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Posts from December 2015

Linus' Blanket and the Story of Christmas

I received an email from one of our pastors, Patrick Hayle, this week. You may have read this before and as far as I can tell with my intense search of Snopes.com, this internet story is actually true.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Message

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Have you ever noticed that while Linus is sharing the real meaning of Christmas (in the television special "A Charlie Brown Christmas") he drops his blanket? Linus always carries his security blanket. Yet, he drops it just as he says, "Fear not."

 

As Charles Schultz realized and wanted to share in a very simple way...

  • The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.
  • The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.
  • The birth of Jesus allows us to let go of the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

Merry Christmas!

Oh, and for those who point out that Linus picks up his blanket after delivering his Christmas sermon, check out Jason Soroski's article on Crosswalk here.


Remember Our Church Planters/Missionaries at Christmas

It doesn't matter how much I say I'm going to plan better and be more strategic about Christmas ministry events and community connections this time of year, it always seems that when December comes, the calendar fills and things are left undone.

I'm writing this posting in a hotel room in Washington DC as I am attending a "Catch the Vision" Tour sponsored by the North American Mission Board in this city. I had dinner tonight with 30 other pastors and ministry leaders and reconnected with my friend and city missionary, Clint Clifton. Tomorrow, I will see Mike Godfrey, a church planter in the city who grew up in our church, was part of my youth group and is currently one of our sponsored and supported church planters.

Somewhere between the salad and the main course, it hit me that we (meaning our church) need to be sure to connect with our planters in the field. This is especially true this time of year. One of the greatest tools of the Enemy for those who have relocated and moved to serve the Lord on mission is the lie that "No one remembers you!" While we are striving to ensure that all our men and women serving in these capacities are remembered in prayer and through financial support, it behooves us to ensure they know they are remembered and supported.

This is a great time of year to give a tangible gift.

We have strategically partnered with a number of church planters/missionaries in our nation and throughout the world. Each has specific needs and most have spouses and children to support as well. While some have been sent from our church family or call our church family their home, all have great need and must be remembered regularly through systematic prayer and support.

It is also this time of year when people in our church are seeking ways to live generously (or as it's called in December...have the "Christmas Spirit") by helping those in need during the holidays.

Let me suggest that each day throughout the month (and it will likely continue throughout the year due to the fact a habit will be formed this month) we spend time praying for our church planters. For this posting, the information presented is clearly focused on the individuals and families supported by our church, the firstFAMILY. If you are part of another church family who has strategically partnered for Kingdom growth with other missionaries and planters, do so with those you already know.

Also, in addition to prayer, perhaps you will feel led to donate a gift to the planter/missionary and his family. If you'd like to do so through the church, you may with our e-giving option. Just click here.

Or, if you have gifts or cards or maybe toys for the children to donate, just bring them by the church office this week and we will forward them. (Remember, gift cards purchased in the US do not work outside the US.)

OUR CHURCH PLANTERS AND MISSIONARIES

 

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Michael & Beth Adams - Grassroots Church East - Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Trey & Rachael Brunson - Story City Church - Burbank, California
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Mike & Carrie Godfrey - Redeemer Baptist Church - Washington, DC
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Gunnar Ingi & Svava Maria Gunnarsson - Loftstofan Baptistakirkja - Reykjavik, Iceland
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Mike & Tanya Hauser - Starting Point Church - Burlington, Ontario
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Paul & Kristen Hoffman - Kaleo Community - Portland, Oregon
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Neil & Kaytee Jimenez - Toronto Church Planting - Toronto, Ontario
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Andrew & Anna Hopper - Mercy Hill Church - Greensboro, North Carolina
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John Robinson - Celtic Languages Team - Wales

 

 


#GivingTuesday, Tithing and Church Budgets

The designated shopping days are now branded.

There's BLACK FRIDAY, SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY, CYBER MONDAY and now GIVING TUESDAY. (All of these are now often designated with a "#" for social media purposes.)

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One day after Thanksgiving, you know, the holiday where we are to focus on the many blessings God has given us, a designated nasty shopping day exists. Some are pushing back on the overt marketing strategy.

“Black Friday has gotten out of hand,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of outdoor retailer REI, referring to the day after Thanksgiving when retailers heavily discount thousands of products. He told his 12,000 employees to “get outside” on a paid holiday instead of “spending it in the aisles.” “We’re closing our doors,” Stritzke declared, because “success goes beyond money.” Should it define our holiday, too? - The Benefits and Warnings in Black Friday by Michael Hendrix, ERLC

Saturday and Monday are also designated "spend" days and seek to either offer benefits to the businesses being overtaken by the big box stores on Black Friday or the consumers who'd rather purchase with "one click" on Amazon.com.

So, #GivingTuesday was inevitable, I guess.

I applaud the efforts of those making this special day of generosity happen. We partner with a number of ministries and non-profits who strategically use this designation to elicit more donations. 

What About Sunday?

Sundays are the first days of the week and have been designated the "Lord's Day" for centuries. Traditionally, it is when most church-goers gather together for worship. While we know the trends are shifting and changes are occurring, and churches gather on different days throughout the week at times, Sundays remain the primary "church day" for many.

To be clear, I believe in the principle of the tithe and of generous and sacrificial giving. I know there are many who love to debate the veracity of such teachings and while I will not call a non-tither evil, I do believe it is a sign of faith and a form of worship (as viable as singing, Bible reading and fellowship.) 

When a pastor begins to speak on tithing and giving, he is often categorized and therefore, either encouraged or as is more often the case, disavowed as one of those preachers who "always talks about money."

That reminds me of a joke...but I'll spare you.

Here's how I tithe. Knowing that the word actually means "a tenth" my wife and I have sought to honor God by giving the first tenth of everything we earn back to God through his local church. My daughter thought it was strange as a child when she asked why we gave to the church and then the church would pay me. In her little logical mind she thought we should cut out the middle man and just keep it all. Nevertheless, that developed into a teachable moment on generosity and tithing. We also were able to talk to her about the difference in tithing and offerings. 

By the way, I know the tithe was instituted in the Old Testament and was delineated for a different era, but believing that Jesus affirmed the practice as a form of generosity and God-focused worship in the New Testament, I find no issues with practicing and encouraging the tithe.

So we tithe.

Yet, apparently there are many who do not.

For some, the practice of not tithing is based on their biblical beliefs and while I differ in their interpretation, I can at least admire that there has been much thought put into their actions. In many cases of friends who hold differing views on tithing, their actions and generous giving is evidenced. In many cases, they actually are tithers, though they'd push back at that designation.

There is another group that refuses to tithe and their refusal is not based on biblical understanding nor on deeper thought. In truth, it's based on greed. These are the same folks who won't leave a tip for the waitress and use the excuse "They get paid well enough," while ignoring the reality that minimum wage for those who receive tips is lower than for other workers.

Then, there's another group. They give at times, but the concept of consistent, regular, sacrificial giving is a foreign concept to them. As a friend once told me, "They don't know what they don't know." A profound, yet true statement.

In our church, we are discovering this to be the case. 

I don't know any names of individuals or families, but those who manage our finances and input donations for record-keeping purposes have affirmed that many give regularly, but when a special offering is available (i.e. Turkeys for Christmas, Haiti Christmas Gifts, Global Missions Offerings, Building Fund, Church Planter Gifts, etc.) the regular gifts are divvied up among the offerings.

In other words, the offerings to the church's General Fund suffers as people don't increase their total giving, but just divide up that which they normally give.

While I appreciate this reality, it is clear that details on how many evangelical churches function financially is not wholly understood. In our case (and with many other churches) the general fund gifts go to pay the mortgage, electricity, water bills, salaries, maintenance, custodial, and other regular expenses. The "special offerings" for designated items such as those listed above are legally mandated to go for what they have been designated (as they should be.) 

What does this mean for us and for others? 

Well, I don't know about other churches, but for ours, it means that we find ourselves annually limping into the end of the year hoping for a great December to bring us out of the red and into the black regarding expenses. At this writing, we're about $50,000 in the red. Now, we have funds in savings, but trends are trends and the reality is that if we can end strongly this year, more resources will be available for new work in the next. And, to be clear, the "new work" is not just experimental outreach and ministry ideas, but opportunities to impact the community and world for the Kingdom.

Worried?

Nope. Not at at all. In fact, I'm fully confident that God provides (as he always has) the resources needed to do all that we are called to do. I just wonder if any in the local church are stumbling into the new year when we could be moving forward strongly together. 

It's like I said last Sunday, "Sometimes, we're moving forward, but with the brake on. It's like driving a car down the street without realizing the emergency brake has been left engaged. You move forward, but not at the speed you could or should."

So, donate annually to the non-profit of choice on #GivingTuesday, but let's not forget that every Sunday is #SacrificialSunday where we can give as a part of the fullness of our worship.

Generous Life - Give Radically from Generous Giving on Vimeo.

We have sought, as a church, to live generously and to model for the individual members of our church family what this looks like and what it means. 

Here are some past postings referencing the gift of generosity:

We have numerous resources available, as well as personal budget coaches at our church, to help with managing one's money as God would desire. Click here for more details.


Tebow's Sex Life Exposed

In the era of sound bites and Tweets, news comes and goes at light speed. Our cultural norm is to elevate athletes and celebrities to high status. If an individual has a large following on social media and in entertainment news, he/she is seemingly "always" in the news.

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From the Official Tim Tebow Facebook page

Tim Tebow is one such individual.

He burst onto the scene as a high school senior quarterback at Nease High School. At least, for those of us who live in the northeast Florida area, that was when we began to hear his name on the local sports reports regularly. I remember the drama that came when he declared where he would be playing college football. His choice to attend the University of Florida was celebrated by many in this area. I distinctly remember him giving a faux apology to his then pastor, Dr. Jerry Vines, for not attending the University of Alabama (I believe I remember that correctly.)

From his first "jump pass" for a touchdown as a Gator, Tebow cemented himself into the American entertainment and sports culture. He has found much success in his journey - Heisman Trophy winner, NFL first-round pick, leading his team to playoff wins and most recently as one of the talking heads at the SEC Channel's version of "GameDay Live." 

Tim's celebrity status has transcended football.

He is a celebrity and he knows the world is watching.

I have found that as Jenny Rapson recently wrote in her open to letter to Tebow on her blog: I know that people love to love you or they love to hate you.

Amazingly, for many the love/hate issues have to do with Tebow's statements about faith and Christianity. He has spoken consistently since a microphone was first thrust into his face, he has been winsome and not condescending. Some take issue with his touchdown prayer stance (which either affectionately or derisively became known as "Tebowing") but by and large, Tebow's walk as a Christian has been personal, clear and consistent. He even seems to have fun in life, which apparently frustrates some who struggle with seeing a good-looking, popular, athletic Christian enjoying life. 

Some of the love/hate has more to do with the logo on his football helmet while in college than his faith.

But, I digress.

Yesterday, I was told he was in the news again, but this time it wasn't about a potential tryout for an NFL team or regarding some antics at the SEC Network. This time it was about his love life and his breakup with his girlfriend Olivia Culpo.

Tebow has been open and clear about his conviction to remain chaste and a virgin until he enters into a biblical marriage relationship. That statement from a teenager or college freshman is powerful. However, it seems that many who heard him make these claims years ago just politely shook their head and quietly thought "Yeah. . .we'll see how long that lasts."

Tweet: Apparently a man with personal convictions is a rare thing. @davidtark Apparently a man with personal convictions is a rare thing.

From all reports, Tim has kept his vow of celibacy and is waiting.

And, according to news reports that are flooding the internet, this decision has cost him his latest relationship with Olivia Culpo.

As with most entertainment news reports (which used to be touted as "celebrity gossip") stories come out quickly even if all the facts are not known.

I think it is unfair to Tim and whomever he is dating at the time that all relationship details are presented to the world. I know, the argument is that if a person desires to be in the public eye, he/she is willingly sacrificing privacy. I have heard that for years, but it seems a pretty shallow excuse for spreading personal details. As is the case often, the persons whose details are shared end up being hurt, or at a minimum judged unfairly.

So, Tebow is in the news again because he is a good looking guy who has decided to remain sexually pure.

This is newsworthy?

Some people seem to be collectively shaking their heads as if to say "What's wrong with this guy?"

At the same time, the cultural shift that now proudly wears open sexuality like a new pair of shoes and proclaims victory of the "free love" generation is celebrated as progressive and evolved.

Tweet: The church struggles to be heard as we seek to minister to the refugees of the sexual revolution. @davidtark
 The church struggles to be heard as we seek to minister to the refugees of the sexual revolution.

As for Tim and Olivia - we probably will never know the full details regarding their breakup. And, we shouldn't.

In fact, one buried article on Us Magazine's webpage, regarding the breakup, states this:

Indeed, the Culpo source reiterates to Us that Tebow liked Culpo a lot, but her heart just wasn't ready for a new romance. "He was very into her," the source tells Us. "But she just got out of a long-term relationship, and was not interested."

However, that statement is not the one being tweeted. It is not the headline making rounds. The big story is that they broke up because Tim wouldn't have sex before marriage. True or not, the story reeks of an invasion of privacy, trivializes the sexual relationship between a man and woman, and while attempting to show Tebow as an old-fashioned prude, actually paints a horrible picture of Miss Culpo.

But, that's entertaining, right?

When all the dust settles and another celebrity story pushes Tim and Olivia off the trending page of Twitter, they will still be living their lives, seeking next steps and prayerfully, following God's lead.

Nevertheless, in the midst of this public fallout, there is value. Regardless what the dirty little details of this story truly are, this much is declared as true - Tim Tebow, a sports and entertainment celebrity who is immensely popular and has sought to speak consistently and in a winsome way about life and his relationship with Jesus Christ has taken a counter-culture stance on human sexuality and relationship. That position has given parents with young, impressionable children a jumping off point to talk about faith, sex and relationships in a healthy way.

From Jenny Rapson's open letter to Tim on For Every Mom, she says as much. . .

And now, thanks to the New York Daily News and the world wide interwebz, I also know that you’re not getting any (sex.) BY CHOICE. It seems you got dumped by this hot little number (no big deal, just Miss USA and Miss Universe) because you wouldn’t put out.

And it is BIG FREAKING NEWS! It seems everyone cares that you’re a virgin. THAT’S gotta feel kinda weird.

But Tim, trust me when I say, it’s her loss. And believe me when I say, words cannot express how grateful I am to you for not being ashamed to take a stand on premarital sex. Because although I don’t give two craps about football (sorry) I DO give two craps about teaching my kids that sex before marriage is not what God wants for us. That it is—dare I say?—wrong.

And Tim, I’ve got two sons, one on the cusp of puberty. And he DOES give two craps about football (and Jesus. Score!). And he thinks you’re pretty great because you love football and you love Jesus and I am 100% sure that at school today among his peers, he also learned that you love following God’s commands more than you love following your sexual desires. Because I am quite sure everyone in the 6th grade was talking about you and Miss Universe today.

And thank God they were. Thank God my son has someone super-famous and successful in the limelight saying the same things about sex that his dad and I are. Thank God and thank you, Tim Tebow.

My daughter is a little young for this conversation, but thanks to you, there are a lot of young girls reading this story today and realizing that there ARE men out there who will wait. There ARE men who will put God above themselves, who will do what’s right when it comes to sex. Because of you they now know that what the world tells them, that “no one waits”, is wrong. So THANK YOU again.

Tim, I don’t know how your heart is feeling today. Getting dumped is surely never fun. But may I encourage you and say that standing up for what you believe in is something you’ll never regret? I truly believe that, as much as I believe that you will find the RIGHT girl who is willing to wait for you, and willing to be 2nd in your heart to Christ.

I think she about sums it up.

I'm sorry Tim and Olivia's relationship is even newsworthy. I'm sorry I even know about it. However, there is redeeming value here as Rapson states. As for Tim and Olivia, perhaps those who declare to worship Christ as Tim does, should spend a few moments praying for these two who have now had very personal details of their lives (thought likely not fully accurate) spread across the internet. 

Tim - you're not my idol. You're not my hero. You are my brother in Christ. As a brother with a common Father, I pray for you. 

Olivia - I don't know much about you, but reports are you are a follower of Christ as well. That being said, I choose to not base an understanding of who you are based on flimsy reporting. It is clear that you deserve my prayers as well.

(Oh, I fully realize that odds of Tim and Olivia actually reading this blog posting are slim to none, but for those of us who claim the name of Christ, would you join me in praying for these two?)