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Posts from April 2012

The Church Modeling Stewardship & Generosity (or "Why We're Giving Away $36,000?")

Churches and pastors are good at promoting the message that people should tithe and give generously, cut up credit cards, eliminate debt and save accordingly. The only problem is that while the message is true and right, often the church doesn't actually model that very well.

Hands lightThat's why I am so excited to share once again that the financial leadership team of the church (made up of laypersons) continues to lead us to a place where ministry continues to be done and missions is supported, at increased levels, while saving, giving and eliminating debt is being modeled.

As the church models this as a whole, it is much easier for me and you to see how it should be done in our individual lives.

So, here we are once again. A surplus of funds from regular tithes and offerings from the past six months allows us to worship God through our actions. Like I said Sunday, talk is cheap. This is more than just talk.

We shared at our quarterly meeting last Sunday evening the details, but let me explain them here.

A net "income" has accumulated over the past six months. This was carried over from 2011 and now we are at a place to distribute funds accordingly.

The total amount to distribute is $143,504. From this, per the distribution scale developed last year, the following is happening now:

  1. We are "paying" our accrual accounts a total of $23,673 to bring us up to where we should be as of 3/31/2012. The accrual accounts are new and designed to provide funds for replacement and upkeep of high cost items (i.e. A/C units, roofs, transportation).

  2. This leaves us with $119,831. Of this, the distribution is as follows:

    1. 40% for capital improvements and/or debt reduction. The total amount is $47,933. Of this, $16,016 was spent in January for the purchase of our needed new sound system in the Worship Center. That amount will be applied to the Music Ministry Budget to put it back in order for the remaining ministry needs for the year. The remaining $31,917 is available for capital improvements and/or debt reduction. Most likely this amount will go towards new signage around campus and the stage rebuild in the Worship Center. These things will take place over time this year since they will cost more than $31,917 and we will not spend money we do not have.

    2. 30% will go in our Emergency/Opportunity Fund. The total is $35,949. This fund is being filled to provide us "rainy day" funds. These are for real emergencies such as fire, hurricane, etc. that may cause us to close for a number of weeks.

    3. 30% of the funds will be given away to Gospel-centered ministries. This is our church being generous and aiding in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. The total amount is $35,949 (however, we have been told by one individual that they will give $51 to make it a nice round $36,000.) Here's who we are blessing this month:

      • $5,000 to Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, North Carolina and church planter Andrew Hopper.

      • $5,000 to Caleb Crider, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Sean Benesh, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Matt Jolley, church planter in Portland, Oregon.

      • $5,000 to Anthony Harris, church planter in Vancouver, Washington.

      • $5,000 Clay Holcomb, church planter and pastor of Trinity Church in Happy Valley, Oregon.

      • $3,000 to the Clay County First Coast Women's Services.

      • $3,000 to Living Water International to provide clean water and the message of life through Jesus Christ in Guatemala.

It's an exciting time to be at First Baptist. I've never experienced anything like this. I pray that we remain faithful and focused and continue in this story.

When you see these numbers, in addition to what we were able to do last fall, it's astounding. Also, this is in addition to what we do regularly through our giving to the Cooperative Program, Associational Missions, the Orange Park Clothes Closet, the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, the benevolent gifts distributed regularly through our Deacons, and more. 

Some may not fully understand why we do this, especially the giving away of funds to ministries not in our own backyard and not seemingly benefiting us locally. It's the Acts 1:8 model. We aren't forgetting or ignoring the local mission. We are just living obediently to reach "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world" at the same time.

Whether we all get it or not, I truly believe God is smiling on us.

We are blessing ministries that focus on women and children, orphans, the least of these, and church planters and missionaries. Sounds very biblical, doesn't it?

As we model what godly stewardship looks like, I pray that we (me included) will begin to make the changes necessary to get our own houses in order. Let's get out from under the debt that keeps us in bondage. Let's live unselfishly and generously.

Oh, by the way, for information on personal stewardship as well as helpful resources for you and your family, go to this page on our website (it's more than just the portal to online giving.)  - http://www.fbc-orangepark.org/giveonline.html.


God is Always Changing

OK, so God isn't changing. He's the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and for eternity. Yet, he is always changing. He's continually changing us, his children. When we became Christ-followers and surrendered to his call, we were immediately and forever transformed. We went from death and now have life. However, even now, as living children of God, we are still in a state of change. He is continually renewing and transforming and changing us into his likeness.

He's doing this to the church as well. (Well, that's redundant since we are the church, but you understand, right?)

ChangeWe are constantly in a state of flux. That means things are always changing. As much as we'd like to hold on and stay the same, it's just not possible. This is true for individuals, families, communities and churches alike.

For years, we have heard the frustration of church-goers and Christ-followers about change. We've often talked about how much churches hate change. I guess it's true. Most of us resist change, yet it's continually happening.

Sometimes the change is immediate. At other times it's subtle.

Sometimes the change is damaging. At others it's healthy and needed.

Some things never change (i.e. the Gospel).

Some things need to change.

I have noticed that while I say I don't like change too much, the reality is that I love it. In fact, I thrive on it. Maybe I'm a little ADD and get bored too easily. Just look at our church's website. I design and maintain it and it has changed completely about twelve times in the past eight years. I'm not saying that's good, it's just been a good reminder to me about my need for newness.

God has wired me this way. I get  bored easily. I like to see new things. I love old things. I really love old things made new.

What I don't like is change just for the sake of change. There must be a bigger story and a good reason for change. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. You know, kind of like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic (that was my required 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic reference.)

So, here's what God is saying to me through His Word, prayers and the voices of others who are godly and have their finger on the pulse of this culture while standing solidly on the Gospel.

The way we have done church must change. 

That's a pretty bold statement and pretty open ended. It also opens me up for some pretty severe criticism from those who believe we need to go back to a previous age rather than move forward.

In truth, we are being called away from "doing" church to living out what it means to "be the church."

I'm not sure what all this entails, but I do know this. The way I was trained, and most other pastors my age and older, to do church, build staff, create ministries and "grow" a church may not only be wrong, it may be unbiblical.

I'm still working through this, so give me some time before you blast me. There's a good chance God will reveal that I misheard him as well.

Nonetheless, I believe we are moving to an age where the traditional pastors or ministers serving an age group or function will be redefined. Oh, we'll still be serving and leading children, students, single adults, married adults and focus on the function of education, music and administration, but the truth of the matter is that God is blurring the lines between heretofore "defined" pastoral roles.

No longer will the church claim to be culturally relevant and biblically solid just by gathering together in large rooms and stating so. We've talked for decades. James' words of faith and works are getting louder, all the while reminding us that works and good deeds do not save.

Years ago churches lauded the fact they were "mission-minded." That, my friends, is not enough. All around our nation and throughout our denomination we have "mission-minded" churches who give a love offering every Christmas and Easter and maybe do a missions study on Wednesday evenings (or Sunday evenings for those few churches still holding the flag for Sunday night services). I fear that these people will stand before God one day and say "But we were mission-minded," and God will say "Where in my commission did I say to think about being on mission?" 

What does this mean for our fellowship? Well, it's the next step in a journey that we have obviously been on for years. However, don't think that just because we send people on short-term mission trips every year we have arrived. I truly believe that each of us are to be on mission and missional in our own communities as well as supportive (and I mean really supportive) of our missionaries on the field. In addition to that, I believe God is going to call out an individual or family in our church (BTW - He's already at work in this area) that we as a church will send to the field. Yes, in addition to our Cooperative Program giving, which continues to increase, our Associational Missions giving, which also is increasing, God is moving us into a part of the story we have never been as a church. We will continue to support our IMB and NAMB missionaries, but we will also have FBCOP missionaries. 

The change is happening. It's exciting. It's Gospel driven. It's not about being a good church. It's about being an obedient family. What will it all look like? I have no idea, but it's becoming clearer every day.

Oh, here's the warning. We can resist the change. Other groups have. You may have seen them around. They're the ones in buildings they cannot afford, looking to close down or sell out. Others own their buildings, so that's not an issue, but there is no life within. They gather regularly, listen to sermons and studies they have heard for  years. They say "Amen" and then go home. They are inwardly focused and satisfied. They will remain for a few more decades until the last of the members pass away or move away. They will pay their bills regularly until the Social Security checks are no longer enough to keep the doors open. It sounds harsh, right? You know it's true, though. It's the lukewarm Christianity and churches that we read about in Revelation. 

Let's not slide into that trap.

Change is normal.


JAX to PDX - Connecting Churches & Church Planters

Something is going on here in Jacksonville, Florida (JAX). It's big. . .really big. It won't be on the news tonight. Most of the people in our communities don't know this is happening. Many don't care, at least right now they don't, but I pray they will.

Something's happening in Portland, Oregon (PDX), too. It's a similar story, but on a different backdrop. Most likely, the majority of  Portlandians do not know it's happening in their city either. However, they will. 

God is at work in these cities in a mighty way.

Last week I traveled to Portland with a good friend, Neil Jimenez. This journey was strange. We knew we had to go, but weren't sure why. About a year ago, Wes Hughes from the Northwest Baptist Convention tweeted to me while I was attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. While at this convention, the North American Mission Board was unveiling their "Send: North America" emphasis. The buzz was all about church planting.

So, Wes, while still in the Portland area, tweets over 100 people attending the convention (you could tell who was there by the #SBC2011 people were using) about joining other Baptists in the Northwest to support church planting there.

I responded, thinking Wes was in Phoenix. Since he wasn't we tweeted back and forth and I told him that I would be interested in seeing how our fellowship could connect across the country in Phoenix in this movement of church planting.

So. . .about a year later, Neil and I ended up in Portland with Wes, walking through the numerous communities and meeting with church planters.

What I found surprising was that of the 100+ tweets Wes sent out to SBC attendees about joining them in Portland, he only received one reply. Mine.

So, we travel to Portland last week. We began meeting with church planters and denominational leaders almost immediately. We were getting a crash course on the makeup and diversity of Portland. It's a beautiful city, but not Jacksonville. In fact, their unofficial motto that appears in numerous places is "Keep Portland Weird." I figured I'd fit right in.

Portland ScottySo, we walked, rode the MAX (metro train line) and sat in coffee shops all throughout the city just observing, talking and learning about what God is doing there.

Each church planter we met with would ask me "So. . .why are you here?" 

Great question. 

I finally figured out the answer. We were there to discover what God is already at work doing and seeking to find how we can support our church planters and missionaries and get in this great story.

There are great differences between Portland and Jacksonville.

  • The geography is very different. While Mt. Hood looms on the horizon in PDX, I shared with our new friends that the tallest mountain in Florida is Space Mountain. 
  • JAX has been rated as the least walkable city in America. PDX is one of the most walkable.
  • It rains all the time in PDX. It rains a lot here, but not every day (except for those few weeks in the summer when church groups are trying to schedule recreation for youth camps.)
  • There's a "Southern Fried Christian" veneer to JAX. Not so in PDX.
  • JAX is conservative politically. PDX prides itself on not being so.
  • JAX is a football city. PDX is a basketball city (I really enjoyed that.)
  • You can pump your own gas in JAX. Not so in PDX or any other city in Oregon. It's a state law.
  • JAX has the River Run. PDX has a nude bike race.
  • JAX has the beach. PDX is about 45 minutes from the coast.
  • JAX has Starbucks. PDX does too, but Portlanders would rather be at Stumptown Coffee or one of the hundreds of independent coffee shops.
  • JAX has a lot of bicyclists. Everyone (it seems) rides bikes in PDX.
  • JAX has Whataburger. PDX has Burgerville.
  • JAX has read Blue Like Jazz. PDX has lived it.

There are other differences, but even with all of these, I noticed some interesting similarities.

  • JAX & PDX are both port cities.
  • JAX & PDX both have a good college population.
  • JAX has Folio Weekly. PDX has the Mercury. They're basically the same paper and have a lot of readers, especially younger adults.
  • JAX & PDX both have rivers running through the city.
  • JAX & PDX both have many pre-Christians.
  • JAX & PDX both have artisan districts.
  • JAX & PDX both have a network of believers praying for the city.
  • JAX & PDX both have homeless people.
  • JAX & PDX both have families in trouble.
  • JAX & PDX both have people with drug and alcohol problems.
  • JAX & PDX both have residents trying to figure out what life is all about.
  • JAX & PDX are both very spiritual cities. (I didn't say Christian.)
  • JAX & PDX both have church planters working in the urban core and suburban areas.

So, why were we there? 

I believe we traveled to Portland because God desires our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) and other churches in the Jacksonville area to connect with the church planters in the Portland/Vancouver, WA area.

Why?

Some would say "There are enough lost people around here. We need to focus on Jacksonville."

While that's true, that's a pretty small and limiting statement. God's church (remember, it's not a building) is bigger than Jacksonville. For some reason, I believe God has strategically placed us in a position to minister to and with those believers in Portland. Why Portland? To be honest, I really don't know, but I believe it's clearly Portland. 

I do believe it's more than putting mission teams together to travel to Portland, though that may happen. I believe it begins with prayer (actually begins, sustains and ends with prayer) and God will then reveal how we can be His instruments in our city and Portland. 

I'm pretty sure traditional mission trips and church events based on the attractional model are not the answer. 

So, join me in praying for Portland (and Jacksonville, too) as we seek together to push back the darkness. 

Let's win the city! (or cities!)

This story is still being written. 

(BTW - yes, that's a picture of a dude wearing Spock ears and Scotty's shirt while playing bagpipes and riding a unicycle down the sidewalk in one of Portland's 20 minute communities.)


Arise!

The clouds had not yet lifted

Jesus tombThe tomb was sealed and dark.

The cruel cross had crucified

The hope of every heart.

The Son of God,

The Lord of life,

By death had been destroyed.

Then in the silence of the tomb

He heard His Father's voice.

"Arise. Arise, first Star of the morning skies,

Come forth, my anointed One

Into eternal life.

Arise. Arise.

Cast away death's dark disguise.

My glorious Son,

Victorious One,

In majesty, arise!

The earth began to tremble.

The ground began to quake.

The mighty stone that sealed the tomb

Of death began to shake.

Then suddenly, the darkness

Was shattered by His light

As Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Burst through the doors alive.

Arise. Arise, first Star of the morning skies.

Come forth, my anointed One

Into eternal life.

Arise. Arise.

Cast away death's dark disguise

My glorious Son,

Victorious One

In majesty, arise!


Arise. Arise, first Star of the morning skies.

Come forth, my anointed One

Into eternal life.

Arise. Arise.

Cast away death's dark disguise.

My glorious Son,

Victorious Son

In majesty, arise!

Arise!

Arise!

"Arise" by Luke Garrett from the album Ever Constant. . .Ever Sure copyright 1987 as featured in the musical "The Promise.

Performed by Julio Arriola and choir.


The Day Before Easter

Can you imagine how the followers of Christ must have felt the day before the resurrection? We speak of the three days in the grave, for we know this to be true. Yet, other than knowing the disciples were  basically gathering together in a secret place, there's not much more in the Bible about this time.

Jean_Jacques_Henner_-_Jesus_at_the_TombWhile there is still debate on what day Jesus was actually crucified, (BTW - I don't believe it was Friday) the fact is that he was not just unconscious. He was not just in a coma. He was not asleep. He was dead. Jesus' body was not functioning. There was no blood flowing. There were no brain waves to register. The body of Christ was dead. 

The disciples knew about death. Death is a part of life. Solomon had stated hundreds of years prior that going to houses of mourning for the dead was valuable. 

These followers had seen death first-hand numerous times in the past three years. However, in most of those times, as with Lazarus, Jesus proved himself more powerful than death. 

Somehow, this was different. 

Though with hindsight, it's easy to see how these disciples should have been prepared for this day. Jesus had told them over and again, sometimes in parables, sometimes pretty plainly, that he would die.

Did they not believe him?

Did they have a hard time comprehending that this charismatic leader in his early thirties could be speaking of imminent death?

Maybe, like many of us, they just didn't want to think about it.

It may be wise to live with the end in mind. It may be beneficial to visit cemetaries and go to funerals, but many do not.

Morbid? Perhaps.

Depressing? Most often.

Whatever the reason for the disciples not "getting this," they were now gathered together contemplating what to do next. 

Rest assured, the common question for most was trying to figure out how to go back to the way things were three years prior. Some may have even had thoughts go through their mind that made them believe, if even for a moment, that the previous three years following Jesus was a waste. Don't count that option out. The Enemy loves these types of lies.

Nevertheless, it's the day before Easter.

It's the day before the women rush to the tomb to find it open and empty.

It's the day before Jesus appears to the disciples.

It's the day before Jesus walks with some followers on a road to Emmaus.

It's the day before he appears in the room where they are gathering.

It's the day before Thomas gets first hand proof of his resurrection.

It's the day before.

One thing I am certain about. These men and women did not expect to see Jesus the next morning.

They did not anticipate the moment that would change them forever.

The date was circled on God's calendar. 

It was not on the disciples'.

The day before Easter was a day where the disciples felt far from God.

Today, there are many in our world who feel far from God. They are far from God.

Tomorrow, many will change their schedules. Rather than sleep in or go to the beach or spend time on the lake or in a cabin or just a home with family, they will do something out of the ordinary. For many, they will attend a Bible study, sunrise service, small group in a coffee shop, or maybe even a worship service at the church they used to attend or that a friend has invited them to attend. 

They will expect the generic Easter message. Some, undoubtedly, will hear that.

Many may go through the motions and check off the "I went to church on Easter" box for the year. 

However, for others, something is going to happen.

Something will change.

I believe that for some, tomorrow is circled on God's calendar.

Tomorrow is a day where everything will change for them.

At least that's what I'm praying today. . .this day before Easter.

(Oh, and just to be clear. . . I believe there are many who attend church or Bible study every week who are very far from God. May tomorrow change everything. Better yet, may it happen right now.)


Responding to the "What's Your Focus?" Question

Sometimes social media can be good and helpful. At other times, it can be troublesome and distracting. In most cases, the latter is true.

Sunday evening following a full day of service with the church, I logged onto Facebook and seeing as it was April Fool's Day, I knew that there would be some fake stories and specials online. For some, this is bothersome, but in truth, some of these April Fool's Day stories were pretty funny, or just strange. What amazes me is ho much time and effort is spent by some pretty large corporations to develop these. So, I read and posted some to my Facebook, just to share some a laugh or two. Some of the ones I thought were funny were Google Maps introduction of the 8-bit version for the Nintendo. Another was the introduction of YouTube's DVD collection.

Companies like ThinkGeek, who offer some pretty funny and strange items anyway, had a few "special" items for sale Sunday as well. I linked a few of these to my Facebook page, just for laughs.

Apparently, not everyone in Facebook land thought this was a good use of my time. Perhaps they're right. No argument there. I'll never get that 45 minutes back, I guess.

What concerned me was a comment on one of the linked posts. A statement that basically stated that as a pastor, I was unfocused. Again, I'll admit that is true a times. However, the question raised was deeper than just a personal admonition. The comment basically painted a picture of our fellowship at First Baptist Church, calling into question our mission and focus. 

Now, I'm not upset the comment was placed there. In fact, though placed by someone who apparently feels led to worship at another fellowship at this time, led me to respond. I simply responded that our focus was the Gospel, plain and simple.

Then, I deleted the post, not because I don't know how to enjoy a good joke or that the April Fool's Day item was innappropriate, but because I figured, knowing how Facebook works, that "friends" would then pile on comments to this gentleman's statement. I just didn't see any positive coming from that (plus I didn't want the tons of notifications to pop up on my phone)

Nevertheless, the question was timely.

I had just preached that morning on the value and necessity of having the Gospel as our motivator as the church in all we do. Since there are many more people who were not in attendance at First Baptist this past Sunday than were (and apparently, the commenter on the linked Facebook story is one of them) I felt that clarification on how the Gospel motivates us is needed.

When we as Christ followers speak of the Gospel (and I like to capitalize the word to remind me of the holiness of our topic) we are referring to the "good news" of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection and our opportunity at life and a relationship with the Father through Him.

GospelWe have our four "Gospel" accounts in the Bible written by Holy Spirit-inspired men intent on sharing the "good news" of Christ to unique audiences of the day and humanity throughout history.

What's interesting is that the term gospel is not reserved for biblical discussions. In ancient days, the Greeks would use the term to signify the spread of good news in their communities. It could be a servant coming to his master with a good report or a soldier reporting to his commanding officer of the success of a military effort. The gospel is good news.

The Gospel is THE good news.

Therefore, it is this Gospel that motivates and drives us.

There are so many unique fellowships that gather weekly. These Christians, part of the church, collective gather to worship and serve the Lord. 

Some center their message and actions around causes such as homelessness, hunger, orphancare, or community impact, etc. Some are centered around a model of church growth. Others are focused on internal care ministries such as children's ministry, youth ministry, senior adult ministry. However you categorize it, each church drifts toward it's natural bent for ministry. 

Here's the rub.

If a church centers itself around a task, regardless how "good" it may seem or beneficial for the people or community, it is a futile endeavor apart from the motivation of the Gospel.

When the focus of the church becomes events, activities, internal ministries or projects, the Gospel slides into the background often. Sometimes, it seems to melt away altogether. Take my word for it, there are "churches" who gather regularly that have slid into this model. Some are dying, and perhaps they should. Others are sustained on the gifts of senior members, but will be gone in a decade or so when the attendance dries up and the bills cannot be paid.

As Reggie McNeal has said, we must remember that the church is a "who" and not a "what."

What is our focus? What it my focus? Simple, it's the Gospel. It is central to all we do as a church fellowship. It must remain our starting point and ending point. The Gospel leads us to be the "who" we are called to be as His church, getting outside the walls of a structure to interact with the world for the sake and glory of God. How can we be "in the world and not of it" if we are satisfied with good deed ativism, another study course, another event and program apart from the Truth?

Tim Keller states this in J.D. Greear's book titled GOSPEL: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary:

One of the most startling passages in the Bible connects the magnificence of angels with the mystery of the gospel. Although angels are incredibly majestic and powerful beings, living in God’s eternal presence. Yet there is something that has happened on earth which is so stupendous that even these immortal beings experience the persistent longing “to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). What are “these things” that could possibly and consistently consume the attention of God-fixated creatures?  The answer is–the gospel.

The angels never get tired of looking into the gospel.  This means that there is no end to gospel exploration. There are depths in the gospel that are always there to be discovered and applied not only to our ministry and daily Christian life, but above all to the worship of the God of the gospel with renewed vision and humility.

The underlying conviction in my preaching, pastoring, and writing is that the gospel—this eternally fascinating message craved by the angels—can change a heart, a community, and the world when it is recovered and applied.

… It is one thing to understand the gospel but is quite another to experience the gospel in such a way that it fundamentally changes us and becomes the source of our identity and security. It is one thing to grasp the essence of the gospel but it quite another to think out its implications for all of life. We all struggle to explore the mysteries of the gospel on a regular basis and to allow its message to influence our thinking.

Amen.