What Does the Kentucky Clerk's Jailing Mean for Pastors & Churches?

It's been in the news for weeks, and finally it's coming to a head. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky is now nationally known and has is being jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her jurisdiction. 

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Credit Ty Wright/Getty Images

This was inevitable following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

I actually figured the story would center on a pastor first before hitting a clerk's office. Nevertheless, Kim Davis has become the face of latest battle between law and religious conviction.

Depending where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, Davis is either a woman of faith standing upon her convictions or the image of all that is wrong with religion in this country.

Her own stories of marital failures and infidelity are now coming to light and some are using those as proof she is a hypocrite regarding the faith argument. However, even in the NBC News story, it is clear that her religious convictions developed four years ago when she stated she had a "message of grace" from the Lord. That may not make any sense to most who read this, but for those who are followers of Christ, that would best be translated into a "crisis of belief" and a new birth moment. The old is gone and the new is here.

Her quote here makes it clear: "I am not perfect. No one is, but I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God."

To that end, it is clear she feels strongly about honoring God through her work and has been conflicted in this area regarding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Personally, I applaud her convictions and am praying for her. Though she is likely facing a losing battle in this case, she has sought to stand strong.

I'll leave it to others to dissect the legalities and the threats on religious liberty in this case. 

The Story I Predicted

One story that made headlines a week ago and has not been referenced much lately refers to something I shared with other pastors recently. For most of the pastors I know and serve alongside in our denomination, there is a solid agreement that they will refuse to oversee weddings between those of the same gender.

However, the question to my pastor friends was this, "Prior to a wedding, will you seek to discover if the man and woman standing before you were born the gender they now live as?"

I'm usually met with silence.

Tweet: As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address. As acceptance of the LGBT lifestyles continue to grow, transgenderism is one aspect most pastors and ministers have yet to address.

My prediction was that soon a pastor in our nation, who has strongly stated he would not oversee a same-sex wedding, would have a couple share with the media that, in actuality he did, unknowingly.

It already has become news in the case of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk.

Here's the headline from The Guardian:

"Kentucky Clerk Unknowingly Issued a Marriage License to Trangender Man"

While I will be chastised for not referring to the transgendered man as a man, the fact of the matter is that in this case, a marriage license was issued to a couple who were born the same gender. Full story here.

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Camryn Colen and wife Alexis: Kentucky clerk Kim Davis ‘pretty much already violated her conscience by marrying us’. Photograph: Courtesy of Camryn Colen

Some may say that a same-sex marriage is different than this, but I would disagree.

What does this mean for pastors?

It means that as stories will continue to pile up and fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds regarding transgenderism and the other aspects of LGBT life, pastors must understand fully what is at stake for them. The SCOTUS ruling was not an end and now people of faith, who hold convictions against a redefined marriage will come under even more pressure as boundaries are stretched.

Pastors will likely have to add another question in their "Uncomfortable Questions" list for couples seeking marriage. In addition to "Are you both born-again followers of Christ?",  "Are you living together?" and "Are you engaging in sexual intercourse?" Pastors will need to ask "Were you born the gender you are now?"

It may be offensive to those being questioned, but it will likely become inevitable.

Will pastors be arrested?

Probably. At least some will be. Some probably should be (oops, did I just write that?)

There are voices in the legal world stating that those with religious convictions regarding weddings and marriages will continue to have their rights and their views protected, the reality is that most of us who hold firmly to what we deem at biblical teachings regarding marriage just don't believe those voices.

To be clear, I am opposed to same-sex marriage based upon my convictions of what Scripture states.

In full disclosure, there are those within the world of American Christianity and religion who state loudly their love for God and differ with me regarding the validity of same-sex marriage. I understand that difference and applaud and will fight for their right to differ, but it is clearly a difference. I respectfully disagree and believe God was clear in his expression of marriage and gender and identity.

So what do we do?

Well, before picking up protest signs and creating another boycott (maybe that should be avoided completely) pastors and all Christians should do that which God has told us to do.

Tweet: We must pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God. @davidtark Pray and live as salt and light in a culture that is far from God.

We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that everyone in our culture has a biblical worldview and begin to live as the missionaries God has called us to be. 

Perhaps this needs to be our theme verse in this age:

 Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)


Why the Jokes About Jenner Have to Stop

This has been a landmark year for advocates of the LGBT community.

In addition to the SCOTUS ruling that changed state recognition of same-sex marriage, a prominent celebrity (Bruce Jenner) slid to the far right of the acronym to announce that he is transgender and will begin living not as the gender he was born, but as a woman.

To be clear, I do not support the shift in gender that Jenner has and is going through. I don't even know the man, but my belief in identity and bestowed gender, founded on what I believe the Word of God to reveal, means that I cannot affirm this lifestyle choice. I wrote about Jenner's announcement here. I also believe that God loves Jenner as he loves all. Love, nevertheless, is not synonymous with affirmation and acceptance of life choices.

Jenner
CREDIT: Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images, Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Since Jenner's "coming out" as Caitlyn, the entertainment and sports media has pointedly fought to find more details about Jenner and this has effectively pushed him back on the cover of magazines, on the stage at awards shows and as the lead story on many entertainment "news" shows. Some say this was what he desired all along. Perhaps, but I doubt that was the driving force. 

It's Not About Political Correctness

In a culture where political correctness reigns and celebrities, politicians, and athletes spend more apologizing for saying or Tweeting things that have been labeled as insensitive by the self-proclaimed political correctness police, I am not calling for the end of Jenner jokes and other LGBT jokes for this reason.

Like most guys, I love a good joke. Like most jokes that are really funny, there's always a hint of truth in them. Sarcasm is easy for me. Humor that may offend some has always been a default for me as well. While I find no humor in jokes laced with profanity, racial stereotypes or hurtful words, there are times I have told jokes, or at least laughed at some that are hurtful. What's worse than couching hurtful language in a joke that may cause an individual to feel personally ridiculed is the hurt that takes place for God and His Kingdom.

It Is Mission Critical

When missionaries are sent to international lands, they are sent with a mandate - a Commission. This is to love God fully as they love people with the intent of leading people to the rescue that is found only in Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are not taught to "Americanize" the natives. They are not taught to look down on those whom they been sent to serve. They are not led to water-down the Gospel for any reason, just to be accepted either. They are sent equipped to live among the culture that does not know Jesus, or in some cases is loudly opposed to Jesus.

Christians in America are discovering that the mission field is no longer only overseas. It's not just on another continent where a different religion reigns supreme. The mission field is here. In some cases, the mission field is within one's home and family.

Our culture is growing more loudly opposed to Christ and Christians. The marginalization of the church in cultural life is upon us. Yet, rather than lament the reality, we must celebrate that God has seen fit to place us here, now, for "such a time as this." Apparently, he is equipping us to be His ambassadors and His church for a mission field that is very dark.

Love Wins

While #LoveWins has trended recently as a call for unity and celebration by the LGBT community, the truth of the matter is that Love who wins has already won. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And. . .lost people do not know that. Sometimes, they have been blinded to that truth because of religion, unfortunately.

So, Why Stop the Jokes?

Maybe you've never told or laughed at "gay jokes" or "transgender jokes." Or ... maybe you're like me. Here's why I feel the conviction to stop. I believe God has given us a unique opportunity to share His love and hope with those in our community who struggle with same-sex attraction and even deeply troubling gender issues. I know that previous statement is a challenging one, especially for those who are LGBT and are not struggling with it, by their own admission. Nevertheless, based on my faith convictions and understanding of Scripture, I would stand by my wording.

That being said, the Great Commission does not have an asterisk by it that eliminates certain people from our love through Christ. 

This is the biggest challenge - loving truly without affirming sin (and I mean any kind of sin - so don't think I'm just saying LGBT lifestyles. I do mean adultery, fornication, thievery, gluttony, etc.) If we can't love people who sin. . .well, we have to eliminate much Scripture.

Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier

I believe humor is a gift from God. It's not a spiritual gift. It's not even a primary gift. I just believe that God, in his sovereignty and glory has gifted us with the ability to laugh (at ourselves mostly) and circumstances. Laughter can be healing (Ever see "Patch Adams?")

However, jokes can be hurtful. 

How many times has someone said something hurtful to another and then tagged "just kidding" at the end, thinking that makes it all okay?

Tweet: If we're going to live as missionaries in a culture far from God, we can't continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach. @davidtarkIf we, as Christians, are going to be living sent, as missionaries in a culture far away from God, we cannot continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach.

  • It would be like a white Christian missionary being sent to a tribal area in an African nation and telling "black jokes"...
  • It would be like an American moving to Europe and continually making fun of European accents and customs...
  • It would be like moving to Miami and telling jokes that make fun of Cubans...
  • Or living in South Texas and telling Mexican jokes...

It would be like doing all these things and more and then expecting to be able to share the Gospel message with those you have just made fun of, expecting a good response.

Tweet: Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our "love."

I know, some of you are already poking holes in my premise by stating that the LGBT community is not a racial or cultural people group. I agree. It is different. I do not equate them as the same. I oppose the use of the Civil Rights Movement in our nation as a parallel to the LGBT causal movement of today. They are vastly different.

However, this is what we do know to be a reality. The LGBT community is just that - a community. In most cases, there is unbridled acceptance within the community (unless you are vehemently opposed and then there is no place at the table.) Most are not angry gay men or lesbians. Many just want to live their lives and be left alone. There are some (and they're loud) who advocate pretty harshly. Harshness often attracts harshness.

Love Without Affirmation of Sin

The church is going to have to make a decision in this world where the biblical worldview is being pushed aside and redefined by many (wrongly, I might add.) Some denominations in our culture are already capitulating. In other words, they are wimping out and have sacrificed the authority of Scripture and adherence to such for short-lived applause by those who really don't like them anyway. 

Tweet: The church must decide if people are really worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. @davidtarkThe church that stands firmly on Scripture and does not bend in this area, must decide if those within their membership (and there are quite a few) and those who are seeking God really are worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. 

While some say that's an offensive statement, I say no. If we truly love God then we can truly love people (all people, not just those who live with church approved sins). If we love people, we must show that love so that ultimately LOVE WINS. This is not a bait and switch. This is what we have been called to do.

We are missionaries to a culture that is as dark as any unchurched part of the world. Let's live well, live holy, live uncompromisingly on the Gospel and love well and tell some good jokes along the way, but let's not build unnecessary walls.


What's Next Now that Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal?

I'm on vacation this week, but have been emailed, texted and asked by friends and family what I believe is next for the evangelical church in America now that same-sex marriage is legal. Now, I'm not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but you really don't have to be in order to see some possible next steps as the cultural shift becomes even more mainstream.

The Next Battle

CNN has posted a story titled "The Next Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage" and in this article, highlight some of the items that came to my mind initially.

While polls show that a majority of religious Americans now support same-sex marriage, many prominent groups -- such as the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- do not. Leaders from those groups pledged on Friday to seek legal means to shield their beliefs from state interference. (CNN)

The term "battle" is being used more frequently and while there is a battle going on, my concern is that believers will tend to identify the wrong enemy. In truth, a battle has been going on since before the beginning of the human story. This battle is not new. It began before the Garden of Eden and continues with the same goal in mind. 

In this stage of the "battle" some of the items that American believers have held dear for centuries are at risk. To believe that gaining the legal right to marry is the end-game in this cultural shift would be short-sighted.

Religious Liberty At Stake

I am not living in fear, but am facing the reality before us. Religious liberty, regardless what was weakly stated by Justice Kennedy . . .

"It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned."

. . .will be affected and likely lost in some cases. There is no way, based on what has been experienced recently, that churches and religious groups who hold to what is now called the "traditional marriage" of one man (born a man) to one woman (born a woman) will not be denounced and challenged legally. This is the next step and will happen.

Tax Exempt Status Will End

When asked what will happen next by a family member, I answered, "The church's tax-exempt status in the US will be removed within five years." This has been the threat of anti-church groups for years and unfortunately, many churches sit idly by when social upheaval and injustice takes place until the tax-exempt status is challenged.

I believe this may well be inevitable.

Amazingly, this op-ed hit Time's website this morning declaring that now is the time to remove the tax-exempt status.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share. (Time)

LGBT Rights Will Continue to Trend

433540_80103081The rainbow flag is seemingly emblazoned everywhere now and #LoveWins is trending on Twitter (with a rainbow heart automatically added, so be careful to use this hashtag unless you're making a pro-same-sex marriage statement.) Corporations are jumping onboard the trending theme, likely for business purposes rather than simply a statement endorsing so-called equal rights. 

Generational Divide Will Widen

Many parents are discovering that their children hold differing views on this issue than they do. This is not true in all cases, and the point could be made that parents and teenagers have differed on religious, political and social views for decades. Nevertheless, this is the "issue of the day" and the reality is the familial divide here is present.

More Teenagers & Young Adults Will "Come Out"

It's trendy. It's safer. Everyone is doing it.

At least that is how it seems.

Teenagers and college students in my community are celebrating, as the LGBT community among young people and collegians here represents a higher percentage than other communities. It may make news when a professional basketball or football player comes out as gay, but most of our high school athletes know of a teammate who identifies as such. This is not out of the ordinary and is often celebrated.

Some parents are struggling how to relate to a child who now has "come out of the closet." Other parents are not struggling, but celebrating. 

The times, they are a'changing.

Christian parents are working through these issues as well. The presumption that because a child grew up in the church, attended Sunday School and went on mission trips with the youth group does not preclude them from struggling with same-sex attraction and even acting on those urges. Believe me, the church is not immune to these issues.

For pastors to believe that the SSA (same sex attraction) issues are just for people outside their churches is foolish and short-sighted at best. Why would the Enemy spend all his energy and strategy on attacking those already distanced from God and His church? Of course, he seeks to steal, kill and destroy and attempts these things within the family of God.

Churches Will Be Sued Over Weddings

Our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) does not and will not host (as long as I am pastor) same-sex weddings or celebrations. Our pastors will not preside over such ceremonies. 

I believe many churches will find themselves in court over this. In fact, this issue will be the one that removes the tax-exempt status and other religious liberties we have experienced for years.

I also believe that some pastors will preside over weddings, believing them to be heterosexual, only to discover after the fact that one of the spouses was transgender. Mark my words, this will happen. It will change how we direct pre-marital counseling. Pastors will now have to ask, "So, were you born the gender you now are?" before moving forward with wedding plans.

Churches Must Respond, Not React

In no way should a church condone homosexual behavior, nor affirm it as a "third way" or "how God has made some people." Any attempt to affirm that which God has declared unholy is wrong, whether it's homosexuality or any other sin (and there is no grading of sin here - just staying on topic.)

It must be admitted that for years, we (the church) have not responded very well. It appears that fear was a motivator and that led to emotions that were viewed and anger and hatred. Somewhere in the midst of this, young people in the church struggling with this sin heard "We hate you! There's no place for you here! You are an abomination!" and a generation has been lost.

Therefore, the church must be prepared to counsel people and family members with love. This may change how some church events are structured. No longer should churches room four guys together in a hotel on a mission trip. The same is true for girls. These will be addressed as the desire to continue allow students struggling with sin issues to attend camps and events, in that we desire them to hear and experience God in a way that will bring them rescue and clarity. Yet, this will not be easy. It really never has been.

As we lovingly seek to present the unchanging Gospel of Christ to a lost, separated and dying world, we discover that God is not shocked by the latest polling numbers, Supreme Court rulings and corporate and community political correctness. We also discover that God, with his grace and mercy that is overwhelming, continues to draw people to Himself, offering the free gift of salvation and hope.

What About "Gay Christians?"

Whenever an adjective is added as a descriptor to the name "Christian" the title is stripped of it's glory and weakened. When a descriptor is one that is clearly identified as sin (yes, I know some differ with me on that, but I'll stick to that statement) in the Word of God, the name Christian becomes irrelevant. For me, it would be the same as declaring oneself an "Adulterous Christian," or "Thieving Christian" or "Idolatrous Christian" and owning the adjective as a proud descriptor of identity.

So, are there Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction? Absolutely. Are they really saved? No doubt. Just like there are Christians. . .real Christians who struggle with gluttony (the idol of food) or adultery or pornography. It is the blood of Christ and the grace of God that removes our sinful identifiers upon our repentance. 

The battle is real and when the name Christian is weakened, a victory is perceived.

Do Not Fear

Rest assured, fear is one of the greatest tactics of the enemy.

Do not fear what may come, but renew your minds on the things of God. Your children may celebrate and announce their affirmation of this trending lifestyle. Your son or daughter may even come out of the closet. Your co-worker may now introduce you to his/her spouse of the same gender. You will be invited to a same-sex wedding. (My recommendation - do not attend, even if it's family and you love them. Your presence shows affirmation.)

But, do not fear.

Remember Paul's instruction to Timothy and know this is God's for you and me as well. . .

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

Love does win. . .and it's not the world's version.

I love what Curt Hamner has said, "Rescuing a drowning culture is never easy, but if anyone has a foot in the dry shore to send out a lifeline, it is the church."

Amen.

_____________________

For some potentially helpful resources, in this area, check out our LGBT page on our online bookstore


Another Flag Flies High In Celebration of Today's SCOTUS Ruling. Now What?

Over the past week, in the aftermath of the tragic murders in Charleston, South Carolina, there has been much debate over the public display of a flag that holds much history and essentially creates  division in our nation. Politicians and pundits as well as religious leaders and concerned citizens have made statements and decrees about the flag and what it represents. Intelligent people on both sides of the issue have taken to the blogosphere and the internet to state their case. Businesses have removed any items with the emblem upon it. My thirty-year-old high school yearbooks now seem offensive. (Our mascot was the Rebel and a certain battle flag was displayed throughout our school.)

Eddie Gilley, the Baptist Collegiate Ministries Director at the University of Florida, wrote a poignant article about this. You can read it here.

Another Controversial Flag

543733_19791065There is another flag that also creates division in our nation. This one, however, is not receiving the same level of ire and mandates.

This flag is also being hoisted on flagpoles owned by government entities. The rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community and the public statement of "pride" during official gatherings and ceremonies is being waved highly today in Washington DC and in other communities throughout our nation. 

Today will be marked as a key date in our nation. For some, it will be a day to celebrate annually. For others, it will be a day of annual lamentation.  

The 5-4 Supreme Court Ruling

For months this day has been anticipated. Futurists stated that it was inevitable. The church has been positioning for a response, while others have prepared celebrations. The court has effectively instituted a redefinition of the 14th amendment with today's ruling that says states must allow same-sex marriage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in writing for the majority stated, "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were."

Each of the four justices opposed to the ruling wrote their own dissents.

Justice Antonin Scalia called the decision a "threat to American democracy."

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent stated, "If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it."

Now What?

Once the ruling was announced, the news media and pseudo-news media began pushing stories out regarding the decision and its ramifications. Those in support of the decision are celebrated as loving and accepting and progressive.

Those in opposition to the ruling are categorized as haters, wrong-minded, sexually prejudiced and "on the wrong side of history." 

This is no surprise and yet, today we live in a different America than we did just 24 hours ago.

I have received numerous text messages, questions on social media and through email and from friends and acquaintances regarding this announcement. 

The first thing we should do is that which we have been doing (or at least should have been doing) - PRAY.

We know that prayer is needed. We know this intellectually, but for many prayer has been anemic for years and when it is little more than a blessing over a meal or a request to heal all the sick people and "be with" everyone we know, there is need for true prayer.

Pray for guidance and discernment. 

Pray for peace in the midst of the cultural shift.

Pray for the love of God to reign within us so that while not affirming sin, we may truly love those with whom we disagree and especially those who live opposed to the Gospel.

The Challenge to Come

While many who self-identify as LGBT have no desire to become a poster-child for same-sex marriage or public fights, there are some who promote the #LoveWins theme but are overwhelmed with hate and hurt. Some will seek to be married in the local church buildings and churches will have to make decisions  that will likely draw legal action.

There will be some churches (and already are) who will gladly open their doors and will even officiate same-sex weddings.

There are also many, like our church and those under my leadership, who will refuse to host such a wedding or perform a ceremony. Whether a church's by-laws declares their right to refusal, the lawsuits will inevitably come. It is in these days that capitulation will happen in many "churches." This is unfortunate.

We Never Were Culturally Accepted

Today's ruling is shocking to many. There is a false belief that Christianity (true biblical Christianity) was at one time culturally accepted as the norm and highly regarded. I do not discount that history affirms a more accepted morality as proposed by the Bible was more common in the past, but the reality is that the world has been opposed to the Gospel since the day that the Enemy tempted Eve and Adam. Today's ruling is a reminder of this truth.

Panic is not the response needed. Knee-jerk reactions are not needed, either. The church may get smaller as the culture slide continues, but we have always known that this is a narrow road we travel and the broader influence for the Gospel always comes from a narrower footprint.

So, we pray. We pray for God's name to be hallowed and for His Kingdom to come, here as well as in heaven. We pray that we will hear his voice and follow His commands. We pray for those far from God to be broken to the point where they respond to the lure of the Gospel. 

That is our hope, not the Judicial, Legislative or Executive branches of our government or any other entity.

So, I'm now a conscientious objector to a ruling put into place today. The 14th Amendment has been redefined and I lament the reality of what this means.

There's Another Flag

So church, stand firm. Stay focused. Remember the mission.

We stand under another flag or banner and it's not the one that is pledged at Vacation Bible School, but one named Jehovah Nissi.

And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner. Exodus 17:15 (ESV)

The Lord is our banner. 

Let's pledge our continued allegiance to Him.


The Southern Baptist Convention - A Family Gathered for a Big Story #SBC15

I am currently in Columbus, Ohio, gathering with thousands of family members (that's what it feels like) at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been to numerous denominational meetings such as this in the past, but this year, there is a different feel.

FAMILY MEETING

I call it a meeting with family members, for that is what it truly is. Baptist brothers and sisters from throughout the land gather together and reconnect with old friends, worship together, make decisions that will impact many through policy affirmations. Like many families, we also grimace at some things said and done by others in the family. It is like being with others over a holiday and then the crazy uncle shows up. We love him, but we never know what he's going to do or say. Every family has that guy. Our SBC has those as well. And, if you can't figure out who he/she may be. . . it may be you.

A "REALITY SHOW" 

Since I categorize our SBC meeting as a family gathering, in some ways it has become like the families featured on television reality shows. There is a sense of trying to just be family, but always knowing that the cameras (or in this case, the national news media as well as bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook posters are in the room as well. . .just watching and waiting.)

Personally, I am glad these guests are in the room, either physically or virtually, in that I believe God uses these avenues to ensure we (Baptists) stay on focus, in "witness-mode" and loving to all, even though we cannot be and will not be affirming to all.

On the heels of headlines that bemoan (or celebrate) the decline of evangelicals in America and statements in op-eds like this one have found places in national media outlets.

As Southern Baptists gather Tuesday for their annual summer meeting, gloom hangs over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. (Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, The Washington Post)

While the reality is that numbers in Baptist life, such as membership and baptism, are in decline, I have not sensed an overwhelming sense of gloom in our gathering based on this. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research continually reminds us that "facts are our friends." It's true. The scorecard that has been used for decades in SBC life has been flawed from the outset and while we all know the numbers we have seen in the past were never truly accurate, as Dr. Al Mohler stated at a Baptist21 gathering, "We've never really trusted our numbers, but we bragged on them when they worked for us."

This is true.

Yet, in the midst of facing the facts of these numbers, this convention meeting has become one of purpose - a purpose beyond denominationalism.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been touring the nation and using social and traditional media outlets to emphasize the need for prayer among Baptists and all evangelicals in our nation. At the outset, a pastor emphasizing prayer sounds uneventful or, honestly, not impactful. The sad reality is that when a SBC meeting adjusts its schedule and shifts traditional sermons, business and other events to open up a prime, evening session for prayer it becomes newsworthy.

More Than a Meeting About Same-Sex Marriage

The Pastors Conference began on Sunday evening and with winsome truth presented by pastors throughout Sunday and Monday, the Spirit of God was challenging messengers (this is the Baptist term for those from local churches who have been elected by their churches to represent them at this gathering) in ways that was needed and still needed so that we may lovingly engage a culture with the hope of the Gospel without fear or hatred.

The news reports have been focused on Dr. Floyd's message on Tuesday morning where statements regarding the nation's proclivity of endorsing and promoting same-sex unions were addressed. For the average reader of the news, one would think that all Southern Baptists do is talk about LGBT people in our families and cities. While these issues must be addressed, this was not the "Anti-Gay SBC Meeting" so many have stated it to be. To be clear, there has been no waffling on the biblical truths and the religious liberties and pending Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has been discussed in numerous venues throughout the week.

However, what is often not reported are the bigger stories and foundational Gospel elements that our family came together around. What has not been reported is the movement of the Spirit of God in a moment of declared repentance and reconciliation.

Some Notable Moments in This Year's SBC Family Gathering

These are moments that I deem as powerful and focus oriented. To be honest, some were moments where God may have spoken more clearly to me than others simply due to my personal journey of faith and the chapter of life where I nowreside.

  • Authentic unity among our mission boards - For years, our two mission boards (International & North American) have done great work, but  have never truly worked strategically together. One of the first noticeable moments of unity was when I went into the Exhibit Hall and saw both IMB and NAMB exhibit booths next to each other, decorated similarly, one giving away coffee mugs and the other giving away samples of coffee, while missionaries from both agencies wore similar shirts. Now, that may seem superficial to some, but it's a message that was heart loud and clear. Throughout the week as Drs. David Platt & Kevin Ezell spoke to groups together, their camaraderie was apparent and the reality became even more clear - these guys are working together. For those outside the SBC family, this doesn't mean much, but for the family members, this is HUGE. . .and wonderful.
  • Powerful Sermons - I did not hear every sermon presented this weekend at the Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, but I did hear most. These godly men have obviously prayed for weeks in preparation for their moment to present the Word. None took it lightly. No sermon was bad (in the sense one can grade a sermon) and all were valuable. Of those that "rang the bell" for me regarding challenge and conviction, I must say that my brother from Jacksonville, H.B. Charles, Jr., Dr. Russell Moore and Pastor J.D. Greear's messages resonated loudly. 
  • James MacDonald & Harvest Bible Chapel are now Southern Baptist - There was rumor that James would make an announcement during his sermon on Monday night. I told a friend "He's joining the SBC." Now, I had no idea and do not know James personally, but when he made his announcement, it looked like I was in the know. Ha. Nevertheless, this is a big story. Now, there are some who are not fond of James and Harvest and may not be happy they are now part of the family, but then again, there are Baptist churches who have been in the fold for decades that others aren't too fond of either, so that's irrelevant. What this does show is that a significant church leader in our nation with influence among many churches has stated that the mission and the doctrine of the SBC is valuable and viable and he wants to be a part. So. . . just like that, we now have a new church in the Chicago area (with others throughout the land in the network.) I'm not sure we count that as a new church plant, though Kevin Ezell may try to do so (That's a joke for those who struggle with written sarcasm.)
  • Send Network Luncheon - Over 2,000 people gathered to eat a soggy sandwich and some powerfully powdered BBQ chips at the Send Network Luncheon. This was a huge gathering and yet, it was basically a large crowd seated in a room watching Platt and Ezell talk about reaching the world for the Gospel, and to enjoy seeing Platt squirm when Ezell asked loaded questions and told jokes on his behalf in front of the crowd. It became clear that Platt and Ezell would make a great touring comedy duo, with Platt playing the straight man and Ezell telling the jokes. (BTW - the use of the term "straight man" is a comedy term that has no connection to the current LGBT discussion that many think Baptists cannot stop talking about.)
  • The Cooperative Program Stage - In the Exhibit Hall, there's a small stage set up between the IMB and NAMB booths. This is the Executive Board's CP Stage where interesting interviews and frank discussions about polity, future and mission take place. Hosted by different denominational leaders throughout the day, these discussions are worthy of a small stand-up audience.
  • Free Stuff - Numerous booths throughout the Exhibit Hall offering pens, T-shirts, books, coffee mugs, and candy means pastors become little kids for a couple of days, holding out their free Guidestone bags and basically "Trick or Treating" from booth to booth. Keep up the free books and coffee mugs. These are a pastor's favorite things.
  • Not Your Traditional SBC - I was impressed and encouraged by the attendance this year, especially in a city that requires most messengers to fly to in order to attend. The racial and generational diversity evident in the room was exciting to see. Ted Traylor told us to wear blue jeans on Tuesday and Russell Moore said we need more tattoos in the SBC. Maybe those were shocking statements, but it's hard to imagine hearing that from the stage a decade or two ago.

The Two Most Impactful Moments

The Prayer Gathering

Tuesday night's prayer gathering was promoted well. Yet, to be honest, I went in like many of my friends (who were honest with me) expecting . . . well, little. Yes, I confess this sin of low expectation. I confess that I was tired and wondered if it would be worth me staying for this event. . . for I sometimes bristle at "Christian events" that seem to exist just for the sake of being an event.

I stayed.

I knew I needed to do so.

The prayer meeting began and we sang. I would say worship began, but that doesn't necessarily begin just because music starts. Worship did begin shortly after I joined in with the singing. I asked God to speak to me, one of thousands in a room that was much more full than I anticipated (again, I repent of my sin of low expectations.) 

One by one, prayers were offered. We followed Dr. Floyd's lead, but it was clear that Dr. Floyd wasn't really the one leading this. God had entered the fray and had taken control.

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I prayed with a group sitting near me. I had never met them before, but I believe, as I told them, that God had placed us near each other in the room so that we could unite in prayer. 

We prayed with and affirmed the prayers of brothers and sisters around us and on the stage. Prayers of confession were voiced. Prayers of repentance were offered. Prayers of reconciliation between the races were stated - this was more than a resolution. Prayers of pleading - asking for healing of our families, for our children, for our nation, for our culture, etc. were placed before God. Prayers for our leaders, for President Obama (YES! Baptists prayed for the President. We asked forgiveness for not doing so and for ignoring the biblical mandate.) 

We prayed. 

We sang.

We prayed as we sang.

And we believe.

We believe that prayer works and that God hears our prayers.

We contemplated the reality of the "If. . . then" prayers and realized that God may not doing the "then" portions because we have not been obedient in the "if" portions.

Was this just a meeting? Well, it could be for some, but that's their choice. I believe this is not the end-game, but the beginning. 

The Missionary Commissioning Service

Together, IMB and NAMB, under the direction of Dr. Ezell and Dr. Platt, respectively, led out in a commissioning service for missionaries and churches (yes - the local churches) who have said "Yes! We will go!" 

I was sitting alone in the crowd, but with family as the stories of individuals and couples were shared. Details on the lostness of our world were presented. I was challenged by the strong word given by Dr. Platt regarding the reasons we must be sent and be sending.

I was brought to tears as I thought of the stories before me. Missionaries pictured on the screen were sitting in the crowd. When their names and photographs appeared on the screen, they stood up, holding a Lumio book lamp in their hands, and it became clear - these people are doing the hard things and doing so because they must. 

They are the light of the world taking the Light of the world into the darkness and we are sending them. Therefore, we are going with them.

It was powerful. It was amazing. This was more than a simple prayer and a passport. 

At the close, under the direction of Dr. Platt, we were challenged to celebrate these who say "YES" more loudly than we cheer for our favorite football team. How can we cheer louder for those who play a game that doesn't matte for eternity than for the God who is sending out his ambassadors into the darkness for a task that holds eternity in the balance?

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Why Come To These Gatherings?

In the past, people would come to the SBC Annual Meeting to watch or be a part of the latest argument or fight. There are some pretty nasty chapters in our story. Yet, today, even with disagreement from some we find ourselves as Stetzer stated on Monday, experiencing more peace in the family than in recent years.

This is significant, especially in a culture that will continue to marginalize and maybe even criminalize some of the biblical and moral stances we must take.

We are a family (crazy uncle and all) and God has seen fit, in His grace, to let us in on His great story.

That's why I come. This is my family and our Father has much for us.


Identity is Bestowed, Not Manufactured - Jenner, Dolezal & Other Posers Like Me

We all seek validation. There's no one who is immune to this desire. Validation comes from many sources. Unfortunately, many of the sources we often go to for such validation as a man, a woman or even as a good Christian person, are flawed. Because we often seek validation from sources other than the only One who can offer a pure and holy version, we find ourselves performing or behaving in certain ways just to hear "Good job" with the hopes that this form of validation will suffice.

But it never does.

As human beings, both men and women, we have been created in the image of God. This is foundational in understanding the power of identity and validation. Our story starts with God, is about God and ends with God. 

"Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others." - John Eldredge & Brent Curtis

We (humanity) have struggled with our identity and proper validation since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden when the liar offered this thought to Eve and Adam - "The God you love. . .he's holding out on you. You cannot trust him."

That lie has permeated our existence ever since. 

The enemy isn't creative, and therefore, uses the very same strategies over and over and over again. Solomon was right in so many levels when he declared there to be "nothing new under the sun."

Jenner dolezalWhen Bruce Jenner revealed his transformation into Caitlyn a couple of weeks ago, the response was incredible. He is not the first man to declare himself dissatisfied with his gender. He is not the first man to make changes needed to be identified as a woman. He is just the one to do so in this age of the "perfect storm" of gender identification, celebrity worship, sexual "tolerance" and political activism.

Now, in a story that many would say is unrelated, Rachel Dolezal, the President of the NAACP's Spokane chapter has apparently been "outed" as white. The issue is not so much that Dolezal is white, but that she has presented and promoted herself as a mixed-race, black woman for years.

While Jenner's life details have been made available for the public since the 1970s, Dolezal has been known only to a small demographic. No more. Her story is now the lead story on most news and entertainment networks. (I smell a Lifetime movie in the making.)

It Is The Same Story

So, how are Jenner and Dolezal connected? They likely have never met. The Huffington Post and other media outlets are doing all they can to ensure these two stories are not connected. Their personal stories are vastly different. . . yet, the same.

Their stories are stories of identity. They are stories of validation sought. 

How do I know? I know because this is my story, too. No, I'm not a black man living as a white man. Neither am I a woman living as a man (or a man desiring to live like a woman.) I, like these two have sought validation for years. I seek identity.

Just like you do.

Jasmine Holmes recently wrote of this on a blog post for Desiring God She stated:

The gospel shows us not only the root of our dissatisfaction with our place in the world — the sin that separates us from our Father (Isaiah 59:2) — but also the cure for that bitter root (1 Corinthians 15:57). We were created in God’s image, for his glory (Genesis 1:26). That image includes male and female, as well as the beautiful display of diversity that we see in all four corners of the world.

It's an old revival cliche, but it's true. We all have a "God-shaped void within us that can only be filled by Him." Another way to say it is this, "We all seek to hear our Father say 'Well done. You matter to me. I love you.'" The Father has stated this so clearly through the gospel. Jesus is God's validation to us. Yet, we often cannot, or do not, hear that declaration.

The Same Old Lies

The enemy is strategic. He's still throwing the lies toward humanity, "You can't trust God. He's holding out on you." When we believe that, we cannot hear the truth. And we seek to fill the gaps with whatever we can.

We seek validation.

We seek identity.

Since God alone can offer these, when we miss him, we create our own identity. We become satisfied with weak validation. We become posers.

When Mitzi Miller, former editor for Jet & Ebony magazines, was interviewed about the Dolezal story for National Journal, she made this profound statement:

It’s ridiculous and ironic. Again, I go back to the suspicion that something was really messed up in her life and she had to find a way to cope. Adopting another identity and creating a life out of it was her answer.

As you know, most news stories remain front-and-center for about two days, then everyone just goes about their lives, until the next story comes up to create headlines and social media trends. Yet, those who are part of the story will not be able to just turn the page. How this one ends is yet to be determined, but Miller honed in on the real issue, I believe.

It is not about race.

It is not about gender.

It is about identity.

It is about missing the validation from the author of the story.

Your Validation

As the Father spoke of the Son at his baptism - "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," so we long to hear that validation as children of God. We can through Christ. It is not easy to hear that still, small voice in the midst of the screaming culture, but it is there.

God's validation of us is not the same as his affirmation of our actions. Sin grieves the heart of God and we carry that burden, but thanks be to God that we have been redeemed through Christ and no longer are identified by our sin. (Now, that previous statement is for children of God - those who have surrendered to Him and now have the right to call him Father.) So many Christians struggle with this. Even in the world of church and religion, we often pose - seeking validation from pastors, other Christians or church members or maybe denominational leaders. 

We must be careful to remain focused. Christianity is not simply behavior modification. It is heart transformation. 

So, when you hear these stories of confused people seeking to "find themselves" or attempting to change things in their lives to enable them to live as the person their mind identifies them as, pray for them and remember. . .we have all been there.  The poser lives, but doesn't have to.

That's the beauty of the gospel - life in exchange for death. Authentic identity in exchange for the masquerade. Validation in exchange for accusation.

Identity is bestowed. Our true identity is bestowed by the Father. . .and he does not make mistakes.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 (ESV)

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)


Jenner Breaks the Internet. How the Church Should Respond

While I'm not sure if the internet really breaks, it is evident that a few celebrities have attempted to do so through the creation of trending stories, personal revelations or photographs that either push the boundaries of decency or are so compelling that not looking at them is very difficult.

Vanity Fair cover
Cover of Vanity Fair. Photo by Annie Leibovitz. Click for Vanity Fair site.

The latest "broken internet" attempt landed today in the image of Vanity Fair's cover featuring Bruce Jenner, now going by Caitlyn Jenner. Of course, now the young, single mom who has been on Twitter since 2013 named Caitlyn Jenner is likely getting a ton of hits online.

Bruce's "coming out" as Caitlyn is trending and the vast majority of tweets and comments speak of "her" bravery and the fact that anyone who speaks negatively (or what is perceived as negatively) against Bruce/Caitlyn will be publicly shamed (or at least through social media.)

Like many of you, I remember Bruce as the Olympic athlete who was featured on the Wheaties box for years. I remember his attempts at acting. I even watched him star in "Can't Stop the Music" with The Village People when it was edited and aired on one of our local television channels. I was too young to understand the gender jokes and had no idea that The Village People were gay men dressed as masculine stereotypes targeting the gay disco audience. Apparently, the innocence of youth just led me to believe these were singing action figures. By the way, the movie was terrible.

After years of Jenner basically disappearing from pop culture, only to be thrust back into the limelight and the front pages through the reality show featuring his family, he now is once again the most popular celebrity in the nation. His personal story of gender identity and coming out as transgender led to almost 17 million viewers and a Twitter storm of support.

How the Church Should Respond

I sit here in upstate New York today, in a city that began celebrating it's annual Pride Week. Rainbow flags adorn just about every light post and flagpole in the city as celebrations and parades are planned each day. The week is sponsored by a local bank and corporations are taking advantage of the organized celebrations in order to reveal their acceptance of diversity and. . .well, ultimately, to make some money and earn good PR in a community that is very open and tolerant.*

The question of "How the church should respond?" leads to varied answers. Some say that the only right answer is to affirm everyone. Some state that the church has no need to respond and should just keep silent. Others respond with hatred and anger (which, by the way, is not the recommended or preferred response.) Still others seek to discover how to remain firmly grounded on the teachings of God's Word, show love truly and yet not affirm that which is deemed as outside God's design.

Dr Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission penned a winsome article on this very subject not long ago. His full posting can be read here, but here are some poignant highlights that churches and believers should take to heart. . .

First of all, we should avoid the temptation to laugh at these suffering souls. We do not see our transgendered neighbors as freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women and are seeking a solution to that in self-display or in surgery or in pumping their bodies with the other sex’s hormones. In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be. That alienation manifests itself in different ways in different people.

But neither should we fall for the cultural narrative behind the transgender turn. This narrative is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the “real” self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being. Body parts and chromosomal patterns are dispensable since the self is radically disconnected from the body, the psychic from the material.

The old Gnostic heresy is joined with contemporary expressive individualism—the idea that I must be true to whomever I perceive my “real me” to be on the inside in order to be “authentic.” This is what leads, in other news of the week, some parents to “transition” the gender identity of their child at ages as early as four years old.

The connection to Gnostic beliefs is important to note. The Gnostics are not a newly formed group and neither is Gnostic ideology. This false belief system was strong during the days of Paul and the New Testament church. It was and is a false gospel of self-focus that strips away the truth of God's Word and replaces it with a cheap imitation.

The Hope for Jenner

While many are celebrating his "bravery" in revealing his "true identity" the fact of the matter is that the only hope for Jenner is the only hope for you and for me as well. The hope for life, for joy, for the fullness of identity as God's image-bearers is not found in making changes and behavioral or even physical modifications on our own in order to discover our "true selves." Our hope is solely in Christ. That's the simple message of the Gospel and yet, it is clear why the Enemy attempts to discredit that.

Dr. Moore states it this way:

The hope for Bruce Jenner, and for others like him, is not to alter the body with surgery or to flood their systems with hormones. The answer is to realize that all of us are born alienated from what we were created to be. We don’t need to fix what happened in our first birth; we need a new birth altogether.

The church's message to Jenner, and to everyone else on the planet is that Jesus Christ is real. He is the only way. He is the truth and life.

When it comes to gender, though some now argue that there are up to six genders (due to chromosome mutation and intersex people), there are truly only two created genders - male and female. God has created each gender in His image. Males given a masculine heart and females a feminine one. Both are eternally valuable to God and He has designed and wired us for His glory.

We should stand for God’s good design, including around what Jesus says has been true “from the beginning”—that we are created male and female, not as self-willed designations but as part of God’s creative act (Mk. 10:6). - Dr. Russell Moore

The Questions for the Church

Are we willing to love without affirming?

Are we willing to suffer with those who are suffering?

Are we willing to seek God through the challenges of culture and life?

Are we willing to NOT compromise our biblical convictions?

We must be more concerned about broken lives than breaking the internet. 

Tweet: We must be more concerned about broken lives than breaking the internet.  @davidtark

We must stay focused on the One that can heal the brokenness.

_______________

*Just for clarification, tolerance is now seemingly a one-way street. In other words, those who wave the banner of tolerance affirm that reality only when it agrees with pre-conceived positions. Therefore, there is no tolerance for opposing views. . . which, by definition makes this version of "tolerance" intolerant. 


Boy Scouts Likely to Lift Their Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

Two years ago our church rescinded our charter with the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America due to sweeping policy changes within the organization regarding acceptance of gay leaders. The decision to rescind our charter was not an easy one in that Troop 20 had been part of our church for decades. Nevertheless, due to our convictions regarding affirmation of what we deem to be an unbiblical stance (BTW - a reminder is needed here - affirmation and love are not synonyms) we felt obligated to make the decision we did. 

Our story was shared in a previous posting here and in an article featured in the Florida Times-Union here

BSA-665x385The reason this story remains relevant is based on the speech by BSA President Dr. Robert M. Gates presented at the recent 2015 National Annual Meeting.

The Boy Scouts have dramatically changed their stance on gay affirmation over the past couple of decades. At one point, they had won a Supreme Court challenge to their policies of only having heterosexual leaders and boys in the organization. Then, in 2013, they amended their membership options to allow boys who identify as gay to participate in Scouting all the while stating that they would continue to bar openly gay adults from leadership positions. As this was being stated, I thought to myself, "It's only a matter of time. They will change that policy as well. They will feel they have to do so." 

That day has come. 

 

(Begin at the 8:40 mark to hear statements regarding this issue.)

“Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country,” Gates stated. “The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.”

I am not writing this post to bash the Scouts or to bash those who identify as LGBT. There is no value in either type of article.

However, I find this disconcerting for Scouting and for the boys who find such value in the program. Will Scouting fail in the United States? I doubt it. There will still be thousands of boys earning badges and learning valuable life lessons. Will some Troop partners (mostly churches) rescind their charter? Yes, some will, but not most. If a great exodus of churches were to happen for this cause, it would have occurred in 2013.

What will happen is that regardless how this is spun, Scouting will be seen as an organization that effectively capitulated on foundational beliefs and legacy in order to stand firmly upon political correctness in order to simply exist.

Existing alone is not laudable.  

Joe Carter has written on this in an excellent posting on The Gospel Coalition's blog. Here's a sampling:

This is an attitude (based on Gates' statements) that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations. Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization. And it will continue to get worse. Rather than standing for principle and staying true to their integrity, many Christian leaders will follow Gates example and cave in to the pressure to condone ungodly behaviors in order to preserve the “mission.” They will abandon their integrity in a misguided attempt to preserve an organization that is rotting from within.

Carter's full article may be read here.

While there are other groups that have developed as a response to the decisions of the Boy Scouts' leadership, there are still thousands of boys and families involved in Scouting. The tradition is strong and I have discovered that the local groups tend to disavow many of these controversial decisions being made in the Texas headquarters. This creates a very difficult situation for the local leadership.

Therefore, I am compelled to pray for them. I am praying for the boys and parents and the leadership. While our church cannot and will not partner with the BSA due to these actions, we have not rescinded our prayer and love for them.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (ESV)


BOOK REVIEW: What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is a prominent blogger and author. Many of his articles can be found on The Gospel Coalition's website. His books are well-known and available on our church's online bookstore and at Amazon, as well as numerous other places where books are sold. 

His latest book delves into a topic that not that long ago seemed to be far on the back burner of church and cultural life and now has become an issue not to be ignored. The culture shift in the west, especially in the United States, on the subject of homosexuality, LGBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage has been dramatic, to say the least. Those on both sides (and in the fuzzy grey areas in the middle) of the debate on Christianity and homosexuality and all that comes with that agree that the culture shift is real.

DeYoung's book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway Books, 2015) seeks to speak into the issues with a winsomeness and truthfulness without just echoing the words and arguments that are little more than reactionary.

In all candor, I land with DeYoung in his assertion of homosexuality and the Gospel. I found myself highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs, to the point of realizing that if I highlight everything, it does no good to highlight anything.

DeYoung's introductory section that backs up from the question presented in the title, gives foundational footing for a discussion much deeper than the subject of gender and attraction. The title of the Introduction is "What Does the Bible Teach About Everything?" It is wise to read the Introduction, for in these thirteen pages, there is value and substance that gives strength to the subject at hand throughout the remainder of the book. I share this because I know there are many who skip Forewords and Introductions to get to the "meat" of a book. I caution you to not do that in this case.

There are numerous books flooding the online and physical stores about the subject of Christianity, the Bible and those who identify as LGBT. Many are what have been categorized by DeYoung and others as "revisionist theology." The title is self-explanatory. Yet, these writers have influence and make strong points in their books, blogs and speeches. The audience in America is clamoring for these versions of truth. DeYoung references numerous revisionist writers and even some self-declared LGBT writers in a way that is not dehumanizing and actually is complimentary of writing style and research. In fact, there are occasions when DeYoung agrees with some of the revisionist theories.

Furthermore, there is nothing ambiguous about the biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior. Even many revisionist scholars acknowledge that the Bible is uniformly negative toward same-sex activity. The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, "In this case that support is lacking." (page 73)

Of course, there are far more instances where DeYoung disagrees with the revisionists and he answers the objections clearly and concisely in this book.

As is the case with many books like DeYoung's the reader comes in with a preconceived idea of what he/she already believes about the subject at hand. This is true for me. I cannot say that I was opinion-less on this subject.

However, if a reader is truly seeking for answers, not ammunition, DeYoung's book gives clear biblical account and heart-felt answers. This book is written by a pastor and while his convictions are clear regarding the veracity of the Word of God and the power of the Gospel, there is a clear passion for God, His Truth and a love for people to know Him that permeates the book. 

This book is not an easy read, in that the subject is so polarizing. Yet, it is a clearly understandable read, for those of all walks of life. 

I believe DeYoung's book is a good companion to others on the subject, such as Christopher Yuan's biography Out of a Far Country and Ann Mobley's story of loving her son through this journey in If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me?

DeYoung addresses the most common arguments used to discount biblical teachings and historic doctrine that define homosexuality as sinful. He speaks to the revisionist platforms on the type of sin referenced in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the pedo-sexuality only argument, the giftedness of chastity, the gluttony, divorce, greed, etc. vs. homosexuality debate that often arises and the language questions that many use to state that what is written in the Word is not what was meant. 

He addresses these as a theologian and one who understands language nuances. The footnotes and research reveal a studied, intellectual approach.

I would caution the Christian reader who is just looking for "ammunition" to use against their co-workers, children or other acquaintances living proudly as LGBT. I would, nevertheless, encourage Christians to be well-versed in the details and the arguments offered, so that answers in love may be offered. 

The story of LGBT and the church is not going away. Some churches, as has already been seen, will shift their theology and doctrines to allow for the open practice and acceptance of LGBT members. This will be most evident in the hosting of same-sex marriages, most likely. Other churches will stand firmly on their convictions, not wavering in their doctrines and theology. They'll be accused of "being on the wrong side of history" (which, by the way, is addressed in DeYoung's book.) The churches that stand on the narrowness of God's Word will ultimately have broad influence for the Kingdom. It should be noted, that a narrow stand is needed, but must be done in love. 

Love and acceptance are not the same. Love and affirmation of sin are not the same. To be Christian is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the First and Greatest Commandment. . .and we weren't asked to vote on whether to accept it. It was commanded to the church and we are to live it out. Yet, it must be known that "loving our neighbor as self" is not an affirmation of ungodliness. It is an affirmation of selflessness.

"Every Christian should read this book." - Dr. Russell D. Moore, President The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, SBC

Here are some powerful quotes, in no particular order of importance from DeYoung's book:

"In the Old Testament, not all uncleanness was sin, but all sin made you unclean." (page 46)

"Homosexual practice is an example on a horizontal plane of our vertical rebellion against God." (page 52)

"Homosexual behavior is a sin, not according to who practices it or by what motivation they seek it, but because that act itself, as a truth-suppressing exchange, is contrary to God's good design." (page 53)

"According to Paul's logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior - even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires - have suppressed God's truth in unrighteousness." (page 55)

"It is no little mistake in God's eyes to encourage and support what harms our fellow creatures and dishonors our Creator." (page 56)

"Context is king." (page 63)

"Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice." (page 76)

"When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God." (page 77)

"The biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous: homosexual activity is not God's will for his people." (page 77)

"Regret is common enough; repentance is rare." (page 99)

"We don't get to pick the age we will live in, and we don't get to choose all the struggles we will face. Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God's to determine." (page 129)

 


"Disappointed, but Not Dismayed" - The Florida Adoption Conscience Bill

It has been a challenging five weeks in Tallahassee for our faith-based orphan care ministries such as our partners in the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. We have asked for prayer and contacts to congressional representatives and senators. Thank you to all who have joined in the task. Rest assured, your prayers are powerful and effective. While the bill in question will not be brought up again this session, we are confident that God remains enthroned, in control and sovereign. Of course, those declarations were never in question.

IMG_5844Last week, my wife, Tracy and I joined Dr. Haag, employees of the FBCH, the Board of Directors, fellow pastors and spouses and the children living on the Jacksonville campus for a celebration dinner highlighting the work of the Children's Homes and ministries under their umbrella (Orphan's Heart, The Porch Light and others.) We are firmly committed to continue supporting this ministry and pray that as we enter this season of funding through the annual Children's Homes Offering (also called "The Mother's Day Offering") we will collectively be able to fund work for the sake of children throughout our state and beyond. As for the convictions of our ministries, I am confident that God will provide resources needed so that our biblical convictions will never be broken and that the hundreds of thousands of children served annually will continue unhindered.

Here's a copy of Dr. Haag's email regarding the Conscience Protection Bill (HB 7111) from May 1, 2015.

Dear Ministry Partner, 

I wanted to give you an update on where the conscience protection bill (HB 7111) stands today!  We are grateful for each of you standing with us for the past five weeks. Together, our voices were heard for children as the bill passed in the House Health & Human Services Committee, Judiciary Committee and on the House Floor. Through the help of your prayers, phone calls and personal meetings with your legislators, God saw fit to clear the way for the bill to be heard by the Senate Rules committee!

We have learned that the bill will not be brought up again in a Senate Committee meeting this session. The Florida House's session has ended, and they will not be taking any modified bills back from the Senate (which is what needs to happen in this case). We are certainly disappointed, but not dismayed. We know that legislation often takes multiple years to pass. The momentum for this legislation was great, and we know God can make it possible for the same momentum to pass the bill next year to protect our organization as we remain committed to our beliefs while focusing on helping one more child every day. 

For now, we are thankful that our entire focus can return to helping children in need as we also begin to strategize for next year's legislative session. As I arrived back on campus in Lakeland this week, I was reminded again why every meeting we had in Tallahassee was worth it. It was worth it because of the little boy living in our emergency shelter right now!  He's worth it, and we will remain focused on helping him and every child God places in our path. 

I know you have done so much, but if I could ask you to do one more thing: Will you please promote our annual offering this Mother's Day, or even after, to provide critical funds needed for children in care? 

Thank you again for your advocacy and prayers! 

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES 

 

You may give to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes through our church's online giving option here.

Fbch offering 2015