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.
This morning as I was studying the Bible I came across the passage in Mark 3 where Jesus speaks of "binding the strong man." Here's the passage in context...
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and"by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Mark 3:22-27 (ESV)
While studying about false doctrines and teachings that have infiltrated the church, I ran across a statement I have heard said by Christians over the years regarding "binding Satan." In most cases, the phrase is used as a declaration or as part of a sermon. For instance, "We need to bind Satan in this city!" or some such phrase.
It sounds Christian and even alludes to the passage in Mark 3.
The only problem is that the Bible says nothing about Christians binding Satan.
When Dr. John MacArthur was asked "What does 'binding Satan' mean?" he responded, "I don't know. It's not in the Bible."
Dr. Tony Evans addresses the Mark passage this way:
Some Christians, usually in the Charismatic or Pentecostal movements, apply Jesus’ parable to the spiritual warfare that believers must wage. They teach that Christians are the ones who must “bind the strong man” in their lives or in their cities and then win the victory in Jesus’ name. Some Charismatic preachers even name the “strong men” and attempt to identify the cities or geographical areas over which they hold power. Such doctrines go far beyond what Jesus said. The Lord’s parable was simply to impress upon the scribes that He was not in league with Satan. Never does Jesus instruct us to “bind the strong man” or tell us how to do it. We do not have warrant to interpret the parable as a spiritual reality over geographical regions.
False Doctrines Abound
Spiritually sounding phrases laced with just enough "amens, brothers, hallelujahs" and other such church terms often become accepted as gospel by Christians and church attenders who have settled into allowing others to read the Bible for them and have refused to "study to show themselves approved."
I am reading passages in Acts 20, 2 Corinthians 11 and 2 Timothy 2. There is a common thread running throughout these books. The thread is that of warning to the church. Warnings regarding false teachings, false doctrines and false teachers. The enemy has sought to twist the gospel and the words of God since the very beginning. Now, with two-thousand years of church life, we have a cumulative gathering of false teachings to swim through.
The wise Christian recognizes this reality. The pastor understands the heft of his responsibility.
Perhaps more dangerous than the overt abandonment of biblical doctrine is the increase in religious talk that sounds biblical, uses biblical terms, but twists the meanings of Scripture to present another story.
These warnings in Scripture are for the church, for those already immersed in the body of believers. The battle rages, but the weapons are unique in this venue. Doctrine does matter. So, stop "binding Satan" and handle the word of truth well.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)
It seems like a reality show, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Our culture has embraced the reality show and ratings over the past few years prove this to be true. The race for the Presidency features celebrities (regardless how these men and women desire to describe themselves, they are now celebrities) vying to be the last man or woman standing in this version of Survivor.
There are alliances.
There are tribal councils (we call them debates, but as any debate coach would tell you, these really aren't debates) where many candidates seem to be voted off the island following the event. Now, there's no host quenching a torch here, but when poll numbers come in after these events, the number of participants on the stage dwindles. So far, the Republicans have lost the JV and others from their large tribe. The Democrats have lost members as well.
Eventually there will be a tribal merger with only two candidates left - a Republican and a Democrat (and a bunch of independents and smaller party representatives, but as history shows, they really have no chance to win.)
This week a surprise element entered the story. This would be akin to a "very special episode" of a television show.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
The surprise element in this race is Pope Francis. As head of the Catholic church, the Pope was asked his opinion on Donald Trump (the Republican front-runner) as a candidate and his plans if elected President of the United States.
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel." Pope Francis
That quote set off a firestorm. The Pope apparently declared that Donald Trump is not a Christian. And, surprisingly, this offended people, even The Donald.
The networks are loving it! Because...ratings.
Donald Trump responded with a prepared statement.
"The pope said something to the effect that maybe Donald Trump isn't Christian, okay? And he's questioning my faith, I was very surprised to see it. For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful." - Donald Trump
Now, softer responses are coming out from the Trump camp and even from the Catholic church. But, that doesn't really matter. The story is taking off and the question of "What is a Christian?" is now, once again, making headlines.
The internet and media are exploding with opinions regarding the divide. Republican Catholics who support Trump are frustrated with the Pope. Moderate Catholics who oppose Trump are celebrating the Pope. Evangelicals who do not view the Pope as the leader of the church, much less the voice of Christianity, are cringing that these discussions are happening. Non-believers don't care about the divide, but wonder why others do. Opponents to Christianity just shake their head and state that this is just another story about the idiocy that is Christianity.
Basically, everyone is offended.
And the reality show continues on.
The big difference between this reality show and the ones funded by the networks is that this one really matters. It's not just a game. This is much more serious.
What Is a Christian?
And, bigger and more important than the political fallout is the question that has come to the forefront - "What is a Christian?"
Many followers of Jesus Christ are now being asked this question. Friends, family members, coworkers and even fellow students and acquaintances are asking the question. What's needed is the answer.
This is when the reality show really matters.
This is when it's more than a show, but reality.
Are We Prepared to Respond?
Are we ready to respond?
Are we prepared with a winsome, truthful, honest, and potentially offensive answer? Not offensive for the sake of offending, but offensive because the Gospel is offensive! Offensive because the reality is that not everyone is a Christian. I'm not agreeing with how the Pope defines true Christianity here, so don't misread this. I'm also not agreeing with Donald Trump with how he may define true Christianity, so there.
I am agreeing with Scripture alone.
So understanding this, we must be prepared with the answer that is being sought (and most are not really seeking the true answer, but be diligent.)
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)
In the era of sound bites and Tweets, news comes and goes at light speed. Our cultural norm is to elevate athletes and celebrities to high status. If an individual has a large following on social media and in entertainment news, he/she is seemingly "always" in the news.
From the Official Tim Tebow Facebook page
Tim Tebow is one such individual.
He burst onto the scene as a high school senior quarterback at Nease High School. At least, for those of us who live in the northeast Florida area, that was when we began to hear his name on the local sports reports regularly. I remember the drama that came when he declared where he would be playing college football. His choice to attend the University of Florida was celebrated by many in this area. I distinctly remember him giving a faux apology to his then pastor, Dr. Jerry Vines, for not attending the University of Alabama (I believe I remember that correctly.)
From his first "jump pass" for a touchdown as a Gator, Tebow cemented himself into the American entertainment and sports culture. He has found much success in his journey - Heisman Trophy winner, NFL first-round pick, leading his team to playoff wins and most recently as one of the talking heads at the SEC Channel's version of "GameDay Live."
Tim's celebrity status has transcended football.
He is a celebrity and he knows the world is watching.
I have found that as Jenny Rapson recently wrote in her open to letter to Tebow on her blog: I know that people love to love you or they love to hate you.
Amazingly, for many the love/hate issues have to do with Tebow's statements about faith and Christianity. He has spoken consistently since a microphone was first thrust into his face, he has been winsome and not condescending. Some take issue with his touchdown prayer stance (which either affectionately or derisively became known as "Tebowing") but by and large, Tebow's walk as a Christian has been personal, clear and consistent. He even seems to have fun in life, which apparently frustrates some who struggle with seeing a good-looking, popular, athletic Christian enjoying life.
Some of the love/hate has more to do with the logo on his football helmet while in college than his faith.
But, I digress.
Yesterday, I was told he was in the news again, but this time it wasn't about a potential tryout for an NFL team or regarding some antics at the SEC Network. This time it was about his love life and his breakup with his girlfriend Olivia Culpo.
Tebow has been open and clear about his conviction to remain chaste and a virgin until he enters into a biblical marriage relationship. That statement from a teenager or college freshman is powerful. However, it seems that many who heard him make these claims years ago just politely shook their head and quietly thought "Yeah. . .we'll see how long that lasts."
Apparently a man with personal convictions is a rare thing.
From all reports, Tim has kept his vow of celibacy and is waiting.
And, according to news reports that are flooding the internet, this decision has cost him his latest relationship with Olivia Culpo.
As with most entertainment news reports (which used to be touted as "celebrity gossip") stories come out quickly even if all the facts are not known.
I think it is unfair to Tim and whomever he is dating at the time that all relationship details are presented to the world. I know, the argument is that if a person desires to be in the public eye, he/she is willingly sacrificing privacy. I have heard that for years, but it seems a pretty shallow excuse for spreading personal details. As is the case often, the persons whose details are shared end up being hurt, or at a minimum judged unfairly.
So, Tebow is in the news again because he is a good looking guy who has decided to remain sexually pure.
This is newsworthy?
Some people seem to be collectively shaking their heads as if to say "What's wrong with this guy?"
At the same time, the cultural shift that now proudly wears open sexuality like a new pair of shoes and proclaims victory of the "free love" generation is celebrated as progressive and evolved.
The church struggles to be heard as we seek to minister to the refugees of the sexual revolution.
As for Tim and Olivia - we probably will never know the full details regarding their breakup. And, we shouldn't.
In fact, one buried article on Us Magazine's webpage, regarding the breakup, states this:
Indeed, the Culpo source reiterates to Us that Tebow liked Culpo a lot, but her heart just wasn't ready for a new romance. "He was very into her," the source tells Us. "But she just got out of a long-term relationship, and was not interested."
However, that statement is not the one being tweeted. It is not the headline making rounds. The big story is that they broke up because Tim wouldn't have sex before marriage. True or not, the story reeks of an invasion of privacy, trivializes the sexual relationship between a man and woman, and while attempting to show Tebow as an old-fashioned prude, actually paints a horrible picture of Miss Culpo.
But, that's entertaining, right?
When all the dust settles and another celebrity story pushes Tim and Olivia off the trending page of Twitter, they will still be living their lives, seeking next steps and prayerfully, following God's lead.
Nevertheless, in the midst of this public fallout, there is value. Regardless what the dirty little details of this story truly are, this much is declared as true - Tim Tebow, a sports and entertainment celebrity who is immensely popular and has sought to speak consistently and in a winsome way about life and his relationship with Jesus Christ has taken a counter-culture stance on human sexuality and relationship. That position has given parents with young, impressionable children a jumping off point to talk about faith, sex and relationships in a healthy way.
And now, thanks to the New York Daily News and the world wide interwebz, I also know that you’re not getting any (sex.) BY CHOICE. It seems you got dumped by this hot little number (no big deal, just Miss USA and Miss Universe) because you wouldn’t put out.
And it is BIG FREAKING NEWS! It seems everyone cares that you’re a virgin. THAT’S gotta feel kinda weird.
But Tim, trust me when I say, it’s her loss. And believe me when I say, words cannot express how grateful I am to you for not being ashamed to take a stand on premarital sex. Because although I don’t give two craps about football (sorry) I DO give two craps about teaching my kids that sex before marriage is not what God wants for us. That it is—dare I say?—wrong.
And Tim, I’ve got two sons, one on the cusp of puberty. And he DOES give two craps about football (and Jesus. Score!). And he thinks you’re pretty great because you love football and you love Jesus and I am 100% sure that at school today among his peers, he also learned that you love following God’s commands more than you love following your sexual desires. Because I am quite sure everyone in the 6th grade was talking about you and Miss Universe today.
And thank God they were. Thank God my son has someone super-famous and successful in the limelight saying the same things about sex that his dad and I are. Thank God and thank you, Tim Tebow.
My daughter is a little young for this conversation, but thanks to you, there are a lot of young girls reading this story today and realizing that there ARE men out there who will wait. There ARE men who will put God above themselves, who will do what’s right when it comes to sex. Because of you they now know that what the world tells them, that “no one waits”, is wrong. So THANK YOU again.
Tim, I don’t know how your heart is feeling today. Getting dumped is surely never fun. But may I encourage you and say that standing up for what you believe in is something you’ll never regret? I truly believe that, as much as I believe that you will find the RIGHT girl who is willing to wait for you, and willing to be 2nd in your heart to Christ.
I think she about sums it up.
I'm sorry Tim and Olivia's relationship is even newsworthy. I'm sorry I even know about it. However, there is redeeming value here as Rapson states. As for Tim and Olivia, perhaps those who declare to worship Christ as Tim does, should spend a few moments praying for these two who have now had very personal details of their lives (thought likely not fully accurate) spread across the internet.
Tim - you're not my idol. You're not my hero. You are my brother in Christ. As a brother with a common Father, I pray for you.
Olivia - I don't know much about you, but reports are you are a follower of Christ as well. That being said, I choose to not base an understanding of who you are based on flimsy reporting. It is clear that you deserve my prayers as well.
(Oh, I fully realize that odds of Tim and Olivia actually reading this blog posting are slim to none, but for those of us who claim the name of Christ, would you join me in praying for these two?)
James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.
Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)
A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on
Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia.
Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?
A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."
When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"
That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."
I was talking with a university student yesterday who made the statement that he felt that it was unlikely a Republican or conservative would ever be elected to the office of President again. I am not sure if that was a statement of lament or desire, but I responded that each party's adherents have said the same thing for generations and over time (normally every 8 to 12 years) they often find that the swinging doors to the White House welcome in a President of the opposing party.
Nevertheless, the underlying theme had less to do with the party affiliation of the current crop of presidential candidates and more to do with what has been described as a culturally seismic shift in morality and worldview. There has been much written about these shifts and I do not negate their reality. However, this week our nation experienced some revelations that show that perhaps the total cultural shift is not quite as clearly defined as some seem to propose.
This past Tuesday was election day in our nation. This being an "off year" there were many areas where no elections took place, but in the areas where they did, the nation was watching.
There were three elections that drew the attention of the national media, and therefore the eyes and ears of many who follow politics and worldview shifts of culture.
Kentucky Governor's Race
First, the gubernatorial election in Kentucky drew quite a bit of focus. This was due, in no small part, to the fact that the Republican running for the office, Matt Bevin, was considered more than a long-shot to win. His stance against same-sex marriage and evangelical roots made him an easy target in the culture wars. Of course, Kentucky is the home of Kim Davis, who made national and international news as a county clerk when she refused to have her name affixed to marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Bevin's friendship with President Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his history of donating funds to the seminary further painted him as an outsider, with no real chance to win.
Even the Republican Governors' Association pulled money for advertising when the polls were placing his opponent as the easy victor.
Apparently, no one told the voting public of Kentucky that Bevin stood no chance at winning. In fact, when the votes were tallied, he basically won in a statistical landslide and will be sworn into office as the Governor next year.
Governor-elect Bevin, his wife & their nine children
Ohio Not "O-High-O"
Second, the state of Ohio was voting on the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Millions of dollars were spent to push the voting public to affirm this as a good option. College students were confronted with "Buddie," an anthropomorphic marijuana bud with a super hero's body as part of the advertising campaign to legalize pot.
Ultimately, the movement went up in flames (no pun intended. . .okay, a little pun was intended) and even those who really wanted legal marijuana joined forces with those opposed to its legalization for moral reasons simply because of the literal monopoly that would develop as big business would own the legal growing and distribution rights of marijuana in the Buckeye state.
So, this culturally left-leaning movement died in the polls as the voters of Ohio (not O-High-O, as the promoters were advertising) voted NO.
"Buddie" - PHOTO: Facebook/Responsible Ohio
No HERO in Houston
Third, and likely the most media-hyped and focused upon vote took place, not on the federal or state level, but at the city level. The city of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest municipality in the nation, was voting to either ratify or revoke a bill touted as an anti-discrimination bill, that was pushed through the City Council by the urging of mayor Annise Parker. This bill was known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, for short.
You may remember the threat to religious liberty that occurred in the city, and through Mayor Parker's office, back in 2014. I wrote about that here.
The battle-lines were drawn for the ratification of HERO and big business, the mainstream media, pastors, right-wing and left-wing pundits and even professional sports stars and leagues were weighing in on the matter. What was touted as an anti-discrimination ordinance was soundly defeated.
Why was something that seemed to create equal footing for all citizens defeated? Well, depending upon whose report you read (and I fully admit that all writers are biased to some degree, me included) it was either because "Hate" and "Fear" won out over logic, love and right-thinking, or because the only actual addition this ordinance gave to current anti-discrimination laws on the books within the state of Texas and nationally, was the allowance of any person to enter and use any public restroom regardless of the designated gender defined on the entrance.
In Albert Mohler's Briefing posted on November 6, 2015, he references a number of stories featured in The New York Times and other media outlets.
Thee are numerous articles and debates as to whether the HERO actually contained "bathroom language" in its final format. It is a matter of fact that at one point, it did.
Opponents declare that haters jumped on the "bathroom" issue as fuel to continue to repress those in the LGBT community. Proponents of the repeal declared that ultimately, the final language that left the bathroom door open was enough to garner the votes needed to repeal the ordinance, handily.
PHOTO: David Bro/ZUMA Press/Newscom
While the ordinance was defeated, the expansiveness of cultural shift under the banner of "anti-discrimination" and "inclusivity" will appear on ballots again, throughout the nation and likely will be addressed by the courts on a future date.
Personally, I am pleased with the results of all three of the election results mentioned in this post, but I do not see these as indicative of a moral and worldview shift back to the Bible. The world, as we know, will never celebrate the Christian worldview.
For Christians, this is a reminder that worldview matters and that, as the old hymn states, our "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." That means that we best be in the Word, saturated in the Gospel and focused on Christ. We should understand civics and be righteous, godly citizens, but remember this - our hope is not found in Washington, the state capital or even the ballot box. It is found in Christ alone. In Him we trust.
Since the chartering of First Baptist Church of Orange Park (the church I pastor) in 1951, the focus of our mission has been and always will be to honor and love God and to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the years the location of our church has changed as has leadership and models of ministry. However, our focus has never shifted from the Gospel and it never will.
(CLARIFICATION: First Baptist Church was actually begun as a Bible study class on Mrs. Carrie Clarke's front porch in 1919. In 1921, the church held its first business meeting. The sponsor of the new church in Orange Park was Murray Hill Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Mrs. Clarke was a member. The 1951 date is when the church was officially chartered with a constitution and by-laws. The church was incorporated in 1976. So, regardless which date you choose, FBCOP has been around for quite some time.)
To state the obvious, the community where God planted our church campus has changed dramatically since 1951. I still run into some Orange Parkians (not sure that's really a word) who will tell me they remember when the four-lane, divided avenue our church is located was nothing but a dirt road with orange trees planted in the medians. Now, most all orange trees in Orange Park are just images on our street signs.
As our community has dramatically changed, we have sought to seek ways to continue reaching people for Christ in our neighborhood and beyond. Our county and nearby Jacksonville, Florida are areas that identify greatly by geographic names and community identifiers. When one speaks of living in Jacksonville to a native, the next question is "Where in Jacksonville?" and that question is a pointed one with an expected answer of a region such as "the Westside, Southside, Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, Northside, the Beaches, Mandarin, etc." Each area has a distinct identity and then within each area, there are more distinctions. In Clay County, where Orange Park is located, those distinctions often are defined by the names of housing developments or neighborhoods such as Pace Island, Eagle Harbor, Oak Leaf, the Ravines, Ridgecrest, Bear Run, Orange Park South, etc.
Yet, over time as as we have grown to be less internally-focused and have sought God's lead into areas of ministry, doors have opened for our church to begin new expressions of church in various locations throughout our county, Jacksonville and beyond.
"First Baptist Church of Orange Park" has been the name of our church since its founding. Apparently, there were no points given for creativity back in the 1950s. As is the case with many legacy churches, names prominently stated the denominational affiliation and the geographic location. In our case, it also designates that we arrived on the scene before any other Baptist churches. For those who have grown up in the Baptist world, this is normal. Yet, over the years I have been asked many times (and more recently) if all First Baptist Churches are the same. I used to joke that we were franchises like McDonald's, but have stopped due to the fact that most of the people asking believe me.
In some areas of our nation, the denominational tagline is a hindrance. That is not so much a problem in the area of Florida where we are located, but thanks to the protesting, pseudo-church in Kansas that uses the Baptist name, I have had to explain to a number of young men and women that we are in no way connected to that group.
Proverbs 22:1 reminds us the value of a good name and thankfully, our church has been able to develop a name in the community over the years that brings with it good connotations. This is due to our church family members and their willingness to love people and serve those in our local schools and community.
Forty New Expressions of Church
God is sending us outside Orange Park.
As we have been praying through and I have been preaching through the reality that God sends his church into a world that needs light and salt, it is clear now that we will not be limited only to the area of Orange Park. We have already experienced the sending of missionaries and church planters throughout the world, as those from our family have said "Yes" to the call and have been sent.
There will be more.
There will also be more churches birthed through the ministry of First Baptist. Our desire is to see forty new expressions of church birthed through First Baptist. These will be satellite locations, new church plants, special-event gatherings and culturally-defined churches.
The birth of the firstFAMILY
In truth, the ministry of First Baptist will be a mini-network of churches and missions founded on the Gospel and focused on implementing the "Big 3" of 1) Loving God, 2) Loving people, and 3) Making disciples.
GameDay Church at the Jacksonville Jaguars home games is one of our first new endeavors. As we began to put the pieces together for this expression of church, it became clear that we would be seeking to connect with people throughout the Jacksonville area. While the name "Baptist" may be attractive to some and a turn-off to others (and much has been written about that over the years, so I won't delve into that) we discovered that the regional name was going to be a larger barrier. Missionally-speaking, it is unwise to create barriers to reaching people with the Gospel, especially since we are called to engage the culture for the sake of God's Kingdom (not our little ones.)
So, firstFAMILY was birthed and has become the banner under which all our ministries, venues, and mission endeavors function. The name is all-encompassing and travels well.
Don't Hear What I'm Not Saying (or Don't Read What I'm Not Writing)
Here are some answers to the FAQ:
We are NOT changing the name of the church. First Baptist Church of Orange Park remains our legal name and also remains the hub of all ministries hosted as the firstFAMILY. Our offices are at FBCOP. Our primary worship services and ministries are housed at this location. In a sense, FBCOP is the headquarters for all that is firstFAMILY.
As mission support is shifting for Southern Baptists, we will continue to give through the Cooperative Program, but also will be supporting missionaries on the field who are not funded by the International Mission Board or North American Mission Board, but who are doctrinally-aligned with us. In many cases, these are missionaries who were previously serving with the IMB, but have been released recently due to financial realignment. This mission support will be under firstFAMILY Missions and will help us continue to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel, especially in areas where we have connections and a vested interest.
Satellite campuses will be tagged with the name firstFAMILY. We have opportunities now and are praying through others regarding the placement of campuses in the Northside, Oakleaf and Swimming Pen Creek areas. Since geographic titles are not bad, these will likely be named something like firstFAMILY-Northside, firstFAMILY-Oakleaf, etc. The names flow better than "First Baptist Church of Orange Park at the Northside." Not only does that have two regional names, causing confusion, it is too long. A firstFAMILY-Toronto venue is not out of the realm of possibilities either.
New expressions of church will continue to be birthed in the firstFAMILY network. GameDay Church is our first non-traditional church expression.
We are developing a Church Planting Center at our church, that will work in conjunction with the Jacksonville Baptist Association to assess, prepare and resource those called to plant churches.
Our orphan care ministry is already growing and will continue to expand services to those seeking to foster or adopt children as well as support children located in orphanages locally and internationally.
We continue to seek clarity regarding where God is at work in our area and throughout the world and will join Him there. Rather than create crowds, we will go where they already gather, taking the message of the Gospel with us and trusting God's Spirit to do what He always has. Our role is to be obedient.
There is value and power in the name "family." In fact, it is a "good name." When people join God's family, they cease to be "those people." This is a significant step. The term "family" brings with it a sense of identity and unity.
These are exciting days and I'm convinced the best is yet to come.