I have just received another text message from one of our Leadership Team Pastors about a death in our extended church family. There are seasons (and this seems to be one) when it seems that far too many members of our church family are grieving the loss of loved ones. Over the past month there have been numerous parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings and close friends who have died. Each family member grieves differently. The loss of a loved one after a long bout with illness and difficulty, while seemingly non-surprising is no less traumatic for the family members.
Grief comes from many areas. Death is just one. There is the grief of a lost relationship, a breakup, or divorce. There is the grief experienced by parents when children wander from the faith and family. There are numerous others and in each case the sadness may seem overwhelming.
Men and Women in the Bible Grieved
We all know that grief is not a new emotion or phenomena. Biblical men and women grieved great loss and we have the narrative to show that. Whether it be Old Testament characters such as Job, Naomi, Hannah, or David or New Testament ones such as Mary, John, the disciples, and even Christ, grief is very human and a part of our journey.
One step in overcoming grief is having the right perspective on it. First, we recognize that grief is a natural response to pain and loss. There is nothing wrong with grieving. Second, we know that times of grief serve a purpose. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” This verse implies that grief can be good because it can refresh our perspective on life. Third, we remember that feelings of grief are temporary. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). There is an end to mourning. Grief has its purpose, but it also has its limit.
Through it all, God is faithful. There are many Scriptures that remind us of God’s faithfulness in times of mourning. He is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). When David sorrowed, he prayed this in Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (ESV). The touching image of God catching our tears is full of meaning. He sees our grief and does not disdain it. Like Jesus entered into the grief of the mourners in Bethany, God enters into our grief. At the same time, He reassures us that all is not lost. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “be still” and rest in the knowledge that He is God. He is our refuge (Psalm 91:1-2). He works all things together for the good of those He has called (Romans 8:28).
An important part of overcoming grief is expressing it to God. The Psalms contain numerous examples of pouring out one’s heart to God. Interestingly, the psalmist never ends where he began. He may start a psalm with expressions of grief, but, almost invariably, he will end it with praise (Psalm 13; Psalm 23:4; Psalm 30:11-12;Psalm 56). God understands us (Psalm 139:2). When we commune with Him, we are able to open our minds to the truth that He loves us, that He is faithful, that He is in control, and that He knows how He is going to work it out for our good.
Another important step in overcoming grief is to share it with others. The body of Christ is designed to ease the burdens of its individual members (Galatians 6:2), and fellow believers have the ability to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Often, the grieving tend to shun others, increasing feelings of isolation and misery. It is much healthier to seek counseling, and group settings can be invaluable. Groups offer listening ears and helpful encouragement, camaraderie, and guidance in working through the grief. When we share our stories with God and others, our grief is lessened.
Sadly, grief is part of the human experience. Loss is part of life, and grief is a natural response to loss. But we have the hope of Christ, and we know that He is strong enough to carry our burdens (Matthew 11:30). We can give our hurt to Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We can find solace in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Paraclete (John 14:16). In grief, we cast our burdens on Him, rely on the community of the church, delve into the truth of the Word, and ultimately experience hope (Hebrews 6:19-20).
As our family grieves, we grieve with them. This is much more than feeling sorry for someone and showing sympathy. We empathize with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some feel so inadequate in offering ministry during these times. In truth, we should all feel inadequate in our own strength. Sometimes, the best ministry help offered is the ministry of presence. It is not the words said, but the presence of being there.
To Our Family Members Who Are Grieving...
From your pastor and church - "We grieve with you and pray that you will receive what God alone can offer you during these moments - the peace that passes understanding and a comfort that is indescribable."
James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.
Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)
A photo posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on
Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia.
Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?
A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."
When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"
That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."
I was talking with a university student yesterday who made the statement that he felt that it was unlikely a Republican or conservative would ever be elected to the office of President again. I am not sure if that was a statement of lament or desire, but I responded that each party's adherents have said the same thing for generations and over time (normally every 8 to 12 years) they often find that the swinging doors to the White House welcome in a President of the opposing party.
Nevertheless, the underlying theme had less to do with the party affiliation of the current crop of presidential candidates and more to do with what has been described as a culturally seismic shift in morality and worldview. There has been much written about these shifts and I do not negate their reality. However, this week our nation experienced some revelations that show that perhaps the total cultural shift is not quite as clearly defined as some seem to propose.
This past Tuesday was election day in our nation. This being an "off year" there were many areas where no elections took place, but in the areas where they did, the nation was watching.
There were three elections that drew the attention of the national media, and therefore the eyes and ears of many who follow politics and worldview shifts of culture.
Kentucky Governor's Race
First, the gubernatorial election in Kentucky drew quite a bit of focus. This was due, in no small part, to the fact that the Republican running for the office, Matt Bevin, was considered more than a long-shot to win. His stance against same-sex marriage and evangelical roots made him an easy target in the culture wars. Of course, Kentucky is the home of Kim Davis, who made national and international news as a county clerk when she refused to have her name affixed to marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Bevin's friendship with President Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his history of donating funds to the seminary further painted him as an outsider, with no real chance to win.
Even the Republican Governors' Association pulled money for advertising when the polls were placing his opponent as the easy victor.
Apparently, no one told the voting public of Kentucky that Bevin stood no chance at winning. In fact, when the votes were tallied, he basically won in a statistical landslide and will be sworn into office as the Governor next year.
Governor-elect Bevin, his wife & their nine children
Ohio Not "O-High-O"
Second, the state of Ohio was voting on the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Millions of dollars were spent to push the voting public to affirm this as a good option. College students were confronted with "Buddie," an anthropomorphic marijuana bud with a super hero's body as part of the advertising campaign to legalize pot.
Ultimately, the movement went up in flames (no pun intended. . .okay, a little pun was intended) and even those who really wanted legal marijuana joined forces with those opposed to its legalization for moral reasons simply because of the literal monopoly that would develop as big business would own the legal growing and distribution rights of marijuana in the Buckeye state.
So, this culturally left-leaning movement died in the polls as the voters of Ohio (not O-High-O, as the promoters were advertising) voted NO.
"Buddie" - PHOTO: Facebook/Responsible Ohio
No HERO in Houston
Third, and likely the most media-hyped and focused upon vote took place, not on the federal or state level, but at the city level. The city of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest municipality in the nation, was voting to either ratify or revoke a bill touted as an anti-discrimination bill, that was pushed through the City Council by the urging of mayor Annise Parker. This bill was known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, for short.
You may remember the threat to religious liberty that occurred in the city, and through Mayor Parker's office, back in 2014. I wrote about that here.
The battle-lines were drawn for the ratification of HERO and big business, the mainstream media, pastors, right-wing and left-wing pundits and even professional sports stars and leagues were weighing in on the matter. What was touted as an anti-discrimination ordinance was soundly defeated.
Why was something that seemed to create equal footing for all citizens defeated? Well, depending upon whose report you read (and I fully admit that all writers are biased to some degree, me included) it was either because "Hate" and "Fear" won out over logic, love and right-thinking, or because the only actual addition this ordinance gave to current anti-discrimination laws on the books within the state of Texas and nationally, was the allowance of any person to enter and use any public restroom regardless of the designated gender defined on the entrance.
In Albert Mohler's Briefing posted on November 6, 2015, he references a number of stories featured in The New York Times and other media outlets.
Thee are numerous articles and debates as to whether the HERO actually contained "bathroom language" in its final format. It is a matter of fact that at one point, it did.
Opponents declare that haters jumped on the "bathroom" issue as fuel to continue to repress those in the LGBT community. Proponents of the repeal declared that ultimately, the final language that left the bathroom door open was enough to garner the votes needed to repeal the ordinance, handily.
PHOTO: David Bro/ZUMA Press/Newscom
While the ordinance was defeated, the expansiveness of cultural shift under the banner of "anti-discrimination" and "inclusivity" will appear on ballots again, throughout the nation and likely will be addressed by the courts on a future date.
Personally, I am pleased with the results of all three of the election results mentioned in this post, but I do not see these as indicative of a moral and worldview shift back to the Bible. The world, as we know, will never celebrate the Christian worldview.
For Christians, this is a reminder that worldview matters and that, as the old hymn states, our "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." That means that we best be in the Word, saturated in the Gospel and focused on Christ. We should understand civics and be righteous, godly citizens, but remember this - our hope is not found in Washington, the state capital or even the ballot box. It is found in Christ alone. In Him we trust.
I have had the honor of seeing many young men and women step up and say "Yes" to God regarding calling into ministry. As I reflected on the men and women serving Him in various churches, missions, ministries and even in the workplace that I have had the honor of knowing over the years, I have been humbled by God's grace.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of licensing and ordaining Robert L. Powell to the Gospel Ministry. Robert grew up in Orange Park as a regular attender and member of First Baptist Church. At age twelve, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and as a high school senior, he said "yes" to the calling into full-time ministry. He has since graduated from The Baptist College of Florida and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Children's Ministry Assistant Pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Baker, Florida.
He has been called out, equipped, sent out and set apart for God's glory and His ministry.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
About two months ago when our Pastor, David Tarkington, began a series on prayer, if you asked me if I knew how to pray my answer would have been an indignant “well of course”. After Pastor David began going through the template that Jesus gave in Matthew on the Lord’s Prayer I realized just how little I knew. I was one of those that could recite the Lord’s prayer with no problem but had really never taken the time to look at the six elements and figure out what they mean. I began to try to pray through the template and I got hung up on a few things. This is where a 7 year old taught me how to truly pray.
Drew Wood is now at home.
It was about this time that Drew Wood was put in the hospital and his future hung in the balance. Pleas were put out on Facebook (even by me) to earnestly pray for this little boy as he was fighting the battle of his life, along with his parents, Jon and Mandi. On a July Monday morning when I knew that Drew was supposed to have surgery later that day I began to have a discussion with God on the way to work. I argued with him that I didn’t understand why the doctor didn’t try such and such after all I am a nurse and I know things. Looking back now I can’t believe I was arguing with God about this. He very gently said you may be a nurse but I am the Great Physician and I’ve got this covered. Talk about being put in your place. I came close to having to pull my car over. As I prayed that morning I was finally able to pray the one thing I had been having trouble with – Your will be done. When praying God’s will I had to realize that when I ask for healing it may not come in the form that I expect. That day as those of us in the church office cried together and prayed together (sorry folks not much work got done) I realized that praying God’s will was really very easy because whether I approve of it or not doesn’t really matter His will is going to be done anyway. How freeing!
Drew, I don’t know if you know it yet but God has used you in so many ways to bring glory to Him. He certainly used you to teach this more than middle aged woman how to pray as he instructed. I am sorry that you had to go through what you did but I thank you and your parents for allowing God to work in and through all three of you to teach us some much needed spiritual lessons.
Shari Barbaro is a friend of mine. She serves on the staff of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. She is a child of God, deacon's wife, mother to two, choir member, small group leader and mentor to teenage girls. She recently blogged about how God taught her how to prayer. Permission granted to share her post. Here's a link to her blog.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
 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.
 "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.
 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.
 "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.
 Renfro, Paul, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, 18.
I am currently in Columbus, Ohio, gathering with thousands of family members (that's what it feels like) at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have been to numerous denominational meetings such as this in the past, but this year, there is a different feel.
I call it a meeting with family members, for that is what it truly is. Baptist brothers and sisters from throughout the land gather together and reconnect with old friends, worship together, make decisions that will impact many through policy affirmations. Like many families, we also grimace at some things said and done by others in the family. It is like being with others over a holiday and then the crazy uncle shows up. We love him, but we never know what he's going to do or say. Every family has that guy. Our SBC has those as well. And, if you can't figure out who he/she may be. . . it may be you.
A "REALITY SHOW"
Since I categorize our SBC meeting as a family gathering, in some ways it has become like the families featured on television reality shows. There is a sense of trying to just be family, but always knowing that the cameras (or in this case, the national news media as well as bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook posters are in the room as well. . .just watching and waiting.)
Personally, I am glad these guests are in the room, either physically or virtually, in that I believe God uses these avenues to ensure we (Baptists) stay on focus, in "witness-mode" and loving to all, even though we cannot be and will not be affirming to all.
On the heels of headlines that bemoan (or celebrate) the decline of evangelicals in America and statements in op-eds like this one have found places in national media outlets.
As Southern Baptists gather Tuesday for their annual summer meeting, gloom hangs over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. (Thomas S. Kidd & Barry Hankins, The Washington Post)
While the reality is that numbers in Baptist life, such as membership and baptism, are in decline, I have not sensed an overwhelming sense of gloom in our gathering based on this. Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research continually reminds us that "facts are our friends." It's true. The scorecard that has been used for decades in SBC life has been flawed from the outset and while we all know the numbers we have seen in the past were never truly accurate, as Dr. Al Mohler stated at a Baptist21 gathering, "We've never really trusted our numbers, but we bragged on them when they worked for us."
This is true.
Yet, in the midst of facing the facts of these numbers, this convention meeting has become one of purpose - a purpose beyond denominationalism.
Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been touring the nation and using social and traditional media outlets to emphasize the need for prayer among Baptists and all evangelicals in our nation. At the outset, a pastor emphasizing prayer sounds uneventful or, honestly, not impactful. The sad reality is that when a SBC meeting adjusts its schedule and shifts traditional sermons, business and other events to open up a prime, evening session for prayer it becomes newsworthy.
More Than a Meeting About Same-Sex Marriage
The Pastors Conference began on Sunday evening and with winsome truth presented by pastors throughout Sunday and Monday, the Spirit of God was challenging messengers (this is the Baptist term for those from local churches who have been elected by their churches to represent them at this gathering) in ways that was needed and still needed so that we may lovingly engage a culture with the hope of the Gospel without fear or hatred.
The news reports have been focused on Dr. Floyd's message on Tuesday morning where statements regarding the nation's proclivity of endorsing and promoting same-sex unions were addressed. For the average reader of the news, one would think that all Southern Baptists do is talk about LGBT people in our families and cities. While these issues must be addressed, this was not the "Anti-Gay SBC Meeting" so many have stated it to be. To be clear, there has been no waffling on the biblical truths and the religious liberties and pending Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has been discussed in numerous venues throughout the week.
However, what is often not reported are the bigger stories and foundational Gospel elements that our family came together around. What has not been reported is the movement of the Spirit of God in a moment of declared repentance and reconciliation.
Some Notable Moments in This Year's SBC Family Gathering
These are moments that I deem as powerful and focus oriented. To be honest, some were moments where God may have spoken more clearly to me than others simply due to my personal journey of faith and the chapter of life where I nowreside.
Authentic unity among our mission boards - For years, our two mission boards (International & North American) have done great work, but have never truly worked strategically together. One of the first noticeable moments of unity was when I went into the Exhibit Hall and saw both IMB and NAMB exhibit booths next to each other, decorated similarly, one giving away coffee mugs and the other giving away samples of coffee, while missionaries from both agencies wore similar shirts. Now, that may seem superficial to some, but it's a message that was heart loud and clear. Throughout the week as Drs. David Platt & Kevin Ezell spoke to groups together, their camaraderie was apparent and the reality became even more clear - these guys are working together. For those outside the SBC family, this doesn't mean much, but for the family members, this is HUGE. . .and wonderful.
Powerful Sermons - I did not hear every sermon presented this weekend at the Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, but I did hear most. These godly men have obviously prayed for weeks in preparation for their moment to present the Word. None took it lightly. No sermon was bad (in the sense one can grade a sermon) and all were valuable. Of those that "rang the bell" for me regarding challenge and conviction, I must say that my brother from Jacksonville, H.B. Charles, Jr., Dr. Russell Moore and Pastor J.D. Greear's messages resonated loudly.
James MacDonald & Harvest Bible Chapel are now Southern Baptist - There was rumor that James would make an announcement during his sermon on Monday night. I told a friend "He's joining the SBC." Now, I had no idea and do not know James personally, but when he made his announcement, it looked like I was in the know. Ha. Nevertheless, this is a big story. Now, there are some who are not fond of James and Harvest and may not be happy they are now part of the family, but then again, there are Baptist churches who have been in the fold for decades that others aren't too fond of either, so that's irrelevant. What this does show is that a significant church leader in our nation with influence among many churches has stated that the mission and the doctrine of the SBC is valuable and viable and he wants to be a part. So. . . just like that, we now have a new church in the Chicago area (with others throughout the land in the network.) I'm not sure we count that as a new church plant, though Kevin Ezell may try to do so (That's a joke for those who struggle with written sarcasm.)
Send Network Luncheon - Over 2,000 people gathered to eat a soggy sandwich and some powerfully powdered BBQ chips at the Send Network Luncheon. This was a huge gathering and yet, it was basically a large crowd seated in a room watching Platt and Ezell talk about reaching the world for the Gospel, and to enjoy seeing Platt squirm when Ezell asked loaded questions and told jokes on his behalf in front of the crowd. It became clear that Platt and Ezell would make a great touring comedy duo, with Platt playing the straight man and Ezell telling the jokes. (BTW - the use of the term "straight man" is a comedy term that has no connection to the current LGBT discussion that many think Baptists cannot stop talking about.)
The Cooperative Program Stage - In the Exhibit Hall, there's a small stage set up between the IMB and NAMB booths. This is the Executive Board's CP Stage where interesting interviews and frank discussions about polity, future and mission take place. Hosted by different denominational leaders throughout the day, these discussions are worthy of a small stand-up audience.
Free Stuff - Numerous booths throughout the Exhibit Hall offering pens, T-shirts, books, coffee mugs, and candy means pastors become little kids for a couple of days, holding out their free Guidestone bags and basically "Trick or Treating" from booth to booth. Keep up the free books and coffee mugs. These are a pastor's favorite things.
Not Your Traditional SBC - I was impressed and encouraged by the attendance this year, especially in a city that requires most messengers to fly to in order to attend. The racial and generational diversity evident in the room was exciting to see. Ted Traylor told us to wear blue jeans on Tuesday and Russell Moore said we need more tattoos in the SBC. Maybe those were shocking statements, but it's hard to imagine hearing that from the stage a decade or two ago.
The Two Most Impactful Moments
The Prayer Gathering
Tuesday night's prayer gathering was promoted well. Yet, to be honest, I went in like many of my friends (who were honest with me) expecting . . . well, little. Yes, I confess this sin of low expectation. I confess that I was tired and wondered if it would be worth me staying for this event. . . for I sometimes bristle at "Christian events" that seem to exist just for the sake of being an event.
I knew I needed to do so.
The prayer meeting began and we sang. I would say worship began, but that doesn't necessarily begin just because music starts. Worship did begin shortly after I joined in with the singing. I asked God to speak to me, one of thousands in a room that was much more full than I anticipated (again, I repent of my sin of low expectations.)
One by one, prayers were offered. We followed Dr. Floyd's lead, but it was clear that Dr. Floyd wasn't really the one leading this. God had entered the fray and had taken control.
I prayed with a group sitting near me. I had never met them before, but I believe, as I told them, that God had placed us near each other in the room so that we could unite in prayer.
We prayed with and affirmed the prayers of brothers and sisters around us and on the stage. Prayers of confession were voiced. Prayers of repentance were offered. Prayers of reconciliation between the races were stated - this was more than a resolution. Prayers of pleading - asking for healing of our families, for our children, for our nation, for our culture, etc. were placed before God. Prayers for our leaders, for President Obama (YES! Baptists prayed for the President. We asked forgiveness for not doing so and for ignoring the biblical mandate.)
We prayed as we sang.
And we believe.
We believe that prayer works and that God hears our prayers.
We contemplated the reality of the "If. . . then" prayers and realized that God may not doing the "then" portions because we have not been obedient in the "if" portions.
Was this just a meeting? Well, it could be for some, but that's their choice. I believe this is not the end-game, but the beginning.
The Missionary Commissioning Service
Together, IMB and NAMB, under the direction of Dr. Ezell and Dr. Platt, respectively, led out in a commissioning service for missionaries and churches (yes - the local churches) who have said "Yes! We will go!"
I was sitting alone in the crowd, but with family as the stories of individuals and couples were shared. Details on the lostness of our world were presented. I was challenged by the strong word given by Dr. Platt regarding the reasons we must be sent and be sending.
I was brought to tears as I thought of the stories before me. Missionaries pictured on the screen were sitting in the crowd. When their names and photographs appeared on the screen, they stood up, holding a Lumio book lamp in their hands, and it became clear - these people are doing the hard things and doing so because they must.
They are the light of the world taking the Light of the world into the darkness and we are sending them. Therefore, we are going with them.
It was powerful. It was amazing. This was more than a simple prayer and a passport.
At the close, under the direction of Dr. Platt, we were challenged to celebrate these who say "YES" more loudly than we cheer for our favorite football team. How can we cheer louder for those who play a game that doesn't matte for eternity than for the God who is sending out his ambassadors into the darkness for a task that holds eternity in the balance?
Why Come To These Gatherings?
In the past, people would come to the SBC Annual Meeting to watch or be a part of the latest argument or fight. There are some pretty nasty chapters in our story. Yet, today, even with disagreement from some we find ourselves as Stetzer stated on Monday, experiencing more peace in the family than in recent years.
This is significant, especially in a culture that will continue to marginalize and maybe even criminalize some of the biblical and moral stances we must take.
We are a family (crazy uncle and all) and God has seen fit, in His grace, to let us in on His great story.
That's why I come. This is my family and our Father has much for us.
Last week, our church family gathered to grieve the loss of one of our own. Nick, a member of our family since the mid 1980s along with his wife and children, died suddenly on Memorial Day while in Tennessee spending the holiday weekend with his son, Jon.
I have known Nick and his wife Diana, daughter Shanna and son Jon since my first day serving on staff at First Orange Park over twenty-one years ago. It's funny, but during the interview process prior to my calling here, I was sent a photo directory of the church (dated, as all of them are) and looked through the photos of people I did not yet know, but knew I would soon become my family. For some reason, I stopped at Nick's family photo. I knew, somehow, that this family, and especially their son Jon, who would be in my youth ministry, would become dear friends.
Jon Garrett & Nick Garrett (L-R)
When I met Jon, he was in junior high school. He was a typical junior boy and by his own admission, was a challenge. Yet, there has always been a kinship between him and me. There were times we would play basketball together (he never beat me. . .at least that's how I remember it) and talk deeply about matters of life. There were moments he made me angry and I know there was a season he wasn't too fond of me either. We look back now and see how God used all those moments to deepen a friendship and mentorship that has lasted years.
He's an adult now. I'm a little older, too (a lot grey-er) and hopefully wiser.
When I hear of Nick's passing, I reached out to Jon immediately. I knew he was hurting and while I offered words of comfort and clarity, I knew he just needed to know others cared and that he would get through this. The same is true for his sister Shanna and of course, his mother and Nick's widow, Diana.
Each person grieves differently. Relationships are unique and yet, each is beautiful and vital.
After meeting with the family in planning the memorial service for Nick, Jon shared that he would like the opportunity to address the people in attendance. This is something that occurs often at services like this, but as always, I asked Jon to write it out, for his own sake and to provide a "safety net" in case he found he could not speak. In that case, I could read his words for him.
At the appropriate time, I invited Jon to the stage to share. It is hard to convey the emotion and even the moments of humor in written form, but I provide Jon's tribute to and words about his father here. His vulnerability and honesty are incredible.
We come here today to celebrate the life of Nick Lee Garrett. I want to thank the family, co-workers, friends, and church family for coming today on behalf of my mom and sister. Nick Garrett was a husband, a grandfather, a brother, uncle, colleague, friend, brother-in-Christ, and to my sister and I, he was dad. I want to talk to you a little bit today about my Dad, whom I called "Pop" or "Pops." I want to share some memories with you and talk with you a little bit about who he was for me.
My Dad was born on March 23, 1951 to Elzie & Alice Garrett. He was the second to youngest of five children. I met my Dad almost 36 years ago when I entered the world. Like many little boys, I looked to my dad as a hero figure. I have very few memories of Kentucky, as we moved to Florida when I was five, but I do remember the church we attended. My dad was the sound man and I remember him making me sit in the sound booth with him and during a Sunday night service he let me watch "Empire Strikes Back" on the TV in the sound booth because it kept me quiet. I remember walking around with a smile on my face as people in the church called me "Little Nick" because I was frequently with my dad. A little boy looks up to his father in the role of hero. He is a knight with a shining coat of armor ready to battle the dragons to keep you safe.
We moved to Orange Park when I was five. So much of my childhood is like a blur to me. I have memories of my Dad taking me to work with him on days when I didn’t have school or had a break from school. I remember getting up early in the morning and riding to Lane Avenue and helping my dad load his truck when he delivered uniforms. I don’t know how much help I was, as I usually was found asleep on the rugs that would soon be on the floors of banks, and other businesses around Jacksonville. I remember that these companies would put their old dirty uniforms in a bin and dad and I would go through the pockets of the uniforms before we loaded them up in laundry bags and sometimes he would find money. It’s funny because I can remember sometimes seeing my dad find money and put in back in the pocket and throw it over into my pile. He would yell “Make sure you check those pockets” and then when I would find the money he would make a big stink about it like he should’ve checked it and how he worked hard and I didn’t. I would offer the money to him but he would tell me he didn’t want my money but then he would make me buy lunch.
I could tell you how on one of those work day adventures my dad saved my life. My dad’s truck was very similar to a UPS truck. It only had one seat and no A/C so I used to ride on front on the tire well and hold on to a pole that came down from the ceiling. We rode with the door open to get more air flowing. One day we were driving and a car pulled directly in front of us. My dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward. I will never forget it. Everything slowed down. I remember seeing the dashboard coming towards me and I remember seeing my dad's eyes. I hit the dashboard, splitting my head open, and started rolling out of the truck to the asphalt. I remember seeing the road coming towards my face and seeing the front bumper of the car cruising down the right lane and then I felt the strong hand of my Dad pulling me back into the truck. He caught me. If he hadn’t, I imagine I would not be here to tell you this story. He fought the dragon and his armor held strong that day.
He allowed me to play sports like baseball and basketball. He allowed me to know the joys of being a Boy Scout and volunteered to help with my Scout Troop. He raised me in church and made sure that God’s Word was something that I was exposed to from the beginning.
As I moved into my teenage years, rebellion built in me. I began to see that my dad's armor had holes in it. Flaws. His weight became an embarrassment to me. As a teenager you know more than your parent, it seems. I focused on the flaws in my dad's armor and that focus remained for years. Even throughout that time, which looking back had to be painful for him, my dad tried to be there for me. I can remember him sneaking in the back of the youth building to watch me play basketball on Wednesday nights after our service. I remember him making sure I was able to go to summer camps (when I wasn’t in Summer School.) He worked a lot, sometimes working two jobs. In my teenage years it became very apparent that my family didn’t have the money that other kids had. Their name brand gear and cars pointed that out, and I resented that and grew envious of others.
I will never forget the day that I came back to Florida to collect my things as I was moving to Tennessee. My dad decided he would go with me to help me move. We were going to split driving but I slept practically the whole way. We get to Tennessee and arrive at my newly acquired townhouse. I remember my dad helping me move things in and we ordered Papa John's Pizza. I was trying to get my new TV to work and it seemed to be broken. I pressed the power button on the remote…nothing. I made sure it was plugged in. I pressed the power button on the TV…nothing. I was so frustrated. My dad starts laughing and says, “Flip the light switch, genius.” Yeah, it was a powered outlet. He thought that was so funny. Then, because all of my dishes came from a thrift store, he loaded up my dishwasher, and proceeded to flood the bottom floor of my townhouse. I said "Have you ever used a dishwasher, genius?" We had a great laugh together.
Throughout my adult years I only got to see my dad about two or three times a year. He saw me become a father and he was an awesome grandpa. He and my mom gave my daughter her first bedroom suit. He was so excited to surprise her with it. He was an awesome grandpa to her and my nephew James. Always loving and giving. It was during this time for me, as a husband and father that I discovered that my armor was flawed as well. It began a process of discovery that continued until Memorial Day of this year.
See, my Dad tried so hard, especially in the last couple of years, to be there for me. As I went through a very difficult time in my life my dad let me know he loved me, was praying for me, that God loved me, and that he was there if I needed him. He signed up for Facebook just to be able to follow the lives of his children and would often message me. I will never forget the day he called and talked with me at work in April of this year and listened to me vent about a situation I was experiencing. He told me he was proud of me for the way I handled it and he really listened to me. After we get off the phone I messaged him to tell him thank you and he messaged back 3 words that I will always have. “I love you.” That was huge for my dad, but had become more frequent in the last couple of years.
Our last weekend together was great. He was so excited to spend time with me and my daughter. He rented a house in the mountains, my favorite place, that had a movie theater in the basement. He did that just for me and was so excited. His original plan was to keep it secret but my dad was never really good at keeping things a secret when he was excited. It was a great weekend. We watched several movies together down there. He made me breakfast every morning. He was always thinking about how to serve us and give to us. He liked to see us happy. And hugging him, telling him thank you and I appreciate what you did, and I love you was the last time I would talk with him….in this life.
See I have another memory of my dad. A memory as a teenager when my dad and I went for a walk around the block. It was the memory of a question that I asked my dad. “Dad, are you a Christian.” His answer, “Yes. I am.” I remember asking him how he knew and he shared his affirmation that with me.
I spoke about my dad’s armor. I shared with you the path of seeing him as a perfect hero, and then noticing his armor had flaws. It’s in those flaws where we often lose vision. But as I grew older and saw the flaws in my own armor, and as I drove back to the mountains knowing that my Dad had left this earth, God gave me a few things.
My armor has flaws. And if you are a dad, your armor has flaws. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
My dad never gave up the fight. He knew what commitment and covenant was. He was married to my mom for 44 years. He showed me loyalty, commitment, hard work, generosity. He was the type of guy who gave to children and worked on holidays so people with kids wouldn’t have to work. He did the best he could with what he knew and he fought the fight.
I know my dad was proud of me. I know my dad loved me. I know my dad knew I loved him. I am blessed to not have to live with regrets.
When my dad left this earth, he stepped into glory, and he heard “Well done my good and faithful servant” and he finally received his perfect suit of armor.
God bless you.
The father blesses the son. It's his role. This father blessed his son and as is evidenced in this tribute, a legacy of faith, clarity and love has been left.
Jon's words evoked emotion in me and in many others during this service. You see, many in the audience have known Jon for decades. He is greatly loved as part of our family here at First. Yet, as he revealed so honestly in his words, he stepped into rebellion as a young man. Now, still on his journey of faith, it is clear that God has redeemed him and that God used his father, Nick, as a model for him. Jon is blessed and is a blessing. Nick did enter the presence of the Father and I too believe he heard, "Well done."
I'm so proud of Jon, not just for the tribute he shared, but for the man he has become. I know his father, Nick was as well. I believe his Heavenly Father is too.
And this is why Solomon said that it's good to go to funerals every now and then. . .
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)