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Posts from December 2014

The Shepherd Who Breaks The Sheep's Leg

I was reading this morning a portion of the book Conversation Peace by Mary A. Kassian and came across this story. I shared it with my wife and we both were encouraged and amazed at the simple truths revealed.

On one of her daily walks, a woman visiting Switzerland happened upon a sheepfold. Venturing in, she saw the shepherd lovingly tending a single sheep, which was lying on a pile of straw apart from the rest of the flock.

Sheep"Its leg is broken," the shepherd offered. Upon inquiring how such an unfortunate thing could happen, the shepherd sadly shook his head and explained that he had intentionally broken it. "Of all the sheep in my flock, this was the most wayward. It would not obey my voice and would not follow where I was leading the flock. On more than one occasion, it wasndered to the edge of a perilous cliff. And not only was it disobedient - it was also leading my other sheep astray. I had no choice but to break its leg."

Shocked, the visitor exclaimed, "But what will happen when it walks again? It won't follow you after what you've done to it!"

"Not so," replied the shepherd. "After I broke its leg, I took the lamb some food and it tried to bite me. But after letting it lie alone hungry for a couple of days, I went back. It not only eagerly took the food, but licked my hand and showed every sign of submission and affection."

"And now," he continued, "when this sheep is well, it will be the model sheep of my entire flock. No sheep will hear my voice so quickly or follow so closely. It will be an example of devotion and obedience. Breaking its leg was an act of kindness. Through its sufferings, it will have learned to follow."

Following the shepherd is always in the best interest of the sheep. I know many who are going through difficult times. In some cases, the difficulties are obvious attacks by the Enemy. In other cases, the challenges are self-made (still an attack by the Enemy, but one that was walked into knowingly.) Perhaps the challenges for those who are God's children are just instances where the shepherd has "broken their legs" for the purpose of saving them?

_____________________

Kassian, Mary A., and Betty Hassler. Conversation Peace: Improve Your Relationships One Word at a Time. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2004. Print.


"Unbroken" Is Broken Without the Epilogue

As has become a bit of tradition in my household, the family went to a movie on Christmas Day. After apologizing to the young ladies selling tickets and concessions for making them work on Christmas, we entered into the theater designated for the 8pm showing of "Unbroken." 

This film had been promoted for weeks. The biography by Laura Hillenbrand had been a NY Times Bestseller for months. The buzz about Angelina Jolie's directorial debut was strong and with such negative press about the Sony comedy "The Interview" and the only other real opening day competition being "Into the Woods" it was no surprise to see the theater packed for this film.

"Unbroken" is the amazing story of survival and life-change of American Olympic track star and World War II POW Louis Zamperini. For sports and military historians, as well as those who follow the history of the Billy Graham Crusades, Zamperini's story is well-known. However, for most people, Louis Zamperini's story is being heard for the very first time.

In the late 1950s, Universal Studios secured to the rights to Zamperini's story. They intended to produce a film with Tony Curtis portraying Louis. The film was never made, but Universal held onto the rights. When Hillenbrand's book hit shelves and shot up the NY Times list, it was inevitable that a film would be made.

There are numerous reviews of the film online now. The reviews swing from "Loved it!" to "Disappointed" and every level between. 

Some pan the Angelina Jolie direction of the film, but most likely due to a distaste for Jolie rather than actual dissatisfaction with her direction. 

Others dislike the portrayal of "The Bird" by Japanese pop-star Takamasa Ishihara. It is Ishihara's first feature film and with that taken into consideration, he performance was definitely above average.

The celebrated Coen brothers are credited with the script and while there are some great lines in the film, the dialogue was not excellent. 

10387292_697866970284464_9113511582935429008_nI have not yet read the book, but did receive it for Christmas. Therefore, I did something that I wish I hadn't - viewed the film before reading the book.

I'm not a film critic (I just pretend to be on my blog) but overall, I enjoyed the film. I admit that I entered the theater wanting to enjoy the film, and no doubt that led me to like it more than others may. However, since I'm now a pretend critic, here are some thoughts I had during the viewing (SPOILER ALERT):

  • The back-story of Louis as a child was good, but seemed choppy. I know the film had to hurry and get to the POW camp, but there just seemed to be more to his upbringing and entrance into the track & field world that should have been told.
  • The Olympic scene in Berlin was great. The Jesse Owens cameo was nice, as a reminder of the times and the biggest story of the 1936 Olympics.
  • Loved the line about running in the Tokyo Olympics being the true goal for Louis. I knew this would come full-circle.
  • The time in the life-boats with Louis, Phil and Mac seemed to take forever. Maybe that was the point, but that portion of the film seemed much longer than it needed to be. On a side note, while watching this part of the film, I could not help but think of my friend Edgar Harrell and his account of beging stranded at sea with others from the USS Indianapolis upon its sinking. His story is incredible and has been put in book form (and should be a movie as well) under the title "Out of the Depths."
  • When Louis and the boys catch the shark and beat it to death in the liferaft, I chuckled a little. This really happened, I'm sure, but it just seemed over the top.
  • When the shark jumped up to attack the men, my daughter and just about half the audience jumped out of their seats. That was worth the price of admission.
  • Jack O'Connell's portrayel of Zamperini was great. I believe we may have a new silver-screen superstar revealed in this film.
  • Watching life in a POW camp, as portrayed on film, is always heart-wrenching for me. As those I know who experienced this personally can attest, the despair and challenges just cannot be presented fully in a movie. However, I applaud the filmmakers for how they protrayed this.
  • The statements "If you can take it, you can make it" and others seemed overdone and a little too much like the motivational posters seen in some offices. 
  • The movie ended and the images and statements during the end credits were nice, but as many have stated, there is so much more to Zamperini's story left untold that I left the theater feeling that I was able to eat the appetizers and a few parts of the main dish, but didn't get the full meal and definitely missed dessert.

The average rating for the film on IMDB is 6.7 out of 10. That's about right, I'd say.

As for some of the criticisms I'm reading and hearing, here's my take:

Angelina Jolie does not claim to be a follower of Christ. She appears to be a big fan and friend to the late Louis Zamperini. Apparently, she desired to make this film as an homage to him and sought his approval along the way. Louis was a Christian. His life was forever transformed by Jesus Christ. There are definitely large portions of his story that are covered in the book by Hillenbrand, but omitted from the film. Some are offended that Jolie didn't cover these aspects. I'm not offended because I would never expect her to understand fully the impact of Christ upon a life, having not (based on her own faith statements) never experiencing this personally. It's hard to convincingly portray that which you do not know.

Therefore, I believe she did a fine job of telling a portion of Zamperini's story. Louis' family apparently approves as well.

Nevertheless, there is a "rest of the story" that reveals the depths of transformation and life-change in Louis Zamperini's life. My friend, Rick Wheeler, recently shared this on his Facebook page. Here is a portion of his posting:

The story of Louis Zamperini is about the enduring and resilient human spirit. His triumph over everything life threw at him is unquestionably one of the most inspiring stories of modern history.

But there is a bigger and deeper story that the book presents that the screenwriters and the director of the movie missed: When Louis came back from the war, he was deeply wounded - not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. His hate for his captors and for "the Bird" prison guard in particular created a new prison in his life. One he could not escape from or endure by his resilient spirit. He was so tormented by his inner demons and nightmares of his captivity that he turned to alcohol and violence. Before PTSD was something doctors knew about, Louis' life was out of control and headed toward a destructive end.

Then, as a last ditch effort, his wife invited him to a Billy Graham event in 1949 in Los Angeles. That night, Louis acknowledged that he was broken and gave his heart to Christ. According to his own interviews, he had been experiencing nightmares every night since returning from his imprisonment. The night he was transformed by the gospel, he was freed from this torment and the nightmares immediately ceased. His faith was not just a crutch to get him through, it became his pathway to healing that would take Louis back to Japan on a mission of forgiveness. Louis wanted to free his former captors from the prison of guilt and shame he knew they were experiencing. The human will does not lead you to this kind of compassion, surviving a tortuous war and beating the odds does not transform a life in this way. The most incredible element of Louis' life was omitted from the movie. The pathway to redemption is not survival and resilience (if I can take it, I can make it) it is forgiveness that only comes from acknowledging that we are broken. The movie leaves the viewer with this false hope that extraordinary human effort is sufficient to overcome the internal and external conflicts of life.

I know that Louis and his family are pleased with how the movie portrays his faith and I would never want the movie to be presented as a religious film - on the contrary, I want the full truth of Louis' story to be told....because it was the part about surrender to Christ and forgiveness that met me at a broken place and brought healing.

The movie leaves this part of the story to text pages during the final credits. Camille (Rick's wife) and I could not believe that part of the story was left on the editing room floor. Overcoming adversity is always a great story. But the end of the war was not Louis' salvation as the movie depicts - in fact, the end of the war sent Louis careening out of control. Only Jesus can transform a life that has been so brutally tortured and change it into a force of forgiveness and healing. Resilience is not enough - only the gospel story will get you through your worst day. 

I agree with Rick in his assessment. He says more about the film and the book in his posting on Facebook. While I enjoyed the film, it did feel incomplete. I have told people that it is a good film. I believe it is. However, I wouldn't say that it's a great film. 

Here's why I believe this film is good. It will lead many to want to know more. Sure, many  will watch the film, leave the theater and say "Hmm, pretty good movie. Now let's go see another." However, others will be intrigued by Louis Zamperini's story and they'll want to know more. Some will read Hillenbrand's book. Others may read Zamperini's autobiography or perhaps watch the documentary produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Louis Zamperini's story is incredible. It's inspirational. It's challenging. Yet, until one knows the full story, it will always remain incomplete. 

Ultimately, until Zamperini realized he was "broken" he could never discover completion. He surrendered to Christ, was made whole at that moment and now is home. His story continues to be used by God to draw others to Himself.

And that is good.

______________________________________

Books & Documentaries referenced & recommended:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

After Unbroken: The Rest of the Louis Zamperini Story by the BGEA

Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II by Louis Zamperini & David Rensin

Don't Give Up, Don't Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini & David Rensin

Out of the Depths: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival,  Courage & the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis by Edgar Harrell & David Harrell


Random Thoughts About the American Church

Tony Morgan posted a blog earlier this week titled "20 Politically Incorrect Thoughts on Church in America" that did exactly what he intended. It was like petting the fur on a cat backward. . .not smooth, and irritating to the cat. 

But it was truth that needed to be said.

Unsplash_52c319226cefb_1Maybe it's that our generation is one that has great difficulty with status quo and "going through the motions" but I find many formerly young (at age 46, as a pastor friend told me yesterday, I'm too old to be young and hip and too young to be old, so I'm just. . .46) pastors struggling with the machine known as church and wondering if anyone is asking the hard quetions any longer.

So, inspired by Tony, here are some thoughts on the American church that have been ruminating for years in my crowded head. . .

  • The church that advertises it's "for families" needs to stop separating every family member from others once they arrive on the campus.
  • Why must Wednesday services/activities/events be a total of 3-4 hours long? It's the middle of the week. People need to go to work on Thursday. Kids need to go to school. Homework has to be done. This schedule is killer.
  • Churches call a lot of things missions which are not.
  • Churches call a lot of things missional which are not.
  • Churches like churchy words.
  • Many churches have a social media presence, but they're terrible at using them effectively.
  • Churches know silo ministries are deadly, but we've done them for so long, it's hard to think differently.
  • We know the "scorecard" is flawed, but we keep using the same one.
  • Some people do not need to sing solos at church (or in karaoke bars, either.) This is because we live in the age where the first week of American Idol is littered with a few singers and a lot who think they can sing, our crowds (which should be congregations) often become mini-Simon Cowells (or whomever took his place.) Therefore, bad singing becomes a distraction rather than an invitation to worship.
  • We like to let others worship for us.
  • Just because the music is loud, doesn't mean it's good.
  • Just because the music is soft and traditional, doesn't mean it's good.
  • Singing in church to a CD track is a good option, but to the unchurched, it's still bad karaoke.
  • Why do churches still vote whether or not to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission?
  • American churches like to send teams to Christians in other places to show them how to do church rather than serve and make disciples.
  • People get to work on time all week long and kids get to school on time for five days, but on Sunday mornings, the start time is still viewed as a suggestion for many.
  • For many, the music and worship that begins the corporate worship service is like the previews and trailers shown prior to a movie. It's good, but okay if you miss it.
  • We decry the cultural obsession of creating celebrities, but do the same thing with prominent pastors and singers.
  • We like to host concerts and other entertainment events and call them ministry or evangelistic rallies to make us feel better about hosting these in church buildings.
  • We let people retire from ministry.
  • We celebrate things that do not matter while ignoring the life-changing service some are experiencing.
  • We love God and love America and sometimes we mix up which one is to be worshipped.
  • Until churches integrate their leadership, they won't reach continually growing diverse communities.
  • Disciples are made through strategic relationships, not in large groups. So, to be better at "making disciples" the integrity of the small groups needs to be guarded as more vital for health.
  • God is doing some amazing things in and through the churches in America. Nostalgia makes many believe the best days are behind us. That simply is not true.
  • We sometimes confuse "winning the lost" with "winning an argument" and spend too much time on the latter and lose the first.

 


Silent Night - One of the Best Traditions Around

It's Christmas season and the carols are out, in abudance, being played EVERYWHERE! ALL. THE. TIME.

While "Silent Night" goes down as one of the most popular carols of all time, there is another "Silent Night" which is pretty incredible, in it's own right.

You probably already know about this tratition. It' takes place at Taylor University, a Christian school in Indiana (where the primary religion in the state is basketball.)

Every year, on the Friday before final exams, there is the annual "Silent Night Basketball Game." Students remain completely silent in the packed out gym (wearing some pretty elaborate pajamas and other costumes) until the 10th point is scored by the home team.

At the 10th point, the gym erupts.

So, here's this year's Silent Night. . .

 


How We Can Help In the Aftermath of the Tragedy In Bradenton

Many of you have already heard, and some in our church family have direct connection with the church and families involved. 

Here are the details of what happened in Bradenton last week from our Florida Baptist Witness as written by Keila Diaz.

BRADENTON—At approximately 1:20 Thursday afternoon, officers responded to a shooting at Bayshore Baptist Church. When officers arrived on the scene they discovered one deceased victim, who has been identified as Pastor Tripp Battle by a member of the church.

Deputies in Manatee County are looking for Andres “Andy” Avalos for questioning regarding what appears to be a triple homicide, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

While investigating the shooting at Bayshore Baptist, deputies learned of the possibility of other victims at a residence located at 1208 67th Street NW in Bradenton. They found Amber Avalos and Denise Potter, both deceased. 

Amber Avalos was the nursery and children’s director at Bayshore Baptist.

E.W “Karp” Carpenter, a member of the church since the 1950s, told the Bradenton Herald that Mrs. Avalos “was a quiet person who did a great job with our children.”

Officials from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office say that the two crime scenes “are obviously connected” and that there were three people at Bayshore Baptist at the time of the shooting, including the shooter.

Avalos is still at large and should be considered armed and dangerous, according to sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow. The 2003 gold Chevrolet Suburban Avalos was last seen driving was found at a Walmart store located at 6225 State Road 64.

Battle is survived by his wife, Joy, and their two children.

Carpenter said that Battle “was a great pastor” and that the church’s congregation grew from 30 to more than 100 under his stewardship.

“He was 31 years old and would give you the shirt off his back,” Carpenter said.

Battle is the son-in-law of Keith Johnson, pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in Miami.

Wayside Baptist released this statement:

“Please join together in prayer for the family of Pastor Keith Johnson. His son-in-law, Pastor Tripp Battle, was shot and killed today. He is survived by his wife (Keith and Rhonda’s daughter), Joy, and their two children.

“The Johnsons are on their way to Bradenton. Please do not call or contact them at this time. Please pray for the safety of the family and their consolation in this tragic loss. More information will follow as the details become known.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Thank you for your prayers.”

Since this article was written, the Children's Director, Amber Avalos's husband has been arrested. The families of Tripp Battle, Amber Avalos and Denise Potter all need our prayers. 

Prayers for the families involved are the primary need and the best we can offer as help at this time.

However, it has come to my attention through other pastors in our Florida Baptist Convention that Tripp, like many SBC pastors, did not have any life insurance and even though the church will do a valiant job in ministering to Joy, the children and others affected, the sad reality is that initially, Joy and her children will be facing some pretty significant financial issues over the next few weeks and months.

Some have asked how they can help, and we know and affirm that prayer for the family must be primary. In addition to prayer, we know that God may lead many of you to offer a financial gift for Joy and her children at this time. Maybe as a family, a small group, Sunday School class, or just as an individual, you can offer some help for this family.

In order to make this as simple as possible, we have set up an E-giving link on our website (and available in this email) so that you can login and make a financial donation. I know that the E-giving program will ask for your name, address and phone number and you may wish to remain anonymous. Rest assured, that information is solely to ensure that your donations via your bank card or bank account are verified. We will not disclose the names of those making donations, and as always, all financial details are secure and protected.

If you wish to write a check or donate with cash, please use an envelope and just write on the memo line of the check or the envelope "BRADENTON" and mail it to the church office (or place in the offering plate on Sunday.)

The church address is:

First Baptist Church
1140 Kingsley Ave
Orange Park, FL 32073

All monies collected for this family will be sent to Joy Battle after the first of the year.  No funds will remain in Orange Park and Joy will be informed that the gift she is receiving comes along with many prayers from the members of First Baptist Church of Orange Park and others in our Jacksonville Baptist Association & Florida Baptist Convention networks.

Click below to make a donation:

Give here

 

 


Creative Sermon Themes I Backed Away From

I am always challenged by the creative ones in ministry. At times, I have some pretty creative (well, I think so at least) ideas for sermon themes, but because I either think of them too late, they're too expensive to complete or I think about it more deeply, I pass and end up with just another "non-creative" series.

Here are some of the ideas that I have had over the years that never made it to the "big church."

  • Ar124796242875242"Get the Monkey Off Our Back" - A series about debt and finances. I had this idea of using the "monkey" as an image of debt and the saying "monkey on my back" as the theme. I even contacted the Jacksonville Zoo and was working on having cages on the stage with monkeys in them during the service. Yes, this was going to happen, but I eventually decided against it due to regulations on having monkeys on a stage requiring a zookeeper and the reality that no one would be listening to anything I was saying, well. . .because, there would be monkeys on the stage. We were going to use "Planet of the Apes" movie clips as well, but couldn't figure out how to edit the famous Charlton Heston line to be "church-appropriate."
  • "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - We had a series a number of years ago that used "Wizard of Oz" imagery. I'm not sure what the series was about, but the local dinner theater in Jacksonville  was actually running "Wizard of Oz" and we booked the star playing Dorothy to come, in character, on a Sunday morning, complete with Toto, to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I was voted down in staff meeting on this one, so I cancelled the singer (still paid her) and went on without the special guest. I regret backing up on this one. 
  • "Civil Wars" - This theme never really got off the ground, but was going to be a teaching series on division among believers. We have a church member who is a Civil War reenactor and we were going to have the entire stage set up with Blue and Grey uniforms, tents, guns (probably not a good idea in a church) and other props. 
  • "Live Long & Prosper" - Yes, it's a Star Trek theme. This one continues to be a discussion between one of our parking ushers, who is a big fan of the series and me. So far, this has not gone beyond that stage, but there are numerous phrases from the show (TOS - that's "The Original Series" for those who are not "Trekkers.") that have been suggested, such as "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. . .or the one." The thought would be to have different people on stage wearing the red, gold and blue shirts from the series. However, it should be noted that you do not want to be the designated "red shirt." You probably wouldn't make it through the service.
  • "Mayberry" - I had booked a Barney Fife impersonator from Missouri to come and do his show during a Sunday morning service time as the month's theme revolved around the "good old days" when things were simpler. We were even going to use the Rascal Flatts song "Mayberry" as a theme. We ended up canceling the impersonator and scratched the series, much to the chagrin of the TAGS Rerun Watchers Club (TAGS - that's "The Andy Griffith Show" for those who are not in the club.)

There are others. Maybe one day these series will see the light of day. It should be noted that we have done some creative series in the past. However, just because they were deemed "creative" doesn't mean they were good. Most were just weak copies of popular slogans, much like the really bad "Christian T-shirts" you see around town.

  • DCP_3544"Super Hero" - the time I had the 6'4" Superman statue on the stage, which, by the way, caused me some grief. Some said "You're worshipping Superman!" and one dear lady whose eyesight wasn't too strong was upset that "That lady in the red dress just stood on the stage during the entire sermon." Yes, she thought Superman was a lady and his cape was a dress.
  • "Lost & Found" - using imagery from the viral television show "Lost."
  • "SonTrust" - using a pretty weak "copy" of the SunTrust Bank logo.
  • "Desperate Homelives" - yep, a copy of Desperate Housewives.
  • "God the Builder" - for the parents of preschoolers who knew who Bob the Builder was.
  • "Born Again Identity" - sorry, no Matt Damon look-alike was booked for this one.
  • "Watchoverya" - another poor attempt at humor. A copy of Wachovia's logo.
  • "Classic Rock" - I really liked this one, but it was likely just an excuse to play "Boston" and "Kansas" music in the worship services.