We Must Pray for Other Churches in Our Community

Do you love your community?*

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

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

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

The church-saturated community

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

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

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

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

But what about those churches who do? 

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

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

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We should pray for other churches because...

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

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

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

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

_____________________

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

 


The Difficulty of Being a Single Adult in the Church

About fifteen years ago, prior to being called as the Lead Pastor at our church, I had the honor of serving as our Single & Young Married Adult Pastor at our church. This was following my initial stint as Student Pastor. During that time, I learned much. Mostly, I learned how much I did not know regarding ministry to and with those who were categorized as single adults in our church.

For many current evangelical churches in America, the single adult ministry often is forgotten or deemed unimportant. While that may not be stated aloud, the lack of focused ministry to and with those who are unmarried proves otherwise. Even if not intended, this appears to be what is experienced by the unmarried believers in the church family.

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Recently, I was leading our deacon ordination council interviews with prospective deacons. One young man is newly married (within the past two years) and I asked him point blank "How difficult was it for you to serve faithfully in the church as a single man?" The question had nothing to do with the ordination interview. That was complete. It was simply a question that had been on my mind recently. His response was not unexpected, nor shocking. He stated, "Very difficult." 

His response was centered around the fact that many, if not most church programs and activities tend to be promoted with "family" or for those who are married.

Years ago one of our senior adult men (married for decades and wife still alive) asked me why we even had a single adult ministry. His question seemed odd, if not a bit offensive at first, but as I discovered, came from a sincere desire to understand. The last time he could have been categorized as a single adult was right after high school. He remains happily married and did not know why those who were unmarried would not feel comfortable in a couples' class.

The truth is some do feel comfortable with others, regardless of the marital status of others. Yet, the fact remains that not all do.

While our church is intent on ministering to and with families, leading parents to be lead disciple-makers in their homes, the reality is that while unintended, some who are not married feel left out. Some have expressed that it is like being the friend of the high school student with a boyfriend and being invited to go to the theme park with them. It can be enjoyable, but you end up sitting behind the happy couple on the roller coaster, or even worse, in the "Tunnel of Love."

Why is it this way in the church?

Writing as a man who has been married to the same woman since I was twenty years old, some may view my responses and analysis here as uninformed or disconnected. Yet, as a pastor called to lead a congregation into the fullness of God's teachings and minister to those who have been segmented into ministries based on age, gender, and marital status over the years, I hold a heavy responsibility to do my best for all who are part of our church family. 

Without doing an extensive survey, but simply talking to people who are single, and having served in pastoral ministry for almost thirty years, here are some things that seem to be making it so difficult to be an engaged (not engaged to be married, but engaged strategically in ministry), faithful single adult believer in the local church. Of course, there are exceptions and varied other things that could be listed as well. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.

1. There's a post-high school and college gap in the church.

If your church has a vibrant, strong student ministry - that is wonderful! Some churches even have a strong collegiate ministry. But, what about when a person makes it through those ministries that include events, mission trips, camps, conferences, Bible studies, and more? If your church is like most, many have couples classes and small groups for adults. These are good. But...what about the adult who did not get married in college or even has a significant other at this point? This gap is real and what many have discovered is that these ministries for youth and students tend to have designated pastors or ministers leading them. The youth pastor is the go-to person for teenagers. There may even be a collegiate pastor. Yet, the lack of designated leadership for the single adult ministry post-high school and college often leaves a large demographic with no where to land. 

Even if the church is not large and there are no designated pastors or ministers, the gap is still felt. Some single adults who desire to be married find in the smaller church that they stand alone in what well-intentioned, but wrong friends and parents claim a "small pond" and thus, the single adult is encouraged to go elsewhere to find a prospect for marriage.

This concept of "finding a prospect" leads well into the next point.

2. Singleness is often viewed as a stage of life to survive.

It may not be intentional, but whether from parents, grandparents, other family members, or those in the church, offhanded comments like "When are you going to get married?" often come across negatively. 

Rather than viewing singleness as a stage to survive and get through until you find that perfect someone, could it be the church should elevate those who are living faithfully to the Lord as single adults. Perhaps even honoring their faithfulness as Paul alluded to in his letter to the church at Corinth.

So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 1 Corinthians 7:38 (ESV)

This is not a shot at the married, but should be viewed as it is intended, as an affirmation for the single believer.

Often in the church, this affirmation is absent. One pastor of a neighboring church told me years ago when referencing his single adult ministry that "There are some who are single for a season and others who are single for a reason." While that statement could be taken well, if intended to affirm the "reason" as being for the calling of God, this pastor actually was speaking in a demeaning manner of those who apparently just couldn't get it together and find a spouse. That is wrong and in the age of the easily offended, that statement should offend.

In an article featured in Relevant Magazine, Preston Sprinkle states the following truths regarding the subtle and not-so-subtle anti-singleness message in the church:

Much of this anti-singleness message saturates the air of our churches, sometimes with words, other times with actions. The message is usually it is subtle and unintended. But single people hear it loud and clear: You’re incomplete until you get married and have at least two kids. (But if you have more than four, then people think you’re weird again.)

Just ask any post-college single person at your church how they feel. Ask them if they feel like they are valued, honored, respected, loved and invited into the lives and homes of other families of the church. Ask them if they are ever made to feel incomplete by off-handed comments (“Why aren’t you married yet?”) or sermon illustrations that always draw from parenting. Ask them how they felt on the weekend that the church was away at Family Camp.

The fact is, marriage is a small blip in our existence. We’re all born single and called to steward our singleness for the first 20-30 years of our life. Many people will be called out of singleness and into marriage and then called to steward their marriage to the glory of God. But us married folks will be single again, in this life, whether through divorce or death of our spouse. And then we’ll spend eternity with God as single persons once again. (Full article here.)

3. Marriage has become an idol

This is a difficult topic. Marriage between a man and woman is ordained by God. It is good and is even used as an illustration of Christ's relationship with his church. It is honorable. It is holy. Yet, as with all good and godly things, there is the potential for marriage to become one's idol. The family unit has also become this for many in the American church.

It's difficult because the church actually, unintentionally, propagates this opportunity for false worship.

One woman declared:

What truly should be addressed in church is the idolatry of marriage. So many singles (well, for women) feel as if they can’t be on mission until they get married. (from article here)

When thriving as a Christian is equated to being married and having children, these great and godly elements of life are elevated to places they do not belong. 

This does not mean the church should avoid ministry to the married. In fact, with the divorce rate so high and marital issues between believers continually present, ministry to and with pre-married and married couples must continue. The godly marriage takes effort. No one drifts toward that reality.

Yet, alongside a strong ministry for those who are married, a vibrant, intentional, gospel-focused ministry with single adults must happen as well. Otherwise, the multi-faceted church intent on "being all things to all people" for the sake of reaching some, ignores a large demographic in the community.

4. We join ministries, not the church

The American church has been impactful for generations, but throughout the twentieth century an industrial model of business entered into the church. The programmatic structure became expected and helpful. It was beneficial for many as children's, student, age-graded, and gender-based ministries developed. The development of single adult ministry emerged as it was discovered the gap existed.

Even now, we understand that programmatic division, while helpful with age-based learning stages, often leaves many on the outside looking in when they cannot find where they fit.

The church's focus should not be built on a demographic study or gender focus, but solely on the Word of God. This may seem contradictory to the premise that single adults should be ministered to and with, but while I do believe a focused ministry for the unmarried (with or without children, never married, divorced, or widowed) is vital, I strongly believe that single adults should not be relegated to a satellite ministry that seems to orbit the church. I believe the same for student ministry and others. God ordained the church. We are called to unite together as his church locally for his glory and our good. If a person simply joins a ministry (regardless the demographic attached) they and the church find themselves disobedient to God's call. How many teenagers in our churches really were never called to unite with the church and fall under the shepherding leadership of the lead pastor, but simply joined a youth group and hung out with a youth pastor? Yeah - that hit a nerve, right? It's the same for any ministry.

5. The return on investment is not high enough

Oops. That's hitting too close to home, right? 

This is a sinful reality among many churches, but let's call it what it is. If a church seeks to grow, increase membership, and along the way increase its budget, the best option is to focus intently on family units. Create a ministry for mom and dad and the kids. It's a higher return. 

The single adult will have one income. It may be lower (not always the case) than the married adult. The activity in ministry is going to be limited to just the one person, rather than an increase in children's, youth, men's, and women's ministry. When it's all about numbers, the one becomes less valuable than the ninety-nine. So much so that often the one is left to fend for himself and ultimately will disappear from the fellowship.

What is the answer?

The answers will be varied, but it begins with the realization that all these issues and more are not only present, but prevalent in many of our churches. To ignore a large portion of the population is to simply say, either overtly or covertly "You don't belong." 

The answer likely has nothing to do with hiring a single adult pastor. It likely isn't to elevate a programmatic ministry model as the answer either. Yet, it begins with a passion to see all people come to Christ and thrive as part of the local church.  

Not every adult is called to be married. Yet, every Christian, married or single, is called to God and equipped for service within his church. 

As a pastor, I must be conscious of this reality and ensure that not every sermon illustration is about marriage or parenting - though many are from my own story, so I won't ignore them. I must ensure that when seeking those to lead in ministries, we are not only looking from a pool of married persons. I must lead biblically in all areas, focusing on the value we have as children of God to be bestowed by God alone and not elevated by whether an individual is married, single, divorced, widowed, or "it's complicated."


When Your Church Hires the Wrong Pastor

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

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

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

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

But what about the bad hire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The wife is not called.

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

Uh...no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it's a package deal.

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

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

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

Yet, some of those who come are not called.

They want to be on staff. 

They want a title.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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


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

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

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

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

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

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

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

 

Dean hit the nail on the head in this comparison.

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

Christmas at Church

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

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

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

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

Weird.

________________

Photo credit: tncountryfan on Visualhunt /CC BY-NC


What Is Holy Sexuality? - A Review of Christopher Yuan's Latest Book

Years ago I met Dr. Christopher Yuan for the first time. I was at a denominational convention where he and his mother had a booth set up to promote their ministry and book Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. At the time, I was intrigued by the brief introduction to them and their story. Little did I know that my wife and I would be experiencing similar circumstances when our son expressed to us that he identified as gay. It was during this time I contacted Christopher and invited him to speak at our church. All in our family were encouraged by his message of hope. Christopher shared his personal story along with his parents during our morning worship service. That evening he led two seminars related to Christianity, the church, and LGBTQ+ individuals. It was during his presentations that I first heard Christopher use the term "holy sexuality." He used the term in his first book as well. This term is more than just another evangelical buzzword. As Rosaria Butterfield has said, this term is "a concept that changed the paradigm of what it means to live out God's best for us."

Yuan book

Just a few weeks ago, I received an advanced readers copy (ARC) of Christopher's newly released book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story. I began reading and found myself highlighting phrases and paragraphs on almost every page. Dr. Yuan unpacks so much related to sexuality. While he addresses LGBTQ+ identifiers, his book is not focused solely on these. Sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual is sin. Yuan states...

We cannot properly understand human sexuality unless we begin with theological anthropology. Anthropology, in general terms, is the study of humanity. Essentially, it's the human search to answer the important question Who am I?

All our thoughts and actions are influenced at some level by how we answer the question Who am I? This suggests a closer relationship between essence and ethics than many realize. The two inform each other. Who we are (essence) determines how we live (ethics), and how we live determines who we are.1

Dr. Yuan's solid emphasis on the gospel and identity as bestowed by God presents a firm foundation for the book. As an HIV+ man who had for years lived sexually promiscuous as a gay man, was a self-described partier and drug user, and eventually went to prison for dealing drugs, Yuan does not speak as one who views sin as superficial or overly-simplified. He writes and speaks as one who has been in the pit, experienced an undeserved rescue, and continues to live amazed at the grace and mercy offered from God. The main character in Dr. Yuan's story is not himself, but God. 

Some have declared Yuan's perspective on anthropology or ontology to be flawed. I have read declarations that he misuses data and scientific proof. Others who identify as LGBTQ+ see Dr. Yuan as a sell-out or a betrayer. The negative reviews of his books mostly feign to be intellectual analyses, but often reveal a personal vitriol against Dr. Yuan based on his current message and lifestyle.

Yet, for those who have actually read Yuan's writings (not just the two books here, but also his second book Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: A Qualitative Study of Reducing Marginalization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Same-Sex Attracted Students at Christian Colleges and Universities) or heard him speak, it is clear that Dr. Yuan is not playing fast and loose with science, research, or historical aspects of biblical Christianity and sexual ethics. His revealed research and intelligent insight debunks any theory that he simply bases his beliefs on conservative, biblical talking points or Twitter-size hot-button phrasing. Does Dr. Yuan have a personal agenda? Absolutely. Every author does. Every Christian does. Dr. Yuan's agenda is not to harm others at all. His agenda is revealed in his writings clearly. It is simply to declare the message of the gospel well, unapologetically, without compromise, and fully in love. 

On a practical level, Dr. Yuan's latest book on holy sexuality should be read by any evangelical pastor seeking to minister well to those in the church or community desiring to better understand their LGBTQ+ friends and relatives without abandoning biblical fidelity. He addresses the reality of loving without affirming. For those who do not believe their friends or church families are impacted by this reality of culture, it is time to wake up. Many pastors would rather just not address these issues. Some who have done so end up doing more harm than good, that is certain. For pastors seeking to ignore the very real questions being asked by those self-identifying as gender fluid or any one of the many letters being expressed by the common LGBTQ+ identifier (or their loved ones) the fact is clear - you cannot remain silent. Your silence speaks loudly. 

Dr. Yuan's book is not only informational related to the biblical understanding of sexuality, but relatable, insightful, and practical. The included study guide provides real-life questions that can be addressed in small group studies. These all point to biblical answers and are firmly rooted in the gospel and a biblical worldview.

I agree with Rosaria Butterfield who stated in her review that this book is the "most important humanly composed book about biblical sexuality and godly living for our times."

I encourage every Christian with a loved one identifying as LGBTQ+ to read this book. I encourage every single adult Christian (heterosexual or same-sex attracted) to read this book to better understand the very real concept of holy singleness and holy sexuality. In addition to Dr. Yuan's clear and correct take on holy sexuality, his focus on the value and role of those whom God has called to singleness within the body of Christ is powerful and needed. He addresses head-on the idolatry that has overtaken some within the Christian church regarding the false elevation of marriage as essential for spiritual maturity.

Read This Book

There's more to unpack here, but for sake of space, I will end with "Read this book! It is needed and valuable."

The book is available at these sites and more: Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  CBD.

_________

1Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, (New York: Multnomah, 2018), 9.


Somebody's Feelings Will Be Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Promise You Can Bank On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"I Came To Get Things Ready for What Was Yet to Come" - Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Twenty-five years ago (1993) the trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky unanimously voted to hire Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. to serve as the ninth president of the institution. I was finishing up my Master of Arts degree from what was at the time the largest seminary in the world, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. I remember during that final spring semester hearing of the hiring of Dr. Mohler at Southern.

At that time, I had not heard of Dr. Mohler. He was known in Southern Baptist circles certainly, but I was a young student who surrendered to full-time ministry while in my small Texas church. What was happening in Kentucky never crossed my mind. What I did know was that SBTS was not the seminary to attend if I desired to be led by biblical inerrantists who were conservative in their theological understanding. I learned this while in junior high school in Fairborn, Ohio (my father was in the Air Force, thus the moves from Ohio to Texas.) Our pastor in Ohio had just retired from the Air Force and was going to continue his studies in seminary. The closest seminary was SBTS, but he made it clear that he would not be attending the seminary in Louisville. I overheard our pastor explaining why this was, and while I was not really focused on biblical inerrancy as an eighth grader, I knew that to attend a school where the Bible was taught as true, from beginning to end, was important. At least that's how I viewed it as a junior higher.

Nevertheless, as God continued to clarify his calling upon my life, I eventually found myself enrolled at SWBTS. I have fond memories of the time and while SWBTS was dealing with leadership issues as well, it was nothing compared to what was happening at Southern.

SBTS had just hired a 33-year-old man to serve as president. The conservative resurgence was in full effect and while many SBC universities and colleges were not reclaimed, the seminaries would be, and SBTS was perhaps the biggest challenge.

Dr. Mohler stepped into the leadership role and immediately was faced with opposition.

His steadfastness to biblical fidelity and theological truth is to be admired and lauded. In fact, in 1995 it appeared that his tenure as president could go down as one of the shortest in SBC history. Yet, he prevailed. The trustees affirmed his leadership. Following the loss of millions of dollars of endowments and having over 60 percent of the faculty leave (either willingly or through termination), the days at SBTS did not seem sunny. 

For those who remember, we understand how close we came to losing our first seminary to the throes of theological liberalism. 

Yet, Dr. Mohler persevered. God has since blessed SBTS in so many ways. 

Mohler

Dr. Mohler continues to lead the seminary well. Enrollment is up. The work being done through SBTS continues to impact the world for the sake of the Gospel. 

Dr. Mohler is not perfect. He would attest to that truth. Nevertheless, from my perspective, Dr. Mohler was God's man at SBTS twenty-five years ago. He is the right man for the role now. For all that he has done at SBTS, I am thankful.

I have just completed my Doctor of Educational Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Come December, I will have the privilege of shaking Dr. Mohler's hand on the stage in Alumni Chapel and then will be honored to wear not only the title of Doctor, but of SBTS alumnus. 

Many younger students at Boyce College (the undergraduate college of SBTS) and Southern likely do not know all that took place during those years in the mid-1990s. Even many older Southern Baptists may not have been aware. Yet, as we thank God for all he has done, and honor Dr. and Mrs. Mohler for their service to SBTS and all Southern Baptists, it is wise to look back and remember from where we have come, while looking ahead to a bright future.

Throughout this week, trustees, faculty, students, and alumni have celebrated Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s twenty-five years of service as president of The Southern Baptist Seminary. I am thankful as well. Please take the time to view the video highlighting this occasion.

 

Thank you Dr. Mohler.


The Real Results of the Kavanaugh Hearing

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

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

Kavanaugh's Nomination

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

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

Kavanaugh's Accusers

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

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

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

If We Could Get Beyond the Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was credible?

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

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

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

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

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

Can There Be Two Truths?

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

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

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

The Real Results of This Hearing

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

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

The Church in the #MeToo Era

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

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


Freedom and Dependence

Independence Day in America is a time for the red, white, and blue apparel to arrive, complete with vintage Old Navy t-shirts and clothing that looks like it was made from a flag (BTW - according to extensive research ... a five-second search on Google ... it is not illegal to wear clothing that has stars and stripes on it, but it is not appropriate to wear clothing made from an actual flag. There you go.) However if you do wear your 4th of July inspired, patriotic shirt, don't be like this grandma featured on Twitter who thought she was honoring America by wearing this shirt for the past twenty-five years on the 4th, but apparently was actually wearing a shirt that looked like the Panamanian flag.

 

 

This day is often a time to celebrate our freedoms as Americans with family get-togethers, cookouts, ball games, parades, and of course fireworks.

The United States is far from perfect, but even with our imperfections and challenges, we find ourselves blessed in ways others throughout history and in other parts of the world today long for. Our freedoms, however are often taken for granted. Friends who grew up in other parts of the world, under heavy oppression and great difficulty, remind me regularly how much we presume regarding personal freedoms. 

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Yet, as stated earlier, we still have far to go. Many in our own nation face oppression and injustices in ways that others cannot imagine. These are due to a variety of circumstances.

This past weekend many Christians were debating aloud and online about the veracity of holding patriotic services in their churches on Sunday. This debate comes every year at this time. What had been viewed as normative for evangelical churches in past decades (the shelving of hymns and sacred songs for patriotic anthems, coupled with overtly America-themed testimonies and messages) now causes many to wonder. From my perspective, anything that is allowed to supersede Christ and the gospel in a service of worship runs the risk at best of passively confusing attenders regarding the focus of worship. Therefore, while we may at times add a song or two speaking of God's blessings upon us, we will not intentionally shift our focus from Christ by allowing anything (or anyone) stand in his place. 

Ultimately, if your worship service looks just like the community Independence Day rally, you may be doing it wrong.

Believe me ... I know how to do things wrong. I have much practice at it.

Nevertheless, to ignore that which God has blessed us with would be insulting, in my opinion. So for the freedoms this experiment of a republic has allowed for us, continues to allow us, and hopefully will offer in the future, we thank God. 

Freedom

I'm reminded of a deeper freedom, however, than those listed in the Bill of Rights. This freedom is expressed throughout the New Testament, but most clearly in Galatians 5. 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

It sounds obvious. Almost, too simple. It is for freedom we have been set free. Of course. Yet, the freedom we have in Christ is often ignored as the old nature continues to rise up within us, leaving us living as slaves to sin. Sin that has already been defeated. Sin that has already been covered.

Dependence

As Americans we often speak with pride of our independence. That's what the holiday we're celebrating this week focuses upon. I love this holiday. Yet, as Christians sometimes the prideful statements of individual independence overwhelm the fact that as free children of God we are not independent, but fully dependent. Our dependence on Christ is what gives us freedom. 

While we may tout our rights in this nation, we must remember that we have sacrificed our individual rights on the altar in order to live as fully-devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. It is in this dependence upon God we are free indeed.

That is why we declare our dependence. In Christ alone. Today and every day.

Here's a good reminder of this by the Mississippi Mass Choir...

 

 


J.D. Greear Doesn't Need Me To Speak For Him...But, This Is Slanderous

Just last week the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as president. I was in attendance in Dallas for our annual meeting. The workings of the SBC can be confusing for some, especially those who are not Southern Baptists. While this one-page synopsis of our denominational structure and leadership is correct, it still may prove confusing. Nevertheless, for those who wonder, I recommend you click this link for A Closer Look.

President Greear

J.D. Greear was elected as the SBC president this year with approximately 70% of the vote. Some have portrayed this as a major shift in the Southern Baptist Convention, stating that it as a shift from wing tips to Air Jordans. Greear is the second youngest SBC president to be elected in our history.

Greear

Some declare this election positively as our denomination seeks to engage the world we live in with the Gospel, reaching all peoples, all generations, and varying cultures with the unchanging message of hope from Jesus Christ.

Others lament Greear's election, fearing that the elements of biblical fidelity and denominational integrity will be lost now that a "youth movement" has occurred.

While I wish I could say this amazes me, unfortunately, it does not.

To declare Greear as some "young buck" intent on watering down the Scriptures in order to be relevant to a changing culture is to discount who he is, what he has preached, where he has led his church, and the affirmations from senior leaders throughout the SBC who have voiced their support of his election prior to the vote in Dallas. 

While serving as the SBC president, J.D. Greear continues to pastor his flock at Summit Church in North Carolina. The responsibilities he has now been given do not erase those from his local church, but are added to them. In other words, this is a heavy task given him, not just by the messengers (voting representatives of SBC churches in Dallas) but primarily from God. J.D. Greear, his family, and his church need our prayers.

I have talked to J.D. in the past and through mutual friends, partnerships, and associations in Baptist life and church planting, we have been privileged to come alongside some from Summit Church and the Summit Network who have planted new churches in North Carolina and Florida.

I am confident in Greear's leadership skills, but mostly in his heart for the Lord, his doctrinal integrity, his hold to biblical inerrancy, and affirmations of our confessions of faith as Baptists. Therefore, in no way do I fear that Greear has or will lead his church or our denomination down a path of liberalism or cultural acquiescence. That is why I was shocked and appalled to read the recent article published by the American Family Association (AFA) by Bryan Fischer.

The American Family Association

For many years, conservative evangelicals have aligned with the AFA on social issues. This non-profit was founded by Reverend Donald Wildmon in Mississippi back in 1977 as an "organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on television or other media." Later the shift was toward a broader emphasis on moral issues as related to families. Many conservatives appreciated the work of the AFA, as did I. Some even supported the group financially. The AFA has been known for years as promoting and leading boycotts of corporations and companies they determined were promoting immoral and anti-family material. Whether boycotts were effective remains debatable, but nevertheless, issues of cultural shift were brought to the front-burner through them.

You may or may not like the AFA or the work they have done. The point of this post is not to debate the existence and work of the AFA, but the trending article published on their site by Bryan Fischer. 

Fischer's article makes for good click-bait, especially for those who love reading about divisive things and who declare the end of evangelicalism and especially the SBC being imminent. 

Slanderous?

Some would say that slander is too harsh a word. Yet, as I read Fischer's words, that was what came to mind. In his article he quotes Greear, then dissects his words in such a way to lead the reader down a path far from the intent of J.D.'s statements. Fischer quotes a sermon Greear preached when he spoke of loving our neighbors as Christ commanded, even those who are homosexual. Greear clearly states that our love for people as God's image-bearers is mandated. As you read the sermon transcript, it is clear that in no way does Greear state that homosexuality is not sin. In fact, he states the opposite as Scripture affirms. That taken with other postings, interviews, and especially the sermon Greear preached on Monday evening in Dallas at this year's SBC Pastor's Conference clearly affirms that Greear stands firmly on Scripture in calling sin what it is, but also calling Christians to fulfill the Great Commandment.

Yet, Fischer apparently reads this differently. He quotes:

But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.

I would say the key phrase here is "it appears to me." To which I say to Mr. Fischer, you're wrong. What you deem as appearing to you is not what Greear has said, not only here in this message, but in the myriad of other statements and sermons.

If you have the time, go ahead and watch this message that Greear preached at the 2014 ERLC Conference on "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage." It seems to clear up what has been presented as contradictory by Mr. Fischer. I would post the sermon J.D. preached at this year's Pastors' Conference, but it is not available online at this time.

In case you wish to read Fischer's full article, it is available here. I sincerely hope the AFA will remove it. Nevertheless, I link it so you can read it for yourself. I don't want to be accused of pulling one paragraph out of context. 

I may be accused of simply standing up for someone I know. I am okay with that. I hope other brothers and sisters in our convention stand up as well. There will likely be many (there already have been some) who will write, preach, and speak against the leadership of J.D. Greear. J.D. is not perfect. He has, and will, make mistakes. However, I believe God has called him to this task for now. He is our convention president and many will be listening more closely to what he says and doesn't say over the next twelve months. 

To my friends who continue to listen to AFA Radio, support the work of this organization, and line up with all that is produced from them, please encourage them to remove the slanderous article that contradicts what Greear has declared historically. I'm not calling for a boycott of an organization that leads in boycotts, but maybe removing support should be considered. Would that be a boycott? Maybe.

J.D. Greear doesn't need me to make these statements on his behalf. Yet, as a brother in Christ, a fellow pastor and servant to our Lord, these statements need to be made. I hope others will agree, stand alongside J.D., praying for him and refuse to be caught in this tangle of misinformation, deceit, and untruths.