Last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving with family and those in our community, I was once again reminded of the strangeness this week now holds.
On Thursday (Thanksgiving) people gather with friends and family and pause to reflect on how blessed we are and offer thanks to God.
On "Black Friday" people fight and scrape to get into shopping centers to buy things they otherwise wouldn't just because the deals are so good. In other words, just 24 hours prior we're content and thankful and then...BOOM! WE HAVE TO HAVE MORE!
On Saturday, people go shopping at smaller stores for "Small Business Saturday" to encourage them to stay in business even though they struggle competing with the big box stores. Then, everyone goes back home to watch college football rivalry games that create division among family members and friends.
On Sunday, people (well some people) go to church.
On "Cyber Monday" people get more great deals online. This is basically Amazon's version of Black Friday.
Then, when all disposable income (a term that has never resonated in my home) is gone, it's time for "Giving Tuesday" where charities and non-profits seek to gain donations to help end-of-year expenses.
And some people wonder why Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday?
As Christians, there are many commentaries on all these marketed, hashtag days. First of all, thanksgiving should never be relegated only to one day a year. Greed should never be celebrated. Worship should never be just during one hour on a weekend day and generosity should be natural for all followers of Christ.
Yet, today is #GivingTuesday and every non-profit and ministry out there seems to be taking advantage of the moment. To be honest, I don't blame them and in fact, there are many groups we sponsor as a family and ministries we support as a church family that could use a boost in donations. Yes, this day is a marketing strategy. Yet, when compared to "Black Friday" and the like, this one focuses not on self, but on others (unless you give so you can brag about giving, which then makes it selfish.) While not an extensive list, here are some options (in addition to your local church, which BTW is a non-profit as well) that you may wish to prayerfully consider giving generously to on this day.
There are many others. Before dropping that coin or sending a donation to a non-profit, do some checking. Ensure that the organization is legitimate and if a religious or Christian organization, it would be wise to discern the theology or teaching your donations support.
Happy Giving Tuesday. Oh and if you don't get to donate today, you don't have to wait another year. Generosity isn't bounded by calendared events.
A number of years ago I led our church to move the ministry of "orphan care" to a primary focus. Basically, I read the book of James and knew God desired this of his church.
You have likely read the verse in question...
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)
The reality set in during a pastoral staff meeting as I looked around the room and realized that each pastor on our staff, except me, had adopted children into their homes. I then began thinking about the membership of our church and numerous families came to mind who had gone through the journey of fostering or adoption as well. At this point, it really wasn't rocket science. It was clear - God has been working and was leading our church to engage strategically and intentionally in this area.
Over the years, we have joined CAFO, partnered with the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, provided child sponsorships at our orphanage in Haiti, networked with Lifeline, set up short-term loans for families through Abba Fund, resourced families by offering state-required classes for fostering or adopting and developing a family wrap-around strategy for those on the journey. There is much more to be done and while orphan care is not the only ministry of our church family, it is a vital one.
Photo credit: 藍川芥 aikawake via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND
Simply put, we understand that not everyone is called to adopt a child, but we do believe that every Christian is called to advocate for the orphan. In some cases, this does lead to fostering and/or adoption. For the church, this ministry is not new. For centuries, it has been God's church that has led in this area of orphan care. Only recently, in the modern and post-modern world, has the church seemingly stepped back to allow government agencies and non-Christian groups take the lead in these areas.
Here are five facts you should know about orphans in America and around the world:
A common assumption is that an orphan is a child who has two deceased parents. But the more inclusive definitions used by adoption and relief agencies tend to focus on a child who is deprived of parental care. An orphan can be further classified by using definitions such as UNICEF's “single orphans,” which is a child with only one parent that has died, or “double orphans,” which is a child who has two parents that are deceased. Under U.S. immigration law, an orphan can also be a foreign-born child with a sole or surviving parent who is unable to provide for the child's basic needs, consistent with the local standards of the foreign sending country, and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. The majority of the world's orphans have families who are merely unable or unwilling to care for the child.
According to UNICEF estimates, there are 140,000,000 children who have lost one or both parents due to any cause as of 2013. Out of those, 17.7 million were orphaned because one or both parents died of AIDS.
According to the U.S. State Department, U.S. families adopted 5,647 children from another country in 2015 (compared to the peak of 22,991 in 2004). Based on the 2012 report (the last on which such data was collected), Americans adopted the highest number of children from China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine. The top adopting states were Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Illinois.
In the United States in 2014 there were 415,129 children in foster care and 107,918 waiting to be adopted. The average age of a child in foster care waiting to be adopted was 7.7 years old. The average age of children in foster care being adopted was 6.2 years old.
A study by the Rand Corporation found that as of 2002, a total of 396,526 embryonic humans have been frozen and placed in storage in the United States. Since then many thousands more have been added, and the vast majority will live and die in an IVF clinic. That is over 400,000 orphans whose names we will never know and whose faces we will never see.
Are we doing enough? No. However, by engaging in the conversation and with the small steps we have taken, God has blessed and continues to do so.
Orphan Care Should Be a Given for the Church
Stepping strategically into the orphan care story is not about adding another ministry to an already busy church calendar. It is about doing that which God has declared to be pure, undefiled, and good. It would be ludicrous for a church to vote on the whether to engage in orphan care. That would be like voting whether to be evangelistic, whether to make disciples, or whether to obey God. Unfortunately, many churches and Christians are still debating obedience.
No guilt. Just truth. Advocating for the orphan is not up for debate.
Sometimes the seemingly "little things" mean more than we know.
Yesterday, we celebrated Orphan Sunday at our church and honored and prayed over the families who either are just entering the foster-care/adoption journey or have been a part of this story for years.
The stories were similar in that they all pertained to orphan care, but so unique due to each circumstance. Stories ranged from the joy and fear shared by young couples who have completed their required classes and home study and now are waiting for a placement, to those who adopted decades prior and honestly shared how the journey has been difficult and, at times, heart-wrenching. . .but ended with "I'd do it all over again." One couple revealed that they had fostered 120 children in their lifetime and had adopted seven. Another shared their adoption of a young man diagnosed with a mental disability. One couple shared how they had adopted two boys years ago and then the father stated "I was adopted as well." Wow!
Some of the families who shared have been part of our church family for years. Others, for days.
I received this email from one of the moms who stood before the church to share and to receive the church's prayers. She and her husband are new to our church. They have brought a little boy into their family who faces some difficulties. Her note to me was another reminder of how great our God is and how being adopted into His family is vital. I asked permission to share this and it was granted:
Hi Pastor :)
I just wanted to write and let you know that we really enjoyed and were encouraged by your sermon today. Also, I wanted to share with you about something that happened while we were leaving. I walked out of the gym (FYI - our 9:15am worship service is held in our Family Ministry Center/Gymnasium) and paused to let a lady pass. She came to me and said, "I just want to hug you" and she did. I was caught off guard and was trying to figure out if I knew the woman... "Why was she wanting to hug me?" It was not until I saw her walk away and fighting off tears that I realized she was touched by the sermon we heard this morning. I have no idea who this lady is or if I will recognize her the next time I see her (I'm horrible with remembering faces) but as I was sitting in my car thinking about what had just occurred, I realized that she was expressing God's love and I was instantly overwhelmed in that moment.
I know we will be going through some tough times this week and I believe fully that I will look back at this simple hug from a woman that I do not know and I will feel comfort. Another thought is that this woman probably has no idea just how much that hug and seeing her love through tears means to me. This is exactly what you have been talking about, she has, without even knowing it, supported my family by simply sharing raw emotion and an embrace of love.
I know you do not know our story, but like many others', it is a tough one. We love our little guy and have faith that God will continue to heal him. We definitely have some challenging times ahead of us and I am thankful that we have found a church family to help us not only get through these tough times, but that will be fighting with us and encouraging us along the way.
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.
There are two stories that seem to be trending in the media this week. These are unrelated stories, but show an interesting contrast on cultural views of life, ethics and value.
Cecil the Lion
The story of Cecil the Lion is a tragic one. Walter Palmer, a dentist on a "hunt" in Zimbabwe killed a lion that had been collared and was part of an ongoing study at Oxford University. Details of the story continue to come out and the debate in the public continues to rage.
His statement of regret is seemingly falling on deaf ears and many have declared it empty.
"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have."" - Walter Palmer
Those who advocate for animal "rights" and celebrities have joined the story to share their opinions of Palmer. Mia Farrow tweeted Palmer's home address and thus, protesters arrived.
Others have shared what they think should happen to Palmer.
"Anything loose, they should cut off." - Betty White
"I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well-deserved. If he was my dentist I would never set eyes on him again." - Bob Barker
The story is gaining ground and mainstream media outlets as well as entertainment outlets continue to push it on the front page or as the lead story of the day.
Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts
The other story that is working its way through social media and some mainstream outlets focuses on the leaked, undercover videos by a pro-life organization showing doctors and leaders of Planned Parenthood admitting to and expressing how they sell organs of aborted babies for profit.
Planned Parenthood has existed for decades. This non-profit organization declares itself as the primary provider of reproductive health and women's services in the nation. This is a sanitized, politically correct way of stating that they provide more abortions than any other organization in the United States.
The first video released is embedded below. Be warned, it is not easy to watch.
The latest is even more disturbing. . .
Amazingly, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board has issued this statement in response to the video, as part of a well-orchestrated dance attempting to diffuse this story in the national media.
“People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful.” - PP Clergy Advocacy Board
At first, I was surprised that Planned Parenthood even had a Clergy Advocacy Board. However, there is a clear version of "Christianity" in America that has forsaken the truths of the Gospel and the truth of His Word. Therefore, statements like these should not surprise us, though they are greatly disturbing.
That some clergy from denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and American Baptist Churches would turn a blind eye to the sale of body parts from children slaughtered in the womb is not surprising. Almost all mainline denominations officially support unrestricted access to abortion.
But these ministerial shills have the audacity to frame their support for America’s largest abortion provider as a defense of women. Their kneejerk support for Planned Parenthood reveals a willful ignorance of one of the most anti-woman organizations in America.
How These Stories Are Connected
The story of Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood actually have nothing to do with each other. One is about a hunting trip in Africa that resulted in one animal being wrongly killed.
The other is about the deception of an organization that I believe does evil work and is responsible for the killing of millions of human beings.
What does connect them is the story of life and the message of ethics and truth.
Why It's Easier to Care for a Lion Than Babies
It is easier to jump on the bandwagon that is attacking Dr. Palmer than show offense to what is being done at Planned Parenthood.
It's easier because the crowd is louder that speaks against Dr. Palmer.
It's easier because others will celebrate you if you "stand up for Cecil."
It's easier because the platform is wide and welcoming for those who would show anger and frustration toward Dr. Palmer.
It's easier because other than tweeting and posting opposition (other than the few who are organizing protests and other actions) there really is no personal engagement in the Cecil the Lion story. Just tweet your anger and use the appropriate hashtag and go about your life.
However, when you assert your offense at what organizations like Planned Parenthood do, you are labeled. You are placed in a category that isn't celebrated by the masses. You will be on an opposite side of celebrities and those who are often worshipped by the masses.
The politically incorrect will not be celebrated.
You will be declared a hater of women (the enemy loves pulling out the "hater" tag for those who stand up for truth) rather than a lover of life and an advocate for babies.
You will have to stand on a narrow platform.
You will have to do more than state your opposition to abortion.
Christians who state their opposition to abortion must in the same breath state and show their advocacy for helping pregnant women, providing for single moms, standing in the gap for teens who are pregnant, affirm and support foster care and adoption services.
It is hypocritical to be against abortion and ignore the role of the church in these other areas. There's no way to be unengaged and be holy.
That's why it's easier.
But then, who said living holy and grounded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be easy?
What Must Be Done
I affirm the calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I am not convinced this will ever happen, but at least the conversation has begun again, and more earnestly than in the past. To know that we are all guilty by proxy of the trafficking of human body parts through our taxes is offensive and atrocious. It's time for the federal government to do the right thing here and for the people standing upon that narrow platform to stand unwaveringly and push strongly for this.
Praying By Name
Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on how we should pray for those who are the names and faces of Planned Parenthood. The God of life is the only one who can transform a heart. Pray for those who do evil, especially those who unknowingly do so. How can they know evil apart from knowing the truth?
Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reminded us of our role clearly.
The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).
The heart of man is dark. Jesus is the light and has stated that we are His Light of the world. Let's shine this light brightly.
In this brief message, we are reminded of the generosity of heart that is to be evident in the lives of disciples. As we live out our faith for Christ, God leads us, through His grace, to live generously. This is evident as we step outside our comfort zones to show love in Christ's name.
This year, we're collecting an offering for the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. This vital ministry supports and serves over 100,000 children in Florida and throughout the world annually.
This offering is part of our "Orphan Care Initiative" and will be collected through Father's Day 2015.
All donations received will be forwarded in full to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes.
If you would like to give toward this offering, you may do so through our church's online giving option.
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.
Last 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®
FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES
You may give to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes through our church's online giving option here.
This has been an interesting week, to say the least. Ever since the beginning of the year, I have felt convicted to be more adamant in my prayers and to view prayer as a gift. So often prayer is viewed as the passive response to the issues of the day. How many times have you heard someone say something like "I want to help, but all I can do is pray"? It's as if prayer is viewed as the last resort, rather than the first response.
As the world watches, tragedies are unfolding. Some have mode global impact. Others have been regional. Still others are impactful for small communities or individual families. Yet, the pain and uncertainty is just as relevant.
It is no accident that the National Day of Prayer is soon here. The first Thursday of May has been this designated moment for years and while it is vital to pray on this special day, we should view prayer as less of an officially sanctioned public gathering and more of an intimate connection between the individual child of God and the Heavenly Father. Of course, that is what prayer should be. Yet, even the disciples showed that prayer is not always easy. In fact, they walked with Christ for three years and still admitted that they were missing something in their prayer lives.
I guess we're in good company.
Thankfully, Jesus gave us a template to use in our prayers. While reciting the "Lord's Prayer" isn't necessarily bad, remember that it is a template given by the Son of God for us to use when coming to the Father. The template gives us a reminder of His sovereignty and holiness and also gives us permission to plead boldly for the needs and concerns we have.
So, in no particular order, these items have been pushed to the forefront of my prayer list. Join me in seeking God's face and His will in these areas (and others):
Almost a year ago, my wife and I joined hundreds of others at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in the city of Baltimore. We were struck by the beauty of the city and the inner harbor and now, as we turn on the news, we see pandemonium. The rioting and the unnecessary violence is heart-wrenching. The police need our prayers. The citizens living in fear need our prayers. The latest divide among the races shows that we have far to go when it comes to racial reconciliation. We see how the enemy is using this to appear powerful, but there is hope. We know the Lord can heal and He will. Pastors and Christians in the city are uniting in prayer and we join them. Yes, black lives matter. . .and so do white lives, brown lives, yellow lives, etc. Ultimately, all lives matter and the Gospel expresses that message clearly. Pray for people to have ears to hear and that healing may begin.
Supreme Court Judgments
The SCOTUS is hearing oral arguments regarding states' rights to define legal marriage as that being between a man and a woman. In no other point of our history has the culture seemingly shifted so quickly on a values issue such as this. Those making arguments before the justices need our prayers. So, too, do the members of our Supreme Court. Though it is my conviction that the government shouldn't define marriage in that the government didn't invent it, the facts of the matter are that this family and marriage definition impacts not just the government or a handful of states, but every citizen and every church in our nation.
Conscience Bill in Florida
I have blogged numerous times about the Florida Conscience Bill (HB 7111) that moved through the Florida House and is now in the Senate Rules Committee. This bill will allow faith-based groups like our Florida Baptist Children's Homes to continue to function based on convictions regarding child placement in adoptive homes. Apart from the passage of this bill from the Senate and the subsequent signing into law by our Governor, the Children's Homes and other faith-based groups serving children will most likely have to find alternate funding and may have to serve fewer children in the future, leaving many to fend for themselves.
I have preached at twelve funerals this year and attended others from people in our church family. Rarely has a week gone by without a death in our church family or an extended family member. While we all know that death is the "destiny of every man" as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, the truth is the grief that comes in times like these can be overwhelming. The God of Peace is real and our prayers are needed for each other.
There are many other items on the prayer list and at times, "overwhelming" seems to be the descriptive term of the day. Nevertheless, prayer is powerful and God honors the intimate, repentant prayers of His children. May we never be guilty of "just praying" when all else fails, but to respond and even see prayer as a pre-emptive strike against the Enemy's attacks.
If you've been following the news and/or my blog regarding HB7111passed by the Florida House giving faith-based children's agencies (such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes) the ability to remain true to their convictions regarding placement of children in families for foster-care or adoption, you are well aware of the next steps needed.
I received the following update from my friend and President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes today. Please read this carefully, contact your state Senator (if you live in Florida) and share the information with others in your churches and faith-communities. Previous postings giving a fuller understanding of the issue are linked below, as well.
Dear Ministry Partner,
I have a quick update and pivotal call to action for you and your church. The Senate Rules committee heard all the testimony yesterday regarding the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). They asked a lot of good questions, and many responded positively to our testimony. Unfortunately, because time ran out, the bill was temporarily postponed, which means the bill could be tabled. The Senate Rules Committee has the ability to call a special meeting for situations like this, and they have in other cases. Please ask all of your church members and partners to contact their senators today to ask them to do everything they can so that this bill will be passed on the Senate floor this session so faith organizations can continue serving children while remaining committed to their religious beliefs.
The support of our churches is critical for this legislation to pass. Below is a quick FAQ that may be helpful for your members who are willing to advocate on behalf of FBCH and many special children.
Which Florida senators need to be contacted to help pass this bill? We need every Florida Senator to know about this bill and support it. For a list of senators, visit https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators.
Where does HB 7111 stand? The bill has passed through the Florida House and has been heard by the Senate Rules Committee. However, it has been temporarily postponed because time ran out at the meeting yesterday. Since this was the last official Rules Committee meeting this session, the bill could be tabled unless a special meeting is called to fully hear the bill. Special meetings are often called, and that is what we need to happen.
What do I say to my senator?
If your senator is part of the Rules Committee, ask them to support this bill and request a special meeting be called to fully hear the bill. To find out if your senator is on the Rules Committee, visit this page https://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/RC/.
If your senator is not part of the Rules Committee, ask them to contact their fellow senators on the Rules Committee so that this critical legislation can pass this session. Ask for them to support this bill if and when it is debated on the Senate floor.
If your senator is David Simmons, Darren Soto or Andy Gardiner, ask these Senate leaders to call a special meeting and make sure this bill reaches the Senate floor this session.
My senator might say: "I'm sorry, but it is simply too late in the session for me or anyone to do anything about this bill." How can I respond? Tell them that you realize the last Senate Rules Committee has taken place, but special meetings are often called and can be called for this critical legislation to pass. The Florida House recognized how important it was for this bill to be passed and did everything they could to expedite it and make sure it was heard on the House floor. That is what we are asking of the Senate, to make this step for children!
If this legislation does not pass, will Florida Baptist Children's Homes be forced to shut down? Absolutely not. However, the way we deliver care for children will likely be forced to change as we remain committed to our beliefs.
How can my church pray? Pray for our Senate leadership, that they will see the importance of this legislation and will allow it to reach the Senate floor. Proverbs 21:1 says, The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
I am sincerely grateful for your calls to legislators and your personal notes of encouragement. Thank you for standing with us for children. We stand firm on our founding beliefs and are absolutely committed to Help One More Child!
Last week the Florida House of Representatives passed HB 7111 with a vote of 75 for passage and 38 against. This bill, as referenced in previous postings is a protective one designed to allow faith-based children's organizations such as the Florida Baptist Children's Homes to stand upon their convictions when determining with whom to place children.
While those opposed to the bill state that it is discriminatory, especially to same-sex couples and those in the LGBT communities, it actually is a statement about the viability of religious liberty and freedom to lead organizations based on personal convictions. The term "discrimination" has been attached to the bill and the debacle surrounding the Indiana religious freedom law has moved those in leadership and power positions to a very narrow place if they choose to stand for religious liberty while still leading and ensuring that personal rights are not forsaken.
As stated in previous postings, I am strongly in favor of the passage of this bill into law here in Florida and elsewhere.
Therefore, I share with you the latest update from the President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes regarding this issue.
I wanted to give you an update on the conscience protection bill (HB 7111). The bill has been referred to the Florida Senate Rules Committee which will take place during the afternoon of Monday, April 20. We are thankful for another step! This week, we have been personally meeting with senators on the Senate Rules Committee and would ask that you also contact them directly before Monday to ask for their support of this critical legislation for children.
As you contact these senators, here are two points to consider:
Contrary to opposing views expressed by some, Florida's old Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will not protect us. Without the conscience protection bill, we will face lengthy and costly litigation. We need every resource we have to be focused on the care of children, not legal battles.
The same sex adoption bill (SB320/HB7013) passed in the Senate this week. The conscience protection bill (HB 7111) will allow us to continue to help children without violating our religious beliefs. The bill covers foster care, care for victims of child sex trafficking as well as adoption. FBCH helped 1,026 children in the care of Department of Children and Families (DCF) this past year.
We ask that you pray at 1 p.m. on Monday for the Senate Rules Committee as they take up this bill. I will be testifying before the committee and would appreciate your prayers as I represent the children we serve.
As we pray for our leaders, Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind: The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.