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Posts from September 2011

Can You Believe What These School Employees Did?

The stories continue to pop up every year or so. It seems that teachers, principals, school employees and coaches are doing things that literally threaten to destroy western civilization as we know it. It's hard to believe that all around our nation, parents willingly allow their children to be taught by these heinous people. How could a sane mother or father even consider putting their child under the tutelage of someone such as this.

That's right.

It's happening all over.

Teachers, coaches and sometimes even principals are daring to . . .are you ready for this? They are bowing their heads.

What!?!

I know, I know, you're upset. You cannot believe this is happening. Thoughts like "What is this world coming to?" run through your mind. It's a travesty.

The latest evil culprits were football coaches in Sumner County, Tennessee. This is the county where my brother lives, so he alerted me to this story last night. Apparently, the players on this local public middle school team gathered for a student-originated, student-led prayer time. The coaches were there as well, not leading, but they dared to bow their heads while the students prayed.

That's right. Bowed their heads.

That's it.

And that's what started the fire.

Channel 4 (WSMV) in Nashville covered the story. Here's a portion of their coverage. . .

During a student-originated, student-led prayer, four coaches bowed their heads. They didn't say a word.

But the principal and the district found out.

"We've been telling our principals to kind of be looking for those things, because that is kind of a shift in how things have been done," Sumner County Schools spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said. "It can in no way appear like it's endorsed by Sumner County Schools personnel."

Channel 4 asked if bowing one's head qualified as endorsing.

"It depends on what it looks like," he said. "That's where you kind of get into the gray area that we're having to deal with."

Each coach had to sign a letter stating he understood the district's revised policy.

Staff can be there when students pray but can not appear to take part, even outside school hours.

Of course, people in the community were shocked. Some are angry. Some who haven't stepped foot in a church for decades will claim to be Christians just to have something to argue about, no less.

2007_02_04_prayer_large This is just the most recent story. There are high-profile stories similar to this every year. Now, public school employees and legal advisors, even in our county, are instructing coaches and teachers to step back, not close their eyes and not to bow their heads for fear of being sued. The Sumner County policy was put in place following a lawsuit brought to the district alleging violations of the "separation of church and state" by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) 

I am a supporter of our local schools. I support our teachers, administrators, coaches and all in our community committed to serve and lead our children. Our church has been supportive for years and connected with our local schools strategically as a "business partner."

The initial reaction when I read stories like this is to get angry and to focus too much on the politics of the battle. The focus I must have, and we must have as children of God is the Gospel. 

David Landrith is the Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, located in Sumner County. On his blog this morning, he shares some solid truths regarding this story.

Regarding the ACLU lawsuit, I believe the school system is headed in the wrong direction.  In my opinion, they have made two serious mistakes:

First, they have over-reacted out of the fear of a lawsuit.  Because of this fear, they are instituting policies that are unnecessary and that I believe are unconstitutional.  The irony is that in responding to the ACLU’s claims in an excessive way, they may actually be violating the First Amendment rights of teachers and students.

The idea that a coach or teacher cannot bow their head out of respect for student-led prayer is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  Additionally, to tell the teachers that they cannot attend “See You At The Pole,” which occurs before school hours, just doesn’t seem to be constitutional.  Maybe the ACLU should represent the teachers!

Secondly, there is a lack of clarity in what the actual policies are.  As the rules are handed down the line, there have been all kinds of prohibitions communicated. The student pastors of our county were told one thing in a meeting that is not always the practice at schools in the county.

I don’t know if these are official policies or not,  but teachers have expressed to me that it is being communicated to them that they cannot do certain things; things like to wear or display a cross, have a Bible on their desk in their office, have scripture verses displayed in their personal work space, listen to Christian music in their office, or participate in a prayer at a Christian organization such as FCA or Bible study.

Maybe this is official policy and maybe it is not.  If it is, again it seems to be a violation of the teachers’ First Amendment rights on the free exercise of religion.  If it is not, someone should make clear to the teachers and the community what teachers can and cannot do.

This the United States of America!  You can’t ban people from practicing their faith in the marketplace – whether it’s a Muslim, Buddhist, or a Christian.  Christianity should not be favored over other religions. However, Christians should have the same rights as everyone else.

I agree with David and he spells this out more in his blog post here

While I read this stories and think "Wow! That's unbelievable!" the realization comes to me that it will just be a matter of time when we are facing the very same thing here in our county. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County was in the news for similar reasons. There was also the story out of Pensacola regarding the athletic director and school principal.

Now, I'm not hoping this happens. I know our school district leaders are praying, oops. . . hoping it never happens. I'm no prophet, but . . . it will happen. This is more than a political battle. It's more than a Constitutional issue (BTW - the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution.) It's a spiritual issue. 

Pray for our schools, our teachers, administrators, coaches and all employees in the school district. Those who are believers in Christ cannot just "turn that belief off" when they go to work. Pray for them.

Makes you wonder if men like Tony Dungy or Joe Gibbs would have been able to coach high school football, doesn't it? The photo above is of Dungy and his Indianapolis Colts praying together in the locker room.


Better Together

Two weeks ago our network of churches in Jacksonville (the Jacksonville Baptist Association - JBA) launched a new strategy for collectively reaching the city of Jacksonville and surrounding areas. A new website was launched as well - www.engagejax.com. The announcement of "EngageJax" was done at our annual meeting of churches and leaders. Dr. Rick Wheeler, our Missional Strategist for the JBA presented the concept and challenged every church and small group within our churches to strategically and purposefully seek to engage Jacksonville for the Kingdom of God within the next year. 

It's a simple concept and truthfully, nothing new. Engaging Jacksonville with the Gospel is simply a strategy for God's church to "be the church" in the local mission field. 

The reality is that there are currently over 200 Southern Baptist churches networked together through the JBA. While we as Baptists hold onto our autonomy, which we should, I cannot help but wonder what would happen in the city if God's people locked arms and strategically sought to bless God by blessing a city.

At our EngageJax Annual Meeting, Dr. Wheeler illustrated this concept of working together by showing us the news clip below.

Earlier this month, Brandon Wright, 21, a student at Utah State University was riding his motorcycle when he collided with an automobile. He slid off his bike and underneath the car. The car then caught on fire. 

Watch this clip and note the following:

  • Brandon is trapped under the burning car
  • Brandon is not conscious
  • People notice the situation and come to see what can be done.
  • There is one person who takes charge. It's the woman in the dark, knee-length shorts. She rallies the people and directs them to start lifting the car.
  • It took many people to lift the car.
  • The people lifting the car stopped what they were doing to come help.
  • The people lifing the car were of different walks of life and race.
  • Once the car was lifted, someone was able to pull Brandon to safety.
  • They had to work together.

 

Brandon survived and was interviewed in the hospital the next day. He was thankful the people worked to rescue him. He understood that if not for the rescuers, he would have died. 

Wright-crash In fact, he would have died a terrible, burning death.

This is the picture of our community and city. There are people all throughout the city headed toward a fiery death - a separation from God for eternity in a very real place called Hell.

The church has been placed here strategically, by God's design.

What if we worked together to engage the "lostness" of our community?

What if we decided that small stories and small kingdoms weren't that important?

What if we Engaged Jacksonville and our own communities?


Why We're Giving Away Over $50,000

For the past few months we have watched something amazing happen here at First Baptist. In a time when many churches and ministries are suffering economically, as are the members of the fellowship, God has provided over and above for our needs.

This is in stark contrast to where we were as a church in 2010. If you remember, we came to a place of shutting down the church facilities for the final two weeks of the year and telling all staff members that pay would be cut accordingly. In simple terms, we were in the red by thousands of dollars and some very hard decisions were to be made. Just to refresh your memory, you can read my blog post here from October 27, 2010.

This year has been much different.

We now find ourselves in a position, that in my tenure here (17 years) we have never experienced. In fact, some of our longer-tenured staff and church members say it has never been like this - even when the economy was booming.

What's happening?

We're believing.

We're giving.

We're beginning to live sacrificially and from generous hearts.

Some fear that by sharing this many will say "Well, if the church is doing so well, they don't need my money." I'm sure some will say that, but that's a statement about the individual's spiritual immaturity and lack of understanding of stewardship and generosity.

Our Finance & Stewardship Committee has been monitoring the giving and expenses this year and we now find ourselves as of today about $190,000 in the black. Expenses have been pared down and giving has increased. We truly are seeking to be the very best stewards with all that God has blessed us.

Many say "What a blessing!" That's true, but there's another aspect that we must address. Not only is this a blessing, but it is also a great test.

I believe that we as a church are being tested by God at this moment. The test has to do with practicing what we preach. We preach that giving and generosity and stewardship and planning ahead, and blessing others are all good and biblical. Now, we get to model this.

The Finance & Stewardship Committee has developed a very wise plan, in my estimation, of how to use the funds accrued over our expenses. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction, this team of men and women, along with me, have been praying for godly wisdom regarding this money. In simple terms, we dare not fail this test.

Seeking God's direction for our church is always our desire. It's been interesting sitting in meetings where the discussion has been centered around "What do we do with this money?"

After much prayer and discussion, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our Finance & Stewardship Committee has developed a great plan for these funds, which will become the template for future instances. I thank God for these men and women you have chosen to lead out in this area of financial stewardship.

Simply put, extra monies accrued throughout the year will be placed into three (and eventually two) areas twice a year (End of September and end of March):

  1. 40% will be used to pay off debt and for facility/property enhancements and upgrades.
  2. 30% will be placed in savings to be used for emergencies, with a maximum amount determined. At this time the maximum amount will be approximately $300,000. (Basically, this money is to keep the lights on and the ministries functioning for at least 3 months in the event of dire straits.)

  3. 30% will be given away. Seriously - given away!

Under this plan, the following things will happen here in the next week or so:

  1. Approximately $76,000 will be used in this area for debt reduction and  facility/property enhancements. That means we will pay off the note on the church bus this month. That's approximately $60,000. The remaining $16,000 will be used for either carpet replacement in the balcony foyer of the Worship Center, roof for the Music Suite and Azalea Street home or other immediate needs. This will be determined soon.

  2. Approximately $57,000 will be added to our current $150,000 money market account in savings to be used for emergencies.

  3. Approximately $57,000 will be given to Gospel-centric ministries seeking to grow God's Kingdom globally. The ministries being blessed this month are listed below. This portion of funds seems to be God's test of our church regarding living generously. We could certainly hoard this money and save it all for "a rainy day." We could use it to enhance our buildings and things here on campus. We could even donate it to ministries locally that benefit us. However, I just don't see those options as "passing the test" in this instance. After hearing from the members of our Finance & Stewardship Committee, neither do they.

We have been talking about leaving a legacy as men and women for the next generation. What about leaving a legacy as a church? What about leaving a legacy not just in Clay County, but globally?

China kids That's what God is leading us to do. This is so powerful and based upon the teaching in the Word related to stewardship, taking care of widows and orphans, sowing Gospel seed and living out the Great Commission.

Therefore, the following ministries will receive a financial gift from First Baptist Church in the next week or so. Each one is Gospel-centric and lives are being transformed through their respective ministries. Two are church plants in areas of the country where evangelical witnesses are not plentiful. The soil is being tilled now, and seed is being planted. We want to be a part of this. Two center around the rescue and help of children and orphans. One is a global-impacting ministry based in Jacksonville that impacts people from dramatically different cultural and religious backgrounds with the Gospel.

  1. Legacy Church of Tucson, Arizona. This church plant led by Pastor Chase Delperdang and sponsored by the North American Mission Board is reaching people in one of the most highly humanistic and liberal areas in our nation. Tucson is a difficult place to minister, but seed is being planted and fruit is developing. Go towww.tucsonlegacy.com to read more about Legacy. You can follow Chase on Facebook here.
  2. River City Church of Dubuque, Iowa. This church plant is led by Pastor Josh Dryer. Josh served on staff here at First Baptist a few years ago as our Community Missions Pastor. He has since served as the Interim Pastor at Ancient City Baptist Church in St. Augustine and was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Josh has followed God's call back home to Dubuque in order to plant a Baptist church there. Josh shares of the hardship of planting in an area where many do not attend church, most classify themselves as Catholic (yet, are not active,) and lostness prevails. You can read about the plant here and follow Josh on Facebook here.

  3. "A Ministry" in Jacksonville, FL. (For security reasons, I am not naming this ministry in this posting. Those who attend First Baptist know the ministry and why it is not being named.) The leaders of this teaching and outreach ministry came to our church not too long ago to share of their work. I will not share details here of all they do, but as many of you know because you volunteer there and you were here when their stories where shared, this ministry impacts entire unreached cultures for Christ.

  4. China Nest of Hope in China. This foundation provides orphan care for unwanted children in China. Their mission is deeper than just caring for orphans physically. They have educational programs as well for those who need training. Many in our church have traveled to assist with the orphans and to train adults. They do so much more than orphan care. You can read more about them here.

  5. As Our Own Ministries in India. This ministry, based in Chicago, but working in India rescues girls sold into sex slavery. We are donating funds through "Do Something Now," an initiative through Choice Ministries (also known as the Passion Conferences with Louie Giglio.) Click this link to see the goal and progress of this initiative as well as a description of the rescue. Also, I challenge you to watch this three minute video of what happens to these young girls in India. Click here.

We talk about leaving a legacy. This is part of it. Some will read of these gifts and ask "What do we get out of this?" That's the point! We don't get anything this side of heaven out of this. There is absolutely no tangible return on investment this side of eternity! That's what we, the church, have been telling members of our fellowship for years. Now, we together will model this.

That's radical! And, it should be considered normal.

To God be the glory!

Our desire is to bless other ministries in March 2012. Continue in your faithful giving. Live sacrificially. Live generously. Outlive your life.


The Church Cannot Remain Silent

It's the dirty little secret that we don't talk about in church. It doesn't fit into any of our "ministry boxes" and seems so foreign and unreal.

But. . .it is real.

It is horrific.

And. . .the church cannot ignore it.

It has to do with children.

It has to do with slavery.

It's not the feel-good mission story that we desire to hear.

It's uncomfortable.

It's wretched.

It's sickening.

There are stories reported all too often of young girls who have been kidnapped in our nation. In many cases, the stories continue with reports of sexual abuse, torture and even death.  On rare occasions, there are happy endings, as with Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard. These two young ladies survived their kidnappings, though they still carry the scars from their ordeals.

Unfortunately, not every story ends like Elizabeth's and Jaycee's.

In many cases, there is no rescue or escape.

This brings us to a very significant verse in Scripture. Jesus is speaking of the simple faith required to come to Him. A child-like faith is referenced. In explaining this faith, he shifts emphasis to remind us of His great love for children and consequently, the church's role for protecting them.

Matthew 18:5-6(ESV)
5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,
6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Children are precious to our Lord. This is more than a nice little ditty put to music so our children can sing in church choir. This is a biblical truth and we, the church, the image-bearers of God, are to love and protect children as well.

When atrocious acts against children are made known, we are to stand in the gap and advocate for them. 

While the stories mentioned above and others that make news here in the States rightfully get attention and raise the ire of people in the community and the church, there is a darker part of the story that often gets ignored.

Human-trafficking-india_26 In 2008, I was visiting the International Mission Board site in Richmod, Virginia. I met some other pastors there who were attending the same conference and we had one evening with nothing scheduled to do. We drove into town to catch a movie and the Liam Neeson thriller "Taken" was playing. The movie is exciting and, as a parent, terrifying. The story is of a teenage girl who travels to Europe with her friend only to be kidnapped by sex traffickers. Of course, in this Hollywood rendition, the father of one of the teenage girls just happens to "have a certain set of skills" that most father's do not. He travels to Europe and systematically takes out the kidnappers and rescues his daughter (sorry for the spoiler.) 

What makes the story so frightening for parents is that sex trafficking of young girls throughout the world is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and occurs more than we would like to admit. It's not Hollywood fiction. It's real.

Unfortunately, in just about every case, there is no super-adventure dad with a "certain set of skills" working to rescue these young ladies. They find themselves abused, tortured, and hopeless.

That's one of the reasons we, as a church, are partnering with Do Something Now and gifting As Our Own ministries with approximately $10,000 to help rescue and redeem young girls in India sold as sex slaves. This amount of money isn't much, really, but partnered with donations from other believers, we pray that resources and encouragement will be provided. As Our Own is a Gospel-centric ministry working to rescue these young ladies and introduce them to the One who can give them life, hope and a future.

We must not ignore what is happening.

We cannot continue to sit idly by and wish someone would do something about this.

Prayer is key. Keep praying.

Support is essential. That's why we're giving.

You may not see this as a needed ministry. Perhaps you are not certain the church should even be involved. Please, take a few minutes and watch this video. I believe it will clarify some things for you. It did for me.

The Story of Seema from As Our Own on Vimeo.


Pat's Wrong: Alzheimer's Is Not a Pass to Divorce Spouse

Apparently, on yesterday's broadcast of the 700 Club, Pat Robertson made some pretty over-the-top and controversial statements. That, in and of itself, is not newsworthy or surprising.

This time he was not speaking about politics or God's judgment on nations or anything else that has pushed him to the front page of the mainstream media as in the past. In this situation, he was answering questions from viewers in the show's advice segment.

I do not watch the show but according to Tobin Grant's blog post on the Christianity Today website, Robertson was asked by a woman how she should address a friend who was dating another woman "because his wife as he knows her is gone."

Alzheimers-couple The "gone" reference had to do with the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Apparently, the friend's wife suffers from Alzheimer's and is in an assisted living facility. She does not recognize her husband. She has no memory of their past. He is a stranger to her every time he visits.

So, he has started seeing another woman and is contemplating divorcing his ill wife in order to marry or at least, continue "guilt free" the relationship with the other woman.

Now, I readily admit that I have never been in the situation that this gentleman is in. I don't even pretend to know the anquish, frustration and heartbreak experienced when one's spouse is "gone" but still alive.

Regardless, when Robertson was asked what to do in this situation, he responded the following way:

That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awrul things because here is a loved one - this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years and suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But, I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But, to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.

What?

Seriously?

That's the pastoral, wise counsel offered?

At this point, his co-host, Terry Meeuswon asked "But isn't that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it's for better or for worse. For richer or poorer?"

It seems that Terry was shocked at Pat's response and was trying to clarify, hoping he really didn't mean what he said. Apparently, he did.

There are numerous examples from within our own fellowship of believers of couples who have faced this scenerio. A few come to mind now who have or are living this out and their response to their loved ones are testimonies of what "for better or worse" and the sanctity of the marriage vows mean. Is it easy for them. Oh no. They would readily admit that. However, there is an understanding of the seriousness God gives to the marriage vows and the responsibility of the spouse to stand firm for a lifetime.

The article by Grant references the story of Robertson McQuilkin, who twenty years ago ended his tenure of 22 years as president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary. He was faced with this very situation and ended his tenure at the college in order to care full-time for his wife, Murial. Murial died in 2003 after suffering for 25 years with the disease. McQuilkin explained his decision in an article written about him following his resignation from the school:

When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, "in sickness and in health. . .till death do us part?" This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned. However, it was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.

Now, that's a good answer.

Even non-believers hear this question and think "What? That's so wrong!" Why? Because they've seen the movie "The Notebook" most likely.

The bottom line is that Alzheimer's Disease is not an excuse to get married. If the question must be asked, the reality is the person already knows it's wrong. It reeks of self-centeredness and is always partnered with the question "Well, doesn't God want me to be happy?"

Simple answer - "No. He wants you to be holy."

Sorry Pat, you're wrong.


"I Hate All Muslims". . . What???

I heard a Christian man say the words in the title of this post not too long ago. I couldn't believe it. How could such a statement be made? It was stated in response to updates on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The vitriol was strong and the sentiments were clear.

Many have expressed the same thing, I'm sure. 

When the towers and the Pentagon were attacked and United 93 was going down, such sentiments were shared. However, the question remains ten years later "How can a follower of Christ make such a statement?"

Two days ago we remembered collectively as a nation the horrors of September 11, 2001. On this tenth anniversary, memorials were unveiled, extended introductions and anthems were played at NFL games and numerous churches hosted special 9/11 Remembrance events. It was a somber, but needed time of remembrance as healing continues.

Hearing from Joe Smaha last Sunday at First Baptist Church of Middleburg (I had encouraged our church members to visit this sister church for the special service) was touching and challenging. Smaha is a pastor, but also a firefighter in New Jersey and ten years ago was a first responder with his HazMat unit to the World Trade Center in New York City. His stories of coming through the Lincoln Tunnel and arriving on the scene were horrific. This was more than hearing from a news report. This was a first hand account, and though the story was ten years old, it was fresh and powerful.

Smaha's message this evening was clear - God is in control. His sovereignty is secure. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. . .and in the midst of crisis.

He made  it clear that hope and life is built upon a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Muslim_man_at_prayer I'm reminded of the emotions I was feeling that day. There was an anger welling up inside of me. It was tinted with a fear and spilled over into my message to our students that next evening at church. I felt, as many did and do, anger at those who perpetrated such horrors.

I agreed and agree with President Bush when he referred to the acts and those who perpetrated them as "evil." 

In fact, I do hate the evil acts that were done. I hate that the Enemy has so blinded many on this planet that evil is celebrated and godliness is ignored.

I do not hide behind political correctness and believe that the teachings of radical Islam and radical Islamic leaders are foundational to the attacks and other terrorist actions in our world.

However, I cannot say "I hate all Muslims."

Why?

Is it because Islam is truly a religion of peace? No. I do not believe that and even if it were, that would not be sufficient.

Is it because we should be tolerant of all religious beliefs? No. In fact, as a born again believer in Christ, believing the Word of God to be inerrant and fully true, I'm considered pretty intolerant. I believe that there is only one way to God and heaven and life and that one way is Jesus Christ.

In truth, that is why I cannot say "I hate all Muslims." 

There are currently between 3 and 7 million Muslims in America. Many live on the First Coast. These people aren't just "over there" on the other side of the ocean. They are in our neighborhoods. They attend our schools. They are co-workers.

They are lost.

They do not know the Answer. They do not know the Word. They do not know Jesus. Rest assured, we do NOT all worship the same God and just call Him different names. Allah and Jesus are not the same!

Yet, they need the truth.

This same Jesus who died on a cross as payment for my filthy sins and honored the Father who "so loved the world" died for "those people" as well.

All people.

"For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16 ESV

I know some will read this and not be happy with my take here. Many have lost loved ones in the attacks and the subsequent wars. You may believe that I just don't "get it." I understand your feelings. Truly, I do.

Let me clarify some things here just in case you really don't know me, or are confused by how I have worded things. Here are some facts:

  • I am an American, and a proud one.
  • I am patriotic.
  • I love what our flag represents.
  • I am the son of a career military man, and very proud of that. (Go Air Force!)
  • I whole-heartedly support our men and women in the military and pray for them and their families.
  • I hate what occured on September 11, 2001.
  • I believe the acts of terrorism on that day and others were acts of cowardice and evil.
  • I believe that spiritual battles are more severe than even physical ones.
  • I empathize and feel for those who lost loved ones on September 11 and in the subsequent wars.
  • As I watch retrospective films and documentaries about 9/11, I still tear up and feel the anger and frustration as when these acts occurred.
  • I supported then and support now the military action against nations harboring terrorists.
  • I do not believe all religions are worshipping the same God just calling him different names.
  • I do not believe that at its core, Islam is a "religion of peace."
  • I do not believe "multi-faith" discussion panels and watered down religious gatherings that attempt to honor all religions are worth anything. (This is due to the absence of the Gospel.)
  • I do not believe I am allowed to "hate" an entire people group and remain faithful to God.

I have friends who grew up devout Muslims and have experienced torture and severe hardship once they came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Some were even thrown in prison for their beliefs and miraculously survived. They know firsthand what it means to be rescued from a dead religion. They know the lies of Islam. They also have family and friends who are still blinded by the lies of the Liar and false religion. They love these family members and friends. So much so, their hearts break knowing that their family rejects the Son of God.

To be missional. . . to be the church. . . to be Christian is to follow His commands.

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. - Matthew 22:37-39 ESV

Who is my neighbor?

That question was asked of Jesus Christ.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” - Luke 10:25-37 ESV

May we go and do likewise.


Remembering the Past Yet Staying Focused in Worship

Everyone is asking the same question today "Where were you on September 11, 2001?" We all knew as the events were unfolding that day ten years ago that it would become one of those moments for a generation. 

There have been moments in our history that have unified people before. Moments where people know exactly where they were and what they were doing when events were unfolding and the news was first heard. Moments like. . .

  • The bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • The assassination of John F. Kennedy
  • The killings at Columbine High School

Now, September 11, 2001. 

Of all those memorable moments, September 11 seems to be the most poignant. It was on this day that America was shaken to its core. A normal Tuesday morning became anything but normal as Americans were shaken from their complacency. As events unfolded, and it became clear this was no accident, fear, anger and concern all grew.

Heroes rose. 

Those who serve communities daily without recognition were acknowledged, and rightfully so. 

Things had changed.

Some things chnged for the better, but if only for  a short time. There was a heightened sense of patriotism and for just a moment, it seemed as if politicians on each side of the aisle would work together. The images of Congressmen and women singing "God Bless America" together on the steps of federal buildings became newsworthy.

GroundZeroUnderworld The military was gearing up and recruiters weren't having to call people because they were lining up at their offices.

President George W. Bush, who often misspoke and by his own acknowledgment made up words or mispronounced some, gave one of the most articulate, heart wrenching, strong speeches ever given by a sitting President.

American flags were everywhere.

Churches were packed. People were "getting right" with God.

America had changed. . .so it seemed.

Apparently, the change was short-lived.

I fear we have fallen back into a mode of complacency. This is odd in that no one flies in America without having to now go through a security screening based on past crimes. You do know that you're taking off your shoes now because of the "shoe bomber" that was caught following the September 11 events, right?

We also are still in the midst of two wars overseas. Our all-volunteer military and even reservists and National Guardsmen and women have been stretched. Many have lost their lives in the constant battle for freedom and liberty. Constant reminders that the world changed on 9/11.

Here we are ten years later. Some churches are hosting September 11 memorial services. While we are taking some time this morning to thank God for his soveriegnty and grace and praying for those who lost loved ones and for those who continue to serve in war zones, we are not having a special service. Some will wonder if we're uncaring or even unpatriotic because we are not having a special service commemorating September 11. They will be incorrect to think we are uncaring. They will be wrong to think we do not remember the events of ten years ago.

There are plenty of local churches hosting special events and services today focused on this anniversary. In fact, I encourage people in our church to attend First Baptist Church of Middleburg's remembrance service tonight at 6pm.

Today, we remember the events of ten years ago and yet focus on the One who brings hope and life in the midst of chaos. Our worship must be pure. It must be honest. It must be in "spirit and truth" and focused upon the only One deserving.

As we gather this morning together as His church, our prayers will be for those suffering and those serving, for continued healing in our nation and world as we remember the events of ten years ago and yet our worship will be clearly centered upon the only One deserving - God Almighty!


Is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Still Right?

There's been much controversy over the monument and memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that was recently unveiled and open to the public in Washington, DC. People of all races have opinions about the memorial.

18king.large2 Some do not believe it necessary to have such a memorial. I, for one, do not see anything wrong with having a memorial. To me, it is purposed to remind us of a dark time in our history. A time when segregation was legal. A time when a man's skin tone was the determining factor regarding where he could shop, sit and even attend school. Any arguments for segregation are nothing more than veiled and justified racism. The memorial of Dr. King, who became the face of the civil rights movement, is a reminder of, hopefully, a by-gone day and a challenge for a better future.

That being said, the controversy over the monument seems to be focused mainly on the look of the statue, the artist chosen to complete it and the editing of Dr. King's quotes inscribed on the side. Prominent people of all races and backgrounds have shared their strong opinions. 

Nevertheless, the statue is now open. It's pushing back to the forefront discussions regarding race relations and civil rights. We live in a different America than in past decades. Regardless your political persuasion or approval of the job being done, it truly is a testament of our growth, that we have an African-American serving as the President. That would have been unheard of decades ago.

Nevertheless, as many are attempting to be color-blind when it comes to race, there is still much that needs to be done.

A number of years ago I was asked to preach at an African-American church in our community. They were having "Youth Sunday" and since I was serving as Youth Pastor here at First Baptist, I was the honored special guest. I must say, it was one of the best worship experiences I had had in years. Believe me, it was not about the sermon either. 

As I left that Sunday to go back to my predominately white church down the street, I could not help but wonder why we continue to seemingly separate by race on Sunday mornings.

A few years after that I was invited to sit in as an "expert" on reaching students at a Florida Baptist African-American church leaders event. They must not have been able to get anyone else to commit. I still don't know why they asked me, a white guy in a predominantly white church, to be an "expert" on reaching African-American students. Fortunately, as the crowd asked questions, we were able to dialog about the hearts of young people and strategies for connecting with them. This was a freeing moment for me when it became even more obvious that at the heart level, all men and women were the same. I knew this before that day, but it was a great reminder.

Back in 1963, Dr. King gave a speech at Western Michigan University. In this speech, one statement rang very loud:

We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.

As I have met with numerous pastors in our city, a desire and passion to reach Jacksonville for Christ is evident. We are able to celebrate the great racial diversity of Jacksonville as we see many people from different walks of life call our city home. Yet, even with this passion, the reality is that we are all too often gathering on Sunday mornings with people who look just like us. Sometimes this is due to geography. Certain areas of town have higher concentrations of different races. Even in Orange Park, the demographic maps show a large number of Asians living in one sector, large number of African-Americans in another, and so on. However, no areas of town is 100% one skin tone.

I hear it all the time. "Well, people like to worship with others who look like them. It's an affinity thing." It sounds good. It even sounds logical. It's just not biblical. 

Apparently, our worship has become about us. It's become about our preferences, our desired music style, and our comfort level.

I fully understand that people are attracted to others who are a lot like them. This is true racially, economically and regionally. There is a familiarity and comfort in this. Yet, we, the church, are called to reach and make disciples of all nations. It amazes me how we can celebrate reaching the Asian person across the ocean or the really dark-skinned African in his native land, but rarely get too excited about reaching the man across the street whose skin color is different. 

Now, I know there are many exceptions. Some will take offense to this posting and say things like "Some of my best friends are black." (BTW - that phrase that begins with "Some of my best friends..." never comes across positively, so remove that from your lexicon.) 

I am not proposing any type of quota. That doesn't work and I'm not sure how the church could do that anyway. "Hmmm. We don't have enough Asians in our church, no more whites can join until five more Asians do?" Nope, that's ridiculous.

My point is that as we seek to be the church God has created us to be, that means that we must truly be color blind. To reach the city, means to reach everyone, regardless of skin tone or national origin.

It's one thing to adopt a local school and minister to little children of different races. It's another thing to minister with them, meet their parents, and even invite them to church.

This discussion has been going on for years. It's volatile and people get upset. I have had people tell me they left certain churches because too many blacks and Hispanics were joining. What!!!??? I couldn't believe my ears.

Oh, and don't even bother asking me where in the Bible it says that people of different races cannot marry. I had that question many times as well. Each time it was from parents whose children were hanging out with, in their opinion, too many people of the "darker hue." While the Bible does have commands to the Israelites to not marry outside their people, it was not about skin tone, but about religious beliefs.

I've known people who would be up in arms if their white Christian daughter wanted to marry a sold-out disciple of Jesus Christ man who happened to be black. However, if that same daughter wanted to marry an atheist white guy, they wouldn't balk at all.

The only biblical restrictions on marriage (besides the biblical mandate that marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life) for the believer is whether or not the other person is a believer.

Christians are to marry Christians.

That's it.

Churches aren't avoiding the race issue. I know many who are seeking to be light and salt in their communities. In many cases, the communities are changing. 

It also is apparent that just saying "Everyone is welcome" isn't enough. At some point, the called out leaders in the church must look like those in the community.

Ask yourself this question: "Would my friend of another race be comfortable and welcome in my church?" 


Things Men Need to Know

I'm sitting in my cabin at Horn's Creek right now looking over the pond from the porch and waiting for the men to arrive tonight. A good number are together on our bus. Some are driving themselves and a couple are coming from other areas.

This is the ninth year of hosting Battle Ready. While there are similarities to each weekend, the stories of healing and hope that the men experience are unique.

To put it simply - it's a very deep and challenging weekend. It's fun and that's what most who never attend see (the pictures of rafting and paintball and the like) but that's not what makes Battle Ready unique. It's our time alone with God, our time together as brothers talking and praying through the deep things of life. It's the time together experiencing deep revelation and hopefully going to the even deeper parts of our hearts for healing.

Since this will be a dangerous weekend, it's good to relax too and have a laugh or two. 

Just about every time I make the drive up here to Horn's Creek, Tennessee, I stop off at Exit 3 in Georgia off I-75. There's a discount bookstore there. Some people like antique shops. Others like outlet malls. I like discount bookstores. You never know what kind of treasure you'll find.

This bookstore has tons of Christian books. Aapparently, Christians really like books. I programmed the word "book" in my GPS and most of the stores on the route were Christian bookstores. While the rest of the world is downloading books on their Kindles and iPads, most Christians are still going to the stores.

Not every book in this store is a "Christian" book. That sounds weird, dosn't it? How can a book be a Christian? I went to the section on relationships and personal growth. This is where the "men's" books are, as well as some pretty graphic books on marriage and intimacy that seem strange sitting on shelves next to Gary Smalley and Les Parrott books.

Einfun I purchased four. Only two were published by Christian publishers, so two are unsaved books. Still, some pretty good basic information. One is The Man's Book by Thomas Fink. It's subtitled "The Essential Guide fo the Modern Man" and has such interesting and needed information like beard and mustache descriptions, the ever popular "urinal test" which proves that even though men may not speak the same language throughout the world, we all know which urinal to use in a public restroom based on which other urinals are being used. This test is even an app for the iPad. Ladies - you'll never understand, but guys get this.

I found another little book really cheap titled The Rules: A Man's Guide to Life by the editors of Esquire. Since it comes from Esquire, there are things in it not worth reading, much like the magazine. However, this book was really cheap and there were some good things in it too. So, since I'm a few hours from getting into some really deep teachings and discussions with about 50 men, I'm taking just a few minutes now to read up on some of these "essentials" that men need to know. I figured I'd share a few of the life-changing truths here:

  • Do not trust a man who calls the bathroom the "little boys' room."
  • For every Tom Hanks, there's always a Peter Scolari.
  • No talking at the urinal.
  • Actors are short. Comedians are shorter.
  • There is nothing that can be marketed that cannot be marketed better using the voice of James Earl Jones.
  • If Bill Gates were good-looking and well dressed, people would like him better.
  • Talk half as much as you listen.
  • A man in a minivan is half a man.
  • There is no shame in the peanut butter sandwich.
  • No matter how hard you practice, you cannot say "Yeah, right" without sounding sarcastic.
  • If there's anything that comes out of terrible tragedy, it's really dumb legislation.
  • These are words to say when playing touch football. "Got you" is fine. "Touchdown," expected. But, "Hey, too hard!" - that's a no-no.
  • "Irregardless" is not a word, irregardless of what you say.
  • If you're making a sign to be held up at a sporting event, it doesn't hurt to use a dictionary.
  • There is no shame in cinnamon toast.
  • When someone sneezes four times in rapid-fire succession, one "bless you" will suffice.
  • Do not give yourself a nickname.
  • Except on the golf course, golf umbrellas are unmanly.
  • Soda tastes 27 percent better from glass bottles than plastic.
  • Reaching over to flush another man's urinal is universally frowned upon.
  • Never trust a man who knows all the dance steps to "Bye, Bye, Bye."
  • If your dream involves an elaborate plot in which you are looking for a bathroom, it's time to get up and use it.
  • When a joke is immediately followed by the phrase "Get it?", the joke's potential comedic value drops by an estimated 80 percent.
  • The best mogul name ever is T. Boone Pickens.
  • Practicing half-court shots becomes unacceptable after the age of 14.
  • Nobody on a political talk show has ever convinced a fellow panelist of anything. Never happened. Never will.
  • The best villians have accents and walk slowly.
  • Flame decals do not fool passers-by into thinking your car is hot (or fast.)
  • Anyone who says "work hard and play hard" probably does neither.
  • There are no men over the age of 35 named Josh.
  • A man wearing a brightly colored fanny pack is precisely seventh-eighths of a man.
  • Soccer would be a lot more fun if everybody used their hands.
  • Every sitcom must feature an episode in which the male character is tragically torn celebrating a romantic milestone and using unexpected courtside basketball tickets.
  • The quality of a take-out restaurant is exactly mirrored in the quality of its napkins.
  • Do not antagonize a man with an eye patch.
  • A man who pronounces croisants as "kwa-sa" is not a man at all.
  • The funniest tent is a yurt, followed by the tepee and the wigwam.
  • A man should never own more than two pair of convertible pants.
  • Flavored dental floss should never be sweeter than the food you wish to remove.
  • Popular boys have bad posture. Popular girls have good posture.
  • Toothpicks are not a viable grooming option 50 yards beyond a restaurant.
  • If you cook on a hot plate at home, it's not going to be that easy to get that car loan.
  • All bottled water comes from a faucet in Richmond.
  • Quentin is to Tarantino as one-hit is to wonder.
  • People who call ping-pong "table tennis" will always beat you.
  • Some women call each other "girls" but you can't.
  • You are not on the team that plays in your city. They are not "we"; their wins are not yours.
  • Yes, seat belts do wrinkle a suit, but so do windshields.
  • There is no shame in grape soda.
  • Pompous people like to be called pompous.
  • Always keep your receipt from Radio Shack.
  • There is no shame in well-done steak.
  • Men named Walter are taken more seriously than men named Jason. Also Billy.
  • Girl Scout cookies are for buying, not eating.
  • No one will ever tell you the chicken salad was not made today.
  • You can't think of the Gutenberg Bible without thinking of Steve.

There, now you know some things that are needed to make it as a man in this world.

No, these are not covered at the Battle Ready Weekend. We tend to cover things that really matter, bu this list is still helpful.