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Posts from June 2020

Yes, We're Requiring Face Masks for In-Person Services ... And We Know Not Everyone Will Be Happy

Due to the recent upticks in COVID-19 cases, the City of Jacksonville, Florida (COJ) enacted an Executive Order for face masks to be worn in public indoor spaces. The mask issue has been one of the most debated this year (and that is saying much based on everything else that people are angry about in 2020.) The church I pastor is located in Orange Park, Florida. Orange Park is a suburb of Jacksonville. We are not in the city limits (or Duval County limits) and are not required to comply with the COJ's mandate.

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Based on this decision and subsequent ones encouraging masks in our county and other regions in northeast Florida, we will be requiring masks for those ages six and older attending in-person worship services on Sunday. Once people are seated and are distanced from others outside their household, the masks may be removed if necessary. However, we do recommend wearing them while singing (which, of course is a challenge, but the concern is the spread produced from singing.) We do desire that attendees sing. Actually, we have desired this for decades, but that is another story.

Just so you know, I have heard the concerns and see the online comments. Here are my responses to a few of the most common statements:

  • "We are not in Duval County and therefore, the City of Jacksonville rulings do not apply to us." - That is true. Yet, we do have members who live in Jacksonville. We also know that often the decisions made in Jacksonville impact the subsequent ones made in our county. So...we're just ahead of the game a bit.
  • "Face masks do not help." - I've heard this. You've heard this. Some have said this. Maybe they do help, maybe they do not. I am pretty confident they do not harm, so that is pretty important here (Yes, I've heard some who postulate that they are breathing in too much carbon dioxide and other concerns, too, but overall it seems that those in the medical profession are not discouraging the wearing of masks.)
  • "It's all political. There's no real issue. It's all overblown." - I've heard all this as well. It's an election year so everything is political. While I cannot speak on the details of the virus and/or the spread, I know there are as many opinions on this as there are cable news, online news, and other outlets giving insight and information. I have learned over the years that every side has an "expert" and sometimes what is presented as news is simply entertainment (entertainment designed to keep angry people angry and frustrated people frustrated which leads to more hits online, more viewers, and more return readers.) So...while there may be a conspiracy at work and one day when we get to heaven we can ask that (we won't because we won't care) for today...we're asking you to wear masks.
  • "Wearing a mask is showing a lack of faith or trust in God." - Believe me, way too many people lack faith. Yet, to wear a face mask, from my perspective, does not reveal a lack of faith. From a missional perspective, I see it as showing care for others and seeking to not shut down opportunities for true, gospel conversations. As for showing a lack of trust in God, I ask "Do you wear seatbelts in your car?" You likely do (and should) not only because it is the law, but because it is the smart thing to do. When first required by law, it was hard to get used to wearing seat belts every time I entered a car. Over time, it became second-nature and now if someone is in my car, I make them wear their seat belt before beginning our journey. Why? Because I want them to arrive safely or to be safe in case there is an accident. We have been told (yeah...I know, can we trust who is telling us? I hope so.) to wear masks because it may keep someone else from getting sick. So, we ask you to wear them for your sake, but also for others. It's a practical way to show that you actually take seriously the second portion of the Great Commandment. At least it won't eliminate a conversation about Christ and his love for others and how we as Christians love as well. 
  • "Other churches aren't requiring masks." - That's the joy of autonomy. Nevertheless, since churches tend to watch what others are doing, some who have not required masks will see that we and others are and begin to do so. And, there will be some who will continue to not require masks, not encourage masks, and will do as they choose. I pray that we do not see massive outbreaks in local churches, especially where unwise risks are being taken under the guise of faith. Sadly, poor choices by some impact all (and this has been the case for centuries in the church, so not just relegated to pandemic responses.)
  • "It's hard to breathe when I wear a mask." - I know. Sorry.
  • "My glasses fog up when I war a mask." - Mine too. I hate that. Sorry.
  • "Everything smells like my breath." - Yep. Gross. Chew gum or get a mint.
  • "Being told to wear this is like persecution." - Nope. It's not like persecution. It's like wearing a mask.

I don't intend to anger anyone or upset you, but as your pastor, I ask you to please comply with this request if you attend in-person services. Believe me, based on the comments I have received, your fellow church members will and do appreciate it. 

If you have medical reasons why you cannot wear a mask for long periods or find yourself feeling constricted or unable to breathe, then when you get to your seat, safely distanced from others, remove it. Or, just don't put yourself in the position to be angry, frustrated, or disappointed that you are being asked to wear it. Stay home. Be safe. Join us online at 11am for our livestream of the worship service on either our YouTube or Facebook pages (links at firstfam.org.)

I believe having to wear masks will be temporary.

I pray it is.

You know why?

Because I don't like wearing a face mask...but I will for your sake.


Persons of Color Do Not Need a "Seat at the Table." Rather, We All Need a New Table.

The term "seat at the table" is often used in corporate America as well as in non-profits, denominational entities, and churches. The "table" is often seen as the place where those who have influence and power make decisions that impact the organization. The table has become a symbol of power, creditability, and insight. In other words, when one is offered a seat, it is seen as an invitation to be heard and make a difference. That's not bad, actually.

I know we now live in the "cancel culture" where many things are now being challenged, deleted, and removed that for many people have not been viewed as historically offensive or wrong. Yet, just because a majority does not view something as hurtful or offensive does not mean it is not. Regarding the proverbial "table" I do not view this necessarily as an item to be cancelled, but I do believe our focus on words matter and for true gospel reconciliation to occur between people of different backgrounds, cultures, and skin tones, things that may seem as minor by many must change.

The Invitation to the "Table"

For the most part, my denomination remains very white (Southern Baptist Convention,) but I do believe we are making strides to be not just inclusive, but to see reconciliation and biblical healing occur as we strategically seek to eliminate the reality that "11am Sunday worship hour is the most segregated hour in America."1

I know we have very far to go to see this happen, but many in the local churches are taking the needful, gospel-centric, biblical steps.

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Photo credit: BI Watercooler on VisualHunt / CC BY

I have been in religious and denominational meetings involving many fellow pastors and ministry leaders in our city and state over the years. In a number of these gatherings, the discussion has arisen from well-intentioned brothers, regarding the inclusion of non-white pastors and predominantly non-white churches in our city and network. The statement "We need them to know they have a place at the table" or one like it has been stated by many.

Again...well intentioned, but even years ago when I first heard this, I cringed. I wasn't sure exactly why I did not like the phrase, but it just did not set well.

The "Kids' Table"

It hit me as I was reminiscing with family about our Christmas gatherings years ago. My parents, brother, and I would travel back to western Tennessee to spend the holiday with my grandparents. One side of the family would gather on Christmas Eve for a great, country dinner followed by the opening of gifts. On Christmas Day, we would travel over to my other grandparents' home for lunch with family, followed by more gifts.

The gatherings were fun, but as a child, it always seemed that the adults took way too long to eat. Then...they had to wash all the dishes (and there was no dishwasher other than grandma and those she allowed to help.) Not unlike many families who have had such gatherings, the adults would gather in the dining room around the table for dinner or lunch while the children would be in the kitchen at the smaller table. This was the kids' table. The food was the same (but the plates were not the "good ones.") The discussions around the kids' table were much different than around the adult table. I longed to get to the age when I could finally sit at the adult table. Looking back, in order for that to happen, someone either had to die, not attend, or give up their seat for me. I never thought of that at the time, but the house wasn't big, there were no more extensions to be put in the table, and there were no extra seats available. 

I eventually made it to the adult table (there were some deaths and others who could not attend.) The anticipation was high but the actual result was...meh! I was a teenager and I soon discovered that the conversations among the adults were not as interesting (or understandable) as I had thought. But...I had arrived. I WAS AT THE ADULT TABLE!

I was only allowed to sit at the adult table once the invitation was given and even though I had a seat, was loved by all who sat at the table with me (as well as those still at the smaller table,) it was never my table. In fact, I was still young, more of a smart aleck than smart, and not really able to engage in discussions of politics, local events, global events, etc. I was able to talk some about college basketball, but even that was limited.

There is nothing wrong at all with the "adult table" and the "kids' table" at family gatherings like this. Yet, when we (the collective "we" meaning those who are the majority, have been given a voice in an organization, have a bit of influence, and may be serving in leadership positions) state that persons of color (or any identified minority population) is invited and can have a "seat at the table" it just sounds a bit ... well ... insulting.  

Maybe? Maybe not. 

It could just be me.

The intentional and needed avoidance of "tokenism" keeps me from using the phrase today. I would not want to feel that I have a "seat at the table" as simply some form of diversity maneuver designed to allow an organization to either consciously or subconsciously say "See, we're diverse. We have a black/brown/Asian/Hispanic/etc. person at the table."

A New Table

Now, I will propose something that I have absolutely no idea how to accomplish. Whether it is in a local church, on a denominational board or committee, or in a non-profit or even corporate/for-profit organization, it seems that just inviting persons of color to the table is not enough. It seems what we need is a new table. 

We know that the table we speak of is not a literal one. Nevertheless, the structure within an organization always has teams and individuals who are visionaries, leaders, organizers, planners, implementers, and influencers. It is in these positions we (again, the collective we) must seek and be intentional to place, invite, and be willing to share space with others who can move the organization forward. In the church it is to lead the church to be and remain gospel-centered, missional, and focused on showing Christ well to the community while simultaneously living life together as His church. 

Again, I'm not sure how this happens, but I know just inviting my brothers who have an increased amount of melanin in their skin to come sit at my table is not enough. Maybe that is the problem - even in that sentence I defined it as my table.

I believe that together, we must create "new tables." 

Again, I do not know how to do this, but acknowledging the need is the first step.

Now, I need to go spend some time in prayer and journaling and then have some conversations with others to hopefully discover what the next steps may be.

 

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This statement has most often been attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He definitely said this and added the word "still" between the words "is" and "the." According to news archives, Dr. Billy Graham said this very statement as well. In fact, in 1953, Dr. Kenneth Miller, Executive Secretary of the New York Mission Society at a conference. It seems that all these men made this declaration, but they were not the first. Sadly, the reality has been such for years and now, even in 2020, it appears to remain in many regions. (Quote verified here.)


White Church/Black Church – Rich Church/Poor Church – Suburban Church/Urban Church – Our Church/Their Church..."Lord, Where Is YOUR Church?"

During the early part of the 2000s, it seems that more and more independently funded "Christian" films were being released in theaters and direct to DVD. Some of these films featured Hollywood stars (yet mostly actors who were not A-listers or who had made their name decades earlier) or unknown actors looking to break into the industry. Some featured actors from local churches and friends of the producers.

Many of the films were produced on shoestring budgets and were as much a labor of love of the creators as an attempt to make a profit.

I enjoy many of these films. It's refreshing to be able to watch a positive, faith-friendly film with family members. Of course, some films are better than others and some...well, at least they were trying to do well.

In 2006, I watched a film starring a popular artist in Christian music. To be honest, our church staff was planning to go on a weeklong retreat and I needed to find something to fill the Wednesday evening adult gathering at church since all staff would be gone. My regular lay-Bible teachers were already committed, so I went the easy way and found a new film to show at the church. I even purchased the license to ensure we we legal.

This film is titled "The Second Chance" and it stars Michael W. Smith (yes, that Michael W. Smith of "Friends are friends forever" fame.) The film was produced by Steve Taylor (yes, that Steve Taylor of "I Want to Be a Clone" fame.) If the names Michael W. Smith and Steve Taylor don't ring a bell for you, then you were not a youth pastor in the 1990s, or you didn't listen to every CCM artist of the day when the music genre was growing in popularity.

"The Second Chance" Went Where Other Christian Films Would Not

I wasn't sure what to expect, but let me say that this film was not exactly like the other "faith-based" movies of the era. In fact, I can't remember any other Christian film rated PG-13 that was marketed to churches (probably because one of the pastors says "damn.") I don't count the R-rated "The Passion of the Christ" in the same genre. 

The second chanceOn IMDb.com, the following synopsis of the film is given by user Tracey Zemitis:

Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith) and Jake Sanders (introducing Jeff Obafemi Carr) are both passionate pastors who worship the same God from the same book--but that's where the similarity ends. White and well-to-do Ethan is comfortable in his music ministry at the media-savvy suburban mega-church, The Rock; Jake is a street smart African-American who ministers to the gang members, teen mothers, and drug addicts of the urban Second Chance. When they are suddenly thrown together in a tough neighborhood and forced to work side by side, Ethan discovers there is no boundary between the streets and the sanctuary. But can the faith these two men share overcome the prejudices that divide them to give themselves and a struggling urban church a second chance?

The film is now fourteen years old. Most people I know have never seen it. Those who have may not remember much about it. Yet, this morning, one of the most pivotal scenes of the film came back to my mind. I have a copy of the film and I looked up that scene. The writers (Steve Taylor, Henry O. Arnold, and Ben Pearson) took a risk of potentially upsetting the very audience who would purchase the DVDs and watch the film. I think it was a needed risk. If you have ever listened to Steve Taylor's songs or heard him interviewed, you know that he is not one to shy away from risky endeavors for the sake of the speaking plainly to the church. The message in the film is clear and sadly, I am not sure the evangelical churches in America are much further along from what is depicted here.

Here is the scene. Let me set this up. Michael W. Smith is the prodigal son of a suburban mega-church pastor who is trying to rehab his image. He's a Christian singer (not too much of a stretch for Smitty) who is instructed by the church elders to serve at the pastor's first church, and current sponsored mission in the 'hood (as it is described.) The pastor of the church located in the inner city is African-American and once a year is invited as a guest to the megachurch for the fund-raising day where money is pledged by church members to keep the inner-city church open. This scene takes place on that Sunday. Knowing this...the scene is self-explanatory.

According to JustWatch, the film is not streaming anywhere at this time, though it may be available on YouTube. 

The Lord's Church

As with most films like this there is a somewhat happy ending, though it is not sugar-coated and simple as many "Christian" films show. I am left with the questions regarding what we are facing in our city, community, and nation now. As evangelical Christians, we must seek to live and be the Lord's church, commissioned as he has called us, living as missionaries in our communities and neighboring ones. Throwing money at a mission (or a cause) is not the answer and is no substitute for living our faith. 

I have no easy 1-2-3 steps for the church, but I know that which is illustrated in this film is not fiction–though I wish it were. 

We must do better.


Juneteenth - A Holiday Many Americans Will Hear About for the First Time Today

I have a prediction.

With all that has been happening related to racial issues in our nation over the past month, especially, it will not be long before Juneteenth is a recognized national holiday.

Currently, the day is recognized in forty-nine states, but rarely is mentioned and most employees do not get the day off.

It was a few years ago that I began posting on our church social media pages about Juneteenth every June. For our predominantly white community and church membership, this holiday is one often not spoken of, and more often than not, not even known about.

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It could be said that many of our children are not taught about the holiday because it occurs in the summer and not during the school year, but there are other holidays in the summer and most Americans are fully aware of them. Of course Independence Day should be known by all, but I imagine more Americans have heard of Flag Day than Juneteenth.

I first heard of Juneteenth when I was a high school student in Texas. Sadly, that means for the first sixteen years of my life, I had never known of it.

What Is Juneteenth?

It has been called "Freedom Day" and the "Black Fourth of July." This day, as explained on the website juneteenth.com commemorates the following:

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

It is hard to imagine that black men, women, and children remained slaves in south Texas for over two years following the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, when you study our American history, this should not be surprising.

Initially, the celebrations of Juneteenth grew and became annual events. These celebrations had little or no impact among the non-black communities. In fact, there was hostility from some toward the former slaves and their children for even desiring to celebrate.

Over time, interest in the annual celebrations waned. The decline is described here:

Economic and cultural forces led to a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family-taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the lives of former slaves.Classroom textbooks proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 as the date signaling the ending of slavery - and mentioned little or nothing of the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th.

The Depression forced many people off the farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date. Thus, unless June 19th fell on a weekend or holiday, there were very few participants available. July 4th was already the established Independence holiday and a rise in patriotism steered more toward this celebration. (juneteenth.com)

During the rise of the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s, Juneteenth grew in popularity once more. In 1980, the day became an official Texas state holiday. Since then, many other states have designated the holiday.

June 19, 2020 is Juneteenth and I believe many will be celebrating. Perhaps more this year than in the past. Hopefully we will soon see Juneteenth as a national celebration of freedom, simultaneously reminding us of our sins of the past (repentance and lamentation are good and healthy,) and also of the move toward truly recognizing as a special day in July reminds us that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


"The Gathering Storm" by Albert Mohler - Book Review

Dr. Albert Mohler has become one of the best-known Christian leaders in the United States over recent years. As president of The Southern Baptist Seminary (SBTS) he has a particular platform in evangelicalism that offers him opportunities to speak and respond to the many issues impacting the world today from a viewpoint described by Mohler and others as a "biblical worldview." 

I, for one, have appreciated his input on numerous cultural issues, especially over the past decade and a half, as seismic shifts in cultural norms and the now-termed "moral revolution" has sought to change the landscape of our understanding of right and wrong.

In addition to serving as the president of SBTS, Dr. Mohler has a prolific speaking schedule, as he is sought by many to fill pulpits and speak at conferences and special events. He is the host of two podcasts–"The Briefing" and "Thinking in Public." He is also the author of numerous books and this article focuses on his latest published by Thomas Nelson Publishers titled The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church.

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Image from https://www.thomasnelson.com/p/the-gathering-storm/

Churchillian Title

One of Dr. Mohler's favorite figures of history (known to anyone who regularly listens to his podcasts or has visited his personal library) is Sir Winston Churchill. The British Prime Minister, known for his solid and tenacious leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II, wrote the first of his six-volume series on the Second World War covering the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Churchill used the title The Gathering Storm for this volume. Mohler credits Churchill's book title as the reason he chose his book's title.

As the threat of Nazism was growing in Europe, many in the UK and elsewhere minimized Hitler's potential impact and most saw Germany's revival as something that would remain within the German borders, not impacting the neighboring nations, much less the world. Churchill, on the other hand, was a voice crying out for others to take note of the growing threat. When it became clear that Hitler and his powerful Third Reich was bent on European (and eventual global) domination, Churchill seemed prophetic as one who had warned of the storm.

In the same way, Dr. Mohler speaks in this new work of the growing and present threat of secularism to the culture and to the church. This is not a cry heretofore unmade. Dr. Mohler, as well as others, have been speaking of these threats for decades. Not unlike many in the UK who heard but ignored Churchill's warnings, sadly it seems that many Christians have either willingly or unintentionally been ignoring the warnings of secularism to such a degree that now the storm is not simply something that may impact us, it is clear that landfall has occurred.

For those, like me, who live in Florida, hurricane preparedness is a way of life. Floridians have different seasons than other regions in the nation. We have spring, summer, football, and hurricane seasons. When hurricane season begins, we begin to watch our local meteorologists more intently as they share of new storms forming off the west coast of Africa. We know those storms often build up, begin spinning with more intensity, and at times, move from tropical depression to tropical storm to hurricane with eventual impact somewhere in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the southeastern coast of the US. The "cone of concern" is developed and we watch daily wondering if we will be impacted personally. Watching the daily hurricane updates is like watching a turtle run a race. It's slow and plodding and uncertain...until it isn't.

Hurricane Warnings

Living in a state where hurricanes are part of our annual schedules, there are often times where warnings are given, but ignored by many. It is akin to the ignoring the flight attendants in commercial flights as they give instructions regarding how to wear the seatbelt, put on oxygen masks, and emergency exit rules. Since most who have flown numerous times have never experienced an in-flight emergency, these repeated warnings go unheard. Yet, when something mid-flight does occur and the oxygen masks fall from the console, it is clear that many would be doing their best to remember what was said pre-flight as they slide into panic.

In our culture wars and shifting sands of morality and rightness, the storm is no longer on the way. It is here. For those who have listened to Dr. Mohler's daily podcast "The Briefing" and at times felt overwhelmed with the data and daily updates of issues that run counter to a biblical worldview, his new book is a welcome resource. Many of the illustrations and delineated accounts in the book have been covered at some point by Dr. Mohler in one of his briefings, but to have the book available giving a systematic unveiling of the history of secularism and the subtle (and overt) impacts of this philosophy in our lives is telling and helpful. In some cases, the shifts have seemed immediate (e.g. the 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage) but in truth are simply the latest visible impacts of the storm gusts upon culture.

Responding to Landfall

When hurricanes make landfall, the impact varies depending on wind speed, the structural strength of the buildings nearby, the depth and health of the roots of trees, and the preparedness of residents. Once the storm has passed, disaster relief teams arrive (many wearing yellow hats representing Southern Baptists serving and helping in Christ's name,) damage assessment occurs, and next steps for recovery begin. 

Unlike a natural hurricane, the storm we now face seems to be only increasing in intensity with an ever-widening cone of concern with no end in sight. Yet, as Christians we are affirmed that as we stand firmly on the gospel of Christ, though a narrow foot-hold certainly, we will not only withstand the storm, but thrive in its midst and in the aftermath. So, be encouraged.

In Dr. Mohler's book, he focuses on nine specific issues impacted by the rising secularism. Sadly, this is not only a secular, godless worldview present outside the church, but also at times visible within. The chapter titles categorize these areas so the reader can more clearly see that which has occurred and is occurring. Chapters speaking of "The Gathering Storm in..."

  • Western Civilization
  • The Church
  • Human Life
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Generational Divides
  • Engines of Culture
  • Religious Liberty

After reading The Gathering Storm, I cannot help but see indicators of the growing secularization and worldview shifts daily as new headlines appear on my newsfeed. In fact, yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled in what I deem a disastrous ruling, that "that 'sex' does, in fact, include sexual orientation and gender identity, despite the fact that legislators repeatedly voted against including those categories in the legislation." (ERLC - "After the Bostock Supreme Court Case") Where would this lie in Dr. Mohler's analysis? It is clearly part of the storm related to gender and sexuality, but also impactful in the area of religious liberty, not to mention family and generational divides.

This is just one headline from today. 

One can simply peruse other current and recent stories to see how the moral revolution and the rise of secularism continues to impact all avenues of our culture on a daily basis.

What Now?

Dr. Mohler's concluding chapter hearkens once more to Churchill's warnings prior to World War II. While Churchill, along with the other Allied leaders, entered into the storm against Nazism, fascism, and imperial despotism with a united, military campaign that proved to be essential for victory, Dr. Mohler is not calling for a militaristic movement. He is, however, clearly reminding the church that what we face today is truly a battle. The church has been in this spiritual battle since the very beginning, but the storm of secularism is our most recent and current beachhead.

Dr. Mohler gives reasoned, practical, and timelessly biblical encouragement and insight into how Christians and the church must live in such times. The concluding chapter is titled "Into the Storm" and that certainly is our calling. 

I recommend The Gathering Storm highly and encourage readers to subscribe to "The Briefing" for continued daily updates of current trends and shifts in culture from a biblical worldview.

Insightful Quotes from The Gathering Storm

  • A central fact of the storm now gathering strength is moral liberalism, which cannot be explained without the dechristianization of society. (xv)
  • Secularizing societies move into conditions in which there is less and less theistic belief and authority until there is hardly even a memory that such a binding authority had ever existed. (5)
  • We do not need a political movement. We need a theological protest. (13)
  • A true church does not give a non-answer to a direct biblical question. (27)
  • What morally atrocious age we have slipped into where we sacrifice babies on the altar of "women's health, autonomy, and their right to the pursuit of happiness"? (47)
  • Secularism has paganized the culture. Pagans speak of holy things as if they were lowly while speaking of lowly things as if they were holy. (64-65)
  • The headlines will continue down this trend–we will see not only liberals versus conservatives but revolutionaries versus revolutionaries; feminist ideology versus transgender ideology; gay and lesbian activism against transgender activism. (97)
  • We should lament the brokenness and understand the many failings of the Christian church toward those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. But we dare not add yet another failure to those failures. (115)
  • In response to the storm gathering over gender and sexuality, Christians must do at least two things: preach true gospel liberty in the face of erotic liberty and stand ready to receive the refugees of the sexual revolution. (119)
  • Teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. (128)
  • Liberalism often fails to distinguish between conservatives and the extremists on the right. this can be driven by intention or by carelessness, but the result is the same. (153)
  • Consider the fact that religious liberty is now described as religious privilege. By definition, a privilege is not a right. (166)
  • Where you find failing churches and denominations, you find a loss of faith in God. (191)

 


Are You Pastoring the "Kobayashi Maru" Church of the No-Win Scenario?

The "Kobayashi Maru" likely does not ring a bell for most people, but for the few who grew up watching the original Star Trek television series and then enjoyed seeing Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy and the rest of the crew of the starship Enterprise when they jumped to the big screen the reference is clear. The introduction of the Kobayashi Maru was in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the best Star Trek movie, by the way.) The Kobayashi Maru was the name of a fictional ship (even fictional in the fictional universe of Star Trek) that was created as a training exercise for Starfleet officers. The ship was in a battle with the evil Klingons and the trainee was to guide his/her ship to the rescue and win the day. Yet, in this exercise, the Kobayashi Maru was always destroyed, regardless what the trainee did. (For those who actually care, click here for a clip of the scene.)

The 1982 film opens with Saavik in the command chair, leading her crew made up of original series stars into the battle, only to see crew members die and the Maru destroyed. It was truly a dramatic scene when first viewed in the theaters back in the 1980s. Soon after the destruction and defeat, the scene shifts and the hero, Captain Kirk walks from behind a wall and makes it clear that Saavik, not unlike others, has failed the test. 

It's a short scene, but has become over time a reminder of what is known as the "no win scenario." It was repeated in J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek starring Chris Pine in 2009 as well as numerous books, reference works, and fan fiction.

(Okay, you figured it out by now, I am a Star Trek nerd. No apologies. Live long and prosper. Now read the rest.)

The No-Win Scenario

Sometimes in pastoral ministry, leading the people in the church God has called you to serve feels like a no-win scenario. That's a foreboding thought and not necessarily one that comes to mind when one surrenders to full-time ministry and is called to serve as pastor in the local church. Nevertheless, as I have discovered over the years and in talking with many other pastors, the thoughts of leading a church through cultural changes and missional engagement seems to be a no-win.

Church Members Divided

There have always been divisive issues among Christians within the church. Some are primary issues that must be addressed with no compromise. These would be issues of biblical fidelity, trinitarian teaching, doctrinal clarity, etc. There is really no debate on whether or not to stand firmly on such issues. To do otherwise is an affront to biblical Christianity and leaves the church open, if not embracing, false teachings and teachers.

There are, however, divisive issues that often rise up among church members that have nothing to do with first priority issues. They are not doctrinal. They are not biblical issues. Many have written about such divisions and articles on theological triage by Dr. Albert Mohler (here) and podcasts featuring Dr. Jason Allen and Dr. Gavin Ortlund (here) have addressed such clearly. 

Today's Trending Church Divides

There will always be issues that rise up causing division among church members. Most recently, that division centers around church responses to COVID-19 and how congregations are planning to meet in person again for worship. These are not insignificant issues, but as we all know, the opinions vary greatly on how one must respond and what must be done. Whether it is the use of chemical cleaners in the church facilities, the enforcing of social distancing, the forced locations for seating in worship, or guidelines regarding wearing/not wearing masks, the opinions are there - within every church, and they differ greatly depending on whom is speaking. 

I have received numerous emails and text messages from other pastors and have had a number of conversations with men in our community asking how we are addressing such. These are not isolated issues. Yet, as one pastor mentioned to me, "This is a no-win scenario." Thus...the Star Trek-Kobayashi Maru comparison. 

Captain David
Taken years ago when I had darker hair and a set for Star Trek existed in South Georgia

I was in a meeting earlier this month (not a Christian ministry or church related one) with friends from the community and one man dared to share his opinion related to being required to wear masks. I watched as another jumped into the conversation and the soon-escalating discussion revealed that no resolution would be found. Opinions are very strong. Fortunately, the moderator of the meeting kindly shut down the conversation and we moved forward (and these men remain friends, so no harm, hopefully.) This revealed once more that divisiveness is natural in a sinful world. The challenge facing pastors is shepherding through what some have called a no-win scenario.

Beyond COVID-19 and other pandemic related talking points, we now face the greater, and I believe the more serious divide relating to racial unity, police actions, government responsibilities, and all that has developed since George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

If you thought opinions on issues within the church related to carpet color, music style, schedule changes, pandemic response, and all were big, you now know they pale in comparison to these even more potentially divisive chasms among those who not only are brothers and sisters in Christ, but covenant members of the same fellowship.

For the pastor wondering what to do...it seems like a no-win scenario.

Changing the Conditions by Clarifying the Calling

In Star Trek lore, the only Starfleet cadet to ever beat the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru was James T. Kirk (of course.) When asked by Saavik how he did it, Kirk responded with "I reprogrammed the simulation so that it was possible to rescue the ship."

Immediately, his son David Marcus says "He cheated," to which Kirk replies "I changed the conditions of the test. Got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose."

It's a gutsy move for the movie's hero, but in the church there is no "reprogramming" of the scenario. Some pastors desire to change the conditions and at times, they do. In some cases, these are incredibly positive shifts that lead to church health and biblically strong congregations. Sometimes, however, the conditions change simply because the pastor leaves. At times by his choice and God's calling. Sadly, at times due to the church's lack of desire to follow God's man's lead. 

However, all pastors realize in their ministry how easy it is to be distracted by secondary and tertiary items to such a degree that the primary ones are forsaken.

I know this is overly simplified and actually doesn't address specific things to be done regarding COVID-19 issues much less the issues of  racial unity among believers. I am not offering step-by-step fixes for such dynamic and serious issues. Please know I am not minimizing these either, but I do believe that pastors must first and foremost remember that the calling to lead a church is not the calling to be a CEO or Director of Activities. He is not placed by God to just tickle the ears of the congregation so that offerings will continue. The pastor is not called to be the political action committee chairman or a puppet for any group in a community or region.

The pastor is called first to God, then to his church where God has placed him to pray, study, serve, protect the flock, and proclaim the Word. 

There are many sub-points for each of these responsibilities. For example, protecting the flock is a biblical mandate and covers not only protection from false teaching (primary) but also from other issues (e.g. pandemic.) Proclaiming the truth of the Word and allowing the Scripture to speak clearly is primarily for the preaching of sermons but also speaks into cultural injustices of which there are many (e.g. life, racism, abuse, inequality, health, etc.) not from worldly devised talking points, but from biblically grounded truth.

My denomination's statement of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message (2000), delineates our beliefs regarding the Word of God...

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

An open, read, studied, and proclaimed Bible reveals, without error, God's truth and his answers to the issues of sin and suffering in our world. The Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reveals the truth of the Gospel so that we may know the Father through the Son. 

Sometimes when it seems the issues we face as pastors fall under the category of the "no-win scenario" we must remember that the true win...the ultimate win...the primary win is found in Christ alone. 

I know for some that sounds like a trite answer to the very real issues and sinful hardships being experienced by many today. Please understand that despite all that we are suffering through, the One who is the "Suffering Servant," the Way, the Truth, the Life has been, and must always be THE point. 

To quote the great theologian James Tiberius Kirk (that's a joke) "I don't believe in the no-win scenario." 

With all that we face in our world today, I rest in knowing that our sovereign God is never taken by surprise and in him is the victory, the win. Press on pastors - just keep the main thing the main thing.