This was given to me by a friend (Paul Williams) a couple of weeks ago. Not original, but funny. . .and a lot of truth here.
I think this farmer may have known Solomon.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.
As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.
Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.
A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.
GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST
Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.
In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."
We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.
The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.
While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.
We must live out the truths of Scripture.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)
This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.
Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.
While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again.
Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.
If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.
A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.
The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.
Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.
Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:
At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well.
WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?
This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles.
It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.
That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually.
WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?
More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?"
In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?
The Gospel is never-changing.
The Truth is never-changing.
The strategies are always changing.
Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.
Last night we hosted our small group in our home. Our group is growing - over 20 in attendance. This is a group primarily made up of millenials (college students and young adults between ages 18-29.)
We meet together on Sunday evenings and have some snacks. Then, we dig into the study of the evening, told in "storying" format.
Last night the teaching was titled "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys." It was based on the Luke 17 account of Jesus healing the ten lepers near the village between Samaria and Galilee.
As we discussed the story and went through our Q & A time, it became clear that there were many teachings and truths in this short passage of Scripture. Here are some of the good things and things that raised questions in this passage for our group:
A five minute lesson lasted an hour and a half as discussion and more questions developed. Amazing how just a small passage can elicit so much discussion. And, as you can see, this group isn't afraid of questions.
It was good.
Then, I posed this question, "Was the point of this story to squelch the racism of the Jewish followers around Jesus?" It was agreed that this was a point, even if not the main point. It was, in fact, one of many, but definitely one of the major reasons for the healing of the Samaritan.
Our group last night was a mix of culture and races. So, I asked this question, "What about church? Is there still a sense of discomfort or racism within the church in the west?"
For the millenial generation, this is a BIG DEAL and the discussion was healthy and powerful.
These young adults spoke up, gave their opinions and agreed that we have come far, but have far to go as the American church. What I found exciting was that their opinions on this issue were biblically-based and not just culturally-defined.
THE COLOR-BLIND GENERATION
This generation, which may be as "color-blind" as any in our American history, truthfully shared their realities.
A BI-RACIAL MAN
A bi-racial man shared how when first invited to our church as a teenager, he was hesitant. He wanted to know if there were any people in our church like him? I asked "What do you mean 'like you?'" He clearly expressed that he was referring to race. He said, "I didn't want to be the only black man in the room." He explained that he was seeking to come, but not be stared at or looked down upon because of his biracial culture. (BTW - He's one of our worship leaders now.)
A HISPANIC WOMAN
A Hispanic girl shared how some friends of hers just cannot understand why she would attend a "white" church. She eloquently explained that to her the church wasn't "white" but was solidly teaching the Word of God and serving Him well.
A HISPANIC MAN
A Hispanic man shared how he is proud of his heritage and though English is not his heart language, it is what he speaks most often now and since he went to public school in our community ever since he was six years old, he has been "Americanized" (his term) and feels most comfortable in English-speaking churches.
AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN
An African-American woman in our group then spoke up. She began with this phrase, "I don't want to offend anyone. . ." to which we said collectively "Go for it. Speak the truth."
She explained how she was first invited by her friend to come to our church and the fear that welled up inside her. She wanted to attend, but was afraid that she would be ostracized, stared at, looked down upon, etc. because this was a "white" church and she is black. Her candor was refreshing and opened up dialogue within our group about this very real issue.
The Jesus story of healing a Samaritan was used by God to lead this group of young adults to speak truthfully and authentically about the issues that are often ignored.
WHAT WE DISCOVERED TOGETHER
Here are some points that were agreed upon (in no particular order):
Oh, and as discussion continued, it became clear that skin tone and cultural heritage weren't the only elements that lead people to fear coming to church. It seems that many fear being ignored or worse yet - looked down upon. Sometimes these fears are based on other factors than race, like economic status, chuirch heritage, personal reputation, etc.
The enemy has used the weapon of fear often. Therefore, we must fight bravely and strategically.
As we closed out our study and prepared to finish off the rest of the snacks, I asked "So, what made you come back and stay?"
The answers were reassuring and hopeful.
"I realized you accepted me."
"I felt comfortable."
And at that point, it seems that we discovered how "Jesus and the Ten Sick Guys" was a story for our day, not just a good history lesson from the Bible.
Oh, and apparently the oneness of the church was experienced last night because they all stayed for quite some time, just talking, laughing and sharing stories with old and new friends. . .and the smaller groups weren't segregated!
It is hard to believe that this tragedy occurred thirteen years ago.
That means the students in seventh grade this year were not born until after this event.
So many things happened in 2001 and while there are timelines and websites listing all the many global events, they all pale in comparison to the one event that cemented this date in United States history to forever to be known simply as 9/11.
On this day, as many of us were just working through another weekday, we were shaken in an instant and as the day wore on, the tragic reality that our nation was under attack by overt terrorist action.
Two planes crashed into and ultimately destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
One plane crashed into the Pentagon.
One plane was diverted due to a group effort by passengers, from an imminent attack on the nation's capital and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
This day of tragedy united our nation in a way unseen for decades.
Unfortunately, it seems that the unity was fleeting as Americans consistently poll as being more divided than ever.
May today be a day of remembrance for us as Americans. May we remember how others throughout the world came to our support and grieved with us. May we remember as followers of Christ, how God renewed our strength and comforted us in our grief.
May we remember those directly involved in the story.
Images of heroes, those in the planes, those in the Trade Center and Pentagon and especially those who willingly went into soon to be destroyed buildings and dangerous areas in order to help and rescuse others come to mind.
And this is good.
In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were instructed by God to set up special feasts and memorials to remind them of His provision and rescue during difficult days. However, it seems that over time, the moments of remembrance became routine for many. . .if not totally forgotten.
To know 9/11 apart from remembering (even remembering vicariously through reading accounts of others) the events of this day and the events leading up to it can be tragic. To know things, but not really understand leads to the potential of repeating history.
May we remember.
May we always remember.
May we always be resolute.
May we never have another 9/11 type day.
I remember that shortly after 9/11, as the nation unified, flags unfurled in record numbers, police, firefighters and public servants were acknowledged and thanked for their service. All the sudden, we were not taking for granted the day. We were treasuring our time with our children and families. We were intentionally celebrating our freedoms by packing churches, worshipping together, enjoying picnics, baseball games (the World Series!) and resolutely declaring that our freedoms that offended some in the world, would remain.
We resolved to "Never Forget!"
Those who died that day have been memorialized, rightly so, and each American should know the intrinsic value of a life.
So, on this day, on this September 11, let us remember. Let us remember with more than a flippant acknowledgement of an event, but let us remember how when life seems to be routine, there is always a bigger story. Let us remember that life matters. Let us remember that evil exists, but God reigns and is never startled.
The answer is simple, but truly deep. God was in the same place He has always been and is today. He is not unloving. He is not disconnected. He is, and always has been and will be, totally engaged and in control.
May He reign in our hearts as Lord and in our collective grief and remembrance, give us peace.
May He especially be experienced today in the lives of family members and survivors from those connected personally to 9/11.
Thank you again to all police officers and firefighters who serve in large cities, suburbs and rural areas. May we never take you and your service for granted.
"Can a church be too missional or too focused on global missions?"
Every so often I hear the murmuring. It's natural. No church of any size, seeking to engage its community and and the world for the Kingdom is immune to the this.
Terms become buzzwords all to quickly in our world, so just to clarify. . .
Perhaps it is best to begin with explaining what “missional” is not. Missional is not the latest in a long line of church growth strategies. It is not a new program for evangelism. It is not a way to mobilize church members to do missions more efficiently and effectively. Neither is it a fad created by postmodern Western Christianity. It is not the same as being “mission minded.” It is not an effort to increase mission giving or support within the church.
In the western church, we have been trained to use a scorecard that validates event attendance and participation in church programs as evidence of congregational health. The reality is that by focusing so intently on this man-made scorecard, the church has drifted from fulfilling its commission to make disciples. There are a number of theological distinctions that help undergird the theological foundation of living and conversing missionally. Without a biblical foundation to terms used within the culture of the church, we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift.[i]
In an attempt to make the shift to the new paradigm, pastors and churches often misuse terminology. As Alan Hirsch states, “The word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.”[ii] This is why missional is often viewed as just another phase or program. In this case, since “missional” seems so hard for many to define clearly, the word is misapplied. Consequently, the missional theology we have been called to live out becomes nothing more than a watered-down retread of previous attempts to be relevant in a changing culture. When the term is used in a way to mean anything that is evangelistic or contextualized or relevant (often viewed as being edgy or “cool”) its meaning is then lost in the method employed.[iii] Missional then, becomes difficult to define. Therefore, we are left describing what it is not. We are then relegated to describing its uses.
Missional is. . .
In our effort, as a church, to live missionally, we have strategically sought places of impact outside the walls of the church facility. Whether it be a school, a nursing home, a hospital, a community gathering place, coaching at the Y, serving the community, or anything else that offers us opportunities to be the hands of feet of Christ in the midst of the community where we have been placed, missional living becomes the new normal.
As Southern Baptists, global missions has always been a big part or our identity. The thing about global missions is that it begins in our "Jerusalem" and extends throughout the world. Our focus is not to complete our mission efforts here (our "Jerusalem") and then move to the next outlying area ("Judea, Samaria, etc.") before going throughout the world. The mission of Acts 1:8 is concurrent.
Over the years, since before I was called to be Lead Pastor at our church, leadership has led the church to engage globally. This has been done through short-term mission trips and through the partnerships with missionaries on the field, not to mention our financial support given directly to missionaries, through annual missions offerings as well as consistent giving through our Cooperative Program.
As God has blessed us, financially and in other ways, we have been able to send teams to places throughout our city, state, nation and the world.
We have been able to play a strategic role in seeing Kingdom growth throughout the world.
It's a joy to get a message from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona or Greensboro, North Carolina or even Burlington, Ontario relating God-stories regarding services, gatherings, small groups, life change, salvations and baptisms. We celebrate with our partners knowing God has used us in a small way in this great story.
When our missionaries in the UK let us know of a young man in their post-Christian culture who surrendered to Christ as Lord, we celebrate because we are part of this!
Sometimes, it's easy to forget the mission. It's easy to forget what really matters. It's easy to get worried (i.e. temporary atheism) about church finances and property and worship times and other things and come to the conclusion that "We need to take care of things here rather than worry about those churches and missionaries 'over there.'"
Yes, I have heard this.
It grieves me to hear it.
Here's my premise - we can never do too much.
Oh, I know, we (as one local church) cannot fund every missionary fully. We cannot provide everything for everyone. I understand that reality. However, I believe partnerships are more than financial (though finances are vital, and I don't apologize for reminding people to give.) Prayer for and with church planters, missionaries and those in the community we serve is tangible.
Prayer is not passive.
We must remain focused and remember that God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing. When we are engaged in the larger story, God's story, He is pleased. When we settly for small stories where the kingdom is more about us than God, sin is the result.
Do you ever wonder what happens to churches who refuse to live generously, model prayer and proper stewardship, refuse to give and partner with those "over there" for the sake of the Kingdom?
Some have been dead for years. They still have buildings. They still meet. They survive on the financial gifts of club members who have voted God out of the story, but they're dead and eventually. . .even the building will be empty.
[i] Brisco, Brad. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Missional Church Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
[ii] Meigs, Rick. "Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church?" Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church? N.p., 30 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
[iii] Thomas, Scott. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Acts 29 Network: Flower Mound, TX. Acts 29 Network, 15 June 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.
Most likely, you know his songs. For years, churches have been singing songs by Dennis Jerinigan. Some of his most noted songs are sung in the church I pastor regularly. They are powerful and lead me to the throne of grace. Dennis has been called a modern-day psalmist.
"I wasn't like other little boys," he says.
Prior to his surrender to Christ, he lived a destructive homosexual lifestyle. Like many, he sought friendships and relationships. This, as is often the case, led to more and more pain and loneliness.
God used true friends and music to lead him to peace. To God.
Jernigan says that through music, God changed him in ways he never could have imagined. He surrendered to Christ fully in his mid-20s and began a ministry recording music, sharing his story, and leading others to freedom.
It's a story of hope.
It's a story of redemption.
It's a true story and can be so many others' story as well.
A documentary of Dennis Jernigan's journey is available in full on YouTube. I've linked it below. You'll need to carve out time to watch, but it is worth it.
Some great quotes by Dennis. . .
In an instant, I was made a brand new creation. I don't identify myself as a recovering homosexual. . .never have, never will. . . I am signed, sealed, delivered, utterly, irrevocably who my Father says I am - a new creation.
I've been duped, all these years. I really have been duped. I've been going to man to find out what a man is supposed to be. I've been going to human thinking as if it's the highest thought ever, when I needed to be going to my Creator all along for my true identity.
I'm not going to let the gay community tell me any longer who I am. I'm not going to let the temptations that I experience, because they didn't stop right away, define me.
Temptation defines nobody, so stop letting it define who you are Jernigan.
My past failures will no longer define me.
My present circumstances will no longer define me.
I'm not even going to define me.
I'm going to let my Father in heaven tell me who he says I am.
Earlier today word spread that David Platt was to be the next President of the International Mission Board. Apparently, word was out via social media prior to the trustees vote. Seems like we're good at "Secret Church" but not so good at secret votes.
Nonetheless, the trustees did vote today and the IMB has since publicly announced that Dr. David Platt will be the next President. This announcement has pushed Platt to the top of the trending list on Twitter as people throughout SBC life and evangelicalism are talking about it.
However, it should be noted that Homer Simpson remains on the top of the trending list of Facebook. I'm not sure what this represents or means, but thought I'd share it.
Platt's appointment has been praised by many and yet, some show concern.
This would be the case regardless who was chosen.
I have met Platt once (though I doubt he would remember the meeting) at the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago. When he first was called to serve as pastor at The Church at Brook Hills, it caught my attention due to the fact a former staff member at my church was serving there at the time. Brook Hills was a church in transition when Platt was called. His personality, style and not to mention, his age, were dramatically different than the previous leadership's.
He has family in my community and a few years ago his niece attended one of our local schools where a friend teaches. This teacher was reading one of David's books at the time and had it on her desk when the young girl said "That's my uncle." It wasn't long before I received a gift. David and his wife had sent my wife and I a copy of his book, autographed and a personal note to Tracy, my wife, encouraging her as a pastor's wife.
I'm not sure David and his wife, Heather, will ever truly know what that small gift meant. I thanked them with a note, but it truly was needed at the time and very encouraging.
Over the years, Platt has become more known through his speaking ministry and his books, Radical, Follow Me and others, as well as Secret Church - an annual gathering that began in his church. He became a voice for a younger generation of pastors. His youthful appearance belies a deep wisdom and walk with the Lord. Though his reformed theological bent causes unease among some, he remains strong in his convictions. Therefore, Baptists and believers, reformed and not, show great respect and honor for Platt and his love of God and His Gospel. There is no doubt that he is a man of God with a deep heart for the lost.
It was over a year ago I heard someone say "David Platt should be the next President of the IMB." When I heard it, I laughed it off, thinking that was so far outside the realm of possibility, it would never happen.
Then today's announcement came.
Stepping into a denominational role such as this is a daunting task. David is only 36 years old and the organization is much older, with many overt and covert rules and expectations, I'm sure.
As a pastor of an SBC church, this is what we need from President Platt:
Whether or not a Southern Baptist approves of Platt's selection as President of the IMB is now irrelevant. He is our President. I, for one, am glad that he is.
Beyond tweets and postings and news updates, there are a number of things David Platt needs from us as Southern Baptists, and me as a brother in Christ:
We should pray for our sister church, The Church at Brook Hills. While they are no doubt excited that David Platt is going to be leading the International Misison Board, they will be going through the tedious and long process of seeking God's will for the next man to lead them as pastor.
In leadership and in planning, there are often strategies and plans developed that seem like a good idea at the time. This is true in business and in church leadership.
News hit this morning about Spanish clothing chain Zara. They had put a children's jumper up for sale that probably seemed like a good idea at the time of planning and developing new styles, but once the clothing item hit the market, the outcry was too loud to ignore.
Here's the jumper (image from Newsweek)
What was marketed as a stylish jumper for children with a Sheriff's badge embroidered on the front, reminded people of this. . .
Yep, that's a concentration camp uniform (or replica) from World War II with the Star of David sewn on to indicate the prisoner was Jewish.
So, who was in this planning meeting for the new children's jumper that had never heard of "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" or been to a history class?
It seems ridiculous, but it happens, and Zara has removed the items and apologized.
While this is perhaps one of the most offensive examples, organizations have made choices that "seemed like a good idea at the time" only to realize later that it was not.
Do you remember this short-lived products?
There are many others (and all of these listed are real.)
What seems like a good idea, without any thought of what it looks like or how it may be received from those outside the leadership team or the board room, will often lead to failure.
In the church, changing strategies while standing upon the unchanging Word of God is the challenge. New ideas, events, groups, services, etc. are always on the table for growing churches. The danger comes when decisions are made prior to prayer (this is a big time no no, but often happens.)
Another fallacy is when Christ-followers try to think "What would lost people like?" or "What would attract unsaved people to our church?" Here's a reality check - we don't know! Why? Because we're not lost.
That's why so many churches create lame "Christian" versions of things that they believe people in their mission field and community will like.
Seriously - when't the last time a unsaved person said "I wish there was a good Christian band playing in concert somewhere tonight?"
So often the church has designed events and activities that are good at reaching. . .church people. And, that's not a bad thing, if that's the desire. However, before you host another "bait and switch" event for the community and claim it's missional, do some research. Talk to people in your community who do not go to church, do not want to go to church, and aren't thinking about church. You'll discover more about their heart and in the process, yours will be broken for them.
It is Christ who draws people to Himself. That's why he sends people (his church) out to engage the world. Be in, but not of, the world.
What sounds like a good idea for reaching your community, may need to be re-evaluated. . .and prayed over once more, or many more times.
Don't stop engaging. Don't stop dreaming. Throw all ideas out on the table, but remember, it is God who draws people, not events, products or activities. Those are just tools that He may use.
Where I live, election day is tomorrow. Since the majority of our county is of one party affiliation, and those running for local office often run unopposed in the general election, the primaries are vital.
Every two years, this election cycle runs its course.
Placards appear in yard and beside the roads.
Bumper stickers show up by the hundreds.
Cheap T-shirts arrive and are distributed.
Here are just some of the things that come to mind as I see the proliferation of signs at every four way stop in my county (Clay County, Florida.) BTW - these are not endorsements. These are just random thoughts. . .
Should a Christian Vote?
It seems obvious, but just to be clear, the answer is "yes." In fact, I'd say that even non-believers should vote. The emphasis is upon American rights and civics. In a republic such as ours where citizens have been given the privilege to participate in the election process and vote, I deem it wrong to forsake that right.
Amazingly, according to statistics that come out following every election year, the percentage of those who choose not to participate is high. When there is no national election (i.e. Presidential election) happening, the between-term voter turnout is terrible.
So, yes, a Christian should vote. A non-Christian should vote. Simply put - Americans should vote.
Because it is a privilege and right that has been given to us, and paid for dearly by those who have gone before. There are many in our world today who have never had the opportunity to freely participate in the process of selecting leaders. It's a wonderful product of this "American experiment."
We should not forsake that right.
Does God Expect a Christian to Vote?
Besides the reasons given above, here are some insights from the website "GotQuestions.org" that are sound:
It is our contention that it is the duty and responsibility of every Christian to vote and to vote for leaders who promote Christian principles. God is most certainly in control, but that does not mean we should do nothing to further His will. We are commanded to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4). In terms of politics and leadership, there is evidence in Scripture that God has been displeased with our choices of leadership at times (Hosea 8:4). The evidence of sin’s grip on this world is everywhere. Much of the suffering on earth is because of godless leadership (Proverbs 28:12). Scripture gives Christians instructions to obey legitimate authority unless it contradicts the Lord’s commands (Acts 5:27-29;Romans 13:1-7). As born-again believers, we ought to strive to choose leaders who will be themselves led by our Creator (1 Samuel 12:13-25). Candidates or proposals that violate the Bible’s commands for life, family, marriage, or faith should never be supported (Proverbs 14:34). Christians should vote as led through prayer and study of both God’s Word and the realities of the choices on the ballot.
Christians in many countries in this world are oppressed and persecuted. They suffer under governments they are powerless to change and governments that hate their faith and silence their voices. These believers preach the gospel of Jesus Christ at risk of their own lives. In the U.S.A., Christians have been blessed with the right to speak about and choose their leaders without fearing for themselves or their families. In the U.S.A., in recent elections, about 2 of every 5 of self-professed Christians took that right for granted and did not vote. About 1 in 5 self-professed, eligible Christians are not even registered to vote.
In our day and age, there are many who want to drive the name and message of Christ completely out of the public arena. Voting is an opportunity to promote, protect, and preserve godly government. Passing up that opportunity means letting those who would denigrate the name of Christ have their way in our lives. The leaders we elect—or do nothing to remove—have great influence on our freedoms. They can choose to protect our right to worship and spread the gospel, or they can restrict those rights. They can lead our nation toward righteousness or toward moral disaster. As Christians, we should stand up and follow our command to fulfill our civic duties (Matthew 22:21).
In 2012, Dr. Barrett Duke of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who has spoken at our church this past year, penned an article reminding believers of the importance of voting. Here is a portion of that article:
Will Rogers once said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” How right he was. We all complain about government. Often for good reason. Government tends to restrict us, tax us, penalize us, and generally often makes a nuisance of itself. At times, governments have become so burdensome, overbearing, and intrusive that men have risen up against them, overthrown them, and established new ones.
That, in fact, is our nation’s story. Our founders and many of our nation’s church leaders argued that the King of England had lost his right to govern them because he was abusing his power. This was a crucial issue to our forefathers. They accepted the teaching of the Apostle Paul that government is a “minister of God…for good.” Its purpose is to punish evil and to reward good. So they created a new government to fulfill this God-given purpose, but they dispensed with the idea of divine right to rule and invested in the governed the right to choose their government.
Their idea was radical for its day. They even wondered if it would actually work. But they trusted God to guide in the affairs of men, and they trusted the people to choose well. Today our nation is a testament to their trust in God and the people. The United States of America has become the envy of most of the world, and the democratic form of government is now the most popular form of government in the world.
But democracies are only as good as the people who are chosen to govern. If the wrong people gain the power of the civil authority, great damage can be done. What happens when the governing authority begins to reward evil and to punish good? It subjects itself to the judgment of God. History is filled with the evidence of God’s judgment on nations for their failure to honor Him with their laws. When nations begin to reward evil and punish good, watch out.
But who ultimately is responsible when the governing authorities no longer honor God through their administration? In a democracy, the people are responsible.
Click here to read the remainder of Dr. Duke's article as well as listen to audio commentary.
Now, for those in my county and throughout the nation - pray for God's guidance and direction. Use the resources available as you seek God's desire regarding your vote. Sometimes, I hear friends say "I'm not a fan of any of the candidates." It's a challenging task. Nevertheless, do not let that reasoning keep you from the polls. Participate. Prayerfully consider whom God would have you select.
As a Christian, when you participate in the process of voting for leaders, do not forsake your faith, do not mess up your personal testimony and, above all, do not embarrass God.
These are city names that bring to mind images of violence, disruption and racial divides. The myth of a post-racially divided America is once again thrust upon us through reports daily from Ferguson. The sad reality is that any town or city in America could be the next Ferguson.
What we know. . .
When the news reports from Ferguson first hit earlier this month, there were few facts known, other than the obvious. . .and those are tragic. Even now, days later, little more is known than was first reported, and Ferguson remains a hotbed of racial tension with calls for "Justice."
What we do know is an African-American young man was shot six times by a police officer and died. We know he was unarmed. We know the immediate backlash was intense and remains so. We know that lines have seemingly been drawn and many in Ferguson now fear leaving their homes. We know the police department in Ferguson is now under a microscope and the officer who fired the shots will never be the same, nor will his family.
What we don't know. . .
The list of what is not known is much longer than the list of the known. Details about the evening in question continue to come out. . .and they seem to be contradictory. Talking heads have appeared and sound-bytes of "truth" flood the airwaves.
Facebook pages are being created in support of all involved.
Online petitions are being signed.
Protesters have and continue to gather.
The city of Ferguson and families there will never be the same.
A police officer hides from the public.
And a young man is dead.
Why does this matter?
Some in our nation see items like this on the news and wonder "Why does this impact me?" This is emblematic of those who seem to think that if an issue doesn't take place in their own backyard, they are immune to its ramifications.
As Christians, stories such as this should matter greatly. We should weep the loss of life. We should lament what is happening in the streets of Ferguson and care about those impacted. We should care that many respond with their rights of protesting with illogical and wrongly-motivated violence. It should bother us that business owners, disconnected from the elements of the story, have lost their buildings and property due to looting and arson.
It should matter to us that men and women, boys and girls, who were born with a different variation of pigmentation in their skin fall back behind lines of division.
Christians should care, because Christ cares.
A White Guy Talking About Race
It is challenging for a white man to bring up the subject of racial reconciliation. It shouldn't be, but it is. Many who have a darker pigmentnation and higher levels of melanin may say that I cannot fully understand the situation faced by those living as racial minorities in this nation.
To that accusation, I say "You're right."
I do not pretend to be able to speak as one who has been there. However, I do speak as one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ (and who, by the way, most likely had higher levels of melanin than most pasty-white artistic renditions show.)
The Racially Divided Church
Moments like those in Ferguson remind me that we have much to do as God's church in the area of racial reconciliation. While the situation in Ferguson may, in actuality, be more about justice and right v. wrong, the reality is that now it is a race story, and the church must respond.
I agree with Dr. Russell Moore. . .
If we start to see more churches so alive to the gospel that they are not segregated out as “white” or “black” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” or “white collar” or “blue collar,” we will start to reflect something of a kingdom of God made up of those from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language (Rev. 5:9). And as we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to speak up for one another, including in the public square.
For the church to remain silent is wrong.
For the church to jump into the world of sound bytes, spin, and popular opinion is also wrong.
As Christians, we must speak boldly and clearly into the conversation. There, but for the grace of God, the Ferguson situation will occur in our own hometowns. Just one event will place our town (or your town) on the evening news. . .and then the news trucks arrive and life will change. In the blink of an eye, evil can gain a foothold and your sleepy little town will forever be known as "that town where _______ happened."
What to do?
For Ferguson - pray. That is not a passive response, but an active one. Pray together for the people in the town. Pray for those who have lost a loved one. Pray for the police and governmental officials involved. Pray that the right things will be said and done. Pray for healing and true justice.
Pray that God will be honored as His church steps forward.
Pray for our (or your) town and city as well. Recognize today that there is much work to be done regarding racial equality. Pray that stereotypes will melt away. Seek to destroy the walls of division that even the church has justified as necessary.
And, as Dr. Albert Mohler has stated, "lead with empathy" . . .
We need to lead with empathy. But that empathy needs to be expressed in ways that do not prejudge the facts on the ground and lead to an immediate and premature understanding of exactly what happened. Sometimes (as every parent knows) you need to put an arm around someone and let them cry before you ask them what happened. Even when we see people expressing outrage—in clearly inappropriate, violent, and illegal ways—we need to understand that behind them are many people who are not violent who are equally offended, who are not protesting, who are equally hurt. And we need to realize that empathy—and indeed leading with empathy—is a very important first act.
The "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS has taken off in an unbelievable way.
When I first saw reports of this fund-raising effort on ESPN, I thought "Oh, it's a take off of what firefighters have been doing for months" and of course, what we did with the "ice plunge" for Toronto church planters here in Jacksonville.
Why has this version of the cold water challenge taken off?
There are some who have "upped the ante" by writing large checks rather than taking a cold bucket shower (i.e. Charlie Sheen, Patrick Stewart and Laura Bush.) There are dozens of videos on YouTube called "Ice Bucket Fails" which are entertaining. . .if you like seeing people have buckets fall on their heads, or other things similar to what made The Three Stooges famous. Personally, I thought George W. Bush's ice bucket clip was one of the best.
As with any effort that seems to be for a good cause, questions arise and some deem the effort futile. Celebrities like Pamela Anderson refuse to do the challenge based on her position on using animals in research, which apparently the ALSA does. Others tweet snarky remarks about dumping water on one's head while those in Africa face famine. There will always be those who deem any effort wasteful or less than well-intentioned.
What About Christians Doing This?
There are followers of Christ who struggle with the reality that the ALSA reportedly uses embryonic stem cells in their research. As a believer who opposes research using such stem cells, due to my conviction regarding life beginning at conception and my staunch opposition to abortion, this is an honest and viable concern.
Should a Christian give money to an organization that would seek to find a cure by violating biblical ethics? http://t.co/rmJBCPOgrG— Answers in Genesis (@AiG) August 20, 2014
Since many are now struggling whether to "take the challenge" when offered based on these convictions, I find the information shared by our Ethics & Religious Libertiy Commission to be spot on and helpful. Below is a portion of the blog post that may be read fully here:
Why do some people have ethical concerns with the challenge?
There have been some concerns registered on social media about the charity sponsoring the challenge, the ALS Association, and whether donors are contributing to an organization that supports embryonic stem cell research. Based on reporting from the American Life League, a spokeswoman from ALSA wrote the following:
The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research. Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research. In fact, donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project. Under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.
To be fair, according to Munk, it seems ALSA supports the philosophy of embryonic stem cell research, but that known funding is exclusively done through the direction of one donor, and that potential donors have the opportunity to withhold funds that would be used for such purposes. By its own admission, however, it appears that ALSA reserves the right to further embryonic stem cell research at its own discretion.
What is Embryonic Stem Cell Research?
Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life. The process uses stem cells harvested from embryos conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) that have been donated for research purposes rather than being implanted into a woman’s uterus. The embryos are killed during the process of harvesting their cells and then are discarded afterwards. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing opposition to the destruction of innocent human life, including the destruction of human embryos for research purposes.
Should Christians not participate in the challenge?
With the close proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity. Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical worldview at odds with Christian ethics. The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful. Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.
There are pathways to participation that don’t require moral compromise and that can allow those interested to join in the campaign without violating their conscience. The ALS Association encourages people taking part in the challenge to “make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice.” Listed below are a few organizations recommended by Christian bioethicist David Prentice that use adult stem cells in ALS research:
The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts.
To donate: Click the “Make a Gift” link in the left column of their web page, it specifies donation for the MSCTC.
At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Anthony Windebank and his team have one ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients and are ready to initiate a second clinical trial for ALS patients.
To donate: There is a “Give Now” link near the top of web page from Dr. Windebank’s link above; people can specify that their donation go to his ALS research team.
The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC is a for-profit company developing new methods for growth and application of adult stem cells, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.
To donate: Click “Contact Information” in the right column of the web page and email the Director to learn more about the company’s adult stem cell technology development plans.
Many are impacted by this terrible disease. Family members, friends, and those in our church family. Give as led and pray for those seeking a cure. Pray, too, for those facing this disease now and family members as well.
In listening to Dr. Albert Mohler's "Briefing" podcast today, he touches on the subjects of law and lawlessness as connected with the social media hoax of local "Purge" events. He also addresses other issues, including sexual morality in our culture.
You can listen to his full podcast here.
Years ago, there were terms for people who identified themselves as anything other than heterosexual. In fact, most would say, without using hateful and derogatory terms, there were pretty much two categories: heterosexual and homosexual.
Then, somewhere following the sexual revolution, the Stonewall Riots in New York and the movement politically and socially to give minority status to those with sexual preferential differences, new terms developed.
As the terms continue to evolve, it becomes more and more evident that this shift in sexual identity is not stagnant.
For the record, and affirmed by numerous posts on this blog, I believe an active homosexual lifestyle is opposite of God's design and desire and what He has revealed through His Word. I disagree with churches and believers who affirm homosexuality and especially those who have developed and adopted a "third way" model.
That being said, the church must not put its head in the sand, pretending this social shift is not happening. Without compromise, the church must seek to reach all people with the life-transforming message of life through God's Word. Why is this? Because human beings are more than their past and what they do. They (we) are valuable to God and all of us are broken, in need of redemption, forgiveness, transformation and a Savior.
Now, as I listened to this briefing, I couldn't help but chuckle and shake my head at the latest acronyms being developed and used to define "sexual minorities."
Here's part of Dr. Mohler's transcript:
Another testimony to moral confusion – this one of an even darker variety – comes from Allen Metcalf in the Lingua Franca column of the Chronicle of Higher Education. He tells us what we supposedly have learned in the last several years and what remains to be learned over issues of gender and sexual orientation and all the rest. He writes in the column:
It continues to be an education. Back in the late 20th century, we learned (as we had kind of known all along) that people were not simply male or female, but heterosexual or homosexual. The latter we learned to designate as gay, as opposed to straight. And then we learned to separate homosexuals by gender as gay or lesbian. So far, so good.
That’s a rather powerful paragraph when you consider the fact that what he’s stating there as what we learned is exactly what many people in the society around us think we did learn. But he is actually just getting ready to make his big argument. As he continues,
But then, as we investigated sexuality and gender identity more thoroughly, other types made themselves known. [And he says we learned] There were bisexuals, [he goes on to define that] …[then we learn that there were] transsexuals.
This gave us four types of exceptions from the older categories of heterosexual male and heterosexual female.
By the time he says we reached the early point in 21st century we had not only heterosexual males and heterosexual females, but lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals… so in other words as that point the initials LGBT began to make sense.
A convenient abbreviation [he says] a convenient abbreviation to help us remember them all. (And [he says] we learned that transgender might be a better term than transsexual
So, these are things he says, we’ve been learning. But Metcalf’s recounting isn’t incomplete – not by a long – because as he suggests, we’re now learning more and more. What are we learning? Well he says for instance, we are learning there are intersex people who are neither male or female he defines that as a separate category of conversation, by the way, and then he says we add to those the asexual’s because even though they are just 1% of the population, and even though they say they don’t care about sex, they have to be counted as a new sexual minority – as well to be added to the alphabet soup. He then goes on and says,
And so, putting it all together, we get the abbreviation LGBTQQ2IA. Not so easy to remember. So someone came up with an alternative, the anagram Quiltbag.
The definition found in one gay dictionary he cites is this,
It stands for Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer. It is meant [says this definition] to be a more inclusive term than GLBT/LGBT and to be more pronounceable (and memorable) than some of the other variations or extensions on the LGBT abbreviation.
And folks, I’m not making this up.
Metcalfe, who writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is speaking to the academic community, goes on to explain the Urbandictionary has a slightly different interpretation of this. Identifying the options as,
Q – Queer and Questioning
U – Unidentified
I – Intersex
L – Lesbian
T – Transgender, Transexual
B – Bisexual
A – Asexual
G – Gay, Genderqueer
Now keep in mind that here you have an educator, writing to the other educators of America, about how to remember these things. As you think about the expanding alphabet soup, and even as he traces the development, principally heterosexual male and heterosexual female to LGBT, and then on to – well, I won’t even repeat all the rest – he makes very clear that these options are hardly the last word. He says,
As gender-studies research continues, and discussion proliferates, other variations are likely to emerge.
Write that down as an almost certain understatement. He concludes, and this is really important to hear:
So young people nowadays have choices to make that they didn’t face before. And it’s not a once-for-all choice; they can question and redefine themselves at any time. They even need to let others know the pronouns by which they should be addressed. I’ll discuss these next week.
So let’s stay tuned for that article, adding to the confusion of that incredible alphabet soup he recited and yet with a straight face here you have an educator saying this makes moral sense. And furthermore, you have someone straightforwardly arguing that these are things we have learned, as if this is some kind of set of objective truth that have been placed before us. But he actually pull the rug out of his own argument by making very clear, this isn’t an objective reality at all – this is simply a socially constructed reality in which sex and gender are considered to be endlessly plastic. In which, as he says,
Young people nowadays have to face choices they didn’t face before.
Well those choices are actually forced upon them by these sexual revolutionaries. And then he points to the truly revolutionary character of their assessment when he says,
And it’s not a once-for-all choice; they can question and redefine themselves at any time.
That’s a recipe for exactly the kind of moral anarchy we began talking about on the program today. And you’ll notice, that is not just something depicted in movies, it’s not just something discussed by legislators, it’s not something driven by intellectuals with an ideological agenda, and they make that agenda clear in articles such as this, published in this week’s edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Keep in mind all this is not just about an intellectual debate, it’s about a battle for hearts and minds.
The church is wise to be as the men of Issachar and know the Lord and know the times. Know the times. Continue to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. . .and our neighbors as ourselves. All our neighbors.
It also pays to know the latest terms being used.
However, we must remember, this is a slippery slope and sin is still sin. Remember, as Dr. Mohler stated "this is about a battle for hearts and minds."
Since Robin Williams' death, depression has become a headline story in our nation.
Recognizing the difference in depression and "burnout" is important. Dr. Gary Lovejoy has recently co-authored a book and study for churches titled Light in the Darkness: Finding Hope in the Shadow of Depression. The material will be available in November of this year.
While at the Southern Baptist Convention this summer, I picked up a small book by Lovejoy based on the larger study, titled A Pastor's Guide for the Shadow of Depression. In it, he states the following:
The following is a list of common symptoms typical of depression that can help you identify which and how many you are experiencing:
It's important to know that you don't need to have all of the described symptoms at once to be diagnosed as depressed. All you need is four or more of them to confirm the diagnosis. While some symptoms are more common than others, you should carefully reveiew each one before determining whether you are suffering from depression. For evidence of the level of this depression, you can take the Hamilton Survey for Physical and Emotional Wellness available at www.depressionoutreach.com.
You should be cautious regarding self-diagnosis. If you fear you may be sliding, get help.
Also, for pastors, I encourage you to watch Tommy Nelson share of his journey through depression here.
We've all heard it.
Change is inevitable.
In church, we always have to say "but the Gospel is never-changing" which is absolutely true, but even that statement doesn't help many people within the church deal well with change.
Pastors in western culture consistently struggle with leading their congregations forward for the sake of the Gospel without remaining in a stagnant model only effective in reaching people who no longer exist.
I know churches where the pastor had a clear, focused plan for leading through change, but did not convey the plan well. In those cases, the pastors gets frustrated and normally says things like "the people won't follow" or "they don't want to reach people." In most cases, the pastor leaves (and not always by choice.)
Other churches have walked through dramatic transformative processes and while they, too, faced internal resistance, ended up stronger, healthier and united in the end.
What is the difference?
There are various factors in each unique situation, not to mention the very real possibility of a negative, hateful element within a congregation that truly doesn't want to grow, but many times, the successful transformation is due to the fact the church is more like an escaltor than an elevator.
Here's what Seth Godin says about this concept:
Escalators make people happy. They're ready when you are, there is almost never a line, and you can see progress happening the entire time.
Elevators are faster, particularly for long distances, but we get frustrated when we just miss one, and we often wonder when the next one is coming, even after a few seconds. (That's why lobbies have mirrors, to give you something to do when you're waiting).
Escalators are always in motion. There's visible, clear progress.
The pastor who leads openly and clearly with a destination in mind is essential. However, those within the church need handles for what is coming next. Each program, event, schedule change, worship style adjustment, etc. must be well articuluated and ideally, presented incrementally with clear communication so change is not viewed as something offensive.
If your change process is always done behind closed doors with "reveal" moments designed to thrust everything forward at once, you run the risk of failure. That would be an "elevator" moment. The church members and attenders are just standing there, looking in mirrors wondering if anything is being done, or ever will be. Then, when the change options are presented, it's too much at once. A surprise. Like an unexpected elevator door opening with a group of people all standing there staring ahead, not talking with each other. You may get on, but you won't like it. Often, you'll just wait for the next one to arrive.
There will always be resistance, but when visible progress is seen, the naysayers soon melt away. . .and God is glorified.
BTW - not all who seem to be pushing against change are negative. Some are just scared. Others are cautious. There's nothing wrong with cautious optimism.
It's an interesting concept.
A man is called to serve God as a church planter/pastor and either relocates to a new area, or adjusts his work schedule in the community he lives to plant a church. This impacts not only himself, but his wife and family. In most cases, these men have sending churches or host churches who are their primary sponsors. However, this is not always the case.
When our church began to seek partnerships in Toronto, we did what many others have done. We talked with our NAMB missionaries, took a vision trip, and met and interacted with planters on the field. After prayerful consideration, the church I pastor followed God's lead to partner with Mike Hauser of Starting Point Church. He is one of a number of church planters and missionaries we partner with throughout the world.
While we are not the host or sending church for most of these planters (only Neil Jimenez, a church planting apprentice in Toronto comes from our fellowship) we now consider all of these men as members of our Leadership Team. This includes Mike and Neil as well as the others throughout the world. They do not attend our staff meetings. In many cases, planted their churches independently and prior to even meeting us, but by considering them part of our team, a kinship has developed.
So, when Legacy Church in Tucson has a packed house and a record day for baptisms, we celebrate. When a young college student from Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro chooses to leave the US and serve as a missionary in Italy, we celebrate. When a woman comes to Starting Point Church in Burlington, Ontario and surrenders her life to Jesus and is baptized, we celebrate. When a young teenager in Wales, a country that is only one percent evangelical, comes to Christ through the work of our friends and churches there, we celebrate. And so on with our partners in Portland, at Grassroots Church in Colorado Springs, in Iceland, in Haiti, China and other locations where our partners are serving.
We celebrate not as we would when a friend wins a prize. We celebrate as family with a loved one.
These men, their families and the churches they serve are more than just "some guys" out there doing Christian work. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are our people. We pray for them by name. We know them, talk with them, grieve with them and will not, if at all possible, allow them to feel that they are ever alone and on their own.
Maybe your church is just considering this as a possibility. It is a shift. It's a shift from a name on a prayer guide, to a name that represents a friend and part of the family.
We sponsor each of these families with prayer and some financial help as we are able. We are available to travel to their location as needed to serve in ways they determine.
Some Won't Get It
There's always push back. Some, even in the church I serve, grumble that "We have enough to do here in Orange Park and Jacksonville. We don't need to worry about Toronto." Yes, there are always those who just don't get it, won't get it, and do not want to get it. Some would claim that Acts 1:8 is incremental and once "Jerusalem" is reached, we can then go to "Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world."
Nevertheless, press on and be courageous. Recognizing that Acts 1:8 is not an incremental mission strategy, but God's simultaneous mission command for His church must begin with leadership. Believe me, you will never out give, out serve or out work God. To bring these men and their families into "our family" has been a blessing to us. I encourage you to consider doing the same.
In this season of political positioning, voters' guides, town hall meetings and baby kissing conferences and a concerted effort to "out-patriotize" the oppostion, a very strange version of "Christianity" appears. It does so every two years, at a minimum, during the election cycle.
As I research and meet candidates and see the promo pieces that fill my mailbox regularly, I cannot help but look for "buzzwords" or "keywords" that will help me determine which candidate to support.
The truth is that candidates know these keywords as well and often ensure they are visible and clearly stated based on the target audience and voter demographics.
Yes, I know this is hard to believe, but sometimes political candidates just say things that sound good and will help them get elected, while not actually believing it all. Who knew?
This reminds me of a meeting I was in recently, not regarding politics or candidates, but an organization that serves the local community. The organization is a "Christian" one (and yes, as I blogged previously, organizations really aren't Christian, only people are, but you understand what I mean, I'm sure.) The organization does a good work for the community. In fact, it's a truly good organization.
However, as I participated in the meeting it became clear that the Christianity promoted by this group was, at best, subtle. I heard one person lament that the group was "just Christian enough."
Let me translate that term for you. This non-profit receives funding from various sources such as businesses, charities, non-faith-based organizations, individuals and some churches. To be "Christian enough" works for fund-raising when churches are the target. To not be "too Christian" works well in the business world and what has often been termed the "secular" market.
It's a sad reality, but one that is often replicated in our culture.
Just because a business has a "Jesus fish" in its logo doesn't mean that all employees, or any for that matter, are followers of Christ or that the business practices are centered upon the truth of God's Word.
It seems that often our candidates are just "Christian" enough to get votes.
Now, some will get upset at that revelation (which, in my estimation, should be obvious for anyone with just a little discernment) but it is true. I am not throwing everyone under the bus here. There truly are public servants who are honest, all-in, sold-out Christ followers seeking to honor God as they serve their communities. There are also organizations that truly seek to honor God in their business practices and leadership models.
May our lives never be just "Christian" enough. In fact, I fear that if we live just on the edge of Christianity, we will find that we are not truly following Christ at all. Sounds a little too much like the type of people Timothy was warned to avoid.
"Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." 2 Timothy 3:5 (ESV)
Oh, and don't believe everything you see in voter's guides, mailouts, business logos and television commercials.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
I recently listened to a podcast from Catalyst featuring an interview with Simon Sinek. Sinek is the author of Leaders Eat Last. The title comes from a US Marine Corp general who, when asked by Sinek what the secret to leadership in the Marine Corps was, answered "Officers eat last."
The principle is simple. It is the reality that leaders do what is necessary for those who follow to succeed and survive. In the Marine Corps, the enlisted people eat first and the officers wait. It is an image of leadership and servanthood.
Jesus was the ultimate leader, and the ultimate servant. It's paradoxical, but right.
In the business world, in family, in the church, real leaders serve.
It is not easy, but right.
As Sinek says, "There are no good or bad leaders, just real leaders and those who are not. Real leaders 'eat last.'"
Our leadership team at church is strategically preparing an overarching strategy for family discipleship. This is an exciting, yet troublesome journey as God is revealing areas in ministry where we have unintentionally built "silos" of ministry, believing the model to be best only to wonder where the disciples are.
Families are the primary disciple-makers and the church fellowship is to come alongside parents and children to encourage and sustain the walk.
One such area of familial discipleship that I feel strongly about, though admittedly have failed to fulfill due to circumstances beyond my control, is that of walking one's son into adulthood. The rite of passage is a missing piece in our culture and therefore, we often end up with children wearing adult bodies with empty looks of wonder and confusion in their eyes.
Not everyone, but by and large, as a culture and even as the church, we have failed in this process.
The strategy God is leading us to develop is multi-faceted and powerful and will be revealed church-wide later this fall. However, one element of the strategy is the "rite of passage."
As my son was growing through adolescence, I dreamed of having a celebration such as the one described below and had even put into motion the plans for such. However, through certain circumstances and situations in our journey, God led me to shelve the event.
Nevertheless, I am adament on leading fathers and young men out of the fog and into a story that is large, powerful, life-changing and Kingdom-impacting. A life-long journey of discipling leads to a moment such as this:
A pastor at a sister church had a son who was entering his last year of high school. When the boy was age 17 or so, this father had met with some men who knew his son and had played significant roles in his life. His youth pastor. A coach. A mentor. An older friend. A grandfather. Uncle.
The meeting with this pastor and these men was designed to prepare them to share in a moment of significance with the boy. He gave them instructions on where to meet. They were told to stand, hidden behind trees until they heard him call to them. They received their instruction and were prepared as the day arrived.
On the day in question, this father and his son traveled to a piece of property outside the city where the father had already set up a fire pit and a couple of chairs. This was a familiar place to the boy as they had spent many days here in the past as a family.
The fire pit and seats were in an area accesible via a pathway through a wooded area.
The father and son walked the pathway, talking and sharing thoughts along the way.
Once they made it to the fire pit, they sat down and the dad began to share with his son how proud he was of him and what it meant to be a man, an authentic, biblical man of God. These were not new revelations, for the father had been pouring into his son for years truths regarding God and identity.
There is something very powerful to hear your father speak words of truth and love to you, especially as a boy.
At the appropriate moment, when the father had shared that God had brought many men along the way to journey alongside them and to help the son understand the reality of God's love and His plan for him, the father said, "Okay, gentlemen, you can come out."
At that moment, the men stepped out of the woods, into the clearing and moved toward the boy.
With tears flowing down his eyes, the young man was beginning to understand the power of the blessing.
These men who had loved him as a young man, mentored him, poured into his life and stood alongside his father to help lead him into manhood, spoke into his life at that moment. They shared encouraging, challenging and truthful words to him.
They prayed over him.
Then, they left the father and son to continue their discussion.
There's more to the story and it grows in power.
The father blessed his son that day and welcomed him into adulthood.
That, my friends, is a rite of passage.
It sure makes getting a driver's license or a voting card pale in comparison.
This is just one example. There are many other elements to be put in place for families, parents, grandparents, children and young people.
Can you imagine when events such as have been described above are more than just things some do, but are actually part of the fabric of the local church?
Ministries that are so segmented they can stand alone, with no input and connection with other ministries within the church lead to broken models, tired volunteers and busy members, but not disciples.
That's why it is true that "greater things have yet to come" as we follow God's lead into this strategy.
This summer, one of our students, Lauren Barbaro, served on mission with The Celtic Languages Team in Caernarfon, Wales.
I asked Lauren to share about The CeLT and the mission she served. She recently shared her story with one of our small groups. Here is the transcript of that interview testimony.
Tell us about the town where you served.
Caernarfon is in the northern part of Wales. There is about 9,600 people that live in Caernarfon. It is a little bigger than Orange Park but it can feel like a small town sometimes. The town has the highest percentage of Welsh speakers living there. I loved the scenery around Caernarfon. In the town centre, you had an old castle (which Caernarfon is known for) and churches that were absolutely beautiful. As you went further outside town, you could see the beautiful green countryside with the mountains in the background.
What were the house and the family like where you stayed?
The house where I stayed is smaller than the typical house in America. It was a two story house. The bedrooms and the only bathroom were upstairs. Downstairs was the kitchen and living room. There was no dryer and dishwasher in my house. This is common for most houses in Wales.
My hosts, Dave and Jenny, were very nice and we got to know them very well. They are only a couple of years older than me so it was nice to live with people around my same age. It was very easy to get to know them and live with them. They would even include us and take us to Jenny’s parents’ house for dinner sometimes.
Were the people in the town friendly?
The people in the town were very friendly. A lot of times, people would hear us talking and then they would ask where we are from. Once they knew we were from America, they would ask us questions and let us know that they could help us if needed. Also, our supervisor Tracey would coordinate meals with different church members. So, we would go to their houses and have a meal while getting to know them. I definitely left there with many friends which made it tough to say goodbye.
We know you served in a Pentecostal church in Wales. How different was that for you, since your home church here is Baptist?
Serving in a Pentecostal church was a little different than what I’m used to here at First. The truth is these brothers and sisters love the Lord and, like me, are seeking to see God glorified and His Kingdom increase. It was a joy serving alongside them.
I was able to understand the services since they were in English. It was difficult at times to understand all that was being done during the services at times, only because it was different than the way I was raised.
In what types of activities did you participate, as far as ministry?
We played football (soccer) with children in all of the schools in Caernarfon about three days each week. This was in conjunction with the Good News Club - the Bible-based outreach hosted by the church.
On Tuesday afternoons we visited the children who come to the Good News Club, to give them their visiting sheets. The visiting sheets would include the day's Bible story and verse, as well as the activities we would be doing. We would visit anywhere between 80-90 children each Tuesday.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we helped run the Good News Club. The club takes place on Wednesdays at the church in Caernarfon. Approximately ninety children participate. On Thursdays the Club took place in a village about 15 minutes outside of town. We would have anywhere from four to ten children. The Club would meet on Fridays in another village. This one was about 45 minutes outside of Caernarfon. There were approximately 10-20 children in this meeting. The Clubs would be the same for all three days.
Thursday nights after Good News Club, we went straight to the youth (teenagers) club meeting called “The Bridge.” We would visit these youth at the same time we would visit the children. We gave the youth leaflets that told them where we were meeting and what we were doing. Most of the time, we went to the leisure center (basically a community recreation center) and played football (soccer) with them and talked to them about Jesus.
Did it seem strange “teaching” football (soccer) to children who have grown up with that sport?
It did seem strange teaching some children football (soccer) because most of them have grown up with it their whole life. We would tailor our lessons depending on the ability level of the children. We always tried to play games and do some practices based on the skill we wanted to teach them (i.e. passing, dribbling). If the group was really talented, we would play a longer match than with a group that needed more basic training.
The children listened to us well for the most part. There were some children that did not want us there, not because we were American, but because we are girls. In Wales, girls are not taught football in school. So, in a sense, we had to prove to those children that we knew what we were talking about and that we are good. Those children who resented us at first, were happy we were there in the end.
The children who come to the Bible clubs come from two groups. Most are not Christians. Some are the only Christians in their families. Because of this, we ensure our teaching of the Bible stories and verses are practical for them. When telling the Bible stories, we usually acted it out for them so they would be more engaged in the process. For example, one week we talked about the concept of “perseverance.” We talked about a story from the Bible and a verse that referenced this concept. We would then present different object lessons about the concept. One of the object lessons about perseverance was a professional athlete who never gave up even though he was injured numerous times. After we told this lesson, we would always bring it back to the Bible and Jesus. We would say that perseverance means never to give up and that Jesus never gives up on us. We emphasized that He was willing to go through so much, including dying on the cross, because He loves us. We told them that if they choose to follow Him, they must never give up on Him, even when the going gets rough because He will never do that to us.
What else can you tell us about your experiences there that made a real impression on you?
The one thing that made a real impression on me was the school assemblies. The second to last week there, we had a basketball team from a church in the States with us so we went into most of the primary schools presenting an assembly in the beginning of their day. These assemblies are religious ones. We would start off with a kid’s song (since most of the kids were from the clubs). After this, we did a sketch about making good choices and the consequences of making a bad choice. Then we talked about how for each of the adults, the greatest choice we ever made was accepting Christ and told them how they could accept Him as well. This made a big impact on me because we don’t do this here in America. In the US, a Christian organization can’t go into the schools and talk about God like this. In Wales, they welcome this. The headmasters (principals) ask if we can come in and do religious assembles. There is even a point in a student’s school life where they have to take a religious class. It was a little strange at first doing the assemblies because of the fact that we cannot do it in America but I loved going into the schools and spreading the Gospel. It's even more odd, since the vast majority (over 90%) of the Welsh people and others in the United Kingdom, are not believers and do not even believe in the existence of God.
Would you ever want to go back and serve there again?
I would absolutely love to go back to Wales and serve again. I told my family that it was going to be hard coming back home because I loved it there and due to the relationships I formed there. It was hard leaving the friends I made. While I was there, God opened a potential door for me. Tracey, my supervisor, said that when I get done with school that I could come back and do an internship. This internship would be for ten months (September-July) and I would help work/run the kids club. I could build on the relationships that I have already made and also spread the Gospel to more people.
Lastly, I just want to say thank you for all of your prayers and your financial support. It meant the world to me before I left and even while I was there. This trip was challenging with everything we were doing but God has definitely changed my life in more ways than one. It would not have been possible without you, so thank you!!
Yesterday, after a lunch with my daughter, I headed over to the barber shop for a haircut. I've been going to this barber shop for twenty years and I asked my barber not too long ago why the cost for a haircut is the same while I have less hair to cut.
My barber didn't miss a beat when she said, "Finders fee."
Nevertheless, since yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year with the temperature in my car hitting 101 degrees, I was sure to get a "Coke to go" at the restaurant prior to my stop at the barber's.
When I stepped into the barber shop with about 2/3 of the cup still full of ice cold Coca-Cola, my barber's chair was empty, and there was a gentleman and young child waiting for the other barber. I sat my drink on a shelf and jokingly said,"If anyone's thirsty, here's the rest of my Coke."
I really didn't think anyone would drink my Coke, out of my straw, in my styrofoam cup.
About five minutes into my haircut, the man sitting there, asked if the Coke was cold. I said "Yes" and he took it, threw away the straw and took a drink.
At that point, I told him he could keep it (you know, because I'm a nice guy. . .and I really didn't want to drink his backwash.)
Well, he drank my Coke.
My barber quietly said to me "Well, that's weird."
I replied, "Yeah, I was just kidding. Guess he was thirsty."
So the moral of this story is. . .if you offer someone a drink, you'd better be prepared to deliver.
Jesus made that clear in John 7 when he reminded his listeners that he was the Living Water and if people were thirsty, he would quench their thirst.
He meant it.
He still does.
And, that which he offers quences much better than a styrofoam cup with ice cold Coke.
A few days ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars posted a video of a reporter taking a plunge in the new pool installed at EverBank Field. The new scoreboards and pools are generating a lot of attention for Jacksonville. As is the case with any story on the internet, there are those who applaud everything and those who hate everything.
Now, I think the scoreboards are pretty incredible and the swimming pools, while not something I'd want to sit in during a game (except when it's one of those balmy 98 degree Sunday afternoons, maybe) I really don't have a strong opinion about them. EverBank Field is not the first professional sports field to have a pool. The Arizona Diamondbacks have one in the outfield.
Here's the point - under the comment section, one fan and Jacksonville resident addressed some of the negativity posted by others. He shared of his Jacksonville heritage, his pride in the city, excitement for the future and appreciation to the Jaguars. Yet, in the midst of his comment was this statement that struck me. . .
"It takes no vision to say 'no' to everything."
This comes on the heels of hearing Dr. Rick Wheeler preach on the need to "put our 'yes' on the table" for God.
We are facing a drought of negativism in our culture, and it is seeping into the church.
It's easy to say "no."
"No" to the needs within the church.
"No" to opportunities in the community.
"No" to Kingdom expansion.
"No" to putting others first.
"No" to God.
Why is this?
Because to say "yes" is risky. It's difficult. It will require work. It will move us to discomfort.
However, the fact of the matter is that living our lives under the banner of "NO" also results in us missing out on what God is doing and more.
When Jesus was sitting in the Garden prior to his crucifixion, he prayed that the "cup be removed" and yet the Father did not do so. Thankfully, Jesus didn't say "NO" to the Father.
Saying "yes" to God is not easy.
It is costly.
It is worth it.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Rick Wheeler brought a message and challenge to our church and to church planters Neil and Kaytee Jimenez. During his message, he shared his personal story of calling and the point where he "put his yes on the table."
As Christ-followers, we are called to be obedient, to make disciples and serve God in all areas of life. When a follower of Christ is called to serve Him in full-time vocational ministry, the "yes" must remain on the table at all times.
It's easier said than done.
Nevertheless, at the church I serve as Pastor one of our Associate Pastors informed me last Monday of a distinct call by God and an open door of service provided by Him.
Skipper Rodgers is our Associate Pastor of Small Groups and Children and a dear friend. We have served alongside each other for fourteen years. There have been adventures and challenges and God has done wondrous things over these years.
Skipper became our church's very first Children's Pastor and in that role built a ministry that impacted children and families for eternity. The camps, Vacation Bible Schools, recreational activities and other events and ministries Skipper has led for our church have been excellent and his gifts and talents have shined through.
Some of my greatest memories are of us laughing together as we took some time off one day to play baseball inside the church offices (this was while I was serving as Student Pastor. . .and our Senior Pastor was in another building.) It's amazing what can become balls, bats, and bases when you improvise. Other memories from retreats to Colorado, men's retreats in Tennessee and mission trips to Israel are precious for me.
Oh, and I must not forget the time when I was coaching youth soccer at the YMCA and recruited Skipper to be my assistant coach. It was a learning experience for both of us. I coached some years since and he has coached his children as well over the years. However, as I think back to that first season, I'm convinced that the total understanding of soccer and coaching that we collectively held could have fit in a thimble. Yet, our love for kids made it fun and memorable.
It's amazing how God grows a man, a ministry and a family. When Skipper and Tricia were first called to First Baptist Church of Orange Park, they arrived as a couple with a vision and a desire to plant themselves in our church and community. Over the years, God blessed them with children (three boys and two girls) and we have literally been able to watch them grow.
It's a bittersweet moment now, knowing that God has called Skipper away from FBC Orange Park to a new place of service at FBC High Springs.
I will miss having my friend serving alongside me here at First, but understand that the God we serve calls us where He does for His glory.
Skipper put his "yes" on the table and God spoke clearly.
I'm praying for my friend and this new chapter in this adventure called life. His "yes" will remain on the table, I'm sure. In the midst of transition, we are convinced that "the best is yet to come." God has great things ahead of us. . .all of us.