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Posts from March 2015

Religious Liberty, the Gay Adoption Ban & Florida Faith-Based Orphan Care

As you are likely aware based on previous emails, blog posts and the announcement shared this morning, there is a vital bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives designed to allow faith-based children's service organizations working with the state to place children in foster homes and with "forever families" through adoption to be able to stand firmly on their religious convictions in determining home placement.

Our local state representatives (for most of Clay County it's Rep. Travis Cummings - 18, and for the southern region, it's Rep. Charles Van Zant, Sr. - 19) and senator (Sen. Rob Bradley) are fully aware of the bill in the house and the need for this to pass.

However, at this late stage of session, the rules for introducing new bills in the state Senate are very restrictive. Therefore, while there is a need and many seek to move forward, the guidelines and rules will prove to be a great hurdle in this case. Bills can only be introduced at this late stage by committee. Senator Bradley's committee does not hold jurisdiction over such matters and therefore will be unable to introduce a Senate bill coinciding with HB7111.

Nevertheless, Senator Bradley has stated clearly that he is interested in fixing the faith-based children's program problem that will develop without intervention. 

When the House introduced HB7111 shortly after the beginning of session, they did so to address the problems present in the present bill (HB7013). 


Here's the history as presented by The Donaldson Adoption Institute:

FLORIDA HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE GAY ADOPTION BAN FROM LAW

03/11/2015 - AUTHOR: BRENDAN FARRINGTON

The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday, March 11, 2015, that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law. The bill still needs a House vote but has wide support.

Florida-House-Bill-300x206The Republican-dominated Florida House quietly acknowledged Wednesday that gay people have the right to adopt children when they supported a bill amendment that removes a gay-adoption ban from law.

The vote came five years after an appeals court ruled that the state’s gay-adoption ban is unconstitutional. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist refused to appeal the decision. While some Republicans voted against the bill amendment, none spoke out against it and it was quickly approved. It is part of a larger bill (HB 7013) that would create incentives to adopt children in state care.

———————————————

HB 7013 – Adoption and Foster Care

Revising requirements for agreements between the Department of Children and Families and specified entities for the provision of educational services; requiring the community-based care lead agency to contact by telephone the child’s adoptive family within a specified period after the date that the adoption is finalized; authorizing a direct-support organization established by the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to accept donations of products or services from private sources to be given to the recipients of the adoption achievement awards; requiring licensed child-placing agencies that provide adoption services for intercountry adoptions to meet specified requirements.

———————————————

“It’s an acknowledgement of different times. The language that was essentially repealed was put into statute in 1977,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach. “Sometimes it’s about people and not about politics.”

The full bill still needs a House vote, but it has wide support. The Senate and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve the bill before the gay-adoption language is deleted from law.

Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said the vote isn’t necessarily an endorsement of current policy that allows gays to adopt.

“Philosophically, I’ve never really been there on that, but I’m somebody who operates under the letter of the law,” he said. “I recognize that this has been taking place for five years, so our bill is going to reflect that.”

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said there were conservative members who quietly said no when the amendment was passed on a voice vote.

“It’s a sad acknowledgement that we already lost in the courts on this discussion. I still think a mom and a dad are what kids need,” said Baxley. “A lot of us didn’t vote for that amendment today. It was a pretty weak no vote.”

Asked if he was one of the quiet no votes, Baxley said, “I was just quiet.”


I am confident our representatives and senator from our districts are on-board to protect the religious liberty of faith-based children's service organizations. As is the case often, that which seems "logical" and "easy" (i.e. just pass the bill and present a Senate version) is never as easy as it sounds. 

Nevertheless, the challenge remains. 

Pray for those who represent you in local, state and federal government. God is sovereign and no one holds a position of leadership apart from His design. 

Regarding HB7111 (the fix to a problem on an otherwise good bill) passage is needed.

If you contact your representative and senator, encourage and be brief. Recognize the limitations of their position. Once the campaigns end, the signs are removed, the babies have been kissed and the speeches have been made, the minutia of the job sometimes can be overwhelming.

_______________________________________

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


Indiana Is Front Page News & It's About LGBT Rights Instead of the "Final Four"

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed what has been labeled a controversial bill into law last week that has created quite a stir among the LGBT community and supporting groups. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been declared an open door to legal discrimination against those in the LGBT community. Governor Pence has clearly stated that discrimination is not allowable in any form. . .

This bill is not about discrimination,and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.

Nevertheless, this reasoning seems to fall on deaf ears and Pence is being lauded as a hate-monger and worse online and through some media outlets.

The Backlash

Since the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four will take place in Indianapolis next week, leadership from the collegiate sports governing board as well as prominent coaches, athletes and former athletes are speaking out. Threats of not playing future championship contests in the state are being made from the NCAA, large Division I conferences and professional leagues. This is similar to what the NFL was faced in Arizona last year.

Big business and large corporations are entering into the fray as well, with the most notable voice being that of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. through a tweet that also challenged Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to veto a similar bill in his state. Hutchinson is on record as saying he will sign his state's bill into law.

Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.

Other business leaders have released statements as well. . .

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted on Thursday:

Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.

The online review company Yelp also signaled its intentions to boycott Indiana, and every other state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians. Yelp chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, stated on Thursday:

I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.

And, even some religious groups and denominations are reacting. The Disciples of Christ Christian Church is also contemplating moving their 2017 convention out of Indianapolis, to protest the passing of the anti-gay law.

Why Protecting One Group Seems Like an Attack On Another

The sad reality is that states are feeling the need to pass laws such as the one in Indiana. Just to be clear, I am not opposed to the law that has been passed in Indiana and am for enacting similar laws in other states. While that statement alone will likely either affirm beliefs already held about me by some or move me into a category of haters (everyone likes to categorize people) the truth is that my conviction is not based on hate or discrimination at all.

The phrase "freedom of religion" has held high regard in our nation since its founding. While it can rightly be said that some atrocious things have been affirmed and justified in the name of religion over the years, the fact of the matter is that personal convictions are still valuable. Once we enter into the discussion of religious freedom, examples are thrown back of those who have wrongly used religious conviction (religious, not just Christian) to justify sinful actions (i.e. slavery, segregation, state sponsored religion, even terror acts.)

There are many who would see this situation regarding business owners refusing services to others as nothing but discrimination without regard to individual's personal convictions.

It is clear that these bills are being created and laws are being enacted as a response to those who have faced government sanctions and even lost business by refusing to serve LGBT customers - most notably the baker in Oregon who made national news by refusing services.

It is clear that in many of these cases, the business owners, by their own admission, have refused services to avoid contradicting their personal convictions. No wise business owner with a strong view of capitalism would refuse service and potential profits otherwise. Yet, by protecting the rights of a person to say "no" to another, the result is that someone loses, apparently. 

Religious Liberty May Not Remain a Right

Based on recent decisions and a swift move to push against religious conviction, it is evident that left undone, religious liberty will become a concept that once worked, but currently is not valued. The freedom of religion will become so narrowly defined that ultimately, only culturally affirmed religious actions (still not "state-sponsored" in the legal sense) will be allowable in the public square under the banner of tolerance, all the while creating a culture of intolerance when it comes to what is categorized as conservative, biblical, evangelical belief systems of faith.

The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released this map showing recent decisions that are whittling away at the foundation of religious freedom.

 

What If It's Not Hate?

Actions such as the law in Indiana are always categorized as "hate" but what if it's not hate? What if it's based on something deeper than that? What if it's based on love? Many will never be able to rectify this concept. You may struggle with this. You're thinking "How can you show love by being hateful or refusing to serve?" That's the paradox of faith. Now, I'm speaking of Christianity based on the inerrant Word and a relationship with God. Yeah, yeah, I hear you - God is love. He wouldn't discriminate. You're right. He is love. His love is deeper than descriptors. His love is stronger than cultural winds. His image-bearers seek to love Him and others. We often fail at this, but that is our goal.

The biggest challenge we face in the area of reaching and showing love to those who self-identify as LGBT is the reality that loving someone does not equate to affirmation. Every parent can assert this reality. We love our children, but as many of us know, behaviors, actions and even lifestyle choices are not always acceptable or affirmable. Love does not equal affirmation.

So, now as one group declares their not being loved, the common response is to throw hate at the other group. 

In other words, you don't have to be a Christian nor agree with me and my convictions, but can you love me? I have family members who declare their love for me, but do not hold the same convictions I do. Maybe this is the bigger story?

But, Some Do Hate

Yes, some do hate. Even some people who wear the name "Christian" seem to allow their personal prejudices drive them at times. I say "them" but I guess I should say "us" because I have yet to meet a person (Christian, Muslim, atheist, straight, gay, etc.) who does not hold personal prejudices of some sort. 

When hate is celebrated, mob mentality results. In these cases (and to my non-Christian friends, this may not make any sense) the Enemy has gained a foothold and the truth of the redemptive Gospel of Christ is not heard and not lived out. 

Do I see the Indiana law as a hate-based one? No. Neither do I see the potential one in Arkansas and others to come.

I do see it being about religious liberty - the right to hold personal, religious convictions. Of course, my LGBT friends will not, for the most part. Perhaps when all the reactionaries settle down we will see the truth more clearly. Of course, Governor Pence is up for reelection in 2016 and I feel this signing will remain in the news for quite sometime as he has basically painted a target upon himself. 

I don't know him. I don't know his personal, religious convictions or belief system, but as with all governmental leaders, he needs our prayers.


A Needed Bill to Protect Faith-Based Orphan Care Ministries In Florida May Not Move Forward

Yesterday, I posted a detailed plea for prayer from Christian friends regarding a proposed bill moving its way through the Florida House of Representatives. Today, I was notified by Dr. Jerry Haag, President of the Florida Baptist Children's Homes, that even if the bill makes it through the House (which seems likely) there is no one in the Florida Senate planning to move it forward there. Dr. Haag then sent me the following e-mail, that has gone to pastors and leaders state-wide. Please read it carefully and if you live in Florida, contact your Senator.

92b45241-7354-40b9-b2f3-ee0bd310bb12

As an update for the faith-based conscience protection bill (HB 7111), we need you to take action for this critical legislation to pass. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee next week, and we have reason to believe it may pass there. However, after meeting with Senate President Gardiner yesterday, the Senate does not yet have intentions for a companion bill, which has to happen for this legislation to go into effect. We need individuals who have relationships with their legislators, especially members of the Senate, to make contact with them on our behalf so that we can help 106,000 MORE children this year and every year after.  If you have a relationship with one of our Florida senators, will you call them to, first, make them aware of this bill that is heading to the Judiciary Committee in the House next week?  Also, if you have a relationship with one of our representatives, will you make contact with him or her to ask for his or her support? Finally, if you have a church member who you know has great relationship with a Florida legislator, will you reach out to them personally today to see if they can help us? 

Here is what we need our Senators to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111), as well as a companion bill (which has not yet been initiated) in the Senate, is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes. 
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida.
  • We need the Senate to put all politics aside so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • We need the Senate to take a stand with us on this conscience bill and put the wheels in motion for companion legislation.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected? 

Here is what we need our Representatives to know:

  • This house bill (HB 7111) is critical for organizations like Florida Baptist Children's Homes so they can continue placing children in homes.
  • It's critical because estimates show that more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.
  • This is an urgent matter because this could end faith-based child care in the state of Florida, and we need this bill to pass through the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor this session.
  • We need this conscience bill so that our faith-based organizations can continue to care for children.
  • Will you do everything in your power to help make this happen so that our state will not face a crisis and do what is in the best interest of children who will be affected?

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES

If you know your Representative or Senator personally, please encourage them to not let this bill die in committee or never make it to the Senate. If you do not know your Representative or Senator personally, you still have a voice. Please contact them and urge them to move this bill forward to be becoming law.

Most importantly, continue praying.

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov

The Full Story

For more details on HB-7111 and why it is needed in Florida, read my post from yesterday, linked below.


The Church's Role in Orphan Care Is In Jeopardy

Yesterday, I received a request from Dr. Jerry Haag, President - Florida Baptist Children's Homes (FBCH), to join him in prayer and spread the word regarding a bill moving through the Florida legislature. The bill (HB 7111), if passed, will allow faith-based organizations like the FBCH to continue serving children in our state while remaining true to biblical truths and Gospel-centric beliefs. 

Why Is HB 7111 Needed?

There is great danger on the horizon for Christ-centered fostering and adoption agencies. Joni Hannigan, writing for the Christian Examiner, states that "Adoption and foster care in Florida are on the verge of collapse if efforts by some lawmakers to provide "conscience protections" to faith-based and private agencies fail.

"There is no more dancing around the issue. Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children." - Bill Bunkley, President, Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

As with any public statements, movements or bills regarding "conscience protection" there have been detractors to this bill. The objectors claim that this bill will allow faith-based organizations to legally discriminate. This is the same argument used in areas such as so-called same-sex marriage.

Bunkley states that the Florida bill codifies practices already in existence in our state. These are practices that "protect the moral beliefs of our faith organizations." Ultimately, this bill, if passed as law, will protect child-placement agencies from violating their "religious and moral convictions."

A federal bill - The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Representative Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, was re-introduced on March 4, after failing to make it out of committee last year focuses on the same issues. It would allow licensed child welfare providers to continue operating while also holding to their religious and moral convictions on homosexuality and family structure. (Baptist Press)

Ultimately, the bill will allow faith-based children's services to continue operating while having the right to refuse placement of children in homes with parents whose lifestyles fall outside the biblical mores as believed by the agencies. 

Girl face

Whittling Away Conviction in the Name of Tolerance

Tolerance is the trending buzzword of the decade. However, it's a one-way tolerance that is propagated. Personal belief and conviction are labeled as "intolerant" if they run counter to the cultural popular opinion and especially if they line up with a biblical understanding. 

"In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated," Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, told The New York Times.

Granted, there has been a long-standing movement to redefine Scripture to have it match a more culturally-acceptable understanding, yet that is not truly the issue here. The issue is the forcing of a worldview or belief system onto a group who are morally opposed to such. 

Is It Just About Gay Adoption?

While it may appear, on the surface, as just another "conservative Christians against the LGBT community" it truly is deeper than that. Though opponents will continue to label supporters of the bill as "haters" and "bigoted" (and, unfortunately, some Christians are known more for what they're against than what they're for, and therefore wear the "hater" tag well) the truth is that Christ-followers who hold the conviction that same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting are outside the boundaries of God's design and yet, seek to love God and others are being told they cannot love without affirming that which they believe to be sin.

Tweet: Love and affirmation are not synonyms. @davidtarkLove and affirmation are not synonyms.

The media has jumped on the so-called "intolerant" haters who refuse to bake cakes, provide chapels and other wedding services for gay couples. In some cases, businesses have closed due to pressure and fines. While lost in the argument is the fact that personal conviction has been ignored in the name of tolerance. The banner of "gender discriminator" has been placed upon these individuals as their character has come under attack.

The Inevitable?

The gay marriage debate seems to be a losing one in the culture. It was in 2012 when author and futurist Alex McManus shared with me and others that gay marriage will be the law of the land in just a short amount of time. "It's inevitable," he said. At first, many of us refused to believe it, but after just three years, he seems to be a prophet. 

Is the same true for gay adoption?

Some would say that it is, but at some point, faith convictions in a nation that claims to hold to the promise of "freedom of religion" must mean something.

That means, from my perspective, the Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Mormon, Catholic, Atheist, Hindu, Liberal Christian, Moderate Christian, Conservative Christians, Evangelical and others all have the right to hold true to their convictions and faith beliefs. 

That does not, however, mean that personal convictions that truly harm others (i.e. terrorism and evil in the  name of religion) is a protected right.

What Has Happened Elsewhere?

In three states (California, Illinois, Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia, faith-based adoption and foster care providers have been forced to stop providing services because they refused to place children with same-sex couples. This could be the case in Florida without protection under the law defined clearly.

106,000 Children at Stake

Dr. Haag shared with me that in 2014, the FBCH helped change the lives of more than 106,000 children and families through adoption, foster care, emergency shelter, a safe home for those rescued from sex trafficking (Florida is the #3 state in the US when it comes to trafficking,) international child care, compassion services and more. 

These are incredible numbers when you realize each number represents a soul, a person, an individual that likely would never have been helped without the ministry of FBCH.

As this bill moves through our state legislature, we must commit to pray for and support those on the front lines. Why? For starters, so that 106,000 more children may be helped and rescued this year and each year following.

Prayer Is Not Passive

This call for prayer is clear. It is not a passive reaction, but an active response. At this point, the best that Christ-followers can do regarding this bill is to unite in prayer. We seek the face of God and plead for His strength and direction. He will make a way. He does not need us, but he has stated that prayer of righteous ones avails much. We need much availed here. So, we come confidently in the name of Christ to the Father asking him to direct our lawmakers in a righteous way to allow the continued ministry and work for the orphan to occur.

As a church, we said "YES" to God when he called us to care for the orphan. Our prayers, at this point, are part of that "YES."

Your State Representatives & Senators

Go to these sites for contact information on your state representatives and senators. Pray for them and contact them encouraging passage of this bill (in the Florida House now.)

Florida House of Representatives - myfloridahouse.gov

Florida Senate - flsenate.gov


UNF Wins & a Pep Band Member Becomes a Sensation

My wife and I have been following the UNF Ospreys men's basketball team this year. I figure if our money goes to the school, we should become fans of these teams. (Our daughter will be graduating from UNF in May.) 

Once our responsibilities with our local high school boys' basketball team were complete, we made our way over to the UNF Arena to see a few games. These guys are exciting to watch. There's much that can be said about the Ospreys as they achieved the regular season Atlantic Sun Championship and then punched their dance card to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday by winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament. These guys are a joy to watch and to see the Arena packed on Sunday and students and fans rush the court at the sound of the final buzzer was incredible.

Yet, in the midst of the wins, in this age of social media and trends, there is one young man who is making a name for himself. At the first home game we attended this year, I said to my wife, "When UNF makes it to the championship game, that kid is going to be put on national television and become an instant hit."

I was right.

His name is Stephen Putnam and he plays baritone in the UNF Pep Band.

As in most college basketball arenas, there are songs that are played at certain times each game. For the Ospreys, one song is Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What." When the first beat is played, the crowd goes wild, the student section looks to the left and all attention is on Steven Putnam.

Yes, this happens every game.

 

And, his 15 minutes of fame will go on at least through the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UNF had better take their pep band to Dayton. I think they'll need this guy.

 And now, everyone knows where the University of North Florida is.


We Engage Those We Love

There are words and phrases that seem to take on a life of their own at time. They become popular for a season and now in the era of hashtags and social media tracking, the word "trending" has become a descriptor of such terms.

DSCF4077One term that I and others in the church culture have been using for the past few years is "engage." While our local Baptist association is still officially called the Jacksonville Baptist Association, more and more pastors are referring to it as the EngageJax Network. That has been an intentional shift (that likely frustrates some who hate change of any kind.) The Florida Baptist Convention now has a committee among the State Board of Missions titled "Engage Florida." (Full disclosure - I serve on that committee. . .and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what we do, but I'm new.) 

Most recently, I have talked with a number of pastors of sister churches in my county who are tired of just continually doing church in silos, while ignoring the synergy that could be developed for Kingdom work if we locked arms and strategically focused on reaching our county together. Yes, we have coined the very creative term "EngageClay" (we live in Clay County.) 

As you know, Baptists tend to have a few creative people in the tent and a whole lot of creative copiers. Nevertheless, the term "engage" is trending and so far, it's a good term. Why? Because it speaks of action. You cannot engage passively. You cannot engage philosophically. It requires movement.

What Does It Mean to Engage?

Ed Stetzer has written a profound article on his Christianity Today blog speaking of ways Christians will address cultural issues in the coming years. (Click here to read the full article.) In this, he speaks of those who will engage culture. As I read this portion, I found myself agreeing with this grouping. Perhaps it is based on the time I have spent with church planters in my community and in places where Christianity is in decline or fairly non-existent, but I relish the opportunity to connect with those far from God, for the purpose of building authentic relationships and the intent of sharing life with them. Yes, the ultimate intent is to share the Gospel, but I'm not speaking of false friendships just designed to "get the sale" but authentic ones where the Gospel can be presented naturally and lovingly and yes - intentionally.

Tweet: As culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. @edstetzerAs culture is shifting, most churches are still living as if they lived in a different era, not engaging the people around them. - Ed Stetzer

Conservative American evangelicals lament the reality that the "Moral Majority" of the 1980s is no longer a majority and the fact that "religion + politics = politics." This has led to some abandoning the cause and basically throwing their arms up in the air in a sense of defeat. At the other extreme, some have sought to sequester themselves in subcultures where "Christian" has become and adjective to describe everything (i.e. Christian school, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian breath mints, etc.) rather than a noun that defines identity. 

Both extremes are wrong because neither fulfills the Great Commission and Great Commandment.

The War Is Not Lost

The phrase "culture war" has been bandied about for decades. This ideology is nothing new - from the Red Scare and McCartheyism of the 1950s, to the "free love" movement of the 1960s and every decade since, the pendulum has swung wide, often led by fear and personal and church identification based on what we are against, rather than what we are for.

There is a battle going on, but even many Christians falsely believe it is just a human battle and not a spiritual one. Ultimately, it is a battle between the prince of this world and God, and I have read the end of the book and God wins. I think that is often forgotten.

Yet, at many times, especially in western culture, the enemy is viewed as those in our communities with unbiblical perspectives and an animosity toward God and the church. In truth, they're just pawns of the Enemy.

To engage our culture means that we do not hate or seek to destroy those whom we are intent to reach for the sake of the Gospel.

When the Civil War was winding down and the North would soon declare victory, President Abraham Lincoln was preparing plans to reinstate some Southern leaders and reconstruct the South. Some in his leadership team and cabinet had differing opinions on what should be done. They told the President that the goal of war is victory and all enemies should be destroyed. Abraham Lincoln responded "Am I not destroying the enemy when I make a friend of Him?"

We Were Engaged

It's a profound truth, but one that must be shared. We were all enemies of God, through our sin. Yet, through God's grace and mercy, the Gospel, the Good News, was received and we had a title change. No longer enemies, but friends. Even more, children of God.

That is why we engage the culture. We do so because the culture is made up of people. People who are far from God, who do not know what they do not know. 

So We Engage

The cultural shifts are happening at what appears to be light speed, but in reality the heart of man apart from God has always been clouded in self-righteousness, pride and sin. It is in this reality that the Hope of the world enters.

For far too many years the church has hidden itself within the walls of its buildings (not all, but many) while the world we have been commanded to reach and engage remains in the dark. Apparently record burnings, protests, political positioning and hateful speech with just a tinge of religiosity are not part of God's strategy for His church.

Engage Without Compromise

Yet, many believers struggle with how to engage a far-from-God culture without abandoning or watering down the Gospel and their belief systems. Why is this? Why is it that compromise when it comes to conviction is seemingly the only option some find when trying to engage the culture? 

Did Jesus compromise? Absolutely not.

Yet, he engaged a culture many religious people would not. Just look at some of his miracles, audiences and friends: Gentiles, Samaritan women, unclean lepers, fishermen with salty language, tax collectors, etc.

Maybe, just maybe, as the centuries have passed, we have missed how Christ modeled cultural engagement and have become more like other biblical characters when it comes to this concept. 

You know, it's just easier to be a Pharisee.

Legalism is easy.

And it's wrong.

What Next?

What's next for the church of the 21st century? Not a new model. Not a new strategy. In fact, that which must be done has already been done. We must engage our culture as Christ did his. He is our model. He showed the way. 

As my friends and I seek to engage Clay County, Jacksonville, Florida, the United States and the world for the sake of the Gospel, it is clear that this must begin very close to home. Living missionally is more than another trending word. It is who we are as God's church. 

Tweet: We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/qIZ4l+We engage who we love. Therefore, love people as God does.


Love Is Love? Love Is All You Need? Really?

It's a word that everyone knows and says they understand, yet there are over 12 meanings of the word in the dictionary, and that doesn't include the verb usages and idioms. The word is LOVE.

Couple on bench in city

From "All you need is love. . ." to "Love Wins" to the trending #LoveIsLove, the concept of love is something that has gripped humanity since the beginning of time. Even in the Garden of Eden love between Adam and God and then with Eve reveals the amazing power of the word. 

Love Is A Choice

I remember talking with a friend a few years back about some things going on in his marriage. He said what so many have said over the years to me when seeking to justify their desire to get out of a relationship. He said, "I'm just not in love with her anymore." To which, in my caring, grace-filled, mercy-laced way I responded, "Bull!"

You see, love is more than a feeling. Even Boston knew that (vague 1970s rock music reference - look it up.) Love is a choice. 

 

Love Wins

A few years ago, Rob Bell authored a book that took on a life of its own in social media and among Christian circles. The book is titled Love Wins and even prior to being published, it was a best-seller in pre-orders. This was primarily due to Bell's controversial book promo online.

Bell is an incredible communicator and his church in Michigan was a popular mega-church. His Nooma videos had been used in churches for years and there was no denying his ability to draw in an audience through his teaching. Yet, something about the message conveyed in Love Wins (which is a title that millenials love) was off-center. In fact, it was clearly unbiblical and now with Bell's most recent statement about the irrelevancy of the "ancient writings" known as God's Word, the Holy Bible, Bell's belief system has been laid bare.

And it's unfortunate.

Yet, what's more unfortunate is that many in our fast-moving culture still wave the banner of "Love Wins" as if it means nothing matters ultimately, but love (but what definition of love?).

Love Is All You Need

The Beatles said that all that is needed in life is love. John Mayer says that this is a lie.

Again, the question is "What definition of love?"

Love Is Love

Now, the trending video on YouTube and on social media is from the Ad Council and features images of skeletons embracing, holding hands and kissing, only to have the people come from behind the screen to "shock" the audience as to who they really are. The message is that love is not defined by race, age, disability or even gender. . . since it's all love, right?

The phrase is meant to diffuse those who would seek to define relationships. While the video features numerous people, the primary message is clearly regarding LBGT relationships and perhaps the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That's why the video is trending. That's why the imagery is moving. 

But "love is love" is a phrase that provokes responses while doing what every English teacher in my life told me I could not do - use a word to describe the same word.

Button-tweet-thisThe underlying false message of this video, and subsequently many in our culture, is that love must come with full affirmation.

Nevertheless, once you strip away personal justification, political positioning and theological word-play, the reality is that true love is what ever human being is truly seeking.

Button-tweet-thisTrue love is that which is selfless, unconditional and permanent.

Love Is. . .

God revealed the elements of this type of love in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. . .

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

Love Is Not Possible Apart From God

That sounds very limiting and intolerant, but based on John's word in his third letter, the very nature of God is love - the ultimate, perfect, agape love and apart from knowing Him, true love remains elusive. 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (ESV)

 Button-tweet-thisTherefore, if you do not know God through Jesus Christ, you cannot fully love.

 


Why You Need to Be A Member of a Local Church

Over the past few months I have been asked numerous times why our church (First Church - Orange Park) has members and why we encourage people to join.

It's an interesting question and the answer of "Well, we have just always had members," isn't sufficient. Neither is "You can't serve on a committee or teach or vote or . . . etc. if you're not a member," is not normally something that people would affirm either. In fact, some have said "Good, I don't wan to do any of that, so I won't join." That may be more telling of the the individual rather than the local church, but I digress.

Member-stampI had a friend in my church in Texas years ago who waited years before joining the church. These were the days when visitation teams were sent out weekly from the church to the community. In most cases, these were visits bent on marketing our church to those who had already visited or shown interest in attending, rather than evangelistic. Nevertheless, Larry was asked why he would come and never join the church. He was a Christian. He had been baptized by immersion. He affirmed the doctrines of the church, but would not join.

He answered by saying "If I join, you'll stop visiting me."

Wow! That statement is more telling of our local church culture than we'd like to admit. Perhaps we like the hunt more than the relationship?

Recently, a gentleman who attends regularly at our church was asked why he had not joined and become a member. His answer was "I am a Christian. I give my tithe here. I worship here weekly. What's membership? Just a piece of paper?" and stated he saw no need for officially joining since he was, in his own words, basically a member anyway.

While what he said was true regarding his attendance and participation, membership in a local body of believers is more than a piece of paper.

That logic sounds eerily similar to those who have told me such things as "I love her. I have a child with her. We live together and have been together for years. What's a piece of paper that says we're married, anyway?"

Maybe that's a stretch? 

Maybe not.

Nonetheless, I began thinking about this concept of church membership and what it means.

Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, recently published a book titled I Am a Church Member. It's a nice little book, and a quick read, with some sound biblical insight into church membership.

Rainer states. . .

There are a number of places in the New Testament where we can see a clear picture of church membership. One of the more voluminous sections is 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains the metaphor of the church being a body with many members. In 1 Corinthians 13, he established love as the central attitude and action all members should have. In 1 Corinthians 14, he returned to the messed-up church at Corinth that has the concept of membership all wrong.

Therefore, church membership is not a modern-day concept built on religious tradition or even organizational strategies from the business world. It is fully a biblical construct based on the reality that God brings people together as family, in a location, for a specific mission that will ultimately glorify Him. Membership eliminates the "Lone Ranger" concept of the Christian walk.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (ESV)

With church membership comes identity. Now, identity is fully expressed in Jesus Christ alone. Yet, by his design, he has called us together as his church (local as well as universal) to express His love and mercy and mission in specific cultural settings as His church. 

I Just Can't Move My Membership From My Church In ____________.

I have had numerous discussions with attenders in our church who have yet joined the church for the reason of heritage. In some cases, their church membership resides in their home church back in some rural area far away from where they live today. There is a familial connection to the church of their past. While that's admirable, it's short-sighted. In many cases, individuals will refuse to join so as to honor a relationship from long ago. As is the case in most of these situations, the attender has been away from that family church longer than they have attended ours. Therefore, in actuality, they are members of their home church (though inactive and non-resident members - which are two pretty useless adjectives assigned to membership) while not participating in the mission of God for that church's community and area. In many cases, the leadership of the home church has changed numerous times and while their "heart" may be there, they are nothing more than a name on a roster signifying a heritage, but not a walk.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this. They would be rare and unique, if so.

To live missionally is to understand that God places us where He desires us to be (even if we don't really like it at times) for His glory, not ours. That concept of engaged Christian living eliminates the option of remaining a member in a church elsewhere that no real connection can happen other than those relegated to good memories of by-gone days.


For those in our church who relocate to other areas, I encourage them strongly to move their membership and become part of a local fellowship of believers where God has placed them. That means, I want them fully engaged where they live. To be crystal clear, that means I DO NOT want them sending their tithes and offerings back here to our church (their former church) while God has intentionally placed them elsewhere. 

Membership Means Agreement

When you join a local church, you are affirming the doctrines and teachings of that church. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. Being a regular attender keeps you involved, but at a distance. Membership means you are on the team. 

What if the Jacksonville Jaguars (our home team - please pray for us) signed a player in free agency who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season yet declared he would come to Jacksonville but demanded he be allowed to continue to wear his Steelers uniform? It's ludicrous. That's just not allowed. Other players, coaches and fans would doubt his commitment to the mission of the Jaguars. The analogy breaks down because these two teams are competitors and churches are not (well, they should not be.) Yet, you get the point. Even though we have sister churches we love and partner with for the growth of God's Kingdom, there are some unique attributes about each local church, apart from doctrine and theology, the are defined by the culture of the community, the membership and the leadership. The biblical mission is unchanging for the local church, but since localities differ, the way the mission is implemented may differ.

So, while the Jags and Steelers both play football, the way they play differs (no comments about this, please.)

Pastor John MacArthur answers some basic questions as to why church membership is biblically valid and needed. Here's his statements from the Grace to You website:

The Definition of Church Membership

When an individual is saved, he becomes a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Because he is united to Christ and the other members of the body in this way, he is therefore qualified to become member of a local expression of that body.

To become a member of a church is to formally commit oneself to an identifiable, local body of believers who have joined together for specific, divinely ordained purposes. These purposes include receiving instruction from God’s Word (1 Tim. 4:132 Tim. 4:2), serving and edifying one another through the proper use of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-81 Cor. 12:4-311 Pet. 4:10-11), participating in the ordinances (Luke 22:19Acts 2:38-42), and proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost (Matt. 28:18- 20). In addition, when one becomes a member of a church, he submits himself to the care and the authority of the biblically qualified elders that God has placed in that assembly.

The Basis for Church Membership

Although Scripture does not contain an explicit command to formally join a local church, the biblical foundation for church membership permeates the New Testament. This biblical basis can be seen most clearly in (1) the example of the early church, (2) the existence of church government, (3) the exercise of church discipline, and (4) the exhortation to mutual edification.

5 Reasons You Need to Be a Member of a Local Church

The reasons for being a part of a local church are practical and biblical. There are more, but I'll close with Tim Challies "5 Reasons You Need to Join a Church."

  1. For Assurance
  2. To Evangelize the World
  3. To Expose False Gospels
  4. To Edify the Church
  5. To Glorify God

He breaks down each of these five very well at his blog, linked here.

 


Can We Just Erase the Church Calendar & Start Over?

As I look at our church calendar, I am frustrated.

I'm frustrated that we have done, once again, what we have said we would not.

We have filled up a calendar with tons of good events and programming. 

It sounds strange to say that we wanted to not do this, but it's true. About two years ago, we (the leadership team at First Church where I serve) lamented the reality that we have allowed the calendar to be filled with numerous good events and activities that basically leave our people tired and stretched.

“One of the most difficult tasks of visioneering is distinguishing between good ideas and God ideas.” - Andy Stanley

I know we struggle with this concept. Everyone in the church has good ideas. Everyone on our Leadership Team has good ideas. These are ideas based on previous places of service or maybe something that was read or seen or done elsewhere. However, a "God idea" is something bigger than a strategy and better than just something copied from another church or another time.

God ideas change lives.

So, it is my conviction that God ideas or movements often do not happen because they are hampered by good, church events and programming.

So, I lament that we have fallen back into this trap.

The result is busy-ness. Busy people in a busy world being guilted into serving in more areas in a busy church - all with a sales pitch that it's for the "glory of God" but in some cases, it for little more than the edification of an organization.

It's not intentional. It's often just all we know.

It's more than stripping away everything on the calendar (though I'm very tempted to do that) and live as the "simple church." This shift is about focus.

Focus - Focus - Focus

I've been in church long enough to know that leaders can justify anything being done in the church by sliding it under a banner titled "missions" or "evangelism" even when everyone knows that it is a stretch to see these items as such.

544232_23915496This hearkens back to the time when we would host "Christian" concerts and market them in house as outreach events. Here's a newsflash - Christian concerts are not outreach events. They are events targeting Christians and therefore basically uplifting Christian entertainment. By the way, I'm okay with having good Christ-themed entertainment. Just don't call an event outreach when everyone knows that unchurched people have never heard of the band, singer, illusionist or comedian, etc. 

The challenge for us today is to ensure that we calendar based on who we are and what we are called to. The Great Commission is the start - "make disciples" is the command and under that banner, much of what we do is legit. The Great Commandment is as important and so we love others missionally as we love God.

Should We Stop Doing Everything?

I'm so tempted to say "yes," but that' not the answer. To stop everything, to do nothing for a season and then restart without any major philosophy of ministry adjustments would lead to another overbooked calendar and a busy-ness that burns out people and leads to less and less engagement and true ministry. 

Hard Questions

Some questions that must be asked when planning or calendaring in the church are as follows:

  • Does this line up with our primary role?
  • Is this something that expresses true love to God and others?
  • Is this something that leads to disciple-making?
  • Does this line up with the vision of the church or is it just a church member's or a few church members' primary ministry?
  • Are the resources devoted to this calendared event best used this way?
  • What ministry is being said "no" to in order to say "yes" to this one?
  • Is this something being done just because it's always been done?

There are more, but you get the picture.

Our church has three stated emphases. . .

  1. Global Missions
  2. Church Planting 
  3. Orphan Care

There are many things on our calendar now that require resources, promotion, time and effort. The challenge is to measure them against our biblical purposes as revealed in the Great Commission and Great Commandment and God's revealed focus for us with the three elements listed above. Then, we have to have the courage to erase some things on the calendar.

Why? Because busy-ness in God's church keeps us from the the business of God's church.

Collateral Damage

There will be damage. Someone will have their feelings hurt. Unfortunately, hurt people sometimes hurt people, so be ready. It's inevitable, but necessary to ensure you are not wasting away looking busy while the mission remains ignored.

Button-tweet-thisJust because it is a good idea and should be done, doesn't mean it's God's idea for your church to do.


We Don't Need Easier Access to Liquor in Florida

As HB 107 makes its way through the Florida State Legislature, great concern is being raised among those in the state, not just in the Baptist church world, but also among law enforcement about potential issues. HB107 is the bill that would open sales of alcoholic beverages in local grocery stores and drugstores in ways to make the items more accessible to consumers.
 
Numerous county sheriffs have openly opposed the bill. Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson went on record by stating “I haven’t heard anyone complaining about finding a convenient place to buy liquor, but I have heard that in states where this legislation has already passed, law enforcement is now having to combat rising incidents of theft and illicit underage drinking inside the stores themselves.” 
 
Sheriff Rutherford of Duval County, Sheriff Demings of Orange County as well as others throughout our state, have voiced their opposition.
 
As a chaplain for our local police department and pastor of First Orange Park, I oppose the bill. This is more than just the typical “Baptist being against drinking.” I oppose this for numerous reasons. First, the shift is not needed. As Sheriff Adkinson stated, there is no one struggling in our state to find liquor. It is readily available, and in my opinion, too available. This is nothing more than a money issue and while I do not fault businesses for seeking increased profits, in this case, I sense too many red flags.
 
860700_56793699Apart from my personal conviction regarding the partaking of alcoholic beverages, the changes proposed in this bill would provide even more access for underage adults,  teenagers and children. To believe that stores would police this well and guard against this at a level needed, is a pipe dream. It will not happen. In many of these stores, young people work the registers and while this may be occurring now, to have a 16 - 20 year old responsible for “carding” customers for hard liquor sales leads to higher possibilities for underage purchases. Of course, some would say that is happening now and it’s been happening for decades. That is true, but that does not mean just because underage drinking is happening that it is a good idea to make the purchase of such more readily available. 
 
As a pastor, I will recommend others to oppose the bill. As a police chaplain, I will do the same for reasons listed above. There is no reason to add potential issues for our area's police officers and deputies regarding this issue.
 
I believe that most likely this bill will pass. As the culture continues to shift rapidly, to have this bill stopped would be a surprise, but this is not a statement of lack of faith. I have ultimate faith in God, just not so much in legislators and others who tend to shift as the political winds blow.
 
I encourage every Florida resident to contact their representative regarding this bill, and as you can tell by my posting here - encourage your representative to oppose this bill's passing.
 
Click below to find your representative. . .
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