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Posts from December 2013

Why We Started a Small Group at Our House

Two weeks ago we began a new small group in our home. This group is designed for high school seniors, college students and young adults.

We meet each Sunday night at 8pm and normally wrap up around 10pm. A good number of the group will be heading back to college this week, but so far we have had around twenty each week. 


Home small groupIt's pretty simple. I believe in the value of small groups. I believe in it so much that for years I have been telling people in our church that in order to be healthy and grow as a disciple, it is important to be connected in a small group. It is here that friendships and community develop and personal, as well as corporate spiritual growth can occur. It is also through the small group that we believe living missionally can best be done.

But. . .I wasn't in a small group. I haven't been in one for years.

I just excused it due to the fact I am the pastor of the church. Most of our groups meet on Sunday morning and as it happens, I am preaching during the time that groups meet. So, I had a built in reason (excuse) for not being in a group.

Or so I thought, but then again, God doesn't give much credence to excuses, even if they seem to be valid.


Throughout my ministry I have been a "Sunday School junkie." I love Sunday School and have believed it in for years. I still believe in the concept and strategy surrounding it. However, it is clear that times have changed and to limit small group connectivity to Sunday mornings on the campus of the church building is short-sighted. We no longer call these groups "Sunday School" for a number of reasons. They're small groups. That's intentional. Not only are the groups not limited to Sundays (even though ours is Sunday evening) but they are intended to remain "small."


I'm also a curriculum guy. What is being studied matters. There are so many bad "Bible studies" out there that border on heretical teaching. Therefore, we must ensure that which is being taught in a group sponsored by the church is solid. Just because a book is sold at the Christian bookstore does not mean it's good.

We are using material that many of our missionaries and church planters are using globally. We are "storying" the Bible. You can view the material guidelines here. This works great with those who do not have a church background. Though most of our group members do have a church background, we are discovering the value of storying and have stripped away the "Sunday School answers" pretty well.


Our group is already at maximum size, but the numbers will dwindle once the spring semester at college begins next week. As we seek to increase the number of groups in our community, modeled after this one, each group will be limited to twenty members.


We can limit the group because we set the rules. It's pretty simple. Now, if "number 21" shows up, we're not turning him away, but we are strategically and intentionally seeking to keep the group size to twenty. By limiting the size of the group, we better ensure that people will not fall through the cracks and relationships have a better chance to develop. Our group already is seeing some growth beyond the group time. This size group also eliminates the potential of the attender who doesn't participate or engage. That happens all too often in traditional small groups (i.e. Sunday School classes.)


Our group began with some pretty clear ground rules.

  • First, our group will have an "end date." Unlike most church groups, this model has a clear ending date in mind. This gives host homes some freedom as well as giving group members a natural break and the opportunity to join a new group. Life schedules change each semester. They do for all of us and this allows that reality to be part of our plan.
  • Second, our group will multiply. I stated to the group at our first and second gatherings that we are already seeking to start a new group out of this one. . .and I won't be teaching. I am not equipping the saints if I do all the teaching, all the time. So, to the young adults sitting in my living room each Sunday night, the clear goal is to create leaders of new groups. What if just half of our group began leading other groups within the next two years? That would mean out of just one small group, we would have eleven groups meeting throughout the region. If each of those groups begins with the same model, the exponential growth would be unheard of for this community.
  • Third, we are going to "story" the Bible because our desire is to bring friends to the group who do not attend church and would not (most likely) attend a group at a church building.


We're not abandoning the Sunday morning model, but I want it to be clear, Sunday morning groups are not our only option and may not be the primary model in the future.

We are not stopping Sunday morning groups. (I just wanted to make that clear for those who are active in a Sunday morning group and somehow hear, or read, things I'm not saying.)


There are a few reasons we have intentionally targeted these people for our initial group:

  • Child-care is not an issue. Yes, we know there are high school seniors, college students and young single adults with children, but for the most part, this group is not in need of child-care. Groups for adults with children have to prepare for this very important need. As we launch new groups, we will develop some ideas for child-care during groups for parents.
  • This age group normally stays up later, or gets off work in time for an 8pm group. Personally, an 8pm group is late for me. I'm getting old and yet, I'm changing my bed time to make this group work. :-)
  • Sundays at 8pm is the best time for my wife and I. That may seem selfish, but our weeknight schedules are crammed with events for our family and church events as well. Since we currently do not have a regularly scheduled Sunday evening event or service, this becomes the best time for us. Since we're the hosts of the group, and it's our home being used, we get to set the calendar. Apparently, Sunday evenings worksbest for many of our students as well.
  • Young adults are key to reaching this community for Christ. Just as other Great Awakenings in history have been birthed through the prayers and evangelism of young adults and older teenagers, so too will the next one (in my opinion.) We know collegians and young adults in this generation seek to be part of stories larger than self. This is the generation seeking Him and I want to ensure we are doing all we can to lead (and maybe follow) them as God awakens this generation for Kingdom work.


I heard a church planting catalyst state that fact a few years ago. I believe there is truth to that statement and since church planting is one our church's "Big 3" we must do more than just encourage people to step out and plant churches. We must train those called out to do that which God has set before them. These groups are designed to grow the Kingdom of God. I anticipate many going through these home groups, leading their own groups and eventually being called to plant churches globally. We're tired of just saying "Amen" to the idea of planting churches. We're positioning ourselves to train the next generation of planters.


The Blessing Offered to My Son

Rites of passage are things that are often ignored in our culture, primarily because most of us have never experienced such.

My son, Daniel, turned 18 today. Immediately, I was taken back to the hospital room where my wife, Tracy was undergoing a C-Section. It was late and things seemed to be going well, until the doctor lifted him up. The doctors and nurses were acting like there was nothing wrong, but Daniel is our second child, and this birth (though both by C-section) was different than the first.

Daniel was blue. Really. He looked like a Smurf. He wasn't breathing and . . . well, I'm no doctor, but I clued in quickly that blue was not a healthy color.

The doctor and nurses at Orange Park Medical Center were great. They continued to work, calmly, which allowed my wife and I a semblance of peace. Soon, after literally beating the fluid out of his lungs (these little guys are tougher than they look) he took a breath and began to breathe on his own. Yes, the color began to shift from blue to pink.

It's been quite a journey, these past 18 years. There have been great times and. . .not so great times. I guess that's the story for everyone at some level.

At the moment of Daniel's birth it was clear to Tracy and I that God had His hands on this boy. Of course, that could be said of many people. Sometimes those who are called run from the calling at first. I went to seminary with many who could share that testimony. We still believe that God has a special calling on Daniel's life. Our continued prayer is that he would "have eyes to see and ears to hear" as God continues to draw him to Himself.

I had great plans for a rite of passage for Daniel into adulthood, but as I shared with him, we're not quite at that point, yet. So, in preparation for that day, I presented him a special gift today. This is a gift that most young men would never have on their want list, but I believe Daniel received it as intended and it becomes a reminder of my love for him and the blessing I offer.

Riteofpassage crossThe men of Band of Brothers Ministry have made these available and in addition to a personal letter of blessing from me to Daniel, I presented him this pendant and repeated this blessing to him over lunch. To be proud of one's son is not to say that everything he does is affirmed. I am proud of who he is, an image-bearer of God, called out for a greater purpose. I am proud of the man I see he can become. Praying, as all Christ-following fathers do, that he will leave a legacy of life-change and holiness in his wake:


My son, I give you this pendant as a symbol and as an everylasting reminder to you of my feelings for you. I hope you will hear these words from the deepest place in your heart and soul, and because these words will forever be true:


For I have seen your true identity - you reflect God uniquely. I see in you a mighty warrior for Christ. I am honored to be your father and your brother in Christ. Please allow me to stand by you and fight for your life and legacy.


May you love God and others well; May you trust and obey Christ our King by absolute surrender to Him. May you live in purity and holiness, yet cling to and receive the grace of the cross when you fail; May you one day understand the suffering and true costs of being a disciple of Christ - yet choose to follow Him anyway. May you find others brothers in Christ for whome you will stand by and fight for their true identities; and May you believe in and embrace God's good plan for your life and live out the noble and glorious purpose for which you were created.


My son, there is only one perfect Father, and He will never leave nor forsake you. I, on the other hand, will fail you miserably at times. I pray that I will know when in life to ask for your forgiveness. Above all else, please remember and know this: No matter the choices you make; no matter the life you live; no matter the successes - no matter the failures; and no matter the legacy you leave - I will forever love you, my son, in whom I am well pleased.And behold, a voice from heaven said "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17 ESV


The Battle – The sword-shaped celtic cross is a reminder that you have been born into an unseen battle. Sins such as sexual lust, pride, and greed can be devastating to your mission. Yet you have the power in you- the Spirit – to overcome the world, flesh, and devil. (Mark 8:36; Gal 5:17; Eph. 6:12)

Your Identity- The sword is a reminder that I see in you a warrior for Christ. You have a wonderful and glorious call on your life. I pray that you will one day make the decision to be a follower and brother of Christ – no matter the cost. (Luke 14:25-33)

Band of Brothers - The 12 bright spots in the midst of the dark circle remind me that, just as Christ chose to surround himself with 12 other men, so too should I remember not to try to fight the battle alone. Both Christ and I invite you to be in our Band of Brothers. (Mark 3:35)

God's View of You - and Most Importantly, the cross is a reminder that when God looks at you, that he only sees your sin through the lens and perspective of Christ’s finished work on your behalf. You are a free man living under God’s new covenant. If you choose to accept God’s good and glorious plan for your life, your scars will not be in vain, victory is certain, and the rewards will be eternal. (Rom. 8:28-29)


You can order a pendant and read more about the blessing here -

"Saving Mr. Banks" is Really About Healing the Wounded Heart

A movie about the making of a movie based on a book had just opened in theaters. For those unfamiliar with Disney lore, it is the account of Walt Disney's twenty-year odyssey to secure film rights from author P.L. Travers for the character and stories of Mary Poppins.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is  an interesting film, in that 99 percent of the audience knows that eventually "Mary Poppins" was made and was a tremendous hit. Words that never existed before like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" entered the lexicon of many American children and images of Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins somehow seem natural.


Saving-Mr-Banks-Movie-Poster2I just put "spoiler alert" there because other articles and blogs do that when speaking about a film that is currently in the theaters. However, I always read below the "spoiler alert" banner anyway. In this case, since everyone knows "Mary Poppins" was eventually filmed by Disney, there really aren't that many spoilers.

Since I don't recall ever watching "Mary Poppins" in its entirety, the title of this film "Saving Mr. Banks" didn't quite reveal much to me. I did some reviewing and soon found that Mr. Banks is the father in the Mary Poppins book and film. I think I used to know that, but had forgotten. Therefore, once I discovered who Banks was, the title made sense. . .somewhat.

This film goes back to Travers' childhood in Australia when she, her siblings and parents were struggling to make ends meet. Her father had a successful job with the bank there, but due to his bouts with alcoholism, and subsequent outburts and inability to function well at work, he was demoted. This seems to have pushed him even farther toward his addictive behaviors. Travers, as a little girl, obviously adores her father as he does her. The flashback sequences are done well and give the audience a sense of what may be going on in Travers' head as she so adamantly fights Disney for things regarding Mary Poppins and the Banks family that seem irrelevant. 


As the story unfolds, it is clear that P.L. Travers carries a deep wound in her heart. Like all of us, we have wounds. These wounds are most often inflicted, willingly or unwillingly, by our earthly fathers. It's part of our human story. 

John and Stasi Eldredge speak of this clearly in their respective books, Wild at Heart and Captivating.

John says it this way regarding men and their heart wounds:

Every man carries a wound. I have never met a man without one. No matter how good your life may have seemed to you, you live in a broken world full of broken people. Your mother and father, no matter how wonderful, couldn't have been perfect. She is a daughter of Eve, and he a son of Adam. So there is no crossing through this country without taking a wound. (Wild at Heart, 71.)

Stasi reveals this about daughters with wounded hearts:

The vows we make as children are understandable - and very, very damaging. They shut our hearts down. They are essentially a deep-seated agreement with the messages of our wounds. They act as an agreement with the verdict on us. "Fine. If that's how it is, then that's how it is. I'll live my life in the following way. . ." (Captivating, 71.)

"Saving Mr. Banks" is an entertaining film and while some I know have commented and Tweeted that "It's a cute film" it is much more than that. Unknowingly, the filmmakers and actors have portrayed that which is evident in the hearts of all people. We all carry a wound. Most often it is inflicted by those we love the most. What we do with that wound determines much. 


Even non-believers desire healing. Their lack of acknowledgement of a Healer leaves them seeking throughout their lives and settling for temporary relief. Unfortunately, even some Christ-followers lack the courage and faith to invite God into the deepest parts of the wound. Consequently, those who claim and do follow Christ, remain the walking wounded, never fully free. Forgiveness is key and yet, not a surface-level, superficial forgiveness that never goes to the depth of the wound. The forgiveness that God offers us is that which He leads us to offer others - a forgiveness that says "What you did hurt, in fact it still hurts, but I choose to not hold it against you." That is the beginning of healing and sets the captive free.

"Forgiveness, Mrs. Travers," says Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. "It's what I learned from your books."


It may seem that making Mr. Banks into a likeable, affable character was truly Mrs. Travers' goal, but in actuality, it wasn't Mr. Banks that needed to be saved, but Mrs. Travers. 


We all carry wounds and what we do with them is vital. "A cute movie?" - perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, God can use this story to remind each of us that He alone can rescue us and He alone can set us free.



Here's a good review on "Saving Mr. Banks" from Focus on the Family's Plugged In site.


The Inevitable: Phil Robertson Speaks His Mind & Is "Suspended Indefinitely" by A&E

Whether you are a fan of Duck Dynasty or not, you cannot help but notice their popularity and presence everywhere. I don't begrudge the Robertson family at all for realizing that reality show fame is fleeting and taking every advantage of their "fifteen minutes." The real-life characters in this family have become caricatures somewhat, and yet, millions still love to watch their antics on television.

Phil robertsonThe show has definitely taken off and allowed a cable network previously known for Biography and Horatio Hornblower to suddenly become one of the most watched cable and satellite channels on televisoin. 

When A&E approached the Robertsons about doing a reality show based on their family, even those in the family were shocked. The patriarch, Phil Robertson, was reluctant and not so sure anyone would watch. He theorizes in his autobiography, Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander, why he believes the show has garnered such a following:

Everything else on TV nowadays is dysfunctional and for the most part has been that way for forty years. The last TV shows we saw that featured functional families were The Andy Griffith Show, The Waltons, The Beverly Hillbillies (don't laugh), and Little House on the Prairie. That was a long time ago! (Robertson & Schlabach, 1)

He may be right, but whatever it is, the audiences are responding. Millions tune in weekly and just recently, the Season 4 premiere broke cable/satellite ratings records with 11.8 million tuning in to watch. That means there were millions of people wearing T-shirts purchased at Walmart with pictures of the bearded ones on it, sipping iced tea from Uncle Si Tupperware tumblers watching the Robertson family welcome their clean-shaven, preacher brother to the show for Phil & Miss Kay's renewal of vows. (Yes, I was one of the 11.8 million, Jack!)


The folks at "I Am Second" released one of the most watched film shorts in their library this year as well. This one featured Phil, his son Jep and grandson Reed. These are real stories, of real men, struggling with real issues and it's refreshing to hear them speak honestly. 



Phil and the Robertsons faith in Jesus Christ has never been a secret. It's evidenced in the above "I Am Second" trailer. Fans of the show know that each episode closes in prayers ending in "Jesus' name" which, amazingly, is signficant in our culture today. When Phil surrendered his life to Christ, everything changed. At hunting conventions, he would take the time to share the Gospel which garnered him the nickname "The Billy Graham of Duck Hunting."


Well, it was inevitable. Phil has been featured on numerous talk shows, news shows, and magazines. He's a character and speaks his mind. Today, social media is blowing up over statements made by Phil and the response of A&E. The statements were made in a recent interview with GQ Magazine and they are controversial, at least to some.

The writer of the article, Drew Magary, interviewed Phil. You can read it here, but be warned, this is not an article for Christianity Today. The author uses words that. . .well, you probably wouldn't say in Sunday School. Some in social media are angry at Magary for the wording of the article, calling it "baiting" and worse. I'm not sure why people ever expected an article in GQ to be anything but what this is. Nevertheless, it seems that Phil's opinions have moved from being categorized by the mainstream as "quirky, old fashioned, and plain-spoken" to "hateful, anti-gay, and divisive."

It was inevitable.

Based on Phil's remarks, A&E has put him on "indefinite hiatus." That means, for now, he's been fired. Fans of the show, especially Christians are up in arms.

Though Phil used some pretty graphic anatomical descriptions (which I believe were unnecessary) as to why he views homosexuality as unnatural, his quote in the article that has led to the firestorm is below. This statement follows a question by Magary to Phil asking him to define what he believes to be sin:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

That was it. Partnered with the graphic descriptions he gave earlier and his questions as to why any man would ever want to be with another man sexually, the flame was lit. . .and the firestorm has begun.


I don't disagree with Phil. His statement is a pretty accurate paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Therefore, it is truth. He even has the right to state his beliefs. His follow-up comment that has been released today gives clarity of his love for "all humanity" and the grace that God gives all of us.

The cable network has responded by atttempting to distance itself from their current cash cow, so as not to find themselves in trouble with GLAAD and other LGBT rights groups. This should not be a surprise to anyone.


Here's the challenge as we now see it. Hundreds, if not thousands, of those who claim to be Christians are responding with new Facebook pages  and postings supporting Phil, tweets and blogs about the story (this one included.) The anger at A&E, GQ and the "liberal media" is spewing. On the other side, anger at Phil and his family grows as he's labeled a bigot, homophobic, anti-gay and un-Christian.

We have seen this before. When Christ-followers share their opinions and beliefs in a culture that professes to be tolerant, it is soon realized that this tolerance is really one-sided. Tolerance for every belief other than biblically grounded ones are celebrated.


Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Russell Moore and Micah Fries and others have written some good posts today related to this story. Rather than restate what has been said so well by these men, I recommend you read their postings, linked below.


Going to College After High School? Be Intentional and Connect with the BCM at Your School Now!

In just a five months our local high school seniors will be graduating. Many will walk across a stage, be handed a diploma, shake hands with a respresentative from the school or school board, then go to a party, either with friends or family and celebrate their newfound status as high school graduates.

Even now, as many seniors are enjoying their last year in high school, there is a coming reality of life that will be upon them before they know it. For some, this means entering the work force, which is not as easy as it sounds with the lack of jobs available. For others, an oath and some time at boot camp is coming as they enter the US military ready to serve our country. Still others have plans to attend college or university.

For many of those entering the college world, degree plans and housing options as well as the opportunity to wear school logos from schools they actually attend, rather than just as a fan of a sports team, are in the future. Many qualified seniors have been receiving letters and postcards from colleges and universities from throughout the Unites States. Schools that have heretofore never been heard of by the students are now doing all they can to entice the young person to visit and enroll.

The questions loom regarding the validity of a college degree in today's society. A good read is Is College Worth It? by Dr. William J. Bennett and David Wilezol. If student loans can be avoided, it is preferred. Wise fiduciary choices partnered with quality degrees is a good match.


I believe in the value of higher education. My years in college, university and seminary were some of the most valuable and life-changing times in my life. However, as a parent, pastor and follower of Christ, I believe ther is a more important issue for those attending college and univsersity, especially in our culture nowadays.

While no generational group can truly be homogenized, studies do indicate a quickening drift from faith for those aged 18-25. Often students move away from home or begin attending university and land on campus totally unprepared. Their borrowed faith that was sufficient for Sunday School and leading seven year olds in Backyard Bible Clubs and Vacation Bible School seems to melt for many once exposed to the intellectualism prominent in the world of higher education.


Young men and women can have both high intellect, superb decision-making abilities and a deep, sincere faith in Jesus Christ. This seems to be ignored by many who have discounted those with a relationship with Christ.

As Josh McDowell stated years ago, "You don't have to check your brain at the door to follow Christ."


There are many churches in college towns. There are also numerous ministries available on most campuses. Some are great. Others are churches and ministries in name only and present a tepid, weak, Christianity that feels good and holds no convictions. 

It is the challenge for parents, students and churches to be proactive and engaged during these years in college. In fact, most life-affecting decisions will be made during these years, so it's vital to have a firm foundation.


BcmFlorida has over 886,000 college and university students enrolled right now. This includes over 30,000 international students from over 150 countries. These numbers alone should lead churches and Christ-followers to see the great mission before us.

If you are a high school senior or a parent of a senior planning to attend college or university here in Florida, let me strongly encourage you to be proactive and get connected now with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) leader at the school of your choice. 

I hear from students in our church who have left home to attend school. Some connect in a local church near their campus. Others connect in a campus ministry. Unfortunately, I hear from some who either connect in a church or ministry that is far from theologically sound and Gospel-centric (though they may have great parties and good music) or disconnect totally from a community of faith. 

Don't "graduate" from church or your faith when you go away to school. That would be perhaps the most immature thing you could do. I recommend you connect and engage with a strong church and the BCM at your campus.

To help you, here are the names and contacts for the BCM leaders in our state currently:


  • UNF, JU & FSCJ - Lauren Bumgarner (


  • FAMU - Larry Hunt (
  • FSU & TCC - Lance Beauchamp (
  • Baptist College of Florida - Ashley Fredryk (


  • UM & FIU - Matt Wofford (


  • UCF - Brad Crawford (


  • UWF, PSC - Tony Olesky (


  • UF, SFSC - Eddie Gilley (


  • USF - Rahul Agarwal (


  • Florida Tech - Nathan Smith (


  • GCSC - Phyllis Poland (

Simply put - get involved. If you or your student is attending college or university that is not listed, contact Connie Ricks at the Florida Baptist Convention office ( and she will connect you with a BCM leader connected to that school or a local church nearby. Also, check out the Florida BCM website here -

These are vital times. Don't miss this key element in planning for your future.


What I Learned Today In Junior High

Every Wednesday morning a group of men from our church, other churches and one of our local junior high schools meets with young boys for a one hour mentoring club. This club is voluntary and our church, along with others, rents the room each week for our gatherings. (I put this in the post to remind everyone that we're legal.)

Each week we meet together and hear one of the leaders share a story about an individual who exemplifies the traits of a mature, godly man. This year we have been covering some of the men in Scripture. These men, even with their faults, were favored by God and called to join Him in the greater story. Throughout the semester, we have discussed Adam, Abraham, Moses, Samson and David. Today, we looked at the biblical account of the birth of Christ. Timely, huh?

Even though we are located in northeast Florida, in a predominantly evangelical and somewhat conservative county, with churches all throughout the region, I was reminded today of something that I knew, but often forget.


Most of us have had vaccinations in the past, so we're familiar with these. But, just in case you haven't had one recently or  don't remember screaming as a toddler when the doctor stuck you with that multi-pronged needle thing, here is a brief definition of a vaccine:

Vaccines create immunity that protects you from an infection without causing the suffering of the disease itself.  Sometimes vaccines are called immunizations, needles or shots.
Here's how vaccines work:

    • Most vaccines contain a little bit of a disease germ that is weak or dead. Vaccines do NOT contain the type of germ that makes you sick. Some vaccines do not contain any germs.
    • Having this little bit of the germ inside your body makes your body's defense system build antibodies to fight off this kind of germ. Antibodies help trap and kill germs that could lead to disease.

OK, so while not an exact comparison, it seems that many Americans, especially those in the fast growing demographic of "nones" have a faith that, well, isn't really faith. It's as if they 've been vaccinated with just enough Jesus and church to not totally embarrass themselves when spiritual discussions begin, but do not know Christ personally nor participate in church services regularly. In other words, they are "Christian" by culture's standards only and not truly followers of Christ.


One of the greatest mission fields of lostness in our community today gathers daily in our junior highs and high schools. 

Sitting in a room with dozens of junior high boys is always exciting. You really never know what will happen. That's part of the adventure, I guess. These are some great young men and the stresses that come with junior high come flooding back to my mind. These are formidable years.

Today, as we discussed the Christmas story, I did my best to begin at a base level. Here's what I realized not too long ago with this group - a typical "Sunday School" type session will not suffice. There are too many presuppositions that come when many Bible stories are presented. 

While most of these boys own Bibles, not all do. Those who do own one, according to what I have observed, very few read it. . .ever. 

Gijoe nativityThis was evidenced by what they knew about the Christmas story. Yet, their account of the Christmas story was pretty much in line even with many I know who do attend church regularly and know Christ personally.

Contrary to popular belief, the wise men weren't there at the birth, there were no pigs in the barn, it probably wasn't a barn at all, there was no innkeeper (at least not mentioned in Scripture), the Little Drummer Boy wasn't there (who would play a drum around a sleeping, newborn baby?) and G.I. Joseph wasn't Jesus' father. Okay, these boys didn't really think Jesus' earthly father was G.I. Joseph, but that's what I heard from the crowd when I asked them to identify the characters in the traditional Nativity. I drew a picture of the Nativity scene as they described it, but Joseph standing behind the baby Jesus with a machine gun in his arms just didn't look right, so I erased the gun.

We cleared up the story and talked about the Old Testament promises of a Savior. That took some time as well since most do not understand the difference between the Old and New Testaments. We discussed how God always comes through on His promises and used Simeon as an example of such.

These young men have, for the most part, borrowed a faith from parents or grandparents. Some are hearing these stories for the very first time. Some are hearing them more clearly than in the past. It's exciting to see their eyes wide open as they hear how God has sent His Son on such an amazing rescue operation.

So, we have stopped teaching the sessions like it's a lecture and they're studying for tests. These are stories. Great stories that are a part of a greater Story. These stories matter and story attracts interest. Who doesn't love an egaging story?

We don't have to make the story of the Gospel exciting. It is already exciting, by its nature. However, we have to be diligent in how we present these stories. They aren't boring. They aren't just history. 


Making disciples is our commission, but we are having to break through walls of religiosity and borrowed Christianity in our culture now. As missionaries and ambassadors of Christ, we are to love people with an urgency and live lives that express His glory and goodness. Seek Him. Tell them. 

We will continue to send missionaries and church planters throughout the world. We must do so. However, at the same time, we need to see the mission field in our own community. Not only must we see it. . . we must engage it.

We May Have Missed An Opportunity

You know the old saying, "When opportunity knocks, open the door." It's often after the opportunity has passed by that we realize it and think, "Oops."

Missed opportunities abound and we often read the stories of these and shake our heads thinking of what could have been.

IMG_1720Last Sunday evening, we once again hosted a concert for Ridgeview High School's Band. The band director, Arnaldo Colon, is an active member here at First and serves in our worship ministry. His predecessor as Band Director, David McGuffin, is also a member here at First and prior to his retirement from the school, we hosted numerous Christmas concerts for the band.

We have been intentional in allowing certain groups in our schools and community to use our facilities at times. We continue to open the doors for these organizations when we can. However, over the years we have declared this to be a "missional expression."


When I arrived Sunday evening, I noticed that other than a few  parents of band members who also happen to be members of First, there were only a handful of church members or attenders in the building. The concert was good. The music was presented well and Christmas carols and traditional songs were perfoemed for the audience. Carols that we would sing together on a Sunday morning during worship as well as some fun songs like "Hot Chocolate" from The Polar Express and the theme from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" were also part of the program.

In other words. . .the church, for this evening, was simply a venue. The people were not here. Oh, there was a good crowd from the school. Parents, grandparents and friends came to experirence the concert. They were greatly appreciative to me for the use of our facility. Shelvin Lamb, our Worship Pastor was a gracious host for the band and others. 

All in all, it was a good concert and a fine event.

It just wasn't missional. It was just an event.

It wasn't missional in that it took place in the church's facility and the church wasn't present. I'm not saying we should have been here, preaching between songs or handing out tracts. I'm not even trying to make people feel guilty for not attending. In fact, for many who are part of the church at Fist, this was not viewed as something they were necessarily supposed to attend. 


As I sat in the foyer before, during and after the concert (I was the lone usher and security on duty - I'm sure they all felt safe) I began thinking about what could've been done.

Here are some ideas that I penned during the hour:

  • Encourage small groups to move their annual Christmas party to Sunday evening, following the concert. Have the groups meet at church to attend the concert together and then go to their party following.
  • Have a group within the church (small groups again?) to bring gifts for the young men and young ladies in the band. There were about 70 students on the stage. While some have church homes, based on current trends, I'd say that most do not. Have a gift for each one with their name on it waiting for them. It doesn't have to be big, but needs to be significant.
  • Have hot chocolate available for parents and others in the foyer.  This, of course, would bother some who never want to see drinks allowed in the "Worship Center." However, since there were no church members here Sunday evening, we won't tell them that many brought their Starbucks into the building with them. We have tile floors - we can mop spills. We have dark carpet - stains will look like modern designs. It's not that big of a deal.
  • Greeters could be at each door welcoming people to the event. These don't have to be men who serve on the usher team. It could be teenagers, moms and dads and families. There's something about being welcomed upon entrance to a venue that makes one feel more comfortable. There should be a real excitement that hundreds of unchurched people (I know, some of the crowd are active in other churches and we desire they remain active, but not all are. . . and those need a good experience with the church) would enter into our facility willingly.
  • We need a photographer here. As people were leaving, numerous families would pose in front of the Christmas tree (the Chrismon Tree) in the front foyer for a family photo. We should be taking pics there and throughout the concert. Just as we did with the elementary school Christmas party last year, we take the pics, give the folks a business card with our church website on it and information on where to find their pictures. They can then go to our site and click the link to find their pictures. Who knows? They may just look at some other items on the website as well.
  • Serve the guests. This is key every time we open the doors, whether it be for a special event or on Sunday for our regularly scheduled worship services. They are guests - not visitors. They are honored guests and should be treated as such.
  • Pray. Yes, the church should be praying that this first contact event would be missional in that, even though the event is in our building, the people attending would experience the church (the people) and the One we serve through our love for them.
  • Etc. There's more, but you get the picture.

God has blessed us with a facility that can house such events. Not every church has this privilege. We must be strategic and intentional. What church wouldn't love to have an event where hundreds of lost people plan and schedule to attend? 

It's here.

This year. . .well, that's a missed opportunity.

I pray we will not miss the next one.


"The Great Gatsby" and Blurred Lines Between Reality and Fantasy

A friend of mine posted a pretty interesting video highlighting the special visual effects used in the 2013 film version of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." As one who loves to watch the deleted scenes and the "making of" documentaries that are often on the "Extra Features" section on DVDs, this was worth the seven minutes of viewing.

Leonardo dicaprio the great gatsbyAs I watched this, I could not help but think of the many people in our culture, especially teenagers, who have traded reality for fantasy. Whether it be a video game or a television show, many people begin to connect more with imaginery characters and situations than the reality of life. Just take a look at the Twitter feeds of many teenagers. Fandom has reached a new high. Fictional characters are "followed" and the celebrity culture is worshipped. Imaginery situations garner more attention in some communities than actual incidents. In other words, that which doesn't matter, because it's not real, is more important to many than that which does matter, and is real.

When the truth is presented, it is often challenged or ignored.

Is this really a problem? It appears to be when young people break into schools or theaters with guns and explosive devices. Often the media is quick to point out the fantasy world created in the minds of the young people via violent video games and music. 

But, what about the fantasy world that isn't violent, just fake? What about those who cry and lament the death of fictional characters in their favorite television shows to such an extent that they fall into depression? What about the stress that develops in a family when the DVR must have the desired show recorded or a family argument ensues? What about when the worldview of authors, song writers, producers and the like are so strongly presented by the celebrities and imaginary characters in film and entertainment that they are cemented in the minds of the listeners or viewers to such an extent that truth is ignored?

Does this happen?

I believe so.

There is always someone behind the curtain pulling the strings. Even Dorothy and her friends from Oz discovered that the Wizard wasn't much of a Wizard at all. 

When that which is fake is so strongly presented that the truth is ignored or forgotten, the enemy wins a battle. He's behind the curtain. Make no mistake.

Now, this posting is not really about "The Great Gatsby" or any other film for that matter. I love films and I appreciate a good story. I enjoy watching fictional characters journey through fictional adventures on the screen. Just like anyone else, I like to be entertained with good writing and excellent acting.

However, I know where fiction ends and reality begins. 

The Enemy desires to blur this line, and I believe he is doing a fine job of it. 

Jesus wasn't exactly referring to movies, songs and stories, but his message here rings true in this case.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Matthew 8:31-32 (ESV)

Truth is always the key to freedom. Truth is knowable. Jesus is the Truth.

So, if you have the time, watch the clip below. It's pretty amazing and while I have not seen the movie (and really don't desire to) I am truly impressed with the special visual effects presented here. Remember as you watch it, that what you see on the screen is not always the full picture and often is not true. 


Be discerning. Don't be caught living a fantasy. Reality is too vital to miss the Truth.