The Pastor's Kid Responds to "The Pastor's Kid" and Other Stuff (Guest Post by Ashley O'Brien)

Ashley (Tarkington) O'Brien has read the book The Pastor's Kid:What It's Like and How to Help by Barnabas Piper and as a pastor's kid (my kid) she has written this review of, or rather a response to, his book. Yet, this is more than a book review, it is a wise discourse from one who grew up in the fishbowl known as the "pastor's family" and her perspective of how this impacted her view of God and the church. 

_________________

I recently read the book The Pastor’s Kid: What It's Like and How to Help by Barnabas Piper. Barnabas Piper is the son of Pastor John Piper, known by many as the 33-year pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, founder of Desiring God ministries, author of numerous books, speaker at Passion Conferences and more. I initially saw the book advertised on my social media pages (apparently my pages know the occupation of my father...that's scary.)

I was interested on Barnabas’ perspective as a pastor's kid (for obvious reasons) and what he had to say.  I enjoyed the book and could relate to Piper's stories and understood how some would struggle under the identity of their father's title. I could also see how some would be benefited by the role as well. I talked to my brother about our experiences growing up in a pastor's home, just to get his perspective. We grew up in the same God-honoring home, were active in the same church and ministries, had many of the same influences in the church, but as teenagers and adults diverged into the two most common and opposite stereotypes of a being a "Pastor’s Kid" or "PK."

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This is not a picture of Ashley, but these look like church kids.

As my brother and I discussed points highlighted in the book, we concluded that our dad’s occupation and position as pastor of the church had little to do with how we were raised. What I mean is that we were not raised to be good PKs, but were raised to know the Lord, know about him, to love God, love people, love God's church, and become his disciples. We "grew up in church" as did many others, and were loved, taught, and prayed for by many in our church family. My brother and I concluded that none of those things would have changed if dad were not the pastor. In other words, we determined that our family simply was seeking to be authentic Christians and our upbringing was not any more Christian just because our dad stood on the stage and preached each Sunday. 

We agreed that due to dad’s position we were able to experience places and people that we would not have otherwise. So, we selfishly are thankful for that. Nevertheless, a negative aspect of being a PK would be the expectations placed on us by others. This is understandable, but a bit frustrating. Adults have expectations of children and teenagers, especially related to behavior. For any church kid, there are expectations and since the church is supposed to be family, there comes a collective expectation from "family" members and a heightened level of responsibility. 

Based on Piper's book, the concerns and issues experienced by a PK can actually be valid for any person who grew up with a church family. This is not a bad thing. It is just a reality. 

To the person who grew up in church and abandoned church upon entering adulthood, there are many reasons as to why that exit occurred. Statements like “That's my parent's faith. It's just not for me" or other similar reasons (excuses) are common.

Growing Up Is Inevitable

At some point, the church kid (not just the PK) grows up. It's unavoidable. The church kid has to graduate from the kids' ministry (or at least they should) and move up to the next level of age-graded ministry. Maybe this was the shift to the “cool” youth group (at least "cool" as it pertains to church youth groups.) In some churches this means gathering in a separate room designed by concerned adults seeking to create place where teenagers would feel welcome. Maybe it included the designated seats in big church where teenagers would sit together, rather than sitting with their parents. It is a rite of passage of sorts. Then comes the next step into "big" church–high school graduation. For the few who remain in the church, moving from the youth room with all the smoke machines, old couches, broken ping pong tables, loud praise music, pizzas, and games to the "boring big church" services is required. It is here that the music volume decreased, many people seemed disengaged, most didn't sing along with the music, and the music was not new or cutting edge (or at least it seemed the songs were strange versions of those performed by the youth band.) Church was now boring, it seemed. It was no longer fun. Gone was the weekly social hour where you could gather with friends during the middle of the week. No one was making you attend any longer. Friends moved away to college. Some stopped attending after receiving their free gift from the church during the high school graduation recognition. In fact, for many, that was the last time some former members of the youth group (at least some of them) were seen at church.  And you are tempted to walk away as well. Perhaps using the old excuse of “I am not being fed," but deep down knowing you just do not want to be fed what they are feeding you. You had rededicated your life to Christ many times, especially at youth camp, but now...church just isn't the same.

This isn't the biography of PKs only. There are many kids who grew up in the church who can relate because this is their story as well, whether they were a PK, a deacon's kid, a committee member's kid, or just a kid who went to church a lot.

We collectively nod our heads in agreement and think of all those fond memories of our childhood and teenage years. As adults, some of us become frustrated with the church. Some shop around for new churches, always seeking the newest experience (while actually being driven by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia resulting in a search for a Sunday experience that is basically an updated version of the youth worship at camps from years prior or the mid-week student gatherings of our high school years.)

Though I loved all the camps, mission trips, and pizza nights, I believe we may have unwittingly done a disservice over time. We created silos of ministry and rarely if ever integrated generationally. This led to an easy exit for active attenders upon high school graduation. Certainly, the individual has a choice. We cannot force anyone to remain in the church, but we must not put all the blame on the individual if the church as a whole never intentionally connected church family members beyond those of the same age or demographic. 

While Piper's book is focused mainly on his experiences as a pastor’s kid, it can easily relate to everyone who grew up as a church kid. 

Jeremy Noel is quoted in the book stating...

“Finding God was the greatest challenge. Being raised in an atmosphere where God was ministry, vocation and hobby makes it hard to be amazed by the gospel. Being raised where life is always about showing God to a group makes it hard to see God individually.”

At some point, the child has to own it. The now adult, former "church kid" must own their decisions and their relationship (or lack of relationship) with Christ and his church. Take responsibility. Noel's quote is real and reveals authentic challenges. It also explains why so many leave the church after high school. We can blame parents, teachers, and preachers…but, at the end of the day, when the now adult does not take ownership for his or her relationship with Christ, it falls on them. Children have to grow up. There is a needed graduation from the “fun” church and the “feed me” church that is built upon a consumer mentality.  

Barnabas Piper stated well...

“PKs (church kids) despite all these struggles cannot wallow in and bemoan them. Rather, we must own what responsibilities are ours; to honor Jesus, to honor our fathers and mothers, to love and support the church, and to go about our lives not as victims but as the redeemed. Grace is here for us all!” 

For the Pastors

To the pastors–love your children. Be willing to listen. Be a parent first, not always their pastor. Cheer for them at ball games (but remember who you represent so maybe don’t yell so much at the referee.) Don’t elevate your children in a way that they believe they are better than their church peers. They are surely the most important to you, but no one wants some little snot (sorry - I'm venting a bit) saying to his or her Bible study teacher “But don’t you know who my dad is?”

None of this may stir up issues for you or them initially, but it could be harmful in the long run. It can impact how your children view church and Christ. It will affect how they function as a teenager and adult when you are not there to tell them the right church answers or force them to be at church with you. Those outside the church do not care that their dad was a pastor (or they may have some unfair preconceived ideas about what that means.) Just remember that your children did not choose to be the child of a pastor or to be in the spotlight (even if it's just the spotlight of a local church.) They do not typically enjoy being illustrations in your sermon. Be sure to have a genuine conversation with your children about his or her decision to be a Christ follower. Do not doubt, of course, but understand that this decision could have been easily made due to the pressure and assumption that they should be a Christian simply because you are the pastor. Help your children make the decision to surrender to Christ as Lord their own, and not yours. Remember, God has no grandchildren. Be real with your children. If your child never sees you struggle or knows that you doubt at times, then they will feel as if they are not allowed to either. Allowing them to wrestle with their salvation or relationship with Christ and his church is healthy and all believers experience this. Offer up transparency and allow your children to ask you the hard questions so they may view their relationship with Christ and his church more real and their own. When their dad is supposed to be the “super-Christian” it is tough to be raw and real, especially when they feel they do not measure up.

For the PK

PKs–understand that your identity is not founded on what your father or mother do for a living. It is not what you excel at or how you look. As a child of God, your identity is solely found in Christ. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will feel free from others expectations. Standing strong in Christ and his church and growing up to be a bold follower of Christ is truly what your Christian parents desire. God gave you the parents you were intended to have for a reason. So, appreciate them and love them, it is not easy being a pastor. It's not easy being a pastor's wife. And, we know, it's not easy being a pastor's kid either. But...who said this was supposed to be easy? That's just one reason we can rely on God and his grace. 


What the Church Must Do If Trump Wins the Presidency

It’s a presidential election year. The two major US political parties have just completed their respective conventions. However, the conventions this year were much different than those in the past. Thanks to COVID-19, the typical scenes of convention centers filled with hundreds wearing red, white, and blue ribbons, buttons, and the ever-popular, Styrofoam barber shop quartet hats (why are these still a thing?) cheering on their respective candidates was replaced with socially-distanced (for the most part,) online speeches, cheers (or boos) on social media, and more sound bites than in recent history.

Some have stated that now, more than ever, our nation is polarized. Perhaps, but as I have said before, we as Americans have faced polarization before. In fact, other than just a few times since 1776, we have experienced division more often than unity. Whether you hold to the narrative that the United States was created as a Christian nation, or simply a nation launched with a foundation of historic Judeo-Christian principles, God’s church and his children have played significant roles in the history and makeup of our nation.

This must continue to be the case.

November Is Coming, Regardless If We Are Ready

By November 4, 2020, the world will know (well, unless there is a recount or some other strange occurrence – it is 2020, so who knows?) whether Donald Trump or Joseph Biden will stand in front of the US Capitol Building, hand on Bible, taking the oath as the President of the United States. When this election is over, only those with a Pollyanna view of the world believe that everyone will accept the results maturely, peacefully, and with a bright outlook toward the future. Regardless who wins, it is likely that protests and demonstrations will occur, accusations of fraud will be leveled, and at least half the nation will lament with sackcloth and ashes while the other half celebrates.

Trump pence
Photo credit: VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Many Christians cannot fathom that other Christians (I use the term “Christian” not as a political designation or social designation, but as an authentic title for those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord, have been redeemed by Christ’s blood, will be in heaven when they die, and are faithful to live biblically as covenant members of a local church) will have actually voted for their opposition candidate, a third-party candidate, or have left that block blank on the ballot. Yet, it will happen. It always does. Christians who voted one way will declare that those who voted differently to be heretics, unbelievers, and a variety of other things other than true Christians.

Issues matter. They matter immensely. Seeing the world from a biblical worldview is challenging, even for the long-time mature Christian. It is a continual challenge and each Christian must weigh issues, actions, news reports, speeches, political promises, and more from a biblical perspective. I’ll be honest, this is more difficult at times than putting together a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces upside down and no box lid to use as a guide.

Yet, we must.

Each election cycle, there are Christians who grieve the state of our nation when their desired candidate did not win the presidency. The feelings are not limited to national elections and opinions may even be stronger in the local contests.

Other than the one US President who won the election unanimously, our nation has always experienced post-election blues for a significant number or people.

What Must the Church Do If Trump Is Elected?

We must pray. We must pray for the President, his family, his Cabinet, and all who serve alongside him. Pray for God’s will to be done. Pray for the person to come to a personal saving knowledge of Christ. Pray.

I remember one local National Day of Prayer focus many years ago when a man I know was organizing which leader would pray for each designated person or group (President, Congress, Supreme Court, state leaders, etc.) He said to me, “I cannot pray for the President.” I was shocked. I asked why and he responded that he did not like the man and could not pray for him. At that moment, I realized this National Day of Prayer event was a waste. Why? Because the prayers were only for the liked, and not for the ones God had placed, by his divine plan, in the positions of authority.

I remember one person I met who came to church wearing black after the election that did not go as she desired. She stated she would wear black as a sign of mourning until we had a new President. I think the public mourning lasted about a week, or until all the black clothes were in the laundry.

Praying for someone is not an affirmation of everything that person says or does. Praying for our leaders, as Christians, is not something the church should vote upon. In fact, it should be our natural response as Christ-followers, regardless who is in leadership.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)

We also must pray for our nation, for whomever sits in the seat of executive power wields great influence and has much power, even in our system of checks and balances. The President influences by executive order, through the appointments of judicial officers, and by the signing of bills provided by the Congress. These are decisions and actions that will not only affect each citizen currently alive, but those yet to be born for years to come.

Prayer is not passive. It is an active response and in truth, a preemptive strike on evil and sin.

So pray for the President...even if you didn't vote for him and do not personally like him or his policies.

We must proclaim truth. Within our great experimental republic, we have not only the right, but the expectation to be Christ’s church in the public square. Whether it is speaking out against issues or laws that denigrate or eliminate life when deemed inconvenient, or items that perpetuate systemic practices that keep one people group at bay while another experiences more freedoms, Christians must be united biblically for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God.

Speaking against atrocities must be preceded by speaking truth. The gospel is not meant to be kept secret and though the world may ignore, get angry, accuse, and push Christians aside, we must realize that our calling requires us, in love, to not remain silent.

Speaking truth means having the courage to speak when pressure is great, potential fallout is real, and when it pushes against the political narrative of the party in power (even if it is your declared party.) Remember, our allegiance is first to the Lord.

We must participate. What if Christians were united with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than simply upon a designated political issue? What if participation as Christ’s church meant that believers actually sought unity that is provided in Christ? Unity in Christ will not occur naturally. We will not drift toward this. We must be active participants, as individuals and as local churches, for God’s sake, regardless who is in the White House.

Some say that there is too much water under the bridge, too many historic errors done in the name of the church, that we are too far gone. Yet, I go to Christ’s prayer in the Gospel of John and recognize that since then, he has been interceding on behalf of you and me.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17:20-23 ESV

Apparently, Christ believes that we truly can be one in him.

So, after this election (and I would say, let’s not wait) the calling for Christ’s church is to remember that we are placed here as light in the darkness, to point others toward the One who is the Way, Truth, and Life. If we’re not careful, we may forget in the midst of political machinations, coronavirus updates, and daily reminders of protests, demonstrations, lawlessness, and death, that Christ is our King. He reigns supremely.

The winner in November will not change that.

So, pray, proclaim, and participate in unity for the sake of the gospel.

Our faith must solely be in the King of kings, Lord of lords. Christ alone. Living as citizens of His kingdom first must guide how we live here, and how we respond when everything does not go the way we desire.

By the way – I have posted this article twice, once with Trump in the title. Once with Biden. The articles are identical other than that. Why? Because I know some may read it based on who is listed in the title, but I believe the church’s response remains consistent regardless who wins.


What the Church Must Do If Biden Wins the Presidency

It’s a presidential election year. The two major US political parties have just completed their respective conventions. However, the conventions this year were much different than those in the past. Thanks to COVID-19, the typical scenes of convention centers filled with hundreds wearing red, white, and blue ribbons, buttons, and the ever-popular, Styrofoam barber shop quartet hats (why are these still a thing?) cheering on their respective candidates was replaced with socially-distanced (for the most part,) online speeches, cheers (or boos) on social media, and more sound bites than in recent history.

Some have stated that now, more than ever, our nation is polarized. Perhaps, but as I have said before, we as Americans have faced polarization before. In fact, other than just a few times since 1776, we have experienced division more often than unity. Whether you hold to the narrative that the United States was created as a Christian nation, or simply a nation launched with a foundation of historic Judeo-Christian principles, God’s church and his children have played significant roles in the history and makeup of our nation.

This must continue to be the case.

November Is Coming, Regardless If We Are Ready

By November 4, 2020, the world will know (well, unless there is a recount or some other strange occurrence – it is 2020, so who knows?) whether Donald Trump or Joseph Biden will stand in front of the US Capitol Building, hand on Bible, taking the oath as the President of the United States. When this election is over, only those with a Pollyanna view of the world believe that everyone will accept the results maturely, peacefully, and with a bright outlook toward the future. Regardless who wins, it is likely that protests and demonstrations will occur, accusations of fraud will be leveled, and at least half the nation will lament with sackcloth and ashes while the other half celebrates.

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Photo credit: Biden For President on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Many Christians cannot fathom that other Christians (I use the term “Christian” not as a political designation or social designation, but as an authentic title for those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord, have been redeemed by Christ’s blood, will be in heaven when they die, and are faithful to live biblically as covenant members of a local church) will have actually voted for their opposition candidate, a third-party candidate, or have left that block blank on the ballot. Yet, it will happen. It always does. Christians who voted one way will declare that those who voted differently to be heretics, unbelievers, and a variety of other things other than true Christians.

Issues matter. They matter immensely. Seeing the world from a biblical worldview is challenging, even for the long-time mature Christian. It is a continual challenge and each Christian must weigh issues, actions, news reports, speeches, political promises, and more from a biblical perspective. I’ll be honest, this is more difficult at times than putting together a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces upside down and no box lid to use as a guide.

Yet, we must.

Each election cycle, there are Christians who grieve the state of our nation when their desired candidate did not win the presidency. The feelings are not limited to national elections and opinions may even be stronger in the local contests.

Other than the one US President who won the election unanimously, our nation has always experienced post-election blues for a significant number or people.

What Must the Church Do If Biden Is Elected?

We must pray. We must pray for the President, his family, his Cabinet, and all who serve alongside him. Pray for God’s will to be done. Pray for the person to come to a personal saving knowledge of Christ. Pray.

I remember one local National Day of Prayer focus many years ago when a man I know was organizing which leader would pray for each designated person or group (President, Congress, Supreme Court, state leaders, etc.) He said to me, “I cannot pray for the President.” I was shocked. I asked why and he responded that he did not like the man and could not pray for him. At that moment, I realized this National Day of Prayer event was a waste. Why? Because the prayers were only for the liked, and not for the ones God had placed, by his divine plan, in the positions of authority.

I remember one person I met who came to church wearing black after the election that did not go as she desired. She stated she would wear black as a sign of mourning until we had a new President. I think the public mourning lasted about a week, or until all the black clothes were in the laundry.

Praying for someone is not an affirmation of everything that person says or does. Praying for our leaders, as Christians, is not something the church should vote upon. In fact, it should be our natural response as Christ-followers, regardless who is in leadership.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)

We also must pray for our nation, for whomever sits in the seat of executive power wields great influence and has much power, even in our system of checks and balances. The President influences by executive order, through the appointments of judicial officers, and by the signing of bills provided by the Congress. These are decisions and actions that will not only affect each citizen currently alive, but those yet to be born for years to come.

Prayer is not passive. It is an active response and in truth, a preemptive strike on evil and sin.

So pray for the President...even if you didn't vote for him and do not personally like him or his policies.

We must proclaim truth. Within our great experimental republic, we have not only the right, but the expectation to be Christ’s church in the public square. Whether it is speaking out against issues or laws that denigrate or eliminate life when deemed inconvenient, or items that perpetuate systemic practices that keep one people group at bay while another experiences more freedoms, Christians must be united biblically for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God.

Speaking against atrocities must be preceded by speaking truth. The gospel is not meant to be kept secret and though the world may ignore, get angry, accuse, and push Christians aside, we must realize that our calling requires us, in love, to not remain silent.

Speaking truth means having the courage to speak when pressure is great, potential fallout is real, and when it pushes against the political narrative of the party in power (even if it is your declared party.) Remember, our allegiance is first to the Lord.

We must participate. What if Christians were united with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than simply upon a designated political issue? What if participation as Christ’s church meant that believers actually sought unity that is provided in Christ? Unity in Christ will not occur naturally. We will not drift toward this. We must be active participants, as individuals and as local churches, for God’s sake, regardless who is in the White House.

Some say that there is too much water under the bridge, too many historic errors done in the name of the church, that we are too far gone. Yet, I go to Christ’s prayer in the Gospel of John and recognize that since then, he has been interceding on behalf of you and me.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17:20-23 ESV

Apparently, Christ believes that we truly can be one in him.

So, after this election (and I would say, let’s not wait) the calling for Christ’s church is to remember that we are placed here as light in the darkness, to point others toward the One who is the Way, Truth, and Life. If we’re not careful, we may forget in the midst of political machinations, coronavirus updates, and daily reminders of protests, demonstrations, lawlessness, and death, that Christ is our King. He reigns supremely.

The winner in November will not change that.

So, pray, proclaim, and participate in unity for the sake of the gospel.

Our faith must solely be in the King of kings, Lord of lords. Christ alone. Living as citizens of His kingdom first must guide how we live here, and how we respond when everything does not go the way we desire.

By the way – I have posted this article twice, once with Trump in the title. Once with Biden. The articles are identical other than that. Why? Because I know some may read it based on who is listed in the title, but I believe the church’s response remains consistent regardless who wins.


Celebrating Others Failures Is Not a Commendable Trait

Perhaps it is simply human nature?

Maybe it is the deeply held desire to feel good about oneself?

It could be that as long as we find someone else who is a worse person than we are, we deprives ourselves of acknowledging our own depravity?

The latest story that has trended throughout social media, become fodder for the mainstream media, and gets talked about over coffee by Christians and non-Christians alike began unfolding years ago. Then, last Sunday, a public statement made by a university president changed everything and . . . BOOM! More press releases. More stories. More accusations. More admissions. More denials. And ... I don't think the final layer of this onion has been peeled.

Thanks to the current state of politi-vangelicalism (I made up that word - a mashup of political and evangelical) that exists in our nation right now, to speak of any individual claiming, either willingly or unwillingly, a political or evangelical leadership title often either garners likes and shares or nasty statements. It is not that this is new, but with social media and instant news, it just happens quickly and more publicly now.

Thus, when Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s revelations of sinful indiscretions involving his wife, another man, and himself became more than rumors (at least some of them) and have been affirmed to be accurate, the flood of responses and shares began. 

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Photo credit: VisualHunt / CC BY

Some of a certain age are likening Falwell's revelation to those of the late 1980s involving prominent televangelists. Others are pointing to the power structures that not only allowed, but enabled such things to happen and continue happening for years. In the age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, Falwell's story sadly becomes another of many.

Condemnation Aplenty

There are variations of responses appearing such as "Serves him right," "He's blaming his wife?" "He has no ethics," and "It's abuse of power, abuse of authority, abuse sexually, etc." 

Of course, there are others who due to their longtime support and views of the individual (or perhaps his father or Liberty University) blame it all on conspiracies, politics, anti-Christian groups, or any number of other people or circumstances.

Even Christians (and I'm not immune to this) often vent online when others fall. If we're not careful, we do more than vent. We actually may celebrate the downfall of others, especially those who claim to be followers of Christ as well.

But, celebrating the failures of others, especially those who at least publicly claim to be followers of Christ, is not the best, right, or biblical response. However, it is my most common response, but that does not make it right. Therefore, I read this verse in Proverbs and respond with repentance.

"He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished." - Proverbs 17:5b (ESV)

Some Get It Right

Then, hidden deep within the comment thread on stories about Falwell, every now and then, we see things said that just do not get the likes or shares that others do. 

In the midst of this tragic, sinful, abhorrent reveal that continues to be shared, there are those who are clearly not excusing the sin, not seeking an avoidance of justice, are calling for repentance, and who actually believe consequences should be faced, but are...get this...stating that they are praying for ALL involved and seeking God in the midst of these people.

In today's culture of offering "thoughts and prayers" (which has become a punchline for jokes - and in the way that many use the term, it should be a punchline) some are truly offering God-focused, biblically-accurate, grace-filled, justice-seeking, consequence-acknowledging (YES - THERE MUST BE CONSEQUENCES), condemnation-removing (Romans 8:1), repentance-desiring, intercession for Jerry Falwell, Jr., his wife, their acquaintances, and all others involved either directly or indirectly with these heinous accounts now made public.

Praying for Sinners Is Not Excusing Their Sin

I fear that all too often we wrongly believe praying for those who have done despicable things is excusing their sins. It is not.

Jesus prayed for those who put him to death on the cross. When he prayed "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" he was NOT saying "You know, it's no big deal what they have done. It's all good."

When Stephen prayed that God would forgive those who would soon put him to death by stoning, it was not weakness on display, but grief over lost religious people who acted in ways that dishonored God, put his name to shame, and hurt the cause of Christ. 

Terrible People Who Get What They Deserve

Some believe that Falwell's failures will negatively impact the cause of Christ for decades to come. I tend to believe that God is bigger than a university president, even one who led a university founded on biblical principles. God was not surprised when Falwell's failures became public. He knew when the sins happened. He knew when the sins would be made public. He also knows what will occur next.

As a Christian, I must confess, it is much easier to pile on the story and jump in on the "He is a terrible person and is getting what he deserves!" mantra. Truth be told - he is a terrible person and is getting what he deserves.

More than that, I am reminded that apart from the redeeming and gracious rescue by Christ in my life, I am a terrible person. So are you.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one." - Romans 3:10 (ESV)

You see, it is easy to feel righteous as long as you compare yourself to someone who is easily seen to be worse morally than others. 

But, what about when we compare ourselves to the one whom we are called to follow and be like? Compared to Christ, I am reminded daily that "but for the grace of God, go I." 

When it comes to Jerry Falwell, Jr., I have opinions. Just like you do. He should not be leading Liberty University (or any university.) I do not believe he should be platformed.

He would be wise to get off Twitter and to stay out of the public eye for a season (perhaps a very long one.) I pray that he seeks God personally, privately, and honestly. I am praying that he discovers the great relief of forgiveness offered to those who are in Christ and repent. I pray he does this for real, and not as a Christian publicity move. I pray for his wife to do the same.

I pray that they realize they are not too far gone for God's grace to reach.

I pray that somehow their marriage survives and that it is nothing like it was prior (according to his own admission and other reports) but that God heals them both. I pray for their family...and for those who are part of this story in other ways as well.

And, no, praying for them does not excuse sin. It does not minimize it either.

Can God fix this? Certainly. I know he desires to do so. God won't for the sake of "good PR" however. He will do so only for his own glory.

Oh...and pray for Liberty University. This is a new day for the school. They have needed new leadership for years. They now have it. Despite the past, the future can look bright - but it starts at the top.


When You Feel Like a Political Orphan

Welcome to 2020, the gift that just keeps on giving. Way back (about 3,000 days ago) on January 1, there was much optimism from many for this year. Of course, in the United States, we were just getting started in what we knew would be a stressful, if not entertaining election year. Then, we entered the pandemic, followed by racially focused protests, riots, murder hornets, and the upending of everything that was considered "normal."

But at least the political machines would keep moving. Whoo hoo!

I have always been a political junkie. I read biographies, watch historical documentaries, and stay up late viewing the returns on election day like some watch the Super Bowl.

The Worst Political Divide in US History

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Photo credit: Sean McMenemy on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

We are now entering the homestretch of election year 2020. The two major political parties in our nation are pulling no punches in addressing their base and the coveted "middle-of-the-road" voters. Attack ads have been the norm since...well, since perhaps the late 1700s. It just seems that it is worse now than ever. 

I have had conversations with friends who have stated as much.

They say things like, "We are more polarized in this nation than ever before in our history." I smile and usually respond with, "Well, maybe not. There was this little thing called the Civil War that seems to show that our nation actually was a bit more divided in the past than we are now." Then, I repent for being snarky.

When the conversations drift toward frustrations over presidential elections, perceived corruption, unqualified and unlikable candidates, political backroom machinations, and other similar things, I encourage my friends to go online and read a bit about the 1876 presidential election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. I know other people don't tend to care so much about history, but it helps to gain a bit of perspective when we think our experiences are the worst in our nation's short history.

When You Merge Politics and Religion You Get Politics

Growing up in a Baptist church, I remember hearing pastors and church members share their positions on political matters. As a child, I did not pick up on them as quickly, but as I grew older, it became clear that the church was not devoid of political posturing, either by local candidates or those who became vocal evangelists every four years (not for their faith, but for their party of choice.) 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the politically religious categorization seemed to truly solidify in the churches our family attended. Later, the polarity became more pronounced on pro-life issues. Within the evangelical world, party platforms became the litmus test for affirmation and the anti-abortion issue was paramount. It remains so. To be clear, I am pro-life, believing that life begins at conception, so this issue is a major one for me.

While the pro-life issue is a primary issue for most (those on both sides of the issue) there are other issues, platform statements, ideology, interpretations of the US Constitution, and integrity of candidates that drive many voters. Between the far-right and far-left contingencies is a middle group that may or may not be registered as a certain political party, but for decades has been the group candidates and parties target. In this middle group, as surprising as it may seem to some, are people who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, active in their Bible-believing, gospel-centric churches, committed to a biblical worldview, and seeking to live transformed lives for the glory of God and the good of themselves and their neighbors.

Yes, that means there will be someone in heaven with you (if you are a Christian) who did not vote exactly as you did for every election!

Vote Your My Values

The "Vote Your Values" theme has been used for years. There is even a website and group titled this focused on what is deemed "Judeo-Christian Values." I do not dislike this, but I must admit that when I want people to vote their values, I actually want them to vote my values. That is because I believe I am right. Do you know anyone like that?

Values matter to me.

As a Christian, I unapologetically care about issues from what I deem a biblical worldview. I see that there are numerous things that truly matter and no individual politician, or party lands well on all issues. That has always been true. I know that, but with the advent of social media and instant information through tweets and push notifications, it is more clear now than ever. 

Politically Homeless

What happens when you just do not like (that may be the wrong word...perhaps "line up with" or "approve" would be better) the only candidates available on the ballot? Like me.

Some choose to vote for a third party, knowing their selected individual has no real chance of winning, especially in national elections. In local elections, it is often true as well, but not always. To vote this way may be honorable, but results in others angrily stating "You wasted your vote! You're a bad American!" 

Lovely.

The concept of feeling "politically homeless" has popped up in numerous places recently. Those who dare to declare they feel politically homeless often are met with typically polarized responses of anger or approval.

Some of the tweets shared earlier this year resonate with me and echo the feelings that I and many Christians now have.

 

Being politically homeless, or a political orphan is not a bad thing (unless you're running for office.) Though I have been registered as a party voter in my state for years and at this point don't plan to change that, though I may at some point in the future choose to remove any party affiliation from my registration. I know, just by making that statement may lead many in my church to be offended, want to leave, actually leave, or worse...just stop viewing me as biblically sound. I may regret stating this publicly (but I doubt it.) 

Years ago, I made the decision to no longer put signs in my yard or political stickers on my vehicles. It is not that I do not have strong beliefs and leanings related to whom I will vote, it is more that I choose not to eliminate an opportunity to have a gospel conversation with someone simply related to politics. Kingdom work trumps political promotion. 

Some declare me to be too conservative to be progressive, while others say I'm too progressive to be conservative. 

I am conservative. I am very conservative, but unlike many I know what I seek to conserve. To be called progressive by some is interesting to me. It's not a term I would use, but nonetheless I have heard this. "Progressive" is like the term "contemporary" when defining a church's music style. One church's "contemporary service" is another's "traditional service." (FYI - just adding a drum set does not make you contemporary.) So, "progressive" not unlike many other terms is defined by the user more often than not. Some may even call me a liberal. Uh...no. That's ridiculous.

To be in the public eye, even as a local church pastor, is to be called things by some who do not truly know you and ultimately just don't like you (for various reasons.) 

Evangelistic...But Not Politically "Evangelical"

Words matter.

I actually like the word "evangelical" but I fear we may have to abandon it in coming years. I have found in conversations with others that outside the confines of what we had termed "evangelical Christianity" the term is believed by many to be a synonym of a political party. And...as stated earlier, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. I wonder if the term "evangelical" will eliminate the evangelistic conversations from occurring in certain areas where we seek to make Christ known and increase his Kingdom. If so, we need another word and I am up for suggestions.

We must be evangelistic, fulfilling God's great commission and greatest commandment, even if we cannot call ourselves evangelical.

Be a Good American - Go Vote

I do believe it is not only our right and privilege, but our responsibility to participate in the electoral process in our nation. As flawed and broken as it may seem, it remains an amazing gift to the citizens of our nation. To forsake one's constitutional right to participate is wrong, in my opinion. So many around the world would love to have such a right.

As election day nears, and the signs accumulate on every street corner in your community reminding you that every single candidate is the only answer to the problems of our world, pray over whom God would have you support. Trust him with the process and even as a homeless, political orphan, let your voice be heard (even if silently at a voter's booth in your precinct.) It does matter. 

For whom should you vote? 

It may seem obvious to you. Congratulations.

It may be something you are wrestling over. Welcome to the club.

Pray. Seek God's lead. Trust him.

Then fill out that ballot or check that box. 

And after the votes are tallied...

Pray. Seek God's lead. Trust him.


Praise God.......for the Pandemic?!?

Let me make this clear at the outset, I know this coronavirus pandemic has left many people hurting in many ways. In no way am I minimizing the grief of those who have had loved ones die of COVID-19. Those who have lost their jobs, their businesses, and have been impacted in such drastic, negative ways are to be grieved with, cared for, and served well by the church during these days. I have written prior about not wasting the pandemic here

If we are not careful, not only will we (the church) waste the pandemic and what God is actually providing through this, we may find ourselves sitting on the sidelines simply hoping we can get back to a predefined concept of "normal" that just looks like the February 2020 version of church. 

There is a difference between not wasting a difficulty and actually praising God in the midst of it.

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Why Praise Him for This?

The simple answer is that as Christians we are to always praise God. You know...we're just supposed to do this.

Yet, that sounds like little more than a verse-a-day, sugary-sweet-religiosity, fake-it-til-you-make-it instruction. It doesn't make the answer wrong, but we may just need a reminder of the why.

David, the king, man after God's own heart, forgiven and redeemed one, and psalmist, continued to come back to God in the midst of the most tumultuous times of his life. Whether it was being hunted down by a jealous king, hiding from a deceitful son, battles with enemy nations, or struggles with his own lust and sinful actions, he would come to a point, followed by repentance, where he would praise God.

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! - Psalm 34:1-3 (ESV)

There are numerous other passages where the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to extol the need to praise and trust God in the midst of all difficulties. Here are just a few...

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. - Isaiah 43:2 (ESV)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. - Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. - Romans 8:18 (ESV)

We praise him in the midst of the pandemic because we know he is doing a great work (we may need to be continually reminded of this–those in the Scripture had to be reminded all the time, too,) which at this point is veiled from our view and our comprehension. To believe otherwise, is to ignore the sovereignty of God.

We Prayed for This?

You may be saying "I never prayed for a pandemic." Well, who would? But I know many believers who have been praying for years that revival and renewal would occur within the church and our communities. 

Additionally, many pastors, including me, have often looked at their church's calendar of ministry events, including Sunday gatherings, life groups, committee meetings, camps, mission trips, children's activities, youth activities, women's meetings, men's meetings, fellowships, choir concerts, etc. and have recognized that as years go by, more and more things get placed on the schedule, while few ever get removed.

Even ministries that were no longer effective, have outlived their shelf life, or were vital for a long ago season tend to remain in some form on the church's calendar. The cry "We've never done it this way before" regarding new ideas may be true, but just as true is the cry "We've always done this" as it relates to scheduled events.

Due to full calendars of ministry minutia, pastors and ministry leaders found themselves doing less ministry and more managing of events and activities. While these events and ministries are not necessarily bad and in many cases made for great memories while aiding in leading people to know Christ and live faithfully, they became sidebars of busyness that kept disciple-makers from making disciples.

The minutia of ministry management became the machine requiring constant monitoring and marketing.

So in addition to praying for renewal and a season of awakening and revival, we prayed for our church calendars. Okay, maybe it was just me praying. My prayer went something like this - "Dear God. Please lead us to a place where we can ensure the mission of the church remains paramount, that glorifying you is occurring, that we are faithful in reaching the lost, equipping the saints, and making disciples. Please release us from the overwhelming busyness that comes from just managing the organization of the church to the desires of all members based on what they want, what they grew up with, and what they desire their children to experience. Amen."

And...well...God answered.

Sometime in March 2020 he moved us, along with everyone else, into a moment of PAUSE. We stopped. "It was just temporary," we thought. "It will just be for a few days or at the most a couple of weeks," we hoped.

Now, we're over five months into this age of new rules, regulations, requirements, and suggestions. Churches, for the most part, are not gathering as they did in February. Most have found ways to move to online services. Some are gathering in person, but with strict regulations in place. Hardly any church is offering children's or preschool groups. Every church is suddenly a family-integrated one. There are some who meet in person with no guidelines, defying laws (deemed unjust by the church leaders) of their region.

It's a new day.

But you know what? Since we have all these new things to be concerned about, we're not worried about all those little events that used to be on the calendar.

Though it is definitely not how I expected, nor how I desired God to answer, he apparently has. We (our church staff) are continually looking at new, creative, safe, biblically-sound ways to gather, to educate, to comfort, to serve, and to equip our church members during these days.

While we make decisions now that are not always met with exciting approval by all church members (that's no different than pre-COVID,) we have been able to offer more clarity into why and how we do what we do (and ultimately for Whom we do things) for our church members. The calendar has been erased and I will continue to focus our efforts in such a way that we just don't try to re-fill it with all the pre-COVID events and activities.

If we are not careful, ministers and leaders of ministries (e.g. choirs, age-graded ministries, etc.) will default to just trying to get their one area of ministry back in place. This is a wrong-minded way of serving the church and we all must push against this natural desire. There is a bigger story playing out here.

As I heard from a friend earlier this week, it seems the church growth movement of the 1970s and 1980s (even with all its faults and miscues) led naturally to the missional church movement of the early 2000s. Being missional prepared us for this moment in church life. I'm not sure what we will call it. Will Mancini speaks of it as "Future Church" and quoting Reggie McNeal, this is the "The Present Future." 

I don't think the church could effectively serve in this COVID era apart from spending a season in the missional era. The jump from "church-growth" to current era is too hard, too challenging, too much for many. Those churches who never embraced missional living are suffering more now. The missional church shifts the focus from "the church has a mission" to "God's mission has his church." 

So, we praise God and thank him for the pandemic. Why? Because in this challenging and frustrating time, God has been and continues to equip his always prevailing church for his mission. His mission is not equal to filling our calendars with religious and churchy stuff, but in equipping the saints and making disciples who make disciples. 

Now, more than ever, your community needs your church...even if you can't meet in the building together.

Praying Normal Never Returns

I have had to tell friends, staff members, church members, and others numerous times over the past few weeks that "normal" is not returning, so quick pining for it. Those holding out for a return to "normal" are in for a rude awakening. The changes we have experienced have impacted us permanently. It is not unlike the differences in air travel in the US from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. While things have loosened and changed a bit over the years, certain changes have remained. They have become the new normal.

This means that for years to come, some will always wear face masks in public (even if not mandated.) Hand sanitizer will continue to sell well. There will not be a mass removal of plastic shields around cash registers in grocery stores and restaurants. The buffet restaurants may never return (this is not a bad thing.) And...most churches will continue to offer some form of online service and video-conference life groups (this is not a bad thing, either.)

Will You Pray?

Are you bold enough to join me in this prayer? Will you ask God to ensure your church never returns to the February 2020 version of "normal."

For God has paused us for a purpose.

He has shaken us from our complacency.

We must cease saying "Woe is us" and lamenting our changed state of normalcy and say "Praise God" that he is not only seeing us through this valley, but has us here for a greater cause.

Praise God for the pandemic. May all that we are suffering through be used for his glory and our good. May we love God well and our neighbors as ourselves.

 


Conspiracy Theories, Fake News, and the Absence of Discernment Among Some Christians

Every pastor is dealing with this today. 

With all that we are facing in our communities and churches related to the pandemic, the polarization of political pundits, and the delay and/or cancellation of everything from sports to school, we are seeing more and more of this.

These are CONSPIRACY THEORIES.

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Photo credit: Free for Commercial Use on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

To be honest, I have always been intrigued with conspiracy theories. Whether they be connected to the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, Roswell, Area 51, 9/11, or any other number of pop-culture stories, these have always piqued my curiosity. Now, don't read what I'm not writing here. I am not saying I believe them. I am just saying that they have always intrigued me. 

Sometimes, I accidentally think that others are as up on the latest conspiracies and are as intrigued as I am. For instance in our church's recent leadership team meeting, I alluded to those who buy all these latest theories and refer to them as those who constantly believe the black helicopters are hovering above.

One of our team members finally stopped me mid-sentence and asked "David, you keep referring to these helicopters. What does that even mean?"

Oh.

You mean not everyone is familiar with the interconnections between Catcher in the Rye, the Illuminati, Bigfoot, mattress stores, and the silent, black helicopters used by the government to surveil citizens?

I know about the black helicopters because...well, because they were in a movie called "Conspiracy Theory." That means they are real, right?

These theories have always drawn attention from some. They raise questions. In most cases, it is clear that these are nothing more than elaborate theories and not factual (however, you may have difficulty convincing Pastor Robby Gallaty about the lone gunman theory in the JFK assassination.) 

Conspiracies Abound Online

I listened to Ed Stetzer's Leadership podcast today regarding conspiracy theories and the growth of them during this pandemic. He and his guests spoke of the vast number of stories that are shared online by Christians and the challenge facing pastors and Christian leaders seeking to lead their churches in truth and with discernment. I encourage you to listen to the podcast and read the articles he has written (linked below.)

StetzerCheck Out Ed Stetzer's Podcast & Stories Here:

The podcast (Episode 33) is available here.

Ed has an excellent article on this at his "Christianity Today" site here.

Here's another from a previous issue of "Christianity Today" by Stetzer here.

The Lies Just Keep On Coming

Every pastor and leader in the local church has received emails and messages from well-meaning church members and Christian friends. Over the years, I have seen these messages come in waves. They are shared on Facebook and other social media pages. I get a message or email stating something like "Pastor, this is serious. You need to say something about this..."

In most cases, what I say is "That's a hoax. I saw this message five years ago. It's not true."

To be honest, I have been guilty in the past of sharing such things in the past. One friend convinced me that NutraSweet turned to wood in the bloodstream and I shared that story. Once. Wow. Yet, age and discernment help me now to determine the veracity of such things.

For instance...

  • The "gay Jesus film" called "Corpus Christi" has been rumored to be made since 1984. I still receive this email warning Christians about this. While I am certain numerous plays and films have been or will be made that paint Jesus in such a light, this particular email with the attached petition is not true.
  • Pizzagate has been determined to be false from numerous media outlets, but some still declare it it must be true, primarily because the characters allegedly involved are those who are disliked greatly by the ones sharing the stories.
  • There is no one putting HIV-infected syringes on gas pumps intending to infect innocent motorists. 
  • Wayfair is not trafficking children in overpriced containers.
  • Jeffrey Epstein did not commit suicide (Okay, I believe this one.)

These stories and more are shared ALL THE TIME!

Now, in the age of COVID-19, we have even more stories. I get updates related to Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, the 5G conspiracy, and the propagation of a virus as little more than an excuse to monitor everyone via new technology. Most Christians also add the imbedded chip stories connected to the number of the beast from Scripture. I hear how face masks are not helpful for anything other than in helping AI determine facial recognition better. The six-foot separation was nothing more than an organized strategy devised to allow AI to pick out individuals better. And...I hear the black helicopters now.

The Biggest Problem with Christians and Conspiracies

You know, one of these days we may discover that some of these conspiracy theories are true.

Maybe.  

That's not the point.

What is the point is what I heard Stetzer state on his podcast. The very Christian who shares every single unproven and outrageous story online (or the angry online rants of discredited pastors who garner likes by their pseudo-patriotism disguised as Christianity) then, perhaps on Easter or at Christmas, shares a story about the miraculous resurrection or incarnation of Jesus Christ is viewed not as a propagator of truth, but simply as one sharing another FAKE NEWS story. Well-intentioned believers will not be heard (or read and believed) not due to their insincerity, but due to their inability to discern truth from lies. Why believe the miracle about Christ if the story is coming from someone who claims to have seen Elvis at the Firehouse Subs on Tuesday?

Words matter...and so do shares and "likes" online. Think before you type. Pray before you share. Check your sources. Where did the story originate? Who wrote it? How old is it? Seriously...Madalyn Murray O'Hair has been dead since 1995 so she is not at work to get your favorite Christian radio station off the radio.

If all you share are the trending conspiracies and politically-themed stories of the day...when you do share something of eternal value, your friends and followers will just categorize it as another fake news story to relegate to the online trash heap.

Bearing false witness is not just something done with the lips. It can just as easily be done through a keyboard or by hitting the "share" button.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. - Ephesians 4:25 (ESV)


A Shocking Statement About Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats...That Should Not Be

It's a statement that seems so obvious, but comes across as shocking to some. 

I have heard other pastors state it. I read it on a tweet by Derwin Gray a few weeks back. Then, for some reason, as I was completing yesterday's sermon at First Baptist Church of Orange Park at our 10:45am service, I said it. I said this...

 

I have had a number of friends ask what the response was from my sermon. They weren't asking how many worshiped or came to Christ, but were wondering if I hit a nerve and received a slew of angry emails or texts.

There is much to discuss among believers who hold differing political views, especially when it comes to issues that seem clearly biblical. Yet, the point is that brothers and sisters in Christ who vote differently, have more in common with each other than with those who happen to vote the "correct" way (i.e. "the way I vote") yet are unbelievers.

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Of course, the issues that divide political parties are not unimportant. There are valuable debates to be had and votes to be made. Nevertheless, sometimes, we see little more than party affiliation and miss the value of the image-bearer.

This is a solid reminder in an election year where polarization reigns supreme. 

To be clear, this is not a call to abandon biblical convictions or to ignore civic responsibility. I am not calling for the minimization of important issues and values. I just believe we should remember that the image-bearers of God who know God as Father and have surrendered to Jesus as Savior, have a new name...and it's not Republican or Democrat (or Libertarian, Green Party, etc.)

We serve a risen Savior. Jesus Christ is his name. We, as Christians, are first and foremost citizens of this greater Kingdom of God. 

Perspective.

Oh, and so far I have received no angry emails or messages. They may have been intercepted and deleted. Maybe...hopefully...we see this as the truth and are seeking to love God fully, love our neighbors (even our Christian neighbors who just don't seem to vote the way we like) as ourselves, and live fully as Kingdom citizens.


What If the Face Mask Helped You Reach Your Community for Christ?

For years I have heard stories of church splits. Sometimes these are needed divisions in that they are over doctrine. When unbiblical actions occur or false doctrine is espoused from leaders, division seems inevitable. We have seen this recently in evangelical churches related to the definition of marriage and other such things. In fact, my own denomination was launched over a disagreement regarding slave-holders being sent as missionaries. In our case, we were wrong, sinfully wrong on our stance. Thanks be to God for forgiveness and redemption. And, yes, we are still working toward unity and reconciliation as a denomination.

When it comes to local churches splitting, the stories are just as sinful and sad.

Most often the church splits we have heard about or have experienced personally have little to do with doctrine. In fact, a church can divide over just about anything.

There are stories of churches dividing over the color of the carpet, a change in the schedule, the use of hymnbooks versus projecting the songs, and any other number of things. I heard of one that split over the color of shingles put on the roof of the building, even after the fight led to one side having one color shingles and the other having another. 

People will Fight Over Anything

Humanity has always been divided. History is replete with stories of rebellions, divisions, wars, and battles. There are winners, losers, and those who are categorized as collateral damage. In many cases, the battles were needful and right. Even in Scripture we see battles between God's people and the enemies of God. Unrighteousness and sinfulness leads to disunity and individualism. It has always been the case. It always will be this side of eternity.

There are many battles occurring in our nation today. Being an election year, each division is accentuated and more intense than ever. It seems that we check our news feed daily to determine that which we should be angry about now.

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Most recently, face masks have become the issue. I was talking to one of our missionaries in Europe recently and he asked if the issues over masks was truly happening. He found it amazing that people would actually get upset over being asked (or required in some cases) to wear a face mask. I told him it is an issue and seemingly growing.

I fear that generations to come will look back and wonder how churches could be so foolish as to fight over face masks, just as we do now regarding those splits over carpet color. Ridiculous.

Maybe it is the nature of our personal desire for independence and our elevation of individual rights that makes this such an issue?

Maybe it is because people just, by nature, do not like being told what to do?

Maybe it is because people are watching way too much 24-hour news on television or on their streaming apps?

Maybe it is due to the fact that everyone is overwhelmed, stressed, and angry and masks just seem to be the tipping point in this year of pandemic isolation, racial disunity, murder hornets, bubonic plague infested squirrels, cancelled sports, and social distancing?

Maybe. 

Maybe it is something else.

People are sinful. It's the heart of man that is distanced from God and desires to live for self rather than others.

What about when Christians are asked to wear a face mask? What about when those of us who are free in Christ, redeemed, called, saved, and sent, are asked by...you know, the governor, or the corporation, or the superintendent, or the mayor, or...even their pastor, to wear a mask?

One gentleman (I don't know who he is because I was home last Sunday awaiting my COVID-19 test results, but if he reads this, he may send me an email or let me know how much he doesn't appreciate me writing this) told one of our associate pastors last Sunday when asked to put on a mask, "I have Jesus. I don't need a mask!"

Hmmm. I wonder if he put on his seat belt in his car when he drove home?

I am truly thankful this brother has faith. I just do not believe his choice to not not wear a mask from his seat to the exit is evidence of faith. It may be evidence of self-confidence, but that is not faith...at least not faith in God.

Our church began requiring face masks in our services a few weeks back. We are in Florida, so though we are meeting, we are taking extra precautions with distanced seating, face masks, social distancing, sanitizer, etc. The vast majority of people messaged me and told me personally "Thank you!" Some struggled with the requirement and do not like it. They have let me know, too. Let me say clearly that if anyone likes wearing a face mask, they are super weird. No one likes wearing face masks. We don't wear face masks because we like it. We wear them because even if there is just a slight chance they help, it is worth it.

It is not persecution by the government to have to wear face masks. Persecution will likely come one day, but it will not be spearheaded by mask-wearing. When persecution comes, you will know it. Just ask my friends in China.

Missional Masks

Here's my thought about why we should wear face masks during this time. If I were serving as a missionary in a foreign land I would go through language and cultural training. I would learn as much about these image-bearers who live differently than I do. I would adjust in ways that do not compromise my faith in order to engage them in conversation, show that I care, and ultimately share the love of Christ in words and deeds. Why? Because that is what missionaries do. That is what all Christians should do. We have a mission to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

In our nation today, there are the "wear masks" people and the "not wearing masks" people. In my estimation, there are more wearing masks now because they either are afraid or they are trying to be compliant with the requirements of stores and local officials. 

I want to reach these people for Christ.

I want to reach the anti-maskers, too.

I am concerned that if I do not wear a mask I am creating a barrier (virtual, not physical...like a mask) between others and myself. If in my desire to uphold my right to not wear a mask I lose an opportunity to share the gospel, I have lost more than I can imagine. 

To love others more than self is the calling. To love the Lord most of all is the command. 

If me wearing a mask gives me an opportunity, even without saying a word, to express that I care for others...I will wear a mask.

I hope you will, too. 

And if we're not careful, while we, as Christians are over here debating face masks, the world keeps spinning and millions remain unengaged with the gospel. You cannot "go tell" if you're home arguing over the unimportant.

(Seriously - this is not the time to debate the intricacies of N95 versus homemade masks that look like they used to be T-shirts. If that's the argument now, the point is missed.)


Don't Waste This Pandemic - Lead with Clarity In the Midst of Uncertainty

Years ago John Piper, prior to having surgery for his cancer, wrote a short message titled "Don't Waste Your Cancer." This is available online with the following description:

On the eve of his own cancer surgery, John Piper writes about cancer as an opportunity to glorify God. With pastoral sensitivity, compassion, and strength, Piper gently but firmly acknowledges that we can indeed waste our cancer when we don’t see how it is God’s good plan for us and a hope-filled path for making much of Jesus. (available at desiringgod.org here.

It's a worthy read, especially for those struggling with cancer or other health issues. 

The principle espoused by Piper is transferable to other areas of life where uncertainty lies ahead.

Recently, Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church in Alpharetta, Georgia was interviewed by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Yang on the Stetzer Leadership Podcast (listen here) about his decision to not restart in-person worship services at North Point until January 2021 at the earliest. Stanley's reasonings were clear and articulated well and whether others agree with Stanley on areas of organization, leadership, doctrine, or church polity, his explanation regarding their decision as a church continues to be discussed by many in pastoral leadership throughout the nation.

Don't Waste This Pandemic

Much like Piper's "Don't waste your cancer" statement, this one has been resonating since I heard Andy say this, "A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste."

When Andy said that, it was in the context of the church seeking God's lead in ministering well and leading well while serving those who are the church during these difficult and uncertain times. In other words, it would be tragic for pastors and leaders to simply sit on their hands awaiting the return of "normal" so that programming, ministry events, and all our go-to traditions of church gatherings could restart. He wasn't being condescending, and he knows that pastors simply aren't sitting at home waiting, but his point was clear. There is much to be done now.

What if this is the new normal?

That's not a statement of gloom and doom. I am fully confident in God's sovereignty over circumstances and all that occurs. It's not a fear versus faith issue, but is a question of discipleship. At least that is my view.

I am no prophet, but even if we get a vaccine for COVID-19... and even if the majority of people take the vaccine... and even if it works, I believe we will continue to see people wearing masks in public. I believe parents will still be more cautious where they send or take their children than prior. I don't think it will be a never-ending shutdown, but the impact of all that we are facing this year will have long-term effects.

So, what about the church seeking to be faithful, serve well, make disciples, and live missionally?

There are varied responses from pastors and church members regarding this. Even if you ignore the asinine battles taking place between the pro-mask and the anti-mask Christians (BTW - our grandchildren will look back at our divide over masks and laugh the same way we look back at previous generations who split churches over the color of the carpet or the use of hymnbooks versus projecting lyrics on a screen) there are legitimate concerns from pastors seeking to shepherd well and lead biblically. Why? Because these are uncertain times.

Another "Stanleyism" that he presented helps.

"People want clarity. Clarity in the midst of uncertainty is the name of the game and this is a great time for church leaders to provide clarity."

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It seems that just about every other aspect of public life that impacts our community is, if not failing, struggling greatly, to provide clarity. School boards and superintendents are on the clock now as public schools are seeking to restart. Governors and state leaders have become memes and soundbite feeds as messages fluctuate from day to day. Even athletic associations, especially those which determine rules, start dates, etc. for public junior highs and high schools are now top news as they wrestle with whether or not to allow games in their state. In just about every case, the challenge teeters between public health and economic stability. I will not get into all that here, for there are many others who are offering their opinions on such.

What is needed from leaders is clarity. As one coach stated in an athletic association meeting "Someone please make a decision. Just tell us what we're doing!"

Our church is not suspending in-person worship services at this time. Hopefully, we will not have to do so. We began meeting again in-person a few weeks back, with social distancing regulations in place and required face masks for all in attendance. We continue to offer online streaming of our services as well. Our challenge now is to focus less on the Sunday preparation and more on the intentional, strategic, discipleship of all in our church, even those who cannot or will attend in person now, as well as evangelistic engagement in our community.

Our fall schedule is written in pencil (actually, it's on a white board, but you get the point–it's erasable.) We are surveying our church members with children, and based on what we see now and where we believe God is leading, we will definitely NOT be restarting children's and preschool groups soon. Our mid-week schedule is likely to be shelved until 2021. That could change. We're flexible. You have to be. Yet, we want to be able to offer clarity, direction, and updates that do not change weekly. That is not easy, but it is our goal.

Perhaps your church is not meeting in-person yet. That may very well be the best for your church and community. 

Maybe you are offering some in-person gatherings, or plan to begin to do so. For a perspective from a church doing so, listen to Stetzer and Yang's interview with the leaders of Calvary Chapel in California. While their plans are mega-church sized, the principles based on implementation are transferable to churches of all sizes.

If you are the pastor of your church, remember that your church is looking to you for direction and leadership. You won't get everything right during this pandemic. Don't worry, you weren't getting everything right prior to it either (none of us were.) I am praying for you and trusting God that in these days of uncertainty, knowing that he always offers clarity, we will be discerning and trusting. Lead well.