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Posts from October 2017

Thoughts on Marriage and Weddings from a Pastor's Perspective

As a pastor, I have the privilege and honor of standing before couples and presiding over services that unite them as husband and wife in holy matrimony. Over the years, I have learned some things about weddings and marriage. Many of these are things I wish I had been taught prior to getting married (as does my wife, because I think I would have been a better husband early on.) 

So, here are some insights...

Premarital Counseling is Vital

There are numerous online and face-to-face courses available for pastors to lead couples through prior to marriage. We have used many in the past and currently utilize Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott's SYMBIS assessment. SYMBIS stands for "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts." We have found it to be helpful, but as with any online assessment, it is only as helpful as the couples are honest and open to feedback. The key is the analysis of the data and the assessor's leadership and guidance.

Premarital Counseling Must Be Focused on Biblical Truth

The SYMBIS assessment offers great insight into personalities, conflict management, expectations, and more. These allow for questions to be asked and considered in the counseling session. SYMBIS' is not an in-depth Bible study, so I have found that looking through biblical teachings regarding marriage, the role of husband and wife, the challenges faced, etc. is invaluable. 

Some things that must be covered...

  • Biblical marriage can only be between a man and a woman - (Genesis 2:24)
  • Male and female are not genders to choose, but created by God intentionally - (Genesis 1:27)
  • Marriage is to be between Christians - (2 Corinthians 6:14)
  • Marriage is to last a lifetime - (Malachi 2:16)
  • Sex is reserved for the husband and wife - (1 Corinthians 7:2)
  • Premarital sex, even for engaged couples, does not honor God - (Hebrews 13:4)
  • Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant - (Matthew 19:6)

Insight from others such as Paul David Tripp and Jay Adams have helped as we look to Scripture for direction. 

Jerry Maguire Was Wrong

I have referenced the popular movie at times with couples (not an endorsement of the film, by the way) and now, I have found that many young couples have never seen the movie and therefore, do not know what I'm talking about. Nevertheless, there is a famous scene the film where Tom Cruise's character finally comes to grip that he is in love with Renée Zellweger's character, who happens to be his wife. Well...watch it below.

Sure, it's a romantic moment. It works for the film. Men and women alike go "I get it" and for Hollywood, this is pretty good. And "You had me at hello" sounds like it could be the name of a country song, but I won't go there. 

Yet, there's a problem. 

If one's spouse "completes them" then we have a big problem. No human being can bring completion for another. As Christians we know, well at least we should know, that only Christ brings completion. Once our "soul-mate" or whatever culturally devised term of endearment is attached to our spouse that places upon him/her a role that is reserved only for Christ, we devolve into practical idolatry. Disappointment at a minimum results.

Finances are a Big Deal

When one spouse has accumulated debt, once married, the couple has debt. Debt from student loans, cars, and especially credit cards is rampant in our society and younger people often do not see the problem until it is too late. Sometimes, age has nothing to do with these blinders. BTW - just paying the minimum on your credit cards will never get you free. 

Human-hand-holding-credit-card

Remember - debt makes you a slave (Proverbs 22:7)

There's no escaping this. Justifying your debt accrual does not make it okay. It especially does not make it go away. 

Now, having debt is no reason not to get married, but refusing to talk about it and work together to devise a plan to get out of debt is a huge issue.

When two become one, communication lines must be more open than when dating. 

While it may be acceptable to have separate bank accounts and credit cards in some cases, I believe those cases are rare. To be divided regarding income, debt, and other financial areas leads to division in the relationship and provides fuel for the enemy in his attacks. Simply put, it is not wise to keep financial details and accounts from each other. 

One spouse may say "How are we doing financially?" and the other respond "We're okay. I'll take care of it."

While that may sound comforting, it actually works to create discomfort, distrust, and ultimately division. 

Just remember, it's hard to be one, as God commands, when you continually live as two.

So, finances must be discussed openly. Plans must be make jointly. It is okay for one spouse or the other to take care of all banking and bill paying. That's not an issue. But secrecy and lack of communication is not God-honoring and not honoring of the marriage covenant.

So...I don't like prenuptial agreements either, because that foresees a divorce. There may be cases when it would be acceptable, but those are rare.

Whose Home?

When a couple marries, and we're speaking of a Christian couple who is not living together, often one spouse will move in to the other's home, even if for a short while prior to getting a new home.

Interior-of-modern-room

The husband and wife must both be aware of the challenges here. If the single man has a place, even if he's a neat freak and actually cleans up, that is a bachelor's residence. When the wife moves in and starts redecorating and moving things and giving the home a "woman's touch" it can create tension. 

The "my house" verses "our house" transition is real.

The same is true if the woman lives alone and the new husband moves in. 

There's no real fix here, but awareness of the stressors that could come must be made known. 

Parents, In-Laws, and Family Members

Here's my recommendation to parents - don't drop in on the kids unannounced. Don't do it. Ever.

This may seem strange, but I have stories of couples I have counseled. They married. Each have great parents and yet, there was this never-ending drop in that took place and the young couple was finding themselves in a position of trying to figure out how to tell mom and dad to stay away without offending.

So, since parents are older and hopefully wiser - stay away and give the couple time to figure out what it means to be married. 

If you have a key to their house (because they gave it to you) don't use it to go over when they're not home. Yes, I knew of one set of parents that did that. Mom would go over and listen to their voice mails, read their mail, put pictures on their refrigerator, take pictures off. Write things on their calendar, etc. She was off the chain and yes, it caused problems. That couple eventually divorced. It wasn't all mom's fault, but she certainly didn't help matters (especially when she encouraged her daughter to divorce the son-in-law.)

In a Christian marriage, we believe it is God who brings the couple together. Rarely, if ever, does God ask the parents or siblings of the new husband and wife for their approval. Family members need to remember this. New family members may not become best-friends, but they do become family. 

Here's a hard reality - sometimes it is best for the new couple to be transferred to a new city, away from current friends and family. It may not be, but in some cases, the forced reliance on God and each other allows for strengthening of the marriage. In other cases, that support system at home is needed.

Marriage is More Important Than the Wedding

The wedding is a commodity marketed well today. From venue rental, floral arrangements, online registrations, saying "yes" to the dress, and thousands and thousands of dollars spent on a one-day event, it is easy to lose sight of what God is doing. 

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In fact, even in the most beautiful weddings happening nowadays, God can actually be ignored, and left off the guest list entirely. We must remember that God created and ordained the marriage. He uses it as an image of Christ's relationship with his church. Marriage is God's idea, not society's.

Church weddings are becoming passé. That's okay because I have performed ceremonies in churches that ended up being godless as well (despite my focus and best efforts.) If the church is the people, then the building is not the focus.

Nevertheless, brides and grooms are now inundated with what must happen and occur for a wedding to be good. Those images rarely, if ever come from the Bible. They come from bridal magazines, TLC shows, and pressure to have the "best and most unique ceremony ever" that often looks just like all the other unique ceremonies that have happened over the previous years. 

Don't get me wrong, a beautiful ceremony is wonderful. My concern is that so much money and time and effort is spent on the ceremony being perfect and right that many couples are forsaking that which must be focused upon - the marriage. 

You can have a great ceremony and a terrible marriage.

You can also have a less than perfect ceremony and an incredible marriage. 

I fear far too many marriages end before the parents of the bride have finished paying the debt incurred for the "perfect wedding ceremony." 

Final Random Thoughts

Over the years, there have been many things learned. Here are some that just don't fit in any of the more important categories:

  • Your two-year-old niece or nephew is not more mature than others their age and probably shouldn't stand on the stage for the entire service.
  • Having the Lord's Supper is not good for evangelicals. That's an ordinance for the church alone.
  • Writing your own vows is great, unless you're a terrible writer and just downloaded something from the internet. In most cases, traditional vows are best.
  • Music is wonderful, but only when it's wonderful. A song in the ceremony that is God-honoring is good. Lady Gaga's latest hit...not so much. Save that for the reception maybe.
  • When your wedding is supposed to start at 1pm and it's outdoors, and it's 108 degrees, don't sit in the dressing room, in the air conditioning for an extra fifteen minutes making your guests sit outside in the heat. Be on time.
  • If you drop the ring during the ceremony, let the pastor pick it up. Otherwise, you're a YouTube hit.
  • If your best man or maid of honor forgets the ring, fake it. Get married. Find the ring later.
  • If everyone is not invited to the reception, tell the pastor before he invites everyone to the reception.
  • To the groom - make sure your bride likes the ceremony. Defer to her. This is best. No one comes to a wedding to see the groom.
  • If you use candles, don't wrap flammable greenery around the candelabras. This happened at our church. It's funny now. I think. We still talk about it, though the bride wishes we didn't.
  • If you have a reception and people are there waiting to eat, don't take another hour for pictures without letting guests go through the buffet. They're hungry. They love you and want to see you enter, but hurry up already with those pictures.
  • As Pastor Tommy Nelson once said, "This is the last time she (the bride) will be ready on time and this is the best he (the groom) will ever look."
  • When the pastors says "We can't to that" that means don't do that, whatever that is, regardless if you saw it in a movie, at another wedding, or if your mom or wedding coordinator wants it done.
  • Don't try to force everyone to dance at the reception, especially tall white-guy pastors who just would rather not. Not that he doesn't have moves like Jagger, but some things are best left to the living room at home while playing Just Dance on the Wii. Not that that ever happens. Just saying.
  • Remember, the wedding is a worship service and neither bride nor groom are the ones to be worshipped. Make sure God smiles upon you as you enter this covenant relationship.

What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. - Matthew 19:6b (ESV)


What About the Lost Sheep Who Wants to Be Lost?

I have been preaching through Matthew's gospel account and recently I shared of Jesus' instructions regarding the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the flock who are safe to go find the one that is lost. 

It's a challenging passage and raises many questions.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV) 

Who is the lost sheep?

The lost sheep in this parable is a new believer, a member of the flock that has strayed. That much is clear.

Is the one more important than the ninety-nine?

No, that's not the point of the passage. The ninety-nine are believers. They are together. They are in community. They are safe. 

Why leave the ninety-nine alone?

Even today, if Middle Eastern shepherds know they need to be away from their flock for an extended period of time, they will likely get a friend or relative to watch over the flock. Yet, the point of this passage and word from Christ is that God values each and every person. No one is worth less than another. The shocking story was shared by Jesus to his disciples to emphasize that they are not to devalue any person and should seek to keep unity among the believers, for the good of the church and the glory of God.

This story is to motivate and encourage the church. The message is clear - God loves his children. We should, too.

Handful-grass-fields-meadow-ants

I am reminded of a dog my wife and I used to own. He was a small black poodle (not Max, our current wonder-dog) and he loved to get out of our back yard. He would get out and start walking. He would "follow his nose" and loved to discover new scents. However, he wasn't the sharpest dog I've ever known. I'm no dog whisperer, but this guy would walk away for blocks and eventually look up. When he looked up, he would be far from home. I imagine in his little dog brain he was thinking "Uh...where am I?" We'd look for him, but when we couldn't find him, we'd wait until a neighbor, or like one time, the workers at Jiffy Lube in Orange Park, to call us. Our number was on his collar. We'd go pick him up. All was good. He was home.

We were happy. He was happy. He didn't desire to be lost. He jus strayed away.

The lost sheep (not poodle) in the church are like this. They stray. They lose focus. They begin listening to the lies of the enemy and start agreeing with the lies. Sometimes, those lies sound like "You don't matter. You're worthless. No one at this church loves you. No one loves you." When the lie is taken for truth, straying results.

These are lies. 

But, what about the sheep who wants to be lost?

Sometimes people walk away from church and the community of believers and do so intentionally. 

Sometimes people want to believe the lies. They refuse the grace of God. They refuse to acknowledge brothers and sisters in Christ to step out of their comfort zones to reach out and connect. They're not forgotten by others, but they believe they are. 

It is true that we need to not forget the lost sheep, but what about that sheep who has seeks to remain lost, for various reasons?

The passage in Matthew that follows the lost sheep story speaks of conflict and discipline. The focus is on the sin of Christians and how the church must respond.

It is sin for the church to ignore the lost sheep. Yet, it is also sin for the lost sheep to desire separation and lostness. It is sinful to continually ignore the draw of the Holy Spirit and to grieve him.

Running from God is different from straying away. Many who have run attempt to declare their just lost sheep. That's not true, they're rebellious sheep. In those cases, discipline from God's church is needed. Sometimes, even excommunication is the required response.

That seems extreme, but it's right. It's holy. 

Pray and Remember Your Role.

It is God who draws. It is Christ who has come to seek and save the lost. He invites us into this great story, but ultimately, he does the rescue. We, the church, must not ignore our calling. We must be obedient. Yet, we must also be wise to discern the difference between a lost sheep who has strayed and one who is running from God.

In the case of the latter, I think of the story of the prodigal son. In that case, the son never lost his title as child, but the father remained home. He apparently prayed and waited. Eventually, the lost son came home. He "woke up" from his rebellion and shifted into "lost sheep" status. He realized he was being drawn home. 

Prayer is not a weak, passive response to those who stray. It is the active role we must take, especially when we find the lost sheep and he/she has no desire to be found...yet.

Remember, God knows the details. He is in control.


She Walked Away from Church Wounded, Ready to End Her Life. But, Then...

I received this email from a member of our church yesterday. I asked permission to share the information in this blog post, believing it may be helpful to others who have felt alone, empty, and forgotten, not to mention those who have lived with scars and wounds brought on by sexual abuse and harassment. She said I could share and that hopefully, someone will be helped. 

WARNING: Some of the information below is graphic.

The story is from a woman who has been an active member of our church for years. She is a self-described introvert of sorts. She has served in various areas of ministry for seasons in the past, but last year (2016) she stopped attending church regularly. She has carried deep wounds from her past and has struggled with understanding her value to God and his church, and to others. The enemy's lies and accusations have weighed heavily upon her for years. Last year, she almost ended her life, believing the lies of the enemy that that would be best.

Woman-desperate-sad-tears-cry-depression-mourning-2

Thankfully, God has rescued her from that moment and continues to do so. Her email was shared with me after she shared it with her counselor. I have edited it for brevity and eliminated names as needed.

On Sunday, October 15, 2017, Pastor David preached a sermon from Matthew 18:10-14. This word from Christ references the lost sheep and how the shepherd rejoices when it is found.
 
Pastor David talked about our church. He talked of the ones who have been active, but would be described as introverted in personality.  He talked of the ones who are part of the church, but never really talk or share much in small groups. These are the ones who attend and are active, but just keep to themselves. The he shared what happens often. One Sunday, they are not there. They miss a small group meeting once. Then another. And before you know it, they aren't attending regularly, if at all.  Those who know them began to wonder about them and yet, that's all. They wonder, but no one thinks enough about them to see where they are or what is happening in their lives. 

Pastor David shared of a student he once had in youth ministry. This young lady was very active in the youth group and the church. She was there whenever the doors were open, so to speak. She attended camps and even went on mission trips. when he was a youth pastor. Then, one day, she was not there. That one day led to many. Pastor David later ran into her in a local store where she was working. He said, "It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. We’ve missed you at church."
 
She responded, "I've been gone. I'm like that lost sheep. Why was no one looking for me?"

This sermon had me thinking about what was going on during my recent nine months of not attending church at First Baptist Orange Park. This was kind of how I felt.  I felt lost and believed no one cared enough at FBC to come looking for me. In truth they did come looking for me. I know people are busy and they have their own lives and I was the furthest thing from their minds. It was completely okay, I made the choice to leave. (Please know that these are the lies I was believing at the time.)
 
Reflecting back on 2016: It was a hard year. Suicide has been something that I had thought about in the past, but never really acted upon. Yet, during this season, I actually did more than think about it. I took a step further because I planned out my suicide with detailed plans of how I would do it. If not for not having the one tool I was going to use to finish it, I may have. Things would be much different now for my family. 
 
My selfish thoughts were:
  • No one cares.
  • My family will be better off if I wasn’t around any more.
  • My husband can find a better wife who will take care of him and the children.
  • Others who know me will forget all about me within moments of me being gone - as if I never existed anyway.

These were just some of the thoughts I was having that led up to that day in May 2016. On that day, I shared with a friend and due to this friend's care, I was actually Baker Acted. My friend apparently cared too much for me to see me die.

Following my time in the hospital, I felt as if I was branded by society with labels - weak, gives up easily, worthless, no good, doesn’t belong here. It was one shaming title after another.

Going through the motions of life became more and more challenging because the darkness kept taunting my thoughts. The shaming pressure that I kept putting upon myself. I was listening to the lies, and ignoring the voice of God that speaks clearly through his Word.

I was keeping tragic memories alive. I was living in the wounds of the past. It was painful, but I was recollecting all that was done to me as a little girl. That girl (me) seemed like someone else, but I knew it was me and I could not find healing.

I was that little girl, living in shame from being sexually abused for nine years.

As I began to think about all that had happened to me and began to blame that little girl (myself) for the abuse. I forgot what she had to endure to survive. How she was told to respect her elders, no matter what.

"Do as your told with no arguing or discussing."

"Speak only when your spoken too and preferably, not at all."

This little girl was not a rule breaker, for the most part. She did as she was told, at times she would show her true colors and act out. However, for the most part though she just did what the adult told her to do.

The adult, the authority, would lay down  next to me.

"Take off your shirt. Let me have your hand. Touch me here and move your hand this way. This is our little secret. This is our precious time. You are so beautiful. You need to hurry up. Go faster. Stop wasting time. Your doing it wrong. Let me show you how to massage. Spread your legs."

As he began to "massage" her in ways that no man other then her future husband should be touching her. She just followed directions. She did not want to get in trouble.

These words and so many others are like are like broken record in my thoughts. I have visions or flashbacks of different experiences from my childhood like this. They haunt me and have kept me in bondage.  

In the past, I would just find ways to punish myself by cutting or not eating.

It was the only way I could find control when it seemed like everything was out of control.

These choices are no longer an option.

I have chosen to work through my past and the pain that was inflicted upon me. In the past, I had chosen to stay stuck at times because it was too much to take on.  I had chosen to turn away from God because I believed the lies of the enemy that I was no good and just a waste of his time.

Hearing these lies on a continuous basis, somehow they felt like truth. Over time, going to church and hearing and singing about how great is our God and how awesome he is felt like torment within my spirit.

The battle between what I was raised to believe and what I was experiencing became too overwhelming and the only thing I knew to do was walk away from the church. I knew I was to far gone and was not able to be healed.

At least that is what I thought I knew.

Thank God he had a different plan and the same friend who made the phone call to have me Baker Acted also took me under her wing. She mentored me and took me to her church. They prayed with me and guided me through so I could stand once again.

I'm learning to ask for forgiveness when I fall short, instead of remaining paralyzed with self-affliction or condemnation. I'm believing God and his Word and trusting him.

I’m no longer an abused victim. No one is causing pain or purposely hurting me. The only one that has kept the past alive is me and it is time to put that time to rest. It is time to say good-bye to a man that caused so much confusion and pain in my young life. I'm learning what biblical forgiveness is. I now see that I have lived a life of blame - blaming others and blaming myself, and in so doing, finding no healing. 

Today (October 22, 2017) our church, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be singing at the Orange Park Fall Festival at the Town Hall grounds. We will be singing "Trust In You."

Shelvin, Lamb, our Worship Pastor, has a way of picking songs that go to the core of your soul. Sometimes these songs are so hard to sing because of the bondage that I have chosen to live within. This makes it hard to speak truth when you allow lies to feel like truth.

I’m learning to trust in Him. It is a daily challenge, but as each day that goes by He continues to show me how much He loves, cares, and cherishes me even when I do not. He draws near to the broken-hearted. He brings rest to the weary. His promises are truth and He will never break them.

So today, I am praising God for being my shepherd. For bring the right people in my life at the right time to minister and pray with me as I went through the struggles of 2016.

This year has been a learning experience and with that, painful at times. As always, God knows what we need and He continues to meet our needs. This sheep strayed for a while, but because of who He is, she has found her way back home. I love my First Family and missed being part of the choir so much. Thankful that they welcomed me back.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)


It's Not the Victims' Fault! - Why Christians Must Not Ignore the Weinstein Story

For the past week, it seems that every news report, trending topic, and entertainment update has been about the fall of Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, founded Miramax and the Weinstein Company.  The multi-millionaire entertainment mogul has numerous Oscars and hit films to his credit. He's been politically active through donations and appearances over the years. Nevertheless, he is trending now not because of his political leanings or entertainment business prowess, but because he has been accused of numerous sexual indiscretions and harassment. 

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Harvey Weinstein - Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Actress and director Rose McGowan started this story trending when she went public via Twitter with how Weinstein harassed her. Once she opened this story to the public, many others have shared their stories. 

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Rose McGowan - Photo credit: gdcgraphics via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

However, as with any news story featuring prominent people, numerous click-bait stories are developed and responses that either totally miss the point or skew the story by making it about something else. In this case... 

It's Not the Victim's Fault

Some have seen these stories on the news and online and the added public testimonies from other actresses (and some actors such as James Van Der Beek and Terry Crews) and have wrongly tried to minimize what Weinstein is accused of doing. When you hear someone say "Well, where were these women years ago?" or "Why didn't they say something earlier?" the not-so-subtle message is that the women are to blame or at a minimum, they're just joining the crowd and may not truly have a story.

Victims of sexual harassment often do not feel strong enough to go public with their story. There is shame attributed to them by the harasser. There is fear that grows - in this case, fear that careers will end and opportunities lost among other things.

To blame the victim with such statements as "Well, they were asking for it" or "It's Hollywood. That's how things are done" do nothing more than elevate sin as acceptable.

Time Doesn't Heal

Many of the stories coming out now are based on incidents that took place years prior. An abused, harassed young person can and will likely carry the memory of the event throughout life. Time may heal in the sense that it's easier to move forward, but the over-simplification of believing just existing more days will eliminate the pain is unfounded. Some of you reading this know the truth of that. You were abused, attacked, harassed at some point years ago, but even now, at times, that memory comes back. And it's not helpful. 

When I was a young boy of about eight, an older teenage boy attempted to sexually attack me. I won't get into the details, but rest assured that memory of the two of us walking in a field is in high-definition in my mind. Thankfully, my vocal chords were working well and the older friend acquiesced and the stopped. It was dealt with at the time, and nothing was actually done to me, but I was scared and ashamed. Even as a child, I knew something was very wrong. 

Unfortunately, there are others who did not have their incidents end as mine with no physical damage. 

It's Not About Politics

Due to Weinstein's far-leaning liberal political bent and friendships with certain politicians, some have used this story to make it all about politicians and liberal politics. While I am far from a liberal politically, to stoop to using this tragic story as fodder simply for political positioning and proclamation.

Conservatives and liberals alike must understand that voting record does not determine whether sexual sin is present or not. Both ends of the spectrum have far too many abusers in their ranks.

The Church Is Not Immune

Amazingly, some have pushed back when our local church implemented stronger security measures for leaders and volunteers. Yet, there are enough (far too many, actually - and one is too many) examples and stories of pastors, evangelists, teachers, and leaders who have taken advantage sexually of others in the church to warrant such steps. We have all read stories and heard testimonies of those who were abused by conservative, evangelical pastors or Catholic priests, or liberal church leaders. The sins of those claiming their roles as divinely given resonate and must be addressed as well.

It's About Power

What do Weinstein and others like him have in common? There are numerous things, but ultimately it's about power. Whether an older teenager abusing a child, an adult doing so, a stronger man abusing a women, or a pastor, politician, boss, or media mogul, perceived or actual power over the victim leads to the abuse. In the case of Weinstein, the threat of losing roles or having one's script shelved, left some actresses vulnerable to his attacks. While many of the stories coming out now are from superstars who by their own words, escaped the hotel room of the creepy, bath-robe wearing executive without actually having been abused physically, some have shared they were not so fortunate. I fear there are many others who have yet to go public that may have been abused in ways I cannot imagine. And, what about the non-celebrities who did lose their chance by walking out?

Power can corrupt, and often does. When Tom Hanks was asked about Weinstein, he referenced a quote that rings true - "When you become rich and powerful, you become more of what you already are."

It's Ultimately About Sin

Hanks quote is true at so many levels. The Hollywood Reporter ran an interview with Bob Weinstein (here). The title states it clearly "Bob Weinstein Gets Emotional on 'Depraved' Harvey."

Harvey is depraved...and so are all of us. And that is why we need a Savior.

We all like comparative analysis to make ourselves feel better. That's human nature. I mean, "I'm bad, but at least I'm not Weinstein bad," right? Well, hopefully you're not, but that doesn't mean you're not depraved.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

There Is Hope

That's the message of the gospel, right? Apart from Christ, the sinful heart cannot change. It cannot be rehabilitated. It cannot evolve. Apart from Christ and transformation through him, sin is excused, blame is shifted, justification of evil reigns. God's great light reveals our darkness and the fact that we cannot fix our problems ourselves. There's not enough therapy in the world to impact this epidemic.

But there is hope, and his name is Jesus Christ.

God promised his children in the Old Testament that he desires and can change the hearts of men.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

Thankfully, we have a chance at redemption through Christ.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Forgiveness is available and transformation can happen. Yet, while there is no condemnation for those in Christ, consequences remain. For sins such as those being revealed, blanket forgiveness for unrepentant people is not biblical. Yet, willingness to do so is. As for consequences, if found guilty Weinstein (and others as well) must not have their indiscretions ignored or justified. 

For the entertainment industry, the casting couch stories must end today.

Don't Miss the Point of These Stories

So, while you're watching the news or reading the latest trending stories on Twitter, be careful not to miss the real stories here. The world is shrinking thanks to social media. Publicists no longer have complete power of creation when attempting to paint their clients in a good light, when evidence otherwise mounts.

You may not agree with Rose McGowan's politics or worldview or even be a fan of her films, but she should be lauded for her willingness and bravery in bringing this story to light. Others have shared their voices, but many would have likely remained silent had Ms. McGowan not opened up.

She may not desire it, but I'll be praying for her and the others. These are not two-dimensional characters from films. These are real women (and men) who have suffered as victims and their voices must be heard. Prayerfully, action from those with the power to make changes will come. More than a "like" on a tweet is needed.


When You Should Leave Your Church

A few days ago, I posted an article intended for other pastors and church leaders. The article was titled "People Will Leave Your Church - And It Hurts Every Time." It drew a few more clicks than other articles I have written.

I have had a few responses from friends through personal conversations and emails. No one who has contacted me expressed anger, but a few comments focused on "Which one am I in the list?" and "I've learned some things in this journey" from friends who have changed churches.

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While I address the reality that sometimes people leave the local church for good and godly reasons, the previous article focused more on the wrong reasons people leave. So, as a Part 2, here's a list of reasons why it is good to leave a local church. Oh, it still may be painful, but then who said life was to be pain-free?

When You Should Leave Your Church...

  • WORK TRANSFERS - I addressed this in the previous article and whether it is the military or the corporation moving an individual or family, in most cases, it is good to keep one's job and move. We have viewed this as a great mission agency move to new areas of ministry. God blesses in these shifts and also brings new people into communities who will join the local church and serve well. 
  • WHEN HERESY IS TAUGHT FROM THE PULPIT - There are so many "gospels" being preached from pulpits nowadays that often those in the congregation find themselves confused on what is truth and what is opinion. Paul addressed this to the Galatian church (Gal 1:7-9).
  • A DISREGARD TO SCRIPTURE - When church leaders systematically pick and choose passages and doctrines to uphold while ignoring others consistently, a gap in teaching is occurring. In many cases, this will result in the lack of church discipline and compromises on leadership qualifications.
  • WHEN LEADERS SOW DISCORD AND DISUNITY - Unity in the church is difficult, and all churches will struggle with this, but when leaders are sowing the seeds of discord and creating factions, it is time to address how Kingdom work can be accomplished when Christ's commands are ignored. (Romans 16:17)
  • GROSS HYPOCRISY - When lip service is given to the mission and calling of biblical Christianity, but actions do not match such, the church has refused the gospel and the power of God. These churches should shut down for they are a stumbling block to true Christianity.
  • RACISM - Sadly, there remain churches that based on practice and organization do not accept "them" as members or would rather "they" have their own services or churches because it's better that way. Racism disguised as "missional preference" is still racism and must be addressed. If no change occurs (i.e. repentance) then leaving said church is right, for God likely left years prior.
  • UNADDRESSED SIN & UNHOLY LIVING IS TOLERATED - When open sin among church members is ignored, or worse yet excused, the church fails to uphold the truth of Scripture. If the pastors are the offenders, then other pastors, deacons, elders, and church leaders must confront them for the goal of restitution and repentance (1 Tim 5:19-20). If it is a church member, the same is true (Matt 18:15-17). Most people don't like this because it sounds so confrontational (and it is.) Yet, if your church isn't willing to kick you out due to unrepentant sin, it's not worth being a member there.
  • THE MISSION DEMANDS IT - Sometimes, God calls his children to leave the safe place of the home church to serve elsewhere. In some cases, this may be to the uttermost parts of the earth. This is the calling of all Christians actually - to go wherever He calls. Sometimes that calling leaves you in your current community and local church. Sometimes it moves you elsewhere. 

There are right times to leave. None of these center on consumeristic themes or even the "I'm not being fed" mantra so often heard. However, of the ones listed above (and it's not a complete list, I'm sure) there are two where God's calling and glory is celebrated. In those, the mission rises and God is honored. These two times where God calls his people out and they are sent reminds me of the church at Antioch. 

The other reasons actually center on the holiness of God as well. When His church refuses to be holy, biblically grounded, and God honoring, hypocrisy and discord reign. However, even in these cases, leaving the church should not be the first response. Pray through this. Seek God's face. He may just be calling you to the mission that forces you to remain and be a change-agent for his glory within the local body.

 


People Will Leave Your Church - And It Hurts Every Time

Pastor, regardless the size of your church, eventually people will leave.

There are many reasons people leave the local church and you need to be ready.

After over twenty years serving in the same local church, I likely know more former members than current ones. 

For the first decade I served as a pastoral staff member. I was the student pastor, then collegiate pastor, single adult pastor, young married adult pastor, pastor of the thermostat, pastor of mowing the yard, pastor of setting up chairs (that develops one's servant heart), and pastor of miscellaneous.

In 2005, I was called to be the Lead Pastor at the church (the same church) and continue to serve in this role.

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Photo credit: hernanpba via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

People have been leaving local churches since God birthed local churches. Some left by choice. Others have been escorted out for various reasons (see Acts 5:1-10). Over these last couple of decades (plus all the years prior to my role as pastor) in the local church, these are some of the reasons given as to why people leave. 

  • TRANSFERS - We live in a military city. In addition to the US Navy continually transferring families here and elsewhere. Corporations do the same. Therefore, new members join when they move the area. They end up leaving when their boss moves them. 
  • A NEW PASTOR - When a church calls a new leader, people will leave. New people will join as well. New leadership brings new organization. Things that were emphasized under previous leadership will not be emphasized under the new. 
  • A NEW MINISTRY - Church ministries change over time. In some cases, a new ministry or program is developed that focuses on a certain task or people group. Regardless how biblical the new ministry is, some won't like it. 
  • THE ENDING OF A MINISTRY - Some feel slighted when "their" ministry is no longer supported or promoted by the church. Unfortunately, many people gain their sense of identity and purpose in the ministry role they serve and cannot see that their identity is in Christ, not in the ministry. 
  • NEW STAFF MEMBERS - Personalities don't always mesh and a new staff member (especially if replacing another) may or may not connect well with current members serving in their area of ministry. People follow people, even when they declare they follow God.
  • HURT FEELINGS AND INJURY - This happens in every church. People get their feelings hurt. Inevitably a pastor, leader, or other church member will say or do (or not say or do) something that hurts others.
  • MEAN LEADERS - This goes hand-in-hand with the hurt feelings. There's enough blame to go around. Unfortunately, there often appears to be a shortage of grace.
  • FOR THE KIDS - Whether young children or teenagers, families often shift churches because of how their children are faring in the ministry focused on their age-group. This may be a shift to a para-church youth ministry, or another church. I've been on both sides of this argument. At one point, I was the youth pastor leading the ministry others would move churches to have their students attend. (This was wrong, by the way.) And, I've seen my fair share of families leave for the very same reason. While parents are attempting to do what is best for their children, they unwittingly allow their children to become the spiritual heads of the home by driving where the family worships.
  • NEW IS "BETTER" - Just as many people flock to the Apple Store when a new iPhone is released, there are some who change churches in the same manner. The new church or plant that is younger, more exciting, and features way cooler social media posts is very attractive. Sometimes people leave, but because membership is not valued, you may only discover they left when they start posting about their pastor and new church (and you discover the guy they're talking about is not you.)
  • CHANGING DIVERSITY OF MEMBERSHIP - Unfortunately, this remains true. A wise pastor will lead his church to engage the actual people living in the community and over time, this may shift the racial and economic demographic of church members and attenders. So, yes, racism still exists and while some may never verbalize that as reasoning for leaving, it clearly plays a role. 
  • POLITICS - The local and national political spectrum impacts church membership. This is especially true if church members are politicians. Politics divides. It divides families, communities, workplaces, and churches. 

There are numerous other reasons why people leave. Regardless why, even if legitimate, it hurts. It hurts to see friends move away to other cities. It hurts more to see friends leave hurt, angry, or disillusioned. 

Thom Rainer shares this regarding the ultimate reason people leave...

But all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met. (Full Article)

Everybody has ideas of how things ought to be in the church. Most find no issue with letting the pastor know. Yet, when church membership feels like country club membership, pastoral leadership is viewed less as a biblical role by members and more as a temporary director.

Pastors are at times complicit in the erroneous exodus of members. This too must be noted. 

Sometimes God does move members to new places of service in different churches. While God is blamed most often for the move - I've heard many say "I prayed about it and God called us to this other church. In most cases, the reasoning was far from spiritual. Yet in those cases where God truly led, each church was blessed and God was glorified. 

Imperfect people make mistakes and your church is full of those types of people. In fact, pastor, your church is led by one. However, the perfect God we serve continues to use us in his Kingdom work in ways that not only are amazing, but eternally beneficial. 

A backdoor revival may need to occur in your church, but those are rare. Rather, to avoid an unholy exodus, consider these as elements of your leadership not to be left undone:

  • Raise the bar for membership 
  • Communicate clearly your vision for the church
  • Confront dissension quickly and graciously
  • Inform members of the "what" and the "why" regarding change
  • Mentor men
  • Equip families strategically
  • Pray together
  • Celebrate publicly what God is doing in the life of church members
  • Listen well
  • Retire the knee-jerk reactions
  • Pray for your church members

Easy Church Membership Leads to Unengaged Audiences

I have to make a confession.

Years ago, I pushed against what I perceived as difficulty for people to join the local church. It wasn't that I was opposed to membership classes or clarifying belief, it was just that I felt (yeah - pretty weak justification) that membership should be easy. I mean, Jesus didn't offer a required class to people who wanted to follow him, right? He just said "Follow me." That was it. Yet, that wasn't it. To follow Jesus was to abandon all other lords. It was a statement of agreement, submission, and intentional discipleship.

To follow Jesus was much more than just saying "I'm a Christian."

Over time, church membership (especially in the western evangelical world) has become more akin to joining a local club or civic organization. Actually, most churches hold to weaker membership requirements than such groups, so that may not be the best comparison.

I now believe deeply in the necessity of a solid, biblical, systematic membership strategy. At this juncture, it includes a class, but ultimately means much more.

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Why Church Membership Anyway?

This has been a serious question that has come up over the years. Years ago, the response to this question was that in our Baptist church, you cannot vote on anything unless you're a member. To be honest, that's not a compelling reason to join. If that's all membership has going for it, your church likely has deeper issues.

In Mark Dever's book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, he mentions that most church growth strategists minimize the need for membership. He responds this way...

But I think that this topic is a must for our churches, and for us as Christians today. Church membership is a crucial topic for understanding what Christ is calling us to as his disciples. Joining a church will not save us any more than our good works, education, culture, friendships, financial contributions, or baptism will save us. Non-Christians should not seek to join a church, but to learn more about what it means to be a Christian. (p. 159)

Confessing Christians are not meant to live life alone. The journey of faith and the role of the believer in the family of God is vital. Individualistic Christianity is an oxymoron. Salvation in Christ is individual, certainly. In other words, no one can become a Christian for another, but the calling of God's church is unmistakable.

There are numerous reasons for joining a local church. Dever's book is a good start for details and others exist as well. Dever gives wise insight with his five good reasons for joining a church that proclaims and preaches the gospel and models biblical, Christian living.

  1. To assure ourselves of salvation. Don't misread this. Church membership does not save an individual, but the company of believers is useful for assurance of one's salvation.
  2. To evangelize the world. You can and should talk to friends about Christ. You should live as an evangelist, but the truth is that together much more can be done for global evangelism.
  3. To expose false gospels. There are far too many empty-headed teachers of prosperity gospels and the like in our culture today. Most of these live somewhere in your television or online. The messages of feel-good, self-focused, name-it-and-claim-it, therapeutic pseudo-biblical teaching are everywhere. These charlatans are one of the reasons why many have abandoned organized religion, to the detriment of solid gospel-centric fellowships.
  4. To edify the church. This is a huge reason and one often ignored. The onus is not on what the church member gets, but what is given. Edification, or the building up of other believers is the responsibility of all Christians. This often gets lost in the sales pitches offered by local churches. The results are self-centered audiences seeking entertainment. We are all complicit in this.
  5. To glorify God. Ultimately, you should join a church for the glory of God. Peter's words regarding living holy lives before the pagans is key here (1 Peter 2:12). Jesus referenced his church as a glory to the Father. If he said and did so, then so should we. The church exists for God's glory and our good.

Why A Process of Membership?

I removed barriers to church membership in our church years ago. These barriers were ultimately steeped in traditions that I felt were unhealthy and unneeded. I still push against the need to have new members come forward after a service and stand before everyone to be voted upon by the congregation. It seemed to be an embarrassing moment that offered a vote that was more of a formality than anything else. There were no questions about belief, salvation, doctrinal understanding, etc. It was just "Hey everyone, Bob and Sue want to join our church. All in favor, raise your hand." And that was it.

We did implement a new members' class and that was good. We still have the class, but the scheduling has been so haphazard, the class has lost it's value. That, and the fact that no one-on-one time with pastors or leaders occurs leaves new church members with little more than a filled out notebook and good ideas regarding doctrine and theology, but no action steps.

I now see the error of starting, stopping, rebuilding, and re-emphasizing old models and hoping for different results.

More Members Than Attenders

As a pastor who has been a Baptist for as long as I can remember, I know the adage that church attendance in most churches is about half the number of church membership. I grew up just thinking that was normal. I thought that was how things had to be.

You have 300 in attendance? That means you have somewhere between 600 and 800 members, right?

In most cases.

Some of the largest churches in America boast of their membership numbers, but in most cases, the attendance is far below those numbers. Engaged on-mission members are likely even less.

Why be a member of a church you never attend?

That's a legitimate question. I fear that some remain members in order to have access to a free facility for weddings and funerals. Some see their membership as a right, not a privilege. Some may retain their membership for the opportunity to vote in business meetings. Some are simply physically unable to attend regularly due to health reasons.

Should You Have Fewer Members Than Attenders?

This is the question that pushes against the norms. If membership matters, then shouldn't members be engaged? Shouldn't members have roles and responsibilities? What if the church has deadbeat members who do little more than consume resources?

At some point, membership needs to matter. That means a healthy church may actually have far fewer members than attenders weekly. Whether you have fewer members than attenders is debatable, but a stronger, more healthy view of membership, may result in a smaller number of the committed. 

It's easier to draw a crowd than to develop a congregation. 

What Must Be Required of Members?

Believer's baptism is the first step of obedience for a Christian. The New Testament presumes that all Christians have been baptized. That this is up for debate today forces an ignoring of Scriptural teaching. O.C.S. Wallace wrote of believers who refuse to do the simplest step of obedience as Christians back in 1934 and his words ring true today:

The church has not been given authority to make commandments; it is the duty of the church to obey the commandments already made. It is not the prerogative nor the privilege of any church to modify, minimize or in any way obscure ... any commandment, of Jesus Christ.

To reject the ordinances defined in Scripture for the Christian - baptism or the Lord's Supper should disqualify any individual from church membership. 

Beyond adherence to these commands, expectations among believers in a local body should be clearly expressed and delineated so that new members and current members fully understand. These may vary from church to church, but in most cases, an expectation of attendance, participation in the Lord's Supper, prayer, giving, corporate worship, service, agreement with doctrinal statements, and serving faithfully under pastoral leaders.

Now What?

In addition to an implementation of a Membership Covenant, we will be working to set aside time (likely a full weekend) that requires not only a commitment from leadership, but from those seeking membership for fellowship, introduction to doctrine, beliefs, and structure, fellowship with pastors, and opportunities for immediate buy-in and participation in service. 

Our Challenges

One of the great fallacies of churches is the lack of biblical church discipline. Yet, apart from a biblical foundation for church membership, discipline cannot exist. These go hand-in-hand. 

For our local church the challenge will be perceived implementation of a strategy that won't last. This is due to the fact we have started and stopped so many things in the past. We are paying dearly for lack of consistency.

I believe other churches have experienced similar things.

This shift will impact scheduling, staffing, and the process of bringing in new church members.

Yet, it matters and will be worth it.

When membership is attained by simply filling out a card or even walking down an aisle, the propagation of consumer Christianity continues. Membership requires more. The church should expect more.