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Posts from January 2013

Subtle Steps Toward Sodom (More Than Just Gay Sex)

Last Sunday I shared about Lot, Abraham's nephew, and his progression toward sin as evidenced by his shift from looking toward the city of Sodom, living near the city, moving into the city and eventually being "in the gate" as a leader of the city.

Sodom, as you know, was one of most sinful cities on the planet. The descriptors of this city, as well as its sister city Gomorroah, make it clear that Sodom and those residing within the city walls, were far from God and exemplified immorality.

When referring to Sodom, the practical truth is that the city represents sin. In a symbolic way, speaking of progressing toward Sodom speaks to our (individuals and nations) progession to accepting sin and immorality as culturally normal and acceptable.

As I shared Sunday, connecting to the 1 Corinthians 6 passage dealing with sexual immorality (a broad category containing all aspects of sexual immorality such as fornication, adultery, pornography, homosexuality, premarital sex, multiple partners, etc.) Sodom was rife.

This is evidenced by the following Scripture passages . . .

Genesis 19:4-5(ESV)
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.
And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

Jude 7(ESV)
Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Uh. . .just in case you don't get it, "know them" is not referring to sitting down with the men for a cup of coffee. This is a reference to "sexually knowing them" as in homosexual sex acts. It should be noted that in today's culture, the politically correct belief system has so ingrained society that a less than conservative approach at interpreting this passage is now propagated. This is one of several passages of Scripture that have been "reinterpreted" and given new explanations. For centuries, scholars have agreed that the sinfully abominable act described here was that of proposed homosexual acts upon the visiting men (angels.)

SodomThus, the terms "sodomy" and "sodomite" entered into the English language as as referring to detestible sexual acts (as has been in the news recently regarding the horrendous gang rape of the young woman in India) and homosexual acts.

The reinterpretation of the sin described in this passage has been lessened to that of simply "inhospitality."

That seems to be a stretch to me.

There are some other details about the sin of Sodom that must be taken into account. In searching Scripture, it is evident that the sexually immoral acts of the citizens of Sodom led to their eventual destruction. However, their sexual sin was not the ONLY sin that led to their destruction.

Check out this passage. . .

Ezekiel 16:49(ESV)
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

The sins described in this passage are not nearly as offensive to most of us. Why is this? Perhaps it is easier to wave the flag of righteous indignation upon Sodom when the only sin we look at is that of a sexual nature, and of an apparent homosexual rape attempt. Yet, this listing of abominable sins that led to destruction sound more like the typical "American way" than most of us would like to admit.

  • Pride.
  • Excess of food.
  • Prosperous ease.
  • Not aiding the poor and needy.

Um . . . does this sound familiar?

There's one other passage. This one speaks not of the homosexuality of Sodom, but of another sexual sin, just as heinous. Oh, and this one sounds a little too much like America as well.

Jeremiah 23:14(ESV)
But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”

Stepping toward Sodom is a subtle process. It rarely happens immediately and yet, there comes the day when we look up and ask "How did we get here?"

This is the strategy of the Enemy.

Be careful.

Be strong and courageous.

Be wise.

This battle is not lost, but we need to aware.




Sex in the City


As we continue through 1 Corinthians, we get to the second half of chapter 6.

1prostituteWhy is it that sexual sin seems to always be at the forefront of the battles men and women face? Because the Enemy knows that with this particular flavor of sin that much destruction can result. It's not the worst sin a person can commit, but it is deadly (as all sin is) and was running rampant in the early church (as in the 21st century church.)

If you get a chance, listen to the audio file of the sermon attached above, or download as a free podcast in iTunes here.

The song "Slow Fade" by Casting Crowns gives us a visual of how the slow progression and justification occurs that leads toward a life where the holiness of God is ignored and the sin becomes that which identifies a person.


So. . . God, What Are You Doing? (More On Our Adoption Story)

A week or so ago, I posted about our journey toward saying "Yes" to God's call for our family to adopt. We are confident we have heard God's voice in this. The message was to step into this story of adoption full-force. Yet, sometimes, God calls us to a part of the story without fully giving us fullness of how it will play out.

I often ask God to give me "high beam headlights" so I can see what lies ahead, maybe even around the bend. God continues to answer "My Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path - just enough light for you to see the next step you are to take."

There's strength in that promise.

So, as I shared previously, we believed God desired that we adopt a young boy from Haiti named Climako. The pieces seemingly fell into place for this young boy to join our family. We had heard that his backstory was one of abandonment following the earthquake. As with many things in Haiti, sometimes the stories aren't as accurate as first believed.

Today, we discovered that Climako's mother is still alive, loves her son and is now at a place to take him back home. We had heard a few days ago that she was still alive and that abandonment may not be the story. Apparently, this is the case. She just needed help for a season and did the right thing by allowing the Cabaret Children's Home care for son for a time. Today, via the Cabaret Children's Home Facebook page we discovered that this young boy is going home.

We (my wife Tracy and I) believe that the very best thing for a child is to be in a loving home with his/her parents. So, as the story unfolds, we are celebrating that the young boy we have been praying for, is now back home.

This is a God story and an answer to prayer.

We had been praying for Climako to have a loving home. We thought that meant our home. In this case, it means going back home with his biological mother. So, God did answer and we are praying for Climako, his mother and his entire family.

Are we saddened by this news?

Surprised, because we didn't know this was part of the story, but saddened? Maybe initially just because we thought this little boy would be moving into our home, but as we survey the larger story, the sadness is clearly dwarfed by the joy of knowing God has blessesd this little boy and his mother and family and reunited them. That's incredible! How could we be sad about that without being selfish and ungodly?

What does this mean for our family?

That's the question my wife and children have just asked. Apparently, they think I have the answer.

Here's what I believe it means right now for us. It means God was testing to see if we were serious about the story of orphan care, or if it was just something the church was proposing that we said was a good idea.

Was this our Abraham-Isaac moment?

Perhaps. Yet to be seen.

Will we be pursuing adopting another child?

I believe so, but understand that adopting a child is a decision to be prayed over and through. This is God's story, not ours. We're just invited into it.

I know our family needs a greater story. We were created for such, just as all families have been.

I'm excited about what God is doing (just wish He'd give me some of those high-beam headlights.)

Here is a photo of Climako and his mother being reunited at Cabaret. We continue to pray for him and request that you do as well.

Climako and mom

Rebranding First Baptist Church

Rebranding is a term that has been used in marketing for years. It signifies the creation of a new name, term, symbol, design or combination of these for a product or business.

We have seen various products rebranded throughout the years. Sometimes this is done with the intent of developing a new, differentiated product view. At times it's successful. Sometimes it is nothing more than a "new coat of paint" on an old product.

So, why rebrand the church's logo?

For the past nineteen years, First Baptist Church of Orange Park has used the cross in the circle as its brand. The imagery first came into existence as an artistic rendering of the round window with the cross imbedded within on the "new" worship center.

Over time, the logo has been morphed to its most recent state, but other than having a cross within it, does not convey much regarding the message and mission of First Baptist Church. In fact, some have stated that it appears "too hippy-like" (whatever that means) or even reminds them of a burning cross (not the image we hoped to convey.)

As we continue to move forward as a Kingdom-focused church, with a new strategy and process for discipling being developed this year (with a church-wide reveal planned for the fall) it is time for a new look.

First orange park copy
Some things about this image. . .

  • "First" reminds us that at this church, God is first. His Kingdom is the focus. What's first at Orange Park? God is.
  • "A Southern Baptist Church" makes it clear who we are doctrinally and relationally. Our autonomy as a Baptist church is affirmed yet our affirmation of The Baptist Faith & Message as our statement of faith is clear.
  • The four colored blocks signify the four connections we have been working through for years (worship, small groups, ministry, community).
  • The fact the boxes are not the same size and seem to be randomly placed reminds us that at times life seems just like this - random and confusing.
  • The cross that is formed in the white space between the boxes is an affirmation that while life may seem random, God holds it all together and offers peace, hope and life. He is the center of all we do and are.

You most likely have begun to see this imagery throughout our church, on signs, the web and on publications.

The response to the new brand has been overwhelmingly positive within the church body and the community.

However, we must be very clear here. The "holy discontent" that has settled upon us as we strive to break free of the cancer of mediocrity will not be resolved simply through a new logo. This is just a tiny step forward as we strive to be the church God has called us to be.

Rest assured. . .this will be an adventuresome year.

See you Sunday at First!

*Oh, BTW - those who say "You took 'Baptist' out of the name!" are wrong. Read it. It says "A Southern Baptist Church." Also, our legal name as a church is still "First Baptist Church of Orange Park, Florida, Inc." No changes there.

REAL Manhood: Terrell Owens - Football, Fatherhood & Accepting Responsibility

We live in an age of victimization. We see this all the time, whether in our own families and communities or exposed on television in the lives of celebrities or those unfortunate enough to garner their fifteen minutes of fame for all the wrong reasons.

Terrell OwensIn May 2012, Dr. Phil McGraw had as guests on his talk show former All-Pro NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens and a number of women that have given birth, out of wedlock, to Owens’ children. The show began with discussion about Owens’ football career and how he now is facing severe financial problems and has been relegated to playing in the Indoor Football League (which is even more of a minor league than the Arena Football League.)

The story soon moved to the irresponsibility of Owens not only fathering children with four different women, but apparently refusing to pay child support and even take the time to be with his children regularly. The story is complex and sad on so many levels. Here’s the multi-millionaire professional football player “living the life” that our culture promotes and celebrates in so many ways. The three women on stage with him (there’s a fourth as well, but she wasn’t present) all acknowledged having conceived a child with Owens.  While Dr. Phil systematically took everyone on stage to task for their actions of the past, the sad reality is that there are now four children who need their dad.[i]

Owens began to explain his side of the story and while there were some sad points, the reality was that this man was looking for excuses for not taking responsibility.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of manhood in our culture, but all too common. It’s easy to slide into excuses and victimization. Real men accept responsibility. It’s more than just saying “My bad” when something goes wrong. It’s about owning our story.

Be a man who accepts responsibility. This is not instruction to live in the past. It is a calling to men to take responsibility. Sin in your past? Own it. It’s yours.

Here’s the really good news, God says he will gladly take that past. Through His grace and your repentance, He will take the sins of your past and remove them.

However, you have to own it first. Have you done so?

[i] McGraw, Phil. "A Football Star's Daddy Drama." Dr. Phil. Syndicated. Los Angeles, CA, 8 May 2012. Television.

Sometimes God Says "Slow Down." (The Latest on Our Adoption Story)

As you may know from yesterday's post, Tracy and I are pursuing the adoption of a young boy from Haiti. We are hard at work on the prep work for our home study, as well as looking at funds and other details needed.

Today, after talking with representatives from our Haitian orphanage, we are hearing God say "slow down."

HandsThe little boy we feel led to bring into our home has a backstory that continues to be unveiled. At first, we thought he had no mother and was dropped off by his aunt. Now, it appears his mother may still be alive. We really do not know more than that, but there are documents and other things that must be done for an international adoption to move forward. The American side of the process is challenging, but a piece of cake as compared to the Haitian side.

Nevertheless, since the home study here in the States is only good for eighteen months, we are delaying this part of the process until we know more about Climako. The bottom line is we do not want to have to do this twice (it's not free.)

Of course, after updating my wife and children on the situation, emotions kind of run high.

So. . .God says "slow down."

We are confident of these facts:

  • God loves our family.
  • God loves the children, all of them, and especially those who are orphans.
  • God is calling our family to step into the story of adoption.
  • We have taken the first step of faith on this journey.
  • God is writing this story and while we only see this page right now, we're confident He has an incredible epic in store for us.
  • God may very well bring Climako home to live with us.
  • If God so chooses, Climako may go back to his birth mother.
  • Since God has effectively opened our hearts to adoption, we're confident our family will increase in this way (whether with Climako or another child we have yet to meet.)
  • All of this. . .and I mean all of it. . .is for the glory of God!

It Seems Our Family Is Expanding

This has been an interesting journey for our family. A few years ago, I began to contemplate the role of the church as it relates to orphans in this world. I knew pretty quickly that this was not just a thought that had come to my mind. I began to see stories of believers who had adopted children into their homes.

When I went to China, I visited the China Nest of Hope orphanage in Beijing. It is hard not to fall in love with these children. About a year after my trip to China, I viewed the Nest of Hope's update video on their website and, lo and behold, one of the young ladies I met in the orphanage was featured. She is now living in the United States and getting the medical care needed as well as excelling in school and enjoying her new family and church. You can see the video here. It's worth a watch.

ClemakoI reconnected with a good friend from high school to discover that she was married with eight children. Yeah! Eight! I was amazed at how God's story of grace and adoption was being played out in her family. She and her husband have biological children, but also have adopted children from around the world. Her blog "About Me" section says "I have children born in the USA, Russia, China, Canada, and Colombia, three born to me, five adopted, and three with Down Syndrome. I love my Lord, my husband, my babies, our families, and Texas." As any good Texan knows, the love for the Lone Star State has to be listed as a priority. I have been amazed and inspired by her family's journey. Her name is Jill Spicer and you can read more at her blog here.

Of course other things began to awaken me and my wife to the possibility of adoption. Stories from people like Steven Curtis Chapman, Dr. Russell Moore, Willie Robertson (of Duck Dynasty) and even pastors and on our staff (Stanley, Shelvin, Skipper and Ryan) began to seep into a place in my heart I never really knew existed.

Then, back in the summer of 2012, our son Daniel participated on a mission trip to Haiti to serve in our orphanage at Cabaret. While there, he connected with a young, four-year-old boy named Climako. This young boy, according to those at the orphanage, was very shy and never really connected with others, until Daniel arrived.

Well, Daniel was ready to bring him home.

I answered, like any good Christian would, who doesn't want to do something, with "Let's pray about that."

It wasn't until September of this year while I was teaching at our annual men's weekend that God spoke, both to me and my wife, Tracy. I happened to pick up an audio book from a discount book store that was on the way to our retreat setting. In this audio book was a chapter about a family struggling with their teenager. I won't repeat the full story here, but the message was clear, regarding their family struggles. The father said "We weren't living in a big enough story."


That struck me. So. . .while at the retreat, I played that portion of the book to the men in attendance. It went along so well with the bigger message of the weekend.

Meanwhile, back in Florida. . .

My wife was in church on Sunday morning and our former student pastor and current missionary to Haiti, Ryan Rouse was preaching. He "randomly" decided to read a portion of a chapter of a book he had. Yep, it was the same book and the same chapter.


It struck my wife at such a level that she told me the only thought that came into her mind was "We need to adopt Climako." She was crying and it was apparent God was speaking. By the way, it's really cool to have a wife that can hear the voice of God.

When I arrived back home on Monday, she couldn't wait to tell me this revelation. I was dumbfounded and shared that I had just purchased the audio version of the book and that very section struck me.

There are no coincidences.

Over the past few months, we have been praying about this possibility and as our church is strategically and intentionally stepping into this story of "orphan care," God is saying to our family - "You need to bring this boy home."

So, at an age where it seemed the empty nest was coming very soon and questions about college tuition, car insurance and future plans without kids in the house were becoming more common, I am now thinking about how a 44 year old is going to do with a preschooler and another chapter that involves elementary school, junior high (yuck!) and high school all over again. Though this new son isn't here yet, we're believing God will finish the story.

We have officially entered the process. We're scrambling to get paperwork together for the home study coming soon. We are wondering were the $10,000 is going to come from that this process will require (oh yeah, we've been systematically paying off debt, so this is now a huge question) and we're questioning at times if we're up for this.

Then, we remember that God spoke and continues to speak. He has chosen us as His vessels of rescue, grace and love for a young boy in an orphanage in Haiti. Whew! This is going to be fun year.

Oh yeah, remember when I preached on spiritual warfare because the Enemy was attacking our family so severely last fall? It is now clear that as we stepped into this story, the Enemy did not like it. Go figure. The battle is real, and apparently, the soul of a young boy may be at stake. I just wonder what God may do through this young man?

So. . .please pray for us along this journey.

And Such Were Some of You. . .

011313_1045_Keep Calm 12

 Yesterday I preached a message from 1 Corinthians 6. This is an interesting chapter in the book, in that just one chapter prior Paul is speaking about sexual immorality and then changes tune to speak about the problem of multiple, frivolous lawsuits being brought within the church.

Then. . .Paul gives us a list of those who will not inherit the Kingdom of heaven.

First, some points regarding lawsuits...

  • Christians shouldn't sue other believers and allow non-believing judges to settle disputes.
  • Followers of Christ should remember that they will be given authority to judge the world at the end of the age.
  • Followers of Christ will also be judging angels.
  • Christians ought to be able to judge trivial disputes.
  • A Christian mediator is the preferred route.

Such were some of youSome things to note, however...

  • Christians aren't told they cannot take non-believers to court.
  • However, any lawsuit is discouraged in that the ramifications and the cost to the testimony of the church and the Gospel should be weighed.
  • If sued, get a lawyer.
  • There's a difference between crimes and sins.
  • Churches should never claim 1 Corinthians 6 (or any other passage) as their power to allow crimes to be dealt with "within the body."

Regarding counseling with our pastors...

  • Pastoral confidentiality does not mean your "confessed crimes" will go unreported.
  • If you confess you are abusing your children, we will pray for you and turn you in.
  • If you confess you are embezzling from your company, we will pray for you and turn you in.
  • If you confess you are considering building a bomb and setting it off, we will turn you in. . .then pray for you.
  • If you confess to cheating on your spouse sexually, you have two options - you can tell your spouse or we will. (There are these things known as STDs and your spouse needs to know what you've been doing.)

These statements may eliminate some of our counseling sessions, but we're good with that.

Paul, then gives these words to the church.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10(ESV)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

At first glance, many believers look at this passage and look primarily to the descriptive terms that identify sinners who are "dirtier" than they are. Look at it this way. . .

So, who makes the list? Who does not get to inherit the Kingdom of God?

  • Unrighteous (he/she who lives continually in unrepentant sin)
  • Sexually immoral (pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, porn addicts, multiple partners, etc.)
  • Idolaters (those who put anything as more important than God and his Gospel, even if that’s your own family and kids, Gators, Seminoles, another sports team, car, job, house, money, etc.)
  • Adulterers (just called them out specifically)
  • Men who practice homosexuality (this flies in the face of the cultural teachings of being “born a certain way” or loving who a person likes. Sorry – it’s an ungodly lifestyle and even (and I don’t believe it’s true) a person were born with same sex tendencies, it does not discount the fact that acting out on those is sinful. Oh by the way, lesbians don’t get a pass here either – read Romans 1. Also, in our culture there is a movement of being “spiritual” and stating that the Bible and God has nothing to say about this issue. Uh, it does. It’s clear. It’s not mistranslated. It’s not hateful. It’s just plain and is a fact.)
  • Thieves (obvious thieves and those who pirate software, movies, pencils from work, ketchup from Chick-fil-A, etc.)
  • Greedy (the guy who wouldn’t spend the money he had for his kid to have cool superhero Underoos but bought the cheap white briefs and t-shirt and told him that they were “Casper” ones is greedy.)
  • Drunkards (more than an illness apparently.)
  • Revilers (foul mouthed people)
  • Swindlers (con men)

Then, and this is my favorite verse in the chapter, Paul says this. . .

1 Corinthians 6:11(ESV)
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I underlined the word "were" because that is so key here. It's easy to stand on our soapbox, looking down our noses at those other "sinners." We all do this at some level, but Paul's reminder echoes here - SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU!

What a great reminder of the gift of grace and salvation. Only because of Christ do we inherit the Kingdom of God. Only Jesus gives us this.

If you have the time, listen to the audio file attached to this post from yesterday to get the full message.

REAL Manhood: The Life and Martyrdom of Uncle Jack

The country districts of North Jiangsu China were wild and dangerous in the fall of 1931, but the missionaries kept on preaching, trusting their lives to God's keeping. At Haizhou near the coast the Reverend John W. Vinson, otherwise known as Uncle Jack as he was affectionately called by the younger missionaries, insisted on going into the country. “But Uncle Jack,” they said, "you're not strong enough to go so soon after your operation."

“I must go,” he replied. And then added, “I must witness for the Lord while I can.”

Mr. Vinson went to a little market town called Yan-Chia-Chi about 30 miles to the southeast. And there he was warmly greeted by a little group of Chinese Christians, many of whom he himself had through the years baptized. After talking with them about the services to be held the next morning, he went to sleep there in the little chapel.

That very night a wild army of bandits, more than 600 in all, swooped down upon the little town looting, burning, killing and wounding the people all that night and the next day. When they finally departed, they took with them about 150 Chinese men, women and children to hold for ransom. Their prize captive was the American missionary, Mr. Vinson.

An army of government soldiers pursued the bandits and overtook them at a little village called Lianyungang, where the robbers barricaded themselves behind the village wall. The government troops immediately besieged the village.

"Do you want to go free?” the bandit chief asked Vinson.

"Certainly,” he replied.

"All right, you write a letter to the commanding officer of these soldiers to withdrawn his troops and we will let you go.”

“Will you also free all these Chinese prisoners?” the missionary asked.

“Certainly not,” replied the bandit chief.

“Then I, too, refuse to go free,” said Vinson. He was adamant even in the face of vehement threats.

China 1930sThat night the bandits tried to break out in the darkness. Many of them were killed, and 125 of the 150 captives escaped. The bandits fled taking Vinson with them, but he could not run because of his recent operation. The daughter of a Chinese pastor was one of the prisoners who escaped from the bandits. She later told of having seen a bandit threatening Mr. Vinson with a pistol and trying to frighten him.

“I'm going to kill you,” he said as he pointed the gun at the missionary's head, “aren't you afraid?”

“No, I am not afraid,” came the calm reply, “If you kill me I will go right to God.”

He was killed, shot and beheaded. At the time of his death a writer, E.H. Hamilton, was also working in bandit territory between Zhejiang and Haizhou. When he reached a little railroad station to return home he heard the sad news. And when he arrived home he read the full glorious account written by the Hijo missionaries of Jack Vinson's fearless witness for Christ.

This writer went to his study and sat silently for a few minutes. Then, picking up his pen, he began to write. Within 15 minutes the five verses all were written and never have been changed. If ever a poem was given of God, this one was.

The writer calls it "Afraid of What?" Here's the poem:

Afraid of what?
To feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace?
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid of that?

Afraid of what?
Afraid to see the Savior's face?
To hear His welcome and to trace the glory,
Glean from wounds of grace?
Afraid of that?

Afraid of what?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart?
Darkness, light, O heaven's art?
A wound of His a counterpart?
Afraid of that?

Afraid of what?
To enter into heaven's rest,
And yet to serve the Master blessed?
From service good to service best?
Afraid of that?

Afraid of what?
To do by death what life could not?
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid of that?

Later on at Mr. Vinson's funeral, Chinese officials who knew not Christ marveled that here was man who refused to save himself. The missionaries then told them of John Vinson's Master, who saved others. Some of the little churches in Mr. Vinson's country field, which had been cold now, took on new life. Many of the church members became hot-hearted for Christ. And many more received Christ as Savior after Jack Vinson's martyrdom.[i]

[i] Barry, Lisa. "Back to the Bible - Afraid of What: Missionaries to China." Back to the Bible - Afraid of What: Missionaries to China. Bac to the Bible, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <>.