Previous month:
October 2014
Next month:
December 2014

Posts from November 2014

Can I Learn from a Disciple of the "King?"

On Friday of this week, our church is honored to host the annual fall senior adult gathering and banquet for our Jacksonville Baptist Association (Engage{JAX} Network.) This annual event is always well attended and this year more than 300 tickets have been purchased.

As the host venue, we have little to do other than open the facility and provide some technical help. 

In fact, since this event is planned and organized by a volunteer committee of Baptists from throughout our city, the Network actually has little to do other than promote and provide financial accountability for tickets sold and honorariums for guests.

This is a fellowship event. I say that because sometimes we look down our pious noses at church events that do not seem to have a purpose. This event's purpose is fellowship. It's designed to be fun. There will be times of singing and eating and stories shared. In other words, in case it's not clear - this is good. Christians can gather and have fun. In fact, they should. This does not take away from the mission.

Now, if all the church does is casserole meals and fellowship events, it will eventually cease to be a church and become more of a club, but I digress. In an of itself, an event like this does not detract from the mission of the church and may just scratch an itch that often churches miss - the joy of doing life together.

What caught my eye regarding this year's event was the special guest. 

 

Fake-elvisThat's right. The senior adults of Jacksonville will be entertained by an Elvis Presley impersonator.

Just to be clear, based on the photograph I have seen, this is a 1970s Elvis impersonator, not a 1950s version. That means the white jumpsuit, sequins, mutton-chops and scarves. No "Jailhouse Rock" jeans or red "Teddy Bear" jacket.

And, just in case you're thinking I'm an Elvis hater. I'm not. I'm listening to "Burning Love" (hunka-hunka) as I write this.

Honestly, when I first saw this I thought, "Seriously? They're bringing an Elvis impersonator in for entertainment?"

I've heard that many often long for the "good-old days" of church, back when hymnals were used, pianos and organs were the norm, pastors wore suits and ties and bulletins actually had the order of service printed, but this seemed extreme.

Was this a throwback to the by-gone days?

Was this a not-so-subtle message of longing for the past? 

Are we now at a place where we have forsaken trying to draw crowds to see the King of Kings and have settled for a copy of the "King of Rock?"

No, I think the message is simpler than all that. I think someone thought "This would be fun." That's it. Fun. No message. No statement. No forsaking of the Gospel. Just a fun night listening to songs that take the crowd back to another time where music wasn't really as innocent as we'd like to think, but at least it wasn't Miley Cyrus, right?

Since we're committed and faux-Elvis will be here Friday, I started thinking about these people who entertain as Elvis impersonators. What an interesting hobby or career.

There are thousands of Elvis impersonators in the world. Most of them live in Las Vegas, but you can find one in just about every city in the nation. This is amazing because Elvis (according to most reports) is not actually alive. There's no new material, unless you count the version of "A Little Less Conversation" that came out in 2002. 

There's actually a network of impersonators that connects via the internet. There are conventions and gatherings and if you remember Nicholas Cage movies, you know they can sky dive as well. 

What does it take to be a good Elvis impersonator? Here are my thoughts:

  • It helps if you can sing.
  • It's even better if you can sing and sound like Elvis.
  • Having the right clothes is essential.
  • Depending on the era of Elvis you are impersonating (and this has to do with your age) you will either need the gold jacket, black leather 1968 special suit or the 1970s jumpsuit.
  • You need the Southern drawl and the curled lip.
  • If you are really into it, you need a Cadillac.
  • It helps if you take karate lessons.
  • Maybe a stint in the Army would be a benefit.
  • Hip action is needed, but depending on where you perform, be careful. If you're appearing on an Ed Sullivan impersonator's show, your hip gyrations will be edited and not viewable by the audience.
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwiches need to be a favorite of yours.
  • Watch the movies, all the Elvis movies. 
  • Study the movies, the documentaries, read the biographies, visit Graceland and maybe take a trip to Vegas as well.

You see you cannot be an effective Elvis impersonator if you do not study, prepare and do as best you can to act and perform like the real thing. I'm not saying you need to wear a WWED bracelet, but I do believe that while performing as a faux-Elvis, the thought "What Would Elvis Do?" needs to be running through your mind.

To be an effective copy of the real thing, you must be a fully devoted disciple of the King. So, yes, I can learn from these disciples of the "King of Rock."

The problem is that even if you are the very best Elvis impersonator in the world. I mean, even if Priscilla and Lisa Marie are convinced you're really Elvis, it doesn't do you much good. Oh, you may get to entertain in Vegas, or maybe even a Jacksonville senior adult event, but ultimately, being a copy of Elvis will never be enough. It cannot. There's no life in being a copy of a dead man.

However, there's another King, a true King, who calls his followers to impersonate him. Jesus Christ, the King of kings, has clearly called his followers, his disciples to impersonate him. It's deeper than a WWJD question. We have been called to live our lives as copies of the King who is not dead, but alive. In fact, in order to be his disciples, we must die to self. We will never be convincing impersonators of the King if our lives look more like "ours" than "His."

Elvis may have left the building, but Jesus remains. He is still alive and his version of Graceland is far better than the house in Memphis.


Reflections From Three Days with Baptist Pastors & Leaders

I have spent the last few days in Lakeland, Florida attending the Florida Baptist Pastors Conference and the annual Florida Baptist State Convention. It has been a good few days as I have been able to reconnect with pastors and ministry leaders from throughout our state. The worship leaders were wonderful and the sermons challenging and definitely God-inspired.

Here are some observations, in no particular order, of this convention and my opinions and inferences about the future work of Baptists in the state of Florida:

Leadership Matters

We have been blessed these past 25+ years to have Dr. John Sullivan lead Florida Baptists as Executive Director-Treasurer. As with any leadership task so large, there have been many challenges over the years. Since people are. . .well, people, there have been some personality conflicts over the years with Dr. Sullivan and some in the state. There have been disagreements and differing views as to how certain things should be done and I'm sure different views regarding vision for the future of the Florida Baptist Convention and all that makes up our cooperating union. 

However, even with those issues, which are common in any organization or church, Dr. Sullivan has led with dignity and honor. In a world (and a Christian sub-culture) that is continually changing, I have been thankful for Dr. Sullivan's stance on biblical authority, church autonomy, missional growth and ultimately on seeing as many people in our state and world come to know Jesus Christ personally as Lord and Savior.

Dr. Sullivan is retiring now and leaves a legacy that honors God. There are still challenges ahead for Baptists in this state, so the leadership void will be looming. That being said, we look back with fond memories and thankful hearts to the years behind us, ready to step forward into a future that has the same God at the helm we have always served.

So, personally, I say "Thank you" to Dr. John Sullivan and am praying for our state's search committee and State Board of Missions as we seek to discover the man God has already set aside for this honorable role. It is vital that we hear the voice of God clearly because Godly leadership matters.

Encouragement Is Needed

The Pastors Conference is a gathering prior to the annual state meeting. It is a time where emphasis on pastoral leadership and health is paramount.

B2HtcN_IIAILeLaThe pastoral ministry is not easy. Any man serving in such role could attest to this. I'm not seeking sympathy or desiring to play a victim. That's not my goal at all. However, I have discovered in my own walk, and as I talk with others, that often the pressures of pastoring seem to creep up on an individual and ultimately, wear down a man until the joy of serving and leading seems foreign.

Encouragement is a strong tonic. To hear strong, inspired, challenging and comforting words from men speaking from the battlegrounds to other soldiers in the field is vital. I often do not realize how much I need this time until I am experiencing it.

A three-day convention gathering can be tiring as well, but it is more energizing as we see pastors ready to go back home to churches who love them. Pastors are ready to lead again, to serve again, to fight battles against an unseen enemy again and ultimately recharged for that which is ahead.

With as many pastors resigning and falling into sin as we see in our nation today, this time of encouragement and re-charging must not be forsaken.

The Mission Remains

As I hear of victories in local churches and watch highlight videos of ministries and mission endeavors throughout our state, I am encouraged, but also saddened. 

Here's why - with all the "wins" the reality of a state that is growing darker in sin and further from the Truth of the Gospel is our reality. We must celebrate the victories, but also remember that the task is great and there is much to be done.

To be satisfied with where we are and to sit on our small victories is like the baseball player who settles for a single, but never makes it around the bases to home plate.

Cooperation Is More Than a Tag-Line

Staying with the baseball motif, the runner on first often needs help getting around those bases. Oh, there's the rare player who steals second, steals third and may make it home on a pitching error. Even in those cases, the extra bases are gained based on the mistakes of the opposition. In most cases, the runner gets home "with a little help from his friends." The next batters play a major role in moving the runner along.

In our world, cooperating churches are needed to push back the darkness. God's church will prevail, but we must remember that "our" churches aren't really "ours." They're His!

Therefore, we MUST COOPERATE in this great mission in order to fulfill His Great Commission. 

We will never win this state to Jesus Christ if we continue to try to do so as individuals, with small kingdom mindsets and personal glory as the goal.

We Must Not Forget What It Means to Be Baptist

In an age where denominational titles seem to be less than vogue, it is vital that we, as Baptists do not forsake our distinctives. I agree with Dr. Ted Traylor who said that churches who take "Baptist" out of their name doesn't bother him, but churches who take "Baptist" out of their identity do. There is a reason we Baptists, in our autonomy and independence, with a firm understanding and belief in the inerrant Word of God, our ordinances and celebrations of new life (baptism) and renewed life (Lord's Supper) have been blessed by God so. 

Maybe it's education. Perhaps it's just living out our faith well. Regardless, we have a great heritage and a greater God. Christian first, absolutely. Baptist as a distinctive, definitely.

Mission and Missional Are Non-Negotiables

I had a gentleman berate me about leading our church to be missional not too long ago. My response was clear - "A church that is not missional is not a church." I stand by that statement. 

However, the term "missional" is becoming too much of a buzzword lately and unfortunately, seems to be losing some of its "oomph" (you know what I mean by that, right?) Yet, living missionally is our calling. It's more than a trend.

In addition to living missionally in our community and world, we must also be "on mission" at all times. These two terms tend to overlap, but there is a distinction. The mission we must be at is global in scope. In fact, it's a Kingdom-sized mission.

While our missional expressions that lead us to the local school to help teachers and mentor children, to the public playground to do acts of service and kindness, engagements with local organizations in need of volunteers or space, etc., our "on mission" actions lead us concurrently to engage strategically with the Gospel. 

Mowing your neighbors lawn in the name of Jesus is good and right, and missional. Intentionally sharing the Gospel with your neighbor is living on mission. 

We have missionaries throughout our state and many who are being sent by local churches to the uttermost parts of the world. 

As we push back the darkness, we must continue in this journey. To be a sending church requires faith and funds and family. This was made clear this week.

Healthy Church Plants are Wins for All

Sometimes I hear people complain about all the emphasis being placed on church planting. They lament that we need to focus more on established church revitalization. 

The problem with an either/or mentality is that . . . well, we stay exactly as we are and nothing changes. 

Yes, revitalization must happen and we saw some incredible stories of churches in our state working through that. However, the clear reality for churches who are crying "Revitalize! Revitalize!" is that it will not happen if the church is unwilling to change.

Churches stuck in the "this is how we always done it" mentality are perfectly positioned and organized to do exactly what they're doing now. It's going to take more than a new coat of paint and a better website.

So, for the church ready to change. . .let's revitalize. We need you alive and healthy where God planted you.

If you won't change, hurry up and shut down or hand over the facilities to another work so an engaged church may have a chance to be birthed where you are currently located but doing nothing.

As for church planting. The key is "healthy" church planting. New works reach more people quickly. There are caveats to that statement, I understand, but the results we are seeing in Jacksonville and throughout the state are clear. When a planter is assessed and partnered with a strong, established church, Kingdom growth happens.

More Diversity Is Needed

The racial makeup of our state is continually in flux. While I cannot change the color of my skin or the heart language I speak, I know that we must seek to grow churches and partner better with those who are not lily-white and English speaking. While some may joke that Miami and south Florida is more like Latin America than the rest of America, the word I hear from pastors in those regions is that more churches are needed, more pastors are needed, more workers are needed. The fields may be "white" unto harvest elsewhere, but in south Florida and in many of our urban areas and other pockets of subcultures throughout our state, those fields are "brown" and "black" and every other shade of skin. 

It's Time to Have a Spanish Sermon

I shared with one friend that perhaps it's time that one of the key messages brought at the annual meeting is done by a Spanish speaking pastor with a heart for the Kingdom. It does not matter than I do not speak Spanish. There are many churches in our state where English is the primary language and we have guests and members who speak another heart language. Maybe it's time for the subtitles to be put on the screen in English for those of us who are mono-lingual and let the Word be broadcast in the room (and throughout the state and world since it's streamed live on the internet) in the heart language of a growing portion of this wonderful state?

There's Much Work To Do

Overall, it has been a good week, but as I reflect on this state and our Baptist partners, I know, as do others, that there is much to be done. As one pastor mentioned over the weekend "There's no place for lazy pastor in God's Kingdom." Amen to that and I add to it, "There's no place for a lazy Christian in God's Kingdom." There's much to be done and to God be the glory.

Thankfully, We Are Not Alone

I am so thankful for pastor brothers and friends in ministry. It is so encouraging to see that even though the work ahead is daunting, I am not in this battle alone. Not only do I have brothers and sisters in Christ along in this journey, I rest fully on the reality that my God is with me as well. As H.B. Charles stated this evening, "God's personal presence is also His perpetual presence."


The Elimination of the Spiritual Leader in the Home

I had the honor of presiding over a wedding last Saturday. It was a beautiful setting on the river. A bit chilly, but otherwise, picture perfect. The bride and groom stood before me. I led them through their vows and the exchange of wedding rings. Everything was clearly stated and the vows were biblically-based and traditional. This was, of course, a Christian wedding.

Here are the vows most often used in weddings I preside:

TO THE GROOM: Do you take this woman to be your wife, promising to keep, love, and defend her and to be her faithful and true husband so long as you both shall live? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect her as Christ does the church, to be the spiritual leader in your home, to encourage and enable her to serve Christ in all ways and to help become all that Christ intends?

TO THE BRIDE: Do you take this man to be your husband, promising to adhere unalterably to him in all life’s changes, to be his loving and true wife until death divide you? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect him with all that you are, to submit to him as the spiritual leader in your home, to be a help and an encourager in his life, enabling him to be all that Christ intends?

As you probably noted, the phrase "spiritual leader" is intentionally used in the vows. 

Being the "spiritual leader" in the home has caused quite a bit of confusion over the past decades. Some question the validity of the role, as well as the biblical authority of such. In some cases, abusive husbands (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) have wrongly done ungodly things under the banner of "submission" which ultimately leaves women and children confused, frustrated and hurt.

However, there are men who love the Lord and seek to lead their wives and family spiritually. God has called us as men to love our wives loved the church. This type of love is what a spritual leader offers his family. Kevin East, Executive Director of Family Matters gives some practical steps for leading one's wife spiritually. . .

  1. Pursue Christ.
  2. Fine out who has led your wife spiritually in the past.
  3. Honor her publicly.
  4. Sacrifice for her.
  5. Be eager to serve.
  6. Pray with her.

The full article is available here.

There are many more articles and helps designed for husbands who seek to live out the biblical model in the home as Christ intends. 

Yet, as I led the couple through their vows last Saturday, it hit me that our culture, with the continued shift and de-emphasis on the God-designed biblical marriage model is also forsaking this role of spiritual leadership in the home.

With godless weddings leading to humanistic marriages, self reigns supreme and God-focused spirituality is abandoned. The image of marriage as an picture of Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (the bride) is lost.

Gay-marriage-cakeThis is most obviously evident as the continued propitiation and acceptance of same-sex marriages sweeps across the land. If the spiritual headship role is gender-exclusive, the question about spiritual headship is unanswerable when a woman marries another woman. The same is true when a man marries a man. 

When gender roles are redefined to fit cultural norms God's design is forsaken and ultimately we miss the fullness of the gospel.

I realize that on the surface, this sounds like a very sexist statement. Some may shoot back with "Are you saying women cannot be leaders?" The answer to that is NO. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just focusing in on one area where headship in the home is defined. 

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. Ephesians 5:22-23 (ESV)

I fully acknowledge that some have soiled the term "submit" to such a degree that many women (and men, too) cringe at the thought. Yet, in its purity, the term is one that describes a loving, intimate relatinoship, as Christ and His church experience. 

Christina Fox, one of the authors of the free eBook Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood (available here) states this regarding biblical submission. . .

"Submission," she says, "is not about forced control."

"When a man leads his wife, he is leading her to depend on Christ, not on himself," she explains. "The kind of leadership a husband provides his wife is to encourage her growth in grace and prepare her to be a co-heir in the coming kingdom."

Also, submission is not about belittlement, inferiority or worthlessness, she adds.

"Scripture teaches that we are to 'encourage one another and build each other up' (1 Thessalonians 5:11)."

Fox borrows John Piper's definition to describe what submission is – "the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It's the disposition to follow a husband's authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership."

To illustrate this further, Fox points to the apostle Paul who shows that the purpose of marriage is to reflect the Gospel.

"A husband's call to lead and a wife's call to submit is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church," the Florida mother of two writes. "The unique roles that men and women have in marriage serve as a living message of the gospel."

She continues, "As a wife yields to her husband's leadership in their marriage, she reflects the heart of faith that characterizes Jesus's people. The church follows Jesus as her head and uses her gifts to carry out his mission in this world. Likewise, the wife respects and yields to her husband's leadership as she uses her gifts to complement his good purposes for their marriage and family."

The only way for biblical submission to play out correctly is when the married couple relies on the gospel, Fox says.

"It is only through the power of Jesus and his gospel at work in our lives that the beauty of submission can blossom in our marriages," she writes.

File0001318670759As the culture wars rage on and marriage is redefined and determined by court decisions and lack of decisions, the church must stand firm on the Word of God. This is easily said, but the church's history regarding the fidelity of marriage is not unmarred. One of the reasons the church suffers when speaking out against same-sex marriage is that many Christ-followers have viewed marriage as little more than a contract rather than a covenant relationship. This has been evidenced by the increased level of cohabitation and high divorce rate from those who claim to be followers of Christ.

I have heard some declare that "we need a revival in our land." 

I don't think so. You cannot revive that which has always been dead.

We do need a revival in our churches and it begins with a revival in our homes. We need Christian husbands to step up and be spiritual leaders. We need Christian wives to live out biblical (not cultural) submission. We need revival in our Christian marriages. Until the church as a whole gives intentional focus on the health of biblical marriages (which must be more than hosting weddings in a church facility) we will continue to suffer a spiritual leadership vacuum and settle for mediocrity in an area that requires excellence.

 


Our Next Steps In Orphan Care

A few years ago, it became very clear that God was leading the First Family in Orange Park to engage strategically in orphan care. We knew that steps would need to be taken in order to help those in our church fellowship as well as those throughout our community to view our church as a hub for resources and help for those fostering or adopting. It has been our desire to remove as many barriers as possible for families in our community seeking to enter the orphan care story. 

That's a lofty goal, especially in a culture where churches are often the last organization or group to come to mind in areas like this.

For years, fostering and adopting has been considered such a personal, family issue that the local church has not even been on the radar. It is our conviction, however, that the absence of the church from this story is not only a mistake, but sinful on the part of the church.

Orphan care

THE BIG 3

That is why we developed our "Big 3" emphaseis a few years ago to highlight and promote three areas of missional living deemed vital. These three - Global Missions, Church Planting and Orphan Care, are part of the DNA of our fellowship and allow us to fulfill and be obedient to the commands and expectations of God in our lives.

As for Orphan Care, we have come far. Yet, there is so much more to be done.

Currently. . .

  • We fully fund a missionary couple to serve at the Cabaret Baptist Children's Home, an orphanage and school in Haiti.
  • We increased sponsorships of orphans at the Cabaret Home.
  • We have partnered with the Florida Baptist Children's Homes and KidsFirst of Florida to provide the state-required PRIDE classes on campus for those seeking to foster or adopt. 
  • We provide facility space and transportation for KidsFirst of Florida for classes and outings.

ORPHAN CARE CHAMPION

Our next steps are already being put in place. Our church's previous Orphan Care Champion, Kaytee Jimenez now serves in Canada with her husband, Neil, as a church planter. She helped lay the groundwork for all that we are doing now. Our new Orphan Care Champion, Susan Feltner, is currently working to lead us into a strategy that provides even more for people in our church and community regarding orphan care. You may contact her for more information regarding orphan care through First at sfeltner@opfirst.org

WHAT'S NEXT?

In addition to the things we currently offer, some things in the works for the next few years include:

  • A strategic partnership with The Abba Fund, a non-profit organization that offers interest-free loans to Christian couples who are adopting and meet pre-determined criteria.
  • Connecting individual adoption stories into our framework for family discipleship so the adopton is a church-wide celebration, rather than just a family one.
  • Provide information to those in our community regarding available resources for financial helps, loans, grants, fund-raising, etc.
  • Provide "Where to Start" small group and information packets for families in the initial stages or "just kicking the tires" on the possible calling of fostering or adopting.
  • Provide "All In Orphan Care" small groups throughout the community.
  • Retreats for adoptive and foster mothers.
  • Offer respite care for fostering/adoptive parents.
  • Provide post-placement support to church members and those in the community through our partnerships with Florida Baptist Children's Homes and KidsFirst.
  • And. . .more.

This ministry will continue to grow as God leads us to focus in this area. As one of our "Big 3" emphases, our plans are to create such a fully functioning and resource strong ministry for those fostering, adopting (both nationally and internationally) or advocating for orphan care, that First Orange Park becomes one of the primary groups that those in our community think of regarding helps for the journey.

ORPHAN SUNDAY

November 2 is Orphan Sunday. This annual emphasis is set to remind us of God's call to serve Him by offering help and love to the orphans in our world. We will be emphasizing orphan care the entire month of November. We are excited how God is going to lead in this area for First. In truth, the best is yet to come.

ALL IN Intro from Arrow on Vimeo.