"I Take That Back" - Eugene Peterson's Retraction

Once again social media reacts (maybe with some responses) regarding statements made by a Christian leader. Yesterday, the buzz centered on Eugene Peterson's interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Services and his stated affirmation regarding same-sex marriage.

Today, Peterson retracts his statements (Full article here.) He stated:

Peterson

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

It is difficult to retract statements made on controversial subjects, but we have all said things that after further thought were regretted and retracted. 

I am glad Peterson has made this statement. These are good words, yet notably there remain some questions. 

Many shared discouragement, yet continued love, of Peterson based on his statements yesterday. Today, many of those who were saddened find some solace (though still questions) regarding his retraction. 

Of course, this means that those who celebrated his pro-same-sex marriage statements yesterday have now jumped over to lambasting him for his seeming flip-flop on the issue.

Some have questioned whether LifeWay's threat to remove his printed materials from their bookstores impacted this retraction. While it could be true, I stand by my statement in yesterday's posting that I doubted that would impact him personally regarding his stance.

Retractions are interesting, especially those like Peterson's. They seem like the corrections offered in newspapers found hidden on page 12 that reference the previous day's front page headline.

Cynicism is not a spiritual gift, though I often display it. In this case, I seek not to be the cynic and will take Peterson at his quoted word.

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

If nothing else, these stories have reminded us of the continued challenges in our culture as worldviews collide.


Eugene Peterson's Disappointing Message of Affirmation

In the Christian corner of the Twitterverse and blogosphere, there's a bit of a disruption today. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson, in an interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service shared his current views affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in particular. Here's his answer when asked by Merritt on his position:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

Peterson, most widely known for his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message, as well as numerous other books such as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and As Kingfishers Catch Fire has publicly made known his views on perhaps the most divisive and controversial of topics in America and especially the church today.

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This should not be totally shocking for those who have read or follow Peterson. He served as pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the past, most notably Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, MD which, like others in the PCUSA have affirmed homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The PCUSA endorsed same-sex marriage in 2015. Not all pastors and members of PCUSA churches agree with the endorsement. Many have since left the denomination and I know of one pastor in our region who was forced to leave for not affirming homosexuality. Nevertheless, based on Peterson's statement, it appears he is lining up with the denomination's leaders and others who have stepped away from a biblical worldview on manhood, womanhood, and sexuality.

Peterson drew concern from many who have enjoyed his writings (and to be clear, he is an incredibly gifted writer) when he endorsed Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins in 2011. Bell's revelations in his book moved him from orthodox Christianity when he disavowed the centrality of the Gospel and Christ as the only way to salvation, not to mention the existence of hell. Peterson stated at the time that while he didn't agree with Bell, he endorsed his work because he valued the conversation. While I agree that conversing about differing beliefs is valid and should occur, to endorse a book that, in my opinion, is heretical was too far. When Peterson was asked "Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?" He replied:

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context. But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

The answer he gave then (2011) was broad and sought to be non-offensive. I agree that our answers ought to be a good bit more biblical and correct in context. Yet the eyebrows were raised and today, once more, a shift from biblical truth has been revealed.

It's easy for Christians to just "throw under the bus" those with whom we disagree. There are way too many blogs out there focused on dividing the church and built on sensational negativism. My desire is not to fan the flames of divisiveness, but to reveal once more how the cultural revolution and anti-biblical worldviews subtly, at times, seep into the church and Christianity.

You will find articles, tweets, and postings from conservative evangelicals over the years affirming some of Peterson's writings. As stated before, he truly has a gift of creativity through writing. It was today when many of these same individuals stated their disappointment in Peterson's newly revealed stance.

Peterson had stated he was stepping away from the public eye and would no longer be authoring books. Then, in the second portion of Merritt's interview, he reveals his stance on human sexuality.

Will this affect his book sales? Yes, likely. However, I don't think he really cares. His publisher may, but he likely does not. That's not a shot - just an opinion. I do think some at NavPress may be working on damage control, but it likely won't help.

LifeWay has announced that once he affirms the statements given in the interview, they will be removing his resources from their stores. This is exactly what they did with Jen Hatmaker's resources for the very same reason. The consistency is laudable and I agree with the decision.

In the interview, Merritt speaks of a day when Peterson will no longer exist. I think a poor choice of words was utilized by Merritt. This has been addressed by others, most notably Denny Burk here.

I am disappointed in Peterson's assertion regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Does this mean I won't be buying any Peterson books?

Well, yes, but I wasn't really buying his books anyway.

Does this mean I will not use The Message in my study or preaching?

I will not. However, I never did. The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase and while some of the modern-day wording is interesting and offers an unique spin on the inerrant, it is not a translation and should not be used as such. Just as The Living Bible should not be, in my opinion, the Bible for study or preaching.

Why blog about this?

I have sought to be cordial and not mean-spirited in this posting. I hope I have accomplished that. Nevertheless, some will categorize me a "hater" once again. Peterson is a pastor. He is speaking on a deeply important theological, and cultural issue. To be clear, all cultural issues are theological.

The sinfulness of humanity is common to all. The arguments regarding the affirmation of homosexuality as a lifestyle are getting louder. Some in the church are abandoning biblical truth for cultural acceptance and the current state of "fairness." Nevertheless, the truth remains. God has not changed regarding the sinful nature of humanity and the need for redemption. That's the radical message of the Gospel. 

Some Christians seek to avoid this issue, mostly because friends and family members identify as LGBT. Yet, that is a weak excuse. I speak as one with a dear family member who identifies as such. To ignore the issue is to silently affirm the sin.

Denny Burk said it so well in his response today:

To say that Peterson's justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on Scripture. Rather, it's an argument based on sentiment. He says that he's known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It's folly of the first order.

I agree with Burk. Pastoral responsibility leads me to clearly state that Peterson's affirmation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage (just as with Hatmaker's and others who have made such statements) is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful. Words matter and Peterson is a wonderful wordsmith. I just wish his words weren't so very damaging.


Dear Young Pastor and Church Planter...Listen!

There comes a point in pastoral ministry when people stop referring to you as the new, young pastor. Youthfulness is fleeting and along with the greying of hair, stiffening of joints, and a few more "smile lines" comes, hopefully, some wisdom.

I am encouraged at this stage of ministry when others seem to be lamenting the perceived fall of the church in our culture. As I visited a church last week, and joined the senior adult men's Bible study class, one gentleman stated his dismay at how the world is and how bleak the future appears.

I imagine every generation since Adam (or at least Noah) has said similar things. 

Nevertheless, be encouraged. Of course, our study last week was on Barnabas. How appropriate. 

There are many young men who have answered God's call into pastoral ministry. Many young men and women are committed to living as disciples of Jesus Christ, on mission for Him. Though the rise of the "nones" continues to make headlines (or at least becomes sermon fodder or religious discussion points) the fact remains that God has not changed and, in case you have forgotten, is still on His sovereign throne.

That being said, once you step over the line into "older adulthood" or at least "median adulthood" (those designations change depending on who is looking back in the mirror) perspectives shift. Wisdom of the ages is garnered, at least we hope so.

Every Timothy needs a Paul. The wise pastor realizes that at some point he, too, becomes a Paul for another Timothy. This is a daunting and wonderful role not to be ignored.

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So, as I stand here at this point in pastoral ministry, I have many years behind me. I have no idea how many ahead (though I'm planning for many.) I have learned some things. I have much more to learn. Oh, and some of the things I have learned, I am still attempting to put into practice. In other words - I have not arrived and I know it.

H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park has written an excellent book for pastors that features a chapter titled "Lessons I've Learned Along the Way." As I read these, I find myself agreeing and even laughing because I know each statement has a deeper story behind it. H.B. is a friend and has been and is being greatly used by God as His pastor to those at Shiloh and beyond. As I read these tips from H.B., I thought of the young men in our church and network and those I have come to know, at least in passing, and I offer his tips, others I've found and mine as well. H.B.'s are marked. Get the book here for his full list.

For the young pastors and ministers out there...

  • Don't plant a church with only people your age and younger. You may be cool, but that "wisdom of the ages" thing is missing and that's dangerous. (David K. Tarkington)
  • You may have to serve as a bi-vocational pastor for a season. That season may be decades long. (DKT)
  • Arrogance is not a spiritual gift. (DKT)
  • Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn't open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. The Q: Will Christ be enough? (Jared C. Wilson)
  • Be a friend to other pastors, even if they're not friends to you. (H.B. Charles, Jr.)
  • Don't assume anything. (HBC)
  • Contextualization is great, but dress like an adult. (Dean Inserra)
  • You hopefully won't be the last pastor at your church. Live and lead so you leave a godly legacy, even if most of the members of "your" church have no idea who you are thirty years after you're gone. (DKT)
  • If they don't trust you, you can't lead them. (HBC)
  • Before you ask someone why they didn't share their struggles with you, ask yourself first if you've shown yourself to be a safe person. (JCW)
  • If we’re more concerned with our standard of life than God’s intentions for our family, God has a harsh word for us. (J.D. Greear)
  • Ecclesiologically speaking, a lot of stuff that counts can't be counted. (JCW)
  • What good is it to be a "good Christian neighbor" if you don't care enough to share Christ with those neighbors? (DKT)
  • Do not read anonymous mail or unsigned letters. (HBC)
  • Sometimes, you need to not read signed letters. (DKT)
  • Never vent online or on social media. (DKT)
  • The pastor who is always available will be of no use when he is available. (HBC)
  • If you can keep from preaching, do it. Christian ministry is a calling you receive, not a vocation you choose. (HBC)
  • There is nothing new under the sun, but that's no excuse for plagiarism. (DKT)
  • You have to say the hard things. Yet, you must do so in love. (DKT)
  • If pastoral ministry was easy, everyone would do it. (DKT)
  • Discipleship is a process. (Jimmy Scroggins)
  • Love and affirmation are not the same thing. (DKT)
  • If you guard your character, your reputation will take care of itself. (HBC)
  • Pray. Journal. These are verbs. (DKT)
  • Wherever you go, you represent Jesus and the church. (Grant Ethridge)
  • When given the opportunity to preach the Gospel, do it. Be ready at all times. Keep sermons with you. (DKT)
  • If you have a church building with a built-in baptistry (some churches are plants and borrow facilities) keep water in it for every service. Don't miss those "Ethiopian Eunuch" moments. (DKT)
  • Network with other pastors and churches in your area. This helps eliminate the competitive nature that we all have. (DKT)
  • People do not give to needs. They give to vision. (HBC)
  • Every young pastor needs an old mentor. (Sam Rainer)
  • Studying for your sermon is not the same as spending time alone with God in prayer and devotion. (DKT)
  • No politician is either your messiah or the enemy. Don't put your hope, or your ultimate fear, in the political domain. (Micah Fries)
  • Avoid hero worship. Everyone God uses is a jerk and a sinner. (HBC)
  • If you come to a new church after serving in another, remember - no one cares how you did it at the previous church. The longer you live in the past, the less you will be able to lead to the future. (DKT)
  • If you give someone responsibility, give them the authority to carry it out as well. (HBC)
  • You cannot farm out all the pastoral care to the associate pastors and deacons. However, you cannot do all the pastoral care either. This reality will anger just about everyone in your church at some point. (DKT)
  • Don't burn bridges. (DKT)
  • Don't plant a church out of anger. That's not a plant. That's leading a church split. (DKT)
  • Don't blame God for your bad decisions. He may not have "called you" to do what you did. (DKT)
  • Dig your own wells so you don't have to steal other people's water (HBC)
  • You need to be a "Timothy" before you're a "Paul." (DKT)
  • A cynical pastor is an oxymoron. (HBC)
  • Don't outsource discipleship of your children to others in the church. Lead them. Love them. They may become prodigals, but if so, wait patiently as you pray for them, remembering God loves them more than you. (DKT)
  • All transgressions begin with sinful thinking. (Billy Graham)
  • Make sure there are windows on the doors to your office. (DKT)
  • Avoid the appearance of evil. (Paul)
  • You can't know a man until you know his story. So, go eat lunch with "that" guy in your church and let him tell you his story. (DKT)
  • When it's all said and done, you want God to say "Well done, good and faithful servant." You also want your wife to say "Well done, good and faithful husband." No, they're not equal statements, but God's calling is not just at the building down the street with the crosses on it. In most cases (not all) pastors were married before they became pastors. Your faithful wife loves God, too, but while your calling is to serve the church, hers is to you. Too much to unpack here. (DKT)
  • You're not cool. Come to grips with that. Even if your Instagram filter is amazing and your logo is lit (is that the right word?) I know I said you may be cool in the first point, but you're not. Jesus wasn't either, so you're in good company. (DKT)

There are hundreds more insights from hundreds more pastors. Men like Johnny Hunt and Mac Brunson have much to offer younger pastors. So too do the pastors like Mike Wyatt (my pastor when I surrendered to ministry back in the 1990s) and Allen Harrod (my pastor at FBC Orange Park who offered leadership and friendship when I first graduated seminary.) Some of these pastors and mentors do not have books for sale at Amazon. Some may not be known outside their congregation or small town, but listen up, there's much to learn. Young pastor, remember...leaders are learners. Never be that guy who can't take advice or encouragement. Maybe one day when you're greyer and even less cool than you are now, you will have words to share with that young pastor (who is likely in fourth grade right now) that God calls for His glory and good. 


Superheroes on Mars Hill - Engaging the Comic-Con Culture With the Gospel

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.

While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.

Comic Books and Superheroes

When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door.  Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.

Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books

In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred. 

The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)

Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.

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Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)

Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.

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Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)

This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."

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Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Modern Age (1985 - present)

As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.

Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.

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Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY

The Cinematic Universes

When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.

Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.

Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.

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Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme

Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."

In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:

For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.

Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.

Engaging on Mars Hill

What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age. 

Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.

Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.

Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd. 

What If?

After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.

What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."

Their interest was piqued.

I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?" 

The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.

I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.

Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)

 


How Can I Rest When So Many Are Lost?

A few years ago, in one of our network's church planter assessment meetings, my wife and I served as coaches and assessors as we have done for years. At times, we meet men who are wrestling with the call into pastoral ministry. Each story is unique and as these men with their wives go through an intense two days of assessment, stories unfold and we are amazed each time how God calls us to Himself, from diverse backgrounds for His good and glory.

In some cases, our pastors/planters are men who have served on church staff, but are answering the call to leave full-time (i.e. paid) ministry to plant a new work in our city or elsewhere. At other times, these are men who have served in other venues or denominations and are joining our pastoral internship and pipeline of assessment, encouragement, and peer learning. There are also some who are basically just "kicking the tires" to see if perhaps God is calling them to such a ministry role.

As I stated, each story is unique and we have the privilege of hearing testimonials from these men and their wives about how they ended up where they are.

As the weekend comes to a close, we have the task of affirming or redirecting the men as church planters, all while praying and seeking discernment and leadership from God in these areas.

One year, a pastor and his wife joined us for an assessment weekend. This pastor is a friend and is not originally from the United States. I won't use his name or exact story, but in general, this man pastored a church in a foreign land for years. He now lives in the US and through his connections in numerous cities, basically pastors up to 70 house churches, all centered around the native culture and language.

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Photo credit: OliYoung via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

He and his wife have no children and they serve faithfully despite his physical ailments due to things that happened to him in his home country from those opposed to the Gospel.

He does speak English, as does his wife, but English is not their heart language. Therefore, the comfort level of communicating in English is not there. Nevertheless, as we assessed him I felt a bit foolish. Here is a man who has more experience than I do as a pastor. He has been through persecution - and I mean real persecution, not the typical American version of being made fun of. He has a "thorn in the flesh" that slows him down considerably, yet he doesn't complain (at least not in English.) He and his wife open their home up to visitor at all times of day and night as need may be. To open the home for a guest, in their cultural setting, means to provide a meal...every time. This happens almost daily.

He serves in our city at a ministry focused on connecting and reaching internationals. He travels as need be to help churches for his people group in other cities in the nation. He mentors others.

He is not perfect. He will tell you so. Nevertheless, I am always honored to spend time with him.

At this setting, I was listening to his stories and what God is doing in his life. Along with other pastors and friends, we were inspired, but had a warning for him as well.

We told him that he must rest.

He must take a Sabbath.

He is burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.

He acknowledged this, as did his wife.

Then, he said something. He slowly and softly asked this rhetorical question - "How can I rest when so many are lost?"

And I was overcome with the reality that this brother is burdened for the lostness of our world at a level I seek to find. He did not discount the need for Sabbath, but his rest is found not in a day of the week, but in Christ.

This pastor is the epitome of living sent. He is on mission. He is missional. He is faithful.

May we be burdened for the lostness of our world as well. 


Steve Gaines to Nominate J.D. Greear for SBC President in 2018 - That's How I Heard It

The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting concluded yesterday with quite a bit of public media attention and continued talk of what is next in the SBC.

Steve Gaines, Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee was reelected for a one-year term as President. He has done a fine job in leading our denomination this past year, and especially through a challenging annual meeting.

I am thankful for his leadership and service to our convention, not just this year but in years prior. I will continue praying for him as he remains on the national stage, not only as pastor of a significant church in our denomination, but as our President this next year.

Last Year's SBC Election

If  you remember the SBC Annual Meeting in 20116 that took place in St. Louis, there was quite a bit more drama regarding the presidential election of the denomination. Of those nominated, a virtual tie resulted between Pastor Gaines and Pastor J.D. Greear of Summit Church in North Carolina. Messengers were scrambling to get back into the meeting room for ensuing votes and rather than a sense of unity among messengers, a growing sense of division was developing.

I was unable to attend that meeting in St. Louis, but was watching online via livestream. Based on tweets from friends and messengers and conversations with those in the convention center, the feelings of disunity were growing.

The Meeting Between Gaines and Greear

It has been shared numerous times, and once more this year at a Baptist 21 Luncheon on Monday. At seemingly the exact same time, in two different locations as these men prayed alone and with family, they each decided to recuse themselves from the election - allowing the other to win the nomination. 

Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary shares that he was in the room when the men met together. Dr. Gaines shared he would be stepping away from the nomination and allow Dr. Greear to be nominated. Greear responded with appreciation and the instruction that Gaines could not do that because he had come to the same conclusion and would recuse himself.

This moment that would not have happened in our denomination about three decades ago between nominees was vital, inspiring, and needed.

J.D. Greear stepped out of the race and Steve Gaines won the presidency of the SBC in an amazing moment of unity before our messengers, our churches, and the watching world.

God's timing is always perfect and this has proved to be true once more.

Unity Is a Continual Challenge

To be unified is challenging. It takes strength and focus to remain together for the sake of a cause. In this case, the cause is the most vital in the world - the Gospel. We just experienced an attempt from our enemy to divide our churches at this year's SBC meeting. (Read about that here and here.) 

The Baptist 21 Meeting This Year

In the Baptist 21 meeting on Monday much was discussed about the current status of the SBC. This meeting took place a day prior to the resolution issues regarding the Alt-Right and racism, so that discussion was not center stage, yet. Nevertheless a candid discussion on numerous issues where culture and faith intersect occurred. The discussions featuring a panel discussion with Steve Gaines, Albert Mohler, Danny  Akin, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Kevin Smith, and Jedidiah Coppenger. At one point the moderator, Coppenger, asked about unity and last year's SBC presidential situation.

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L-R: Gaines, Mohler, Akin, Moore, Greear, Chandler, Smith, Coppenger

As the discussion and recounting of the events of last year were covered, Dr. Gaines mentioned that he would be excited to nominate J.D. Greear as President of the SBC in Dallas in 2018. 

I heard him say this and thought "Wow! This is a huge step for our convention."

There is obviously no animosity between Gaines and Greear. For Dr. Gaines to proclaim his desire to nominate Greear next year stated clearly to those in the room and no doubt other Southern Baptists who have grown accustomed to seeing Baptists divided, that we are unified for a larger cause than self.

I look forward to an official announcement to come, likely early next year regarding Greear's nomination. As far as I know, Greear has not stated whether or not he will run again, but I believe he would serve the SBC well.

Our Southern Baptist family is just that - family. Our Heavenly Father has chosen to use us for His glory and we graciously move forward unified in the Gospel. 


Southern Baptist Vote on the Alt-Right & Racism Overwhelmingly Passes - Now What?

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting has ended. The second day of our annual gathering traditionally has welcomed less-than large crowds following lunch. In recent years, required business, for the most part, was completed during Tuesday gatherings. Wednesday has been the time for one last opportunity for unfinished business (normally, not newsworthy outside the SBC) and reports from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Of course, those reports with required time for questions have, at times, elicited some interesting sound bytes.

This year was different.

Following lunch, as I previously posted, our SBC messengers were given the opportunity to vote on a resolution regarding a denunciation of the Alt-Right and white supremacist movements. (CLICK HERE TO READ MY PREVIOUS POST EXPLAINING THIS.)

The New Resolution

The wording of the previously declined resolution was reworked and made more clear. Copies were made available digitally through the SBC Annual Meeting app, and online while printed copies were available at the doors for all messengers. A copy of the document is available here:  Download Resolution 10

The "resolved" sections are stated clearly...

Screenshot 2017-06-14 18.35.13Barrett Duke, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee and Executive Director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to the resolution. His clarity and transparency was welcome. As the entire committee stood with him, an apology was offered for not recognizing the need to allow messengers to vote on the resolution. Reasoning for initial declination was described in my previous post as well. Duke then clearly and loudly proclaimed that everyone on the committee stood firmly against the motives and declarations of the Alt-Right movement, white supremacy, and all forms of racism.

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Barrett Duke, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions, speaks during the SBC annual meeting June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo by Van Payne

 

The committee apologized.

That is no small thing.

We have a wonderful denomination. We are family. I have been part of an SBC church since the womb. I love our denomination, and yet, since we're human, we know that we mess up at times. Even seeking to live in Christ, follow the Word and have ears to hear and eyes to see ... we sometimes (more often than we'd like) mess up and sin. 

And like family, when we do, we confess. 

At that confession and repentance, forgiveness is offered. 

This is truly the Gospel at work in the lives of God's people.

What's so challenging is that we are gathering here in Phoenix having a family meeting with the entire world watching via social media, livestream, or news media stories. It's like we're on an episode of Big Brother, but a moral version, with much more at stake.

The Question

Following Barrett's recommendation for the resolution to be passed, the floor was open for questions. There were a few. One focused on amending the proposal by editing just a few words in the "Resolved" section. The wording recommended clarified the enemy's tactics of deceit and the Resolutions Committee took it as a friendly amendment and the floor voted overwhelmingly for the amendment.

Another question sought to amend the resolution by adding to it other aspects of racial division present in the US. This was ruled out of order due to the fact it was actually worded as an additional motion and not an amendment.

Dr. Russell Moore spoke from the floor, not as President of the ERLC, but as a messenger from his home church. His statement was strongly worded and clear. The opening of his statement addressed that the resolution had a number on our list of resolutions of ten. That was a fact and the crowd waited to hear where he was going with this. Then he stated, "The Alt-Right and white supremacist movement has a number, too. It's 666." And at that, the room knew. 

Well said, Dr. Moore!

Finally, one more comment from the floor strongly seeking the committee to reject any other added amendments that would ultimately weaken the wording of the resolution with concern that a weak document would express the opposite message to non-white brothers and sisters about our seriousness regarding racism.

The questioning time ended.

The SBC Votes "YES" on Resolution 10

As SBC President Steve Gaines called for the vote, he asked messengers who wished to affirm the adoption of Resolution 10, he asked for all in favor to raise their ballots. The scene was beautiful as hundreds of green ballots in an overwhelmingly positive vote made clear that despite our family's sordid past, and even our founding as a denomination, regarding race relations, we would stand firmly upon God's Word, declaring His love and ultimately our love, for all peoples regardless of race, skin tone, or cultural background.

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Photo by Philip Bethancourt

Was It Too Little, Too Late?

I guess time will tell, for some. Ultimately, it is never too late to do the right thing. Through God's grace and providence he led us to agree with Him in this defining moment. This moment declares that political ideology does not drive our biblical theology.

In this moment, we acknowledge our dependance on God for guidance, for insight, for wisdom, and for life.

This moment reminds us that the sins of our ancestors do not define us. The sins of our churches are forgivable. The sins of just a day prior can be eradicated by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

Some will say that our mechanism of voting and revisiting the vote means that we truly didn't mean what we ended up saying. That simply isn't true. Our final vote was clear. Our family (SBCers) were united to ensure we ended this issue (of the resolution) well.

Should we have voted on Tuesday? In retrospect - yes. Hindsight is always 20/20. 

Thank God we didn't leave the issue undone. Thank God the initial discussion was on Tuesday so that we could resolve this on Wednesday. Otherwise, it would still be hanging over us as we await next summer's Annual Meeting.

Some have and will say that our vote in the affirmative was prompted by media and social media outrage. 

It would be disingenuous to state that no one in the room heard or read what was being said. God has used numerous things, people, organizations, and circumstances throughout history to get the attention of his children. The Minor Prophets declare many ungodly things, nations, and people used by God for His glory. 

I actually thank God that we were listening.

Yet, rest assured, the SBC did NOT vote in affirmative to decry the motives and beliefs of the Alt-Right and white supremacists solely because Twitter prompted us to do so and because it was the politically correct thing to do.

The ultimate vote was yes because it was and is right. 

Racism is evil. It is demonic. It is divisive. It flies in the face of the Gospel. We believed this before our meeting. We believed it during our meeting. We voted on a resolution we likely never thought we would have to vote on to declare it even more clearly.

There are likely many churches and pastors who will be having to address angry church members who either don't fully understand the depth of the issue, or who could be wrongly racially motivated and in need of forgiveness. Our churches are varied and in diverse locations. No two SBC churches are identical, believe me.

I pray that our churches will be eradicated of racism within the pew and if need be, in the pulpit. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will convict and transform those who have either been excusing this sin or just now realize they are knee-deep within it. Apart from transformation, I pray that biblical churches will do what many have never done and enact biblical discipline upon those who remain unrepentant in this area.

Some of our pastors may feel they're standing alone when they meet with their membership on Sunday. Remember, pastor ... you are not alone. Ever. 

Now What?

A resolution was passed. This is good.

Racism remains in our world. This is a reality and still very bad.

The mission remains. Nothing has changed for the church but the conversation. And this is a big change. This generation of pastors and church members is being led into a dialogue that has been ignored by too many for too long. Older members of our churches, both black and white, have memories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Churches in the South were segregated, just like everything else. For many of our older brothers and sisters, these are memories. 

For the younger generations (50 and younger) these are history stories. 

Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that since we have come so far regarding race relations in our nation that we had completed the task? Rest assured, based on what we have seen in our nation over the past few years, no one could rightly say we have arrived.

There is much work to do.

Racial reconciliation remains on the table and will for years, likely. The church, and in our case, the SBC churches, acknowledge the stains in our history, but must resolve (no pun intended) to not be defined by them.

The work to be done by the church to bring healing will not be done through political movements. That which must happen to unify Christians will not occur simply through a resolution. Presuming to understand fully the plight of another race is insulting and impossible. In other words, as a white man for me to tell my black brother "Oh I understand what you go through" is demeaning and wrong. Yet, there is hope.

Not Too Late Because There Is Hope

Through Christ forgiveness occurs.

Through Christ healing happens.

Through Christ, the church prevails.

We had just better remain humbly focused on Christ.

God led us this week in Phoenix. He brought our denomination to the river (in a desert no less) and directed us to trust Him as we stepped in. 

We stepped in and with him we will remain secure as we walk together through the waters ahead.


For Such a Time As This: The Alt-Right and Racial Unity at #SBC17

I am currently in Phoenix, Arizona for our denomination's (Southern Baptist Convention) annual meeting. I am serving as a messenger (a representative) from my church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park, FL.) This is not the first annual meeting I have attended. This year's meeting is not unlike others in the past. Yet, there seemed to be no highly charged issues on the pre-convention agenda and there appeared to be no real hot-button issues to be discussed ... but, we are Baptists and anything can happen.

And it has.

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Motions and Resolutions

Prior to the meeting, Southern Baptists are offered the opportunity to submit items for potential motions or resolutions. These are reviewed by our Resolutions Committee. Some are declined. Some are accepted. Some are referred to other committees. This is not unusual. It happens every year. It actually has proven to work well, for the most part.

Some items become motions. Some become resolutions.

Motions are brought before the messengers and if passed, require action. For example, a motion may require the trustees of one our entities to move forward with a study group for specific action. If passed, that entity must do so. It's not unlike the local Baptist church's business meetings that many of us have grown up attending. Truth be told - the Southern Baptist Convention only exists truly for two days every summer when we gather and it is a business meeting. For the other 363 days of the year, our SBC Executive Committee stands in as our corporate entity and operators of day-to-day denominational business.

Resolutions are statements that require no action, but clearly affirm beliefs held by the messengers and ultimately, if passed, by the membership of the SBC. In many cases, items in resolutions are re-affirmations of beliefs held and stated in our Baptist Faith and Message. Such is the case of the resolution passed this year on Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

One motion, presented by Pastor Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas was declined. The motion in question focused on the desire for the SBC as a whole to denounce the alt-right movement that has grown in our nation since 2015. The denouncement was intended to condemn the alt-right movement and the roots of white supremacy. The full motion may be read here.

As is his right, Pastor McKissic spoke of the declining of his resolution. 

The committee members are godly people and answered well regarding the declination based on concern the term "alt-right" was too broad and hard to define as presented in the resolution and that ultimately, the resolution was poorly worded. 

The Defining Moment

Regardless, it was at that moment most everyone in the room realized that we (Southern Baptists) may have just given the enemy opportunity to create the perception publicly that we are who we are not. In other words - the message received via Twitter, Facebook, and through other forms of media and social media was "The SBC will not take a stand against white supremacy."

Perhaps, that is when you saw stories popping up on your news apps?

Parliamentary Procedure done well allows us to have annual meetings and resolve and work together in unity. Yet, even as we sought resolution for what was essentially blowing up, the world was writing its own story.

If you follow the #SBC17 hashtag on Twitter, you will see many self-proclaimed alt-right individuals declaring the superiority of the white race, pro-slavery, and denouncing any Southern Baptist who dared claim that racism was evil and Satanic. Even I was attacked through this - and when you're attacked by racists for not being one, that is a good thing!

As the Resolutions Committee met, they unanimously (and within their rights through Robert's Rules of Order) have set a new vote for discussion and resolution for today, Wednesday, June 14 at 2:45pm. Many pastors and messengers who had booked earlier flights home are now scrambling (or should be) to be able to remain and vote.

From what I hear, the resolution from Pastor McKissic is being reworded and resubmitted. 

I believe a firm stance against racism and in this case, white supremacy especially, will be made. It must be made.

I was with H.B. Charles, Jr. (pastor of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville) last night at a meeting and he shared with those in the room that his phone began to "blow up" following the news media's report on the SBC not condemning racism. This brother and friend who pastors a sister church in our city has responded with grace. He is here. He is going to be serving as our SBC Pastor's Conference President in 2018. He said that his church members will be like "Yeah, you're the Pastor's Conference President. But what about this?!?" And he will have to guide his flock through this. He does not speak for every African-American SBC pastor, just as I do not speak for every white SBC pastor. I just want to be clear on that. 

H.B's wisdom as he revealed how his church is questioning and responding is worth note. 

I will vote today, as I anticipate many others will, to affirm the resolution brought before us at 2:45pm. 

Will an affirmation by the SBC fix what was perceived as a sinful response or lack of response by many yesterday? Likely not. However, it is clear to me that no one on the Resolutions Committee or in SBC leadership truly understood at the time how a simple declination would appear.

Repentance

Now, we repent of missing an opportunity.

And we will vote.

We do the right thing not because social media is trending. We do the right thing because it is the right thing. It is not political. It is not easy.

As Christians, we have been and always will be faced with difficult choices and situations. Yet, by God's grace, we persevere and seek His lead. He always leads us correctly. We don't always follow well, however. 

Every messenger will go home either tonight, tomorrow, or later this week. Pastors will be back in the pulpit on Sunday. Church members, for the most part, may be unaware of what transpired in Phoenix this week. Many will have an idea, but it will be skewed based on only what sound-bytes have been heard and news reports have been read. 

Some will take whatever happens here as a political stance either for or against political parties, leaders in Washington, or those on the far side of all movements. Baptists have been and will continue to be called a variety of things like: liberal, conservative, legalists, racists, RINOS, Democrats, Republicans, Never-Trumpers, Pro-Trumpers, haters, bigots, globalists, etc. 

Amazing how that which we are labeled falls all along the spectrum of descriptors, right?

Yet, this has happened. It will happen.

May we settle not for what the world labels us, but for God's label - children, holy, image-bearers.

Some may leave our churches. I lost members when I affirmed a resolution at the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting regarding evangelizing immigrants, regardless of legal status. My take was "Why would I not evangelize them, or anyone else for that matter?" Nevertheless, some were angered and left our church. That was a good day.

Pastors United Leading Through Racial Division

I pray for my pastor brothers of other ethnicities, especially those in my city like H.B., Elijah, Dan, Barry, Jaime, Diego, Thu Lai, Pierre and many others. We are brothers. We are fellow pastors. We are navigating together in a culture that seeks to divide the church. Some within the church have fallen prey to this tactic. A resolution will not necessarily impact how we do ministry together in our diverse city of Jacksonville, but a statement focused on racism that is not addressed, or worse yet ignored, will create a wall of division among those in our churches (and even within our individual congregations) that can keep us from the Kingdom work ahead.

Racism = Sin. It always has. It always will. It must be confronted, in love.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  - Galatians 2:11-13 (ESV)

 

 


No, Senator Sanders - You Do Not Understand

While most of America was watching, or at least aware, of the Senate hearing last week featuring former FBI Director James Comey, there was another hearing taking place in Washington DC that flew under the radar for the most part. This other hearing potentially may impact more Americans long-term than anything coming from the Comey hearings.

The event was a confirmation hearing for an executive level position in the Office of Management and Budget. That alone is why this hearing did not garner news media attention. It was a simple hearing that in most years would not be newsworthy, but basically a formality. Yet, that is far from the case this time.

Russell Vought had been nominated by President Trump to serve in this position. Of those on the Senate panel interviewing Mr. Vought were Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and Senator Van Hollen Jr., D-Md. 

Bernie Sanders burst onto the national scene last year, after decades of public service, as an alternative to Hillary Clinton. His brash, pro-socialist agenda resonated with many, especially young adults. College and university campuses welcomed Senator Sanders and young men and women who were looking forward to participating in their first presidential election "felt the Bern" and lined up behind him and his message. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton bested Sanders in the race and many young Democrats have since expressed their frustration that Sanders did not win. Thus is American politics.

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Photo credit: Randy Bayne via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Sanders has been described as a Jewish agnostic based on his heritage and self-proclaimed status as "not particularly religious." Hollen's political stances have consistently fallen on the far left of the American political spectrum. He has often made public statements condemning anti-Semitism and has gone on record with statements affirming the religious freedom of people around the world. On September 15, 2011, he declared this on record:

Around the world, millions of people suffer persecution merely because they practice a different religion than other people around them. No one should be made to feel that the practice of their religion is a crime or a source of shame. Such persecution violates their inalienable human right to practice the religion of their own choosing and promotes political instability.

Despite the well stated affirmation for religious freedom, Senator Hollen along with Senator Sanders, have now gone on record to declare Christianity a religion to be condemned, freedom be damned.

What Happened?

Russell Vought, the nominee of the President, is an evangelical Christian who graduated from Wheaton College. Wheaton is a solid, evangelical college with a clear statement of faith and biblical worldview. Last year, the college came under scrutiny when they parted ways with a professor who made spurious claims that Muslims and Christians are both people of the book and then quoted Pope Francis by affirming that "we worship the same God.” These statements stand in contradiction to biblical truth and the statement of faith held by evangelical Christians and Wheaton College. 

Mr. Vought, as an alum of Wheaton, defended his alma mater's statement of faith and wrote an article for the conservative website The Resurgent regarding this.

Vought clearly declares the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone. This quote from Vought's article was the element brought to the table by Senator Sanders:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

It is doubtful that Senator Sanders regularly reads The Resurgent, but props to his staff who, in the current world of political divide, found this nugget to offer their boss. 

Standing Condemned

Senator Sanders landed on this statement of condemnation and made claims that should cause every American, not just religious Americans, to take note:

"In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms ... we must not go backwards."

It is true that as a nation, we have struggled to overcome discrimination. Yet, in the following comments, if you can peer between the political buzzwords and Twitter-worthy statements, you will discover a revealed discrimination that is growing.

Sanders asked Vought if he considered his statement about Jesus to be "Islamophobic." Vought began to respond with "I am a Christian..." but before he could go any further, he was interrupted by Sanders who asked if Jews were also condemned because they reject Jesus. 

When Vought began to answer Senator Sanders, he said "I am a Christian..." but was once again interrupted by the Senator.

I understand you’re a Christian. But this country is made of people, not just… I understand Christianity is a majority religion, but the people of other religions in this country and around the world believe in their judgement that people convicted of non-Christians?”

Senator Hollen quoted from Vought's article, saying:

"I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one ... you are condemning people of all faiths. I'm a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God ... It's your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust in what will be a very important position."

Ultimately, these push backs may be as much against the President who nominated Mr. Vought as to Mr. Vought himself. Nevertheless, the positioning is clear. Biblical Christianity is condemned by the culture while seeking to claim that Christianity is condemning others.

 

No, You Don't Understand

When Senator Sanders says "I understand you're a Christian..." it is clear that he does not really understand. When Senator Hollen states "I'm a Christian, but..." it is clear he does not affirm biblical Christianity.

This is a battle of world views and it is nothing new. What is new, or seemingly new, is that most Americans have never truly acknowledged the deep divide between absolute truth as expressed in God's Word and the "truthiness" of the world.

At a minimum, the senators' comments, stances, and ultimately recommendations for non-approval of Vought have positioned them, by their own words, as creating a religious litmus test for those serving in public office. As Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC made clear,

"While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution."

Of greater note for evangelical Christians is the fact that regardless who is in the Oval Office, who represents us in DC or local political offices, the world view divide will ultimately require a statement of belief.

Do You Understand?

Christian - do you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ? He is the ONLY way! He is the ONLY truth. Through Christ ALONE, may we have life eternal. It may sound intolerant to those who do not understand. For those who do understand, it sounds like grace.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. - John 3:18 (ESV)


Using Facebook Live on Your Church's Page

While I do not pretend to be up-to-date on all the latest software and hardware features available today, I do try to find best uses for some of the more prevalent ones.

On a recent post on Thom Rainer's blog by Jonathan Howe, he recommends that church's consider using Facebook Live throughout the summer to stay connected by sharing highlights of camps, mission trips, and other events.

Facebook Live is Facebook's video feature and gives users live video presentations through Facebook that pops up on followers' timelines as well as gives notifications of broadcasts. We have used it at times (when our wifi was working) for mid-week Bible studies and found that we were able to connect with many who were unable to join us or were in other states or nations.

I have had a few pastors ask how to set it up and I have preferences, so I'll share what we have done, and just so you know, it's cheap, so if your church does not have a technology person or a large budget, you likely can still do this.

While Facebook Live is available through the desktop version, we've found the mobile version is the easiest to use, based on venue and portability. Be warned, if you use Facebook Live on your mobile device, you will eat up your data unless you use wifi.

So, here are some step-by-step instructions.

  1. Get a mobile smart phone with either a large data plan or use wifi. Sorry, Captain Kirk, that flip phone won't work.
  2. Set up a church Facebook page. You can do the live from your personal page, but in my opinion, it is best to do this from your church page. This may also be the time to ensure your church's Facebook page is a group page, and not set up like an individual person. Step-by-step instructions here.
  3. Facebook pagesDownload Facebook Pages App. This is the step many who have sought to use Facebook Live for their church miss. Facebook has an app solely for your organization pages. We have numerous pages for our campuses and ministries on Facebook and through this app, we can view and manage each separately without being bogged down with timeline updates or accidentally posting something on the wrong page. Facebook Pages Manager is available in the Google Play and on iTunes app stores. One of the reasons it's an often missed step is because the icon doesn't look anything like Facebook. It's white with an orange flag on it.
  4. Open your page and click the "Live" icon.
  5. TURN YOUR PHONE FOR HORIZONTAL VIDEO. Okay, this is just a personal preference. Stop videoing vertically. Turn your phone so the image is horizontal. In other words, think how the video will appear on other's phones and on computers. Watching a video in a vertical setting is like opening a door slightly and peeking through. It's weird. Everyone has been trained since birth to watch television and movies on a horizontal screen. So, turn your phone so the image looks "normal."
  6. Type a Title for your Live Event in the "Describe your live video..." section.
  7. Click "Go Live." It's that simple. A countdown begins and then you're live.
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TURN YOUR PHONE HORIZONTALLY FOR VIDEO

  

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NO VERTICAL VIDEOS

In addition to these steps, we have purchased a small desktop phone tripod. This allows us to set our phone on a shelf, or on the sound booth ledge to video our services. It's small and portable and keeps you from either duct taping your phone to the wall or having someone hold it the entire time. Now, if your video is at camp or short, just hold it. It's natural and works. But, if you're recording a service, the tripod works well. Click the image below to open Amazon. This is the tripod we bought and have found it works perfectly. We haven't used the remote control "selfie" feature, but you may like that.

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Of course, there are better ways to do all this. If you're going pro, get a larger computer with better camera and set it up semi-permanently. 

Hope this helps.

There are numerous other uses of social media that can help you stay connected with your church and community. Check out the full article on Thom Rainer's blog here.


The Prevailing Religion of the Day

In a culture that seeks to be spiritual, but not religious (which ultimately is impossible) a certain version of religiosity has developed over the years. In the early 2000s, researcher Christian Smith surveyed adolescents in the United States of various faith backgrounds (Catholic, Jewish, Mainline Protestant, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Evangelical, and others) to determine where teenagers stood when it comes to religion.

The research has been reviewed and updated over the years and while there are likely some shifts occurring, one standout revelation as defined and described in Smith's book Soul Searching states that across the board among American students, the religion of the day, as affirmed and modeled by their parents even, is now "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." It rightly sounds like therapy or at a minimum, the presentation of religious thought from a television talk show host.

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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Smith goes on to codify the details of this religion as revealed in their interviews as follows:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

The sad reality is that as many people read these descriptors, they will mentally affirm them to be true. Yet, this version of God who would find himself very welcome and affirmed in our culture misses much of what Scripture reveals. In other words the God expressed here is not the God of the Bible nor does he offer redemption, hope, or salvation. But...at least people feel good about him, right?

The tragedy is that many within the church today have slid into this affirmation of religion under the guise of progressivism or tolerance. 

This is why our churches must embrace a family equipping discipleship model. Church attendance and activities can be highly effective. Yet, we know that as we embark on high school graduation around our nation, many students in the church have falsely bought into a God described above. This is one reason why so many students have manageable gods in their lives, but not the true God and eventually walk away from "organized religion" to self-identify as "spiritual but not religious" and ultimately lost.

Thoughts?

_______

Smith, Christian with Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


When Graduation Becomes a Protest

Students are putting on ill-fitting mortarboards and unattractive robes as symbols of accomplishment throughout our nation. It is that time of year where high school students receive their diplomas and college and university students are honored with their degrees. 

Commencement ceremonies, with all the pomp and circumstance, are wonderful events. They bring families and friends together for a time of celebration. For many parents of college students, the moment feels like their boss just gave them a raise (that is if they were paying for their child's schooling.) 

Yet, as we now know with our cultural and sexual revolution in full-swing, no public gathering will take place without a worldview divide revealed. Division has always existed among people, but the lines have shifted most recently and dramatically, at that. 

Everything is Political

Politics is divisive by nature. It always has been. Yet, now more than ever in the US with President Trump's administration in place and the Republican led House and Senate, the dividing lines seem to be painted more boldly. Of course, it may be due to the vast increase of media outlets online and the mostly left-leaning mainstream traditional news outlets. Thus, the battle for the news, whether it be real or fake.

Recent incidents have revealed the political and social worldview divide on the public stage. Recently, graduates from Bethune-Cookman University loudly protested the introduction of commencement speaker, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  The disruption at the ceremony led the university's president to threaten cancellation of the ceremony with a promise to mail the degrees to the graduates. Secretary DeVos was allowed to continue her speech at that point. (Story here.)

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Most recently, the most popular Roman Catholic university in the United States, Notre Dame, held it's graduation ceremony. It too made headlines based on a student protest. Vice President Mike Pence was the guest speaker and when introduced, a large crowd of students stood and exited the room. It was noticeable and captured on video to be shared globally. News agencies picked up the story and while it was unprecedented, it was far from surprising. 

Why the protest of Pence?

News sites have numerous interviews with students and seem to be leaning on two stories as to why the protest occurred. One has to do with Pence's position in the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump's immigration policies among many other things, were being protested by the students. 

The other issue had to do with Pence's positions on family, marriage, abortion and LGBT views that were center-stage when Vice President Pence served as Governor of the state of Indiana. Pence's views and opinions on these issues have not shifted and that is the problem.

 

It's strange, however, that the public views and policies of the Vice President actually line up with the stated views of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and therefore, of the University of Notre Dame. Yet, it is at this university where a divide was viewed most clearly. That is what makes this even more intriguing. If this protest took place at the University of Florida, Florida State University or any other publicly funded university, there would be no story. But, this was at a religious university, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. 

The New York Times reports...

“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Mr. Miranda (Luis Miranda - a 29-year-old masters graduate who walked out - DT)  said. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”

Mr. Miranda added that Mr. Pence’s role in graduation was particularly unsavory for some students and their families — including gay people and immigrants — who might have been hurt by the policies favored by the Trump administration.

Protest organizers estimated that more than 100 people had walked out. On social media, many could be seen wearing rainbow pins or flags, which were also hung from windows around the campus as a symbol of gay pride.

And there it is.

A few things stand out to me, but primarily, as a parent who has funded one university graduate's complete tuition and fees and currently is doing the same for another, the statement that the commencement ceremony is "a celebration of all our hard work" reeks of self-centeredness. But, who can blame him. In a culture where child-worship begins at birth and lasts through adolescence into young adulthood, this is expected.

While I do not know Mr. Miranda, nor do I know how he paid for his education, I do feel it safe to say that the majority of graduates have experiences from childhood through elementary, junior high, high school and college that reveal others along the way who supported, provided and sweat along with them for this special day. Of course, I understand that the student is the one receiving the degree. The study, work, and testing was done by that student and it was and is hard. Believe me, I'm back in school as well.

Nevertheless, a self-centric focus that states that the event is "all about me" is asinine and wrong. 

Mr. Miranda's family may applaud his protest. I just wonder how many other parents of students who walked out felt betrayed, not by the commencement speaker (even if they disagreed with Mr. Pence greatly) but by their student for daring to do what they did? Truth be told - I have one child who would likely want to walk out as did the protestors at Notre Dame, for the very same reasons. I would disagree with just about every reason. Betrayal would be one feeling that would surface.

It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some were heralded as bold while others were chastised by loved ones. 

Yet, the point is clear - we live in a divided culture. Is it more so than in the past? That's hard to determine. We didn't live in the past with the age and experience we now have. Yet, historical analysis reveals that our dividing lines are pretty unique. The sexual and LGBT revolution have determined such.

I think back to my graduation from the university. It was a big deal. I finally made it. However, do you know what I don't remember?

I don't remember who the commencement speaker was. Neither do I remember what he or she said.

I do remember that I didn't walk out.

Of course, I'm sure my speaker wasn't as politically connected or globally popular. Nevertheless, I graduated and my wife and parents were there with me. They celebrated along with me because my walking across that stage in Denton, Texas was as special a moment for them as it was for me.

Worldview Division

News stories like this come and go. They get shared on social media. Radio and television talking heads dissect the details. Christians get caught up in the stories as well and the danger is to not become that negative stereotype that blasts the younger generation. Seriously - being that old guy standing outside yelling "get off my yard" to the next generation is not the model we should follow.

Yet, as Christians, we must see things for what they are.

Worldviews matter. The sexual and moral revolutions in our culture have and are happening at breakneck speed. It's evident in these graduation ceremonies. More things like what happened at Notre Dame will happen and will eventually not make the news - because it will be so common.

Christians are forced with hard questions of faith and biblical truth. When the dividing lines have been drawn (regardless who drew them,) on what side do those who seek to follow God's Word stand?

Loving people is not up for a vote. It is a mandated command from Christ. Nevertheless, love does not mean total absolution of biblical truth. In fact, it means just the opposite. Love does not mean affirmation for sin. This is the challenge of the church—how to love God, love people, and make disciples of Christ without compromise or becoming the negative stereotype that those on the other side of the divide are devising? 

It is possible. It is happening. One protestor held a sign that said "Love Trumps Hate" with obvious intonations toward the President. Even in the snarky protest, the truth is on that placard. Love does trump hate. Love does win. Just not the version of love that culture defines. 

The win is found in the Gospel—the Good News. The good news is that God loves. So. Very. Much. And that love through Jesus Christ gives us hope. That love is not self-centric. That love is God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)


Is Wednesday Really a Church Night?

Here in the South, the previously known "Bible Belt," many local schools and youth sports leagues used to avoid scheduling games and practices on Wednesday evenings. Some leagues and schools still avoid this day for sports. For those who live anywhere else in the United States or Canada, this seems odd. 

WHY IS WEDNESDAY ANY DIFFERENT THAN OTHER WEEKDAYS?

The answer is simple, and it has nothing to do with it being "Hump Day"! (You just said that sentence like the camel in the GEICO commercials didn't you?)

For decades, Wednesday has been viewed as the "other holy day" on the evangelical church's weekly calendar. 

Sundays have been the gathering day for churches for, oh about two thousand years, but Wednesdays? That's another story.

I found an online forum where someone asked "When did Wednesday church become a thing, and why?" Here are some of the most common answers...

  • Growing up Lutheran in heavily Catholic Buffalo, I never heard about church on Wednesday. In the various cities where I've lived, same thing: church services were held on Sunday, with the popular Saturday night services for Catholics. I never heard of church on Wednesday until I moved to northeast Ohio. When I tell others about it, the response is generally along the lines of "Well, duh!", as if I told them I didn't know people went to church on Sunday.
  • Never heard of it. I've lived in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and several countries other than the USA.
  • A Wednesday evening service is standard in the Protestant South.
  • I've always associated it with the Baptists. Seems all my Baptist students have some church activity or another scheduled for Wednesday night. Never any other denomination, to my recollection.
  • Most Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches that I'm aware of, both east coast and west coast, have Wednesday night services. I've been to them in California, Ohio, Atlanta and Florida.
  • When I last attended public school (Iowa, early 1980s), I assumed Wednesday was the night for church youth groups. Didn't know it was part of any denomination, altho our district was probably 75% mainstream Protestant and another 20% Holy Joe.
  • I grew up in South Dakota, and Wednesday nights were always 'Church Night', and there were no activities related to school (such as sports, besides practices) pretty much statewide. In fact, the calendar included with the monthly school bulletin had all Wednesdays marked as 'Church Night'.
  • Relatively few churches around here have mid-week services. A few have contemporary services and I suppose some of them are held on Wednesdays, but not to the extent that it would have a big impact on secular scheduling. I suspect it may be more a tradition in Baptist churches, though I'm basing that on the one Baptist family I'm friends with....and that is more their Awana night, which I think is like an intensive Sunday School for the kids. I suppose if there is a large concentration of Baptists in your area then it may be tradtional to schedule around that night. But us United Methodists don't block that day out permanently.
  • I grew up in Texas. My family was Methodist, and our church did nothing special on Wednesdays. However, Wednesday evening services seemed nearly universal among the local Baptist* churches, of which there were many. Wednesday was "off the table" when setting the practice schedules in the local youth soccer league, for example, and the reason why did not normally need to be explicitly mentioned in conversation; it was considered common knowledge.

Well, it seems the South is not the only Wednesday church area, but as the comments reveal, there is an obvious reality here. For highly churched areas (where Baptists are a majority it seems,) Wednesdays have been a staple for decades. The comment that the local youth soccer league had Wednesdays "off the table" regarding practices and games is more common in southern and midwestern areas. Yet, even that trend is changing.

Digital-tablet-and-computer-on-wooden-table

WEDNESDAYS NIGHTS - THE SACRED COW OF MANY CHURCHES

In a recent conference I attended led by Tony Morgan, he asked about the very real issue of "sacred cows" in our local churches. Borrowing the term from Hinduism, the Baptist and evangelical sacred cows have nothing to do with the walking beef we see in fields and on ranches. The sacred cows that develop in our churches are ministries or programs that have developed in our churches having most likely experienced their era of usefulness, but still remain in the budget or on the calendar. They remain because no one in leadership is bold enough to say "that needs to go or change." One pastor at the conference responded that Sunday School was a sacred cow in his church. You could almost hear the air leave the room. For many Baptists, Sunday School has been untouchable. It is the the one program that must never be eliminated or changed, it seems. At least that's how many feel. Yet, this pastor mentioned it and many others in the room (myself included) agreed that in some cases, even Sunday School may need to change or be eliminated based on a church's structure, model, and culture. 

I'm not saying Christian education and discipleship need to go, but an ineffective model may.

Wednesday night programming is something that also may need to be addressed. 

The same questions many churches are asking about Wednesday evening programming were asked about Sunday evening programming not that long ago.  I see very few churches in our city pushing a traditional Sunday evening service schedule. While some do (and it works for them), most are going to home groups, special events, committee meetings, or simply nothing on Sunday evenings. 

One pastor I know says that the sign of a dying church is when they cancel Sunday night services. Try as he may to prove that statement correct, many churches have proven that wrong. Ultimately, a calendared event is not the sign of a healthy, growing church.

But, what about Wednesday?

I do believe there is validity in having a mid-week gathering for Bible Study, fellowship and other things for the local church. However, those gatherings do not have to be large group settings. They also do not have to happen in a church's facility. For student ministry, a mid-week worship service or Bible teaching time is great. In fact, many teenagers may connect mid-week where they would never on an early Sunday morning. Yet, just because a youth service gathered 100 students ten years ago does not mean it will today. That is true for all ministries. As long as we are organized and structured to do what worked a decade or two ago, we will continue to develop ministry strategies designed to reach people that existed a decade or two ago.

With the growth of church plants and churches who rent space in schools and other locations on weekends, the idea of a mid-week gathering at a church building is not an option.

WEDNESDAY IS NOT REALLY A CHURCH DAY

We categorize church days as those when the church meets for worship and gathers together. For the vast majority of us, that day is Sunday. Though, with changing schedules and church space issues, some churches have "church day" on Saturday or another day of the week.

When speaking of Wednesday as a "church day" it hearkens back to an era when even those not in church agreed that church activities (mostly children and youth activities) were on Wednesdays and should be. Therefore, nothing else would be scheduled to compete with that.

Those days are gone.

Perhaps church leaders should put Wednesdays on the table for evaluation and have honest discussions regarding the mid-week schedule? I am not advocating the cancellation of Wednesday activities. However, I am advocating an honest discussion on the viability of such mid-week gatherings. If a church holds Wednesday services solely because it always has...that's the making of a sacred cow at worst, or a frustrating ministry at the least.

BUT, WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

Once you start talking about ministries, programs, and schedules in church, people get really concerned. The good thing about such concern is it often pushes church members to the point of asking questions that were never addressed prior. Questions like "Why?"

Does the Bible say that we need to gather together as a church? Does the Bible say that we need to do that twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday? What does it say?

The writer of Hebrews gives us this information that should be taken to heart when considering the need for corporate worship and the gathering together of the church.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

The Christian should not be seeking ways to NOT gather together and meet as the church. The Hebrew writer makes this clear. There is value and power when two or more are gathered in Christ's name. As Christians, we do need each other and there is much value in coming together for worship, fellowship, study, and prayer. In fact, these should be non-negotiable.

There are numerous examples of the church gathered throughout the New Testament. In fact, each letter of Paul written to a church was to be read to the people as they were gathered, which was considered normative and expected.

In the book of Acts, we see a snapshot of one of these gatherings with Paul

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. - Acts 20:7 ESV

Therefore, the question is not "Should the church gather often?" That answer is a resounding YES and the Bible speaks of that. In a culture where interconnectedness occurs in various ways through personal interaction (still the best) and through telephone, texting, social media, etc. there is even more need for the church to be connected. Yet, the question must be asked by each church regarding weekly schedules.

Oh, and just because you ask "Should we meet on Wednesdays?" does not mean the answer must be NO. In fact, for many churches the very best time to connect during the week with fellow Christians and community members remains Wednesday evenings. Just don't allow the long-held traditions of what Wednesday church has been become a "sacred cow" and leave you perpetuating a broken model that does not help make disciples or engage an unsaved world.

Oh, and don't be that church that looks down on other churches for having the gall to change the weekly schedule. That's how Pharisees are made.

 


The Questions Pastors Must Ask

It seems that as pastors and ministry leaders we continually find a full calendar of events and "opportunities" for those in our church. All this is good, because the ultimate goal is to reach more people for Christ and to make disciples.

Yet, is it possible that our programming may be doing more harm than good?

Questions that must be asked regularly are:

  • What should we keep doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we start doing?

Easier said than done, but it must be done. Otherwise, we will just keep greasing the gears of this machine called the local church and could miss the mission.

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Photo credit: Ciccio Pizzettaro via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

firstFAMILY Podcast 026: When the Gospel Is Traded for Therapy

It's easy to poke holes in the false "prosperity gospel" that permeates our church culture with "name it and claim it" promises, while taking advantage of the generosity of undiscerning parishioners and television viewers. Yet, there is another false gospel that is often ignored, and even welcomed into many of our evangelical churches. In fact, it may be more dangerous than the easily identified "gospel-lite" offered by many. This is called the therapeutic gospel and it's deadly.


Seriously! Why Do We Need ANOTHER Church on Fleming Island?

By now, many in our community know we're launching a new campus of our church in the community known as Fleming Island (yeah, we know...it's not really an island.) When those in our launch team and others in the church share about this new campus to meet in Paterson Elementary School, the most common question asked is "Why do we need another church on Fleming Island?"

Great question.

When I open Google Maps and type "church" in the search box, the following appear on the map (and to be honest, that's not all the churches that gather on "the island."

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Granted, these churches express a wide variety of faith traditions. While all have the name "church" on their signs or websites, there are some pretty significant differences among doctrine held by those gathering. So, I'll just speak of those who are in our tribe (Southern Baptist) and in our denomination, there are already three SBC churches in this area. That leads to an even more pointed question, right?

Why do we need another Baptist church on Fleming Island?

Jon Wood, our Campus Minister, wrote of this on his blog not too long ago. Here's what Jon wrote (blog here):

We don't need another church on Fleming Island. But, we do need new disciples of Jesus Christ and the best way to make new disciples is through new work. Here are some stats that have been discovered over recent years in the US regarding church planting and community engagement:

  • A new church gains 60-80% of its membership from new conversions.
  • A new church baptizes 1 person for every 13 members (legacy churches have a ratio of 1 baptism for every 52 members)
  • A new church will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation the same size.

While there are nuances to every statistical analysis, these have proven to be true, especially as we see the rise of the "Nones" in our culture. Hey, do you remember the "Bible Belt"? Yeah, that's fiction. The truth of the matter is that even with almost 20 churches of various flavors on Fleming Island, there are more people living in the community disconnected and unengaged from church and more importantly from Christ than there are those who attend and participate regularly.

We've talked with some of the pastors of sister churches in the area and all agree - no one is doing enough to reach these people.

So, opportunities present themselves. A venue is open. God provides funding and leadership. Through prayer and seeking His lead, we step into a story that some say we should've been in about twenty years ago. Yet, now is the time. It's time for a new campus on Fleming Island.

Every new church plant and pastor starts with the same concept. I've heard it dozens of times - "We want to reach the people other churches aren't." 

It's not revolutionary. I mean, what pastor would actually say "We just want to reach the people who already attend other churches but are bored and need something 'cooler'?" No one says that. Well, some people actually strategize to do that, but no pastor would ever say that.

So, we are pushing against the easy way. Anyone can build a crowd. Most people have enough friends at other churches who will "help just to get it started" and develop a gathering. In some cases, it feels like success. Yet, if all we do is plant a new campus or church and simply borrow (or steal) members from other churches, we are doing a disservice to the Kingdom. That happens all too often. 

What If?

What if this works? I mean, really works. What if God has positioned us to come alongside our sister churches and those unengaged nones actually get reached?

We believe. 

But it won't be easy.

How We Will Know If We've Done This Wrong

And, if we end up with a room full of people gathering weekly who have a church membership resume of local churches that reveals little more than systematic hopping to the latest version of church (you know, the church that "meets my needs" or "feeds me") then we will be guilty of launching a church campus that was not only NOT needed, but harmful for Kingdom growth.

That's not the goal (and seriously, why would it be?) But, apparently this happens often. So, we have to continually push against that model.

The unengaged and unsaved population dwarfs the church crowd. (Well, in some cases the church crowd actually could be categorized as unsaved. Yeah...I said it.) That's why we need another church on Fleming Island. That's why we need to pray for our sister churches on the island who are preaching the Gospel and making disciples as well.

Maybe....just maybe....we're supposed to reach this community together? 


God Hates Divorce...But, What About Divorce in Same-Sex Marriages?

It seems that we are addressing issues that were never even thought of prior to our current era.

While the nuances may be unique, the truth remains. There truly is "nothing new under the sun.

We are almost two years removed from the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case where the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. 

As predicted, churches and Christian denominations began to discuss, or continued discussions, related to the recognition of such unions and the hosting of same-sex weddings. As expected, traditionally conservative denominations and churches have mostly held to the orthodox view that biblical marriage being between one man and one woman for . On the other hand, churches with more moderate or liberal viewpoints have declared acceptance of such unions. In some cases, strong affirmation has been stated. Truth be told, most of these groups had walked away from biblical inerrancy and truth so many decades prior that to have them state anything other than affirmation for that which stands opposed to biblical truth would be shocking.

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Photo credit: peetje2 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

While the law of the land is likely not changing, the marginalization of those holding to traditional, biblically orthodox viewpoint will increase. This seems to be inevitable.

Many conservative evangelicals (of which I would be counted) continue to seek engagement of those in our communities and neighborhoods with the truth of the Gospel, while not capitulating on what we deem to be biblical truth. This leads to conversations with those self-identifying as LGBT. I do mean conversations, in that engagement with those in our community requires both talking and listening. Yet, based on the wide differences between the culturally-accepted and prevalent worldview and the biblical one, these honest conversations will eventually be less about the weather, sports, and our children's school events and ultimately will lead to deeper questions regarding truth and life. Missional engagement requires such.

Marriage and Divorce

When conversing about same-sex marriage, the evangelical church must readily admit that the track record for pure heterosexual marriage, even within the church, has not always been stellar.

For far too long, many churches (even, conservative evangelical ones) have winked at divorce among members and many pastors have refused to preach on the topic for fear of an upheaval among members (and likely financial supporters.) The sin of omission regarding divorce lands under the category of "fear of man" and therefore is often never addressed. So, in this sense, when Christians started railing against the prospect of the legalization of same-sex marriage, many on the other side of the debate responded with accusations of hypocrisy based on the divorce rate and broken families of those standing under the "family values" banner.

The church must have a biblical stance on same-sex marriage. However, in many cases, the church must reevaluate it's stance on heterosexual marriage as well and seek to value it more deeply.

God speaks of this.

"Let marriage be held in honor by all..." (Hebrews 13:4a ESV)

Conversely, He declares his opinion regarding divorce.

"For I hate divorce, says the Lord..." (Malachi 2:16 NASB)

Most of us who have been in church at length have heard the verse from Malachi. Other translations allude to that phrase as well. As the context reveals, God's desire is that covenants be kept. The passage states much more than just this one phrase and actually declares why divorce is hated by God. Click here to read more from gotquestions.org on this matter.

The question remains...

Let's presume the Bible to be true (which I do) and that God's truth is absolute regardless of culture, circumstances, or the reader of the Word's preference. In our current state where legalized marriage between two people of the same gender exists, how does God's view same-sex divorce?

This is the question never addressed by prior generations because the boundaries of acceptable morality and legal definitions were different. Yet, today, here we are.

Does God hate gay divorce?

The Bible does give instances where divorce is allowed. Yet, in every case, the relational definition remains heterosexual. Even when a believer marries a non-believer (which is not God's desire, either) the marital union between man and woman fits the design by God as expressed in Scripture. Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC stated it well in this article from Christianity.com...

Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages (emphasis added) because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).

Therefore, from a biblical viewpoint, the marriage between two men or two women does not represent the image of the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. In other words, though legal in the eyes of the state, biblically the relationship is not truly a marriage.

Moore's statement continues...

Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state, or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.

And...that means divorce, from a biblical standpoint, does not actually enter the equation. God hates divorce. This truth has not changed. However, in the case of same-sex marital relationship, there is no marriage biblically and therefore, no divorce.

 


GUEST POST: "Hard to be a Christian in the 'Church World'" by Ashley O'Brien

Ashley O'Brien has been active in church her entire life, raised in a pastor's family and now serving on the Leadership Team of firstFAMILY (FBC Orange Park) as Director of Social Media

_______________________________

I genuinely get excited when someone surrenders their life to Christ. When a person listens to God and steps out to serve and be a part of something bigger makes me glad. It's inspiring and exciting when a man and wife plant a church intent on reaching the unreached. It's so exciting when Christians act like Christians! I love when people get excited about the Gospel and have to do something about it. However, sometimes it seems the steps taken seem to be focused wrongly. That's is what has led to my frustration.

Ashley
Ashley and her husband Jordan

I, just like other Christians, want to reach people for Christ. I want everyone to be involved in church -  a solid, biblically-focused church. I want people to know what they are getting into when they accept Christ. I believe they should feel at home when they enter the church's facility. Like many, I want to create a place that is attractive and inviting and what some would call “trendy.” Yet, I don’t want to sacrifice the Gospel for that. Jesus himself is attractional to a degree. Just look at the crowds that gathered to see him during his time of ministry around Galilee.  Of course, not everyone in the crowd were truly followers. In fact, most were not followers of Jesus, just fans. Jesus' words were offensive. The religious leaders didn't like what he said. Eventually, those who were just there for the show walked away. Apparently, they were offended as well, or perhaps when they truly listened to what Jesus was saying (i.e. "Carry your cross") they decided it was too much. 

Too many churches are founded on how to make church look “cool.” The flashy lights, the cool logo, the unusual name that hides the fact the group is truly a church all are part of the marketing strategy to reach Millennials. The great graphics and promos, the promise of free food and maybe a coffee mug, or whatever gets people to take a second look, to ask a question, to check it out are used by just about every new church, church plant, and legacy church seeking to engage the culture. In many cases, these things work. The room is filled. People come. Even Millennials show up. That’s the target audience is seems for most new churches now. And though it is exciting to reach this generation (my generation), the "stuff" that's offered can sometimes be nothing but "fluff." That’s the frustrating part. We fill the “church facility" (whether it's an established church building, a rented school cafeteria, a theater, warehouse, or even restaurant) but are we seeing transformations? Are we seeing people surrender their lives to Christ? Or are we filling up a room for an awesome production for people who look like they are worshipping (and in truth, many truly are) and appear to understand what God is saying through the pastor's message. But, let's be honest. sometimes the appearance or worship and engagement are based on what we think we're supposed to look like. You know, "This picture of me standing and worshipping will look great on Instagram or Snapchat!" Sorry, if that sounds cynical, but I have grown up in the era of big worship production events and while I love the music and the gatherings, it is just way too easy to fall into the trap of performance (even when you're not on stage) rather than truly worship.

It’s hard being a Christian in the world for obvious reasons. This is not earth-shattering. It's always been hard to be a Christian in the world. Why? Because the world never celebrates Christ. Believe me, as difficult as it is to be a follower of Christ in a post-Christian culture, I know what we face here in the west truly does not even compare to what our brothers and sisters in Christ face throughout the world, especially where persecution means death and not just being made fun of on social media. 

Yet, I’m finding it becoming more difficult to be a Christian in the "church world." This was something I never expected. My frustration is growing in the area of church life that seems so close, but yet so far from what living missionally truly is.

I want to invite people to church, but I won’t apologize for when they hear the Gospel preached. If anything other than the biblical message is preached, then calling the gathering a church is debatable.

If a church spends all their capital seeking to not look or sound like God's church, then at some level either the Gospel is not being preached or the group has pulled off little more than a "bait and switch." It's one thing for the pastor to be versed in apologetics (contending for the Gospel and defending the faith,) but something totally different if the pastor is apologizing for the Gospel, seeking not to offend.

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I would feel dissatisfied if all they heard was a therapeutic message. These types of messages are prominent and the crowd can listen without being able to discern if the message was from from the Bible or just a self-help book. The Gospel is offensive. It is truth. And, we all know that at times, the truth hurts. We don’t need to create churches that ignore truth. We don’t need another pastor building his kingdom and ultimately mar the Christian name. We don’t need a church that stands alone, either overtly or covertly building their crowds from those already attending solid (and maybe multi-generational) churches in the area. We need something else ... and I have no idea what that is, other than the truth and the Gospel.

New church plants are exciting. I believe they're needed. The numbers bear this out. My generation is growing less and less connected with the church. Yet, superficial fluffy entertainment-driven gatherings are not really the answer, are they?

So, from my perspective, our current churches, new campuses, and new church plants must have these:

  • Founded on Truth not a pastor's personality
  • Deemed successfully engaging not by how many Christians from other churches they can gather in a room weekly, but by how many lost are reached
  • Brokenness for the lost in the community, even if they don't fit the prescribed demographic of choice
  • Seeking the unengaged, not just the disgruntled attenders of other churches
  • Passion for the Gospel
  • Love of God
  • Love of people
  • Desire to make disciples...not just photogenic "worshippers"

As Christians, if we are obedient to what God has called us to do, God will be obedient to what He said he will do.

So, your gathering may have really cool stage lights and a smoke machine (those aren't bad...our church has them), a worship leader and band that does well, and maybe some really good coffee (free trade coffee, of course) and a bagel or even a free coffee mug or T-shirt for first time guests.  In fact, there's nothing wrong with any of those things. Do it. I like coffee mugs and free T-shirts.

But...don't miss the point.

Churches don't exist for us. They're for God. They're his to begin with.

Be attractional. No issue there, just don't focus so much on the things that don't matter in eternity and miss the Gospel.

Church planting is an exciting and scary adventure for most. I pray those pastors and launch team members hold tight to the truth and the reason behind it all. Reaching lost people for Christ.


It's Not Just the Prosperity Gospel That's the Problem - The Dangers of the Therapeutic Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel

As Baptists and Bible-believing evangelicals, the lies of the prosperity gospel are easily identified. This "name it and claim it" theological version of the gospel that lives somewhere at the far-end of DirecTV and on late-night television has been gathered funds from less-than-discerning followers for years. Years ago John Piper took a moment at a conference where he was speaking to share about his feeling regarding the prosperity gospel. It went viral and a few versions of that brief message are available on YouTube. I've linked one below:

For the most part, pastors and church leaders in the Baptist and evangelical world discount the false promises of the prosperity gospel and distance themselves from such. 

However, there is another false gospel that exists and it seems to be gaining traction, even within the framework of biblically-centered Gospel-focused churches. Sometimes, it sneaks in as a "short-term small group study" and sometimes in sermons or Sunday School classes.

The Therapeutic Gospel

We live in an age where therapy is not only accepted but marketed as needful for all. When it comes to therapy, I do not discount the need for such. I believe in counseling as a help for those in need. As a pastor, I offer counseling as well. Biblical counseling (not to be confused with what is often marketed under the broad term "Christian Counseling") is a powerful use of offering help and hope to those in need through the inerrant truth revealed in Scripture.

It's the focus on "felt needs" that drives this.

David Powlinson, author, teacher, and counselor shared these distinctions regarding the contemporary therapeutic gospel back in 2010. Not much has changed (full article here).

The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into (in his book The Brothers Karamazov). We take food supply and political stability for granted. We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self-interest:

  1. I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;
  2. I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;
  3. I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;
  4. I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;
  5. I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. We might say that the target audience consists of psychological felt needs, rather than the physical felt needs that typically arise in difficult social conditions. (The contemporary “health and wealth” gospel and obsession with “miracles” express something more like the Grand Inquisitor’s older version of therapeutic gospel.)

In this new gospel, the great “evils” to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

Pastors lament the consumer mentality of many in the world today and yet, sometimes that which is complained about is propped up unknowingly by a version of the gospel that is less than complete. A less-than-complete gospel is a false gospel.

Signs That Your Church Members Just Want Therapy, Not the Gospel

Tweet: Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church. https://ctt.ec/KqG2f+Every pastor, at some point in time, will hear church members state that they're looking for a new church.

Most often the church members and friends do not state these directly, but just fade away in attendance and participation and eventually share that phrase with mutual friends or other church members. Then, over time, that phrase hits the ears of leadership.Sometimes God actually calls members of a local body of believers to unite elsewhere. However, unless that calling leads to missional engagement and missionary living, it all to often seems to be based on a desire for a new version of church, and sometimes is fueled by disagreement with pastoral leadership, theology, or programming.In all candor, it has been my experience that theological differences rarely are the tipping point. This proves to be the case when members join another local church that holds to the very same theological understandings. 

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Photo credit: Chicago Running Tours & more via Visualhunt.com / CC BY

Those who have itchy ears for the therapeutic gospel (which, in case it's not clear, is a false gospel) tend to offer one of the popular statements such as...

  • "I'm not being fed"
  • "I need...something from someone"
  • "I'm not being discipled"
  • "We need a better group for our kids"

...or other such phrase. 

Acquiescence to the therapeutic gospel is often identifiable through the overuse of "I" or "we" statements when it comes to what the church offers or does not offer. 

The church and pastoral leadership do not get a pass here. Poor leadership leads to ineffective discipleship. Inwardly focused churches are not disciple-makers. Therefore, they are prone to offer therapeutic philosophy disguised as biblical truth. Pastors and leaders must continually push against the drive (even within themselves) to build small kingdoms, keep the tithers happy, and bow to the false god of self-preservation and self-worship.

Powlinson addresses the five elements of the therapeutic gospel biblically this way:

  1. “Need for love”? It is surely a good thing to know that you are both known and loved. God who searches the thoughts and intentions of our hearts also sets his steadfast love upon us. However all this is radically different from the instinctual craving to be accepted for who I am. Christ’s love comes pointedly and personally despite who I am. You are accepted for who Christ is, because of what he did, does, and will do. God truly accepts you, and if God is for you, who can be against you? But in doing this, he does not affirm and endorse what you are like. Rather, he sets about changing you into a fundamentally different kind of person. In the real gospel you feel deeply known and loved, but your relentless “need for love” has been overthrown.
  2. “Need for significance”? It is surely a good thing for the works of your hands to be established forever: gold, silver, and precious stones, not wood, hay, and straw. It is good when what you do with your life truly counts, and when your works follow you into eternity. Vanity, futility, and ultimate insignificance register the curse upon our work life – even midcourse, not just when we retire, or when we die, or on the Day of Judgment. But the real gospel inverts the order of things presupposed by the therapeutic gospel. The craving for impact and significance – one of the typical “youthful lusts” that boil up within us – is merely idolatrous when it acts as Director of Operations in the human heart. God does not meet your need for significance; he meets your need for mercy and deliverance from your obsession with personal significance. When you turn from your enslavement and turn to God, then your works do start to count for good. The gospel of Jesus and the fruit of faith are not tailored to “meet your needs.” He frees from the tyranny of felt needs, remakes you to fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13). In the divine irony of grace, that alone makes what you do with your life of lasting value.
  3. “Need for self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-assertion”? To gain a confident sense of your identity is a great good. Ephesians is strewn with several dozen “identity statements,” because by this the Spirit motivates a life of courageous faith and love. You are God’s – among the saints, chosen ones, adopted sons, beloved children, citizens, slaves, soldiers; part of the workmanship, wife and dwelling place – every one of these in Christ. No aspect of your identity is self-referential, feeding your “self-esteem.” Your opinion of yourself is far less important than God’s opinion of you, and accurate self-assessment is derivative of God’s assessment. True identity is God-referential. True awareness of yourself connects to high esteem for Christ. Great confidence in Christ correlates to a vote of fundamental no confidence in and about yourself. God nowhere replaces diffidence and people-pleasing by self-assertiveness. In fact, to assert your opinions and desires, as is, marks you as a fool. Only as you are freed from the tyranny of your opinions and desires are you free to assess them accurately, and then to express them appropriately.
  4. “Need for pleasure”? In fact, the true gospel promises endlessly joyous experience, drinking from the river of delights (Ps. 36). This describes God’s presence. But as we have seen in each case, this is keyed to the reversal of our instinctive cravings, not to their direct satisfaction. The way of joy is the way of suffering, endurance, small obediences, willingness to identify with human misery, willingness to overthrow your most persuasive desires and instincts. I don’t need to be entertained. But I absolutely NEED to learn to worship with all my heart.
  5. “Need for excitement and adventure”? To participate in Christ’s kingdom is to play a part within the Greatest Action-Adventure Story Ever Told. But the paradox of redemption again turns the whole world upside down. The real adventure takes the path of weakness, struggle, endurance, patience, small kindnesses done well. The road to excellence in wisdom is unglamorous. Other people might take better vacations and have a more thrilling marriage than yours. The path of Jesus calls forth more grit than thrill. He needed endurance far more than he needed excitement. His kingdom might not cater to our cravings for derring-do and thrill-seeking, but “solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.”

May we diligently focus on the truth of the Gospel and not settle for less than God truly offers. When our theology centers on self, and ultimately becomes a "me-ology" the church ceases to be church. This may be one of the greatest challenges we face nowadays, especially as the generations of church members and attenders dwindles. The natural response from many church leaders is to "offer what the audience wants" while sacrificing what we truly need.

What is needed? The Gospel.

The true Gospel.


Five Things We Did In Church That We Don't Do Anymore

As I reflect back to my life growing up in a Baptist church, I am amazed now at some of the things we did that just seem so wrong nowadays (and to be honest, they were likely wrong then as well, but times were different.)

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Photo credit: Steven Polunsky via Visual hunt / CC BY

Here are just a few of the things we have done, and to be honest, some of the youth events were under my leadership. 

  • Haunted House

    Yeah, a real haunted house. Just to be clear this wasn't some "baptized" version of a haunted house that used recreated car wrecks or tragedies with guys dress like angels and a Jesus actor intent on scaring people into heaven. I was in junior high school. This was a traditional Southern Baptist church in the midwest and I am still not sure how or why we did this, but I will tell you this - the autopsy room and electric chair room we built was incredible! It was just...wrong. There was fake blood, but no talk of being "washed in the blood." Maybe we had snacks afterward? I don't know. I was in 8th grade. As I look back I cannot help but think "What?!?" Nevertheless, this happened. Once.
  • Judgment House

    I'm not saying this is something that shouldn't be done. That's my way of saying "If you're doing a Judgment House or Hell House or whatever, that's on you." We, however, won't be doing it again. We hosted this at our church here in Orange Park once. It was huge and attracted many people. Yet, it was the "scare the hell out of you" and "scare the heaven into you" type of event that seems a bit over the top. It was like a bad Christian movie with some pretty good props (for a local church) but with acting that matched pretty well with the majority of the Christian films available at the time. Meaning: not good. This happened. Once. 
  • Sunday School Drag Queen

    Okay, this one is a bit misleading. Imagine a Sunday School class of 40 and 50 year olds. It's a couple's class and they have done what many couple's classes have done for decades in church life. They have planned a "fellowship." That means they have planned a class party complete with games and likely a bad take-off of "The Newlywed Game." They even have written a sketch that is supposed to be funny. So, with Flip Wilson (look him up young folks) as their model, the men come on stage (or in the front of the room) dressed as women...ugly women. It was supposed to be funny. Yet, prior to concerns about transgenderism and the LGBT revolution, these things were just done and people laughed them off. There was prayer for the food. Then, this group of Christians unknowingly (I hope) went on to blatantly disregard Deuteronomy 22:5. It was just a game, but whoa, in today's culture that's a big no-no. It should have been a no-no then as well.
  • Youth Group Drag Queen Game

    Okay, so this one is on me. It wasn't really intended to be a drag queen issue, but way back in the late 1990s, I was leading a game at a youth camp. It was a typical youth group relay which involved as many people as possible. We based it on the theme "A League of Their Own" which was a movie starring Tom Hanks and Madonna about women's professional baseball. So, each level of the relay had something to do with baseball and women. It seemed funny at the time to have each team pick the burliest guy on their squad and have him go through the section where he's having lipstick put on him by blindfolded teammates, putting on a baseball jersey and even sliding on a skirt (over his shorts) before running to the next level. All in fun until one of my youth pastor friends came up to me afterward and said "Dave, we have a guy in our group that has been to counseling and struggles with gender issues. His mom finds him dressing in her clothes. This game has set him back." Ouch! I never thought of that at the time. Based on what we see happening with students today, in our families and churches, this game and others are now on the "NO WAY" list. We never did that relay again. Now, we did do "Mom's Apple Pie" but that just involved a lot of flour, butter, and a pie eating contest. 
  • Pick Your Favorite Song Night

    I loved these when I was a kid. It wasn't that I loved to go to church on Sunday night, but that this evening allowed my friends and I to pick hymns in the hymnbook that our Music Minister did not know and that had what we considered weird lyrics. In the 1975 Baptist Hymnal we would always pick number 20. If you grew up with these Pick a Hymn events, you likely know this one. The title is "God of Earth and Outer Space" and while the tune unfortunately sounds like any other hymn, we thought the lyrics were funny. Granted the song was written during the era of the space race, I think. Another great pick was "My God Is There Controlling." When the Music Minister would say "Does anyone have a favorite hymn other than Number 20?" (which he learned to say) we would offer this one. The first line is "We search the starlit Milky Way. A million worlds in rhythmic sway..." Lovely. I can't remember the tune, because I don't think we ever finished the song. Yet, as a teenager we would recite these lyrics like beatniks on an episode of "Happy Days." Here's the third line - "But as I grope from sphere to sphere..." Yeah. This was in the Baptist Hymnal. And you thought "Good, Good Father" was bad. 

There are many other things we don't do anymore that we used to do in church. Some good. Some bad. Yet, these I have listed have stopped for very good reasons. If you can comment below without being negative, list some other things we have stopped doing for good reasons. No lamenting the greatness of the "good old days."


It Truly Is a "Tale as Old as Time" and That's the Problem

The lack of creativity in Hollywood has been spoken of in various venues over recent years. While it may not be waning creativity on the part of the filmmakers and artists, it does not take long to realize that remakes, sequels, and re-imagined stories of old seem to fill the "Coming Soon" lists from Hollywood. If not a lack of creativity, it certainly is a somewhat safe financial plan for the production companies.

The children of the 80s and 90s reminisce of days gone by as they find themselves forced into "adulting" (apparently, that's a word now.) For the Gen Xers, this explains the "GI Joe," "Transformers," "Dukes of Hazzard," "21 Jump Street" and "Chips" movies. For Millennials, perhaps this is why live action versions of Disney cartoons are such a big hit. In some cases, as with "Alice in Wonderland" and "Cinderella," the original animated films were made decades prior to the birth of the Millennial generation. Yet, it was when these young adults were children that Disney began to "unlock the vault" on occasion and release these classics on VHS. How many young twenty- and thirty-somethings grew up with those bulky plastic cases strewn around the room as they watched their favorite films over and over and over? As a parent, I remember these films being worn out and while "Robin Hood" was incredible, a man can only take so much "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo."

A Tale As Old As Time

The internet and media outlets blew up last year when it was announced that a live-action version of the newer classic Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" would be developed. Early clips shared online revealed that Emma Watson was to play Belle and the film was to be, in some cases, a scene-for-scene live version of the animated classic. Watson was cheered as the new Belle. The rose in the early trailer was celebrated online as just a glimpse of the new film began to elicit positive buzz. 

Even when Angela Lansbury, one of the stars of the original, shared her confusion as to why the film was being made and clearly wasn't a fan of the endeavor, it was clear to those watching the industry, the film would be a huge hit and make millions. Disney is banking on that. In fact, that's the answer to Ms. Lansbury's question.

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Photo credit: Castles, Capes & Clones via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The marketing has been systematic. Disney definitely knows how to do this and with marketable tie-ins such as the races at the Magic Kingdom and new dolls already on the market (though the Belle doll did get some pushback with claims it looked less like Emma Watson and more like Justin Bieber). Make no mistake, this film will rake in the bucks and many will celebrate the music, acting, reminisced childhood, and message.

Oh, the message.

It has changed a bit from the original.

Belle is more liberated, it seems. She's an inventor now, as is her father. This was revealed a few weeks back. Most read that and thought "No big deal."

Yet, last week another revelation was shared by Disney regarding their new film.

Disney's First "Exclusively Gay Moment" in a Children's Movie

Since this is an updated re-telling of the "tale as old as time" or at least as old as the early 1990s, the writers and directors have taken the opportunity to insert a sub-story into the plot revealing that one of the characters is actually gay. This story truly blew up the internet last week and continues to be shared online and through entertainment "news" television shows and media outlets. 

To the Christian with an eye on culture, this should be no surprise.

When the online push to make Elsa a lesbian in the Frozen sequel began, it became inevitable that Disney would step even more intentionally than in the past into the LGBT revolution. Some have declared this to be the first gay character in a Disney production. That actually is not true. The Disney Channel show "Good Luck Charlie" depicted a lesbian couple as parents of a friend of the main character. The Disney produced television show "Once Upon a Time" on the Disney-owned network, ABC, presented familiar characters from film as outed lesbians in April 2016. Yet, the difference here is the fact that the upcoming film is marketed to families. 

The Gay Sidekick

The protagonist in "Beauty and the Beast" is Gaston. His sidekick is LeFou. In a recent Washington Post article by Elahe Izadi, the following is stated:

In recent years, Disney has increased the racial and ethnic diversity in its stories, and has made strides to reimagine female characters as fully formed protagonists rather than simply damsels in distress.

But there have been calls among some for children’s entertainment to portray same-sex relationships as well. Last year, a Twitter campaign asked Disney to make Elsa from “Frozen” a lesbian character in the movie’s sequel, inspiring the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.

A few Disney movies have left viewers wondering about the orientation of characters, with allusions to same-sex relationships. “Zootopia” featured Bucky and Pronk, two male antelopes who live together, bicker like a couple and share a common last name. An episode of the Disney Channel show “Good Luck Charlie” included a character who had two moms.

But the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.

This has been called a watershed moment for Disney.

The culture celebrates the seemingly progressive step in this upcoming film. However, not all parents are excited. Many who planned to relive their childhood with their own kids while watching the film together in the theater are now questioning if they should. For some, it is the frustration that they may be forced to address an issue of sexuality with their children in a way they did not plan or desire to do.

Nevertheless, some will celebrate the opportunity to share the normalizing of such things. This is the cultural revolution in full swing.

To be clear, while turning a beloved animated film into a live-action movie is intriguing, I am not a fan of the subtext in this one. There are no accidental messages in such multi-million dollar presentations. There never have been. 

Movies and Messages

Movies are made to make money, but in the process are not made in a vacuum. Movies (even the ones in the $2 bin of DVDs at the store) present a worldview. It's inevitable. It cannot be avoided. Christians have struggled with this reality for decades. And, surprisingly, not all Christians agree about movies. For generations, Christians were declared bad and sinful in the church-subculture if they ever went to a movie. Now, churches produce films intended to be shown in the multiplex. 

So-called "faith based" films pop up. Some are good. Most are bad. Many create online debates. Ever heard of "The Shack"? Wow! That hot-mess of messed up trinitarian presentation is causing more confusion and frustrated Christians than even the bogus heaven-tourism flick "Heaven is for Real."

Yet, this new Disney film isn't marketed as "faith-based." I am not sure there's such a thing as a Christian Disney film. Since movies don't go to heaven, there may not be such a thing as a Christian film at all, but I digress.

Dr. Albert Mohler recently shared thoughts on this film on The Briefing and as followers of Christ in the midst of a worldview shift, his words are wise and should be considered.

But we also have to note that when we laugh at something and when we find something interesting and, not to mention, entertaining, effectively our thinking will become aligned with our hearts. That’s exactly why Hollywood is ground zero for so much of the change driving the moral revolution around us. But there is something even more ominous in all of this, and that’s this. We’re not here talking primarily about the effect upon adults, adults’ eyes and ears and minds and hearts, we’re talking about entertainment with an agenda, an agenda to reach eyes and ears and hearts and minds directed at children, and very effectively so.

I guess most of us suspected that it was only a matter of time before some film directors said something like,

“It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

But now we know that that time is now. It may not be surprising, but it truly is shocking.

While some call for boycotts, I am not. However, I do think families should consider how what is sold as entertainment actually impacts belief systems. Parents should consider this.

It's Not "Just a Movie"

It's really not about "Beauty and the Beast" or the LGBT revolution. That's just the clear issue on the front-page today (it will be old news in about a week). It is about living with a biblical worldview as ambassadors for Christ in a world that rejected him. 

Declaring loudly all that we are against will likely not lead to engaging conversations about the Gospel. However, ignoring the blatant worldview shifts seems to lead many to live isolated from the mission. 

Oh, and please don't fall into the "It's just a movie" or "It's fiction, enjoy it" groups. Nothing is ever just anything. The story is much larger and the mission becomes even more clear. 

The Real "Tale As Old As Time"

The "Tale As Old As Time" is truly about a battle and a rescue. It did not start in a castle with a beast and some talking dishes. It began in a garden. Actually, it began prior to that. This tale includes beauty, deception, rebellion, shame, death, rescue, and life. 

Christians must be wise and understand the times. As for the characters in the latest Disney film, they are not real, but they represent the depravity of humanity clearly. Perhaps this is why people are so drawn to the stories. 


Putting a Stop to the Youth Exodus in the Church

For the past few years, church leaders and evangelicals have been lamenting the loss of younger people in the church. While some new church starts and mega-box churches have seen growth in seeming success in reaching the younger generation, the statistics show a loss overall. Much has been written about this and most hearkens back to Pew Research Center's 2015 report. While that report is two years old, it is likely no significant changes have occurred.

Generational labels differ based on what study is cited or book read, but by and large, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) and Generation Z/Boomlets (born after 2000 ) are trending away from the church. There's not as much data regarding Generation Z, but the older portion of the generation are in high school and graduating this year. 

Generation Z/Boomlets

This generation has been described this way (from MarketingTeacher.com):

  • In 2006 there were a record number of births in the US and 49% of those born were Hispanic, this will change the American melting pot in terms of behavior and culture. The number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation.
  • Since the early 1700s the most common last name in the US was "Smith" but not anymore, now it is "Rodriguez."
  • There are two age groups right now:
    • Tweens.
      • Age 8-12 years old.
      • There will be an estimated 29 million tweens by 2009.
      • $51 billion is spent by tweens every year with an additional $170 billion spent by their parents and family members directly for them.
    • Toddler/Elementary school age.
  • 61 percent of children 8-17 have televisions in their rooms.
  • 35 percent have video games.
  • 14 percent have a DVD player.
  • 4 million will have their own cell phones. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones.
  • Have Eco-fatigue: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it.
  • With the advent of computers and web-based learning, children leave behind toys at younger and younger age. It’s called KGOY-kids growing older younger, and many companies have suffered because of it. Most recognizable is Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls. In the 1990s the average age of a child in their target market was 10-years-old, and in 2000 it dropped to three-years-old. As children reach the age of four and five, old enough to play on the computer, they become less interested in toys and begin to desire electronics such as cell phones and video games.
  • They are savvy consumers and they know what they want and how to get it and they are over saturated with brands.

The Numbers

Pew Research shared the following:

Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014.

Yet numbers can be confusing and sometimes do not tell the full story. In a 2016 article, Pew reveals the factors leading the growth of "nones" in the US:

Indeed, our Religious Landscape Study finds a clear generational pattern: Young people who are not particularly religious seem to be much more comfortable identifying as “nones” than are older people who display a similar level of religious observance. Nearly eight-in-ten Millennials with low levels of religious commitment describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” By contrast, just 54% of Americans in the Silent and Greatest generations who have low levels of religious commitment say they are unaffiliated; 45% claim a religion. A similarly striking gap between Millennials and others is also seen among those with a “medium” level of religious commitment.

What Can the Church Do?

Normally, at least it has been my experience, when data like this surfaces, churches and denominations react, rather than respond. In many cases, the exodus of young people comes as a surprise, all too late. Parents who had faithfully attended church, signed their children up for every program and event from AWANA to DiscipleNow, youth camp, mission trips, etc. wonder where they went wrong when the now adult child seemingly walks away from church with no intent of coming back. 

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In the past, churches would say (well, not out loud, but it was a predominant thought) "Just wait until they get married and have kids. Then, they'll come back to church." Maybe that was true a generation ago, but it doesn't seem to be now. The fact is that young parents who just attended church and were entertained as teenagers seem to find more community in social networking sites, school activities, athletic endeavors for kids, and other areas and church is not avoided...it just never come across their minds.

Yet, all hope is not lost.

Reaction is not the answer, but godly response is. 

What we are facing is not new. Have you ever read the Old Testament? When you read Moses' commands to the next generation in Deuteronomy 6 regarding the passing on of truth to the next generations, there is a since of fear in his words. The fear is that unless the family teaches of God, models worship in the home, and remembers the covenant past with God, the kids and grandkids will not only forget, but walk away. The journey away from God is not without consequence.

What faithful parent or grandparent of a prodigal hasn't shared similar lamentation in prayer?

Since trends tend to raise awareness, let's look at observable trends of those who have not abandoned the faith.

Jon Nielson, Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, recently shared an article highlighting some of the trends he has personally observed of faithful Millennials and young adults (full article here).

  1. They are converted. Sometimes, we deem attendance as a faith indicator. Yet, just being in the youth room or the church building does not a convert make. Teenagers from "good families" who get good grades, play football, cheer, get accepted to multiple schools, etc. are considered by many in the church to be "good kids" and while they may comparatively be, the problem is when salvation is presumed. Christians truly don't abandon Christ. Church attenders and members do.
  2. They have been equipped, not entertained. Oh boy, this is big. "Come to our youth group. It's really fun!" isn't a bad thing, but when everything in the ministry is focused on the student or young person, rather than on the God we worship we perpetuate a "better than the church down the street" model that defaults to the latest events, concerts, praise band, dodgeball tournament, ski trip, and other such events (which are not bad...they're just no the ultimate point.) I'm all for fun and I like being entertained, but if we're simply creating consumers of Chrstianese rather than making disciples, no wonder the younger generation walks away. "Big church" will never be that fun. Seriously - the deacon retreat is not quite the level of youth camp. 
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them. Better yet, their parents worshipped with them and not just at church. The gospel was lived out, modeled, and shared. Normative home life was Christ-centric. Parents who are discipled well disciple well. When the parents are not believers, the church fills the gap. The problem occurs when Christian parents outsource discipling their children to the "professional Christians" at the church. Let's just say that after decades of promoting this model, the proof is in the pudding. It does not work.

Walker Moore of Awe Star Ministries developed a model of student ministry years ago where students led. The gifting of "significant tasks" to students for the health of the ministry allows God to work in and through young people at levels where the "come into the youth room and wait for the adults to feed you" model never will. 

So, what can we do? We can remember. God has not abandoned young adults and teenagers. And, God is not through with the older generations, either. It's not like all the Boomers and Gen Xers are believers, right?

I'm not pessimistic when I read the statistics. I'm actually happy that the scales are now falling off our eyes. Sure, many are walking away, but it's not too late. We (the church) are now being forced back to Scripture and the model is clear. Disciple-making is our commission. It begins in the home, not the church building. Family equipping discipleship is more than a model. It's a biblical command (Deut 6). 

I believe God is recalibrating our focus. While we may be as fearful as Moses, the hope we have in Christ remains. So, don't lose heart. 


firstFAMILY Podcast 025: Our Journey of Church Revitalization

 

We are seeing over 900 churches close down annually in the SBC. The numbers are daunting and cannot be ignored. Yet, the question remains "What should be done?" The truth is that some churches need to close. They forsook their gospel witness years ago and are nothing more than buildings in communities. However, there are many who are positioned for rebirth and with partnerships with healthier churches, a rebirth can occur, thereby keeping a gospel witness alive and well in communities where it is needed. In this podcast I share our journey of revitalization with Oak Harbor Baptist Church, a church that apart from partnership and help would be closing it's doors within the year. We're in the midst of revitalization and it is not easy, but needed. Perhaps this could help you lead well into such a story.

Our Partnership Agreement with Oak Harbor Church


The Danger of Living in an Echo Chamber

Last year's election cycle revealed what many of us already knew - echo chambers exist and it's easier to see that others live within them and difficult to acknowledge when we do.

What is an "echo chamber?"

The practical definition is an enclosed space where sound reverberates...or echoes.

In this aspect, however, we are not speaking of physical sites where sound reverberations can be heard, but social sites, mostly online, but not limited to that. 

The Washington Post ran an article last year titled "Confirmed: Echo chambers exist on social media. So what do we do about them?"

In Christine Emba's report, she shares results from social scientists on the reality of such chambers. 

The study focused on how Facebook users interacted with two narratives involving conspiracy theories and science. Users belonging to different communities tended not to interact and tended to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, creating closed, non-interacting communities centered around different narratives — what the researchers called “echo chambers.” Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.

Recently, one of my online friends who holds vastly different views politically, socially, and theologically, shared a story online that was opposite my view on many levels. We discussed the views cordially and I shared the reality that the views espoused were simply echoes of others. The concept of living in an echo chamber is a reality, and I am not immune either. 

The Echo Chamber of Politics

Social scientists and political scientists have studied the surprising (to some) results of last year's US Presidential election. As results came in where states were colored either blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) to indicate Electoral College votes, our news showed the county-by-county vote totals of our state, Florida. 

I would not be surprised to see other state breakdowns to show similar results. Here are Florida's results (screenshot from The Guardian)

Screenshot 2017-02-04 10.51.01
Screenshot from The Guardian

For the most part, the blue counties are where large universities are located (FSU, UF, UCF, USF, UM, FIU, FAU, etc.) They are also the locations, other than Alachua County, of urban areas in our state. 

This is no surprise in that many students in university settings are challenged intellectually regarding their belief systems and sense of fairness. It seems that over the decades, many of our universities have embraced a humanist worldview that leans left ideologically, politically, and theologically. This is not news. 

However, I am not saying that individuals abandon their convictions and beliefs just because they enroll in college. In fact, no university populace is homogenous (well, except for Saturdays in the fall during football season) in their beliefs or support of ideologies. Yet, it is true that many students find themselves exposed to a worldview that sees things vastly different than the one experienced growing up under parental authority once at college.

It is at this level, the echo chamber develops. 

And it is not just in the liberal, humanistic worldview world. 

Just in case it's misunderstood, I'm not saying that the red candidate's voters were not in echo chambers. They were, too.

I am just pointing out how so many who leaned left were surprised at the election results primarily because they were trapped in an echo chamber. The same has been proven true for other sides over the years.

No one is immune.

The Christian Echo Chamber

As Christians, we must guard against the echo chamber as well.

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shared this in The Briefing from August 4, 2016 in a story about Roger Ailes and Fox News:

But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.

This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.

Some fear that even listening to dissenting political or ideological opinions flies too close to "the appearance of evil" but I hearken back to Paul's encounter at Mars Hill. To lovingly engage those far from God with the Gospel leads us out of the echo chamber (which for Christians can be filled with empty "Amens" on social issues apart from biblical foundation.) 

If you check my Twitter account, you'll see that I follow many people. Many of those I follow view the world through a lens (a worldview) vastly different than the biblical one I do. They hold to beliefs of Scripture that I do not. They argue in favor of things that I believe are evil and wrong or at best, short-sighted. Yet, I "follow" them. To be clear, just because I follow you online, does not mean I agree with you. 

Yet, to be clear, as a Christian I must spend the bulk of my time in God's Word when it comes to having a biblical worldview. Apart from the Gospel, I have no valid discourse with those who are pre-Christian.

Winning debates is not the goal.

Watching God win souls is.


Worldviews And the Divide Over LGBT Rights

Local news for the past few days in Jacksonville, Florida has featured stories centered upon the Jacksonville City Council and the Human Rights Ordinance proposal before the city. This is not the first time the ordinance has been presented and while past pushes for its passage have failed, as an observer, it seems more likely to pass now.

What is the Human Rights Ordinance?

Local news reporter Stephanie Brown of WOKV radio summarizes it this way:

A new bill that would expand anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community for housing, employment, and public accommodations. (full story)

A full copy of the HRO (I believe it's the latest version) may be read here.

Ultimately the ordinance adds the wording "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression" throughout the proposal in addition to current wording designed to affirm and provide equality for all citizens within the city. This latest version offers exemptions for religious organizations and companies. This is why proponents believe it will pass now.

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Photo credit: D. A. Lewis via Visual Hunt / CC BY

I am not for the ordinance. I have theological and philosophical reasons to not affirm this. However, I do not live in Duval County (Jacksonville) but what happens in Jacksonville impacts all surrounding counties and suburbs as well. I live in a neighboring community, but one of the campuses of our church actually is in Duval County. While my stance opposing the ordinance is not popular, I hold to it and...I'm not mad. 

I'm Not Mad

Now, it's not a sin to be angry. Righteous anger was demonstrated by Christ. Remember when he turned over chairs and made a whip? That's a crazy story, right? Yet, in his anger he did not sin. The problem with many of us is that our "righteous anger" is far from righteous. I'm not saying people have no right to be angry. I am saying that often Christians claim righteous anger and they have no love. Apart from love, anger is not righteous. Otherwise, we become clanging cymbals that may spout truth, but will never be heard.

Based on what I have seen in local politics and online, there are many clanging cymbals out there.

Oh, one other thing about this - just because I am not mad does not mean I am happy or in agreement.

Hundreds Lined Up to Speak

The local news reported that hundreds flooded the City Council chambers. The citizens attending were told that everyone who desired to speak for or against the HRO would have their chance. That led to overflow rooms and people lining up and the meetings extending to the next day. The discussions were heated and divisive.

On the surface, the story seems to simply be about groups pushing against or affirming LGBT citizens and the lifestyle of those identifying as such.

It is, but it is also much deeper.

It Is About Worldview

This is about worldview.

I was prompted to write this post based on a short clip that was featured on First Coast News Facebook page. The local news station has a talk show that airs during the day called "The Chat." I have never watched a full episode, primarily because I am not home when it airs, and to put it simply, I am not their target demographic. The clips I have seen scrolling on my Facebook timeline have been interesting and humorous at times. I have friends who have appeared on the show as guests. So, let me be clear, I'm not bashing the show and I am not angry at what was said. It is a talk show, modeled after some nationally syndicated ones that are similar. The ladies at the table are paid to converse about current affairs and things that the viewing audience finds interesting. They do this well. Yet as this clip played (and yes, since it was short I watched it) it was clear the side of the aisle that the hosts were sitting regarding the HRO, but more importantly, I heard clear worldview statements.

The clip that played on my timeline is below:

 

The two ladies speaking in this clip, Catalina Alers-Alers (from Orange Park - whoo hoo) and Maria Chrissovergis shared their beliefs and...it's their show and they should.

While I disagree with the hosts' points, I believe their comments shed insight.

Ms. Alers-Alers states "Leave religion out" when discussing the HRO. I get this. I have heard it before and many people I talk with would agree with her. She is likely referring to, as she alluded, the many who spoke in opposition to the ordinance. I have watched a few clips of the feed and there are many who did quote Scripture (which they definitely have the right to do, and I would affirm and agree.) I can also see why Ms. Alers-Alers would say "leave religion out."

The fact of the matter is that people who are religious (in this story that refers to those claiming to be Christian) in our communities would state - it is really impossible to leave religion out. That's a worldview perspective. Some would say "Oh I can separate my faith from every day life." Perhaps, but as I have experienced, my faith is more than just something I've added into my life. When I became a Christian, Christ became my life, so in truth, I cannot separate it or "leave it out." Now, I don't have to be a jerk about it, but that's another point.

When religion is viewed similarly to club membership, it would not be hard. I agree that many see church membership and religion as a spiritual version of the Kiwanis, Lions Club, lodge or Rotary. Not bashing those groups, just saying - church shouldn't be considered similar. (Oh and if your church is just another club...consider joining another.)

Ms. Chrissovergis began with a comment about her gay friends who are good citizens. I won't argue with that. I'm sure they are. My friends and family members who are LGBT are good citizens, too. They are my friends and family members, and I love them (and believe it's reciprocal) but we disagree on some obvious things. Not just on political and cultural issues, but biblical ones as well. Why? Because we have different worldviews.

Ms. Chrissovergis continues to "preach" as she stated. She leaves with "I'm not here to judge and we're to love our neighbor." I would warn that it is easy to judge, even if you claim you're not. In this case, there may be some judgment of those in the City Council room who opposed the HRO. Just saying. It's a slippery slope. Yet, I believe Ms. Chrissovergis was seeking to emphasize the "love your neighbor" theme.

Well, AMEN to the "Love our neighbor" statement. I affirm that. Not because I choose to interpret Scripture that way, but because a biblical worldview centers on taking Scripture as inerrant and absolutely true and Jesus affirmed the Greatest Commandment when he declared in Mark 12...

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” - Mark 12:30-31 ESV

The command begins with loving God. I'm not hearing the ladies on "The Chat" disagree with that. I'm just clarifying. Loving God fully is the starting point. Apart from that, there is no capacity to truly love neighbor. And, here's a truth often ignored -

You can love someone truly, but not affirm everything about them or their choices. 

Most parents get this.

The divide in our community and culture remains. It will likely grow wider.

While I am opposed to the HRO and believe God's design for man and woman does not affirm an LGBT lifestyle, it does not mean I am a hater, though some would disagree. Yet this is my worldview.

Christ's love is unconditional. True.

His acceptance is conditional, as is forgiveness. That's biblical as well.

Each Christian holds a worldview and as the culture shifts, to hold tightly to a conservative, inerrant, biblical one will be a challenge. 

 


The Problem with Unconditional Forgiveness

I have been teaching on Wednesday evenings this month on biblical forgiveness. You'd think this would be a basic study, but I'm discovering how many Christians and those, like me, who have been raised in churched families have missed some fundamental truths regarding forgiveness. The fact is that all of us come to this concept of forgiveness with preconceived ideas of what is right and fair. When someone questions that which we have held to be true for decades, there may be pushback.

And there has been.

This is not uncommon, but has opened up opportunities for discussion.

I threw out a teaser prior to beginning the study that caused some questions and ultimately led people to want to attend.

I made a statement related to the living church members of the Charleston, South Carolina church who stated that they forgave the murderer, Dylann Roof for killing their family and fellow church members. I stated that while the offer of forgiveness was right and honorable, to unconditionally forgive Roof is actually unbiblical.

That statement caused some to question.

Perhaps they thought I was calling into question the motives of those who offered forgiveness. I was not. In fact, change the story to any other incident where an unrepentant individual was offered blanket forgiveness by the offended or others. I would say the same - that form of forgiveness is not biblical.

As I have studied the Scripture and read works by authors such as Chris Brauns and sermons by men like Milton Vincent, I am convinced that while we are commanded as Christians to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, to equate that forgiveness to be unconditional actually waters down the gospel and opens the door for universalism.

Forgiveness event

Does God forgive everyone?

Simple question, but according to Scripture the answer is NO. God does not forgive everyone. Some live their entire lives never surrendering to Christ and seeking forgiveness of sins. God is prepared to forgive. It is an offer, but it is an "if...then" offer.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

If we confess, or repent of our sins, he forgives. The central character of any forgiveness story is not self, but God. He created forgiveness.

Love is offered unconditionally. Forgiveness is conditional.

Otherwise, everyone's sins are forgiven and ultimately...everyone gets to heaven. That's not Christianity. That's universalism. It feels good, but it eliminates the consequences of sin and the value of God's holiness and love.

Why is this such a hard concept for even Christians to grasp? It is due to a centeredness on self and a idea of "fairness" that does not find biblical anchors. Even I have told people in the past that their forgiveness of others was really more about self-healing than releasing others of guilt. Sounds good, but that statement leans more toward therapeutic help than biblical truth. For that I repent. 

I have posted the first two sessions on forgiveness on our website here and will post the third later this week. As stated earlier, no original material from me. Mostly gleaned from Brauns and Vincent. 

So, from Chris Brauns' book Unpacking Forgiveness (highly recommended) here is the "TRUE OR FALSE" test I offered to our group two weeks ago. See how you do.

FORGIVENESS QUIZ

  1. TRUE OR FALSE – Where deep wounds between people are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment.
  2. TRUE OR FALSE – Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness.
  3. TRUE OR FALSE – Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place.
  4. TRUE OR FALSE – Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met.
  5. TRUE OR FALSE – Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict.
  6. TRUE OR FALSE – A willingness to forgive is a test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies.
  7. TRUE OR FALSE – Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements.
  8. TRUE OR FALSE – There are times when it is wrong to forgive.

ANSWERS:

  1. FALSE
  2. TRUE
  3. FALSE
  4. TRUE
  5. FALSE
  6. TRUE
  7. FALSE
  8. TRUE

Here's more from Brauns on each point...

DEALING WITH THESE BIBLICALLY

  1. Where deep wounds are concerned, forgiveness can be unpacked in a moment. FALSE

Unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family. While you may move on a particular day, unpacking takes a lot longer.

  1. Personal happiness and joy can legitimately motivate people to live out what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. TRUE

There are some excited about learning more of biblical forgiveness, but others who dread this. There is fear that you will find out what you ought to do and it won’t match what you want to do.

  1. Most Christian pastors and counselors agree about what forgiveness is and how it should take place. FALSE

There are profound disagreements about forgiveness among pastors and counselors. Forgiveness is biblical. It is right. No question there. Remember that the choices you and I make regarding forgives shapes much of our lives. That’s why we must consciously work out what you believe about forgiveness and then intentionally put those beliefs into action. It is a process.

How can you know what is right when there are so many opinions being voiced? Examine the Scripture.

Now these Jews (Bereans) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. - Acts 17:11 (ESV)

More noble because they examined the Scriptures for truth.

  1. Forgiveness occurs properly only when certain conditions are met. TRUE

Most people answer “false” to this.

Does God forgive all? No. That’s an unconditional statement. Unconditional love is offered, but not unconditional forgiveness.

We have mixed our definitions and created a false theology with this.

The Bible is full of true stories of people who were not forgiven by God.

Goliath – not forgiven.

And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 1 Samuel 17:57 (ESV)

Revelation speaks of what happens to the unforgiven.

God's forgiveness is conditional. Therefore, our forgiveness is conditional as well.

  1. Jesus said little about how people should resolve interpersonal conflict. FALSE

Matthew 18 – about discipline and conflict resolution.

  1. A willingness to forgive is the test of whether or not a person will go to heaven when he or she dies. TRUE

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

  1. Good people get to the bottom of all their disagreements. FALSE

There are times when good people just can’t resolve differences. What do you do?

  1. There are times when it is wrong to forgive. TRUE

Some say that is a wrong statement. We’ll see why it is not.

Dennis Prager, “The Sin of Forgiveness” – WSJ 1997

The bodies of the three teenage girls murdered by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., were not yet cold before the students of the Christian prayer group that was shot at announced, "We forgive you, Mike," referring to Michael Carneal, 14, the murderer.

This immediate and automatic forgiveness of a murderer is not surprising. Over the past generation, the idea that a central message of Christianity is to forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how great and cruel and whether or not the evildoer repents, has been adopted by much of Christendom.

The number of examples is almost as large as the number of heinous crimes. But one other recent example stands out. In August, the pastor at a Martha's Vineyard church service attended by the vacationing President Clinton announced that it was the duty of all Christians to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the murderer of 168 Americans. "I invite you to look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and then forgive him," the Rev. John Miller said in his sermon. "I have, and I ask you to do so."

The pastor acknowledged: "Considering what he did, that may be a formidable task. But it is the one that we as Christians are asked to do."

Though I am a Jew, I believe that a vibrant Christianity is essential if America's moral decline is to be reversed, and that despite theological differences, there is indeed a Judeo-Christian value system that has served as the bedrock of American civilization. For these reasons I am appalled and frightened by this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.

CHRISTIANS MUST ALWAYS HAVE A WILLINGNESS TO FORGIVE OR AN ATTITUDE OF FORGIVENESS, BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT FORGIVENESS ALWAYS TAKES PLACE.


PASTORS: Watch Out for This Scam

Internet and Email scammers have been around for years now and unfortunately, many have lost money and some have been "catfished" through the process. It makes for interesting stories on news programs and talk shows.

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Photo credit: BioDivLibrary via Visual hunt / CC BY

Last week, I received an email (actually the second time I have received such an email) that on the surface looks somewhat legit, but ultimately is a scam designed to play on the egos of pastors (yeah - I said it) and the opportunity to preach the Gospel in an international venue.

This email seemingly originated from the United Kingdom. Take a look below:

Screenshot 2017-01-21 15.40.33

When I first read the email, I was suspicious. Primarily because I received a similar one a couple of years ago, but the names of the church and pastor were changed. However, I do have friends who serve as pastors and missionaries in the UK, so there was this slight chance that this was authentic. I even shared the info with one of my friends, but approximately five minutes after asking him if he knew the church, I discovered what I just knew to be true - THIS IS A SCAM!

Pastoral Catfish Scheme

Things that made me question the authenticity of the request:

  • I have never met Pastor Sherard Wood and know no one who knows this man.
  • Passion Conference is a strange name for a local church's event in that Louie Giglio founded and hosts the Passion Conferences annually. Sometimes these are international events and most local churches would see the problem in naming their event the same thing. 
  • The website included in the email for Victory Church is authentic and actually goes to the church in Wales. However, there is no one listed on the Leadership Team named Sherard Wood.
  • Most churches now have email domains that match the church website, so the Gmail account was strange. It's not unheard of for a church to use Gmail. It is not even a bad thing, but it did look suspicious.
  • Under "Events" on the church tab, there is no indication that a "Passion Conference" is scheduled this spring.
  • Since I have many friends in Wales, where this church is located, it does seem strange to call the church Victory Church UK in the email. Most of my Welsh friends actually indicate "Wales" as their home and location. Just as my friends in England tend to say "England."

I did a quick Google search of the story and found that many have been scammed. It seems that when pastors respond, another email is sent with PDF documents attached which must be completed to allow the church to pay honorariums. The documents are actually authentic, but the rest of the story reveals how the scammers work.

This is the same strategy that King from Nigeria uses to get you to send money as well as all the other "Send money" emails people get from other sources. It seems there is a fee due to process the forms and yes, that needs to be paid, so just wire the money to the church's bank account and all is good.

Right.

That's the deal.

There's no conference in the UK paying thousands of dollars to American pastors who are mostly not known outside their region. It's flattering and it's a lie. 

Be careful. Be smart.

Here are a couple of sites where others have broken down the scam just in case you may think your email is legit:


firstFAMILY Podcast 024: Youth Pastors, Church Planters & Pastoral Leadership

What happened to all the youth pastors?


I was asked that question a while back and one answer given was "They're all church planters now."


I'm being facetious, but in this podcast I address the historical growth of student/youth ministry and the current trend and movement of church planting in light of pastoral leadership and biblical authority. I reference a few things in this podcast you may want to check out.
First, the book Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice

My post on "Maybe You're Not Called to Ministry

Ron Edmondson's article on Leadership - "7 Signs of Weak Leader"  

 

 


Campus or Church Plant?

What is the difference between a campus plant and a church plant?

What is best? To plant a campus or new church?

We've been talking about both for years and yet, it is clear that the differences are not fully understood by all.

Dr. Jimmy Scroggins of Family Church in West Palm Beach recently hosted a discussion about this very thing at the Florida Baptist State Convention last fall. His honesty was refreshing as it became clear that the movement of Kingdom expansion that Family Church has embarked upon is the exact same strategy God has led our church here in Orange Park.

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Church Planting

We are all in when it comes to church planting. While we would love to have planters in every focused area, God has clearly revealed our strategic partnerships over the years and we continue to serve as the sending church for Neil and Kaytee in Toronto and Mike and Carrie in Washington, DC. Additionally, we have been able to support others throughout the nation in cities such as Portland, Colorado Springs, Greensboro, and Tucson. Currently, we are seeking to partner with Cam Triggs in Orlando with a new plant launching this year.

We also have served as catalysts for local planters as we have served with Dr. Rick Wheeler and Dr. Josh Dryer and the Jacksonville Baptist Association in church planting assessment.

Church planting involves placing a pastor in an specified area, most often an urban area. The demographics reveal the unchurched reality of the community and the goal is to birth a new church where there is none. 

The planter and wife embed themselves in the community for the sake of Kingdom growth. The strategies for engaging a community are as varied as the communities. Planters set off understanding the marathon that planting is, most often renting facilities and seeking to till up hard spiritual ground. 

Our North American Mission Board has strategically focused on church planting over the past few years and we have seen many step into this story.

Campus Planting (Multi-Site Planting)

There is a difference between planting an autonomous church and a campus of an already established (i.e. legacy) church. The most recognizable difference is that the campus is not an autonomous church. This allows for some unique opportunities.

Dr. Scroggins shared the following realities of campus plants and what they offer. I offer my commentaries on his statements within the points as well:

  1. ADDITIONAL SERVICES. Campus plants are viewed as additional services, just meeting at a different venue than the church's traditional campus.
  2. MULTI-SITE IS LONG-TERM CHURCH PLANTING. In some cases, the campuses may grow into autonomous churches, but this is not true for all, and not expected.
  3. TAKES ADVANTAGE OF SYNERGY AND ECONOMIES OF SCALE. In other words, a campus may be launched in a relatively short amount of time where a church plant may require a year or more of preparation.
  4. ACCELERATES RATE OF CHANGE. No church wants to wake up one day to realize that they are too far gone to revitalize. There are fifty Baptist churches in our city (Jacksonville, FL) that will either close or sell off property within the next two years unless change among the internal church culture occurs. This is based on visible and recognizable statistics and realities.
  5. CAMPUS PASTORS ARE EXTENSIONS OF THE LEAD PASTOR. Therefore, there is no separate vision, doctrine, or leadership style. This allows for unity and consistency regarding programming, strategy, and vision. In many cases, campus pastors are men who were sent out from the church to serve and already have the DNA of the local church. This allows for quicker growth and launching.
  6. VIDEO OR LIVE? Though I prefer live, there are enough offering video venues that are working to discount this reality.
  7. THIS IS DIFFICULT! It is much easier to stay at one campus. Yet, if God opens the door for multi-site, it reminds us that he has not called us to easy service. 
  8. THIS REQUIRES THE BEST! This means that campuses cannot be launched with those who are not already serving well. J.D. Greear has mentioned on many occasions about the uncomfortable stress that occurs when the "best" leave what has been deemed in the past as the "main campus" to serve at a multi-site venue. When faithfully and prayerfully done, God always "back-fills" the positions of service at the launching campus.
  9. THERE IS NO MAIN CAMPUS. This has been a challenging reality for me, but needed. We do not have a "main campus" in that regardless where a person attends church services, that campus, be it a school cafeteria or tent by a ball field, is their "main campus." To call the traditional site the "main campus" presents a Varsity and Junior Varsity idea.
  10. ONE CHURCH OFFERS MUCH. To remain one church with multiple sites offers one name (in our case firstFAMILY,) one budget, one leadership structure, one constitution and bylaws. These allow for quicker movement, safer structures, and long-term stability.

The Best Strategy

The question at the beginning was whether campus or church plants should be the strategy. The answer is BOTH. We believe that church planting is vital and that is why we continue to send and support many who have answered the call to do so. Yet, we also believe there are areas and situations where a campus plant (in our case, The Creek and IslandChurch) are the best options for community engagement. Therefore, we offer these as well. 

There's the third option which would come under the "revitalization" heading, I guess. That is what we are doing at Oak Harbor Church now, but as we have agreed with the leadership there, we are treating Oak Harbor as a campus site with a pastor on site.

The end game is simple - love God by loving people well and making disciples. We know it is not easy, but these strategies allow us to move forward rather than stand still (which feels like moving backward.) It's risky. We cannot afford it. Yet, God has clearly called us to this story and we press on, trusting Him.

 


Maybe You're Not Called to Ministry?

When it comes to the calling to ministry, the church seems to struggle, though not overtly with the concept.

Whether it be in service to God through the local church as a deacon, elder, minister or pastor or as a missionary on the field, the phrase "I've been called" has been stated and affirmed by hundreds of churches over the years.

But, how do you know?

Seriously?

Was it through a Macedonian vision like Paul received (Acts 15-18)? I'm not saying that it wasn't, but I will say unlikely simply due to the reality that even in Scripture that type of calling was rare. 

To be called to ministry is an honorable and good thing. Of this there is no question.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 1 Timothy 3:1 ESV

However, while all Christians are called to serve the Lord and the cause of the Gospel not everyone is called to that specific pastoral role or position within the church.

In many cases, a person will come to the pastor and state "I've been called by God to be a <fill in the blank>." The pastor is likely excited at this point, as he should be. Yet, to be honest, most churches in my experience, do not have a plan for discerning the calling.

 

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Photo credit: amlusch via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Therefore, licenses and ordination certificates have been handed out like spiritual participation trophies, to the detriment of the church and the individuals.

This happens in Baptist churches when it's time to select deacons as well. With each church being autonomous, the processes for deacon selection vary, but in many cases, the candidate needs to be a man who fulfills the qualities expressed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. At least these are the qualifications that should be followed. Unfortunately, in many churches, the passage in Timothy is considered, but then the candidates being nominated end up being the only men we can think of who attend regularly and, as is the case in many churches, haven't been divorced. And...the concept of calling is ignored, not to mention a firmer biblical understanding of qualifications and calling. Benjamin Merkle writes a concise post regarding such qualifications here.

Therefore, there are a number of men I can think of who need to turn in their ordination certificates since they have disqualified themselves, if in fact they ever were truly qualified...but, that's a posting for another time.

But I Love God and Feel Called...

Our church has been blessed to have a number of men surrender to God's call into pastoral ministry. Yet, there are some who have voiced their feelings for calling and for one reason or another have shown evidence that they were not. This is not to discount their calling as a Christian and disciple. That calling is for all who have surrendered to Christ as Lord.

Yet, not every Christian is called to be a minister/pastor/missionary or deacon. 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)

Feelings Lie

Emotionally-based responses may be God-centered and Spirit-led, but they also may be responses to human manipulation (often not intended) and based on false expectations. I have met some well-intentioned men who are enamored with the concept of ministry, but were not called and ultimately suffered. I went to seminary with some.

I have also met some folks who seemingly regretted "missing God's call" earlier in life. I won't discredit that, but the calling of God is not like a pop fly to right field that can get lost in the lights. Yet, intentionally sinning by saying "NO" to God does happen. All too often.

Dennis Poulette, a friend, former missionary in Mexico, and fellow seminary classmate who works for Youth Ministry International, led a group of us through a discussion on this very topic. Insightful and challenging. Dr. Stuart Scott shared some information on this as well and the convicting reality is that we, the church, must do well to help those "called" to discern. The church plays a heavy role and in a culture where people change jobs like socks, the unfortunate reality is that the calling to ministry seems hot and fun right now and many may be licensed and ordained apart from God's calling. It is wrong for the calling to pastoral ministry to be viewed as just another temporary job.

Dr. Al Mohler refers to the affirmation as inward and outward calling. Mohler states...

Charles Spurgeon identified the first sign of God’s call to the ministry as “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” Those called by God sense a growing compulsion to preach and teach the Word, and to minister to the people of God. (full article)

That is evidence of the inward calling.

Yet, the outward calling is essential as well.

Jim George of The Master's Seminary uses the acrostic C.A.L.L. to express the same thing. Since they teach acrostics in seminary, it's easy for me to remember.

You are called to ministry when you have...

C - Confirmation from your church's leadership. Pastoral leadership matters and his confirmation of your calling should be sought. Your confirmation of calling will be based on where you have been serving in the church already. There may be a season of serving required as discernment happens. No leader or minister can do so apart from willingness to serve.

A - Ability. Do you have serving gifts or speaking gifts? Just because you want to preach doesn't mean you can. It is true that being a talented speaker apart from the calling of God is possible. However, this is not speech class or debate club. And yes, I know "God wants your availability not your ability" but don't miss that God gives talents and abilities and equips the called.

L - Lifestyle of integrity. This is the 1 Timothy 3 emphasis. Think about how many "pastors" and ministers are featured on the local news due to immoral acts. It's appalling. I saw today where a pastor was arrested for participating in armed robberies of local convenience stores. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Seriously!

I was talking to a police officer  while on a mission trip to another state years ago who told me he was at the funeral of a local pastor's wife and the pastor, right after the graveside service, walked up to one of the ladies in the crowd and said, "My bed is going to be cold tonight. Why don't you come over?" WHAT??? Yeah, this happens.

To be honest, most of the integrity failings aren't so obvious, but if a man has a history of immorality, debauchery, thievery, lying, etc., apart from repentance and clear life-transformation, it's easy to say "You're not called."

L - Longing. This is the desire to serve, share, and proclaim the Gospel. It's not "church work." It is something that cannot be ignored and when the Lord calls and transforms, He creates a longing for the Gospel and a love for God and others.

The first three - Confirmation, Ability, and Lifestyle are objective, biblical principles (external.)

The last one - Longing is subjective (internal.)

To be called is a noble honor and not one that is sought, but one received. The church would do well to helping discern with and for those "called to ministry." 

Consider the Call

Mohler presents these questions in closing...

Consider your calling. Do you sense that God is calling you to ministry, whether as pastor or another servant of the Church? Do you burn with a compulsion to proclaim the Word, share the Gospel, and care for God’s flock? Has this call been confirmed and encouraged by those Christians who know you best?

Ministry is not easy. It is not always fun. Yet, when God calls and equips, the joy of serving in obedience and fulfillment that comes is wonderfully overwhelming.