It Truly Is a "Tale as Old as Time" and That's the Problem

The lack of creativity in Hollywood has been spoken of in various venues over recent years. While it may not be waning creativity on the part of the filmmakers and artists, it does not take long to realize that remakes, sequels, and re-imagined stories of old seem to fill the "Coming Soon" lists from Hollywood. If not a lack of creativity, it certainly is a somewhat safe financial plan for the production companies.

The children of the 80s and 90s reminisce of days gone by as they find themselves forced into "adulting" (apparently, that's a word now.) For the Gen Xers, this explains the "GI Joe," "Transformers," "Dukes of Hazzard," "21 Jump Street" and "Chips" movies. For Millennials, perhaps this is why live action versions of Disney cartoons are such a big hit. In some cases, as with "Alice in Wonderland" and "Cinderella," the original animated films were made decades prior to the birth of the Millennial generation. Yet, it was when these young adults were children that Disney began to "unlock the vault" on occasion and release these classics on VHS. How many young twenty- and thirty-somethings grew up with those bulky plastic cases strewn around the room as they watched their favorite films over and over and over? As a parent, I remember these films being worn out and while "Robin Hood" was incredible, a man can only take so much "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo."

A Tale As Old As Time

The internet and media outlets blew up last year when it was announced that a live-action version of the newer classic Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" would be developed. Early clips shared online revealed that Emma Watson was to play Belle and the film was to be, in some cases, a scene-for-scene live version of the animated classic. Watson was cheered as the new Belle. The rose in the early trailer was celebrated online as just a glimpse of the new film began to elicit positive buzz. 

Even when Angela Lansbury, one of the stars of the original, shared her confusion as to why the film was being made and clearly wasn't a fan of the endeavor, it was clear to those watching the industry, the film would be a huge hit and make millions. Disney is banking on that. In fact, that's the answer to Ms. Lansbury's question.

6882180839_0b50509995_b
Photo credit: Castles, Capes & Clones via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The marketing has been systematic. Disney definitely knows how to do this and with marketable tie-ins such as the races at the Magic Kingdom and new dolls already on the market (though the Belle doll did get some pushback with claims it looked less like Emma Watson and more like Justin Bieber). Make no mistake, this film will rake in the bucks and many will celebrate the music, acting, reminisced childhood, and message.

Oh, the message.

It has changed a bit from the original.

Belle is more liberated, it seems. She's an inventor now, as is her father. This was revealed a few weeks back. Most read that and thought "No big deal."

Yet, last week another revelation was shared by Disney regarding their new film.

Disney's First "Exclusively Gay Moment" in a Children's Movie

Since this is an updated re-telling of the "tale as old as time" or at least as old as the early 1990s, the writers and directors have taken the opportunity to insert a sub-story into the plot revealing that one of the characters is actually gay. This story truly blew up the internet last week and continues to be shared online and through entertainment "news" television shows and media outlets. 

To the Christian with an eye on culture, this should be no surprise.

When the online push to make Elsa a lesbian in the Frozen sequel began, it became inevitable that Disney would step even more intentionally than in the past into the LGBT revolution. Some have declared this to be the first gay character in a Disney production. That actually is not true. The Disney Channel show "Good Luck Charlie" depicted a lesbian couple as parents of a friend of the main character. The Disney produced television show "Once Upon a Time" on the Disney-owned network, ABC, presented familiar characters from film as outed lesbians in April 2016. Yet, the difference here is the fact that the upcoming film is marketed to families. 

The Gay Sidekick

The protagonist in "Beauty and the Beast" is Gaston. His sidekick is LeFou. In a recent Washington Post article by Elahe Izadi, the following is stated:

In recent years, Disney has increased the racial and ethnic diversity in its stories, and has made strides to reimagine female characters as fully formed protagonists rather than simply damsels in distress.

But there have been calls among some for children’s entertainment to portray same-sex relationships as well. Last year, a Twitter campaign asked Disney to make Elsa from “Frozen” a lesbian character in the movie’s sequel, inspiring the hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend.

A few Disney movies have left viewers wondering about the orientation of characters, with allusions to same-sex relationships. “Zootopia” featured Bucky and Pronk, two male antelopes who live together, bicker like a couple and share a common last name. An episode of the Disney Channel show “Good Luck Charlie” included a character who had two moms.

But the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.

This has been called a watershed moment for Disney.

The culture celebrates the seemingly progressive step in this upcoming film. However, not all parents are excited. Many who planned to relive their childhood with their own kids while watching the film together in the theater are now questioning if they should. For some, it is the frustration that they may be forced to address an issue of sexuality with their children in a way they did not plan or desire to do.

Nevertheless, some will celebrate the opportunity to share the normalizing of such things. This is the cultural revolution in full swing.

To be clear, while turning a beloved animated film into a live-action movie is intriguing, I am not a fan of the subtext in this one. There are no accidental messages in such multi-million dollar presentations. There never have been. 

Movies and Messages

Movies are made to make money, but in the process are not made in a vacuum. Movies (even the ones in the $2 bin of DVDs at the store) present a worldview. It's inevitable. It cannot be avoided. Christians have struggled with this reality for decades. And, surprisingly, not all Christians agree about movies. For generations, Christians were declared bad and sinful in the church-subculture if they ever went to a movie. Now, churches produce films intended to be shown in the multiplex. 

So-called "faith based" films pop up. Some are good. Most are bad. Many create online debates. Ever heard of "The Shack"? Wow! That hot-mess of messed up trinitarian presentation is causing more confusion and frustrated Christians than even the bogus heaven-tourism flick "Heaven is for Real."

Yet, this new Disney film isn't marketed as "faith-based." I am not sure there's such a thing as a Christian Disney film. Since movies don't go to heaven, there may not be such a thing as a Christian film at all, but I digress.

Dr. Albert Mohler recently shared thoughts on this film on The Briefing and as followers of Christ in the midst of a worldview shift, his words are wise and should be considered.

But we also have to note that when we laugh at something and when we find something interesting and, not to mention, entertaining, effectively our thinking will become aligned with our hearts. That’s exactly why Hollywood is ground zero for so much of the change driving the moral revolution around us. But there is something even more ominous in all of this, and that’s this. We’re not here talking primarily about the effect upon adults, adults’ eyes and ears and minds and hearts, we’re talking about entertainment with an agenda, an agenda to reach eyes and ears and hearts and minds directed at children, and very effectively so.

I guess most of us suspected that it was only a matter of time before some film directors said something like,

“It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

But now we know that that time is now. It may not be surprising, but it truly is shocking.

While some call for boycotts, I am not. However, I do think families should consider how what is sold as entertainment actually impacts belief systems. Parents should consider this.

It's Not "Just a Movie"

It's really not about "Beauty and the Beast" or the LGBT revolution. That's just the clear issue on the front-page today (it will be old news in about a week). It is about living with a biblical worldview as ambassadors for Christ in a world that rejected him. 

Declaring loudly all that we are against will likely not lead to engaging conversations about the Gospel. However, ignoring the blatant worldview shifts seems to lead many to live isolated from the mission. 

Oh, and please don't fall into the "It's just a movie" or "It's fiction, enjoy it" groups. Nothing is ever just anything. The story is much larger and the mission becomes even more clear. 

The Real "Tale As Old As Time"

The "Tale As Old As Time" is truly about a battle and a rescue. It did not start in a castle with a beast and some talking dishes. It began in a garden. Actually, it began prior to that. This tale includes beauty, deception, rebellion, shame, death, rescue, and life. 

Christians must be wise and understand the times. As for the characters in the latest Disney film, they are not real, but they represent the depravity of humanity clearly. Perhaps this is why people are so drawn to the stories. 


Putting a Stop to the Youth Exodus in the Church

For the past few years, church leaders and evangelicals have been lamenting the loss of younger people in the church. While some new church starts and mega-box churches have seen growth in seeming success in reaching the younger generation, the statistics show a loss overall. Much has been written about this and most hearkens back to Pew Research Center's 2015 report. While that report is two years old, it is likely no significant changes have occurred.

Generational labels differ based on what study is cited or book read, but by and large, the Millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) and Generation Z/Boomlets (born after 2000 ) are trending away from the church. There's not as much data regarding Generation Z, but the older portion of the generation are in high school and graduating this year. 

Generation Z/Boomlets

This generation has been described this way (from MarketingTeacher.com):

  • In 2006 there were a record number of births in the US and 49% of those born were Hispanic, this will change the American melting pot in terms of behavior and culture. The number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation.
  • Since the early 1700s the most common last name in the US was "Smith" but not anymore, now it is "Rodriguez."
  • There are two age groups right now:
    • Tweens.
      • Age 8-12 years old.
      • There will be an estimated 29 million tweens by 2009.
      • $51 billion is spent by tweens every year with an additional $170 billion spent by their parents and family members directly for them.
    • Toddler/Elementary school age.
  • 61 percent of children 8-17 have televisions in their rooms.
  • 35 percent have video games.
  • 14 percent have a DVD player.
  • 4 million will have their own cell phones. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones.
  • Have Eco-fatigue: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it.
  • With the advent of computers and web-based learning, children leave behind toys at younger and younger age. It’s called KGOY-kids growing older younger, and many companies have suffered because of it. Most recognizable is Mattel, the maker of Barbie dolls. In the 1990s the average age of a child in their target market was 10-years-old, and in 2000 it dropped to three-years-old. As children reach the age of four and five, old enough to play on the computer, they become less interested in toys and begin to desire electronics such as cell phones and video games.
  • They are savvy consumers and they know what they want and how to get it and they are over saturated with brands.

The Numbers

Pew Research shared the following:

Religious “nones” – a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” – now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted, when 16% of Americans were “nones.” (During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)

Overall, religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups – 35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” In addition, the unaffiliated as a whole are getting even younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults is now 36, down from 38 in 2007 and significantly younger than the overall median age of U.S. adults in 2014.

Yet numbers can be confusing and sometimes do not tell the full story. In a 2016 article, Pew reveals the factors leading the growth of "nones" in the US:

Indeed, our Religious Landscape Study finds a clear generational pattern: Young people who are not particularly religious seem to be much more comfortable identifying as “nones” than are older people who display a similar level of religious observance. Nearly eight-in-ten Millennials with low levels of religious commitment describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” By contrast, just 54% of Americans in the Silent and Greatest generations who have low levels of religious commitment say they are unaffiliated; 45% claim a religion. A similarly striking gap between Millennials and others is also seen among those with a “medium” level of religious commitment.

What Can the Church Do?

Normally, at least it has been my experience, when data like this surfaces, churches and denominations react, rather than respond. In many cases, the exodus of young people comes as a surprise, all too late. Parents who had faithfully attended church, signed their children up for every program and event from AWANA to DiscipleNow, youth camp, mission trips, etc. wonder where they went wrong when the now adult child seemingly walks away from church with no intent of coming back. 

6894918358_10cd43e081_b

In the past, churches would say (well, not out loud, but it was a predominant thought) "Just wait until they get married and have kids. Then, they'll come back to church." Maybe that was true a generation ago, but it doesn't seem to be now. The fact is that young parents who just attended church and were entertained as teenagers seem to find more community in social networking sites, school activities, athletic endeavors for kids, and other areas and church is not avoided...it just never come across their minds.

Yet, all hope is not lost.

Reaction is not the answer, but godly response is. 

What we are facing is not new. Have you ever read the Old Testament? When you read Moses' commands to the next generation in Deuteronomy 6 regarding the passing on of truth to the next generations, there is a since of fear in his words. The fear is that unless the family teaches of God, models worship in the home, and remembers the covenant past with God, the kids and grandkids will not only forget, but walk away. The journey away from God is not without consequence.

What faithful parent or grandparent of a prodigal hasn't shared similar lamentation in prayer?

Since trends tend to raise awareness, let's look at observable trends of those who have not abandoned the faith.

Jon Nielson, Pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, recently shared an article highlighting some of the trends he has personally observed of faithful Millennials and young adults (full article here).

  1. They are converted. Sometimes, we deem attendance as a faith indicator. Yet, just being in the youth room or the church building does not a convert make. Teenagers from "good families" who get good grades, play football, cheer, get accepted to multiple schools, etc. are considered by many in the church to be "good kids" and while they may comparatively be, the problem is when salvation is presumed. Christians truly don't abandon Christ. Church attenders and members do.
  2. They have been equipped, not entertained. Oh boy, this is big. "Come to our youth group. It's really fun!" isn't a bad thing, but when everything in the ministry is focused on the student or young person, rather than on the God we worship we perpetuate a "better than the church down the street" model that defaults to the latest events, concerts, praise band, dodgeball tournament, ski trip, and other such events (which are not bad...they're just no the ultimate point.) I'm all for fun and I like being entertained, but if we're simply creating consumers of Chrstianese rather than making disciples, no wonder the younger generation walks away. "Big church" will never be that fun. Seriously - the deacon retreat is not quite the level of youth camp. 
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them. Better yet, their parents worshipped with them and not just at church. The gospel was lived out, modeled, and shared. Normative home life was Christ-centric. Parents who are discipled well disciple well. When the parents are not believers, the church fills the gap. The problem occurs when Christian parents outsource discipling their children to the "professional Christians" at the church. Let's just say that after decades of promoting this model, the proof is in the pudding. It does not work.

Walker Moore of Awe Star Ministries developed a model of student ministry years ago where students led. The gifting of "significant tasks" to students for the health of the ministry allows God to work in and through young people at levels where the "come into the youth room and wait for the adults to feed you" model never will. 

So, what can we do? We can remember. God has not abandoned young adults and teenagers. And, God is not through with the older generations, either. It's not like all the Boomers and Gen Xers are believers, right?

I'm not pessimistic when I read the statistics. I'm actually happy that the scales are now falling off our eyes. Sure, many are walking away, but it's not too late. We (the church) are now being forced back to Scripture and the model is clear. Disciple-making is our commission. It begins in the home, not the church building. Family equipping discipleship is more than a model. It's a biblical command (Deut 6). 

I believe God is recalibrating our focus. While we may be as fearful as Moses, the hope we have in Christ remains. So, don't lose heart. 


A Rite of Passage for Junior High Boys

Nine years ago a school administrator and two teachers began a mentoring club at one of our local junior high schools for boys, simply put, who had little to no father influence and were getting into trouble in class.  This administrator, John Green is the founder of the group and eventually became principal of the school. He is now serving on the leadership staff at Seamark Ranch, a local ministry with group homes for children in need.

The mentoring group continues to meet, and currently has chapters at three local junior high schools. Our clubs (RealStuff Clubs) focus on leading young men into REAL Manhood that…

  • Rejects passivity
  • Expects the greater reward
  • Accepts responsibility, and
  • Leads courageously. 

As a ministry of our church, we provide male mentors for these young boys. Our groups meet for one hour a week, prior to school in a room reserved on the campus. We abide by the law regarding student leadership and faculty sponsorship (Equal Access Act) to ensure no false allegations of “separation of church and state” have any grounding. We teach sessions on what it means to be a real man, using characters from the Bible and ultimately Jesus Christ as our perfect model.

Each year, as the culmination of our club meetings, we host a “Knighting Ceremony” where 7th graders are “knighted” into the journey of authentic manhood before their peers and family members. Each 7th grader receives a Bible as a gift. Our 8th graders receive the cross pendant from Band of Brothers ministry.

In the past, our mentors were the “knighters” and the presenters of the pendants. However, we now affirm that the ones who need to be doing this are the boys’ fathers (or grandfathers, or other significant male.) As mentors, we gladly stand in the gap for boys who have no father figure in their lives. Yet, for those with fathers, we focus on helping them learn how to do this vital rite of passage.

DSCF9066

So, this year, with over 250 in attendance (boys, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) our young men were charged with the code of being a real man, then their fathers were invited up to knight them (7th graders) or present the pendant (8th graders.) The fathers of 7th graders knighted these boys in the “name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and welcomed them into this fraternity called real manhood. The fathers of the 8th graders presented the pendant and then in their ear, spoke a word of blessing that included these key phrases “I love you! You have what it takes!” plus anything else they desired to say.

DSCF9108

It was a momentous evening and while it was focused on the boys, it truly was a night to remember for these fathers. For some, it was the first time they had spoken such words to their sons. Many had never heard their own fathers say such things. It was a divine rite of passage and we seek to provide support for them along the journey.

Group


There Are No "Participation Trophies" in Life

James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines earlier this year when he took his children's "participation" trophies away and returned them. Some decried this as mean-spirited. Others celebrated the move as something that many parents should be doing.

Here's Harrison's Instagram explaining why the trophies would be returned (and were according to later reports.)

 

More recently, he posted this update about his boys and their trophies (earned this time.)

 Perhaps that is the genesis for this trending commercial for Kia. 

 

 

 

Since we now have a generation that has been rewarded with trophies that are unearned (and likely collecting dust in their rooms on top of shelves) we must address how this impacts faith development and the understanding of eternity. For Boomers or Gen Xers to blame Millennials for their apparent desire to be gifted a trophy for just showing up is short-sighted. I mean, who started giving out the trophies any way?

Haydn Shaw, in his book Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, he shares this account:

A participant in a seminar I led told me about his experience with another parent whose child was on the same youth soccer team: "After our team was beaten soundly in a game, the other child's mother said we should make a 'parent bridge' for the players to run through as they come off the field to get their treats. Mostly joking, I said that as badly as the boys had played, we should just turn our backs and let them get their own treats. The mother was appalled. I asked her, when her son is thirty years old, still living at home, and unable to find a job, if she and her husband will make a bridge, cheer, and give him a juice box for trying his best? I don' think she thought I was funny."

When it comes to eternity, it is unfortunate that many (of all generations) will find themselves standing before Christ, expecting to be ushered into heaven, only to be told "I don't know you?"

That's not just some mythical fairy-tale story. For those of us who believe the Word of God to be true and take this Story seriously, there is a reality regarding the "end of life" trophies. Jesus speaks clearly about this here in Matthew's Gospel account:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

While eternity is a given for all, a home in heaven is only assured for children of God. Children of God are those who have been adopted into His forever family. That adoption comes through receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendering to Him. Only children of the Father get a "trophy." And, it's not a participation trophy. It's a "crown of righteousness" for those who have overcome the world. The great thing about this trophy is that it has already been paid for and secured. You receive it as victors and you can only be a victor if you're "on the team."

 


A Simple Gesture Makes a Major Impact

AN ORPHAN SUNDAY STORY. . .

Sometimes the seemingly "little things" mean more than we know.

Yesterday, we celebrated Orphan Sunday at our church and honored and prayed over the families who either are just entering the foster-care/adoption journey or have been a part of this story for years.

The stories were similar in that they all pertained to orphan care, but so unique due to each circumstance. Stories ranged from the joy and fear shared by young couples who have completed their required classes and home study and now are waiting for a placement, to those who adopted decades prior and honestly shared how the journey has been difficult and, at times, heart-wrenching. . .but ended with "I'd do it all over again." One couple revealed that they had fostered 120 children in their lifetime and had adopted seven. Another shared their adoption of a young man diagnosed with a mental disability. One couple shared how they had adopted two boys years ago and then the father stated "I was adopted as well." Wow! 

Some of the families who shared have been part of our church family for years. Others, for days. 

Lightstock_72161_small_david_tarkington

I received this email from one of the moms who stood before the church to share and to receive the church's prayers. She and her husband are new to our church. They have brought a little boy into their family who faces some difficulties. Her note to me was another reminder of how great our God is and how being adopted into His family is vital. I asked permission to share this and it was granted:

Hi Pastor :)  
 
 
I just wanted to write and let you know that we really enjoyed and were encouraged by your sermon today.  Also, I wanted to share with you about something that happened while we were leaving.  I walked out of the gym (FYI - our 9:15am worship service is held in our Family Ministry Center/Gymnasium) and paused to let a lady pass. She came to me and said, "I just want to hug you" and she did.  I was caught off guard and was trying to figure out if I knew the woman... "Why was she wanting to hug me?"  It was not until I saw her walk away and fighting off tears that I realized she was touched by the sermon we heard this morning.  I have no idea who this lady is or if I will recognize her the next time I see her (I'm horrible with remembering faces) but as I was sitting in my car thinking about what had just occurred, I realized that she was expressing God's love and I was instantly overwhelmed in that moment.
 
I know we will be going through some tough times this week and I believe fully that I will look back at this simple hug from a woman that I do not know and I will feel comfort. Another thought is that this woman probably has no idea just how much that hug and seeing her love through tears means to me.  This is exactly what you have been talking about, she has, without even knowing it, supported my family by simply sharing raw emotion and an embrace of love.    
 
I know you do not know our story, but like many others', it is a tough one.  We love our little guy and have faith that God will continue to heal him.  We definitely have some challenging times ahead of us and I am thankful that we have found a church family to help us not only get through these tough times, but that will be fighting with us and encouraging us along the way.
 

Lost Sheep Eventually Come Home

I saw this story in the news today about a sheep in Australia that wandered away from its flock and became lost. It seems that this sheep was in the bush, alone, for about five or six years.

Chris the Sheep
The very woolly merino sheep was spotted wandering near Mulligan Flats, a grassy woodland just outside the capital Canberra, by bushwalkers. (Photo: RSPCA via AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

The Bible is full of illustrations and parallels using sheep, shepherds and flocks. 

In Jesus' trifecta of "lost" parables found in the Gospels, (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son) he challenges the religious leaders and explains God's heart for the lost and how he does what is needed to reach them. However, there is something in these stories that often is overlooked, at least by me. In each story the lost element (sheep, coin, son) belonged to the owner or to the family. There was a belonging that was evident in the genesis. So, the sheep was at one time part of a flock. The coin at one time was safely in the possession of the woman. Ultimately, the son was a full member of the family. He was not a stranger and held all the rights and privileges of sonship. Yet, in each story something happened. In each case, that which was home and in the right place became lost.

Is this a message on salvation? Perhaps. I don't discount that God seeks and draws all humanity to Himself. I believe that God desires that all be rescued and apart from a relationship with God through Christ, people are lost. 

However, in these situations, it seems that Jesus is speaking of those who once were a part of the flock, home, family (i.e. church.)

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus states. . .

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)

In the case of today's news story, the missing sheep remained lost for years. I'm sure the shepherds and others probably chalked it up as a loss, forgot about it and moved on. Yet, there he was. He's been named "Chris." Apparently, humans have a need to name animals of all kinds in order to feel better about them.

The news reports give this account on Chris' rescue: Chris was found near Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary outside Canberra by bushwalkers who feared he would not survive the approaching southern summer. He was found several miles from the nearest sheep farm. A bushwalker named him Chris after the sheep in the “Father Ted” television comedy series. (AP)

The photographs of Chris the sheep are incredible. I included it in this post above. They're sad and funny in that this animal, unbeknownst to himself, looked terrible. He had lived alone for so long that he likely thought that to be normal and had nothing been done to help him, likely would not have survived the coming summer.

Chris had no idea he was lost!

As I looked at the photos of Chris, I thought "That's what happens to Christians who never engage in the mission. They may be in the building, but they hide in the crowd. They settle for just sitting and soaking in the stuff of church."

In a very real sense, there is "lostness" among those in the church today. Like Chris, they don't even know they're lost.

Oh, and as for the the ones who are far from the church, who have run from it and abandoned its teachings and ultimately abandoned the Gospel. . .they look like this, too. Spiritually, at least. And they don't even realize it.

The best part of the parable as recorded by Luke, in my opinion, is this phrase - And when he comes home.

There are many in our churches praying for lost friends and family members and at times, the natural thing to do is lose hope. This story of a lost sheep gives a clear thought that the one who once belonged in the flock, though straying from truth, will be sought and will be found and will come home one day.

Tweet: Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/VRri4+ Lostness for a member of the flock (or family of God) is a temporary descriptor.

Every church and many families have a "Chris the Sheep" in their story. 

Keep praying and keep believing. One day. . .hopefully soon, "Chris the Sheep" will come home.

What happens then?

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

____________________

The full story of "Chris the Sheep" as presented in the AP, can be found here.


How Transparent Should a Pastor Be?

Yesterday I finished up our series on parenting and family aptly titled "The Fam."

While not initially planned on my part, but due to an overwhelming push (or maybe a pull) by God, I felt compelled at the close of my message on "Rites of Passage" to step away from my notes and shared with our church family some struggles and difficulties my wife, children and I have been facing for a few years.

The Elephant in the Room

For some, it was the "elephant in the room" in that most who know us well know that we have been challenged as parents of adult children. For others, mostly new church attenders and members and those who are not as fully engaged in the life of the church - it was totally new information. In fact, for some, it was probably news that I am married and even have children.

Lightstock_948_small_david_tarkington

Nonetheless, I confessed that by preaching and teaching on the "rites of passage" that parents should take their children through in order for them to enter into authentic adulthood as God designed, I felt a bit like a hypocrite. 

The frustration and feelings led me to almost shelve the message totally. However, I sensed God imploring me to press on.

My struggle is that I have missed numerous "rites of passage" with my son due to his continued rebellion against our family, the Gospel and God that began a number of years ago. Not to go too deeply here, but to put it plainly, in our lives, the story of the "Prodigal Son" is not just a parable from the Bible that makes for a good Sunday School class lesson. It feels like our biography.

So, I shared this with our church family. 

I felt I had done something dangerous.

I felt I had done something risky.

I felt I had revealed, maybe too much.

I felt vulnerable.

I have never been one to embrace the false "perfect pastor" persona that many have created. I fully understand and receive the role God has called me to fulfill. I feel the heavy responsibility to divide the Word rightly and to preach the Gospel clearly. I know that I am called to make disciples and to equip the saints. I do not minimize any of these realities.

I also know that I am to live out my faith in all areas of my life, at church, in the schools, in the community and especially at home.

And. . .I know I am human and though redeemed by God through the blood of Christ, I still, at times, mess up. Call it what it is - I sin.

Like many parents of adult children, I look back wishing I could do some things differently. I look at old photographs of days gone by and wonder "What if that was a moment where I could have spoken into my child's life in a way that would have changed the present?"

Tweet: Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret. @davidtark  Hindsight may be 20/20 but it also can create a negative nostalgia that leads to a life of second-guessing and regret.

So, I shared what I shared.

Not too much. . .but clear nonetheless.

Too transparent?

I don't think so. Not this time, at least. Here's why I say that. Following the service I had numerous (and that means more than ten) adults and parents come to me saying things like "I don't know your details, but know this - you're not alone. We've been struggling through this same story as well. We're in the same boat as you." Some say there's comfort in misery, but this is not the case. The comfort here was two-fold: I was affirmed that the majority of our church loves God, loves people and loves my family. Many were affirmed that their pastor really does understand some of the struggles of life. Perhaps, they needed reminding that the myth of the "perfect family" with no difficult chapters is just that - a myth.

The greatest reminder (And why must we always be reminded of this? Oh yeah, because we're uber forgetful) is that God is sovereign. His love endures. He loves our children even more than we do. He loves us in spite of our failings. He has been in this story before. In fact, He is the author and hero of the story. There is hope.

So, pastor, as you study, pray and prepare to bring the sermon God is leading to your church next week, understand that there is a great possibility you may hit a "TMI" moment (Too much information) but don't preach with a fear of saying too much. Trust God to use your transparency to bring Him glory. . .and perhaps even bring you healing.


Intentional Parenting

08-16-2015 The Fam - Part 2 - Raising Boys and Girls

Yesterday, we launched our First Family Initiative at our church. We hosted counselors and authors, Sissy Goff and David Thomas of Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. They are authors or co-authors of numerous books and have a combined 75 years of experience in family counseling, working primarily with parents and children.

The insights provided yesterday regarding the essentials of godly, healthy parenting were incredible.

The attached audio file is from our Sunday morning gathering and features Sissy & David speaking on the subject of "Intentional Parenting."

Check out our online bookstore here for a full list of available resources from these two and other authors.

Also, go to the Raising Boys and Girls website at raisingboysandgirls.com for resources & updates.

Raising boys and girls app big


Why It's Easier to Care About a Lion Than Babies

There are two stories that seem to be trending in the media this week. These are unrelated stories, but show an interesting contrast on cultural views of life, ethics and value.

Cecil the Lion

The story of Cecil the Lion is a tragic one. Walter Palmer, a dentist on a "hunt" in Zimbabwe killed a lion that had been collared and was part of an ongoing study at Oxford University. Details of the story continue to come out and the debate in the public continues to rage.

Lightstock_65_small_david_tarkington

His statement of regret is seemingly falling on deaf ears and many have declared it empty.

"I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt [...] Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have."" - Walter Palmer

Those who advocate for animal "rights" and celebrities have joined the story to share their opinions of Palmer. Mia Farrow tweeted Palmer's home address and thus, protesters arrived.

Others have shared what they think should happen to Palmer.

"Anything loose, they should cut off." - Betty White

"I understand that his patients are lining up to cancel their appointments and well-deserved. If he was my dentist I would never set eyes on him again." - Bob Barker

The story is gaining ground and mainstream media outlets as well as entertainment outlets continue to push it on the front page or as the lead story of the day.

Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts

The other story that is working its way through social media and some mainstream outlets focuses on the leaked, undercover videos by a pro-life organization showing doctors and leaders of Planned Parenthood admitting to and expressing how they sell organs of aborted babies for profit.

Planned Parenthood has existed for decades. This non-profit organization declares itself as the primary provider of reproductive health and women's services in the nation. This is a sanitized, politically correct way of stating that they provide more abortions than any other organization in the United States.

The first video released is embedded below. Be warned, it is not easy to watch.

The latest is even more disturbing. . .

 

Amazingly, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board has issued this statement in response to the video, as part of a well-orchestrated dance attempting to diffuse this story in the national media.

“People who work for Planned Parenthood give care and respect to those in need, doing God's work. For this we are grateful.” - PP Clergy Advocacy Board

At first, I was surprised that Planned Parenthood even had a Clergy Advocacy Board. However, there is a clear version of "Christianity" in America that has forsaken the truths of the Gospel and the truth of His Word. Therefore, statements like these should not surprise us, though they are greatly disturbing.

Joe Carter, a blogger for The Gospel Coalition referenced it this way:

That some clergy from denominations such as the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and American Baptist Churches would turn a blind eye to the sale of body parts from children slaughtered in the womb is not surprising. Almost all mainline denominations officially support unrestricted access to abortion.

But these ministerial shills have the audacity to frame their support for America’s largest abortion provider as a defense of women. Their kneejerk support for Planned Parenthood reveals a willful ignorance of one of the most anti-woman organizations in America.

How These Stories Are Connected

The story of Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood actually have nothing to do with each other. One is about a hunting trip in Africa that resulted in one animal being wrongly killed.

The other is about the deception of an organization that I believe does evil work and is responsible for the killing of millions of human beings.

What does connect them is the story of life and the message of ethics and truth.

Why It's Easier to Care for a Lion Than Babies

It is easier to jump on the bandwagon that is attacking Dr. Palmer than show offense to what is being done at Planned Parenthood. 

It's easier because the crowd is louder that speaks against Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because others will celebrate you if you "stand up for Cecil."

It's easier because the platform is wide and welcoming for those who would show anger and frustration toward Dr. Palmer.

It's easier because other than tweeting and posting opposition (other than the few who are organizing protests and other actions) there really is no personal engagement in the Cecil the Lion story. Just tweet your anger and use the appropriate hashtag and go about your life.

However, when you assert your offense at what organizations like Planned Parenthood do, you are labeled. You are placed in a category that isn't celebrated by the masses. You will be on an opposite side of celebrities and those who are often worshipped by the masses.

The politically incorrect will not be celebrated.

You will be declared a hater of women (the enemy loves pulling out the "hater" tag for those who stand up for truth) rather than a lover of life and an advocate for babies.

You will have to stand on a narrow platform.

You will have to do more than state your opposition to abortion.

Christians who state their opposition to abortion must in the same breath state and show their advocacy for helping pregnant women, providing for single moms, standing in the gap for teens who are pregnant, affirm and support foster care and adoption services.

It is hypocritical to be against abortion and ignore the role of the church in these other areas. There's no way to be unengaged and be holy.

That's why it's easier.

But then, who said living holy and grounded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ was supposed to be easy?

What Must Be Done

I affirm the calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I am not convinced this will ever happen, but at least the conversation has begun again, and more earnestly than in the past. To know that we are all guilty by proxy of the trafficking of human body parts through our taxes is offensive and atrocious. It's time for the federal government to do the right thing here and for the people standing upon that narrow platform to stand unwaveringly and push strongly for this.

Praying By Name

Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on how we should pray for those who are the names and faces of Planned Parenthood. The God of life is the only one who can transform a heart. Pray for those who do evil, especially those who unknowingly do so. How can they know evil apart from knowing the truth?

Trevin's full post is here.

Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reminded us of our role clearly.

The church of Jesus Christ should recommit ourselves to speaking out for human dignity. What we see in this instance is what has always been true of Planned Parenthood: Mammon worship in collision with the image of God, and the image is sacrificed on the altar of profiteering. This does not go unnoticed to God. He has said, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:1-2).

The heart of man is dark. Jesus is the light and has stated that we are His Light of the world. Let's shine this light brightly.

Love God - Love People - Make Disciples


God Shows His Glory Through a Little Boy

It is amazing how much can change in just one week. This is true for things we watch on the national news, but also in our families and the small circle of friends that we all have.

Last week, the Wood family was at Sea World, braving the Florida heat and enjoying beauty of God's creation, not to mention Clyde and Seamore (bring back the pirate theme, please) and Shamu. Within a matter of days, Orlando was in the rearview mirror and Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville replaced the hotel room.

11737812_1184421944914420_1013288043990846656_nJon Wood serves on the Leadership Team at the church I pastor (First Baptist Church of Orange Park.) He leads our young adult small groups as well as leads in other areas. He and his wife, Mandi are faithful members of our church and precious members of our family. They have three children, Brady, Drew and Grace. 

A couple of years ago, Drew was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He began treatment at Wolfson Hospital and though there have been some serious ups and downs, he has been no less than a warrior and has done so well. In fact, he is scheduled for his final chemo treatment soon. Over this time, his health has been monitored, even more than a typical child's would be. There have been overnight stays at the hospital on occasion, but through it all, God has strengthened him and his family.

Drew is like many young boys. He loves to play. He loves his friends and siblings and family. He loves coming to church. As many of you know, he loves super heroes. His favorite for quite some time has been Robin, Batman's sidekick. I asked him why he liked Robin so much and he answered, "Because he has an 'R' in his name and so do I." Seemed logical, though I didn't bring up that Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and a few more super heroes also have an "R." He was content that this justified Robin being his favorite, so that was good enough for me. The more we talked, it became clear that all these other heroes were liked as well. 

Last week, while on vacation with his family, a cough that he has had for quite some time (and had been monitored) was growing worse and his breathing became more labored. It was clear that this was getting serious.

Upon arrival at the hospital, X-rays were done. Drew was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where he has been for the last week. Each day's X-rays showed a progressive worsening in his lungs, but due to his age, size, medical history and current weakness, great concern was shared regarding intubating him. Therefore, the best treatment at the time was to give medication and observe to see if the common treatments would work.

Unfortunately, the treatments were not making headway and Drew was worsening.

Friends and family members began sharing updates on social media. By the way, social media has its detractors and rightfully so. There is much shared through social media outlets that is far from edifying and God-honoring, but this story has shown how God can redeem all things and through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, thousands of believers throughout the world have joined together in prayer for Drew. The #PrayForDrew has trended locally and among our faith family. I cannot figure out whose Facebook profile I am seeing, in that many have changed their picture to the same "Pray for Drew" icon.

Critical Day

Monday, July 20 was one of the most difficult days for the family. A decision was to be made that day that would be critical. Drew's health was not getting better and Mandi, Drew's mother posted this on her Facebook page. . .

One of the toughest days of my life. This afternoon I bolted to the hospital for what I believed was my last goodbye to my son.

The decision had to be made by Jon and Mandi on this day regarding next steps. Doctors gathered with them and gave them insight into all scenarios. There were basically four options available:

  1. Do nothing other than what was currently being done and hope Drew's body strengthens on it's own.
  2. Do a bronchoscopy to gather fluid from his lungs to determine if its an infection or virus or some other ailment so that treatment could happen.
  3. Do a lung biopsy at some time later, following the bronchoscopy.
  4. Do both the bronchoscopy and biopsy in one procedure.

These may seem like easy options, but none are without risk. The risk intensifies with each one. Jon shared with us that he felt they were in a "Catch-22."

At this time on Monday, a group of family and friends had already gathered at the hospital. By God's providence, there was a PICU room empty right next to Drew's. The hospital staff allowed friends and family to gather there in this makeshift waiting room. It became clear we had been gathered for one purpose - to pray.

We prayed together, interceding in the name of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking from the Father that which we have been invited to seek. We asked God to give Jon and Mandi wisdom and clarity. We asked that God would direct their decision-making and that which was chosen of the available options (or even if a previously unknown option was available) would be clearly God's will.

The decision was made to proceed with option 4 and surgery was to be done Monday afternoon.

The Anointing

I then met with Jon, along with his brother Jeff, and read him a passage from James 5. I asked him if this would be his and Mandi's desire - to have the pastors, elders (in our case, associate pastors) and even deacons present to pray over Drew and anoint him with oil. To be honest, in Baptist life, the anointing of oil is not something we hear much about, but we affirm the veracity of Scripture and know the symbolism of the anointing and power of God to heal.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:13-16 (ESV)

Jon and Mandi agreed this was right and asked for the men who had been set aside by the church and ordained to lead out in this way. I was honored to lead this time of prayer and anointing. The oil was not poured over Drew, as is the case in some biblical accounts, but we did anoint him with oil and prayed over him. The men of God, along with family in the room, offered to the Great Physician the one before us. We hallowed God's name, declared his Kingdom to be revealed in each of us, confessed our sin and sought the face of God. We even prayed that most frightful part of the prayer - "Your will be done" knowing that sometimes His will is not fully revealed to us in the moment. 

This prayer time was no gimmick.

It was no religious routine.

It was no prewritten, overly scheduled gathering. 

It was fresh, vibrant, humbling, and powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, who is present with Christ-followers always, was . . . well, there's no other way for me to describe it. . . very real and experienced at that moment.

10371947_10207412458091889_1429643501158913346_n

Then, We Waited

Dozens of family members and friends waited together in the hospital. Literally thousands more waited for word throughout the world. Seriously - just one posting on our church Facebook page had over 44,000 hits. Believe me, we NEVER get 44,000 hits on a post. These hits were from numerous states, not to mention nations as far away as Canada, Wales, South Africa and Germany, just to name a few.

While we waited, anticipating the doctors to wheel Drew out at any moment, Jon came into the room and shared how humbled he was by the grace and mercy of God. He declared how God was revealing such great truths to him through all of this and offered that Romans 8 was where he kept finding himself.

Jon then went back to Drew's room, joining Mandi who perpetually sat with Drew, talking to him and praying over him, leaving us waiting. Jeff, Jon's brother, began to read Romans 8 and everyone pulled out their Bibles to read along (mostly on cell phones - it's a generational thing.) As Jeff read, the Spirit of God affirmed His presence and the power of His inerrant Word.

11737912_1184337291589552_2127885865885814235_n

When Jeff finished Romans 8:27, I stopped him. I said to the group that the next verse, though very popular was one of the most difficult ones to read. To know that the father of this young boy had been reading and dwelling on this was powerful. I shared that often I will not share this verse to family members in such circumstances. This is not because I feel it to be a bad verse. What Bible verse could be bad? It is just that if this verse is offered apart from the prompting of the Spirit, it can be received wrongly. Timing is vital.

Nevertheless, as Jon and Mandi have been journeying through this, they have been able to go to this verse for comfort and direction. So, we continued on.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

God bless the reading and believing of His Word.

Surgery Delayed

We, the friends and extended family members, moved to a larger waiting area. After about an hour, Jon came down to inform us that Drew's surgery had been delayed. This was a surprise in that we were told earlier that it wouldn't be delayed unless something very serious was happening with another child or unforeseen circumstances occurred. In this case, it was apparent that something was happening with another child or with the surgical team. So we waited.

At first, this caused frustration for Jon and others. Then, we focused on the reality. We had asked God to reign supreme throughout this story. He was doing so. Therefore, it is clear that the delay was not man's design, but God's plan.

The delay was then extended to the next day.

Surgery Day - Tuesday

Yesterday, July 21, Drew's surgery happened. Prior to surgery, he recorded this video. Under his breathing mask, and able to just say a few words, he asked for prayer. This little one had told his father that he believed in God, believed in Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive his sins and save him. This child of God, with child-like faith, believes God loves him and believes prayer is what Christians are supposed to do. His faith may just be stronger than most of us older, seasoned Christians.

 

Surgery took place Tuesday afternoon. It was long - over three hours. The bronchoscope showed "normal" results and the results of the biopsy are pending.

There was concern over the rigidness of Drew's lung tissue and details regarding that were shared with Drew's parents.

Drew is now in the PICU at Wolfson Children's Hospital. It was shared that he will likely feel sick for a few days due to the surgery. He remains on a ventilator.

Prayer Continues

The doctors, nurses and technicians at Wolfson continue to work and they are doing a wonderful job. We continue to work as well, praying for Drew's healing. We pray for Drew and for his entire family during this process.

Look What God Has Already Done

Jon shared with me that through all of this, his prime desire is that God use this to bring people to Himself. I was humbled immediately to hear this. Jon's honesty and vulnerability in this is clear and this desire is not religious God-talk or just saying what others expect to hear from a church leader. Jon believes this and seeks to live this out.

May God be glorified.

We know that God has already answered our prayers. To be at this point IS an answer to prayer. To see how denominational and church lines have been dropped and those who claim the name of Jesus Christ have unified in prayer is amazing. 

In a culture that causes great distress among Christ-followers, He has shown Himself to be sovereign through this.

The faith of those whose Christianity is little more than attending a service every now and then and maybe praying over meals has been challenged. 

Young families who are so busy and seeking to provide multiple opportunities for their children (sports, bands, cheerleading, dance, clubs, etc.) which are all good have been forced to stop and focus upon what is most important. I am seeing parents looking at their own precious children differently. God has reminded and is reminding them of these gifts. 

The young church has stepped up. There are surveys and statements throughout the culture about the millennial and Gen-Xers who are abandoning their faith. What we have seen is a resurgence of young believers, centered around the need for community and desiring to do something that matters and realizing that prayer and service to their friends (watching the other kids, mowing their lawn, taking care of their home, providing hotel rooms near the hospital, bringing meals, etc.) are vital and important and needed. 

Jon and I texted late last night before I finally told him to get some sleep. Here are some of the words from a father seeking to lead and love well, who is himself being used by God, as well as his wife, for His glory.

Screenshot 2015-07-22 09.47.51

Screenshot 2015-07-22 09.47.25

Well Done Church

Jon asked a question I hear in hospitals all the time. He asked, "How do people who don't know Christ and don't have a church family get through times like this?" I answered, "They don't. They just fake it."

We don't have to fake it.

God's church has numerous purposes, but primarily we exist to bring Him glory. By loving Him and loving others, we do so. The Great Commission and Great Commandment have been being fulfilled through this journey. 

Keep praying.

Keep believing. 

Keep the faith.

Be strong enough to pray "Your will be done" and know that God determines that.

For continued updates on Drew's story, "Like" my Facebook page or our church's page.

As you share your prayers and thoughts on social media, use the #PrayForDrew hashtag, please.