BOOK REVIEW: What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is a prominent blogger and author. Many of his articles can be found on The Gospel Coalition's website. His books are well-known and available on our church's online bookstore and at Amazon, as well as numerous other places where books are sold. 

His latest book delves into a topic that not that long ago seemed to be far on the back burner of church and cultural life and now has become an issue not to be ignored. The culture shift in the west, especially in the United States, on the subject of homosexuality, LGBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage has been dramatic, to say the least. Those on both sides (and in the fuzzy grey areas in the middle) of the debate on Christianity and homosexuality and all that comes with that agree that the culture shift is real.

DeYoung's book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway Books, 2015) seeks to speak into the issues with a winsomeness and truthfulness without just echoing the words and arguments that are little more than reactionary.

In all candor, I land with DeYoung in his assertion of homosexuality and the Gospel. I found myself highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs, to the point of realizing that if I highlight everything, it does no good to highlight anything.

DeYoung's introductory section that backs up from the question presented in the title, gives foundational footing for a discussion much deeper than the subject of gender and attraction. The title of the Introduction is "What Does the Bible Teach About Everything?" It is wise to read the Introduction, for in these thirteen pages, there is value and substance that gives strength to the subject at hand throughout the remainder of the book. I share this because I know there are many who skip Forewords and Introductions to get to the "meat" of a book. I caution you to not do that in this case.

There are numerous books flooding the online and physical stores about the subject of Christianity, the Bible and those who identify as LGBT. Many are what have been categorized by DeYoung and others as "revisionist theology." The title is self-explanatory. Yet, these writers have influence and make strong points in their books, blogs and speeches. The audience in America is clamoring for these versions of truth. DeYoung references numerous revisionist writers and even some self-declared LGBT writers in a way that is not dehumanizing and actually is complimentary of writing style and research. In fact, there are occasions when DeYoung agrees with some of the revisionist theories.

Furthermore, there is nothing ambiguous about the biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior. Even many revisionist scholars acknowledge that the Bible is uniformly negative toward same-sex activity. The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, "In this case that support is lacking." (page 73)

Of course, there are far more instances where DeYoung disagrees with the revisionists and he answers the objections clearly and concisely in this book.

As is the case with many books like DeYoung's the reader comes in with a preconceived idea of what he/she already believes about the subject at hand. This is true for me. I cannot say that I was opinion-less on this subject.

However, if a reader is truly seeking for answers, not ammunition, DeYoung's book gives clear biblical account and heart-felt answers. This book is written by a pastor and while his convictions are clear regarding the veracity of the Word of God and the power of the Gospel, there is a clear passion for God, His Truth and a love for people to know Him that permeates the book. 

This book is not an easy read, in that the subject is so polarizing. Yet, it is a clearly understandable read, for those of all walks of life. 

I believe DeYoung's book is a good companion to others on the subject, such as Christopher Yuan's biography Out of a Far Country and Ann Mobley's story of loving her son through this journey in If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me?

DeYoung addresses the most common arguments used to discount biblical teachings and historic doctrine that define homosexuality as sinful. He speaks to the revisionist platforms on the type of sin referenced in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the pedo-sexuality only argument, the giftedness of chastity, the gluttony, divorce, greed, etc. vs. homosexuality debate that often arises and the language questions that many use to state that what is written in the Word is not what was meant. 

He addresses these as a theologian and one who understands language nuances. The footnotes and research reveal a studied, intellectual approach.

I would caution the Christian reader who is just looking for "ammunition" to use against their co-workers, children or other acquaintances living proudly as LGBT. I would, nevertheless, encourage Christians to be well-versed in the details and the arguments offered, so that answers in love may be offered. 

The story of LGBT and the church is not going away. Some churches, as has already been seen, will shift their theology and doctrines to allow for the open practice and acceptance of LGBT members. This will be most evident in the hosting of same-sex marriages, most likely. Other churches will stand firmly on their convictions, not wavering in their doctrines and theology. They'll be accused of "being on the wrong side of history" (which, by the way, is addressed in DeYoung's book.) The churches that stand on the narrowness of God's Word will ultimately have broad influence for the Kingdom. It should be noted, that a narrow stand is needed, but must be done in love. 

Love and acceptance are not the same. Love and affirmation of sin are not the same. To be Christian is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the First and Greatest Commandment. . .and we weren't asked to vote on whether to accept it. It was commanded to the church and we are to live it out. Yet, it must be known that "loving our neighbor as self" is not an affirmation of ungodliness. It is an affirmation of selflessness.

"Every Christian should read this book." - Dr. Russell D. Moore, President The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, SBC

Here are some powerful quotes, in no particular order of importance from DeYoung's book:

"In the Old Testament, not all uncleanness was sin, but all sin made you unclean." (page 46)

"Homosexual practice is an example on a horizontal plane of our vertical rebellion against God." (page 52)

"Homosexual behavior is a sin, not according to who practices it or by what motivation they seek it, but because that act itself, as a truth-suppressing exchange, is contrary to God's good design." (page 53)

"According to Paul's logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior - even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires - have suppressed God's truth in unrighteousness." (page 55)

"It is no little mistake in God's eyes to encourage and support what harms our fellow creatures and dishonors our Creator." (page 56)

"Context is king." (page 63)

"Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice." (page 76)

"When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God." (page 77)

"The biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous: homosexual activity is not God's will for his people." (page 77)

"Regret is common enough; repentance is rare." (page 99)

"We don't get to pick the age we will live in, and we don't get to choose all the struggles we will face. Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God's to determine." (page 129)

 


What Churches Commonly Fail To Do

Earlier this week I was asked to lead a Breakout Session at one of our state's denominational regional evangelism conference. I was asked to speak on how churches can stay engaged to reach those in their communities.

1114372_19748099I struggled with a title for the session and was glad I was given the opportunity to explain what it was about prior to beginning. We know in the western church, especially in the United States, there is a definite trend away from being connected to a local church and attending regularly. Carey Nieuwhof recently posted on his blog an article titled "10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders are Attending Church Less Often." He touched on an issue  just about every pastor I know is having to address. Those who aren't addressing it may just be living with blinders on, or could possibly be the anomaly in the church-world.

The title I ended up using for this session was "Reaching the People Near You Who Actually Exist." Honestly, I don't like the title but I couldn't fit "Be Sure You Know Your Community and Stay Up-To-Date On Changes and Open Your Eyes Every Now and Then Or You May Be Closing the Doors of Your Church In the Near Future."

Subtle, huh?

This session was primarily about neighborhood mapping. Though I didn't have enough time to cover all of the info, here's the gist. Church leaders should take this to heart.

An oft-quoted question has been asked over the past few years by pastors and church leaders seeking to live missionally and direct their churches to do so as well  - "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR.

Button-tweet-this "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR

The Relevant Church

Relevance in ministry is sometimes scoffed upon. It’s a word that causes people to bristle and push back. Some pastors and leaders will say things like “The Gospel is always relevant” as if that justifies a poorly organized and weak strategy within the local church to fulfill the Great Commission. No one is saying that the Gospel is not relevant (at least not here) but we must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist. If your church is not making a dent in the culture nor reaching those in the area of your footprint, the sad reality is that you, as well as those reaching many, are perfectly organized and positioned to reach those you are reaching. In other words, while the Gospel is always relevant, your strategies may not be.

Button-tweet-thisWe must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist.

In Dr. John Fuder's book Neighborhood Mapping he states "In a world that is constantly moving and changing, it is imperative that the church not only know how to interpret the Bible but also how to engage with and and adapt to those for whom the gospel message is addressed."

He speaks of the necessity to continually exegete the community where one serves. Otherwise, we become stagnant and continue to produce events, programs and mission engagement for the people who used to live there, rather than those who now do.

The longer you are in a certain place, the less you see.

As has been stated in various venues, the world is coming here, to the United States. In a sense it always have, but the numbers are quite staggering in today's culture. Our neighborhoods are in a continual state of change. In many cases, the local church is overwhelmed and unable, if not unwilling to respond.

This is why mapping one's community on a regular basis is vital.

Button-tweet-this"A map is the fieldwork out of which strategies can be formed." - Caleb Crider, IMB & Co-Author of Tradecraft.

Here are some basics on mapping one's community (more details may be found in the book Tradecraft: For the Church On Mission.)

A Theology of Mapping

In the 1960s urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study and developed the five elements of a city or community, which are still vital for mapping today. These elements are:

  1. Paths
  2. Nodes
  3. Districts
  4. Edges
  5. Landmarks

I'll break these down briefly here.

Paths

 

Paths are important because they limit an individual’s experience of the city and shape his perspective of it. If you want to relate to someone, follow his paths. People tend to only know the areas along their paths. This shapes his understanding of the community. Church leaders may travel the route from home to church often and therefore, miss the community between. Over time, the community may shift unknowingly to the established church. This is why church plants often attract people where established churches are, simply because they hit what others miss or cannot see.

The paths one travels leads people to believe a city or community is a certain way or demographic, but that may be skewed to reflect only the areas around the paths.

Alternate routes can reveal a new-ness to a community previously unseen.

Button-tweet-thisTo know your community, you must know the paths people travel.

These can be streets, sidewalks, trails, subways, bus routes, etc. 

Nodes

 

Nodes develop where paths cross.

These are strategic spots in a community where people may enter and allows for interaction. It is a place of intermingling, but it is not intimate and people are often guarded (holding onto their purses or belongings tightly, looking straight ahead, not communicating with others, etc.)

Nodes are important for gaining cultural insight because they provide the opportunity to observe how people interact or avoid interacting (mall watching.)

Businesses use these places – billboards are placed here, signs, people spinning signs,  news stands, etc. These tend to be busy places. This is where flyers can be distributed, but normally no good one-to-one communication will occur. Prior to social networking, these were the promotional spots. These areas are not good for long conversations, but good for information distribution.

Districts 

Most community dwellers develop a sense of identity around the district in which they live, play or work. Each district has a reputation in the larger community. Jacksonville is a city of districts. The surrounding bedroom communities are as well. Districts are perceived differently based on your audience.

You may live in Jacksonville, but that's not descriptive enough. Where in Jacksonville? Are you in the Southside, Westside, Riverside, Beaches, Northside? If you're in a suburb, where exactly? St Johns, Fleming Island, Middleburg, Yulee, etc.?

Then within each area are sub-districts that have their own identities. This is the first place I have ever lived where people are actually very proud and identify themselves not only by city, town, or community but by sub-division. It seems strange to celebrate a builder's planned community, but you'll see license plates and bumper stickers identifying such.

Button-tweet-thisEach population segment has its own subculture, language and rules that present barriers and bridges to the spread of the Gospel.

Edges

These may be the most disregarded elements by churches. Edges create barriers that are not impossible to cross, but improbable. These may be any of the following. . .

  • Boundaries of a District (sub-division exit)
  • Streets
  • Divided Highways
  • Gates
  • Interstates
  • Bridges
  • Bodies of Water
  • Tunnels
  • Railroad Tracks

Until I acknowledged this, I could not understand why people near where I live had no understanding of where my church is located and mostly, would not visit. Then, I looked at these elements and realized that there are at least three divided highways, a railroad track, a body of water and a bridge between my house and my church. Edges. Not impossible to cross, but for those with no reason to do so, improbable.

Landmarks

 

When in your town, what do you use to tell people how to get from point A to point B? What about on how to get to your church? In many cases, our verbal directions do not include all the street names and compass directions, but do include landmarks. You know, "Turn by the donut shop." and the like.

Landmarks may be anything that the community knows.

In Orange Park, where I live, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts. I’d tell people to "Turn at the Dunkin’ Donuts, drive a mile or so, go over the railroad tracks, past the park on the right and turn left by the Animal Hospital." 

We all use landmarks.

Use yours to your advantage.

Most Important

Spiritual mapping is vital and most important. Prior to you planting or serving in your community, God has been at work.

Button-tweet-this

To effectively evangelize your mission field is to first acknowledge that God has tilled the soil. 

Follow His map and work where he has already done the heavy lifting.

Recommended Resources

Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by McCrary, Crider, Stephens & Calfee

Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community by Dr. John Fuder

 

 

 


Mainstreaming Porn: A Strategy That's Working, Unfortunately

The Book

The top selling book in 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey. No doubt you have heard of this multi-million seller, but in case you haven't, here's Amazon's description:

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
 
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

"Intended for mature audiences" is a subtle way to say "This is a really dirty book with a bunch of sex in it." Funny, I know some really mature people who would say this book is nothing more than mental porn.

Why do I bother writing a post about a book that I've never read? Some would say that must read it in order to give an honest account of the material. I guess that would be true if I were writing a review based on the character development, writing style or flow of the story. I am not. In those cases, the book may very well be good. I'm more concerned with what the runaway success of this and other books in the "erotica fiction" category say about our community and culture.

What truly baffles me is how women (the primary target audience of the book) who post their daily devotional thoughts, attend their weekly Beth Moore studies and serve in the body of Christians have simply added this book and others like it to their regular reading regimens. 

While it is no secret that pornography has a foothold in the lives of many men, evidenced by the vast number of websites dedicated to the subject, the best-selling status of erotica fiction reveals that women are not immune to this attack.

Tim Challies shared recently on his blog about the realities that Fifty Shades unveils about our culture. He lists them as. . .

  1. Erotica is in
  2. Sex isn't just for men
  3. Erotica is dangerous
  4. Erotica is among Christians
  5. Erotica wounds our walk
  6. Erotica harms us all
  7. Erotica shows we need Jesus

Click here for the link to Tim's full article.

The Movie

Why is Fifty Shades of Grey back in the news? Because on Valentine's Day the film will be released. This film will likely make millions and some are predicting it will push American Sniper out of the number one spot, which is likely since Sniper has been showing for weeks.

 

50-shades-of-grey-movie-trailer-screengrab-universal
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' (Universal/YouTube)

 

 

However, the pushback against this film is not just latest effort from Christians who like to boycott everything and preach about how much they hate everything. In this case, there is a heightened effort by groups such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) developing campaigns against this and other like films. They state this. . .

"Hollywood is advertising the Fifty Shades story as an erotic love affair, but it is really about sexual abuse and violence against women," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Hawkins noted that the public sees too much sexual abuse and violence against women in real life and urged Hollywood to take this into consideration when setting the entertainment agenda.

"The porn industry has poised men and women to receive the message that sexual violence is enjoyable. Fifty Shades models this porn message and Hollywood cashes the check," said Hawkins.

I know, I know, it's just a movie (or book) but the wise person will see it for its fullness.

As Michael Medved said years ago, and I paraphrase, "There are no accidental messages portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. There's too much money involved for unintentional messages to be prominent." That means that under the guise of entertainment and artistic creativity, the bottom line is the bottom line. This is about money and Hollywood knows "erotica sells." 

And, here's a reality as well. The fact that I'm even blogging about this often creates more interest than otherwise would be shown. You know the old adage - "There's no such thing as bad publicity." This happens all the time in the film industry. Just look at how trending the film The Interview was based on the North Korean threats, and from all accounts, it wasn't even a very good movie. . . but almost everyone was talking about it.

The Real Story

I'm not declaring the need for an organized boycott. I don't think there's value in Christians picketing movie theaters. I do think there is value and need for Christ-followers to be aware of how the Enemy attacks. We live in a culture that celebrates sex, as long as it's outside the bounds of biblical marriage. Even Christians struggle with overt justification of sin and fall into the lies of "It's just a movie, or book." It's much more. It's a window into a culture that has heard the lies for so long, they sound like truth.

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)


"Unbroken" Is Broken Without the Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is good.

______________________________________

Books & Documentaries referenced & recommended:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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

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

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

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


Give Us Back Our Church!

A few years ago, Gordon MacDonald wrote a fictional account, based in fact, of a church that was changing.

The book's title says it clearly, Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Loves Tries to Enter the 21st Century.

510UvyGYxELI purchased the book and began reading it a few years ago.

Here's how the Preface (non-fiction) begins. . .

The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years. From his perpective everything had changed - overnight, he said - into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of as his spiritual home.

I listened to him describe what sounded like ecclesiastical carnage. Programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits come to mind) thrust aside.

His anguish (and his anger) began with a young pastor who had been appointed with a challenge from the church's leadership to "stir things up with a new vision." His mandate: make the church grow like the Willow Creeks, the Saddlebacks, the Mars Hills, and all the other megachurches that have appeared during the last decade.

According to my friend, most of the church members - in particular, the older generation - had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began. Who would protest against, he asked, the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched? But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches. 

Here's what I heard him saying. What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention (a favorite word of mine) of ways to love God and serve people. What they did not see coming was a reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience. In summary: virtually everything in the life of their church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.

It was during this part of the conversation that my lunch partner finally said, "Our church has been stolen out form under us. It's been hijacked." His solution to the problem? To leave and search for another church that "appreciated" the older and better church ways his generation was familiar and comfortable with.

As I recall the conversation, my friend was less than delighted when he discovered that I wasn't completely sympathetic to his cause. I tried to find a kind way to say, "Get used to it," but I wasn't very successful."

My parting comment that day was something like this: "You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We're not talking about decades - we're talking about years."

What is unfortunate is that the account shared by MacDonald in the Preface to his book is not fiction and has been replicated over and again in churches throughout our nation.

There are numerous churches in the city where I serve that have experienced the very same challenges. Some have called pastors, over and again, seeking to find the right fit. Unfortunately, some of these churches have now been tagged "Pastor Killers" based on the reality that they have left many wounded shepherds in their wake. Many of these wounded warriors have either stepped out of ministry or strongly contemplated it. 

Ship-turning1Granted, there are some pastors (and friends of mine) who have sought to lead their church through needed change too quickly. You just cannot turn a ship on a dime. Therefore, incremental change is needed with continued vision-casting by the pastor and leaders reminding the church of the bigger picture. All change must be done not based on a model of the latest megachurch, but solely on the discerned will of God for said congregation.

Pastors easily slide toward egotism. It's the nature of the calling, I guess, partnered with personality traits, most often High "D" or "I" categorizations on the DISC profile along with the stress of the role. No excuses here, just an acknowledgement of reality. Therefore, let me be clear that God does not honor prideful egos, whether from the pulpit or the pew (or in today's vernacular - from the tall table or the cushioned chairs).

I have yet to meet a pastor called to lead an established, or legacy, church through transition who has not been accused of wrong-doing. In most cases, the accusations stem from the loss of perceived sacred cows within the church.

Often the frustrations come from a perceived shift of focus from self, a specific demographic, or program or even worship style.

The church I have been called to serve is a wonderful one because of the godly people here and a clear focus on Jesus Christ. As I think back over the previous twenty-one years, I am encouraged by all that God has done. In fact, just contemplating the miracles of new life, Kingdom focus and celebrations of victory lead to a personal worship service themed by "Thank You" to our God.

The work done prior to my leadership was ground-breaking for a church solidly and proudly (unfortunately) inwardly-focused. As we moved through the early years of the 21st century, it became clear a shift was needed. Not everyone understood or believed this, but I applaud and thank previous leadership for not being satisfied with status quo.

It is clear today that if the shift from inward-only ministry had not occured, or at least begun to occur in the early 2000s, this church would be seeking a merger with a church on more solid ground financially and likely would be seeking ways to keep the doors open here. This is not a dystopian, doom and gloom statement, but one based on what we have seen occur in our own county and in churches in Jacksonville.

Thankfully, we are a church who became like the men of Issachar, who "knew the times" and sought to impact the world God has placed us for His glory.

This has meant change. It's not been dramatic. It's been slow. As best we could, we have sought to keep everyone on the boat while making the turn. Perhaps we have not always been successful in that, and for that I am sorry. However, I cannot and will not apologize for leading a church into the culture of lostness so that we may fulfill our Great Commission, push back the darkness, engage the lost and make disciples. 

Yes, I've been accused of hijacking this church. It hurts when the accusations come, because. . .well, I'm human and those arrows always seem to penetrate areas thought impervious to pain.

While I didn't eat lunch with the same friend that Gordon MacDonald did, I too have had a discourse with a friend as well. This statement was then shared, "If you want to dedicate your life to church planting, and missional work, that is very commendable, but if that is your choice, go to work with the Convention and let us have our church back."

I responded that my life is dedicated not to the church, not church planting, not a program or event, but to God alone. He rescued me. He gave me life through Jesus Christ. He called me. Therefore, He's the center and main character in my story. In fact, "my" story is not about me. It's His story and I'm blessed to be invited into it.

Regarding missional work, that's a misnomer, I fear. The reality is that it is impossible for a true church or follower of Christ to be anything but missional. It's not a fad or descriptor of process, but a characteristic of a disciple.

As for the Convention. I've not been called by God to serve in that capacity at this time in my life. Therefore, to go work for the Convention (either SBC or Florida Baptist Convention) apart from a calling would do a disservice to this church, my family and all churches within our denomination.

Then, the kicker "Let us have our church back." I found it interesting that this came from a friend who has been a member of this church about ten years less than I have. Most likely, he's echoing others. I pray it's a quiet minority. Here's why - when a church slips into believing it's "my church" or "our church" God may just allow that to happen.

Believe me, you don't want a church to own. You don't want a church that is identified as "yours." Christians do not own a church. Christians are the church. The ownership is based solely on the one who has paid the price - God alone.

So, be careful to ask for "your church back." Back from whom, God? We do not wish God to remove his lampstand from our presence.

Though my answer was thought out and carefully worded, I'm not sure it swayed him. For that reason, I grieve.

My Recommendations for Other Pastors

For other pastors who face these situations, seek counsel and pray intently. Be prepared to admit poor leadership and vision casting when it's apparent. No one is perfect and leadership is a tenuous thing. Be holy. Be humble. Be caring. Be loving. 

Pastor the full church (yes, I'm using the word "pastor" as a verb) from preschool to senior adult and every demographic within. Develop lead teams, deacons and ministers to come along side to aid in this. Keep the vision clear. Stay focused and remember the big picture. 

But, don't ever apologize for doing the will of God.

How appropriate that Joe McKeever (a 74 year old pastor) wrote this blog post this past week. Take a moment and read this and respect the wisdom of the ages from a seasoned man of God - "Neckties and Drum Sets: Things We Should Get Over." 

Pressing on!

 


Wisdom from Coach Wooden

There are many celebrities in this world. Our culture loves creating them. Often, we like to create them just so we can enjoy picking them apart to watch them crumble. It is a sad state of being that we have created, or at least enabled.

Sometimes you come across a celebrity who does not put on airs. What you see on television, on the stage or in the magazines is actually an accurate depiction of the real person. Unfortunately, this is often true about those celebrities that are anything but role models and quality people. In other words, they are just as bad as their image portrays them.

Then, there are those who seem to be pretty nice people. People with integrity who are honest. These are the ones of whom you could say, "I'd like to spend some time with them." 

Coach John Wooden (1910 - 2010) was one such man. 

John Wooden largeI had the great privilege of meeting Coach in 1987 at a basketball coaches clinic in Arlington, Texas. My team, the Texas Wesleyan Rams, had been chosen to be the "conference team" for Coach as he talked to area coaches about life principles and then showed how he ran a practice back in the days of Walton, Alcinder and Wilkes at UCLA. So, I now get to tell people that I played basketball for Coach John Wooden (and I do tell them this!) even if just for a few hours long after his days at UCLA.

As I have read biographies and leadership books on Coach Wooden, it becomes clear that here was a man of integrity who was very successful as a player and a coach (Hall of Famer as both,) but moreso as a husband, father, and man of God. His "pyramid of success" hangs in my office as a reminder of much that he had learned and taught (and continues to teach even four years after his death) to many.

Here are some quotes and words of wisdom from Coach that sometimes make me smile and often make me go "Oh. . .yeah. Hmmm."

  • I wanted my players to know I truly cared about them. I loved them all. I didn't like them all. And some of them didn't like me all the time. But today I'm closer to many of my players than I was when they played for me.
  • You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you are outscored.
  • Make your effort to do the very best you can. That's what I wanted from my teams more than anything else.
  • Leadership from a base of hypocrisy undermines respect, and if people don't respect you, they won't willingly follow you.
  • Be slow to correct and quick to commend.
  • I never yelled at my players much. That would have been articificial stimulation, which doesn't last very long. I think it's like love and passion. Passion won't last as long as love.
  • As a coach, there were a few rules I pretty much stuck to: Never be late. Be neat and clean. I was a stickler for that. At practice, we started on time and we closed on time. And not one word of profanity. If I see it in a game, you're coming out.
  • One time, Bill Walton showed up for practice, looking unkempt. "It's my right," he told me. "That's good, Bill," I replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. We're going to miss you."
  • Once, one of my players was asked if I ever used profanity. "Absolutely, he replied, "Goodness, gracious, sakes alive" is profanity for Coach."
  • Ability may get you to the top, but you need character to keep you there.
  • What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.
  • I don't want to be like the guy in church who coughs loudly just before putting money into the offering plate.
  • Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.
  • Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. If you are looking for the easy way, the shortcut. . . you'll not be developing your talents.
  • Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
  • Discipline yourself and others won't need to.
  • Kindness makes for much better teamwork.
  • A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player.
  • Players today are better than ever; I don't think the teams are.
  • You have to be a friend to have a friendship. It isn't one-way.
  • The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
  • Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don't.
  • Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.
  • My father gave me a two-dollar bill for my grade school graduation. He said, "Hold on to this, and you'll never go broke." I still have it. A lot of times, that's all I've had. But I've never been broke.
  • Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  • If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict.
  • The most I made coaching was $32,500. Maybe I didn't have a multi-million-dollar contract like Shaquille O'Neal, but he'll never know what it was like to get a good meal for twenty-five cents.
  • Ability is a poor man's wealth.
  • There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
  • To achieve significance, it's a good idea to select an activity for which God has given us at least a measure of skill.
  • Don't call me Wizard [of Westwood]. I'm no wizard!
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.
  • Young people need role models, not critics.
  • Pick up your own orange peels.
  • Never mistake activity for achievement.
  • I don't believe in praying to win a game.
  • It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • If you don't have time to do it right, when will you do it over?
  • Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  • We can give without loving, but we can't love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone.
  • God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest. From the cross, God declares, "I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pains you feel, but I love you."

Thanks Coach!

_________________

Coach John Wooden Winning With Principle. N.p.: B & H, 2013. Print.


The Church According to Winnie the Pooh

Have you ever noticed the decidedly unique personalities of the characters in the "Winnie the Pooh" stories? Okay, maybe you're like most people and just watched the cartoons as a child, or with your child, simply for entertainment purposes. Perhaps it bothers you when people analyze simple childhood characters to discover deeper meaning. If that's the case. . .sorry, stop reading now and go watch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants (did you ever notice how each character in Spongebob represents a unique personality trait. . .oh, never mind.)

Psychologists have written about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood for years.  You may not be aware of this, but Google it, you'll see.

As I look at the characters in the world of Pooh (that phrase makes me cringe just typing it) I think it's fair to say that the members of the Hundred Acre Wood and members of most churches have much in common.

Now, if this offends you. . . well, it shouldn't. If you get angry, just look at the picture of Winnie the Pooh and friends below. That should make you smile and enable you to get through the rest of your day in good spirits.

258px-Winnie-the-pooh2011

Winnie the Pooh - Some say Pooh has an eating disorder, but we know he just loves potluck fellowships, as long as the pots are filled with "hunny." The joke for years is that we will know we are Baptists by our doctrines and casseroles. Winnie is also a very nice guy and a friend to all. He would be on the "First Impressions" team, but we'd probably opt to not allow him to wear a name tag that said "Winnie." That's just a . . . well, interesting name for a man.

Piglet_2011

Piglet - This little piggy suffers from panaphobia. This is the fear of everything. He's afraid to join a small group, leave a small group, change his small group, volunteer to serve, shake hands during the greeting, drink out of the water fountain, fill out a "Welcome" card, ride in the parking lot golf cart, talk to people, pray out loud, read Scripture out loud, etc.

Tigger

Tigger - This ball of energy is everywhere! He volunteers to serve, "amens" loudly during the services (at the wrong time, mostly,) signs up for every trip, event, mission, project, etc. He's a bundle of energy that starts many good things. However, he rarely finishes them and you just can't count on him to be where he says he will be. His ADHD is real or at least appears to be. He can't help that he's all over the place, but the good thing is that even though he's loud, sometimes obnoxious, draws attention and what not, he's still fun to be around. He has charisma, some would say.

Rabbit 1

Rabbit - This wonderful church member is the resident OCD example. He would say it's just the spiritual gift of administration, and that may be true, but you can rest assured that if he is teaching a class, every poster, video clip, handout, illustration, etc. will be perfect. If the schedule says a service should start at 9:15am, then it had better not begin at 9:16am. He's a stickler for details and is needed. It's just that sometimes he can get so caught up in the details that he misses the bigger picture. That's why God always bounces a Tigger into Rabbit's world.

Owl_new

Owl - This is the person who has it all together. He's probably the most theologically sound and wisest person in the church. . .just ask him. Yeah, he's kind of his own greatest fan. He's a spiritual narcissist. The fact is, he is pretty smart and he does know much, but he's not much of a team player because. . . well, when you're perfect, you don't need anyone else. Eventually, these owls burn out and sometimes disappear for a season. Owl has much to offer the Kingdom, but needs a good dose of humility.

Kanga

Kanga - She is a loving parent and cares greatly for her child. This is admirable and honorable. Kanga would be serving in the preschool or children's ministry and most likely would be ensuring the safety and security of the children. She is the type of person who would willingly settle for less within the church so that the children could have more. She is selfless. You know, she's a Proverbs 31 kangaroo.

Roo

Roo - I love Roo. Just talked to a couple of "roos" a few minutes ago. These kids are not the future of the church. They're the present church. God fills growing churches with roos and gives us the joy of seeing them come to know Him. There's energy here. They'll break things, say dumb things, be where they're not supposed to be at times, but they're learning and growing. We raise them in the way they should go, you know. 

Eeyore

Eeyore - This guy is depressing. We love him, but don't want to hang out with him. He's like an emotional cancer that brings everyone else down. He needs help. Perhaps there was a light of joy in his past, but due to some personal pain or being let down by others, he has a hard time seeing anything positively. To Eeyore the church is a mess. Nothing is working. "Woe is me" is his theme. Some of what he sees is real. There are always problems. No one wants a Pollyanna view, but to always be down is a problem too. Eeyore has lost his first love. He needs to be on the prayer list.

Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin - Here's your dreamer. He sometimes sees things that others cannot. Sometimes he imagines things to be true that aren't as well. Seriously, this kid imagined his stuffed animals were real. Yet, there's a need for a Christopher Robin in the church. Dreamers see that which others can't and can be vision casters. The downside is the vision casters sometimes can't see the reality of now and miss what God is doing today. 

So. . . do you recognize any of these characters? Are you any of these? Truth be told, we all have probably been like one of these at some point or another. The church is made of God's people, not cartoon or children's book characters, but it's interesting to note how easily we see ourselves in these caricatures. 

No, we're not changing the name of the church to "Hundred Acre Church" and please don't call me Pastor Pooh. That's just wrong.

Heffalump-winnie-the-pooh-6512166-385-426

P.S. I never saw the Heffalump movie, so I'm not sure what that thing is or his/her character traits. Maybe the heffalump represents those outside the church we're called to go find and bring into God's church? Or, maybe it's an imaginary purple elephant? I'm not sure.


Going to College After High School? Be Intentional and Connect with the BCM at Your School Now!

In just a five months our local high school seniors will be graduating. Many will walk across a stage, be handed a diploma, shake hands with a respresentative from the school or school board, then go to a party, either with friends or family and celebrate their newfound status as high school graduates.

Even now, as many seniors are enjoying their last year in high school, there is a coming reality of life that will be upon them before they know it. For some, this means entering the work force, which is not as easy as it sounds with the lack of jobs available. For others, an oath and some time at boot camp is coming as they enter the US military ready to serve our country. Still others have plans to attend college or university.

For many of those entering the college world, degree plans and housing options as well as the opportunity to wear school logos from schools they actually attend, rather than just as a fan of a sports team, are in the future. Many qualified seniors have been receiving letters and postcards from colleges and universities from throughout the Unites States. Schools that have heretofore never been heard of by the students are now doing all they can to entice the young person to visit and enroll.

The questions loom regarding the validity of a college degree in today's society. A good read is Is College Worth It? by Dr. William J. Bennett and David Wilezol. If student loans can be avoided, it is preferred. Wise fiduciary choices partnered with quality degrees is a good match.

MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DEGREE

I believe in the value of higher education. My years in college, university and seminary were some of the most valuable and life-changing times in my life. However, as a parent, pastor and follower of Christ, I believe ther is a more important issue for those attending college and univsersity, especially in our culture nowadays.

While no generational group can truly be homogenized, studies do indicate a quickening drift from faith for those aged 18-25. Often students move away from home or begin attending university and land on campus totally unprepared. Their borrowed faith that was sufficient for Sunday School and leading seven year olds in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School seems to melt for many once exposed to the intellectualism prominent in the world of higher education.

EVEN SMART PEOPLE CAN BE CHRIST-FOLLOWERS

Young men and women can have both high intellect, superb decision-making abilities and a deep, sincere faith in Jesus Christ. This seems to be ignored by many who have discounted those with a relationship with Christ.

As Josh McDowell stated years ago, "You don't have to check your brain at the door to follow Christ."

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY STUDENTS NEED SOLID, UNASHAMED, GOSPEL-CENTRIC CHURCHES & MINISTRIES

There are many churches in college towns. There are also numerous ministries available on most campuses. Some are great. Others are churches and ministries in name only and present a tepid, weak, Christianity that feels good and holds no convictions. 

It is the challenge for parents, students and churches to be proactive and engaged during these years in college. In fact, most life-affecting decisions will be made during these years, so it's vital to have a firm foundation.

FLORIDA COLLEGIATE MINISTRIES

BcmFlorida has over 886,000 college and university students enrolled right now. This includes over 30,000 international students from over 150 countries. These numbers alone should lead churches and Christ-followers to see the great mission before us.

If you are a high school senior or a parent of a senior planning to attend college or university here in Florida, let me strongly encourage you to be proactive and get connected now with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) leader at the school of your choice. 

I hear from students in our church who have left home to attend school. Some connect in a local church near their campus. Others connect in a campus ministry. Unfortunately, I hear from some who either connect in a church or ministry that is far from theologically sound and Gospel-centric (though they may have great parties and good music) or disconnect totally from a community of faith. 

Don't "graduate" from church or your faith when you go away to school. That would be perhaps the most immature thing you could do. I recommend you connect and engage with a strong church and the BCM at your campus.

To help you, here are the names and contacts for the BCM leaders in our state currently:

JACKSONVILLE AREA:

  • UNF, JU & FSCJ - Lauren Bumgarner (lauren@jaxbcm.com)

TALLAHASSEE AREA:

  • FAMU - Larry Hunt (larry.hunt@flbaptist.org)
  • FSU & TCC - Lance Beauchamp (lance.beauchamp@flbaptist.org)
  • Baptist College of Florida - Ashley Fredryk (ashley.fredryk@baptistcollege.edu)

MIAMI AREA:

  • UM & FIU - Matt Wofford (wofford13@gmail.com)

ORLANDO AREA:

  • UCF - Brad Crawford (brad.crawford@flbaptist.org)

PENSACOLA AREA:

  • UWF, PSC - Tony Olesky (tony.olesky@flbaptist.org)

GAINESVILLE AREA:

  • UF, SFSC - Eddie Gilley (eddie.gilley@flbaptist.org)

TAMPA AREA:

  • USF - Rahul Agarwal (rahul.agarwal@flbaptist.org)

MELBOURNE AREA:

  • Florida Tech - Nathan Smith (ndsmith1208@gmail.com)

PANAMA CITY AREA:

  • GCSC - Phyllis Poland (phyllis@nwcbap.org)

Simply put - get involved. If you or your student is attending college or university that is not listed, contact Connie Ricks at the Florida Baptist Convention office (connie.ricks@flbaptist.org) and she will connect you with a BCM leader connected to that school or a local church nearby. Also, check out the Florida BCM website here - www.floridabcm.com.

These are vital times. Don't miss this key element in planning for your future.

 


You Are What You Read

Some people don't like to read. I love to read. In fact, I have a stack of books that I've purchased and have been given to me over the years still in the "to read" pile. Time becomes an issue.

Nevertheless, you will know a person by what they read, right?

So, here are some pictures of bookshelves in my office and in our Associate Pastors' offices. A little insight into what we're thinking on, perhaps?

My office:

IMG_0936
And. . .another shelf in my office:

IMG_0937

Stanley Puckett's office:

IMG_0939

Dave Paxton's office:

IMG_0938

Shelvin Lamb's office:

IMG_0941

Skipper Rodgers' office:

IMG_0942