Talk Is Cheap - Part 9 - Faith Works!

11-22-15 - Talk Is Cheap - Part 9 - Faith Works

I fully understand that this is now considered and old movie – a classic, you know, but when the third Indiana Jones movie came out, it did incredibly well at the box office. There was Harrison Ford and Sean Connery and the battle against the Nazis and the search for the elusive holy grail.

I loved that movie.

Then, the fourth one came out with the alien skulls and the nuked refrigerator. . .but I try not to remember that one.

Still, in that third one, “The Last Crusade” there was this scene where Indy was stepping out over an abyss and. . .well, watch this to remember the scene.

Indiana Jones from Anchorsaway Ministries on Vimeo.


There’s much about faith throughout the scriptures. It is a hallmark of who we are as Christians, but to just say “You need to have faith” seems to miss the mark as life moves forward.

June-17-mainIn fact, there are even seemingly contradictory teachings on faith in the Bible. Yet, because we know that God does not contradict Himself and his Word, therefore does not, we need to look into this to discern what God is saying.

God is gracious enough to give us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

These two words “assurance” and “conviction” seem clear at first, but in truth, there’s much more here than the initial reading gives us. These two words are unusual and difficult to translate into English.

Some of you may remember the old English version of this passage that states “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

That doesn’t help much either.

So, before we get into this, ask yourself “Do you have faith?”

How do you know?

How can prove you have faith?

The evidence of faith is that there is a God in control. He reveals is existence in numerous ways and through his revelation and His Spirit, come assurance for those who believe.

James writes of faith clearly to the church and we are wise to listen. . .

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" --and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:14-26 (ESV)

James cuts to the quick here and comes hard at the “faith question.”

At first, it seems to contradict Paul’s writings in Ephesians 2

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Since we want to live by faith, obedient to God, with the mind of Christ and in the Word and every other Christian phrase and title we can think of, we must reconcile this.

Paul, one of the greatest leaders of the early church, an Apostle, teacher and preacher, wrote these words to a church steeped in Jewish legalism and Old Testament laws like circumcision. Many in the church were adding to the Gospel things that weren’t required for salvation and redemption. Paul was fight legalism and reminded the church then and us today that to add anything to the grace of God in the form of works neuters the grace and pulls the focus on us, not God.

James was battling the flip-side of this coin in the church. One group, Paul’s target, were legalists and working to get saved. The other group, James’ target, were living under the belief that “I prayed a prayer and received Jesus and therefore do not have to do anything now.”

Paul is talking about how to become a Christian.

James is talking about how to live as a Christian.

Our faith leads to action. It’s not bragging. It’s just the natural step of men and women of faith.

Now, what works follow faith?

That’s the journey that is exciting, isn’t it? To give you one answer would be doing harm to the body, because each of us are gifted and wired differently. Yet, even in our uniqueness, our foundation is on the Gospel and therefore, our works are those that esteem, elevate and bring honor to God.

This much we know, faith does not lead to sitting. Faith does not lead to just thinking. Faith does not lead to doing nothing.

Maybe our first action step is saying “Yes” to God and let Him lead. Then, as His church, we live equipped and together impact this world for Him.

There Are No "Participation Trophies" in Life

James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.

Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)


More recently, he posted this update about his boys and their trophies (earned this time.)

 Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia. 




Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?

Haydn Shaw, in his book Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, he shares this account:

A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."

When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"

That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."


GameDay Church and the Inevitable "Beer Question"

Since we announced the launch of GameDay Church at the site of Old St. Andrews Church prior to the Jaguars - Colts game on December 13, we have had many questions from various sources.

The Beer Question

Drink-beerWhether it has been from church members planning to help make it happen, other church leaders in the city, community friends or news agencies, it seems that a few questions regarding the church service rise to the forefront. They are. . .

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What will it look like?
  • What about beer?

Honestly, the beer question tends to be the first one we are asked. The other two tend to be logistical.

It seems that our response to the beer question has the potential of creating more controversy than a red cup at Starbucks.

Nevertheless, here's our answer to the "beer question."

"We are not providing it."

There. That's it. Simple, right? Well, I thought so, but apparently is not sufficient for some. 


Let me be clear, just in case there is some misunderstanding. I do not partake of alcoholic beverages. I do not believe it is a good thing to do so. I do not recommend it at all. Likely, this is due to my upbringing and my years of working with teenagers from challenging homes where alcohol played a role, not to mention the under-age, binge drinking that I have observed and worked young people through. Therefore, the partaking of such is not encouraged by me.

Yet, it is clear that while getting drunk (Ephesians 5:18) is sinful and declared such in Scripture, the partaking of alcoholic beverages is not. I'm well versed in the "do not be a stumbling block" passage and affirm that, but I'm not going to break all that down in this posting, due to the fact it will result in the potential online, comment-driven, debates that do nothing to reach people for Christ and ultimately do the Kingdom no good, but if you'd like to read more regarding this question, from a biblical worldview, check out this link at GotQuestions. (GotQuestions is a solid, biblically-conservative Q & A resource.)

It appears that the only thing that could rival the questions of a Baptist church hosting a tailgating/worship service at an NFL game would be if we hosted a "Line Dancing" event. While the "Baptists don't dance" mantra still exists, I declare that it is more that most "Baptists can't dance." It's apparently a rhythm issue, at least in our church. This is made clear as many in our congregation attempt to clap in-time along with some of the worship songs. But. . .I digress.

No Beer Garden, but No "Beer Guards," Either

So, a simple answer of "We're not providing beer" leads to the follow-up question from some that sounds like this, "But, what if someone shows up with a beer in their hand?"

And, this is where my answer causes some raised eyebrows. Remember, we're meeting under an open-air tent. We will have a grill set up with some BBQ available and some bottled water as well. Yes, it is a family-friendly event, but then, so is the football game, right?

People will be walking by the tent on the way to the game. Most attendees will stop by for a few minutes, step under the tent, eat some BBQ, play some corn-hole and then move on to the stadium for the beginning of the game. Most, except for those serving and leading, are not thinking about going to a church service. They're thinking about going to an NFL football game.

And, some of those who stop by (not all, because not all who will partake of an officially NFL-licensed Bud Light that day, will be doing so at 11am) will have a beer in hand. And, we are NOT going to set "beer guards" by the entrance telling people to get rid of their beer before they can come in and worship and hear the Gospel. Why? Because we know at that point people will just walk away and think "That's not for me." 

A Simple Focus

1e85eb_ed431ec6c6b24d268fa5ece97ea14d84Simply put, our focus at GameDay Church (as it is at any of our campuses or events) is Jesus Christ. We focus on Him alone, and trust the Holy Spirit to do what He does best.

GameDay Church is an event. We acknowledge that. It is a front-door event for many. It is the church seeking to go where the crowd is, as opposed to simply creating another crowd.

Believing that God has led us to offer this worship and teaching experience at the cross-roads of cultural engagement, leads us to trust Him to draw those to Himself that day. Focus means we must not be side-tracked on issues that are not vital. This is not a watering-down of the Gospel. In fact, by being so solidly focused upon it, it leads us to be missionally engaged in ways that we often just read about and "amen" but never do.

Tweet: If Christianity is simply behavior-modification, then we have lost focus. @davidtark @gamedaychurch Christianity is simply behavior-modification, then we have lost focus.

So, if you're a football fan and have friends who would never attend a traditional church service with you, why not get a few tickets here (use our GAMEDAY code) and come to GameDay Church on your way to the game? Let's trust God to do what His Word declares. He does more than modify behavior, he transforms hearts.

The question has been answered. Now, let's pray that God will draw many to Himself through His church.

Talk Is Cheap - Part 7 - Orphan Sunday

11082015-1045-Hearing and Doing

As we continue our series through James' letter to the first century church, we land on the verse that gives practical examples of how to not only hear the Word, but to do what it says.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)

How appropriate that this past Sunday was "Orphan Sunday." 

I have shared in previous posts this week of the story our church has entered regarding the plight of the orphan. That journey continues to gather steam and last Sunday, we focused on why we advocate and then shared some practical steps for believers to enter the story as individuals.

One of the most amazing moments from last Sunday was the time of prayer over families who are either fostering children or are/have adopted children. To see the dozens of families stand before their church declaring that they have not only heard the Word in this area, but are doing the Word was amazing.

The fact that not every family is called to foster or adopt is clear, but so too is the reality that no Christ-follower can opt out of praying for or advocating for the orphan. This is a family story. . .a firstFAMILY story.

Prayer Cards for Clay County Children

We provided hundreds of prayer cards to members of our family last week. There were two varieties. The first had a name, gender and age of a child in our county. There were over 100 of these. These children are in our foster care system now and our prayer is for them, their families and the potential of a forever family stepping forward for them. Ages ranged from 4 months to 17 years.

The second group of cards featured six individuals. These are teenagers in our county who are just waiting. They are ready for adoption. Our prayer is that six Christian families inner county will say "yes" to adopt and provide these children homes.

Since we have been given permission to share these images and names, please take the time to pray specifically for these children. Their details are listed below.


Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.41.20
Brittany - Age 15



Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.43.46
Cordova - Age 13



Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.43.20
Dakota - Age 17



Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.42.39
Emilie - Age 16



Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.42.52
Joshua - Age 15



Screenshot 2015-11-10 07.43.05
Westley - Age 15


A Simple Gesture Makes a Major Impact


Sometimes the seemingly "little things" mean more than we know.

Yesterday, we celebrated Orphan Sunday at our church and honored and prayed over the families who either are just entering the foster-care/adoption journey or have been a part of this story for years.

The stories were similar in that they all pertained to orphan care, but so unique due to each circumstance. Stories ranged from the joy and fear shared by young couples who have completed their required classes and home study and now are waiting for a placement, to those who adopted decades prior and honestly shared how the journey has been difficult and, at times, heart-wrenching. . .but ended with "I'd do it all over again." One couple revealed that they had fostered 120 children in their lifetime and had adopted seven. Another shared their adoption of a young man diagnosed with a mental disability. One couple shared how they had adopted two boys years ago and then the father stated "I was adopted as well." Wow! 

Some of the families who shared have been part of our church family for years. Others, for days. 


I received this email from one of the moms who stood before the church to share and to receive the church's prayers. She and her husband are new to our church. They have brought a little boy into their family who faces some difficulties. Her note to me was another reminder of how great our God is and how being adopted into His family is vital. I asked permission to share this and it was granted:

Hi Pastor :)  
I just wanted to write and let you know that we really enjoyed and were encouraged by your sermon today.  Also, I wanted to share with you about something that happened while we were leaving.  I walked out of the gym (FYI - our 9:15am worship service is held in our Family Ministry Center/Gymnasium) and paused to let a lady pass. She came to me and said, "I just want to hug you" and she did.  I was caught off guard and was trying to figure out if I knew the woman... "Why was she wanting to hug me?"  It was not until I saw her walk away and fighting off tears that I realized she was touched by the sermon we heard this morning.  I have no idea who this lady is or if I will recognize her the next time I see her (I'm horrible with remembering faces) but as I was sitting in my car thinking about what had just occurred, I realized that she was expressing God's love and I was instantly overwhelmed in that moment.
I know we will be going through some tough times this week and I believe fully that I will look back at this simple hug from a woman that I do not know and I will feel comfort. Another thought is that this woman probably has no idea just how much that hug and seeing her love through tears means to me.  This is exactly what you have been talking about, she has, without even knowing it, supported my family by simply sharing raw emotion and an embrace of love.    
I know you do not know our story, but like many others', it is a tough one.  We love our little guy and have faith that God will continue to heal him.  We definitely have some challenging times ahead of us and I am thankful that we have found a church family to help us not only get through these tough times, but that will be fighting with us and encouraging us along the way.

Tom, Debbie & Jasmine - A Forever Family

God has done some amazing things through the lives of the members of our church, the firstFAMILY. Stories of transformation and rescue are powerful and should be told over and again.

In an attempt to help us remember how amazing God's story is, we have begun recording some of these stories. 

This is the first of our "firstFAMILY Stories" and it features Tom, Debbie, and Jasmine.

Screenshot 2015-11-05 09.44.27

It's appropriate that today, which is known nationally as "Orphan Sunday," we would be able to share their story. We will be showing this at the conclusion of each of today's worship services. It's available on our App (available here) under "Our Stories" as well as our Vimeo page and our website.


firstFAMILY Stories: Tom, Debbie & Jasmine from First Family on Vimeo.

Tom and Debbie were never able to have children of their own and were pretty much set that they never would. Then, we began to speak of the role of the church in the story of fostering, adoption and orphan care. Somewhat reluctantly, Tom and Debbie agreed to see if fostering may be something they were called to do. They attended the required classes for our state, as offered by the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, here at our church. Through this and the subsequent placement of Jasmine in their home, it became clear that God had more planned than just foster care. In May 2015, Jasmine was adopted into her new forever family. In August 2015, Jasmine entered a new forever family, this one eternal, as she surrendered to Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She was baptized in October.

It's been quite and adventure and God is still writing their story, but it's not just their story. Our church, the firstFAMILY, understands that we are in this together and we pray Tom, Debbie & Jasmine's story will inspire and encourage others considering fostering, adoption or advocacy for orphans.

Bevin, Buddie & Bathrooms - Election Day in the US

I was talking with a university student yesterday who made the statement that he felt that it was unlikely a Republican or conservative would ever be elected to the office of President again. I am not sure if that was a statement of lament or desire, but I responded that each party's adherents have said the same thing for generations and over time (normally every 8 to 12 years) they often find that the swinging doors to the White House welcome in a President of the opposing party.

Nevertheless, the underlying theme had less to do with the party affiliation of the current crop of presidential candidates and more to do with what has been described as a culturally seismic shift in morality and worldview. There has been much written about these shifts and I do not negate their reality. However, this week our nation experienced some revelations that show that perhaps the total cultural shift is not quite as clearly defined as some seem to propose.

This past Tuesday was election day in our nation. This being an "off year" there were many areas where no elections took place, but in the areas where they did, the nation was watching. 

There were three elections that drew the attention of the national media, and therefore the eyes and ears of many who follow politics and worldview shifts of culture.

Kentucky Governor's Race

First, the gubernatorial election in Kentucky drew quite a bit of focus. This was due, in no small part, to the fact that the Republican running for the office, Matt Bevin, was considered more than a long-shot to win. His stance against same-sex marriage and evangelical roots made him an easy target in the culture wars. Of course, Kentucky is the home of Kim Davis, who made national and international news as a county clerk when she refused to have her name affixed to marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Bevin's friendship with President Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his history of donating funds to the seminary further painted him as an outsider, with no real chance to win.

Even the Republican Governors' Association pulled money for advertising when the polls were placing his opponent as the easy victor.

Apparently, no one told the voting public of Kentucky that Bevin stood no chance at winning. In fact, when the votes were tallied, he basically won in a statistical landslide and will be sworn into office as the Governor next year.

Governor-elect Bevin, his wife & their nine children

Ohio Not "O-High-O"

Second, the state of Ohio was voting on the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Millions of dollars were spent to push the voting public to affirm this as a good option. College students were confronted with "Buddie," an anthropomorphic marijuana bud with a super hero's body as part of the advertising campaign to legalize pot. 

Ultimately, the movement went up in flames (no pun intended. . .okay, a little pun was intended) and even those who really wanted legal marijuana joined forces with those opposed to its legalization for moral reasons simply because of the literal monopoly that would develop as big business would own the legal growing and distribution rights of marijuana in the Buckeye state.

So, this culturally left-leaning movement died in the polls as the voters of Ohio (not O-High-O, as the promoters were advertising) voted NO.


"Buddie" - PHOTO: Facebook/Responsible Ohio

No HERO in Houston

Third, and likely the most media-hyped and focused upon vote took place, not on the federal or state level, but at the city level. The city of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest municipality in the nation, was voting to either ratify or revoke a bill touted as an anti-discrimination bill, that was pushed through the City Council by the urging of mayor Annise Parker. This bill was known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, for short.

You may remember the threat to religious liberty that occurred in the city, and through Mayor Parker's office, back in 2014. I wrote about that here.

The battle-lines were drawn for the ratification of HERO and big business, the mainstream media, pastors, right-wing and left-wing pundits and even professional sports stars and leagues were weighing in on the matter. What was touted as an anti-discrimination ordinance was soundly defeated.

Why was something that seemed to create equal footing for all citizens defeated? Well, depending upon whose report you read (and I fully admit that all writers are biased to some degree, me included) it was either because "Hate" and "Fear" won out over logic, love and right-thinking, or because the only actual addition this ordinance gave to current anti-discrimination laws on the books within the state of Texas and nationally, was the allowance of any person to enter and use any public restroom regardless of the designated gender defined on the entrance. 

In Albert Mohler's Briefing posted on November 6, 2015, he references a number of stories featured in The New York Times and other media outlets.

The Houston Chronicle had numerous stories as well, as they should, being that the issue was a city ordinance. By and large, most writers were seemingly surprised by the overwhelming defeat of HERO.

Thee are numerous articles and debates as to whether the HERO actually contained "bathroom language" in its final format. It is a matter of fact that at one point, it did. 

Opponents declare that haters jumped on the "bathroom" issue as fuel to continue to repress those in the LGBT community. Proponents of the repeal declared that ultimately, the final language that left the bathroom door open was enough to garner the votes needed to repeal the ordinance, handily.


PHOTO: David Bro/ZUMA Press/Newscom 


While the ordinance was defeated, the expansiveness of cultural shift under the banner of "anti-discrimination" and "inclusivity" will appear on ballots again, throughout the nation and likely will be addressed by the courts on a future date.

Personally, I am pleased with the results of all three of the election results mentioned in this post, but I do not see these as indicative of a moral and worldview shift back to the Bible. The world, as we know, will never celebrate the Christian worldview.

For Christians, this is a reminder that worldview matters and that, as the old hymn states, our "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." That means that we best be in the Word, saturated in the Gospel and focused on Christ. We should understand civics and be righteous, godly citizens, but remember this - our hope is not found in Washington, the state capital or even the ballot box. It is found in Christ alone. In Him we trust.



Help for the Parent of a Prodigal Child


I have just completed our mid-week morning Bible study with our senior adults. This is a great time of study and really is energizing for the remainder of the week. These life-long learners are inspiring to me and so encouraging.

I have discovered some pretty common threads among those in attendance. It seems that these senior saints have varied stories of challenge and difficulty. Now, they're not complaining, but life offers challenges and these from the Traditionalist and early Boomer generations have experienced much.

Many have shared with me, as a way of encouragement, their journeys as parents of prodigals.

The story of the prodigal son in the Bible gives us hope, but in the midst of the journey, there is great pain. The grief of a loving parent seems overwhelming at times. Far too many of you can relate.


In Ann Mobley's book If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me? (available at our church's online bookstore) she shares the painful and true story of truth and grace through the difficult days with her son. 

While the prodigal story may involve same-sex attraction and an abandonment to orthodox Christianity, that is just one small area that leads the child down toward the identity of "prodigal." Stories are different. Wounds are unique. Yet, regardless of your story's details, these points from Mobley are helpful for the Christian parent struggling with what to do while the prodigal is still on the run.

What to Do While Waiting in Hope

Spend time in God's Word.

Choose to believe and live by the truths of God's Word. Regular reading and meditating on God's Word will keep you focused on God's truths and enable you to discern the lies of Satan. Discouragement is a major tool of the Enemy against God's people, but God's Word is your source of encouragement.

Pray for your child.

Do not underestimate the power of prayer. Pray for your son or daughter that God will, by the power of His Spirit, do a strong and eep work in his or her life, drawing him or her to himself and destroying the strongholds of the Enemy in his or her mind and heart.

Pray for yourself.

As you pray for change in your loved one's life, be aware that God may desire to make changes in your life. Honest self-examination is needed. An important reminder is this - Guard your heart agains bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

Keep the lines of communication open.

Having open lines of communication is often the fruit of responding in love to your child. God's Word reminds us that love is not just expressed in words but also in our actions. We need to ask God to teach us how to show his kind of love to our loved ones. Remember, we are only responsible for our own responses, attitudes, and actions. We cannot dictate or control the responses, attitudes, or actions of our loved ones. The relationship and paths of communication may be damaged or broken by their own choosing, and they may not respond in kind to our overtures of love. That is painful for the parent, family, or friend reaching out to them. But, we should not allow their negative or unloving response toward us dictate our behavior.

Continue to love your child and "keep the porch light on."

Peter Lord, in his book, Keeping the Doors Open, urges parents to adopt an open-door policy; figuratively speaking, "Keep the porch light on." Let your loved ones know that he or she can always come home or visit as often as he or she wants. You may disapprove of his or her lifestyle and the choices he or she is making, but still love them and do not reject them. Don't let the separation be on your part. It' heartbreaking for the family when a son or daughter chooses to close the door of communication and walk away, cutting off all contact, perhaps even disowning the family and leaving no way for the family to maintain contact. But parents still can pray and must pray. God knows where your child is.

Don't travel alone on this journey.

Reach out to others who can pray with you and sometimes just listen to you. Look for friends or family members who view life from a biblical perspective, who will stand with you in a loving and committed biblical position and provide spiritual and emotional encouragement. 

Never give up. Keep on praying.

Jesus told his disciples a parable to encourage them to keep on praying, even if they didn't seem to be getting any results from their prayers. He said they should not "lose heart" or "give up." Just because we do not see things happening in the visible, physical lives of our loved ones does not mean our Father is not listening or responding to our prayers.

Holding on to the God of Hope!

Today, whatever your circumstances, you can have hope. Our hope is in the character of a faithful God, in the promises of his Word, in the power of prayers offered in faith in Jesus' name, and in the Holy Spirit who can work powerfully in the hearts and minds of our loved ones - and our hope is in the never-ending love of the heavenly Father for his prodigal sons and daughters.

These are great reminders and needed in these days. It hearkens back to the story of the Prodigal Son in Scripture. These characteristics of the father in the story are key for us as parents:

  • He relinquished control of his son, let him go, and allowed him to reap the consequences of his wrong decisions.
  • He never quit loving his son and remained watchful in the hope that his son would return. 
  • He welcomed his son back - not with a scolding, not with words of condemnation for his sinfulness, not with a consignment to the servants' quarters, but with compassion, love, a strong embrace, and even a kiss! (BTW - imagine what he looked and smelled like upon the return, especially after sleeping with the pigs.)
  • He was not ashamed of his wayward son, but threw a big celebration party, inviting everyone to rejoice with him. His son was safely home!

May all parents of prodigals take hope in these words. God knows what you're facing. He loves your child even more than you. Trust him to do what he does best and rest in the truths of God's Word.


What's In a Name? The Birth of the firstFAMILY

Since the chartering of First Baptist Church of Orange Park (the church I pastor) in 1951, the focus of our mission has been and always will be to honor and love God and to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the years the location of our church has changed as has leadership and models of ministry. However, our focus has never shifted from the Gospel and it never will.

(CLARIFICATION: First Baptist Church was actually begun as a Bible study class on Mrs. Carrie Clarke's front porch in 1919. In 1921, the church held its first business meeting. The sponsor of the new church in Orange Park was Murray Hill Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Mrs. Clarke was a member. The 1951 date is when the church was officially chartered with a constitution and by-laws. The church was incorporated in 1976. So, regardless which date you choose, FBCOP has been around for quite some time.)

To state the obvious, the community where God planted our church campus has changed dramatically since 1951. I still run into some Orange Parkians (not sure that's really a word) who will tell me they remember when the four-lane, divided avenue our church is located was nothing but a dirt road with orange trees planted in the medians. Now, most all orange trees in Orange Park are just images on our street signs.

As our community has dramatically changed, we have sought to seek ways to continue reaching people for Christ in our neighborhood and beyond. Our county and nearby Jacksonville, Florida are areas that identify greatly by geographic names and community identifiers. When one speaks of living in Jacksonville to a native, the next question is "Where in Jacksonville?" and that question is a pointed one with an expected answer of a region such as "the Westside, Southside, Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, Northside, the Beaches, Mandarin, etc." Each area has a distinct identity and then within each area, there are more distinctions. In Clay County, where Orange Park is located, those distinctions often are defined by the names of housing developments or neighborhoods such as Pace Island, Eagle Harbor, Oak Leaf, the Ravines, Ridgecrest, Bear Run, Orange Park South, etc.

Yet, over time as as we have grown to be less internally-focused and have sought God's lead into areas of ministry, doors have opened for our church to begin new expressions of church in various locations throughout our county, Jacksonville and beyond.

"First Baptist Church of Orange Park" has been the name of our church since its founding. Apparently, there were no points given for creativity back in the 1950s. As is the case with many legacy churches, names prominently stated the denominational affiliation and the geographic location. In our case, it also designates that we arrived on the scene before any other Baptist churches. For those who have grown up in the Baptist world, this is normal. Yet, over the years I have been asked many times (and more recently) if all First Baptist Churches are the same. I used to joke that we were franchises like McDonald's, but have stopped due to the fact that most of the people asking believe me. 

In some areas of our nation, the denominational tagline is a hindrance. That is not so much a problem in the area of Florida where we are located, but thanks to the protesting, pseudo-church in Kansas that uses the Baptist name, I have had to explain to a number of young men and women that we are in no way connected to that group.

Proverbs 22:1 reminds us the value of a good name and thankfully, our church has been able to develop a name in the community over the years that brings with it good connotations. This is due to our church family members and their willingness to love people and serve those in our local schools and community. 

Forty New Expressions of Church

God is sending us outside Orange Park.

As we have been praying through and I have been preaching through the reality that God sends his church into a world that needs light and salt, it is clear now that we will not be limited only to the area of Orange Park. We have already experienced the sending of missionaries and church planters throughout the world, as those from our family have said "Yes" to the call and have been sent. 

There will be more.

There will also be more churches birthed through the ministry of First Baptist. Our desire is to see forty new expressions of church birthed through First Baptist. These will be satellite locations, new church plants, special-event gatherings and culturally-defined churches. 

The birth of the firstFAMILY

In truth, the ministry of First Baptist will be a mini-network of churches and missions founded on the Gospel and focused on implementing the "Big 3" of 1) Loving God, 2) Loving people, and 3) Making disciples.

GameDay Church at the Jacksonville Jaguars home games is one of our first new endeavors. As we began to put the pieces together for this expression of church, it became clear that we would be seeking to connect with people throughout the Jacksonville area. While the name "Baptist" may be attractive to some and a turn-off to others (and much has been written about that over the years, so I won't delve into that) we discovered that the regional name was going to be a larger barrier. Missionally-speaking, it is unwise to create barriers to reaching people with the Gospel, especially since we are called to engage the culture for the sake of God's Kingdom (not our little ones.) 

First family logo all blue

So, firstFAMILY was birthed and has become the banner under which all our ministries, venues, and mission endeavors function. The name is all-encompassing and travels well.

Don't Hear What I'm Not Saying (or Don't Read What I'm Not Writing)

Here are some answers to the FAQ:

  • We are NOT changing the name of the church. First Baptist Church of Orange Park remains our legal name and also remains the hub of all ministries hosted as the firstFAMILY. Our offices are at FBCOP. Our primary worship services and ministries are housed at this location. In a sense, FBCOP is the headquarters for all that is firstFAMILY.
  • As mission support is shifting for Southern Baptists, we will continue to give through the Cooperative Program, but also will be supporting missionaries on the field who are not funded by the International Mission Board or North American Mission Board, but who are doctrinally-aligned with us. In many cases, these are missionaries who were previously serving with the IMB, but have been released recently due to financial realignment. This mission support will be under firstFAMILY Missions and will help us continue to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel, especially in areas where we have connections and a vested interest.
  • Satellite campuses will be tagged with the name firstFAMILY. We have opportunities now and are praying through others regarding the placement of campuses in the Northside, Oakleaf and Swimming Pen Creek areas. Since geographic titles are not bad, these will likely be named something like firstFAMILY-Northside, firstFAMILY-Oakleaf, etc. The names flow better than "First Baptist Church of Orange Park at the Northside." Not only does that have two regional names, causing confusion, it is too long. A firstFAMILY-Toronto venue is not out of the realm of possibilities either.
  • New expressions of church will continue to be birthed in the firstFAMILY network. GameDay Church is our first non-traditional church expression. 
  • We are developing a Church Planting Center at our church, that will work in conjunction with the Jacksonville Baptist Association to assess, prepare and resource those called to plant churches.
  • Our orphan care ministry is already growing and will continue to expand services to those seeking to foster or adopt children as well as support children located in orphanages locally and internationally.

We continue to seek clarity regarding where God is at work in our area and throughout the world and will join Him there. Rather than create crowds, we will go where they already gather, taking the message of the Gospel with us and trusting God's Spirit to do what He always has. Our role is to be obedient.

There is value and power in the name "family." In fact, it is a "good name." When people join God's family, they cease to be "those people." This is a significant step. The term "family" brings with it a sense of identity and unity. 

These are exciting days and I'm convinced the best is yet to come.

From "I Hate God" to Total Surrender

Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of baptizing a young lady in our church family.


Her name is Jasmine and she was recently adopted by a family in our church after being in foster care for a season. She began to attend church with this family, but by her own admission, church was not a priority and God was definitely not someone she desired to know.

Then, something happened.

She's going, along with her father, Tom and a group from our church (me included) on a mission trip this December to Haiti. I told her that only followers of Christ can be sent from our church on a mission. Otherwise, it's nothing more than a glorified humanitarian trip.

Her father told me to read a letter that he then handed me.

My response was WOW!

Here it is (and this is what I'm reading to the church family prior to Jasmine's baptism in the video embedded below):

As you know we adopted Jasmine back in May. She has been with us for a little over 18 months now. Early on she made it clear that she did not believe in God. She attended church with us, but did not have any interest in following Christ. She did not feel that she fit in with a group of church kids who were all raised in church and knew all the answers to the questions in Sunday School. We had explained our beliefs and she agreed to disagree. To her, God was similar to Santa and the Easter Bunny. If he did exist, he had never done anything for her. She was abandoned by her biological parents at age six. Her younger brother has battled cancer for several years. Her older brother was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She suffered from some mistreatment by others. Life has been hard and as far as she was concerned, God was no friend to her.

Over time her position softened a bit. She talked more about the messages presented on Sunday morning as we drove home from church. She expressed concern for homeless people when we would see them. She made up some small bags with snacks and information about free services. She printed off Bible verses pertaining to the poor and included them in the bags.

She wanted to go to Haiti. Debbie and I looked at one another and questioned what was going on. We began to get more questions about God, the Bible, and how we believed people go to heaven. We explained that "being good" was not how you got to heaven. No one can ever be good enough. We are all sinners. Accepting the sacrifice Christ made for us is the only way. Following and believing him are the only way. Life would not be perfect or get easy if you follow Christ. Temptation, pain and suffering would not be eliminated. But, fun would also not be eliminated. It was possible to meet people who were not nerds and would be good to hang out with, but still loved God and did their best to follow him.

In early August, she spoke to Debbie and decided to trust Christ. Then, school started.

During the summer, she had largely been away from the kids that she knew from last year. When she returned, she was back in the old environment and she had to deal with some issues that bothered her. She decided that rather than accept the filth and harassment she was getting from a large group of boys at school, she would leave the public school and do Virtual School from home. This was her idea. This came from someone who was extremely social and one of the "popular kids" at school. Below is an excerpt from a letter she wrote her favorite teacher before she left school:

I must tell you I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior on August 2, 2015. Before that I was a strong disbeliever. The questions always came up.

"If God really loves me, why has He ruined my life?" or "If God is real, why does He hate me so much to ruin my life?" or "Of all people, why me?" or even "If God IS real, I hate Him for doing what He has done to me!"

But, something has happened that changed my thinking of Him.

Now, I am a strong believer and I feel that this is a test from God. He is testing me on whether I will stay with people that influence me to do against His Word or pick something that will help me become closer to Him and have more of a personal relationship with Him.

Jasmine has expressed an interest in being baptized. We would like to talk to you about that.

Well, I met with Jasmine and her parents and after talking for over an hour, it was so very clear. This is a rescued, transformed young lady and she is a child of God. Jesus paid the ransom for her heart and she has been changed. Like all of us, she's still a work in progress, but God continued to draw people to Himself and reveals His love in so many ways. 

I'm so excited that the introduction to Christ was made by her parents. Disciples make disciples.

Jasmine's story is a picture of the Gospel.

Watch the video below. . .

Jasmine Cardinal-Carberry Baptism from First Family on Vimeo.

ONE Service - 2015

10-18-2015-930-ONE Service-We Are Antioch

We gathered together as a church family yesterday for ONE Service. This was a challenging undertaking as we met together for worship, family business, and the declaration of God's Word together in one service. Based on what people have been buzzing about the past day, there was great joy and excitement in gathering together. 

One service logo 2

I'm excited for ONE Service 2016. We're already planning it.

ONE Service 2015 from First Family on Vimeo.


The Strength of the Church That Risks

If you do a search online for churches that risk you find page after page focusing on insurance for religious organizations. These are gathered under the title "Risk Management." In other words, this is the exact opposite of what I was actually searching. 

I was not seeking to find ways to manage risk, though I'm not saying that's necessarily bad, especially in the area of protecting families and property. It just seemed funny that the sites that popped up on my screen focused solely on the ability to keep churches safe and I was seeking to find examples of churches who refuse to stay safe (and I'm not talking about insurance or lawsuit related issues.)

Over my twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry I have served on church staff that sought to maintain status quo at times. I've also experienced moments that could be described simply as "risky endeavors."

I have not taken a survey. I have not studied the data on this. I'm speaking simply from my personal perspective and what I discern to be true about the church where I pastor. 

Tweet: When we take risks, we are at our best. @davidtark When we take risks, we are at our best.

The church that refuses to take risks soon becomes irrelevant to the community in which it lives.


It seems to me that most every church plant and new start, and I'm not just talking about new churches planted recently, but when legacy churches began decades and maybe centuries ago, there was great risk involved.

Maybe risk isn't the word the comes to mind, but it is accurate. At some point in the early part of the 20th century, in the community where the church I pastor is located, a woman began hosting a Bible study for children on her front porch. This Bible study was the genesis of what became First Baptist Church of Orange Park. Now, Mrs. Clarke likely didn't see that Bible study as risky, but looking back at the circumstances, it was. There was a need revealed to a woman who loved her community and area children. Like many planters in today's culture, when you throw out a crazy idea like a group gathering to study the Bible, there is no way to know who will show up or even if the effort will take root. 

In this case, it did. There were other factors at play in the birthing of the local Baptist church, and hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time, there was no way to know if a church would be birthed and if so, would it mature.

Here we are a number of decades later and as I look back at our storied history, it is truly miraculous that we still exist. Like many churches, there have been some great chapters, but just as many terrible ones. When I was called to pastoral staff here back in the mid-1990s, this church was still healing from scandals and pastoral failings from a decade earlier. 

We took risks for the sake of the Gospel

In a different era, under the leadership of Dr. Allen Harrod, our Senior Pastor at the time, this church took some significant risks. Dr. Harrod's leadership in this time was essential. He led a church reeling from scandal and poor theology into an era of growth and solid Gospel footing. Facilities were built. Others were upgraded. Ministries were developed and not unlike the birthing of this church decades prior, no one really knew how these new efforts would pan out.

Eleven years ago I was called to serve as Lead Pastor here. Since ministry options and new ideas had become the norm in our church culture, risk was not viewed as our enemy. It was not something viewed as frightening. This is likely due to the many new steps taken under the tenure of Dr. Harrod.

I think back to events and ministry options we began under the title "This is an experiment. Let's see if it will work." In truth, we were seeking to discover ways to continually look outward in a church culture that defaults to looking inward. The biggest challenge was revealed quickly. 

Most people avoid risk at all costs

This is true for people in the church as well. 

If your church has an influx of "transfer members," which many legacy churches do, there is a tendency for transferred fear (or risk-averse culture) to infect a growing, outwardly-focused family.

Yet, as one wise senior adult told me years ago, "It's not that we're so afraid of new things. We just need you to lead us into understanding what it will mean and why it's worth the risk."

That's the role of the pastor/leader. 

So, as I look back over the years, I remember some pretty risky efforts in ministry (at least for us) that slowly moved our church to begin to live more missionally while presenting an attractional God to those who never even knew He existed.

There are numerous things that precipitate a risky choice in church life. In most cases, it's the revelation that to do nothing new leaves a local church just going through the motions and eventually wondering why they aren't growing or living effectively on mission.

As I read the Bible, I see numerous risky steps taken by men and women of God. In each case, whether it was Moses speaking boldly to Pharaoh, David stepping in front of a giant with little more than a sling, Esther approaching the king, or even Jesus declaring his role to the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, these were only risky from the human perspective.

Adversity is very big when it’s all you can see. But it’s very small when it’s surrounded by opportunity. - Glen Llopis

Tweet: The church that refuses to risk is the same church that refuses to step out in faith. We call those dead churches. @davidtark The church that refuses to risk is the same church that refuses to step out in faith. We call those dead churches.

Taking risks for the sake of the Gospel is not to be done apart from prayer.

Tweet: To step out in faith without listening, hearing and discerning God's voice isn't risky. It's dumb. @davidtark To step out in faith without hearing, discerning and listening to God's voice isn't risky. It's dumb.

So, take some risks. Dare to step out. It's when you're at your best as a church.

Our latest risky endeavor is GameDay Church. Check it out here -

It's Now Newsworthy That Women Are Clothed

When I was a teenager, there was a section in Sports Illustrated magazine titled "Signs of the Apocalypse." These were short blurbs in sports news that were strange and funny and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the magazine stated they were signs the end of the age was upon us.

Recently, in this age of strange news, a story hit the airwaves and the web that if published on April 1 would have been chalked up as another "April Fool's Day" joke. It seems that Playboy magazine has decided that it is now time to stop publishing nude photographs of women. 

In an article in The Week, the decision was described this way:

The decision was made by top editors and founder Hugh Hefner, who agreed that Playboy and its nude women don't pack the same punch they did when the magazine launched 62 years ago. As CEO Scott Flanders so delicately told The New York Times: "You're now just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture." The revamped magazine will keep its investigative pieces and interviews, and introduce a "sex-positive" female columnist and "PG-13" version of the Playmate of the Month.

The comment that stands out here is this one "You're now just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it's just passé at this juncture."

image from
Photo credit: x-ray delta one / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

That speaks immensely and to be honest, it reveals much about our cultural shift. Gone are the days when Hugh Hefner was viewed as radical and became the "hero" of men seeking some dangerous (and sinful) voyeuristic pleasure. Playboy magazine loses money, but is viewed as a promotional tool for the Playboy brand. According to the article referenced above, the Playboy website removed nudity in 2014 to make it safe for work. This statement reveals much about the American workplace now. Apparently, surfing Playboy's website is not a problem in the workplace.

The magazine founded by Hugh Hefner has famously celebrated a lifestyle of debauchery and overt sexuality. While many women, celebrities, sports figures and models have graced the covers and centerfolds, the corporation has long been viewed as demeaning to women.

This perspective has changed some in our culture over the past few years as more women serve in leadership roles at Playboy and many others have voiced that posing for the magazine is more about empowerment and liberation than objectification. 

That is amazing statement.

It's About the Articles, Right?

For years, the joke has been that people purchase Playboy magazine to read the articles. I guess we will see.

The magazine has run articles since its inception and broke some ground when it secured an interview with then Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. That article was controversial in that an avowed Christian, and at the time, a Southern Baptist, sat down for an interview with a magazine known for it's photographs of nude women rather than it's political essays. Carter's interview drew many comments. When Carter stated "I've committed adultery in my heart many times," political pundits declared his candidacy to be over.

Nowadays, for a presidential candidate to sit for an interview with Playboy or another magazine or media entity known for overt sexual imagery and liberal-leaning articles, most people would not bat an eye.

Apparently, there are numerous serious articles written over the years in Playboy. The political leanings and cultural foci have been consistent over the years. The test is now to see if Playboy can survive in its new format as a combination of a Victoria's Secret catalog and Time magazine.

Why Should We Care?

The simple reason this story matters is that it is illustrative of the changing landscape of our culture. That which used to be outside the norm and offensive is now so common that the shock factor is gone. Some would say that magazines as an entity will soon cease to exist. This is likely for most as the growth of social media and magazine apps increases. 

The boundaries have been moved. 

The cultural rules have changed.

Hugh Hefner may still be lounging around in his silk pajamas with numerous "girlfriends" young enough to be his grandchildren, but even Hugh isn't shocking anymore.

The Church in a Safe Playboy World

Well, just because Playboy is choosing not to publish nude photographs, calling it "safe" is still quite an understatement. Overt celebration of promiscuous and "free-love" sexuality is not safe.

Tweet: Just putting clothes on a model does not change a world-view. #playboy Just putting clothes on a model does not change a world-view. 

The church must remember that the battle is not against flesh (no pun intended) and blood, but against a spiritual enemy who seeks destruction. All that God created as beautiful, our enemy attempts to hijack. This is the battle of world-views.

A Christian world-view gives perspective from a biblical foundation.

It is imperative that the church focuses on what has been written, not in a news article, a blog and definitely not in Playboy, but in the inerrant Word of God. We must live what it says and be doers of the Word. 

Talk Is Cheap - Part 5 - The Implanted Word

10-11-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 5 - Receiving the Word

When I was a kid, I would plant beans in cups in my room. It’s weird, but I was a weird kid. My mom would buy bags of dried beans at the grocery - you know lima beans, great northern (or butter) beans, etc. I’m not sure why I wanted to do this, but I would take some of those beans, put some dirt in a cup and plant them in a little one-bean garden in my room.

Eventually, this became part of the required science project in junior high school. Amazingly (at least to me) these beans would sprout and grow. I never had any beans grow on my bean plants, but they always would sprout and grow. Some became pretty tall.

I was probably the only kid in school growing beans in cups in my room. Now, I knew of some other students who grew plants in their rooms, but I was never allowed to hang out with them. I think they eventually got caught.


I was never a gardener, but some of you are. We have master gardeners here in the church family. I do not know the intricacies of gardening. It requires more patience than I have, I guess.  But those of you who know more about that, know the principles referred to in Scripture regarding gardening and faith. You know, “You reap what you sow” and the like.

The Bible actually uses a number of references related to agriculture and life outside the city. It’s wise not to skip these portions just because you may not live on a farm or grow your own food. The deeper truths are there and vital.

In James' letter in the New Testament he speaks of the need to receive with meekness the implanted word. It made me think of those beans I used to plant, for some reason. 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

This is a reference to Christians who have been born again. This word is the gospel. It has been given to us as a gift. Jesus spoke of this. James referenced this. 

In John’s account of Jesus’ life, he shares a moment where Jesus spoke to religious leaders who sought to kill him.

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. John 8:37 (ESV)

Jesus is speaking to people who are people who were highly religious and looked upon well by those in society. They were the celebrity preachers of the day and were greatly loved. They knew their Bible (well, the Old Testament at least) and could quote it verbatim. They looked well, dressed well, spoke well and yet. . .Jesus calls them out.

Apparently, the implantation of the word of God (a phrase I never hear anyone using) is more biblical than “praying the prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart.” 

What Is the Result of Not Receiving This Word?

Apart from the reception of the implanted word, religion is dead.

Maybe that’s what has happened to most of the churches in our nation?

Maybe that’s why the mission has seemingly been forsaken?

Maybe that’s why we lament that “things are really getting bad?”

Maybe we have spent too much time focusing on behaving well rather than the reception of the word and therefore have fallen into the mundane walk of a religion with no power?

Could it be that we have unknowingly become more like the ones wanting to throw stones at Jesus than like Jesus Himself? Not consciously, but perhaps it has occurred.

Maybe that’s why it is so difficult a concept to quantify the command to “make disciples?” 

Maybe that’s why we think that by doing more religious activity we are forwarding the Kingdom of God?

In the midst of this reality, there is great news. All we have to do is put away and receive.

New birth is received through surrender to God’s Spirit, the repentance of sin and reception of Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Spirit carries the word into our lives and reveals the truth of Christ that is not possible just by choice. It’s by God’s design.

Life is given through the word and through that word of Truth, we are transformed.

The Spirit of God dwells within the children of God. The word of God is implanted within the children of God.

Verse 21 tells us the result of receiving this implanted word is the salvation of our souls. Don’t underestimate this.

It’s truly a simple principle, when you think about it. “Put away” and “receive.” Maybe you have a desire, but that hasn’t been enough for you to see life change. Maybe you were sincere in your prayer to receive Christ. . .but still there’s something not quite right. It’s not about having everything figured out. It’s about total surrender - perhaps the one thing keeping many who have “prayed the prayer” from being disciples of Christ.

What If?

What if we did this? What if we received with meekness the implanted word? What if total surrender happened today? What if church attenders and even church members took the dangerous step of faith into living as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

It’s not adding something into our lives. It’s replacing something.

You and your sins must separate, or you and your God cannot come together. - Charles Spurgeon

Has Your Church Peaked?

I was reading post this morning by Seth Godin about the Mac and how businesses and primary products seem to hit a peak. That is, there is this point where the product isn't improved dramatically, the customer base is no longer increased and creativity stalls.

Godin writes. . .

The Grateful Dead hit their peak in 1977. Miles Davis in 1959, Warhol perhaps ten years later. It's not surprising that artists hit a peak—their lives have an arc, and so does the work. It can't possibly keep amazing us forever.

Fans say that the Porsche arguably hit a peak in 1995 or so, and the Corvette before that. Sears hit a peak more than a decade ago. It's more surprising to us when a brand, an organization or a business hits a peak, because the purpose of the institution is to improve over time. They gain more resources, more experience, more market acceptance... they're not supposed to get bored, or old or lose their touch. If Disney hadn't peaked, there would never have been a Pixar. If Nokia and Motorola hadn't peaked, there never would have been a smart phone.

One reason for peaking turns out to be success.


One does not have to look too far to find articles and blog posts about the rise of the "Nones" in American religious life and the stories of the marginalization of local churches.

Since the early 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of megachurches in the United States. The most common definition of a megachurch is a church that averages over 2,000 attenders weekly. There were approximately fifty megachurches in the US in 1980. Today, there are over 880. One statistic states that a new megachurch emerges in the US every two weeks in today's culture.

As America has become a predominantly urban and suburban culture, the growth of such places of worship was inevitable, it seems. The impact of these fellowships has been good, for the most part, and attractive for those seeking to be part of a larger story.

However, even with the rise of the megachurch, church attendance and participation in our culture seems to be going the opposite direction.


Have many churches peaked?

Bob Russell, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church, speaks of the reality of a local church's "shelf-life." He states. . .

One can trace the history of most churches through the swing of a bell curve. Birthed out of a need, it progresses upward through vision, commitment, enthusiasm, growth, and reputation, peaking at pride of achievement. Then the church slowly declines through tradition, dwindling attendance, indifference, bureaucracy, cynicism, and eventually death. 

In a conference I attended years ago, Reggie McNeal stated "All churches have a shelf-life. That's why we're not talking about the church at Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc. as modern pictures of a health and growth."

It's a wake up call for most pastors and church members.

Even in the suburban community where the church I serve is located, we have had to address the amazing demographic changes that have happened in just the past decade. To continue to program and plan to reach people as we did ten to fifteen years ago means that within ten to fifteen years, we may be struggling for survival.

Tweet: No church wants to be known as the  No church wants to be known as the "Sears" of the church-world, or even worse - the "Montgomery Ward."

Has Your Church Peaked?

A strategic and honest analysis of the health of your church is needed. To believe that everything is okay simply because there are people attending today is not enough. Since disciple-making is the goal of, and commission to the local church, it behooves us to ensure we (pastors and leaders) are equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). 

Tweet: Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo. @davidtark Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo.

Tweet: Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now. @davidtark Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now.

I think about the twelve whom Jesus called out as apostles. For three years he taught, led and poured truth into them. This was done for their present situations, but he had a larger story in mind. Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew and the rest had no idea that the work they would be commissioned to do for the sake of the Gospel would ever be more than the "holy huddle" of the twelve plus Jesus. Then, as he equipped them, he revealed to them their calling. 

He is still doing this.

The Local Church Is Valuable

The expression of the local church is valuable and God's design for impact in a community and ultimately the world. While His church will prevail, even when faced against the "gates of Hell" and the power of the Enemy, the reality is that numerous local churches no longer exist. This is not threatening to God or cause for distress. It is, however, a potential wake-up call for the fellowship of local believers.

We have a calling for now. The local church is still viable. However, the local church that becomes so inwardly focused and content to remain in small stories that ultimately do not matter, a funeral is coming. By the way, this is the truth for the mini-church and the mega-church.

We are wise to heed the words of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation (Bob Russell):

  • “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (2:5).
  • “Be faithful even to the point of death” (2:10).
  •  “Hold on to what you have until I come (2:25).
  • “Be earnest and repent” (3:19).
  • “Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” (3:2).

Tweet: Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future. @davidtark The adage is true - "Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future."

Your Church Has Peaked. . .Now What?

In this age where church planting is celebrated in the evangelical world, many established and "legacy" churches are struggling to discover their identity in a changing culture. While some may have to shut their doors and eventually sell their property, not all have to go this route.

Revitalization is key. 

To revitalize a dying church requires strategic "heart surgery." I have heard of far too many churches still gathering in old buildings, with rusty baptismal pipes (Baptist churches) and just a handful of senior adult ladies and one or two senior adult men gathering on Sunday mornings wondering what will happen in just a few years. 

Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, nothing will likely happen.

However, I have also had the privilege of watching a handful of dying (actually these churches weren't dying - they were actually dead and had been for years. I call them Zombie churches) churches swallow the pride of yesteryear and seek partnerships with growing, healthy and new expressions of church in their community. In some cases, the skin tone of the leadership had to change to better impact the changing community. In other situations, the heart language was different as immigrants have moved into an area. It's the same old story - the community changed and the church didn't respond. The wonderful thing is that in these cases, it wasn't too late.

The original expression of church peaked, but then was re-introduced through a healthy partnership and a newer, strategic vision. This is more than a fresh coat of paint on a broken-down building. This is a rebirth.

These churches have been born again.

Time ran a story a while back on "10 Companies That Radically Transformed Their Businesses" with illustrations of corporations who used to sell certain products then shifted and remain impactful today. IBM still exists because they realized at some point the business of creating punch-cards and tabulating machines would end. Nokia used to be a paper mill that sold rubber and cable works. Now, they make cell phones (though they may have to shift that too as Apple and Samsung seem to have cornered that market.)

The difference in these businesses and the church is that the "core product" is the only thing that will never change for the church. The Gospel is unchanging and always relevant. The means for sharing this Word changes over time, yet the Word never changes.

The local church may peak, but the Gospel never does.

The word to the wise is to know the Gospel, learn from the past, live in the present and look forward to the future. Just don't water-down or change the message.


At Some Point, You Have to Stop Asking "Isn't There Another Church Doing This?"

Yeah, I know - "There's nothing new under the sun."

It's a wise saying from a wise man and it still holds true.

However, as we seek to lead well and pastor with integrity in a swiftly changing culture, the fact is that often we (the church, pastors, leaders, etc.) find ourselves just doing the same things over and over again and wondering why we aren't seeming to gain any ground.

Unchanging Gospel

Now, I am referring to methodology here, not doctrinal soundness. To be clear, the unchanging truth of the Gospel remains the solid footing upon which we stand. There is no changing of the Gospel. There is no value in "watering it down." There is no viability in "making the Gospel relevant" because in and of itself, the Gospel is always relevant, for all people, in all cultures, at all time.

Changing Methods

What I am speaking of are the methods of "doing church" in our culture. I grew up in a Baptist world where regardless where I lived (Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, etc.) the way we held church weekly was virtually unchanged. Sunday School was always at 9:45am on Sunday morning. That was followed by an 11am worship service. Most Sunday afternoons were short in that we were back at the church building for Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training and an evening worship service. Tuesday was church-wide visitation and Wednesday was filled with "Prayer Meeting" for adults and a combination of choirs, missions education and student worship services for the rest of the congregation.

In most of my Baptist church families, the bulletin on Sunday mornings were the same (we all bought them from the Baptist Book Store - now LifeWay) and in many cases, the layout of the facilities were identical. This was due to the fact that our family often joined churches that were small in size and received building blueprints from the Baptist Book Store or somewhere in Nashville, so the L-shaped or U-shaped buildings with a "Sanctuary" on one end and offices and Sunday School rooms on the other were common.

New Wineskins

There comes a time when the methods for connecting and reaching people in the community (i.e. mission field) where God has placed His church must change. In most cases, churches struggle with this because we tend to lean on old models that worked decades ago and therefore put money and effort into plans ultimately designed to reach people who no longer exist.

Tony Morgan has recently blogged about the reality and danger of churches that are so predictable in all they do that, for the most part, they are finding themselves being ignored by a culture who does not care what they are "selling." Unfortunately, this is not just reserved for those who are outside the church. Some who have attended for years are wondering how they found themselves in such a rut.


In Tony's post titled "Predictable: 9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rut" he gives some great insight. (You should click the link and read his full list as well as related posts in the "Predictable" series.)

His first reason is this:

Tweet: All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable. @tonymorganlive All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable.

When I read that, I thought "YES!!! Someone finally said it. Thank you, Tony!"

I cannot tell you how many meetings I have had over the years with pastors, in our church and in our network, and other leadership team members when a new idea was thrown onto the table that resulted in someone saying "Surely someone else is doing something like this. Let's go see them or visit their website or talk to them."

Now, I fully agree that the wise leader will seek information and detail from others who have gone down a similar path, but the fact of the matter is that when God reveals new and creative ways to do ministry for the sake of His name and the intent of reaching the people (i.e. mission field) surrounding one's church, there is likely NO ONE doing ministry exactly how you will do it, or should.

Tweet: At some point, you should be the first to do  At some point, you should be the first to do "something" ministry related.

We live in the age of the mega-church. So many great and creative ideas have been developed and new ways of connecting with people have been birthed. While the Gospel remains unchanged, there are few, if any, vibrant, healthy churches that look like the churches I attended back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Just because City Church, Passion City Church, Saddleback, North Point, Summit or any host of other solid churches around our nation and network do ministry a certain way does not mean that is the exact way you should.

Know Your Community & Culture

Tweet: The pastor should know his culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect on a real, relevant and deep level. @davidtark 
 The pastor and leadership team should know their culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect with them on a real, relevant and deep level. 

If your community (you know, the mission field) is full of people who wear camouflage, drive four-wheel drive trucks, listen to outlaw country music, own big dogs, hunt and fish and love their Budweiser, it is likely that preaching in skinny jeans, bowties, hairstyles where the back of your head is shaved and the top just flows like a One Direction member, referencing kale salads and soccer games is not the "new, creative" steps needed to engage. However, I don't advocate becoming something you are not, pastor, in order to connect. Sure, be all things to all people, but ultimately, be authentic. Most anyone can see through fake-ness.

Fear Stifles Creativity

Hopefully, you have a leadership team (these are not always paid staff members, by the way) who have the freedom to think creatively. Celebrate that freedom, especially if you are not naturally bent to be creative. Listen well and take some chances. Predictability may be safe, but there are many "safe churches" who are closing their doors. 

Remember, this calling we have is not a calling to safety, but a dangerous calling for His sake.

We are the "sent out ones." 

So, while there may be someone who has done it before (whatever "it" is) please quit stifling what the Holy Spirit may be birthing for sake of safety.

Tweet: Predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim. @davidtark Ultimately, predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim.

A Church That Calls Out the Called

As I was preparing to preach the ordination sermon for Robert L. Powell last Sunday morning, I started writing down names on my church bulletin of men and women who were (and in some cases, are) members of our church who in the past said "Yes" to God regarding the calling to full-time Christian ministry. Of course, as I began to write down the names, it became clear that I would miss some. Nevertheless, here is a sampling of some of the names of those who have been a part (even if just for a short time) of the ministry at our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) who have stepped forward in answer to the call to serve. In some cases, there are couples who serve together. In most cases, many are still serving in ministry full or part-time (pay is the only part of ministry that is part-time, by the way.) Here's a portion of the listing, in no particular order, of those who have or are serving on ministerial staff at a local church, in a ministry, on the mission field. These are in no particular order:

  • Eddy & Monica - worship pastor, worship leader
  • Art - evangelist and pastor
  • Susan & Karl - missionaries
  • Karla - worship leader
  • Kerrie - missionary, church staff
  • Shanna - church ministerial staff, pastor's wife
  • Andy - pastor
  • Michael - church ministerial staff
  • Heather - minister's wife
  • Neil & Kaytee - church planters, missionaries
  • Jason - missionary
  • Brian - church ministerial staff
  • Brian - men's pastor
  • Robert - children's pastor
  • Brandon - student pastor, worship pastor
  • Lee - associate pastor, group home leader
  • Michael & Carrie - church planters, missionaries
  • Jon & Mandi - church ministerial staff
  • Nik & Mandy - church ministerial staff, children's minister
  • John & Monica - orphan care ministry, director of orphanage
  • Austin & Nicole - church ministerial staff
  • Kenzie & Ryan - church ministerial staff
  • Crystal & Jacob - church ministerial staff
  • Callie - Christian camp staffer
  • Patrick & Selena - mercy ministries pastor
  • Scott & Brittany - church staff & mission support ministry
  • Boyd - pastor
  • Curtis - missionary
  • Patrick - military chaplain
  • Nicole - missionary

Now, here's the problem with this list. . .I know I've left some off. I don't, at this time, know which names have been left off, but I am getting older, so I know I've left some names off. So, if you would add names of those who were a part of our church for a season (and that could be through the student ministry) who have answered God's call to full-time ministry in the comments below, I would appreciate it.


Following the ordination of Robert (Bobby) Powell on Sunday, one of our deacons shared with me this truth:

"If all those over the years who have said 'yes' to the calling had stayed in their small groups and in this church over the years, we may have a couple of dozen more in the seats on Sunday, but think of all the hundreds who would not have been reached by these faithful men and women."

It's true. While I affirm the sovereignty of our God and the reality that He doesn't need us, I celebrate the reality that He so chooses to invite us into His great story.

All Christians are called by God to serve. Some are called to the noble role of pastor and many others to serve in full-time ministry. The church is God's instrument to affirm the "calling out of the called." 

I am humbled by how God has done so here and how He continues to draw men and women to Himself.

Talk Is Cheap - Part 3 "The Ordination of Robert Powell"

09-27-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 3 - Calling Out

I have had the honor of seeing many young men and women step up and say "Yes" to God regarding calling into ministry. As I reflected on the men and women serving Him in various churches, missions, ministries and even in the workplace that I have had the honor of knowing over the years, I have been humbled by God's grace.

Yesterday, we had the privilege of licensing and ordaining Robert L. Powell to the Gospel Ministry. Robert grew up in Orange Park as a regular attender and member of First Baptist Church. At age twelve, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and as a high school senior, he said "yes" to the calling into full-time ministry. He has since graduated from The Baptist College of Florida and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Children's Ministry Assistant Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Baker, Florida.

He has been called out, equipped, sent out and set apart for God's glory and His ministry. 

Robert Powell Ordination

Talk Is Cheap - Part 2

09-20-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 2 - On the Team

Ever tried out for a sports team as a kid and discovered, much to your surprise, that when the final cuts were made, you were NOT on the team? That was my seventh grade baseball experience and effectively shifted me to basketball and a career of bad church softball.



There is a truly awkward feeling to show up at at party, thinking you are in the right place, only to discover that you weren't really invited. 

Sometimes people feel this way in church or around believers. It's not a clique issue (though those are issues) but one of family. When the conversations go places spiritually and you just feel lost, thinking "What are they talking about?" there is a sense that you're standing at the punch bowl at the party, but truly aren't part of the group.

Some, tragically, have committed their lives to church or religion and missed Christ in the process. This type of faith is a superficial, dead faith and when trials come, is revealed for what it is.

Maybe this is why there are so many non-attending church members in our churches today, relegated to the "Whatever happened to them?" files.

This message looks at James chapter 1 and digs into this reality.

Yet, here's the good news of the Gospel - there is an open invitation to join the family of God. The gift of salvation awaits. Listen to this message and if you need to talk to someone personally about where you stand with Christ, comment below.

A Church for Football Fans? Could This Work?

There are some things that identify my community every fall. I live in Jacksonville, Florida (well, actually a suburb of Jacksonville.) When I meet people from out of state, I find that they have heard of Jacksonville, but aren't too sure where on the state map it is located. So, just in case you need a geography primer, Jacksonville is located at the "bend." We are located in the northeast corner where the panhandle meets the Atlantic Ocean and turns south.

Jacksonville is the kind of area where people who are transferred here due to work (CSX and US Navy, mostly) decide to stay after retirement. 

It's the "biggest little town" I've ever known with over 1 million residents.

I would say the largest religious preference in our community isn't Baptist, Catholic or another denominational tagline, but would have to be "Football."

Every fall, the weekend schedules for many center around high school, college and professional football.

Like many, I too am a fan and love to cheer on our local teams and sit back and watch the roller coaster of emotions of others in our community when their teams fail to perform to expectation.

Back when I first moved here, this city was as excited as I have ever seen it. The NFL had awarded Jacksonville with a franchise that would dramatically change this "little big town" (not the country band, BTW).

I did exactly what others did at the time. I jumped on the bandwagon of fans at the outset and put aside my other allegiances to become a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. I was at that first Monday Night Football game when the Jags beat the Steelers in the last seconds. Wow!!! What a night. The years of Brunell, Boselli, Thunder & Lightning and playoff runs were unbelievable. While the most recent years have tested the faith of those who love the teal and black, the Jags are still our home team, and I'll remain a fan.

So, as I think back to those first seasons, I remember when many local pastors would preach sermons that intended to guilt their church members regarding their Sunday activities. In other words, beyond the beach and time with the family at the lake, there now was a community-wide gathering just about every Sunday at 1pm in the fall. This gathering was at the now-named EverBank Field as fans gathered to watch the Jaguars play.

Over the years, I have heard less guilt-driven sermons intent on making Christians feel bad for watching football on Sunday. Well, it wasn't really that pastors were upset that their church members were watching football on Sunday. It was more that pastors were frustrated that church members tended to leave early on Sunday to get to the game or stayed all afternoon and in the days of "Evening Worship" would miss the church gatherings.

Let's just say that "guilt-driven" sermons based on football viewing did little to sway the attendance patterns of fans. Now, the play on the field did much to affect attendance, but that's a subject for another day.

Churches Aren't Too Good At Creating Crowds

For years, churches in the west have attempted to create crowds for events, services and programs. Sometimes, they (we) have found success, but mostly these are short-lived. Sometimes, the crowd-gathering efforts seem weak and are often viewed as an end and not a means to an end.

The truth of the matter is that most churches do not create crowds well. When the money and effort is finalized and the crowd hasn't arrived (or the intended crowd, at least) the church faces feelings of failure.

Go Where The Crowd Already Is

The missional movement among churches helped leaders view things differently in the community. Over the years, I have shared this concept with our leaders and with other pastors. Rather than try to create a crowd, why don't we go where the crowd is already gathered?

In many cases, whether at community events, concerts, high school games, or festivals, our church has sought creative ways to serve at these events. Serving at these gatherings is much different than "crashing the community party" and gives authentic, practical opportunities for connecting with those outside the church walls.

GameDay Church?

That brings us to our new endeavor as a church. I asked the questions to our Leadership Team, "What if we brought the church to where the crowd is already gathered on Sundays in the fall? What if we 'did church' at the Jaguars game?"

Gameday church 1

The Jaguars play in EverBank Field. Located on the same piece of property, next to our minor league baseball park and basically in the parking area for EverBank is an old church building. This church building - Old St. Andrew's Church - is owned by the City of Jacksonville and maintained by the Jacksonville Historical Society. We have contacted the leadership of this group and initially were told we could rent the facility on Sundays, other than home game dates for the Jaguars. Then, we explained what we desired to do. We wanted to have a church service specifically on those home game dates, for fans who already have tickets, are early arrivers (tailgaters) and who may desire or at least be curious about possibly attending a church service prior to kickoff.

After a few weeks of conversations and negotiations, we are attempting to move forward with GameDay Church. Since the church building is not available on the date we need, we will be unable to meet indoors, but have been given permission to erect a large tent on their lot for this gathering.

So, on Sunday morning at 10am on December 13, GameDay Church will launch on the grounds of Old St. Andrew's Church. We are still in the planning stages, but on this day, the church will gather for worship, teaching from the Word of God and perhaps some time of fellowship (i.e. tailgating) with BBQ and other grilled items and maybe some games prior to the big game!

Gameday church 4

While we acknowledge that the majority of people who will likely attend are already church members/attenders in our community, we are praying that some of them will bring a friend or two to this church gathering in the parking lot of the Jaguars stadium? 

Tweet: Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward to go where the crowd is already gathered. Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward with the concept of going where the crowd is already gathered.

Gameday church 5

Is this a Mars Hill moment? There may not be many philosophers gathered as Paul encountered, but there will be a crowd, nonetheless. There will likely be some interesting conversations as well. 

Many in our community do not think about going to church on Sunday mornings. What if the church went to them? Sounds biblical to me.

More to come on GameDay Church. In the meantime, check out the website here -

The International Mission Board is Bringing Home Hundreds of Missionaries. Who's to Blame & What's Next?

Over the past few days, I have read numerous accounts regarding the financial situation of our International Mission Board and the announcement that up to 800 missionaries will be pulled off the field through early retirement and other means over the next six months.

Dr. David Platt, President of the IMB has been making the rounds to SBC agencies, seminaries and churches sharing this update and has recently posted an "OPEN LETTER" to all Southern Baptists regarding the announcement. The letter can be read in its entirety here.


David Platt, IMB President
David Platt, President of the IMB (Photo Credit: Baptist Press)



On or around September 10, many veteran missionaries throughout the world will receive word from the IMB that they are part of the 600-800 being offered voluntary retirement incentives (VRI.)

This is a difficult time for Southern Baptists, but it does not have to be so.

Once the IMB made the announcement, there have been varied responses from church leaders, church members, missionaries and pastors.

Blame the Churches

Some have taken the opportunity to express that churches are to blame for abandoning mission education programs such as RAs, GAs, Acteens and WMU. While there is a definite need for mission education, I believe that our current situation would not change even if more churches had these programs. (Our church no longer has these programs in place.)

There have been others who have shared that lower giving to the Cooperative Program has resulted in this. Some churches give to specific missions and missionaries by reducing their CP giving. Others do not give systematically to CP at all.

Some blame churches who have abandoned giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions as well) and that is what has led to this situation.

Blame the Church Members

Blame is being placed upon the shoulders of believers who are members of local churches, too. A church budget is only functional based on the tithes and offerings received by members (and guests.) Some push against the teaching of the tithe, but I feel it's not only right, but biblical. When church members are content to "tip" rather than "tithe" the overall receipts suffer and ultimately, giving to missions decreases. Now, this presupposes that the church where the members are giving are good stewards of funds received and using them for Kingdom purposes.

Blame the State Conventions

Bureaucracy builds automatically in organizations. It just happens over time. Some state conventions have taken the bold step restructure and move quickly to a 50/50 distribution where half of the collected funds from member churches stay within the state and the other half is given to the SBC, which includes IMB through CP giving. My state, Florida, is moving quickly to be a 49/51 state, where less than half stays in state. According to a posting on Baptist 21. . .

“If by decree tomorrow (impossible by our polity and rightly so), every state convention moved to a 50/50 split, then that would mean $55.4 million more to the SBC and $27.7 million more given to the IMB. That’s without any increased giving at all!” That would have been a big chunk of the IMB’s nearly $35million yearly shortfall!

Blame the Economy

The economy is always in flux. It always has been. The economic bottoming out a few years ago pushed many families, churches and non-profits into a frenzy. It's true the economy has affected giving greatly. However, it is time to stop blaming the economy for every financial issue we face.

Blame the IMB

There are some who are putting much blame on Dr. Platt and the trustees of the IMB. In addition to Dr. Platt, leaders from the past are being thrown under the bus as well. Questions relating to the "suddenness" of the announcement are pushing these blames to the forefront. I believe Dr. Platt answered well in his open letter:

No blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership. Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Ultimately, I praise God for the people who came to Christ over these last years because missionaries stayed on the field, and because we used our resources to keep them there.

Yet when staff and trustee leaders alike looked at the realities before us, we realized that plan is no longer viable, for we cannot continue to overspend as we have. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.

Blame Isn't Helping, So Now What?

There's definitely enough blame to go around, it seems. However, I'm not sure how helpful or healthy it is to continue playing the "blame game." The fact of the matter is that over the decades, God has used the SBC to impact the world for the Kingdom. He has allowed an incredible model to be developed that enabled thousands of missionaries and families to be on the field. The harvest is plentiful, I hear. The workers have always been few, but in these decades, we have had a good number serving.

Now that number is going to diminish.

It seems.

Is blame the best response? Maybe there's no reason to blame anyone? We're all in this together, it seems. And, just in case it has been forgotten, God was not taken by surprise here. So maybe, just maybe, He's up to something.

In the midst of this story, where there are people on all sides lamenting the realities of what will happen this fall, there is hope.

Though some pastors celebrate the downsizing of the IMB, likely because they love when things are new or restructured for better work, the reality is that these 600-800 people who will receive these notifications soon are just that . . . PEOPLE.

These are men and women who wrestled with a call from God many years ago to leave their homes and their culture to go "somewhere else" for the sake of the Kingdom. While it was likely adventuresome at first, even while on the field there were likely days when they thought "Did I hear God correctly?"

Yes, they heard God correctly and were placed in the center of His calling. In most places, they went to dark areas where the Light of Christ hadn't shown for years, if ever.

These missionaries are more than two-dimensional images on postcards plastered on our refrigerators. These are men and women of God, serving Him in full-time and long-term in areas where most of us will never trod.

Not all will accept the VRI. Not all should. What does that mean? It means that for many, as long as they are affirmed that God has not said "Go back to the States" they will remain on the field. Their funding will be changed. The IMB may not be able to offer what they have in the past. If fact, that's not a "maybe" that is pretty much a certainty.

Yet, for churches who are partnered with these missionaries, there will be a crisis of belief.

Many of our churches are the ones who sent out (or "cast out" as the original language in Matthew 9 states) these lifetime missionaries. For others, we have come alongside them through mission emphases, mission trips and a love for the people in the region they serve. 

I'm not exactly sure what this means for all, but in many cases, God will choose to leave these men and women on the field and then will speak to His churches regarding their support. 

In our church's case, this in no way will impact our giving to the Cooperative Program. Yet, we will seek God's lead on what to do with our missionaries. We may not be able to fully fund them, but perhaps, along with other means, those whom God has not said "Finished" to yet, will have the means to remain where He has called them.

For all of us, missionaries, pastors, churches, and church members, we must pray intently and strategically. We must have "ears to hear" and ensure that what we hear is God's voice and not our idea or plan to fix a decades long problem.

I support Dr. David Platt, the IMB and our Trustees. I know their decision has come after much prayer and seeking God. I don't like the answer that leads to removing missionaries. In fact, based on what I've heard and read, they don't like it either. Nevertheless, we are beyond just sending press releases and creating videos and begging churches to give more.

Don Dent, a Southern Baptist missionary recently posted notes regarding the decision on Facebook. In one posting, he states:

The loss of another 600-800 colleagues is going to be painful, just as the drawdown of 900 was painful several years ago. Let’s pray for everyone who will be affected. I am praying that a leaner IMB will actually be meaner. I am not implying that things will be better without these colleagues, because the failure to support them is tragic. However, the IMB will still be one of the largest agencies in the world, and one of the most effective.  Southern Baptists are going to lose some precious resources in this process, but God can still use the 4000 harvesters that remain.  The harvest is plentiful and the workers are too few, so unless God himself tells you to come home then sharpen your sickle and get back to the harvest.

Tweet: It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives. @davidtark It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives.  

Therefore, I am seeking the Lord of the harvest and waiting on His lead.

I pray our other SBC churches will as well.

What Does the Kentucky Clerk's Jailing Mean for Pastors & Churches?

It's been in the news for weeks, and finally it's coming to a head. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky is now nationally known and has is being jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her jurisdiction. 

image from
Credit Ty Wright/Getty Images

This was inevitable following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

I actually figured the story would center on a pastor first before hitting a clerk's office. Nevertheless, Kim Davis has become the face of latest battle between law and religious conviction.

Depending where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, Davis is either a woman of faith standing upon her convictions or the image of all that is wrong with religion in this country.

Her own stories of marital failures and infidelity are now coming to light and some are using those as proof she is a hypocrite regarding the faith argument. However, even in the NBC News story, it is clear that her religious convictions developed four years ago when she stated she had a "message of grace" from the Lord. That may not make any sense to most who read this, but for those who are followers of Christ, that would best be translated into a "crisis of belief" and a new birth moment. The old is gone and the new is here.

Her quote here makes it clear: "I am not perfect. No one is, but I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God."

To that end, it is clear she feels strongly about honoring God through her work and has been conflicted in this area regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Personally, I applaud her convictions and am praying for her. Though she is likely facing a losing battle in this case, she has sought to stand strong.

I'll leave it to others to dissect the legalities and the threats on religious liberty in this case. 

The Story I Predicted

One story that made headlines a week ago and has not been referenced much lately refers to something I shared with other pastors recently. For most of the pastors I know and serve alongside in our denomination, there is a solid agreement that they will refuse to oversee weddings between those of the same gender.

However, the question to my pastor friends was this, "Prior to a wedding, will you seek to discover if the man and woman standing before you were born the gender they now live as?"

I'm usually met with silence.

Tweet: As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address. As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address.

My prediction was that soon a pastor in our nation, who has strongly stated he would not oversee a same-sex wedding, would have a couple share with the media that, in actuality he did, unknowingly.

It already has become news in the case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk.

Here's the headline from The Guardian:

"Kentucky Clerk Unknowingly Issued a Marriage License to Trangender Man"

While I will be chastised for not referring to the transgendered man as a man, the fact of the matter is that in this case, a marriage license was issued to a couple who were born the same gender. Full story here.

image from
Camryn Colen and wife Alexis: Kentucky clerk Kim Davis ‘pretty much already violated her conscience by marrying us’. Photograph: Courtesy of Camryn Colen

Some may say that a same-sex marriage is different than this, but I would disagree.

What does this mean for pastors?

It means that as stories will continue to pile up and fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds regarding transgenderism and the other aspects of LGBT life, pastors must understand fully what is at stake for them. The SCOTUS ruling was not an end and now people of faith, who hold convictions against a redefined marriage will come under even more pressure as boundaries are stretched.

Pastors will likely have to add another question in their "Uncomfortable Questions" list for couples seeking marriage. In addition to "Are you both born-again followers of Christ?",  "Are you living together?" and "Are you engaging in sexual intercourse?" Pastors will need to ask "Were you born the gender you are now?"

It may be offensive to those being questioned, but it will likely become inevitable.

Will pastors be arrested?

Probably. At least some will be. Some probably should be (oops, did I just write that?)

There are voices in the legal world stating that those with religious convictions regarding weddings and marriages will continue to have their rights and their views protected, the reality is that most of us who hold firmly to what we deem at biblical teachings regarding marriage just don't believe those voices.

To be clear, I am opposed to same-sex marriage based upon my convictions of what Scripture states.

In full disclosure, there are those within the world of American Christianity and religion who state loudly their love for God and differ with me regarding the validity of same-sex marriage. I understand that difference and applaud and will fight for their right to differ, but it is clearly a difference. I respectfully disagree and believe God was clear in his expression of marriage and gender and identity.

So what do we do?

Well, before picking up protest signs and creating another boycott (maybe that should be avoided completely) pastors and all Christians should do that which God has told us to do.

Tweet: We must pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God. @davidtark Pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God.

We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that everyone in our culture has a biblical worldview and begin to live as the missionaries God has called us to be. 

Perhaps this needs to be our theme verse in this age:

 Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

Lost Sheep Eventually Come Home

I saw this story in the news today about a sheep in Australia that wandered away from its flock and became lost. It seems that this sheep was in the bush, alone, for about five or six years.

Chris the Sheep
The very woolly merino sheep was spotted wandering near Mulligan Flats, a grassy woodland just outside the capital Canberra, by bushwalkers. (Photo: RSPCA via AFP/Getty Images)



The Bible is full of illustrations and parallels using sheep, shepherds and flocks. 

In Jesus' trifecta of "lost" parables found in the Gospels, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son) he challenges the religious leaders and explains God's heart for the lost and how he does what is needed to reach them. However, there is something in these stories that often is overlooked, at least by me. In each story the lost element (sheep, coin, son) belonged to the owner or to the family. There was a belonging that was evident in the genesis. So, the sheep was at one time part of a flock. The coin at one time was safely in the possession of the woman. Ultimately, the son was a full member of the family. He was not a stranger and held all the rights and privileges of sonship. Yet, in each story something happened. In each case, that which was home and in the right place became lost.

Is this a message on salvation? Perhaps. I don't discount that God seeks and draws all humanity to Himself. I believe that God desires that all be rescued and apart from a relationship with God through Christ, people are lost. 

However, in these situations, it seems that Jesus is speaking of those who once were a part of the flock, home, family (i.e. church.)

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus states. . .

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)

In the case of today's news story, the missing sheep remained lost for years. I'm sure the shepherds and others probably chalked it up as a loss, forgot about it and moved on. Yet, there he was. He's been named "Chris." Apparently, humans have a need to name animals of all kinds in order to feel better about them.

The news reports give this account on Chris' rescue: Chris was found near Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary outside Canberra by bushwalkers who feared he would not survive the approaching southern summer. He was found several miles from the nearest sheep farm. A bushwalker named him Chris after the sheep in the “Father Ted” television comedy series. (AP)

The photographs of Chris the sheep are incredible. I included it in this post above. They're sad and funny in that this animal, unbeknownst to himself, looked terrible. He had lived alone for so long that he likely thought that to be normal and had nothing been done to help him, likely would not have survived the coming summer.

Chris had no idea he was lost!

As I looked at the photos of Chris, I thought "That's what happens to Christians who never engage in the mission. They may be in the building, but they hide in the crowd. They settle for just sitting and soaking in the stuff of church."

In a very real sense, there is "lostness" among those in the church today. Like Chris, they don't even know they're lost.

Oh, and as for the the ones who are far from the church, who have run from it and abandoned its teachings and ultimately abandoned the Gospel. . .they look like this, too. Spiritually, at least. And they don't even realize it.

The best part of the parable as recorded by Luke, in my opinion, is this phrase - And when he comes home.

There are many in our churches praying for lost friends and family members and at times, the natural thing to do is lose hope. This story of a lost sheep gives a clear thought that the one who once belonged in the flock, though straying from truth, will be sought and will be found and will come home one day.

Tweet: Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor. @davidtark Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor.

Every church and many families have a "Chris the Sheep" in their story. 

Keep praying and keep believing. One day. . .hopefully soon, "Chris the Sheep" will come home.

What happens then?

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.


The full story of "Chris the Sheep" as presented in the AP, can be found here.

Why the Jokes About Jenner Have to Stop

This has been a landmark year for advocates of the LGBT community.

In addition to the SCOTUS ruling that changed state recognition of same-sex marriage, a prominent celebrity (Bruce Jenner) slid to the far right of the acronym to announce that he is transgender and will begin living not as the gender he was born, but as a woman.

To be clear, I do not support the shift in gender that Jenner has and is going through. I don't even know the man, but my belief in identity and bestowed gender, founded on what I believe the Word of God to reveal, means that I cannot affirm this lifestyle choice. I wrote about Jenner's announcement here. I also believe that God loves Jenner as he loves all. Love, nevertheless, is not synonymous with affirmation and acceptance of life choices.

CREDIT: Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images, Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Since Jenner's "coming out" as Caitlyn, the entertainment and sports media has pointedly fought to find more details about Jenner and this has effectively pushed him back on the cover of magazines, on the stage at awards shows and as the lead story on many entertainment "news" shows. Some say this was what he desired all along. Perhaps, but I doubt that was the driving force. 

It's Not About Political Correctness

In a culture where political correctness reigns and celebrities, politicians, and athletes spend more apologizing for saying or Tweeting things that have been labeled as insensitive by the self-proclaimed political correctness police, I am not calling for the end of Jenner jokes and other LGBT jokes for this reason.

Like most guys, I love a good joke. Like most jokes that are really funny, there's always a hint of truth in them. Sarcasm is easy for me. Humor that may offend some has always been a default for me as well. While I find no humor in jokes laced with profanity, racial stereotypes or hurtful words, there are times I have told jokes, or at least laughed at some that are hurtful. What's worse than couching hurtful language in a joke that may cause an individual to feel personally ridiculed is the hurt that takes place for God and His Kingdom.

It Is Mission Critical

When missionaries are sent to international lands, they are sent with a mandate - a Commission. This is to love God fully as they love people with the intent of leading people to the rescue that is found only in Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are not taught to "Americanize" the natives. They are not taught to look down on those whom they been sent to serve. They are not led to water-down the Gospel for any reason, just to be accepted either. They are sent equipped to live among the culture that does not know Jesus, or in some cases is loudly opposed to Jesus.

Christians in America are discovering that the mission field is no longer only overseas. It's not just on another continent where a different religion reigns supreme. The mission field is here. In some cases, the mission field is within one's home and family.

Our culture is growing more loudly opposed to Christ and Christians. The marginalization of the church in cultural life is upon us. Yet, rather than lament the reality, we must celebrate that God has seen fit to place us here, now, for "such a time as this." Apparently, he is equipping us to be His ambassadors and His church for a mission field that is very dark.

Love Wins

While #LoveWins has trended recently as a call for unity and celebration by the LGBT community, the truth of the matter is that Love who wins has already won. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And. . .lost people do not know that. Sometimes, they have been blinded to that truth because of religion, unfortunately.

So, Why Stop the Jokes?

Maybe you've never told or laughed at "gay jokes" or "transgender jokes." Or ... maybe you're like me. Here's why I feel the conviction to stop. I believe God has given us a unique opportunity to share His love and hope with those in our community who struggle with same-sex attraction and even deeply troubling gender issues. I know that previous statement is a challenging one, especially for those who are LGBT and are not struggling with it, by their own admission. Nevertheless, based on my faith convictions and understanding of Scripture, I would stand by my wording.

That being said, the Great Commission does not have an asterisk by it that eliminates certain people from our love through Christ. 

This is the biggest challenge - loving truly without affirming sin (and I mean any kind of sin - so don't think I'm just saying LGBT lifestyles. I do mean adultery, fornication, thievery, gluttony, etc.) If we can't love people who sin. . .well, we have to eliminate much Scripture.

Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier

I believe humor is a gift from God. It's not a spiritual gift. It's not even a primary gift. I just believe that God, in his sovereignty and glory has gifted us with the ability to laugh (at ourselves mostly) and circumstances. Laughter can be healing (Ever see "Patch Adams?")

However, jokes can be hurtful. 

How many times has someone said something hurtful to another and then tagged "just kidding" at the end, thinking that makes it all okay?

Tweet: If we're going to live as missionaries in a culture far from God, we can't continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach. @davidtarkIf we, as Christians, are going to be living sent, as missionaries in a culture far away from God, we cannot continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach.

  • It would be like a white Christian missionary being sent to a tribal area in an African nation and telling "black jokes"...
  • It would be like an American moving to Europe and continually making fun of European accents and customs...
  • It would be like moving to Miami and telling jokes that make fun of Cubans...
  • Or living in South Texas and telling Mexican jokes...

It would be like doing all these things and more and then expecting to be able to share the Gospel message with those you have just made fun of, expecting a good response.

Tweet: Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our "love."

I know, some of you are already poking holes in my premise by stating that the LGBT community is not a racial or cultural people group. I agree. It is different. I do not equate them as the same. I oppose the use of the Civil Rights Movement in our nation as a parallel to the LGBT causal movement of today. They are vastly different.

However, this is what we do know to be a reality. The LGBT community is just that - a community. In most cases, there is unbridled acceptance within the community (unless you are vehemently opposed and then there is no place at the table.) Most are not angry gay men or lesbians. Many just want to live their lives and be left alone. There are some (and they're loud) who advocate pretty harshly. Harshness often attracts harshness.

Love Without Affirmation of Sin

The church is going to have to make a decision in this world where the biblical worldview is being pushed aside and redefined by many (wrongly, I might add.) Some denominations in our culture are already capitulating. In other words, they are wimping out and have sacrificed the authority of Scripture and adherence to such for short-lived applause by those who really don't like them anyway. 

Tweet: The church must decide if people are really worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. @davidtarkThe church that stands firmly on Scripture and does not bend in this area, must decide if those within their membership (and there are quite a few) and those who are seeking God really are worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. 

While some say that's an offensive statement, I say no. If we truly love God then we can truly love people (all people, not just those who live with church approved sins). If we love people, we must show that love so that ultimately LOVE WINS. This is not a bait and switch. This is what we have been called to do.

We are missionaries to a culture that is as dark as any unchurched part of the world. Let's live well, live holy, live uncompromisingly on the Gospel and love well and tell some good jokes along the way, but let's not build unnecessary walls.

How Transparent Should a Pastor Be?

Yesterday I finished up our series on parenting and family aptly titled "The Fam."

While not initially planned on my part, but due to an overwhelming push (or maybe a pull) by God, I felt compelled at the close of my message on "Rites of Passage" to step away from my notes and shared with our church family some struggles and difficulties my wife, children and I have been facing for a few years.

The Elephant in the Room

For some, it was the "elephant in the room" in that most who know us well know that we have been challenged as parents of adult children. For others, mostly new church attenders and members and those who are not as fully engaged in the life of the church - it was totally new information. In fact, for some, it was probably news that I am married and even have children.


Nonetheless, I confessed that by preaching and teaching on the "rites of passage" that parents should take their children through in order for them to enter into authentic adulthood as God designed, I felt a bit like a hypocrite. 

The frustration and feelings led me to almost shelve the message totally. However, I sensed God imploring me to press on.

My struggle is that I have missed numerous "rites of passage" with my son due to his continued rebellion against our family, the Gospel and God that began a number of years ago. Not to go too deeply here, but to put it plainly, in our lives, the story of the "Prodigal Son" is not just a parable from the Bible that makes for a good Sunday School class lesson. It feels like our biography.

So, I shared this with our church family. 

I felt I had done something dangerous.

I felt I had done something risky.

I felt I had revealed, maybe too much.

I felt vulnerable.

I have never been one to embrace the false "perfect pastor" persona that many have created. I fully understand and receive the role God has called me to fulfill. I feel the heavy responsibility to divide the Word rightly and to preach the Gospel clearly. I know that I am called to make disciples and to equip the saints. I do not minimize any of these realities.

I also know that I am to live out my faith in all areas of my life, at church, in the schools, in the community and especially at home.

And. . .I know I am human and though redeemed by God through the blood of Christ, I still, at times, mess up. Call it what it is - I sin.

Like many parents of adult children, I look back wishing I could do some things differently. I look at old photographs of days gone by and wonder "What if that was a moment where I could have spoken into my child's life in a way that would have changed the present?"

Tweet: Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret. @davidtark  Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret.

So, I shared what I shared.

Not too much. . .but clear nonetheless.

Too transparent?

I don't think so. Not this time, at least. Here's why I say that. Following the service I had numerous (and that means more than ten) adults and parents come to me saying things like "I don't know your details, but know this - you're not alone. We've been struggling through this same story as well. We're in the same boat as you." Some say there's comfort in misery, but this is not the case. The comfort here was two-fold: I was affirmed that the majority of our church loves God, loves people and loves my family. Many were affirmed that their pastor really does understand some of the struggles of life. Perhaps, they needed reminding that the myth of the "perfect family" with no difficult chapters is just that - a myth.

The greatest reminder (And why must we always be reminded of this? Oh yeah, because we're uber forgetful) is that God is sovereign. His love endures. He loves our children even more than we do. He loves us in spite of our failings. He has been in this story before. In fact, He is the author and hero of the story. There is hope.

So, pastor, as you study, pray and prepare to bring the sermon God is leading to your church next week, understand that there is a great possibility you may hit a "TMI" moment (Too much information) but don't preach with a fear of saying too much. Trust God to use your transparency to bring Him glory. . .and perhaps even bring you healing.