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Posts from February 2012

"October Baby" - A Film About Life, Adoption & Forgiveness. Join Us for Opening Weekend on March 25 at 7:15pm

Once again, we are buying out a movie theater for an opening weekend showing. This time, the film resonates with a very special story that God has been leading us into as a church. It's a "faith-based" film with a message about life, adoption, hope and grace.



We have purchased 290 tickets for the 7:15pm showing on Sunday evening, March 25 at AMC 24 Theatre in Orange Park Mall. You can purchase your tickets from the church (please do, so we don't have to eat these tickets.)


Here's what people are saying about the film. . .


"OCTOBER BABY is absolutely the best movie about the precious gift of life, the incredible pain of abortion, and the power of forgiveness. OCTOBER BABY will change your life. This is a must-see movie." 
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman, Liberty Counsel, Dean and Professor of Law, Liberty University School of Law

"I am now an OCTOBER BABY activist." 
Mark Hall, Casting Crowns

"A masterful production with impressive cinematography, OCTOBER BABY has the potential to significantly impact the culture of life in America." 
Michael Farris, Founder and Chairman, Home School Legal Defense Association, Founder and Chancellor, Patrick Henry College

"A movie for my whole family."
Penny Nance, Concerned Women for America

"OCTOBER BABY is an incredible witness to the pro-life movement. Not only does it allow for healing and hope for those affected by abortion, it also sheds a positive and reaffirming light on adoption and portrays the adoption process as a positive alternative to the horrible injustice of abortion."
Kristan Hawkins; Executive Director, Students for Life of America

"A great film with a great message!"
Alex Kendrick, Courageous

"OCTOBER BABY is a must-see film: poignant, powerful, and packed with blessings."
Dr. Alveda C. King, Director of African American Outreach, Priests for Life

"What a remarkable movie. This is a significant story, beautifully told."
Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life

"OCTOBER BABY is a profoundly beautiful story and a powerful testament to the importance of every human life."
Marjorie Dannenfelser, Founder and President, Susan B. Anthony List

"OCTOBER BABY is the most gripping drama ever produced about the central civil rights issue of our time—the right to life. The script is superb, the acting is first-class, and the presentation is flawless. This is a must-see movie for all Americans." 
Bill Donohue, President, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

"I laughed so hard and cried so hard, and healed. Thank you."
Gianna Jessen, Abortion Survivor, National Speaker

"A wonderfully heart-touching film, OCTOBER BABY is a powerful reminder that there is purpose and meaning in every life."
Commissioner Nancy Roberts, National President for Women's Ministries, The Salvation Army

"An incredible story! Wow ... just wow."
Francesca Battitstelli, GMA Artist of the Year

"I laughed, I cried. OCTOBER BABY is a must-see movie for teens and adults. It is an incredible story. Please don't miss it."
Nancy Stith, Executive Director, Georgia Right to Life

"Every life IS beautiful and OCTOBER BABY honestly explores the reality of life, which isn't always pretty. As the mother of adopted children, this movie spoke to me personally. Go see it!"
Susan Merrill, iMom Director

"This is a touching movie with a story that needs to be told. I pray that OCTOBER BABY will heal hurting hearts and open the eyes of those with hardened hearts."
Carol Tobias, President, National Right to Life

"Like all well-crafted art, OCTOBER BABY powerfully stirs both the mind and the heart. The film explores some of life's most difficult questions with a grace, humor, and wisdom that build ultimately to a unforgettable affirmation of life."
Jedd Medefind, President, Christian Alliance for Orphans

"It might change your life." 
The Dove Foundation

Watch the trailer below:


Also, check out for some great stories from folks connected to the film as well as other prominent people regarding adoption, fostering and life.

Be the Good News

01 02 - FOUR ZERO Sunday AM


Michael meredith

Yesterday, we were honored to have Michael Meredith, Student Pastor at Mandarin Baptist Church, preach in our morning services. I traveled to Mandarin and preached there. It's good for churches to collaborate and share in the mission. As we continue to work through the FOUR ZERO series, focusing on the seven last statements of Jesus on the cross, this message really hits home.


Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross. . .

"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:43 (ESV)

The message is about the gospel. It's about the good news. It's pointedly clear that we, as Christ-followers are to not only proclaim that sharing the good news is a good thing, but to actually do it. In truth, with the Spirit of God residing within us, we become the carriers of the good news to a lost and dying world.

You are the light of the world. Therefore, run to the darkness.

FOUR ZERO - Anger Management

01 02 - Midweek Menu _Father, Forgiv

During this session, we dealt with the aspects of anger and forgiveness. 

Throughout the session we discussed how our ways of dealing with anger affect our ability, or inability, to forgive. 


There are three primary reasons we become angry.


  1. Worth. We can get angry when we feel we are not being respected or valued. A good biblical example is Martha.
  2. Needs. We can get angry when we feel our needs are not being met. The challenge we have is discerning the difference between needs and wants.
  3. Beliefs. We can get angry when something challenges our beliefs. 

Often, anger develops as a mixture of the three.

In summary, we become angry when we think that our sense of self-worth, our essential needs, and our strong beliefs are being threatened.

When anger grows within us, it tends to be shown in one of three directions:

  1. Inward
  2. To others
  3. To God

This leads to some difficult questions. 

  1. Have you derived your sense of worth from the correct place?
  2. Are the things you think you need essential or possibly an expression of desires, greed and "rights" rather than need?
  3. Are some of the things you believe trivial rather than vital?

Managing your anger may mean readjusting your source of worth, reducing your catalogue of needs and revising some of your beliefs so that the truly important things remain. The longer your list of worths, needs and beliefs, the greater your risk of getting angry and feeling threatened.

So, how do we often handle our anger? One of these will most likely be your primary style of handling anger.

  1. Suppression - "When I hold it all inside."
  2. Open Aggression - "When everyone sees that I'm angry."
  3. Assertiveness - "When I speak the truth in love."
  4. Passive Aggression - "When everyone feels that I'm angry."
  5. Dropping It - "When I just let it go."

Sometimes the primary style you have is hereditary. Check out the clip below. It's a good example of how anger management is passed down from one generation to the other.

Forgiveness is the key to dealing with anger. Jesus shows us this continually throughout the Gospels. When Jesus said "forgive them" he was speaking of those at the foot of the cross and all involved with the crucifixion, as well as every other human being to ever exist, including us.

Some things to note regarding the "them" we are to forgive:

  • They are often the people closest to you.
  • They are often your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Often "them" is you. Forgiving oneself is a major issue.
  • "Them" may be those in authority over you.
  • "Them" may be your parents, whether or not they're still living or even if you know who they are.

You will often find that those the closest to you are the ones needing forgiveness the most. 

In this process of forgiveness, we find three hurdles that makes it very difficult.

  1. They haven't apologized, and may never.
  2. They keep doing what hurts me, and probably will continue to.
  3. They don't deserve to be forgiven.

When you look at these hurdles in relation to the forgiveness offered by Christ on the cross, it becomes pretty obvious. The people who had crucified him did not apologize, had numerous times killed prophets in the past and would continue this, and did not deserve forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about freedom. The clip below explains this well.

Becoming a Debt Free Church. . .Seriously!

I know that we live in an era where finances are the major stressors for many. Just a little over a year ago, we were considering how to cut salaries and ministries just to pay bills. We were sinking into the red at a pretty alarming rate.

Well, at that point, I laid out the financial circumstances to the church and after and through much prayer, God moved us to a place of ministry as a church where finances were no longer the biggest worry.

Now, just a little over 16 months later, we are in a real position to truly practice what we preach (or at least tell all good Christ-followers) regarding finances. 

The following is the text from an email being sent to all church members tomorrow, but I felt that sharing it here was appropriate. 

I want this to be clear. I share this information for these reasons only:

  • To the glory of God and God alone. That means, there is no glory here for anyone else, not me, not First Baptist Church, not the bank (definitely) but God alone.
  • To show that we cannot proclaim a biblical truth as a church and refuse to ever acknowledge that we, as a church, must also seek to live by the same truth.
  • To encourage those (other churches, families and individuals) going through difficult financial circumstances.
  • To express our desire to not only proclaim freedom, but to experience it. In this case, the freedom from debt.
  • To share my personal doubts and publicly repent for not believing.

I fully recognize that what I'm sharing here for some may seem like "putting the cart before the horse." In truth, we're not there yet. However, for the first time in my ministry I feel that we have a good, prayed over, biblically based, strategic plan as a church to become debt free in an amount of time that is actually very exciting. It's exciting because there's a good chance (unless God calls me home or elsewhere. . .no I'm not interviewing or seeking to go elsewhere) that I will be able to celebrate this future event with the people of God here at First Baptist.

So. . .here's the story:

Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel (Becoming a Debt Free Church)



It has been a pretty amazing year for First Baptist in so many ways. One way that God has blessed beyond our understanding has been financially. As you know, we were able to bless some incredible ministries and church plants last fall as well as pay off the loan on our bus and use some funds for capital improvements. As we move through the beginning of 2012, we continue to seek God's leadership for His church here as we strive to be the very best stewards possible of His resources.


We have proclaimed for years through messages, emails, blog posts and financial classes that the goal is to avoid debt. We are reminded of Solomon's wisdom in this area. . .

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

Yet, the reality is that most of our church members carry much more debt that they (i.e. we) should. While most of our debt is often wrapped up in our home mortgages, there is often added debt in the form of lines of credit, credit cards, car loans, etc.

My wife and I are doing what many of you are. We are systematically and intentionally working to pay off outstanding debt. Why? Because "the borrower is the slave of the lender." Debt keeps us from being able to use the finances God has blessed us with to do more ministry.

Remember when I read the list of stressors last Sunday showing the stressors that many in America face today? The top three had to do with finances (personal finances, work and the economy.)

As a church, we have collectively fallen into the pit of debt. While I am very pleased that over the years the church saw fit to purchase the property we now have and build the facilities we use each week, the truth of the matter is that the monthly payments keep us from using our funds to their fullness.

So, I'm excited to share with you that not only are we advocating as a church that people (especially Christ-followers) work toward being debt free, but we are modeling this.

Here's how.

Over the last seven years, we have focused on paying off debt and God has blessed with the ability to do so. We paid off a loan we came to call "The Giant" (i.e. the imagery was of David and Goliath), we paid off loans for homes on our property that are being used for the Korean Church and the Haitian Church. We were able to pay off the outstanding bus loan last fall. All in all, that's been very relieving and has moved us strategically to the place we are now.

Currently, we owe approximately $2.2 million in loans for our facilities. This is the total payoff for the worship center/music suite complex built in 1994 as well as our education/administration/gym facility built in the early 2000s.

Our loan currently has a 7.5% interest rate and is up for renewal on April 15.

Due to the economic state and lower interest rates now, our Stewardship & Finance Committee went to three banks to see if we could negotiate for a lower rate. The end result has us refinancing a 15 year note beginning in April for a little over $2.2 million at only 4.5% interest. We will keep our loan with our current bank (Well Fargo) and only pay somewhere between $600-$1000 in closing costs. There is no prepayment penalty.

That's a savings of 3% on $2.2 million. In layman's terms, "That's a chunk of change!"

Not only that, our current monthly mortgage payment is $22,262.83. With the new loan, our monthly payment will be $17,178.45. However, our plan is to continue paying the $22,262.83 rate. Here's why.

By paying the higher amount (which is what we're used to paying now) plus the extra $4,000 or so that is given monthly by church members designating a portion of their regular offering (over their tithes) toward the "Building Fund," we can pay off our remaining debt in about 8.5 years.

Let that sink in a moment. . . .8.5 years.

That's 7 years before the loan will come due.

The amount of money to be saved in interest alone is astronomical. It's six to seven figures, literally.

While 8.5 years may seem like a long time for some (mainly those who are about 10 years old) it truly isn't. As I think about how long I have been serving here at First Baptist (17+ years) it really comes into focus as being a short time. I never thought I'd see the day when these millions of dollars in loans could be paid off, but I believe God is leading us to to this and providing us the way.

This means that we are working to not add any more debt during this time. Though houses come up for sale (one is for sale right now) that could be used by our church for a variety of things such as staff housing, missionary housing, classroom space, storage, etc., we do not plan on purchasing any homes if another loan is needed. In other words, if homes come available and church members wish to come together and purchase a home or fund the purchase, we will see that as God providing the means. If we have to take out a loan. . .well, God will have to give us very clear instructions to do so, otherwise we will pass and wait upon the Lord.

One other thing - our Stewardship and Finance Committee has put in place an accrual account where we "pay" ourselves as we can into savings to fund the future replacement of church facilities and vehicles. This will, hopefully, put us in a place to not have to take out other loans for "emergency" upgrades and replacements.

This is the plan. We plan to work the plan and stay on course. I pray that as a church, we will all continue to give faithfully. As the church moves from being a "slave to the lender" so too can we as individual Christ-followers. It takes time. It's takes steadfastness. It means we must stay the course. We will not stop or slow down in the doing of ministry, but as we have seen in the past twelve months, as we serve and live and give faithfully, God provides all that we need for His sake.

To God be the glory!

I'm really looking forward to that day when we can "burn the note" and celebrate God's faithfulness and our obedience in this. Then, the $22,000+ that has been used monthly for mortgage payments can go directly to ministries and Kingdom growth. Oh, in case you need perspective, the monthly mortgage payment is larger than our preschool ministry annual budget. It's larger than our children's ministry annual budget. It's larger than our student ministry annual budget. It's larger than our senior adult ministry, single adult ministry, men's ministry, and women's ministry annual budgets combined. It's larger than our music ministry annual budget. Did you catch that? The monthly payment is larger than the annual budgets mentioned. Just think of the ministries we feel call to fund now (adoption, church planting, missionary placement, etc.) that could be done with the available funding. Well, I know, God always provided the funding for the work He is doing. It's just that the practical numbers side of me sees this and becomes excited about what God is going to do next.

I said it earlier, but let me repeat this - To God be the glory! Just want to make sure we don't think we deserve any of the glory here.

Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep giving. Keep doing ministry. . .for the glory of God.

"Father, Forgive Them. They Don't Know What They're Doing."

 01 01 - FOUR ZERO Sunday AM

 The first statement we look to from Jesus on the cross may be the most difficult for us to comprehend. After being hoisted upon the cross, beaten and bloody, crown of thorns pressed upon his brow, nails piercing his hands and feet, listening to ridicule from some in the crowd, laughter from others. . .sadness from some, he says it. 



"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." 


This statement gives us such insight in the power of our God and the love of Christ. "Father" evokes knowledge of intimacy, love, security,  and hope. It's a word that reminds us of the relationship that is available to all who receive Christ. 

Without "Father", forgiveness isn't possible.

Many of us are stressed out in life. The workplace, the home, relationships, finances, etc. all bring stress into our lives. 

According to a study released this year by the American Psychological Association, more adults report that their stress is increasing. 39 percent state their stress levels have increased in the past year.

More than half of Americans reported personal health problems as a source of stress.

When faced with stress, only 29 percent state they feel they are doing a good job managing or reducing it.

What causes this stress?

  • 75 percent – money
  • 70 percent – work
  • 67 percent – economy
  • 58 percent – relationships
  • 57 percent – family responsibilities
  • 53 percent – family health problems
  • 53 percent – personal health concerns
  • 49 percent – job stability
  • 49 percent – housing costs
  • 32 percent – personal safety

As we look at the pressure audit of Jerusalem, we discover that many of the characters in the story (i.e. the people in Jerusalem) were facing stress at different levels. This audit reveals what develops into stress for us. Also, you can see some short-term and long-term effects of stress on the body in the chart below:


Pressure audit

Some practical reactions to stressful situations:

  • People react according to their interpretation of the event. (Ex. Caiphas sees a financial threat. Crowd sees potential king to challenge Rome. Pharisees see an influence threat.)  How do you interpret events at work and life? Stress is about perception.
  • People’s beliefs about a situation determine their reactions. (Ex. Authorities believed Jesus couldn’t be genuine. Suspicions rampant.) What do you believe about the events at work or in your life? Stress is about reacting to internal beliefs.
  • Anger and frustration are central to stress build up. (Ex. Peter cutting off ear.) How angry are you at work? With others? Stress is about anger.
  • Change is often the pressure point. (Ex. Jesus’ arrival changed or threatened to change many peoples’ ideas and circumstances.) How do you react to change? Stress is about reacting to change.
  • The body is affected by stress. (Ex. The disciples falling asleep. Pilate’s wife having a disturbing night’s sleep.) Is your body showing signs of stress? It’s a physical reaction.

So, based on this, here’s our working definition of stress for this journey:


How did Jesus address and handle this?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Father – a prayer. A prayer of intimacy. A reach for the source of hope and power. Three of Jesus’ last seven statements on the cross were prayers. The first was and this is key.

Father – a statement of identity and worth. It’s relational. It’s intimate.

Father – a statement of security.

Father – a statement of values and beliefs. All Jesus did was for the glory of the Father. It’s all about Him and will always be all about him. We must learn from this.


Forgiveness melts stress. Forgiveness heals wounds. Forgiveness is not possibly apart from the Father.

Jesus forgives. No one asked him to. They didn’t deserve it. Yet, it’s given.

Forgiveness is not saying “what you did is OK.” It is saying “I choose not to hold it against you.” That’s huge and difficult and challenging and freeing and holy and Godly.

Forgiveness is not easy. It is often costly. It is sometimes messy.

Do you have someone to forgive? Most likely. “Forgive them, for they do not know what do.”

What if the one you must forgive is . . .you. This often keeps us from healing. “Father, forgive me, for I know not what I do.”


What Do We Do Now?

With the events of the last couple of days, Clay County has once again been in the news and unfortunately, our collective hearts are grieving.

On Thursday, February 16, Clay County Sheriff's Office deputies raided a suspected meth house in Middleburg. Shots were fired and Detective David White was fatally shot. Detective Matthew Hanlin was shot and seriously wounded (he is currently recovering at Orange Park Medical Center after surgery.) The alleged shooter was also fatally shot.


Det david white

The death of Detective White has shaken our community. White was a "hometown boy," graduate of Middleburg High School (1995), veteran of the US Army (joined the Reserves and served in Bosnia, 1997-1998), nine year veteran of the Clay County Sheriff's Office, 35 year old devoted husband and father of two, and friend of many.


This is the first shooting death of a CCSO deputy in 99 years. 

What are we to make of this?

How are we to respond as believers?

Our first response is to pray. . .seriously pray. . .for Detective White's widow, children and other family members. Idon't pretend to know the range of emotions they are feeling right now, but they are off the chart. They need the prayers of all believers during this time. Only God can offer the "peace that passes understanding" and the healing needed.

The prayers do not need to stop once the flags currently flying at half mast are hoisted full again. When others seemingly get back "to business" this family will not. There is no "getting over this." They never will. However, through the grace of God, they can get through it, even if they do not see how. That's why our prayers are so vital. They need others standing in the gap for them.

Pray also for Detective Hanlin and family. He is recovering, but the memories of the day will linger. Emotions will run the gamut. 

Pray for all who serve with the Clay County Sheriff's Office as well as surrounding police departments & sheriff offices (Orange Park, Green Cove Springs, Jacksonville, etc.) An event such as this stays with the men and women who wear the badge for a very long time. Different emotions and feelings emerge and come seemingly from nowhere. Many of you have friends in law enforcement and some of you serve. Here's some insight from Police Chaplain David J. Fair. (Chaplain Fair is immediate past chair of the International Conference Police Chaplain’s Educational Committee and a former board member. Dr. Fair is Chaplain Emeritus of the Brownwood, Texas Police Department and a Chaplain for the Texas Department of Public Safety and a reserve officer/chaplain for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.)

A line of duty death. There is no bigger crisis in law enforcement than an officer who has been killed in the line of duty. The death affects the officer’s family, the extended family of the agency and/or department, and the community at large.

When an officer dies it sends shockwaves throughout the department and causes major trauma. And, with this trauma comes the repercussions of traumatic stress.

Two of the most likely immediate reactions are shock and disbelief/denial. One might struggle with thoughts such as “This just couldn’t happen to him/her” and/or “I was just talking to them last night. He/she can’t be dead!”

Then the guilt. “I shouldn’t have taken the day off. If I had been working he wouldn’t have died”, and/or “If we wouldn’t have argued he/she would have been focused on his/her job”. The tormenting thoughts of guilt can be endless.

The ever present bargaining with God. “If you will only let him/her live, I’ll never touch another drink” and/or “I won’t ever complain about the paperwork again”.

The best thing an outsider can do is move patiently through the process. Listen, listen, and listen. When you are done listening, listen some more. Be a sounding board. The key thing is that you must be comfortable with silence, something many of us aren’t.

Chaplain Fair gives some more pointed advice on how to minister to the officers who serve. There really is no formula, so it's more than a "Do this. . . then this. . .and finally this, and everything will be OK." 

I know many of you have friends who serve and Chaplain Fair's advice as stated above is best. "Listen, listen. . .and listen." Sometimes just being the sounding board is best. God heals. God fixes. Let Him use you, but don't jump ahead of him.

Unfortunately, we often only think of police officers when we see the blue lights. At that moment, we hit the brakes, even if we're not speeding, and pray they're not pulling us over. Unfortunately, for many, that's the only interaction they have with those who serve.

I know during this time, many of our men and women wearing the badge are being told how much they are appreciated. Continue to do this, but do so regularly. . . not just as a response to tragedy.

There's more that can be done. Prayer is not only where we begin, but where we remain. The "Shield a Badge" prayer strategy has been used by some communities. It is a concerted effort to pray by officers by name on a regular basis for a period of time. I believe it's time to begin this strategy here - not as a program, but as an extension of the church for those who put their lives on the line every day.

Some may be led to give toward a fund for the Mrs. White and family. For those wishing to donate to White's family, the Clay County Sheriff's Office has set up an account. It's as follows:

  • Clay County Sheriff's Office Deputies Humanitarian Fund at Heritage Bank in Orange Park.  The account number is 1520387212.

We must remember that no one is promised tomorrow. Live each day to the fullest. Live each day for the glory of God. 

May God bless our officers and public servants.

Details for Detective White's funeral service:

Click here for the "Officer Down Memorial Page."

FOUR ZERO Begins - Our Forty Day Focus on the Seven Last Statements of Jesus from the Cross

01 01- Midweek Menu

The audio file attached is of last night's kick off of our forty day journey of study focusing on the last seven statements of Jesus on the cross. 

Four280 copy
Since no words to come from the mouth of Christ were random or without purpose, it is vital that we look at these statements to understand the depth of the meaning of what He was saying. This study is about many things: stress, work, life, family, balance, priorities, forgiveness, focus, and others.

Jesus speaks into our lives plainly with these seven last statements. 

While yesterday was basically a kick-off, it led us to focus on where we are headed. This will be forty days of study, but hopefully much more. One thing I can promise - if you join us on this study and stay focused, it will not be easy.

Spiritually, there will be battles. There will be discomfort. There will be challenges to face, not to mention the time constraints of doing a daily devotional (that's the least of our concerns.) Bottom line - the Enemy does not like it when we focus on the message of the cross (which we do all the time, not just during these forty days.)


Orphans, Adoption, and Fostering. . . Not An Option for the Church

Over the past few months, God has been revealing to me and our leadership team His plans for our church to enter into a story already being written. This story involves something that for many has been reserved as a "private matter." It's something that some have a difficult time understanding why the church would be involved.

It has to do with children. Most churches are very positive toward children. We promote "family friendly" activities, events and ministries. Many have distinct children's ministries that feature camps, children's church and the mainstay of Baptist life - Vacation Bible School.

It's not that we do not love children. In fact, we do. It's just that there is a group of children in our community and throughout the world that we often do not talk about. These are the children living in orphanages and foster homes.

The question we are asking is "What is the church to do?"



I am convinced that God desires us not to simply give an offering a couple of times a year for orphan care (though we will continue to give financially.) I am saddened that many churches have left care for children in our society up to governmental agencies.


Why is it that we allow the Angelina Jolie's of the world to be the image of adoption? Isn't adoption and rescuing children a mandate for the church?

Many in our tribe are pro-life, as we are. We are adamently opposed to abortion, feeling that life begins at conception. However, beyond protesting abortion and advocating for the unborn, what do we do for those who have been born, but have no home? What about the child who is put up for adoption? What about the child that is in need of a safe home for a season, or a foster family?

Why does it seem that, for the most part, the church is satisfied with leaving orphan care and adoption up to others? 

I read this verse recently while studying. I had read it before, but this time it really struck a chord. God spoke through His Word to me when reading this verse and it was very clear. 

James 1:27(ESV)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 

Pure and undefiled religion. Now that's religion that God loves. Notice that the first item listed has to do with orphans. Visiting orphans. That is not all, there is also listed the ministry to widows and ultimately remaining unstained from the sin of the world (i.e. in the world, but not of it.)

If our commission as Christ-followers is to share the Gospel and make disciples, then wouldn't it make sense for Christians to be heavily involved in the ministry of adopting children who need homes. To rescue children and bring them to Christ is a worthy undertaking. 

I'm not sure how this will look for First Baptist Church, but I do know that we will be "all in." I see a day when there are no children in need of adoption in our county. Why? Because Christ-following families will rescue these children and bring them into their homes. Men and women will become "Mom and Dad" for children who have never known such a relationshiop. Some will experience the love of Christ through a family that heretofore they have never known.

In talking with our friends at the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, this step is vitally needed in our area.

So, the ball is rolling now. Steps are being taken. We will not rush in unprepared. . .but we will rush in. 

Why? Because we must.

Is it any different for believers in our culture to ignore the needs (phsyical, emotional, mental AND spiritual) of children and allow others to deal with it than what the Jewish people did in the Old Testament when they offered up children to false gods such as Molech? That may be an extreme comparison and will probably offend some, but in truth, there's not much difference. 

We, the called out ones, the rescued, the ransomed hearts, the children of God are to offer pure and undefiled worship to the Father. To ignore this aspect (and no, it's not the only one) eliminates our worship from being as pure as it could be.

What will this look like? I'm not sure, but here are some ideas:

  • We will offer regularly scheduled MAPP classes here at the church (Apparently, these will soon be called PRIDE classes, but are the same thing. Required by the state in order to adopt.)
  • We will offer connection groups for families wishing to adopt or foster children. This will enable couples to talk with and get answers about difficult questions from others who have previously gone through the process.
  • We will upgrade and enhance our preschool and children's ministries to be more "user friendly" for families with foster children or children through the Safe Families program.
  • We will offer training and information for any wishing to adopt or foster children. 
  • We will educate church members about this mission and even those who cannot adopt of foster will be invited into the story. Every Christ-follower can be an advocate.
  • Hopefully, through partnerships with other ministries, we will be able to offer scholarships or donations for families wishing to adopt. (This will be a huge faith step and maintained by an off site ministry.)
  • International adoption will be an option and we want to help in the process. Whether this is through the China Nest of Hope or our mission in Haiti or some other location, we will offer step-by-step information on how, why, and what needs to be done.
  • We will celebrate births of babies in our church family. We will celebrate the adoption of babies into families (regardless the age of the child.)
  • We will be more involved in orphan care through the Children's Home here in Jacksonville as well as international orphanages.
  • We will be an advocate for special needs adoptions.
  • We will be an advocate for multi-racial adoptions.
  • Etc. (This covers all the many things we haven't even thought of, but God already has in the works.)

We understand that adopting or fostering a child doesn't make a person a "super Christian." We do believe, however, that all believers can be involved in this mission. It's not a new mission. It's living the Gospel where God has placed us.

The Cross - "Paid In Full"

01 Payment In Full

Cross necklace
The cross must be more than a symbol, logo, tattoo, emblem, sticker or T-shirt decoration. The cross has been called offensive. It has been misused. It has been broken and redefined. Yet, the cross is key to Christianity. Not just any cross, for thousands died on Roman crosses, but "the" cross. The cross that Jesus was placed upon to die. The cross where Jesus paid for the sins of all. The cross where God was most glorified.

That is the cross we're talking about.

This final message in the series "The Center of It All" looks at the cross, its meaning, its power and its necessity.

The video shown at the close of the service featured the song by Michael W. Smith "Never Been Unloved." I've linked it below. It's a great reminder of the Father's love for each.


Death Always Surprises - Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

The news reports came out yesterday and many, like me, who grew up in the 1980s listening to the smooth, powerfully soulful voice of Whitney Houston were shocked. Whitney Houston - Dead at age 48.

In 1985 when her debut album "Whitney Houston" was released I was in high school. This album sold millions and spawned hit after hit such as "Saving All My Love for You", "How Will I Know", and "Greatest Love of All". The music world and fans knew that Whitney Houston had arrived and would make an impact for years to come.

For a while it seemed to be the case. More hit records, such as her second album "Whitney" which released in 1987 solidified her standing in the music world and ensured she would be no one hit or "one album" wonder.

She faced criticism following her pop music success. According to AP Music writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, her foray into the pop music world left some believing she had sold out her black roots to reach white audiences. She was even booed during the Soul Train Awards in 1989.

Houston stated in a 1996 interview with Katie Couric, "Sometimes it gets down to that, you know? You're not black enough for them. I don't know. You're not R&B enough. You're very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them."

The inner turmoil, sometimes spurred by public perception seemed to be getting to her even then.



Most know how Houston's story began to shift. She had ups and downs. She found love with musical "bad boy" Bobby Brown and they wed in 1992. Their marriage was a popular celebrity gossip story. The wedding shower for Houston featured friends and relatives such as Dionne Warwick, Jasmine Guy and Gospel singer CeCe Winans. The news stated the gifts as being "contradictory" with the strangest item being a Bible given by Winans.


Houston and Brown stayed together for a number of years. They had one daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Their marriage became tabloid fodder and with stories of domestic abuse as well as alcohol and drug use, the pop princess soon became the butt of comedians' jokes and just another subject for celebrity voyeurism.

Houston's story is tragic. Her beautiful voice was changing due to alcohol and drug use. No longer were the high notes hit smoothly. While her 2009 hit "Million Dollar Bill" was good and album "I Look to You" sold millions of copies, it was obvious that the voice just wasn't quite the same. Yet, there was a sense of hope for her fans. Maybe Whitney was coming back?

Then, the news from yesterday. Even though the ups and downs of Houston's public and "almost" private life had been known for years, the fact this 48 year old woman was dead was shocking. While no cause of death has been released, speculation is that it was drug or alcohol related. I hope this is not the case. 

The death of Houston is especially shocking to people of my generation.

All around the nation men and women in their 40s (like me) look to this and are reminded once again of their own mortality.

No one likes to talk about death.

Most people do not like to attend funerals.

Consequently, we are most often surprised by death. Life seems to roll on as routine until a death notification comes. Houston's death impacts many, but mainly as a "I can't believe she's dead" moment. There is concern and prayers should be offered for her family, especially her daughter, during this time. However, most of us will respond by listening to some Whitney Houston songs, maybe Redbox will restock "The Bodyguard" or "The Preacher's Wife" for rental, but by and large, most fans will just get back to living their own lives.

Life moves fast.

So fast that a woman in her twenties that hit the pop scene seemingly just a couple of years ago is now no longer here. Could this be the woman who wowed the world with the best rendition of the Star Spangled Banner ever at a televised sporting event during the 1991 Super Bowl? Sadly, yes.

Therefore, a generation of 40-somethings are forced to think about death.

So, I am taken back to the wisdom of Solomon as expressed in Ecclesiastes 7.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4(ESV)
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 

Funerals and surprising death notices serve to remind us that no one, not even popular celebrities, are promised tomorrow. "The living will lay it to heart" - this means we recognize that each day is a gift. Each relationship is important. Each moment matters. We are only here for a little while. 

While I have no idea about Houston's spiritual life, her untimely death serves as another great reminder to us that putting off for tomorrow that which should be done today is foolish. 

Some are putting off thinking and dealing with Jesus Christ until later. 

The love and grace of God and chance at life that has been offered is here now. I pray for those who are waiting until tomorrow to get things "right with God." I pray for you if you have not considered your life at this level.

James 4:14(ESV)
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 

Whitney Houston's story is so very sad. I pray for her family. I also pray that her startling death will serve as a reminder to all of us of the fragility of life and that God offers hope. He offers life. He offers a way. That way is Jesus Christ alone.