I just received another stack of glossy "Me-Monster" political ads in the mail for upcoming elections. It doesn't upset me. It is pretty much a waste of paper, it seems. However, it's part of the game. I get it.
I have enjoyed (I know, it's kind of sick) the election cycles in our nation. Politics has always intrigued me. I read presidential biographies, even when it's clear they are slanted. I will vote in the upcoming election. Like many of you, I feel it is my right and duty. However, this year's options, especially for the highest office, are about as appealing as going to a restaurant for lunch and having only two choices on the menu - boiled sheep eyeball soup and braised gnu intestines.
Photo credit: trespotatoes via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND
Thanks to social media, political posturing and negative bashing hit all time highs over the last eight years. I heard one sociologist claim that he believes Christians have done more harm for the Kingdom through their hateful postings than they realize. I fear he is correct, based especially on the generational divides and shifts in political ideology.
Nevertheless, the vitriol online has seemingly shrunk this year. Oh, it's not good, but compared to the past national elections, it appears to be better. Now, it seems most people on both sides of the party aisle are saying "Your candidate is terrible and so is ours."
We all hear the "lesser of two evils" argument and the "not to vote is to vote for the other party" but those arguments tend to fade away when it comes to personal conviction and actually putting the X in a candidate's box.
One party's platform is now the most pro-abortion one in our nation's history. The other party's leaders are struggling to find ways to shut down their candidate's Twitter feed. Neither option is very palatable for the evangelical, convictional Christian.
I continue to be asked by friends and church members, "Who can we vote for?" I answer "You shouldn't end a sentence in a preposition," but that doesn't seem to help.
Maybe This Is It...
It hit me this week.
Perhaps God has allowed the election options to be what they are this year simply to move those who claim to be children of God from putting their faith in men/women, policies, politics, and governmental agencies to focus on Him as sovereign?
Just a thought.
Now, go vote. Seek the Lord's guidance. Trust Him and stop ending sentences in prepositions.
This past week has been horrific. Stories flooding social media and airwaves first from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then Minnesota, and finally from Dallas, Texas.
A Dallas police sergeant wears a mourning band on his badge during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Regarding the Dallas story, Twitter and Facebook erupted with first-person accounts. Some were authentic. Some were likely fabricated. Some were posted too soon (remember the gentleman with the rifle who was peacefully protesting and immediately became the suspect due to an improperly posted image?) It happens all the time. In the midst of the reports (and we now live in a world where "official" reports from reputable news agencies are often too quickly posted just as uninformed tweets and FB postings.) Evil seems to be winning. Maybe evil is winning, but remember, the game is not over and, as in sports, it doesn't matter who's in the lead at half-time.
Everything Is Political
The politicization of every tragedy seems to be the norm now. Maybe this was always the case, but with immediate, as-it-happens news updates, it now seems no public statement can be made without a politically-based leaning. Words are parsed. Spin is set. And the populace continues to shake their collective heads as if to say "Really? Wow! That's all you have?" knowing that tepid statements from leaders and influencers mean little.
Our nation has been divided since...oh, about 1776...along political and relational lines. Even our forefathers weren't exactly best friends (just read about the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson relationship.) The blackest time in our nation's history centers around division where brothers took up arms agains each other. Division has developed over religious, political, racial and even generational differences. The "United" States of America has always struggled to live up to that name. Yet, to be clear, I still believe the great experiment known as the USA is valuable, honorable, and the best option available among a world that has strived since the beginning for meaning, hope, and purpose. While I admit that not every founding father was a Christian, I believe God ordained the founding of this nation and did so for His glory.
Politics Will Not Solve Our Issues
Every generation has likely stated that "It's never been this bad, though," and that could be true. There have been moments of national unity, but often they're fleeting and prefaced by a tragedy (The Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, etc.) At times of crisis, the populace looks for a word of hope, of encouragement, of direction. At these times, those with an audience, those with influence, must speak and speak well.
In our nation, the President has been the one that most look to for words of hope and strength during times of war, fear, sadness and crisis. This has been the case throughout our limited history.
It is easy to see that, under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life. - Abraham Lincoln
We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage—of our resolve—of our wisdom—our essential democracy. If we meet that test—successfully and honorably—we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time. - Franklin D. Roosevelt
America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. - Harry S. Truman
I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace… He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction. - John F. Kennedy
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! - Ronald Reagan
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." - Ronald Reagan
I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. - George W. Bush
I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events, and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas. - Barack Obama
Yet, even with these words of strength, clarity, and comfort...fear remains.
More Than a Race Problem
Is there a race problem in America? Absolutely. While we have come far, we are continually reminded that we have far to go. There is still a race problem. This became evident to me last week as I was driving through a small town in northern Arkansas and saw a billboard advertising "White Pride Radio." Now, in case you haven't checked...I'm white. Lily white. I've always been white. I identify as white. I don't even tan well. Yet, when I saw the billboard, I was angered. Cloaked in "racial pride" and featuring an image of a young girl holding a puppy along with the word "Love" plastered on the sign, I was angered at the deception. This wasn't love. It was hate disguised as love. I went to the website and immediately it changed to a KKK online radio station. Yeah, I deleted my browser history.
Now, I realize that one billboard does not define an entire town. There are people in every community who are "color blind." There are true Christians of all races and in every neighborhood who value life because we are God's image-bearers.
Murder is wrong! Murder based on color--whether skin or uniform color--is a double wrong. It is hatred in the second degree! It must stop.
I cannot speak as a black man, brown man, tan man, red man, yellow man, or any other shade of melanin man because, as I stated before, I'm a white man. It's a bit disingenuous to speak on behalf of a person or people group that one does not belong. Yet, here's what I do know to be true - hatred is not reserved for any one race. Well, I take that back. Hatred is something that develops within a particular race all too well - the human race.
This is why political statements and posturing will never completely solve the problem. Division is the nature of man. Pride is the default setting. Anger is natural. Evil and depravity need not be taught.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV
It's our nature. It's why we have crime. It's why we need laws. It's why we need police officers.
So, as the stories unfold and sadly, another tragedy will hit the news soon, I fear (not because I know any specifics, but because I know the heart of man) we can rest assured that within the storms, within the crises, in the midst of the fear and the anger and the danger known in this world, evil only appears to be winning. Ultimately, love does win. Not the watered down hashtag of #LoveWins that has been used the past few years, but the agape, grace-centered, gospel-founded love that is Jesus Christ!
In the meantime, we pray.
Yes - Pray!
Yet, let's be more preemptive in our prayers. Don't wait for the tragedy to create the latest #PrayFor_____ trend (which I've used and will, so I'm not knocking that) but let's pray now for those grieving and mourning, for those seeking to get through today and the next, for those who are sworn to protect us, for the black lives, for the brown lives, for the red lives, for the yellow lives, for the white lives (I just had a flashback to the "Jesus Loves the Little Children" song I learned as a child) and for the mixed races (which at this point in our history includes just about everyone on the planet) and the blue lives (which include all the previous ones listed but whom wear badges and run to danger.)
Let's pray for strength, protection, and security, but let's amp it up a bit. Let's pray for salvation and the rescue of the depraved and desperate hearts that Jeremiah mentioned are within us all. Let's pray for those who do not know the rescuer, the ransomer of hearts, the redeemer of souls, the way, truth and life to know and surrender all to him. And let's not just pray for them, but be obedient to tell them of this great salvation.
For you see, apart from Christ...there is no hope.
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
But with Christ, we have true hope. A hope that gives assurance that in all the craziness we experience, God remains sovereign.
Neighborhoods can only change when the church penetrates darkness with light and love. Now is the time to overcome evil with good
Back in 2011 I attended the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Phoenix with one of my good friends. It was during this conference we began to pray about the journey of planting churches. The North American Mission Board was unveiling the "Send City" strategy and the impact of reaching people in strategic areas around the US and Canada. Our church had already partnered with a church planter—Chase Delperdang of Tucson, Arizona. The partnership was our first foray into this updated strategy of community engagement.
Over the years, we have partnered with planters in cities such as Portland, Colorado Springs, and Los Angeles. We fund as a sending church a family in Toronto and and another in Washington, DC.
Even as we have continued these relationships and seek to discover ways to support more fully, God continues to call us and challenge us to engage in our own community even more.
We are an active support and assessing church for our local network and have recently created our own mini-network for the purpose of reaching more people in our community and surrounding towns. We know this is what we must do and yet, some, even within our church wonder why.
Why Invest in Church Planting?
Some argue that planting churches is nothing more than a trendy movement. I have even heard some declare it to be unbiblical. Even when pointed to the unfolding of the church's expansion in the book of Acts, there are some who protest and do not see these as synonymous. Yet, I deem a church planting movement as not a new idea, but an outgrowth of cultural engagement and affirming, if not fulfilling, the words of Acts 1:8.
Granted, the term "church planting" is not in the Bible. However, disciple-making is and while some scoff that church planting is little more than institutional promotion, the reality is that healthy church plants (i.e. new expressions of local church bodies, grounded upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ) lead to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. God is honored and loved. People are loved. Disciples are made.
That being said, the varied church plants we sponsor are led by men called by God to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is about Kingdom-growth, plain and simple. When church planting fails in this area, it fails fully.
A few years ago, Ed Stetzer, then of LifeWay Research and himself a church planter wrote an article focused on why established churches should plant new works. Here is an abbreviated list of his reasons (full article may be found here.)
Church planting reaches lost people. Now retired Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, John Sullivan stated in a denominational meeting that new churches reach lost people at a better rate than established churches. He stated that we don't know exactly why this is, but the results prove it to be true.
Church planting follows a biblical pattern. Church planter, John Worcester gives a good overview of church planting as a function of the New Testament church in the video embedded below. His site is churchplanting.net.
Church planting is essential for survival. For any movement to thrive, it must multiply.
Church planting benefits the planting church. When life change occurs within the ministries and plants sponsored by a church, the Lord energizes the "dry bones" for His glory.
Church planting is necessary to reach North America. This is the foundation of the Send strategy.
There's never a good time to plant - do it anyway.
In addition to planting and supporting new church plants, we are expanding into other regions of our community with satellite campuses. Churches have done this for years and we hosted a couple of campuses in years past. We did much well, but also learned from some 20/20 hindsight as to how to map and strategize better. There are numerous options when it comes to satellite campuses. Our model is to plant these in community schools, focused on reaching families, while serving the community. Each campus will have an on-campus minister and messages will be live, not video presentations. At this time, our new campuses will meet on off-days and times from the traditional Sunday morning. Go to creek.church and island.church to see a brief preview of where we will launch.
Why Put a Campus Where There Are So Many Other Churches?
One question that continues to be raised by friends about these campuses focuses on location and "why?" In each case, there are numerous other churches (of varying flavors) around. Yet, there are some demographic realities that have become clear as we have studied the areas. The truth is that the majority of those in the communities, even with numerous other churches around, do not attend any church of any type.
Some would say, "But if they wanted to attend, there are enough options. Why plant another?"
The simple answer is because we believe God is calling us to do so.
I was talking ton one friend about the Fleming Island area where we hope to plant Island Church next spring. There are numerous churches in this highly populated area. In addition to a young, large Baptist Church there are Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and even a new, fast-growing ARC church. Each is unique and yet, many are not engaged. The lostness in the community is overwhelming, as is the case in most every area in our nation.
In Fleming Island, at the corner of the two major roads are six pharmacies. It seems odd, but at Walmart, Winn-Dixie, Target, Publix, CVS, and Walgreens, residents can get their prescriptions filled as well as purchase other desired and needed items. Six pharmacies! Isn't that too many? Wouldn't one be enough? Well, apparently no. Each one seems to be doing well and apparently there are many, many people in our community purchasing legal drugs. The rumors are that the illegal ones are pretty rampant as well, but because it's a nice community they seem to be mostly designer drugs...but, I digress (too many cop friends, I guess.)
It's not exactly a fair comparison, but if there's a need for six pharmacies for physical ailments, surely there's a need for as many "spiritual pharmacies" that God desires to address the spiritual ailments of the people.
So, we are planting a new campus, in Fleming Island and near Orange Park South. While these two areas are close, the demographics are vastly different. The barriers (bridges, waterways, divided highways, subdivisions, etc.) clearly create separate communities where the church is needed.
WE PLANT CHURCHES AS AN EXERCISE IN KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS.
All in all, church planting helps an existing church best when the new congregation is voluntarily birthed by an older “mother” congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income wash back into the mother church in various ways and strengthen and renew it. Although there is some pain in seeing good friends and valued leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually soon experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new, enthusiastic leaders and members.
However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue—the issue of “kingdom-mindedness.” New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80 percent—the new people the kingdom has gained through this new church—or are we going to bemoan the situation and resent the three families we lost to it?” Our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.
Any church that is more upset by its own small losses than grateful for the kingdom’s large gains is betraying its narrow interests. Even so, as we have seen, the benefits that new church planting offers to older congregations is very great, even if not initially obvious.
A New Metric
As we move forward in our planting and campus launching, we seek to do what every church says they want to do, but few succeed. We seek to reach lost, unchurched people for Christ. While most churches affirm this, many of our traditionally "successful" church starts (and I'm talking about in my denomination and community) reach fewer lost people and more saved, disenfranchised church members from other congregations.
Just to be clear - moving Christians from "Church A" to "New Church B" is not Kingdom-growth. It may eventually lead to such, but unless Church A is celebrating the renewed heart of these transferred members and these people are fully engaged in big picture engagement (i.e. they're not just marketing their new brand of church, but are actually living their faith and sharing Christ) this is a facade of church growth.
I feel for the pastors and campus ministers who end up with a room full of former members of Church A. What do you do? Tell them to leave? Maybe, but that becomes a distraction as well.
J.D. Payne threw this option out on the Verge website...
We don’t need more flavors
What would happen if we recognized that a wise use of our Father’s resources (e.g., money, people) should be to assist in planting churches from out of the harvest fields, instead of establishing a new work in a community to provide a different style of worship/ministry for the believers who are already there?
We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches.
What would happen if we equipped and commissioned church planters with the task of only going to the lost in the people group/community?
Yes, we say we are advocating these things, but let’s begin to question our results.
Try this. The next time you hear about a new church planted, a record number of new churches birthed in an area, or church planting goals reached, just ask the question, “What percent of the members of those churches recently came into the Kingdom of God?”
So, we echo the stated intention of every church planter and established church pastor I know when we say "We want to reach lost people!" Pray that we do and that we avoid the easy trap of using an old model that creates a perceived successful church, but no disciples. Pray that we live out our faith in ways that the lost are loved, even if they never come to Christ. Pray that we don't lose focus.
More to come as we continue on this journey. Please pray that much would be made of Jesus and that God alone would be glorified.
I worked at Chick-fil-A when I was in high school. Those were the days when the restaurants were pretty much exclusively in malls and the menu included such things as deep-fried apple pies (they need to bring this back,) the Chick-N-Q and meals were served in cardboard boxes that looked like barns.
My children both worked for Chick-fil-A during high school and college.
We still eat at Chick-fil-A regularly. I even recommend students in our church to work for our local restaurants. I keep hoping for a kick-back in free nuggets for that.
Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com via VisualHunt.com / CC BY
There are many people who love Chick-fil-A.
There are also many people who hate the restaurant. Most of those who declare their hatred for Mr. Cathy's restaurant online and in the news state that it is the "intolerant" beliefs of ownership and the anti-LGBT policies of the business. This stems from CEO Dan Cathy's statements regarding his personal convictions that oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. You may remember that firestorm that hit the airwaves a number of years ago. I wrote about that here in a post from 2012. I remember squeezing into our local Chick-fil-A for a "Stand with CFA" grassroots event that drew more customers than in the history of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the cultural barrage continues to this day.
Some cities declared Chick-fil-A was not welcome to open restaurants within their municipalities. The news goes on and on and on. And Chick-fil-A continues to grow and while labeled as hateful for those who disagree with the owners religious and personal convictions, the local restaurants continue to illustrate their openness to hire qualified employees with no regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.
Sundays at Chick-fil-A
One of the most widely known characteristics of the Cathy's restaurants is that they are not open on Sundays. This was founder Truett Cathy's conviction as a Christian and active member of his local church. Though money is to be made by being open seven days a week, he refused to allow this. There are stories of individual operators who lost their restaurants when it was discovered by corporate that they were opening on Sundays. Even the powerful malls of the 1970s and 1980s could not sway Chick-fil-A to open. This is still true today. I remember a few years back as I was leading a mission team back to the US from a two-week project in Europe. We were to land in Philadelphia. We were pretty excited because we knew there was a Chick-fil-A in the Philadelphia airport. Yes! In Philadelphia there is sweet tea! It did not take long for our excitement of having our first American meal in two weeks of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and sweet iced tea wane due to the realization that we landed in Philly on a Sunday.
Nevertheless, the "closed on Sundays" rule has remained. Apparently, it hasn't hurt Chick-fil-A as a business. They continue to grow and increase influence through leadership training, Winshape Camps and other ventures.
The Story Most Aren't Hearing
There are stories that hit the news and there are some that never make it on television at 6pm. Here's a good news story in the midst of a tragic event that illustrates that loving our neighbor is still the best policy.
Apparently, last Sunday in Orlando, the local Chick-fil-A opened. However, this operator is not likely to be in trouble. In fact, it seems that Chick-fil-A approved of this special Sunday opening. The opening was unique and in response to the terror attack at The Pulse nightclub.
Chick-fil-A is famous for two things…chicken sandwiches and controversy.
Like last month when the New York City Mayor urged people to boycott the restaurant because he felt they portrayed a hateful message towards the LGBT community. Well, this past Sunday, a day they’re infamously closed, they decided to do something out of character to help the victims.
Upon hearing the news of the Orlando shooting the restaurant opened its doors and fired up the grill, cooking hundreds of chicken burgers and orders of fries. The only thing is, they didn’t sell any. Instead, they donated everything to the local blood drive where people were gathered to donate and help out the victims of the massacre.
According to the DC Gazette, hundreds of people were fed and even posted about it on social media this past Sunday.
The owners of the popular Christian company have shown Christ in a time of tragedy. They didn’t compromise their beliefs, just showed them by extending love, opening their doors on a day they’re known for staying closed.
“They will know we are Christians by our love”–not for our best friends, not for our families or other Christians, but by how we love those who hurt us and disagree with us.
The Orlando shooting was an attack on the LGBT community. Let us not allow it to turn into more attacks – on the LGBT community, on the Muslim community, on each other.
Does This Really Matter?
Well, truthfully, it's just a local restaurant giving away chicken sandwiches. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it is really not that big a deal. Yet, here's why I believe this is significant. Johnston states it well when he says "They didn't compromise their beliefs, just showed them..."
Not every employee at Chick-fil-A is a Christian. Not everyone who works for the company agrees with the CEOs personal convictions. These are facts that are likely true in every corporation. Chick-fil-A is not really a "Christian company" because only people can be Christians. No restaurant goes to heaven when it finally closes. Yet, the people who work at this local restaurant (and I'm sure there were other restaurants and organizations that provided free meals and drinks as well to those in Orlando) did what Christ modeled. They actually did what the church should.
If you're in Orlando or following the reports focusing on the community, you will notice that many churches and followers of Christ have and are serving those who are hurting. Pray for those who wear the name of Jesus as they seek to love those the culture says they hate. Pray for our churches as they seek to minister and reach those who are hurting and scared and need to know that there is a Way to Life and He is Truth.
Love wins. And that's more than a watered-down hashtag.
We awakened Sunday morning to the tragic news coming out of Orlando, Florida. A man with apparent self-proclaimed allegiances to ISIS opened fire in a gay nightclub early in the morning, killing at least 50 people and injuring over 50 more.
This is now categorized as the worst mass shooting in American history. Men and women lost their lives. Parents lost children. Brothers and sisters lost their siblings. And a nation mourns.
I confess I did not read the full story until late on Sunday afternoon and therefore, unfortunately, did not mention this tragedy as our church gathered together for worship yesterday morning. When I read the story and subsequently watched some of the video coming from Orlando, emotions swirled within me.
Once again we offer a hashtag "#PrayFor" notification on social media. This time it's not Lahore or Paris or Brussels, but is for the people of a city less than three hours from my home. Maybe "#PrayForOrlando" needs to be replaced with "#ImPrayingForOrlando" to ensure that the hashtag is less a command and more a declaration of action. Yes, prayer is active, not passive.
The terrorist connection is frightening for those in our nation, our state and especially for those in Orlando. Every time a terror connection is revealed, those who can remember are thrust back to September 11, 2001 when Islamic extremist terrorism became a reality to all of us.
How We Must Respond
Let's be honest, the church (and I am referring to the conservative, evangelical, Baptist flavor of which I am part) has great potential for really messing up here with response. This is clearly due to the reality that the Islamic terrorist is, well...a Muslim, and those who were killed and injured are most likely lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Oh, and they were in a nightclub.
While posting a "#PrayForParis" or other such statement on social media just seems like the right thing to do, some Christians may initially struggle with offering a "#PrayForOrlando" statement for fear that they will be viewed as affirming things they feel strongly against (in this case, the LGBT lifestyle.)
These are just my thoughts on how Christians and the church should respond.
STOP - Seriously, just stop what you're doing for a moment. Take a pause. As news continues to pour out from Orlando and in news conferences in front of the Pulse Nightclub, stop what you're doing. Stop scrolling through trending stories on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. What has become more common as we move into a more inter-connected, technology-driven world, we find ourselves searching online to see what others are saying. I'm guilty of this and also of what many others find easy to do - vent online. Don't. Guard your hearts and stop for just a moment and think about the reality of what has happened.
Yes, really pray! In my life, I've discovered the intentional pause leads to deeper prayer. People are angry. People are afraid. People are hurting. Pray for the city of Orlando, but more for the people of Orlando and especially those directly touched by the tragedy. You do not have to agree nor affirm a person's lifestyle to grieve over them. Pray for the family members, friends and yes, even lovers of those killed.
Weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) Names are now being released of those who were killed. These are not generic "extras" in a film or digital creations in a video game. These are real people. They were killed in a nightclub marketed to the LGBT community. These people are image-bearers of God who had their lives erased in a moment of hatred and terror.
I read this morning the transcript of text messages sent from a young man to his mother as he and others were hiding in a restroom. The messages are haunting as he stated "He's coming. I'm going to die!" He has been confirmed as one of the victims and his mother is left, as are many others, grieving and questioning and now wondering "What could I have done?" As a parent, my heart goes out to the many who are being notified this morning, grieving the loss of a son or daughter and now thrust into the public spotlight as they mourn and ultimately have to plan a funeral soon.
BE SILENT, BUT SPEAK HOPE AND LOVE WHEN YOU MUST
Okay, this seems contradictory, but hear me out. At times the very best counsel and help a Christian can offer others is the ministry of presence. Just be there. You don't have to go to Orlando to do this. Believe me, as this story unfolds, there are many in your community and church, and even your family, who are shaken by this. Some because of the connection to the LGBT community or their own self-identity as LGBT. Others because of the affinity of age with those murdered. Some because they have friends or coworkers who may be more like the terrorist than they wanted to admit and now political correctness seems way too overrated.
Grief and fear are often bedfellows. So, as one who has hope, just BE THERE. And, when you do speak, go to Scripture, but not as the Pharisaical legalists do. In fact, I'd recommend you live out the Scripture. At this point the #LoveWins hashtag needs to not be about gay marriage, but about Christ-centered, Gospel-focused love for those who need it (and we all need it.) Questions such as "Why?" will come, and simple, man-centered answers never suffice.
Following the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007, Erik Raymond wrote these words...
First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.
How Christians respond to this tragedy should be no different than how we respond to other depraved events where it seems evil is triumphant.
It is at these moments, Christ's love must shine through. We remember clearly that we are His ambassadors. This is a heavy calling. Respond well.
Christians are all about resurrections. At least every Spring when the pastels come out and Easter services are planned.
When we baptize individuals in our churches, we're declaring a resurrection. In fact, I tell each person I baptize that they are about to preach the most powerful sermon ever. At that point, I tend to get a worried look as the person is thinking "I didn't know I was going to have to preach?!?" Then, I tell them that the very act of believer's baptism is the greatest illustration of life from death. The immersion reminds all who watch that Jesus died and was placed in a tomb (buried.) When I pull the person back up out of the water, it is a picture of Jesus rising from the dead! What a sermon!
The baptism also shows that the individual died when he/she surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and was raised up a new creature in Christ. Old is gone and the new is here!
It's a powerful image and I never grow tired of baptizing.
What About Resurrecting the Church?
But what happens when the local church is in need of resurrection?
The numbers declare the reality - churches have a life-cycle. Based on statistical analysis from the North American Mission Board, over 70 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining. While attendance is not the only indicator of health or life, it is a strong one. Even so, as we look across the board, only 10 - 15 percent of our churches can be categorized as healthy and multiplying.
By the Numbers
Across the SBC, we see close to 900 churches close annually
Two-thirds of these closures are churches over ten years old
Two-thirds of these closures are churches in growing, metro areas
The implications for Florida are that we see approximately 65 churches close annually
In the Jacksonville area, this means that almost 30 churches could be called "healthy," around 150 "plateaued or declining," and approximately 30 at or near risk of closing
In a meeting with denominational and regional leaders recently, we compared these statistics with known numbers of churches in our area and the data matches. Fortunately, our leaders and engaged churches are not content to see the statistics remain. We are blessed in our region to have wonderfully strategic, godly, and discerning leaders focused on these issues (Thank you - Rick Wheeler and the Jacksonville Baptist Association, especially.) Nevertheless, no denominational strategy will ever be sufficient to turn the tide. Working harder is not the answer.
We have been able so see some amazing success stories in our city relating to church renewal and revitalization. In most cases, our associational leadership has played the role of broker between churches in the healthy ten percent and those in the bottom grouping. For this we are grateful.
While it is clear that God is moving among churches in Jacksonville and through the Jacksonville Baptist Association, we know that small victories will not shift the 70 percent into the category of "healthy and multiplying."
Dying Churches Need a Strategic Shift
Many of our churches throughout Jacksonville were launched in the 1950s. They experienced growth and have histories of community engagement and victories. However, in many cases, the best days are decades in the past and the community around the church changed. Unfortunately, some churches have died. Honestly, some needed to die. Yet, I personally hate to see a church turn inward, ignore the gospel, grow calloused and die on the vine, especially in communities that are so in need for a clear, loving, biblically-relevant, gospel witness.
John Mark Clifton, Lead National Strategist for Revitalization/RePlanting at NAMB, recently wrote a post about the reality of dying churches. In this post (found here), he breaks down the "Signs of a Dying Church" and all should take this to heart:
There is one reason a church dies. The church in Ephesus loved doctrine, they believed the truth, they worked hard, and they endured. But they were doomed to die if they did not return to that which they did at first. The church of Ephesus began with a bang (literally). It was birthed with a passion to reach its community and to make disciples. Over time, however, this passion waned. When a church ceases over a period of time to make disciples who make disciples and realize community transformation, that church will die.
The symptoms of a church near death are many and they include:
They value the process of decision more than the outcome of decision.
They value their preferences over the needs of the unreached.
They have an inability to pass leadership to the next generation.
They cease, often gradually, to be part of the fabric of their community.
They grow dependent upon programs or personalities for growth or stability.
They tend to blame the community for a lack of response and in time grow resentful of the community for not responding as it once did.
They anesthetize the pain of death with over-abundance of activity and maintaining outdated structure.
They confuse caring for the church facility with caring for the church members.
Most church leaders and members of local churches can see how these eight things can happen. In truth, most of us must repent for allowing these things to happen. This isn't rocket science - when we turn inward and focus on that which doesn't matter for eternity and the sake of the gospel, we begin to die. Sure, churches have life-cycles. Seriously, who's talking about the latest great things happening at the Church at Ephesus?
Yet, even with the known "life-cycles" of local churches, it is unhealthy and sinful to ignore that which God has called us to do. Is it possible that 70 percent of SBC churches have unintentionally allowed the worship of the church or the past to keep them from being who God has called them to be? Autonomy is wonderful, but we must not ignore the benefits and gospel-centered strategies (i.e. as exemplified in the book of Acts and Paul's letters) of being Kingdom-focused, community-engaged, partnered (or maybe "cooperating") churches. If the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, there is the possibility that we are only as strong in our community as our weakest church.
So, it's clear that dying churches need a strategic shift, but in many cases, they may not have the personnel or resources to do such. This is why strategic cooperation is so needed. The big church vs. small church battles that have grown in so many areas over the decades must go away. The battle is too grand to spend time focusing on issues that do not matter. So, as we check our egos at the door, we must come together for the sake of the Gospel. Is it possible? Not without divine intervention.
Some dying churches will refuse to change. In many cases, they will become a local community's new CVS or Walgreens (depending on which corner the other one is built.) While affordable prescription drugs may fill a need for a community, I still believe a sold, Gospel witness will fill a greater need.
Will it be easy? Nope! But, who said ministry was easy?
As you are most likely aware, a recent joint-action taken by the United States Department of Education and the Department of Justice regarding public school access for those students who identify as transgender to have access to the locker rooms and/or restrooms of based upon their gender identification rather than birth gender.
The edict passed down from our governmental agencies seeks to do what the US Constitution prohibits.
While this has been titled the "Wars of the Restrooms" it actually is much more than that. To politicize it as a restroom issue makes for ridiculous headlines and unfortunate protests via social media, that ultimately comes across as hate-filled (and in some cases, that's because they are hateful responses.)
While many continue to debate the veracity of restroom usage, this hearkens back to a post I wrote in 2014 (found here) regarding the city of Houston's desire to subpoena pastor's sermons regarding LGBT activism and biblical truth. Of course, most recently, Houston had its own restroom agenda. I wrote of that last November here.
The stories about culture shifts in this area will not lessen. It was just last summer when I shared with a fellow pastor that the stories relating to LGBT rights will continue to grow, and impact the church. At that time, there was much about lesbians and gay men and some news stories related to bisexuals. I shared that the "T" in the acronym is going to head to the forefront soon and local communities and churches would have to address it. Of course, my statement related to weddings and premarital counseling and the needed question to be asked by pastors of couples going through counseling to be "Were you born the gender you now are?"
We are now at this juncture. The "T" in the LGBT acronym is front and center and the culture is weighing its response.
I have read numerous articles about the restroom issues, both from secularists and Christians. There are some who declare the expected boycotts and others to seek to lay the issue to rest and allow anyone to use restrooms as they desire.
Pastor John Piper responded well when asked if he would use Target's (the company in the cross-hairs of the boycotters and seemingly taking the lead in the corporate world's capitulation to the gender revolution) transgender restroom (or gender-neutral restroom). He stated...
My answer is, If I were there and if I had to, I would — just like I would stop on the highway if I had to. But I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to. And the reason I wouldn’t is because I want there to be a small act of protest and life consistency that may have no impact at all on the powers that make such decisions, but that keep my conscience clear and acknowledge God in practical affairs and give a consistency to my life that does help overall in showing the way of Christ to the world.
And I would say just one other thing. I think we should spend most of our creative energies on constructing in our minds and in our hearts and in our families great and beautiful and glorious alternative visions of reality than the ones we are being offered by the world. If we give most of our time to bemoaning and criticizing the world for acting like the world, our vision of God and his glorious future for his people will become smaller and smaller, and that could be a greater tragedy than the one we are living in. (His complete response is located here.)
The School Restrooms
Now, the issue at hand. With the government's non-binding threat to local schools coming out publicly this week, school boards and school systems are scrambling to answer well. The Duval County School Board (the largest school district in my area - Jacksonville, Florida) has stated they will comply with the mandate. Of course, lawsuits are now coming from parents who disagree.
The Clay County School Superintendent (the county where I reside) has stated that they will NOT comply with the mandate. School Board members will be addressing this on Thursday of this week. They are now being inundated with comments and threats from those who are offended, as well as words of encouragement and affirmation.
Truth be told, our county school leadership rarely has a meeting without controversy. There continues to be great division among many in our county for numerous reasons, but in this case, regarding the affirmation of the federal government's directive, I anticipate a unified front for the most part in pushing back and saying "NO." I would encourage all in our county who have strong feelings in this issue to attend the School Board meeting. I know many who are offended that the directive would be ignored will be there. Their voices are already being heard. It is the voices of the encouragers that are needed. Many who never engage in politics and civics should consider attending and simply, in a winsome (not hateful, or angry) way, state their affirmation for the Superintendent and the School Board membership who must stand united on this issue. Someone needs to be a Barnabas in Babylon.
At a time when administrative assignments are being made for the next school years, students are living in the post-testing time of the year and having parties in classes, honor societies are inducting new members, clubs are having end-of-year events, and some are preparing to walk across the stage wearing a robe and mortarboard, the schools are talking about restrooms. Because they have to do so! This issue is not just in my local community. It's in every American community, thanks to the recent edict.
Churches and businesses are already having to find ways to answer the questions. (And these are questions that no one ever thought would be asked.)
This will not be an easily answered question and I foresee millions of dollars spent in lawsuits and litigation over this issue in the coming months, and perhaps years.
Yet, the camel's nose is under the tent.
And those who live with a biblical worldview see things unfolding as expected, though not enjoyed. While there is no going back, and honestly, we shouldn't want to go backward, the need for Christians who consistently see the world through a biblical lens (i.e. worldview) is vital.
Love God. Love people. Love ALL people (love does not mean affirm). Make disciples.
While the debate rages regarding identity, I go to Jesus' words in Matthew 19:4 (ESV) - “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female."
Remember...it's really not about the restrooms, but in case you didn't know, I am opposed to the gender-neutral and gender-identified choice for restroom/locker room usage.
This week I interview my friend Al Fernandez. Al serves as Regional Catalyst for the Southeastern part of Florida with the Florida Baptist Convention. His insight into the cultural diversity of Miami and surrounding areas is vital.
In this episode we talk about church planting in Miami and the cultural challenges that exist. We discuss the focus on second and third generations in the church, where Spanish and English collide. I also talk with Al, a second generation Cuban-American, about the recent trip by President Obama and how the Cuban people in Miami are responding.
I have heard the statement for as long as I can remember.
In fact, I've probably said it myself.
Often this statement comes when someone is dealing with the conviction of past sin. For Christians, the statement seems normal, but it is far from God's design.
"I know God has forgiven me. I just can't forgive myself."
Last night, as I led our GriefShare group here at church, the video teaching was focusing upon the uniqueness of grief that people experience. In the midst of the presentation, the reality of false and true guilt was surfaced. There are times that we feel guilty for things we have done, or not done, and cannot seem to get past that. In prayer, we seek forgiveness from God and mentally acknowledge the Bible's statement that our sins are forgiven through Christ when we repent. But, the Accuser is still at work and to disavow the spiritual attacks is dangerous.
Watch this brief segment from the GriefShare session on false guilt and the reality of "forgiving oneself."
You and I do not have the capacity to forgive ourselves. The relief is that we are not expected to do so. Our responsibility is to receive the forgiveness offered from God. When we repent of our sins, following the conviction by the Holy Spirit, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.
To hold onto that guilt actually is a form of idolatry. It places self on the throne and relegates God to a subservient role.
Even Christians do this.
While not an easy concept to grasp, especially since most of us have heard the "I can't forgive myself" mantra our entire lives (even from Christians, and maybe even from ourselves) it is time to let God have this completely and disavow any false guilt placed upon us from the Enemy.
So, last night the final episode of the latest installment of "The Bachelor" aired. Don't ask me why I know this or why I know what happened on the show, but suffice to say...I was in the room and it was on and though I was working hard creating my submission for the Dallas Mavericks "design the new court" challenge, I could not help but hear and see some of this orchestrated "romance" aired live for all.
Just so you know, the dude who was the designated bachelor actually told two of the members of his harem that he loved them! Then, he had to tell one of the ladies that he loved her, but was picking the other. Apparently, this is unheard of in relationship reality television. I couldn't help but think that if this show merged with "Sister Wives" he could pick all of them, move to a western state and marry them all. In fact, once polygamy is deemed legal in the future through a Supreme Court ruling (mark my words - it's coming) this will undoubtedly become the new TLC reality show - "Sister Fiancées."
LOVE ON "THE BACHELOR"
I could not help but notice how the word "love" was being used in this show.
It reminded me of a message I heard years ago by Chap Clark. I've shared this reality of love with couples during premarital counseling and with teenagers.
When the bachelor dude tells a woman that he loves her, the question is "What type of love?"
Love has many meanings in English. Love can mean such varied things as a feeling for a favorite food to an expression of devotion. However, what has become epidemic in our culture when it comes to relationships and love, is the attempted building of solid relationships on the WRONG TYPE OF LOVE!
While there are many types of love, I'll just focus on two forms as defined by their Greek terms. One is EROS and the other is AGAPE. Now, if you've been in church for any length of time, you've probably heard of agape. This is the love that God shows us. It's unmerited and solid, never-changing. In fact, it is agape that is the love reserved for a person. It is this type of love that husband-wife relationships should be built upon. When not, relationship issues and even divorce often result.
Eros would be a type of love reserved for an object. This is the love that a person would have for a car, an outfit, a movie or even food.
WHEN WE LOVE PEOPLE LIKE PIZZA
So, here's what I saw (or heard, actually) revealed by the bachelor last night.
He told two women than he loved them, but does he agape them?
If you love a person with agape, you love them as a person. If you love a person with eros (which is so very common) you actually love them with the type of love you should reserve for food, like pizza. So, if you can say "I really love pizza!" you're actually saying "I really eros pizza!" In truth, erosing (not sure that's a word) pizza is fine. No problem at all. However, if you eros a person...it never ends well.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EROS LOVE
In the case of pizza, look at it this way. If you love pizza, you love it when you're really hungry, only with the toppings of choice, and for how it makes you feel.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AGAPE LOVE
It's easy to see how this form of love is reserved for people. It's the love that God shows us. It's eternal. It's unconditional. It's a gift and through Christ's sacrifice on the cross is clearly selfless.
What if men and women who fall in love would ensure they are falling into agape? When you love someone with agape, you have the foundation for a lifelong love. Divorce lawyers would have to change their focus if married couples agaped each other. Boyfriends and girlfriends would no longer find themselves in relationships of convenience.
So, as The Bachelor finished another season and now The Bachelorette begins (it's a never-ending cycle of lust and eros, it seems) we get another reality show that misses the point, but reveals culture so well.