cannot afford to ignore the realities of the spiritual war at hand. That's why we need women's ministry.

Let's move toward this end - with women's ministry, men's ministry, parenting, single adults, etc. - without silos, but strategically together working to be the Kingdom men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers we have been called to be.


Religious Liberty, the Gay Adoption Ban & Florida Faith-Based Orphan Care

As you are likely aware based on previous emails, blog posts and the announcement shared this morning, there is a vital bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives designed to allow faith-based children's service organizations working with the state to place children in foster homes and with "forever families" through adoption to be able to stand firmly on their religious convictions in determining home placement.

Our local state representatives (for most of Clay County it's Rep. Travis Cummings - 18, and for the southern region, it's Rep. Charles Van Zant, Sr. - 19) and senator (Sen. Rob Bradley) are fully aware of the bill in the house and the need for this to pass.

However, at this late stage of session, the rules for introducing new bills in the state Senate are very restrictive. Therefore, while there is a need and many seek to move forward, the guidelines and rules will prove to be a great hurdle in this case. Bills can only be introduced at this late stage by committee. Senator Bradley's committee does not hold jurisdiction over such matters and therefore will be unable to introduce a Senate bill coinciding with HB7111.

Nevertheless, Senator Bradley has stated clearly that he is interested in fixing the faith-based children's program problem that will develop without intervention. 

When the House introduced HB7111 shortly after the beginning of session, they did so to address the problems present in the present bill (HB7013). 


Here's the history as presented by The Donaldson Adoption Institute:

FLORIDA HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE GAY ADOPTION BAN FROM LAW

03/11/2015 - AUTHOR: BRENDAN FARRINGTON

The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday, March 11, 2015, that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law. The bill still needs a House vote but has wide support.

Florida-House-Bill-300x206The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law.

The vote came five years after an appeals court ruled that the state’s gay-adoption ban is unconstitutional. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision. While some Republicans voted against the bill amendment, none spoke out against it and it was quickly approved. It is part of a larger bill (HB 7013) that would create incentives to adopt children in state care.

———————————————

HB 7013 – Adoption and Foster Care

Revising requirements for agreements between the Department of Children and Families and specified entities for the provision of educational services; requiring the community-based care lead agency to contact by telephone the child’s adoptive family within a specified period after the date that the adoption is finalized; authorizing a direct-support organization established by the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to accept donations of products or services from private sources to be given to the recipients of the adoption achievement awards; requiring licensed child-placing agencies that provide adoption services for intercountry adoptions to meet specified requirements.

———————————————

“It’s an acknowledgement of different times. The language that was essentially repealed was put into statute in 1977,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach. “Sometimes it’s about people and not about politics.”

The full bill still needs a House vote, but it has wide support. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve the bill before the gay-adoption language is deleted from law.

Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the vote isn’t necessarily an endorsement of current policy that allows gays to adopt.

“Philosophically, I’ve never really been there on that, but I’m somebody who operates under the letter of the law,” he said. “I recognize that this has been taking place for five years, so our bill is going to reflect that.”

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said there were conservative members who quietly said no when the amendment was passed on a voice vote.

“It’s a sad acknowledgement that we already lost in the courts on this discussion. I still think a mom and a dad are what kids need,” said Baxley. “A lot of us didn’t vote for that amendment today. It was a pretty weak no vote.”

Asked if he was one of the quiet no votes, Baxley said, “I was just quiet.”


I am confident our representatives and senator from our districts are on-board to protect the religious liberty of faith-based children's service organizations. As is the case often, that which seems "logical" and "easy" (i.e. just pass the bill and present a Senate version) is never as easy as it sounds. 

Nevertheless, the challenge remains. 

Pray for those who represent you in local, state and federal government. God is sovereign and no one holds a position of leadership apart from His design. 

Regarding HB7111 (the fix to a problem on an otherwise good bill) passage is needed.

If you contact your representative and senator, encourage and be brief. Recognize the limitations of their position. Once the campaigns end, the signs are removed, the babies have been kissed and the speeches have been made, the minutia of the job sometimes can be overwhelming.

_______________________________________

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


Indiana Is Front Page News & It's About LGBT Rights Instead of the "Final Four"

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed what has been labeled a controversial bill into law last week that has created quite a stir among the LGBT community and supporting groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been declared an open door to legal discrimination against those in the LGBT community. Governor Pence has clearly stated that discrimination is not allowable in any form. . .

This bill is not about discrimination,and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Nevertheless, this reasoning seems to fall on deaf ears and Pence is being lauded as a hate-monger and worse online and through some media outlets.

The Backlash

Since the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four will take place in Indianapolis next week, leadership from the collegiate sports governing board as well as prominent coaches, athletes and former athletes are speaking out. Threats of not playing future championship contests in the state are being made from the NCAA, large Division I conferences and professional leagues. This is similar to what the NFL was faced in Arizona last year.

Big business and large corporations are entering into the fray as well, with the most notable voice being that of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. through a tweet that also challenged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto a similar bill in his state. Hutchinson is on record as saying he will sign his state's bill into law.

Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.

Other business leaders have released statements as well. . .

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted on Thursday:

Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.

The online review company Yelp also signaled its intentions to boycott Indiana, and every other state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. Yelp chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, stated on Thursday:

I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.

And, even some religious groups and denominations are reacting. The Disciples of Christ Christian Church is also contemplating moving their 2017 convention out of Indianapolis, to protest the passing of the anti-gay law.

Why Protecting One Group Seems Like an Attack On Another

The sad reality is that states are feeling the need to pass laws such as the one in Indiana. Just to be clear, I am not opposed to the law that has been passed in Indiana and am for enacting similar laws in other states. While that statement alone will likely either affirm beliefs already held about me by some or move me into a category of haters (everyone likes to categorize people) the truth is that my conviction is not based on hate or discrimination at all.

The phrase "freedom of religion" has held high regard in our nation since its founding. While it can rightly be said that some atrocious things have been affirmed and justified in the name of religion over the years, the fact of the matter is that personal convictions are still valuable. Once we enter into the discussion of religious freedom, examples are thrown back of those who have wrongly used religious conviction (religious, not just Christian) to justify sinful actions (i.e. slavery, segregation, state sponsored religion, even terror acts.)

There are many who would see this situation regarding business owners refusing services to others as nothing but discrimination without regard to individual's personal convictions.

It is clear that these bills are being created and laws are being enacted as a response to those who have faced government sanctions and even lost business by refusing to serve LGBT customers - most notably the baker in Oregon who made national news by refusing services.

It is clear that in many of these cases, the business owners, by their own admission, have refused services to avoid contradicting their personal convictions. No wise business owner with a strong view of capitalism would refuse service and potential profits otherwise. Yet, by protecting the rights of a person to say "no" to another, the result is that someone loses, apparently. 

Religious Liberty May Not Remain a Right

Based on recent decisions and a swift move to push against religious conviction, it is evident that left undone, religious liberty will become a concept that once worked, but currently is not valued. The freedom of religion will become so narrowly defined that ultimately, only culturally affirmed religious actions (still not "state-sponsored" in the legal sense) will be allowable in the public square under the banner of tolerance, all the while creating a culture of intolerance when it comes to what is categorized as conservative, biblical, evangelical belief systems of faith.

The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released this map showing recent decisions that are whittling away at the foundation of religious freedom.

 

What If It's Not Hate?

Actions such as the law in Indiana are always categorized as "hate" but what if it's not hate? What if it's based on something deeper than that? What if it's based on love? Many will never be able to rectify this concept. You may struggle with this. You're thinking "How can you show love by being hateful or refusing to serve?" That's the paradox of faith. Now, I'm speaking of Christianity based on the inerrant Word and a relationship with God. Yeah, yeah, I hear you - God is love. He wouldn't discriminate. You're right. He is love. His love is deeper than descriptors. His love is stronger than cultural winds. His image-bearers seek to love Him and others. We often fail at this, but that is our goal.

The biggest challenge we face in the area of reaching and showing love to those who self-identify as LGBT is the reality that loving someone does not equate to affirmation. Every parent can assert this reality. We love our children, but as many of us know, behaviors, actions and even lifestyle choices are not always acceptable or affirmable. Love does not equal affirmation.

So, now as one group declares their not being loved, the common response is to throw hate at the other group. 

In other words, you don't have to be a Christian nor agree with me and my convictions, but can you love me? I have family members who declare their love for me, but do not hold the same convictions I do. Maybe this is the bigger story?

But, Some Do Hate

Yes, some do hate. Even some people who wear the name "Christian" seem to allow their personal prejudices drive them at times. I say "them" but I guess I should say "us" because I have yet to meet a person (Christian, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, etc.) who does not hold personal prejudices of some sort. 

When hate is celebrated, mob mentality results. In these cases (and to my non-Christian friends, this may not make any sense) the Enemy has gained a foothold and the truth of the redemptive Gospel of Christ is not heard and not lived out. 

Do I see the Indiana law as a hate-based one? No. Neither do I see the potential one in Arkansas and others to come.

I do see it being about religious liberty - the right to hold personal, religious convictions. Of course, my LGBT friends will not, for the most part. Perhaps when all the reactionaries settle down we will see the truth more clearly. Of course, Governor Pence is up for reelection in 2016 and I feel this signing will remain in the news for quite sometime as he has basically painted a target upon himself. 

I don't know him. I don't know his personal, religious convictions or belief system, but as with all governmental leaders, he needs our prayers.


A Needed Bill to Protect Faith-Based Orphan Care Ministries In Florida May Not Move Forward

Yesterday, I posted a detailed plea for prayer from Christian friends regarding a proposed bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives. Today, I was notified by Dr. Jerry Haag, President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, that even if the bill makes it through the House (which seems likely) there is no one in the Florida Senate planning to move it forward there. Dr. Haag then sent me the following e-mail, that has gone to pastors and leaders state-wide. Please read it carefully and if you live in Florida, contact your Senator.

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As an update for the faith-based conscience protection bill (HB 7111), we need you to take action for this critical legislation to pass. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee next week, and we have reason to believe it may pass there. However, after meeting with Senate President Gardiner yesterday, the Senate does not yet have intentions for a companion bill, which has to happen for this legislation to go into effect. We need individuals who have relationships with their legislators, especially members of the Senate, to make contact with them on our behalf so that we can help 106,000 MORE children this year and every year after.  If you have a relationship with one of our Florida senators, will you call them to, first, make them aware of this bill that is heading to the Judiciary Committee in the House next week?  Also, if you have a relationship with one of our representatives, will you make contact with him or her to ask for his or her support? Finally, if you have a church member who you know has great relationship with a Florida legislator, will you reach out to them personally today to see if they can help us? 

Here is what we need our Senators to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111), as well as a companion bill (which has not yet been initiated) in the Senate, is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes. 
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida.
  • We need the Senate to put all politics aside so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • We need the Senate to take a stand with us on this conscience bill and put the wheels in motion for companion legislation.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected? 

Here is what we need our Representatives to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111) is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes.
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida, and we need this bill to pass through the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor this session.
  • We need this conscience bill so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected?

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

If you know your Representative or Senator personally, please encourage them to not let this bill die in committee or never make it to the Senate. If you do not know your Representative or Senator personally, you still have a voice. Please contact them and urge them to move this bill forward to be becoming law.

Most importantly, continue praying.

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov

The Full Story

For more details on HB-7111 and why it is needed in Florida, read my post from yesterday, linked below.


The Church's Role in Orphan Care Is In Jeopardy

Yesterday, I received a request from Dr. Jerry Haag, President - Florida Baptist Children's Homes (FBCH), to join him in prayer and spread the word regarding a bill moving through the Florida legislature. The bill (HB 7111), if passed, will allow faith-based organizations like the FBCH to continue serving children in our state while remaining true to biblical truths and Gospel-centric beliefs. 

Why Is HB 7111 Needed?

There is great danger on the horizon for Christ-centered fostering and adoption agencies. Joni Hannigan, writing for the Christian Examiner, states that "Adoption and foster care in Florida are on the verge of collapse if efforts by some lawmakers to provide "conscience protections" to faith-based and private agencies fail.

"There is no more dancing around the issue. Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children." - Bill Bunkley, President, Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

As with any public statements, movements or bills regarding "conscience protection" there have been detractors to this bill. The objectors claim that this bill will allow faith-based organizations to legally discriminate. This is the same argument used in areas such as so-called same-sex marriage.

Bunkley states that the Florida bill codifies practices already in existence in our state. These are practices that "protect the moral beliefs of our faith organizations." Ultimately, this bill, if passed as law, will protect child-placement agencies from violating their "religious and moral convictions."

A federal bill - The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Representative Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, was re-introduced on March 4, after failing to make it out of committee last year focuses on the same issues. It would allow licensed child welfare providers to continue operating while also holding to their religious and moral convictions on homosexuality and family structure. (Baptist Press)

Ultimately, the bill will allow faith-based children's services to continue operating while having the right to refuse placement of children in homes with parents whose lifestyles fall outside the biblical mores as believed by the agencies. 

Girl face

Whittling Away Conviction in the Name of Tolerance

Tolerance is the trending buzzword of the decade. However, it's a one-way tolerance that is propagated. Personal belief and conviction are labeled as "intolerant" if they run counter to the cultural popular opinion and especially if they line up with a biblical understanding. 

"In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated," Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, told The New York Times.

Granted, there has been a long-standing movement to redefine Scripture to have it match a more culturally-acceptable understanding, yet that is not truly the issue here. The issue is the forcing of a worldview or belief system onto a group who are morally opposed to such. 

Is It Just About Gay Adoption?

While it may appear, on the surface, as just another "conservative Christians against the LGBT community" it truly is deeper than that. Though opponents will continue to label supporters of the bill as "haters" and "bigoted" (and, unfortunately, some Christians are known more for what they're against than what they're for, and therefore wear the "hater" tag well) the truth is that Christ-followers who hold the conviction that same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting are outside the boundaries of God's design and yet, seek to love God and others are being told they cannot love without affirming that which they believe to be sin.

Tweet: Love and affirmation are not synonyms. @davidtarkLove and affirmation are not synonyms.

The media has jumped on the so-called "intolerant" haters who refuse to bake cakes, provide chapels and other wedding services for gay couples. In some cases, businesses have closed due to pressure and fines. While lost in the argument is the fact that personal conviction has been ignored in the name of tolerance. The banner of "gender discriminator" has been placed upon these individuals as their character has come under attack.

The Inevitable?

The gay marriage debate seems to be a losing one in the culture. It was in 2012 when author and futurist Alex McManus shared with me and others that gay marriage will be the law of the land in just a short amount of time. "It's inevitable," he said. At first, many of us refused to believe it, but after just three years, he seems to be a prophet. 

Is the same true for gay adoption?

Some would say that it is, but at some point, faith convictions in a nation that claims to hold to the promise of "freedom of religion" must mean something.

That means, from my perspective, the Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Mormon, Catholic, Atheist, Hindu, Liberal Christian, Moderate Christian, Conservative Christians, Evangelical and others all have the right to hold true to their convictions and faith beliefs. 

That does not, however, mean that personal convictions that truly harm others (i.e. terrorism and evil in the  name of religion) is a protected right.

What Has Happened Elsewhere?

In three states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia, faith-based adoption and foster care providers have been forced to stop providing services because they refused to place children with same-sex couples. This could be the case in Florida without protection under the law defined clearly.

106,000 Children at Stake

Dr. Haag shared with me that in 2014, the FBCH helped change the lives of more than 106,000 children and families through adoption, foster care, emergency shelter, a safe home for those rescued from sex trafficking (Florida is the #3 state in the US when it comes to trafficking,) international child care, compassion services and more. 

These are incredible numbers when you realize each number represents a soul, a person, an individual that likely would never have been helped without the ministry of FBCH.

As this bill moves through our state legislature, we must commit to pray for and support those on the front lines. Why? For starters, so that 106,000 more children may be helped and rescued this year and each year following.

Prayer Is Not Passive

This call for prayer is clear. It is not a passive reaction, but an active response. At this point, the best that Christ-followers can do regarding this bill is to unite in prayer. We seek the face of God and plead for His strength and direction. He will make a way. He does not need us, but he has stated that prayer of righteous ones avails much. We need much availed here. So, we come confidently in the name of Christ to the Father asking him to direct our lawmakers in a righteous way to allow the continued ministry and work for the orphan to occur.

As a church, we said "YES" to God when he called us to care for the orphan. Our prayers, at this point, are part of that "YES."

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


Broken: Part 8 "Broken Vessels"

032215_1045_Broken_8

HonusWagnerCardAs a child, I used to dream about finding hidden treasure. I had heard of people who found Honus Wagner baseball cards or maybe the Action Comics issue with the first appearance of Superman. These are just a couple of items that have no intrinsic value, but due to demand and the rarity of them, people pay top dollar – over $2 million each for the card and the comic at auction. Unbelievable, right?

Maybe you have boxes of baseball cards or comic books in storage or maybe Beanie Babies? Remember when those were selling for way more than they were worth? Now, people are using them for filler in Christmas gifts to grandkids or maybe in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes?

The concept of finding a treasure is something that has permeated culture for years.

Whether it be novels about buried pirate treasure on some remote island, stories of famous, hat-wearing, whip-yielding archeologists searching for biblical relics, the search for secret maps on famous American documents or even the escapades of a group of "Goonies". . .finding an elusive treasure has been a dream for many.

I read where off the coast of Caesarea Maritima a few weeks ago in Israel, the largest collection of ancient gold coinswas found on the seabed. These coins are mostly from Egypt and are in pristine condition, considering they have been sitting on the seabed for 1,000 years.

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think “I’ve been to that location four or five times. Too bad I didn’t take a dive and find those.”

Often when people have valuables in their possession that they desire to keep hidden and protect, they will place them in inconspicuous places. While a safe or safe deposit box are good options, there are times when a less obvious place is desired.

In the time of the New Testament, clay pottery was common. In fact, you can go to Israel today, in many of the digs and places near them and find pieces of first century clay pottery on the ground.

And. . .it’s not worth anything, except to  the tourist.

The pottery made out of this common clay was, at times, used by families to secure their treasures. They money or valuables would be kept in such pottery – for the same reason that people “hide” valuables in plain sight today.

Paul alludes to this practice when speaking about the value of the gospel that God has entrusted to us, his church.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)

The audio file attached to this post is of the sermon I preached yesterday on this subject. I hope it is encouraging and challenging to you.


UNF Wins & a Pep Band Member Becomes a Sensation

My wife and I have been following the UNF Ospreys men's basketball team this year. I figure if our money goes to the school, we should become fans of these teams. (Our daughter will be graduating from UNF in May.) 

Once our responsibilities with our local high school boys' basketball team were complete, we made our way over to the UNF Arena to see a few games. These guys are exciting to watch. There's much that can be said about the Ospreys as they achieved the regular season Atlantic Sun Championship and then punched their dance card to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday by winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament. These guys are a joy to watch and to see the Arena packed on Sunday and students and fans rush the court at the sound of the final buzzer was incredible.

Yet, in the midst of the wins, in this age of social media and trends, there is one young man who is making a name for himself. At the first home game we attended this year, I said to my wife, "When UNF makes it to the championship game, that kid is going to be put on national television and become an instant hit."

I was right.

His name is Stephen Putnam and he plays baritone in the UNF Pep Band.

As in most college basketball arenas, there are songs that are played at certain times each game. For the Ospreys, one song is Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." When the first beat is played, the crowd goes wild, the student section looks to the left and all attention is on Steven Putnam.

Yes, this happens every game.

 

And, his 15 minutes of fame will go on at least through the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UNF had better take their pep band to Dayton. I think they'll need this guy.

 And now, everyone knows where the University of North Florida is.


Broken: Part 6 "Broken Freedom"

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Freedom is a word that brings to mind a variety of things. Whether it's images of Mel Gibson in a kilt reenacting the Scottish hero William Wallace or patriotic scenes of the Revolutionary War. Perhaps it's more recent like the release of prisoners or hostages.

The Scripture says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" and yet, we serve an omnipresent God is is present everywhere at all times, simultaneously. Therefore, doesn't that mean that freedom is present everywhere?

In this message, I delve into this question and seek answers to what seems to be elusive freedom for even those who claim the name of Christ.

Yes, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The question is "Are you living fully in the freedom of His Spirit?"

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We Engage Those We Love

There are words and phrases that seem to take on a life of their own at time. They become popular for a season and now in the era of hashtags and social media tracking, the word "trending" has become a descriptor of such terms.

DSCF4077One term that I and others in the church culture have been using for the past few years is "engage." While our local Baptist association is still officially called the Jacksonville Baptist Association, more and more pastors are referring to it as the EngageJax Network. That has been an intentional shift (that likely frustrates some who hate change of any kind.) The Florida Baptist Convention now has a committee among the State Board of Missions titled "Engage Florida." (Full disclosure - I serve on that committee. . .and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what we do, but I'm new.) 

Most recently, I have talked with a number of pastors of sister churches in my county who are tired of just continually doing church in silos, while ignoring the synergy that could be developed for Kingdom work if we locked arms and strategically focused on reaching our county together. Yes, we have coined the very creative term "EngageClay" (we live in Clay County.) 

As you know, Baptists tend to have a few creative people in the tent and a whole lot of creative copiers. Nevertheless, the term "engage" is trending and so far, it's a good term. Why? Because it speaks of action. You cannot engage passively. You cannot engage philosophically. It requires movement.

What Does It Mean to Engage?

Ed Stetzer has written a profound article on his Christianity Today blog speaking of ways Christians will address cultural issues in the coming years. (Click here to read the full article.) In this, he speaks of those who will engage culture. As I read this portion, I found myself agreeing with this grouping. Perhaps it is based on the time I have spent with church planters in my community and in places where Christianity is in decline or fairly non-existent, but I relish the opportunity to connect with those far from God, for the purpose of building authentic relationships and the intent of sharing life with them. Yes, the ultimate intent is to share the Gospel, but I'm not speaking of false friendships just designed to "get the sale" but authentic ones where the Gospel can be presented naturally and lovingly and yes - intentionally.

Tweet: As culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. @edstetzerAs culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. - Ed Stetzer

Conservative American evangelicals lament the reality that the "Moral Majority" of the 1980s is no longer a majority and the fact that "religion + politics = politics." This has led to some abandoning the cause and basically throwing their arms up in the air in a sense of defeat. At the other extreme, some have sought to sequester themselves in subcultures where "Christian" has become and adjective to describe everything (i.e. Christian school, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian breath mints, etc.) rather than a noun that defines identity. 

Both extremes are wrong because neither fulfills the Great Commission and Great Commandment.

The War Is Not Lost

The phrase "culture war" has been bandied about for decades. This ideology is nothing new - from the Red Scare and McCartheyism of the 1950s, to the "free love" movement of the 1960s and every decade since, the pendulum has swung wide, often led by fear and personal and church identification based on what we are against, rather than what we are for.

There is a battle going on, but even many Christians falsely believe it is just a human battle and not a spiritual one. Ultimately, it is a battle between the prince of this world and God, and I have read the end of the book and God wins. I think that is often forgotten.

Yet, at many times, especially in western culture, the enemy is viewed as those in our communities with unbiblical perspectives and an animosity toward God and the church. In truth, they're just pawns of the Enemy.

To engage our culture means that we do not hate or seek to destroy those whom we are intent to reach for the sake of the Gospel.

When the Civil War was winding down and the North would soon declare victory, President Abraham Lincoln was preparing plans to reinstate some Southern leaders and reconstruct the South. Some in his leadership team and cabinet had differing opinions on what should be done. They told the President that the goal of war is victory and all enemies should be destroyed. Abraham Lincoln responded "Am I not destroying the enemy when I make a friend of Him?"

We Were Engaged

It's a profound truth, but one that must be shared. We were all enemies of God, through our sin. Yet, through God's grace and mercy, the Gospel, the Good News, was received and we had a title change. No longer enemies, but friends. Even more, children of God.

That is why we engage the culture. We do so because the culture is made up of people. People who are far from God, who do not know what they do not know. 

So We Engage

The cultural shifts are happening at what appears to be light speed, but in reality the heart of man apart from God has always been clouded in self-righteousness, pride and sin. It is in this reality that the Hope of the world enters.

For far too many years the church has hidden itself within the walls of its buildings (not all, but many) while the world we have been commanded to reach and engage remains in the dark. Apparently record burnings, protests, political positioning and hateful speech with just a tinge of religiosity are not part of God's strategy for His church.

Engage Without Compromise

Yet, many believers struggle with how to engage a far-from-God culture without abandoning or watering down the Gospel and their belief systems. Why is this? Why is it that compromise when it comes to conviction is seemingly the only option some find when trying to engage the culture? 

Did Jesus compromise? Absolutely not.

Yet, he engaged a culture many religious people would not. Just look at some of his miracles, audiences and friends: Gentiles, Samaritan women, unclean lepers, fishermen with salty language, tax collectors, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, as the centuries have passed, we have missed how Christ modeled cultural engagement and have become more like other biblical characters when it comes to this concept. 

You know, it's just easier to be a Pharisee.

Legalism is easy.

And it's wrong.

What Next?

What's next for the church of the 21st century? Not a new model. Not a new strategy. In fact, that which must be done has already been done. We must engage our culture as Christ did his. He is our model. He showed the way. 

As my friends and I seek to engage Clay County, Jacksonville, Florida, the United States and the world for the sake of the Gospel, it is clear that this must begin very close to home. Living missionally is more than another trending word. It is who we are as God's church. 

Tweet: We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/qIZ4l+We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does.


Love Is Love? Love Is All You Need? Really?

It's a word that everyone knows and says they understand, yet there are over 12 meanings of the word in the dictionary, and that doesn't include the verb usages and idioms. The word is LOVE.

Couple on bench in city

From "All you need is love. . ." to "Love Wins" to the trending #LoveIsLove, the concept of love is something that has gripped humanity since the beginning of time. Even in the Garden of Eden love between Adam and God and then with Eve reveals the amazing power of the word. 

Love Is A Choice

I remember talking with a friend a few years back about some things going on in his marriage. He said what so many have said over the years to me when seeking to justify their desire to get out of a relationship. He said, "I'm just not in love with her anymore." To which, in my caring, grace-filled, mercy-laced way I responded, "Bull!"

You see, love is more than a feeling. Even Boston knew that (vague 1970s rock music reference - look it up.) Love is a choice. 

 

Love Wins

A few years ago, Rob Bell authored a book that took on a life of its own in social media and among Christian circles. The book is titled Love Wins and even prior to being published, it was a best-seller in pre-orders. This was primarily due to Bell's controversial book promo online.

Bell is an incredible communicator and his church in Michigan was a popular mega-church. His Nooma videos had been used in churches for years and there was no denying his ability to draw in an audience through his teaching. Yet, something about the message conveyed in Love Wins (which is a title that millenials love) was off-center. In fact, it was clearly unbiblical and now with Bell's most recent statement about the irrelevancy of the "ancient writings" known as God's Word, the Holy Bible, Bell's belief system has been laid bare.

And it's unfortunate.

Yet, what's more unfortunate is that many in our fast-moving culture still wave the banner of "Love Wins" as if it means nothing matters ultimately, but love (but what definition of love?).

Love Is All You Need

The Beatles said that all that is needed in life is love. John Mayer says that this is a lie.

Again, the question is "What definition of love?"

Love Is Love

Now, the trending video on YouTube and on social media is from the Ad Council and features images of skeletons embracing, holding hands and kissing, only to have the people come from behind the screen to "shock" the audience as to who they really are. The message is that love is not defined by race, age, disability or even gender. . . since it's all love, right?

The phrase is meant to diffuse those who would seek to define relationships. While the video features numerous people, the primary message is clearly regarding LBGT relationships and perhaps the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That's why the video is trending. That's why the imagery is moving. 

But "love is love" is a phrase that provokes responses while doing what every English teacher in my life told me I could not do - use a word to describe the same word.

Button-tweet-thisThe underlying false message of this video, and subsequently many in our culture, is that love must come with full affirmation.

Nevertheless, once you strip away personal justification, political positioning and theological word-play, the reality is that true love is what ever human being is truly seeking.

Button-tweet-thisTrue love is that which is selfless, unconditional and permanent.

Love Is. . .

God revealed the elements of this type of love in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. . .

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

Love Is Not Possible Apart From God

That sounds very limiting and intolerant, but based on John's word in his third letter, the very nature of God is love - the ultimate, perfect, agape love and apart from knowing Him, true love remains elusive. 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)

 Button-tweet-thisTherefore, if you do not know God through Jesus Christ, you cannot fully love.

 


Why You Need to Be A Member of a Local Church

Over the past few months I have been asked numerous times why our church (First Church - Orange Park) has members and why we encourage people to join.

It's an interesting question and the answer of "Well, we have just always had members," isn't sufficient. Neither is "You can't serve on a committee or teach or vote or . . . etc. if you're not a member," is not normally something that people would affirm either. In fact, some have said "Good, I don't wan to do any of that, so I won't join." That may be more telling of the the individual rather than the local church, but I digress.

Member-stampI had a friend in my church in Texas years ago who waited years before joining the church. These were the days when visitation teams were sent out weekly from the church to the community. In most cases, these were visits bent on marketing our church to those who had already visited or shown interest in attending, rather than evangelistic. Nevertheless, Larry was asked why he would come and never join the church. He was a Christian. He had been baptized by immersion. He affirmed the doctrines of the church, but would not join.

He answered by saying "If I join, you'll stop visiting me."

Wow! That statement is more telling of our local church culture than we'd like to admit. Perhaps we like the hunt more than the relationship?

Recently, a gentleman who attends regularly at our church was asked why he had not joined and become a member. His answer was "I am a Christian. I give my tithe here. I worship here weekly. What's membership? Just a piece of paper?" and stated he saw no need for officially joining since he was, in his own words, basically a member anyway.

While what he said was true regarding his attendance and participation, membership in a local body of believers is more than a piece of paper.

That logic sounds eerily similar to those who have told me such things as "I love her. I have a child with her. We live together and have been together for years. What's a piece of paper that says we're married, anyway?"

Maybe that's a stretch? 

Maybe not.

Nonetheless, I began thinking about this concept of church membership and what it means.

Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, recently published a book titled I Am a Church Member. It's a nice little book, and a quick read, with some sound biblical insight into church membership.

Rainer states. . .

There are a number of places in the New Testament where we can see a clear picture of church membership. One of the more voluminous sections is 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains the metaphor of the church being a body with many members. In 1 Corinthians 13, he established love as the central attitude and action all members should have. In 1 Corinthians 14, he returned to the messed-up church at Corinth that has the concept of membership all wrong.

Therefore, church membership is not a modern-day concept built on religious tradition or even organizational strategies from the business world. It is fully a biblical construct based on the reality that God brings people together as family, in a location, for a specific mission that will ultimately glorify Him. Membership eliminates the "Lone Ranger" concept of the Christian walk.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (ESV)

With church membership comes identity. Now, identity is fully expressed in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, by his design, he has called us together as his church (local as well as universal) to express His love and mercy and mission in specific cultural settings as His church. 

I Just Can't Move My Membership From My Church In ____________.

I have had numerous discussions with attenders in our church who have yet joined the church for the reason of heritage. In some cases, their church membership resides in their home church back in some rural area far away from where they live today. There is a familial connection to the church of their past. While that's admirable, it's short-sighted. In many cases, individuals will refuse to join so as to honor a relationship from long ago. As is the case in most of these situations, the attender has been away from that family church longer than they have attended ours. Therefore, in actuality, they are members of their home church (though inactive and non-resident members - which are two pretty useless adjectives assigned to membership) while not participating in the mission of God for that church's community and area. In many cases, the leadership of the home church has changed numerous times and while their "heart" may be there, they are nothing more than a name on a roster signifying a heritage, but not a walk.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this. They would be rare and unique, if so.

To live missionally is to understand that God places us where He desires us to be (even if we don't really like it at times) for His glory, not ours. That concept of engaged Christian living eliminates the option of remaining a member in a church elsewhere that no real connection can happen other than those relegated to good memories of by-gone days.


For those in our church who relocate to other areas, I encourage them strongly to move their membership and become part of a local fellowship of believers where God has placed them. That means, I want them fully engaged where they live. To be crystal clear, that means I DO NOT want them sending their tithes and offerings back here to our church (their former church) while God has intentionally placed them elsewhere. 

Membership Means Agreement

When you join a local church, you are affirming the doctrines and teachings of that church. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Being a regular attender keeps you involved, but at a distance. Membership means you are on the team. 

What if the Jacksonville Jaguars (our home team - please pray for us) signed a player in free agency who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season yet declared he would come to Jacksonville but demanded he be allowed to continue to wear his Steelers uniform? It's ludicrous. That's just not allowed. Other players, coaches and fans would doubt his commitment to the mission of the Jaguars. The analogy breaks down because these two teams are competitors and churches are not (well, they should not be.) Yet, you get the point. Even though we have sister churches we love and partner with for the growth of God's Kingdom, there are some unique attributes about each local church, apart from doctrine and theology, the are defined by the culture of the community, the membership and the leadership. The biblical mission is unchanging for the local church, but since localities differ, the way the mission is implemented may differ.

So, while the Jags and Steelers both play football, the way they play differs (no comments about this, please.)

Pastor John MacArthur answers some basic questions as to why church membership is biblically valid and needed. Here's his statements from the Grace to You website:

The Definition of Church Membership

When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.

To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:132 Tim. 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-81 Cor. 12:4-311 Pet. 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt. 28:18- 20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he submits himself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified elders that God has placed in that assembly.

The Basis for Church Membership

Although Scripture does not contain an explicit command to formally join a local church, the biblical foundation for church membership permeates the New Testament. This biblical basis can be seen most clearly in (1) the example of the early church, (2) the existence of church government, (3) the exercise of church discipline, and (4) the exhortation to mutual edification.

5 Reasons You Need to Be a Member of a Local Church

The reasons for being a part of a local church are practical and biblical. There are more, but I'll close with Tim Challies "5 Reasons You Need to Join a Church."

  1. For Assurance
  2. To Evangelize the World
  3. To Expose False Gospels
  4. To Edify the Church
  5. To Glorify God

He breaks down each of these five very well at his blog, linked here.

 


Can We Just Erase the Church Calendar & Start Over?

As I look at our church calendar, I am frustrated.

I'm frustrated that we have done, once again, what we have said we would not.

We have filled up a calendar with tons of good events and programming. 

It sounds strange to say that we wanted to not do this, but it's true. About two years ago, we (the leadership team at First Church where I serve) lamented the reality that we have allowed the calendar to be filled with numerous good events and activities that basically leave our people tired and stretched.

“One of the most difficult tasks of visioneering is distinguishing between good ideas and God ideas.” - Andy Stanley

I know we struggle with this concept. Everyone in the church has good ideas. Everyone on our Leadership Team has good ideas. These are ideas based on previous places of service or maybe something that was read or seen or done elsewhere. However, a "God idea" is something bigger than a strategy and better than just something copied from another church or another time.

God ideas change lives.

So, it is my conviction that God ideas or movements often do not happen because they are hampered by good, church events and programming.

So, I lament that we have fallen back into this trap.

The result is busy-ness. Busy people in a busy world being guilted into serving in more areas in a busy church - all with a sales pitch that it's for the "glory of God" but in some cases, it for little more than the edification of an organization.

It's not intentional. It's often just all we know.

It's more than stripping away everything on the calendar (though I'm very tempted to do that) and live as the "simple church." This shift is about focus.

Focus - Focus - Focus

I've been in church long enough to know that leaders can justify anything being done in the church by sliding it under a banner titled "missions" or "evangelism" even when everyone knows that it is a stretch to see these items as such.

544232_23915496This hearkens back to the time when we would host "Christian" concerts and market them in house as outreach events. Here's a newsflash - Christian concerts are not outreach events. They are events targeting Christians and therefore basically uplifting Christian entertainment. By the way, I'm okay with having good Christ-themed entertainment. Just don't call an event outreach when everyone knows that unchurched people have never heard of the band, singer, illusionist or comedian, etc. 

The challenge for us today is to ensure that we calendar based on who we are and what we are called to. The Great Commission is the start - "make disciples" is the command and under that banner, much of what we do is legit. The Great Commandment is as important and so we love others missionally as we love God.

Should We Stop Doing Everything?

I'm so tempted to say "yes," but that' not the answer. To stop everything, to do nothing for a season and then restart without any major philosophy of ministry adjustments would lead to another overbooked calendar and a busy-ness that burns out people and leads to less and less engagement and true ministry. 

Hard Questions

Some questions that must be asked when planning or calendaring in the church are as follows:

  • Does this line up with our primary role?
  • Is this something that expresses true love to God and others?
  • Is this something that leads to disciple-making?
  • Does this line up with the vision of the church or is it just a church member's or a few church members' primary ministry?
  • Are the resources devoted to this calendared event best used this way?
  • What ministry is being said "no" to in order to say "yes" to this one?
  • Is this something being done just because it's always been done?

There are more, but you get the picture.

Our church has three stated emphases. . .

  1. Global Missions
  2. Church Planting 
  3. Orphan Care

There are many things on our calendar now that require resources, promotion, time and effort. The challenge is to measure them against our biblical purposes as revealed in the Great Commission and Great Commandment and God's revealed focus for us with the three elements listed above. Then, we have to have the courage to erase some things on the calendar.

Why? Because busy-ness in God's church keeps us from the the business of God's church.

Collateral Damage

There will be damage. Someone will have their feelings hurt. Unfortunately, hurt people sometimes hurt people, so be ready. It's inevitable, but necessary to ensure you are not wasting away looking busy while the mission remains ignored.

Button-tweet-thisJust because it is a good idea and should be done, doesn't mean it's God's idea for your church to do.


We Don't Need Easier Access to Liquor in Florida

As HB 107 makes its way through the Florida State Legislature, great concern is being raised among those in the state, not just in the Baptist church world, but also among law enforcement about potential issues. HB107 is the bill that would open sales of alcoholic beverages in local grocery stores and drugstores in ways to make the items more accessible to consumers.
 
Numerous county sheriffs have openly opposed the bill. Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson went on record by stating “I haven’t heard anyone complaining about finding a convenient place to buy liquor, but I have heard that in states where this legislation has already passed, law enforcement is now having to combat rising incidents of theft and illicit underage drinking inside the stores themselves.” 
 
Sheriff Rutherford of Duval County, Sheriff Demings of Orange County as well as others throughout our state, have voiced their opposition.
 
As a chaplain for our local police department and pastor of First Orange Park, I oppose the bill. This is more than just the typical “Baptist being against drinking.” I oppose this for numerous reasons. First, the shift is not needed. As Sheriff Adkinson stated, there is no one struggling in our state to find liquor. It is readily available, and in my opinion, too available. This is nothing more than a money issue and while I do not fault businesses for seeking increased profits, in this case, I sense too many red flags.
 
860700_56793699Apart from my personal conviction regarding the partaking of alcoholic beverages, the changes proposed in this bill would provide even more access for underage adults,  teenagers and children. To believe that stores would police this well and guard against this at a level needed, is a pipe dream. It will not happen. In many of these stores, young people work the registers and while this may be occurring now, to have a 16 - 20 year old responsible for “carding” customers for hard liquor sales leads to higher possibilities for underage purchases. Of course, some would say that is happening now and it’s been happening for decades. That is true, but that does not mean just because underage drinking is happening that it is a good idea to make the purchase of such more readily available. 
 
As a pastor, I will recommend others to oppose the bill. As a police chaplain, I will do the same for reasons listed above. There is no reason to add potential issues for our area's police officers and deputies regarding this issue.
 
I believe that most likely this bill will pass. As the culture continues to shift rapidly, to have this bill stopped would be a surprise, but this is not a statement of lack of faith. I have ultimate faith in God, just not so much in legislators and others who tend to shift as the political winds blow.
 
I encourage every Florida resident to contact their representative regarding this bill, and as you can tell by my posting here - encourage your representative to oppose this bill's passing.
 
Click below to find your representative. . .
Click here
 

Broken: Part 5 "Broken Messenger"

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As Christ-followers, we are God's living letter to a lost world full of "junk mail." As Jason Dukes has said in his book Live Sent

You are a letter. Your everyday life is more than just a story being written. You were created to receive and send a message intentionally into the lives of the people you do life with daily. That's how humanity works. Together. That's how love is demonstrated and how relationships happen and how people find abundant life as they were intended to find it. We live out our intended purpose and mission when we live beyond ourselves. Are you giving yourself away in the daily, being to other people the letter of God's love that has been written on your heart? We must be that letter together. Our community needs us. Our world needs us. Let's LIVE SENT.

You can get Jason's book online at our online store.

Click here

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