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

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

WARNING: Some of the information below is graphic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These choices are no longer an option.

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

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

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

At least that is what I thought I knew.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's Not the Victim's Fault

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

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

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

Time Doesn't Heal

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

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

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

It's Not About Politics

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

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

The Church Is Not Immune

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

It's About Power

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

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

It's Ultimately About Sin

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

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

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

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

There Is Hope

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, we have a chance at redemption through Christ.

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

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

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

Don't Miss the Point of These Stories

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

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

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


Revered and Reviled - the Life, Death, and Impact of Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner is trending because Hugh Hefner has died.

News reported this morning that the founder of Playboy Enterprises died last night at the age of 91. 

Hefner has been an iconic individual in western culture since the 1950s when launched the first issue of Playboy magazine. The first issue featured Marilyn Monroe (whom Hefner never met) on the cover in a photo from her 1949 nude calendar shoot. That issue sold 50,000 copies and a new industry of acceptable and easily-accessible pornography was born.

Photo credit: Alan Light via Visual hunt /  CC BY
Photo credit: Alan Light via Visual hunt / CC BY

Hefner's biography has been told in snippets, documentaries, and streaming mini-series, but most remember the image he portrayed as a playboy (go figure) who wore silk pajamas all day, surrounded himself with beautiful women, had numerous girlfriends, lived in a mansion, created the Playboy bunny imagery, and developed an entertainment empire that amazingly is now considered mainstream by many in the culture.

The son of traditionally conservative midwestern parents became a voice for sexual freedom as a revolution took hold. Yet, as tweets and statements of thanks fill social media today with people attempting to be humorous by thanking Hef for all the "articles" in his magazine, it is with deep sadness that as a Christian I heard of his passing.

Dr. Russell Moore says it well (full article here)

The death of any person is a tragedy. Hugh Hefner is no exception to that. We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.”

There is no doubt that the pornification (a word borrowed from Pamela Paul's book Pornified) of America and western society has harmed individuals and families and continues to do so. When Hefner and others pushed against the boundaries of decency, cultural outrage was high...and now, what was once deemed as harmful is considered "no big deal" by many. 

Pornography is a $50 billion industry (and that's a conservative estimation) and with the pushing of boundaries, it became newsworthy with Playboy announced just a few years ago that they would no longer feature nude imagery not for moral reasons, but as was stated in an article featured in The Week at the time:

The decision was made by top editors and founder Hugh Hefner, who agreed that Playboy and its nude women don't pack the same punch they did when the magazine launched 62 years ago. 

Nevertheless, Playboy has gone back to nudes. It seems that the shock of clothed women in magazines wasn't as profitable as originally expected.

Every Man Has a Story

The stories about Hefner and Playboy keep trending today. From references to his many girlfriends, the launch of his Playboy Clubs, his arrest for breaking decency laws, to appearances in The Simpsons, references in Iron Man movies, and the mainstreaming of the grandfather-figure who lived carefree and without boundaries. 

Yet, at some point, from the biblical worldview, we must concede that the image presented publicly was likely not the full story. It never is.

A number of years ago Karen Covell and her husband Jim found their calling in Hollywood. Jim is a composer for film and television. Karen is a producer. As followers of Christ in the entertainment Mecca, they seek to live as lights in the darkness.

It was a number of years ago when Karen was hired as an associate producer for Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer. The show aired on MSNBC and featured interviews with some of the individuals who had proven instrumental in shaping culture. Karen mentioned that her desire was to start by featuring an interview with Dr. Billy Graham. She was overruled and her first feature would focus on Hugh Hefner. I shared of this encounter at a men's retreat a number of years ago. Here's the story of Karen's encounter with Hefner:

Karen’s first reaction, “It really disturbed me.  I came home to Jim and I said, 'I don’t think I can do this.’  Jim sat and looked at me and said, ‘You know, you need to start praying right now for Hugh Hefner and for the opportunity God is going to give you.'"

Karen felt like she’d been hit by a ton of bricks.  After all, Paul went to Athens and Corinth, the seat of pagan influence and sexuality in his day, why should she run from the Playboy Mansion?  And so, the next day while talking to Rick, her producer, Karen took the risk of sharing the conversation she and her husband had had the night before, knowing he might not understand or support her perspective, her jaw dropped when he responded, "You know, I’ve struggled with this - doing this interview."  Together, as producer and associate producer, Rick and Karen decided to develop a different slant on the story.  They would focus, not simply on Hefner’s successes and renown, but on why he became who he did.  After all, everybody has a story. 

When the day of the interview arrived, they sat down with Hugh Hefner and the producer asked questions based on their research.  What were Hefner’s parents like?  What was his upbringing?  What characterized the early days of his life?  Imagine the shocked crew, listening as Hefner began to pour out how he had been raised in a puritan home of religious tradition.  His parents believed in God, but not a God of grace, love or compassion.  Theirs had been a rigid religion.  They never told Hefner, nor his brother, ever, that they loved him.  His mother never kissed him because she  wanted to avoid germs.   And so, Hefner set out to find love wherever he could.  With dry eyes, Hefner recalled how his parents had given him a blanket, when he was a child.  His security blanket.  He painted a very vivid picture going to bed at night, hugging his blanket, the only thing he had to hug, the only thing that returned any warmth.  The blanket was bordered with bunnies.  It became his bunny blanket.  Hefner recounted how, as a boy, he always wanted a puppy.  But his parents, especially his mother, said that dogs spread germs, so there couldn’t be one in their house.  It was only after they discovered a tumor in Hefner’s ear, that they thought they would finally buy Hefner a dog.  No one could have predicted, however, that the dog would unexpectedly die after just five days.  Hefner recalled how he wrapped his dying dog in his bunny blanket as a means to comfort the puppy.  But when they puppy died, his mother buried the dog and burned the blanket.  Both, sources of his deepest comfort, were suddenly gone.

And then he said very matter of fact, “I guess I’m still just that little boy, trying to find love.”  

Karen said, "The room was hushed in silence as we all sat and listened to this famous man pour out his story.  We realized the gaping void that had existed deep in this man’s soul.  He went on to tell us that every Friday night, he gets together with close friends and watches old romantic movies because he’s still searching for the love that he never had. I realized that this man had confused sex with love and had turned a desperate need, into a way of making money." 

It was after that interview that she had the privilege of writing Mr. Hefner a letter.  “I thanked him for the opportunity to tell his story.  I thanked him for time he allowed us to get to know him better.  I told him that in spite of all he had accomplished, I still believed there was one thing still missing in his life.  He hadn’t met a loving God and did not know him personally.  And so, I challenged him to seek him out. 

I was amazed when, two weeks later, he wrote me back. He thanked me for the interview that he said he enjoyed very much and he would consider my words.  That following Christmas, after running into him again, I gave him a beautiful Bible with his name on the front.” 

Now does that necessarily mean that’s going to change Hefner’s life?  No.  But what it does mean, is that the Covells understand what it means to be salt and light in the workplace. (story from Bob Reccord and Randy Singer's book Made to Count)

Many stories and responses today regarding Hefner's death will continue to enter the public discourse. There are those who revere him. There are those who revile him. Yet, as I read Karen's account, I'm reminded that every person has a story. Each person's story reveals a gap, an emptiness. Clearly only Christ can fill that need.

Even for Hugh Hefner. He was a man who lived with a deep father wound. A wounded man who sought healing and peace in places that led to deeper wounds. 

Hefner was no different than anyone else. And, as far as we know, he did not respond to the free gift (not just the Bible, but the message within.) 

And for that we can grieve.

Click here for the MSNBC feature referenced.


Why We Need the Nashville Statement & Why I Signed It

There's really nothing new in the Nashville Statement, but there is need for it.

On Tuesday morning, August 29, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement, signed initially by over 150 evangelical Christian leaders. Once the statement went public, it was expectedly met with both praise for its clarity and denouncements for ... well, it's clarity.

Nashville statement

I received a text last night from my friend Christopher Yuan who served as part of the team of leaders who put the statement together. Others such as Albert Mohler, John Piper, Russell Moore, Denny Burk, James Merritt, J.D. Greear, Mac Brunson, Jackie Hill Perry, H.B. Charles, Jr., Ligon Duncan, R.C. Sproul, Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Robert Gagnon, and many others also served on the team. For many, these names may not be familiar, but for Christian leaders and pastors, most names listed here and on the website's "Signers" page, are known as men and women who risk much for the sake the Gospel, especially when confronted with changing cultural norms. 

Christopher asked if I had seen the statement and if I would sign it. I responded that I read it soon after release and while I was attempting to sign it, the website was having issues at the time. Fortunately, I was able to complete the signature last night as many others have. I'm sure the site will be updated with more names as the days go by. It seems the servers may have been a bit bogged down with the heavy viewership and attempted registrations.

The Need for Clarity

Why is there a need for this statement? Is there anything in the articles that differs from historical, biblical Christianity? The simple answer is NO, there's nothing new in the statement regarding biblical truth. Yet, as the Preamble to the statement makes clear...

Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being.

Cultural shifts in what is good, bad, fair, unfair, right, and wrong have led to a need for clarity among Christian leaders. This is not new for Christ's church. In all cultural settings throughout history, the church has been mandated by God to declare His truth clearly, concisely, lovingly, graciously, and without apology.

The CBMW was founded three decades ago and rightly affirmed the biblical narrative that God created man and woman in His image. The CBMW stated clearly that God designed men and women, as image-bearers of himself, to equal in personhood and human dignity, yet different from and complementary to one another. Christian husbands, as delineated in Scripture, are called to lead their homes through self-denial and sacrificial love. In addition to the home, within the church, men are called by God to be pastors in leading the church. In 1987, the CBMW released the Danvers Statement declaring belief in complementarianism.

As Ligon Duncan put so clearly...

The Nashville Statement is a complement to Danvers, but it speaks into issues of human sexuality. Danvers addresses the respective roles of men and women in the home and church. Nashville articulates the Bible’s teaching on important and disputed aspects of human sexuality. 

Clarity from the church is needed now more than ever. There are many voices in our culture (even within the church) speaking contrary "truths" or "truthisms." In such a world (as has always been the case) the church must speak Truth in love, as God's Word declares.

Albert Mohler states...

In a time of confusion, one of the greatest gifts that can be given to and by Christ’s church is clarity, and clarity requires at times that matters of truth, matters of truth in particular times of trial, should to be put into words in order to bear the testimony of that clarity. 

The Nashville Statement includes fourteen statements of belief, or articles. As with other manifesto statements such as this, there are delineated affirmations and denials. 

The statements declare God's order of creation, his intention, his unmistakable design, and order as he desires. Affirmations and denials are based on Scriptural foundations, albeit from the perspective of inerrantists (of which I am included.)

As churches seek to show the love of God clearly in grace and love to others, the clear statements of who we are in Christ and the foundational truths of Scripture provide guidelines and guardrails as others seek to bend truth or change it completely to fit better in a culture opposed to Christ.

The Push Back

Those opposed to the Nashville Statement are not declaring lack of clarity on the part of the writers. In fact, they're decrying the clarity expressed. The push back was expected. Social media, as if often the case nowadays, has become the venue for statements of disgust, disagreement, and in some cases, attacks and hateful and grotesque speech focused upon signers and the CBMW. In some cases, the comments end up devolving into statements about politics, politicians, and pastors. That's a conversation for another day, as the Nashville Statement actually does not steer into that realm.

Yet, there are esteemed individuals in our nation and in churches who are opposed to the statement. Many op-eds are appearing across news feeds this week revealing this. 

The mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry is opposed to the statement and takes umbrage at the document and the use of the name of her city. She tweeted that the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee had created a Nashville Unites resolution in response (and opposition) to the Nashville Statement.

Denny Burk, President of the CBMW was asked why Nashville was in the name. His response here...

There is a long Christian tradition of naming doctrinal statements after the places where they were drawn up: The Nicene Creed (325), the Constantinopolitan Creed (381), the Chalcedonian Creed (451), etc. Even more recently, there was the Barmen Declaration (1934), The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), The Danvers Statement (1987), and the Manhattan Declaration (2009). There are countless other examples. In each case, the name simply indicates where the statements were drawn up. Whether The Nashville Statement will prove to be as enduring as those others remains to be seen. But that is the reason for the name. We were simply following a precedent set by many before us.

Reverend James Martin, SJ, has written a perspective piece in The Washington Post in opposition to the Nashville Statement

Stories on Fox News, CNN, The Huffington Post, NBC News, and other news agencies have revealed opposition to the Nashville Statement and even declared "Woe to you" to the signers.

Mark Silk, writing for Religion News Service, disagrees with the Statements biblical assertions and declares...

But as a devotee of the Free Exercise Clause I say: Go for it, guys. If that old-time heteronormativity is the hill you want evangelical Christianity to die on, be my guest.

Clearly the culture and the church-at-large is divided on the issue of human sexuality - more now than ever. I share these statements as a point of clarity. While I disagree with those who disagree with the statement, it behooves us to at least read their reasoning. My convictions and affirmation of the Nashville Statement remains.

Why I Signed

I signed the Nashville Statement for the same reasons others have. I do believe the church has the responsibility of clarity regarding biblical teaching in all areas and that includes human identity and gender/sexuality issues. 

Of all the articles, it is number 10 that seems to be getting the most opposition through social media postings.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

At first, the statements seem as reactionary to the shifts in cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. As days go by and the continued shifts in the moral revolution are revealed, it becomes clear (again that clarity) that same-sex marriage is not the ultimate issue. There's a deeper discussion regarding identity at stake. 

As a Christian, pastor, husband, and father, the reality of all that led to the declarations of the Nashville Statement is more than just some story about people "out there." This is about family. This is about the church family. This is about our community. This is ultimately about the Gospel.

Some who agree with the verbiage of the statement may actually not sign, believing that as Christians they should not take a stand on these issues. I fear the reality that many grew up with in our culture that allowed personal conviction to remain hidden will soon be stripped away. No pastor, no Christian leader, in fact, no Christian will be able to stay silent (one way or the other) regarding personal stance on the issues of marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and humanity as image-bearers. 

These questions are present within each church's congregation. If your church has any number of people (I'd say over five) in the congregation, you have someone either related, friends with, co-worker of, or in the sanctuary struggling with these issues. The church cannot be silent.

Culture may declare that "Love is love" but biblically, we must remember that God is love and that has never changed. He defines and reveals the agape love that redeems through Christ. 


Holy Hand Grenades and the Unfortunate Result of Empty Christian Debates

I addressed this reality a bit during last Sunday's sermon. We all know people who just love to debate.  If you're a Christian who attends church regularly and are part of a small group or Sunday school class, you probably have someone in mind right now. Just about every group has "that guy." You know, it is the one who responds to every statement with a confused look and a question, perhaps complete with a raised eyebrow. It starts with "Really?!? Is that right?" (You may be picturing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson right now with his eyebrow up, staring you down.)

Questions are not to be feared and rightly dividing the Word of God is needed. Christians should be able to as questions honestly. They should also dig deeply into God's Word in prayer for biblically sound answers. This fact is not to be debated.

Outside the evangelical sub-culture that many western Christians now live, there are vast debates being raged. The battle of world views is in full swing. Just turn on television and spend about five minutes on one of the cable news channels, or better yet, give ESPN a look. Entertainment disguised as reporting often ends with a group of frenemies yelling (or at least speaking loudly) at each other attempting to sway opinions. Then, the show ends, the masquerade ceases, and the hosts go get dinner together.

At least that's how I imagine it happens.

In the Christian sub-culture, debates rage as well. My comments from Sunday...

When world views collide, debate often occurs. This may be in the Sunday school class, at the dinner table, on Facebook, through text message, or in varied other ways. There are good and valuable debates and discussions that we as Christians must be prepared to enter into. These cannot be ignored. To do so is to sin in our calling as light and salt.

Yet, there are debates as well that exist solely to fill time, celebrate pontification, and ignore issues that truly matter.

Just by logging into my computer at work this morning, I see it happening. Social media blows up with another shared story questioning how certain churches can justify doing certain things. The questions are not even wrong, but the format or venue for the questions lead to some unforeseen damage. Questions about the holiness of "so-called Christians" end up in comment sections. Holy hand grenades have the pins pulled and then are launched over the berm into the flatlands of social media. BOOM, the show is on. And the world pulls up a chair just to watch. Truth is declared, but slides into the background as the self-appointed "Debate Team" begins to emphasize items that do more to push people away from Christ than declare his glory. Reminds me of Sunday's message focus on the Pharisees who were so caught up in the washing of hands that they totally missed the cleansing of heart that is needed by all. (Sermon Audio and Notes Here.)

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Photo credit: Diari La Veu - http://diarilaveu.com via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

But, at least you win the debate, right?

Christians must always be prepared to contend for the faith with boldness.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3 (ESV)

To be clear, I am not shying away from declaring biblical truth in all venues, physical and virtual, and at all times, whether in person or on social media, but sometimes, I fear, we (well-meaning Christians) begin throwing these grenades in order to position ourselves to declare our own versions of righteousness. When self-righteousness and "holier than thou attitudes" are all that's left when the fog settles, the Gospel is not only ignored, but no where to be found. We, as Christians, must push against the idolatry of self that leads to an "appearance of godliness" but avoiding the glory of God and his power.

Truth spoken (or posted) in love for God and His image-bearers is not akin to truth spoken in arrogance.  (TWEET THIS)

And, if you're bold in your faith at the keyboard, you'd best be bold in person as well. Yet again, boldness is not a synonym for arrogance and self-righteousness. Be careful. I have to continually remind myself of this.

Speak the truth in love. 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)

Don't get caught in the trap of majoring on the minors and falsely believe you are victorious just because you "win" a debate on matters that do not have eternal focus. Don't celebrate yelling in the synagogue and miss your opportunity to engage on Mars Hill.

 


A Most Glorifying Funeral

As a pastor, I have the great privilege of bringing words of comfort and hope to many at times of grief. I have preached funeral and memorial services for dozens and dozens of dear friends and family members of friends over the years. Some services are more challenging to put together than others. There are varied reasons for this. For instance, a funeral service for a young person killed tragically in an accident often draws a different crowd than one of a dear senior adult who died in his sleep. Both are times of intense grief, but the differences are obvious, and the crowd gathered is normally of a different generational demographic as well.

The most challenging funerals and memorial services are for those loved ones who never surrendered to Jesus Christ as Lord. At those times, the message is one of clarity and hope for the family, without offering false hope that their loved one resides in heaven with the Lord. Too often improper theology of the world that "good people go to heaven" is offered. As a pastor and child of God, I cannot offer false hope when the opportunity for surrender has passed.

Yet, there are times when the funeral service is truly a celebration (and not just the oft-used buzzword used at such services.) The deceased is known to be a child of God and therefore alive in Christ. The godly impact of the individual resonates throughout a church, community, and beyond. The gathering of friends and family, though grievous, centers upon God's goodness and hope.

Pam Maynard's Funeral

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Dr. Tim Maynard and Pam with their grandchild.


As a church family (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) we have been praying for our sister church across the St. Johns River here in Jacksonville at Fruit Cove Baptist Church. Earlier this year, Pam Maynard, wife of Pastor Dr. Tim Maynard, was diagnosed with cancer. On Saturday morning, August 5, I received a text message from Dr. Rick Wheeler, our Lead Missional Strategist for the Jacksonville Baptist Association, that Pam had died. 

Pam's funeral service was scheduled for yesterday, Tuesday, August 8 at 7pm at Fruit Cove. (Pam's obituary here.) My wife, Tracy, and I attended. The sanctuary of the church was packed with standing room only. Hundreds of friends, family members, church members, and representatives from sister churches, the Florida Baptist Convention, Mayo Hospital, and numerous other places were there.

The service was streamed on the church's website as many from Pam's home state of Kentucky as well as other places around the world tuned in to be a part of the service.

As I said earlier, I have been to many funeral services. I have preached at most of them. On this occasion, I was there because of my friend and fellow pastor and his family and church as they honored the life of this dear woman and saint. 

Numerous men spoke from the pulpit this evening. The surgeon Pam served under and with while working as an orthopedic surgery nurse at Mayo spoke. Dr. Neal Cordle, Executive Pastor at FCBC, Dr. Glen Owens, formerly of the Florida Baptist Convention and now an active member at FCBC, Pastor Patrick Martin, son-in-law of Tim and Pam, and Dr. Maynard himself.

When Tim spoke, he did so as a husband of 40 years to Pam. At first declaring that he may not have the strength to finish his portion of speaking, it was soon clear that God enabled Tim to proclaim clearly and strongly of his love for Pam and of God's strength and power. The message was more than just heart-felt, it was anointed. Tim may never fully realize this side of heaven the impact that short, fifteen-minutes of speaking has had upon those in attendance and watching via livestream. It was stated last night and I agree - Tim and Pam's journey these past few months culminating with this pointed celebration of life and God's goodness was the very best sermon he ever has had the privilege of preaching. To God be the glory.

A worship service took place on a rainy Tuesday night in St Johns County this week. A packed building with hundreds in attendance including perhaps fifty pastors erupted in an honorable, blessed, focused service of worship to the one and only God.

Brian Woofter and the FCBC Celebration Choir and Orchestra led us to the throne of God in singing and worship. The organ remained unplayed as Pam had served in that role for years. Flowers sitting upon the instrument reminded everyone of this act of service (just one of many) that Pam offered her Lord and church. 

Jason Lovins, a gifted singer and virtually adopted son (Pam called herself Jason's "Florida mom") spoke briefly and sang praises to the God of hope and healing.

Two hours after the welcome, the service ended and Pam's casket was wheeled out of the building. Two hours in a service on a rainy Tuesday...and it could've continued even longer.

A Most Excellent Funeral

A most excellent funeral for a most excellent wife (Proverbs 31).

God was glorified. He alone was worshipped this evening.

Pam was honored.

Tim and family were and are being comforted by the only One who can truly do so.

There were tears shed.

There were poignant moments.

There was laughter.

The Gospel was shared clearly.

Life was celebrated.

Yesterday was remembered and tomorrow declared, as Pam's body may no longer live, but she does because of Christ.

We were all reminded that it is good to go to funerals every now and then (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

I worshipped with my brothers and sisters. It was sweet. It was bittersweet, to be honest. Yet, it was right.

Our Father smiled.

And that was a most glorifying funeral.

To God be the glory.

 

Celebration of Life Service: Pam Maynard from Fruit Cove Baptist Church on Vimeo.

 


Eugene Peterson's Disappointing Message of Affirmation

In the Christian corner of the Twitterverse and blogosphere, there's a bit of a disruption today. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson, in an interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service shared his current views affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in particular. Here's his answer when asked by Merritt on his position:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

Peterson, most widely known for his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message, as well as numerous other books such as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and As Kingfishers Catch Fire has publicly made known his views on perhaps the most divisive and controversial of topics in America and especially the church today.

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This should not be totally shocking for those who have read or follow Peterson. He served as pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the past, most notably Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, MD which, like others in the PCUSA have affirmed homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The PCUSA endorsed same-sex marriage in 2015. Not all pastors and members of PCUSA churches agree with the endorsement. Many have since left the denomination and I know of one pastor in our region who was forced to leave for not affirming homosexuality. Nevertheless, based on Peterson's statement, it appears he is lining up with the denomination's leaders and others who have stepped away from a biblical worldview on manhood, womanhood, and sexuality.

Peterson drew concern from many who have enjoyed his writings (and to be clear, he is an incredibly gifted writer) when he endorsed Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins in 2011. Bell's revelations in his book moved him from orthodox Christianity when he disavowed the centrality of the Gospel and Christ as the only way to salvation, not to mention the existence of hell. Peterson stated at the time that while he didn't agree with Bell, he endorsed his work because he valued the conversation. While I agree that conversing about differing beliefs is valid and should occur, to endorse a book that, in my opinion, is heretical was too far. When Peterson was asked "Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?" He replied:

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context. But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

The answer he gave then (2011) was broad and sought to be non-offensive. I agree that our answers ought to be a good bit more biblical and correct in context. Yet the eyebrows were raised and today, once more, a shift from biblical truth has been revealed.

It's easy for Christians to just "throw under the bus" those with whom we disagree. There are way too many blogs out there focused on dividing the church and built on sensational negativism. My desire is not to fan the flames of divisiveness, but to reveal once more how the cultural revolution and anti-biblical worldviews subtly, at times, seep into the church and Christianity.

You will find articles, tweets, and postings from conservative evangelicals over the years affirming some of Peterson's writings. As stated before, he truly has a gift of creativity through writing. It was today when many of these same individuals stated their disappointment in Peterson's newly revealed stance.

Peterson had stated he was stepping away from the public eye and would no longer be authoring books. Then, in the second portion of Merritt's interview, he reveals his stance on human sexuality.

Will this affect his book sales? Yes, likely. However, I don't think he really cares. His publisher may, but he likely does not. That's not a shot - just an opinion. I do think some at NavPress may be working on damage control, but it likely won't help.

LifeWay has announced that once he affirms the statements given in the interview, they will be removing his resources from their stores. This is exactly what they did with Jen Hatmaker's resources for the very same reason. The consistency is laudable and I agree with the decision.

In the interview, Merritt speaks of a day when Peterson will no longer exist. I think a poor choice of words was utilized by Merritt. This has been addressed by others, most notably Denny Burk here.

I am disappointed in Peterson's assertion regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Does this mean I won't be buying any Peterson books?

Well, yes, but I wasn't really buying his books anyway.

Does this mean I will not use The Message in my study or preaching?

I will not. However, I never did. The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase and while some of the modern-day wording is interesting and offers an unique spin on the inerrant, it is not a translation and should not be used as such. Just as The Living Bible should not be, in my opinion, the Bible for study or preaching.

Why blog about this?

I have sought to be cordial and not mean-spirited in this posting. I hope I have accomplished that. Nevertheless, some will categorize me a "hater" once again. Peterson is a pastor. He is speaking on a deeply important theological, and cultural issue. To be clear, all cultural issues are theological.

The sinfulness of humanity is common to all. The arguments regarding the affirmation of homosexuality as a lifestyle are getting louder. Some in the church are abandoning biblical truth for cultural acceptance and the current state of "fairness." Nevertheless, the truth remains. God has not changed regarding the sinful nature of humanity and the need for redemption. That's the radical message of the Gospel. 

Some Christians seek to avoid this issue, mostly because friends and family members identify as LGBT. Yet, that is a weak excuse. I speak as one with a dear family member who identifies as such. To ignore the issue is to silently affirm the sin.

Denny Burk said it so well in his response today:

To say that Peterson's justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on Scripture. Rather, it's an argument based on sentiment. He says that he's known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It's folly of the first order.

I agree with Burk. Pastoral responsibility leads me to clearly state that Peterson's affirmation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage (just as with Hatmaker's and others who have made such statements) is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful. Words matter and Peterson is a wonderful wordsmith. I just wish his words weren't so very damaging.


Dear Young Pastor and Church Planter...Listen!

There comes a point in pastoral ministry when people stop referring to you as the new, young pastor. Youthfulness is fleeting and along with the greying of hair, stiffening of joints, and a few more "smile lines" comes, hopefully, some wisdom.

I am encouraged at this stage of ministry when others seem to be lamenting the perceived fall of the church in our culture. As I visited a church last week, and joined the senior adult men's Bible study class, one gentleman stated his dismay at how the world is and how bleak the future appears.

I imagine every generation since Adam (or at least Noah) has said similar things. 

Nevertheless, be encouraged. Of course, our study last week was on Barnabas. How appropriate. 

There are many young men who have answered God's call into pastoral ministry. Many young men and women are committed to living as disciples of Jesus Christ, on mission for Him. Though the rise of the "nones" continues to make headlines (or at least becomes sermon fodder or religious discussion points) the fact remains that God has not changed and, in case you have forgotten, is still on His sovereign throne.

That being said, once you step over the line into "older adulthood" or at least "median adulthood" (those designations change depending on who is looking back in the mirror) perspectives shift. Wisdom of the ages is garnered, at least we hope so.

Every Timothy needs a Paul. The wise pastor realizes that at some point he, too, becomes a Paul for another Timothy. This is a daunting and wonderful role not to be ignored.

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So, as I stand here at this point in pastoral ministry, I have many years behind me. I have no idea how many ahead (though I'm planning for many.) I have learned some things. I have much more to learn. Oh, and some of the things I have learned, I am still attempting to put into practice. In other words - I have not arrived and I know it.

H.B. Charles, Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Orange Park has written an excellent book for pastors that features a chapter titled "Lessons I've Learned Along the Way." As I read these, I find myself agreeing and even laughing because I know each statement has a deeper story behind it. H.B. is a friend and has been and is being greatly used by God as His pastor to those at Shiloh and beyond. As I read these tips from H.B., I thought of the young men in our church and network and those I have come to know, at least in passing, and I offer his tips, others I've found and mine as well. H.B.'s are marked. Get the book here for his full list.

For the young pastors and ministers out there...

  • Don't plant a church with only people your age and younger. You may be cool, but that "wisdom of the ages" thing is missing and that's dangerous. (David K. Tarkington)
  • You may have to serve as a bi-vocational pastor for a season. That season may be decades long. (DKT)
  • Arrogance is not a spiritual gift. (DKT)
  • Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn't open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. The Q: Will Christ be enough? (Jared C. Wilson)
  • Be a friend to other pastors, even if they're not friends to you. (H.B. Charles, Jr.)
  • Don't assume anything. (HBC)
  • Contextualization is great, but dress like an adult. (Dean Inserra)
  • You hopefully won't be the last pastor at your church. Live and lead so you leave a godly legacy, even if most of the members of "your" church have no idea who you are thirty years after you're gone. (DKT)
  • If they don't trust you, you can't lead them. (HBC)
  • Before you ask someone why they didn't share their struggles with you, ask yourself first if you've shown yourself to be a safe person. (JCW)
  • If we’re more concerned with our standard of life than God’s intentions for our family, God has a harsh word for us. (J.D. Greear)
  • Ecclesiologically speaking, a lot of stuff that counts can't be counted. (JCW)
  • What good is it to be a "good Christian neighbor" if you don't care enough to share Christ with those neighbors? (DKT)
  • Do not read anonymous mail or unsigned letters. (HBC)
  • Sometimes, you need to not read signed letters. (DKT)
  • Never vent online or on social media. (DKT)
  • The pastor who is always available will be of no use when he is available. (HBC)
  • If you can keep from preaching, do it. Christian ministry is a calling you receive, not a vocation you choose. (HBC)
  • There is nothing new under the sun, but that's no excuse for plagiarism. (DKT)
  • You have to say the hard things. Yet, you must do so in love. (DKT)
  • If pastoral ministry was easy, everyone would do it. (DKT)
  • Discipleship is a process. (Jimmy Scroggins)
  • Love and affirmation are not the same thing. (DKT)
  • If you guard your character, your reputation will take care of itself. (HBC)
  • Pray. Journal. These are verbs. (DKT)
  • Wherever you go, you represent Jesus and the church. (Grant Ethridge)
  • When given the opportunity to preach the Gospel, do it. Be ready at all times. Keep sermons with you. (DKT)
  • If you have a church building with a built-in baptistry (some churches are plants and borrow facilities) keep water in it for every service. Don't miss those "Ethiopian Eunuch" moments. (DKT)
  • Network with other pastors and churches in your area. This helps eliminate the competitive nature that we all have. (DKT)
  • People do not give to needs. They give to vision. (HBC)
  • Every young pastor needs an old mentor. (Sam Rainer)
  • Studying for your sermon is not the same as spending time alone with God in prayer and devotion. (DKT)
  • No politician is either your messiah or the enemy. Don't put your hope, or your ultimate fear, in the political domain. (Micah Fries)
  • Avoid hero worship. Everyone God uses is a jerk and a sinner. (HBC)
  • If you come to a new church after serving in another, remember - no one cares how you did it at the previous church. The longer you live in the past, the less you will be able to lead to the future. (DKT)
  • If you give someone responsibility, give them the authority to carry it out as well. (HBC)
  • You cannot farm out all the pastoral care to the associate pastors and deacons. However, you cannot do all the pastoral care either. This reality will anger just about everyone in your church at some point. (DKT)
  • Don't burn bridges. (DKT)
  • Don't plant a church out of anger. That's not a plant. That's leading a church split. (DKT)
  • Don't blame God for your bad decisions. He may not have "called you" to do what you did. (DKT)
  • Dig your own wells so you don't have to steal other people's water (HBC)
  • You need to be a "Timothy" before you're a "Paul." (DKT)
  • A cynical pastor is an oxymoron. (HBC)
  • Don't outsource discipleship of your children to others in the church. Lead them. Love them. They may become prodigals, but if so, wait patiently as you pray for them, remembering God loves them more than you. (DKT)
  • All transgressions begin with sinful thinking. (Billy Graham)
  • Make sure there are windows on the doors to your office. (DKT)
  • Avoid the appearance of evil. (Paul)
  • You can't know a man until you know his story. So, go eat lunch with "that" guy in your church and let him tell you his story. (DKT)
  • When it's all said and done, you want God to say "Well done, good and faithful servant." You also want your wife to say "Well done, good and faithful husband." No, they're not equal statements, but God's calling is not just at the building down the street with the crosses on it. In most cases (not all) pastors were married before they became pastors. Your faithful wife loves God, too, but while your calling is to serve the church, hers is to you. Too much to unpack here. (DKT)
  • You're not cool. Come to grips with that. Even if your Instagram filter is amazing and your logo is lit (is that the right word?) I know I said you may be cool in the first point, but you're not. Jesus wasn't either, so you're in good company. (DKT)

There are hundreds more insights from hundreds more pastors. Men like Johnny Hunt and Mac Brunson have much to offer younger pastors. So too do the pastors like Mike Wyatt (my pastor when I surrendered to ministry back in the 1990s) and Allen Harrod (my pastor at FBC Orange Park who offered leadership and friendship when I first graduated seminary.) Some of these pastors and mentors do not have books for sale at Amazon. Some may not be known outside their congregation or small town, but listen up, there's much to learn. Young pastor, remember...leaders are learners. Never be that guy who can't take advice or encouragement. Maybe one day when you're greyer and even less cool than you are now, you will have words to share with that young pastor (who is likely in fourth grade right now) that God calls for His glory and good. 


Superheroes on Mars Hill - Engaging the Comic-Con Culture With the Gospel

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)

The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.

While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.

Comic Books and Superheroes

When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door.  Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.

Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.

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Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books

In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred. 

The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)

Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.

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Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)

Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.

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Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)

This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."

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Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

The Modern Age (1985 - present)

As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.

Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.

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Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY

The Cinematic Universes

When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.

Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.

Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.

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Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme

Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."

In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:

For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.

Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.

Engaging on Mars Hill

What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age. 

Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.

Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.

Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd. 

What If?

After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.

What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."

Their interest was piqued.

I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?" 

The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.

I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.

Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)

 


Southern Baptist Vote on the Alt-Right & Racism Overwhelmingly Passes - Now What?

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting has ended. The second day of our annual gathering traditionally has welcomed less-than large crowds following lunch. In recent years, required business, for the most part, was completed during Tuesday gatherings. Wednesday has been the time for one last opportunity for unfinished business (normally, not newsworthy outside the SBC) and reports from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Of course, those reports with required time for questions have, at times, elicited some interesting sound bytes.

This year was different.

Following lunch, as I previously posted, our SBC messengers were given the opportunity to vote on a resolution regarding a denunciation of the Alt-Right and white supremacist movements. (CLICK HERE TO READ MY PREVIOUS POST EXPLAINING THIS.)

The New Resolution

The wording of the previously declined resolution was reworked and made more clear. Copies were made available digitally through the SBC Annual Meeting app, and online while printed copies were available at the doors for all messengers. A copy of the document is available here:  Download Resolution 10

The "resolved" sections are stated clearly...

Screenshot 2017-06-14 18.35.13Barrett Duke, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee and Executive Director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to the resolution. His clarity and transparency was welcome. As the entire committee stood with him, an apology was offered for not recognizing the need to allow messengers to vote on the resolution. Reasoning for initial declination was described in my previous post as well. Duke then clearly and loudly proclaimed that everyone on the committee stood firmly against the motives and declarations of the Alt-Right movement, white supremacy, and all forms of racism.

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Barrett Duke, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions, speaks during the SBC annual meeting June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo by Van Payne

 

The committee apologized.

That is no small thing.

We have a wonderful denomination. We are family. I have been part of an SBC church since the womb. I love our denomination, and yet, since we're human, we know that we mess up at times. Even seeking to live in Christ, follow the Word and have ears to hear and eyes to see ... we sometimes (more often than we'd like) mess up and sin. 

And like family, when we do, we confess. 

At that confession and repentance, forgiveness is offered. 

This is truly the Gospel at work in the lives of God's people.

What's so challenging is that we are gathering here in Phoenix having a family meeting with the entire world watching via social media, livestream, or news media stories. It's like we're on an episode of Big Brother, but a moral version, with much more at stake.

The Question

Following Barrett's recommendation for the resolution to be passed, the floor was open for questions. There were a few. One focused on amending the proposal by editing just a few words in the "Resolved" section. The wording recommended clarified the enemy's tactics of deceit and the Resolutions Committee took it as a friendly amendment and the floor voted overwhelmingly for the amendment.

Another question sought to amend the resolution by adding to it other aspects of racial division present in the US. This was ruled out of order due to the fact it was actually worded as an additional motion and not an amendment.

Dr. Russell Moore spoke from the floor, not as President of the ERLC, but as a messenger from his home church. His statement was strongly worded and clear. The opening of his statement addressed that the resolution had a number on our list of resolutions of ten. That was a fact and the crowd waited to hear where he was going with this. Then he stated, "The Alt-Right and white supremacist movement has a number, too. It's 666." And at that, the room knew. 

Well said, Dr. Moore!

Finally, one more comment from the floor strongly seeking the committee to reject any other added amendments that would ultimately weaken the wording of the resolution with concern that a weak document would express the opposite message to non-white brothers and sisters about our seriousness regarding racism.

The questioning time ended.

The SBC Votes "YES" on Resolution 10

As SBC President Steve Gaines called for the vote, he asked messengers who wished to affirm the adoption of Resolution 10, he asked for all in favor to raise their ballots. The scene was beautiful as hundreds of green ballots in an overwhelmingly positive vote made clear that despite our family's sordid past, and even our founding as a denomination, regarding race relations, we would stand firmly upon God's Word, declaring His love and ultimately our love, for all peoples regardless of race, skin tone, or cultural background.

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Photo by Philip Bethancourt

Was It Too Little, Too Late?

I guess time will tell, for some. Ultimately, it is never too late to do the right thing. Through God's grace and providence he led us to agree with Him in this defining moment. This moment declares that political ideology does not drive our biblical theology.

In this moment, we acknowledge our dependance on God for guidance, for insight, for wisdom, and for life.

This moment reminds us that the sins of our ancestors do not define us. The sins of our churches are forgivable. The sins of just a day prior can be eradicated by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

Some will say that our mechanism of voting and revisiting the vote means that we truly didn't mean what we ended up saying. That simply isn't true. Our final vote was clear. Our family (SBCers) were united to ensure we ended this issue (of the resolution) well.

Should we have voted on Tuesday? In retrospect - yes. Hindsight is always 20/20. 

Thank God we didn't leave the issue undone. Thank God the initial discussion was on Tuesday so that we could resolve this on Wednesday. Otherwise, it would still be hanging over us as we await next summer's Annual Meeting.

Some have and will say that our vote in the affirmative was prompted by media and social media outrage. 

It would be disingenuous to state that no one in the room heard or read what was being said. God has used numerous things, people, organizations, and circumstances throughout history to get the attention of his children. The Minor Prophets declare many ungodly things, nations, and people used by God for His glory. 

I actually thank God that we were listening.

Yet, rest assured, the SBC did NOT vote in affirmative to decry the motives and beliefs of the Alt-Right and white supremacists solely because Twitter prompted us to do so and because it was the politically correct thing to do.

The ultimate vote was yes because it was and is right. 

Racism is evil. It is demonic. It is divisive. It flies in the face of the Gospel. We believed this before our meeting. We believed it during our meeting. We voted on a resolution we likely never thought we would have to vote on to declare it even more clearly.

There are likely many churches and pastors who will be having to address angry church members who either don't fully understand the depth of the issue, or who could be wrongly racially motivated and in need of forgiveness. Our churches are varied and in diverse locations. No two SBC churches are identical, believe me.

I pray that our churches will be eradicated of racism within the pew and if need be, in the pulpit. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will convict and transform those who have either been excusing this sin or just now realize they are knee-deep within it. Apart from transformation, I pray that biblical churches will do what many have never done and enact biblical discipline upon those who remain unrepentant in this area.

Some of our pastors may feel they're standing alone when they meet with their membership on Sunday. Remember, pastor ... you are not alone. Ever. 

Now What?

A resolution was passed. This is good.

Racism remains in our world. This is a reality and still very bad.

The mission remains. Nothing has changed for the church but the conversation. And this is a big change. This generation of pastors and church members is being led into a dialogue that has been ignored by too many for too long. Older members of our churches, both black and white, have memories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Churches in the South were segregated, just like everything else. For many of our older brothers and sisters, these are memories. 

For the younger generations (50 and younger) these are history stories. 

Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that since we have come so far regarding race relations in our nation that we had completed the task? Rest assured, based on what we have seen in our nation over the past few years, no one could rightly say we have arrived.

There is much work to do.

Racial reconciliation remains on the table and will for years, likely. The church, and in our case, the SBC churches, acknowledge the stains in our history, but must resolve (no pun intended) to not be defined by them.

The work to be done by the church to bring healing will not be done through political movements. That which must happen to unify Christians will not occur simply through a resolution. Presuming to understand fully the plight of another race is insulting and impossible. In other words, as a white man for me to tell my black brother "Oh I understand what you go through" is demeaning and wrong. Yet, there is hope.

Not Too Late Because There Is Hope

Through Christ forgiveness occurs.

Through Christ healing happens.

Through Christ, the church prevails.

We had just better remain humbly focused on Christ.

God led us this week in Phoenix. He brought our denomination to the river (in a desert no less) and directed us to trust Him as we stepped in. 

We stepped in and with him we will remain secure as we walk together through the waters ahead.