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Posts from May 2015

MEMORIAL DAY - Don't Take Freedom for Granted

It is the day that we are supposed to pause, remember and be thankful. Unlike other holidays, Memorial Day is centered on our nation's collective grief. This is a day where sacrifice is celebrated. We pause to remember those who have served in our nation's military and gave their lives in that service for a cause larger than self. Begun in 1868 following the Civil War and originally called "Decoration Day," this federal holiday is our moment to acknowledge that which we experience daily in this nation cannot be taken for granted.

Freedom Isn't Free

The reality that our freedom as Americans came at a high cost is lost on some. Fortunately, not on all. For the family who watched the arrival of a flag-draped coffin of the loved one who did his/her duty in service to our nation, this reality is clear. For the fellow servicemen/women who are home but live with constant reminders that some of their brothers/sisters-in-arms did not have that privilege, the sacrifice is known. For those who have been by a cemetery and have taken the time to read headstones of young men and women (far too young, by the way) who died in war defending freedom, the truth is known.

I am not like some who get angry when families take the time on this three-day weekend to go to the beach, ball games, theme parks or cook outs. In fact, those opportunities that seem frivolous to some are actually moments that should be cherished and celebrated. Having the freedom to do such things should be a continual reminder that what we have is a great gift. Just don't forget!

Enjoy the day. Spend time with friends and family, but remember and be thankful for those who sacrificed so you can. Let's not take our freedom for granted.

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Ultimate Freedom

As a Christ-follower, today is a good reminder that the ultimate freedom offered was by God and as is always the case with freedom, it did not come without a sacrifice. Christians have been set free, not by our goodness, our abilities, or our morality, but by a great gift - a sacrifice from the only One who could pay the price. Live fully. Live free and abundantly. Let's not take our freedom for granted.

 


Boy Scouts Likely to Lift Their Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

Two years ago our church rescinded our charter with the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America due to sweeping policy changes within the organization regarding acceptance of gay leaders. The decision to rescind our charter was not an easy one in that Troop 20 had been part of our church for decades. Nevertheless, due to our convictions regarding affirmation of what we deem to be an unbiblical stance (BTW - a reminder is needed here - affirmation and love are not synonyms) we felt obligated to make the decision we did. 

Our story was shared in a previous posting here and in an article featured in the Florida Times-Union here

BSA-665x385The reason this story remains relevant is based on the speech by BSA President Dr. Robert M. Gates presented at the recent 2015 National Annual Meeting.

The Boy Scouts have dramatically changed their stance on gay affirmation over the past couple of decades. At one point, they had won a Supreme Court challenge to their policies of only having heterosexual leaders and boys in the organization. Then, in 2013, they amended their membership options to allow boys who identify as gay to participate in Scouting all the while stating that they would continue to bar openly gay adults from leadership positions. As this was being stated, I thought to myself, "It's only a matter of time. They will change that policy as well. They will feel they have to do so." 

That day has come. 

 

(Begin at the 8:40 mark to hear statements regarding this issue.)

“Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country,” Gates stated. “The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing scouting between a boy and his church.”

I am not writing this post to bash the Scouts or to bash those who identify as LGBT. There is no value in either type of article.

However, I find this disconcerting for Scouting and for the boys who find such value in the program. Will Scouting fail in the United States? I doubt it. There will still be thousands of boys earning badges and learning valuable life lessons. Will some Troop partners (mostly churches) rescind their charter? Yes, some will, but not most. If a great exodus of churches were to happen for this cause, it would have occurred in 2013.

What will happen is that regardless how this is spun, Scouting will be seen as an organization that effectively capitulated on foundational beliefs and legacy in order to stand firmly upon political correctness in order to simply exist.

Existing alone is not laudable.  

Joe Carter has written on this in an excellent posting on The Gospel Coalition's blog. Here's a sampling:

This is an attitude (based on Gates' statements) that has infected many faith-based and religious organizations—and even entire Christian denominations. Like Gates, many religious leaders simply lack the courage to stand up to internally destructive dissidents for fear of losing the broader organization. And it will continue to get worse. Rather than standing for principle and staying true to their integrity, many Christian leaders will follow Gates example and cave in to the pressure to condone ungodly behaviors in order to preserve the “mission.” They will abandon their integrity in a misguided attempt to preserve an organization that is rotting from within.

Carter's full article may be read here.

While there are other groups that have developed as a response to the decisions of the Boy Scouts' leadership, there are still thousands of boys and families involved in Scouting. The tradition is strong and I have discovered that the local groups tend to disavow many of these controversial decisions being made in the Texas headquarters. This creates a very difficult situation for the local leadership.

Therefore, I am compelled to pray for them. I am praying for the boys and parents and the leadership. While our church cannot and will not partner with the BSA due to these actions, we have not rescinded our prayer and love for them.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (ESV)


MOVIE REVIEW: "War Room" by the Kendrick Brothers (Coming August 2015)

Last night, my wife and I previewed the new Kendrick Brothers' film "War Room." The Kendricks are the men who brought "Flywheel", "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Courageous" to theaters and have found great success in placing Gospel-centric stories on film in an engaging and challenging way. 

They also have discovered how to make Christ-centered movies that I'm not embarrassed to invite non-Christians to view. The production quality and the acting has increased with each film.

I have been seeing teasers and the trailer for "War Room" for weeks and, to be honest, I was not drawn to this story initially as I was to the previous three films. Maybe it is due to the fact that there were no firetrucks, police cars, guns, or even football games presented in the story. Yes, that's a stereotypical male response, but this is my blog, so I figured I'd be honest.

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The "Pastors' Preview" was held in Jacksonville on Tuesday and the theater was full. Each of us received our "gift bag" with promotional items and a survey card for the distributors. 

Trailers of two other faith-based films were shown. These look really good as well ("Woodlawn" coming in October 2015 & "Risen" coming in January 2016). Then, the new film then began.

Images of the Vietnam War filled the screen. It appears the partnership with Sony and Tri-Star provides some quality footage for the filmmakers. Narrated by Miss Clara initially (a major character who leads by example as a true "prayer warrior") we see the story of family, joy and heartache revealed. The "War Room" motif is connected to the room where Miss Clara's deceased husband served during the war in planning next steps against a powerful enemy.

Flash forward to present day and Miss Clara is a senior adult seeking to sell her home so that she can move in with her son. Welcome newcomer to film, but not to the Christian audience viewing (especially the women) Priscilla Shirer. Shirer plays the main character in this film. She is a real estate agent in a troubled marriage. However, this is different than the marriage story presented in "Fireproof." Kudos to the Kendricks for touching on a powerful subject, but not just rehashing the same story but with an African-American couple rather than Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea.

The main characters' troubles leave me and every other pastor in the room thinking "Yep, I know a couple just like that." It's not stereotypical type-casting. It is more a revelation of the real world and real battles that our friends, family and church members face.

Don't Worry - No Spoilers Here

I am not going to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. However, I do wish to say that as the story unfolded, I was moved. I know it's just a movie, but God works through story and often a story played out on the screen allows for some very hard truths to be revealed in one's heart. This is true for me, at least. In the area of prayer and forgiveness, I was confronted with conviction, not by the Kendricks, but by God. It's amazing how he uses story.

This film is focused on prayer. That is no secret. That's the "War Room" that Miss Clara has in her old home. A closet where she goes to pray and do battle. It's a literal interpretation of the Scripture.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6 (ESV)

Miss Clara affirms that a physical closet is not the point, but a quiet, intentional place for prayer is.

The story in the film unfolds. God does amazing things. I'm glad that not all problems are solved, but the sense of the sovereignty of God and the love and grace he bestows upon his children is clear.

The message is obvious - PRAYER WORKS!

Prayer for family members, loved ones, circumstances, situations, relationships, etc. are all valid. I'm reminded of the reality God has shared with me over the past year. . .

Prayer is our active weapon against the enemy. As long as it remains our passive response when we feel all else has failed, we will continue to feel and live defeated. . .and we don't have to.

I left the theater thinking how amazing God is in bringing the message of prayer through this film at a time when I have been discerning His voice regarding the church and our often weak, passive prayer strategies. Also, the personal conviction that my prayers have been less than adequate for a man seeking the face of God and leading others to be "battle ready."

One of my favorite scenes is the one embedded below. . .

 

As a church, we will likely purchase all the tickets for our local theater during opening weekend again, as we have done with "Courageous" and other films like "October Baby." Yet, this outing is less a night of entertainment and more of a resounding call to pray like we mean it.

Prayer is not a manipulation of God to get Him to do what we desire. Rather, it is our humble admission of His sovereignty over all and our invitation into intimacy with the Father.

Final Words About the Film

Just some closing, random thoughts. . .

  • Priscilla Shirer is excellent in this role. This was her first film role and she did wonderfully. Very convincing (though now all her friends will be talking about her feet - explained in the movie.)
  • T.C. Stallings is perfectly cast. The man is strong and it's good to see him reformed from his time as a gangsta in "Courageous." He can act, but man can he Double-Dutch jump rope, too.
  • The other members of the cast did well. At no time was there a cringe-worthy moment of poor acting.
  • Beth Moore is in this film, not for long, but she's in this. With her and Priscilla, the Kendricks have just locked in to a target audience of every woman in Southern Baptist churches who have done a LifeWay Bible Study.
  • When you see the film, check out the digital clock in the bedroom. It's no accident that the time on the screen is 7:14. (Check 2 Chronicles to know what I mean.)
  • There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the film that hearken back to the previous four Kendrick films. Actors you recognize reappear. The car dealership from "Flywheel" is once again referenced, subtly. Oh, and check out the name of the Paramedic Company on Michael Jr.'s EMT shirt.
  • Plan to view this on opening weekend. Don't wait for the DVD or for Netflix to have it.
  • We'll have tickets available at First Baptist Church of Orange Park, if you live in the Jacksonville area.

What About Baccalaureate?

For years, our church has had the privilege of hosting local high school baccalaureate services. There are numerous high schools in our community and we have partnered with two on occasion as the host of this special service for graduates.

When I first began serving on pastoral staff at our church (21 years ago as the Student Pastor) I was asked to serve on an advisory team of parents, students and school representatives to plan the service, since we now had the newest facility in town and became the de-facto host.

I gladly served with these volunteers each year, but soon discovered that the crowd and enthusiasm for the event was determined not by the school (which doesn't officially host a baccalaureate due to concerns over church/state offenses) or the church representation, but by participation of students and parents.

After just a few years, we began to be more intentional in the planning as church leaders and a sense of consistency grew.

However, as the years have gone by, attendance (which is voluntary) has waned at baccalaureate services.

Senior Year Traditions

Times have changed. Graduating from high school is a significant accomplishment. There are new celebrations of graduation that have developed. For instance, the now mandatory senior pictures taken in front of a rusty barn or a random tree with PhotoShop airbrush effects that make every graduate magazine front-page worthy. Then, there are the ridiculous "promposals" that take place each spring (My favorite is the one depicted on the insurance commercial below.)

 

What Is a Baccalaureate?

With all that's new and celebrated, the Baccalaureate has all but disappeared. 

Each of the six high school's in our community have graduating classes of hundreds. Yet, each school seems to only have only a few dozen in attendance for baccalaureate services. Of those in attendance, it is plainly evident each year that the majority are not sure what the event is supposed to be about and only come because their parents heard it was happening and said "We're doing this. You're a senior."

Each school's service is different. In fact, the services vary each year based on the leadership and planning team. It is clear in the services I have attended, either as a pastor, friend or parent, that many involved in the planning do not understand the meaning and significance of the baccalaureate.

While the history of the service has its roots in medieval Europe as a custom of presenting laurels for those earning their Bachelor's Degree, it has over time been designated as a celebration for those graduating from high school. It is religious in nature, and specifically Christian, though in some areas in the name of inclusivity and tolerance, it has become a multi-faith event. However, the combination of all faiths actually removes the historic significance and true meaning of it being a Christian celebration of worship. Therefore, to have an "all-faith Baccalaureate service" is actually not possible in the truest sense of the word.

That being said, many, if not all American public schools have relegated the baccalaureate service to an off-campus, non-school sponsored community or local church event. It is no wonder why attendance has dropped over time.

What Is The Value of the Baccalaureate Service?

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This is a question that begs to be answered as planning and scheduling of the events continues in our churches. If the event is little more than a pseudo-graduation event. . . a "graduation before the graduation" to just add to the senior and his/her family's schedule toward the end of the journey, then the value is weak, if non-existent.

However, if the gathering is the strategic and intentional gathering of the church to celebrate and honor God as the children He's blessed us to disciple, raise, and journey through life with are experiencing a "Rite of Passage" then there is much value.

The Church Joins the Journey

One service does not a discipling journey make. This is true. Yet, in the midst of the noise and busyness that develops throughout the spring semester of high school seniors, a moment of thankfulness, worship and strategic pause and worship is more than needed.

"There Is No Gain in Hosting These Events."

If a church seeks to host Baccalaureate events for the sole purpose of getting more members, that likely will not happen. Why? Because the vast majority of those who attend these services are already active students in local church ministries and in most cases are members of churches already. Therefore, if the host church seeks to gain new members/attenders from this crowd, the truth is that motivation is based on "sheep stealing" and not Kingdom-growth, even if unintentional.

There is Much Gain in Hosting Together

So, this leads me to the possible shift for our community. With six high schools and dozens of churches (and I'm speaking only of those evangelical churches with like doctrine and teaching) it seems that much value could be gained by hosting ONE BACCALAUREATE SERVICE for our community schools in a central location (a church, theater, school, etc.) with ONE FOCUS - blessing these students through this rite of passage and worshipping God together.

I envision students from numerous high schools walking in, sporting their green, gold, orange, white, blue, white, black, gold, and red. Worship would be rich. The message challenging, yet encouraging but definitely saturated in grace and far from "follow your heart" that often comes at commencement speeches. Parents will be honored. Families will be recognized. Graduates will be walked through a rite of passage unlike many will find elsewhere.

And God will be worshipped.

What's the gain? The church united for the sake of the Gospel. 

The Enemy's strategy is seemingly winning in the culture and in many families. The church, united on the Word of God, focused on His Kingdom (and not our little kingdoms) for His sake and His glory, through prayer and love will push back the darkness.

Maybe next year.


BOOK REVIEW: What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He is a prominent blogger and author. Many of his articles can be found on The Gospel Coalition's website. His books are well-known and available on our church's online bookstore and at Amazon, as well as numerous other places where books are sold. 

His latest book delves into a topic that not that long ago seemed to be far on the back burner of church and cultural life and now has become an issue not to be ignored. The culture shift in the west, especially in the United States, on the subject of homosexuality, LGBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage has been dramatic, to say the least. Those on both sides (and in the fuzzy grey areas in the middle) of the debate on Christianity and homosexuality and all that comes with that agree that the culture shift is real.

DeYoung's book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway Books, 2015) seeks to speak into the issues with a winsomeness and truthfulness without just echoing the words and arguments that are little more than reactionary.

In all candor, I land with DeYoung in his assertion of homosexuality and the Gospel. I found myself highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs, to the point of realizing that if I highlight everything, it does no good to highlight anything.

DeYoung's introductory section that backs up from the question presented in the title, gives foundational footing for a discussion much deeper than the subject of gender and attraction. The title of the Introduction is "What Does the Bible Teach About Everything?" It is wise to read the Introduction, for in these thirteen pages, there is value and substance that gives strength to the subject at hand throughout the remainder of the book. I share this because I know there are many who skip Forewords and Introductions to get to the "meat" of a book. I caution you to not do that in this case.

There are numerous books flooding the online and physical stores about the subject of Christianity, the Bible and those who identify as LGBT. Many are what have been categorized by DeYoung and others as "revisionist theology." The title is self-explanatory. Yet, these writers have influence and make strong points in their books, blogs and speeches. The audience in America is clamoring for these versions of truth. DeYoung references numerous revisionist writers and even some self-declared LGBT writers in a way that is not dehumanizing and actually is complimentary of writing style and research. In fact, there are occasions when DeYoung agrees with some of the revisionist theories.

Furthermore, there is nothing ambiguous about the biblical witness concerning homosexual behavior. Even many revisionist scholars acknowledge that the Bible is uniformly negative toward same-sex activity. The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, "In this case that support is lacking." (page 73)

Of course, there are far more instances where DeYoung disagrees with the revisionists and he answers the objections clearly and concisely in this book.

As is the case with many books like DeYoung's the reader comes in with a preconceived idea of what he/she already believes about the subject at hand. This is true for me. I cannot say that I was opinion-less on this subject.

However, if a reader is truly seeking for answers, not ammunition, DeYoung's book gives clear biblical account and heart-felt answers. This book is written by a pastor and while his convictions are clear regarding the veracity of the Word of God and the power of the Gospel, there is a clear passion for God, His Truth and a love for people to know Him that permeates the book. 

This book is not an easy read, in that the subject is so polarizing. Yet, it is a clearly understandable read, for those of all walks of life. 

I believe DeYoung's book is a good companion to others on the subject, such as Christopher Yuan's biography Out of a Far Country and Ann Mobley's story of loving her son through this journey in If I Tell You I'm Gay, Will You Still Love Me?

DeYoung addresses the most common arguments used to discount biblical teachings and historic doctrine that define homosexuality as sinful. He speaks to the revisionist platforms on the type of sin referenced in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the pedo-sexuality only argument, the giftedness of chastity, the gluttony, divorce, greed, etc. vs. homosexuality debate that often arises and the language questions that many use to state that what is written in the Word is not what was meant. 

He addresses these as a theologian and one who understands language nuances. The footnotes and research reveal a studied, intellectual approach.

I would caution the Christian reader who is just looking for "ammunition" to use against their co-workers, children or other acquaintances living proudly as LGBT. I would, nevertheless, encourage Christians to be well-versed in the details and the arguments offered, so that answers in love may be offered. 

The story of LGBT and the church is not going away. Some churches, as has already been seen, will shift their theology and doctrines to allow for the open practice and acceptance of LGBT members. This will be most evident in the hosting of same-sex marriages, most likely. Other churches will stand firmly on their convictions, not wavering in their doctrines and theology. They'll be accused of "being on the wrong side of history" (which, by the way, is addressed in DeYoung's book.) The churches that stand on the narrowness of God's Word will ultimately have broad influence for the Kingdom. It should be noted, that a narrow stand is needed, but must be done in love. 

Love and acceptance are not the same. Love and affirmation of sin are not the same. To be Christian is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the First and Greatest Commandment. . .and we weren't asked to vote on whether to accept it. It was commanded to the church and we are to live it out. Yet, it must be known that "loving our neighbor as self" is not an affirmation of ungodliness. It is an affirmation of selflessness.

"Every Christian should read this book." - Dr. Russell D. Moore, President The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, SBC

Here are some powerful quotes, in no particular order of importance from DeYoung's book:

"In the Old Testament, not all uncleanness was sin, but all sin made you unclean." (page 46)

"Homosexual practice is an example on a horizontal plane of our vertical rebellion against God." (page 52)

"Homosexual behavior is a sin, not according to who practices it or by what motivation they seek it, but because that act itself, as a truth-suppressing exchange, is contrary to God's good design." (page 53)

"According to Paul's logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior - even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires - have suppressed God's truth in unrighteousness." (page 55)

"It is no little mistake in God's eyes to encourage and support what harms our fellow creatures and dishonors our Creator." (page 56)

"Context is king." (page 63)

"Talking is not the problem. The problem is when incessant talking becomes a cover for indecision or even cowardice." (page 76)

"When we tolerate the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people further from God." (page 77)

"The biblical teaching is consistent and unambiguous: homosexual activity is not God's will for his people." (page 77)

"Regret is common enough; repentance is rare." (page 99)

"We don't get to pick the age we will live in, and we don't get to choose all the struggles we will face. Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God's to determine." (page 129)

 


What Do You Do With Mother's Day?

It seems like a strange question.

I'm part of a generation of American Christians who "grew up in church." That means that our family never debated whether to attend church on Sunday morning. I did not know that not attending was even an option. At least it wasn't in our home. I had the requisite "Sunday clothes and shoes" set aside for each weekend. Sunday School started at "Baptist Standard Time" of 9:45am and morning worship was 11:00am. Lunch was often roast, potatoes and carrots at home, that had been cooking all morning in the slow cooker. There was a season when Wendy's opened in our town that Sunday lunch shifted from the home to Dave Thomas' restaurant. We were creatures of habit.

On Sunday evening, we went back to church for "Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training" (the name of this smaller version of Sunday School changed throughout the years) and then evening worship. After church, we would often go to a local restaurant for ice cream. I seem to remember getting a "Jim Dandy" at Friendly's often.

Wednesdays were typical as well with mission groups (G.A.s and R.A.s) and prayer meeting for adults.

Every week was the same. 

Until it was a holiday week. Oh, services were never cancelled. We would meet, but there were special events taking place depending on the Sunday.

I remember having special Easter programs (even egg hunts. . .which causes some of you to shudder, I know,) Christmas programs, even patriotic events near the Fourth of July. However, it was Mother's Day that always had a special emphasis, regardless of the church we attended at the time (Dad was in the Air Force, so we were members of various, very similar churches in different states throughout my childhood.)

I remember people wearing flowers on Mother's Day. Men would most often be in suits and would have flowers on their lapels. Women would wear corsages. These flowers were color-coded based on the individual's mother. If the mother was still living, the flower was red or pink. If the mother was deceased, the flower was white.

Some still observe this on Mother's Day.

The Most Awkward Mother's Day Tradition in Church

We always had a special Mother's Day recognition. As a kid, I thought it was interesting. It seemed like a game. There would be winners and they would receive a prize. It began with identifying the youngest mom in the room. The pastor would inevitably say something like "If you're 30 years old or under and a mom, please stand." Then, he would begin to go down until there was just one standing. The awkwardness became real when the teen mom who was just trying to get through school without drawing too much attention to herself was standing alone in a crowd. 

Then, there was the identification of the mother with the most children. This prize would go to the church's version of Mrs. Duggar, though I don't remember ever having a mom in the congregation with 19 kids. 

There were others awards given, but the highlight was the oldest mother. I remember there was always a lady in the church that probably went to high school with Moses. She would win this one every year. If there were ever any other contenders, it always seemed that Grandma Moses would get upset. She really wanted the prize. What's funny is that regardless the church we were attending, there was always a "Grandma Moses" type matriarch in the congregation. I was always hoping she would win.

Over the years, these types of recognitions have gone by the wayside, for good reason.

Some churches have even stopped doing anything special for Mother's Day at all.

I must confess, I struggle with what to do with Mother's Day on Sunday morning. 

In the past, we have had recognitions, parent-child dedications, "Muffins for Moms," special gifts for all mothers, and a host of other activities and events.

This year, we mentioned the day, but did no special emphases.

I'm not sure either extreme is good. In fact, I'm confident neither extreme is appropriate.

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The Challenge of Mother's Day Recognitions

To emphasize Mother's Day too much leads to concern that worship of God has been ignored. 

To ignore the mothers in the room leads to hurt feelings and presents something that is far from truth -  that the church is uncaring and does not value the God-given role of the mother in the family unit.

In recent years, there have been numerous articles and postings written about how painful Mother's Day is for a significant population in our churches - women who are unable to bear children and have no adopted children in the home. 

Dr. Russell Moore has written about this in an article that is reposted every year or so at this time:

Mother’s Day is a particularly sensitive time in many congregations, and pastors and church leaders often don’t even know it. This is true even in congregations that don’t focus the entire service around the event as if it were a feast day on the church’s liturgical calendar. Infertile women, and often their husbands, are still often grieving in the shadows. (Click here for Dr. Moore's full post.)

While some dogmatically proclaim that Mother's Day and other man-made holidays or "Hallmark Card holidays" as I've heard them called, should be ignored by the church, I do not agree. There were numerous posts on social media this year about the Mother's Day creator's desire to end the holiday due to commercialization.  This was a news nugget from the last century recycled due to the wonder of social media. I believe the postings were subtle ways to proclaim that the day should not be observed in church, or at all. Nonetheless, that is not my belief.

In all candor, I am not pleased with how I have led our church to celebrate moms on this day while honoring God alone, so I continue to seek God's lead. 

God Alone Is To Worshipped

We are committed to never allow anything or anyone take the place of God in our focus of worship. That is non-negotiable. Yet, there are ways to acknowledge God's goodness and grace in the lives of women within the church who wear the title "Mom."

And. . .there is a way to have recognition without hurting those who have struggled with having children, or may have been through a very difficult storm of life regarding their children.

I am impressed with Amy Young's thoughts on this subject:

A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.  I’m not a mother, but I had never seen the day as hurtful. She had been married, had numerous miscarriages, divorced and was beyond child bearing years. It was like salt in mostly healed wounds to go to church on that day. This made me sad, but I understood.

Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day.  A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

Amy goes on to share ideas of how to celebrate the "wide spectrum of mothering" on this day within the church fellowship:

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
  • This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you (You can read Amy's full blog post here.)

Pastors - What Do You Think?

Pastors, what are your thoughts? How do you celebrate or not celebrate Mother's Day. What are your reasonings? Comments below appreciated.
 

Ladies - What Do You Think?

Friends (who are not pastors) what are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from some moms and from women who are not moms. Your perspectives carry much weight.
 
BTW - we will not be having the youngest, oldest, most fertile moms stand up to receive awards. That's way too awkward. Not going back there.

Michael & Carrie Godfrey - Church Planters in Washington DC

051015_1045_Mike Godfrey Interview

Michael & Carrie Godfrey were longtime members of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. While teenagers, here both were very active in Student Ministry and served in leadership roles. Following graduation, Michael answered God's call into ministry and after years of serving in pastoral ministry in Waynesboro, Georgia, the Godfreys are now moving to the Washington DC area to plant a church with the North American Mission Board. This is Michael's story of calling.

The audio link is an interview I had with Michael on Sunday, May 10. 

Godfrey app large

If you wish to join in supporting the Godfreys financially, click the link below and choose the option to give to the Send DC church plant.

Give here


Why Change Is So Difficult & Yet, Needed

Over the past few weeks, the Leadership Team at our church has been praying and mulling over some potential changes in schedule, function and emphasis. As with many other organizations, change is often needed. We can all give illustrations of organizations that refused to change when given the opportunity and are now just examples of being left behind (Blockbuster Video, anyone?)

Tumblr_nkyjwgtQ581sfie3io1_1280The added challenge of change when implemented in the local church is that the church is more than a business or community organization. The church is a living, breathing organism given an incredible mission and mandate by God to make disciples and grow His Kingdom. Since we know the "gates of hell will not prevail" against His church, some question the legitimacy of change. While all change is not good, we can all agree (I think) that at times it is needed. 

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word. 

That needs to be said numerous times and, like most pastors, I repeat it often. Structures change. Organization charts change. Buildings change. Worship times change. Worship styles change. Even church leadership changes.

What never changes is the Gospel and God's Word.

Recently, Dr. Charles Stone, a minister gifted in leadership skills and nearleadership, especially, wrote an article titled "8 Reasons Why Church Change Is So Difficult." I believe he is accurate in his assessment and I share the main points below:

Brain insight helps us understand hidden processes around which we can design our change initiatives. Awareness of how people’s brains work in response to change can help you craft more lasting changes. Here are eight reasons why change is hard…

  1. People naturally assume the worst. Our brain is wired to pick up threats and negative possibilities around us more than the positive. 
  2. People usually fill in knowledge gaps with fear instead of faith. Uncertainty about the future (and change) breeds this fear. The less information and the more people have to fill in the knowledge gaps, the greater the fear and resistance to change.
  3. We don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression. Poorly introduced change will always start your change on the wrong footing.
  4. Emotions influence receptivity to change. Although we may prefer it not to be so, most people make decisions based on emotion.
  5. The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly can engage the brain’s fear center and cause people to resist, thus hindering change (Hemp, 2009).
  6. Old habits die hard. The older we get we more easily default to what we know. 
  7. Resistance to change often increases the closer you get to the change. Uninformed optimism gives way to informed pessimism.
  8. The brain often interprets change as a threat which in turn creates resistance. The brain is organized around a fundamental principle: Minimize threat-maximize reward that results in either resistance or openness. Change seems like a threat which often breeds resistance from others. Change brings uncertainty and the brain doesn’t like uncertainty.

We know that the reality is that change for the sake of change is a waste of energy and capital. Therefore, to make any adjustments in ministry, staffing, organization, small groups, worship times, etc. just on a whim is unwise and asinine. 

However, as we begin to better understanding the makeup of the 21st century culture (we've been in this century for 15 years now, so it's about time we analyze it, right?) the truth is that change is happening at breakneck speed all around us. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the process of sharing the Gospel and gaining an audience with those who see no need for God or the local church must change. 

Without change in processes, we will remain stuck in time, wondering why our strategies that worked in the 1980s seem to fall flat. Rather than adjust strategies or schedules, many churches will collectively shake their heads, blaming the media, government, school systems, community leaders or other likely targets for influencing our children, grandchildren, neighbors and co-workers too much and abandoning Christian values.

And, in about 25-30 years, as 70% of funding toward evangelical churches in America disappears (as reported by John Dickerson in his book The Great Evangelical Recession) the unchanging Gospel will remain strong, but the unchanging local church buildings will be up for sale.

The challenge is clear. Change must happen, but our human nature HATES it. There are at least eight resistors to change hard-wired into our brains. This is not God's cosmic joke, but His divine plan in the creation of our brains and neurology. Resistance does not mean stopped. We can change and we must change, but often it is not enjoyable (at least through the process.)

Yet, even as Christians we celebrate change. That's the message of the "personal testimony" or "story." As a child of God relates his/her story of salvation, the joy is in the change. God takes our hearts of stone and changes them into hearts of flesh.

We are given a new nature when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are given a new heart when we become a child of God. That's change.

We are changed from death to life through Jesus Christ.

While not all change is good (remember New Coke?) we must understand that wise, prayed over, God-led change is needed. No, the gates of hell will never prevail against Christ's Church. That truth is solid. Let's just ensure we have our ears and eyes open so that we can hear and see how God is leading us, His church, into a culture for His glory and as His change agents.

________________________

Click here for Charles Stone's blog and full article on change.

 


"Disappointed, but Not Dismayed" - The Florida Adoption Conscience Bill

It has been a challenging five weeks in Tallahassee for our faith-based orphan care ministries such as our partners in the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. We have asked for prayer and contacts to congressional representatives and senators. Thank you to all who have joined in the task. Rest assured, your prayers are powerful and effective. While the bill in question will not be brought up again this session, we are confident that God remains enthroned, in control and sovereign. Of course, those declarations were never in question.

IMG_5844Last week, my wife, Tracy and I joined Dr. Haag, employees of the FBCH, the Board of Directors, fellow pastors and spouses and the children living on the Jacksonville campus for a celebration dinner highlighting the work of the Children's Homes and ministries under their umbrella (Orphan's Heart, The Porch Light and others.) We are firmly committed to continue supporting this ministry and pray that as we enter this season of funding through the annual Children's Homes Offering (also called "The Mother's Day Offering") we will collectively be able to fund work for the sake of children throughout our state and beyond. As for the convictions of our ministries, I am confident that God will provide resources needed so that our biblical convictions will never be broken and that the hundreds of thousands of children served annually will continue unhindered.

Here's a copy of Dr. Haag's email regarding the Conscience Protection Bill (HB 7111) from May 1, 2015.

Dear Ministry Partner, 

I wanted to give you an update on where the conscience protection bill (HB 7111) stands today!  We are grateful for each of you standing with us for the past five weeks. Together, our voices were heard for children as the bill passed in the House Health & Human Services Committee, Judiciary Committee and on the House Floor. Through the help of your prayers, phone calls and personal meetings with your legislators, God saw fit to clear the way for the bill to be heard by the Senate Rules committee!

We have learned that the bill will not be brought up again in a Senate Committee meeting this session. The Florida House's session has ended, and they will not be taking any modified bills back from the Senate (which is what needs to happen in this case). We are certainly disappointed, but not dismayed. We know that legislation often takes multiple years to pass. The momentum for this legislation was great, and we know God can make it possible for the same momentum to pass the bill next year to protect our organization as we remain committed to our beliefs while focusing on helping one more child every day. 

For now, we are thankful that our entire focus can return to helping children in need as we also begin to strategize for next year's legislative session. As I arrived back on campus in Lakeland this week, I was reminded again why every meeting we had in Tallahassee was worth it. It was worth it because of the little boy living in our emergency shelter right now!  He's worth it, and we will remain focused on helping him and every child God places in our path. 

I know you have done so much, but if I could ask you to do one more thing: Will you please promote our annual offering this Mother's Day, or even after, to provide critical funds needed for children in care? 

Thank you again for your advocacy and prayers! 

Together for Children,

Jerry T. Haag, Ph.D., CFP®

President

FLORIDA BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOMES 

 

You may give to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes through our church's online giving option here.

Fbch offering 2015