Religious Liberty, the Gay Adoption Ban & Florida Faith-Based Orphan Care

As you are likely aware based on previous emails, blog posts and the announcement shared this morning, there is a vital bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives designed to allow faith-based children's service organizations working with the state to place children in foster homes and with "forever families" through adoption to be able to stand firmly on their religious convictions in determining home placement.

Our local state representatives (for most of Clay County it's Rep. Travis Cummings - 18, and for the southern region, it's Rep. Charles Van Zant, Sr. - 19) and senator (Sen. Rob Bradley) are fully aware of the bill in the house and the need for this to pass.

However, at this late stage of session, the rules for introducing new bills in the state Senate are very restrictive. Therefore, while there is a need and many seek to move forward, the guidelines and rules will prove to be a great hurdle in this case. Bills can only be introduced at this late stage by committee. Senator Bradley's committee does not hold jurisdiction over such matters and therefore will be unable to introduce a Senate bill coinciding with HB7111.

Nevertheless, Senator Bradley has stated clearly that he is interested in fixing the faith-based children's program problem that will develop without intervention. 

When the House introduced HB7111 shortly after the beginning of session, they did so to address the problems present in the present bill (HB7013). 


Here's the history as presented by The Donaldson Adoption Institute:

FLORIDA HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE GAY ADOPTION BAN FROM LAW

03/11/2015 - AUTHOR: BRENDAN FARRINGTON

The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday, March 11, 2015, that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law. The bill still needs a House vote but has wide support.

Florida-House-Bill-300x206The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law.

The vote came five years after an appeals court ruled that the state’s gay-adoption ban is unconstitutional. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision. While some Republicans voted against the bill amendment, none spoke out against it and it was quickly approved. It is part of a larger bill (HB 7013) that would create incentives to adopt children in state care.

———————————————

HB 7013 – Adoption and Foster Care

Revising requirements for agreements between the Department of Children and Families and specified entities for the provision of educational services; requiring the community-based care lead agency to contact by telephone the child’s adoptive family within a specified period after the date that the adoption is finalized; authorizing a direct-support organization established by the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to accept donations of products or services from private sources to be given to the recipients of the adoption achievement awards; requiring licensed child-placing agencies that provide adoption services for intercountry adoptions to meet specified requirements.

———————————————

“It’s an acknowledgement of different times. The language that was essentially repealed was put into statute in 1977,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach. “Sometimes it’s about people and not about politics.”

The full bill still needs a House vote, but it has wide support. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve the bill before the gay-adoption language is deleted from law.

Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the vote isn’t necessarily an endorsement of current policy that allows gays to adopt.

“Philosophically, I’ve never really been there on that, but I’m somebody who operates under the letter of the law,” he said. “I recognize that this has been taking place for five years, so our bill is going to reflect that.”

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said there were conservative members who quietly said no when the amendment was passed on a voice vote.

“It’s a sad acknowledgement that we already lost in the courts on this discussion. I still think a mom and a dad are what kids need,” said Baxley. “A lot of us didn’t vote for that amendment today. It was a pretty weak no vote.”

Asked if he was one of the quiet no votes, Baxley said, “I was just quiet.”


I am confident our representatives and senator from our districts are on-board to protect the religious liberty of faith-based children's service organizations. As is the case often, that which seems "logical" and "easy" (i.e. just pass the bill and present a Senate version) is never as easy as it sounds. 

Nevertheless, the challenge remains. 

Pray for those who represent you in local, state and federal government. God is sovereign and no one holds a position of leadership apart from His design. 

Regarding HB7111 (the fix to a problem on an otherwise good bill) passage is needed.

If you contact your representative and senator, encourage and be brief. Recognize the limitations of their position. Once the campaigns end, the signs are removed, the babies have been kissed and the speeches have been made, the minutia of the job sometimes can be overwhelming.

_______________________________________

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


Indiana Is Front Page News & It's About LGBT Rights Instead of the "Final Four"

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed what has been labeled a controversial bill into law last week that has created quite a stir among the LGBT community and supporting groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been declared an open door to legal discrimination against those in the LGBT community. Governor Pence has clearly stated that discrimination is not allowable in any form. . .

This bill is not about discrimination,and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Nevertheless, this reasoning seems to fall on deaf ears and Pence is being lauded as a hate-monger and worse online and through some media outlets.

The Backlash

Since the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four will take place in Indianapolis next week, leadership from the collegiate sports governing board as well as prominent coaches, athletes and former athletes are speaking out. Threats of not playing future championship contests in the state are being made from the NCAA, large Division I conferences and professional leagues. This is similar to what the NFL was faced in Arizona last year.

Big business and large corporations are entering into the fray as well, with the most notable voice being that of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. through a tweet that also challenged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto a similar bill in his state. Hutchinson is on record as saying he will sign his state's bill into law.

Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.

Other business leaders have released statements as well. . .

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted on Thursday:

Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.

The online review company Yelp also signaled its intentions to boycott Indiana, and every other state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. Yelp chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, stated on Thursday:

I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.

And, even some religious groups and denominations are reacting. The Disciples of Christ Christian Church is also contemplating moving their 2017 convention out of Indianapolis, to protest the passing of the anti-gay law.

Why Protecting One Group Seems Like an Attack On Another

The sad reality is that states are feeling the need to pass laws such as the one in Indiana. Just to be clear, I am not opposed to the law that has been passed in Indiana and am for enacting similar laws in other states. While that statement alone will likely either affirm beliefs already held about me by some or move me into a category of haters (everyone likes to categorize people) the truth is that my conviction is not based on hate or discrimination at all.

The phrase "freedom of religion" has held high regard in our nation since its founding. While it can rightly be said that some atrocious things have been affirmed and justified in the name of religion over the years, the fact of the matter is that personal convictions are still valuable. Once we enter into the discussion of religious freedom, examples are thrown back of those who have wrongly used religious conviction (religious, not just Christian) to justify sinful actions (i.e. slavery, segregation, state sponsored religion, even terror acts.)

There are many who would see this situation regarding business owners refusing services to others as nothing but discrimination without regard to individual's personal convictions.

It is clear that these bills are being created and laws are being enacted as a response to those who have faced government sanctions and even lost business by refusing to serve LGBT customers - most notably the baker in Oregon who made national news by refusing services.

It is clear that in many of these cases, the business owners, by their own admission, have refused services to avoid contradicting their personal convictions. No wise business owner with a strong view of capitalism would refuse service and potential profits otherwise. Yet, by protecting the rights of a person to say "no" to another, the result is that someone loses, apparently. 

Religious Liberty May Not Remain a Right

Based on recent decisions and a swift move to push against religious conviction, it is evident that left undone, religious liberty will become a concept that once worked, but currently is not valued. The freedom of religion will become so narrowly defined that ultimately, only culturally affirmed religious actions (still not "state-sponsored" in the legal sense) will be allowable in the public square under the banner of tolerance, all the while creating a culture of intolerance when it comes to what is categorized as conservative, biblical, evangelical belief systems of faith.

The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released this map showing recent decisions that are whittling away at the foundation of religious freedom.

 

What If It's Not Hate?

Actions such as the law in Indiana are always categorized as "hate" but what if it's not hate? What if it's based on something deeper than that? What if it's based on love? Many will never be able to rectify this concept. You may struggle with this. You're thinking "How can you show love by being hateful or refusing to serve?" That's the paradox of faith. Now, I'm speaking of Christianity based on the inerrant Word and a relationship with God. Yeah, yeah, I hear you - God is love. He wouldn't discriminate. You're right. He is love. His love is deeper than descriptors. His love is stronger than cultural winds. His image-bearers seek to love Him and others. We often fail at this, but that is our goal.

The biggest challenge we face in the area of reaching and showing love to those who self-identify as LGBT is the reality that loving someone does not equate to affirmation. Every parent can assert this reality. We love our children, but as many of us know, behaviors, actions and even lifestyle choices are not always acceptable or affirmable. Love does not equal affirmation.

So, now as one group declares their not being loved, the common response is to throw hate at the other group. 

In other words, you don't have to be a Christian nor agree with me and my convictions, but can you love me? I have family members who declare their love for me, but do not hold the same convictions I do. Maybe this is the bigger story?

But, Some Do Hate

Yes, some do hate. Even some people who wear the name "Christian" seem to allow their personal prejudices drive them at times. I say "them" but I guess I should say "us" because I have yet to meet a person (Christian, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, etc.) who does not hold personal prejudices of some sort. 

When hate is celebrated, mob mentality results. In these cases (and to my non-Christian friends, this may not make any sense) the Enemy has gained a foothold and the truth of the redemptive Gospel of Christ is not heard and not lived out. 

Do I see the Indiana law as a hate-based one? No. Neither do I see the potential one in Arkansas and others to come.

I do see it being about religious liberty - the right to hold personal, religious convictions. Of course, my LGBT friends will not, for the most part. Perhaps when all the reactionaries settle down we will see the truth more clearly. Of course, Governor Pence is up for reelection in 2016 and I feel this signing will remain in the news for quite sometime as he has basically painted a target upon himself. 

I don't know him. I don't know his personal, religious convictions or belief system, but as with all governmental leaders, he needs our prayers.


A Needed Bill to Protect Faith-Based Orphan Care Ministries In Florida May Not Move Forward

Yesterday, I posted a detailed plea for prayer from Christian friends regarding a proposed bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives. Today, I was notified by Dr. Jerry Haag, President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, that even if the bill makes it through the House (which seems likely) there is no one in the Florida Senate planning to move it forward there. Dr. Haag then sent me the following e-mail, that has gone to pastors and leaders state-wide. Please read it carefully and if you live in Florida, contact your Senator.

92b45241-7354-40b9-b2f3-ee0bd310bb12

As an update for the faith-based conscience protection bill (HB 7111), we need you to take action for this critical legislation to pass. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee next week, and we have reason to believe it may pass there. However, after meeting with Senate President Gardiner yesterday, the Senate does not yet have intentions for a companion bill, which has to happen for this legislation to go into effect. We need individuals who have relationships with their legislators, especially members of the Senate, to make contact with them on our behalf so that we can help 106,000 MORE children this year and every year after.  If you have a relationship with one of our Florida senators, will you call them to, first, make them aware of this bill that is heading to the Judiciary Committee in the House next week?  Also, if you have a relationship with one of our representatives, will you make contact with him or her to ask for his or her support? Finally, if you have a church member who you know has great relationship with a Florida legislator, will you reach out to them personally today to see if they can help us? 

Here is what we need our Senators to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111), as well as a companion bill (which has not yet been initiated) in the Senate, is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes. 
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida.
  • We need the Senate to put all politics aside so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • We need the Senate to take a stand with us on this conscience bill and put the wheels in motion for companion legislation.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected? 

Here is what we need our Representatives to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111) is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes.
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida, and we need this bill to pass through the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor this session.
  • We need this conscience bill so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected?

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

If you know your Representative or Senator personally, please encourage them to not let this bill die in committee or never make it to the Senate. If you do not know your Representative or Senator personally, you still have a voice. Please contact them and urge them to move this bill forward to be becoming law.

Most importantly, continue praying.

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov

The Full Story

For more details on HB-7111 and why it is needed in Florida, read my post from yesterday, linked below.


The Church's Role in Orphan Care Is In Jeopardy

Yesterday, I received a request from Dr. Jerry Haag, President - Florida Baptist Children's Homes (FBCH), to join him in prayer and spread the word regarding a bill moving through the Florida legislature. The bill (HB 7111), if passed, will allow faith-based organizations like the FBCH to continue serving children in our state while remaining true to biblical truths and Gospel-centric beliefs. 

Why Is HB 7111 Needed?

There is great danger on the horizon for Christ-centered fostering and adoption agencies. Joni Hannigan, writing for the Christian Examiner, states that "Adoption and foster care in Florida are on the verge of collapse if efforts by some lawmakers to provide "conscience protections" to faith-based and private agencies fail.

"There is no more dancing around the issue. Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children." - Bill Bunkley, President, Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

As with any public statements, movements or bills regarding "conscience protection" there have been detractors to this bill. The objectors claim that this bill will allow faith-based organizations to legally discriminate. This is the same argument used in areas such as so-called same-sex marriage.

Bunkley states that the Florida bill codifies practices already in existence in our state. These are practices that "protect the moral beliefs of our faith organizations." Ultimately, this bill, if passed as law, will protect child-placement agencies from violating their "religious and moral convictions."

A federal bill - The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Representative Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, was re-introduced on March 4, after failing to make it out of committee last year focuses on the same issues. It would allow licensed child welfare providers to continue operating while also holding to their religious and moral convictions on homosexuality and family structure. (Baptist Press)

Ultimately, the bill will allow faith-based children's services to continue operating while having the right to refuse placement of children in homes with parents whose lifestyles fall outside the biblical mores as believed by the agencies. 

Girl face

Whittling Away Conviction in the Name of Tolerance

Tolerance is the trending buzzword of the decade. However, it's a one-way tolerance that is propagated. Personal belief and conviction are labeled as "intolerant" if they run counter to the cultural popular opinion and especially if they line up with a biblical understanding. 

"In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated," Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, told The New York Times.

Granted, there has been a long-standing movement to redefine Scripture to have it match a more culturally-acceptable understanding, yet that is not truly the issue here. The issue is the forcing of a worldview or belief system onto a group who are morally opposed to such. 

Is It Just About Gay Adoption?

While it may appear, on the surface, as just another "conservative Christians against the LGBT community" it truly is deeper than that. Though opponents will continue to label supporters of the bill as "haters" and "bigoted" (and, unfortunately, some Christians are known more for what they're against than what they're for, and therefore wear the "hater" tag well) the truth is that Christ-followers who hold the conviction that same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting are outside the boundaries of God's design and yet, seek to love God and others are being told they cannot love without affirming that which they believe to be sin.

Tweet: Love and affirmation are not synonyms. @davidtarkLove and affirmation are not synonyms.

The media has jumped on the so-called "intolerant" haters who refuse to bake cakes, provide chapels and other wedding services for gay couples. In some cases, businesses have closed due to pressure and fines. While lost in the argument is the fact that personal conviction has been ignored in the name of tolerance. The banner of "gender discriminator" has been placed upon these individuals as their character has come under attack.

The Inevitable?

The gay marriage debate seems to be a losing one in the culture. It was in 2012 when author and futurist Alex McManus shared with me and others that gay marriage will be the law of the land in just a short amount of time. "It's inevitable," he said. At first, many of us refused to believe it, but after just three years, he seems to be a prophet. 

Is the same true for gay adoption?

Some would say that it is, but at some point, faith convictions in a nation that claims to hold to the promise of "freedom of religion" must mean something.

That means, from my perspective, the Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Mormon, Catholic, Atheist, Hindu, Liberal Christian, Moderate Christian, Conservative Christians, Evangelical and others all have the right to hold true to their convictions and faith beliefs. 

That does not, however, mean that personal convictions that truly harm others (i.e. terrorism and evil in the  name of religion) is a protected right.

What Has Happened Elsewhere?

In three states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia, faith-based adoption and foster care providers have been forced to stop providing services because they refused to place children with same-sex couples. This could be the case in Florida without protection under the law defined clearly.

106,000 Children at Stake

Dr. Haag shared with me that in 2014, the FBCH helped change the lives of more than 106,000 children and families through adoption, foster care, emergency shelter, a safe home for those rescued from sex trafficking (Florida is the #3 state in the US when it comes to trafficking,) international child care, compassion services and more. 

These are incredible numbers when you realize each number represents a soul, a person, an individual that likely would never have been helped without the ministry of FBCH.

As this bill moves through our state legislature, we must commit to pray for and support those on the front lines. Why? For starters, so that 106,000 more children may be helped and rescued this year and each year following.

Prayer Is Not Passive

This call for prayer is clear. It is not a passive reaction, but an active response. At this point, the best that Christ-followers can do regarding this bill is to unite in prayer. We seek the face of God and plead for His strength and direction. He will make a way. He does not need us, but he has stated that prayer of righteous ones avails much. We need much availed here. So, we come confidently in the name of Christ to the Father asking him to direct our lawmakers in a righteous way to allow the continued ministry and work for the orphan to occur.

As a church, we said "YES" to God when he called us to care for the orphan. Our prayers, at this point, are part of that "YES."

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


We Engage Those We Love

There are words and phrases that seem to take on a life of their own at time. They become popular for a season and now in the era of hashtags and social media tracking, the word "trending" has become a descriptor of such terms.

DSCF4077One term that I and others in the church culture have been using for the past few years is "engage." While our local Baptist association is still officially called the Jacksonville Baptist Association, more and more pastors are referring to it as the EngageJax Network. That has been an intentional shift (that likely frustrates some who hate change of any kind.) The Florida Baptist Convention now has a committee among the State Board of Missions titled "Engage Florida." (Full disclosure - I serve on that committee. . .and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what we do, but I'm new.) 

Most recently, I have talked with a number of pastors of sister churches in my county who are tired of just continually doing church in silos, while ignoring the synergy that could be developed for Kingdom work if we locked arms and strategically focused on reaching our county together. Yes, we have coined the very creative term "EngageClay" (we live in Clay County.) 

As you know, Baptists tend to have a few creative people in the tent and a whole lot of creative copiers. Nevertheless, the term "engage" is trending and so far, it's a good term. Why? Because it speaks of action. You cannot engage passively. You cannot engage philosophically. It requires movement.

What Does It Mean to Engage?

Ed Stetzer has written a profound article on his Christianity Today blog speaking of ways Christians will address cultural issues in the coming years. (Click here to read the full article.) In this, he speaks of those who will engage culture. As I read this portion, I found myself agreeing with this grouping. Perhaps it is based on the time I have spent with church planters in my community and in places where Christianity is in decline or fairly non-existent, but I relish the opportunity to connect with those far from God, for the purpose of building authentic relationships and the intent of sharing life with them. Yes, the ultimate intent is to share the Gospel, but I'm not speaking of false friendships just designed to "get the sale" but authentic ones where the Gospel can be presented naturally and lovingly and yes - intentionally.

Tweet: As culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. @edstetzerAs culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. - Ed Stetzer

Conservative American evangelicals lament the reality that the "Moral Majority" of the 1980s is no longer a majority and the fact that "religion + politics = politics." This has led to some abandoning the cause and basically throwing their arms up in the air in a sense of defeat. At the other extreme, some have sought to sequester themselves in subcultures where "Christian" has become and adjective to describe everything (i.e. Christian school, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian breath mints, etc.) rather than a noun that defines identity. 

Both extremes are wrong because neither fulfills the Great Commission and Great Commandment.

The War Is Not Lost

The phrase "culture war" has been bandied about for decades. This ideology is nothing new - from the Red Scare and McCartheyism of the 1950s, to the "free love" movement of the 1960s and every decade since, the pendulum has swung wide, often led by fear and personal and church identification based on what we are against, rather than what we are for.

There is a battle going on, but even many Christians falsely believe it is just a human battle and not a spiritual one. Ultimately, it is a battle between the prince of this world and God, and I have read the end of the book and God wins. I think that is often forgotten.

Yet, at many times, especially in western culture, the enemy is viewed as those in our communities with unbiblical perspectives and an animosity toward God and the church. In truth, they're just pawns of the Enemy.

To engage our culture means that we do not hate or seek to destroy those whom we are intent to reach for the sake of the Gospel.

When the Civil War was winding down and the North would soon declare victory, President Abraham Lincoln was preparing plans to reinstate some Southern leaders and reconstruct the South. Some in his leadership team and cabinet had differing opinions on what should be done. They told the President that the goal of war is victory and all enemies should be destroyed. Abraham Lincoln responded "Am I not destroying the enemy when I make a friend of Him?"

We Were Engaged

It's a profound truth, but one that must be shared. We were all enemies of God, through our sin. Yet, through God's grace and mercy, the Gospel, the Good News, was received and we had a title change. No longer enemies, but friends. Even more, children of God.

That is why we engage the culture. We do so because the culture is made up of people. People who are far from God, who do not know what they do not know. 

So We Engage

The cultural shifts are happening at what appears to be light speed, but in reality the heart of man apart from God has always been clouded in self-righteousness, pride and sin. It is in this reality that the Hope of the world enters.

For far too many years the church has hidden itself within the walls of its buildings (not all, but many) while the world we have been commanded to reach and engage remains in the dark. Apparently record burnings, protests, political positioning and hateful speech with just a tinge of religiosity are not part of God's strategy for His church.

Engage Without Compromise

Yet, many believers struggle with how to engage a far-from-God culture without abandoning or watering down the Gospel and their belief systems. Why is this? Why is it that compromise when it comes to conviction is seemingly the only option some find when trying to engage the culture? 

Did Jesus compromise? Absolutely not.

Yet, he engaged a culture many religious people would not. Just look at some of his miracles, audiences and friends: Gentiles, Samaritan women, unclean lepers, fishermen with salty language, tax collectors, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, as the centuries have passed, we have missed how Christ modeled cultural engagement and have become more like other biblical characters when it comes to this concept. 

You know, it's just easier to be a Pharisee.

Legalism is easy.

And it's wrong.

What Next?

What's next for the church of the 21st century? Not a new model. Not a new strategy. In fact, that which must be done has already been done. We must engage our culture as Christ did his. He is our model. He showed the way. 

As my friends and I seek to engage Clay County, Jacksonville, Florida, the United States and the world for the sake of the Gospel, it is clear that this must begin very close to home. Living missionally is more than another trending word. It is who we are as God's church. 

Tweet: We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/qIZ4l+We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does.


Love Is Love? Love Is All You Need? Really?

It's a word that everyone knows and says they understand, yet there are over 12 meanings of the word in the dictionary, and that doesn't include the verb usages and idioms. The word is LOVE.

Couple on bench in city

From "All you need is love. . ." to "Love Wins" to the trending #LoveIsLove, the concept of love is something that has gripped humanity since the beginning of time. Even in the Garden of Eden love between Adam and God and then with Eve reveals the amazing power of the word. 

Love Is A Choice

I remember talking with a friend a few years back about some things going on in his marriage. He said what so many have said over the years to me when seeking to justify their desire to get out of a relationship. He said, "I'm just not in love with her anymore." To which, in my caring, grace-filled, mercy-laced way I responded, "Bull!"

You see, love is more than a feeling. Even Boston knew that (vague 1970s rock music reference - look it up.) Love is a choice. 

 

Love Wins

A few years ago, Rob Bell authored a book that took on a life of its own in social media and among Christian circles. The book is titled Love Wins and even prior to being published, it was a best-seller in pre-orders. This was primarily due to Bell's controversial book promo online.

Bell is an incredible communicator and his church in Michigan was a popular mega-church. His Nooma videos had been used in churches for years and there was no denying his ability to draw in an audience through his teaching. Yet, something about the message conveyed in Love Wins (which is a title that millenials love) was off-center. In fact, it was clearly unbiblical and now with Bell's most recent statement about the irrelevancy of the "ancient writings" known as God's Word, the Holy Bible, Bell's belief system has been laid bare.

And it's unfortunate.

Yet, what's more unfortunate is that many in our fast-moving culture still wave the banner of "Love Wins" as if it means nothing matters ultimately, but love (but what definition of love?).

Love Is All You Need

The Beatles said that all that is needed in life is love. John Mayer says that this is a lie.

Again, the question is "What definition of love?"

Love Is Love

Now, the trending video on YouTube and on social media is from the Ad Council and features images of skeletons embracing, holding hands and kissing, only to have the people come from behind the screen to "shock" the audience as to who they really are. The message is that love is not defined by race, age, disability or even gender. . . since it's all love, right?

The phrase is meant to diffuse those who would seek to define relationships. While the video features numerous people, the primary message is clearly regarding LBGT relationships and perhaps the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That's why the video is trending. That's why the imagery is moving. 

But "love is love" is a phrase that provokes responses while doing what every English teacher in my life told me I could not do - use a word to describe the same word.

Button-tweet-thisThe underlying false message of this video, and subsequently many in our culture, is that love must come with full affirmation.

Nevertheless, once you strip away personal justification, political positioning and theological word-play, the reality is that true love is what ever human being is truly seeking.

Button-tweet-thisTrue love is that which is selfless, unconditional and permanent.

Love Is. . .

God revealed the elements of this type of love in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. . .

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

Love Is Not Possible Apart From God

That sounds very limiting and intolerant, but based on John's word in his third letter, the very nature of God is love - the ultimate, perfect, agape love and apart from knowing Him, true love remains elusive. 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)

 Button-tweet-thisTherefore, if you do not know God through Jesus Christ, you cannot fully love.

 


We Don't Need Easier Access to Liquor in Florida

As HB 107 makes its way through the Florida State Legislature, great concern is being raised among those in the state, not just in the Baptist church world, but also among law enforcement about potential issues. HB107 is the bill that would open sales of alcoholic beverages in local grocery stores and drugstores in ways to make the items more accessible to consumers.
 
Numerous county sheriffs have openly opposed the bill. Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson went on record by stating “I haven’t heard anyone complaining about finding a convenient place to buy liquor, but I have heard that in states where this legislation has already passed, law enforcement is now having to combat rising incidents of theft and illicit underage drinking inside the stores themselves.” 
 
Sheriff Rutherford of Duval County, Sheriff Demings of Orange County as well as others throughout our state, have voiced their opposition.
 
As a chaplain for our local police department and pastor of First Orange Park, I oppose the bill. This is more than just the typical “Baptist being against drinking.” I oppose this for numerous reasons. First, the shift is not needed. As Sheriff Adkinson stated, there is no one struggling in our state to find liquor. It is readily available, and in my opinion, too available. This is nothing more than a money issue and while I do not fault businesses for seeking increased profits, in this case, I sense too many red flags.
 
860700_56793699Apart from my personal conviction regarding the partaking of alcoholic beverages, the changes proposed in this bill would provide even more access for underage adults,  teenagers and children. To believe that stores would police this well and guard against this at a level needed, is a pipe dream. It will not happen. In many of these stores, young people work the registers and while this may be occurring now, to have a 16 - 20 year old responsible for “carding” customers for hard liquor sales leads to higher possibilities for underage purchases. Of course, some would say that is happening now and it’s been happening for decades. That is true, but that does not mean just because underage drinking is happening that it is a good idea to make the purchase of such more readily available. 
 
As a pastor, I will recommend others to oppose the bill. As a police chaplain, I will do the same for reasons listed above. There is no reason to add potential issues for our area's police officers and deputies regarding this issue.
 
I believe that most likely this bill will pass. As the culture continues to shift rapidly, to have this bill stopped would be a surprise, but this is not a statement of lack of faith. I have ultimate faith in God, just not so much in legislators and others who tend to shift as the political winds blow.
 
I encourage every Florida resident to contact their representative regarding this bill, and as you can tell by my posting here - encourage your representative to oppose this bill's passing.
 
Click below to find your representative. . .
Click here
 

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

 

 

 


Canadian & American Euthanasia - The Growing Culture of Death

When the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last Friday that laws against euthanasia were to be struck down the cultural pendulum continued to swing wide from what was considered right and acceptable just a few years ago. It is no secret that since 1996, culture has shifted greatly in the United States and Canada. This is evidenced in the quickly moving shift regarding same-sex marriages and in this case - the so-called “right to die” movement. 
 
While the Canadian Supreme Court ruling doesn’t actually impact us directly in the United States, the fact that some states have similar laws on the books now (e.g. Oregon, Vermont & Washington) under the title of “Death with Dignity” means that this movement will pick up speed and likely be a federal law in the near future.
 
These laws, as with the case of the Canadian ruling, are direct reversals of previous acts and mandates. In fact, Canada ruled on this in 1993 and upheld the nation’s laws against physician-assisted suicide.
 
While “Dr. Death” (Jack Kevorkian) was mocked and demonized just a few decades ago, he now appears to be a pioneer in an area that is picking up steam. This is unfortunate.
 
As Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently stated, “We’re looking at a massive change in the culture that has affected even the dignity and sanctity of human life. And of course it didn’t begin with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. It began on other issues, most importantly, the issue of abortion.”
 
The emotional connection that comes with physician-assisted suicide leads people to discount the broader pro-life issues. Some would say that this has nothing to do with the issue of abortion. However, the full issue is one regarding the sanctity of human life. Whether in the womb or on a nursing home bed, at the starting line or life or closer to the finish line, the fact that “death with dignity” becomes a tagline shows that many in our world are excusing what has become a culture of death.
 
Hospital feet
 
Under the banner of “rights” the reality that murder (a word that many would seek to avoid) is now celebrated is troubling.
 
This is a slippery slope and it is growing more slippery. European nations have pioneered this era of death to tragic results. In Belgium, for instance, the aged and ones with severe diseases are candidates for assisted suicide. However, the deeper challenge comes in determining who makes the designation of “old” and the grades the severity of disease. The Hippocratic Oath goes by the wayside as ethics is redefined. Now we see where the Belgian government has ruled that children as young as 12 must constitutionally have access to physician-assisted suicide. This is little more than extending abortion rights through puberty.
 
The culture of death is here. It’s impacting many and its boundaries are continually being moved. This is a sad day for our friends in Canada and for those in our culture as well.
 

"My Child Is Transgender" - The Enemy's Attack on Identity

With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher. 

However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.

A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.

I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23

We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,

Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22

It was a good morning.

My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.

Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”

IStock_000008338936SmallThe room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.

“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”

Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.

Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”

Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”

As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.

I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.”