Yesterday I finished up our series on parenting and family aptly titled "The Fam."
While not initially planned on my part, but due to an overwhelming push (or maybe a pull) by God, I felt compelled at the close of my message on "Rites of Passage" to step away from my notes and shared with our church family some struggles and difficulties my wife, children and I have been facing for a few years.
The Elephant in the Room
For some, it was the "elephant in the room" in that most who know us well know that we have been challenged as parents of adult children. For others, mostly new church attenders and members and those who are not as fully engaged in the life of the church - it was totally new information. In fact, for some, it was probably news that I am married and even have children.
Nonetheless, I confessed that by preaching and teaching on the "rites of passage" that parents should take their children through in order for them to enter into authentic adulthood as God designed, I felt a bit like a hypocrite.
The frustration and feelings led me to almost shelve the message totally. However, I sensed God imploring me to press on.
My struggle is that I have missed numerous "rites of passage" with my son due to his continued rebellion against our family, the Gospel and God that began a number of years ago. Not to go too deeply here, but to put it plainly, in our lives, the story of the "Prodigal Son" is not just a parable from the Bible that makes for a good Sunday School class lesson. It feels like our biography.
So, I shared this with our church family.
I felt I had done something dangerous.
I felt I had done something risky.
I felt I had revealed, maybe too much.
I felt vulnerable.
I have never been one to embrace the false "perfect pastor" persona that many have created. I fully understand and receive the role God has called me to fulfill. I feel the heavy responsibility to divide the Word rightly and to preach the Gospel clearly. I know that I am called to make disciples and to equip the saints. I do not minimize any of these realities.
I also know that I am to live out my faith in all areas of my life, at church, in the schools, in the community and especially at home.
And. . .I know I am human and though redeemed by God through the blood of Christ, I still, at times, mess up. Call it what it is - I sin.
Like many parents of adult children, I look back wishing I could do some things differently. I look at old photographs of days gone by and wonder "What if that was a moment where I could have spoken into my child's life in a way that would have changed the present?"
Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret.
So, I shared what I shared.
Not too much. . .but clear nonetheless.
I don't think so. Not this time, at least. Here's why I say that. Following the service I had numerous (and that means more than ten) adults and parents come to me saying things like "I don't know your details, but know this - you're not alone. We've been struggling through this same story as well. We're in the same boat as you." Some say there's comfort in misery, but this is not the case. The comfort here was two-fold: I was affirmed that the majority of our church loves God, loves people and loves my family. Many were affirmed that their pastor really does understand some of the struggles of life. Perhaps, they needed reminding that the myth of the "perfect family" with no difficult chapters is just that - a myth.
The greatest reminder (And why must we always be reminded of this? Oh yeah, because we're uber forgetful) is that God is sovereign. His love endures. He loves our children even more than we do. He loves us in spite of our failings. He has been in this story before. In fact, He is the author and hero of the story. There is hope.
So, pastor, as you study, pray and prepare to bring the sermon God is leading to your church next week, understand that there is a great possibility you may hit a "TMI" moment (Too much information) but don't preach with a fear of saying too much. Trust God to use your transparency to bring Him glory. . .and perhaps even bring you healing.
I have heard the comments throughout the years, but it seems that over the past few months they have grown with regularity. I wouldn't really file these away as gripes, but they are close. Maybe it's a sign that there's a holy unrest among a generation seeking more? At least, that's how I define it. The common thread is that I am hearing from members of a certain generation who are tired of being a part of a ministry that is content at remaining shallow.
Some of the things said in passing are things like. . .
"I really want to be a part of a ministry that is more than just focused on fun."
"I don't think just getting together to play games constitutes ministry."
"I love being with people, but shouldn't we be doing something for the Lord rather than just talking about it?"
"The trips are fun. It's just that they're only trips. We don't do anything related to God, the church or ministry."
"All we do is eat."
Sounds like young adults who grew up in a youth ministry that was built on pizza parties, trips to the beach or amusement park and maybe game nights. As a veteran of student ministry and student of the culture, this is one of the reasons many teenagers leave church when they graduate. They were never invited into ministry, never given significant tasks within the church and eventually they either desire more or see church as frivolous.
The thing is, the comments I'm hearing now are not from the younger, Millennial generation. These comments are coming from senior adults.
I don't categorize them as gripes, but as honest questions from men and women who have more chapters read in their life stories than I do. Most desire to finish well and do not see empty "ministries" as allowing them to do so.
It's funny, they're not saying they don't want to play games, eat and fellowship together or even take trips together on the big bus somewhere. Their frustration is that these activities alone are called "ministry" and yet, should not be.
In other words, if the church only offers activities for seniors that the local community senior center can, there is a good chance that what is offered is not ministry at all.
It is offensive to me when pastors and leaders who serve senior adults treat these seasoned saints as if they're little more than old versions of preschoolers.
We live in a culture that does not value the aged. This is evident in how many view senior adults. There is a treasure of wisdom available, but many just walk on by and never experience it, destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations by ignoring wise counsel.
Now, just because a person has lived long on the earth does not mean that person is living holy, redeemed and wise. These attributes are Spirit-given and often choices of the individual. Nevertheless, the church in the United States that rightly seeks to reach Millennials and young people with the Gospel must also discover ways to not push aside those who still have much to offer the Kingdom.
Intergenerational ministry is key. . .and it's not defined by games, meals and bus trips.
When you hear principles of parenting or marriage and you know the information is right and good, do you ever feel that for you and your family "it's too late"?
"If I knew then what I know now" is heard over and over again.
Knowing that God redeems our past is incredible, but sometimes even that doesn't bring the comfort needed. Why is this? In this message, I share plainly how we, as believers, are often victim to the lies that keep us from living as redeemed children of God in a redeemed family.
Yesterday, we launched our First Family Initiative at our church. We hosted counselors and authors, Sissy Goff and David Thomas of Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. They are authors or co-authors of numerous books and have a combined 75 years of experience in family counseling, working primarily with parents and children.
The insights provided yesterday regarding the essentials of godly, healthy parenting were incredible.
The attached audio file is from our Sunday morning gathering and features Sissy & David speaking on the subject of "Intentional Parenting."
Check out our online bookstore here for a full list of available resources from these two and other authors.
CAUTION: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC INFORMATION
Last week, in the midst of "news" stories about the Kardashians and the Jenners, was a story that was most likely skipped by many in our nation, but should be heard.
It is the story of Kayla Mueller. The 26-year-old woman from Prescott, Arizona was a humanitarian aid worker who had gone to Syria to help refugees in that country. She worked with agencies such as Doctors Without Borders.
It was in August 2013 that the Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS and ISIL) kidnapped her and gave her over to one of their leaders as property - a sex slave.
Photo: NBC News
In a story by Doug Stanglin of USA Today that ran yesterday, details regarding her experiences as the slave of Abu Sayyaf are troubling at a minimum. The evil barbarism perpetrated in the name of religion is something that many in the west are opposed to acknowledge.
Stanglin reports. . .
Mueller, 26, from Prescott, Ariz., was taken captive in Syria in August 2013 while leaving a Spanish Doctors without Borders hospital in Aleppo.
Al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed "caliph" of the Islamic State, brought her "live and in person" to the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian in charge of oil and gas revenue for the group, counterterrorism officials have told ABC News over the past several months.
The details of Mueller's treatment were initially reported by several Yazidi girls who were held at the house, including a 14-year-old and her sister who managed to escape in August 2014, The Independent reported. The teen's version has been corroborated by U.S. officials.
Additional information came from Abu Sayyaf's wife, Umm Sayyaf, who was captured in May by U.S. Special Forces. Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid, which also yielded a treasure trove of intelligence about the terror group.
According to the accounts by the Yazidi girls, many Yazidi women passed through the Sayyaf house on the way to being given as "presents" to Islamic State fighters. They said rape was a "reward" for military victories. The girls also told interrogators that Umm Sayyaf organized the sex trade.
During lengthy American interrogation in Iraq, Umm Sayyaf confirmed al-Baghdadi had "owned" Kayla, the Muellers said they were told by American officials. Last week, the White House announced that Umm Sayyaf would be prosecuted in Kurdish Iraq and would be “held accountable for her crimes.”
"They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means," Carl Mueller, Kayla's father, told the AP on Friday, which would have been his daughter's 27th birthday.
Reports are that Mueller died in February of this year when a Jordanian airstrike hit the compound where she was kept. The Islamic State reports this, so there's a strong possibility that the Jordanians had nothing to do with her death.
Last week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC presented in their newsletter "The Weekly" in harrowing detail, the theology of those in the Islamic State that leads to affirmation of sex slavery and rape. As I read this article, partnered with the report on Mueller. This information is valuable for all to know:
Here are five facts you should about how IS views and justifies the practice of sexual slavery:
1. IS considers rape of sex slaves to be a form of worship
In The New York Times article, a Yazidi girl was was enslaved by IS claims:
“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s. Like some others interviewed by The New York Times, she wanted to be identified only by her first initial because of the shame associated with rape.
“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship.
2. IS has an eschatological justification for sex slavery
Islamic State publishes a glossy propaganda magazine called Dabiq. In the October 2014 issue, IS included an article titled “The Revival Of Slavery Before The Hour,” which explains the justification for sex slavery.
In Islamic terminology the “hour” refers to the Day of Judgment, a time of reckoning either for an individual upon death or on mankind. According the article, IS asked its own Sharī’ah (Islamic law) scholars to render a verdict on whether the Yazidis (a minority religious group in the Middle East) could be enslaved. They determined that “enslavement of the apostate women” was not only justified by the Quran but was a sign prefiguring the Day of Judgment.
3. IS condones the rape of young girls
Last fall the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (ISIS) released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves:
"Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?
"It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."
4. Acquisition of sex slaves is used as a recruiting tool
As The New York Times article notes, the practice of slavery has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden. Capturing sex slaves has become nearly as important for IS’s objectives as capturing territory.
5. IS has about 3,000 girls and women engaged in sexual slavery
According to Human Rights Watch, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated in its report on March 13, 2015 that about 3,000 people, mainly Yazidis, allegedly remain in ISIS captivity. However, local officials, service providers, and community activists estimate that the number of Yazidis still held is much higher.
Why Bring This Up?
While stories of the Islamic State have been presented for months with images of beheadings, Christians being killed for not converting to Islam and numerous other atrocious and heart-wrenching activities, the sad reality is that most just see the stories as presented and respond with "That's too bad" or "Someone needs to do something."
Simply put, dealing with the Islamic State is more than a creation of a trending hashtag or creating 140 character statements about it. This is more than a talking point for political pundits or potential candidates.
This is evil and must be addressed as such.
When World War II ended, General Eisenhower instructed his soldiers to take the residents of nearby cities through the concentration camps that most profited from, but simply ignored. Many Germans intentionally ignored what was happening in those camps. Eisenhower wanted to ensure that passive ignorance was addressed. Some criticized him for this. I applaud him.
In this case, with what is happening globally (and locally, might I add) regarding the slavery of women and girls for sex, the church must not be silent. Regarding the evil that exists in the name of the Islamic State, ignorance and political correctness are not the answers either.
Prayer is the first response
It sounds like a weak response to those who do not fully understand what I'm speaking of, but for those who are walking with God, thinking with the mind of Christ and seeking His will, prayer is the first, best response.
Prayer for the deliverance of the women and girls being held as slaves throughout the world, especially those held by ISIS.
Prayer for justice to reign in the story.
Prayer for evil to be defeated.
Prayer for those who hold a non-biblical worldview to have their eyes opened to what is truly happening.
Prayer for nations to rise and fight this evil by all means necessary.
Prayer that we will recognize that victory is already won through Christ.
Prayer that those who hold to a worldview that seeks to ignore the reality of evil done in the name of religion for fear of offense will have their eyes opened.
Prayer that the church will awaken.
Prayer for the families of victims. Prayer that the peace that passes understanding will cover them.
God is not silent. He is not unaware. He is not slumbering. He is in control and present.
About two months ago when our Pastor, David Tarkington, began a series on prayer, if you asked me if I knew how to pray my answer would have been an indignant “well of course”. After Pastor David began going through the template that Jesus gave in Matthew on the Lord’s Prayer I realized just how little I knew. I was one of those that could recite the Lord’s prayer with no problem but had really never taken the time to look at the six elements and figure out what they mean. I began to try to pray through the template and I got hung up on a few things. This is where a 7 year old taught me how to truly pray.
Drew Wood is now at home.
It was about this time that Drew Wood was put in the hospital and his future hung in the balance. Pleas were put out on Facebook (even by me) to earnestly pray for this little boy as he was fighting the battle of his life, along with his parents, Jon and Mandi. On a July Monday morning when I knew that Drew was supposed to have surgery later that day I began to have a discussion with God on the way to work. I argued with him that I didn’t understand why the doctor didn’t try such and such after all I am a nurse and I know things. Looking back now I can’t believe I was arguing with God about this. He very gently said you may be a nurse but I am the Great Physician and I’ve got this covered. Talk about being put in your place. I came close to having to pull my car over. As I prayed that morning I was finally able to pray the one thing I had been having trouble with – Your will be done. When praying God’s will I had to realize that when I ask for healing it may not come in the form that I expect. That day as those of us in the church office cried together and prayed together (sorry folks not much work got done) I realized that praying God’s will was really very easy because whether I approve of it or not doesn’t really matter His will is going to be done anyway. How freeing!
Drew, I don’t know if you know it yet but God has used you in so many ways to bring glory to Him. He certainly used you to teach this more than middle aged woman how to pray as he instructed. I am sorry that you had to go through what you did but I thank you and your parents for allowing God to work in and through all three of you to teach us some much needed spiritual lessons.
Shari Barbaro is a friend of mine. She serves on the staff of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. She is a child of God, deacon's wife, mother to two, choir member, small group leader and mentor to teenage girls. She recently blogged about how God taught her how to prayer. Permission granted to share her post. Here's a link to her blog.
Earlier this week our Leadership Team attended the SEND Conference in Nashville. This conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board and International Mission Board, featured challenging messages, vital insights into culture and incredible worship music as well as an opportunity to connect with others focused on pushing back the darkness in a culture prone to wander.
(BTW - Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s)
I went to this breakout session with a few of our Millennial Leadership Team members. I did notice a few other grey haired guys in the room, so I was not totally out of place.
When looking at research on generations and the broad strokes of identification that often come with descriptive terms for groups, the data can be overwhelming and more often than not, negative in scope.
Millennials are therefore, often relegated to a descriptor by older generations that ignores who they truly are, what they have to offer and the questions they continue to ask.
Churches that ignore millennials, or who simply relegate them to a satellite ministry in attempts to be relevant are missing perhaps the greatest mission field and potential great awakening in years.
Rainer's research revealed truths that I had not known.
Here are some facts about this generation with my thoughts in red.
The Largest Generation – More than 78 Million live births from 1980-2000. This is amazing to me. For years, the Boomers were spoken of as the largest generation. Then, with the development of "the pill" and the legalization of abortion, it has been presumed (by me) that this generation was smaller.
The Lost Generation – Our best estimate is that just 15% of the Millennials are Christians. This is not surprising. Youth groups are declining in number (though many students attend, there is a tendency to jump from church to church, group to group, and para-church to para-church simply for events) and many are graduating high school and church as well. Church attendance does not equate to relationship with Christ, but there are a vast majority of young people, even within the church, who do not know Christ. This is even more clear as social media has grown and personal theologies have become more exposed.
The Unchurched Generation – About 20% of Millennials attend church at least twice a month. Regular church attendance, with split families and other reasons, is now only twice a month. More attend church than know Christ.
The Relational Generation – Relationships are key to Millennials. It's all about relationships. There's no devotion to an organization, by and large, but there is to friendships and relationships. People matter. This is the social media generation. Numerous follows, likes and "friends" are key to this generation. True friendships, however, may be fewer and farther between.
The Mentee Generation – Mentoring is desired by Millennials. The younger generation actually desires relationships with older people. This, however, must be a two-way street. As with any descriptor, there are exceptions.
The High Expectations Generation – They want to be at a church that makes a difference in its community and the world. The word "missional" may be overused by some, but living missionally as a church in a community is vital if Millennials are to connect.
The Stewardship Generation – This generation asks “What are we doing with our resources and are they being used in the best way and to God’s glory?” This question must be answered clearly by the church. Just giving to a fund for an organization will not elicit excitement and ultimately will run dry. Millennials will give. . .but they need to know it's for a purpose.
The Committed Generation – They are committed to that about which they are passionate. This one is hard for older people (like me) to fathom, but as Rainer explained it, I see the truth here. In a world where it seems that no one is committed, this generation will commit to a movement, a belief system, a project. . . if it's seen as valuable. Some say that they change jobs every two years (and likely churches, too, if they're involved) and that is a sign they're not committed. However, what is revealed is that the workforce is often seen by business as a resource, not family. Therefore, when people are not viewed as valuable. . .in a relationship. . .there is no commitment to offer. If churches view Millennials as simply a resource, they will not reach this generation.
The Cross-generational Generation – They desire to learn from those who have been there and have experience. Again, this is founded on authentic relationships. The church should take this to heart and ask the hard questions regarding programming. Should every program, ministry and event be "age-divided"? Maybe the Millennials will lead the church back to a first century model?
The Generation of Opportunity – There is a great challenge in reaching Millennials, but the opportunity is greater. Millennials are the largest mission field in American history. It’s up to us to reach them with the gospel. The message here is "Wake Up Church!" We cannot ignore this generation. How tragic to be presented with the largest generation of unchurch people in our nation's history and miss what God is going to do through them.
There is much more to be said about reaching and connecting with this generation. The bottom line is this - we cannot afford to miss that which God intends to do through this generation. I believe we will be held accountable in how we effectively engage and serve alongside those categorized as Millennials.
In a relay race, the baton matters. Crossing the finish line without the baton is a loss. We must pass the baton on to those who will run the next leg of this race.