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Posts from October 2013

Mr. Tarkington Goes to Washington

I have been to Washington, DC a few times with mission teams. We have worked in cities in Virginia in the past and taken time to tour the nation's capital. It's always encouraging to me to walk the streets of DC and see the diversity of people also there. There are many Americans who work in the city and no doubt now view the monuments and memorials like many who live in Orlando view Disney World. You know, "Oh, yeah, that's cool. . .I guess." It becomes commonplace.

There are groups from other nations posing by every American icon to get photographs to post online or send back home.

Government workers move quickly between buildings. 

Capital police stand guard everywhere. 

Photo Oct 29, 2 56 59 PMI have been in Washington DC for the past two days. This time, I was not with a group of students or a mission team. I was joining over 600 other pastors, business leaders, conservative thinkers, educators, law enforcement and others in an effort to encourage House Republicans to move forward with immigration reform.

IMMIGRATION REFORM?

Why would a pastor in Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville, care about immigration reform? It's one thing for leaders in south Florida, or in border states like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California, to care, but why me?

The phrase "immigration reform" has been hijacked by many in the political arena. As I met with Congressmen and congressional aides today, we  affirmed the hijacking of these terms and realize that many hear the phrase, but think it means "amnesty for illegals" and "insecure borders." When others write the talking points, that does come to mind.

Thankfully, as we met with Florida Republican members and/or aides of Congress today. . .

. . .the clarity of thought moved beyond sound bytes.

Each agreed that we have a broken immigration process. Each agreed that border security and homeland security is a priority. Each agreed that amnesty is not the answer and would be unfair to taxpayers and those who went through the legal process of naturalization. Each also agreed that there are many holes in our system. Holes that leave us with many problems, such as law enforcement issues, economic issues, familial issues and various other problems.

Partnering with the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), (By the way, there are reports that the EIT is a front organization funded by liberal billionaire George Soros. Those assertions of funding and control are false. Please read here.) we were able to discuss the real issues based on the EIT's principle statment:

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

The Bible is clear about how immigrants should be treated. The Hebrew word for immigrant, ger, is used in the Bible 92 times and we are continuously called to care for the stranger in our midst.

Compassion and justice for the sojourner and alien among us is affirmed in numerous places (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Psalm 94:6) and Jesus spoke of ministering to the "least of these" in the Gospels. 

And as Romans affirms, we are to live as Christ-followers while abiding by the rule of law. 

Our meetings today were fruitful and discussion and prayer was good. Each member we had the privilege to speak with today desires to address and fix the immigration process. The "how to" is still being debated. Some say the Senate bill is a good start. Others fear that there are too many holes in that bill to enforce it well and therefore, a new bill should be written. Forsaking border security and fairness to taxpayers is not an option. Providing amnesty is not an option.

Yet, something must be done. That has been agreed upon.

We met today to affirm our lawmakers and to ensure them we respect them, and pray for them. Please join me in praying for these members of Congress and those they represent and may well represent in the future as they move forward to reform our nation's immigration process.


You Are What You Read

Some people don't like to read. I love to read. In fact, I have a stack of books that I've purchased and have been given to me over the years still in the "to read" pile. Time becomes an issue.

Nevertheless, you will know a person by what they read, right?

So, here are some pictures of bookshelves in my office and in our Associate Pastors' offices. A little insight into what we're thinking on, perhaps?

My office:

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And. . .another shelf in my office:

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Stanley Puckett's office:

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Dave Paxton's office:

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Shelvin Lamb's office:

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Skipper Rodgers' office:

IMG_0942


To Be a Sending Church, We Must Send Our Best: Neil & Kaytee Are Moving to Canada

It's been said that life is a journey, and the older I get the more I understand that truth. Over the past few years, God has been leading me and our church to be more intentional and strategic when it comes to expanding the Kingdom of God through church planting. This is interesting because. . . well, I'm not a church planter. I've never had that designation.

I answered God's call into ministry over twenty-three years ago. My calling, at the time, was clearly to work with students in the venue of the local church. Being a typical, Baptist church kid, missions was something we gave money to. . .not something we did. I went to seminary and served as the part-time youth minister at my home church of about 120. It was a learning experience, and I'm not too sure I really did the church much good. I was literally two years older than my seniors. Not much "wisdom of the ages" to offer.

I completed seminary and was called here to First Baptist Church of Orange Park - an established church with a history of strong student ministry. I was content. I believed I would be serving as the Student Pastor here for decades. Well, it's been decades (two in December) but God had other plans for me. Eight years ago I was called to be the Lead Pastor here at First. It felt just like those first few months as youth minister back in Texas. I was in over my head. I think most everyone knew it, too.

Still, God had a plan.

He solidly confirmed some strategic moves for us as a church. This resulted in a clarity of mission. We were drawn to engage in orphan care, church planting and global missions. These became our "Big 3."

Why church planting?

I had no experience in planting. I had never been a part of a plant. I had no idea why I was being led this way. I wasn't being led to plant a church. Rather, God was confirming my calling and our church's role as advocates for planters and eventually, to be a "planting, or multiplying, church."

This strategy didn't fit well into the "church as usual" mode where many established fellowships land. Still, I was never very good at status quo anyway.

In the Fall of 2010, I received a phone call from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona. This call was literally "out of the blue." This planter, Chase Delperdang, was told by an Arizona Baptist leader that Florida Baptist churches were strong missionally and would be good partners in planting. So, apparently, he randomly picked our church and number and called me. We talked and it became evident that we were to partner to reach the people of a city far away from Orange Park, in a state I had never been, where our church had absolutely NO connection.

Our partnership began with a monthly donation and communication with Chase.

So, now I'm involved in church planting, even if just barely.

The following summer our Southern Baptist Convention was being held in Phoenix. God was clearly telling me to go to the convention and take some time to drive to Tucson to see Chase and the Legacy Church plant. One of our church members, a member of our worship band heard me talking about it and said, "Hey, I'll go with you."

"What? Why?"

"I've never been to Arizona. I'd like to go."

So, at the next business meeting, the church voted Neil Jimenez and I to be messengers to the SBC and we planned our trip to Phoenix.

It was at that convention the North American Mission Board, under the new leadership of Kevin Ezell, revealed the "SEND>>NORTH AMERICA" strategy to reach the cities of our nation and Canada.

There are many reasons why city-reaching is vital and it became clear that day that we would be actively involved in this.

The years went by and Neil became my traveling partner on vision trips and mission engagement visits. We traveled to Portland twice and to Toronto. 

Rather than go through the details of each trip and how God was working in me and especially Neil and his wife Kaytee, click here to read Kaytee's blog about this journey. 

Seriously. Go read her blog before you continue mine. Otherwise, it won't make sense.

So, as you have read. . .

Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are going to be moving to Toronto.

We saw this coming for months, but God's timing is perfect and we continue to praise Him for how He is working this out.

Neil and KayteeHere's something that God did last summer in regards to this move. I was asked by the SEND>>Toronto team to travel to Dallas for the SEND>>NORTH AMERICA Conference. There were breakout sessions scheduled and they wanted me to give a brief statement to pastors of established churches regarding the need and reasoning for partnering with Toronto church planters.

As I stood before the group, I spoke of the great need in the city and said some things that only a pastor can say to other pastors. I was clear, concise and challenging. Then, I said this, "We as Baptists are all about missions. We'll come to conferences and 'Amen' the messages. We'll collect offerings and send them to the mission boards. We'll even get together teams of church members for short-term trips. However, until we come to the place where we're willing to send our best leaders into the field as church planters, for life, we are not really fully engaged in the mission."

WHAT? Where did that come from?

I left thinking maybe I had been too harsh. What about those small churches who cannot send people out? (Which, by the way, is a lie. Any size church can do this. That's the joy of cooperative missions. Still, that came to mind.) What about us? What about First Orange Park? We're engaged. I've been asked to serve as the JAX-TORONTO liaison for our network. We were sending money. We had partnered with a planter there, just like we did with Chase from Arizona. We were fully engaged. Right?

Not yet.

Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are incredible leaders here at First. Neil is a deacon, small group leader, committee chairman, worship team member and an incredible behind the scenes servant. Not to mention, he's my mission trip traveling partner. 

Kaytee grew up here in this church. She was in my youth group. I've known her for twenty years. I've seen her grow up, get married. I even recorded their wedding (though I forgot to turn on the microphone - sorry about that.) I have seen God bless her and Neil with two wonderful boys. She serves on our staff. She's our Missional Expressions and Orphan Care Coordinator. She's a small group leader. She's a children's choir and drama director.

These are two of our best (I know that embarrasses them, but it's true.)

So, in God's divine wisdom, it is becoming clear how He has been at work in this part of our story. Coming to First all those years ago so I could serve as Student Pastor. Having the privilege of discipling and watching the spiriritual growth of students into godly leaders (Kaytee and a host of others who are serving full-time in ministry as well as in the local church as leaders, deacons, etc. is overwhelming. God alone gets the glory.) The phone call from Chase. The trip to Phoenix. The connection with church planters throughout the nation. Our partnership in Portland, Oregon. Our partnership in Toronto. 

God is up to something BIG.

And. . .He's invited us into it.

That shakes me to my core. 

Pray for Neil, Kaytee, Eli and Owen as they continue along this journey. Most likely, they'll be in Toronto next summer. 

What does this mean for our church? Well, we are now a "Multiplying Church" as far as NAMB is concerned. As far as I'm concerned, following God's lead, the Jimenez's are just the first to step into this area of church planting. I believe we will be sending more families into the field. We will support them through our regular Cooperative Program gifts as well as other gifts along the way.

Remember that "3 Day Weekend Missionary" concept I blogged about previously? Hmmm. Seems things are falling into place for that as well.

Yes, it's a journey. Not easy. Not always drawn out like a map, but always planned by the Father. May we continue to be obedient to hear and obey. May we continue to "send" and "go." 

 


"A Christian Response to Homosexuality" - Christopher Yuan

How should Christians respond to homosexuality and the LGBT community? 

3Christopher Yuan, along with his parents Leon and Angela, shared their story at First Baptist Church on September 29, 2013. Their story redemption is powerful. Christopher left home and lived a promiscuous gay lifestyle for years. He soon entered into the high end drug culture of his community and was making tons of money. He was selling drugs, hosting parties and distributing drugs nationwide. 

All the while, his mother was praying that he would come to Christ.

He did, after being arrested and convicted. While in prison, he discovered he was HIV+. Christopher's is a "Romans 8:28 story" as God truly worked all things together for good. Christopher surrendered his life to Christ, served the time alotted to him and now, after amazingly being accepted and graduating from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and currently pursuing his doctorate from Bethel Seminary, he teaches (professor at Moody) and speaks nationwide of his story as a prodigal.

Christopher shared a teaching session on Sunday evening for us focused on the question "How should Chrstians respond to those in the LGBT community?" Christopher's message is clear, biblical and shines as a message from one who has lived as a gay man in the past. 

Christians are to respond with. . .

  • Conviction
  • Consistence
  • Compassion
  • Completion

While there are a number of things to avoid saying and doing (and the reminder that bullying is far from Christ-like) ultimately, the Christ-follower must remember that God alone can change a heart, and that sin, all sin, is offensive to God. 

Watch Christopher's full conference on this subject here and on YouTube.

 

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. 1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)


Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture? - Christopher Yuan

On September 29, 2013, Christopher Yuan, along with his parents Leon and Angela, visited our church here in Orange Park. Their story redemption is powerful. Christopher left home and lived a promiscuous gay lifestyle for years. He soon entered into the high end drug culture of his community and was making tons of money. He was selling drugs, hosting parties and distributing drugs nationwide. 

All the while, his mother was praying that he would come to Christ.

5He did, after being arrested and convicted. While in prison, he discovered he was HIV+. Christopher's is a "Romans 8:28 story" as God truly worked all things together for good. Christopher surrendered his life to Christ, served the time alotted to him and now, after amazingly being accepted and graduating from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and currently pursuing his doctorate from Bethel Seminary, he teaches (professor at Moody) and speaks nationwide of his story as a prodigal.

He also shares regarding much of what culture affirms to be true regarding homosexuality and living as LGBT. The question most often asked is "Are people born gay?"

While the culture and many in the mainstream would say "Yes, that's been proven," Christopher and others affirm the biblical assertion of holy living while also presenting information that shows the holes in the theory of "born gay." While there are potentially biological factors leading some to live as LGBT, to affirm these exist is not the same as saying people are born gay. There are numerous factors that most likely lead to a person living as LGBT such as environmental, familial, biological, etc. 

Nevertheless, as Christopher states on his website in the FAQ section:

Some claim that people are born gay in order to justify moral permissiveness. "If I was born this way, it can't be wrong." However, there are many inherant impulses I've had as long as I can remember, that I never chose, nor did I ever ask for (selfishness, jealousy, pride, etc.) But this doesn't justify their moral permissiveness.

On Sunday evening (9/29/2013), Christopher led a teaching session titled "Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture?" This session addresses the issue clearly and is available for viewing below on YouTube.

 

For a PDF copy of the PowerPoint notes Christopher used this evening, click here.


Quit Smoking or Give Me $100

One of our church members came by the office today with a check from his doctor. The check was made out to the church in the amount of $100.

SmokingIt seems that earlier this year the church member went to his doctor with a challenge. His doctor smokes regularly (seems odd to me, but hey, that nicotine is addictive.) His doctor had told him previously that he was trying to stop. So. . . the challenge was laid down. The gentleman from our church said, "You have one month to stop. If you haven't stopped by the time I come back for my next appointment, you owe me $100 to the charity of my choice." The doctor agreed.

Apparently, today was the the date for the "next appointment." Our man went to the office, met with his doctor and asked the question, "So. . .have you quit?"

The doctor said, "Not yet."

The response was quick and clear, "Then get your checkbook out. You owe me $100."

The doctor obliged and said, "To whom do I make it out?"

"First Baptist Church."

So. . .thank you doctor for your gift. However, we think you should put away the cigarettes, too. Cigarettes are expensive, but the extra $100 a month makes them outrageous. Oh, and according to most doctors. . . smoking isn't healthy. Try gum.

(The $100 was placed in our Global Missions Fund.)


Engaging the World for God's Kingdom (Through a Baptist Association? Really?)

On Monday evening at Fruit Cove Baptist Church, hundreds from Jacksonville Baptist churches gathered together for our annual celebration. What a celebration it was as we formally affirmed our covenant partnership with church planters in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, welcomed 20 new churches into our network, celebrated Jesus through worship in different languages and cultures and heard a powerful message from Dr. Fred Luter, President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The evening was full. The Holy Spirit was moving and as we move to better engage the Greater Jacksonville Area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we expressed a collective "AMEN" to what God is already doing.

An Associational Meeting? Seriously?!?

However, as I sat in the congregation, worshipping with brothers and sisters in Christ, celebrating Jesus and being challenged by the Word, it hit me that I was experiencing something that just doesn't happen in many Southern Baptist venues. We were at an associational meeting. Seriously! An associational meeting!

For those who are not Southern Baptist, this may not connect, but let me try to paint this clearly. Baptist associations are voluntary networks of local Baptist churches, cooperating for Kingdom work in a region. These are often centered around a city, or a designated rural area. In fact, associations are older networks than state conventions. 

As a church, we are heavily invested in the networking partnerships of our association. We truly believe we are stronger together than alone. We believe God affirms this and desires that we, as churches, live out the "one anothers" of Scripture throughout our city, region and beyond.

Now, why was this annual gathering such a big deal? Well. . .it's because in many of our local networks throughout the SBC. . .uh. . .well. . .there's just not much happening. In some cases the associations have shut down. As with some churches, there are examples of assocations in existence simply to sustain a work begun decades earlier and basically, they are dying a slow death. It's not due to lack of desire. There are great churches with godly pastors and members throughout our nation, but in some areas, the work of the association has been left behind. Consequently, we have associations struggling to pay their Directors of Mission, mortgages on office space and other bills all while seeking to discover their need or relevance in this age.

What Makes Jacksonville Different?

Jba photo aWhile we were celebrating together the growth of the Kingdom through revitalization, peer coaching, network relationships, multi-cultural movements, international orphan care, and church planting in our city and internationally, I was reminded that this collective work is just not happening in most places.

Why is the work here thriving? (BTW - we've not arrived. Don't hear what I'm not saying. There's much work to be done. We've barely scratched the surface.)

Leadership is key. Dr. Rick Wheeler, Hal Haller, Jeff Litton, Dr. Walter Bennett and the support staff of the JBA have been very strategic in their tenure to move the JBA from an organization that seeks to sustain its existence to a conduit for increased Kingdom work. We celebrated last Monday all that God is doing. . .and we didn't celebrate mediocrity

Our God is great!

The renewal and refocus of our network to Engage the city, Equip the saints and Expand the Kingdom has opened our eyes to work God was already doing. This is a big story and our churches are realizing it. 

It's Not About the Association

Jba photo bA few years ago there was great concern about our network. We were seeking new leadership following the retirement of Dr. Ron Rowe (who, by the way, was an excellent leader for the network during his tenure.) There were questions about relevancy and purpose. Some were very concerned about ensuring the survival of the association.

The concern about association survival was natural, but was wrong. I looked, there's nothing in the Bible about the survival of the Baptist association. However, there is much about proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and expanding the Kingdom.

Our leadership team knew we were on the cusp of a new chapter of Kingdom work in our city. Groundwork had been lain years prior, but it was time for a new step of faith. Working to ensure the survival of the network was not the answer. How many churches become so inwardly focused, cutting programming and staff just to keep the doors open, not realizing they died decades prior? 

The focus was to be and is God and the growth of His Kingdom.

Jba photo cIs that what makes Jacksonville different? Perhaps. If so, it's a sad testimony of the state of many of our networks. You see, it's clear that God is at work in this city. In fact, He's at work throughout the world. He is not slumbering. We've prayed for an awakening in our city. I believe it is happening. It's not about the JBA. It's not about First Baptist Church of Orange Park. It's all about God!

The work of God isn't really happening at the events, though we encountered Him on Monday in a very real way. Monday's event was simply a time of celebration (oh, I know the common practice now is to put the word "celebration" on a meeting to try to trick people into thinking it will be exciting, but in this case there was no "bait and switch." This was truth in advertising.)

Dr. Luter's words reminded me of a very simple, yet profound truth. We're in a battle. This is war. We have an enemy and we have been called to "fight the good fight." We've not been called to "dance the good dance" or "meet the good meeting." Together, in Christ, we have victory!

Engage Jax and the GJA (Greater Jacksonville Area - yeah, I borrowed that acronym from Toronto)!

The Time Is Short

As Pastor S (one of our network pastors from the Middle East) told me when I was trying to convince him to take a break and rest every now and then, "They are dying and going to hell. I cannot rest. I must tell them about Jesus!"

Amen.