Why Didn't Any Black Employees Come to Work Today?

Well, I know the title of this post may draw some attention (and that's the intention) but to be honest, this was the very naive question that I had almost thirty years ago when I was interning at a Fortune 500 company. I shared an office with another student - an African-American young woman (we were all young back then) who was getting her degree at another university in the city. Trina was a great office-mate and became a good friend. We worked together for just over a year and a half.

It was on a Monday in January back in 1989. I worked in an executive marketing office as computer support staff. The employees on our floor, whom I supported with my technical know-how (I could reboot computers and put dot-matrix printer paper in their printers) had worked for the corporation for decades. They were a professional, diverse, and experienced sales force. 

On that Monday, I came to work and noticed that Trina was not there. Then I noticed some of the sales force were gone as well. Normally that happens when trade shows or conferences are scheduled and a group are on the road, but that wasn't the case on this day.

It didn't take long to notice the common denominator of all the absent employees was skin color. Our African-American coworkers were not present. Oh, there were some others gone as well, but the entire executive office building was void of black and brown employees on that Monday, and it was obvious.

I don't think I asked the question aloud, but I did think, "Where are all the black employees?" 

Naive? Clearly.

The fact I had no idea why a large group of employees would be off work on MLK Day in 1989 is embarrassing. The corporation had set holidays where employees were off, plus an option for a few "personal holidays." Apparently, this allowed those who celebrated certain religious days to not work without the corporation being viewed as endorsing a religion. I imagine that was the reasoning for MLK Day to be a "personal holiday" as well. From my perspective, however, it positioned the holiday to second tier and not that important.

About ten years ago, I chose to have our church office closed on MLK Day as a time of remembrance, and honoring of the memory of what Dr. King represents in our nation. 

Yep - prior to that, First Baptist Church of Orange Park viewed MLK Day as just another office work day. A hold over from a prior era? Perhaps. Maybe the changing "white-ness" of our community actually opened our eyes to the reality of Gospel ministry and racial reconciliation, which in my view cannot be separated. We do close the office now. It is a time of remembrance and hopefulness for the future. 

Why Does This Matter?

There are numerous reasons Americans should seek to be honor the ideals of racial reconciliation. In our current era, the racial divide, especially between blacks and whites in our nation, seems to be widening rather than shrinking. Oh, there are good stories that abound as well, but as far as we have come from the days of slavery, the era of segregation, and the push for civil rights, it is clear we have far yet to go.

Nevertheless, for me, a Southern Baptist pastor at a Southern Baptist Church, there are some glaring reasons why we (especially Southern Baptists) must not ignore this day, much less the ideals and message of Dr. King.

For decades, since the inception of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), race has been an issue. In fact, the SBC was actually founded in the 1840s by slaveholders who were opposed to the abolitionist movements and the fact the national denomination would not send missionaries who were pro-slavery.

As a Southern Baptist who is actually proud of all we do as a network of churches throughout the world in our churches, through missions, disaster relief, orphan care, and racial reconciliation, the fact remains we have a sordid past and numerous embarrassing and sinful chapters. When the SBC passed a resolution a number of years ago apologizing for the covert and overt racial separations of leaders generations prior, many white Baptists were vocal in their opposition and their belief it was unneeded. In a brief reading of SBC history, one can find resolutions on race from all the way back to 1845 at the convention's inception. Reading these "whereas" statements are interesting and sad at points, as it seems more should have been done. This is likely true, but even as white as the SBC is today, it was even whiter in the past and the resolutions, even the very best ones (and there are some great ones) were penned by a white majority with good intent, but at times not enough vigor or clarity.

Of course, that's my opinion.

Even last year at our annual meeting in Phoenix, when a resolution regarding the denouncement of the racist "alt-right" movement was brought to the floor, it was not until it failed to pass that the voting messengers realized a missed opportunity and the mistake it was.

Eventually, a resolution on the subject was reintroduced and the overwhelming affirmation was heard throughout the evangelical world. But, I caution the white pastors of SBC churches from straining their shoulder by patting themselves on the back too hard. I have talked with a number of my African-American SBC pastor friends and they have expressed a question of belonging and acceptance. 

It seems that I cannot help from viewing the world through my white American lenses. 

Neither can my black, brown, or any other melanin shade help but view the world from their respective lenses.

So when a moment is before us - you know, something like acknowledging the federal holiday known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is wise to not ignore it. 

However, more than acknowledgment of the past must be done.

The Dream Remains

Dr. King's most famous speech shared in August 1963 in Washington DC resonates with Americans. Yet, the dream of equality among the races remains something yet to be fully experienced. So, it remains.

I believe the racial unity expressed in Dr. King's dream is more than a man-made desire. At the core is the gospel.

Dr. Jarvis J. Williams of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes...

In the Bible, racial identity is not based on pseudoscience, which wrongly argues one's racial identity is based exclusively on biology. We must understand that the Bible's category of race has absolutely nothing to do with racial hierarchy based on biological inferiority. We must also understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message about the vertical reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God and a message about the horizontal reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles (of all skin tones - my addition) to one another.

Some have argued that racial reconciliation is not a gospel issue. I strongly disagree with that concept. Some like Pastor Randy White, in his 2014 post "The Evangelical Response to Ferguson and Why I Don't Get It" assert that the issue is social, not gospel. In his assertion, he limits race to skin color when defining it. He, as well as others, have criticized other Southern Baptists who have asserted in light of Ferguson that the gospel has anything to do with race and racial reconciliation. 

Clearly, I disagree with Pastor White. Strongly.

There's much more to be done and said and perhaps, if nothing else, the celebration of this holiday will force us as Christians to pray for and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking gospel unity (which includes racial unity) for the glory of God and ultimately the good of his people.

For my African-American brothers, sisters, and friends, please forgive my naiveté of the past (and even the present.) It's clear why so many co-workers took a personal holiday. I wish I had as well.

Mlk 2018

BTW - I highly recommend this book by Dr. Williams and Dr. Kevin M. Jones - Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Also, for my white pastor friends, in order to broaden your concepts regarding a black Christian perspective on things, check out my friends at the Jude 3 Project. Insightful, and challenging videos, postings, and resources.

And, to answer the oft-asked question - Yes, there are more "races" than black and white, but in our context in America, with the holiday we celebrate today, and the history we own collectively, the black-white divide is the one where healing must begin, continue to grow, and expand. Remember, it's a gospel issue.


Pastor - Are You Prepared to Preach a Funeral?

I have the honor of serving with and leading numerous young pastors and church planters. These men have a passion for God and a heart for the gospel. Yet, there are those moments when pastoral expectations and responsibilities are thrust upon them that are far from what they were thinking when they first surrendered to God's pastoral call.

One such responsibility is preaching funerals.

We are only four days into 2018 and so far we have hosted one funeral, have two more Friday, one next week and another pending.

Since 1994, when I first began serving on pastoral staff at our church, I have attended and preached at well over 100 funerals. I have most of my messages saved. I have learned some things through the years and while this is not an exhaustive list, perhaps it may be helpful for young pastors and those who find themselves having to speak at a church member's or loved one's funeral service.

EXPECTATIONS

Everyone has their own expectations of what a funeral service should be. In fact, each region of our country expects different things. In our area, the visitation held the day before the funeral service is mostly gone. Yet, in some small towns in the South, I know that this continues. For example, in the small Tennessee town where my parents live, a dear friend of our family died on January 1 of this year. I received word of the service with the announcement that visitation would be held at the funeral home on the day prior to the service for three hours with an additional two hour visitation at the church where the funeral would be held. 

There's nothing wrong with that tradition, it's just an example of something that is rare elsewhere. 

Therefore, if you as a pastor are new to the community and have not attended a funeral in the area prior, ask some questions. Find out what is the norm for the region. There's no reason to push against what has been done prior, especially if it is simply traditional preference and not biblically wrong (I'll address biblical issues later in this post.)

Family members of the deceased often have expectations as well. This can range from having things they want done at the funeral to trusting you to plan and do everything at the funeral. Again, not an issue, just be aware. 

3716839104_d9a2d5faca_z

Here are some bullet points on dos and don'ts for funerals (in no particular order):

DO

  • Pray before you meet with family that God will comfort them in their grief and provide you with wise words of counsel in preparation.
  • If you sense division among the family, take control of the planning of the service in a loving way, offering to ensure that God is honored. 
  • Ensure you know how to pronounce the name of the deceased.
  • Ensure you don't use a given name that was not preferred by the decedent or family members when referencing the individual.
  • Meet with the family members, or a family member, prior to the service when planning what to say.
  • Share stories of the decedent that bring smiles to loved ones and remind them of the life of their loved one.
  • Realize that a lifetime cannot be encapsulated in 30 minutes.
  • Have appropriate songs played, sung.
  • Ensure doctrinal teaching is biblically founded and correct.
  • When allowing family members or friends to speak, ask them to write down what they will be saying. Be firm in this. There's always that person who says "I don't need to write anything down. I'll just share from the heart." That's a mistake. You may find yourself correcting bad theology that is espoused, or sitting behind them as they speak, not hearing what they are saying. This may lead to you repeating what has already been shared. And, if they have it written down, you can provide them comfort in case they cannot finish when they began to speak by just reading their notes aloud on their behalf.
  • Remind family members that no one other than you is expected to speak, but if you would like to offer them the opportunity, do so (see above point.)
  • Pray during the service.
  • Pray for God to comfort those who grieve.
  • Create an order of service that flows naturally. (Example: Obituary Reading, Prayer, Family Message, Song, Pastoral Message, Prayer, Closing Song.)
  • Communicate with the funeral home representative regarding the order of the service so you know and they know what is coming next.
  • Ensure the casket is closed when the service begins. It's hard on the family and challenging for the pastor to speak behind an open casket. 
  • Offer hope - real hope founded in the gospel. You know this. Just make sure it's in your notes so you don't minimize it.
  • Ensure the message focused on Christ and that he is presented as the only one worthy of worship and that God alone can bring the peace, hope, and life celebrated on this day.
  • Make each funeral unique and special. The biblical message is unchanging, but the family stories and memories are unique. 
  • Offer a call to salvation. This does not have to be a "come down the aisle invitation" but should at a minimum be an invitation to come to Christ and speak to you or another Christian following the funeral.
  • If military honors are going to be provided, clarify when (likely at the graveside) and work with the honor guard to ensure a smooth transition. In most cases, at graveside service following the funeral, I will simply read a passage of Scripture and pray and then step back, turning over the remaining graveside service to the honor guard. If the folding and presentation of the flag is to take place during the funeral service, I finish my sermon, pray, then step back turning over the closing of the service to the honor guard. Communication and coordination is key to allow for proper service and protocol.
  • If the deceased was a believer, ask if he/she had a Bible they used and perhaps highlighted verses or took notes within. You may find some treasured memories or insights into what to share.
  • Pray and prepare and trust God.
  • Use Scripture (Some passages I've used in the past - Ecclesiastes 7:2, John 5:24, John 13:7, John 14:1-6, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Philippians 1:20-24, 1 John 5:13.)

DON'T

  • Forget that this is a time of worship, where the Bible is preached, God is worshipped, and hope in Christ is made clear.
  • If at all possible, do not have an open microphone where people are invited to come forward and share about the decedent. It can be an wonderful moment, but it can also be stressful. If no one stands up to speak, people will be hurt. In most cases, it's because people are not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. If people do begin sharing, the time could go on and on and be stressful for family and friends as well. However, if this becomes something the family really, really wants, ask if they have a few people who would agree to speak and then share with the congregation that you'll open up the floor to two or three more just to share a brief, two or three sentence testimony about the deceased. It may sound uncaring, but actually provides for an orderly service where God is honored and the loved one is remembered well. Also, be prepared if you have to do the open mic to have some things shared that probably should not be.
  • Allow music that is dishonoring to Christ. That does not mean every song must be a hymn, but some songs are inappropriate. Had one request for the decedent's favorite song to be played during the pre-service slide show. I had never heard of it and didn't know it was a request, but received a call from the funeral home asking "Is this song okay?" I guess the part about smoking pot and getting drunk on Courvoisier raised the question. We opted to not use that song.
  • Forget who your audience is. You're speaking primarily to the family members and close friends who are sitting up front. Focus on them. Don't worry about the others who came to the service.
  • Forget to offer hope in Christ.
  • Give false hope. If the deceased was not a believer, don't say "He/she's in a better place." You don't have to be rude. You don't need to be mean. Just don't give the family and others in the room the false hope that everyone gets to heaven. 
  • Share or affirm unbiblical ideas. No, dead people do not become angels. No, your loved one is not your guardian angel. No, your loved one is not watching over you. No, your loved one is not in your heart. No, your loved one is not in heaven just doing bigger versions of earthly hobbies (i.e. golfing in heaven, fishing in heaven, watching football in heaven regardless what Audio Adrenaline said, eating ... well, okay, there's eating.)
  • Talk forever. 
  • Let the video slideshow run during the service. It's great for pre-service, but distracting during the service.
  • Invite everyone to the meal following the service unless you've been instructed that everyone is invited and there is enough food available (if the post-service lunch is a custom in your area.)
  • Allow an open casket during the funeral. During the visitation prior that is fine (if the family chooses) but preaching behind an open casket is difficult, not just for the pastor, but for the family sitting before it.
  • Presume the family wants you to preach at the funeral. Clarify the ask.

There are many more things to do and not do, but as you serve God's church and the community during times of grief, these are some guidelines I believe may help. What are some other suggestions you have? Leave them in the comments. 

 


Should I Visit or Join This Church?

A few weeks ago a gentleman came to our Sunday service and afterward shared his desire to know Jesus, follow in believer's baptism and become a member of our fellowship. These moments are always exciting and remind us that God is working at all times. 

We talked about baptism and the membership class and covenant to come, but that's not what this posting is about.

Yesterday, I talked with him again. He shared that he has a brother-in-law who has done mission work in East Asia and now is attending seminary. He (the new church member) shared how God had radically changed his family members' lives. He has seen it first-hand. 

When God began to work on our new friend and the Holy Spirit's draw became stronger, our friend knew he needed to be in a local church. He did a search online and found our church website. He noticed our Orange Park campus is near where he lives. Online, it looked good. The commute was workable. Everything seemed okay, but he needed to ask his brother-in-law.

This is not uncommon. I get emails and phone calls from friends and former church members who now live in different communities throughout the US, and even outside the US. The question I'm asked is the one this new member asked - "Is this a good church?" referring to the one that is in their neighborhood.

Despite what some believe, all pastors do not know all other pastors. Yet, there are connections. Even when a personal friendship is absent, sometimes a cursory overview of a website and pastoral biographies can help answer this question.

So, our church and I were presented to the brother-in-law (whom I do not know.) After some searching and reading online, the brother-in-law gave us the okay. 

Our new church members stated "I just needed to know you guys were the kind of church that I should be part of." 

And that's a great question and a great reason!

There are many churches in our community. There are really good, solidly biblical, gospel-centric churches. Any of those would be good for this brother to join.

Yet, there are some that...well, let's just say have a different take on doctrine and church polity that may not be the best fit.

Lightstock_153488_max_david_tarkington

When the brother-in-law checked out our site, he did what I do. He checked that which was presented (knowing that sometimes churches look much different online than in person.) Here are some of the things I would research when asked this question about which church to join:

  • Is the doctrine of the church clearly available online?
  • In the doctrinal statement, what is revealed regarding belief about God, the Trinity, nature of man, salvation, baptism mode, gifts, family, etc. In our case, we have an abbreviated list as delineated in the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) which is the doctrinal confession we affirm. We link the full document as well. Read here.
  • Who is the Lead Pastor?
  • What is known about the pastor and his family? Did he go to seminary? Where did he go? What are some interests he may have? While these are not make or break details, education and seminary training often reveals the doctrinal leaning of church leadership. In my case, I'm a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary now. We have pastors on staff who have graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We have almost all SBC seminaries represented (just need someone from Gateway.) 
  • Is the church complementarian or egalitarian when it comes to pastoral leadership?
  • What does the church believe and teach regarding biblical inerrancy?
  • What are the affiliations of the church? This could be denominational, associational, network, etc.
  • What are some of the ministries offered by and through the church? This will reveal much about priorities.
  • Does the church site show a centeredness on the gospel or some other focus, like politics, patriotic Christianity, social gospel only, etc.?
  • Is there a focus on prosperity or poverty gospels?
  • Will my family and I be welcomed? This question was asked by a brother who was being very clear and focused. He is an African-American and said "My wife is white. Will the church welcome us?" With race relations in our nation prominent, the church must be clear that racism in any form is not only unacceptable, but abhorrent to the gospel.
  • Are sermons available online? It helps to listen or watch a sermon by the pastor to get a feel regarding doctrinal soundness.

This is not a complete list, and discernment is needed in all cases. Some things are deal breakers for church recommendations. Others are not. Things that are not are items such as worship style, preferred Bible translation, dress code, etc.? Those elements are preferential at best, though Bible translations used should be considered, the fact there are numerous good English translations available should be understood. 

Nevertheless, I was encouraged when our newest church member joined, as led by God, with affirmation from a pastor he trusted. 

It's never wrong to ask "Is this the church I should join?" Membership matters and the wise would make this inquiry.


Thank You for Your Prayers, but You Can Keep Your Prayer Requests

Any long-time church attender in our nation, who has been part of a Sunday School class (or small group, or life group, or home group, or fellowship group, etc.) has likely, at one point, experienced "prayer request time." Now, I know I'm treading on thin ice here. If not read fully, some will say that I'm bashing prayer request time. I am not. I am, however, bashing gossip time disguised as prayer request time.

I touched on this recently in an interview with Janice Backer of Missions Mosaic magazine that focused on some prodigal issues within our family. Some of what is referenced below was covered in the article (link at bottom.)

Regarding Prayer

As our family was working through the shock and pain of revealed sin in our child's life, we found ourselves shaken deeply. Questions regarding personal and parental failures developed. Prayers and deep times with the Lord regarding continued service in the church and continued service in ministry as a pastor were common.

Someone asked if it felt like we had a child die. While I understand the question, and perhaps some similar emotions arose, to equate what we were experiencing with that of parents who had buried their progeny would be insensitive at best. My parents had a baby boy (my brother Michael) who died. My grandparents had a daughter who died at a young age. Many in our church family have suffered the grief of funeral planning for their children, so no, our grief was not the same.

Nevertheless, it was definitely grief we were experiencing.

For the most part our church family responded to our struggles as God's children should. My wife and I experienced the love and comfort from those who were hurting with us. The empathy and sympathy from those who had experienced similar stories was as a healing salve to a wound. Our child was never ostracized from the church. Our child was continually accepted (though the sin was not) and loved as part of the church family. Concerning our child's personal salvation, what seemed certain years ago now leaves us not we are now not certain, but the church never equivocated on the gospel nor on the call to love.

Nevertheless, some did believe it their calling to confront. They did so in love, at least the ones I am aware of. Yet, what is often meant in love may not be received as such. Since most of our confrontations are not loving, it is very difficult to actually do this biblically and in some cases, the "righteous love" that was intended was not perceived. I'm not blaming here, just point out the fact that any confrontation in Christian love, best be prayed about prior with heavy emphasis on "Christian love." That being said, Christian love may feel harsh to the confronted. In fact, it almost always does. Christian love is focused on redemption and righteousness. When those two elements are not present, it's not Christian love. 

The Prayer Requests

Well intentioned Christians can fall quickly into a mode of gossip under the banner of "prayer requests." This did happen in some cases. This was not helpful. In fact, it was wrong and remains wrong. 

32904795925_0048cbdc29_c
Photo by Listshack on Visualhunt / CC BY

I want to roll my eyes when the serial prayer requester starts talking about some unnamed neighbor's cousin's brother-in-law's circumstance in need of prayer...five states away. I wonder "Is this really a prayer request, or someone's need to be sure they have something on the list?" 

The Unspoken Prayer Request

The unspoken prayer request is good, but can be overused as well. Almost every group has the person who wants to express aloud...every meeting...that he has an unspoken. I often wondered as a kid "Wonder what that is? I bet it's really bad!" and sometimes it is. I am all for the wisdom of offering these types of requests and seeking intercession from the community of faith. Sometimes, the issue is just too embarrassing or not yet something for public discourse. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is an unspoken request because the person needing prayer just does not trust the others in the class to truly pray without spreading gossip.

The Un-prayed List

I often wonder how many in the group that gathers actually prays over the requests shared. I'm not seeking to throw anyone under the bus, but I've been guilty of being in a group, hearing requests and then just praying the "Lord, answer all these needs" prayer. Sometimes, I let someone else pray and I just agree by closing my eyes. I'm convicted of this.

At some point, the name on the list, if you do the list, needs to be covered. Find ways to ensure that these needs that have been deemed authentic are actually prayed for by believers. It could be by assigning a portion of the group to pray silently for a just a few requests, or even one. I don't have that answer, but I know that a name on a list with a generic "bless everyone" is not what is needed.

Prayer Availeth Much (James 5:16)

In our circumstance, we continually seek prayers from our church family...in all seasons. I know that many have been and continue to pray.

Thank you!!!!

We have found healing and strength beyond measure through God during these storms of life. The journey is long. One person's (or family member's) sin is no greater than another. Sin is never excused, but it can be forgiven. We are continually reminded that love and affirmation are not synonyms and this has been bedrock for us. 

We have been affirmed that our resting in Christ provides what we need when worry and stress seem overwhelming. (Sometimes, we need reminding about every 30 minutes.) 

Keep reading the Word. Keep trusting in God. Keep resting in Christ. Keep holding true to the Truth, without compromise. 

Keep praying...but consider your prayer requests, keep them holy.

__________

Story referred to from from the December, 2017, issue of Missions Mosaic. Used by permission. To receive this issue or to read more articles about how to exhibit grace in difficult life situations go tohttps://www.wmustore.com/missions-mosaic.


You Are Called to Pastor - Do You Really Need Seminary?

I have served in pastoral ministry for almost thirty years. When I surrendered to God's calling as a pastor, I began counting down the months until graduation at the university I was attending. I knew, immediately, that seminary was my next step. This is likely due to the fact I lived in Fort Worth, Texas which was home, at the time, of the largest evangelical seminary in the world (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.) My pastor was a student at SWBTS, as were the numerous student pastors who served part-time at the small church where I was a member. In fact, it never occurred to me that seminary was not an option. 

I am currently back at seminary, working toward a Doctor of Educational Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

So, I would understand if in your reading of this article, you deem me to be biased. I am. I believe seminary education is good and valuable for the one called to pastoral ministry. 

I also understand that it is not a biblical requirement of the office.

Nevertheless, as I have had opportunity to serve in the local church and see young people surrender their lives to what we term "full-time Christian service" there is a trend I have noticed of minimizing the need for theological education. This is not true for all, but there are those who just want to hurry up and get on the field and forego the study.

Do You Have To Go To Seminary to Pastor?

Well, no. You won't find a verse that commands the called out ones to enroll in an accredited school for the purpose of earning a degree. Yet, we must not dismiss this as a viable option for pastors, or in some cases a recommended one.

Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary states it this way:

Seminaries, when they are faithful as servants of the church and accountable to the church, training ministers without apology for the churches, and doing so effectively, can offer a pastor the most comprehensive background for ministry that can be put into about a three year period. Now, as I say, I hope every pastor would have at least that much, because I think to really be a skilled preacher of God’s word and a pastor, to continue to grow, most pastors will go beyond that and if not in formal study, at least that better be the investment in how they study on their own.

Yet, we have all heard from those in the local churches who have decried the seminary education for fear that all that training messes with good preachers and makes them ineffective. Well, if you haven't heard that type of talk, you haven't been around many of our smaller congregations who struggle with the sending off for educational purposes.

Southern-Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Louisville, KY

In some cases, these complaints are valid. In fact, in Baptist life just a few decades ago, the great fear was becoming a reality. Biblically-based, theologically conservative institutions were not just leaning, but running quickly to the left and disavowing the veracity of Scripture as inerrant. While many Baptist colleges and universities were lost to the cultural shift, the six Southern Baptist seminaries were reclaimed through what has become known as the conservative resurgence.

Therefore, over the past few decades, much like many years ago, the ministerial training offered at our seminaries has proved to be quality, biblically-sound, and effective. Of course, there will always be small exceptions, but by and large, this is the what God has provided, all to his glory, in our schools.

Pastoring Without Seminary

Yet, there are many godly men serving in pastoral ministry who do not have seminary degrees. These are not unlearned men. They are wise and biblically sound. 

Matt Chandler, Pastor at The Village Church, is one such man and has addressed this clearly. He states:

I have been asked recently about what my thoughts are concerning seminary and why I never finished. I have found this to be a very polarizing subject where people put me in the camp of those who think that seminary is unnecessary or put me into the other camp that thinks scholarship isn't important for the pastorate. The truth is I think most men need to go to seminary and scholarship is extremely important. 

There is a recent trend of really sharp, entrepreneurial, driven men skipping seminary all together and planting churches. I don't have a problem with this at all if those men have picked up the tools they need in other places and are continuing to grow theologically and philosophically. If a guy can handle the Greek and Hebrew, knows at least at the cursory level Christian history and can wrestle through and find answers for deep, difficult theological questions then he might not need a degree from a seminary. These men are usually driven, avid studiers and readers by nature. If they could, they would spend their whole day with the scriptures as well as with men like Calvin, Luther and Spurgeon. I said might because seminary then becomes an obedience issue between him and the Lord and may still be a very good idea.

On the other hand, if you don't have the tools, have a tendency to be lazy in study, can't handle the languages, know nothing of how to find answers to deep, difficult theological questions except to quote John Piper and know nothing of our rich history then you need to go get some tools. If you are lazy in study and continue to get in front of people and teach, you have much more courage than I do. I would strongly recommend seminary for its accountability and plan to educate you in doctrine, language and history.

Speed Doesn't Justify Poor Theology

Dr. M. David Sills has written an incredible book titled Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience. As a former field missionary overseas and now as a seminary professor, he brings great insight into the flawed model of ministry that offers little discipleship training and provides empty titles for those determined to be leaders.

With a desire to reach the unreached, we have unfortunately turned previously reached groups into unreached groups while ultimately seeking to speed the return of Christ (as if we actually can manipulate God to adjust a time he already has set.) Yes, reaching the unreached is a mandate. It is biblical. It is right. Nevertheless, as Dr. Sills states, "The great missiological error of our day is the mistaken notion that the Great Commission equals reaching the unreached."

Reaching and discipling are not synonyms. (TWEET THIS)

The great tragedy of the world is not that it is unreached; it is that it is undiscipled. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just to get decisions.

Sills continues in a recent article posted on the International Mission Board site...

Theological preparation is necessary to plant the pure seed of the gospel in the soil of the target culture rather than simply bringing a potted plant that is indigenous to the missionary’s home culture.

Yet, a degree from a theological seminary may not be necessary, and in fact, some seminaries might do more harm than good. But every missionary must have a masters degree from the School of Christ, no matter how or where he gets it.

Missionaries would be wise to go to the best seminary they can find, one that teaches sound theology and biblical missiology, and get all the education they can in preparation before deploying to the nations.

If God opens the door before they actually graduate, then by all means they should follow his guidance and go. The Lord knows what each missionary needs to do all he has planned for him or her to do, and he also knows what the world needs.

Make sure you hear the still, small voice that says, “This is the way, walk in it,” and then obey that call as if souls depended on it. You shouldn’t run before you’re ready any more than you should delay once you are. God’s timing is not ours. If he hasn’t yet said, “Go now!” then get all the education you can get while you’re home.

Planters, Pastors, and Missionaries in Hurry Up Mode

As we have mentored and coached young ministers and pastors over the years, a few challenges have arisen. In some cases, a person surrenders later in life (when it comes to schooling, this may mean over age 30) and while working a full-time job and seeking to raise a family, deem theological education as not being an option. While some, as in Chandler's case, may rightly continue serving without any training, others drastically need coaching.

When there is an urgency to hurry up and get to work in the ministry, things often do not go well. Don't get me wrong, God remains sovereign and can work through anyone willing to serve. I'm not negating his power or call. Yet, I have seen unteachable people rush to service only to do more harm than good for the kingdom.

Sills states "If God opens the door before they actually graduate, then by all means they should follow his guidance and go." I agree, but I also have seen some vibrant newly surrendered ministers and missionaries who actually forced the door open. In these cases, undone work remains undone. 

In these cases, it's really not about seminary or continued education. It is about having a teachable and learnable spirit. 

If he hasn’t yet said, “Go now!” then get all the education you can get while you’re home.

Patience is a pain, but it's a virtue too, right? In the waiting, God prepares and provides. Seminary and theological training are not tools to cool one's passion for the gospel. It is a gift of God. We should remember that and take it to heart.

And, just as a building with the name church on it does not make it a viable option for education and worship, neither does an institution with a name college, university, or seminary mean it's a good option. That being said, I'm glad to say that as a Southern Baptist pastor, I can wholeheartedly recommend our seminaries for those called into ministry, for the furtherance of their training. I can, and do. We live in an era where quality theological training does not mean uprooting one's family and moving across the country (though it could.) Distance learning is provided by all our schools, and depending on the region one lives, most likely an off-campus site is available in a short driving distance. If not, then by all means move. As God calls, he provides.

Our SBC seminaries:

 


When There's Really Nothing To Say

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where there just wasn't anything to talk about? For some, the answer is a resounding NO, because there always seems to be something to talk about, right? The weather, your fantasy team, politics, etc. Small talk is doable in just about any situation. It's not always helpful or desired, but at least it's an option. 

Navigating Silence

Years ago, one of my ministry interns shared with me that people cannot handle silence. He apparently read a report that stated seven seconds of silence was about the extent of non-noise that could be dealt with, especially in the western world. I'm sure there's scientific research to back that up, but as we would take ministry trips and work together, we would often (unbeknownst to the other) attempt to break the seven-second rule (this is different from the three-second rule that allows you to eat a Cheeto that fell on the floor, as long as it wasn't there over three seconds.) For the most part, it seems he was correct.

Michael Landers, the director of Culture Crossing, a global consulting organization, wrote about this phenomena...

There’s an experiment that I like to do in my workshops in which I pause after completing a thought, as if I’m contemplating my next statement. But instead of taking a one- to two-second pause, I remain silent for about five to seven seconds – and I observe what happens with my audience. In the US, the majority of the audience starts to cough, laugh, talk to themselves out loud, and get wiggly in their seats right around the three-second mark. The signs of discomfort just increase as the time passes. Afterward, I ask the audience how my silence made them feel. For many, it’s excruciatingly awkward. (Full story here.)

When Silence Is All You Have

Despite the seven-second rule and the illustration above, there are times when there really is nothing to say, and saying nothing may be best. See Proverbs 10:19.

I cannot help but think about our story (my wife, Tracy and me) when it comes to communication with family. As many know, we have been living through a season of what may best be called "prodigalism" in reference to the story from Luke 15.

It is a challenging and stressful time, but as I have heard from many dear friends, church members, and other pastors and ministers, our circumstance is not as much an exception as we'd wish. Trusting God that our story will parallel the one in Luke 15 one day, we wait (sometimes impatiently) believing and realizing that as God works for His glory in our loved one, he is doing the same in us. 

8007297317_367fc8d550_c
Photo credit: E. Watson via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-ND

As I have counseled with Christians with family members and friends who, by their own admission, have no need for Christianity, the church, or biblical perspectives, some common desires that arise.

  • Most desire a quick fix that will draw their loved one back to God.
  • Most desire a strategy that will make their loved one behave according to their desires.
  • Most just want their loved one believe in and surrender to Christ.
  • Most just want to "go back" to the way it used to be...without realizing that going back is not possible and even if it were, apart from heart transformation, the end result would be the same.
  • Most want to know what to say when they're together at the holidays or other occasions. 

Yet, here's what we know to be true.

  • There is no quick fix, especially if human in nature.
  • Any strategy that seeks to simply change another's behavior tends to leave out God and create a false contentment.
  • This is a wonderful desire, but we must remember that God alone draws people to himself. He will likely use family and friends in the process, but it is God who does this.
  • There are no flux capacitors and DeLoreans available.
  • And...sometimes there is just not much to say.

It is clear for us that we have more in common and more to talk about with a version of our loved one from the past (which based on the flux capacitor truth listed above, does not exist) than currently. 

This is true for many. In our case, when we were told "I just don't believe the way you do" it floored us. This was a statement regarding theology and world view. How did this happen? When did the belief structure shift? Why did we not notice it earlier? These and other questions arose, but even discovering answers to these questions did not change the reality that our family had a world view schism.

All the sudden, that which used to be discussed and enjoyed together disappeared. 

Simple things like sports, football, basketball, baseball, favorite athletes, past times, movies, television shows, entertainment choices, favorite actors and actresses, and especially politics were at polar opposites.

Simple family discussions over dinner began to feel like debates. 

I was accused (rightly so) of alway preaching. I confess, I'm a preacher. I preach. However, I should have not done so over dinner. I forgot the "2 ears and 1 mouth" principle that states we should listen twice as much as we talk.

As I reflect on the past few years, as the divide became evident and seemingly widened overnight, I realize now how much I did talk (preach) initially with a sense of urgency and a hope to fix things. Guilt over missed opportunities and lack of intentional family worship grew. Accusations of failure swam throughout my mind. I said some things that were amazingly wise and timely (obviously from God's lead, not my intellect,) but there were also things that were sinful and angry (these would be the things God didn't lead me to say.) I regret this greatly. 

Yet, here we are. God remains faithful. I trust God in ways I could not truly express prior, due to now having been in those valleys (and still there at times.)

Holidays come and go. That means family gatherings will happen. Communication with our loved one  is not shut down, but it is surface-level mostly. It has come to my realization that there just isn't much to talk about.

This is not passive aggressiveness. It is just the reality that common interests, common faith, and common world view allow for deeper, more meaningful conversations. When those elements are not congruent, the challenges for deeper conversations are more intense.

Honestly, it is easier to talk to someone with far different views in these key areas to whom you are not related. At least that has been my experience. It seems that the closer the relationship should be, the wider the divide when world views and faith are not shared.

But, there's hope...

I re-read the Luke 15 passage and am encouraged each time. The story culminates with the prodigal returning home. There's not much information on what the dad did during the separation, but what is expressed is his steadfastness and faithful expectation. May I be like that man. I pray if you are in a similar story (whether a parent, sibling, or friend) that you will be like him as well. 

So, when you have nothing to talk about, talk to the One who loves your loved one more than you. Pray. You may experience more awkward dinners and family gatherings. You may simply get a random text message and emoji. You may, sadly, not hear from your loved one for quite some time. Every story is similar in some ways, but unique in so many others. Through the uniqueness of your story, remember the common factor that never changes - God and His love. 

When there's nothing to say, listen to God. He speaks through His Word. Then, in prayer, you will find that you can talk to God about your loved one in ways that are helpful, hopeful, and healing. This is the good news. 


Marriage, Divorce, and Christianity

Last Sunday as we continued our sermon series through the Gospel of Matthew, we focused on Matthew 19:1-12. The issue of divorce is something  that is often tip-toed around in the church, for fear of offending someone or eliminating leadership within the church body. When the church becomes more therapeutic than gospel-focused, often the hard teachings of Christ are either ignored or avoided. 

Breakup-divorce-separation-relationship-couple

As I have ruminated on the message from Sunday, which is now available on podcast, our website and app, I believe this is a major issue for Christians today. So...some points from the message...

We can rightly say in our nation today the two elements, though legal for years, that ultimately have impacted families and communities most negatively are abortion-on-demand and no-fault divorce. (TWEET THIS)

No one avoids the impact of divorce in our culture. Everyone knows someone - family member, co-worker, fellow student, friend, or self who has either been divorced. The pain is real and yet, the church has a responsibility to address divorce, just as Christ did. There are ultimately two things the church must do when addressing divorce among Christians. David Platt reminds us of these two elements in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The church must...

  1. Comfort in love
  2. Confront with truth

Unfortunately, the church sometimes misses one element and focuses on the other. To comfort without confrontation is to ignore the teachings of Christ and the holiness of God and his design for marriage. To confront without comfort is to slide into legalism which celebrates punishment while ignoring biblical discipline.

REALITY FOR DIVORCEES IN CHURCH

When it comes to church and divorce, many fellowships have been fractured. Old church photo directories reveal that those smiling couples in the posed Olan Mills images are no longer together. This creates tension in the church as newly divorced man or woman may struggle with where to go to Sunday School. For those who have been part of the couples class for years, they now wonder if they're welcome. While they likely will be, the very real feeling of "I don't belong" develops. Even churches with solid, vibrant single adult ministries often discover a challenge of actually reaching out and welcoming those who, by no choice of their own, are now single because of divorce. Others may have issues of remaining friends with both parties, or neither. This has been echoed by many since Sunday. If the couple was friends with another and then they go through divorce, the dynamic is gone and there's tension where there wasn't before.

Lost sheep are often created due to such.

The church may not respond as many expect, if at all.

Sometimes, the divorcee feels the need to either quit church or go elsewhere simply because he or she just doesn’t want to answer “Where’s your spouse?” question any longer from the many who apparently didn’t notice the ring was no longer on the finger. This, too, is not just an imagined occurrence. It happens. It has happened.

Often when a Christian is contemplating divorce he/she first contacts a divorce lawyer. No disrespect to my family lawyer friends and church members, but this represents a tragic reality. Biblical counsel should be sought. At times, one or both of the spouses may be unwilling. Yet, reconciliation remains the first goal.

CONFUSING DEFINITIONS OF MARRIAGE

Things that seemed certain for generations have been questioned. Some debated. Others changed. As we look to the only word that has remained unchanged, inerrant, and useful for teaching, we see Jesus confronting the very same thing in the first century that must be addressed in the 21st century.

Cultural norms do not determine truth. (TWEET THIS)

Regarding marriage, once you strip away politics, dumbed down definitions, and varying developments regarding redefinition, it is declared to be true in God’s Word that God is the one who defined marriage. It was not defined by cultural norms. It was not created as a way to fulfill treaties. Marriage was not just the legal affirmation of a union of two (or more) people.

When the Pharisees, who were legalists in many areas, sought to trap Jesus once more with Bible questions, asked about marriage and divorce, they were attempting to trap him or lead him into saying something that could be used against him as they planned his downfall.

Yet, his answer to the question “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” is met with wisdom and biblical affirmation.

In case you didn’t catch the key phrase here “for any cause” – that’s the first century version of no-fault divorce.

God created marriage. He defined it as being between one man and one woman. While there are numerous occasions, especially in the Old Testament where polygamy is seen, even among the faithful, do not mistake that God’s design and desire is for one man – one woman for life. Sinful men have messed that model up from the beginning.

Jay Adams, one of the preeminent biblical counselors today shared this in his book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible

If marriage were of human origin, then human beings would have a right to set it aside. But since God instituted marriage, only he has the right to do so. Marriage as an institution is subject to the rules and regulations set down by God. Individuals may marry, be divorced, and be remarried only if, when and how, he says they may without sinning. The state has been given the task of keeping orderly records, but it has no right or competence to determine the rules for marriage and for divorce. That’s God’s prerogative.

The healthy Christian marriage is not only something defined by God, but described by God as a covenant relationship. This is much deeper than a contract and while breakable for a small category of reasons, even then it should be avoided if at all possible.

THE LIE OF "FALLING OUT OF LOVE"

The modern understanding of marriage is that of an agreement that will begin at a wedding and last until one of the spouses “falls out of love.”

Falling out of love is a ridiculous concept. It’s not a biblical reason. It’s not even a biblically viable truth. The only reason “falling out of love” is deemed real is because humanity has worked for centuries to excuse and justify sin and when marriage is viewed as a partnership that will remain only as long as I “feel” loved and appreciated, by my own definitions of those words, I’ll remain married. Otherwise, get out and start over.

“I just don’t love her anymore” has been said far too many times by Christian men whom should be smart enough not to even think that.

Love is a choice.

Love is a commitment.

Love for husband and wife, regardless of how one feels, should be the one thing that can be counted on.

Yet, it’s not.

WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

Marriage is the uniting of two sinners in a holy, covenant relationship for the glory of God. This union is attacked by Satan from the get go. There’s no “honeymoon” when it comes to spiritual attack.

Divorce is always the result of sin.

Divorce is almost always sinful. There's a qualifier here for the very few times that God allows it. Yet, even in the allowance, there should be hope for reconciliation. 

BUT, BUT, BUT...

There are so many questions that result from this passage. Questions like “Is it infidelity if…?” and “What about abuse?” and “What if my needs aren’t being met?” and so on.

There are allowances for divorce, but perhaps as the Pharisees asked the question, we see ourselves asking the same. And this is where we’re wrong to start. Maybe the question shouldn’t be “What are the allowances for divorce?” and should be “What are the ways of reconciliation?”

OUR PRAYER

Our prayer is for... 

  • the single, never married adult
  • the divorcee and still single
  • the one who was cheated on and left
  • the one who cheated and left
  • the couple who live in the same house, but separately because it’s cheaper
  • the couple who are faithful now, but have chapters in their past including divorce and exes
  • the couple living together (sinfully) acting like they’re married, but not
  • the senior adult couple living together acting married, but not because they don't want to lose their Social Security benefits
  • the couple who are married, faithful, and together

...Remember that God created marriage, designed it to be holy and glorifying to Him. Love is a choice. If you have made sinful choices, repent of those and seek forgiveness. For the married husband and wife - stay faithful to God and each other.

It is not easy to be holy, but it is doable through Christ.

May all our relationships honor God and bring him glory. 


Thoughts on Marriage and Weddings from a Pastor's Perspective

As a pastor, I have the privilege and honor of standing before couples and presiding over services that unite them as husband and wife in holy matrimony. Over the years, I have learned some things about weddings and marriage. Many of these are things I wish I had been taught prior to getting married (as does my wife, because I think I would have been a better husband early on.) 

So, here are some insights...

Premarital Counseling is Vital

There are numerous online and face-to-face courses available for pastors to lead couples through prior to marriage. We have used many in the past and currently utilize Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott's SYMBIS assessment. SYMBIS stands for "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts." We have found it to be helpful, but as with any online assessment, it is only as helpful as the couples are honest and open to feedback. The key is the analysis of the data and the assessor's leadership and guidance.

Premarital Counseling Must Be Focused on Biblical Truth

The SYMBIS assessment offers great insight into personalities, conflict management, expectations, and more. These allow for questions to be asked and considered in the counseling session. SYMBIS' is not an in-depth Bible study, so I have found that looking through biblical teachings regarding marriage, the role of husband and wife, the challenges faced, etc. is invaluable. 

Some things that must be covered...

  • Biblical marriage can only be between a man and a woman - (Genesis 2:24)
  • Male and female are not genders to choose, but created by God intentionally - (Genesis 1:27)
  • Marriage is to be between Christians - (2 Corinthians 6:14)
  • Marriage is to last a lifetime - (Malachi 2:16)
  • Sex is reserved for the husband and wife - (1 Corinthians 7:2)
  • Premarital sex, even for engaged couples, does not honor God - (Hebrews 13:4)
  • Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant - (Matthew 19:6)

Insight from others such as Paul David Tripp and Jay Adams have helped as we look to Scripture for direction. 

Jerry Maguire Was Wrong

I have referenced the popular movie at times with couples (not an endorsement of the film, by the way) and now, I have found that many young couples have never seen the movie and therefore, do not know what I'm talking about. Nevertheless, there is a famous scene the film where Tom Cruise's character finally comes to grip that he is in love with Renée Zellweger's character, who happens to be his wife. Well...watch it below.

Sure, it's a romantic moment. It works for the film. Men and women alike go "I get it" and for Hollywood, this is pretty good. And "You had me at hello" sounds like it could be the name of a country song, but I won't go there. 

Yet, there's a problem. 

If one's spouse "completes them" then we have a big problem. No human being can bring completion for another. As Christians we know, well at least we should know, that only Christ brings completion. Once our "soul-mate" or whatever culturally devised term of endearment is attached to our spouse that places upon him/her a role that is reserved only for Christ, we devolve into practical idolatry. Disappointment at a minimum results.

Finances are a Big Deal

When one spouse has accumulated debt, once married, the couple has debt. Debt from student loans, cars, and especially credit cards is rampant in our society and younger people often do not see the problem until it is too late. Sometimes, age has nothing to do with these blinders. BTW - just paying the minimum on your credit cards will never get you free. 

Human-hand-holding-credit-card

Remember - debt makes you a slave (Proverbs 22:7)

There's no escaping this. Justifying your debt accrual does not make it okay. It especially does not make it go away. 

Now, having debt is no reason not to get married, but refusing to talk about it and work together to devise a plan to get out of debt is a huge issue.

When two become one, communication lines must be more open than when dating. 

While it may be acceptable to have separate bank accounts and credit cards in some cases, I believe those cases are rare. To be divided regarding income, debt, and other financial areas leads to division in the relationship and provides fuel for the enemy in his attacks. Simply put, it is not wise to keep financial details and accounts from each other. 

One spouse may say "How are we doing financially?" and the other respond "We're okay. I'll take care of it."

While that may sound comforting, it actually works to create discomfort, distrust, and ultimately division. 

Just remember, it's hard to be one, as God commands, when you continually live as two.

So, finances must be discussed openly. Plans must be make jointly. It is okay for one spouse or the other to take care of all banking and bill paying. That's not an issue. But secrecy and lack of communication is not God-honoring and not honoring of the marriage covenant.

So...I don't like prenuptial agreements either, because that foresees a divorce. There may be cases when it would be acceptable, but those are rare.

Whose Home?

When a couple marries, and we're speaking of a Christian couple who is not living together, often one spouse will move in to the other's home, even if for a short while prior to getting a new home.

Interior-of-modern-room

The husband and wife must both be aware of the challenges here. If the single man has a place, even if he's a neat freak and actually cleans up, that is a bachelor's residence. When the wife moves in and starts redecorating and moving things and giving the home a "woman's touch" it can create tension. 

The "my house" verses "our house" transition is real.

The same is true if the woman lives alone and the new husband moves in. 

There's no real fix here, but awareness of the stressors that could come must be made known. 

Parents, In-Laws, and Family Members

Here's my recommendation to parents - don't drop in on the kids unannounced. Don't do it. Ever.

This may seem strange, but I have stories of couples I have counseled. They married. Each have great parents and yet, there was this never-ending drop in that took place and the young couple was finding themselves in a position of trying to figure out how to tell mom and dad to stay away without offending.

So, since parents are older and hopefully wiser - stay away and give the couple time to figure out what it means to be married. 

If you have a key to their house (because they gave it to you) don't use it to go over when they're not home. Yes, I knew of one set of parents that did that. Mom would go over and listen to their voice mails, read their mail, put pictures on their refrigerator, take pictures off. Write things on their calendar, etc. She was off the chain and yes, it caused problems. That couple eventually divorced. It wasn't all mom's fault, but she certainly didn't help matters (especially when she encouraged her daughter to divorce the son-in-law.)

In a Christian marriage, we believe it is God who brings the couple together. Rarely, if ever, does God ask the parents or siblings of the new husband and wife for their approval. Family members need to remember this. New family members may not become best-friends, but they do become family. 

Here's a hard reality - sometimes it is best for the new couple to be transferred to a new city, away from current friends and family. It may not be, but in some cases, the forced reliance on God and each other allows for strengthening of the marriage. In other cases, that support system at home is needed.

Marriage is More Important Than the Wedding

The wedding is a commodity marketed well today. From venue rental, floral arrangements, online registrations, saying "yes" to the dress, and thousands and thousands of dollars spent on a one-day event, it is easy to lose sight of what God is doing. 

Flower-wedding-love

In fact, even in the most beautiful weddings happening nowadays, God can actually be ignored, and left off the guest list entirely. We must remember that God created and ordained the marriage. He uses it as an image of Christ's relationship with his church. Marriage is God's idea, not society's.

Church weddings are becoming passé. That's okay because I have performed ceremonies in churches that ended up being godless as well (despite my focus and best efforts.) If the church is the people, then the building is not the focus.

Nevertheless, brides and grooms are now inundated with what must happen and occur for a wedding to be good. Those images rarely, if ever come from the Bible. They come from bridal magazines, TLC shows, and pressure to have the "best and most unique ceremony ever" that often looks just like all the other unique ceremonies that have happened over the previous years. 

Don't get me wrong, a beautiful ceremony is wonderful. My concern is that so much money and time and effort is spent on the ceremony being perfect and right that many couples are forsaking that which must be focused upon - the marriage. 

You can have a great ceremony and a terrible marriage.

You can also have a less than perfect ceremony and an incredible marriage. 

I fear far too many marriages end before the parents of the bride have finished paying the debt incurred for the "perfect wedding ceremony." 

Final Random Thoughts

Over the years, there have been many things learned. Here are some that just don't fit in any of the more important categories:

  • Your two-year-old niece or nephew is not more mature than others their age and probably shouldn't stand on the stage for the entire service.
  • Having the Lord's Supper is not good for evangelicals. That's an ordinance for the church alone.
  • Writing your own vows is great, unless you're a terrible writer and just downloaded something from the internet. In most cases, traditional vows are best.
  • Music is wonderful, but only when it's wonderful. A song in the ceremony that is God-honoring is good. Lady Gaga's latest hit...not so much. Save that for the reception maybe.
  • When your wedding is supposed to start at 1pm and it's outdoors, and it's 108 degrees, don't sit in the dressing room, in the air conditioning for an extra fifteen minutes making your guests sit outside in the heat. Be on time.
  • If you drop the ring during the ceremony, let the pastor pick it up. Otherwise, you're a YouTube hit.
  • If your best man or maid of honor forgets the ring, fake it. Get married. Find the ring later.
  • If everyone is not invited to the reception, tell the pastor before he invites everyone to the reception.
  • To the groom - make sure your bride likes the ceremony. Defer to her. This is best. No one comes to a wedding to see the groom.
  • If you use candles, don't wrap flammable greenery around the candelabras. This happened at our church. It's funny now. I think. We still talk about it, though the bride wishes we didn't.
  • If you have a reception and people are there waiting to eat, don't take another hour for pictures without letting guests go through the buffet. They're hungry. They love you and want to see you enter, but hurry up already with those pictures.
  • As Pastor Tommy Nelson once said, "This is the last time she (the bride) will be ready on time and this is the best he (the groom) will ever look."
  • When the pastors says "We can't to that" that means don't do that, whatever that is, regardless if you saw it in a movie, at another wedding, or if your mom or wedding coordinator wants it done.
  • Don't try to force everyone to dance at the reception, especially tall white-guy pastors who just would rather not. Not that he doesn't have moves like Jagger, but some things are best left to the living room at home while playing Just Dance on the Wii. Not that that ever happens. Just saying.
  • Remember, the wedding is a worship service and neither bride nor groom are the ones to be worshipped. Make sure God smiles upon you as you enter this covenant relationship.

What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. - Matthew 19:6b (ESV)


What About the Lost Sheep Who Wants to Be Lost?

I have been preaching through Matthew's gospel account and recently I shared of Jesus' instructions regarding the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the flock who are safe to go find the one that is lost. 

It's a challenging passage and raises many questions.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV) 

Who is the lost sheep?

The lost sheep in this parable is a new believer, a member of the flock that has strayed. That much is clear.

Is the one more important than the ninety-nine?

No, that's not the point of the passage. The ninety-nine are believers. They are together. They are in community. They are safe. 

Why leave the ninety-nine alone?

Even today, if Middle Eastern shepherds know they need to be away from their flock for an extended period of time, they will likely get a friend or relative to watch over the flock. Yet, the point of this passage and word from Christ is that God values each and every person. No one is worth less than another. The shocking story was shared by Jesus to his disciples to emphasize that they are not to devalue any person and should seek to keep unity among the believers, for the good of the church and the glory of God.

This story is to motivate and encourage the church. The message is clear - God loves his children. We should, too.

Handful-grass-fields-meadow-ants

I am reminded of a dog my wife and I used to own. He was a small black poodle (not Max, our current wonder-dog) and he loved to get out of our back yard. He would get out and start walking. He would "follow his nose" and loved to discover new scents. However, he wasn't the sharpest dog I've ever known. I'm no dog whisperer, but this guy would walk away for blocks and eventually look up. When he looked up, he would be far from home. I imagine in his little dog brain he was thinking "Uh...where am I?" We'd look for him, but when we couldn't find him, we'd wait until a neighbor, or like one time, the workers at Jiffy Lube in Orange Park, to call us. Our number was on his collar. We'd go pick him up. All was good. He was home.

We were happy. He was happy. He didn't desire to be lost. He jus strayed away.

The lost sheep (not poodle) in the church are like this. They stray. They lose focus. They begin listening to the lies of the enemy and start agreeing with the lies. Sometimes, those lies sound like "You don't matter. You're worthless. No one at this church loves you. No one loves you." When the lie is taken for truth, straying results.

These are lies. 

But, what about the sheep who wants to be lost?

Sometimes people walk away from church and the community of believers and do so intentionally. 

Sometimes people want to believe the lies. They refuse the grace of God. They refuse to acknowledge brothers and sisters in Christ to step out of their comfort zones to reach out and connect. They're not forgotten by others, but they believe they are. 

It is true that we need to not forget the lost sheep, but what about that sheep who has seeks to remain lost, for various reasons?

The passage in Matthew that follows the lost sheep story speaks of conflict and discipline. The focus is on the sin of Christians and how the church must respond.

It is sin for the church to ignore the lost sheep. Yet, it is also sin for the lost sheep to desire separation and lostness. It is sinful to continually ignore the draw of the Holy Spirit and to grieve him.

Running from God is different from straying away. Many who have run attempt to declare their just lost sheep. That's not true, they're rebellious sheep. In those cases, discipline from God's church is needed. Sometimes, even excommunication is the required response.

That seems extreme, but it's right. It's holy. 

Pray and Remember Your Role.

It is God who draws. It is Christ who has come to seek and save the lost. He invites us into this great story, but ultimately, he does the rescue. We, the church, must not ignore our calling. We must be obedient. Yet, we must also be wise to discern the difference between a lost sheep who has strayed and one who is running from God.

In the case of the latter, I think of the story of the prodigal son. In that case, the son never lost his title as child, but the father remained home. He apparently prayed and waited. Eventually, the lost son came home. He "woke up" from his rebellion and shifted into "lost sheep" status. He realized he was being drawn home. 

Prayer is not a weak, passive response to those who stray. It is the active role we must take, especially when we find the lost sheep and he/she has no desire to be found...yet.

Remember, God knows the details. He is in control.


She Walked Away from Church Wounded, Ready to End Her Life. But, Then...

I received this email from a member of our church yesterday. I asked permission to share the information in this blog post, believing it may be helpful to others who have felt alone, empty, and forgotten, not to mention those who have lived with scars and wounds brought on by sexual abuse and harassment. She said I could share and that hopefully, someone will be helped. 

WARNING: Some of the information below is graphic.

The story is from a woman who has been an active member of our church for years. She is a self-described introvert of sorts. She has served in various areas of ministry for seasons in the past, but last year (2016) she stopped attending church regularly. She has carried deep wounds from her past and has struggled with understanding her value to God and his church, and to others. The enemy's lies and accusations have weighed heavily upon her for years. Last year, she almost ended her life, believing the lies of the enemy that that would be best.

Woman-desperate-sad-tears-cry-depression-mourning-2

Thankfully, God has rescued her from that moment and continues to do so. Her email was shared with me after she shared it with her counselor. I have edited it for brevity and eliminated names as needed.

On Sunday, October 15, 2017, Pastor David preached a sermon from Matthew 18:10-14. This word from Christ references the lost sheep and how the shepherd rejoices when it is found.
 
Pastor David talked about our church. He talked of the ones who have been active, but would be described as introverted in personality.  He talked of the ones who are part of the church, but never really talk or share much in small groups. These are the ones who attend and are active, but just keep to themselves. The he shared what happens often. One Sunday, they are not there. They miss a small group meeting once. Then another. And before you know it, they aren't attending regularly, if at all.  Those who know them began to wonder about them and yet, that's all. They wonder, but no one thinks enough about them to see where they are or what is happening in their lives. 

Pastor David shared of a student he once had in youth ministry. This young lady was very active in the youth group and the church. She was there whenever the doors were open, so to speak. She attended camps and even went on mission trips. when he was a youth pastor. Then, one day, she was not there. That one day led to many. Pastor David later ran into her in a local store where she was working. He said, "It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. We’ve missed you at church."
 
She responded, "I've been gone. I'm like that lost sheep. Why was no one looking for me?"

This sermon had me thinking about what was going on during my recent nine months of not attending church at First Baptist Orange Park. This was kind of how I felt.  I felt lost and believed no one cared enough at FBC to come looking for me. In truth they did come looking for me. I know people are busy and they have their own lives and I was the furthest thing from their minds. It was completely okay, I made the choice to leave. (Please know that these are the lies I was believing at the time.)
 
Reflecting back on 2016: It was a hard year. Suicide has been something that I had thought about in the past, but never really acted upon. Yet, during this season, I actually did more than think about it. I took a step further because I planned out my suicide with detailed plans of how I would do it. If not for not having the one tool I was going to use to finish it, I may have. Things would be much different now for my family. 
 
My selfish thoughts were:
  • No one cares.
  • My family will be better off if I wasn’t around any more.
  • My husband can find a better wife who will take care of him and the children.
  • Others who know me will forget all about me within moments of me being gone - as if I never existed anyway.

These were just some of the thoughts I was having that led up to that day in May 2016. On that day, I shared with a friend and due to this friend's care, I was actually Baker Acted. My friend apparently cared too much for me to see me die.

Following my time in the hospital, I felt as if I was branded by society with labels - weak, gives up easily, worthless, no good, doesn’t belong here. It was one shaming title after another.

Going through the motions of life became more and more challenging because the darkness kept taunting my thoughts. The shaming pressure that I kept putting upon myself. I was listening to the lies, and ignoring the voice of God that speaks clearly through his Word.

I was keeping tragic memories alive. I was living in the wounds of the past. It was painful, but I was recollecting all that was done to me as a little girl. That girl (me) seemed like someone else, but I knew it was me and I could not find healing.

I was that little girl, living in shame from being sexually abused for nine years.

As I began to think about all that had happened to me and began to blame that little girl (myself) for the abuse. I forgot what she had to endure to survive. How she was told to respect her elders, no matter what.

"Do as your told with no arguing or discussing."

"Speak only when your spoken too and preferably, not at all."

This little girl was not a rule breaker, for the most part. She did as she was told, at times she would show her true colors and act out. However, for the most part though she just did what the adult told her to do.

The adult, the authority, would lay down  next to me.

"Take off your shirt. Let me have your hand. Touch me here and move your hand this way. This is our little secret. This is our precious time. You are so beautiful. You need to hurry up. Go faster. Stop wasting time. Your doing it wrong. Let me show you how to massage. Spread your legs."

As he began to "massage" her in ways that no man other then her future husband should be touching her. She just followed directions. She did not want to get in trouble.

These words and so many others are like are like broken record in my thoughts. I have visions or flashbacks of different experiences from my childhood like this. They haunt me and have kept me in bondage.  

In the past, I would just find ways to punish myself by cutting or not eating.

It was the only way I could find control when it seemed like everything was out of control.

These choices are no longer an option.

I have chosen to work through my past and the pain that was inflicted upon me. In the past, I had chosen to stay stuck at times because it was too much to take on.  I had chosen to turn away from God because I believed the lies of the enemy that I was no good and just a waste of his time.

Hearing these lies on a continuous basis, somehow they felt like truth. Over time, going to church and hearing and singing about how great is our God and how awesome he is felt like torment within my spirit.

The battle between what I was raised to believe and what I was experiencing became too overwhelming and the only thing I knew to do was walk away from the church. I knew I was to far gone and was not able to be healed.

At least that is what I thought I knew.

Thank God he had a different plan and the same friend who made the phone call to have me Baker Acted also took me under her wing. She mentored me and took me to her church. They prayed with me and guided me through so I could stand once again.

I'm learning to ask for forgiveness when I fall short, instead of remaining paralyzed with self-affliction or condemnation. I'm believing God and his Word and trusting him.

I’m no longer an abused victim. No one is causing pain or purposely hurting me. The only one that has kept the past alive is me and it is time to put that time to rest. It is time to say good-bye to a man that caused so much confusion and pain in my young life. I'm learning what biblical forgiveness is. I now see that I have lived a life of blame - blaming others and blaming myself, and in so doing, finding no healing. 

Today (October 22, 2017) our church, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be singing at the Orange Park Fall Festival at the Town Hall grounds. We will be singing "Trust In You."

Shelvin, Lamb, our Worship Pastor, has a way of picking songs that go to the core of your soul. Sometimes these songs are so hard to sing because of the bondage that I have chosen to live within. This makes it hard to speak truth when you allow lies to feel like truth.

I’m learning to trust in Him. It is a daily challenge, but as each day that goes by He continues to show me how much He loves, cares, and cherishes me even when I do not. He draws near to the broken-hearted. He brings rest to the weary. His promises are truth and He will never break them.

So today, I am praising God for being my shepherd. For bring the right people in my life at the right time to minister and pray with me as I went through the struggles of 2016.

This year has been a learning experience and with that, painful at times. As always, God knows what we need and He continues to meet our needs. This sheep strayed for a while, but because of who He is, she has found her way back home. I love my First Family and missed being part of the choir so much. Thankful that they welcomed me back.

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  - Matthew 18:12-14 (ESV)