Previous month:
June 2014
Next month:
August 2014

Posts from July 2014

When You Put Your "Yes" On the Table. . .Things Happen

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 - dave horsesSkipper 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. 


An Open Letter to My Congressman Regarding Immigration & DACA

Over the past nine months, I have had the opportunity to serve with workers and volunteers from World Relief and have been to Washington DC, as part of the Evangelical Immigration Table. I have met with business leaders, ministry leaders and Representatives numerous times in an effort to have the US immigration laws revised and fixed. The needed revision would ensure the security of our nation's borders and a proper path to citizenship for those deserving of such status. It should be stated that this is NOT a push toward amnesty.

In meetings with numerous congressmen, congresswomen and their respective staff members, I was surprised to find that no one, of either political party, feels that our system is working well and without need for revision.

In candid conversations with our elected officials, we found ourselves in strong agreement that something needs to be done to fix our broken system. One of the most frustrating things is the fact that others, whether it be opposing party members, business leaders, special interest groups or those in the news media, continue to define the conversation, and do so poorly. Therefore, subjects that are far from the true desire, like the career-killing term "amnesty" and others, become the spin terms used to categorize politicians and others.

In the extremely polarized political world we now find ourselves, with mistrust at ultra-high levels between the parties (and perhaps, rightfully so) many steps needed to reform the immigration process, without weakening our borders or creating an amnesty state, are stalled.

The current crisis at our southern border has precipitated action and caused many to fear that any steps of fixing our broken system will simply remain the proverbial "can" to be kicked down the road for future generations. As many have noted, evangelical churches and individuals find themselves confused and struggling with how to respond to the migrant children seeking help. (BTW - I realize that some of the children are teenagers and as with any group, not all are necessarily innocent. Still, there are many who are victims of circumstances.)

RTR3ZPRPIn a recent attempt to address the issue, a number in Congress have sent a letter to the President requesting a repeal of the 2012 executive order known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) While this may seem as a fix for the border problem, the reality is that the letter will most likely be ignored and ultimately, will not help the children already here, by no choice of their own.

I have asked our Congressman to consider removing his name from this letter as we continue to move forward on border security and immigration reform.

Here is the op-ed to be published soon:

Representative Ted Yoho recently signed a letter calling President Obama to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The recent crisis situation at the southern US border has precipitated this. Representative Yoho is a compassionate man desiring to represent all in his district well, in accordance with the Constitution. He has shown sincere interest in the plight of immigrants and authentic concern for those, especially minors, brought to this country by no choice of their own.

Representative Yoho has verbalized the need for immigration reform in this country over the last few years. He understands well the brokenness of our immigration system and how it separates families and undermines US economic growth. While most elected officials will agree with Congressman Yoho on the urgency of immigration reform, few have been willing to set aside partisan politics to address this critical issue.

In 2012, President Obama implemented DACA through the DHS to defer deportation of individuals in good standing, brought into the country unlawfully as minors. A result of DACA was the allowance of hundreds of thousands of qualified young adults, following a rigorous application process and payment of fees, the opportunity to pursue higher education, obtain a driver’s license and apply for legal employment.

Our businesses, churches, and communities benefit from the contribution of these hard-working young people, who no longer must hide in the shadows.

The recent surge of unaccompanied minors at the border represents a humanitarian crisis. Studies show that many of these children are fleeing nations in Central America plagued by drug wars and gang violence. Therefore, they face a daunting future if they were to stay in their lands. These migrant children were coming before DACA was instituted and will continue to come even should DACA be rescinded, if the root causes for their migration are not addressed.

Ongoing problems at the border point to the brokenness of our outdated and ambiguous immigration system, which in many cases makes legal immigration more difficult than illegal entry. Traffickers and smugglers exploit the system and prey upon vulnerable migrant children and families, charging money while falsely promising the children they will be able stay once they enter America. These immigrants often end up bearing the penalty of unlawful entry while the real criminals remain free.

The crisis at the border presents some unprecedented challenges for our government. We need to enforce border security, but we must also treat these children humanely. As Dr. Russell Moore, President of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has said, “The situation at the southern border is frightening indeed, for multiple reasons. Border security is important for the physical safety of any nation, and the care of those fleeing danger is important for the moral integrity of any people.”

Undoing DACA, however, will not solve the problem at the border. It will create more problems. To revoke DACA would be to penalize hard-working young people throughout the nation and impair the communities where they live and contribute. To pull hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients from their places of employment will undoubtedly harm businesses and, ultimately, the US economy.

Those elected to represent this nation have been given a great task, and have what it takes to accomplish it. It will not be easy. . .but, who said it was supposed to be easy?

We believe it is not sound, nor right to end DACA. Therefore, we respectfully ask Representative Yoho to withdraw his name from the letter signed July 2, 2014.

We pray for and fully support Congressman Yoho as he takes this courageous step. 

Immigration reform is a polarizing issue and a fearful one for many. I realize that even posting such things will lead many to categorize me as something I am not. However, I glady wear the name of child of God and Christ-follower. As we love God and others, the reality is that wearing these names must affect and impact all areas of life, not just the Sunday morning ones or those which endear people to the crowds.

I don't pretend to know how the immigration system or process should be fixed, but am in agreement with those who have been elected to make such choices, that something must be done.

As followers of Christ, we are to pray for those God has placed over us in leadership positions. Trusting God with the details is key.

 


How Does One of the Most Respected Coaches Become the Most Ridiculed?

Tony Dungy, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, current NFL analyst for NBC Sports, founder of All Pro Dad and Family First, husband, father, and outspoken follower of Jesus Christ has been moved from many people's lists of "Most Respected" to "Most Hated" in just a little over a week.

Ai_120485It all began with a a question posed to Dungy by a Tampa Tribune reporter a number of weeks ago. The question was about gay linebacker Michael Sam of the St. Louis Rams. Sam, who went public with his sexual orientation after a stellar career for the University of Missouri and prior to the NFL draft, is the first openly gay football player drafted by an NFL team.

Sam was a great college player, but even before his public announcement, was not considered a "sure thing" as an NFL lineman. As many in the northeast Florida area where I live know, just because a person excels at the college level does not always mean he will excel at the professional level.

Nevertheless, Sam's announcement skyrocketed him to cultural stardom as news agencies rushed to interview him, Oprah Winfrey attempted to chronicle his journey into professional football for a television show, and pro-LGBT groups and magazines labeled him a courageous figure.

Then, Dungy said this. . .

"I wouldn't have taken him," Dungy told Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune. "Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth…things will happen."

Dungy's answer to a question by Kaufman has gone viral. 

Sportscasters, bloggers and many in the Twittersphere have labeled Dungy a "loser," "hater," "hypocrite," "bigot," and worse.

Arguments appear in op-ed pieces referencing Dungy's work with Michael Vick and his opinions regarding Tim Tebow as evidence that he is two-faced. Some have even sunk so low to create stories about Dungy's son who tragically committed suicide a while back, as ways to show Dungy's unloving nature. 

It's amazing and terribly sad.

It is wrong.

Read Dungy's original statement again - he said nothing that could be construed as "homophobic" or hateful. While it is public knowledge that Dungy has opposed measures to legalize gay marriage (as do many American citizens and the vast majority of evangelicals) his statements related to drafting Sam are purely his opinion. The problem is that his belief system is not politically correct and his Christianity places him (in good company, I might add) in a minority in our culture.

Nevertheless, though unecessary, Coach Dungy released this statement about his previous statement:

I was asked whether I would have drafted Michael Sam and I answered that would not have drafted him. I gave my honest answer, which is that I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team. At the time of my interview, the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced.

I was not asked whether or not Michael Sam deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL. He absolutely does.

I was not asked whether his sexual orientation should play a part in the evaluation process. It should not.

I was not asked whether I would have a problem having Michael Sam on my team. I would not. ...

... I do not believe Michael's sexual orientation will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization.

I do, however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction. Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction.

A good, but unecessary statement. Dungy's explanation will do little to placate those who have already categorized him negatively. 

I respect Coach Dungy, not just for his ability to coach professional athletes, but for the leadership qualities he has shown, the love of Christ that comes forth when I hear him interviewed, the stances he has taken on biblical manhood, parenting and marriage.

As culture shifts at breakneck speed, many in our communities and churches struggle with how to live "in the world" but not "of the world." A child of God cannot simply ignore biblical truth and the transformational power of the Spirit of God. God's Word and His Truth is never celebrated by the world. It never has been. It never will be. Therefore, instances like Dungy's will happen, again and again, and more often.

I always wondered how long Dungy could remain in the public eye before being labeled this way. 

Regardless how many are taking Dungy's quotes, it seems to me that he is exactly the same man who was highly respected, regarded and loved by many.

 

Stand firm, Coach Dungy. You do not stand alone.

The world cannot hate you (regarding Jesus' brothers who did not follow Him), but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. John 7:7 (ESV) 

 


"Listen, Jesus, Listen!"

MateoFor the past few months, little Mateo has become an internet sensation. From all accounts, he's a typical three-year-old. Yet, in this age of smart phones and YouTube, the ability to capture conversations that for previous generations have been relegated to memory only, is commonplace. 


His mother, Linda, is chronicling many of his conversations, and they're hilarious.

His most popular, and viral video, revolves around his desire to get a cupcake from his grandma, after being told by his mother "No."

The ensuing conversation is both hilarious and frustrating. 

Now, before all the parenting experts jump on Linda for allowing this, do a little research. He did get in trouble. . .after the filming, and in truth, was just echoing arguments he has heard before. Linda says that he sounds just like his father in this clip. 

 

As I watched Mateo, I laughed (and cringed) and couldn't help but think how similar my conversations with God have been throughout my life. 

I justify my actions.

I justify my sin.

I don't want to hear the truth, at times.

I want things my way.

"Listen, Jesus, listen!"

And I don't listen.

Could it be that often we are more like three-year-olds in our spiritual lives?

And God says, "I'm done arguing with you."


For God's Sake, Tear Down Those Silos

A few years ago some farm land near where I live was purchased and turned into a shopping center. The farm land wasn't being farmed and hadn't been for years. A subdivision had been built around it and the only remaining signs that farming had been done near there were two old, large grain silos that stood on the ground. The silos became landmarks for many in the community.

When the land was cleared and the shops were built, the intent was to keep the silos intact, especially since the shops would be called the "Silo Shoppes." Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one's perspective) the old old silos weren't able to be salvaged and were destroyed.

Then, the builders built a smaller, fake silo for the property. It stands there now, between the sports bar and the Salvation Army Store. A symbol of a bygone day. . .and a useless building, it seems.

Outside the world of agriculture (or nuclear missles,) silos are not often referenced. However, over the past few years, there has been much discussion among churches of the dangers of silos.

Within the church culture, the silos being referenced are not physical structures,  but the ministries that most of us enjoy being part of and promoting. Ministries are not bad things at all, but when they become "silo ministries" they become a detriment to the influence and focus of the church.

Silo ministries have no greater vision, goal or calling other than themselves. Their development leads to "little churches" within the church. By the way, that is not a good thing and is the opposite of healthy church planting and multiplicative ministry. It seems that after decades of church work built on growth strategies and marketing plans borrowed from the business world, we are finally discovering the inherant danger in siloing ministries within the church.

It's a difficult concept and creates not only confusion for some, but frustration and anger. Just based on what is being written, spoken and blogged in the realm of church health today, the concept of creating and maintaining silos in ministry cannot be classified as anything but BAD.

Yet, there are some, like Kaye, a children's ministry leader and blogger from Australia, who are asking if siloed ministries really are that bad. You can read her thoughts on this here. Her post is well-thought and I agree with most. She makes the distinction of being focused and, in my estimation, is defining silos differently than I would.

Nevertheless, as we (the church in the US, especially the Baptists) are facing the realities of declining baptisms, closing church buildings, diminishing missionary funding and increaased cultural challenges, we are forced to acknowledge that some of the "church things" we built in past decades may need to go the way of the original grain silos near my home.

It is easy to see how ministry silos grow. 

It is just easier to segment every single thing done within the church based on age group, grade, physical needs, gender, and a host of other creative boxes.

Destroy silosWhile I acknowledge the value of ministry focused on certain groups (i.e. children, youth, students, men, women, etc.) the sad reality is that apart from a clear focus on God's calling for His church, and a healthy sense of awe of Him, churches will continue to "silo up" and justify the means with no real focus on the end, or Kingdom goal.

I have heard some, even in the church I pastor and on our leadership team, say "We don't know our goal!"

When I first heard that, it shook me. I was thinking, "Maybe I haven't stated our church's goal very well?" I was thrown for a loop. Then, after months of prayer and reflection and even. . .and I know other pastors do this too. . .looking at other churches for ideas of "mission statements" and "goal statements" and the like, it hit me. . .WE ARE NOT TO CREATE THE GOAL!

God has already done this. If the church is doing anything other than honoring God through making disciples and growing His Kingdom, we are wasting our time just "doing church" and I fear that is why many in our culture are ineffective, closing and dead. Perhaps God "left the building" in these instances.

While I am not proposing the dismantling of ministries within the church (though, in some cases, it may not be a bad idea,) I am declaring that intentional, self-seeking, silo building has no place in God's church.  

Rich Burch recently posted "6 Subtle Signs of Organizational Silos in Your Ministry." Here are his six signs, with my comments.  You can click here to read his entire post with his thoughts.

  1. "Us" verses "Them" mentality. We have probably all experienced this at some level. It often occurs at the time of year when ministry leaders are recruiting volunteers. Sometimes it happens during the calendar and financial allocation planning time. If your ministry leader always seems depressed and acts as if he/she is fighting everyone else in the church and all other ministries with 
  2. Different Core Communication Tools. I have been guilty of this, as have many others who have served in Associate Pastor roles. Sometimes, it's just a sign of creativity by right-brained staffers. In those cases, it's not dangerous. Other times, it is little more than a passive-aggresive protest at the leaders or the organization/church.
  3. Office or Ministry Hub Placement. This has been borrowed from the business world. When I was at IBM, the executives' importance was identified by number of windows and location of offices. Sometimes this is seen when ministry leaders have a desire to be "away" from the rest of the staff or pastors.
  4. Resistance to Church-wide Emphases. This happens in every church, at some level, I fear. The church may be focusing on a large emphasis, but in certain ministry areas, it may as well not exist. Perhaps it's personality driven (most often) or focus driven. Sometimes it happens based on church-wide scheduling. Siloed ministries tend to create their own calendars with little or no regard to the church-wide calendar. An arrogant sense of "my ministry is more important than others" reigns and others within the church notice it. 
  5. Great Internal Communication with Poor External Communication. When a ministry silos itself, those within communicate well and often, but they don't do so outside the silo. This "holy huddle" is deadly to the church and . . . every church has groups that develop this, at some level.
  6. Special Deals. If a ministry has a sense of entitlement and those who serve have a "right" to skirt rules, guidelines and policies that all other minsitries have, a silo may be growing. 

Here's the thing about silos in ministry. I don't think anyone sets out to build a ministry silo. It often just happens.

It has happened for decades.

And the church has suffered.

It is time, for God's sake and the sake of His Kingdom, to tear down the negative, self-serving ministry silos that do little, if anything, for the Kingdom of God.

And, unlike the shopping center near my home, let's not build a new one to replace them.


Observations After a Week With College Students

There seems to be a trend of older generation members looking down at the younger generations with disdain, fear and frustration about the future of. . .the country. . .the world. . .the church. . .entertainment. . .etc.

10421108_10204331535350787_919962258732534813_nI fear that sometimes we (yes, I'm now classifying myself as the "older generation" especially based on the average age of my mission team partners this week) we often allow the media, some overly loud bad examples, a false nostalgic perspective on our own past and maybe fear paint images that are just not accurate.

So, after a semester imbedded in a small group full of college-aged young adults and a week on mission here in Wales with a team of eight, here are some observations:

  • There are students who love Jesus. . .and I mean really love Jesus.
  • There are students who hunger for God's Word and speak deeply about His Kingdom.
  • There are stduents who battle narcissism (like all of us) but realize there's a Story much bigger than them and live under the banner "It's not about me!"
  • There are students who care about others.
  • There are students who deeply care about the eternal destination of others.
  • There are students who will sacrifice for others.
  • There are students who will gather in "free time" just to sing worship songs.
  • There are students who do not affirm that which culture says is good and acceptable when the Bible clearly states otherwise.
  • There are students who fight against their own personal legalism and are living in the freedom of the Gospel.
  • There are students who understand the difference in loving a person and affirming their sin. . .and the still love them.
  • There are students who seriously seek God and His lead in their lives with awe and wonder.
  • There are students who do not change to be what the latest group of "friends" desire them to be.
  • There are students who are serious about their faith, but know how to have fun. This is a gift - having fun that you won't be embarrassed to put on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for fear of embarrassing yourself or others, or maybe lose a job or scholarship

This generation, like mine and all others before, have struggles and challenges. There are many who fit the poor stereotypes that exist, as with all generations. However, this group (and the group in my small group) have been used by God to show me that He is using this generation and will use them for great things. The great things will center on God. 

I'm honored to be able to serve with them.

Oh, one other observation - these students are loud and apparently love soccer (especially when you're overseas and the World Cup is on.) 

Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Psalm 24:6 (ESV)