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Posts from August 2014

What We Need from IMB President David Platt & What He Needs From Us

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.

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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. 

Encouragement From David Platt

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.

Radical

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.

What We Need from David Platt

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:

  • Clarity. A strong voice for the work of global missions.
  • Effectiveness. Keep us focused on reaching the unreached, unengaged. Help ensure we work to lead nationals to lead local churches.
  • Funding. This is perhaps the biggest challenge. The best "crowd-sourcing" for missions in our history is the Cooperative Program. Whether CP remains under that name or not, the effectiveness of serving together for the sake of the Gospel is evident. Churches aren't giving to CP as they used to do. Lead out to ensure that the funding needed remains. . . and grows. Personally, I believe in the Cooperative Program, so I'd suggest starting there.
  • Connectedness. Speak to pastors, as a pastor. I do not know any pastors in the SBC who wish to see missionaries come home from the field or be defunded. However, I do know many who are living daily under financial pressure and who may be working with old models that no longer suffice. As you have done for me, encourage pastors. . .as a pastor, as one who understands and help create handles for the pastors to grab hold of as they lead their churches to engage the lost globally.
  • Efficiency. I don't pretend to know what this entails, but we all know that over time, organizations drift toward bureaucy. People matter. That is a given. However, the funds given to international missions by local churches (and little old ladies gathering in WMU circles) are expected to be used to further the Kingdom of God and engage the world. We understand that funds are needed to keep things in Richmond working, but do your best to ensure that we are good stewards of all that is given. (Please note - I am not saying that previous leadership did anything other than that. It's just a statement of what is needed today, and every day from leadership.)
  • Focus. There are many areas globally where our missionaries are serving. Some are able to serve openly. Others have to be more covert. There are men and women committed to the Gospel and God's mission of reaching the world. Some are in areas where the fields are ripe. Others are serving in post-Christian areas where the work is tedious and for those seeking immediate gratification and high numbers of salvations regularly, often are overlooked. Stay focused on the big picture, but seek to keep missionaries where they are called, to the people where relationships are formed and being formed. Do not forsake the "post-Christian" areas (i.e. Europe) for the sake of others. We need work in all areas. Though we've never seen a resurgence of revival in post-Christian cultures, we are seeing sparks of a fire. Let's not forsake any.
  • Integrity. The President, the IMB staff, and missionaries throughout the world are to be men and women of integrity. Holy. Set apart. Again, I do not post this as a response to something done wrongly in the past. This is just a reminder that "so goes the shepherd, so go the sheep." Be above reproach in all areas. I believe the Enemy seeks to take out pastors, especially those with great influence. David has experienced this, I'm sure, and now in this new position, the attacks will undoubtedly increase. That leads to the next section.

What David Needs From Us

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:

  • Prayer. This is not a passive option, but active. David, Heather and their children, need our prayers. We are commanded to pray for our leaders in the nation, but I believe we must also pray for those who serve in denominational leadership. This man of God and his family have been in the Enemy's cross-hairs for years, and that has just intensified today. The members of a local church can be demanding and unforgiving. It takes a toll on a family. How much more will the pressures inherant to this new role be upon the Platts. Pray for David and Heather's marriage to remain strong. Pray for their children to be strong and eventually dangerous Christ-followers.
  • Encouragment. When I received a note and a book from David years ago, it was like a balm of encouragement during a challenging time. I'm sure he receives many notes, messages and gifts, but rest assured, they are powerful and meaningful. For those with the opportunity to meet and speak with David, encourage him. For those who will not get that opportunity, send a note of encouragement to him via the IMB. Be a "Barnabas." Don't presume someone else will.
  • Openness. There's no doubt Platt will make some decisions and lead the IMB into areas that others may question. There may be some new opportunities revealed that will help engage the world even better. Be open to new ideas and opportunities. Not everything new will work. Not everything new is good, but the opportunity to try new things as God reveals them should be given to Platt and his team of leaders.
  • Celebration. Have you noticed how many people under 40 are tweeting and retweeting this announcement? It's an amazing thing that best not be ignored. While the attendance at the annual SBC is getting older and greyer, the vast crowd that has been attending NAMB's Send North America events is young. David Platt comes from this demographic. He has been used by God and will be used by God to reach and connect with a generation that has often been ignored, simply out of not knowing how to connect. Celebrate that God is revitalizing the church in North America and the world. For those like me who are realizing that being the "young pastor" in town is now a designation for someone else, this is encouraging. 
  • Accountability. Platt needs accountability, just like every pastor, every Christ-follower, needs accountability. Some will be used by God to lovingly keep David accountable. The key word there is "lovingly." That means, not thorugh a blog, such as this, or with negative undertones, but in love, being effective as a friend and brother. Encouragement and accountability are related closely.
  • Financial Support. Churches must not cut CP or Lottie Moon giving simply because they do not (or their pastors do not) approve of the vote for David Platt. Some may actually start giving more due to his selection. I understand that. Regardless, the IMB (and NAMB, too) need financial support from Southern Baptists to continue to do the Kingdom work they have been tasked. Give generously, not because or in spite of who is president, but for the global work we are cooperatively doing for the Kingdom.

One More Thing

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. 


"But It Seemed Like a Good Idea" - Holocaust Clothes for Kids?

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)

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What was marketed as a stylish jumper for children with a Sheriff's badge embroidered on the front, reminded people of this. . .

283 The clothes worn by concentration camp prisoners,this one with the Jewish star.

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?

  • Cosmopolitan Yogurt
  • Earring Magic Ken (Barbie's sometime boyfriend)
  • Life Saves Soda
  • Smith & Wesson Mountain Bikes
  • Colgate Kitchen Entrees
  • Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water
  • FritoLay Lemonade
  • Bic Underwear
  • Cocaine Energy Drink
  • Maxwell House Ready-to-Drink Coffee (in a milk carton)
  • McDonald's Arch Deluxe
  • Tacos from Burger King
  • XFL
  • Apple Newton (not the cookies, but from the mind of Steve Jobs)
  • New Coke

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. 

Decisions cannot be made in a vacuum.

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.)

Christians Can't Think Like Non-Believers

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.

Lame "Christian" Events

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. 


Local Elections & Why Christians Should Vote

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. . .

  • There is a woman named "Glo" running for office. (I love this name. I don't know the person, but the name is great.)
  • There is a woman named "Thuy" (pronounced Twee) running for office. (Love this name, too. Again, don't know the woman, but I'll remember her name.)
  • One guy running is seeking an office previously held by his mother. He's using her signs with his name printed over hers. Smart move - her signs have been in the county for years.
  • Some people put photos of their faces on their signs.
  • Others do not, and that may be wise. I don't think I'd put my face on a sign. I'd hate to scare drivers.
  • Some people should consider putting generic faces on their signs, like the photos that come in the frames you buy at the store.
  • There's a man running for office named Anthony Penoso. I'm not endorsing him. I don't know him, but every time I see the sign with his name on it, I think of NCIS and the character Anthony DiNozzo. Makes me want to slap someone on the back of the head a'la Mark Harmon when I see the sign.
  • What happens to all the old T-shirts for candidates who do not win? Are they sent to some third world country like the Denver Bronco Super Bowl Champion shirts?
  • Does a candidate waving on a street corner really increase votes for that candidate? If so, the guy that spins the signs in Fleming Island should win EVERYTHING!
  • Some people run for an office every election cycle . . . and never win. They should at least get a sympathy vote every now and then.

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.

Voting-boothAmazingly, 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.

Why?

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.

Vote.

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.


Why Ferguson Matters Here

Selma, Alabama

Sanford, Florida

Ferguson, Missouri

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. . .

71HWhen 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.


Christians, ALS, The "Ice Bucket Challenge" & Stem Cells

The "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS has taken off in an unbelievable way. 

Als_3
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?

  1. It's much easier to get a bucket of ice water and pour it over one's head, than to devise a creative way to get dunked in ice water. Also, it's easier than having to use a horse trough for "polar baptism" we did earlier for church planting.
  2. It's for a good cause - research to discover a cure and newer treatments for those suffering from ALS (amyotrophic lateral scleroris). 
  3. The disease is more popularly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" and with that, the nature of sports and celebrity has pushed the challenge into viral status. 

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.

 

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.


The Alphabet Soup of Sexual Identity

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.

 He says,

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."

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Depression is Real. . .Even for Christians

Since Robin Williams' death, depression has become a headline story in our nation. 

118HRecognizing 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:

    • Feelings of sadness and emptiness
    • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
    • Loss of intereest or pleasure in life activities
    • Loss of energy or constant fatigue
    • Insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep)
    • Feelings of intense anxiety
    • Changes in appetite and weight
    • Excessive or misplaced guilt
    • Feelings of worthlessness
    • Physical symptoms such as bodily aches and pains
    • Sometimes increased agitation, including outbursts of anger and irritability
    • Difficulties thinking and concentrating
    • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

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.

 


The Escalator Church

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.

ThEscalator or 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.