What Are Parents To Do When Their Teenager Stands Alone?

Three years ago we  began making the very strategic shift in our church from a simple age-grade programmatic model to an equipping model. This model is focused on equipping disciples within families with an emphasis on making disciples who make disciples (within the home.)

I have written on this before. One of the warnings for any church making the shift is the inevitable loss of families, members, and attenders who just do not understand the shift or plainly do not like the focus. In other words - count the cost. (I have written about this here.)

Often when there is such a shift in ministerial philosophy within a church, the real results of effectiveness are not known until months or even years later. Earlier today, I received this email from a church member with a teenage daughter. While the subject is a specific issue the daughter was facing in school, the celebration shared was that home-based discipleship with intentional family worship has led to the response celebrated by both mom and dad. I celebrate alongside them as God is glorified in this. 

Here's their story, with names removed...

It is 9:30pm on a Wednesday. Lunches are made. Homework is completed. Chores are finished—only to begin again in a few short hours. You gather the family together for a short nightly devotional and prayer. And then it hits you out of nowhere. That unseen spiritual attack at the moment when you are exhausted and weak, simply seeking refuge and rest. Putting away her studies and work for the day my daughter informs us that she is struggling with a school assignment and not because of its level of difficulty but its content. We pull up the assigned short story and are immediately shocked. The story is not even borderline pushing the limits—it is graphic. Not knowing who is reading this, I will not even give the author or title so as to not glorify what is basically soft-core pornography, nor do I want to put in the eyes of others what should never have seen the light of day. It is not art. It is not literature—and my wife and I are both language arts majors and educators. We taught Shakespeare with all of his innuendo. We taught Twain and Lee and the controversial language and race issues. We understand the dangers of censorship and are firm supporters of the First Amendment. However, this is in-your-face sex and violence and it has been put into my 15-year-old daughter’s eyes and the eyes of hundreds other young people. In just a few hours she will be told to continue reading the story and provide written answers to in-depth questions about its content.

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How do you respond? What do you do as a parent? As a student? Immediately we run the gamut of human emotion and response. Anger. How could this teacher think this was even remotely appropriate? We will be at the school to meet with the principal first thing in the morning. Frustration. Who approved this assignment? In a world that greatly struggles with domestic and sexual violence, why are our public schools increasingly pushing and glorifying it? Sadness. Why can’t our kids just go to school and be kids? At younger and younger ages our children seem to be bombarded with heavier and darker topics hidden under the guise of liberal arts education. Fear. If we speak out, will my daughter become the target of harassment and retaliation? Confusion. Maybe we are just overreacting. Is it really that big of a deal? Spiritual warfare at 9:30pm on a school night.

Surely other parents will be outraged, too? We put the kids to bed with instructions to pray for wisdom and then begin to discuss and reach out. It is late and we are met with this response and thought: It is not a big deal. The Bible is graphic. This is just a similar description of what was occurring inside and outside the Gates of Hell. We can’t put our kids in bubbles. We begin to waver. Yet this seems different. While the Bible does sometimes graphically describe man’s wicked deeds and ways, it is always presented as sin--man’s depravity pointing the way to the need of a Savior. Sin is never glorified. It is presented as exactly what it is: deadly and destructive. The story that my daughter read portrays it as pleasurable and life-giving. It is a lie being presented as truth. This is a big deal. It is an attempt to isolate, indoctrinate, assimilate, and confuse my daughter and others. As Christians we are called to be many things—light, salt, ambassadors. We are “beggars pointing other beggars to the Bread.” We are called to be set apart and stand for the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Augustine is to have once written, “Sometimes we must stand against the world for the good of the world.”

We end our evening with prayer—heartfelt and intimate. Our daughter may very well have to stand “alone” and it may come with a cost. The next morning, we instruct her that we stand with her if she is led to stand and refuse to complete the assignment. We assure her from Romans 8:1-2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

God knows her heart and we love her—no strings attached. I kiss her cheek and then watch her walk out the door with her older brother into the darkness of an early morning.

My heart is heavy and my wife and I begin to pray over her. Then come the texts. None of her friends will stand with her. She will be standing “alone.” She is afraid and is just going to do the assignment.

I get this at 7:06am: “I don’t know what to do.”

Those two voices: the Lord gently affirming her faithfulness and the world screaming for her conformity. We feel helpless. We want to rush to the school and fight for her. This is why families matter. This is why churches must equip families no matter their structure. Because when faith and life intersect, when spiritual attacks happen late on school nights, we must be prepared.

I text her back: “It is okay. Either way God loves you. He KNOWS your heart and He knows you are for Him. We love you. You do what God leads you to do. You are NOT alone!”

Fifteen long minutes go by and then we receive a picture of the assignment with her handwritten response:

Ms.______, I mean this in the most polite way possible but I cannot do this assignment. I think you are a fantastic teacher but this story goes against my morals and values. Some parts of this story are so straightforward and disgusting that I don’t feel okay reading it. Jesus died for us so I think I should not entertain what He died for. So I will take a zero for this or I would be happy to do another assignment. Thank you.

Tears well in my eyes. I am proud but I know this did not come from me or her mother. Paul continues in Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Her Father in Heaven taught her well and she was ready for this test. As of this writing we have not received the teacher’s response but I know this: no matter the outcome my daughter has taught me something. She was not “ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” and displayed “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (1 Timothy 1:7-8) While my first response was to fight in my power, she showed reliance on the Lord and His wisdom. She stood firm, responded in love, and glorified our Lord.

Families, Trevin Wax writes...

“In every age, the world implements strategies of isolation, indoctrination, assimilation, and confusion, and in every age, the church must resist with confidence and courage, trusting that our faithfulness will be a gift to the nations we know will one day bow before the world’s true King.” (article on TGC here.)

Begin today to prepare your children for the spiritual battles that lie ahead. Fight the temptation to isolate them or fight for them. There may be a time for that but be led by the Spirit through prayer and Godly wisdom. When your faith and life intersect, when spiritual attacks happen at 9:30pm on a school night, what will your children learn about your walk with Christ?

Sometimes you just need a reminder from God that the effort you are exerting to help parents be equipped to equip their children is worth it. Sometimes, as parents and guardians of children and teenagers, you just need a moment where God reveals the effort is making a difference.

Disciples making disciples–it's not a new idea. It just sometimes gets ignored or forgotten in our celebrity-focused, consumer-centered, attractional, event-oriented versions of church. But don't lose heart, equipping the saints (even those within our homes) is worth it. Better yet, through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do so.


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.

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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.

 


When Yesterday Seems Better Than Today

A number of weeks ago a twenty-year-old image appeared on one of my social media feeds. It was a photograph posted by a friend and it included a large group of young adults. These young couples and their children were posing in front of our church building on a Sunday. This was a Sunday School class picture that brought back some good memories. These are memories of young families with babies and preschoolers who found community within the covenant relationships offered in our local church.

At first I smiled looking at this group. The numerous shared memories of gatherings, retreats, weddings, baby showers, etc. came to mind. My wife and I did not attend the Sunday School class (primarily because I was the youth pastor then and my wife taught in our preschool ministry) but we were "in-service members" (that's an old Southern Baptist Sunday School term) and these are our contemporaries and friends. 

I started reading the comments and there was one, just one, that seemed to state what came to my mind. One of my friends included in the photograph commented with just one word - "BITTERSWEET."

I "liked" that comment, not because I actually liked that comment, but because it was the only term that seemed appropriate. 

Another friend responded to the "bittersweet" comment - "Amazing what all has transpired since then." 

"Amazing" can mean so many things. In this case, it means such things as "Wow...we were so young" and "Look at how God did such great things in these years with this group."

Yet, for this photo "amazing" also means "Wow...how sad. We never could have expected what would happen."

  • Some of this tightly knit group has relocated to other areas around the country due to their employment. Therefore, in some cases, the tight friendship connections have naturally loosened.
  • Some remain in the area, but are members of other churches now. That's not necessarily negative, just a reality.
  • Some of these happily married couples are no longer happily married (at least not to the spouse of their youth as pictured in this image.)
  • More than one family has suffered heartache due to family issues with children and others.
  • Disease has impacted this group. Sadly, one of our brothers has died (sadly because his wife, children, and we grieve him not being with us. Gladly because we know he is with our Lord in heaven now. So that's bittersweet.)
  • Some no longer openly walk with the Lord.
  • Others are just...somewhere. We have lost touch and no one in the photograph knows what has become of them.

My Old Photographs

I have been serving on pastoral staff at our church since 1994. I have had the honor of being the lead pastor here since 2005, which surprisingly makes me the longest-tenured lead pastor in this 99-year history of this church. With these years of service, I have accumulated many great memories of brothers and sisters who have covenanted with our church for God's glory over the years. 

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Since I was the youth pastor for almost ten years, I have many memories of teenagers and young people who now are adults and raising their own children in our fellowship. I, too have many boxes of old photographs from back in the day when these were actually printed on paper. As I looked through some today, I had the same response as seeing the picture of the Sunday School class. 

Bittersweet.

Many, many people have walked through our doors at the church. Many have joined groups, classes, and ministries. Many have attended camps, choir tours (yes, that was a thing,) ski trips, mission trips, etc. For some, these were life-changing events. These were moments where many solidified their faith in Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, there are hundreds now serving in this church and other churches throughout the world whom I was privileged to know and mentor during their formative years. Some are serving in full-time ministry in churches and on the mission field. Others are serving faithfully as laypeople in their church and impacting the world and the workplace for Christ. Many are raising the next generation of Christ-followers faithfully in their homes in churches.

Then...there are others.

So many others.

People whom I love dearly, but not nearly as much as Christ loves them.

People whom are no longer teenagers, no longer "young," no longer having more years ahead of them than behind, that have sadly relegated their faith to a chapter in their past. 

Some that see their church experience as they do their old high school yearbooks - something fun at the time and good for nostalgic reasons. 

Some have struggled with their own crisis of belief only to walk away.

Others never truly walked with Christ or had surrendered to him as Lord. They may have been baptized, but they never were born again.

Confessionally, there are many whom I failed as friend, brother, youth pastor, and pastor. I failed in not being as intentional or strategic in the covenant relationship required. I failed as many others have in letting the machinery of ministry overwhelm the disciple-making.

Why Is This a Concern Now?

During this pandemic, many people started posting old pictures and photographs. Throw-back Thursday began in March and lasted a couple of months. This is likely because many people were holed-up in their homes and after a few days started cleaning out old closets and suddenly were reminiscing. 

Memories can be healing. They can be helpful. They can also be harmful and depressing bringing people to a dark place of regret.

Likely, God is be using these moments pointing toward our past to remind us of some valuable things in our present. 

As a young man, I took for granted the time I had available. I took for granted much. I presumed that good times were normative. I believed (well, I wanted to believe) that all the kids who had Christ-loving parents and were active in the programs at their gospel-centered churches would grow up serving the Lord. That has proven to not be the case in my own family and in many others. In some cases, not even the parents have remained faithful.

There is much lament among pastors over the large percentage of church members who have not joined online Bible studies since the pandemic hit. Many have not watched services online and have seemingly disengaged from all aspects of church life. Some appear to have abandoned the covenant made when they joined their respective churches.

Yet, what has been revealed is that while many Christians and Christian leaders were content in our service and church activities, it seems we may have actually focused more on building crowds in the past than in discipling the church. 

Ouch.

One of these days, we will look back at today's photos (not on paper, but on some cloud-connected device or maybe a hologram) and we may find ourselves smiling, crying, and wondering "what happened?"

Bittersweet.

But what about today?

You see, sometimes nostalgic photos bring back good memories. Sometimes, they remind us of missed opportunities. Sadly, they also can remind us of what was, but is now gone. 

What about today?

You cannot live in the past. You cannot live in a heretofore nonexistent future. You only have today. 

If we are not careful, we will miss the blessings of now (even if now isn't the greatest experience in your life.) Rejoicing in what we now have with Him is our goal, our desire, our command.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Don't throw away your old photographs.

Remember that God was sovereign at the moment the old photo was taken just as he is today.

Don't allow your most faithful moments with the Lord be in your past.

Live TODAY for the glory of God (and don't become one of those "whatever happened to them" people.)


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.