MOVIE REVIEW: "War Room" by the Kendrick Brothers (Coming August 2015)

Last night, my wife and I previewed the new Kendrick Brothers' film "War Room." The Kendricks are the men who brought "Flywheel", "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Courageous" to theaters and have found great success in placing Gospel-centric stories on film in an engaging and challenging way. 

They also have discovered how to make Christ-centered movies that I'm not embarrassed to invite non-Christians to view. The production quality and the acting has increased with each film.

I have been seeing teasers and the trailer for "War Room" for weeks and, to be honest, I was not drawn to this story initially as I was to the previous three films. Maybe it is due to the fact that there were no firetrucks, police cars, guns, or even football games presented in the story. Yes, that's a stereotypical male response, but this is my blog, so I figured I'd be honest.

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The "Pastors' Preview" was held in Jacksonville on Tuesday and the theater was full. Each of us received our "gift bag" with promotional items and a survey card for the distributors. 

Trailers of two other faith-based films were shown. These look really good as well ("Woodlawn" coming in October 2015 & "Risen" coming in January 2016). Then, the new film then began.

Images of the Vietnam War filled the screen. It appears the partnership with Sony and Tri-Star provides some quality footage for the filmmakers. Narrated by Miss Clara initially (a major character who leads by example as a true "prayer warrior") we see the story of family, joy and heartache revealed. The "War Room" motif is connected to the room where Miss Clara's deceased husband served during the war in planning next steps against a powerful enemy.

Flash forward to present day and Miss Clara is a senior adult seeking to sell her home so that she can move in with her son. Welcome newcomer to film, but not to the Christian audience viewing (especially the women) Priscilla Shirer. Shirer plays the main character in this film. She is a real estate agent in a troubled marriage. However, this is different than the marriage story presented in "Fireproof." Kudos to the Kendricks for touching on a powerful subject, but not just rehashing the same story but with an African-American couple rather than Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea.

The main characters' troubles leave me and every other pastor in the room thinking "Yep, I know a couple just like that." It's not stereotypical type-casting. It is more a revelation of the real world and real battles that our friends, family and church members face.

Don't Worry - No Spoilers Here

I am not going to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. However, I do wish to say that as the story unfolded, I was moved. I know it's just a movie, but God works through story and often a story played out on the screen allows for some very hard truths to be revealed in one's heart. This is true for me, at least. In the area of prayer and forgiveness, I was confronted with conviction, not by the Kendricks, but by God. It's amazing how he uses story.

This film is focused on prayer. That is no secret. That's the "War Room" that Miss Clara has in her old home. A closet where she goes to pray and do battle. It's a literal interpretation of the Scripture.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (ESV)

Miss Clara affirms that a physical closet is not the point, but a quiet, intentional place for prayer is.

The story in the film unfolds. God does amazing things. I'm glad that not all problems are solved, but the sense of the sovereignty of God and the love and grace he bestows upon his children is clear.

The message is obvious - PRAYER WORKS!

Prayer for family members, loved ones, circumstances, situations, relationships, etc. are all valid. I'm reminded of the reality God has shared with me over the past year. . .

Prayer is our active weapon against the enemy. As long as it remains our passive response when we feel all else has failed, we will continue to feel and live defeated. . .and we don't have to.

I left the theater thinking how amazing God is in bringing the message of prayer through this film at a time when I have been discerning His voice regarding the church and our often weak, passive prayer strategies. Also, the personal conviction that my prayers have been less than adequate for a man seeking the face of God and leading others to be "battle ready."

One of my favorite scenes is the one embedded below. . .

 

As a church, we will likely purchase all the tickets for our local theater during opening weekend again, as we have done with "Courageous" and other films like "October Baby." Yet, this outing is less a night of entertainment and more of a resounding call to pray like we mean it.

Prayer is not a manipulation of God to get Him to do what we desire. Rather, it is our humble admission of His sovereignty over all and our invitation into intimacy with the Father.

Final Words About the Film

Just some closing, random thoughts. . .

  • Priscilla Shirer is excellent in this role. This was her first film role and she did wonderfully. Very convincing (though now all her friends will be talking about her feet - explained in the movie.)
  • T.C. Stallings is perfectly cast. The man is strong and it's good to see him reformed from his time as a gangsta in "Courageous." He can act, but man can he Double-Dutch jump rope, too.
  • The other members of the cast did well. At no time was there a cringe-worthy moment of poor acting.
  • Beth Moore is in this film, not for long, but she's in this. With her and Priscilla, the Kendricks have just locked in to a target audience of every woman in Southern Baptist churches who have done a LifeWay Bible Study.
  • When you see the film, check out the digital clock in the bedroom. It's no accident that the time on the screen is 7:14. (Check 2 Chronicles to know what I mean.)
  • There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the film that hearken back to the previous four Kendrick films. Actors you recognize reappear. The car dealership from "Flywheel" is once again referenced, subtly. Oh, and check out the name of the Paramedic Company on Michael Jr.'s EMT shirt.
  • Plan to view this on opening weekend. Don't wait for the DVD or for Netflix to have it.
  • We'll have tickets available at First Baptist Church of Orange Park, if you live in the Jacksonville area.

What Do You Do With Mother's Day?

It seems like a strange question.

I'm part of a generation of American Christians who "grew up in church." That means that our family never debated whether to attend church on Sunday morning. I did not know that not attending was even an option. At least it wasn't in our home. I had the requisite "Sunday clothes and shoes" set aside for each weekend. Sunday School started at "Baptist Standard Time" of 9:45am and morning worship was 11:00am. Lunch was often roast, potatoes and carrots at home, that had been cooking all morning in the slow cooker. There was a season when Wendy's opened in our town that Sunday lunch shifted from the home to Dave Thomas' restaurant. We were creatures of habit.

On Sunday evening, we went back to church for "Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training" (the name of this smaller version of Sunday School changed throughout the years) and then evening worship. After church, we would often go to a local restaurant for ice cream. I seem to remember getting a "Jim Dandy" at Friendly's often.

Wednesdays were typical as well with mission groups (G.A.s and R.A.s) and prayer meeting for adults.

Every week was the same. 

Until it was a holiday week. Oh, services were never cancelled. We would meet, but there were special events taking place depending on the Sunday.

I remember having special Easter programs (even egg hunts. . .which causes some of you to shudder, I know,) Christmas programs, even patriotic events near the Fourth of July. However, it was Mother's Day that always had a special emphasis, regardless of the church we attended at the time (Dad was in the Air Force, so we were members of various, very similar churches in different states throughout my childhood.)

I remember people wearing flowers on Mother's Day. Men would most often be in suits and would have flowers on their lapels. Women would wear corsages. These flowers were color-coded based on the individual's mother. If the mother was still living, the flower was red or pink. If the mother was deceased, the flower was white.

Some still observe this on Mother's Day.

The Most Awkward Mother's Day Tradition in Church

We always had a special Mother's Day recognition. As a kid, I thought it was interesting. It seemed like a game. There would be winners and they would receive a prize. It began with identifying the youngest mom in the room. The pastor would inevitably say something like "If you're 30 years old or under and a mom, please stand." Then, he would begin to go down until there was just one standing. The awkwardness became real when the teen mom who was just trying to get through school without drawing too much attention to herself was standing alone in a crowd. 

Then, there was the identification of the mother with the most children. This prize would go to the church's version of Mrs. Duggar, though I don't remember ever having a mom in the congregation with 19 kids. 

There were others awards given, but the highlight was the oldest mother. I remember there was always a lady in the church that probably went to high school with Moses. She would win this one every year. If there were ever any other contenders, it always seemed that Grandma Moses would get upset. She really wanted the prize. What's funny is that regardless the church we were attending, there was always a "Grandma Moses" type matriarch in the congregation. I was always hoping she would win.

Over the years, these types of recognitions have gone by the wayside, for good reason.

Some churches have even stopped doing anything special for Mother's Day at all.

I must confess, I struggle with what to do with Mother's Day on Sunday morning. 

In the past, we have had recognitions, parent-child dedications, "Muffins for Moms," special gifts for all mothers, and a host of other activities and events.

This year, we mentioned the day, but did no special emphases.

I'm not sure either extreme is good. In fact, I'm confident neither extreme is appropriate.

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The Challenge of Mother's Day Recognitions

To emphasize Mother's Day too much leads to concern that worship of God has been ignored. 

To ignore the mothers in the room leads to hurt feelings and presents something that is far from truth -  that the church is uncaring and does not value the God-given role of the mother in the family unit.

In recent years, there have been numerous articles and postings written about how painful Mother's Day is for a significant population in our churches - women who are unable to bear children and have no adopted children in the home. 

Dr. Russell Moore has written about this in an article that is reposted every year or so at this time:

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows. (Click here for Dr. Moore's full post.)

While some dogmatically proclaim that Mother's Day and other man-made holidays or "Hallmark Card holidays" as I've heard them called, should be ignored by the church, I do not agree. There were numerous posts on social media this year about the Mother's Day creator's desire to end the holiday due to commercialization.  This was a news nugget from the last century recycled due to the wonder of social media. I believe the postings were subtle ways to proclaim that the day should not be observed in church, or at all. Nonetheless, that is not my belief.

In all candor, I am not pleased with how I have led our church to celebrate moms on this day while honoring God alone, so I continue to seek God's lead. 

God Alone Is To Worshipped

We are committed to never allow anything or anyone take the place of God in our focus of worship. That is non-negotiable. Yet, there are ways to acknowledge God's goodness and grace in the lives of women within the church who wear the title "Mom."

And. . .there is a way to have recognition without hurting those who have struggled with having children, or may have been through a very difficult storm of life regarding their children.

I am impressed with Amy Young's thoughts on this subject:

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Amy goes on to share ideas of how to celebrate the "wide spectrum of mothering" on this day within the church fellowship:

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
  • This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you (You can read Amy's full blog post here.)

Pastors - What Do You Think?

Pastors, what are your thoughts? How do you celebrate or not celebrate Mother's Day. What are your reasonings? Comments below appreciated.
 

Ladies - What Do You Think?

Friends (who are not pastors) what are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from some moms and from women who are not moms. Your perspectives carry much weight.
 
BTW - we will not be having the youngest, oldest, most fertile moms stand up to receive awards. That's way too awkward. Not going back there.

How Must the Church Respond to Transgendered Children & Their Parents?

Recently, NBC Nightly News has run a series of "Stories" highlighting the challenges facing parents raising transgendered children. NBC's National Correspondent Kate Snow is getting much attention online and through social media due to this series of stories.

This is a subject that I have found to be growing in our cultural dialogue, but often absent regarding the church - unless the church is the subject of such dialogue and couched in negativity.

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Is our church facing the challenge of ministering to those who self-identify as transgendered? Not overtly, but I am sure that over the years there have likely been attenders and maybe even members who have struggled internally with their gender identification. 

Before you get too far into this post (if you haven't already left) I will be upfront and honest about my beliefs regarding transgenderism. I DO NOT believe it is a viable lifestyle and therefore, I believe that God intentionally creates man and woman, in His image, for His glory, and on purpose. Therefore, my posting is slanted, based on my convictions. While some label this as "hating" I see it as choosing to believe the fullness of God's Word and trust Him as Creator and Father. This ultimately leads me to believe that gender is bestowed by God and in His plan, His image-bearers are created either with a masculine heart or feminine heart and those always match the physical gender assigned by Him.

As for those who are born into a classification now known as "intersex" I still believe that God is sovereign over gender and while I won't get into that discussion here, it should not be tabled by the church just due to discomfort.

I have watched the wonderfully produced short by NBC News featuring "Jacob." It is clear in the video that this is a family who deeply loves their child. The child is beautiful and winsome. This family seems to be an atypical American, middle-class family.

Some background. . .

Jacob is transgendered. This child is only five years old (maybe closer to six now) and the story of his identity has gone viral thanks to a letter written by his mother Mimi. The letter was published online and by The Boston Globe. It's a heart-felt, well-written, love-laced letter from a mother to her child. Comments online are overwhelmingly positive. Any stance against Mimi and her husband Joe's desire to transition their daughter (born as Mia) into their son (Jacob) based on their understanding of his desires, nature and gender is met with anger. I've embedded the video from NBC News below, without edit, so you may watch their story as they chose to present it.

 

As I watch this, I must say that the combination of moving music with the winsome words of the the parents works. This is a moving video and yet, there are some troubling things that come to my mind regarding the story.

  • "He's just like the funnest (sic) kid and a great buddy to have around. He was also born in a girl's body." Joe makes this statement. I do not question his love for his child and his authenticity here. I do, however, question the now common and culturally acceptable phraseology of "born in a girl's body" or the opposite if the genders are switched. This affirmation seems to be based on love (and again, I do not question Joe's love for his child) but in viewing this through a biblical worldview, this statement is actually an accusation to God that He made a mistake. God (and I believe He is real and does exist) must have messed up in the creation of this child. He meant to add a part or remove a part, but forgotSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27 (ESV) is a verse speaking of the initial creation of humanity. The veracity of this passage leads to understanding that creation is intentional and gender assignment is as well.
  • "Jacob is transgender." It's a statement of affirmation and declaration. Mom and dad have come to this conclusion after struggling with understanding their child. LGBT counseling affirms that this is viable and to not accept it and even affirm it is paramount to child abuse. Therefore, the declaration is made. I wonder what happens if/when Mia (Jacob) hits puberty and begins to discover that she is actually female, is not ashamed of it and even begins to want to be identified as such. I would hope her parents would affirm this as well. However, if this were to happen, "Jacob" could never be used as an example of transgender identity being natural and assigned at birth.
  • The changing of clothes 10-12 times a day is interesting, but does it really lead to a revelation of transgenderism? I understand the justification of describing this as a way for Mia to hide or discover her identity. Yet, I'm not certain that the clothes changing habit is gender specific or even identifiable by gender roles. This perhaps is just a child being a child?
  • Throughout the story there are indicators that Mia was making decisions that impacted everyone - the sweater being worn for six months, almost daily, the desire to have a "boy haircut," the ability as a two year old to express gender desires fully. As I watch, a thought continues to come to mind, and I don't desire this to sound mean-spirited, but when did two-year-olds get to make decisions that impact entire families? I'm not advocating the ignoring of one's children's desires or voice, but there are things that simply parents should decide and lead.
  • The parenting role is divinely given. It is powerful. Parents will fail (Lord knows I have many times) but we are accountable. Parents are to be the lead disciplers, discipliners, guides, nurturers and . . . parents. There are roles within the family and these must be filled. A family meeting where the members vote and majority rules may look good in a sit-com, but in real life, it leads to disaster. While I do not doubt that Mia's parents are great people and seek the very best for their child, I struggle with understanding this area of their strategy. Yes, I know, I'll be lambasted for "judging" someone else's parenting style. This is dangerous in that I don't feel I do this to the best of my ability anyway as a dad. Nevertheless, it was a question that continued to come to mind.
  • "What do you think about that boy? Do you think you might like to be like that? The question asked of Mia (Jacob) after viewing the story of another transgendered child from California, if asked this way, seems very leading. It almost seems as if the parents want their daughter to be transgendered. Maybe they do? Maybe they do not, but are settling for what they believe to be true? 

More questions arise as the story of transgendered men and women become more commonplace. The story of children struggling with the issue also trend regularly now. I grieve the loss along with parents and communities when young people see no way out of the internal struggle apart from taking their own lives. The suicide of Joshua (Leelah) Alcorn ripped apart a family and community and his story was exploited (a term used by the NY Post) by many wishing to use it for political or agenda gain.

How Will The Church Respond?

The church is left with questions.These are not questions regarding the sin or the veracity of scripture. . .at least they shouldn't be. The questions are regarding the way the church engages (without affirming sin) those who struggle with same sex attraction and gender identity. When a family attends the church with a transgendered son/daughter, the church must be prepared to respond. From my perspective, the only correct response is to love this family if they will allow it, but not to affirm the gender switching by allowing little biological boys who dress like girls to be in girls' classes and vice versa. Love is affirming that God is sovereign and like the little magnet that used to hang on my mother's refrigerator stated, "God don't make no junk." Therefore, his gender assignment (based on physical body parts and chromosomes) is good and perfect and not a mistake. This will lead to loving parents struggling to be the very best they can be for their children.

The LGBT issues are not going away and the church for years has allowed others to frame the conversation. Cultural affirmation does not change the Gospel's truth.

We must stand narrowly on the Gospel so that we may impact the world broadly for the sake of His Kingdom.


Standing On Dangerous Ground. . .Yeah, I'm Talking About Women's Ministry

First of all, regardless what some may have heard -

I believe that women's ministry is a viable and needed ministry in the local church. 

There, that's pretty clear.

Now, let's talk about the reality of what this facet of ministry should look like, while seeking to keep the default of "silo building" out of the story.

I have seen (as an observer, not as a participant) various forms of women's ministry start and die over the years in our local church. Every time a new version is birthed, there is excitement (at various levels) and good attendance at events, only to wither away over time as leadership changes, calendars get over-filled and structure adjusts.

DeathtoStock_Medium5And, of course, there's the perception (maybe a reality) that, as the Lead Pastor, I don't champion women's ministry as I should. I get that and own it. This is likely due to the fact that. . .I'm not a woman. Nevertheless, I do deem women's ministry as valuable for the spiritual well-being of the individuals and therefore, the families and the church as a whole.

Over the years, God has led me to develop a ministry for men called Battle Ready. In this we have weekend advances and other studies and activities. Most are grassroots efforts of small bands of brothers gathering for prayer, Bible study and the sharing of lives. Our Men's Minister keeps a tab on these groups and serves to lead and encourage them along the journey.

When it comes to women's ministries, we have had retreats (I've spoken at two,) small groups studies, nationally recognized authors and guest speakers, live simulcasts, and some incredible grassroots gatherings develop over the years. We still have these groups meeting and from what I'm hearing from some of the leaders, there are some amazing life-changing breakthroughs taking place.

These are worth celebrating!

Yet, there seems to still be a gap. It's likely due to not having that one director or point person over this ministry at this time. We have had ladies serve in this position in the past and they have fulfilled the role exceptionally well, but life happens and schedules change and callings from God get affirmed. 

That being said, we have a few ladies I know are being called to serve as the Leadership Team in this area, and we will soon be meeting to pray and seek God's lead in the "next steps."

The Changing Face of Women's Ministry

I continue to hear comments about what ladies desire in a women's ministry. Many are based on what they have experienced in the past. Some are based on a felt need that is very real based on life stage, family status or other external factor. A common thread is that women are seeking not to just gather for no reason. To that I say "Amen!"

Not too long ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a poignant article on ChurchLeaders.com titled "Why We Don't Need 'Women's Ministry'" and while I thought it was a declaration for not having a women's focus within the church at first, I soon realized that Sarah was just stating the need for a healthy, Christ-focused ministry as the need. Here's part of what she wrote. . .

The women of our world aren’t looking for a safe place to cry about housework and ooh-and-ahhh over centerpieces. We’re not all mothers, some of us work outside the home, some of us have kids, and others don’t or won’t or can’t. Is womanhood only about wifehood and motherhood? What about those among us that are not wives and mothers? We’re not all in the same season of life. We are – or should be – diverse image bearers of a Divine God.

We need Jesus. We are seeking deep spirituality. We are seeking fellow travelers. We are hungry for true community, a place to tell our stories and listen to another, to love well. But above all, point me to Jesus–not to the sale at the mall.

You know what I would have liked instead of decorating tips or a new recipe? I would have liked to pray together. I would have liked the women of the church to share their stories or wisdom with one another, no more celebrity speakers, please just hand the microphone to that lady over there that brought the apples. I would love to wrestle with some questions that don’t have a one-paragraph answer in your study guide. I would like to do a Bible study that does not have pink or flowers on the cover. I would have liked to sign up to bring a meal for our elderly or drop off some clothes for a new baby or be informed about issues in our city where we can make space for God. I would like to organize and prioritize, to rabble-rouse and disturb the peace of the rest of the world on behalf of justice, truth, beauty, and love. I’d love to hear the prophetic voice of women in our church.

Please, may we be the place to detox from the world – its values, its entertainment, its priorities, its focus on appearances and materialism and consumerism?

So here is my suggestion: Please stop treating women’s ministry like a Safe Club for the Little Ladies to Play Church.

We are smart. We are brave. We want to change the world. We run marathons to benefit our sisters, not so that we can lose weight. We have more to offer to the church than our mad decorating skills. I look around, and I can see that these women can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and even, yes, teaching. We want to give and serve and make a difference. We want to be challenged. We want to read books and talk politics, theology, and current events. We want to wrestle through our theology. We want to listen to each other. We want to worship, we want to intercede for our sisters and weep with those who weep, rejoice with those that rejoice, to create life and art and justice with intention.

It's an in-your-face statement about the state of many women's ministries, but based on the comments on her article and those shared with me personally, I think she's right.

Why We Need Women's Ministry

As our church (First OP) moves into a more strategic era of family discipling and ministry, the need for women's ministry is vital. The study groups are awesome and yet, we need more than the latest DVD series with the celebrity Christian speaker.

We cannot afford to ignore the realities of the spiritual war at hand. That's why we need women's ministry.

Let's move toward this end - with women's ministry, men's ministry, parenting, single adults, etc. - without silos, but strategically together working to be the Kingdom men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers we have been called to be.


"My Child Is Transgender" - The Enemy's Attack on Identity

With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher. 

However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.

A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.

I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23

We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,

Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22

It was a good morning.

My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.

Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”

IStock_000008338936SmallThe room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.

“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”

Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.

Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”

Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”

As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.

I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.” 


Gay Men & Soccer Moms: A Target Audience That Reveals Much About the Times

After finishing my post about the soon to be released Fifty Shades of Grey film, another film trailer hit the internet and has been making quite a splash. Now, my intent is not to have this blog become a movie review site, but as an observer of culture and one who attempts to keep up with the latest trends, it is quite disturbing how pornography and erotica are seen as acceptable and commonplace. While some would say that this is a sign of sexual freedom, in my opinion, it's a sign of cultural degradation.

I enjoy good movies and as a pastor have used clips and illustrations from popular films (legally) at times to help make points in my messages and talks. Believing that the message of the Gospel is written on the hearts of all humanity leads me to see the value of storying and the parallels in stories or movies that speak of battle and rescue and beauty and honor. Now, in most cases, the films I speak of are not written by believers in Christ. In many instances, these are just visible, moving images that tell a story that attempts to connect with an audience, ultimately for high ratings and profit.

I believe God is the Master Storyteller, the author of the Gospel and the hero in the story. That is why I believe that our Enemy seeks to pervert and destroy all that is good and holy and turn that which was meant for good into evil in an attempt to thwart the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of people.

Some of you are saying in your head right now, "Seriously? You're talking about movies. They're just movies." I know, I know, but foundational to all of life is a story that is deeper and more important than that which is projected onto a screen, streamed on Netflix or burned onto a DVD. 

Nevertheless, there is a trend that seems to be growing. It's not really new. There have been stories of violence, sexual perversion and erotica around for ages, even prior to the advent of the film industry. Yet, as each year goes by, it seems our culture is moving a little deeper within Sodom (referencing the story of Lot in Genesis - living outside Sodom, near Sodom and eventually inside the city.) 

Whether comedy, drama, action or romance, overt sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, etc.) has become little more than enticement for audiences who seek to justify what they view under the guise of freedom, art or just entertainment. 

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"Artistic" Pornography

Last year, Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was released and subsequently was being written about, reviewed, and had YouTube trailers shared by many. The film starred some notable actors and actresses (Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, and Connie Nielson, to name a few) and received reviews speaking of it's artistic integrity and depth.

"The film is an intellectual high-wire act, death-defying, dangerous, entertaining, and delighting in its own inventiveness and daring." - Roger Ebert

However artistic it may appear. . .regardless how well edited and developed the film may be. . .it is little more than blatant pornography with a story attached.

No, I have not seen the film. I don't intend to do so. I have seen the trailer. . .and had to stop it due to the imagery presented.

So, Fifty Shades of Grey is not surprising. Neither are other sexually-laced and expressive new films on the way. Boundaries have been moved and Sodom has become home for many in our culture it seems.

With the sexually inclusive society now set in place, Hollywood is now overtly marketing to sub-groups and sections of the populous that will guarantee a strong opening weekend for their films. This is not new. Pixar films have been targeted toward children and parents for years. American Sniper and other war movies have been pointedly marketed toward men. Romantic comedies have a female demographic in mind. Different people enjoy different stories.

Magic Mike XXL

The eye-opening trailer for the male stripper film sequel Magic Mike XXL is clearly focused on two groups in our culture - gay men and "soccer moms."

When the first Magic Mike was released, the theaters were filled. Many women (wives and mothers) had movie nights with their girlfriends and packed theaters to enjoy the Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaghey and Matt Bomer film. The target marketing worked as the film finished second on opening weekend.

The other target group was gay men. I heard one gay man in our community speak about watching the film with his friends (other gay men) and how much they enjoyed it. This was no anomaly. 

“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.” (New York Times - "Magic Mike" Is a Big Draw for Gay Men.)

Sex Sells

It's been the mantra of Madison Avenue for decades - "sex sells." The sexual revolution and free love movement of the 1960s was little more than "moving near the gates of the city." Now, we are fully inside.

The trailer for Magic Mike XXL has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online (well over 1 million if all versions are combined.) The reviews that laud the trailer as wonderful speak openly about the sexuality and openly stated double-entendres throughout. (I presume this allows an R or PG-13 rated trailer, to be viewable in all theaters.)

Even though these are sexually explicit (i.e. pornographic) films and are more common than we'd like to admit, we must realize that these stories are little more than perversions of holiness, morphed to confuse, trap and eventually aid the enemy to "steal, kill and destroy."

So What?

What's a Christian to do? 

The same we've been commissioned to do for centuries - live as salt and light, make disciples, love the unloveable and honor God.

Sexuality is holy. It is God designed and beautiful, when experienced within His guidelines. Those guidelines are clear in Scripture - heterosexual and within the covenant of biblical marriage only. 

Casual sex is only another term for casual sin.

Redeem the day. Don't be taken in.

Boycott theaters? That's NOT my recommendation. Most people view Christians, and especially Baptists, as people who are "against" everything anyway. Redemption shows what we are "for." 

Be for the Gospel.

Be for God's plan for marriage.

Be for God's plan for sexuality and relationships.

Be for God's plan for holiness.

Be for God.

He's for you.


Mainstreaming Porn: A Strategy That's Working, Unfortunately

The Book

The top selling book in 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey. No doubt you have heard of this multi-million seller, but in case you haven't, here's Amazon's description:

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
 
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

"Intended for mature audiences" is a subtle way to say "This is a really dirty book with a bunch of sex in it." Funny, I know some really mature people who would say this book is nothing more than mental porn.

Why do I bother writing a post about a book that I've never read? Some would say that must read it in order to give an honest account of the material. I guess that would be true if I were writing a review based on the character development, writing style or flow of the story. I am not. In those cases, the book may very well be good. I'm more concerned with what the runaway success of this and other books in the "erotica fiction" category say about our community and culture.

What truly baffles me is how women (the primary target audience of the book) who post their daily devotional thoughts, attend their weekly Beth Moore studies and serve in the body of Christians have simply added this book and others like it to their regular reading regimens. 

While it is no secret that pornography has a foothold in the lives of many men, evidenced by the vast number of websites dedicated to the subject, the best-selling status of erotica fiction reveals that women are not immune to this attack.

Tim Challies shared recently on his blog about the realities that Fifty Shades unveils about our culture. He lists them as. . .

  1. Erotica is in
  2. Sex isn't just for men
  3. Erotica is dangerous
  4. Erotica is among Christians
  5. Erotica wounds our walk
  6. Erotica harms us all
  7. Erotica shows we need Jesus

Click here for the link to Tim's full article.

The Movie

Why is Fifty Shades of Grey back in the news? Because on Valentine's Day the film will be released. This film will likely make millions and some are predicting it will push American Sniper out of the number one spot, which is likely since Sniper has been showing for weeks.

 

50-shades-of-grey-movie-trailer-screengrab-universal
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' (Universal/YouTube)

 

 

However, the pushback against this film is not just latest effort from Christians who like to boycott everything and preach about how much they hate everything. In this case, there is a heightened effort by groups such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) developing campaigns against this and other like films. They state this. . .

"Hollywood is advertising the Fifty Shades story as an erotic love affair, but it is really about sexual abuse and violence against women," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Hawkins noted that the public sees too much sexual abuse and violence against women in real life and urged Hollywood to take this into consideration when setting the entertainment agenda.

"The porn industry has poised men and women to receive the message that sexual violence is enjoyable. Fifty Shades models this porn message and Hollywood cashes the check," said Hawkins.

I know, I know, it's just a movie (or book) but the wise person will see it for its fullness.

As Michael Medved said years ago, and I paraphrase, "There are no accidental messages portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. There's too much money involved for unintentional messages to be prominent." That means that under the guise of entertainment and artistic creativity, the bottom line is the bottom line. This is about money and Hollywood knows "erotica sells." 

And, here's a reality as well. The fact that I'm even blogging about this often creates more interest than otherwise would be shown. You know the old adage - "There's no such thing as bad publicity." This happens all the time in the film industry. Just look at how trending the film The Interview was based on the North Korean threats, and from all accounts, it wasn't even a very good movie. . . but almost everyone was talking about it.

The Real Story

I'm not declaring the need for an organized boycott. I don't think there's value in Christians picketing movie theaters. I do think there is value and need for Christ-followers to be aware of how the Enemy attacks. We live in a culture that celebrates sex, as long as it's outside the bounds of biblical marriage. Even Christians struggle with overt justification of sin and fall into the lies of "It's just a movie, or book." It's much more. It's a window into a culture that has heard the lies for so long, they sound like truth.

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)


Guest Blogger Ashley Tarkington: "My Journey From PK to Child of God"

Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.

This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .

In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.

Staff - atarkAt the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.

Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?" 

I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."

It was a moment of panic for me.

One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.

But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore. 

I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.

I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.

I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.

This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?

Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was  so angry and upset. 

Why me?

Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?

Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?

My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.

This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.

Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.

I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him. 

It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me. 

I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.

So, here's my two minute "testimony":

I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.

I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.

I am saved. 

Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.

To tell others.

Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.

As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.

I want to go.


The Elimination of the Spiritual Leader in the Home

I had the honor of presiding over a wedding last Saturday. It was a beautiful setting on the river. A bit chilly, but otherwise, picture perfect. The bride and groom stood before me. I led them through their vows and the exchange of wedding rings. Everything was clearly stated and the vows were biblically-based and traditional. This was, of course, a Christian wedding.

Here are the vows most often used in weddings I preside:

TO THE GROOM: Do you take this woman to be your wife, promising to keep, love, and defend her and to be her faithful and true husband so long as you both shall live? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect her as Christ does the church, to be the spiritual leader in your home, to encourage and enable her to serve Christ in all ways and to help become all that Christ intends?

TO THE BRIDE: Do you take this man to be your husband, promising to adhere unalterably to him in all life’s changes, to be his loving and true wife until death divide you? And do you, in Christ’s name, promise to love, honor, and respect him with all that you are, to submit to him as the spiritual leader in your home, to be a help and an encourager in his life, enabling him to be all that Christ intends?

As you probably noted, the phrase "spiritual leader" is intentionally used in the vows. 

Being the "spiritual leader" in the home has caused quite a bit of confusion over the past decades. Some question the validity of the role, as well as the biblical authority of such. In some cases, abusive husbands (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) have wrongly done ungodly things under the banner of "submission" which ultimately leaves women and children confused, frustrated and hurt.

However, there are men who love the Lord and seek to lead their wives and family spiritually. God has called us as men to love our wives loved the church. This type of love is what a spritual leader offers his family. Kevin East, Executive Director of Family Matters gives some practical steps for leading one's wife spiritually. . .

  1. Pursue Christ.
  2. Fine out who has led your wife spiritually in the past.
  3. Honor her publicly.
  4. Sacrifice for her.
  5. Be eager to serve.
  6. Pray with her.

The full article is available here.

There are many more articles and helps designed for husbands who seek to live out the biblical model in the home as Christ intends. 

Yet, as I led the couple through their vows last Saturday, it hit me that our culture, with the continued shift and de-emphasis on the God-designed biblical marriage model is also forsaking this role of spiritual leadership in the home.

With godless weddings leading to humanistic marriages, self reigns supreme and God-focused spirituality is abandoned. The image of marriage as an picture of Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (the bride) is lost.

Gay-marriage-cakeThis is most obviously evident as the continued propitiation and acceptance of same-sex marriages sweeps across the land. If the spiritual headship role is gender-exclusive, the question about spiritual headship is unanswerable when a woman marries another woman. The same is true when a man marries a man. 

When gender roles are redefined to fit cultural norms God's design is forsaken and ultimately we miss the fullness of the gospel.

I realize that on the surface, this sounds like a very sexist statement. Some may shoot back with "Are you saying women cannot be leaders?" The answer to that is NO. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just focusing in on one area where headship in the home is defined. 

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. Ephesians 5:22-23 (ESV)

I fully acknowledge that some have soiled the term "submit" to such a degree that many women (and men, too) cringe at the thought. Yet, in its purity, the term is one that describes a loving, intimate relatinoship, as Christ and His church experience. 

Christina Fox, one of the authors of the free eBook Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood (available here) states this regarding biblical submission. . .

"Submission," she says, "is not about forced control."

"When a man leads his wife, he is leading her to depend on Christ, not on himself," she explains. "The kind of leadership a husband provides his wife is to encourage her growth in grace and prepare her to be a co-heir in the coming kingdom."

Also, submission is not about belittlement, inferiority or worthlessness, she adds.

"Scripture teaches that we are to 'encourage one another and build each other up' (1 Thessalonians 5:11)."

Fox borrows John Piper's definition to describe what submission is – "the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It's the disposition to follow a husband's authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership."

To illustrate this further, Fox points to the apostle Paul who shows that the purpose of marriage is to reflect the Gospel.

"A husband's call to lead and a wife's call to submit is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church," the Florida mother of two writes. "The unique roles that men and women have in marriage serve as a living message of the gospel."

She continues, "As a wife yields to her husband's leadership in their marriage, she reflects the heart of faith that characterizes Jesus's people. The church follows Jesus as her head and uses her gifts to carry out his mission in this world. Likewise, the wife respects and yields to her husband's leadership as she uses her gifts to complement his good purposes for their marriage and family."

The only way for biblical submission to play out correctly is when the married couple relies on the gospel, Fox says.

"It is only through the power of Jesus and his gospel at work in our lives that the beauty of submission can blossom in our marriages," she writes.

File0001318670759As the culture wars rage on and marriage is redefined and determined by court decisions and lack of decisions, the church must stand firm on the Word of God. This is easily said, but the church's history regarding the fidelity of marriage is not unmarred. One of the reasons the church suffers when speaking out against same-sex marriage is that many Christ-followers have viewed marriage as little more than a contract rather than a covenant relationship. This has been evidenced by the increased level of cohabitation and high divorce rate from those who claim to be followers of Christ.

I have heard some declare that "we need a revival in our land." 

I don't think so. You cannot revive that which has always been dead.

We do need a revival in our churches and it begins with a revival in our homes. We need Christian husbands to step up and be spiritual leaders. We need Christian wives to live out biblical (not cultural) submission. We need revival in our Christian marriages. Until the church as a whole gives intentional focus on the health of biblical marriages (which must be more than hosting weddings in a church facility) we will continue to suffer a spiritual leadership vacuum and settle for mediocrity in an area that requires excellence.

 


Providing Parents the Tools Needed In This Ever-Changing Culture

Years ago, as I met with a new student pastor who was struggling to grow a healthy ministry, I shared something that took me a few years to figure out. It wasn't that others hadn't already been doing this. It was more that I was young and thought a strong student ministry was determined by how many students arrived at mid-week worship and events. 

A wise student ministry professor had told me years prior (and I guess I didn't listen too well, at first) that a healthy student ministry is built upon a strong ministry with parents of students.

This frightens many new, young, student pastors. In many cases, these pastors do not have children and since many are young themselves, they are closer in age to the students in their ministry than to the parents of their students. Therefore, a sense of fear and lack of expertise often leaves parents feeling as if they're on the outside.

Consequently, many student ministries end up being built on the personality of the leader and parents are unintentionally led to "outsource" disciple-making to pastors, small group leaders and others in the church.

As First Orange Park, the church I am honored to pastor, enters into 2015 soon, we are excited about the changes on the horizon and the steps to be taken that will result in what we believe will be a healthy church with healthy families and all (preschoolers, children, students, young adults, married adults, single adults and senior adults) actively serving in a framework that honors God and provides natural growth and opportunities for parents to be the primary disciple-makers in their homes.

THE NEED FOR PARENT MINISTRY

Ministering with parents of children and teenagers is essential. As many of our senior adults can attest, there is no manual for culture changes and parenting helps presented when a baby is born. Biblical principles are present, and vital, but often the church has been ineffective in giving moms and dads (and grandparents, foster parents, uncles, aunts, etc.) handles to hold as they embark and live out the journey of parenting.

As one aspect of our new family emphasis, we (our ministry leaders) are making available to parents of preschoolers, children (K - Grade 6) and students (Grades 7-12*) resources that are practical, helpful and needed through ParentMinistry.net.

The ROPE - Rites of Passage Experiences are vital in the life of a child. 

So, whether you have a child or grandchild or a young person in your family in need of these helps, we are proud to be your encouragers along the way.

We're putting the "Magic Button" on our website soon, but in the meantime, click here or the image below to view resources that can get you started.

The "Magic Button" leads to information for parents of teenagers. Other resources will become available soon.

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Our strategic framework for family discipleship will lead all areas of ministry within First Baptist to change over the next few years. This is a needed step and we believe God is leading clearly in this direction to be biblically sound in our discipling strategy. BTW - the resources are just the beginning. More info to come.

*6th Grade is actually in the "Youth" section of ParentMinistry.net, though at First, as in our community's schools, 6th Grade is in our Children's Ministry.