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Posts from January 2012

"The Gospel Really Ticks Me Off"

Have you ever gone to church and left the worship service angry? There are numerous reasons why this could happen on any given Sunday.

Sometimes it happens when attempting to worship in a toxic environment. Unfortunately, toxic churches are more prevalent than we realize. In many cases these are fellowships where factions and divisions have developed. Oh, in case you think that is just a symptom of unhealthy 21st century American churches, take a look throughout church history and read the letters of Paul. This was happening from the very beginning.



When the fellowship of believers is at odds, it sometimes leads to sermons and musical experiences that feel more like personal attacks than worship. I remember one church I was in as a child where the pastor and deacons were having a "disagreement." So, the next Sunday a guest speaker was preaching and he ranted about "demon deacons" for about 45 minutes. No, he was not referring to Wake Forest University. Needless to say, lunchtime wasn't fun that day. Everyone left angry. I was only angry because I saw that everyone else was and thought that was what I was supposed to be feeling. Amazing how kids mimic what adults model.


Sometimes people get angry after a worship service because the sermon was more of political speech or candidate endorsement. There are people in our church, and probably reading this, that wish I would speak more plainly regarding the politics of the day and especially the presidential election. There are others in our same fellowship that wish I would never allude to anything that has to do with politics. It's a tight rope of sorts. My conviction is that the time we have set aside for the preaching of the Word and the corporate worship of God on Sundays must not be clouded with anything else but a focus on Him. This is not always easy. Some churches, especially on holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, appear more like a political rally or convention than a church. I am so very proud of our nation and those who have worn and do wear the uniforms of our military. However, to "wrap the cross with a flag" seems inappropriate at so many levels. We cannot ignore the warnings of our "jealous God" about putting anything else above or equal to Him. Well, that's a message for another day. Simply put - be a good American (if you are reading this in America and you are an American) and be involved in the community, civic and even political venues of life. Just remember, as a believer, you cannot divorce your faith from these areas. So, be the church in the world. Just make sure to not elevate country or patriotism or political drive to that reserved only for God. 

Sometimes people leave church angry on Sunday because someone sat in their seat, parked in their parking spot, ate the last doughnut in small group or other such serious infraction. To these people, we lovingly say "get a life."

There are those who leave angry every week because they do not like things about the worship service such as the music, volume of the music, the temperature of the building, being asked to sit closer to the stage, etc. These tend to be preference issues and will most likely be issues as long as human beings are the ones attending church. We have a hard time remembering that the worship service is not about us. All of us struggle with this. It's a constant battle.

There is an appropriate time to get angry. When false doctrine is being taught from the pulpit, that is cause for righteous anger. When this is the case, the one teaching the false doctrine should be removed. 

Then, there's the big one. I received a message Monday evening from a mom whose son attended worship on Sunday. He came with his girlfriend and neither had been in church for over a year. The son grew up in church and had heard the truth of the Gospel over and over again. The young lady does not have the same type of church background. After greeting and welcoming them and others, our service began. Sunday's message was pretty pointed. Well, most of them are. The focus was on what is often considered the most intolerant statement in Scripture. The passage in John 14 where Jesus stated this. . .

John 14:6(ESV)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." 

There it is, plain as day. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. There's no other route to salvation or heaven or hope or peace. It's Jesus and Jesus alone.

Apparently, this statement, along with explanation and other verses in John 14 offended our guests. They left angry. The Gospel had angered them. I was informed I angered them by the mother. She was not angry at all. In fact, she called it clearly. The son is running from God and avoiding the truth. The young lady is not a believer and doesn't understand the message of the Gospel. The sad thing is that this past Sunday, as is the case every Sunday, I shared the truth of the Gospel clearly and with a plea to respond in love. 

Yet. . .some left angry.

Angry at the Gospel.

Angry at the narrow way to God.

Angry that there are expectations of those who call themselves children of God.

Angry that we cannot use Jesus like some type of "good luck spiritual accessory" and truly believe in Him.

Angry that we don't get to write the rules.

Angry that God so loved.

I also heard that one young man asked his mother throughout the message why I was so angry. She kept trying to explain that I wasn't. . .and I wasn't. I listened to the audio recording of the message. I did get loud on occassion. I did clearly state some things that were challenging. However, I wasn't angry.

Look at it this way. Apart from Jesus Christ and being fully devoted to Him, there's no chance for people. Heaven is not an option for those who do not know Christ. Those who are "good people" in this world do not get heaven. Those who are "sincere" and "devout" in this world do not get heaven. Only those who take that narrow way and receive and believe in Jesus Christ will know the Father and have heaven as an eternal home.

So, I'm passionate. If God can use me to shake us from our complacency and a cultural Christianity that just sees church as something good to attend every now and then, then so be it. I proudly receive that task.

Maybe to some the cross is offensive, but I believe what is more offensive to the unbelieving world are those who claim to believe in the cross and have faith but live nothing like the one who hung on that cross. 

If I offend you because I preach the truth, so be it.

If I offend you because I preach the truth, yet do not live it, woe to me.


"Semper Fi" - Always Faithful. . .Everywhere

I enjoyed lunch with a couple of good friends today. Ricky Powell, Pastor of Fort Caroline Baptist Church and I met with Clint Clifton, church planter and Founding Pastor of Pillar Church in Virginia. 

I have known Clint for years. He served as Worship Leader for Church at the Island years ago and then, when on a short-term mission project in Virginia, we reacquainted. It has been good to see how God has used Clint and the ministries of Pillar Church to not only fulfill the Great Commission through individual connections, but through church planting.


Most recently, God has led Clint and Pillar Church to seek to establish new churches at every United States Marine Corps base in the world. The strategy to place new Pillar Churches near these bases will allow for greater ministry and connectivity. 

God is calling men from Pillar near Quantico to go out and plant churches near every USMC base. This is the Great Commission at work.

The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis. Latin for "always faithful," Semper Fidelis became the Marine Corps motto in 1883. It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what.

Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone, andSemper Fi reminds Marines of that. Once made, a Marine will forever live by the ethics and values of the Corps. There is no such thing as an ex-Marine.

As children of God, we too are called to be always faithful. We are to be faithful to God and the calling which He has given us. The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, baptize and teach as we go throughout our daily lives. There is no such thing as an ex-Christian.

Pillar Church has been strategically placed to impact Marines and their families in ways that go beyond the temporary. 

The Marine Corps was founded by Congress in 1775. In honor of this date, we are being challenged to join the effort to place a church (yes, it's a Southern Baptist Church) at each Marine Corps base in the world. Our challenge is to donate, just one time, a total amount of $1775.00 toward the effort. We will not make this donation from our church budget, but are challenging the membership of First Baptist Church to join this church planting and Great Commission effort to reach Marines and their families. We hope to have at least $1775.00 to donate toward the Praetorian Project by Memorial Day this year (May 28, 2012.) You can donate through First Baptist Church online or by designating a gift toward "Praetorian Project" or "Marine Churches" with your regular tithes and offerings.

Semper Fi!

Watch below to learn more:

The Praetorian Project from Pillar Church on Vimeo.

(Oh, and what does this mean for Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard bases and stations? Perhaps, that's the next chapter of the Praetorian Project that we are called to spearhead?)

How to Take a Mission Trip and Not Make the Missionary Wish You'd Leave

At First Baptist Church we participate in short-term mission projects regularly. In fact, at this writing, we have teams preparing to serve in Alaska, Arizona, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Iowa and Spain. Other short-term journey will likely be scheduled in the near future to places like China, Wales, Oregon and North Carolina. Most likely, there will be places we send teams that haven't even crossed our minds yet.

Short-term mission trips can be very productive and helpful to missionaries in the field. The teams coming in to visit often bring needed resources with them such as clothing, teaching tools, books, games, etc. The teams also brnig manpower. However, the mission team can also become a bit of a burden.



I have been talking to some of our missionaries and sponsored church planters over the past year or so about these teams. Having served and led teams myself, I believe we must be very intentional and strategic. Here are some things that come to mind regarding mission teams that should be taken into consideration in order to avoid being the team that is most appreciated when the trip is over.


In other words, here are some pointers to avoid being "that team."

  • Don't take over the mission. In most cases, the missionary or church planter has been in the field for some time. He has already scoped the community and is beginning to develop and has developed friendships and relationships. Don't show up with a "new idea" of how things should be done. 
  • Don't come with an agenda. If your goal is to be able to go home to your church with a report on how many souls were saved on your ten day mission trip, you will most likely miss the point of the trip and be focused on padding your scorecard for the folks back home.
  • Don't be the "ugly American." This not only applies to international trips, but could also apply to other areas of the United States where the religous and political makeup is different than your home. The reality is that the term "ugly American" was coined because some Americans really deserved it. Unfortunately, many tourists often affirm the title. Oh, and stop being so loud. Apparently, Americans are very loud. Settle down.
  • Don't come with a plan to help the believers in the mission area learn how to "do church" like you do back home. We had one team that visited Australia years ago. While partnering with pastors there, they worshiped with a local congregation. This local, Baptist congregation was observing the Lord's Supper and like just about everywhere else in the world other than the United States, they used real wine. One of our team members shared how she let them know how wrong that was. We have not been back.
  • Don't arrive in the field without knowing something about the culture. You cannot fully understand the culture until boots are on the ground (and in just ten days, you can only get a taste) but effort should be made before the trip to understand some about the culture (i.e. language, political issues, needs, views of evangelical Christianity, etc.) On my recent journey to Wales, my friends in country reminded me how many Americans believe Wales and England are the same. FYI - that's a pretty offensive statement to a Welshman, and probably to an Englishman as well. If you cannot comprehend why that's a big deal, just think about calling a good ole boy from Georgia a Yankee. Get the idea?
  • Be prepared spiritually. This is vital. The Enemy will do everything to keep you busy, anxious and worried before a trip. Meet with your teammates. Read a book together. Pray together. Pray alone. Be spiritually ready for the trip. There will be challenges. The mission is too important to view it as nothing more than a "Jesus vacation."
  • Journal and take pictures. While on the trip, journal your experiences. Take lots of pictures. You will want to remember what God is doing. We are forgetful. Photos and journal entries can take us back to spiritual highlights (and lowlights - all are beneficial.)
  • Don't use the word missionary or mission trip while in the field. In most cases, especially internationally, these terms are frowned upon. Check with your missionary/church planter to learn what terms should be used. I heard of one student pastor who was trying to enter a Eurpoean country with his students. He was asked by customs in the airport what he would be doing. He answered "mission work." Since he did not have a "work visa" he was banned from entering the country, and has been placed on a banned entry list. He was subsequently sent home.
  • Don't upload photos to Facebook or Tweet about details of the mission unless you get approval from the missionary/church planter. You can undo years of work with one careless Tweet. 
  • Remember that you are the visitors. For instance, about ten years ago I led a team of teenagers on a mission trip to the Middle East. One of our students deplaned and while in the airport stated "Wow! Look at all these foreigners." I had to inform him that we were the foreigners.
  • Stop asking if you'll have time to get some souvenirs. Schedule the time. Put it on the agenda. Let everyone on the team know when it will be. Otherwise, you'll end up with at least one team member whose sole purpose is to buy everyone back home some authentic (usually made in China) item from the area you are visiting. I remember a team member about twelve years ago on a trip that was driving us crazy because of the desire to get a "souvenir." We couldn't focus on the work because we were always looking for that perfect piece of junk with the name of country plastered on it. Is it a sin that I hoped her stuff would be taxed greatly at the airport? I repent.
  • Don't make the missionary or church planter feel that he/she has to keep you busy. I believe that most all missionaries and church planters truly love when teams visit. However, these have to be stressful occasions. Groups arrive and schedules have to be coordinated. Then, the teams are ready to work. It's almost as if the missionary or church planter has to plan a week of camp for the team to keep them busy all the time. While some events can be scheduled that will utilize the manpower, sometimes things are scheduled for the sole purpose of keeping the teams busy. This is a waste and the mission team needs to relieve the missionary or church planter from this wasteful expectation.
  • Be culturally contextual. Know the culture. This is difficult because we all live in a culture that is very regional. Beyond that, we all live within sub-cultures, mostly defined by our church. Listen to the missionary or church planter. Be a helper and encourager. I heard of a mission team member who visited another country recently. He had systematically placed stickers with a dated American evangelistic phrase printed upon them all throughout the area. The problem is that even in America, the stickers are dated. In the nation where these stickers were plastered, the native language is not English. So not only were the stickers out-dated and cheesy. . .they weren't even in the language of the people.
  • Leave your evangelistic strategy at home. This one comes with a caveat. There are times when the missionary or church planter will instruct you to come prepared and trained in a certain strategy. In these cases, by all means, bring the resources and come prepared. However, in many cases the pre-published, memorized "key question" strategies of sharing Christ are not the most effective. One of my missionary friends serving in a post-Christian culture told me that new strategies are being developed in these cultures and while the Holy Spirit can definitely draw people to God through the tried and true questions and tracts, they are very, very ineffective. Listen to your missionary/church planter contact. Seek and observe their wisdom.
  • Know your purpose clearly. Everyone on a misson team has expectations. If the team leader does not clearly understand and articulate what the purpose of the trip is, some on the team will be frustrated (and will consequently frustrate the rest of the team.) Each trip should have a purpose. It may be construction, community outreach, prayerwalking, etc. Regardless, know what it is and remind the team members. Otherwise other plans will be written in the minds of the participants and the Enemy will use this to affect the team and trip negatively.
  • Have fun. Seriously. Take some time to enjoy the people and the area. This is all about attitude. Rest. It's OK. Stay focused. Do what is needed, but have fun.
  • Be encouraging. Pray for and encourage the missionary/church planter. Serve them. You'll be leaving in a few days but he/she is still on the field. Make sure your time with them is one that will refresh them, not wear them out. Pray for and connect with them once back home as well. Don't bug them, but, depending upon the area they are serving, connect via social media or email and please, please pray for them. You will remain part of the mission this way.

I'm sure there are many other tips. 

I believe in short-term trips. However, I believe the trips should be designed to encourage and assist those in the field. If trips end up being about the trips and not the bigger mission, stop going. Don't be "that team."

The Longer You're Here, the Less You See

As I continue to think about and discuss our community with others, some things begin to grow more and more clear. At lunch today, I was meeting with a friend and missional strategist from Lakeland (and soon to be Jacksonville resident.) In our discussions about churches really knowing how to reach the people within their communities, the talk of contextualization emerged.

I shared how recently on my trip to Great Britain, we (the team that was visiting the region) participated in some "narrative mapping" which basically placed us within a town or community for the purpose of discovering more about the people who call the area home and what motivates them and/or challenges them. It was simply a time to talk to, engage and relate with people.

This was actually an enjoyable outing, unlike other "get to know your community" outings that I have been on under the guise of "evangelistic outreach." In most of the traditional outings, we have been sent out with an agenda focused on getting to a point where you can ask a question such as "If you were to die tonight, why should God let you into heaven?" or "In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?" While these aren't necessarily bad questions, and in fact, numerous people have been introduced to Christ through an introductory question such as these, the discomfort level rises exponentially when reciting such a question.

I know I will get negative feedback because I said that, but nevertheless it is true.

Sometimes, in the past, we would go out into our community taking "spiritual surveys." (By the way, avoid Christians with clipboards.) I remember doing this here years ago. My frustration was that we were taking surveys for the sole purpose of getting people to a point where we could "ask the question." In other words, we didn't care about the surveys. We did nothing with the survey data. It felt wrong. It felt like a poor marketing "bait and switch." I believe it's unethical.

Oh some will say it's OK because it leads to an evangelistic moment.


Is that our role, to create evangelistic moments? Is our purpose to create "divine appointments?" Seems to me this leaves the Holy Spirit out of the equation. Perhaps this is what has led to evangelistic scorecards and bloated church membership numbers. . .and anemic church attenders and burned out members.

Could this be why people grimace when the next, great evangelism strategy or program is introduced?

At some point we have to come to grips with the fact that evangelism is vital and commanded yet is always relational. Jesus modeled this. Whether it was his discussion on being "born again" with the religious leader Nicodemus or the down-to-earth discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus always spoke relationally and connected at the heart level.


Because he truly cared about people.

The narrative mapping endeavor led us to discover the people of Great Britain we were staying near. Yet, throughout this project, I could not help but think about Orange Park, my community. Did I really know the community I have called home for the last 18 years? 

Where is the "third place?" 

What do people in our community really value?

What do people enjoy doing?

The thing is, I think I know the answer to these questions, but in reality, I probably don't. Why? Because the longer you're in a community, the less you see. As I drive from home to church, to my children's school or even to local restaurants, over time I only see what I view as important. I only see what I want to see. Things can change in the community and I may not notice immediately. This is especially true if changes are subtle and slowly done over time.

People groups change.

Demographics change.

Yet, this remains the mission field to which we are called.

Even those who have been in Orange Park or the surrounding areas for decades need a fresh look.

While in seminary on of our professors has us take a video camera to our church and video tape the facilities. It was pretty simple. We just videoed as we were walking into the building, into classrooms, into the restroom (with no one in there,) and even the parking lot and worship area. Then, we watched the video with the staff from the church. It's amazing how many things show up on video that we never notice.

The mirror on the wall of the men's room was cracked. It had been that way for years, but I had never noticed. There was a stack of old curriculum in the corner of one of the Sunday school rooms. There were cobwebs in the corners of some rooms. A carpet stain in the worship center was very visible. There were others.

What was the point?

The point was that when things are so familiar to us, we fail to see the details. Needless to say, most of these things were cleaned up and repaired. 

The mission field that God has planted us (and all churches) changes over time. Some churches remain aware. Some do not. There are churches in fast growing areas in our county that are closing their doors because they refused to see what God was doing around them. They missed the missional opportunity.

I was challenged to take a fresh look at our mission field. 

I need to see our mission field with new eyes. Otherwise, I will be prayerfully planning to reach a community that existed 18 years ago. No wonder so many churches feel behind the times.

More on this later.

Remember. God So Loved. . .

This morning we took the time to celebrate and remember all that God has done for us. We observed the ordinance of the Lord's Supper today and we did not want it to be routine or just an "add on" to an otherwise full service.


Before taking the elements of bread and juice, we watched a brief clip from the Czech movie "Most" (re-titled "The Bridge" in some countries.) The film was made in 2003 and re-tells the famous story of the bridge tender who had a terrible decision to make. How sweet to slow down, think, and thank God for the great sacrifice He made to bring us to Himself.

I have attached a longer, fuller video here. It is from the same film, but shows more of the story.

It's a story of sacrifice, of obliviousness by some, salvation for others. It is a great reminder of the sacrifice of a Son given for each of us.

Take a moment, even if you watched the clip this morning in church, and view the clip attached. The "rest of the story" is worth the time.

After a time of personal reflection and prayer, we then distributed the bread and juice to all believers and together celebrated and remembered all that Christ has done for us.

May we never forget (and oh, we, like those in the Bible are a forgetful people.) 

To God be the glory!

Sometimes the Church Keeps People From Coming to Christ

We have all heard pastors tell these types of stories. Many times they come across as one of those "preacher stories" that may have been embelished to make it more powerful. Unfortunately, most of these types of stories are true (and actually, since pastors are telling them, they should always be true, otherwise, the integrity of the speaker is harmed.)

Nevertheless, I was told of a troubling instance this week that occurred in a local church.

It seems that a family had been asking their new neighbors to come visit their church. That's the Christian thing to do, right? We talk about this relational evangelistic effort all the time. In this case, the new neighbors decided to give the church a try. They woke early on Sunday morning, made their way to the church in time for the worship service. They came into the worship center and found a seat.

It wasn't long before a man came to them. They expected him to introduce himself and welcome them to the church. However, in this case, the man immediately told them they were in "his seat."

So, the couple arose and went to another seat.

It wasn't long before another person came to them.

Yep, you guessed it. The same thing happened. They were once again told they were in someone's seat.

Nevertheless, the family found another seat. They stayed through the service. However, they made it clear to their neighbors they would never again attend this church.

I heard this story and just couldn't believe it. 

What makes this story so terrible is that it is true.

What even worse is that this happened at my church, First Baptist Church of Orange Park, within the last month or so.

I don't know if the family that visited would be reading my blog, but if so, please accept my apology. There is no excuse for this and I am deeply sorry. 

I pray that this family will either come back to First Baptist again or at least find another church in our area that preaches the gospel and lives it out where they can worship in and serve regularly. I don't know if this family knows Christ personally. I shudder to think that a barrier to hearing the Gospel has been built now. Nevertheless, I trust God in His sovereignty to continue to draw these and others to himself. I just never want to become a barrier to Gospel.

I fully realize that the church member (and I have no idea who it was) may read this post. Please understand that I love you in Christ, but your actions that day were so blatantly and terribly wrong. You may have some nice reasons or excuses for saying such a thing, but the fact of the matter is that these excuses do not hold water. I am not trying to embarrass you and I get that by "calling you out" (recognizing that I will never know who you are unless you let me know) may anger you. That's OK. As my mother-in-law says "You can just get glad in the same pants you got mad in." :-) 

Unfortunately, this type of self-centeredness is not rare. In fact, all of us, and I mean all of US (that includes me) - even good, mission-minded, missional-living, Great Commission-focused believers can easily slide into a "me-first" religious mentality.

We cannot say we love Jesus and others in His name, while at the same time living like the church was created for us. If His name is to be glorified, it is to be glorified in all areas of our lives. . .even church.

I fully acknowledge that the vast majority of members and attenders at First Baptist would never say or do such a thing as described above. I know this because I see how God is working and transforming lives. I see how we, as a church body, have willingly set aside our own desires and preferences to better reach this community. I know this because of the audible gasp that was heard when one of our deacons shared this story.

Oh, by the way, this Sunday we will be observing the Lord's Supper. It's a time for remembering what Christ has done for us through his death and sacrifice on the cross. If you come into the building and someone is sitting where you normally do, introduce yourself and shake their hand. . .then go find somewhere else to sit. Otherwise, if you move people out of "your" seat, you have most likely just disqualified yourself from partaking of the Lord's Supper this day.

Should Christians Be Involved In The Social Justice Movement?

Over the past decade or so an increase, especially among younger believers, in what is known as "justice ministry" has occured. To some, this emphasis is alarming. To others, it's something that has been ignored for far too long. As more and more legitimate ministries are advocating for the oppressed and poor, the question of where social justice and the ever popular "social gospel" fits in the biblical narrative and our world today has come to the forefront.

The fear that many evangelical Christians have of "justice" ministry is that traditionally, this has been the rallying cry of liberal theologians and even atheistic leaders. Though Wikipedia is not necessarily the best reference site for terms, in this case, they offer a pretty good working definition of social justice.

Social justice is also a concept that some use to describe the movement towards a socially just world. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution. These policies aim to achieve what developmental economists refer to as more equality of opportunity than may currently exist in some societies, and to manufacture equality of outcome in cases where incidental inequalities appear in a procedurally just system.

The word that sticks out in this definition, and is celebrated by many in the world is "egalitarianism." Where issues arise, and blatantly political fodder is developed, is when the term is partnered with "income redistribution," "property redistribution," and "equality of outcome." (

Passion slavery handThose terms are often used in election cycles, and not in positive ways. In fact, it is the egalitarian push that Marx and others have used to justify socialism and communism, especially when referencing an ecomonic outcome. Though some say the actions of the early church as outlined in the Book of Acts affirms a communistic belief system, this is not the case.

Since the social justice or social gospel movements in our culture seemingly have their roots in liberal, social (even socialist) movements, conservative evangelical Christians have often distanced ourselves from such things. By distancing ourselves from this concept of social justice, we have allowed the world to define what it means and have missed out on a vital aspect of the Gospel.

The Bible is clear in both the Old and New Testaments that God is a God of justice. In Deuteronomy we are reminded that this is the case. The Psalms remind us that he cares for the fatherless and in fact will be "Father for the fatherless." We are to minister to the widows and orphans in our churches and communities. Jesus reminds us in his Olivet discourse that we are to love the "least of these" and serve them in His name. 

Therefore, it is blatantly obvious throughout Scripture, that even though the poor will always be with us, we are to love others as God loved us and serve in His name. It is this "serving in His name" that  becomes the great challenge.

The fact is that the world's definition and the Christian's definition of social justice are very different. The world's response to injustice (such as poverty, hunger, slavery, etc.)  is to have the government or an agency advocate care and service to the least in the world in a communal way with a very humanistic outcome desired. While many non-believers advocate for injustices and have raised funds and awareness on a global scale, without a gospel-centric motivation, the "good" works done will remain temporal.

The command to serve the least of these in Christ's name, as stated in Scripture is not given to a government entity or angency, but is given to the church. The church, not a building or denomination or religious agency, but the individual children of God are the ones who have received the instruction and commands to serve the least of these in the name of Jesus.

In other words, I, as a child of God, cannot rightfully ignore the least of these in this world. Ignorance is no excuse. Neither can I use the reasoning that "I gave some money to the church, so that's all I need to do. They'll help the least of these." There is no "they." As believers, it is "we" which begins with "me."

The great commandment, as given to us by Christ, is to love the Lord will all our heart, soul, mind and spirit and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Of course, Jesus then explains who our neighbors are.

So, in the midst of a resurgence of evangelical social justice ministry, it must be remembered that the command is to the individual child of God. When we, as individuals live out the gospel, then the world is changed and God's name is glorified.

Is it valid to be involved in social justice ministries or projects that exist only to advocate for the poor, needy and helpless? The simple answer is "NO." This would be a slide into a "Hands Only" (see this posting for definition) form of ministry. That moves us into a mode no better than the Red Cross or other service agencies. While these entities do some good, they are not gospel-centric and for a church to simply replicate the world's good deed ambassadors is to ignore the gospel. In these cases, God's name is not being glorified.

It is also true that to simply study, read, and think on the things of God without any action is just as useless. Remember, faith without works is dead.

Some argue that feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless or advocating for the unborn or slaves, or any other oppressed group is invalid unless you also share the message of Christ. I do agree with this, however, to believe that giving a Gospel tract to a starving man is better than giving some bread to him is ludicrous. Have you ever tried eating a Gospel tract? The good news of the gospel is to be shared. Jesus is to be overtly proclaimed. The "least of these" are to know that it is all because of Jesus that we serve. Shouldn't our lives be the Gospel tract? Honestly, before printing presses and little gimmicky tracts were ever printed, how did people ever hear and understand the gospel? Through the love of God's children. That's how.

So, is it valid for believers to be involved in social justice causes? Yes, when it is a gospel-centric, God-centered approach that sees and proclaims Christ as Savior, bringing heaven to earth when He returns. This biblical view understands that at His return, He will restore all things and execute perfect justice. Until this time, we, as believers remain Christ's ambassadors to a lost and dying and evil world. We re to express God's love and justice by showing kindness, love and mercy to those who are the "least of these."

So Who Is This "Fully Devoted Follower of Christ?"

For years we have heard and used this phrase to describe the goal of every believer - "to become a fully devoted follower of Christ." It's not a bad phrase. In fact many churches have placed this phrase in their mission statements and core values as one of the goals of the church - to lead God's people to become a "fully devoted follower of Christ."

Here's the difficult question. "How do you know when you're there?"

Of course, the easy answer is "When you are in heaven." 

The danger of trying to determine if you are, or if you are leading others to become "fully devoted followers ofChrist" is that often that leads to arbitrary scorecards that grade behaviors and attendance. While behavior change is going to be evident in the life of a true believer, it is dangerous to use behavior only as the litmus test. 

We began to flesh this out yesterday in our ministery leadershipo meeting. While I'm not sure I fully have this figured out, it seems to me that there are three aspects of the true born again believer's life that must be addressed.

These three have to do with how a person thinks (Romans 12:2), loves (Luke 10:27), and acts (James 2:17). This isn't rocket science. Our thoughts, our heart and our actions reveal who we truly are and whose we truly are.

To connect better with my pastor friends, to alliterate this we could say that our HEAD, HEART & HANDS all show, working together how fully devoted we are to Christ.

So, being a visual learner, I drew a Venn Diagram on the board. First of all, I impressed myself that I remembered what a Venn Diagram was. Secondly, once I drew it, I saw how all three aspects of a believer's life intersect at a point where what we think, what we love and what we do all intersect. It is here, in the center of the diagram, I believe a good image of the "fully devoted follower" emerges.

Think of it this way. There are many who claim to love Jesus and just sit in their churches "thinking" of what ought to be done, normally by others. They know the Scripture. They've probably read through the Bible many times. They most likely are up to speed on all the latest Christian books on leadership, doctrine and how people should think. They, unfortunately, as some have said, become so "heavenly minded they are no earthly good." It's a corny statement, but you get the point, I'm sure.

Head heart hands copyThere are also those who love Jesus and love the mission, or so they say. They just don't do anything about it. It's as if they're in love with the concept of love. Yet, they don't really love because they never act on it.

Then, there are the doers. These are the people who volunteer, serve others, work in the church and community for the good of others. The problem is that in their service, they have forgotten the point. They feed hungry people, clothe some, provide school supplies to needy children, or other such things, but they don't do so in "Jesus' name." 

While living in each of these circles would be considered "good" by the world's standards, and if you could slide into two circles at once, that would be awesome, to miss just one is to miss the gospel.

Think of it as a three legged stool. If one leg were missing, well you can't sit on that stool. It's a useless piece of furniture.

The fully devoted follower of Christ renews his/her mind, loves the Lord fully and serves Him and others in Jesus name. 

I'm not sure this is necessarily "grade-able" but as a personal checkpoint, it is very helpful for me.

Looking Back Forces Us to Look Forward

When a year ends numerous lists are produced. The "best of" and "worst of" lists propagate the internet. We now all know everyone's opinions on the best movies, best celebrity weddings, most inspirational stories and worst plastic surgeries of 2011.

BestOf2011As I look back at 2011 I too can come up with some lists. Here are some FIRST BAPTIST BEST OF 2011 highlights (inb no particular order):

  • Increased mission giving through the Global Mission Fund. Through the faithful giving of FBCOP members, we were able to give even more financial support to missions (Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, Maguire State Missions Offering, and local community missions.)
  • Celebrating the graduation of Brandon Phillips from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • Supporting church plants in Arizona (Legacy Church), Iowa (River City Church) and even here in Orange Park (Mission Church).
  • A banner year for camps - Preteen, Junior High & Senior High
  • Upward Sports offering full scholarships for all children at one of our local elementary schools. This was a one time gift from Caz McCaslin of Upward Sports and enabled us to engage more families for the Gospel through basketball & cheerleading in 2011.
  • Rebirth and renewal of the Heart Matters Women's Ministry. This included hosting our first women's retreat in years.
  • Battle Ready Men's Retreat. Last year's retreat has been affirmed by many attendees as the best yet. Looking forward to number ten, this year.
  • Broader influence in missions. This is evident in our increated mission journeys in 2011 to places such as China, Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, Wales, and New Orleans.
  • Numerous baptisms. Baptisms are a public profession of a personal response to Christ. We celebrate every one of these as a testimony to our great God.
  • Saved marriages. I won't list the names here, but rest assured there were numerous couples on the verge of divorce who are prayerfully "working it out" even n0w. 
  • Adoptions. Two of our pastors and their spouses adopted children this past year (the Rouse's and the Rodgers').
  • Ryan Rouse's fifth anniversary as Student Pastor.
  • Worship Ministry featured on First Coast News. This may seem like a small thing, but being able to boldly proclaim Christ in song on television is amazing, especially when it's on the local news and not on a pre-paid televised church service.
  • Buying a car. We were able (actually without using any church funds at all, but through the donations of church members) to purchase a vehicle for a Green Cove Springs family of girls who had just lost their mother to murder. 
  • Gifting ministries with thousands of dollars. We stepped into a place of stewardship we, as a church have never been before in 2011. By September, we found ourselves with a great surplus of money as compared to budget expenses. Rather than sit on it, we gave away over $50,000 to church plants, orphan-care ministries, and sex trafficking rescue ministries. 
  • Paying off debt. In addition to giving away funds, we were able to pay off the loan on our church bus. What a relief!
  • Increased staff. We have been blessed to be in a position to add ministry leaders to our staff. Kaytee, Kenzie, Jordan and Caleb have stepped in to serve in areas of great need.
  • Intentionally Gospel-Centric Messages and Ministries. We've always been here, but it seems over the past six months we have sharpened the tip of this arrow. The Gospel is the center of God's story and we are unashamedly telling this story.

There are many more things that could be listed. Yet, even in a year where some incredibly awesome things have happened, there are some . . . well, we'll call them challenges. This may be the "WORST OF" list.

  • Funerals. There were many. Some were the home-going celebrations of believers. Others weren't so celebratory. Yet, as Solomon says, it's good to go to a funeral every now and then. It's a great reminder of what life is really all about. It can be called good, but it's very difficult, especially for family members and loved ones. Yet, it's during these times God uses His church to bring comfort. First Baptist has done this and continues to.
  • Broken marriages. Not all couples "work it out." This is heartbreaking. 
  • Lost jobs. We saw a great increase of church members and community friends who have been suffering financially thi past year. We have numerous people every day come by the church office for a referral to the Orange Park Clothes Closet. This doesn't even count the church members who are struggling. Many we help (actually, we help all we can.) Others we cannot. Some never let us know. 
  • Lies. Even with God moving greatly in our midst, some just cannot celebrate. They're bitter. They're angry and they create stories to support their feelings. Fortunately, there are more who are walking in the Light than these who are sliding into the darkness. However, every now and then, the lies are heard. Mostly they're about me. I get that. It comes with the territory. Praying for these who were previously respected as "good Christian men" to come back to the Light.
  • Brandon Phillips leaving. I put Brandon's graduation on the "best of" list, and on this list only as a selfish issue. We truly are excited that Brandon and Jenna are serving on staff at FBC Ruidoso, New Mexico. It's just I hate to see anyone go. Yet, we sent him with our blessing and God is honored. So, even though this is on the "worst of" list, it could also be on the "best of" list.
  • Baptisms. Even though we celebrate the baptisms symbolizing new life, I can't help but think that there are so many more in our community who have yet to hear the truth. I pray we are never satisfied with our "numbers" and continually share the truth of the Gospel to all we encounter.
  • Hurt pastors. I'm not referencing the men serving here at First Baptist but a few of my peers who have been serving in "toxic fellowships." Some have had to resign. Some are contemplating getting out of ministry. They're broken. I believe God is desiring to use us as a healing station for these men. 

Looking back on 2011, whether good times or hard times, whether "best of" or "worst of" items, the reality is that for every bullet point (even those on the "worst of" list) we must say "TO GOD BE THE GLORY." 

We have not orchestrated any program or implemented any ministry strategy that does good. It is all God. As we look forward to what He will do in 2012, I pray that we will keep our focus, our perspective and our purpose clear. We are here to serve Him, to glorify Him, to celebrate Him. 

That should be our resolution, not for 2012, but for each day. 

Stay focused.

Jesus, the Great Disappointment

01 Jesus, the Great Disappointment

Disappointment_w_gHave you ever been disappointed in someone? You know, they didn't respond or react the way you expected them to. It may have been a family member or co-worker or maybe a Christian friend. It could have been your pastor.

This sermon looks at a story in the gospel where Jesus did not respond how others expected him to. It caused some grief and hurt feelings and almost cost a friendship. 

This is the story of Lazarus' death and the intentional delay of Jesus when called to come help. 

Jesus made it clear that all that was happening was so that God would be glorified and others would believe. 

Jesus, seemingly the great disappointed did eventually arrive at Lazarus' home. Of course, it was too late. He had already died and his sisters, Mary and Martha let Jesus know how greatly disappointed they were in him.

You probably know the story. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. In the end, only God was glorified - not Mary, not Martha, not even Lazarus, but God alone.

I wonder how often we pray and believe that God is not hearing or is ignoring our requests. Could it be he is intentionally delaying the response? I believe so. I also believe that regardless his answer, it is always intent on bringing glory to Himself.

It's good to remember this.