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October 2015

Posts from September 2015

A Church That Calls Out the Called

As I was preparing to preach the ordination sermon for Robert L. Powell last Sunday morning, I started writing down names on my church bulletin of men and women who were (and in some cases, are) members of our church who in the past said "Yes" to God regarding the calling to full-time Christian ministry. Of course, as I began to write down the names, it became clear that I would miss some. Nevertheless, here is a sampling of some of the names of those who have been a part (even if just for a short time) of the ministry at our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) who have stepped forward in answer to the call to serve. In some cases, there are couples who serve together. In most cases, many are still serving in ministry full or part-time (pay is the only part of ministry that is part-time, by the way.) Here's a portion of the listing, in no particular order, of those who have or are serving on ministerial staff at a local church, in a ministry, on the mission field. These are in no particular order:

  • Eddy & Monica - worship pastor, worship leader
  • Art - evangelist and pastor
  • Susan & Karl - missionaries
  • Karla - worship leader
  • Kerrie - missionary, church staff
  • Shanna - church ministerial staff, pastor's wife
  • Andy - pastor
  • Michael - church ministerial staff
  • Heather - minister's wife
  • Neil & Kaytee - church planters, missionaries
  • Jason - missionary
  • Brian - church ministerial staff
  • Brian - men's pastor
  • Robert - children's pastor
  • Brandon - student pastor, worship pastor
  • Lee - associate pastor, group home leader
  • Michael & Carrie - church planters, missionaries
  • Jon & Mandi - church ministerial staff
  • Nik & Mandy - church ministerial staff, children's minister
  • John & Monica - orphan care ministry, director of orphanage
  • Austin & Nicole - church ministerial staff
  • Kenzie & Ryan - church ministerial staff
  • Crystal & Jacob - church ministerial staff
  • Callie - Christian camp staffer
  • Patrick & Selena - mercy ministries pastor
  • Scott & Brittany - church staff & mission support ministry
  • Boyd - pastor
  • Curtis - missionary
  • Patrick - military chaplain
  • Nicole - missionary

Now, here's the problem with this list. . .I know I've left some off. I don't, at this time, know which names have been left off, but I am getting older, so I know I've left some names off. So, if you would add names of those who were a part of our church for a season (and that could be through the student ministry) who have answered God's call to full-time ministry in the comments below, I would appreciate it.

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Following the ordination of Robert (Bobby) Powell on Sunday, one of our deacons shared with me this truth:

"If all those over the years who have said 'yes' to the calling had stayed in their small groups and in this church over the years, we may have a couple of dozen more in the seats on Sunday, but think of all the hundreds who would not have been reached by these faithful men and women."

It's true. While I affirm the sovereignty of our God and the reality that He doesn't need us, I celebrate the reality that He so chooses to invite us into His great story.

All Christians are called by God to serve. Some are called to the noble role of pastor and many others to serve in full-time ministry. The church is God's instrument to affirm the "calling out of the called." 

I am humbled by how God has done so here and how He continues to draw men and women to Himself.


Talk Is Cheap - Part 3 "The Ordination of Robert Powell"

09-27-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 3 - Calling Out

I have had the honor of seeing many young men and women step up and say "Yes" to God regarding calling into ministry. As I reflected on the men and women serving Him in various churches, missions, ministries and even in the workplace that I have had the honor of knowing over the years, I have been humbled by God's grace.

Yesterday, we had the privilege of licensing and ordaining Robert L. Powell to the Gospel Ministry. Robert grew up in Orange Park as a regular attender and member of First Baptist Church. At age twelve, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and as a high school senior, he said "yes" to the calling into full-time ministry. He has since graduated from The Baptist College of Florida and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Children's Ministry Assistant Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Baker, Florida.

He has been called out, equipped, sent out and set apart for God's glory and His ministry. 

Robert Powell Ordination


Talk Is Cheap - Part 2

09-20-2015 Talk is Cheap - Part 2 - On the Team

Ever tried out for a sports team as a kid and discovered, much to your surprise, that when the final cuts were made, you were NOT on the team? That was my seventh grade baseball experience and effectively shifted me to basketball and a career of bad church softball.

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There is a truly awkward feeling to show up at at party, thinking you are in the right place, only to discover that you weren't really invited. 

Sometimes people feel this way in church or around believers. It's not a clique issue (though those are issues) but one of family. When the conversations go places spiritually and you just feel lost, thinking "What are they talking about?" there is a sense that you're standing at the punch bowl at the party, but truly aren't part of the group.

Some, tragically, have committed their lives to church or religion and missed Christ in the process. This type of faith is a superficial, dead faith and when trials come, is revealed for what it is.

Maybe this is why there are so many non-attending church members in our churches today, relegated to the "Whatever happened to them?" files.

This message looks at James chapter 1 and digs into this reality.

Yet, here's the good news of the Gospel - there is an open invitation to join the family of God. The gift of salvation awaits. Listen to this message and if you need to talk to someone personally about where you stand with Christ, comment below.


A Church for Football Fans? Could This Work?

There are some things that identify my community every fall. I live in Jacksonville, Florida (well, actually a suburb of Jacksonville.) When I meet people from out of state, I find that they have heard of Jacksonville, but aren't too sure where on the state map it is located. So, just in case you need a geography primer, Jacksonville is located at the "bend." We are located in the northeast corner where the panhandle meets the Atlantic Ocean and turns south.

Jacksonville is the kind of area where people who are transferred here due to work (CSX and US Navy, mostly) decide to stay after retirement. 

It's the "biggest little town" I've ever known with over 1 million residents.

I would say the largest religious preference in our community isn't Baptist, Catholic or another denominational tagline, but would have to be "Football."

Every fall, the weekend schedules for many center around high school, college and professional football.

Like many, I too am a fan and love to cheer on our local teams and sit back and watch the roller coaster of emotions of others in our community when their teams fail to perform to expectation.

Back when I first moved here, this city was as excited as I have ever seen it. The NFL had awarded Jacksonville with a franchise that would dramatically change this "little big town" (not the country band, BTW).

I did exactly what others did at the time. I jumped on the bandwagon of fans at the outset and put aside my other allegiances to become a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. I was at that first Monday Night Football game when the Jags beat the Steelers in the last seconds. Wow!!! What a night. The years of Brunell, Boselli, Thunder & Lightning and playoff runs were unbelievable. While the most recent years have tested the faith of those who love the teal and black, the Jags are still our home team, and I'll remain a fan.

So, as I think back to those first seasons, I remember when many local pastors would preach sermons that intended to guilt their church members regarding their Sunday activities. In other words, beyond the beach and time with the family at the lake, there now was a community-wide gathering just about every Sunday at 1pm in the fall. This gathering was at the now-named EverBank Field as fans gathered to watch the Jaguars play.

Over the years, I have heard less guilt-driven sermons intent on making Christians feel bad for watching football on Sunday. Well, it wasn't really that pastors were upset that their church members were watching football on Sunday. It was more that pastors were frustrated that church members tended to leave early on Sunday to get to the game or stayed all afternoon and in the days of "Evening Worship" would miss the church gatherings.

Let's just say that "guilt-driven" sermons based on football viewing did little to sway the attendance patterns of fans. Now, the play on the field did much to affect attendance, but that's a subject for another day.

Churches Aren't Too Good At Creating Crowds

For years, churches in the west have attempted to create crowds for events, services and programs. Sometimes, they (we) have found success, but mostly these are short-lived. Sometimes, the crowd-gathering efforts seem weak and are often viewed as an end and not a means to an end.

The truth of the matter is that most churches do not create crowds well. When the money and effort is finalized and the crowd hasn't arrived (or the intended crowd, at least) the church faces feelings of failure.

Go Where The Crowd Already Is

The missional movement among churches helped leaders view things differently in the community. Over the years, I have shared this concept with our leaders and with other pastors. Rather than try to create a crowd, why don't we go where the crowd is already gathered?

In many cases, whether at community events, concerts, high school games, or festivals, our church has sought creative ways to serve at these events. Serving at these gatherings is much different than "crashing the community party" and gives authentic, practical opportunities for connecting with those outside the church walls.

GameDay Church?

That brings us to our new endeavor as a church. I asked the questions to our Leadership Team, "What if we brought the church to where the crowd is already gathered on Sundays in the fall? What if we 'did church' at the Jaguars game?"

 

The Jaguars play in EverBank Field. Located on the same piece of property, next to our minor league baseball park and basically in the parking area for EverBank is an old church building. This church building - Old St. Andrew's Church - is owned by the City of Jacksonville and maintained by the Jacksonville Historical Society. We have contacted the leadership of this group and initially were told we could rent the facility on Sundays, other than home game dates for the Jaguars. Then, we explained what we desired to do. We wanted to have a church service specifically on those home game dates, for fans who already have tickets, are early arrivers (tailgaters) and who may desire or at least be curious about possibly attending a church service prior to kickoff.

After a few weeks of conversations and negotiations, we are attempting to move forward with GameDay Church. Since the church building is not available on the date we need, we will be unable to meet indoors, but have been given permission to erect a large tent on their lot for this gathering.

So, on Sunday morning at 11am on December 13, GameDay Church will launch on the grounds of Old St. Andrew's Church. We are still in the planning stages, but on this day, the church will gather for worship, teaching from the Word of God and perhaps some time of fellowship (i.e. tailgating) with BBQ and other grilled items and maybe some games prior to the big game!

 

Gameday church 4

While we acknowledge that the majority of people who will likely attend are already church members/attenders in our community, we are praying that some of them will bring a friend or two to this church gathering in the parking lot of the Jaguars stadium? 

Tweet: Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward to go where the crowd is already gathered. http://ctt.ec/0JYLK+ Trusting the Gospel to do what it has always done, we are moving forward with the concept of going where the crowd is already gathered.

Gameday church 5

Is this a Mars Hill moment? There may not be many philosophers gathered as Paul encountered, but there will be a crowd, nonetheless. There will likely be some interesting conversations as well. 

Many in our community do not think about going to church on Sunday mornings. What if the church went to them? Sounds biblical to me.

More to come on GameDay Church. In the meantime, check out the website here - gamedaychurch.org.


The International Mission Board is Bringing Home Hundreds of Missionaries. Who's to Blame & What's Next?

Over the past few days, I have read numerous accounts regarding the financial situation of our International Mission Board and the announcement that up to 800 missionaries will be pulled off the field through early retirement and other means over the next six months.

Dr. David Platt, President of the IMB has been making the rounds to SBC agencies, seminaries and churches sharing this update and has recently posted an "OPEN LETTER" to all Southern Baptists regarding the announcement. The letter can be read in its entirety here.

 

David Platt, IMB President
David Platt, President of the IMB (Photo Credit: Baptist Press)

 

 

On or around September 10, many veteran missionaries throughout the world will receive word from the IMB that they are part of the 600-800 being offered voluntary retirement incentives (VRI.)

This is a difficult time for Southern Baptists, but it does not have to be so.

Once the IMB made the announcement, there have been varied responses from church leaders, church members, missionaries and pastors.

Blame the Churches

Some have taken the opportunity to express that churches are to blame for abandoning mission education programs such as RAs, GAs, Acteens and WMU. While there is a definite need for mission education, I believe that our current situation would not change even if more churches had these programs. (Our church no longer has these programs in place.)

There have been others who have shared that lower giving to the Cooperative Program has resulted in this. Some churches give to specific missions and missionaries by reducing their CP giving. Others do not give systematically to CP at all.

Some blame churches who have abandoned giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions as well) and that is what has led to this situation.

Blame the Church Members

Blame is being placed upon the shoulders of believers who are members of local churches, too. A church budget is only functional based on the tithes and offerings received by members (and guests.) Some push against the teaching of the tithe, but I feel it's not only right, but biblical. When church members are content to "tip" rather than "tithe" the overall receipts suffer and ultimately, giving to missions decreases. Now, this presupposes that the church where the members are giving are good stewards of funds received and using them for Kingdom purposes.

Blame the State Conventions

Bureaucracy builds automatically in organizations. It just happens over time. Some state conventions have taken the bold step restructure and move quickly to a 50/50 distribution where half of the collected funds from member churches stay within the state and the other half is given to the SBC, which includes IMB through CP giving. My state, Florida, is moving quickly to be a 49/51 state, where less than half stays in state. According to a posting on Baptist 21. . .

“If by decree tomorrow (impossible by our polity and rightly so), every state convention moved to a 50/50 split, then that would mean $55.4 million more to the SBC and $27.7 million more given to the IMB. That’s without any increased giving at all!” That would have been a big chunk of the IMB’s nearly $35million yearly shortfall!

Blame the Economy

The economy is always in flux. It always has been. The economic bottoming out a few years ago pushed many families, churches and non-profits into a frenzy. It's true the economy has affected giving greatly. However, it is time to stop blaming the economy for every financial issue we face.

Blame the IMB

There are some who are putting much blame on Dr. Platt and the trustees of the IMB. In addition to Dr. Platt, leaders from the past are being thrown under the bus as well. Questions relating to the "suddenness" of the announcement are pushing these blames to the forefront. I believe Dr. Platt answered well in his open letter:

No blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership. Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Ultimately, I praise God for the people who came to Christ over these last years because missionaries stayed on the field, and because we used our resources to keep them there.

Yet when staff and trustee leaders alike looked at the realities before us, we realized that plan is no longer viable, for we cannot continue to overspend as we have. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.

Blame Isn't Helping, So Now What?

There's definitely enough blame to go around, it seems. However, I'm not sure how helpful or healthy it is to continue playing the "blame game." The fact of the matter is that over the decades, God has used the SBC to impact the world for the Kingdom. He has allowed an incredible model to be developed that enabled thousands of missionaries and families to be on the field. The harvest is plentiful, I hear. The workers have always been few, but in these decades, we have had a good number serving.

Now that number is going to diminish.

It seems.

Is blame the best response? Maybe there's no reason to blame anyone? We're all in this together, it seems. And, just in case it has been forgotten, God was not taken by surprise here. So maybe, just maybe, He's up to something.

In the midst of this story, where there are people on all sides lamenting the realities of what will happen this fall, there is hope.

Though some pastors celebrate the downsizing of the IMB, likely because they love when things are new or restructured for better work, the reality is that these 600-800 people who will receive these notifications soon are just that . . . PEOPLE.

These are men and women who wrestled with a call from God many years ago to leave their homes and their culture to go "somewhere else" for the sake of the Kingdom. While it was likely adventuresome at first, even while on the field there were likely days when they thought "Did I hear God correctly?"

Yes, they heard God correctly and were placed in the center of His calling. In most places, they went to dark areas where the Light of Christ hadn't shown for years, if ever.

These missionaries are more than two-dimensional images on postcards plastered on our refrigerators. These are men and women of God, serving Him in full-time and long-term in areas where most of us will never trod.

Not all will accept the VRI. Not all should. What does that mean? It means that for many, as long as they are affirmed that God has not said "Go back to the States" they will remain on the field. Their funding will be changed. The IMB may not be able to offer what they have in the past. If fact, that's not a "maybe" that is pretty much a certainty.

Yet, for churches who are partnered with these missionaries, there will be a crisis of belief.

Many of our churches are the ones who sent out (or "cast out" as the original language in Matthew 9 states) these lifetime missionaries. For others, we have come alongside them through mission emphases, mission trips and a love for the people in the region they serve. 

I'm not exactly sure what this means for all, but in many cases, God will choose to leave these men and women on the field and then will speak to His churches regarding their support. 

In our church's case, this in no way will impact our giving to the Cooperative Program. Yet, we will seek God's lead on what to do with our missionaries. We may not be able to fully fund them, but perhaps, along with other means, those whom God has not said "Finished" to yet, will have the means to remain where He has called them.

For all of us, missionaries, pastors, churches, and church members, we must pray intently and strategically. We must have "ears to hear" and ensure that what we hear is God's voice and not our idea or plan to fix a decades long problem.

I support Dr. David Platt, the IMB and our Trustees. I know their decision has come after much prayer and seeking God. I don't like the answer that leads to removing missionaries. In fact, based on what I've heard and read, they don't like it either. Nevertheless, we are beyond just sending press releases and creating videos and begging churches to give more.

Don Dent, a Southern Baptist missionary recently posted notes regarding the decision on Facebook. In one posting, he states:

The loss of another 600-800 colleagues is going to be painful, just as the drawdown of 900 was painful several years ago. Let’s pray for everyone who will be affected. I am praying that a leaner IMB will actually be meaner. I am not implying that things will be better without these colleagues, because the failure to support them is tragic. However, the IMB will still be one of the largest agencies in the world, and one of the most effective.  Southern Baptists are going to lose some precious resources in this process, but God can still use the 4000 harvesters that remain.  The harvest is plentiful and the workers are too few, so unless God himself tells you to come home then sharpen your sickle and get back to the harvest.

Tweet: It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/RK00g+ It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives.  

Therefore, I am seeking the Lord of the harvest and waiting on His lead.

I pray our other SBC churches will as well.


What Does the Kentucky Clerk's Jailing Mean for Pastors & Churches?

It's been in the news for weeks, and finally it's coming to a head. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky is now nationally known and has is being jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her jurisdiction. 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15090318/5d2d5298-33b5-43e8-b25a-48b4b6dfa8a0.png
Credit Ty Wright/Getty Images

This was inevitable following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

I actually figured the story would center on a pastor first before hitting a clerk's office. Nevertheless, Kim Davis has become the face of latest battle between law and religious conviction.

Depending where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, Davis is either a woman of faith standing upon her convictions or the image of all that is wrong with religion in this country.

Her own stories of marital failures and infidelity are now coming to light and some are using those as proof she is a hypocrite regarding the faith argument. However, even in the NBC News story, it is clear that her religious convictions developed four years ago when she stated she had a "message of grace" from the Lord. That may not make any sense to most who read this, but for those who are followers of Christ, that would best be translated into a "crisis of belief" and a new birth moment. The old is gone and the new is here.

Her quote here makes it clear: "I am not perfect. No one is, but I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God."

To that end, it is clear she feels strongly about honoring God through her work and has been conflicted in this area regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Personally, I applaud her convictions and am praying for her. Though she is likely facing a losing battle in this case, she has sought to stand strong.

I'll leave it to others to dissect the legalities and the threats on religious liberty in this case. 

The Story I Predicted

One story that made headlines a week ago and has not been referenced much lately refers to something I shared with other pastors recently. For most of the pastors I know and serve alongside in our denomination, there is a solid agreement that they will refuse to oversee weddings between those of the same gender.

However, the question to my pastor friends was this, "Prior to a wedding, will you seek to discover if the man and woman standing before you were born the gender they now live as?"

I'm usually met with silence.

Tweet: As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address. As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address.

My prediction was that soon a pastor in our nation, who has strongly stated he would not oversee a same-sex wedding, would have a couple share with the media that, in actuality he did, unknowingly.

It already has become news in the case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk.

Here's the headline from The Guardian:

"Kentucky Clerk Unknowingly Issued a Marriage License to Trangender Man"

While I will be chastised for not referring to the transgendered man as a man, the fact of the matter is that in this case, a marriage license was issued to a couple who were born the same gender. Full story here.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/15090318/6973f55f-07f4-418b-873e-f9aeb7f3bd63.png
Camryn Colen and wife Alexis: Kentucky clerk Kim Davis ‘pretty much already violated her conscience by marrying us’. Photograph: Courtesy of Camryn Colen

Some may say that a same-sex marriage is different than this, but I would disagree.

What does this mean for pastors?

It means that as stories will continue to pile up and fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds regarding transgenderism and the other aspects of LGBT life, pastors must understand fully what is at stake for them. The SCOTUS ruling was not an end and now people of faith, who hold convictions against a redefined marriage will come under even more pressure as boundaries are stretched.

Pastors will likely have to add another question in their "Uncomfortable Questions" list for couples seeking marriage. In addition to "Are you both born-again followers of Christ?",  "Are you living together?" and "Are you engaging in sexual intercourse?" Pastors will need to ask "Were you born the gender you are now?"

It may be offensive to those being questioned, but it will likely become inevitable.

Will pastors be arrested?

Probably. At least some will be. Some probably should be (oops, did I just write that?)

There are voices in the legal world stating that those with religious convictions regarding weddings and marriages will continue to have their rights and their views protected, the reality is that most of us who hold firmly to what we deem at biblical teachings regarding marriage just don't believe those voices.

To be clear, I am opposed to same-sex marriage based upon my convictions of what Scripture states.

In full disclosure, there are those within the world of American Christianity and religion who state loudly their love for God and differ with me regarding the validity of same-sex marriage. I understand that difference and applaud and will fight for their right to differ, but it is clearly a difference. I respectfully disagree and believe God was clear in his expression of marriage and gender and identity.

So what do we do?

Well, before picking up protest signs and creating another boycott (maybe that should be avoided completely) pastors and all Christians should do that which God has told us to do.

Tweet: We must pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God. @davidtark Pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God.

We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that everyone in our culture has a biblical worldview and begin to live as the missionaries God has called us to be. 

Perhaps this needs to be our theme verse in this age:

 Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)


Lost Sheep Eventually Come Home

I saw this story in the news today about a sheep in Australia that wandered away from its flock and became lost. It seems that this sheep was in the bush, alone, for about five or six years.

Chris the Sheep
The very woolly merino sheep was spotted wandering near Mulligan Flats, a grassy woodland just outside the capital Canberra, by bushwalkers. (Photo: RSPCA via AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

The Bible is full of illustrations and parallels using sheep, shepherds and flocks. 

In Jesus' trifecta of "lost" parables found in the Gospels, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son) he challenges the religious leaders and explains God's heart for the lost and how he does what is needed to reach them. However, there is something in these stories that often is overlooked, at least by me. In each story the lost element (sheep, coin, son) belonged to the owner or to the family. There was a belonging that was evident in the genesis. So, the sheep was at one time part of a flock. The coin at one time was safely in the possession of the woman. Ultimately, the son was a full member of the family. He was not a stranger and held all the rights and privileges of sonship. Yet, in each story something happened. In each case, that which was home and in the right place became lost.

Is this a message on salvation? Perhaps. I don't discount that God seeks and draws all humanity to Himself. I believe that God desires that all be rescued and apart from a relationship with God through Christ, people are lost. 

However, in these situations, it seems that Jesus is speaking of those who once were a part of the flock, home, family (i.e. church.)

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus states. . .

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)

In the case of today's news story, the missing sheep remained lost for years. I'm sure the shepherds and others probably chalked it up as a loss, forgot about it and moved on. Yet, there he was. He's been named "Chris." Apparently, humans have a need to name animals of all kinds in order to feel better about them.

The news reports give this account on Chris' rescue: Chris was found near Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary outside Canberra by bushwalkers who feared he would not survive the approaching southern summer. He was found several miles from the nearest sheep farm. A bushwalker named him Chris after the sheep in the “Father Ted” television comedy series. (AP)

The photographs of Chris the sheep are incredible. I included it in this post above. They're sad and funny in that this animal, unbeknownst to himself, looked terrible. He had lived alone for so long that he likely thought that to be normal and had nothing been done to help him, likely would not have survived the coming summer.

Chris had no idea he was lost!

As I looked at the photos of Chris, I thought "That's what happens to Christians who never engage in the mission. They may be in the building, but they hide in the crowd. They settle for just sitting and soaking in the stuff of church."

In a very real sense, there is "lostness" among those in the church today. Like Chris, they don't even know they're lost.

Oh, and as for the the ones who are far from the church, who have run from it and abandoned its teachings and ultimately abandoned the Gospel. . .they look like this, too. Spiritually, at least. And they don't even realize it.

The best part of the parable as recorded by Luke, in my opinion, is this phrase - And when he comes home.

There are many in our churches praying for lost friends and family members and at times, the natural thing to do is lose hope. This story of a lost sheep gives a clear thought that the one who once belonged in the flock, though straying from truth, will be sought and will be found and will come home one day.

Tweet: Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/VRri4+ Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor.

Every church and many families have a "Chris the Sheep" in their story. 

Keep praying and keep believing. One day. . .hopefully soon, "Chris the Sheep" will come home.

What happens then?

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

____________________

The full story of "Chris the Sheep" as presented in the AP, can be found here.


Why the Jokes About Jenner Have to Stop

This has been a landmark year for advocates of the LGBT community.

In addition to the SCOTUS ruling that changed state recognition of same-sex marriage, a prominent celebrity (Bruce Jenner) slid to the far right of the acronym to announce that he is transgender and will begin living not as the gender he was born, but as a woman.

To be clear, I do not support the shift in gender that Jenner has and is going through. I don't even know the man, but my belief in identity and bestowed gender, founded on what I believe the Word of God to reveal, means that I cannot affirm this lifestyle choice. I wrote about Jenner's announcement here. I also believe that God loves Jenner as he loves all. Love, nevertheless, is not synonymous with affirmation and acceptance of life choices.

Jenner
CREDIT: Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images, Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Since Jenner's "coming out" as Caitlyn, the entertainment and sports media has pointedly fought to find more details about Jenner and this has effectively pushed him back on the cover of magazines, on the stage at awards shows and as the lead story on many entertainment "news" shows. Some say this was what he desired all along. Perhaps, but I doubt that was the driving force. 

It's Not About Political Correctness

In a culture where political correctness reigns and celebrities, politicians, and athletes spend more apologizing for saying or Tweeting things that have been labeled as insensitive by the self-proclaimed political correctness police, I am not calling for the end of Jenner jokes and other LGBT jokes for this reason.

Like most guys, I love a good joke. Like most jokes that are really funny, there's always a hint of truth in them. Sarcasm is easy for me. Humor that may offend some has always been a default for me as well. While I find no humor in jokes laced with profanity, racial stereotypes or hurtful words, there are times I have told jokes, or at least laughed at some that are hurtful. What's worse than couching hurtful language in a joke that may cause an individual to feel personally ridiculed is the hurt that takes place for God and His Kingdom.

It Is Mission Critical

When missionaries are sent to international lands, they are sent with a mandate - a Commission. This is to love God fully as they love people with the intent of leading people to the rescue that is found only in Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are not taught to "Americanize" the natives. They are not taught to look down on those whom they been sent to serve. They are not led to water-down the Gospel for any reason, just to be accepted either. They are sent equipped to live among the culture that does not know Jesus, or in some cases is loudly opposed to Jesus.

Christians in America are discovering that the mission field is no longer only overseas. It's not just on another continent where a different religion reigns supreme. The mission field is here. In some cases, the mission field is within one's home and family.

Our culture is growing more loudly opposed to Christ and Christians. The marginalization of the church in cultural life is upon us. Yet, rather than lament the reality, we must celebrate that God has seen fit to place us here, now, for "such a time as this." Apparently, he is equipping us to be His ambassadors and His church for a mission field that is very dark.

Love Wins

While #LoveWins has trended recently as a call for unity and celebration by the LGBT community, the truth of the matter is that Love who wins has already won. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And. . .lost people do not know that. Sometimes, they have been blinded to that truth because of religion, unfortunately.

So, Why Stop the Jokes?

Maybe you've never told or laughed at "gay jokes" or "transgender jokes." Or ... maybe you're like me. Here's why I feel the conviction to stop. I believe God has given us a unique opportunity to share His love and hope with those in our community who struggle with same-sex attraction and even deeply troubling gender issues. I know that previous statement is a challenging one, especially for those who are LGBT and are not struggling with it, by their own admission. Nevertheless, based on my faith convictions and understanding of Scripture, I would stand by my wording.

That being said, the Great Commission does not have an asterisk by it that eliminates certain people from our love through Christ. 

This is the biggest challenge - loving truly without affirming sin (and I mean any kind of sin - so don't think I'm just saying LGBT lifestyles. I do mean adultery, fornication, thievery, gluttony, etc.) If we can't love people who sin. . .well, we have to eliminate much Scripture.

Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier

I believe humor is a gift from God. It's not a spiritual gift. It's not even a primary gift. I just believe that God, in his sovereignty and glory has gifted us with the ability to laugh (at ourselves mostly) and circumstances. Laughter can be healing (Ever see "Patch Adams?")

However, jokes can be hurtful. 

How many times has someone said something hurtful to another and then tagged "just kidding" at the end, thinking that makes it all okay?

Tweet: If we're going to live as missionaries in a culture far from God, we can't continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach. @davidtarkIf we, as Christians, are going to be living sent, as missionaries in a culture far away from God, we cannot continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach.

  • It would be like a white Christian missionary being sent to a tribal area in an African nation and telling "black jokes"...
  • It would be like an American moving to Europe and continually making fun of European accents and customs...
  • It would be like moving to Miami and telling jokes that make fun of Cubans...
  • Or living in South Texas and telling Mexican jokes...

It would be like doing all these things and more and then expecting to be able to share the Gospel message with those you have just made fun of, expecting a good response.

Tweet: Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our "love."

I know, some of you are already poking holes in my premise by stating that the LGBT community is not a racial or cultural people group. I agree. It is different. I do not equate them as the same. I oppose the use of the Civil Rights Movement in our nation as a parallel to the LGBT causal movement of today. They are vastly different.

However, this is what we do know to be a reality. The LGBT community is just that - a community. In most cases, there is unbridled acceptance within the community (unless you are vehemently opposed and then there is no place at the table.) Most are not angry gay men or lesbians. Many just want to live their lives and be left alone. There are some (and they're loud) who advocate pretty harshly. Harshness often attracts harshness.

Love Without Affirmation of Sin

The church is going to have to make a decision in this world where the biblical worldview is being pushed aside and redefined by many (wrongly, I might add.) Some denominations in our culture are already capitulating. In other words, they are wimping out and have sacrificed the authority of Scripture and adherence to such for short-lived applause by those who really don't like them anyway. 

Tweet: The church must decide if people are really worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. @davidtarkThe church that stands firmly on Scripture and does not bend in this area, must decide if those within their membership (and there are quite a few) and those who are seeking God really are worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. 

While some say that's an offensive statement, I say no. If we truly love God then we can truly love people (all people, not just those who live with church approved sins). If we love people, we must show that love so that ultimately LOVE WINS. This is not a bait and switch. This is what we have been called to do.

We are missionaries to a culture that is as dark as any unchurched part of the world. Let's live well, live holy, live uncompromisingly on the Gospel and love well and tell some good jokes along the way, but let's not build unnecessary walls.