The New "Star Wars" Film & the Longing of the Human Heart

It's almost forty years old. 

It became a game-changer for the film world.

The term "action figure" was birthed by its popularity.

Even poor sequels made tons of money.

It's Star Wars.

And it impacts the culture greatly. I'm not saying that is a good thing. I'm just saying that if you wish to be a student of the culture shifts and live as those who understand the times, ignoring what's happening with Star Wars is not wise.

Oh, sure, it's just a silly action/adventure movie franchise. That's true. In fact, especially based on the third film and the three prequels in the series, there are some pretty poor sequences of acting as well as some storylines and characters that make even the most die-hard fan cringe (Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christenson, anyone?)

According to feminist scholar Jackie Byars, film analysis can help us see "the range of readings a single text can evoke," and expose "the hierarchies of power at work in and through texts," hierarchies "linked to race, class, sex, and the gender differences." In other words, close analysis of the Star Wars films can help us not only to examine the problems of a galaxy far, far away, but also to understand how the films reflect and potentially help shape cultural struggles over questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary American society. . .To dismiss the Star Wars films out of hand as lowbrow adventure-romance films that cannot support any meaningful analysis, as some commentators have done, is erroneous and perhaps irresponsible.1

It is amazing how a space opera written by a fairly young director (yes, I know THX1138 and American Graffiti were out, but they didn't put George Lucas on the map) could prove to create phrases, characters, philosophies and even ideologies that would impact culture in America and globally for half a century or so.

The Perfect Storm?

Maybe it was a combination of the era of filmmaking, the partnership with Kenner to make toys, the licensing of products, and the incredible images on screen within the first five minutes that drew children into this world in such a way that now, those children are in their mid to late forties and still enjoying the stories. 

I'm not talking about the guys who live in their parents' basement, playing video games, playing with their action figures (while also owning a set that are still in the original packaging.) I'm talking about the men and women who have productive lives, send their kids to school, maybe attend church every now and then and seem. . .well. . .normal.

Even they are posting updates about Star Wars and seem to be very excited about 2 minutes worth of video primarily due to just a few seconds featuring a senior adult man who needs to shave ("Who's scruffy looking?") and a very tall man wearing a furry costume.

Here's the two-minute trailer. If you would like to know more about it, there are approximately 45 million (my estimate) blogs and websites breaking down every little scene in the trailer. Just Google for them, you'll find them.

 

In an age of amazingly fast culture shifts, something about the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is offering middle-aged men and women something to enjoy. Millennials do not really understand this. Oh sure, they saw the first three films on VHS or DVD and enjoyed the over-the-top CG prequels and the edited re-releases of Episodes IV - VI, but they don't remember 1977. They cannot really understand why their parents are looking forward to a sci-fi film coming out in eight months. 

And. . .the parents of those who were children in 1977 don't understand it either.

The truth is that Star Wars was more than just a film for many of the generation of Toughskins jeans, Keds tennis shoes and banana seat bicycles. Star Wars was something that allowed the nerds in school to be accepted by others. Why? Because it seemed that everyone had seen the film and no one hated it. Even the Star Wars Christmas Special was something kids made sure they were home to see.

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Then, these children grew up, started families and found themselves trying to keep up with all that culture was throwing at them with life changes and philosophies and when the trailer for the new film came out. . .they had a moment of reflection. It's like being a kid again. . .even if just for a moment.

And, it's weird.

And dangerous.

The Star Wars films, to me, are entertaining. I understand the false religious teachings presented in the narrative. The Force is a facade. It's New Age mysticism. It's a man-made idea for a film, based on Buddhist and other beliefs. For the follower of Christ, it's fiction. Yet, for many it's a modern expression of what they believe to be true. It's sci-fi karma.

Darth Vader is an enigma. He was viewed as the epitome of evil for decades. Then, he became a whiny kid and a brooding teenager and everyone wondered "What did Padme ever see in that guy?" Well, maybe everyone didn't wonder that, but I did.

His fictionalized story is redemptive, but still fiction.

For my Christian brothers and sisters, the Star Wars universe is a fun, fictional place to visit. So is Tolkein's Lord of the Rings world and Lewis' Narnia. My encouragement is to visit, but don't live there. It's fiction. 

In the meantime, it would behoove my pastor friends to at least seek to discover why so many of your middle-aged church attenders are excited about a forty-year-old movie series' latest installment. It is not really about the special effects, the spaceships or the character development. It goes much deeper than that. It has more to do with the innate desire of all adults to go back to a time when they had less responsibility, pressure was lighter and summer was never long enough. 

It's a longing for peace.

Ultimately, a fake world with droids and aliens will not offer that . . . even if you buy a costume and pretend that what is fake is real. (BTW - I don't recommend wearing your Jedi costume out in public unless you work for Disney or are at Comic-Con or maybe a camp or costume party.) Maybe this is a reminder that we are wired to find this. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27 (ESV)

________________

1Silvio, Carl, and Tony M. Vinci. Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films: Essays on the Two Trilogies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. Print. p. 136.


The Florida Conscience Bill for Fostering & Adoption Goes to the Senate

Last week the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7111 with a vote of 75 for passage and 38 against. This bill, as referenced in previous postings is a protective one designed to allow faith-based children's organizations such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes to stand upon their convictions when determining with whom to place children. 

While those opposed to the bill state that it is discriminatory, especially to same-sex couples and those in the LGBT communities, it actually is a statement about the viability of religious liberty and freedom to lead organizations based on personal convictions. The term "discrimination" has been attached to the bill and the debacle surrounding the Indiana religious freedom law has moved those in leadership and power positions to a very narrow place if they choose to stand for religious liberty while still leading and ensuring that personal rights are not forsaken.

As stated in previous postings, I am strongly in favor of the passage of this bill into law here in Florida and elsewhere.

Therefore, I share with you the latest update from the President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes regarding this issue.

I wanted to give you an update on the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). The bill has been referred to the Florida Senate Rules Committee which will take place during the afternoon of Monday, April 20. We are thankful for another step! This week, we have been personally meeting with senators on the Senate Rules Committee and would ask that you also contact them directly before Monday to ask for their support of this critical legislation for children.

The members of the Senate Rules Committee are: 

Chair: Senator David Simmons  850-487-5010 Simmons.David@FLSenate.gov
Vice Chair: Senator Darren Soto 850-487-5014 Soto.Darren@FLSenate.gov
Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto 850-487-5030 Benacquisto.Lizbeth@FLSenate.gov
Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla 850-487-5040 Portilla.Miguel@FLSenate.gov
Senator Don Gaetz 850-487-5001 Gaetz.Don@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Galvano 850-487-5026 Galvano.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Audrey Gibson 850-487-5009 Gibson.Audrey@FLSenate.gov
Senator Arthenia L. Joyner 850-487-5019 Joyner.Arthenia@FLSenate.gov
Senator Jack Latvala  850-487-5020 Latvala.Jack@FLSenate.gov
Senator Tom Lee 850-487-5024 Lee.Tom@FLSenate.gov
Senator Bill Montford 850-487-5003 Montford.Bill@FLSenate.gov
Senator Joe Negron 850-487-5032 Negron.Joe@FLSenate.gov
Senator Garrett Richter 850-487-5023 Richter.Garrett@FLSenate.gov

As you contact these senators, here are two points to consider:

  1. Contrary to opposing views expressed by some, Florida's old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will not protect us. Without the conscience protection bill, we will face lengthy and costly litigation. We need every resource we have to be focused on the care of children, not legal battles.  
  2. The same sex adoption bill (SB320/HB7013) passed in the Senate this week. The conscience protection bill (HB 7111) will allow us to continue to help children without violating our religious beliefs. The bill covers foster care, care for victims of child sex trafficking as well as adoption. FBCH helped 1,026 children in the care of Department of Children and Families (DCF) this past year.
We ask that you pray at 1 p.m. on Monday for the Senate Rules Committee as they take up this bill. I will be testifying before the committee and would appreciate your prayers as I represent the children we serve.
 

As we pray for our leaders, Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind: The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

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Indiana Was Just the Beginning - Discrimination or Religious Freedom?

For the past couple of weeks, I have shared details regarding a proposed bill moving through Florida's House of Representatives. The bill - HB 7111 - was passed on Thursday in the House, but not without some powerful debate.

Depending on which version of reporting on the issue you read, this was either a "declaration for religious freedom and conviction" or a "license to discriminate." Sound familiar? These are the same elements that Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana legislature were facing just a few weeks ago.

The Bill As Viewed From Both Sides

HB 7111 is a bill, developed quickly as a response from constituents who declared the dangers of a previously passed bill intent on helping foster and adoption within the state. The new bill is designed to allow faith-based foster and orphan care organizations in the state to stand firmly on their religious convictions when placing children in foster homes or adoptive families. 

Ultimately, the issue is the placement of children in homes where both parents are of the same gender. In many faith-based groups, being forced to place children in such homes would cause a conflict with deeply held convictions.

The divide is clearly visible.

Groups opposing the passing of the bill on the grounds of LGBT discrimination have made the following statements:

 

 

During the debate on the House floor, representatives on both sides of the issue at hand were vocal and clear in their personal convictions. Scripture was used. . . by those opposed and by those in support of the bill. Applause was heard numerous times within the chamber, leading the Speaker to call for quieter support throughout the remainder of the discussions. By and large the debate was civil, but it is clear that this issue will fester and grow and become a political hot button for our state, regardless what the Senate and the Governor eventually do.

To give you better understanding of the depth of the debate, click on the video link here or the image below. The debate on HB 7111 begins near the 58 minute mark.

Screenshot 2015-04-11 18.42.28

To be clear, I am biased regarding this bill. As a pastor of a Baptist church who supports financially and in other ways the work of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, I firmly believe the passage of HB7111 was needed. In fact, I believe more is needed as we now await possible movement in the Florida Senate and then a potential signature from Governor Rick Scott. Religious liberty is at stake, regardless how the argument is framed. I am not "hiding behind religious freedom" as some politicians have stated, in order to discriminate against those in the LGBT community. Nevertheless, some will never view it this way. The hashtag #KidsFirst has been used by those opposing the religious freedom declaration of HB 7111. In my opinion, the push against this bill and potential law has little to do with the #kids and much to do with adults, agendas and those who oppose any who have religious convictions that are not concurrently held by all.

The bottom line is that Florida Baptist Children's Homes, as well as other groups within our state may be forced to cease offering services for fostering and adoption if religious liberty is not protected. While many faith-based groups do receive state money, it should be noted that there exist areas where religious conviction and categories of conscientious objection allow for services to not be offered (i.e. abortion services in certain hospitals and clinics) even when it would be legal to do so. Since there are over eighty children's services organizations within the state of Florida, it stands to reason there would remain many that are not religiously affiliated and therefore, would not have a conscientious objection to certain placements as would others.

106,000 Children

If the Florida Baptist Children's Homes were to forced to cease offering these services, over 106,000 children would not be served annually. Truly, this is for the kids. 

 


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. . .
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