Paul shares some very personal information to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 12. He refers to a "messenger of Satan" that inflicted him with a "thorn in the flesh." Most of us have heard that before, but the struggle is in his prayer. He asks God to remove the thorn (whatever it is) and God responds in a way that is seemingly uncaring and unloving. However, when given a proper perspective, it is clear that what appears to be God's uncaring response is actually His loving provision. In this suffering, we can all relate to Paul.
It is the day that we are supposed to pause, remember and be thankful. Unlike other holidays, Memorial Day is centered on our nation's collective grief. This is a day where sacrifice is celebrated. We pause to remember those who have served in our nation's military and gave their lives in that service for a cause larger than self. Begun in 1868 following the Civil War and originally called "Decoration Day," this federal holiday is our moment to acknowledge that which we experience daily in this nation cannot be taken for granted.
Freedom Isn't Free
The reality that our freedom as Americans came at a high cost is lost on some. Fortunately, not on all. For the family who watched the arrival of a flag-draped coffin of the loved one who did his/her duty in service to our nation, this reality is clear. For the fellow servicemen/women who are home but live with constant reminders that some of their brothers/sisters-in-arms did not have that privilege, the sacrifice is known. For those who have been by a cemetery and have taken the time to read headstones of young men and women (far too young, by the way) who died in war defending freedom, the truth is known.
I am not like some who get angry when families take the time on this three-day weekend to go to the beach, ball games, theme parks or cook outs. In fact, those opportunities that seem frivolous to some are actually moments that should be cherished and celebrated. Having the freedom to do such things should be a continual reminder that what we have is a great gift. Just don't forget!
Enjoy the day. Spend time with friends and family, but remember and be thankful for those who sacrificed so you can. Let's not take our freedom for granted.
As a Christ-follower, today is a good reminder that the ultimate freedom offered was by God and as is always the case with freedom, it did not come without a sacrifice. Christians have been set free, not by our goodness, our abilities, or our morality, but by a great gift - a sacrifice from the only One who could pay the price. Live fully. Live free and abundantly. Let's not take our freedom for granted.
Two years ago our church rescinded our charter with the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America due to sweeping policy changes within the organization regarding acceptance of gay leaders. The decision to rescind our charter was not an easy one in that Troop 20 had been part of our church for decades. Nevertheless, due to our convictions regarding affirmation of what we deem to be an unbiblical stance (BTW - a reminder is needed here - affirmation and love are not synonyms) we felt obligated to make the decision we did.
The Boy Scouts have dramatically changed their stance on gay affirmation over the past couple of decades. At one point, they had won a Supreme Court challenge to their policies of only having heterosexual leaders and boys in the organization. Then, in 2013, they amended their membership options to allow boys who identify as gay to participate in Scouting all the while stating that they would continue to bar openly gay adults from leadership positions. As this was being stated, I thought to myself, "It's only a matter of time. They will change that policy as well. They will feel they have to do so."
That day has come.
(Begin at the 8:40 mark to hear statements regarding this issue.)
“Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country,” Gates stated. “The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.”
I am not writing this post to bash the Scouts or to bash those who identify as LGBT. There is no value in either type of article.
However, I find this disconcerting for Scouting and for the boys who find such value in the program. Will Scouting fail in the United States? I doubt it. There will still be thousands of boys earning badges and learning valuable life lessons. Will some Troop partners (mostly churches) rescind their charter? Yes, some will, but not most. If a great exodus of churches were to happen for this cause, it would have occurred in 2013.
What will happen is that regardless how this is spun, Scouting will be seen as an organization that effectively capitulated on foundational beliefs and legacy in order to stand firmly upon political correctness in order to simply exist.
Existing alone is not laudable.
Joe Carter has written on this in an excellent posting on The Gospel Coalition's blog. Here's a sampling:
This is an attitude (based on Gates' statements) that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations. Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization. And it will continue to get worse. Rather than standing for principle and staying true to their integrity, many Christian leaders will follow Gates example and cave in to the pressure to condone ungodly behaviors in order to preserve the “mission.” They will abandon their integrity in a misguided attempt to preserve an organization that is rotting from within.
Carter's full article may be read here.
While there are other groups that have developed as a response to the decisions of the Boy Scouts' leadership, there are still thousands of boys and families involved in Scouting. The tradition is strong and I have discovered that the local groups tend to disavow many of these controversial decisions being made in the Texas headquarters. This creates a very difficult situation for the local leadership.
Therefore, I am compelled to pray for them. I am praying for the boys and parents and the leadership. While our church cannot and will not partner with the BSA due to these actions, we have not rescinded our prayer and love for them.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (ESV)
Last night, my wife and I previewed the new Kendrick Brothers' film "War Room." The Kendricks are the men who brought "Flywheel", "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Courageous" to theaters and have found great success in placing Gospel-centric stories on film in an engaging and challenging way.
They also have discovered how to make Christ-centered movies that I'm not embarrassed to invite non-Christians to view. The production quality and the acting has increased with each film.
I have been seeing teasers and the trailer for "War Room" for weeks and, to be honest, I was not drawn to this story initially as I was to the previous three films. Maybe it is due to the fact that there were no firetrucks, police cars, guns, or even football games presented in the story. Yes, that's a stereotypical male response, but this is my blog, so I figured I'd be honest.
The "Pastors' Preview" was held in Jacksonville on Tuesday and the theater was full. Each of us received our "gift bag" with promotional items and a survey card for the distributors.
Images of the Vietnam War filled the screen. It appears the partnership with Sony and Tri-Star provides some quality footage for the filmmakers. Narrated by Miss Clara initially (a major character who leads by example as a true "prayer warrior") we see the story of family, joy and heartache revealed. The "War Room" motif is connected to the room where Miss Clara's deceased husband served during the war in planning next steps against a powerful enemy.
Flash forward to present day and Miss Clara is a senior adult seeking to sell her home so that she can move in with her son. Welcome newcomer to film, but not to the Christian audience viewing (especially the women) Priscilla Shirer. Shirer plays the main character in this film. She is a real estate agent in a troubled marriage. However, this is different than the marriage story presented in "Fireproof." Kudos to the Kendricks for touching on a powerful subject, but not just rehashing the same story but with an African-American couple rather than Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea.
The main characters' troubles leave me and every other pastor in the room thinking "Yep, I know a couple just like that." It's not stereotypical type-casting. It is more a revelation of the real world and real battles that our friends, family and church members face.
Don't Worry - No Spoilers Here
I am not going to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. However, I do wish to say that as the story unfolded, I was moved. I know it's just a movie, but God works through story and often a story played out on the screen allows for some very hard truths to be revealed in one's heart. This is true for me, at least. In the area of prayer and forgiveness, I was confronted with conviction, not by the Kendricks, but by God. It's amazing how he uses story.
This film is focused on prayer. That is no secret. That's the "War Room" that Miss Clara has in her old home. A closet where she goes to pray and do battle. It's a literal interpretation of the Scripture.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (ESV)
Miss Clara affirms that a physical closet is not the point, but a quiet, intentional place for prayer is.
The story in the film unfolds. God does amazing things. I'm glad that not all problems are solved, but the sense of the sovereignty of God and the love and grace he bestows upon his children is clear.
The message is obvious - PRAYER WORKS!
Prayer for family members, loved ones, circumstances, situations, relationships, etc. are all valid. I'm reminded of the reality God has shared with me over the past year. . .
Prayer is our active weapon against the enemy. As long as it remains our passive response when we feel all else has failed, we will continue to feel and live defeated. . .and we don't have to.
I left the theater thinking how amazing God is in bringing the message of prayer through this film at a time when I have been discerning His voice regarding the church and our often weak, passive prayer strategies. Also, the personal conviction that my prayers have been less than adequate for a man seeking the face of God and leading others to be "battle ready."
One of my favorite scenes is the one embedded below. . .
As a church, we will likely purchase all the tickets for our local theater during opening weekend again, as we have done with "Courageous" and other films like "October Baby." Yet, this outing is less a night of entertainment and more of a resounding call to pray like we mean it.
Prayer is not a manipulation of God to get Him to do what we desire. Rather, it is our humble admission of His sovereignty over all and our invitation into intimacy with the Father.
Final Words About the Film
Just some closing, random thoughts. . .
- Priscilla Shirer is excellent in this role. This was her first film role and she did wonderfully. Very convincing (though now all her friends will be talking about her feet - explained in the movie.)
- T.C. Stallings is perfectly cast. The man is strong and it's good to see him reformed from his time as a gangsta in "Courageous." He can act, but man can he Double-Dutch jump rope, too.
- The other members of the cast did well. At no time was there a cringe-worthy moment of poor acting.
- Beth Moore is in this film, not for long, but she's in this. With her and Priscilla, the Kendricks have just locked in to a target audience of every woman in Southern Baptist churches who have done a LifeWay Bible Study.
- When you see the film, check out the digital clock in the bedroom. It's no accident that the time on the screen is 7:14. (Check 2 Chronicles to know what I mean.)
- There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the film that hearken back to the previous four Kendrick films. Actors you recognize reappear. The car dealership from "Flywheel" is once again referenced, subtly. Oh, and check out the name of the Paramedic Company on Michael Jr.'s EMT shirt.
- Plan to view this on opening weekend. Don't wait for the DVD or for Netflix to have it.
- We'll have tickets available at First Baptist Church of Orange Park, if you live in the Jacksonville area.
For years, our church has had the privilege of hosting local high school baccalaureate services. There are numerous high schools in our community and we have partnered with two on occasion as the host of this special service for graduates.
When I first began serving on pastoral staff at our church (21 years ago as the Student Pastor) I was asked to serve on an advisory team of parents, students and school representatives to plan the service, since we now had the newest facility in town and became the de-facto host.
I gladly served with these volunteers each year, but soon discovered that the crowd and enthusiasm for the event was determined not by the school (which doesn't officially host a baccalaureate due to concerns over church/state offenses) or the church representation, but by participation of students and parents.
After just a few years, we began to be more intentional in the planning as church leaders and a sense of consistency grew.
However, as the years have gone by, attendance (which is voluntary) has waned at baccalaureate services.
Senior Year Traditions
Times have changed. Graduating from high school is a significant accomplishment. There are new celebrations of graduation that have developed. For instance, the now mandatory senior pictures taken in front of a rusty barn or a random tree with PhotoShop airbrush effects that make every graduate magazine front-page worthy. Then, there are the ridiculous "promposals" that take place each spring (My favorite is the one depicted on the insurance commercial below.)
What Is a Baccalaureate?
With all that's new and celebrated, the Baccalaureate has all but disappeared.
Each of the six high school's in our community have graduating classes of hundreds. Yet, each school seems to only have only a few dozen in attendance for baccalaureate services. Of those in attendance, it is plainly evident each year that the majority are not sure what the event is supposed to be about and only come because their parents heard it was happening and said "We're doing this. You're a senior."
Each school's service is different. In fact, the services vary each year based on the leadership and planning team. It is clear in the services I have attended, either as a pastor, friend or parent, that many involved in the planning do not understand the meaning and significance of the baccalaureate.
While the history of the service has its roots in medieval Europe as a custom of presenting laurels for those earning their Bachelor's Degree, it has over time been designated as a celebration for those graduating from high school. It is religious in nature, and specifically Christian, though in some areas in the name of inclusivity and tolerance, it has become a multi-faith event. However, the combination of all faiths actually removes the historic significance and true meaning of it being a Christian celebration of worship. Therefore, to have an "all-faith Baccalaureate service" is actually not possible in the truest sense of the word.
That being said, many, if not all American public schools have relegated the baccalaureate service to an off-campus, non-school sponsored community or local church event. It is no wonder why attendance has dropped over time.
What Is The Value of the Baccalaureate Service?
This is a question that begs to be answered as planning and scheduling of the events continues in our churches. If the event is little more than a pseudo-graduation event. . . a "graduation before the graduation" to just add to the senior and his/her family's schedule toward the end of the journey, then the value is weak, if non-existent.
However, if the gathering is the strategic and intentional gathering of the church to celebrate and honor God as the children He's blessed us to disciple, raise, and journey through life with are experiencing a "Rite of Passage" then there is much value.
The Church Joins the Journey
One service does not a discipling journey make. This is true. Yet, in the midst of the noise and busyness that develops throughout the spring semester of high school seniors, a moment of thankfulness, worship and strategic pause and worship is more than needed.
"There Is No Gain in Hosting These Events."
If a church seeks to host Baccalaureate events for the sole purpose of getting more members, that likely will not happen. Why? Because the vast majority of those who attend these services are already active students in local church ministries and in most cases are members of churches already. Therefore, if the host church seeks to gain new members/attenders from this crowd, the truth is that motivation is based on "sheep stealing" and not Kingdom-growth, even if unintentional.
There is Much Gain in Hosting Together
So, this leads me to the possible shift for our community. With six high schools and dozens of churches (and I'm speaking only of those evangelical churches with like doctrine and teaching) it seems that much value could be gained by hosting ONE BACCALAUREATE SERVICE for our community schools in a central location (a church, theater, school, etc.) with ONE FOCUS - blessing these students through this rite of passage and worshipping God together.
I envision students from numerous high schools walking in, sporting their green, gold, orange, white, blue, white, black, gold, and red. Worship would be rich. The message challenging, yet encouraging but definitely saturated in grace and far from "follow your heart" that often comes at commencement speeches. Parents will be honored. Families will be recognized. Graduates will be walked through a rite of passage unlike many will find elsewhere.
And God will be worshipped.
What's the gain? The church united for the sake of the Gospel.
The Enemy's strategy is seemingly winning in the culture and in many families. The church, united on the Word of God, focused on His Kingdom (and not our little kingdoms) for His sake and His glory, through prayer and love will push back the darkness.
Maybe next year.
There are things we often to believe to be true as children, but as we mature, we realize how foolish. . .and even funny some of those beliefs were. Here are just a few examples of things that adults used to believe that were featured on BuzzFeed in recent days:
- When I was little, I would spray Febreze in my mouth because I thought it would freshen my breath.
- When I was little I rubbed deodorant on my teeth because I thought it would make them whiter.
- When I was five years old I thought the microwave beeped five times when it was finished because I was five.
- When I was little, I thought that drinking while driving applied to any liquid. When my mom asked me to hand her the water while she was driving, I was so mad I threw it out the window.
- When I was little I thought I could change the weather by blinking.
- When I was younger I thought the ATM belonged to my mom and when this lady tried to get money I yelled at her to give my mom’s money back.
- When I was a kid I thought that if I didn’t sleep with all of my stuffed animals that one of them would get mad.
When I was a kid, I heard my parents talking about Chicken Pox going around and I told them I really wanted this. I thought it was "Chicken Pops" and was some type of chicken nugget - popsicle fusion food, apparently. When I did get the "Chicken Pops," I discovered that I did not want them.
While some of these are funny, it's tragic when false beliefs about things that really matter are carried on for years. That's what was happening to the church in Corinth and throughout the years, to many fellowships and churches. God's warnings of correction through his apostle Paul ring true through the years to us today.
The Church Has Had An Affair
He called out the Corinthians for basically "having an affair" on God. That's pretty harsh language, but spot on.
The audio file linked above and available on our church's app (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) and my podcast gives more detail about what was happening in Corinth many years ago and ultimately, in many churches even today.
Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is a prominent blogger and author. Many of his articles can be found on The Gospel Coalition's website. His books are well-known and available on our church's online bookstore and at Amazon, as well as numerous other places where books are sold.
His latest book delves into a topic that not that long ago seemed to be far on the back burner of church and cultural life and now has become an issue not to be ignored. The culture shift in the west, especially in the United States, on the subject of homosexuality, LGBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage has been dramatic, to say the least. Those on both sides (and in the fuzzy grey areas in the middle) of the debate on Christianity and homosexuality and all that comes with that agree that the culture shift is real.
DeYoung's book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway Books, 2015) seeks to speak into the issues with a winsomeness and truthfulness without just echoing the words and arguments that are little more than reactionary.
In all candor, I land with DeYoung in his assertion of homosexuality and the Gospel. I found myself highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs, to the point of realizing that if I highlight everything, it does no good to highlight anything.
DeYoung's introductory section that backs up from the question presented in the title, gives foundational footing for a discussion much deeper than the subject of gender and attraction. The title of the Introduction is "What Does the Bible Teach About Everything?" It is wise to read the Introduction, for in these thirteen pages, there is value and substance that gives strength to the subject at hand throughout the remainder of the book. I share this because I know there are many who skip Forewords and Introductions to get to the "meat" of a book. I caution you to not do that in this case.
There are numerous books flooding the online and physical stores about the subject of Christianity, the Bible and those who identify as LGBT. Many are what have been categorized by DeYoung and others as "revisionist theology." The title is self-explanatory. Yet, these writers have influence and make strong points in their books, blogs and speeches. The audience in America is clamoring for these versions of truth. DeYoung references numerous revisionist writers and even some self-declared LGBT writers in a way that is not dehumanizing and actually is complimentary of writing style and research. In fact, there are occasions when DeYoung agrees with some of the revisionist theories.
Furthermore, there is nothing ambiguous about the biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior. Even many revisionist scholars acknowledge that the Bible is uniformly negative toward same-sex activity. The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, "In this case that support is lacking." (page 73)
Of course, there are far more instances where DeYoung disagrees with the revisionists and he answers the objections clearly and concisely in this book.
As is the case with many books like DeYoung's the reader comes in with a preconceived idea of what he/she already believes about the subject at hand. This is true for me. I cannot say that I was opinion-less on this subject.
However, if a reader is truly seeking for answers, not ammunition, DeYoung's book gives clear biblical account and heart-felt answers. This book is written by a pastor and while his convictions are clear regarding the veracity of the Word of God and the power of the Gospel, there is a clear passion for God, His Truth and a love for people to know Him that permeates the book.
This book is not an easy read, in that the subject is so polarizing. Yet, it is a clearly understandable read, for those of all walks of life.
I believe DeYoung's book is a good companion to others on the subject, such as Christopher Yuan's biography Out of a Far Country and Ann Mobley's story of loving her son through this journey in If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me?
DeYoung addresses the most common arguments used to discount biblical teachings and historic doctrine that define homosexuality as sinful. He speaks to the revisionist platforms on the type of sin referenced in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the pedo-sexuality only argument, the giftedness of chastity, the gluttony, divorce, greed, etc. vs. homosexuality debate that often arises and the language questions that many use to state that what is written in the Word is not what was meant.
He addresses these as a theologian and one who understands language nuances. The footnotes and research reveal a studied, intellectual approach.
I would caution the Christian reader who is just looking for "ammunition" to use against their co-workers, children or other acquaintances living proudly as LGBT. I would, nevertheless, encourage Christians to be well-versed in the details and the arguments offered, so that answers in love may be offered.
The story of LGBT and the church is not going away. Some churches, as has already been seen, will shift their theology and doctrines to allow for the open practice and acceptance of LGBT members. This will be most evident in the hosting of same-sex marriages, most likely. Other churches will stand firmly on their convictions, not wavering in their doctrines and theology. They'll be accused of "being on the wrong side of history" (which, by the way, is addressed in DeYoung's book.) The churches that stand on the narrowness of God's Word will ultimately have broad influence for the Kingdom. It should be noted, that a narrow stand is needed, but must be done in love.
Love and acceptance are not the same. Love and affirmation of sin are not the same. To be Christian is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the First and Greatest Commandment. . .and we weren't asked to vote on whether to accept it. It was commanded to the church and we are to live it out. Yet, it must be known that "loving our neighbor as self" is not an affirmation of ungodliness. It is an affirmation of selflessness.
"Every Christian should read this book." - Dr. Russell D. Moore, President The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, SBC
Here are some powerful quotes, in no particular order of importance from DeYoung's book:
"In the Old Testament, not all uncleanness was sin, but all sin made you unclean." (page 46)
"Homosexual practice is an example on a horizontal plane of our vertical rebellion against God." (page 52)
"Homosexual behavior is a sin, not according to who practices it or by what motivation they seek it, but because that act itself, as a truth-suppressing exchange, is contrary to God's good design." (page 53)
"According to Paul's logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior - even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires - have suppressed God's truth in unrighteousness." (page 55)
"It is no little mistake in God's eyes to encourage and support what harms our fellow creatures and dishonors our Creator." (page 56)
"Context is king." (page 63)
"Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice." (page 76)
"When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God." (page 77)
"The biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous: homosexual activity is not God's will for his people." (page 77)
"Regret is common enough; repentance is rare." (page 99)
"We don't get to pick the age we will live in, and we don't get to choose all the struggles we will face. Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God's to determine." (page 129)
It seems like a strange question.
I'm part of a generation of American Christians who "grew up in church." That means that our family never debated whether to attend church on Sunday morning. I did not know that not attending was even an option. At least it wasn't in our home. I had the requisite "Sunday clothes and shoes" set aside for each weekend. Sunday School started at "Baptist Standard Time" of 9:45am and morning worship was 11:00am. Lunch was often roast, potatoes and carrots at home, that had been cooking all morning in the slow cooker. There was a season when Wendy's opened in our town that Sunday lunch shifted from the home to Dave Thomas' restaurant. We were creatures of habit.
On Sunday evening, we went back to church for "Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training" (the name of this smaller version of Sunday School changed throughout the years) and then evening worship. After church, we would often go to a local restaurant for ice cream. I seem to remember getting a "Jim Dandy" at Friendly's often.
Wednesdays were typical as well with mission groups (G.A.s and R.A.s) and prayer meeting for adults.
Every week was the same.
Until it was a holiday week. Oh, services were never cancelled. We would meet, but there were special events taking place depending on the Sunday.
I remember having special Easter programs (even egg hunts. . .which causes some of you to shudder, I know,) Christmas programs, even patriotic events near the Fourth of July. However, it was Mother's Day that always had a special emphasis, regardless of the church we attended at the time (Dad was in the Air Force, so we were members of various, very similar churches in different states throughout my childhood.)
I remember people wearing flowers on Mother's Day. Men would most often be in suits and would have flowers on their lapels. Women would wear corsages. These flowers were color-coded based on the individual's mother. If the mother was still living, the flower was red or pink. If the mother was deceased, the flower was white.
Some still observe this on Mother's Day.
The Most Awkward Mother's Day Tradition in Church
We always had a special Mother's Day recognition. As a kid, I thought it was interesting. It seemed like a game. There would be winners and they would receive a prize. It began with identifying the youngest mom in the room. The pastor would inevitably say something like "If you're 30 years old or under and a mom, please stand." Then, he would begin to go down until there was just one standing. The awkwardness became real when the teen mom who was just trying to get through school without drawing too much attention to herself was standing alone in a crowd.
Then, there was the identification of the mother with the most children. This prize would go to the church's version of Mrs. Duggar, though I don't remember ever having a mom in the congregation with 19 kids.
There were others awards given, but the highlight was the oldest mother. I remember there was always a lady in the church that probably went to high school with Moses. She would win this one every year. If there were ever any other contenders, it always seemed that Grandma Moses would get upset. She really wanted the prize. What's funny is that regardless the church we were attending, there was always a "Grandma Moses" type matriarch in the congregation. I was always hoping she would win.
Over the years, these types of recognitions have gone by the wayside, for good reason.
Some churches have even stopped doing anything special for Mother's Day at all.
I must confess, I struggle with what to do with Mother's Day on Sunday morning.
In the past, we have had recognitions, parent-child dedications, "Muffins for Moms," special gifts for all mothers, and a host of other activities and events.
This year, we mentioned the day, but did no special emphases.
I'm not sure either extreme is good. In fact, I'm confident neither extreme is appropriate.
The Challenge of Mother's Day Recognitions
To emphasize Mother's Day too much leads to concern that worship of God has been ignored.
To ignore the mothers in the room leads to hurt feelings and presents something that is far from truth - that the church is uncaring and does not value the God-given role of the mother in the family unit.
In recent years, there have been numerous articles and postings written about how painful Mother's Day is for a significant population in our churches - women who are unable to bear children and have no adopted children in the home.
Dr. Russell Moore has written about this in an article that is reposted every year or so at this time:
Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows. (Click here for Dr. Moore's full post.)
While some dogmatically proclaim that Mother's Day and other man-made holidays or "Hallmark Card holidays" as I've heard them called, should be ignored by the church, I do not agree. There were numerous posts on social media this year about the Mother's Day creator's desire to end the holiday due to commercialization. This was a news nugget from the last century recycled due to the wonder of social media. I believe the postings were subtle ways to proclaim that the day should not be observed in church, or at all. Nonetheless, that is not my belief.
In all candor, I am not pleased with how I have led our church to celebrate moms on this day while honoring God alone, so I continue to seek God's lead.
God Alone Is To Worshipped
We are committed to never allow anything or anyone take the place of God in our focus of worship. That is non-negotiable. Yet, there are ways to acknowledge God's goodness and grace in the lives of women within the church who wear the title "Mom."
And. . .there is a way to have recognition without hurting those who have struggled with having children, or may have been through a very difficult storm of life regarding their children.
I am impressed with Amy Young's thoughts on this subject:
A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful. I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.
Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day. A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.
Amy goes on to share ideas of how to celebrate the "wide spectrum of mothering" on this day within the church fellowship:
Michael & Carrie Godfrey were longtime members of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. While teenagers, here both were very active in Student Ministry and served in leadership roles. Following graduation, Michael answered God's call into ministry and after years of serving in pastoral ministry in Waynesboro, Georgia, the Godfreys are now moving to the Washington DC area to plant a church with the North American Mission Board. This is Michael's story of calling.
The audio link is an interview I had with Michael on Sunday, May 10.
If you wish to join in supporting the Godfreys financially, click the link below and choose the option to give to the Send DC church plant.
In this brief message, we are reminded of the generosity of heart that is to be evident in the lives of disciples. As we live out our faith for Christ, God leads us, through His grace, to live generously. This is evident as we step outside our comfort zones to show love in Christ's name.
This year, we're collecting an offering for the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. This vital ministry supports and serves over 100,000 children in Florida and throughout the world annually.
This offering is part of our "Orphan Care Initiative" and will be collected through Father's Day 2015.
All donations received will be forwarded in full to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes.
If you would like to give toward this offering, you may do so through our church's online giving option.
Over the past few weeks, the Leadership Team at our church has been praying and mulling over some potential changes in schedule, function and emphasis. As with many other organizations, change is often needed. We can all give illustrations of organizations that refused to change when given the opportunity and are now just examples of being left behind (Blockbuster Video, anyone?)
The added challenge of change when implemented in the local church is that the church is more than a business or community organization. The church is a living, breathing organism given an incredible mission and mandate by God to make disciples and grow His Kingdom. Since we know the "gates of hell will not prevail" against His church, some question the legitimacy of change. While all change is not good, we can all agree (I think) that at times it is needed.
What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word.
That needs to be said numerous times and, like most pastors, I repeat it often. Structures change. Organization charts change. Buildings change. Worship times change. Worship styles change. Even church leadership changes.
What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word.
Recently, Dr. Charles Stone, a minister gifted in leadership skills and nearleadership, especially, wrote an article titled "8 Reasons Why Church Change Is So Difficult." I believe he is accurate in his assessment and I share the main points below:
Brain insight helps us understand hidden processes around which we can design our change initiatives. Awareness of how people’s brains work in response to change can help you craft more lasting changes. Here are eight reasons why change is hard…
- People naturally assume the worst. Our brain is wired to pick up threats and negative possibilities around us more than the positive.
- People usually fill in knowledge gaps with fear instead of faith. Uncertainty about the future (and change) breeds this fear. The less information and the more people have to fill in the knowledge gaps, the greater the fear and resistance to change.
- We don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. Poorly introduced change will always start your change on the wrong footing.
- Emotions influence receptivity to change. Although we may prefer it not to be so, most people make decisions based on emotion.
- The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly can engage the brain’s fear center and cause people to resist, thus hindering change (Hemp, 2009).
- Old habits die hard. The older we get we more easily default to what we know.
- Resistance to change often increases the closer you get to the change. Uninformed optimism gives way to informed pessimism.
- The brain often interprets change as a threat which in turn creates resistance. The brain is organized around a fundamental principle: Minimize threat-maximize reward that results in either resistance or openness. Change seems like a threat which often breeds resistance from others. Change brings uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty.
We know that the reality is that change for the sake of change is a waste of energy and capital. Therefore, to make any adjustments in ministry, staffing, organization, small groups, worship times, etc. just on a whim is unwise and asinine.
However, as we begin to better understanding the makeup of the 21st century culture (we've been in this century for 15 years now, so it's about time we analyze it, right?) the truth is that change is happening at breakneck speed all around us. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the process of sharing the Gospel and gaining an audience with those who see no need for God or the local church must change.
Without change in processes, we will remain stuck in time, wondering why our strategies that worked in the 1980s seem to fall flat. Rather than adjust strategies or schedules, many churches will collectively shake their heads, blaming the media, government, school systems, community leaders or other likely targets for influencing our children, grandchildren, neighbors and co-workers too much and abandoning Christian values.
And, in about 25-30 years, as 70% of funding toward evangelical churches in America disappears (as reported by John Dickerson in his book The Great Evangelical Recession) the unchanging Gospel will remain strong, but the unchanging local church buildings will be up for sale.
The challenge is clear. Change must happen, but our human nature HATES it. There are at least eight resistors to change hard-wired into our brains. This is not God's cosmic joke, but His divine plan in the creation of our brains and neurology. Resistance does not mean stopped. We can change and we must change, but often it is not enjoyable (at least through the process.)
Yet, even as Christians we celebrate change. That's the message of the "personal testimony" or "story." As a child of God relates his/her story of salvation, the joy is in the change. God takes our hearts of stone and changes them into hearts of flesh.
We are given a new nature when we become a child of God. That's change.
We are given a new heart when we become a child of God. That's change.
We are changed from death to life through Jesus Christ.
While not all change is good (remember New Coke?) we must understand that wise, prayed over, God-led change is needed. No, the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ's Church. That truth is solid. Let's just ensure we have our ears and eyes open so that we can hear and see how God is leading us, His church, into a culture for His glory and as His change agents.
Yesterday, I presented a message from 2 Corinthians 8 regarding the calling to live generously. I also expressed how the prosperity "gospel" has infected western Christianity to such a degree that false hope and lies disguised as truth have made it difficult to discern the true Gospel for many. I normally do not post my sermon transcripts, but am posting most of it today for the sake of clarity.
As we continue through our series in 2 Corinthians, today we talk about the reality of broken finances – or at least a broken view of finances.
God unveils some amazing truths about himself through Paul’s writings, both to the church in Corinth, and amazingly to us today.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 (ESV)
As a lead in and foundational statement regarding a life of generosity, there’s this concept of grace. This is an amazing thing, when you contemplate it. Paul says “We want you to know about the grace of God among the church.”
I heard a story Pastor Tim Keller shared a while back about a woman in his church who came to have a discussion with him.
She said, “This grace thing – that’s a scary idea! She said ‘It’s good – scary, but it’s really scary.’”
Keller responded, “What is so scary about unmerited, free grace?”
She answered, “If I was saved by my good works, there would be a limit to what God could ask of me. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. But, if it’s really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace at God’s infinite cost, there’s nothing he can’t ask of me. And, that’s scary. Good – scary, but scary.”
You know, that’s why some of us are more comfortable being legalistic. It’s why Christians want to come to church and hear a “Just tell me what to do” sermon. It’s easier, isn’t it?
Yet, God’s grace – that overwhelming, unmerited, amazing grace, is the fulfillment of law, and is so very freeing.
Here’s the deal – we must see the act of giving as not bound in a legalistic setting, but freed by grace as God intended.
This is a major shift for many, for when this happens in your life, you will no longer be asking “What do I have to give?” when it comes to God and His church. You will begin to enjoy – yes, enjoy – the freedom of living with a generous, grace-filled heart.
This is what had happened to the Macedonian Christians. Look here – in their testing, their affliction, the severity of the persecution they were facing, their identifier became the “grace of God” that resulted in what? Abundant joy! Their extreme poverty didn’t define them. Their joy overflowed at such a level they were identified from there on out by their generosity.
You know, whenever a pastor or church leader begins to speak about money or giving, there always seems to be a collective groan that appears. You know why? Because the grace of God does not abound where legalism resides. Even if the church as a whole isn’t legalistic, or at least pushing against legalism intently, many of us find ourselves struggling with individual legalism.
Why? Because it’s the enemy’s strategy and legalism is EASY.
But, grace is greater.
These Macedonians appear to be the type of people that do the right thing, not looking for accolades – and yet, here we are two thousand years later, bragging on their obedience and longing to be like them.
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. - 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 (ESV)
- The legalist asks “How much do you want?”
- The hoarder asks “This is all mine. What do you want now?”
- The cheapskate asks “What’s the minimum payment?”
Yet, the generous giver lives on a different plane apparently. The generous of heart begs for the opportunity to give.
I wish I could say that I’m guilty of that. I’m not. Why? Because, like you. . .I don’t think like that. Oh, there are times, maybe after a winsome video showing a hungry child needing a few bucks a month to eat and be clothed, but even then it’s a marketing strategy that begins with “Only so much a day. . .”
But in this passage we see something different. Something weird.
It’s the grace of God that abounds and changes perspective. There’s also something here that is often overlooked in messages focused on giving.
“They gave themselves first.”
Sometimes, we get this out of order, or miss this step entirely. This is where the truth is seen. This is the answer to the question “Does God really care about my money?”
You see, of all the Ten Commandments, which we all break easily, there is one that is broken most often, if not universally. It is this commandment that many feel they’ve done pretty well with, but in actuality have failed to obey. It’s the one about “not having any false idols.”
Richard Halverson once stated this “Jesus Christ said more about money than about any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.”
It’s about idolatry.God cannot be enthroned as primary in our lives until we dethrone the little gods that take our time, effort and even worship.
It’s interesting that when Jesus met the tax collector named Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus said that he would give back money he had taken wrongly and even pay back interest, Jesus replied “Today salvation has come to this household.” Yet, when Jesus encountered the rich, young ruler who would not dare part with his goods, Jesus lamented that the young man had missed the larger story.
It’s about the money, but it’s not really about the money.
It’s about the throne. It’s about the worship. It’s about the heart and a heart bound with legalism will create a pseudo-Christianity that is both unattractive and ungodly.
But, what about the prosperity gospel? You know, the one that says if you give, God will give back and make you rich and give you favor?
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor/martyr from Germany stated, “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought that takes success for its standard.”The prosperity gospel is a false gospel. It is a man-made, manufactured, manipulative pile of excrement that the enemy has concocted within the church that offers a lie as a truth.
- "Give to God and He’ll give you a Mercedes."
- "Give to God and your kids will be successful."
- "Give to God and you’ll get a promotion."
That’s not gospel – that’s idolatry.
That’s using God for one’s own good.
That’s selling God and his grace to those who will buy into anything if they think there’s a tangible return on investment that will give them money, power, influence, or some such status.
When we come to God for what we can get out of him, the gifts received are therefore elevated above the giver of good things. It’s like the kid who sees his parents not as protectors, nurturers, providers, but simply as human ATMs useful only for cash and “stuff.”
While that offends us, the prosperity gospel abounds.
And, it’s subtle, isn’t it?
Ultimately, a powerful passage that speaks so strongly about heart issues and attitude, is often mis-read and falsely applied to say that which it doesn’t say:
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." - 2 Corinthians 8:6-9 (ESV)
This is a calling out passage. The church in Corinth had said they’d give. They understood the need and for a moment – though just for a moment – the generous heart abounded there in Corinth.
Then, they stopped giving.
They forgot their brothers and sisters.
They changed their minds.
Paul is subtly, or not so subtly reminding them of their promise and he gives warning.
This is not a name-it, claim-it passage. This is an affirmation of the generous heart that results from the grace-filled giver.
We give because he gave.
We are free from slavery of that which we “own.”
Here in the states, our money still says “In God we Trust” but it seems to be a lie, doesn’t it?
What do you do with this? What does this change? Cheerful heart? Grace filled giver? Generous?
"He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
Forever – that’s a legacy. That’s eternity. Generous disciples live and give in such a way that eternity is impacted for the Kingdom of God. Now, I love animals, but I just cannot fathom why a Christ-follower would give more to an animal shelter or cause than to the church (and not even this church) or ministry that is on the front-lines for eternity’s sake? People leave money in their wills to their cats? Really?
- Legalism keeps us thinking that “what’s ours is ours.”
- Prosperity gospel keeps the idol of self on the throne of life.
- Love of creation over Creator leads us to invest in that which does NOT matter.
Let’s refuse to allow the enemy any more footholds in our lives.
It has been a challenging five weeks in Tallahassee for our faith-based orphan care ministries such as our partners in the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. We have asked for prayer and contacts to congressional representatives and senators. Thank you to all who have joined in the task. Rest assured, your prayers are powerful and effective. While the bill in question will not be brought up again this session, we are confident that God remains enthroned, in control and sovereign. Of course, those declarations were never in question.
Last week, my wife, Tracy and I joined Dr. Haag, employees of the FBCH, the Board of Directors, fellow pastors and spouses and the children living on the Jacksonville campus for a celebration dinner highlighting the work of the Children's Homes and ministries under their umbrella (Orphan's Heart, The Porch Light and others.) We are firmly committed to continue supporting this ministry and pray that as we enter this season of funding through the annual Children's Homes Offering (also called "The Mother's Day Offering") we will collectively be able to fund work for the sake of children throughout our state and beyond. As for the convictions of our ministries, I am confident that God will provide resources needed so that our biblical convictions will never be broken and that the hundreds of thousands of children served annually will continue unhindered.
Here's a copy of Dr. Haag's email regarding the Conscience Protection Bill (HB 7111) from May 1, 2015.
Dear Ministry Partner,
I wanted to give you an update on where the conscience protection bill (HB 7111) stands today! We are grateful for each of you standing with us for the past five weeks. Together, our voices were heard for children as the bill passed in the House Health & Human Services Committee, Judiciary Committee and on the House Floor. Through the help of your prayers, phone calls and personal meetings with your legislators, God saw fit to clear the way for the bill to be heard by the Senate Rules committee!
We have learned that the bill will not be brought up again in a Senate Committee meeting this session. The Florida House's session has ended, and they will not be taking any modified bills back from the Senate (which is what needs to happen in this case). We are certainly disappointed, but not dismayed. We know that legislation often takes multiple years to pass. The momentum for this legislation was great, and we know God can make it possible for the same momentum to pass the bill next year to protect our organization as we remain committed to our beliefs while focusing on helping one more child every day.
For now, we are thankful that our entire focus can return to helping children in need as we also begin to strategize for next year's legislative session. As I arrived back on campus in Lakeland this week, I was reminded again why every meeting we had in Tallahassee was worth it. It was worth it because of the little boy living in our emergency shelter right now! He's worth it, and we will remain focused on helping him and every child God places in our path.
I know you have done so much, but if I could ask you to do one more thing: Will you please promote our annual offering this Mother's Day, or even after, to provide critical funds needed for children in care?
Thank you again for your advocacy and prayers!
Together for Children,
Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®
FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
You may give to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes through our church's online giving option here.
This has been an interesting week, to say the least. Ever since the beginning of the year, I have felt convicted to be more adamant in my prayers and to view prayer as a gift. So often prayer is viewed as the passive response to the issues of the day. How many times have you heard someone say something like "I want to help, but all I can do is pray"? It's as if prayer is viewed as the last resort, rather than the first response.
As the world watches, tragedies are unfolding. Some have mode global impact. Others have been regional. Still others are impactful for small communities or individual families. Yet, the pain and uncertainty is just as relevant.
It is no accident that the National Day of Prayer is soon here. The first Thursday of May has been this designated moment for years and while it is vital to pray on this special day, we should view prayer as less of an officially sanctioned public gathering and more of an intimate connection between the individual child of God and the Heavenly Father. Of course, that is what prayer should be. Yet, even the disciples showed that prayer is not always easy. In fact, they walked with Christ for three years and still admitted that they were missing something in their prayer lives.
I guess we're in good company.
Thankfully, Jesus gave us a template to use in our prayers. While reciting the "Lord's Prayer" isn't necessarily bad, remember that it is a template given by the Son of God for us to use when coming to the Father. The template gives us a reminder of His sovereignty and holiness and also gives us permission to plead boldly for the needs and concerns we have.
So, in no particular order, these items have been pushed to the forefront of my prayer list. Join me in seeking God's face and His will in these areas (and others):
Every time I check the latest on the devastating earthquake in Nepal, the numbers of victims increases by hundreds. Pray for this nation and those impacted by the disaster. Also, pray for our IMB missionaries and other believers serving in the area and offering relief and hope. Click here for some recent information from the IMB regarding the quake.
Pray for Baltimore
Almost a year ago, my wife and I joined hundreds of others at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in the city of Baltimore. We were struck by the beauty of the city and the inner harbor and now, as we turn on the news, we see pandemonium. The rioting and the unnecessary violence is heart-wrenching. The police need our prayers. The citizens living in fear need our prayers. The latest divide among the races shows that we have far to go when it comes to racial reconciliation. We see how the enemy is using this to appear powerful, but there is hope. We know the Lord can heal and He will. Pastors and Christians in the city are uniting in prayer and we join them. Yes, black lives matter. . .and so do white lives, brown lives, yellow lives, etc. Ultimately, all lives matter and the Gospel expresses that message clearly. Pray for people to have ears to hear and that healing may begin.
Supreme Court Judgments
The SCOTUS is hearing oral arguments regarding states' rights to define legal marriage as that being between a man and a woman. In no other point of our history has the culture seemingly shifted so quickly on a values issue such as this. Those making arguments before the justices need our prayers. So, too, do the members of our Supreme Court. Though it is my conviction that the government shouldn't define marriage in that the government didn't invent it, the facts of the matter are that this family and marriage definition impacts not just the government or a handful of states, but every citizen and every church in our nation.
Conscience Bill in Florida
I have blogged numerous times about the Florida Conscience Bill (HB 7111) that moved through the Florida House and is now in the Senate Rules Committee. This bill will allow faith-based groups like our Florida Baptist Children's Homes to continue to function based on convictions regarding child placement in adoptive homes. Apart from the passage of this bill from the Senate and the subsequent signing into law by our Governor, the Children's Homes and other faith-based groups serving children will most likely have to find alternate funding and may have to serve fewer children in the future, leaving many to fend for themselves.
I have preached at twelve funerals this year and attended others from people in our church family. Rarely has a week gone by without a death in our church family or an extended family member. While we all know that death is the "destiny of every man" as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, the truth is the grief that comes in times like these can be overwhelming. The God of Peace is real and our prayers are needed for each other.
There are many other items on the prayer list and at times, "overwhelming" seems to be the descriptive term of the day. Nevertheless, prayer is powerful and God honors the intimate, repentant prayers of His children. May we never be guilty of "just praying" when all else fails, but to respond and even see prayer as a pre-emptive strike against the Enemy's attacks.
Won't you pray with me?
Yesterday was ENGAGE Sunday for the First Family. This emphasis is the final of our four discipling steps and is intended to help us make tangible steps outside the walls of the church facility, within our community and the world for the sake of the Kingdom.
On this Sunday, we highlighted three ministries in our county with whom we partner.
The videos highlighted in the sermon are available below:
Orange Park Clothes Closet & Food Pantry
Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.
This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.
Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification.
Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.
As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.
I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.
Some background. . .
Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.
As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.
- "He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgot? So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
- "Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
- The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
- Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
- The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
- "What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true?
More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.
How Will The Church Respond?
The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.
The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.
We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.
As of March 31, 2015, the First Family (i.e. the membership of First Baptist Church of Orange Park) owes just over $1.5 million on our facilities. Now, to be honest, when I see numbers like that, I am overwhelmed. Yet, after we (the Leadership Team & Finance Committee) looked at the breakdown of what this amount actually means, I was excited. I have an excited feeling of anticipation as I can see us paying off this debt in just a few years.
After crunching numbers and looking at the principal and interest owed to our mortgage holder, and counting the almost $16,000 given monthly through our budget offerings toward the payoff, it is clear that if just a portion of those who gave any amount toward the BUILDING PROGRAM last year would commit to give JUST $20 monthly toward this effort, we would be DEBT-FREE BY 2020.
$20 A MONTH
That's a workable amount. I can do this. I imagine most of us can. Just imagine. That's only $5 a week for the average month. That's one cup of coffee. That's one lunch at a restaurant. That's just $5 and yet, if we all did this, we'd erase this debt together.
FOR A CAUSE
I fully understand that there's little excitement from many by just paying off debt. However, when you think of the ministry that could be accomplished and the causes for Christ that could be funded if we just broke free of the debt, it's overwhelming. . .in a good way.
IF YOU ARE A PART OF THE "FIRST FAMILY," WILL YOU CONSIDER GIVING AT LEAST $20 A MONTH TOWARD THE BUILDING FUND?
Being set free from our debt will happen, but will only happen if we do this together. God has been so faithful through the years and He has blessed us with facilities that have been used for His glory to show His love to His church and the community at large.
DESIGNATION FOR BUILDING FUND
Our online giving option through our website and app give you an option for direct donations toward our Building Program. You may also use the provided giving envelopes in the Worship Center and in the FMC on Sunday mornings to designate funds toward the Building Fund. Be sure that any gifts given toward this are over and above your regular tithes and offerings.
If you've been following the news and/or my blog regarding HB7111passed by the Florida House giving faith-based children's agencies (such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes) the ability to remain true to their convictions regarding placement of children in families for foster-care or adoption, you are well aware of the next steps needed.
I received the following update from my friend and President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes today. Please read this carefully, contact your state Senator (if you live in Florida) and share the information with others in your churches and faith-communities. Previous postings giving a fuller understanding of the issue are linked below, as well.
Dear Ministry Partner,
I have a quick update and pivotal call to action for you and your church. The Senate Rules committee heard all the testimony yesterday regarding the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). They asked a lot of good questions, and many responded positively to our testimony. Unfortunately, because time ran out, the bill was temporarily postponed, which means the bill could be tabled. The Senate Rules Committee has the ability to call a special meeting for situations like this, and they have in other cases. Please ask all of your church members and partners to contact their senators today to ask them to do everything they can so that this bill will be passed on the Senate floor this session so faith organizations can continue serving children while remaining committed to their religious beliefs.
The support of our churches is critical for this legislation to pass. Below is a quick FAQ that may be helpful for your members who are willing to advocate on behalf of FBCH and many special children.
- Which Florida senators need to be contacted to help pass this bill? We need every Florida Senator to know about this bill and support it. For a list of senators, visit http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators.
- Where does HB 7111 stand? The bill has passed through the Florida House and has been heard by the Senate Rules Committee. However, it has been temporarily postponed because time ran out at the meeting yesterday. Since this was the last official Rules Committee meeting this session, the bill could be tabled unless a special meeting is called to fully hear the bill. Special meetings are often called, and that is what we need to happen.
- What do I say to my senator?
- If your senator is part of the Rules Committee, ask them to support this bill and request a special meeting be called to fully hear the bill. To find out if your senator is on the Rules Committee, visit this page http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/RC/.
- If your senator is not part of the Rules Committee, ask them to contact their fellow senators on the Rules Committee so that this critical legislation can pass this session. Ask for them to support this bill if and when it is debated on the Senate floor.
- If your senator is David Simmons, Darren Soto or Andy Gardiner, ask these Senate leaders to call a special meeting and make sure this bill reaches the Senate floor this session.
- My senator might say: "I'm sorry, but it is simply too late in the session for me or anyone to do anything about this bill." How can I respond? Tell them that you realize the last Senate Rules Committee has taken place, but special meetings are often called and can be called for this critical legislation to pass. The Florida House recognized how important it was for this bill to be passed and did everything they could to expedite it and make sure it was heard on the House floor. That is what we are asking of the Senate, to make this step for children!
- If this legislation does not pass, will Florida Baptist Children's Homes be forced to shut down? Absolutely not. However, the way we deliver care for children will likely be forced to change as we remain committed to our beliefs.
- How can my church pray? Pray for our Senate leadership, that they will see the importance of this legislation and will allow it to reach the Senate floor. Proverbs 21:1 says, The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
I am sincerely grateful for your calls to legislators and your personal notes of encouragement. Thank you for standing with us for children. We stand firm on our founding beliefs and are absolutely committed to Help One More Child!
Together for Children,
Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®
FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
Many have heard the phrase from the Bible about being "unequally yoked." It's often used to sway believers from marrying non-believers, but in truth it goes much deeper.
It's almost forty years old.
It became a game-changer for the film world.
The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.
Even poor sequels made tons of money.
It's Star Wars.
And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.
Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)
According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1
It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.
The Perfect Storm?
Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories.
I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.
Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.
Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.
In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months.
And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.
The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.
Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.
And, it's weird.
The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.
Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.
His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.
For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction.
In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough.
It's a longing for peace.
Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)
1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.
Last week the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7111 with a vote of 75 for passage and 38 against. This bill, as referenced in previous postings is a protective one designed to allow faith-based children's organizations such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes to stand upon their convictions when determining with whom to place children.
While those opposed to the bill state that it is discriminatory, especially to same-sex couples and those in the LGBT communities, it actually is a statement about the viability of religious liberty and freedom to lead organizations based on personal convictions. The term "discrimination" has been attached to the bill and the debacle surrounding the Indiana religious freedom law has moved those in leadership and power positions to a very narrow place if they choose to stand for religious liberty while still leading and ensuring that personal rights are not forsaken.
As stated in previous postings, I am strongly in favor of the passage of this bill into law here in Florida and elsewhere.
Therefore, I share with you the latest update from the President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes regarding this issue.
I wanted to give you an update on the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). The bill has been referred to the Florida Senate Rules Committee which will take place during the afternoon of Monday, April 20. We are thankful for another step! This week, we have been personally meeting with senators on the Senate Rules Committee and would ask that you also contact them directly before Monday to ask for their support of this critical legislation for children.
The members of the Senate Rules Committee are:
Chair: Senator David Simmons 850-487-5010 Simmons.David@FLSenate.gov Vice Chair: Senator Darren Soto 850-487-5014 Soto.Darren@FLSenate.gov Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto 850-487-5030 Benacquisto.Lizbeth@FLSenate.gov Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla 850-487-5040 Portilla.Miguel@FLSenate.gov Senator Don Gaetz 850-487-5001 Gaetz.Don@FLSenate.gov Senator Bill Galvano 850-487-5026 Galvano.Bill@FLSenate.gov Senator Audrey Gibson 850-487-5009 Gibson.Audrey@FLSenate.gov Senator Arthenia L. Joyner 850-487-5019 Joyner.Arthenia@FLSenate.gov Senator Jack Latvala 850-487-5020 Latvala.Jack@FLSenate.gov Senator Tom Lee 850-487-5024 Lee.Tom@FLSenate.gov Senator Bill Montford 850-487-5003 Montford.Bill@FLSenate.gov Senator Joe Negron 850-487-5032 Negron.Joe@FLSenate.gov Senator Garrett Richter 850-487-5023 Richter.Garrett@FLSenate.gov
As you contact these senators, here are two points to consider:
- Contrary to opposing views expressed by some, Florida's old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will not protect us. Without the conscience protection bill, we will face lengthy and costly litigation. We need every resource we have to be focused on the care of children, not legal battles.
- The same sex adoption bill (SB320/HB7013) passed in the Senate this week. The conscience protection bill (HB 7111) will allow us to continue to help children without violating our religious beliefs. The bill covers foster care, care for victims of child sex trafficking as well as adoption. FBCH helped 1,026 children in the care of Department of Children and Families (DCF) this past year.We ask that you pray at 1 p.m. on Monday for the Senate Rules Committee as they take up this bill. I will be testifying before the committee and would appreciate your prayers as I represent the children we serve.
As we pray for our leaders, Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind: The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
Together for Children,
Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®
FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
There are many reasons why people give for not saying "Yes" to Jesus. To the believer seeking to win them over, these sound like nothing more than excuses. However, to the person who is resisting Christ, these are legitimate reasons.
Some that I have heard over the years are. . .
- They don’t believe in God.
- They don’t believe in Jesus.
- Their life is good already so they don’t need religion or Jesus.
- The Christians they know aren’t people they want to be like.
- They have bad examples of Christianity around them.
- They don’t want to stop having fun.
- They will get right with God later.
- They haven’t ever heard the Gospel – the real Gospel.
- Christian life is boring.
- Too much stuff in their past – too far gone.
- Christians are judgmental.
- Christians hate everyone.
- Some think they already know Jesus but have been sold a false Gospel.
The audio link attached to this posting is a sermon I preached at First Church on April 12. I address these reasons and seek to help us understand the legitimate reasons why many say "No."
This is vital in being men and women who understand the times and seek to live in such as way that God is glorified, the Gospel is proclaimed and the Kingdom grows.
Truth be told, without changes to how we have been doing "church" in America, the dwindling numbers will continue to be the norm and the resistance to Christ will be affirmed in the minds of non-believers.
For the past couple of weeks, I have shared details regarding a proposed bill moving through Florida's House of Representatives. The bill - HB 7111 - was passed on Thursday in the House, but not without some powerful debate.
Depending on which version of reporting on the issue you read, this was either a "declaration for religious freedom and conviction" or a "license to discriminate." Sound familiar? These are the same elements that Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana legislature were facing just a few weeks ago.
The Bill As Viewed From Both Sides
HB 7111 is a bill, developed quickly as a response from constituents who declared the dangers of a previously passed bill intent on helping foster and adoption within the state. The new bill is designed to allow faith-based foster and orphan care organizations in the state to stand firmly on their religious convictions when placing children in foster homes or adoptive families.
Ultimately, the issue is the placement of children in homes where both parents are of the same gender. In many faith-based groups, being forced to place children in such homes would cause a conflict with deeply held convictions.
The divide is clearly visible.
Groups opposing the passing of the bill on the grounds of LGBT discrimination have made the following statements:
During the debate on the House floor, representatives on both sides of the issue at hand were vocal and clear in their personal convictions. Scripture was used. . . by those opposed and by those in support of the bill. Applause was heard numerous times within the chamber, leading the Speaker to call for quieter support throughout the remainder of the discussions. By and large the debate was civil, but it is clear that this issue will fester and grow and become a political hot button for our state, regardless what the Senate and the Governor eventually do.
To give you better understanding of the depth of the debate, click on the video link here or the image below. The debate on HB 7111 begins near the 58 minute mark.
To be clear, I am biased regarding this bill. As a pastor of a Baptist church who supports financially and in other ways the work of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, I firmly believe the passage of HB7111 was needed. In fact, I believe more is needed as we now await possible movement in the Florida Senate and then a potential signature from Governor Rick Scott. Religious liberty is at stake, regardless how the argument is framed. I am not "hiding behind religious freedom" as some politicians have stated, in order to discriminate against those in the LGBT community. Nevertheless, some will never view it this way. The hashtag #KidsFirst has been used by those opposing the religious freedom declaration of HB 7111. In my opinion, the push against this bill and potential law has little to do with the #kids and much to do with adults, agendas and those who oppose any who have religious convictions that are not concurrently held by all.
The bottom line is that Florida Baptist Children's Homes, as well as other groups within our state may be forced to cease offering services for fostering and adoption if religious liberty is not protected. While many faith-based groups do receive state money, it should be noted that there exist areas where religious conviction and categories of conscientious objection allow for services to not be offered (i.e. abortion services in certain hospitals and clinics) even when it would be legal to do so. Since there are over eighty children's services organizations within the state of Florida, it stands to reason there would remain many that are not religiously affiliated and therefore, would not have a conscientious objection to certain placements as would others.
If the Florida Baptist Children's Homes were to forced to cease offering these services, over 106,000 children would not be served annually. Truly, this is for the kids.
First of all, regardless what some may have heard -
I believe that women's ministry is a viable and needed ministry in the local church.
There, that's pretty clear.
Now, let's talk about the reality of what this facet of ministry should look like, while seeking to keep the default of "silo building" out of the story.
I have seen (as an observer, not as a participant) various forms of women's ministry start and die over the years in our local church. Every time a new version is birthed, there is excitement (at various levels) and good attendance at events, only to wither away over time as leadership changes, calendars get over-filled and structure adjusts.
And, of course, there's the perception (maybe a reality) that, as the Lead Pastor, I don't champion women's ministry as I should. I get that and own it. This is likely due to the fact that. . .I'm not a woman. Nevertheless, I do deem women's ministry as valuable for the spiritual well-being of the individuals and therefore, the families and the church as a whole.
Over the years, God has led me to develop a ministry for men called Battle Ready. In this we have weekend advances and other studies and activities. Most are grassroots efforts of small bands of brothers gathering for prayer, Bible study and the sharing of lives. Our Men's Minister keeps a tab on these groups and serves to lead and encourage them along the journey.
When it comes to women's ministries, we have had retreats (I've spoken at two,) small groups studies, nationally recognized authors and guest speakers, live simulcasts, and some incredible grassroots gatherings develop over the years. We still have these groups meeting and from what I'm hearing from some of the leaders, there are some amazing life-changing breakthroughs taking place.
These are worth celebrating!
Yet, there seems to still be a gap. It's likely due to not having that one director or point person over this ministry at this time. We have had ladies serve in this position in the past and they have fulfilled the role exceptionally well, but life happens and schedules change and callings from God get affirmed.
That being said, we have a few ladies I know are being called to serve as the Leadership Team in this area, and we will soon be meeting to pray and seek God's lead in the "next steps."
The Changing Face of Women's Ministry
I continue to hear comments about what ladies desire in a women's ministry. Many are based on what they have experienced in the past. Some are based on a felt need that is very real based on life stage, family status or other external factor. A common thread is that women are seeking not to just gather for no reason. To that I say "Amen!"
Not too long ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a poignant article on ChurchLeaders.com titled "Why We Don't Need 'Women's Ministry'" and while I thought it was a declaration for not having a women's focus within the church at first, I soon realized that Sarah was just stating the need for a healthy, Christ-focused ministry as the need. Here's part of what she wrote. . .
The women of our world aren’t looking for a safe place to cry about housework and ooh-and-ahhh over centerpieces. We’re not all mothers, some of us work outside the home, some of us have kids, and others don’t or won’t or can’t. Is womanhood only about wifehood and motherhood? What about those among us that are not wives and mothers? We’re not all in the same season of life. We are – or should be – diverse image bearers of a Divine God.
We need Jesus. We are seeking deep spirituality. We are seeking fellow travelers. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen to another, to love well. But above all, point me to Jesus–not to the sale at the mall.
You know what I would have liked instead of decorating tips or a new recipe? I would have liked to pray together. I would have liked the women of the church to share their stories or wisdom with one another, no more celebrity speakers, please just hand the microphone to that lady over there that brought the apples. I would love to wrestle with some questions that don’t have a one-paragraph answer in your study guide. I would like to do a Bible study that does not have pink or flowers on the cover. I would have liked to sign up to bring a meal for our elderly or drop off some clothes for a new baby or be informed about issues in our city where we can make space for God. I would like to organize and prioritize, to rabble-rouse and disturb the peace of the rest of the world on behalf of justice, truth, beauty, and love. I’d love to hear the prophetic voice of women in our church.
Please, may we be the place to detox from the world – its values, its entertainment, its priorities, its focus on appearances and materialism and consumerism?
So here is my suggestion: Please stop treating women’s ministry like a Safe Club for the Little Ladies to Play Church.
We are smart. We are brave. We want to change the world. We run marathons to benefit our sisters, not so that we can lose weight. We have more to offer to the church than our mad decorating skills. I look around, and I can see that these women can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and even, yes, teaching. We want to give and serve and make a difference. We want to be challenged. We want to read books and talk politics, theology, and current events. We want to wrestle through our theology. We want to listen to each other. We want to worship, we want to intercede for our sisters and weep with those who weep, rejoice with those that rejoice, to create life and art and justice with intention.
It's an in-your-face statement about the state of many women's ministries, but based on the comments on her article and those shared with me personally, I think she's right.
Why We Need Women's Ministry
As our church (First OP) moves into a more strategic era of family discipling and ministry, the need for women's ministry is vital. The study groups are awesome and yet, we need more than the latest DVD series with the celebrity Christian speaker.
We cannot afford to ignore the realities of the spiritual war at hand. That's why we need women's ministry.
Let's move toward this end - with women's ministry, men's ministry, parenting, single adults, etc. - without silos, but strategically together working to be the Kingdom men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers we have been called to be.
As you are likely aware based on previous emails, blog posts and the announcement shared this morning, there is a vital bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives designed to allow faith-based children's service organizations working with the state to place children in foster homes and with "forever families" through adoption to be able to stand firmly on their religious convictions in determining home placement.
Our local state representatives (for most of Clay County it's Rep. Travis Cummings - 18, and for the southern region, it's Rep. Charles Van Zant, Sr. - 19) and senator (Sen. Rob Bradley) are fully aware of the bill in the house and the need for this to pass.
However, at this late stage of session, the rules for introducing new bills in the state Senate are very restrictive. Therefore, while there is a need and many seek to move forward, the guidelines and rules will prove to be a great hurdle in this case. Bills can only be introduced at this late stage by committee. Senator Bradley's committee does not hold jurisdiction over such matters and therefore will be unable to introduce a Senate bill coinciding with HB7111.
Nevertheless, Senator Bradley has stated clearly that he is interested in fixing the faith-based children's program problem that will develop without intervention.
When the House introduced HB7111 shortly after the beginning of session, they did so to address the problems present in the present bill (HB7013).
Here's the history as presented by The Donaldson Adoption Institute:
FLORIDA HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE GAY ADOPTION BAN FROM LAW
03/11/2015 - AUTHOR: BRENDAN FARRINGTON
The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday, March 11, 2015, that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law. The bill still needs a House vote but has wide support.
The vote came five years after an appeals court ruled that the state’s gay-adoption ban is unconstitutional. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision. While some Republicans voted against the bill amendment, none spoke out against it and it was quickly approved. It is part of a larger bill (HB 7013) that would create incentives to adopt children in state care.
HB 7013 – Adoption and Foster Care
Revising requirements for agreements between the Department of Children and Families and specified entities for the provision of educational services; requiring the community-based care lead agency to contact by telephone the child’s adoptive family within a specified period after the date that the adoption is finalized; authorizing a direct-support organization established by the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to accept donations of products or services from private sources to be given to the recipients of the adoption achievement awards; requiring licensed child-placing agencies that provide adoption services for intercountry adoptions to meet specified requirements.
“It’s an acknowledgement of different times. The language that was essentially repealed was put into statute in 1977,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach. “Sometimes it’s about people and not about politics.”
The full bill still needs a House vote, but it has wide support. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve the bill before the gay-adoption language is deleted from law.
Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the vote isn’t necessarily an endorsement of current policy that allows gays to adopt.
“Philosophically, I’ve never really been there on that, but I’m somebody who operates under the letter of the law,” he said. “I recognize that this has been taking place for five years, so our bill is going to reflect that.”
Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said there were conservative members who quietly said no when the amendment was passed on a voice vote.
“It’s a sad acknowledgement that we already lost in the courts on this discussion. I still think a mom and a dad are what kids need,” said Baxley. “A lot of us didn’t vote for that amendment today. It was a pretty weak no vote.”
Asked if he was one of the quiet no votes, Baxley said, “I was just quiet.”
I am confident our representatives and senator from our districts are on-board to protect the religious liberty of faith-based children's service organizations. As is the case often, that which seems "logical" and "easy" (i.e. just pass the bill and present a Senate version) is never as easy as it sounds.
Nevertheless, the challenge remains.
Pray for those who represent you in local, state and federal government. God is sovereign and no one holds a position of leadership apart from His design.
Regarding HB7111 (the fix to a problem on an otherwise good bill) passage is needed.
If you contact your representative and senator, encourage and be brief. Recognize the limitations of their position. Once the campaigns end, the signs are removed, the babies have been kissed and the speeches have been made, the minutia of the job sometimes can be overwhelming.
Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov
Florida Senate - flsenate.gov
Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed what has been labeled a controversial bill into law last week that has created quite a stir among the LGBT community and supporting groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been declared an open door to legal discrimination against those in the LGBT community. Governor Pence has clearly stated that discrimination is not allowable in any form. . .
This bill is not about discrimination,and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.
Nevertheless, this reasoning seems to fall on deaf ears and Pence is being lauded as a hate-monger and worse online and through some media outlets.
Since the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four will take place in Indianapolis next week, leadership from the collegiate sports governing board as well as prominent coaches, athletes and former athletes are speaking out. Threats of not playing future championship contests in the state are being made from the NCAA, large Division I conferences and professional leagues. This is similar to what the NFL was faced in Arizona last year.
Big business and large corporations are entering into the fray as well, with the most notable voice being that of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. through a tweet that also challenged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto a similar bill in his state. Hutchinson is on record as saying he will sign his state's bill into law.
Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.
Other business leaders have released statements as well. . .
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted on Thursday:
Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.
The online review company Yelp also signaled its intentions to boycott Indiana, and every other state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. Yelp chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, stated on Thursday:
I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.
And, even some religious groups and denominations are reacting. The Disciples of Christ Christian Church is also contemplating moving their 2017 convention out of Indianapolis, to protest the passing of the anti-gay law.
Why Protecting One Group Seems Like an Attack On Another
The sad reality is that states are feeling the need to pass laws such as the one in Indiana. Just to be clear, I am not opposed to the law that has been passed in Indiana and am for enacting similar laws in other states. While that statement alone will likely either affirm beliefs already held about me by some or move me into a category of haters (everyone likes to categorize people) the truth is that my conviction is not based on hate or discrimination at all.
The phrase "freedom of religion" has held high regard in our nation since its founding. While it can rightly be said that some atrocious things have been affirmed and justified in the name of religion over the years, the fact of the matter is that personal convictions are still valuable. Once we enter into the discussion of religious freedom, examples are thrown back of those who have wrongly used religious conviction (religious, not just Christian) to justify sinful actions (i.e. slavery, segregation, state sponsored religion, even terror acts.)
There are many who would see this situation regarding business owners refusing services to others as nothing but discrimination without regard to individual's personal convictions.
It is clear that these bills are being created and laws are being enacted as a response to those who have faced government sanctions and even lost business by refusing to serve LGBT customers - most notably the baker in Oregon who made national news by refusing services.
It is clear that in many of these cases, the business owners, by their own admission, have refused services to avoid contradicting their personal convictions. No wise business owner with a strong view of capitalism would refuse service and potential profits otherwise. Yet, by protecting the rights of a person to say "no" to another, the result is that someone loses, apparently.
Religious Liberty May Not Remain a Right
Based on recent decisions and a swift move to push against religious conviction, it is evident that left undone, religious liberty will become a concept that once worked, but currently is not valued. The freedom of religion will become so narrowly defined that ultimately, only culturally affirmed religious actions (still not "state-sponsored" in the legal sense) will be allowable in the public square under the banner of tolerance, all the while creating a culture of intolerance when it comes to what is categorized as conservative, biblical, evangelical belief systems of faith.
The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released this map showing recent decisions that are whittling away at the foundation of religious freedom.
What If It's Not Hate?
Actions such as the law in Indiana are always categorized as "hate" but what if it's not hate? What if it's based on something deeper than that? What if it's based on love? Many will never be able to rectify this concept. You may struggle with this. You're thinking "How can you show love by being hateful or refusing to serve?" That's the paradox of faith. Now, I'm speaking of Christianity based on the inerrant Word and a relationship with God. Yeah, yeah, I hear you - God is love. He wouldn't discriminate. You're right. He is love. His love is deeper than descriptors. His love is stronger than cultural winds. His image-bearers seek to love Him and others. We often fail at this, but that is our goal.
The biggest challenge we face in the area of reaching and showing love to those who self-identify as LGBT is the reality that loving someone does not equate to affirmation. Every parent can assert this reality. We love our children, but as many of us know, behaviors, actions and even lifestyle choices are not always acceptable or affirmable. Love does not equal affirmation.
So, now as one group declares their not being loved, the common response is to throw hate at the other group.
In other words, you don't have to be a Christian nor agree with me and my convictions, but can you love me? I have family members who declare their love for me, but do not hold the same convictions I do. Maybe this is the bigger story?
But, Some Do Hate
Yes, some do hate. Even some people who wear the name "Christian" seem to allow their personal prejudices drive them at times. I say "them" but I guess I should say "us" because I have yet to meet a person (Christian, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, etc.) who does not hold personal prejudices of some sort.
When hate is celebrated, mob mentality results. In these cases (and to my non-Christian friends, this may not make any sense) the Enemy has gained a foothold and the truth of the redemptive Gospel of Christ is not heard and not lived out.
Do I see the Indiana law as a hate-based one? No. Neither do I see the potential one in Arkansas and others to come.
I do see it being about religious liberty - the right to hold personal, religious convictions. Of course, my LGBT friends will not, for the most part. Perhaps when all the reactionaries settle down we will see the truth more clearly. Of course, Governor Pence is up for reelection in 2016 and I feel this signing will remain in the news for quite sometime as he has basically painted a target upon himself.
I don't know him. I don't know his personal, religious convictions or belief system, but as with all governmental leaders, he needs our prayers.
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?
Thank you for your continued prayers.
Together for Children,
Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®
If you know your Representative or Senator personally, please encourage them to not let this bill die in committee or never make it to the Senate. If you do not know your Representative or Senator personally, you still have a voice. Please contact them and urge them to move this bill forward to be becoming law.
Most importantly, continue praying.
Your State Representatives & Senators
Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)
Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov
Florida Senate - flsenate.gov
The Full Story
For more details on HB-7111 and why it is needed in Florida, read my post from yesterday, linked below.
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.
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.)
Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov
Florida Senate - flsenate.gov