Yesterday, I posted a detailed plea for prayer from Christian friends regarding a proposed bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives. Today, I was notified by Dr. Jerry Haag, President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, that even if the bill makes it through the House (which seems likely) there is no one in the Florida Senate planning to move it forward there. Dr. Haag then sent me the following e-mail, that has gone to pastors and leaders state-wide. Please read it carefully and if you live in Florida, contact your Senator.
As an update for the faith-based conscience protection bill (HB 7111), we need you to take action for this critical legislation to pass. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee next week, and we have reason to believe it may pass there. However, after meeting with Senate President Gardiner yesterday, the Senate does not yet have intentions for a companion bill, which has to happen for this legislation to go into effect. We need individuals who have relationships with their legislators, especially members of the Senate, to make contact with them on our behalf so that we can help 106,000 MORE children this year and every year after. If you have a relationship with one of our Florida senators, will you call them to, first, make them aware of this bill that is heading to the Judiciary Committee in the House next week? Also, if you have a relationship with one of our representatives, will you make contact with him or her to ask for his or her support? Finally, if you have a church member who you know has great relationship with a Florida legislator, will you reach out to them personally today to see if they can help us?
Here is what we need our Senators to know:
This house bill (HB 7111), as well as a companion bill (which has not yet been initiated) in the Senate, is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes.
It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida.
We need the Senate to put all politics aside so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
We need the Senate to take a stand with us on this conscience bill and put the wheels in motion for companion legislation.
Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected?
Here is what we need our Representatives to know:
This house bill (HB 7111) is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes.
It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida, and we need this bill to pass through the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor this session.
We need this conscience bill so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected?
If you know your Representative or Senator personally, please encourage them to not let this bill die in committee or never make it to the Senate. If you do not know your Representative or Senator personally, you still have a voice. Please contact them and urge them to move this bill forward to be becoming law.
Most importantly, continue praying.
Your State Representatives & Senators
Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)
Yesterday, I received a request from Dr. Jerry Haag, President - Florida Baptist Children's Homes (FBCH), to join him in prayer and spread the word regarding a bill moving through the Florida legislature. The bill (HB 7111), if passed, will allow faith-based organizations like the FBCH to continue serving children in our state while remaining true to biblical truths and Gospel-centric beliefs.
Why Is HB 7111 Needed?
There is great danger on the horizon for Christ-centered fostering and adoption agencies. Joni Hannigan, writing for the Christian Examiner, states that "Adoption and foster care in Florida are on the verge of collapse if efforts by some lawmakers to provide "conscience protections" to faith-based and private agencies fail.
"There is no more dancing around the issue. Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children." - Bill Bunkley, President, Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
As with any public statements, movements or bills regarding "conscience protection" there have been detractors to this bill. The objectors claim that this bill will allow faith-based organizations to legally discriminate. This is the same argument used in areas such as so-called same-sex marriage.
Bunkley states that the Florida bill codifies practices already in existence in our state. These are practices that "protect the moral beliefs of our faith organizations." Ultimately, this bill, if passed as law, will protect child-placement agencies from violating their "religious and moral convictions."
A federal bill - The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Representative Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, was re-introduced on March 4, after failing to make it out of committee last year focuses on the same issues. It would allow licensed child welfare providers to continue operating while also holding to their religious and moral convictions on homosexuality and family structure. (Baptist Press)
Ultimately, the bill will allow faith-based children's services to continue operating while having the right to refuse placement of children in homes with parents whose lifestyles fall outside the biblical mores as believed by the agencies.
Whittling Away Conviction in the Name of Tolerance
Tolerance is the trending buzzword of the decade. However, it's a one-way tolerance that is propagated. Personal belief and conviction are labeled as "intolerant" if they run counter to the cultural popular opinion and especially if they line up with a biblical understanding.
"In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated," Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, told The New York Times.
Granted, there has been a long-standing movement to redefine Scripture to have it match a more culturally-acceptable understanding, yet that is not truly the issue here. The issue is the forcing of a worldview or belief system onto a group who are morally opposed to such.
Is It Just About Gay Adoption?
While it may appear, on the surface, as just another "conservative Christians against the LGBT community" it truly is deeper than that. Though opponents will continue to label supporters of the bill as "haters" and "bigoted" (and, unfortunately, some Christians are known more for what they're against than what they're for, and therefore wear the "hater" tag well) the truth is that Christ-followers who hold the conviction that same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting are outside the boundaries of God's design and yet, seek to love God and others are being told they cannot love without affirming that which they believe to be sin.
Love and affirmation are not synonyms.
The media has jumped on the so-called "intolerant" haters who refuse to bake cakes, provide chapels and other wedding services for gay couples. In some cases, businesses have closed due to pressure and fines. While lost in the argument is the fact that personal conviction has been ignored in the name of tolerance. The banner of "gender discriminator" has been placed upon these individuals as their character has come under attack.
The gay marriage debate seems to be a losing one in the culture. It was in 2012 when author and futurist Alex McManus shared with me and others that gay marriage will be the law of the land in just a short amount of time. "It's inevitable," he said. At first, many of us refused to believe it, but after just three years, he seems to be a prophet.
Is the same true for gay adoption?
Some would say that it is, but at some point, faith convictions in a nation that claims to hold to the promise of "freedom of religion" must mean something.
That means, from my perspective, the Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Mormon, Catholic, Atheist, Hindu, Liberal Christian, Moderate Christian, Conservative Christians, Evangelical and others all have the right to hold true to their convictions and faith beliefs.
That does not, however, mean that personal convictions that truly harm others (i.e. terrorism and evil in the name of religion) is a protected right.
What Has Happened Elsewhere?
In three states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia, faith-based adoption and foster care providers have been forced to stop providing services because they refused to place children with same-sex couples. This could be the case in Florida without protection under the law defined clearly.
106,000 Children at Stake
Dr. Haag shared with me that in 2014, the FBCH helped change the lives of more than 106,000 children and families through adoption, foster care, emergency shelter, a safe home for those rescued from sex trafficking (Florida is the #3 state in the US when it comes to trafficking,) international child care, compassion services and more.
These are incredible numbers when you realize each number represents a soul, a person, an individual that likely would never have been helped without the ministry of FBCH.
As this bill moves through our state legislature, we must commit to pray for and support those on the front lines. Why? For starters, so that 106,000 more children may be helped and rescued this year and each year following.
Prayer Is Not Passive
This call for prayer is clear. It is not a passive reaction, but an active response. At this point, the best that Christ-followers can do regarding this bill is to unite in prayer. We seek the face of God and plead for His strength and direction. He will make a way. He does not need us, but he has stated that prayer of righteous ones avails much. We need much availed here. So, we come confidently in the name of Christ to the Father asking him to direct our lawmakers in a righteous way to allow the continued ministry and work for the orphan to occur.
As a church, we said "YES" to God when he called us to care for the orphan. Our prayers, at this point, are part of that "YES."
Your State Representatives & Senators
Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)
As a child, I used to dream about finding hidden treasure. I had heard of people who found Honus Wagner baseball cards or maybe the Action Comics issue with the first appearance of Superman. These are just a couple of items that have no intrinsic value, but due to demand and the rarity of them, people pay top dollar – over $2 million each for the card and the comic at auction. Unbelievable, right?
Maybe you have boxes of baseball cards or comic books in storage or maybe Beanie Babies? Remember when those were selling for way more than they were worth? Now, people are using them for filler in Christmas gifts to grandkids or maybe in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes?
The concept of finding a treasure is something that has permeated culture for years.
Whether it be novels about buried pirate treasure on some remote island, stories of famous, hat-wearing, whip-yielding archeologists searching for biblical relics, the search for secret maps on famous American documents or even the escapades of a group of "Goonies". . .finding an elusive treasure has been a dream for many.
I read where off the coast of Caesarea Maritima a few weeks ago in Israel, the largest collection of ancient gold coinswas found on the seabed. These coins are mostly from Egypt and are in pristine condition, considering they have been sitting on the seabed for 1,000 years.
As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think “I’ve been to that location four or five times. Too bad I didn’t take a dive and find those.”
Often when people have valuables in their possession that they desire to keep hidden and protect, they will place them in inconspicuous places. While a safe or safe deposit box are good options, there are times when a less obvious place is desired.
In the time of the New Testament, clay pottery was common. In fact, you can go to Israel today, in many of the digs and places near them and find pieces of first century clay pottery on the ground.
And. . .it’s not worth anything, except to the tourist.
The pottery made out of this common clay was, at times, used by families to secure their treasures. They money or valuables would be kept in such pottery – for the same reason that people “hide” valuables in plain sight today.
Paul alludes to this practice when speaking about the value of the gospel that God has entrusted to us, his church.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
The audio file attached to this post is of the sermon I preached yesterday on this subject. I hope it is encouraging and challenging to you.
My wife and I have been following the UNF Ospreys men's basketball team this year. I figure if our money goes to the school, we should become fans of these teams. (Our daughter will be graduating from UNF in May.)
Once our responsibilities with our local high school boys' basketball team were complete, we made our way over to the UNF Arena to see a few games. These guys are exciting to watch. There's much that can be said about the Ospreys as they achieved the regular season Atlantic Sun Championship and then punched their dance card to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday by winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament. These guys are a joy to watch and to see the Arena packed on Sunday and students and fans rush the court at the sound of the final buzzer was incredible.
Yet, in the midst of the wins, in this age of social media and trends, there is one young man who is making a name for himself. At the first home game we attended this year, I said to my wife, "When UNF makes it to the championship game, that kid is going to be put on national television and become an instant hit."
I was right.
His name is Stephen Putnam and he plays baritone in the UNF Pep Band.
As in most college basketball arenas, there are songs that are played at certain times each game. For the Ospreys, one song is Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." When the first beat is played, the crowd goes wild, the student section looks to the left and all attention is on Steven Putnam.
Yes, this happens every game.
And, his 15 minutes of fame will go on at least through the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UNF had better take their pep band to Dayton. I think they'll need this guy.
Freedom is a word that brings to mind a variety of things. Whether it's images of Mel Gibson in a kilt reenacting the Scottish hero William Wallace or patriotic scenes of the Revolutionary War. Perhaps it's more recent like the release of prisoners or hostages.
The Scripture says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" and yet, we serve an omnipresent God is is present everywhere at all times, simultaneously. Therefore, doesn't that mean that freedom is present everywhere?
In this message, I delve into this question and seek answers to what seems to be elusive freedom for even those who claim the name of Christ.
Yes, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The question is "Are you living fully in the freedom of His Spirit?"
There are words and phrases that seem to take on a life of their own at time. They become popular for a season and now in the era of hashtags and social media tracking, the word "trending" has become a descriptor of such terms.
One term that I and others in the church culture have been using for the past few years is "engage." While our local Baptist association is still officially called the Jacksonville Baptist Association, more and more pastors are referring to it as the EngageJax Network. That has been an intentional shift (that likely frustrates some who hate change of any kind.) The Florida Baptist Convention now has a committee among the State Board of Missions titled "Engage Florida." (Full disclosure - I serve on that committee. . .and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what we do, but I'm new.)
Most recently, I have talked with a number of pastors of sister churches in my county who are tired of just continually doing church in silos, while ignoring the synergy that could be developed for Kingdom work if we locked arms and strategically focused on reaching our county together. Yes, we have coined the very creative term "EngageClay" (we live in Clay County.)
As you know, Baptists tend to have a few creative people in the tent and a whole lot of creative copiers. Nevertheless, the term "engage" is trending and so far, it's a good term. Why? Because it speaks of action. You cannot engage passively. You cannot engage philosophically. It requires movement.
What Does It Mean to Engage?
Ed Stetzer has written a profound article on his Christianity Today blog speaking of ways Christians will address cultural issues in the coming years. (Click here to read the full article.) In this, he speaks of those who will engage culture. As I read this portion, I found myself agreeing with this grouping. Perhaps it is based on the time I have spent with church planters in my community and in places where Christianity is in decline or fairly non-existent, but I relish the opportunity to connect with those far from God, for the purpose of building authentic relationships and the intent of sharing life with them. Yes, the ultimate intent is to share the Gospel, but I'm not speaking of false friendships just designed to "get the sale" but authentic ones where the Gospel can be presented naturally and lovingly and yes - intentionally.
As culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. - Ed Stetzer
Conservative American evangelicals lament the reality that the "Moral Majority" of the 1980s is no longer a majority and the fact that "religion + politics = politics." This has led to some abandoning the cause and basically throwing their arms up in the air in a sense of defeat. At the other extreme, some have sought to sequester themselves in subcultures where "Christian" has become and adjective to describe everything (i.e. Christian school, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian breath mints, etc.) rather than a noun that defines identity.
Both extremes are wrong because neither fulfills the Great Commission and Great Commandment.
The War Is Not Lost
The phrase "culture war" has been bandied about for decades. This ideology is nothing new - from the Red Scare and McCartheyism of the 1950s, to the "free love" movement of the 1960s and every decade since, the pendulum has swung wide, often led by fear and personal and church identification based on what we are against, rather than what we are for.
There is a battle going on, but even many Christians falsely believe it is just a human battle and not a spiritual one. Ultimately, it is a battle between the prince of this world and God, and I have read the end of the book and God wins. I think that is often forgotten.
Yet, at many times, especially in western culture, the enemy is viewed as those in our communities with unbiblical perspectives and an animosity toward God and the church. In truth, they're just pawns of the Enemy.
To engage our culture means that we do not hate or seek to destroy those whom we are intent to reach for the sake of the Gospel.
When the Civil War was winding down and the North would soon declare victory, President Abraham Lincoln was preparing plans to reinstate some Southern leaders and reconstruct the South. Some in his leadership team and cabinet had differing opinions on what should be done. They told the President that the goal of war is victory and all enemies should be destroyed. Abraham Lincoln responded "Am I not destroying the enemy when I make a friend of Him?"
We Were Engaged
It's a profound truth, but one that must be shared. We were all enemies of God, through our sin. Yet, through God's grace and mercy, the Gospel, the Good News, was received and we had a title change. No longer enemies, but friends. Even more, children of God.
That is why we engage the culture. We do so because the culture is made up of people. People who are far from God, who do not know what they do not know.
So We Engage
The cultural shifts are happening at what appears to be light speed, but in reality the heart of man apart from God has always been clouded in self-righteousness, pride and sin. It is in this reality that the Hope of the world enters.
For far too many years the church has hidden itself within the walls of its buildings (not all, but many) while the world we have been commanded to reach and engage remains in the dark. Apparently record burnings, protests, political positioning and hateful speech with just a tinge of religiosity are not part of God's strategy for His church.
Engage Without Compromise
Yet, many believers struggle with how to engage a far-from-God culture without abandoning or watering down the Gospel and their belief systems. Why is this? Why is it that compromise when it comes to conviction is seemingly the only option some find when trying to engage the culture?
Did Jesus compromise? Absolutely not.
Yet, he engaged a culture many religious people would not. Just look at some of his miracles, audiences and friends: Gentiles, Samaritan women, unclean lepers, fishermen with salty language, tax collectors, etc.
Maybe, just maybe, as the centuries have passed, we have missed how Christ modeled cultural engagement and have become more like other biblical characters when it comes to this concept.
You know, it's just easier to be a Pharisee.
Legalism is easy.
And it's wrong.
What's next for the church of the 21st century? Not a new model. Not a new strategy. In fact, that which must be done has already been done. We must engage our culture as Christ did his. He is our model. He showed the way.
As my friends and I seek to engage Clay County, Jacksonville, Florida, the United States and the world for the sake of the Gospel, it is clear that this must begin very close to home. Living missionally is more than another trending word. It is who we are as God's church.
We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does.
It's a word that everyone knows and says they understand, yet there are over 12 meanings of the word in the dictionary, and that doesn't include the verb usages and idioms. The word is LOVE.
From "All you need is love. . ." to "Love Wins" to the trending #LoveIsLove, the concept of love is something that has gripped humanity since the beginning of time. Even in the Garden of Eden love between Adam and God and then with Eve reveals the amazing power of the word.
Love Is A Choice
I remember talking with a friend a few years back about some things going on in his marriage. He said what so many have said over the years to me when seeking to justify their desire to get out of a relationship. He said, "I'm just not in love with her anymore." To which, in my caring, grace-filled, mercy-laced way I responded, "Bull!"
You see, love is more than a feeling. Even Boston knew that (vague 1970s rock music reference - look it up.) Love is a choice.
A few years ago, Rob Bell authored a book that took on a life of its own in social media and among Christian circles. The book is titled Love Wins and even prior to being published, it was a best-seller in pre-orders. This was primarily due to Bell's controversial book promo online.
Bell is an incredible communicator and his church in Michigan was a popular mega-church. His Nooma videos had been used in churches for years and there was no denying his ability to draw in an audience through his teaching. Yet, something about the message conveyed in Love Wins (which is a title that millenials love) was off-center. In fact, it was clearly unbiblical and now with Bell's most recent statement about the irrelevancy of the "ancient writings" known as God's Word, the Holy Bible, Bell's belief system has been laid bare.
And it's unfortunate.
Yet, what's more unfortunate is that many in our fast-moving culture still wave the banner of "Love Wins" as if it means nothing matters ultimately, but love (but what definition of love?).
Love Is All You Need
The Beatles said that all that is needed in life is love. John Mayer says that this is a lie.
Again, the question is "What definition of love?"
Love Is Love
Now, the trending video on YouTube and on social media is from the Ad Council and features images of skeletons embracing, holding hands and kissing, only to have the people come from behind the screen to "shock" the audience as to who they really are. The message is that love is not defined by race, age, disability or even gender. . . since it's all love, right?
The phrase is meant to diffuse those who would seek to define relationships. While the video features numerous people, the primary message is clearly regarding LBGT relationships and perhaps the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That's why the video is trending. That's why the imagery is moving.
But "love is love" is a phrase that provokes responses while doing what every English teacher in my life told me I could not do - use a word to describe the same word.
God revealed the elements of this type of love in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. . .
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)
Love Is Not Possible Apart From God
That sounds very limiting and intolerant, but based on John's word in his third letter, the very nature of God is love - the ultimate, perfect, agape love and apart from knowing Him, true love remains elusive.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)
Over the past few months I have been asked numerous times why our church (First Church - Orange Park) has members and why we encourage people to join.
It's an interesting question and the answer of "Well, we have just always had members," isn't sufficient. Neither is "You can't serve on a committee or teach or vote or . . . etc. if you're not a member," is not normally something that people would affirm either. In fact, some have said "Good, I don't wan to do any of that, so I won't join." That may be more telling of the the individual rather than the local church, but I digress.
I had a friend in my church in Texas years ago who waited years before joining the church. These were the days when visitation teams were sent out weekly from the church to the community. In most cases, these were visits bent on marketing our church to those who had already visited or shown interest in attending, rather than evangelistic. Nevertheless, Larry was asked why he would come and never join the church. He was a Christian. He had been baptized by immersion. He affirmed the doctrines of the church, but would not join.
He answered by saying "If I join, you'll stop visiting me."
Wow! That statement is more telling of our local church culture than we'd like to admit. Perhaps we like the hunt more than the relationship?
Recently, a gentleman who attends regularly at our church was asked why he had not joined and become a member. His answer was "I am a Christian. I give my tithe here. I worship here weekly. What's membership? Just a piece of paper?" and stated he saw no need for officially joining since he was, in his own words, basically a member anyway.
While what he said was true regarding his attendance and participation, membership in a local body of believers is more than a piece of paper.
That logic sounds eerily similar to those who have told me such things as "I love her. I have a child with her. We live together and have been together for years. What's a piece of paper that says we're married, anyway?"
Maybe that's a stretch?
Nonetheless, I began thinking about this concept of church membership and what it means.
Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, recently published a book titled I Am a Church Member. It's a nice little book, and a quick read, with some sound biblical insight into church membership.
Rainer states. . .
There are a number of places in the New Testament where we can see a clear picture of church membership. One of the more voluminous sections is 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains the metaphor of the church being a body with many members. In 1 Corinthians 13, he established love as the central attitude and action all members should have. In 1 Corinthians 14, he returned to the messed-up church at Corinth that has the concept of membership all wrong.
Therefore, church membership is not a modern-day concept built on religious tradition or even organizational strategies from the business world. It is fully a biblical construct based on the reality that God brings people together as family, in a location, for a specific mission that will ultimately glorify Him. Membership eliminates the "Lone Ranger" concept of the Christian walk.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (ESV)
With church membership comes identity. Now, identity is fully expressed in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, by his design, he has called us together as his church (local as well as universal) to express His love and mercy and mission in specific cultural settings as His church.
I Just Can't Move My Membership From My Church In ____________.
I have had numerous discussions with attenders in our church who have yet joined the church for the reason of heritage. In some cases, their church membership resides in their home church back in some rural area far away from where they live today. There is a familial connection to the church of their past. While that's admirable, it's short-sighted. In many cases, individuals will refuse to join so as to honor a relationship from long ago. As is the case in most of these situations, the attender has been away from that family church longer than they have attended ours. Therefore, in actuality, they are members of their home church (though inactive and non-resident members - which are two pretty useless adjectives assigned to membership) while not participating in the mission of God for that church's community and area. In many cases, the leadership of the home church has changed numerous times and while their "heart" may be there, they are nothing more than a name on a roster signifying a heritage, but not a walk.
I'm sure there are exceptions to this. They would be rare and unique, if so.
To live missionally is to understand that God places us where He desires us to be (even if we don't really like it at times) for His glory, not ours. That concept of engaged Christian living eliminates the option of remaining a member in a church elsewhere that no real connection can happen other than those relegated to good memories of by-gone days.
For those in our church who relocate to other areas, I encourage them strongly to move their membership and become part of a local fellowship of believers where God has placed them. That means, I want them fully engaged where they live. To be crystal clear, that means I DO NOT want them sending their tithes and offerings back here to our church (their former church) while God has intentionally placed them elsewhere.
Membership Means Agreement
When you join a local church, you are affirming the doctrines and teachings of that church. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Being a regular attender keeps you involved, but at a distance. Membership means you are on the team.
What if the Jacksonville Jaguars (our home team - please pray for us) signed a player in free agency who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season yet declared he would come to Jacksonville but demanded he be allowed to continue to wear his Steelers uniform? It's ludicrous. That's just not allowed. Other players, coaches and fans would doubt his commitment to the mission of the Jaguars. The analogy breaks down because these two teams are competitors and churches are not (well, they should not be.) Yet, you get the point. Even though we have sister churches we love and partner with for the growth of God's Kingdom, there are some unique attributes about each local church, apart from doctrine and theology, the are defined by the culture of the community, the membership and the leadership. The biblical mission is unchanging for the local church, but since localities differ, the way the mission is implemented may differ.
So, while the Jags and Steelers both play football, the way they play differs (no comments about this, please.)
Pastor John MacArthur answers some basic questions as to why church membership is biblically valid and needed. Here's his statements from the Grace to You website:
The Definition of Church Membership
When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.
To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19; Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt. 28:18- 20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he submits himself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified elders that God has placed in that assembly.
The Basis for Church Membership
Although Scripture does not contain an explicit command to formally join a local church, the biblical foundation for church membership permeates the New Testament. This biblical basis can be seen most clearly in (1) the example of the early church, (2) the existence of church government, (3) the exercise of church discipline, and (4) the exhortation to mutual edification.
5 Reasons You Need to Be a Member of a Local Church
The reasons for being a part of a local church are practical and biblical. There are more, but I'll close with Tim Challies "5 Reasons You Need to Join a Church."
To Evangelize the World
To Expose False Gospels
To Edify the Church
To Glorify God
He breaks down each of these five very well at his blog, linked here.
As I look at our church calendar, I am frustrated.
I'm frustrated that we have done, once again, what we have said we would not.
We have filled up a calendar with tons of good events and programming.
It sounds strange to say that we wanted to not do this, but it's true. About two years ago, we (the leadership team at First Church where I serve) lamented the reality that we have allowed the calendar to be filled with numerous good events and activities that basically leave our people tired and stretched.
“One of the most difficult tasks of visioneering is distinguishing between good ideas and God ideas.” - Andy Stanley
I know we struggle with this concept. Everyone in the church has good ideas. Everyone on our Leadership Team has good ideas. These are ideas based on previous places of service or maybe something that was read or seen or done elsewhere. However, a "God idea" is something bigger than a strategy and better than just something copied from another church or another time.
God ideas change lives.
So, it is my conviction that God ideas or movements often do not happen because they are hampered by good, church events and programming.
So, I lament that we have fallen back into this trap.
The result is busy-ness. Busy people in a busy world being guilted into serving in more areas in a busy church - all with a sales pitch that it's for the "glory of God" but in some cases, it for little more than the edification of an organization.
It's not intentional. It's often just all we know.
It's more than stripping away everything on the calendar (though I'm very tempted to do that) and live as the "simple church." This shift is about focus.
Focus - Focus - Focus
I've been in church long enough to know that leaders can justify anything being done in the church by sliding it under a banner titled "missions" or "evangelism" even when everyone knows that it is a stretch to see these items as such.
This hearkens back to the time when we would host "Christian" concerts and market them in house as outreach events. Here's a newsflash - Christian concerts are not outreach events. They are events targeting Christians and therefore basically uplifting Christian entertainment. By the way, I'm okay with having good Christ-themed entertainment. Just don't call an event outreach when everyone knows that unchurched people have never heard of the band, singer, illusionist or comedian, etc.
The challenge for us today is to ensure that we calendar based on who we are and what we are called to. The Great Commission is the start - "make disciples" is the command and under that banner, much of what we do is legit. The Great Commandment is as important and so we love others missionally as we love God.
Should We Stop Doing Everything?
I'm so tempted to say "yes," but that' not the answer. To stop everything, to do nothing for a season and then restart without any major philosophy of ministry adjustments would lead to another overbooked calendar and a busy-ness that burns out people and leads to less and less engagement and true ministry.
Some questions that must be asked when planning or calendaring in the church are as follows:
Does this line up with our primary role?
Is this something that expresses true love to God and others?
Is this something that leads to disciple-making?
Does this line up with the vision of the church or is it just a church member's or a few church members' primary ministry?
Are the resources devoted to this calendared event best used this way?
What ministry is being said "no" to in order to say "yes" to this one?
Is this something being done just because it's always been done?
There are more, but you get the picture.
Our church has three stated emphases. . .
There are many things on our calendar now that require resources, promotion, time and effort. The challenge is to measure them against our biblical purposes as revealed in the Great Commission and Great Commandment and God's revealed focus for us with the three elements listed above. Then, we have to have the courage to erase some things on the calendar.
Why? Because busy-ness in God's church keeps us from the the business of God's church.
There will be damage. Someone will have their feelings hurt. Unfortunately, hurt people sometimes hurt people, so be ready. It's inevitable, but necessary to ensure you are not wasting away looking busy while the mission remains ignored.
As HB 107 makes its way through the Florida State Legislature, great concern is being raised among those in the state, not just in the Baptist church world, but also among law enforcement about potential issues. HB107 is the bill that would open sales of alcoholic beverages in local grocery stores and drugstores in ways to make the items more accessible to consumers.
Numerous county sheriffs have openly opposed the bill. Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson went on record by stating “I haven’t heard anyone complaining about finding a convenient place to buy liquor, but I have heard that in states where this legislation has already passed, law enforcement is now having to combat rising incidents of theft and illicit underage drinking inside the stores themselves.”
Sheriff Rutherford of Duval County, Sheriff Demings of Orange County as well as others throughout our state, have voiced their opposition.
As a chaplain for our local police department and pastor of First Orange Park, I oppose the bill. This is more than just the typical “Baptist being against drinking.” I oppose this for numerous reasons. First, the shift is not needed. As Sheriff Adkinson stated, there is no one struggling in our state to find liquor. It is readily available, and in my opinion, too available. This is nothing more than a money issue and while I do not fault businesses for seeking increased profits, in this case, I sense too many red flags.
Apart from my personal conviction regarding the partaking of alcoholic beverages, the changes proposed in this bill would provide even more access for underage adults, teenagers and children. To believe that stores would police this well and guard against this at a level needed, is a pipe dream. It will not happen. In many of these stores, young people work the registers and while this may be occurring now, to have a 16 - 20 year old responsible for “carding” customers for hard liquor sales leads to higher possibilities for underage purchases. Of course, some would say that is happening now and it’s been happening for decades. That is true, but that does not mean just because underage drinking is happening that it is a good idea to make the purchase of such more readily available.
As a pastor, I will recommend others to oppose the bill. As a police chaplain, I will do the same for reasons listed above. There is no reason to add potential issues for our area's police officers and deputies regarding this issue.
I believe that most likely this bill will pass. As the culture continues to shift rapidly, to have this bill stopped would be a surprise, but this is not a statement of lack of faith. I have ultimate faith in God, just not so much in legislators and others who tend to shift as the political winds blow.
I encourage every Florida resident to contact their representative regarding this bill, and as you can tell by my posting here - encourage your representative to oppose this bill's passing.
As Christ-followers, we are God's living letter to a lost world full of "junk mail." As Jason Dukes has said in his book Live Sent
You are a letter. Your everyday life is more than just a story being written. You were created to receive and send a message intentionally into the lives of the people you do life with daily. That's how humanity works. Together. That's how love is demonstrated and how relationships happen and how people find abundant life as they were intended to find it. We live out our intended purpose and mission when we live beyond ourselves. Are you giving yourself away in the daily, being to other people the letter of God's love that has been written on your heart? We must be that letter together. Our community needs us. Our world needs us. Let's LIVE SENT.
You can get Jason's book online at our online store.
Earlier this week I was asked to lead a Breakout Session at one of our state's denominational regional evangelism conference. I was asked to speak on how churches can stay engaged to reach those in their communities.
I struggled with a title for the session and was glad I was given the opportunity to explain what it was about prior to beginning. We know in the western church, especially in the United States, there is a definite trend away from being connected to a local church and attending regularly. Carey Nieuwhof recently posted on his blog an article titled "10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders are Attending Church Less Often." He touched on an issue just about every pastor I know is having to address. Those who aren't addressing it may just be living with blinders on, or could possibly be the anomaly in the church-world.
The title I ended up using for this session was "Reaching the People Near You Who Actually Exist." Honestly, I don't like the title but I couldn't fit "Be Sure You Know Your Community and Stay Up-To-Date On Changes and Open Your Eyes Every Now and Then Or You May Be Closing the Doors of Your Church In the Near Future."
This session was primarily about neighborhood mapping. Though I didn't have enough time to cover all of the info, here's the gist. Church leaders should take this to heart.
An oft-quoted question has been asked over the past few years by pastors and church leaders seeking to live missionally and direct their churches to do so as well - "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR.
Relevance in ministry is sometimes scoffed upon. It’s a word that causes people to bristle and push back. Some pastors and leaders will say things like “The Gospel is always relevant” as if that justifies a poorly organized and weak strategy within the local church to fulfill the Great Commission. No one is saying that the Gospel is not relevant (at least not here) but we must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist. If your church is not making a dent in the culture nor reaching those in the area of your footprint, the sad reality is that you, as well as those reaching many, are perfectly organized and positioned to reach those you are reaching. In other words, while the Gospel is always relevant, your strategies may not be.
In Dr. John Fuder's book Neighborhood Mapping he states "In a world that is constantly moving and changing, it is imperative that the church not only know how to interpret the Bible but also how to engage with and and adapt to those for whom the gospel message is addressed."
He speaks of the necessity to continually exegete the community where one serves. Otherwise, we become stagnant and continue to produce events, programs and mission engagement for the people who used to live there, rather than those who now do.
As has been stated in various venues, the world is coming here, to the United States. In a sense it always have, but the numbers are quite staggering in today's culture. Our neighborhoods are in a continual state of change. In many cases, the local church is overwhelmed and unable, if not unwilling to respond.
This is why mapping one's community on a regular basis is vital.
In the 1960s urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study and developed the five elements of a city or community, which are still vital for mapping today. These elements are:
I'll break these down briefly here.
Paths are important because they limit an individual’s experience of the city and shape his perspective of it. If you want to relate to someone, follow his paths. People tend to only know the areas along their paths. This shapes his understanding of the community. Church leaders may travel the route from home to church often and therefore, miss the community between. Over time, the community may shift unknowingly to the established church. This is why church plants often attract people where established churches are, simply because they hit what others miss or cannot see.
The paths one travels leads people to believe a city or community is a certain way or demographic, but that may be skewed to reflect only the areas around the paths.
Alternate routes can reveal a new-ness to a community previously unseen.
To know your community, you must know the paths people travel.
These can be streets, sidewalks, trails, subways, bus routes, etc.
Nodes develop where paths cross.
These are strategic spots in a community where people may enter and allows for interaction. It is a place of intermingling, but it is not intimate and people are often guarded (holding onto their purses or belongings tightly, looking straight ahead, not communicating with others, etc.)
Nodes are important for gaining cultural insight because they provide the opportunity to observe how people interact or avoid interacting (mall watching.)
Businesses use these places – billboards are placed here, signs, people spinning signs, news stands, etc. These tend to be busy places. This is where flyers can be distributed, but normally no good one-to-one communication will occur. Prior to social networking, these were the promotional spots. These areas are not good for long conversations, but good for information distribution.
Most community dwellers develop a sense of identity around the district in which they live, play or work. Each district has a reputation in the larger community. Jacksonville is a city of districts. The surrounding bedroom communities are as well. Districts are perceived differently based on your audience.
You may live in Jacksonville, but that's not descriptive enough. Where in Jacksonville? Are you in the Southside, Westside, Riverside, Beaches, Northside? If you're in a suburb, where exactly? St Johns, Fleming Island, Middleburg, Yulee, etc.?
Then within each area are sub-districts that have their own identities. This is the first place I have ever lived where people are actually very proud and identify themselves not only by city, town, or community but by sub-division. It seems strange to celebrate a builder's planned community, but you'll see license plates and bumper stickers identifying such.
These may be the most disregarded elements by churches. Edges create barriers that are not impossible to cross, but improbable. These may be any of the following. . .
Boundaries of a District (sub-division exit)
Bodies of Water
Until I acknowledged this, I could not understand why people near where I live had no understanding of where my church is located and mostly, would not visit. Then, I looked at these elements and realized that there are at least three divided highways, a railroad track, a body of water and a bridge between my house and my church. Edges. Not impossible to cross, but for those with no reason to do so, improbable.
When in your town, what do you use to tell people how to get from point A to point B? What about on how to get to your church? In many cases, our verbal directions do not include all the street names and compass directions, but do include landmarks. You know, "Turn by the donut shop." and the like.
Landmarks may be anything that the community knows.
In Orange Park, where I live, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts. I’d tell people to "Turn at the Dunkin’ Donuts, drive a mile or so, go over the railroad tracks, past the park on the right and turn left by the Animal Hospital."
We all use landmarks.
Use yours to your advantage.
Spiritual mapping is vital and most important. Prior to you planting or serving in your community, God has been at work.
I found an old article I wrote for the local paper back in 2002 earlier today. Thought I'd share it again. . .
In October 2001, my grandma, Berna Tarkington, went to be with the Lord. At her passing, a family friend, Stephen Oliver, wrote our family a letter regarding my grandma's wisdom. My grandma used to watch Stephen and his sister when they were children. Stephen wanted to share some things he learned about life from grandma. Upon reading his list, I was reminded about how special and how wise she was.
Be nice to your brother or sister. They may grow up to be just as big as you are one day.
Go to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Not only will you learn about Jesus, but the Kool-Aid is good, too!
Use a black skillet to fry potatoes. It will always taste better.
Always remember to tell the bus driver where your stop is. If you don't, who will.
Mountain Dew is much colder in a glass bottle kept on the back porch in the Frigidaire.
Don't skip a page when reading a book to a child. They usually know the difference and you never know what you'll miss.
At the end of a rough day, it's always a good idea to sit on the front porch in a swing and let someone else help you with your problems.
Watch out for cracks in wooden bridges. If you have little feet, your shoes might get caught in the cracks.
Play with your neighbor, and let her choose what game to play today. You can choose tomorrow.
Quiltins and hog killins always mean good food, lots of neighbors, and tall tales.
I miss my grandma, but wisdom and truth never die. Maybe you can learn from her lessons, too.
When the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last Friday that laws against euthanasia were to be struck down the cultural pendulum continued to swing wide from what was considered right and acceptable just a few years ago. It is no secret that since 1996, culture has shifted greatly in the United States and Canada. This is evidenced in the quickly moving shift regarding same-sex marriages and in this case - the so-called “right to die” movement.
While the Canadian Supreme Court ruling doesn’t actually impact us directly in the United States, the fact that some states have similar laws on the books now (e.g. Oregon, Vermont & Washington) under the title of “Death with Dignity” means that this movement will pick up speed and likely be a federal law in the near future.
These laws, as with the case of the Canadian ruling, are direct reversals of previous acts and mandates. In fact, Canada ruled on this in 1993 and upheld the nation’s laws against physician-assisted suicide.
While “Dr. Death” (Jack Kevorkian) was mocked and demonized just a few decades ago, he now appears to be a pioneer in an area that is picking up steam. This is unfortunate.
As Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently stated, “We’re looking at a massive change in the culture that has affected even the dignity and sanctity of human life. And of course it didn’t begin with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. It began on other issues, most importantly, the issue of abortion.”
The emotional connection that comes with physician-assisted suicide leads people to discount the broader pro-life issues. Some would say that this has nothing to do with the issue of abortion. However, the full issue is one regarding the sanctity of human life. Whether in the womb or on a nursing home bed, at the starting line or life or closer to the finish line, the fact that “death with dignity” becomes a tagline shows that many in our world are excusing what has become a culture of death.
Under the banner of “rights” the reality that murder (a word that many would seek to avoid) is now celebrated is troubling.
This is a slippery slope and it is growing more slippery. European nations have pioneered this era of death to tragic results. In Belgium, for instance, the aged and ones with severe diseases are candidates for assisted suicide. However, the deeper challenge comes in determining who makes the designation of “old” and the grades the severity of disease. The Hippocratic Oath goes by the wayside as ethics is redefined. Now we see where the Belgian government has ruled that children as young as 12 must constitutionally have access to physician-assisted suicide. This is little more than extending abortion rights through puberty.
The culture of death is here. It’s impacting many and its boundaries are continually being moved. This is a sad day for our friends in Canada and for those in our culture as well.
With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher.
However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.
A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.
I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23
We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,
Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22
It was a good morning.
My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.
Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”
The room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.
“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”
Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.
Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”
Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”
As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.
I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.”
For years, John P. Kotter has been regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on leadership. With numerous books and articles published by the Harvard Business Review, his teachings on leadership and management have impacted thousands of people and organizations.
One of the key elements of Kotter's teaching is his delineation between leadership and management.
Kotter states, "In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words 'leadership' and 'management'synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time."
In a January 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review, Kotter breaks down the most common mistakes in these terms:
Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.
Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.
Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.
The title of "leader" is bestowed upon pastors. It is presumed that because the pastor is called and placed in the position of guiding the church and shepherding the people that he is truly a leader. In some cases, based on personality, giftedness and vision-casting ability, some pastors are actually managers. This may be why there are so many churches struggling to move forward in calling and mission.
Management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you produce the products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this isn enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial - but it's not leadership. (Kotter)
In the church setting, the managers (not a term I'd use in church) are those who are able to focus on the nuts and bolts of the ministries and events provided. This may be committee processes such as property management, budgeting, finances, or even personnel. This also will include the guiding of small group strategies and the development of metrics to better determine "wins" and the continued focus of church ministries.
Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure. (Kotter)
The empowered leader within the church is God's design for ensuring the church moves forward, without forsaking its calling. These are the vision-casters. These leaders are the ones who have eyes to see and ears to hear and are vital in ensuring the church remains focused on the Gospel while seeking new and exciting ways to engage an ever-morphing culture.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that many churches in our nation are plateaued and some are even dying? Perhaps it is because visionary leaders have defaulted into being managers?
Managers are needed in the local church, but apart from a leader, surrendered to the Lordship and ultimate leadership of God, the vision wanes and the church misses the larger story.
"Management Is (Still) Not Leadership." Harvard Business Review. 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. .
After finishing my post about the soon to be released Fifty Shades of Grey film, another film trailer hit the internet and has been making quite a splash. Now, my intent is not to have this blog become a movie review site, but as an observer of culture and one who attempts to keep up with the latest trends, it is quite disturbing how pornography and erotica are seen as acceptable and commonplace. While some would say that this is a sign of sexual freedom, in my opinion, it's a sign of cultural degradation.
I enjoy good movies and as a pastor have used clips and illustrations from popular films (legally) at times to help make points in my messages and talks. Believing that the message of the Gospel is written on the hearts of all humanity leads me to see the value of storying and the parallels in stories or movies that speak of battle and rescue and beauty and honor. Now, in most cases, the films I speak of are not written by believers in Christ. In many instances, these are just visible, moving images that tell a story that attempts to connect with an audience, ultimately for high ratings and profit.
I believe God is the Master Storyteller, the author of the Gospel and the hero in the story. That is why I believe that our Enemy seeks to pervert and destroy all that is good and holy and turn that which was meant for good into evil in an attempt to thwart the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of people.
Some of you are saying in your head right now, "Seriously? You're talking about movies. They're just movies." I know, I know, but foundational to all of life is a story that is deeper and more important than that which is projected onto a screen, streamed on Netflix or burned onto a DVD.
Nevertheless, there is a trend that seems to be growing. It's not really new. There have been stories of violence, sexual perversion and erotica around for ages, even prior to the advent of the film industry. Yet, as each year goes by, it seems our culture is moving a little deeper within Sodom (referencing the story of Lot in Genesis - living outside Sodom, near Sodom and eventually inside the city.)
Whether comedy, drama, action or romance, overt sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, etc.) has become little more than enticement for audiences who seek to justify what they view under the guise of freedom, art or just entertainment.
Last year, Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was released and subsequently was being written about, reviewed, and had YouTube trailers shared by many. The film starred some notable actors and actresses (Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, and Connie Nielson, to name a few) and received reviews speaking of it's artistic integrity and depth.
"The film is an intellectual high-wire act, death-defying, dangerous, entertaining, and delighting in its own inventiveness and daring." - Roger Ebert
However artistic it may appear. . .regardless how well edited and developed the film may be. . .it is little more than blatant pornography with a story attached.
No, I have not seen the film. I don't intend to do so. I have seen the trailer. . .and had to stop it due to the imagery presented.
So, Fifty Shades of Grey is not surprising. Neither are other sexually-laced and expressive new films on the way. Boundaries have been moved and Sodom has become home for many in our culture it seems.
With the sexually inclusive society now set in place, Hollywood is now overtly marketing to sub-groups and sections of the populous that will guarantee a strong opening weekend for their films. This is not new. Pixar films have been targeted toward children and parents for years. American Sniper and other war movies have been pointedly marketed toward men. Romantic comedies have a female demographic in mind. Different people enjoy different stories.
Magic Mike XXL
The eye-opening trailer for the male stripper film sequel Magic Mike XXL is clearly focused on two groups in our culture - gay men and "soccer moms."
When the first Magic Mike was released, the theaters were filled. Many women (wives and mothers) had movie nights with their girlfriends and packed theaters to enjoy the Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaghey and Matt Bomer film. The target marketing worked as the film finished second on opening weekend.
The other target group was gay men. I heard one gay man in our community speak about watching the film with his friends (other gay men) and how much they enjoyed it. This was no anomaly.
“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.” (New York Times - "Magic Mike" Is a Big Draw for Gay Men.)
It's been the mantra of Madison Avenue for decades - "sex sells." The sexual revolution and free love movement of the 1960s was little more than "moving near the gates of the city." Now, we are fully inside.
The trailer for Magic Mike XXL has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online (well over 1 million if all versions are combined.) The reviews that laud the trailer as wonderful speak openly about the sexuality and openly stated double-entendres throughout. (I presume this allows an R or PG-13 rated trailer, to be viewable in all theaters.)
Even though these are sexually explicit (i.e. pornographic) films and are more common than we'd like to admit, we must realize that these stories are little more than perversions of holiness, morphed to confuse, trap and eventually aid the enemy to "steal, kill and destroy."
What's a Christian to do?
The same we've been commissioned to do for centuries - live as salt and light, make disciples, love the unloveable and honor God.
Sexuality is holy. It is God designed and beautiful, when experienced within His guidelines. Those guidelines are clear in Scripture - heterosexual and within the covenant of biblical marriage only.
Casual sex is only another term for casual sin.
Redeem the day. Don't be taken in.
Boycott theaters? That's NOT my recommendation. Most people view Christians, and especially Baptists, as people who are "against" everything anyway. Redemption shows what we are "for."
Be for the Gospel.
Be for God's plan for marriage.
Be for God's plan for sexuality and relationships.
The top selling book in 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey. No doubt you have heard of this multi-million seller, but in case you haven't, here's Amazon's description:
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms. Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
This book is intended for mature audiences.
"Intended for mature audiences" is a subtle way to say "This is a really dirty book with a bunch of sex in it." Funny, I know some really mature people who would say this book is nothing more than mental porn.
Why do I bother writing a post about a book that I've never read? Some would say that must read it in order to give an honest account of the material. I guess that would be true if I were writing a review based on the character development, writing style or flow of the story. I am not. In those cases, the book may very well be good. I'm more concerned with what the runaway success of this and other books in the "erotica fiction" category say about our community and culture.
What truly baffles me is how women (the primary target audience of the book) who post their daily devotional thoughts, attend their weekly Beth Moore studies and serve in the body of Christians have simply added this book and others like it to their regular reading regimens.
While it is no secret that pornography has a foothold in the lives of many men, evidenced by the vast number of websites dedicated to the subject, the best-selling status of erotica fiction reveals that women are not immune to this attack.
Tim Challies shared recently on his blog about the realities that Fifty Shades unveils about our culture. He lists them as. . .
Why is Fifty Shades of Grey back in the news? Because on Valentine's Day the film will be released. This film will likely make millions and some are predicting it will push American Sniper out of the number one spot, which is likely since Sniper has been showing for weeks.
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' (Universal/YouTube)
However, the pushback against this film is not just latest effort from Christians who like to boycott everything and preach about how much they hate everything. In this case, there is a heightened effort by groups such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) developing campaigns against this and other like films. They state this. . .
"Hollywood is advertising the Fifty Shades story as an erotic love affair, but it is really about sexual abuse and violence against women," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Hawkins noted that the public sees too much sexual abuse and violence against women in real life and urged Hollywood to take this into consideration when setting the entertainment agenda.
"The porn industry has poised men and women to receive the message that sexual violence is enjoyable. Fifty Shades models this porn message and Hollywood cashes the check," said Hawkins.
I know, I know, it's just a movie (or book) but the wise person will see it for its fullness.
As Michael Medved said years ago, and I paraphrase, "There are no accidental messages portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. There's too much money involved for unintentional messages to be prominent." That means that under the guise of entertainment and artistic creativity, the bottom line is the bottom line. This is about money and Hollywood knows "erotica sells."
And, here's a reality as well. The fact that I'm even blogging about this often creates more interest than otherwise would be shown. You know the old adage - "There's no such thing as bad publicity." This happens all the time in the film industry. Just look at how trending the film The Interview was based on the North Korean threats, and from all accounts, it wasn't even a very good movie. . . but almost everyone was talking about it.
The Real Story
I'm not declaring the need for an organized boycott. I don't think there's value in Christians picketing movie theaters. I do think there is value and need for Christ-followers to be aware of how the Enemy attacks. We live in a culture that celebrates sex, as long as it's outside the bounds of biblical marriage. Even Christians struggle with overt justification of sin and fall into the lies of "It's just a movie, or book." It's much more. It's a window into a culture that has heard the lies for so long, they sound like truth.
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)
We are a broken people and the difficulties of life are universal. God is called the "God of all comfort" and his character reveals this to be true. God comforts His children during their affliction in ways that supersede human-focused platitudes and religious cliches.
The last words of famous people are often recorded for history. Some are funny, some are frightening but all are windows into the heart of the speaker. In this final message in the Challenge series, Moses gives his last words and blessing to God's people prior to his death at age 120.
Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.
This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .
In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.
At the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.
Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?"
I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."
It was a moment of panic for me.
One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.
But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore.
I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.
I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.
I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.
This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?
Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was so angry and upset.
Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?
Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?
My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.
This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.
Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.
I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him.
It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me.
I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.
So, here's my two minute "testimony":
I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.
I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.
I am saved.
Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.
To tell others.
Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.
As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.
It's sounds totally opposite of what we (church leaders) have been saying for decades, but hear me out.
For years we have sought to find volunteers in our churches to serve in positions of leadeship and even behind-the-scenes roles. Most often these seem to center around the need for leaders in areas such as preschool and children's ministries. The truth is that I have never been in a growing church that reaches families where all needed leaders in these areas were in place.
However, even as volunteerism seems to be on the rise and the millenials seek to find causes to support, the type of volunteerism that is propagated outside the church may not be the type that is needed within the church.
One of the reasons, I believe, is that the form of volunteerism that seems to be increasingly promoted is centered on the volunteer more than the service being done. It may be due to the growth of required community service needed by high school students and others. Perhaps it is due to the "need" to be a part of something larger than oneself. Consequently, volunteers are continually being sought for good causes and events throughout our communities.
Don't get me wrong, I really see nothing wrong with people stepping up to serve in areas where there is a cause and a need. I think of the cancer walks and the community events and the school activities where volunteers are continually needed. (BTW - I believe in most cases, the church should step out to live missionally and engage, but that's a posting for another day.)
It is within the church that I have heard statements such as. . .
I'm a volunteer. You can't fire me.
I'm a volunteer. It doesn't matter if I show up.
I'm a volunteer. If I don't do it (whatever "it" may be) someone else will.
I'm a volunteer. Can I get a letter for community service hours?
I'm a volunteer. This is just short-term.
With these built-in excuses for not being fully committed to the cause, volunteerism in the church has become little more than spiritual tourism with no lasting life-change.
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, penned these encouraging and challenging words to the church in Corinth. . .and ultimately, to us as well:
For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. 1 Corinthians 3:9 (ESV)
"Fellow workers" or as some translations put it - "co-laborers." This phrase speaks more deeply than simply volunteering.
The church does not need volunteers. The church is to be made up of co-laborers. We have a stake in this story. Our service is not about us, but about bringing glory to God. It's more than just a catchy phrase, a T-shirt, a bumper sticker or a trending hashtag on social media. This cause is deeper than any other the world would place before us.
Perhaps the local church needs to stop trying to pigeon-hole every Christ follower in the congregation into a systematic form of discipleship and help believers discover their unique SHAPE for ministry so that we can get on with making disciples.
The church was never commissioned to go and make volunteers. We are to go and make disciples.
Worship is a touchstone for generational and religious controversy. The worship wars of a generation ago left many frustrated with empty arguments over style (i.e. contemporary, traditional, blended, etc.) and eventually added to the growth of the "dones."
Ultimately, God determines what worship is. He is the audience. When that is missed. . .worship is more of a good idea than a reality.
On this day of remembering the life of civil rights leader and pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation pauses to reflect on those who suffered for years in a culture of racial inequality, remembering a march on Washington DC that changed the course of our nation and declare that Dr. King's dream is coming to fruition.
Well, at least that's the idea.
While we have come so very far, as we reflect on the news stories of the past year and see tensions grow stronger in many areas of our nation between the races, the inevitable question arises, "Have we really made much progress?"
Life is always filtered through current events and personal circumstance. In the larger picture, much progress has been done. No longer are there "Whites Only" and "Colored" water fountains in public places. There are no legally designated "black schools" and "white schools." No one can legally be denied service due to the color of their skin in our nation. That which would be categorized as unthinkable if not impossible about five decades ago has occured in our culture - a black man has been elected President.
Yes, progress has been made in some areas.
We still have so much further to go.
Sunday Is the Most Segregated Hour
Years ago, Dr. King stated that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. He was referring to the reality that church gatherings, for the most part, were far from racially diverse. While marches and protests were happening calling to allow people of differing races to go to school together, sit on busses together or even have a sandwich together in a restaurant, many were satisfied with keeping their houses of worship segregated. This is a generalization and this feeling was not held by all, at least intentionally.
Recently, LifeWay Research released data collected regarding diversity in churches. The results have been shared in numerous venues and news outlets with varying degrees of response and interpretation.
Here are some highlights of the research:
8 out of 10 congregations are made up predeominantly of one racial group.
Two-thirds of American church-goers state their church has done enough to be racially diverse.
Fewer than half believe their church should do more to be racially diverse.
Evangelicals are most likely to say their church is doing enough.
Whites are least likely to say their church should become more diverse.
African-Americans and Hispanics are most likely to say their churches should become more diverse.
"Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. "In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are -- and with whom they are." (Read the full article at Baptist Press here.)
Are you a Black Church or a White Church?
Author, blogger and church consultant Scott Williams (Big is the New Small) shares of when he was attending college and visiting local churches. He was getting his shoes shined and preparing to go to a predominantly black church one week when he struck up a conversation with the man shining his shoes. The man began to tell him about his church to which Scott asked, "Is your church a black church or a white church?" The man's response was classic. He said, "Young man - that's the stupidest question you could ever ask. It's not a black church. It's not a white church. It's God's church."
That is the right perspective.
But, We Worship Differently
As LifeWay's data has been shared, I have read some of the reader comments provided. In most cases, there is a common theme of "Yes, we need to be God's church and let racial barriers melt." However, there are many comments that are obviously well intentioned that seem so short-sighted and wrong. In these cases the argument goes something like this. . ."Each culture and race worships differently and therefore, segregated Sunday mornings are a good thing."
I don't discount that different groups have unique worship styles and practices. Our missionaries are educated in this as they serve in international locations in order to keep from leading those in other cultures to "do church the American way."
While there are numerous churches in my community with varying styles of worship, music and instrumentation, teaching styles, and meeting times, to say that we are satisfied being identified as a "white church" or "black church" or some other shade of melanin is to say that division is godly.
I have a dream, too. Mine is that the color designators of church will one day fade into history and that we will become wise as a shoe shine man and with our diversity, uniqueness and varying backgrounds settle only for being part of God's church.