A Simple Gesture Makes a Major Impact

AN ORPHAN SUNDAY STORY. . .

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. 

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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.
 

Help for the Parent of a Prodigal Child

 

I have just completed our mid-week morning Bible study with our senior adults. This is a great time of study and really is energizing for the remainder of the week. These life-long learners are inspiring to me and so encouraging.

I have discovered some pretty common threads among those in attendance. It seems that these senior saints have varied stories of challenge and difficulty. Now, they're not complaining, but life offers challenges and these from the Traditionalist and early Boomer generations have experienced much.

Many have shared with me, as a way of encouragement, their journeys as parents of prodigals.

The story of the prodigal son in the Bible gives us hope, but in the midst of the journey, there is great pain. The grief of a loving parent seems overwhelming at times. Far too many of you can relate.

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In Ann Mobley's book If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me? (available at our church's online bookstore) she shares the painful and true story of truth and grace through the difficult days with her son. 

While the prodigal story may involve same-sex attraction and an abandonment to orthodox Christianity, that is just one small area that leads the child down toward the identity of "prodigal." Stories are different. Wounds are unique. Yet, regardless of your story's details, these points from Mobley are helpful for the Christian parent struggling with what to do while the prodigal is still on the run.

What to Do While Waiting in Hope

Spend time in God's Word.

Choose to believe and live by the truths of God's Word. Regular reading and meditating on God's Word will keep you focused on God's truths and enable you to discern the lies of Satan. Discouragement is a major tool of the Enemy against God's people, but God's Word is your source of encouragement.

Pray for your child.

Do not underestimate the power of prayer. Pray for your son or daughter that God will, by the power of His Spirit, do a strong and eep work in his or her life, drawing him or her to himself and destroying the strongholds of the Enemy in his or her mind and heart.

Pray for yourself.

As you pray for change in your loved one's life, be aware that God may desire to make changes in your life. Honest self-examination is needed. An important reminder is this - Guard your heart agains bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

Keep the lines of communication open.

Having open lines of communication is often the fruit of responding in love to your child. God's Word reminds us that love is not just expressed in words but also in our actions. We need to ask God to teach us how to show his kind of love to our loved ones. Remember, we are only responsible for our own responses, attitudes, and actions. We cannot dictate or control the responses, attitudes, or actions of our loved ones. The relationship and paths of communication may be damaged or broken by their own choosing, and they may not respond in kind to our overtures of love. That is painful for the parent, family, or friend reaching out to them. But, we should not allow their negative or unloving response toward us dictate our behavior.

Continue to love your child and "keep the porch light on."

Peter Lord, in his book, Keeping the Doors Open, urges parents to adopt an open-door policy; figuratively speaking, "Keep the porch light on." Let your loved ones know that he or she can always come home or visit as often as he or she wants. You may disapprove of his or her lifestyle and the choices he or she is making, but still love them and do not reject them. Don't let the separation be on your part. It' heartbreaking for the family when a son or daughter chooses to close the door of communication and walk away, cutting off all contact, perhaps even disowning the family and leaving no way for the family to maintain contact. But parents still can pray and must pray. God knows where your child is.

Don't travel alone on this journey.

Reach out to others who can pray with you and sometimes just listen to you. Look for friends or family members who view life from a biblical perspective, who will stand with you in a loving and committed biblical position and provide spiritual and emotional encouragement. 

Never give up. Keep on praying.

Jesus told his disciples a parable to encourage them to keep on praying, even if they didn't seem to be getting any results from their prayers. He said they should not "lose heart" or "give up." Just because we do not see things happening in the visible, physical lives of our loved ones does not mean our Father is not listening or responding to our prayers.

Holding on to the God of Hope!

Today, whatever your circumstances, you can have hope. Our hope is in the character of a faithful God, in the promises of his Word, in the power of prayers offered in faith in Jesus' name, and in the Holy Spirit who can work powerfully in the hearts and minds of our loved ones - and our hope is in the never-ending love of the heavenly Father for his prodigal sons and daughters.

These are great reminders and needed in these days. It hearkens back to the story of the Prodigal Son in Scripture. These characteristics of the father in the story are key for us as parents:

  • He relinquished control of his son, let him go, and allowed him to reap the consequences of his wrong decisions.
  • He never quit loving his son and remained watchful in the hope that his son would return. 
  • He welcomed his son back - not with a scolding, not with words of condemnation for his sinfulness, not with a consignment to the servants' quarters, but with compassion, love, a strong embrace, and even a kiss! (BTW - imagine what he looked and smelled like upon the return, especially after sleeping with the pigs.)
  • He was not ashamed of his wayward son, but threw a big celebration party, inviting everyone to rejoice with him. His son was safely home!

May all parents of prodigals take hope in these words. God knows what you're facing. He loves your child even more than you. Trust him to do what he does best and rest in the truths of God's Word.

 


Lost Sheep Eventually Come Home

I saw this story in the news today about a sheep in Australia that wandered away from its flock and became lost. It seems that this sheep was in the bush, alone, for about five or six years.

Chris the Sheep
The very woolly merino sheep was spotted wandering near Mulligan Flats, a grassy woodland just outside the capital Canberra, by bushwalkers. (Photo: RSPCA via AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

The Bible is full of illustrations and parallels using sheep, shepherds and flocks. 

In Jesus' trifecta of "lost" parables found in the Gospels, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son) he challenges the religious leaders and explains God's heart for the lost and how he does what is needed to reach them. However, there is something in these stories that often is overlooked, at least by me. In each story the lost element (sheep, coin, son) belonged to the owner or to the family. There was a belonging that was evident in the genesis. So, the sheep was at one time part of a flock. The coin at one time was safely in the possession of the woman. Ultimately, the son was a full member of the family. He was not a stranger and held all the rights and privileges of sonship. Yet, in each story something happened. In each case, that which was home and in the right place became lost.

Is this a message on salvation? Perhaps. I don't discount that God seeks and draws all humanity to Himself. I believe that God desires that all be rescued and apart from a relationship with God through Christ, people are lost. 

However, in these situations, it seems that Jesus is speaking of those who once were a part of the flock, home, family (i.e. church.)

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus states. . .

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)

In the case of today's news story, the missing sheep remained lost for years. I'm sure the shepherds and others probably chalked it up as a loss, forgot about it and moved on. Yet, there he was. He's been named "Chris." Apparently, humans have a need to name animals of all kinds in order to feel better about them.

The news reports give this account on Chris' rescue: Chris was found near Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary outside Canberra by bushwalkers who feared he would not survive the approaching southern summer. He was found several miles from the nearest sheep farm. A bushwalker named him Chris after the sheep in the “Father Ted” television comedy series. (AP)

The photographs of Chris the sheep are incredible. I included it in this post above. They're sad and funny in that this animal, unbeknownst to himself, looked terrible. He had lived alone for so long that he likely thought that to be normal and had nothing been done to help him, likely would not have survived the coming summer.

Chris had no idea he was lost!

As I looked at the photos of Chris, I thought "That's what happens to Christians who never engage in the mission. They may be in the building, but they hide in the crowd. They settle for just sitting and soaking in the stuff of church."

In a very real sense, there is "lostness" among those in the church today. Like Chris, they don't even know they're lost.

Oh, and as for the the ones who are far from the church, who have run from it and abandoned its teachings and ultimately abandoned the Gospel. . .they look like this, too. Spiritually, at least. And they don't even realize it.

The best part of the parable as recorded by Luke, in my opinion, is this phrase - And when he comes home.

There are many in our churches praying for lost friends and family members and at times, the natural thing to do is lose hope. This story of a lost sheep gives a clear thought that the one who once belonged in the flock, though straying from truth, will be sought and will be found and will come home one day.

Tweet: Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/VRri4+ Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor.

Every church and many families have a "Chris the Sheep" in their story. 

Keep praying and keep believing. One day. . .hopefully soon, "Chris the Sheep" will come home.

What happens then?

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

____________________

The full story of "Chris the Sheep" as presented in the AP, can be found here.


How Transparent Should a Pastor Be?

Yesterday I finished up our series on parenting and family aptly titled "The Fam."

While not initially planned on my part, but due to an overwhelming push (or maybe a pull) by God, I felt compelled at the close of my message on "Rites of Passage" to step away from my notes and shared with our church family some struggles and difficulties my wife, children and I have been facing for a few years.

The Elephant in the Room

For some, it was the "elephant in the room" in that most who know us well know that we have been challenged as parents of adult children. For others, mostly new church attenders and members and those who are not as fully engaged in the life of the church - it was totally new information. In fact, for some, it was probably news that I am married and even have children.

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Nonetheless, I confessed that by preaching and teaching on the "rites of passage" that parents should take their children through in order for them to enter into authentic adulthood as God designed, I felt a bit like a hypocrite. 

The frustration and feelings led me to almost shelve the message totally. However, I sensed God imploring me to press on.

My struggle is that I have missed numerous "rites of passage" with my son due to his continued rebellion against our family, the Gospel and God that began a number of years ago. Not to go too deeply here, but to put it plainly, in our lives, the story of the "Prodigal Son" is not just a parable from the Bible that makes for a good Sunday School class lesson. It feels like our biography.

So, I shared this with our church family. 

I felt I had done something dangerous.

I felt I had done something risky.

I felt I had revealed, maybe too much.

I felt vulnerable.

I have never been one to embrace the false "perfect pastor" persona that many have created. I fully understand and receive the role God has called me to fulfill. I feel the heavy responsibility to divide the Word rightly and to preach the Gospel clearly. I know that I am called to make disciples and to equip the saints. I do not minimize any of these realities.

I also know that I am to live out my faith in all areas of my life, at church, in the schools, in the community and especially at home.

And. . .I know I am human and though redeemed by God through the blood of Christ, I still, at times, mess up. Call it what it is - I sin.

Like many parents of adult children, I look back wishing I could do some things differently. I look at old photographs of days gone by and wonder "What if that was a moment where I could have spoken into my child's life in a way that would have changed the present?"

Tweet: Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret. @davidtark  Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret.

So, I shared what I shared.

Not too much. . .but clear nonetheless.

Too transparent?

I don't think so. Not this time, at least. Here's why I say that. Following the service I had numerous (and that means more than ten) adults and parents come to me saying things like "I don't know your details, but know this - you're not alone. We've been struggling through this same story as well. We're in the same boat as you." Some say there's comfort in misery, but this is not the case. The comfort here was two-fold: I was affirmed that the majority of our church loves God, loves people and loves my family. Many were affirmed that their pastor really does understand some of the struggles of life. Perhaps, they needed reminding that the myth of the "perfect family" with no difficult chapters is just that - a myth.

The greatest reminder (And why must we always be reminded of this? Oh yeah, because we're uber forgetful) is that God is sovereign. His love endures. He loves our children even more than we do. He loves us in spite of our failings. He has been in this story before. In fact, He is the author and hero of the story. There is hope.

So, pastor, as you study, pray and prepare to bring the sermon God is leading to your church next week, understand that there is a great possibility you may hit a "TMI" moment (Too much information) but don't preach with a fear of saying too much. Trust God to use your transparency to bring Him glory. . .and perhaps even bring you healing.


The Fam - Part 4 - "Rites of Passage"

08-30-2015 - The Fam - Part 4 - Rites of Passage

“When does a child become an adult? When does a boy become a man? When does a girl become a woman?” 

  • Age 13 – Teenager, no longer eating off the kids menu (legally.)
  • Age 15 – Driver’s permit?
  • Age 16 – Driver’s license?
  • Age 18 – Legal to vote?
  • Age 21 – Legal to drink?
  • When puberty hits? (Different for everyone?)
  • When puberty ends? (Somewhere around 25 or maybe 30?)
  • When they get a job?
  • When they have sexual relations?

The culture is confused, in so many ways, but this challenge of growing up is being stunted and causing more problems for families and individuals than ever in the past.

Have you ever heard of the term “adultescent?”

This is the moniker attached to adults who “fail to launch” and choose to remain home, stay unmarried, refuse commitments and continue to live as if they were 16 well up into their 30s. Unfortunately, some of this trend can be traced to parents who, though well-intentioned, have lacked the tools to usher their children into adulthood. In most cases, the parents never had a defining moment of adulthood, so creating one becomes the challenge.

Male and female genders are intentionally and strategically created by God for the individual even before conception. Authentic manhood and womanhood are bestowed. God has intended for parents to lead out in this area. 

But, what about those who grew up in homes where there was no father or mother speaking truth into their lives?

What about parents who don’t know how to do this?

What about the teenagers who are living far outside the boundaries of morality and godliness? 

Many parents just laugh it off and say “Let kids be kids.” While I think kids should be able to have fun and be kids, the frustration is that when adults who have all the trappings of adulthood live as though they are little more than kids in big people clothes.

Rites of passage are essential

Watch this video from our ROPE series. This is one designed for parents of 13 year olds.

7th Grade - First Family Rite of Passage 2 from First Family on Vimeo.

It’s one thing to say “You need to create rites of passage for your kids at different stages and ages” and something totally different to say “Let us help you in this journey.”

Parents, grandparents, kids - We’re here to help you in this journey.

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (ESV)

Click the image below to be taken to the Rites of Passage Experiences (ROPE) page.

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Intentional Parenting

08-16-2015 The Fam - Part 2 - Raising Boys and Girls

Yesterday, we launched our First Family Initiative at our church. We hosted counselors and authors, Sissy Goff and David Thomas of Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. They are authors or co-authors of numerous books and have a combined 75 years of experience in family counseling, working primarily with parents and children.

The insights provided yesterday regarding the essentials of godly, healthy parenting were incredible.

The attached audio file is from our Sunday morning gathering and features Sissy & David speaking on the subject of "Intentional Parenting."

Check out our online bookstore here for a full list of available resources from these two and other authors.

Also, go to the Raising Boys and Girls website at raisingboysandgirls.com for resources & updates.

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Why It's Easier to Care About a Lion Than Babies

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.

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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.

Joe Carter, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition referenced it this way:

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?

Trevin's full post is here.

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.

Love God - Love People - Make Disciples


God Shows His Glory Through a Little Boy

It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.

Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.

11737812_1184421944914420_1013288043990846656_nJon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace. 

A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.

Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well. 

Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.

Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.

Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.

Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.

Critical Day

Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .

One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.

The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:

  1. Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
  2. Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
  3. Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
  4. Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.

These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."

At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.

We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.

The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.

The Anointing

I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)

Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment. 

This prayer time was no gimmick.

It was no religious routine.

It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering. 

It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.

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Then, We Waited

Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.

While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.

Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.

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When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.

Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

God bless the reading and believing of His Word.

Surgery Delayed

We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.

At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.

The delay was then extended to the next day.

Surgery Day - Tuesday

Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.

 

Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.

There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.

Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.

Prayer Continues

The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.

Look What God Has Already Done

Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.

May God be glorified.

We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing. 

In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.

The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged. 

Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts. 

The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed. 

Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.

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Well Done Church

Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."

We don't have to fake it.

God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey. 

Keep praying.

Keep believing. 

Keep the faith.

Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.

For continued updates on Drew's story, "Like" my Facebook page or our church's page.

As you share your prayers and thoughts on social media, use the #PrayForDrew hashtag, please.


Eliminating Discipleship Outsourcing

The family unit has for centuries been comprised of one husband, one wife and in many cases, children. The changing cultural landscape of the twenty-first century seems to be calling that definition into question. Regardless what is deemed acceptable or normal in the world, the Bible affirms the family unit as described above. In addition to the primary members of what has been termed the “nuclear family,” the Scripture teaches and affirms multi-generational and extended family members serving together, ideally for the glory of God and the propagation of the Gospel. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to pass biblical truth and godly teachings on to their children and subsequent generations. This is God’s desire and yet, there are many families who fall short of that standard. Therefore, throughout the years, the local church has sought to shore up the deficiencies in these areas by creating age-graded ministries and programs. These programs and ministries have been proven helpful and valuable. Yet, over time, a dangerous precedent has been set.

Many individuals and families in our culture have become outsourcers. The age of expertise reigns and while past generations understood the need to be proficient in various skills and tasks, that is not the case today. When simple repair work is needed around one’s home, a contracted carpenter is hired. Many, due to lack of time, desire or skill-set, will outsource yard work to professionals. The same is true for simple automobile maintenance and other tasks that not too long ago were accomplished in-house. While a discussion on the value of outsourcing may be interesting, the danger of such exists when people outsource biblical responsibilities. Simply put, the discipling of one’s children should not be outsourced to “professional Christians” or church program directors. The responsibility for these tasks remains with a child’s parents and while the church plays a major role, it cannot supplant the responsibility of those originally entrusted with such.

Much attention is given to helping children develop physically, intellectually, and even socially and emotionally, but parents are not given a lot of help in knowing how to aid in the moral and spiritual development of their children.[1] Due to the lack of easily identifiable steps and handles upon which to hold, many parents have apparently simply prayed that their children would grow in their faith due to the leadership and ministries offered at their local church.

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When surveyed, Christian parents have revealed their understanding and belief that they are to play the primary role in the spiritual development of their children. Nevertheless, the same surveys show that these parents have failed in making discipleship a priority within their home.[2] Parents believed they were fulfilling their responsibility for their children’s spiritual formation and development simply by involving them in the programs of the local church.[3] While it would be easy to blame these parents for dropping the ball in this vital area, the church must own its responsibility for fueling a failed model that distances itself from biblical examples. The model most often implemented needs an overhaul, as Dave Kinnaman has noted in a 2006 Barna Research Group report, not because churches have failed in drawing crowds but because the results have been an unsustainable faith for many students beyond high school.[4]

Churches have systematically created and replicated programs that seemingly work. If a nearby or popular church has a program that draws numerous children and teenagers, others will seek to copy it. The scorecard for success is built on uneven ground and attendance numbers and yet, the biblical mandate is not to “Go and make attenders” or even “Go and make church members,” but to “Go and make disciples.” The problem is that in a consumer-driven society, disciple-making is hard to gauge and nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, this is the mandate for the church and must be strategically sought and implemented.

The Bible consistently shows the value of family and the expectation of inter-generational ministry and teaching. The Scripture teaches of God’s plan for the family to be primary in the faith development journey of His people. While this truth is studied and known to be true by many who claim to be followers of Christ, due to the fall and the inherent sin nature, the simple reality is that even well intentioned people do not naturally do what they ought to do.[5] Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God does not affirm the delegating the discipleship of one’s child to religious professionals. The responsibility remains within the home, in the context of family.[6] Where there are single-parent households or orphans, the church fills those gaps as the spiritual family.

With numerous family ministry models available, the truth is that no church program has the power to transform lives and make disciples. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can rescue and transform a life. The church must strategically partner with parents and guide them into this truth. This will change the scorecard.

_______________________


[1] Anthony, Michael J., Michelle Anthony and Karen E. Jones. “The Family in Foundational Years.” In A Theology for Family Ministries, 22. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2011.

[2] "Making the Transition to Family-Equipping Ministry." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Jay Strother, 254. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011. 

[3] Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother. "The Task Too Significant To Hire Someone Else To Do." In Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, 23. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009.

[4] Strother, 254.

[5] "Bring Them Up In the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord." In Training In the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, by Robert L. Plummer, 47. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.

[6] Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, 18.


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

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

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

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

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

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

The members of the Senate Rules Committee are: 

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

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

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

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

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

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