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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Blame the Churches

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

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

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

Blame the Church Members

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

Blame the State Conventions

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

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

Blame the Economy

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

Blame the IMB

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

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

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

Blame Isn't Helping, So Now What?

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

Now that number is going to diminish.

It seems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray our other SBC churches will as well.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story I Predicted

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

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

I'm usually met with silence.

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

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

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

Here's the headline from The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for pastors?

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

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

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

Will pastors be arrested?

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

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

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

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

So what do we do?

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

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

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

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

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


Lost Sheep Eventually Come Home

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris had no idea he was lost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens then?

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

____________________

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


Why the Jokes About Jenner Have to Stop

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

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

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

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

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

It's Not About Political Correctness

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

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

It Is Mission Critical

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

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

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

Love Wins

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

So, Why Stop the Jokes?

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

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

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

Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier

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

However, jokes can be hurtful. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Without Affirmation of Sin

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

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

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

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


Playing Games & Calling It Ministry

I have heard the comments throughout the years, but it seems that over the past few months they have grown with regularity. I wouldn't really file these away as gripes, but they are close. Maybe it's a sign that there's a holy unrest among a generation seeking more? At least, that's how I define it. The common thread is that I am hearing from members of a certain generation who are tired of being a part of a ministry that is content at remaining shallow.

Some of the things said in passing are things like. . .

"I really want to be a part of a ministry that is more than just focused on fun."

"I don't think just getting together to play games constitutes ministry."

"I love being with people, but shouldn't we be doing something for the Lord rather than just talking about it?"

"The trips are fun. It's just that they're only trips. We don't do anything related to God, the church or ministry."

"All we do is eat."

Holy discontent?

Sounds like young adults who grew up in a youth ministry that was built on pizza parties, trips to the beach or amusement park and maybe game nights. As a veteran of student ministry and student of the culture, this is one of the reasons many teenagers leave church when they graduate. They were never invited into ministry, never given significant tasks within the church and eventually they either desire more or see church as frivolous.

The thing is, the comments I'm hearing now are not from the younger, Millennial generation. These comments are coming from senior adults.

Lightstock_138010_small_david_tarkington

I don't categorize them as gripes, but as honest questions from men and women who have more chapters read in their life stories than I do. Most desire to finish well and do not see empty "ministries" as allowing them to do so.

It's funny, they're not saying they don't want to play games, eat and fellowship together or even take trips together on the big bus somewhere. Their frustration is that these activities alone are called "ministry" and yet, should not be.

In other words, if the church only offers activities for seniors that the local community senior center can, there is a good chance that what is offered is not ministry at all. 

It is offensive to me when pastors and leaders who serve senior adults treat these seasoned saints as if they're little more than old versions of preschoolers.

We live in a culture that does not value the aged. This is evident in how many view senior adults. There is a treasure of wisdom available, but many just walk on by and never experience it, destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations by ignoring wise counsel.

Now, just because a person has lived long on the earth does not mean that person is living holy, redeemed and wise. These attributes are Spirit-given and often choices of the individual. Nevertheless, the church in the United States that rightly seeks to reach Millennials and young people with the Gospel must also discover ways to not push aside those who still have much to offer the Kingdom.

Intergenerational ministry is key. . .and it's not defined by games, meals and bus trips.


Intentional Parenting

08-16-2015 The Fam - Part 2 - Raising Boys and Girls

Yesterday, we launched our First Family Initiative at our church. We hosted counselors and authors, Sissy Goff and David Thomas of Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. They are authors or co-authors of numerous books and have a combined 75 years of experience in family counseling, working primarily with parents and children.

The insights provided yesterday regarding the essentials of godly, healthy parenting were incredible.

The attached audio file is from our Sunday morning gathering and features Sissy & David speaking on the subject of "Intentional Parenting."

Check out our online bookstore here for a full list of available resources from these two and other authors.

Also, go to the Raising Boys and Girls website at raisingboysandgirls.com for resources & updates.

Raising boys and girls app big


Millennials In the Church

Earlier this week our Leadership Team attended the SEND Conference in Nashville. This conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board and International Mission Board, featured challenging messages, vital insights into culture and incredible worship music as well as an opportunity to connect with others focused on pushing back the darkness in a culture prone to wander.

One of the many breakout sessions offered was Thom Rainer's on Millennials and the Future of the Church. His bullet points are available here for now

(BTW - Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s)

I went to this breakout session with a few of our Millennial Leadership Team members. I did notice a few other grey haired guys in the room, so I was not totally out of place.

Death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work (7 of 10)

When looking at research on generations and the broad strokes of identification that often come with descriptive terms for groups, the data can be overwhelming and more often than not, negative in scope.

Millennials are therefore, often relegated to a descriptor by older generations that ignores who they truly are, what they have to offer and the questions they continue to ask.

Churches that ignore millennials, or who simply relegate them to a satellite ministry in attempts to be relevant are missing perhaps the greatest mission field and potential great awakening in years.

Rainer's research revealed truths that I had not known. 

Here are some facts about this generation with my thoughts in red.

  1. The Largest Generation – More than 78 Million live births from 1980-2000. This is amazing to me. For years, the Boomers were spoken of as the largest generation. Then, with the development of "the pill" and the legalization of abortion, it has been presumed (by me) that this generation was smaller. 
  2. The Lost Generation – Our best estimate is that just 15% of the Millennials are Christians. This is not surprising. Youth groups are declining in number (though many students attend, there is a tendency to jump from church to church, group to group, and para-church to para-church simply for events) and many are graduating high school and church as well. Church attendance does not equate to relationship with Christ, but there are a vast majority of young people, even within the church, who do not know Christ. This is even more clear as social media has grown and personal theologies have become more exposed.
  3. The Unchurched Generation – About 20% of Millennials attend church at least twice a month. Regular church attendance, with split families and other reasons, is now only twice a month. More attend church than know Christ.
  4. The Relational Generation – Relationships are key to Millennials. It's all about relationships. There's no devotion to an organization, by and large, but there is to friendships and relationships. People matter. This is the social media generation. Numerous follows, likes and "friends" are key to this generation. True friendships, however, may be fewer and farther between.
  5. The Mentee Generation – Mentoring is desired by Millennials. The younger generation actually desires relationships with older people. This, however, must be a two-way street. As with any descriptor, there are exceptions.
  6. The High Expectations Generation – They want to be at a church that makes a difference in its community and the world. The word "missional" may be overused by some, but living missionally as a church in a community is vital if Millennials are to connect. 
  7. The Stewardship Generation – This generation asks “What are we doing with our resources and are they being used in the best way and to God’s glory?” This question must be answered clearly by the church. Just giving to a fund for an organization will not elicit excitement and ultimately will run dry. Millennials will give. . .but they need to know it's for a purpose.
  8. The Committed Generation – They are committed to that about which they are passionate. This one is hard for older people (like me) to fathom, but as Rainer explained it, I see the truth here. In a world where it seems that no one is committed, this generation will commit to a movement, a belief system, a project. . . if it's seen as valuable. Some say that they change jobs every two years (and likely churches, too, if they're involved) and that is a sign they're not committed. However, what is revealed is that the workforce is often seen by business as a resource, not family. Therefore, when people are not viewed as valuable. . .in a relationship. . .there is no commitment to offer. If churches view Millennials as simply a resource, they will not reach this generation.
  9. The Cross-generational Generation – They desire to learn from those who have been there and have experience. Again, this is founded on authentic relationships. The church should take this to heart and ask the hard questions regarding programming. Should every program, ministry and event be "age-divided"? Maybe the Millennials will lead the church back to a first century model?
  10. The Generation of Opportunity – There is a great challenge in reaching Millennials, but the opportunity is greater. Millennials are the largest mission field in American history. It’s up to us to reach them with the gospel. The message here is "Wake Up Church!" We cannot ignore this generation. How tragic to be presented with the largest generation of unchurch people in our nation's history and miss what God is going to do through them.

There is much more to be said about reaching and connecting with this generation. The bottom line is this - we cannot afford to miss that which God intends to do through this generation. I believe we will be held accountable in how we effectively engage and serve alongside those categorized as Millennials.

In a relay race, the baton matters. Crossing the finish line without the baton is a loss. We must pass the baton on to those who will run the next leg of this race.


Why It's Easier to Care About a Lion Than Babies

There are two stories that seem to be trending in the media this week. These are unrelated stories, but show an interesting contrast on cultural views of life, ethics and value.

Cecil the Lion

The story of Cecil the Lion is a tragic one. Walter Palmer, a dentist on a "hunt" in Zimbabwe killed a lion that had been collared and was part of an ongoing study at Oxford University. Details of the story continue to come out and the debate in the public continues to rage.

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His statement of regret is seemingly falling on deaf ears and many have declared it empty.

"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have."" - Walter Palmer

Those who advocate for animal "rights" and celebrities have joined the story to share their opinions of Palmer. Mia Farrow tweeted Palmer's home address and thus, protesters arrived.

Others have shared what they think should happen to Palmer.

"Anything loose, they should cut off." - Betty White

"I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well-deserved. If he was my dentist I would never set eyes on him again." - Bob Barker

The story is gaining ground and mainstream media outlets as well as entertainment outlets continue to push it on the front page or as the lead story of the day.

Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts

The other story that is working its way through social media and some mainstream outlets focuses on the leaked, undercover videos by a pro-life organization showing doctors and leaders of Planned Parenthood admitting to and expressing how they sell organs of aborted babies for profit.

Planned Parenthood has existed for decades. This non-profit organization declares itself as the primary provider of reproductive health and women's services in the nation. This is a sanitized, politically correct way of stating that they provide more abortions than any other organization in the United States.

The first video released is embedded below. Be warned, it is not easy to watch.

The latest is even more disturbing. . .

 

Amazingly, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board has issued this statement in response to the video, as part of a well-orchestrated dance attempting to diffuse this story in the national media.

“People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful.” - PP Clergy Advocacy Board

At first, I was surprised that Planned Parenthood even had a Clergy Advocacy Board. However, there is a clear version of "Christianity" in America that has forsaken the truths of the Gospel and the truth of His Word. Therefore, statements like these should not surprise us, though they are greatly disturbing.

Joe Carter, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition referenced it this way:

That some clergy from denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and American Baptist Churches would turn a blind eye to the sale of body parts from children slaughtered in the womb is not surprising. Almost all mainline denominations officially support unrestricted access to abortion.

But these ministerial shills have the audacity to frame their support for America’s largest abortion provider as a defense of women. Their kneejerk support for Planned Parenthood reveals a willful ignorance of one of the most anti-woman organizations in America.

How These Stories Are Connected

The story of Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood actually have nothing to do with each other. One is about a hunting trip in Africa that resulted in one animal being wrongly killed.

The other is about the deception of an organization that I believe does evil work and is responsible for the killing of millions of human beings.

What does connect them is the story of life and the message of ethics and truth.

Why It's Easier to Care for a Lion Than Babies

It is easier to jump on the bandwagon that is attacking Dr. Palmer than show offense to what is being done at Planned Parenthood. 

It's easier because the crowd is louder that speaks against Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because others will celebrate you if you "stand up for Cecil."

It's easier because the platform is wide and welcoming for those who would show anger and frustration toward Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because other than tweeting and posting opposition (other than the few who are organizing protests and other actions) there really is no personal engagement in the Cecil the Lion story. Just tweet your anger and use the appropriate hashtag and go about your life.

However, when you assert your offense at what organizations like Planned Parenthood do, you are labeled. You are placed in a category that isn't celebrated by the masses. You will be on an opposite side of celebrities and those who are often worshipped by the masses.

The politically incorrect will not be celebrated.

You will be declared a hater of women (the enemy loves pulling out the "hater" tag for those who stand up for truth) rather than a lover of life and an advocate for babies.

You will have to stand on a narrow platform.

You will have to do more than state your opposition to abortion.

Christians who state their opposition to abortion must in the same breath state and show their advocacy for helping pregnant women, providing for single moms, standing in the gap for teens who are pregnant, affirm and support foster care and adoption services.

It is hypocritical to be against abortion and ignore the role of the church in these other areas. There's no way to be unengaged and be holy.

That's why it's easier.

But then, who said living holy and grounded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be easy?

What Must Be Done

I affirm the calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I am not convinced this will ever happen, but at least the conversation has begun again, and more earnestly than in the past. To know that we are all guilty by proxy of the trafficking of human body parts through our taxes is offensive and atrocious. It's time for the federal government to do the right thing here and for the people standing upon that narrow platform to stand unwaveringly and push strongly for this.

Praying By Name

Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on how we should pray for those who are the names and faces of Planned Parenthood. The God of life is the only one who can transform a heart. Pray for those who do evil, especially those who unknowingly do so. How can they know evil apart from knowing the truth?

Trevin's full post is here.

Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reminded us of our role clearly.

The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).

The heart of man is dark. Jesus is the light and has stated that we are His Light of the world. Let's shine this light brightly.

Love God - Love People - Make Disciples


God Shows His Glory Through a Little Boy

It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.

Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.

11737812_1184421944914420_1013288043990846656_nJon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace. 

A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.

Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well. 

Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.

Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.

Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.

Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.

Critical Day

Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .

One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.

The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:

  1. Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
  2. Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
  3. Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
  4. Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.

These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."

At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.

We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.

The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.

The Anointing

I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)

Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment. 

This prayer time was no gimmick.

It was no religious routine.

It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering. 

It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.

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Then, We Waited

Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.

While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.

Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.

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When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.

Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

God bless the reading and believing of His Word.

Surgery Delayed

We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.

At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.

The delay was then extended to the next day.

Surgery Day - Tuesday

Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.

 

Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.

There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.

Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.

Prayer Continues

The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.

Look What God Has Already Done

Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.

May God be glorified.

We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing. 

In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.

The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged. 

Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts. 

The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed. 

Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.

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Well Done Church

Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."

We don't have to fake it.

God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey. 

Keep praying.

Keep believing. 

Keep the faith.

Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.

For continued updates on Drew's story, "Like" my Facebook page or our church's page.

As you share your prayers and thoughts on social media, use the #PrayForDrew hashtag, please.