Crises Will Come to Your Community. How Do You and Your Church Respond?

There are some things that God has brought to mind in our church over the past week. These are things not tied to programming or ministry events, but out of a response to a community crisis.

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Photo credit: neil cummings on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

You see, last week a story ran on our local news stations regarding a crime committed in the Mayport area of our city (Jacksonville, Florida.) A young man robbed an internet cafe, then escaped from the facility with police in pursuit. He ended up in a neighboring community where he was running through yards, jumping fences, and eventually found a back door open (the screen door was closed due to the nice weather) at a home where he entered, kidnapped the elderly man who lived there, then stole the resident's vehicle. A high-speed police chase developed with the suspect in the driver's seat and the elderly man in the backseat. At a speed in excess of 100 miles per hour, the driver ran over two police officers, leaving them in critical condition and after a PIT maneuver by a pursuing officer, the vehicle crashed, leaving the driver and the kidnapped victim gravely injured.

This is an amazingly terrible story and when I saw it on the news that day, I was shocked.

Later than afternoon I received a phone call from our campus minister at Oak Harbor Baptist Church (OHBC), Brian Hoffman. OHBC is a revitalization we are leading at a small, fifty-year-old church in the Mayport community. We have been working and partnering with this congregation for almost three years. Brian asked if I had seen the news and then told me that the gentleman who was kidnapped was Louis Reese, one of our deacons at the church who has been key to our ministry and revitalization efforts.

I was shocked and a flood of emotions came over me. I know that whenever a story like this hits the news that it represents real people in very real circumstances. However, like most people who read trending news stories or who actually watch local broadcasts, there are always other stories presented and the impact of the initial one often fades as commercials and others are shared.

In this case, it was clear that this story would not fade away for me. It would not disappear, at least from the minds of the OHBC church members, the neighbors and friends of Louis in his subdivision, or the officers and family members impacted. The family of the suspect would be viewing this news story closely as well.

Since last Wednesday when this occurred, we have held a prayer meeting, under the guidance of our campus minister, Brian. We have given interviews with numerous media outlets to get the word out regarding the prayer and the online giving option available where we are collecting funds for our church member and the two officers who were injured. Many in the community have joined us in this journey. We have sought to keep those informed of the latest updates as we asked for prayer for Louis and all involved.

Sadly, on Tuesday of this week (January 8) our brother and deacon Louis Reese died. His body was badly injured and after valiant work being done by the doctors and nurses of Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, God brought Louis home. We are deeply grieved and yet, so very hopeful. We know where Louis is. He is in no pain. These are not simply religious sounding "funeral words" to help the living cope. These are truths based on the goodness and grace of God and of Louis's surrender to Christ as his Lord and Savior. It was Louis who stated his desire to see many in the Mayport community come to know the Lord as he himself had through the ministry of God's church at Oak Harbor Baptist. Though he never dreamed that these circumstances would possibly lead to that, we are confident that God's message of hope and salvation is being proclaimed through the life and legacy of Louis Reese.

As we now plan a funeral service for our loved one, we are reminded of his desire that Christ alone be honored. What a legacy! What a lesson for his church (OHBC) and His church throughout the world. 

What To Remember When Crisis Hits 

  • Don't Waste Your Crisis - Years ago John Piper wrote a book titled Don't Waste Your Cancer. This was written as he was undergoing treatment for the disease and has been a helpful resource for many who have faced similar trials. In our case, we know that the tragic, evil, and seemingly random events of last week have impacted many in our city. Through these difficult times, God provides peace, hope, and help. To ignore this reality is to ignore an opportunity to live out one's faith and to let others see the hope we have in Christ. This is not easy and this is not an opportunity for the church to grandstand or take advantage of circumstances. It is, however, a time "such as this" when the church must firmly and clearly, even through grief, present the fullness of the gospel. 
  • Your Church's Address Is Not An Accident - It was just a few years ago that OHBC was at a point of crisis regarding survival. After months of prayer and meetings with other churches and associational leaders, hard decisions were to be made. This is not uncommon among many of our smaller churches in America. The glory days of ministry are often gone and the realization of next steps often leads to either a revitalization or replanting effort, or sadly in some cases, the dissolution of the church and sale of property. OHBC is located in an area with great need. There are two large schools next door (an elementary and a middle school.) There are two large trailer parks nearby. There are numerous subdivisions of homes and a large number of duplexes and multi-housing facilities as well. The Navy base is just a few miles away. There is a large military and civil service population nearby. While there are other churches in the region, there is no church on the road where OHBC is within such close proximity to all these people. It is no accident that OHBC is located where it is - in the middle of a "field" where the "harvest is ready." Sometimes, we long for the people who used to live near us and in so doing, program and do ministry for a people group that no longer exists. OHBC is positioned to minister to many who now are living in fear due to the criminal activity that made the news, struggling to know what to do next, and have many questions related to faith, among other things. This is true for every church plant (even those who didn't get into the property they initially desired) and established church (even those who are placed in a community that has changed dramatically.) We must remember that we are where God has planted us, for his glory and the good of his church and the community surrounding it.
  • Crises Will Come, Be Prepared to Respond - No one looks for a crisis moment. You shouldn't. Yet, they happen. In small towns, rural areas, and big cities there are moments when things occur that thrust the community out of its "regularly scheduled programming." This may be a storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or some other natural disaster. It may be a closing of a factory or a base leaving many fearful for their economic future and stability. It could be a crime, such as we have experienced. The fact is we live in a broken world. Sin has infected all of creation from the moment of Adam and Eve's betrayal to God and his commands. Yet, we do not live as those without hope. We do not believe God to be good only when everything in our lives is going according to our preferences and plans. We do not worship a God who performs for us. We lives surrendered to a God we do not deserve to know personally, but can through Jesus Christ. In the crises, we hold tight to this faith, showing and sharing with others that all else falls apart when the world is falling apart. Christ alone, our hope in crises. Our hope and salvation. The crises will test your theology. You can pass the test. That's God's desire.
  • Have a Public Voice, But Be Clear and Hopeful - There are many religious people who have found the microphones over the years during moments of crisis. Some seek to bring attention to themselves. Here are my recommendations when giving interviews and speaking to the public at these times:
    • Have One Voice - Whether it is the Lead Pastor of your church or another designated spokesperson, have one person speak to the media from the church. This allows for clarity and a solid, concise message.
    • Share Hope - Crises are difficult, thus the name. There's a flood of responses and emotions that come from fear, anger, worry, etc. Don't minimize these. Address them. Share that you have them as well, but always be clear that hope is available and it is found in Christ. You don't have to preach a sermon, but a clear, focused, quick message of hope that comes from Christ is needed. Don't forget that.
    • Provide a Press Release - If possible, and the crisis is something where many are seeking an interview or a statement, provide a written press release that can be emailed or faxed (yes those still exist) to the news media and reporters. This allows the words to be thought through, clear, spelled correctly, with information on follow-up if need be. There is an acceptable format for such and it would be wise to use that. Click here for a good template and example (don't forget the hashtags at the bottom - that's protocol, not decoration.)
    • Stay On Target - When interviewing, especially with various outlets about a story, you need to realize that you will be talking to people who are doing their job and also competing with the others doing the same job in order to get the story, a different take on the story, or a unique perspective. Be careful to stay on target with the information you provide. If there are medical issues, don't respond to those questions. If there are legal issues, don't respond to those questions. If there are questions about the person's past or relatives, don't go there. These questions are common and will come. Be wise. Stay on the story of the moment. In our case, it was about praying for the health and recovery of our loved one and the officers injured. Remember, whatever is said will be aired, printed, and posted online. In most cases, you're speaking for the church, not the family, neighbors, etc. This is vital to remember. 
    • Don't Overstep - As stated in the above point, you are speaking for the church. Unless the family has designated you or your church's representative as their mouthpiece, do not speak for them. Don't post updates or events related to the crisis online (especially if it is related to a person, not a natural disaster, etc.) without approval of family members or those impacted. No one wants to learn the latest family update from an online post rather than from a family member.

We are continuing to journey through this crisis as a church family. We are hopeful and confident in Louis's eternal home and the legacy he leaves. Please join us in praying for his family as well as others who have been so greatly impacted by these events. May we be viewed by our Heavenly Father as a church that responded well, brought Him glory, and provided good to our world.


We Must Pray for Other Churches in Our Community

Do you love your community?*

For some, the fact you live where you do was decided by someone other than you. Perhaps your employer moved you to the place you live? Maybe you relocated to help family members in need? Some of you were born where you currently live, but upon conception, you were not consulted regarding where home would be.

For others, you strategically chose to live where you currently do. You may have no family nearby, but love the area and through a series of circumstances, you relocated to your current place of residence.

Every community has things to love about it as well as things that would never make it on the Chamber of Commerce's website or promotional brochures. Yet, as a Christian, there is wisdom in seeing one's current home as something God has intentionally orchestrated for his glory and our good.

The church-saturated community

Living in the Jacksonville, Florida area, I am fully aware that what we deem as normal here is not for most of the nation and world. Jacksonville is known for many things - the Jaguars, the Navy, the railroad, beaches, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and for having more churches than stray dogs. There are some noted legacy churches in our city. There are also a number of newer, quickly-growing non-denominational megachurches. Somewhere between the handful of large established and large new churches are dozens and dozens of churches with varied histories, legacies, community presence, and health. For instance, there are just over 200 Southern Baptist churches in our city. Add to that the churches of other denominations and those with no affiliation and you can understand what I mean.

With this many churches it is no wonder that comparisons and competitiveness develop among church bodies and pastors. The sin nature remains.

As the new year begins, I am seeking to change the perspective of competition and fear of other good churches that often creeps into our church body and even among staff (me included.)

If we truly love our community, we (the Christians) must be more strategic and focused on what truly matters. Could it be that God has placed all these churches, of various sizes and contextual makeup, throughout the city for something bigger than just the growth of any one church body? Could it be that this growing city has been strategically marked by God with his children and his church for his glory? I know there are many organizations that are church in name only. I understand that not every group that has "church" on its sign preaches the gospel and affirms biblical doctrine. I get that not all "churches" have the same goal in mind.

But what about those churches who do? 

It may be too much to call all the pastors together for some large city-wide project. I have been to those meetings in the past and to be honest, I don't like them. They often end up with too many men and women in a room trying to determine the pecking order of importance while the project or event for the city becomes the primary focus, rather than the movement of God that was initially declared to be the focus. 

I believe pastors and church leaders should intentionally, strategically, and declaratively pray for the other churches in their community. 

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We should pray for other churches because...

  1. We serve one God. This is pretty simple isn't it? We're on the same team. For those holding to biblical fidelity, focused on the gospel, and intent on making disciples, we must realize the incredible blessing of not having to reach our city or community alone. When one church grows, the church grows. Your church is not your church. It's God's.
  2. Our community makes no distinction between churches. This is a broad statement and I know that those in your community likely do know the difference between the large church with money and many ministries for kids and teenagers and the small one that does not have the same resources. Yet, more than likely, most in your community do not know, or care to know, that each local body is autonomous and unique. For your community, if one church fails, it's as if all of them fail. If one church has a moral issue, all the churches are stained. Therefore, it is not good to see the pastor at the church down the street fail. You may not agree with him. You may not like his personality, but if he fails, you fail. When one hurts, the entire body (and that extends outside the walls of your local church family) hurts. When your church is known for not liking the others in town, you perpetuate the already believed lie that Christians hate others, even their own.
  3. Our jealous hearts need healing. The jealous, comparative, and competitive nature that develops between churches and church leaders is deadly (Song of Solomon 8:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4, Philippians 2:3, James 3:14-16, Proverbs 14:30.) One of the best ways to melt away the jealousy and competitiveness that rises when other churches seemingly are doing better is to first, repent and second, pray for the other churches and their leaders to thrive.
  4. This helps our community. So you love your community? Sure you do. Then, realize that having a variety of healthy churches throughout the community is good. What if the church-saturated community becomes a gospel-saturated one? This can happen when the church serves well together, for God's glory. The fringe benefit of honoring and glorifying God through obedient worship and service is that the community is blessed.
  5. This glorifies God. Paul instructed Timothy and the church as a whole to pray for others, especially those in leadership positions (1 Timothy 2:1).  We even see in the book of Acts where one local church collects funds for another in need. This love for other fellowships should not be just historical, but common today. God is honored when his children are united in him.

So, as the new year begins, make it part of your weekly worship services to pray for other churches in the community (and throughout the world.) I would recommend praying for one church by name each week. Pray for the pastor by name. Many in your congregation may know the church and pastor. Some are likely former members of said church. 

If other churches do the same, then be comforted in knowing you and your local body of believers are being prayed for as well.

Just imagine a new year where the biblically-centered, gospel-focused, doctrinally-sound churches in your community and city stand together for more than the growth of their individual kingdoms. 

_____________________

*I am writing from a western, American evangelical perspective and realize that there are many people throughout the world who have no choice but to live where they do and have no options for relocating. I also understand that the "church on every corner" that is a reality for many American towns and cities is not the norm. Therefore, the call to pray for other local churches expands to praying for the global church for all.

 


When Your Church Hires the Wrong Pastor

I heard from a church a few states away last week whose pastor is leaving. He's moving on to another place of service. No issues there. However, in this case, the tenure of this pastor was challenging, to put it nicely. I won't get into the details, but one church member stated in a conversation "How did we miss so badly in calling him?"

To be clear, in many cases after a new pastor is called to serve in an established church there comes a time when some, hopefully not many, in the church start to question leadership style, direction, personality, etc. In some cases, the pastor is the needed person, called by God for that church. In other words, in these cases, God brings his man into his church to reclaim the church for God's glory. This requires a man with a clear calling, a missional outlook, a loving spirit, a mix of patience and urgency, the heart of a shepherd, thick skin, and a wife who can handle criticism, and children who are strong enough to weather the harsh things said about their father.

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Photo credit: Chris Yarzab on Foter.com / CC BY

In these instances a long tenure is needed and decades later, the historic review of the church's health is often keyed to the moment the church called this man as pastor.

But what about the bad hire?

It's true. There are times when it becomes clear that the person hired as pastor or as a member of your church's pastoral/ministerial staff is not a good fit. In fact, to be clear, there are times when it was wrong.

There are various reasons for such a hire and more than can be covered in this post. But, in my experience, here are some of the reasons a bad hire happens.

1. The pastor/minister was never truly called by God for the position.

I have talked to numerous men who have felt the calling to preach. I have asked how they have discerned such and at times, the clarity of the call is overwhelming. At other times, it simply seems that the individual is frustrated in his current job, not feeling fulfilled, and sits in the congregation watching the pastor or other ministry leader and thinks "I could do that." While that may be an impetus used by God to draw a man into pastoral ministry, it often is little more than a desire for personal fulfillment partnered with frustration of current status in life. 

Charles Spurgeon spoke much on the calling to pastoral ministry, holding it high and of value. One of his most famous statements about the call is as follows:

If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.1

While it is clear that many pastors would have and have done well in what has been classified as "secular" work by some, Spurgeon's quote goes to the heart of the calling. If a man could live content and fulfilled as a Christian, evangelizing the lost, discipling others, and doing so in the marketplace, then do so. However, if the calling of God is to shepherd the church, serve him in the capacity of an overseer, pastor, or elder, then by all means, that man is to do so.

The sad reality is that some men see the pastorate as nothing more than just another job. It is not. It cannot be. 

2. The pastor/minister is simply seeking a religious job and platform.

This reality is more and more prominent in the age of the celebrity preacher. Churches fall prey to this when seeking to call/hire a man to lead them. The danger is in lumping the good, qualified, popular pastors with the ones who are little more than attention seekers selling themselves with just enough Jesus added on to be dangerous (if not heretical.) 

In the recent 9 Marks podcast "Pastors' Talk" episode 69: On Pastoral Calling featuring Mark Dever, Brad Wheeler, and Jonathan Leeman, the men candidly discuss the concept of calling. You can listen to the full podcast here.

Dever is questioned by the others regarding some who seek to serve and why some should be rejected. He states:

The guy who keeps telling me he’s called to preach but isn’t making any opportunities to share the gospel likely isn’t called. He’s just waiting for someone to give him a platform. He likely just wants a religious job.

I know this guy. He has appeared in my ministry at different times. Unfortunately, in my immaturity, I have often given opportunities that should have never been given.

We have dealt with these as well in our network's church planting assessment weekends. A discerning heart often picks up on statements and desires that lean more toward this version of self-promotion than to biblical pastoral ministry.

While the church calling a man may be enamored by the potential celebrity status intent on competing with the church down the street, the result is often an unhealthy ministry led by an uncalled minister who does more harm than good. And ultimately, God is not glorified.

3. The wife is not called.

What? Isn't it just important that the man surrender to the pastoral call and go?

Uh...no.

Here's a little nugget from the Pastors' Talk podcast that speaks clearly to this. Let's say the man feels called and is sharing this with his wife. Dever asks about the very real questions that couples in ministry deal with. In this example, it is the man speaking to his wife. In other examples, the godly wife knows her husband is called to more, but he resists. We all know those as well. But in this case, 

  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to be poorer than they would be otherwise? It may mean resigning from a high paying job and moving out of the nice, gated community in an intentional down-sizing to serve. 
  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to be the object of more criticism than she would be normally? I know some who have greatly struggled and even slowed or stopped a move to full-time ministry simply due to an aversion to this role of "pastor's wife."
  • How does the husband convince his wife that it is okay to live more publicly with all the kids than she would have to normally?

The calling of a pastor (and since I'm a complementarian, I am speaking of a man in this role) is not divorced from the calling of his wife. Maybe I shouldn't use the word divorce - that brings up an entirely other, needed discussion. 

Simply put, I agree with Brad Wheeler in the podcast:

If the Lord has called the man, he has called his wife.

Conversely, if the Lord has not called the wife, he has not called the husband.

Yes, it's a package deal.

4. The Lead Pastor is overly enamored by having men called from his ministry.

Ouch. This one hurts, but it is true and reveals a bit of idolatry. 

It is a great thing to have men and women surrender to ministry in the church. It is honorable and celebratory to have them do so under your leadership as pastor. However, there is this reality that all too often occurs in churches. The lead pastor is loved. He has faithfully preached, taught, and shepherded the church. God has used him well and many are coming forward to surrender to ministry.

Yet, some of those who come are not called.

They want to be on staff. 

They want a title.

They want to live the preacher life (or at least the version they see from the congregation), but they are not qualified. They are not called. They have been given another role.

It's not a downgrade. In these cases, the individual is called to evangelize and disciple, as all Christians are. They are in the marketplace, in the schools, in the workforce. They are on the frontlines. They are called, but not biblically qualified to pastor or serve as an overseer. Yet, they are given a position. They are given a title. Why? Because the lead pastor is excited that someone would come forward under his ministry to do so. 

Yet, it's a disservice to the individual and as will always be revealed, to the church.

The danger is when that unqualified individual is given a position to which he has not been called, the ramifications are serious. Ultimately, he will likely either quit, fold under the pressure, or have to be dismissed. At any rate, that family is hurt (he, his wife and children) and the church. Shame sets in. Embarrassment occurs. Even anger results. 

In some cases, the person is done with church, because it is very hard to go from being listed on the website and bulletin as a minister to just sitting in the congregation again. Sometimes, the person just goes to the church down the street or in the next community over. Either way - the rift is real. 

And it always comes back to harm the church and the lead pastor.

There are numerous other reasons why the wrong person is in a pastoral position.

The question is, "How does the church survive this?"

Sadly, some do not. If the church has a man in pastoral leadership who has done more than just preach poorly, become arrogant, or hurt people's feelings, the harm may be lasting. In some cases, sexual sin, affairs, and even abuse occurs. Our church dealt with this long before I joined the pastoral staff in 1994. The senior pastor at the time led the church to hire me as student pastor. It was about a month after arriving I was told by him and others in the church that three youth pastors prior, a sexual crime had been committed by the man with the title. The senior pastor at the time apparently resigned later for his own indiscretion. 

It's been over thirty years now and while most in our community have no idea of those days (and I'm thankful for the senior pastor who called me to his staff and the immediate previous youth pastor who was able to serve with distinction before moving to another church) the scars of past sins in our church remain.

While these were the most heinous offenders, others over the years have come and gone. Good guys, but wrong hires.

Not all. Believe me, God has blessed us currently and in the past with godly, called men and women to serve in ministerial leadership positions. 

At times, I'm certain some in our church have wondered if I was a poor hire. Most of those are now members at sister churches in the community. 

God's church survives these moments not by forming another committee to go "find the right guy this time" but by grounding itself in the gospel and in prayer. God loves his church and he always calls his man to serve as he desires. The church must be prayed up (that's a church phrase we use, right?) and discerning, knowing that God never leads to the wrong man.

As for the pastors/ministers/directors of ministry serving at your church now - pray for them and their families. Be their defense in prayer. Even the right ones can be tempted and are. 

If (when) there is a vacancy in the position, depending on your church polity, prayerfully consider the points above before putting another in the role. 

I believe and have been affirmed that I have been called by God to pastor. Yet, even in my affirmed calling, my old nature sometimes (all too often) rises up and leads me to say and do things that are not God's desire. In other words, I'm not the perfect pastor for this church, but I am the called one, by God, equipped and strengthened by the Holy Spirit for this task. As are the other godly men I know serving faithfully for the sake of the call.

__________

1Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2017), 47.


What Do You Know About That New Church Down the Street?

I was asked the question again recently. It was an honest question from a father whose daughter began dating a young man who attends  a newer church in our city. The church has grown quickly and has made it into the Outreach Magazine "Fastest Growing Churches" list. The name is unique and represents a departure from denominational ties. This is not unheard of and not a cause for concern necessarily. The growth has expanded to multi-site campuses with campus pastors in addition to video feeds from the main campus. The church's presence online and on social media is strong. Yet, we all understand the marketing model of the American church and thus, the question was asked.

"Pastor, what do you know about this new church in town?"

I've heard this over and over for many new and revitalized churches in town. Church members and neighbors are curious. In truth, the questions are often asked with a hint of skepticism. While a generation or two ago, the questions may have been about the non-denominational tag or the music style. Nowadays, those elements do not garner the concern. 

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Photo credit: yourfaithchurch on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The questions now are about doctrinal integrity. Oh, the people may not use that term in their question, but ultimately they want to know if the new church is legit. 

"Is this church okay?" is what they're asking.

Of course, as the pastor of the church where I serve, the members seek my advice in these areas. I don't doubt other pastors have been asked the same questions about me, our church, and our campuses. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to gracefully and truthfully answer the question.

In some cases, the answer is "I don't know." 

That is because I do not know. Go figure. I haven't attended a worship service there. I haven't met the pastor. I haven't been at any meetings with the pastor. I don't know them, and therefore, do not have enough information to give an answer.

However, in some cases, even without knowing the church or pastor personally, there is enough information online through sermons, doctrinal statements, theological beliefs, and social media postings to discern the primary teachings of the church, from the church.

As for music style or whether the church has stage lighting, a band, a choir, a wooden pulpit, a table, etc., I really don't care. I do care about what is (or is not) being taught regarding Christ, the Word, and the church.

Doctrine matters. 

It always has.

To be clear, I have a number of friends who are not Christians. I have friends who are Christian, but not Baptist. I have friends who are Baptist, but not Southern Baptist. I have friends who Southern Baptist, but not missionally focused. In other words, I actually do have friends and acquaintances who differ with me on issues of importance. I have even more that differ with me on issues that aren't that important.

Regarding these questions of validity when it comes to churches and those who claim to be called to preach, these are important. These are also things that will divide. Rightly so. 

In January of 2019, I will begin a doctrine series on Wednesday nights at our First Baptist Church of Orange Park campus. I will be dissecting some of the heretical doctrines of Christ that have existed for hundreds of years and how some of these have actually infiltrated the modern American (and non-American) church. 

Then, at a date to be determined, we will show the new documentary titled "American Gospel." This film is strong, clear, and needed. 

We have secured the license to show this legally and will be presenting it at our different campuses and in some of our home groups. Below are a couple of the trailers for the film.

 

American Gospel - Trailer 1 from Transition Studios on Vimeo.

 

AMERICAN GOSPEL from Transition Studios on Vimeo.

So, what about that new church? Well, in this case, the church in question is solid. Their pastor preaches the gospel of Christ unapologetically. Their doctrine is biblical. Their mission and church planting focus is spot on. I'm glad to know they're in our city as we serve and work together to glorify God. This is for His glory and the good of our city.

As for some of the other churches in our city? Well, some are good. Others feature little more than spiritualized snake-oil salesmen selling a false gospel of prosperity and me-ism that takes advantage of those who are less discerning and hoping for God to perform for them. They fit into the categories exposed in this film and should be avoided.

"Would it be better for my friend or family member not to go to church anywhere rather than go to one of those churches? They are really positive and the music is great?"

That's a great question and my answer would be YES. It is better they not go anywhere than sit under someone teaching lies. Though, I would pray that they would follow the drawing of God's Spirit and come to Him and unite with a legitimate church that preaches the gospel, lives it out, and seeks to serve the Lord fully.

These are challenging times. In a city where there are almost as many churches as pharmacies, chicken restaurants, and gas stations, the wise person will test the teaching and seek God's lead regarding where to attend and serve.


Garth Brooks, Notre Dame, and Your Christmas Service at Church

Last night while the big game for the NFL was broadcast on NBC and Hallmark was showing yet another Christmas movie, a country music superstar came out of self-imposed semi-retirement. The Garth Brooks Stadium Tour has begun and the concert recorded in the rain at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana in October aired on CBS last night. The production quality of Brooks' concert was incredible. He has been known for his live shows since breaking onto the scene over two decades ago. While other country singers would stand behind a microphone in their starched Wranglers while playing guitar and belting out hits (George Strait, Alan Jackson, et. al.) Brooks would wear the wrap-around microphone that he must have either borrowed from Madonna or the Drive-Thru worker at Chick-fil-A, run around the stage or at times, pull a Bon Jovi and fly above the crowd. Brooks is an entertainer for certain.

Whether you like his music or not, there's no denying he has appeal for many. The stadium was packed. It was raining. It was cold. And while I know that post-production can do some pretty amazing things, based on tweets and reports online from those who were in attendance, plus what was seen on television, the crowd LOVED the show.

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

So, what does this have to do with anything related to church, Christianity, worship, or anything else spiritual?

While watching last night, I said to my wife "Brooks has the crowd in his hand. He's no evangelist, but he's evangelizing and the crowd is 'amening" their approval." I followed up with "If he asked people to come down front to make a decision, they'd come in droves." This was not a condemnation on crusades or the traditional "come down the aisle" moment in many churches. I was just noting that what we were observing in this very well produced event was something that we have seen in religious settings as well (albeit with fewer people in the crowd.)

My friend and pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Dean Inserra tweeted as the concert was completing:

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

Some of you reading will be upset that I, a Baptist preacher, may seem to be condoning the message or lifestyle promoted in Brooks' songs. Well, I'm not. However, I do know the words of many of the hits he played. I like some more than others. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who actually has a radio in their vehicle, an iTunes or Amazon Music account or who has been alive for the past twenty years or so who does not know at least some of the words to "Friends in Low Places." 

Christmas at Church

No I do not recommend singing "Callin' Baton Rouge" at your Christmas Eve service. Yet, I do find some insight from this event that was on television last night. Spurred on by Dean Inserra's tweet, I recommend the following to pastors who are trying to find ways to connect with their communities during this Christmas season.

  1. Plan Well. Every community is different, so know yours. If you don't...you have more issues than Chris Gaines. Presuming you know the people in your community, plan a service that will connect with them and allow them to not only feel welcomed, but encouraged that there is a God who loves them deeply. If your service is planned for church people, you will only connect with church people (yours and those who are members of other churches.) It's easy to plan a church service for church people. Don't.
  2. Preach Clearly. Christmas sermons are sometimes the most difficult for pastors, because we (pastors) all too often try to be really creative and end up missing the point. Jesus is the point. He always is. He always must be. The "birth of Jesus" story is known by many, but don't presume it is rightly known by the crowd in your building. Some view the story of the nativity as little more than than a holiday fairy tale or myth on par with the Rudolph, Frosty, and Grinch stories. (BTW - I like all those stories and even the Charlie Brown one.) BTW - just because it's Christmas, don't leave Jesus as a baby in a manger. Get to the cross. Preach the resurrection. A little Easter at Christmas is needed by all.
  3. Provide the Familiar. Sing songs that people have heard. Is it a sin to sing "Jingle Bells"? I say no. However, sing the carols that glorify the Christ. Don't skip or ignore those. People have heard them. Many know the words. They may just sing along. The words point to Christ. Christ is the point, remember? Sing about him. Worship him with these classics. It's possible. And, as we saw with Brooks' incredible show, you don't even have to have the very best singer in town on the stage leading. You do need to be able to lead people to sing, however. In the age of performance worship and having to present the latest pop-song worship chorus, many in the room are left watching and missing the opportunity to worship with song. Vicarious worship is not the goal. The best worship leaders are the leaders who worship.
  4. Present the Decision. Don't forget to draw the net (that's an evangelism term that refers to giving people the opportunity to respond) and express to all who have attended your special Christmas Eve or seasonal service that God loves them. He sent his son. He wants to know them personally and they can receive something more than a temporal gift wrapped in paper. Life is available. Whether you allow people to respond by calling them down front, offering them a moment to meet with you following the service, giving them a link on your app to click, or a number to text does not matter. There are numerous ways to give people the opportunity to respond. Just don't leave it left undone. Otherwise, you will once again evaluate your service with your staff and say "We had a good crowd, but we're not sure if anyone made a decision and therefore, have no way to follow up." Yep - we've done this way too often.

What you don't need to have an effective Christmas service is the production budget of Garth. Don't be who you're not and don't fret that you don't have unlimited resources for smoke machines, lighting, or other effects. If you have those things, that's fine, but those are not the point when the true focus is clear.

So this Baptist preacher learned something from a country singer with hits about drinking, cheating, dancing, and a false narrative about prayer while performing on stage with a man dressed as a leprechaun at a Catholic university. 

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


When A Christian Author Apologizes for His Best-Seller

The evangelical church world of the 1990s was transitional and unique. This was the era of huge youth groups which were used as draws for suburban families and the growth of ministries with expansive buildings, events, conferences, and matching t-shirts.

In the era of youth ministry defined by Super Summer, See You at the Pole, Night of Joy, EdgeTV, DiscipleNow Weekends, Fifth Quarters, and True Love Waits rallies came a best-selling book on relationships written by a twenty-one-year-old son of a national home-schooling leader. The book immediately became a best-seller. People like Elisabeth Elliot and Dr. James Dobson endorsed it. Churches were purchasing copies and providing them to students in their youth ministries. All the sudden even the concept of dating someone was considered sinful.

Harris
Joshua Harris' book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was everywhere. Well, at least everywhere in the conservative, evangelical Christian subculture that exists in our nation. I actually have a copy of the book in my office. I have had it since 1997 when serving as Student Pastor at the church here. 

Harris, in retrospect, shares in a TEDx talk...

I was twenty-one. I knew a lot, okay? I should probably mention at this point that I had been home-schooled my whole life and I had only been in one serious relationship at this point.

He goes on to say that there were things in the book that he still believes to be true. It's clear that some were benefited by what he had written. Yet, about two years ago, he discovered that a growing number of commenters on social media and in other areas within the bubble of his church-world expressed not that they were helped, but that they were harmed. 

That's a broad-stroke, but nevertheless, the reality exists.

Harris, a former pastor at an east coast megachurch resigned a few years ago to pursue seminary training. You can Google this to see more of that story, but by his own admission, as a forty-year old pastor, he realized that which had disdained and declared unnecessary (quality seminary training) was something he needed and was being led to pursue. But, that's another story.

The Book Has Been Discontinued

The best-selling book has been in publication since the original release in 1997. However, just over a month ago, Harris declared that he has requested his publisher stop printing the book. The publisher has agreed. 

It's a bold move and has caused a bit of question among those content on living in the subculture. Harris states:

In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it's best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar.) My publisher, whose encouragement in this process has been deeply meaningful to me, supports this decision and will not reprint the books after the current copies in their inventory are sold.

The Author Apologizes

So, what is wrong with the book? Why has Harris publicly apologized? For what is he apologizing?

He states it best here:

While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating.

There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.

Harris' complete statement is found here.

Pendulum Swings

Most people understand the concept of the pendulum swings regarding popular opinion and cultural norms. In one era something becomes popular and people rally around it. In the next, the opposite is true. This occurs politically, culturally, and sociologically.

But should it occur theologically? It has. The liberalism spurred by the age of enlightenment rightly caused great concern. Some responded by swinging far to the other side, past a conservative and literal reading of Scripture to a legalistic base.

The fear now is that some (maybe the children of the legalists) are swinging too far to the other side and embracing a form of tolerance that ignores Scripture and absolute truth. It's always a fear, but then fear is always the motivator for the growth of liberalism and legalism. Maybe these two extremes are not that dissimilar.

Some fear the reaction to Harris' apology will be an increase in unbiblical sexual relationships and a tolerance for ungodly acts. I think those with this fear give more credit to Harris' influence that deserved. It's definitely more than he would claim.

Yet, there is something here in Harris' statement that deserves acknowledgment and kudos. 

The book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken.

That statement is the key. When unbiblical models are declared biblical, sin occurs. Fear was the result. A generation of church kids were given good ideas that were not necessarily God ideas, yet were not provided the wisdom of proper discipleship to discern the difference.

Serial dating is not condoned as godly either, so be wise here. Yet, the reality that holy matrimony, though God's plan for many does not eliminate the reality of holy singleness. For some in the church subculture, the message has been clear - if you're not married, there's something wrong with you. Maybe some have held too tightly to Harris' book while abandoning the one that should be read which speaks truth unapologetically and without error (uh...I'm talking about the Bible.) 

I appreciate Harris' candor and honesty. His apology is well received and the journey he has taken to get to this point is worth study. 

For more info and to watch Joshua Harris' documentary click here.

 

 


Somebody's Feelings Will Be Hurt

For those from a certain generation, the term "Growing Pains" brings to mind a 1980s sitcom starring Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold. The term originally referred to the aches and pains associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood brought on by the onset of puberty. These aches are most often in the legs and while uncomfortable are known to just be the normal process of physical maturation for healthy young people.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, there are growing pains associated with this part of the journey as well. For the past couple of months I have been preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Chapters 3 and 4 speak clearly on the expectation that Christians are to mature in their faith. While a child-like faith is to be lauded, a childish faith is to be condemned. It seems that even in the first century, Christians were content on beginning the journey of faith, but as the days, months, and years went by, they found themselves no more mature than at that moment of spiritual rebirth. Paul uses his own experiences as encouragement for others to grow and move forward in faith. This is not an affirmation of what has been deemed "works theology" but the proper expectation of a growing Christian.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:14-16 (ESV)

In chapter 4 of the letter, Paul calls out two women in the church. We don't know much about these women other than their names, Euodia and Syntyche. What we do know is that these women used to be friends. They're both Christians. They are both members of the same church. They actually served together along with Clement, with Paul on mission. The tragedy is that these women are now at odds. They are divided and apparently their division is so severe that Paul has heard about it over in Rome while in prison. 

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Photo credit: lundgrenphotography on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

While we do not know what they are fighting over, we do know that whatever it is is so ridiculous that it holds nothing positive regarding eternity, Christianity, or the growth of the church. Their inability to reconcile has apparently placed the church in a dangerous position. People are likely taking sides. Those who used to worship together cannot even sit together now. Disruption and division now is known as the characteristics of this church, especially from those outside the church.

Here's what I believe happened. One of these ladies had her feelings hurt by the other, either intentionally or accidentally.

In this case, the division is between two women, but this type of argument and fight is not gender specific. 

A Promise You Can Bank On

As a longtime member of Baptist churches, I can promise you this - if you actually attend and participate in your local church, you WILL get your feelings hurt. Sometimes your feelings are hurt by those on staff. Sometimes they're hurt by other church members. Sometimes they're hurt because someone did something. At other times, it's become someone did not do something.

In the case of the first century, where churches are designated by cities, hurt feelings leading to fights in the church are even more severe than today in America. 

In most areas in the our nation today, there are other options. You know, other churches. I know there are some rural areas where this is not the case, but in our community there are almost as many churches as coffee shops and pharmacies. In the almost twenty-five years here in our community, I have seen hurt feelings dealt with in various ways, but one common way is to just leave church A and go join church B (or C, D, E, etc.) We have seen this revolving door in action for decades. The sad reality is that some church leaders actually view this as growth. Yet, these members soon get their feelings hurt again and end up at the next church promising creative worship experiences, relevant teaching, and incredible children's and youth ministries. In a culture of the easily offended, hurt feelings are more common than afternoon rain showers in Florida.

Yet in the first-century church, there were no spin-offs, splits, new works, or church plants to join down the street. So, what would happen? Well, the same thing that sometimes happens to the "losers" in church fights today. They just would stop attending. They would become names on a roll where a few months later someone would ask "Hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?"

That still occurs and when it does, God is not pleased, the kingdom is not moved forward, the great commandment and commission are forsaken, and immaturity becomes the norm.

Sometimes, the growing pains of being a Christian include learning how to trust God when your feelings get hurt. 

No one wants their feelings hurt. No one wants to feel disenfranchised. No one wants to be ignored, left out, voted down, or deemed a loser in an argument. Yet, these things happen. All the time. It is through these difficult times that God will bring us to a point of reconciliation and hopefully restoration. These are growing pains.

Sometimes we ache because of immature or poor decisions on our part. Sometimes the pain comes from another's decisions or actions. Christ understands that.

So be thankful for growing pains. Take Paul's advice on how to respond and move forward. Paul believed that Euodia and Syntyche would reconcile and that the church would step up to facilitate this. So, there's hope for you as well.

Here's God's antidote for these growing pains.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)


You're Not Special and God Does Not Need You

The title of this article may sound like one of the harshest statements to make to someone and could be considered mean-spirited, but before you ignore the rest of this posting, read through it and think about what this title means.

Back in 2012, English teacher David McCullough, Jr. became a trending name online and was even featured on numerous television shows related to the commencement speech he gave at Wellesley High School. It's a very good speech and if you have not heard it, it's worth the click to view here. McCullough's address was to a crowd of soon to be high school graduates. My address is hopefully wider.

We live in the era of self. Of course, there has never been an era not focused on self, but it seems that more and more, things are being said, written, sung, and declared that seem to elevate the individual higher and higher. Just look at the self-help books and resources available in bookstores (online and storefront) and libraries. There are so many things focused on self-esteem, self-worth, self-awareness, etc. that it is easy to see how marketers can take advantage of the era to make money. Apparently, many people struggle with so many "self" issues, that if you could just come up with an answer to one, you can bankroll your future and maybe keep your kids out of having to get student loans. 

Interior-of-railway-station-1

To declare that you're not special sounds insulting. Even among Christians. The Christianized version of all the self-focused resources out there end up filling shelves in church libraries (some churches still have those) and even sit on the bedside table of Christians seeking to have better and healthier life experiences here on earth.

But, there's a problem.

You're Not Special

Regardless what your mom told you.

You're not.

Oh, you are unique. Yes, God formed you in your mother's womb. Just like he formed Jeremiah in his mother's womb...which means you're not the first to have been formed uniquely in the womb. So, I would say that means you're not special. Right?

You have unique fingerprints, DNA, life experiences, right? Sure. You're the only you there every has been. (I can almost hear Mr. Rogers say it.) You're like a snowflake (just an example, not meant to be an insult here.) 

But you're not special.

In Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear's commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, they state:

Contemporary North American society would have us all be Sauls instead of Davids. And for the most part, the church repeats these lies in Christianized forms. Thus we teach people that they are special, unique, like a snowflake. In a [more] profound sense, none of us is all that special. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image, but we do the Bible a great disservice when we try to show how these truths lead to self-esteem boosting and puffing up our egos. Even the prophet Elijah, the greatest prophet in the Old Testament, was - according to James - "a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).1

One more thing...

God Doesn't Need You

That flies in the face of what many Christians have been taught overtly, or at least subtly. This normally occurs in church when a dearth of leaders and volunteers occurs (based on our last leadership team meeting, this only happens on days that end in "y".) Sometimes, it is expressed when there is a budget shortfall or a need for funds (again, all the time in our church and others I know.)

The call to service sounds like "God needs you." You know, if you don't do something right now, all that God had desired and planned and expected will fall apart. It's as if God is up in heaven wringing his hands just hoping you'll join the team. And if you are a Christian, he's really hoping you'll decide to serve in the church, in the ministry of need, or give a bit more in the offering. Come on! He's counting on you!

As for God needing us, it's a flawed perspective. It's an unbiblical treatise. God does not need. He is not needy. He is not lacking. We do not fill a "human-shaped void in his heart" to turn a common sermon illustration upside down.

God does not lack for personnel.

God does not lack funding.

God does not have to deal with a deficit. 

Perhaps this doesn't help you feel special, but the truth is that the gospel is not focused on making us feel special.

God Is Special

There it is. The special One is God alone. We are like those people in the Bible. You know, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Peter, Ruth, Hannah, Nicanor (look him up), and more. They're heroes of the faith. They did some pretty amazing things. Yet, before they became really amazing, it was very clear ... they were all so very ordinary.

or·di·nar·y
ˈôrdnˌerē/
adjective
  1. with no special or distinctive features; normal.
    "he sets out to depict ordinary people"

This is hard to come to grips with for many. Let me encourage you to ignore the false "amazingness" that is often depicted on Instagram and Snapchat from your friends and others you follow. Those stories do little more than puff up the already puffed up and depress the ordinary people just trying to live faithfully. It's a pretty amazing tactic of destruction our enemy uses. 

Also, be careful. It's easy to become a "me-monster" when talking to others. It's our nature to one-up others just to espouse our "specialness." 

If I'm Not Special and God Doesn't Need Me....?

Then what? Right? This is a huge shift from what the culture (and parents and grandparents and coaches and teachers, etc.) tell us. In a world where everyone gets a trophy and everyone is special and unique, this harshly stated reality check is needed. But, be careful or you will miss the greatest thing related to this revelation. 

In our "not so special" world of being very ordinary, the very real and special God actually desires to know you and rescue you from the sin that infects you (and yes, we're all infected with this.) This solely special God loves you so very much and by grace, he invites you to know him and join him. And this invitation can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, but not of ourselves, but by and through Him alone.

As stated by Thomas and Greear, "Christianity is a large collection of nobodies worshiping a great big Somebody."

Even those who have surrendered and have been redeemed need reminding of this...daily.

You are dearly loved, and you don't deserve it.

You're not special. God is.

God doesn't need you. God wants you.

_____

1Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (Nashville, B&H Publishing), 122-3.

 


The Real Results of the Kavanaugh Hearing

Some of you remember Robert Bork. I was a sophomore in college when President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to fill the vacated US Supreme Court seat of retiring justice Lewis Powell. I remember reading about Judge Bork and observing the process of his nomination and subsequent denial by the Senate as part of a US Government class I was taking that semester. I was intrigued that this man was being opposed in such a strong way by the senators of the opposition party to the President. It was a clear that a political wrestling match was occurring before the American people. Ultimately, Judge Bork was rejected and his name became a verb. From that moment, regardless which US President was serving, when a Supreme Court nominee faced challenging questions and opposition from those on the judiciary committee, the threat of being "Borked" has come up.

Now, another name may become a verb. Judge Brett Kavanaugh has gone from being well known in a small area of the legal and political world to being the lead story on all American news networks in addition to many international ones. His name has been trending on social media for over a week. 

Kavanaugh's Nomination

When US Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement earlier this summer, speculation began regarding whom President Trump would nominate. This is the second court seat to be filled in the Trump presidency and while there was clearly opposition to Justice Neal Gorsuch when nominated, he was approved and began serving on the court in April 2017.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy has long been considered the swing vote on the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Kennedy after Robert Bork was "Borked" and when Reagan's second choice, Douglas Ginsburg withdrew his name when it was discovered he has smoked marijuana (boy - how times have changed.)

Kavanaugh's Accusers

For the first few weeks after Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh the nation was presented with images of the judge and his family with stories of their meeting, public service, and family stories centered around their daughters and sports.

Then an accusation of sexual misconduct and attempted rape appeared. At first, it seemed like an old-fashioned "whisper campaign." The accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at the Stanford School of Medicine, claimed that while in high school she attended a party with other students from the area. At that party, one of the students, Brett Kavanaugh, attempted to sexually violate her. 

Once her story was made public, it spread like wildfire. It became the political weapon for the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. 

If We Could Get Beyond the Politics

I won't go through all the machinations that have taken place over the past week regarding Dr. Ford's accusations and Judge Kavanaugh's denials. Those stories are provided in depth in various places.

Yet, on Thursday of last week both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were given time to present their respective cases and answer questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since this is 2018, the events were televised and livestreamed so that all who wished to be in the room, could be. 

I watched the spectacle on Thursday as did many Americans. I read the trending tweets and updates throughout the day and it became clear that many were not to be swayed in their opinions of either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. In fact, some were clearly stating that regardless what may or may not have come from the questioning, their minds were made up.

Interesting. But, that's politics in a divided nation.

These two professionals were placed before the nation to discuss incidents that allegedly had occurred over 35 years ago. The events in question are terrible, traumatic, and not to be ignored nor taken lightly. Suddenly the mystery accuser was more than a blurry two-dimensional image copied from a social media page. At the same time, the smiling father and husband was presented as an accused man trying to clear his name. 

While these two individuals and their families were basically on trial for the nation, political posturing, preparation for future elections, and attempts to win in the "sound-bite" wars by the Senators at the dais. It was nasty. It was disturbing. It was embarrassing.

Who was credible?

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler's take on this from Friday's "The Briefing" podcast:

There are objective criteria, but the judgments that we make about whom we consider to be credible, that turns out to be very subjective. It's subjective when we think about buying a car from an individual. it's subjective when we think about calling someone as pastor of a church. It's subjective when we think about the entire process of courtship and marriage. There are objective realities, but sometimes the most fundamental disposition of the heart is nothing that can be stipulated or measured in objective terms.

That doesn't mean, however, that it is not important that we face these kinds of questions, even running the risk of that kind of subjective interpretation.

Now, what was the interpretation made by the American people? It's going to be virtually impossible to come to know that except in general terms. But even in the immediate aftermath of the hearings, it became very clear that to most keen observers looking fairly at the process, both of these individuals came across as credible.

As I have talked with others, and from the mouths of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh themselves, I believe that Dr. Ford did face a sexual attack that has scarred her since age 15. I have no idea if it was Brett Kavanaugh. He denies that vehemently. I believe that, under oath, each of these individuals have sought to tell the truth. I only believe that because they do come across as credible and because of the severity of punishment if found to be lying under oath. 

Can There Be Two Truths?

In the postmodern era of truthiness, we often hear of "your truth" and "my truth" and there is an acceptance of this. Yet, there is no such thing as individual truths that contradict. You cannot have your truth where 2+2=4 and then I have my truth where 2+2=8 and both be true. One will be true. The other will not. Or, in many cases, both will be untrue.

So, in the case of the high school party in question, there are two accounts where each individual affirms with 100% accuracy that their version is true. It cannot be. 

Does that mean someone is lying? Well, that's always a possibility. People lie all the time. It's part of the sin nature of humanity and has been documented since the days of Adam (Genesis 3). It could mean that someone is mistaken, unintentionally. Maybe that's my offering of the "benefit of the doubt?"

The Real Results of This Hearing

Regardless how this Supreme Court appointment plays out, I could not help but think of how this spectacle has played out and what this means for people in our communities, our families, and our churches. 

  • The #MeToo movement is real. We've seen the takedown of such notables in society as movie producers, actors, religious leaders, and politicians. This is actually good and has needed to occur. Based on how Dr. Ford has been utilized in this story by political power players, my concern is that women who have been attacked, molested, and traumatized will hear a message that unintentionally come across. That message is that their accounts are not valid and are best kept quiet. Sure, there are cases where women (and men) make up stories to draw attention to themselves. I'm not saying Dr. Ford has done so. Her testimony was credible. There's no reason to think that she had not experienced such an attack. 
  • An accusation is all it takes to take out someone. This is an unfortunate result of the fast-growing #MeToo movement. In this moment, an accusation of misconduct can and has resulted in men (mostly, but women as well) being judged in the court of public opinion, regardless of verifiable proof of wrong actions. In some cases, jobs have been lost, positions of influence abandoned, and a public trust forsaken.
  • Politics is dirty. It always has been, but these hearings have presented a posturing for future power along with a "civil" debate from false friends who are at times more concerned with holding onto their positions of influence rather than seeking what is best for the nation (regardless how many times they state that they are doing what they're doing for the good of the nation.) Though this is a generalized statement and it is easy to pick on politicians at times, there were and are some on the dais and serving in our state and nation who rise above the rest. The discerning eye and ear can find the outliers.
  • There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) but there are consequences. If you were to have watched the hearings and could possibly set aside the sexual misconduct accusations (you cannot, but for the sake of this point, work with me here) you see a man who has had a thriving and successful career. For over 30 years in public life, he has been lauded and affirmed. He has received many accolades and awards. By all accounts, he has been a model husband, father, and citizen. But, then his teenage self is presented. His yearbook photo is presented for all to see with a paragraph of personal account next to it. This is in his own words, printed in his high school yearbook. There are inside jokes, likely innuendo, and references to what many would say are "typical American high school antics" from the 1980s. He testified that he drank beer as a teenager and that he and his friends would attend parties. He used language back in high school that would be inappropriate to put on this blog post (by his own admission) and was defending his honor while his 18-year-old self stared back at him in a blown up photo from his yearbook. I could not help but think how each of the Senators questioning him were praying that no one dug up their old yearbooks or brought stories to the forefront of things they had done decades prior. Yet, that's not the point. The point is that the sins of the past remain sins of the past. While forgiveness is complete in Christ and there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus, there is still this reality that consequences this side of heaven remain. As an 18-year-old I didn't get that. In fact, I likely didn't care. As a 50-year-old, now sounding like the old guy imparting words of wisdom to the younger generation, now more than ever the message is to live holy. The culture celebrates youth and hands out permission to misbehave and "sow one's wild oats" or whatever the modern term may be, but sin remains sin and there are always consequences. So, whether or not Kavanaugh did what Dr. Ford has accused him of in this case does not eliminate the reality that he is now defending the acts of his 18-year-old self in areas that likely are indefensible (maybe personally excusable or justifiable, but that's different.)
  • The collateral damage is severe. In each individual's case (Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh) there are others who are hurt due to the alleged actions and the subsequent televised accounts. I'm not speaking of the public in general, but of family members, dear friends, and even children. 
  • Half the nation will be happy. The other half will be angry. Whether Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh or not, there will be no unity in our nation. We really didn't expect there to be anyway, but this story will remain in the annals of our nation for decades to come. If we're still talking about Robert Bork and Justice Clarence Thomas based on their appointment hearings, rest assured that people will be talking about Kavanaugh for years to come.

The Church in the #MeToo Era

The church cannot remain silent on issues of sexual misconduct and morality. In an age where Catholic bishops have become the sick punchlines for inappropriate jokes regarding sexual abuse of children, the world sees all churches and Christians in the same vein. This is not unlike in the past, but regarding sexual misconduct (i.e. rape, sexual abuse, ignoring "no", adultery, etc.) the church often remains on the sideline refusing to enter the fray. Perhaps this is due to the inability to talk biblically on subjects without devolving into political banter? Maybe it is fear-based, knowing that stories within the local church that have been ignored will come to light? Regardless, to ignore this darkness in our world is to essentially refuse to shine light where it's needed. <TWEET THIS>

Regarding Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh - these people need God's people praying for them. The church must remove the robe of political partisanship and pray for these two image-bearers of Christ. Pray for them individually and for their families. In the meantime, trust God that ultimately, truth will set us all free.


Nothing's Going As Planned...That's Normal

I began preaching through Paul's letter to the church at Philippi in September. The overarching theme of this incredible, God-breathed book is joy. I knew this. I have read the book prior (a few times) and it should come as no surprise that the theme of the book is the same it always has been. In case you didn't know, there is no revision to the book - it's always been about joy. Nevertheless, as I read through this book now, studying it for personal edification in addition to seeking God's lead in preaching through it, I am struck by the fact that joy sometimes seems so elusive in my life.

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Now, you may have no problem with your joy quotient. You may be that person who always sees the glass half-full. Maybe your glass is overflowing (sounds like Psalm 23) and you have this holy perspective that is right and wonderful. I envy you. Wait...that's probably a sin. Hmmm...I'm excited for you and want to be like that. There, that's better.

God is so very good and gracious, and as just since beginning this series, I am awestruck at how joy remains my choice.

Yep - it's on me.

Joy is not something that just happens. It's not what we drift toward. Joy is intentional. It's a choice. It's a response, not to circumstances, but to God. And joy is not defined as a giddy happiness that pretends everything is okay. That's more of a Pollyanna perspective. Joy is a contentedness that keeps us focused on the one who is truly in control.

Paul, while writing this letter to a church that he dearly loved should have been on their prayer list (he probably was) but he makes it known that they are on his prayer list. He's praying for them, for his friends, his brothers and sisters in Christ, this new church that he helped launch and was instrumental in growing and leading...all while he is in prison. It's likely a prison in Rome. Some have declared that it may have been more like house arrest, as if that lessens the severity of what he is experiencing. Paul is chained to a guard. He is imprisoned. His freedoms are gone. His rights...well, what rights? This was the first century, not America so rights are not highly regarded.

This morning as I was reading from Paul David Tripp's excellent devotional book New Morning Mercies, I could not help but see how God was once more getting my attention on a subject that apparently I need constant reminding of.

Some thoughts from Tripp...

What captures your mind controls your thoughts and dominates the desires of your heart.

That which dominates your meditation shapes the way you view yourself, life, and God, and your view of those things shapes the choices you make and the actions you take.

It is not biblical faith to try to convince yourself that things are better than they actually are. It is not biblical faith to work to make yourself feel good about what is not good. Biblical faith looks reality in the face and does not flinch.

On the other hand, there is a crucial difference between facing hard realities and allowing those realities to dominate the meditation of your heart (see God's counsel to Joshua, Josh 1:1-9). Here's what biblical faith does: it examines reality, but it makes the Lord its meditation. It is only when you look at life through the window of the glory of the One who has been the source of your meditation that you see reality accurately. The more you meditate on your problems, the bigger and more insurmountable they seem to be. Meditating on God in the midst of your trouble reminds you once again that the God to whom grace has connected you is magnificent in his grandeur and glory. He is infinitely greater than any problem you could ever experience. Then your responses are shaped by his glory and not by the seeming size of your problems.1

Have you ever read a Scripture passage or devotional and thought "Wow! It's like that was written just for me." Yeah, me too. That's what this was like and as I continue to pray and study the book of Philippians I am reminded that my joy is not contingent on my circumstances. This is because so often things do not go as planned (by me.) Paul (the Bible guy, not Tripp in this case) didn't plan to go to prison, I am sure. He didn't plan to be shipwrecked, run out of town, stoned, or even have that "thorn in the flesh" but he did. And despite all that, he had a a faith, a biblical faith as Tripp calls it, that gave him proper perspective. 

That's the Christian life. That's normal.

It doesn't necessarily fill up stadiums or sell books, but it does allow for a joy that is indescribable and a lasting faith.

So choose joy today (and tomorrow and the next day). It's your choice. 

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        1Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2014). September 25.