Why It's Easier to Care About a Lion Than Babies

There are two stories that seem to be trending in the media this week. These are unrelated stories, but show an interesting contrast on cultural views of life, ethics and value.

Cecil the Lion

The story of Cecil the Lion is a tragic one. Walter Palmer, a dentist on a "hunt" in Zimbabwe killed a lion that had been collared and was part of an ongoing study at Oxford University. Details of the story continue to come out and the debate in the public continues to rage.

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His statement of regret is seemingly falling on deaf ears and many have declared it empty.

"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have."" - Walter Palmer

Those who advocate for animal "rights" and celebrities have joined the story to share their opinions of Palmer. Mia Farrow tweeted Palmer's home address and thus, protesters arrived.

Others have shared what they think should happen to Palmer.

"Anything loose, they should cut off." - Betty White

"I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well-deserved. If he was my dentist I would never set eyes on him again." - Bob Barker

The story is gaining ground and mainstream media outlets as well as entertainment outlets continue to push it on the front page or as the lead story of the day.

Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts

The other story that is working its way through social media and some mainstream outlets focuses on the leaked, undercover videos by a pro-life organization showing doctors and leaders of Planned Parenthood admitting to and expressing how they sell organs of aborted babies for profit.

Planned Parenthood has existed for decades. This non-profit organization declares itself as the primary provider of reproductive health and women's services in the nation. This is a sanitized, politically correct way of stating that they provide more abortions than any other organization in the United States.

The first video released is embedded below. Be warned, it is not easy to watch.

The latest is even more disturbing. . .

 

Amazingly, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board has issued this statement in response to the video, as part of a well-orchestrated dance attempting to diffuse this story in the national media.

“People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful.” - PP Clergy Advocacy Board

At first, I was surprised that Planned Parenthood even had a Clergy Advocacy Board. However, there is a clear version of "Christianity" in America that has forsaken the truths of the Gospel and the truth of His Word. Therefore, statements like these should not surprise us, though they are greatly disturbing.

Joe Carter, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition referenced it this way:

That some clergy from denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and American Baptist Churches would turn a blind eye to the sale of body parts from children slaughtered in the womb is not surprising. Almost all mainline denominations officially support unrestricted access to abortion.

But these ministerial shills have the audacity to frame their support for America’s largest abortion provider as a defense of women. Their kneejerk support for Planned Parenthood reveals a willful ignorance of one of the most anti-woman organizations in America.

How These Stories Are Connected

The story of Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood actually have nothing to do with each other. One is about a hunting trip in Africa that resulted in one animal being wrongly killed.

The other is about the deception of an organization that I believe does evil work and is responsible for the killing of millions of human beings.

What does connect them is the story of life and the message of ethics and truth.

Why It's Easier to Care for a Lion Than Babies

It is easier to jump on the bandwagon that is attacking Dr. Palmer than show offense to what is being done at Planned Parenthood. 

It's easier because the crowd is louder that speaks against Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because others will celebrate you if you "stand up for Cecil."

It's easier because the platform is wide and welcoming for those who would show anger and frustration toward Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because other than tweeting and posting opposition (other than the few who are organizing protests and other actions) there really is no personal engagement in the Cecil the Lion story. Just tweet your anger and use the appropriate hashtag and go about your life.

However, when you assert your offense at what organizations like Planned Parenthood do, you are labeled. You are placed in a category that isn't celebrated by the masses. You will be on an opposite side of celebrities and those who are often worshipped by the masses.

The politically incorrect will not be celebrated.

You will be declared a hater of women (the enemy loves pulling out the "hater" tag for those who stand up for truth) rather than a lover of life and an advocate for babies.

You will have to stand on a narrow platform.

You will have to do more than state your opposition to abortion.

Christians who state their opposition to abortion must in the same breath state and show their advocacy for helping pregnant women, providing for single moms, standing in the gap for teens who are pregnant, affirm and support foster care and adoption services.

It is hypocritical to be against abortion and ignore the role of the church in these other areas. There's no way to be unengaged and be holy.

That's why it's easier.

But then, who said living holy and grounded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be easy?

What Must Be Done

I affirm the calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I am not convinced this will ever happen, but at least the conversation has begun again, and more earnestly than in the past. To know that we are all guilty by proxy of the trafficking of human body parts through our taxes is offensive and atrocious. It's time for the federal government to do the right thing here and for the people standing upon that narrow platform to stand unwaveringly and push strongly for this.

Praying By Name

Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on how we should pray for those who are the names and faces of Planned Parenthood. The God of life is the only one who can transform a heart. Pray for those who do evil, especially those who unknowingly do so. How can they know evil apart from knowing the truth?

Trevin's full post is here.

Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reminded us of our role clearly.

The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).

The heart of man is dark. Jesus is the light and has stated that we are His Light of the world. Let's shine this light brightly.

Love God - Love People - Make Disciples


Prayer: Part 6 "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

07-26-2015 Prayer - Part 6 Lead Us

The final portion of the Model Prayer gives us instruction to seek protection from God by asking Him to not lead us into temptation and protect us from evil. This is a prayer seeking moral provision and is needed by all. What may seem confusing and even contradictory at first glance is proven to be neither.

Left to our own devices, we do not land on holiness.

While we pray for God's forgiveness for past sins, as instructed by Christ in the same prayer, the wise Christ follower also understands the need to seek guidance and protection for possible future sins. These are God's guardrails for our lives. 

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MOVIE REVIEW: "Woodlawn" - Will God Do It Again?

Sometimes you need to look back to understand where you are.

The new film Woodlawn, opening October 16 in over 1,500 theaters, appears to be another "based on a true story" football film reminiscent of others like Remember the Titans. However, it does not take long to discover that this story is about more than high school football in the age of bussing.

Woodlawn is a film by the Erwin Brothers (Mom's Night OutOctober Baby) based on the true story of "Touchdown Tony" Nathan, a high school football star in the early 1970s at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama. The film opens with images, some from old newscasts, others made just for the film, that highlight the intensity of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.  News footage from the late 1960s and early 1970s showing Birmingham churches burning and bombed out, Alabama Governor Wallace's famed speech about never allowing desegregation at the University of Alabama and interviews of those living in a city being called "Bombingham" sets the stage for the depravity and division in our nation from just a few decades ago. Some would say we have come far as a nation. Others, referencing recent acts in Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston would say that perhaps we have not progressed as much as previously thought.

Old news footage then shifts to images of Explo '72, an event sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in Dallas, Texas that was heralded as the most visible event of the "Jesus Movement."

The stage is set for the story of Tony Nathan.

 

The version of the film my wife, Tracy and I saw with other leaders in our city is a pre-edited, or more accurately, a mid-edited version. There are scenes where dialogue will be added, and special effects will replace visible green screens and empty stands during football games.

I imagine some other scene trimming will take place to get the film under the two-hour mark.

Nevertheless, this is a very watchable and engaging film. This is a film that is worthy of an incredible opening weekend. The acting is excellent, beginning with Oscar-winner Jon Voight as Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. 

Sean Astin plays a pivotal character in the film. Astin is Hank Erwin, the Woodlaw High School team chaplain, who also happens to be the father of Andrew and Jon Erwin - the "Erwin Brothers" who brought the film to life.

Of course as soon as Astin appears on the screen in a period-piece football movie, I wanted to yell "Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" but my wife wisely discouraged that.

5300_Woodlawn-Temp_Graphic_lgLesser known actor, but wonderful in this breakout role, is Caleb Castille. He plays Tony Nathan, but didn't get the role until three days prior to shooting. It's clear the Erwins casted the right man. Castille not only carries his scenes with class and skill, even those shared with more seasoned actors like Voight and Astin, but he is a football player - not just an actor pretending to be one.

Castille was a walk-on at the University of Alabama where both of his brothers (Tim and Simeon) and his father (Jeremiah) played football. His father and brothers all played in the NFL as well. After three years of playing and winning two national championships at Alabama, he decided to walk away from football and pursue acting. He was given the go-ahead by his parents as long as he remained in school.

Originally cast as the understudy and body-double for football scenes for the actor originally scheduled to play Nathan, it became clear prior to shooting that Castille was the guy and he received the role. 

Other well-known actors and entertainers appear. C. Thomas Howell steals scenes as the Banks High School coach, Shorty White. Nathan's parents, played by Sherri Shepherd (who offers perhaps the funniest line in the film when she meets Tony's potential new girlfriend) and Lance Nichols are superb.

Also - this is set in the 1970s, so the sideburns on just about all male characters are great. This film may usher in a new retro-facial hair style to replace the ever-popular goatee.

The football scenes in this film are as engaging as any I have seen in movies. 

Sports movies, in my opinion, have often done a poor job of conveying the action on the field or court well. In some cases, the interaction between players, fans and referees is so unreal that any athlete (or former athlete) just cringes when watching the film (remember Teen Wolf?) In more recent years, it seems that directors and writers work to ensure the games on film are more realistic, recognizing that many in their potential audiences will notice flaws.

Woodlawn does a wonderful job at leading the audience to believe actual football games are being played out on screen. Castille and the other actors make this convincing. Of course, there was one moment during the film when my wife leans over and asks "Does anyone other than Nathan ever get the ball for Woodlawn?" I laughed and then, almost like the writers heard us, the next scene showed another Woodlawn Colonel running the ball. 

Making a period-piece sports movie, especially a football one, as an independent filmmaker must be tough. There will be numerous fixes in post-production. Legion Field in Birmingham is old, but the modern Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew advertisements on the scoreboard need to be replaced. This is not a big deal. . .but, I noticed it. Unless these soft drinks have paid for product placement, they will likely be replaced. When actual footage of the Woodlawn and Banks (the rivalry school) game is shown, I was reminded how different football helmets and uniforms looked in the 1970s. The shoulder pads were larger, the face masks and the logos on the helmets were different. This is not a knock on the film. I understand the creative license and the Woodlawn helmet used in the film looks much better than the one in archive footage. These make for cleaner, clearer images in color.

It's a Great Film, But Now What?

Faith-based, or "Christian" films are trendy now. The quality is much better and getting the church out of the church-house and into the local cinema has been effective. Most Christians understand the value of opening weekend and many churches, mine included, look to help quality independent films like this one do well when it counts. 

However, this time, I sense something different must be done. There was a Q&A time with those in the audience seeking info on creative and new ways to get the right people in the cinemas to see it. In other words, the discussion was focused not on how to get the church into the theater, but to get others into the theater to see the film and then into local churches.

This isn't a "grow your church" campaign disguised as a movie. This is a real effort to see what the next chapter in God's great awakenings will look like and in an age where entertainment and sports reign as the gods of our nation, the question remains "What can we do?"

I heard a number of people share ideas - though, to be honest, they weren't really ideas. One pastor said, "To make a long story short. . ." and I knew what that meant. He would share anything but a "short" story. 

Others echoed ideas that sounded like they had been birthed in the 1970s. 

I wondered if anyone in the room heard the host say "Let's pray and share some creative and out-of-the-box ideas regarding the message of this film."

Alas, the church often fails when it comes to creativity, much to the dismay of people like the Erwin brothers, who obviously live on the edge of creative arts.

Here's What We Will Do

I shared my idea and still believe that this is our best, first-step. Our church is located in a suburb of Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville and our area have a long history of racial divide. Things are better than in the past, but I don't hear anyone saying that we have arrived and are where we desire to be. Every day on the news there is another story of a shooting. Sometimes it's gang related. Sometimes "black on black" crime." Other times, it's "white on white" and since we're diverse, there are still multi-racial crimes being committed. Our sin is equal opportunity.

There are some amazing God-sized stories happening in our community as well. These are powerful and God is birthing new churches and revitalizing legacy churches. More multi-racial work is being done by churches that in prior generations would not have happened. 

It seems that we are on the precipice of something big. 

The church is ready, but by and large. . .we're still holed up in our buildings.

I believe what we saw acted out in this film is more than just a story about what happened years ago, but a reminder that God does not sleep, is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

What if high school students in a city grabbed hold of the message of the Gospel? What if the Gospel grabbed ahold of these students? Our church will seek to purchase all tickets for a showing or two on opening weekend. This will likely be on Saturday evening, since high school football is king each Friday evening. The tickets will not be for church members but for members of our local high school football teams. Maybe even putting two schools in the same theater . . . rivals, even? Our teams are not segregated (at least not intentionally) as they were in the 1970s, but what is the same is the reality that the vast majority of our students do not know Jesus Christ. They are spiritually void and need to know there is a God who says "It doesn't have to be this way."

Will the players attend?

Many schools and coaches are more afraid than ever of being sued for the breach of the "church/state" issues. Here's what I know. If students decide to go to the movie, it is legal and there is no issue for the school. If the coaches attend, it is legal. This is a public theater and so far, other than guidelines regarding age and ratings, people can attend the movies of their choice.

What would happen if by viewing a true story of spiritual renewal through a high school football team, God decided to do it again?

What if He decided to do it in my neighborhood, in my community, in my schools. . .or in yours?

I'm still dreaming about how to get kids to see the film, but more than that, I'm dreaming about another great awakening.

Will God Do It Again?

Yes. The question is "Will we miss it or be a part of it?"


God Shows His Glory Through a Little Boy

It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.

Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.

11737812_1184421944914420_1013288043990846656_nJon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace. 

A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.

Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well. 

Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.

Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.

Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.

Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.

Critical Day

Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .

One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.

The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:

  1. Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
  2. Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
  3. Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
  4. Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.

These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."

At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.

We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.

The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.

The Anointing

I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)

Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment. 

This prayer time was no gimmick.

It was no religious routine.

It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering. 

It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.

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Then, We Waited

Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.

While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.

Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.

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When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.

Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

God bless the reading and believing of His Word.

Surgery Delayed

We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.

At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.

The delay was then extended to the next day.

Surgery Day - Tuesday

Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.

 

Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.

There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.

Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.

Prayer Continues

The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.

Look What God Has Already Done

Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.

May God be glorified.

We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing. 

In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.

The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged. 

Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts. 

The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed. 

Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.

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Well Done Church

Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."

We don't have to fake it.

God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey. 

Keep praying.

Keep believing. 

Keep the faith.

Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.

For continued updates on Drew's story, "Like" my Facebook page or our church's page.

As you share your prayers and thoughts on social media, use the #PrayForDrew hashtag, please.


We Seek Forgiveness But Have a Hard Time Offering It

07-19-2015 Prayer - Part 5 - Forgive Our Debts

When Jesus gave us permission to come to the Father and seek forgiveness of debts, he was likely referring to financial issues, but as we delve deeper into this model prayer, it is clear that finances were just a sliver of the depth of the prayer.

All is good when Jesus says we can ask God to "forgive our debts" but that next line causes some concern. It's difficult. It's challenging. In fact, it's frustrating at times. We are instructed to seek forgiveness "as we have forgiven others." Does this mean that the level of forgiveness we receive will be in line to that which we offer? That's a scary thought. I mean, how many of us love to carry grudges, falsely believing that our grudge is our "right" and actually serves as retribution to those who have harmed us? What a crazy theory.

Maybe it means we are to offer forgiveness to others in the same way we receive it from the Father?

Nevertheless, we discover that in the midst of the Model Prayer (or Lord's Prayer, if you choose) we are expected to be in relationship with the Father, through the Son, so that forgiveness of our debts (lawlessness and sin) may be forgiven and through that relationship we have the ability we do not own on our own - that to forgive others.

If we fully received and held this as truth. . .it would change everything.

It does change everything.

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The Difference Between Needs and Wants - Our Daily Bread

 

07-12-2015 Prayer - Part 4 - Our Daily Bread

 

When Jesus told us we could ask God for "our daily bread" he was speaking about more than dinner. In fact, the reference to bread hearkens back to an Old Testament story where God provided for the needs of his people while journeying through the wilderness.

Often, we struggle with the difference between needs and wants. Things we often say, and believe, we need are little more than wants. Do I really need the latest smartphone? What about dessert? Do I need that? I want it, sure, but need? That's a different topic.

The message available here goes into this aspect of the model prayer (i.e. The Lord's Prayer) and seeks to discover how we can begin to get this right in our prayer lives.

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In the Shadow of Our Steeple

Like many churches in our area, the summer schedule is a bit challenging. Some call it the "summer slump." We just realize that most families have just about eight weeks a year to schedule vacations and in addition to church-sponsored mission trips, camps and other events, weekly attendance is affected. (This, however, doesn't necessarily mean that those who miss a couple of services are bad Christians.)

Nevertheless, our mid-week gatherings are unique during the summer. We schedule church family BBQ nights, evenings at the local baseball game, movie nights and other such events. 

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Last week, we scheduled a "Community Prayer Walk." Truth be told, the attendance was. . .well, pretty low. Apparently there is truth in the old adage that if you want to guarantee low attendance at a church gathering, just call it a "prayer meeting".

Yet, I was greatly encouraged. 

Seriously.

As we first gathered together, prior to walking throughout the community, we discussed the value of intercessory prayer and the reasoning for doing such a prayer walk. We asked God to open our eyes and ears so that we may see and hear Him clearly. As we walked, we saw neighbors and homes and prayed over each. 

After about an hour, we met together again to share what we had heard from God through the walk. Here are some of the things shared by the church:

  • I saw homes that I drive by weekly and never think about. I realized that each home represents an individual or family in need of God. 
  • The longer we are in a community, the less we see.
  • There are great needs in our community. 
  • We should do this regularly, not just every now and then.
  • We must continue to go on mission elsewhere, but have to view this community, each day, as the mission field. God has placed us here for His glory.
  • Most, if not all great awakenings and times of spiritual renewal in the history of the church began with God calling a small group together for prayer.
  • Evangelism is talking to people about God. Intercession is talking to God about people.
  • Many in our community live in the "shadow of our steeple" and do not know us.
  • Many, if not most of our neighbors do not know Jesus Christ. Eternity hangs in the balance.

This was an encouraging night for me as a pastor and a challenging one as well. Prayer, as we know, is essential for spiritual renewal and growth. God does all the heavy lifting. It is He who does the saving. Yet, he has invited us to join him in this great endeavor and prayer is our first connection with Him. May these prayer gatherings, prayer walks and times of intercession never be viewed as less than vital.


Eliminating Discipleship Outsourcing

The family unit has for centuries been comprised of one husband, one wife and in many cases, children. The changing cultural landscape of the twenty-first century seems to be calling that definition into question. Regardless what is deemed acceptable or normal in the world, the Bible affirms the family unit as described above. In addition to the primary members of what has been termed the “nuclear family,” the Scripture teaches and affirms multi-generational and extended family members serving together, ideally for the glory of God and the propagation of the Gospel. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to pass biblical truth and godly teachings on to their children and subsequent generations. This is God’s desire and yet, there are many families who fall short of that standard. Therefore, throughout the years, the local church has sought to shore up the deficiencies in these areas by creating age-graded ministries and programs. These programs and ministries have been proven helpful and valuable. Yet, over time, a dangerous precedent has been set.

Many individuals and families in our culture have become outsourcers. The age of expertise reigns and while past generations understood the need to be proficient in various skills and tasks, that is not the case today. When simple repair work is needed around one’s home, a contracted carpenter is hired. Many, due to lack of time, desire or skill-set, will outsource yard work to professionals. The same is true for simple automobile maintenance and other tasks that not too long ago were accomplished in-house. While a discussion on the value of outsourcing may be interesting, the danger of such exists when people outsource biblical responsibilities. Simply put, the discipling of one’s children should not be outsourced to “professional Christians” or church program directors. The responsibility for these tasks remains with a child’s parents and while the church plays a major role, it cannot supplant the responsibility of those originally entrusted with such.

Much attention is given to helping children develop physically, intellectually, and even socially and emotionally, but parents are not given a lot of help in knowing how to aid in the moral and spiritual development of their children.[1] Due to the lack of easily identifiable steps and handles upon which to hold, many parents have apparently simply prayed that their children would grow in their faith due to the leadership and ministries offered at their local church.

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When surveyed, Christian parents have revealed their understanding and belief that they are to play the primary role in the spiritual development of their children. Nevertheless, the same surveys show that these parents have failed in making discipleship a priority within their home.[2] Parents believed they were fulfilling their responsibility for their children’s spiritual formation and development simply by involving them in the programs of the local church.[3] While it would be easy to blame these parents for dropping the ball in this vital area, the church must own its responsibility for fueling a failed model that distances itself from biblical examples. The model most often implemented needs an overhaul, as Dave Kinnaman has noted in a 2006 Barna Research Group report, not because churches have failed in drawing crowds but because the results have been an unsustainable faith for many students beyond high school.[4]

Churches have systematically created and replicated programs that seemingly work. If a nearby or popular church has a program that draws numerous children and teenagers, others will seek to copy it. The scorecard for success is built on uneven ground and attendance numbers and yet, the biblical mandate is not to “Go and make attenders” or even “Go and make church members,” but to “Go and make disciples.” The problem is that in a consumer-driven society, disciple-making is hard to gauge and nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, this is the mandate for the church and must be strategically sought and implemented.

The Bible consistently shows the value of family and the expectation of inter-generational ministry and teaching. The Scripture teaches of God’s plan for the family to be primary in the faith development journey of His people. While this truth is studied and known to be true by many who claim to be followers of Christ, due to the fall and the inherent sin nature, the simple reality is that even well intentioned people do not naturally do what they ought to do.[5] Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God does not affirm the delegating the discipleship of one’s child to religious professionals. The responsibility remains within the home, in the context of family.[6] Where there are single-parent households or orphans, the church fills those gaps as the spiritual family.

With numerous family ministry models available, the truth is that no church program has the power to transform lives and make disciples. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can rescue and transform a life. The church must strategically partner with parents and guide them into this truth. This will change the scorecard.

_______________________


[1] Anthony, Michael J., Michelle Anthony and Karen E. Jones. “The Family in Foundational Years.” In A Theology for Family Ministries, 22. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2011.

[2] "Making the Transition to Family-Equipping Ministry." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Jay Strother, 254. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011. 

[3] Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother. "The Task Too Significant To Hire Someone Else To Do." In Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, 23. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009.

[4] Strother, 254.

[5] "Bring Them Up In the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Robert L. Plummer, 47. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.

[6] Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, 18.


I Can't Do What I Want. . . And Honor God

07-05-2015 Prayer - Part 3 - Your Will Be Done

Yesterday, I preached this message focusing on the third portion of the Model Prayer where Jesus instructed us to pray "Your will be done" to the Father.

This is available as a free podcast through the iTunes Store as well as on our church app (on multiple platforms) and our church website.

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A Bad Day Fishing Is Better Than. . .

For the past few days, my wife Tracy and I have been camping with family at Bull Shoals State Park on the White River in Arkansas. Each day consists of getting up early, taking the boat out on the river and working to catch the daily limit of rainbow trout. 

Tracy's father is an excellent fisherman and has years of experience on this river as well as other lakes and rivers throughout the state and Texas.

I, on the other hand, have very limited fishing experience. In other words, I don't know what I'm doing. Nevertheless, this has been a great week and we have caught our share of trout (Tracy easily out-fished me. For every one I caught, I think she had three or four.)

A Bad Day Fishing Is Better Than a Good Day at Work

I now understand fully the phrase "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work."

So, as I sat on a boat for hours, throwing a fishing line into the water, I had quite a bit of time to think. For years, I've heard pastors reference Jesus' fishing illustrations in sermons. Here are some of the random thoughts regarding fishing and faith that came to mind, in no particular order:

  • It is good to be with someone who knows what they're doing while fishing. Mentors are vital. The Bible refers to this as "making disciples." (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Sometimes, it's time to cast on the other side of the boat. (John 21:6)
  • The river is continually flowing. . .quickly. It's like the culture - changing quickly. The anchors we dropped were essential to allow us to fish effectively. (Hebrews 6:19)
  • Clean, proper bait is needed to catch the desired fish. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
  • We have to move the boat on occasion, otherwise, we're throwing lines out to empty water. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)
  • Sometimes the fish just play around with the bait, but never bite. This can be frustrating, but you just cannot make the fish bite. (Psalm 115:6)
  • If I had just stayed in the camper, read about fishing, talked about fishing and even developed great plans for fishing. . .I never would have caught anything. (Mark 16:15)

Then, I saw this sign posted in the park.

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It is obvious that the Arkansas State Parks are trying to encourage people to not just have life jackets in the boat, but to actually wear them.

I couldn't help but think that many people use Jesus just like they do life jackets. You know, they want to keep him close. . .but not too close. Unfortunately, unless you "wear the name of Christ" the life jacket will do no good. 

You must be born again. (John 3:1-21)

A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, but here's the reality: There is no such thing as a bad day fishing.

As Christians we cannot worship vicariously. We cannot outsource discipleship. We must not just talk about sharing Christ with those in need of the Gospel (and we are all in need of the Gospel.)

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19 (ESV)


What's Next Now that Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal?

I'm on vacation this week, but have been emailed, texted and asked by friends and family what I believe is next for the evangelical church in America now that same-sex marriage is legal. Now, I'm not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but you really don't have to be in order to see some possible next steps as the cultural shift becomes even more mainstream.

The Next Battle

CNN has posted a story titled "The Next Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage" and in this article, highlight some of the items that came to my mind initially.

While polls show that a majority of religious Americans now support same-sex marriage, many prominent groups -- such as the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- do not. Leaders from those groups pledged on Friday to seek legal means to shield their beliefs from state interference. (CNN)

The term "battle" is being used more frequently and while there is a battle going on, my concern is that believers will tend to identify the wrong enemy. In truth, a battle has been going on since before the beginning of the human story. This battle is not new. It began before the Garden of Eden and continues with the same goal in mind. 

In this stage of the "battle" some of the items that American believers have held dear for centuries are at risk. To believe that gaining the legal right to marry is the end-game in this cultural shift would be short-sighted.

Religious Liberty At Stake

I am not living in fear, but am facing the reality before us. Religious liberty, regardless what was weakly stated by Justice Kennedy . . .

"It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned."

. . .will be affected and likely lost in some cases. There is no way, based on what has been experienced recently, that churches and religious groups who hold to what is now called the "traditional marriage" of one man (born a man) to one woman (born a woman) will not be denounced and challenged legally. This is the next step and will happen.

Tax Exempt Status Will End

When asked what will happen next by a family member, I answered, "The church's tax-exempt status in the US will be removed within five years." This has been the threat of anti-church groups for years and unfortunately, many churches sit idly by when social upheaval and injustice takes place until the tax-exempt status is challenged.

I believe this may well be inevitable.

Amazingly, this op-ed hit Time's website this morning declaring that now is the time to remove the tax-exempt status.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share. (Time)

LGBT Rights Will Continue to Trend

433540_80103081The rainbow flag is seemingly emblazoned everywhere now and #LoveWins is trending on Twitter (with a rainbow heart automatically added, so be careful to use this hashtag unless you're making a pro-same-sex marriage statement.) Corporations are jumping onboard the trending theme, likely for business purposes rather than simply a statement endorsing so-called equal rights. 

Generational Divide Will Widen

Many parents are discovering that their children hold differing views on this issue than they do. This is not true in all cases, and the point could be made that parents and teenagers have differed on religious, political and social views for decades. Nevertheless, this is the "issue of the day" and the reality is the familial divide here is present.

More Teenagers & Young Adults Will "Come Out"

It's trendy. It's safer. Everyone is doing it.

At least that is how it seems.

Teenagers and college students in my community are celebrating, as the LGBT community among young people and collegians here represents a higher percentage than other communities. It may make news when a professional basketball or football player comes out as gay, but most of our high school athletes know of a teammate who identifies as such. This is not out of the ordinary and is often celebrated.

Some parents are struggling how to relate to a child who now has "come out of the closet." Other parents are not struggling, but celebrating. 

The times, they are a'changing.

Christian parents are working through these issues as well. The presumption that because a child grew up in the church, attended Sunday School and went on mission trips with the youth group does not preclude them from struggling with same-sex attraction and even acting on those urges. Believe me, the church is not immune to these issues.

For pastors to believe that the SSA (same sex attraction) issues are just for people outside their churches is foolish and short-sighted at best. Why would the Enemy spend all his energy and strategy on attacking those already distanced from God and His church? Of course, he seeks to steal, kill and destroy and attempts these things within the family of God.

Churches Will Be Sued Over Weddings

Our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) does not and will not host (as long as I am pastor) same-sex weddings or celebrations. Our pastors will not preside over such ceremonies. 

I believe many churches will find themselves in court over this. In fact, this issue will be the one that removes the tax-exempt status and other religious liberties we have experienced for years.

I also believe that some pastors will preside over weddings, believing them to be heterosexual, only to discover after the fact that one of the spouses was transgender. Mark my words, this will happen. It will change how we direct pre-marital counseling. Pastors will now have to ask, "So, were you born the gender you now are?" before moving forward with wedding plans.

Churches Must Respond, Not React

In no way should a church condone homosexual behavior, nor affirm it as a "third way" or "how God has made some people." Any attempt to affirm that which God has declared unholy is wrong, whether it's homosexuality or any other sin (and there is no grading of sin here - just staying on topic.)

It must be admitted that for years, we (the church) have not responded very well. It appears that fear was a motivator and that led to emotions that were viewed and anger and hatred. Somewhere in the midst of this, young people in the church struggling with this sin heard "We hate you! There's no place for you here! You are an abomination!" and a generation has been lost.

Therefore, the church must be prepared to counsel people and family members with love. This may change how some church events are structured. No longer should churches room four guys together in a hotel on a mission trip. The same is true for girls. These will be addressed as the desire to continue allow students struggling with sin issues to attend camps and events, in that we desire them to hear and experience God in a way that will bring them rescue and clarity. Yet, this will not be easy. It really never has been.

As we lovingly seek to present the unchanging Gospel of Christ to a lost, separated and dying world, we discover that God is not shocked by the latest polling numbers, Supreme Court rulings and corporate and community political correctness. We also discover that God, with his grace and mercy that is overwhelming, continues to draw people to Himself, offering the free gift of salvation and hope.

What About "Gay Christians?"

Whenever an adjective is added as a descriptor to the name "Christian" the title is stripped of it's glory and weakened. When a descriptor is one that is clearly identified as sin (yes, I know some differ with me on that, but I'll stick to that statement) in the Word of God, the name Christian becomes irrelevant. For me, it would be the same as declaring oneself an "Adulterous Christian," or "Thieving Christian" or "Idolatrous Christian" and owning the adjective as a proud descriptor of identity.

So, are there Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction? Absolutely. Are they really saved? No doubt. Just like there are Christians. . .real Christians who struggle with gluttony (the idol of food) or adultery or pornography. It is the blood of Christ and the grace of God that removes our sinful identifiers upon our repentance. 

The battle is real and when the name Christian is weakened, a victory is perceived.

Do Not Fear

Rest assured, fear is one of the greatest tactics of the enemy.

Do not fear what may come, but renew your minds on the things of God. Your children may celebrate and announce their affirmation of this trending lifestyle. Your son or daughter may even come out of the closet. Your co-worker may now introduce you to his/her spouse of the same gender. You will be invited to a same-sex wedding. (My recommendation - do not attend, even if it's family and you love them. Your presence shows affirmation.)

But, do not fear.

Remember Paul's instruction to Timothy and know this is God's for you and me as well. . .

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

Love does win. . .and it's not the world's version.

I love what Curt Hamner has said, "Rescuing a drowning culture is never easy, but if anyone has a foot in the dry shore to send out a lifeline, it is the church."

Amen.

_____________________

For some potentially helpful resources, in this area, check out our LGBT page on our online bookstore


GUEST BLOGGER: Summer Missionary to Canada - Ashley Tarkington

Go to the ends of the earth?

Well I headed north, to Ontario, Canada. Maybe not the far ends of the earth, but definitely a good jaunt for a girl from Florida.

For the next two months I will be hanging out with the people of Starting Point Church. This church plant just celebrated their two-year anniversary in February. The church currently meets in a community center each Sunday morning at 10:30am. They focus on those who do not consider themselves to be “church people.”

What does that look like?

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When you order a refill to your water at Montana's Restaurant, this is what they bring you.

It’s a church, right? Don’t the people know what they are getting into when they show up? Well, maybe. I presume they understand the word "church" and what that all entails, but this strategy is working. Starting Point is reaching the “unchurched.”

The service looks and feels like church as we know it. They have greeters that hand attenders programs as they enter. They have refreshments and coffee in the back. They begin the service with a welcome from staff and a few songs, a video, announcements, offering, a few more songs, and then the pastor stands (or sits) behind a table and talks for about 30 to 45 minutes. There's even time following the service to talk with the pastor or ask him questions.

It looks like church, sounds like church, smells like church, and feels like church. So, how does this church reach unchurched people? It doesn’t make sense.

I mean, that’s how church has always looked to me. Maybe there were a few differences in the past - like the offering being at the close of the service rather than the beginning and there was that historically awkward time at the close of the services where we stood together, held hands and sang a song together. Sometimes we even had prayer together while holding hands and then at the "Amen" we squeezed each others hands as the cue that we were done.

So how do you look like a church and reach people who don’t like church?

Well, here is my answer (just my opinion.)I think it has to all do with the people. As some may know, the church is not a building. The church is (or should that be "are"?) the people of God. News Flash… The Christians!! We are in a world, like it or not, where relationships are key. There are no more Tuesday night visitation nights, no more handing out light bulbs door to door in an attempt to advertise the church programs, going door to door handing out pictures from your churches fall festival photo op.

It’s all about the coffee dates and small groups.

It’s about you.

It’s about me.

We cannot just invite people to church and think that will do the job. Church is church, regardless where you are. We reach the unchurched by going to them. We must love people. We must be friends with others, even others who are not followers of Christ. It sounds so simple, but it's still a challenge. We are to love God and love people. . .and love people enough to introduce them to God.

Regarding church here in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is that if people do go to church, they more than likely attend a Catholic church. There are very few evangelicals or Baptists, particularly. Many here grew up in the Catholic church. There are many Catholic schools in the area as well. So, Starting Point Church is a church for people who do not go to church. Though it may still looks like church to me, it looks very different to those who have never been to church or only have traditional, orthodox religious services in their history. 

Regardless the look of the service and/or the style of music, the church is people coming together as one in Christ, to grow in Christ, to serve Christ, and to engage with others for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

Please pray for the Starting Point Church family and our leaders (Pastor Mike & Tanya Hauser and  leaders Neil & Kaytee Jimenez.) Though it is an exciting adventure of new beginnings it also can be quite stressful. God is and has been doing amazing things through this church plant in Burlington, Ontario. We know the best is yet to come, eh? 


Another Flag Flies High In Celebration of Today's SCOTUS Ruling. Now What?

Over the past week, in the aftermath of the tragic murders in Charleston, South Carolina, there has been much debate over the public display of a flag that holds much history and essentially creates  division in our nation. Politicians and pundits as well as religious leaders and concerned citizens have made statements and decrees about the flag and what it represents. Intelligent people on both sides of the issue have taken to the blogosphere and the internet to state their case. Businesses have removed any items with the emblem upon it. My thirty-year-old high school yearbooks now seem offensive. (Our mascot was the Rebel and a certain battle flag was displayed throughout our school.)

Eddie Gilley, the Baptist Collegiate Ministries Director at the University of Florida, wrote a poignant article about this. You can read it here.

Another Controversial Flag

543733_19791065There is another flag that also creates division in our nation. This one, however, is not receiving the same level of ire and mandates.

This flag is also being hoisted on flagpoles owned by government entities. The rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community and the public statement of "pride" during official gatherings and ceremonies is being waved highly today in Washington DC and in other communities throughout our nation. 

Today will be marked as a key date in our nation. For some, it will be a day to celebrate annually. For others, it will be a day of annual lamentation.  

The 5-4 Supreme Court Ruling

For months this day has been anticipated. Futurists stated that it was inevitable. The church has been positioning for a response, while others have prepared celebrations. The court has effectively instituted a redefinition of the 14th amendment with today's ruling that says states must allow same-sex marriage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing for the majority stated, "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were."

Each of the four justices opposed to the ruling wrote their own dissents.

Justice Antonin Scalia called the decision a "threat to American democracy."

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent stated, "If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

Now What?

Once the ruling was announced, the news media and pseudo-news media began pushing stories out regarding the decision and its ramifications. Those in support of the decision are celebrated as loving and accepting and progressive.

Those in opposition to the ruling are categorized as haters, wrong-minded, sexually prejudiced and "on the wrong side of history." 

This is no surprise and yet, today we live in a different America than we did just 24 hours ago.

I have received numerous text messages, questions on social media and through email and from friends and acquaintances regarding this announcement. 

The first thing we should do is that which we have been doing (or at least should have been doing) - PRAY.

We know that prayer is needed. We know this intellectually, but for many prayer has been anemic for years and when it is little more than a blessing over a meal or a request to heal all the sick people and "be with" everyone we know, there is need for true prayer.

Pray for guidance and discernment. 

Pray for peace in the midst of the cultural shift.

Pray for the love of God to reign within us so that while not affirming sin, we may truly love those with whom we disagree and especially those who live opposed to the Gospel.

The Challenge to Come

While many who self-identify as LGBT have no desire to become a poster-child for same-sex marriage or public fights, there are some who promote the #LoveWins theme but are overwhelmed with hate and hurt. Some will seek to be married in the local church buildings and churches will have to make decisions  that will likely draw legal action.

There will be some churches (and already are) who will gladly open their doors and will even officiate same-sex weddings.

There are also many, like our church and those under my leadership, who will refuse to host such a wedding or perform a ceremony. Whether a church's by-laws declares their right to refusal, the lawsuits will inevitably come. It is in these days that capitulation will happen in many "churches." This is unfortunate.

We Never Were Culturally Accepted

Today's ruling is shocking to many. There is a false belief that Christianity (true biblical Christianity) was at one time culturally accepted as the norm and highly regarded. I do not discount that history affirms a more accepted morality as proposed by the Bible was more common in the past, but the reality is that the world has been opposed to the Gospel since the day that the Enemy tempted Eve and Adam. Today's ruling is a reminder of this truth.

Panic is not the response needed. Knee-jerk reactions are not needed, either. The church may get smaller as the culture slide continues, but we have always known that this is a narrow road we travel and the broader influence for the Gospel always comes from a narrower footprint.

So, we pray. We pray for God's name to be hallowed and for His Kingdom to come, here as well as in heaven. We pray that we will hear his voice and follow His commands. We pray for those far from God to be broken to the point where they respond to the lure of the Gospel. 

That is our hope, not the Judicial, Legislative or Executive branches of our government or any other entity.

So, I'm now a conscientious objector to a ruling put into place today. The 14th Amendment has been redefined and I lament the reality of what this means.

There's Another Flag

So church, stand firm. Stay focused. Remember the mission.

We stand under another flag or banner and it's not the one that is pledged at Vacation Bible School, but one named Jehovah Nissi.

And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner. Exodus 17:15 (ESV)

The Lord is our banner. 

Let's pledge our continued allegiance to Him.


Prayer - No Longer the Last Resort: Part 2 - Thy Kingdom Come

06-21-2015 Prayer - Part 2 - Thy Kingdom Come

Pastor Bob Roberts shared at a conference I attended a few years ago. His global missions network is vast and he interacts with believers who live throughout the world. It has come to his realization that while American believers speak of Kingdom and the Kingship of God, it is a paradigm shift from everything we have been taught as children.

You see, as Americans, we live in a nation that was founded with a rebellion to a king. From our perspective, this is a good thing. It’s a historical milestone and we celebrate the Revolution and the heroes who have become our Founding Fathers.

Our nature, therefore is to celebrate human independence and freedom and to push back against monarchies where there is a ruler or ruling class. Yet, when we come together as believers, we speak of the King of kings and Lord of lords, worshipping God and praying for Kingdom miracles to occur and for His Kingdom to flourish.

We do this – and we should – but, often our nature pushes against this.

In this summer series at First Orange Park, we are focusing on Jesus’ answer to his disciples when asked "Lord, teach us to pray." His response is the model prayer, often called "The Lord's Prayer."

So, Jesus instructs them and gives them a template for their prayer – that if implemented, would change everything.

In this message, we look at the second element given to us by Christ as our model for effectively praying and communicating with God.

Pray then like this:"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come – Matthew 6:9-10a (ESV)

One phrase – just half of a verse – yet, so impactful and powerful.

And often so ignored.

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The Most Amazing Story from the Charleston Shooting #PrayForCharleston

CHARLESTON FB TIMELINE

What happened in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday evening was shocking, terrible, troubling and a reminder to all that evil is real and our Enemy's desire to "steal, kill and destroy" is not just a memory verse, but a strategy still being implemented.

Christ-followers of all backgrounds and skin tones grieve with those of the Emanuel AME Church and the surrounding Charleston community. This local church hurts and so do we.

The stories of what happened that evening have been reported through numerous media outlets. Churches and believers have stated solidarity with the church as they should. The alleged (the word used since the killer has yet to go to trial) murderer, Dylann Roof has been arrested and many stories are now coming out regarding his past, his possible manifesto and his history of racial hatred. He is no doubt a troubled young man and to call the act evil is no overstatement.

Other stories are now flooding the media. Stories regarding the Confederate Battle Flag that flies at the South Carolina statehouse and others about gun control, racial violence and youthful angst fill news sites and are the opening stories on television.

The Most Amazing Story

In the midst of all this, a video of victims family members confronting Roof may be the most amazing. Many have viewed this and have voiced their unbelief. They ask, "How could they say things like that?" They, and many in our nation, just cannot fathom being able to voice that which family members are saying, especially only a few days following the event.

Judge their words for yourself. Watch the video below.

 

This is amazing.

This is what the Gospel does.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV) 

Let's continue praying for those at Emanuel, the families of the victims and the entire community of Charleston. The Enemy will not find victory here.


David Platt's Speech Clarifies Policies & Goals for Global Missions #SBC15

During David Platt's first year as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, there has been a noticeable effort of refocus and clarification of mission and a strategic attempt to partner with our North American Mission Board and local churches for the propagation of the Gospel.

23360-123963At the annual SBC meeting this week in Columbus, Dr. Platt present the annual report for the IMB. In this, he addressed critical remarks and overstated media reports regarding some policy changes within the IMB. What began as a report, became a sermon. For this, I am grateful and when Dr. Platt concluded, there were no questions offered. This is a significant moment, perhaps missed by many, within our family of churches. 

May God continue to bless our missionaries globally and the leadership of our International Mission Board.

Here's Dr. David Platt's "report" in its entirety. Yes, it's worth ten minutes of your time. . .

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Video courtesy of the International Mission Board SBC.


The Southern Baptist Convention - A Family Gathered for a Big Story #SBC15

I am currently in Columbus, Ohio, gathering with thousands of family members (that's what it feels like) at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been to numerous denominational meetings such as this in the past, but this year, there is a different feel.

FAMILY MEETING

I call it a meeting with family members, for that is what it truly is. Baptist brothers and sisters from throughout the land gather together and reconnect with old friends, worship together, make decisions that will impact many through policy affirmations. Like many families, we also grimace at some things said and done by others in the family. It is like being with others over a holiday and then the crazy uncle shows up. We love him, but we never know what he's going to do or say. Every family has that guy. Our SBC has those as well. And, if you can't figure out who he/she may be. . . it may be you.

A "REALITY SHOW" 

Since I categorize our SBC meeting as a family gathering, in some ways it has become like the families featured on television reality shows. There is a sense of trying to just be family, but always knowing that the cameras (or in this case, the national news media as well as bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook posters are in the room as well. . .just watching and waiting.)

Personally, I am glad these guests are in the room, either physically or virtually, in that I believe God uses these avenues to ensure we (Baptists) stay on focus, in "witness-mode" and loving to all, even though we cannot be and will not be affirming to all.

On the heels of headlines that bemoan (or celebrate) the decline of evangelicals in America and statements in op-eds like this one have found places in national media outlets.

As Southern Baptists gather Tuesday for their annual summer meeting, gloom hangs over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. (Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, The Washington Post)

While the reality is that numbers in Baptist life, such as membership and baptism, are in decline, I have not sensed an overwhelming sense of gloom in our gathering based on this. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research continually reminds us that "facts are our friends." It's true. The scorecard that has been used for decades in SBC life has been flawed from the outset and while we all know the numbers we have seen in the past were never truly accurate, as Dr. Al Mohler stated at a Baptist21 gathering, "We've never really trusted our numbers, but we bragged on them when they worked for us."

This is true.

Yet, in the midst of facing the facts of these numbers, this convention meeting has become one of purpose - a purpose beyond denominationalism.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been touring the nation and using social and traditional media outlets to emphasize the need for prayer among Baptists and all evangelicals in our nation. At the outset, a pastor emphasizing prayer sounds uneventful or, honestly, not impactful. The sad reality is that when a SBC meeting adjusts its schedule and shifts traditional sermons, business and other events to open up a prime, evening session for prayer it becomes newsworthy.

More Than a Meeting About Same-Sex Marriage

The Pastors Conference began on Sunday evening and with winsome truth presented by pastors throughout Sunday and Monday, the Spirit of God was challenging messengers (this is the Baptist term for those from local churches who have been elected by their churches to represent them at this gathering) in ways that was needed and still needed so that we may lovingly engage a culture with the hope of the Gospel without fear or hatred.

The news reports have been focused on Dr. Floyd's message on Tuesday morning where statements regarding the nation's proclivity of endorsing and promoting same-sex unions were addressed. For the average reader of the news, one would think that all Southern Baptists do is talk about LGBT people in our families and cities. While these issues must be addressed, this was not the "Anti-Gay SBC Meeting" so many have stated it to be. To be clear, there has been no waffling on the biblical truths and the religious liberties and pending Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has been discussed in numerous venues throughout the week.

However, what is often not reported are the bigger stories and foundational Gospel elements that our family came together around. What has not been reported is the movement of the Spirit of God in a moment of declared repentance and reconciliation.

Some Notable Moments in This Year's SBC Family Gathering

These are moments that I deem as powerful and focus oriented. To be honest, some were moments where God may have spoken more clearly to me than others simply due to my personal journey of faith and the chapter of life where I nowreside.

  • Authentic unity among our mission boards - For years, our two mission boards (International & North American) have done great work, but  have never truly worked strategically together. One of the first noticeable moments of unity was when I went into the Exhibit Hall and saw both IMB and NAMB exhibit booths next to each other, decorated similarly, one giving away coffee mugs and the other giving away samples of coffee, while missionaries from both agencies wore similar shirts. Now, that may seem superficial to some, but it's a message that was heart loud and clear. Throughout the week as Drs. David Platt & Kevin Ezell spoke to groups together, their camaraderie was apparent and the reality became even more clear - these guys are working together. For those outside the SBC family, this doesn't mean much, but for the family members, this is HUGE. . .and wonderful.
  • Powerful Sermons - I did not hear every sermon presented this weekend at the Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, but I did hear most. These godly men have obviously prayed for weeks in preparation for their moment to present the Word. None took it lightly. No sermon was bad (in the sense one can grade a sermon) and all were valuable. Of those that "rang the bell" for me regarding challenge and conviction, I must say that my brother from Jacksonville, H.B. Charles, Jr., Dr. Russell Moore and Pastor J.D. Greear's messages resonated loudly. 
  • James MacDonald & Harvest Bible Chapel are now Southern Baptist - There was rumor that James would make an announcement during his sermon on Monday night. I told a friend "He's joining the SBC." Now, I had no idea and do not know James personally, but when he made his announcement, it looked like I was in the know. Ha. Nevertheless, this is a big story. Now, there are some who are not fond of James and Harvest and may not be happy they are now part of the family, but then again, there are Baptist churches who have been in the fold for decades that others aren't too fond of either, so that's irrelevant. What this does show is that a significant church leader in our nation with influence among many churches has stated that the mission and the doctrine of the SBC is valuable and viable and he wants to be a part. So. . . just like that, we now have a new church in the Chicago area (with others throughout the land in the network.) I'm not sure we count that as a new church plant, though Kevin Ezell may try to do so (That's a joke for those who struggle with written sarcasm.)
  • Send Network Luncheon - Over 2,000 people gathered to eat a soggy sandwich and some powerfully powdered BBQ chips at the Send Network Luncheon. This was a huge gathering and yet, it was basically a large crowd seated in a room watching Platt and Ezell talk about reaching the world for the Gospel, and to enjoy seeing Platt squirm when Ezell asked loaded questions and told jokes on his behalf in front of the crowd. It became clear that Platt and Ezell would make a great touring comedy duo, with Platt playing the straight man and Ezell telling the jokes. (BTW - the use of the term "straight man" is a comedy term that has no connection to the current LGBT discussion that many think Baptists cannot stop talking about.)
  • The Cooperative Program Stage - In the Exhibit Hall, there's a small stage set up between the IMB and NAMB booths. This is the Executive Board's CP Stage where interesting interviews and frank discussions about polity, future and mission take place. Hosted by different denominational leaders throughout the day, these discussions are worthy of a small stand-up audience.
  • Free Stuff - Numerous booths throughout the Exhibit Hall offering pens, T-shirts, books, coffee mugs, and candy means pastors become little kids for a couple of days, holding out their free Guidestone bags and basically "Trick or Treating" from booth to booth. Keep up the free books and coffee mugs. These are a pastor's favorite things.
  • Not Your Traditional SBC - I was impressed and encouraged by the attendance this year, especially in a city that requires most messengers to fly to in order to attend. The racial and generational diversity evident in the room was exciting to see. Ted Traylor told us to wear blue jeans on Tuesday and Russell Moore said we need more tattoos in the SBC. Maybe those were shocking statements, but it's hard to imagine hearing that from the stage a decade or two ago.

The Two Most Impactful Moments

The Prayer Gathering

Tuesday night's prayer gathering was promoted well. Yet, to be honest, I went in like many of my friends (who were honest with me) expecting . . . well, little. Yes, I confess this sin of low expectation. I confess that I was tired and wondered if it would be worth me staying for this event. . . for I sometimes bristle at "Christian events" that seem to exist just for the sake of being an event.

I stayed.

I knew I needed to do so.

The prayer meeting began and we sang. I would say worship began, but that doesn't necessarily begin just because music starts. Worship did begin shortly after I joined in with the singing. I asked God to speak to me, one of thousands in a room that was much more full than I anticipated (again, I repent of my sin of low expectations.) 

One by one, prayers were offered. We followed Dr. Floyd's lead, but it was clear that Dr. Floyd wasn't really the one leading this. God had entered the fray and had taken control.

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I prayed with a group sitting near me. I had never met them before, but I believe, as I told them, that God had placed us near each other in the room so that we could unite in prayer. 

We prayed with and affirmed the prayers of brothers and sisters around us and on the stage. Prayers of confession were voiced. Prayers of repentance were offered. Prayers of reconciliation between the races were stated - this was more than a resolution. Prayers of pleading - asking for healing of our families, for our children, for our nation, for our culture, etc. were placed before God. Prayers for our leaders, for President Obama (YES! Baptists prayed for the President. We asked forgiveness for not doing so and for ignoring the biblical mandate.) 

We prayed. 

We sang.

We prayed as we sang.

And we believe.

We believe that prayer works and that God hears our prayers.

We contemplated the reality of the "If. . . then" prayers and realized that God may not doing the "then" portions because we have not been obedient in the "if" portions.

Was this just a meeting? Well, it could be for some, but that's their choice. I believe this is not the end-game, but the beginning. 

The Missionary Commissioning Service

Together, IMB and NAMB, under the direction of Dr. Ezell and Dr. Platt, respectively, led out in a commissioning service for missionaries and churches (yes - the local churches) who have said "Yes! We will go!" 

I was sitting alone in the crowd, but with family as the stories of individuals and couples were shared. Details on the lostness of our world were presented. I was challenged by the strong word given by Dr. Platt regarding the reasons we must be sent and be sending.

I was brought to tears as I thought of the stories before me. Missionaries pictured on the screen were sitting in the crowd. When their names and photographs appeared on the screen, they stood up, holding a Lumio book lamp in their hands, and it became clear - these people are doing the hard things and doing so because they must. 

They are the light of the world taking the Light of the world into the darkness and we are sending them. Therefore, we are going with them.

It was powerful. It was amazing. This was more than a simple prayer and a passport. 

At the close, under the direction of Dr. Platt, we were challenged to celebrate these who say "YES" more loudly than we cheer for our favorite football team. How can we cheer louder for those who play a game that doesn't matte for eternity than for the God who is sending out his ambassadors into the darkness for a task that holds eternity in the balance?

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Why Come To These Gatherings?

In the past, people would come to the SBC Annual Meeting to watch or be a part of the latest argument or fight. There are some pretty nasty chapters in our story. Yet, today, even with disagreement from some we find ourselves as Stetzer stated on Monday, experiencing more peace in the family than in recent years.

This is significant, especially in a culture that will continue to marginalize and maybe even criminalize some of the biblical and moral stances we must take.

We are a family (crazy uncle and all) and God has seen fit, in His grace, to let us in on His great story.

That's why I come. This is my family and our Father has much for us.


Identity is Bestowed, Not Manufactured - Jenner, Dolezal & Other Posers Like Me

We all seek validation. There's no one who is immune to this desire. Validation comes from many sources. Unfortunately, many of the sources we often go to for such validation as a man, a woman or even as a good Christian person, are flawed. Because we often seek validation from sources other than the only One who can offer a pure and holy version, we find ourselves performing or behaving in certain ways just to hear "Good job" with the hopes that this form of validation will suffice.

But it never does.

As human beings, both men and women, we have been created in the image of God. This is foundational in understanding the power of identity and validation. Our story starts with God, is about God and ends with God. 

"Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others." - John Eldredge & Brent Curtis

We (humanity) have struggled with our identity and proper validation since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when the liar offered this thought to Eve and Adam - "The God you love. . .he's holding out on you. You cannot trust him."

That lie has permeated our existence ever since. 

The enemy isn't creative, and therefore, uses the very same strategies over and over and over again. Solomon was right in so many levels when he declared there to be "nothing new under the sun."

Jenner dolezalWhen Bruce Jenner revealed his transformation into Caitlyn a couple of weeks ago, the response was incredible. He is not the first man to declare himself dissatisfied with his gender. He is not the first man to make changes needed to be identified as a woman. He is just the one to do so in this age of the "perfect storm" of gender identification, celebrity worship, sexual "tolerance" and political activism.

Now, in a story that many would say is unrelated, Rachel Dolezal, the President of the NAACP's Spokane chapter has apparently been "outed" as white. The issue is not so much that Dolezal is white, but that she has presented and promoted herself as a mixed-race, black woman for years.

While Jenner's life details have been made available for the public since the 1970s, Dolezal has been known only to a small demographic. No more. Her story is now the lead story on most news and entertainment networks. (I smell a Lifetime movie in the making.)

It Is The Same Story

So, how are Jenner and Dolezal connected? They likely have never met. The Huffington Post and other media outlets are doing all they can to ensure these two stories are not connected. Their personal stories are vastly different. . . yet, the same.

Their stories are stories of identity. They are stories of validation sought. 

How do I know? I know because this is my story, too. No, I'm not a black man living as a white man. Neither am I a woman living as a man (or a man desiring to live like a woman.) I, like these two have sought validation for years. I seek identity.

Just like you do.

Jasmine Holmes recently wrote of this on a blog post for Desiring God She stated:

The gospel shows us not only the root of our dissatisfaction with our place in the world — the sin that separates us from our Father (Isaiah 59:2) — but also the cure for that bitter root (1 Corinthians 15:57). We were created in God’s image, for his glory (Genesis 1:26). That image includes male and female, as well as the beautiful display of diversity that we see in all four corners of the world.

It's an old revival cliche, but it's true. We all have a "God-shaped void within us that can only be filled by Him." Another way to say it is this, "We all seek to hear our Father say 'Well done. You matter to me. I love you.'" The Father has stated this so clearly through the gospel. Jesus is God's validation to us. Yet, we often cannot, or do not, hear that declaration.

The Same Old Lies

The enemy is strategic. He's still throwing the lies toward humanity, "You can't trust God. He's holding out on you." When we believe that, we cannot hear the truth. And we seek to fill the gaps with whatever we can.

We seek validation.

We seek identity.

Since God alone can offer these, when we miss him, we create our own identity. We become satisfied with weak validation. We become posers.

When Mitzi Miller, former editor for Jet & Ebony magazines, was interviewed about the Dolezal story for National Journal, she made this profound statement:

It’s ridiculous and ironic. Again, I go back to the suspicion that something was really messed up in her life and she had to find a way to cope. Adopting another identity and creating a life out of it was her answer.

As you know, most news stories remain front-and-center for about two days, then everyone just goes about their lives, until the next story comes up to create headlines and social media trends. Yet, those who are part of the story will not be able to just turn the page. How this one ends is yet to be determined, but Miller honed in on the real issue, I believe.

It is not about race.

It is not about gender.

It is about identity.

It is about missing the validation from the author of the story.

Your Validation

As the Father spoke of the Son at his baptism - "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," so we long to hear that validation as children of God. We can through Christ. It is not easy to hear that still, small voice in the midst of the screaming culture, but it is there.

God's validation of us is not the same as his affirmation of our actions. Sin grieves the heart of God and we carry that burden, but thanks be to God that we have been redeemed through Christ and no longer are identified by our sin. (Now, that previous statement is for children of God - those who have surrendered to Him and now have the right to call him Father.) So many Christians struggle with this. Even in the world of church and religion, we often pose - seeking validation from pastors, other Christians or church members or maybe denominational leaders. 

We must be careful to remain focused. Christianity is not simply behavior modification. It is heart transformation. 

So, when you hear these stories of confused people seeking to "find themselves" or attempting to change things in their lives to enable them to live as the person their mind identifies them as, pray for them and remember. . .we have all been there.  The poser lives, but doesn't have to.

That's the beauty of the gospel - life in exchange for death. Authentic identity in exchange for the masquerade. Validation in exchange for accusation.

Identity is bestowed. Our true identity is bestowed by the Father. . .and he does not make mistakes.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 (ESV)

So 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)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)


I Know the Scorecard Has Changed. . .But It's Hard Not to Look at the Old One

The news media has been reporting what they declare to be the decline of Christianity in America. It seems the latest Pew Survey (this is the name of the research group, not a survey of number of pews in your church. . .though that survey probably exists somewhere) reflects this reality by showing the PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310pxgrowth of the "Nones" (those with no religious affiliation, and the decline of mainstream Christian denominations and groups with the greatest decline being with Mainline Protestant affiliations.

Is The Sky Falling?

The simple answer is NO. The church will not fail, even if buildings close and denominations lose traction. Some churches should close. Some denominations, based upon unbiblical and ungodly choices will decline. . .and should. And, the reality is that as the culture swings further away from biblical morality, those churches who continue to stand firmly on the Word of God and seek to love Him and others well, will likely be marginalized by a culture that cannot understand.

This is not unique to the United States, nor is it unique to our time in history.

Nevertheless, as Ed Stetzer pointed out in an op-ed for USA Today. . .

While it should be noted that evangelicals' share of the overall U.S. population dropped by 9 percentage points over the last seven years based on denominational affiliation, the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as evangelical or born-again rose from 34 to 35% over the same period of time. Don't miss that: More than one-third of Americans call themselves evangelical.

And despite what many are saying, evangelicals are attending church more than ever. The latest (2014) General Social Survey found that in the last two years of the study a greater percentage of evangelicals are attending church than in any other time of the last 40 years. Currently, 55 percent of evangelicals attend church at least nearly every week.

This is part of the growing "evangelicalization" of American Christianity in which the church in the U.S. is increasingly taking on the attributes of evangelicalism. According to Pew, half of all Christians self-identify as an evangelical or born again.

The Old Scorecard

I have read the books on missional movements and engagement. I have led conferences on the paradigm shift that must take place within local churches in order to honor God and engage a lost culture. I get it. The scorecard has changed. Yet, even though I know this. . .it's difficult not to default back to that which I have always known.

I like scorecards.

There, I said it. I actually like scorecards.

When I was a kid going to Cincinnati Reds games, I'd take a pencil and, at least for the first few innings, keep score on the provided scorecard program page. It kept me interested in the game and since baseball seems to be the sport that focuses most on statistics, I felt like I was in the know.

As a kid, I would play baseball, basketball and even soccer (just one season - we lost every game except the one I missed. I figured out then that soccer wasn't my sport.) I have a few trophies from those years, but they were for winning. Even as a kid, the score mattered to me. I know we now live in the "everyone gets a trophy" age where the score isn't even kept in certain situations. I get it. I understand the reasoning, but I also know this - the league may not keep the official score for the kids' sports, but most every parent in the stands knows exactly what the score is.

We like scorecards.

Why? Because we like to win.

That's a message for another day.

Nevertheless, another scorecard of sorts was released today. This one is from Baptist Press and reveals the state of Southern Baptist Churches in our nation, supposedly. I read the article and did what everyone I know does when they see these lists and charts. I went to my state (Florida) to see how we have done financially, church number-wise, number of baptisms and all other indicators. Then, I looked at where were were in relation to other states, which is crazy because Florida Baptists aren't part of a sports league. It's not like we are competing against Georgia (we beat them in baptisms, by the way) or Tennessee (we beat them in baptisms, too) or Texas (that's unfair, they have two conventions and more teams. . . uh, churches). You see, this can be really unhealthy.

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Here's what every Baptist pastor knows about SBC statistics as provided by State Conventions - they're flawed. This is not really anyone's fault. It's the nature of the autonomous church. These statistics are built upon numbers provided by churches, as they choose to provide them, to the state conventions. Some churches keep lousy records. Others are meticulously anal when it comes to numbers. Some provide data. Others do not. Therefore, even with our best working on this, the numbers are never going to be 100 percent accurate.

Do Numbers Matter?

Yes, numbers matter. Sometimes, numbers can be used by God to spur us on to better service. If a community is growing exponentially and the church lives in a silo, the numbers on engagement with the community may show a need to do better. 

The reality is that there are likely many small churches who are better engaged and more missional than comparatively larger churches.

Baptisms are perhaps the best indicator we have of life change, yet that is likely a flawed number as well. 

Biblical Precedence

There's no ignoring the reality that people were counted when the church gathered in the New Testament. Even prior to the institution of the church, when Jesus would enter a town, perform miracles, teach the people, etc. someone was counting the number of those in the crowd. It was apparently so important that the numbers attending were listed in Scripture.

A Better Scorecard

Though the old scorecard will likely remain for years, another element must be added (or used as a replacement for some of the items counted now) and that is the number of "sent" Christ-followers. For years, we have counted the gathered. Yet, I cannot help but remember Christ's instructions for his followers to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out more workers. 

I am encouraged that many of our SBC churches are seeing this and entering into this story intentionally. Now, it's not new. For years, churches have sent missionaries globally. Churches would start "missions" in unreached areas. What must count today is what counted years ago. We are a sending church, part of a sending denomination. We must remain so.

The Win

Scorecards show where we're winning. . .and where we're losing. So, where's the win? The win is that even though the Enemy has called to the bullpen and seems to be throwing his biggest and best at the church, he will not prevail. We know the win is life-change. We know the win is transformation. We know the win is God being glorified. Let's all "live sent" for we have a great task before us.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:17-19 (ESV)

 


The Problem With Gender Neutral Bibles & Gender Neutrality in the Church

Years ago I led our church through a doctrinal study over the distinctives that define us as Baptists. In an age where denominational labels tend to offend or in some cases are avoided at all cost, there is value in knowing and understanding the doctrinal pinnings of one's church. This study led us through our doctrinal statement, known as The Baptist Faith & Message (2000.)

Article I of our statement of faith reveals our understanding of the inspiration and value of the Bible. The article expresses this as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

 As we dug into this teaching on the value of Scripture, it becomes confusing to some, especially in the English-speaking world, as to which version of the Bible should be used. There are some who believe the only valid version to be read, studied and preached is the Authorized King James Version. While I am not one to discount the value of the tried and true KJV, primarily because I grew up, like many of you, reading and memorizing passages from this version. It's a beautiful version and yet, it is often hard to follow due to the changing vocabulary and different meanings of English words from the 1600s to now. As an American with friends from Great Britain, I find that phrases we use have vastly different meanings to them, and vice versa. 

Some have asked why there are so many modern English translations. The simple answer relates to money. Each publishing house tends to own the rights to its own modern translation. Therefore, since Biblica owns the rights to the very popular New International Version, it stands to reason that Broadman & Holman would rather own it's own version for publication, as would Crossway and other publishing houses.

Yet, it is more than a business decision. Sometimes, there are decisions made by translators that seem less connected to history or the oldest documentation and more to swaying with the cultural shifts of the day. 

A movement has continued to grow that seeks to delete all masculine references to God throughout Scripture. On the surface, this may seem to be insignificant.

"It's more inclusive," some would say.

"It's less offensive to those who have difficult relationships with men, especially their earthly fathers," is declared by others.

So, in this age where gender and sexuality are the unavoidable subjects through the media and the amoral revolution continues to occur, I find myself going back to a previous teaching on the value of Scripture and the use of non-gender neutral versions. (The original post from January 2011 may be read here.)

A number of churches are also intentionally moving away from using gender-specific terms. This was printed in a church's bulletin recently and ended up on Twitter. I wish I could say I am surprised, but this is little more than the next step down a slippery slope.

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Why Does Gender in the Bible Matter?

It is my assertion and belief that gender matters in life and therefore within the Bible. Regarding Bible translations, it matters at a deeper level than most realize. 

In an article posted a number of years ago by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (full posting here,) the writer touches on some of the most common translation questions and issues:

In Greek the word aner usually has the sense of husband or man (male human being).3 Until recently, English translations included the male semantic component in translation. But the new gender-inclusive translations show some changes.

In Acts 1:21 Peter discusses the replacement of Judas: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men (aner) who have been with us…" (New International Version [NIV] 1984). But in the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI 1996) and in the New Living Translation (NLT 1996) "men" becomes "one of those" (NIVI) or "someone else" (NLT). The change is theologically significant because it no longer conveys in English the Greek evidence that Peter did not think that a woman could be an apostle. In Acts 20:30 Paul warns the elders at Ephesus about false teachers: "Even from your own number men (aner) will arise and distort the truth…" (NIV). Indirectly Paul indicates that the elders were all men. This theologically significant detail drops out in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993), NIVI, and NLT.

The common thread in the verses above is that they all involved situations where males were examples of larger principles. This is not to denigrate females, for both male and female are made in God's image, unique and special. It was, however, descriptive of the role of the men within the early church.

Another translation issue revolves around the Hebrew word 'ish.

Consider the translation of 'ish. It almost always means "man." It can be used in idiomatic constructions with the sense "each one" (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:3, Job 42:11). The main problem is that gender-inclusive translations eliminate male marking in other passages where they have no lexicographical warrant.

Consider Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers" (NIV). NRSV, NIVI, and NLT change it to read, "Blessed are those who…," or a similar phrasing. The change from singular to plural produces a description that is "less specific…, less easy to visualize." Moreover, with the singular, the reader tends to picture a single man standing against a multitude of wicked people, sinners, and mockers.

After reading Psalm 1, sensitive readers know that it offers the "man" as a representative, an ideal, for men and women. The principle applies to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The semantic component as well as grammatical gender is present for the original readers.

The gender-inclusive translations simply eliminate this semantic component. They contain a formulation that expresses the general principle of equity, and that is part of the point. But they drop one aspect of the meaning, by not expressing the subtle interplay between a male representative on the one hand, and a general principle applying to both men and women on the other.

The writer speaks of the more traditional usage of the word man to describe the entirety of the human race. This, now is not considered politically correct or tolerant.

The biggest issue in removing gender from Scripture is the elimination of the word he.

How do we treat generic "he" in English? Matthew 16:24-26 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (NIV)

The verses contain several occurrences of generic "he," referring back to "anyone." Some people find this usage distasteful, so the NIVI eliminates it: "Those who would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will find them. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" Singulars are converted to plurals, third person "he" becomes second person "you."

Meaning Is Warped

The arguments for eliminating gender is both explicit and implicit. There's no neutral ground in this movement for neutrality. The most dangerous issue is when the meaning of Scripture is warped from poor translators. Though some declare that "all translation is interpretation" the end result is the justification of already held beliefs when seeking affirmation. In other words, it fuels the fire of those who are set on their beliefs, and then seeking to find a verse or passage that affirms their already held beliefs. If the verse is taken out of context, so be it.We've seen this done numerous times. If the verse is mistranslated, all the better. Why? Because the truth in these cases is not that Truth is sought, but justification. This is a dangerous slide.

John 14:23 in the NIV reads, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The NRSV reads, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

The NRSV substitutes plurals for the generic singulars found in Greek and in the NIV. But this results in an unintended ambiguity in the product. The last clause, "make our home with them," has a plurality of people, "them," combined with a single dwelling place, "our home." Conceivably, it might mean that the Father and the Son make a home with each person. But it might also mean that the Father and the Son make a single home with the plurality of people together. That is, they come and dwell with the church corporately. This latter interpretation is closer to the surface or more "obvious" than the first, since it responds to the difference between the singular "our home" and the plural "them." Such a thought of corporate dwelling is genuinely biblical (see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Eph. 2:22). But it is not the thought found in the Greek text of John 14:23. Both the Greek and the NIV picture the Father and the Son making a dwelling with each person, not with the church corporately.

Gender neutral Bibles weaken the Word. They represent poor scholarship at a minimum and the conformation to cultural sensitivities. Do the masculine pronouns really matter? I believe they do, but not because men are better than women or that we are insensitive to the plight of those who have had terrible experiences with men in their lives. They matter because they signify the deconstruction of God's Word which will inevitably end for some with a Bible that looks like Swiss cheese, with holes throughout and passages that only align with our previously understood realities.

The introduction of mainstream gender-neutral Bibles was little more than a foreshadowing of removing gender tags within the church (for some.) The cultural influence within the church is immense and while "neutral" may be the stated goal, "neutered" is the end result of a church that abandons the truth of God's Word.

RELATED: Interview with Dr. Mohler Regarding the Need for Christian Counter-Culture

 

Listing of Gender-Neutral English Bible Translations (Not a complete listing)

  • New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
  • New American Bible (1986)
  • New Century Version (1987)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1990)
  • Good News Bible, 2nd Edition (1992)
  • Contemporary English Version (1995)
  • New Living Translation (1996)
  • Today's New International Version - TNIV (2002)

 


Prayer - No Longer the Last Resort: Part 1 - Hallowed Be Your Name

06-07-2015 Prayer - Part 1 %22Hallowed Be Your Name%22

To be honest, we often relegate prayer to being the last resort when facing issues in life. Once we have extinguished all we can do in our power, we then say "Well, I guess all we can do is pray." Unfortunately, by pushing prayer into a last resort, back burner option, we end up with tepid prayers and often stand as weaponless warriors.

This summer series is a focused look at Jesus' model prayer as expressed in Matthew 6. 

To begin with, we must focus on the phrase "Hallowed be your name" and realize that it is not just a declaration, but a command. This is a dramatic shift for me, and likely many others. However, unless we get this. . .the rest of the prayer loses power.

Some points to remember:

  • Prayer is not a mantra that is just to be repeated.
  • The Lord's Prayer (i.e. Model Prayer) is a template Jesus has given us to enable us to live holy and have intimacy with the Father.
  • Our prayers often begin with "Thank you for __________" and then a list of what we desire God to do for us. It's wise to note that the model prayer does not use that template.
  • God is not God because we tell Him so.
  • God is not Lord because we declare it.
  • He is.
  • Prayer is a gift.
  • Many Christians struggle with praying (even pastors.)

Prayer must move from being our last resort to our first response, and as a friend told me yesterday, "It then needs to move from first response to preemptive strike." Yes!

The audio link above is the beginning of this series on prayer.

PRAYER SUMMER 2015


A Son's Tribute to Dad

Jon's Tribute to His Dad

Last week, our church family gathered to grieve the loss of one of our own. Nick, a member of our family since the mid 1980s along with his wife and children, died suddenly on Memorial Day while in Tennessee spending the holiday weekend with his son, Jon.

I have known Nick and his wife Diana, daughter Shanna and son Jon since my first day serving on staff at First Orange Park over twenty-one years ago. It's funny, but during the interview process prior to my calling here, I was sent a photo directory of the church (dated, as all of them are) and looked through the photos of people I did not yet know, but knew I would soon become my family. For some reason, I stopped at Nick's family photo. I knew, somehow, that this family, and especially their son Jon, who would be in my youth ministry, would become dear friends.

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Jon Garrett & Nick Garrett (L-R)

When I met Jon, he was in junior high school. He was a typical junior boy and by his own admission, was a challenge. Yet, there has always been a kinship between him and me. There were times we would play basketball together (he never beat me. . .at least that's how I remember it) and talk deeply about matters of life. There were moments he made me angry and I know there was a season he wasn't too fond of me either. We look back now and see how God used all those moments to deepen a friendship and mentorship that has lasted years. 

He's an adult now. I'm a little older, too (a lot grey-er) and hopefully wiser.

When I hear of Nick's passing, I reached out to Jon immediately. I knew he was hurting and while I offered words of comfort and clarity, I knew he just needed to know others cared and that he would get through this. The same is true for his sister Shanna and of course, his mother and Nick's widow, Diana.

Each person grieves differently. Relationships are unique and yet, each is beautiful and vital.

After meeting with the family in planning the memorial service for Nick, Jon shared that he would like the opportunity to address the people in attendance. This is something that occurs often at services like this, but as always, I asked Jon to write it out, for his own sake and to provide a "safety net" in case he found he could not speak. In that case, I could read his words for him.

At the appropriate time, I invited Jon to the stage to share. It is hard to convey the emotion and even the moments of humor in written form, but I provide Jon's tribute to and words about his father here. His vulnerability and honesty are incredible. 

Good Morning,

We come here today to celebrate the life of Nick Lee Garrett.  I want to thank the family, co-workers, friends, and church family for coming today on behalf of my mom and sister.  Nick Garrett was a husband, a grandfather, a brother, uncle, colleague, friend, brother-in-Christ, and to my sister and I, he was dad.  I want to talk to you a little bit today about my Dad, whom I called "Pop" or "Pops."  I want to share some memories with you and talk with you a little bit about who he was for me.

My Dad was born on March 23, 1951 to Elzie & Alice Garrett.  He was the second to youngest of five children.  I met my Dad almost 36 years ago when I entered the world.  Like many little boys, I looked to my dad as a hero figure.  I have very few memories of Kentucky, as we moved to Florida when I was five, but I do remember the church we attended.  My dad was the sound man and I remember him making me sit in the sound booth with him and during a Sunday night service he let me watch "Empire Strikes Back" on the TV in the sound booth because it kept me quiet.  I remember walking around with a smile on my face as people in the church called me "Little Nick" because I was frequently with my dad.  A little boy looks up to his father in the role of hero.  He is a knight with a shining coat of armor ready to battle the dragons to keep you safe.

We moved to Orange Park when I was five.  So much of my childhood is like a blur to me.  I have memories of my Dad taking me to work with him on days when I didn’t have school or had a break from school.  I remember getting up early in the morning and riding to Lane Avenue and helping my dad load his truck when he delivered uniforms.  I don’t know how much help I was, as I usually was found asleep on the rugs that would soon be on the floors of banks, and other businesses around Jacksonville.  I remember that these companies would put their old dirty uniforms in a bin and dad and I would go through the pockets of the uniforms before we loaded them up in laundry bags and sometimes he would find money.  It’s funny because I can remember sometimes seeing my dad find money and put in back in the pocket and throw it over into my pile.  He would yell “Make sure you check those pockets” and then when I would find the money he would make a big stink about it like he should’ve checked it and how he worked hard and I didn’t.  I would offer the money to him but he would tell me he didn’t want my money but then he would make me buy lunch. 

I could tell you how on one of those work day adventures my dad saved my life.  My dad’s truck was very similar to a UPS truck.  It only had one seat and no A/C so I used to ride on front on the tire well and hold on to a pole that came down from the ceiling.  We rode with the door open to get more air flowing.  One day we were driving and a car pulled directly in front of us.  My dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward.  I will never forget it.  Everything slowed down.  I remember seeing the dashboard coming towards me and I remember seeing my dad's eyes.  I hit the dashboard, splitting my head open, and started rolling out of the truck to the asphalt.  I remember seeing the road coming towards my face and seeing the front bumper of the car cruising down the right lane and then I felt the strong hand of my Dad pulling me back into the truck.  He caught me.  If he hadn’t, I imagine I would not be here to tell you this story.  He fought the dragon and his armor held strong that day. 

He allowed me to play sports like baseball and basketball.  He allowed me to know the joys of being a Boy Scout and volunteered to help with my Scout Troop.  He raised me in church and made sure that God’s Word was something that I was exposed to from the beginning.

As I moved into my teenage years, rebellion built in me.  I began to see that my dad's armor had holes in it.  Flaws.  His weight became an embarrassment to me.  As a teenager you know more than your parent, it seems.  I focused on the flaws in my dad's armor and that focus remained for years.  Even throughout that time, which looking back had to be painful for him, my dad tried to be there for me.  I can remember him sneaking in the back of the youth building to watch me play basketball on Wednesday nights after our service.  I remember him making sure I was able to go to summer camps (when I wasn’t in Summer School.)  He worked a lot, sometimes working two jobs.  In my teenage years it became very apparent that my family didn’t have the money that other kids had.  Their name brand gear and cars pointed that out, and I resented that and grew envious of others. 

I will never forget the day that I came back to Florida to collect my things as I was moving to Tennessee.  My dad decided he would go with me to help me move.  We were going to split driving but I slept practically the whole way.  We get to Tennessee and arrive at my newly acquired townhouse.  I remember my dad helping me move things in and we ordered Papa John's Pizza.  I was trying to get my new TV to work and it seemed to be broken.  I pressed the power button on the remote…nothing.  I made sure it was plugged in.  I pressed the power button on the TV…nothing.  I was so frustrated.  My dad starts laughing and says, “Flip the light switch, genius.”  Yeah, it was a powered outlet. He thought that was so funny.  Then, because all of my dishes came from a thrift store, he loaded up my dishwasher, and proceeded to flood the bottom floor of my townhouse.  I said "Have you ever used a dishwasher, genius?" We had a great laugh together.

Throughout my adult years I only got to see my dad about two or three times a year.  He saw me become a father and he was an awesome grandpa.  He and my mom gave my daughter her first bedroom suit.  He was so excited to surprise her with it.  He was an awesome grandpa to her and my nephew James.  Always loving and giving. It was during this time for me, as a husband and father that I discovered that my armor was flawed as well.  It began a process of discovery that continued until Memorial Day of this year.

See, my Dad tried so hard, especially in the last couple of years, to be there for me.  As I went through a very difficult time in my life my dad let me know he loved me, was praying for me, that God loved me, and that he was there if I needed him.  He signed up for Facebook just to be able to follow the lives of his children and would often message me.  I will never forget the day he called and talked with me at work in April of this year and listened to me vent about a situation I was experiencing.  He told me he was proud of me for the way I handled it and he really listened to me.  After we get off the phone I messaged him to tell him thank you and he messaged back 3 words that I will always have.  “I love you.”  That was huge for my dad, but had become more frequent in the last couple of years.

Our last weekend together was great.  He was so excited to spend time with me and my daughter.  He rented a house in the mountains, my favorite place, that had a movie theater in the basement.  He did that just for me and was so excited.  His original plan was to keep it secret but my dad was never really good at keeping things a secret when he was excited.  It was a great weekend.  We watched several movies together down there.  He made me breakfast every morning.  He was always thinking about how to serve us and give to us.  He liked to see us happy.  And hugging him, telling him thank you and I appreciate what you did, and I love you was the last time I would talk with him….in this life.

See I have another memory of my dad.  A memory as a teenager when my dad and I went for a walk around the block.  It was the memory of a question that I asked my dad.  “Dad, are you a Christian.”  His answer, “Yes. I am.”  I remember asking him how he knew and he shared his affirmation that with me. 

I spoke about my dad’s armor.  I shared with you the path of seeing him as a perfect hero, and then noticing his armor had flaws.  It’s in those flaws where we often lose vision.  But as I grew older and saw the flaws in my own armor, and as I drove back to the mountains knowing that my Dad had left this earth, God gave me a few things. 

  1. My armor has flaws.  And if you are a dad, your armor has flaws.  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
  2. My dad never gave up the fight.  He knew what commitment and covenant was. He was married to my mom for 44 years.  He showed me loyalty, commitment, hard work, generosity.  He was the type of guy who gave to children and worked on holidays so people with kids wouldn’t have to work.  He did the best he could with what he knew and he fought the fight.
  3. I know my dad was proud of me.  I know my dad loved me.  I know my dad knew I loved him.  I am blessed to not have to live with regrets.
  4. When my dad left this earth, he stepped into glory, and he heard “Well done my good and faithful servant” and he finally received his perfect suit of armor.

God bless you.

The father blesses the son. It's his role. This father blessed his son and as is evidenced in this tribute, a legacy of faith, clarity and love has been left. 

Jon's words evoked emotion in me and in many others during this service. You see, many in the audience have known Jon for decades. He is greatly loved as part of our family here at First. Yet, as he revealed so honestly in his words, he stepped into rebellion as a young man. Now, still on his journey of faith, it is clear that God has redeemed him and that God used his father, Nick, as a model for him. Jon is blessed and is a blessing. Nick did enter the presence of the Father and I too believe he heard, "Well done." 

I'm so proud of Jon, not just for the tribute he shared, but for the man he has become. I know his father, Nick was as well. I believe his Heavenly Father is too.

And this is why Solomon said that it's good to go to funerals every now and then. . .

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)


What Florida Baptist's New Executive Director/Treasurer Needs

The information in this posting will likely only seem to matter to those in the state of Florida who are cooperating churches in the Florida Baptist Convention. However, I believe the implications of what is happening in the Florida Baptist Convention (part of the Southern Baptist Convention for my friends outside my denominational tribe) are far reaching and will catalyze change among other Baptist entities and even some groups other than Southern Baptists.

Tommy_greenLast week, our State Board of Missions (full disclosure - I serve on this Board) voted unanimously to call Dr. J. Thomas (Tommy) Green, III as our new Executive Director-Treasurer (EDT) of the Florida Baptist Convention. If those titles seem confusing, suffice to say that Dr. Green will be the new leader of our state convention.

Dr. Green fills the seat vacated by Dr. John Sullivan, who retired after many years of faithful service to God and Florida Baptists. 

Since Dr. Sullivan's announced retirement last year, the search committee that was formed has prayed and worked diligently to discover the man God was calling for this vital role. Over those weeks, numerous discussions have taken place between pastors, State Convention employees, and denominational leaders throughout the convention and some have shared their views via blogs and news articles. 

Now, the day has come and Dr. Green will shift from his long-time leadership as pastor of First Baptist Church of Brandon to EDT. He is known and respected by many in our state, as evidenced by the unanimous call and the encouraging words being shared in different places.

There Will Be No Honeymoon

When a pastor begins serving in a new church, especially when it is a legacy church, there is most often a "honeymoon period" where the excitement is high and anticipation is great. These are good days and a time for adjustment, new leadership models and visionary exposition. However, when a leader steps into a new position and he is already known well (as is the case when an associate pastor is called to be lead pastor in a local congregation. . .or so I hear) there really is no "honeymoon." This is not a bad thing, but a reality of being known.

Dr. Green is known by all in the state convention and by many pastors throughout our state. Now that he is our new EDT, he is known by even more. His tenure at FBC Brandon was fruitful and God-centered. He has served in state elected positions numerous times and has been a solid voice for the Gospel and mission engagement throughout his community, the state and beyond. 

A Bold Vision

There are terms we like as Southern Baptists. One is "bold" (anyone remember "Bold Mission Thrust"?) and another is "vision" (for without it, the people are unrestrained or perish, depending on your English Bible translation of choice.) Nevertheless, when Dr. Green was interviewed for the EDT position, he came with a plan and vision. It was more than a PowerPoint presentation. It was more than handouts with graphs. It was a prayer-covered vision that will drive our state convention forward in ways that have rarely been considered in the past. 

With no disrespect to the plans implemented by past generations, the reality is that denominational work in this century looks differently. Whether voted upon or not, it is reality. The day when 90 percent of all Southern Baptist Churches looked identical within their buildings (same hymnal, same order of worship, same offering envelopes, same schedule, same bulletins, etc.) is gone. The joy is that while worship styles have changed, schedules have morphed and church meeting spaces have become more varied over the last few decades, the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to change lives and we, His church, are privileged to be the avenue of choice by a sovereign God for sharing this truth.

Five years ago, the Florida Baptist State Convention voted to implement a financial shift relating to Cooperative Program gifts. The proposed 50-50 shift was deemed radical in that for the first time in our history, half of all receipts given to CP through Florida Baptist churches would go to the SBC while the remaining 50 percent would stay in the state. For the average church member, this was a foreign concept in that he/she likely had no idea how the funds were distributed. In most cases, many church members have no understanding of the Cooperative Program and how SBC churches cooperate for missions and ministry. I found this the case when a former member of my congregation accused me of having the Cooperative Program as my personal slush fund for gifting church planters and missionaries. I never had a slush fund before, but found it interesting that CP could be that fund. Nevertheless, that discussion is a posting for another day, but suffice to say, I was surprised at how few church members truly understood the CP. It was eye-opening and as pastor, I have to own that failure in communication and training.

After five years of moving incrementally toward 50/50, we are still not there and Dr Green has pledged to stop "kicking that can down the road" and with the ending of what has been deemed "shared ministry receipts" with the North American Mission Board (essentially, funds sent to NAMB and then returned to Florida to fund missions and pay staff) this assertion that we will be at this level of giving and generosity in our next budget is . . . well, bold.

More Generous Than 50/50

As Dr. Green was sharing of his vision for the state convention, he dropped a bomb in our State Board meeting that very few saw coming. He has committed to lead not to just be at 50/50 in next year's budget, but to be at 51/49.

What does this mean? It means that Florida will be the first state convention that will give away more funding than it keeps in state. 

It's just one percent, right? Yes, but when you're speaking of millions of dollars, that one percent is significant. It's not just a symbolic shift, though there is much symbolism of generosity here, it is a tangible shift that will essentially change how we are staffed and how we function as a state convention.

One search committee member shared wisdom when he shared with the Board to not take this lightly. This man is fully on board with Dr. Green's plan, but his warning of change was well heeded. This is not just an idea. It is a plan and it will be implemented. Therefore, when change comes in future months, there should be no one saying "I never saw this coming."

Barbara Denman, writing for the Florida Baptist Convention and shared through our state news agency, The Florida Baptist Witness, shared the following from Dr. Green. . .

Adding that “strategy drives the vision,” Green pledged to go beyond an even 50/50 split of Cooperative Program funds between the national Southern Baptist Convention and the Florida Baptist Convention.

“I am proposing to you and will immediately begin the process with our State Convention team and with all of those who are part of the budget process to move us, not to a 50/50 budget, but to move us to a budget that sends more than we keep, to send 51 percent forward and to keep 49 percent in the state of Florida,” he said.

“We would be the first state convention” since the Great Commission Resurgence adopted by the SBC, Green said, “in a historic move and decision that stepped up and said, ‘We believe in reaching the nations for Christ.’ ”

To accomplish this, Green said his budget proposal will remove shared ministry receipts or negotiated funds from the Cooperative Program budget to represent a “true” 51-49 percent split.

“It may be that God would take a decision made by a state convention to demonstrate generosity in a way that has never been demonstrated before and [would] erupt an explosion of His grace and His glory.”

The ramifications of this shift are real. Employees at the state level know this. Pastors and State Board members understand this as well. Perhaps this shift alone is enough to validate my "no honeymoon" statement. Regardless, there is much hope in this shift. 

It's More than a Money Issue

Dr. Green's vision is much deeper than a financial adjustment. His platform of growth features a strategy that will decentralize the hub of state work, regionalize staff and personalize mission with Directors of Mission and Pastors. He reemphasized an often stated truth that "churches plant churches" and as we seek to penetrate the darkness of our state and the world, a denominational focus on encouraging and equipping churches to replicate was received positively.

The People Need a Vision

I am proud to say that I stood in affirmation of Dr. Green's selection as the new EDT. I heard his vision and talked with him over dinner last week briefly about the shifts to happen. It will not be easy. He knows that. Some are declaring that this change will bring many millennial pastors into or back into the fold of the Florida Baptist Convention. I'm not too sure about that. I do know this, millennials (and older guys like me) are drawn to be a part of stories bigger than self. There is a desire to be involved and engaged in causes that make Kingdom differences. A vision alone will not change anything, but an absence of a plan is a plan for nothing and I am encouraged that Dr. Green has his eyes wide open and is seeking to move forward.

Some will cheer for the changes. Others will jeer. 

There was a call for unity at our meeting, but the truth is that unity is a choice of the individual. We must be unified for the Gospel's sake, willing to change methods as needed to ensure we are faithful to the calling and the season which God has given.

What Dr. Green Needs

Dr. Green needs our prayers and support. . .in that order. Prayer for clarity to ensure that he is hearing and discerning the voice of God. Prayer for his wife Karen, who as a pastor's wife has no doubt hurt with Tommy over the years and celebrated with him as well. This journey will be exciting and an adventure, but also painful at times and she needs our prayers as well as Tommy. Prayer that he'll abandon his fandom of the University of Alabama (Okay, just kidding.)

Support is needed as we journey forward. Dr. Green's plan will likely change as he moves through the new position. However, the basics as he laid out will likely not change much. In these areas, unless God reveals a better way, support (not blind support - even Dr. Green would push against that) is needed by pastors, staffers and Florida Baptist churches.

Someone told me last week that he doesn't see Florida Baptists as trailblazers nor as very influential. I differ with that assertion and truly believe that what happens in Florida will have a ripple effect throughout our denomination. My prayer is that it is a positive, godly, Gospel-centric ripple. I know that's Dr. Green's prayer as well. 

There has been much change in our denomination over the past few years. Agencies, state conventions, associations and even local churches are seeking God's direction in how to remain salt and light in a culture that is speeding away from the Gospel. Yet, we know that God has not abandoned his church. He has not moved to "Plan B" for there is no such thing. These are challenging days, but I believe the best is yet to come.

To Dr. Tommy Green - be bold, be focused, be holy. We're in this together.


Should Christians Be Cremated?

As a pastor I have the honorable task of walking with families through grief at the times of death. Funerals and memorial services are commonplace in a church with diverse ages in it's congregation. As I meet with family members to plan these services, I am asked often about the biblical view of cremation. This end-of-life option is considered more and more and those who follow Christ are seeking to know if this is a good or even acceptable option.

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible gives no specific teaching about cremation. There are a few instances that many often reference when seeking biblical evidence one way or the other regarding this practice. Saul and Jonathan were killed by the Philistines and their bodies mutilated. The people of Israel then decided to cremate their bodies and bury their ashes (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Another story focuses upon Achan and his family who were cremated, but in this case after being executed for sinning against Israel (Joshua 7:25). 

Cremation was practiced throughout the known world during biblical times, but not commonly by the Israelites or the New Testament believers. The cultural norm for these people at this time was burial in a cave, tomb or in ground. In many cases, the bodies would decompose and the remains were then placed in an ossuary (bone box) and buried in the tomb. This would have been the case with Joseph of Arimathea's tomb where Jesus was buried. At the time of Christ's burial, it was a new, unused tomb and therefore no ossuaries in the back area of other family members of Joseph.

Ultimately, there are no scriptural commands against cremation.

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Cremation & the Church

For centuries, the majority of Christians have opposed the practice of cremation. There are various reasons given for such opposition. In the ancient world, the Greeks and Romans practiced cremation in that they believed in the immortality of the soul, but saw no value in the body. Hindus, even today, practice cremation as part of their belief in reincarnation. Of course, not all non-Christian religious groups cremated. The Egyptians went to the other extreme of mummifying the bodies of their dead and constructing elaborate tombs for the rich.

Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School wrote about the practice of cremation for Christianity Today back in 2002 (Read full article here.) He addressed the concerns early Christians had regarding the practice:

Why were Christians so concerned about proper disposal of the body? Here are four reasons: (1) The body of every human was created by God, bore his image, and deserved to be treated with respect because of this. (2) The centrality of the Incarnation. When the Word became flesh, God uniquely hallowed human life and bodily existence forever. (3) The Holy Spirit indwelt the bodies of believers, making them vessels of honor. (4) As Jesus himself was buried and raised bodily from the dead, so Christians believed that their burial was a witness to the resurrection yet to come.

Early martyrs were often burned at the stake, as we know. In the days of the early church, when cremation was associated with pagan rituals, burial was an option that separated Christians from the world, at least in theory.

But what about today? George continues. . .

But what about today? The first cremation in America took place in 1876, accompanied by readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu scriptures. For many years, relatively few persons (mostly liberals and freethinkers) chose cremation. But that has changed dramatically. Only 5 percent of Americans were cremated in 1962; by 2000 it was 25.5 percent. In Japan, where burial is sometimes illegal, the cremation rate is 98 percent. The rise in cremations reflects many factors: concern for land use; the expense of traditional funerals; the loss of community and a sense of "place" in modern transient society; and New Age-type spiritualities.

While the weight of Christian tradition clearly favors burial, the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns cremation. Since 1963 the Roman Catholic Church has permitted cremation while "earnestly recommending" burial as the preferred mode of disposal. Billy Graham has noted (what Christians have always believed) that cremation cannot prevent a sovereign God from calling forth the dead at the end of time.

It is clear why many believers struggle in feeling comfortable with cremation. What we know, as stated above, is that any buried body will eventually decompose. Therefore, cremation isn't a strange or wrong practice for Christians. It does speed up the natural process of decomposition through oxidation. We know the children of God, the believers in Christ, will one day be resurrected. A new body will be given to each child of God (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). Throughout history, believers have died in various ways and have been buried in the ground, in caves, at sea and cremated. We know that God will have no problem whatsoever in the creation and redemption of His children's new bodies, so the state of the remains of the dead is unimportant.

In Michael Wittmer's book Becoming Worldly Saints, he speaks of the spiritual bodies and the resurrection. His points are well formed:

Whenever I speak on death and resurrection, someone usually asks whether it is okay to use cremation. I say it depends. We're not making God's job impossibly difficult when we choose cremation, because we know he will resurrect millions of people who have died in fires, been digested by animals, or decomposed all the way to nothing. It depends on our motive. We might choose cremation to honor the person. The proper way to dispose of an old flag is not to throw it in the trash but to burn it. Just so, we might cremate our loved one as the ultimate sign of respect. We might do it to save space (as is common in China) or money (as is common in West Michigan), and this is fine, too.

However, we should never choose cremation because we think the body of our loved one is unimportant. Their dead body is not merely the shell that once housed their true self. This is a Platonic, pagan view that I have argued against in this book. That body in the casket matters to enough to God that he has centered the entire Christian hope upon its resurrection. That body is a vital part of our loved one, and we should handle it as those who plan to see it again.

We should also keep the ashes of our loved one together. When we scatter them across their favorite lake or patch of grass, we are unwisely depicting a pantheistic worldview in which humans are one with nature. We're not. We are uniquely made in the image of God, and we must preserve that honor even in death. When we place their urn in a cemetery or columbarium, we treat our beloved with the dignity that humans deserve. Ant that place becomes resurrection ground.

What We Must Focus Upon

Ultimately, what we as believers must focus upon, even in the midst of grieving the loss of loved ones is not how to dispose of our earthly bodies, but that one day our new bodies will be fashioned as Christ's resurrected body was. It is an eternal transformation and leads us to a deeper understanding why Solomon said it is good to go to a house of mourning at times (Ecclesiastes 7:2).


The Amazing Moment of the Father Blessing

Last night marked the culmination of our young men's initiative called "REAL Manhood." Each Wednesday at two local junior high schools, male mentors who affirm our Statement of Faith, meet before school for a time of teaching, training and mentoring. 

REAL Manhood is the mentoring initiative of Battle Ready Men, designed to lead young boys into an understanding of true, authentic, "real" biblical manhood. The journey is not complete in just a year, but as we meet regularly, we are able to reveal God's truth regarding the masculine journey. In an age and culture where gender differences are pushed to the back burner, totally ignored and most recently determined to be man-made and changeable, we "fight the good fight" for the hearts of these young men.

Over fifty junior high boys were decked out in tuxedos, complete with royal blue ties for the Lakeside Gators and green ties for the Green Cove Springs Cougars. Our ceremony took place at The Club Continental in Orange Park. Parents and family members squeezed into the room to celebrate the "knighting" of these boys as "REAL Men" and the beginning of their journey into authentic manhood.

The word REAL is a reminder of what a godly, biblical, authentic man is. He is a man who. . .

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibiilty
  • Leads courageously

This was our ninth knighting ceremony. The group has grown over the years. Founded by Principal John Green, there now are hundreds of alumni in our community and beyond. 

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The ceremony is unique. Junior high boys stand uncomfortably in tuxedos. Fathers and mentors recite words of affirmation and blessing. Family and friends record the ceremony and take photos. First year graduates are "knighted" with a sword symbolizing the Word of God and the journey that lies ahead. Then, a very special part of the ceremony occurs.

 

Two years ago we wrestled with what to do with the second year participants (Prior to that time, only 8th graders could participate. Our junior high schools are only 7th and 8th grades.) After many hours of prayer and discussion, it became clear that the most powerful moment in such a celebration is when a boy's father (or other designated male influence - grandfather, uncle, older brother, coach, pastor, mentor, etc.) presents a gift to the young man and speaks words of blessing upon him. We did not want to rob these men of this special role.

The Blessing

This moment has become the highlight for me.

The second-year participants select their presenter. In most cases, it's their father. In some cases, it's another man who stands in the gap when there is no dad or he's unavailable.

The blessing is public, in that it takes place before the crowd. The words of blessing are private - just between the two. 

It is at this moment time seems to stand still. In a crowded room, these two men are alone with God and the blessing is bestowed. I'm sure some of the men aren't sure wha to say. In truth, most men were never blessed by their own fathers, so this is new for them. The awkwardness melts as words of "You have what it takes, son" and like phrases pour out upon the young man.

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Why The Blessing?

Former NFL player Bill Glass, founder and leader of "Behind the Walls" was interviewed about this by Christianity Today a few years ago (full article here.) His response regarding the blessing is powerful and clear.

You see it in Genesis 27:30–38, where Isaac is blessing his son, and Jacob steals Esau's blessing and his birthright. Four times in those eight verses, Esau begs for his father's blessing, but it's never forthcoming. The Scripture says Esau always hated Jacob for that. The emphasis is more on the blessing than it is on the birthright.

The blessing always involves a hug and a kiss. Not the kiss of abuse, but the kiss of blessing—there's a vast difference. You can't force yourself on your child, but you can hug them and get close to them physically to a certain degree without embarrassing them or turning them off.

I found my kids love to be hugged and kissed. I grab my little girl by her ears and look into her eyes and say, "I love you, I bless you, I think you're absolutely terrific." That's easy with her because she's little and dainty. But I've got two boys, 280 and 290 pounds. One played pro ball, and both played college ball. They're 6'6", bench press 500 pounds, and are bigger than I am, but I grabbed that eldest son of mine recently and said, "I love, I bless you, I think you're terrific, and I'm so glad you're mine." His shoulders began to shake and his eyes filled with tears and he said, "Dad, I really needed that."

It's got to be said out loud. It's got to be stated. It's not like the lawyer that's getting a divorce and the judge says, "How often did you tell your wife you loved her?" and he replies, "I told her the day I married her and then never told her differently."

The blessing is also unconditional and continuous. If it's conditional, it's not love; it's a negotiation. I was in a prison in Texas recently where they've got 300 boys ages 10 to 15. These boys have committed every crime you can imagine. I asked the warden, "How many of these boys got a visit from their father in the past year?"

He said, "One, and he only stayed 15 minutes, got into a fight with his son, and stomped out mad." They're not fathers, because fathers hang with their kids no matter what. I know a lot of fathers that disown their kids because they go to prison. But it's got to be something that is continuous and unconditional in order to be a real blessing, in order to be real love.

Glass's ministry is in the prisons and he encounters many, many young men seeking the father blessing, and they do not even recognize what they're missing.

A kid who is searching desperately for a blessing will put himself in all sorts of contortions in order to get it. You see this in gangs. Kids get into gangs because they want to be accepted by a family. Most kids that get into gangs have no father relationship. So, as a result, they go into the gang, because the gang promises them that they're going to be part of a family. "I've got your back, and I'm going to watch you all the way, and I'm with you no matter what." They have these little teardrop tattoos. Have you seen them on a kid's face? Those little tattooed teardrops stand for some heinous crime they committed in order to get into the gang—the initiation fee. If I have to kill someone to get into the gang, I'll do it, because I need to feel that I'm part of a family. And only a father can make a child feel that way. A mother, by herself, has a hard time ever doing that. All those guys on death row love their mothers. It's their fathers they've got the problem with.

There is power in the father blessing. We saw this last night. 

Yet, there are some young men with no father in their story. The Bible is clear that God is the Father to the fatherless and for these young men who have this gap in their story, God, in his providence and grace brings along real men to stand in the gap. It is in this story the mentor, teacher, pastor, coach or maybe another male relative can bring the blessing.

You Have What It Takes

The message to these young men is clear - "You have what it takes." Why is that so important? Because the world and the Enemy will shout at them for the remainder of their lives that they offer nothing and do not have what it takes. It's the continual barrage on the heart of men. Therefore, these young men, these REAL men, need to hear this and know this regularly.

This is Just the Beginning

The years to come for these young men are bright with promise and potential. Parents and loved ones have high hopes and pour into them with love and understanding. Our focus as leadership of REAL Manhood is to partner with these families and provide spiritual insight and spiritual truth that is needed for the journey.

I was moved when I received a note from one of my young men that featured a quote and a personal message. The quote was. . .

A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained." - Shawn Hitchcock

The personal message was a thank you for being a part in his journey toward manhood. 

It's not an easy journey, but I'm continually reminded of this truth. . .

"It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass


GUEST SPEAKER: Missionary to Nicaragua, Dres Lavanderos

05-31-2015 - Dres Lavanderos

Yesterday, a good friend of mine preached in my absence at First Orange Park. Dres is a pastor, church planter and now missionary. He will be relocating later this month with his wife and children to Nicaragua. I am honored to call him friend and brother and ask that you will pray for him and his family as they make this transition. 

For more information on their journey and how to support them, check out their sending church - Epoch Church of Jacksonville.

Here's the message Dres brought to our family on Sunday.

 

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Jenner Breaks the Internet. How the Church Should Respond

While I'm not sure if the internet really breaks, it is evident that a few celebrities have attempted to do so through the creation of trending stories, personal revelations or photographs that either push the boundaries of decency or are so compelling that not looking at them is very difficult.

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Cover of Vanity Fair. Photo by Annie Leibovitz. Click for Vanity Fair site.

The latest "broken internet" attempt landed today in the image of Vanity Fair's cover featuring Bruce Jenner, now going by Caitlyn Jenner. Of course, now the young, single mom who has been on Twitter since 2013 named Caitlyn Jenner is likely getting a ton of hits online.

Bruce's "coming out" as Caitlyn is trending and the vast majority of tweets and comments speak of "her" bravery and the fact that anyone who speaks negatively (or what is perceived as negatively) against Bruce/Caitlyn will be publicly shamed (or at least through social media.)

Like many of you, I remember Bruce as the Olympic athlete who was featured on the Wheaties box for years. I remember his attempts at acting. I even watched him star in "Can't Stop the Music" with The Village People when it was edited and aired on one of our local television channels. I was too young to understand the gender jokes and had no idea that The Village People were gay men dressed as masculine stereotypes targeting the gay disco audience. Apparently, the innocence of youth just led me to believe these were singing action figures. By the way, the movie was terrible.

After years of Jenner basically disappearing from pop culture, only to be thrust back into the limelight and the front pages through the reality show featuring his family, he now is once again the most popular celebrity in the nation. His personal story of gender identity and coming out as transgender led to almost 17 million viewers and a Twitter storm of support.

How the Church Should Respond

I sit here in upstate New York today, in a city that began celebrating it's annual Pride Week. Rainbow flags adorn just about every light post and flagpole in the city as celebrations and parades are planned each day. The week is sponsored by a local bank and corporations are taking advantage of the organized celebrations in order to reveal their acceptance of diversity and. . .well, ultimately, to make some money and earn good PR in a community that is very open and tolerant.*

The question of "How the church should respond?" leads to varied answers. Some say that the only right answer is to affirm everyone. Some state that the church has no need to respond and should just keep silent. Others respond with hatred and anger (which, by the way, is not the recommended or preferred response.) Still others seek to discover how to remain firmly grounded on the teachings of God's Word, show love truly and yet not affirm that which is deemed as outside God's design.

Dr Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission penned a winsome article on this very subject not long ago. His full posting can be read here, but here are some poignant highlights that churches and believers should take to heart. . .

First of all, we should avoid the temptation to laugh at these suffering souls. We do not see our transgendered neighbors as freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women and are seeking a solution to that in self-display or in surgery or in pumping their bodies with the other sex’s hormones. In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be. That alienation manifests itself in different ways in different people.

But neither should we fall for the cultural narrative behind the transgender turn. This narrative is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the “real” self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being. Body parts and chromosomal patterns are dispensable since the self is radically disconnected from the body, the psychic from the material.

The old Gnostic heresy is joined with contemporary expressive individualism—the idea that I must be true to whomever I perceive my “real me” to be on the inside in order to be “authentic.” This is what leads, in other news of the week, some parents to “transition” the gender identity of their child at ages as early as four years old.

The connection to Gnostic beliefs is important to note. The Gnostics are not a newly formed group and neither is Gnostic ideology. This false belief system was strong during the days of Paul and the New Testament church. It was and is a false gospel of self-focus that strips away the truth of God's Word and replaces it with a cheap imitation.

The Hope for Jenner

While many are celebrating his "bravery" in revealing his "true identity" the fact of the matter is that the only hope for Jenner is the only hope for you and for me as well. The hope for life, for joy, for the fullness of identity as God's image-bearers is not found in making changes and behavioral or even physical modifications on our own in order to discover our "true selves." Our hope is solely in Christ. That's the simple message of the Gospel and yet, it is clear why the Enemy attempts to discredit that.

Dr. Moore states it this way:

The hope for Bruce Jenner, and for others like him, is not to alter the body with surgery or to flood their systems with hormones. The answer is to realize that all of us are born alienated from what we were created to be. We don’t need to fix what happened in our first birth; we need a new birth altogether.

The church's message to Jenner, and to everyone else on the planet is that Jesus Christ is real. He is the only way. He is the truth and life.

When it comes to gender, though some now argue that there are up to six genders (due to chromosome mutation and intersex people), there are truly only two created genders - male and female. God has created each gender in His image. Males given a masculine heart and females a feminine one. Both are eternally valuable to God and He has designed and wired us for His glory.

We should stand for God’s good design, including around what Jesus says has been true “from the beginning”—that we are created male and female, not as self-willed designations but as part of God’s creative act (Mk. 10:6). - Dr. Russell Moore

The Questions for the Church

Are we willing to love without affirming?

Are we willing to suffer with those who are suffering?

Are we willing to seek God through the challenges of culture and life?

Are we willing to NOT compromise our biblical convictions?

We must be more concerned about broken lives than breaking the internet. 

Tweet: We must be more concerned about broken lives than breaking the internet.  @davidtark

We must stay focused on the One that can heal the brokenness.

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*Just for clarification, tolerance is now seemingly a one-way street. In other words, those who wave the banner of tolerance affirm that reality only when it agrees with pre-conceived positions. Therefore, there is no tolerance for opposing views. . . which, by definition makes this version of "tolerance" intolerant. 


Broken: Part 16 - Pain is a Pain

05-24-2015 Broken Part 16

Paul shares some very personal information to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 12. He refers to a "messenger of Satan" that inflicted him with a "thorn in the flesh." Most of us have heard that before, but the struggle is in his prayer. He asks God to remove the thorn (whatever it is) and God responds in a way that is seemingly uncaring and unloving. However, when given a proper perspective, it is clear that what appears to be God's uncaring response is actually His loving provision. In this suffering, we can all relate to Paul.

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MEMORIAL DAY - Don't Take Freedom for Granted

It is the day that we are supposed to pause, remember and be thankful. Unlike other holidays, Memorial Day is centered on our nation's collective grief. This is a day where sacrifice is celebrated. We pause to remember those who have served in our nation's military and gave their lives in that service for a cause larger than self. Begun in 1868 following the Civil War and originally called "Decoration Day," this federal holiday is our moment to acknowledge that which we experience daily in this nation cannot be taken for granted.

Freedom Isn't Free

The reality that our freedom as Americans came at a high cost is lost on some. Fortunately, not on all. For the family who watched the arrival of a flag-draped coffin of the loved one who did his/her duty in service to our nation, this reality is clear. For the fellow servicemen/women who are home but live with constant reminders that some of their brothers/sisters-in-arms did not have that privilege, the sacrifice is known. For those who have been by a cemetery and have taken the time to read headstones of young men and women (far too young, by the way) who died in war defending freedom, the truth is known.

I am not like some who get angry when families take the time on this three-day weekend to go to the beach, ball games, theme parks or cook outs. In fact, those opportunities that seem frivolous to some are actually moments that should be cherished and celebrated. Having the freedom to do such things should be a continual reminder that what we have is a great gift. Just don't forget!

Enjoy the day. Spend time with friends and family, but remember and be thankful for those who sacrificed so you can. Let's not take our freedom for granted.

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Ultimate Freedom

As a Christ-follower, today is a good reminder that the ultimate freedom offered was by God and as is always the case with freedom, it did not come without a sacrifice. Christians have been set free, not by our goodness, our abilities, or our morality, but by a great gift - a sacrifice from the only One who could pay the price. Live fully. Live free and abundantly. Let's not take our freedom for granted.

 


Boy Scouts Likely to Lift Their Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

Two years ago our church rescinded our charter with the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America due to sweeping policy changes within the organization regarding acceptance of gay leaders. The decision to rescind our charter was not an easy one in that Troop 20 had been part of our church for decades. Nevertheless, due to our convictions regarding affirmation of what we deem to be an unbiblical stance (BTW - a reminder is needed here - affirmation and love are not synonyms) we felt obligated to make the decision we did. 

Our story was shared in a previous posting here and in an article featured in the Florida Times-Union here

BSA-665x385The reason this story remains relevant is based on the speech by BSA President Dr. Robert M. Gates presented at the recent 2015 National Annual Meeting.

The Boy Scouts have dramatically changed their stance on gay affirmation over the past couple of decades. At one point, they had won a Supreme Court challenge to their policies of only having heterosexual leaders and boys in the organization. Then, in 2013, they amended their membership options to allow boys who identify as gay to participate in Scouting all the while stating that they would continue to bar openly gay adults from leadership positions. As this was being stated, I thought to myself, "It's only a matter of time. They will change that policy as well. They will feel they have to do so." 

That day has come. 

 

(Begin at the 8:40 mark to hear statements regarding this issue.)

“Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country,” Gates stated. “The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.”

I am not writing this post to bash the Scouts or to bash those who identify as LGBT. There is no value in either type of article.

However, I find this disconcerting for Scouting and for the boys who find such value in the program. Will Scouting fail in the United States? I doubt it. There will still be thousands of boys earning badges and learning valuable life lessons. Will some Troop partners (mostly churches) rescind their charter? Yes, some will, but not most. If a great exodus of churches were to happen for this cause, it would have occurred in 2013.

What will happen is that regardless how this is spun, Scouting will be seen as an organization that effectively capitulated on foundational beliefs and legacy in order to stand firmly upon political correctness in order to simply exist.

Existing alone is not laudable.  

Joe Carter has written on this in an excellent posting on The Gospel Coalition's blog. Here's a sampling:

This is an attitude (based on Gates' statements) that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations. Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization. And it will continue to get worse. Rather than standing for principle and staying true to their integrity, many Christian leaders will follow Gates example and cave in to the pressure to condone ungodly behaviors in order to preserve the “mission.” They will abandon their integrity in a misguided attempt to preserve an organization that is rotting from within.

Carter's full article may be read here.

While there are other groups that have developed as a response to the decisions of the Boy Scouts' leadership, there are still thousands of boys and families involved in Scouting. The tradition is strong and I have discovered that the local groups tend to disavow many of these controversial decisions being made in the Texas headquarters. This creates a very difficult situation for the local leadership.

Therefore, I am compelled to pray for them. I am praying for the boys and parents and the leadership. While our church cannot and will not partner with the BSA due to these actions, we have not rescinded our prayer and love for them.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (ESV)