Response to Charlottesville, VA

SwasticaThis Sunday, in response to the deplorable actions of white supremacists and according to the necessity of the calling on my life as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I spoke to my church family in a public manner to register my disgust with the racism on display in Charlottesville. It seems odd that a minister of the Gospel would have to speak up and articulate a position which should be assumed as it is the ONLY position that can be held by any follower of Jesus and student of the Holy Scriptures of God. In the very public age in which we live, it seems necessary to also make my comments available as they were given extemporaneously during the first 12 minutes of the service this weekend. The clip is available HERE.

There is no Christian justification for any of the racist actions of what is known as the alt-right movement and the display of hatred at the weekend’s protests is categorically and completed indefensible. The position of our church and my position personally is that of the Word of God: That all men are created in the Imago Dei (Image of God) and therefore possess equal and inherent worth in the sight of God. Any different view discounts and disagrees with Holy Scripture and is cause for man to repent and seek forgiveness from God and his fellow man.

Any movement or action of a person or people that treat others as “lesser beings” based on race is evil, despicable, indefensible, ungodly, unholy, and is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A racist is no worse a sinner than any other sinner. All sin is offensive to God and damaging toward others. Our heart is for the reconciliation of all men to God, knowing that all who come to Him are made acceptable as one people known not by the deeds of our hands or the color of our skin but by the name of our Savior, Lord, and King.

We grieve with those who are hurt, frightened, or justifiably angered by the reprehensible conduct of those who advocate for all forms of racism and for any superiority of person on the basis of race.

We call on sinful men, including those protesting and advocating for white supremacy to repent and turn to God begging His forgiveness and pleading with Him for mercy. Further, we call on sinful men of all ethnicities to turn to God and from self, to trust in Christ alone who is the avenger of the weak and the judge of all mankind, and to seek reconciliation with God in consideration of God’s gospel work in our lives.

I do not know of one evangelical Christian who affirms or tolerates the sinful position of racists of any stripe. Racism is categorically wrong. That said, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who have publicly denounced the actions of racists in Charlottesville in recent days so as to remove any perceived ambiguity as to my position.

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Why I will not see “The Shack.”

the-shack-182x300Many will invest fifteen or twenty dollars this weekend and over the weeks to come to go see Hollywood’s rendition of the best-selling novel, “The Shack.” Most things that happen in the culture at large pass by me without comment but the nature of this offering on the big screen has forced me into the discussion. My interest is “pastoral.” I do not hate books, movies, or believe that Christians should boycott everything not affirmed by some denominational headquarters. In fact, I generally recommend “critical exposure” to cultural phenomenon like “The Shack” so that believers can have an honest and meaningful dialogue with seekers who have questions.

Many in Christian circles have sought to position evangelistic campaigns around this movie. They see it as a conversation starter. For these, the movie will surface the problem with human pain and the benevolent nature of God who brings healing to human pain. So…what’s my “resistance” to such a benign offering?

A few people have asked me if I planned to see the movie. I do not. When the book was first published, I purchased a copy and read it critically, which is to say that I looked for the theological landmines to see if they outweighed the potential good in such a fictional work as this book. In my estimation, the latent theological assertions render this book (and I suspect, the movie) “dangerous” for the average reader or moviegoer.

WHAT? How can I make such a sweeping assertion? Three reasons:

  • Most readers lack theological discernment when it comes to such works. A 2010 article by the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler addresses this concern.
  • Many readers lack the theological foundation to even begin discerning truth from error. I am not speaking of a “Sunday School” knowledge here but am suggesting that if you have not taken time to understand Orthodox Christian Doctrines and why the church has consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed them, then you are highly susceptible to accepting the unorthodox suggestions in this book as foundational.
  • Many readers open the gateway of their minds by assuming the harmless nature of “fiction.” They do so, often times, to their detriment. There is an entire subculture of conspiracy theorists in our world. These are the folks who are convinced of the government’s involvement with Kennedy’s assassination, argue that helicopters and satellites observe and record everything, and have seen Nicolas Cage in”National Treasure” a dozen times and now believe in a secret society of knights that run the government as a shadow team working for the President. Though the suggestions in this movie, for instance, are baseless…they are accepted by those who like to say…”Well, maybe…who knows.”

For the viewer or reader with theological discernment…I find no real harm in the book. Just be critical. If you hear something that sounds foreign to your doctrinal foundation…find out WHY before you simply accept the proposition that “maybe” the Trinity is eternally submissive to One Another and to humanity. Listen carefully before merely accepting that God does not punish sin and merely allows sin to be its own punishment. Ask yourself, “Where is the author coming from? Why even undertake such a work? (This information is well-documented if you look for it.)

As for me, I’ll save my nickels for a movie with more substance and content…like the next release of the StarWars saga :). If you go and hear something that stretches your mind and want to know how it fits with Orthodox Christianity…give a shout. I’d enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to offer a perspective that may help bring clarity.

From and To…

Bible, study (2)“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we had redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14).

“Praise God…I’m not what I used to be,” declared the excited old Christian man. What a beautiful, accurate, yet incomplete truth of the Christian transformation.

As a pastor for a while now and as a disciple of Jesus for a while longer, I get the sentiment of the statement. When a person is saved…when he truly realizes the scope of His depravity and the depths of Christ’s forgiveness, it is easy to give thanks that we are not the same wicked people we once were before Christ. This certainly does not imply that we have arrived…as if we have somehow achieved righteousness. In no way can a genuine understanding of the Christian life conclude that anyone we know has achieved righteousness. Even the most saintly senior adult grandmother (who no one would dare charge with a sin) has a heart so desperately wicked that even she cannot comprehend it!

Our nature is rebellious at its core and desperately resists the goodness of God, AND (not but) He rescued us from the domain of darkness…redeeming us through His Son Jesus.WE ARE NOT WHAT WE USED TO BE!

Beautiful and INCOMPLETE

If that were the story, it would be akin to being a murderer who is released from prison. Still a convicted murderer…just free to walk around town and live among a group of people who are afraid they are “next.” Our relationship with Christ is far more though as the verse I shared reminds us. We WERE rescued from the domain of darkness AND transferred to the Kingdom of Christ Jesus! This truth is theologically pregnant with meaning.

Our identity is not so much what we are NO LONGER…but in whose Kingdom we now reside. We were transferred to the Kingdom of Christ. This Kingdom has a King (obviously) and we are not Him (not always so obvious). We are not “freed” prisoners but are now Kingdom citizens! Our new lives are identified with who (and whose) we are rather than what we have done and been forgiven for.

Often I talk with believers who struggle with this. I STRUGGLE WITH THIS OCCASIONALLY! My mind will drift back to the rebellious, self-willed person who ruined his life. If I am not careful, I will linger there too long and lose sight of the truth that Christ found me in my desperation and delivered me into His Kingdom where I gained a new identity. I am not a former rebel…I am a redeemed citizen!

I wonder if today we need to be reminded that we are not struggling to be victorious over our rebellion. Surely we must strive to live up to the name of the Kingdom and its King…we must wage war against the propensity to continue in rebellion (including the latent rebellion of identifying with our past more than our present). We also should be confidently humbled by the fact that He rescued us in our rebellion and, knowing our struggle, He stamped our citizenship paper with a blood-red stamp that said “CITIZENSHIP GRANTED: KINGDOM OF CHRIST.”

the danger of “people-pleasing”…

Bible, study (2)This morning in my quiet time, I began thinking about the weight I have often given to the opinions of others. Certainly, we should care that we are correctly understood and that we accurately reflect our values in all aspects of our lives; but, I am speaking of the POWER I have ceded to others because I hoped they would “approve of” or “like” me. Like most things, taken to the extreme, this can become an unhealthy concern.

I was drawn to this text which speaks of the danger of living for the approval of others. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of thousands and one of the things that these people were consciously aware of (and driven by) was the approval of the Pharisees. Notice His statement:

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His audience desired for the religious leaders of the day to approve of them, so they ordered the steps of their lives in such a way as to accomplish that approval. Some failed in their pursuit and were overwhelmed with shame and felt guilt that stifled their pursuit of righteousness. They GAVE UP! Others kept the rules and then became pretty good at keeping the rules…and they KNEW IT!

Still others aspired to one day be as the rule-makers…when they could be looked to for their opinion.

Here is the point of Jesus’ admonition:

If you are going to climb a ladder, make sure it is leaning against the right wall.

  • So what if others approve? Will you stand before them and give an account for your life?
  • Did others give you life?
  • Can the opinion of others bring you closer to a righteous goal for your life?

I listen to politicians trying to curry favor with the media, Congress, and the darling retweeters on the planet. So what? Do you really think that any of those people would stand by your hospital bed one day?

I watch “tweens and teens” live for likes, loves, and Instagram accolades on social media…yet I have never seen one thing about twitter followers written on an epitaph.

Honestly, we never grow so old that this has no bearing. Grown men strive to get a better job and a nicer truck so others will respect them. Ever had a friend offer to wash your nice truck that he admires and you sought to impress him with? I did not think so…

Women are no better…seeking purses with certain initials and clothes with particular labels. And for what?

Truthfully- If the person you are trying to impress cannot help you become what God has called you to be, why do you let them live in your head rent free? 

I am not saying I have this all figured out. If that disappoints you…well, I am sorry. Maybe one day who I am will match up to your expectations of me…or better, perhaps one day your expectations will match who I am.

What to do with this? 

Will I be remembered for fulfilling the purpose of God in my life or for having a lot of friends?

  • If that person/groups approval did not happen, what difference would it make in one year or five years?
  • What if you were always the popular person but God judged you unfaithful with His purpose for your life? Could you live with that for eternity?

Life is a choice.

#ChooseToLiveBetter

Love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The isis “grinch” and Christmas

2015-05-09 13.19.57Today I had the opportunity to do an on camera interview with the local ABC affiliate and Mrs. Jackalyn Kovac (the reporter) who happens to call me pastor. Today (Friday 12-23-16) the FBI and DHS issued an advisory of sorts regarding threats against some Christian churches in the US during the Christmas holidays.

The presenting question is “Will you meet for worship on Christmas, and will you do anything differently?” The real question, I believe. is slightly deeper: “Should Christians avoid worship out of fear?”

Let me preface the next few remarks by stating that I am by no means being cavalier in my response here. I have a military and law enforcement background…meaning I always look in the shadows and keep my head on a swivel. So when I say that Christians should not fear…that statement feels odd in my flesh…but it is still accurate. Christians SHOULD worship together this and every Christmas!

So, how should Christians think of threats against churches in some isis memo?

  • Globally, Christians face threats like this one every day. In Nigeria and surrounding countries, Boko Haram has killed thousands of Christian and millions are displaced. Persecution and suffering for believers in the Sudan are unconscionable. In India, churches are burned, pastors arrested and beaten and their families abused over the gospel.In the first century, Jesus Himself was arrested and crucified, all the while being told by the authorities that did it…that he was not guilty of any crime.
  • None of this “danger” and persecution surprised God. It was into this hostile world that He sent His Son, who’s birth we celebrate during this special time of year.
  • Jesus offered His followers this as encouragement. He said, “A disciple is not above His teacher. It is enough that a disciple be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40) ” What was Jesus “like?” In the face of persecution and suffering, Jesus manifested the love of God toward people that were unloving toward Him.
  • Frankly, Jesus never promised Christians safety, only peace in the midst of the storms of life. He said in John 16:33 that in Him we would have peace. “In the world we would have tribulation but that we could take courage because He had overcome the world.”

Honestly, as a church, we are not foolish. We have security procedures and processes in place. Every responsible church does. We are vigilant out of an understanding of our responsibility, not as a response to fear. If fear could stop the work of God’s Kingdom, the expansion of His message, it would have done so several times over the last 2,000 years.

The story of Christmas is that God sent His Son into the world so that the world could know love and a relationship with God and peace that surpasses understanding. So, we worship. We will do so Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and to God be the glory!

Should “normal people” study theology?

Bible, study (2)A former professor of mine once said, “If churches did a better job at teaching the Bible, I’d have much less to do here at Bible College.” Now before you discount the statement as some flippant remark or a veiled complaint about working conditions, hear how he defined it.

Many churches have professionally trained ministers and leaders who pour over the Scriptures to prepare well crafted lessons ready for application in a person’s life. This is not bad; rather, it is a key element of the homiletic process…in other words, we teach pastors to do this very thing in preaching.

But, as I am suggesting in the article, there is there a need for the “people” to wrestle with the difficulties and work toward their own convictions on theological truths.

What I Am Not Saying

  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on Ancient Near East literature or the fine tenets of every facet of theological musing.
  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on the top five non-Christian world religions.
  • I am not advocating a dismissal of pastoral ministry and teaching. We have and need pastors who are well trained and able to guard the congregation from error while leading them to maturity in the faith, which necessarily includes teaching the church to think for itself on theological matters.

As an example, we are not all medically trained. When something is amiss in the body, we seek out a doctor (hopefully) who has given her life to medical studies. We SHOULD though…have a working knowledge of how the heart and lungs work and be able to recognize that a persistent cough or headache is not the body’s original design.

What I Am Advocating…and Why

To credit the man who first planted the thought in my mind, what Dr. Wilbanks was saying was that many churches failed to promote or expect the “people” to study and know the basics of core doctrine and a general framework of our faith.

Yesterday, I promoted a particular book on a specific theological truth in my message on the Incarnation. Bruce Ware’s book, The Man Christ Jesus, was a particularly helpful resource in the discussion on the Incarnation of Christ. The Incarnation itself is a “big deal” and a distinguishing doctrine in the cacophony of religious traditions. Even if the “people” are not experts in the doctrine, there is an implicit and practical need to become conversant with the main points. Why? So that you can speak of it to others, be encouraged in your faith, and recognize error when presented by others.

The example of the Bereans comes to mind from Acts 17:10-12 where we are told that the church (1) heard the teaching, (2) and examined the Scriptures daily, (3) to see if the teachings were true.

What Tools are ESSENTIAL for our Preparation? 

This is the subject of another posting, but in general, for the person setting out on the journey for the first time here are six tools:

  • Regular attendance in congregational and small-group teaching. (You cannot grow apart from exposure to truth). I cannot overemphasize this!
  • A good Study Bible. These resources typically have introductory material that helps set the stage for understanding.
  • Supplemental reading from a good Introduction to Doctrine resource like Grudem’s Introduction to Systematic Theology.
  • A survey resource on the Old and New Testament. (more on that later).
  • Some select charts and maps (a timeline of biblical history and a map of the biblical lands is very helpful for understanding.
  • A general word study resource. These are readily available online. A good resource is the Word Study Bible.

Again, more on these in another post but a couple of thoughts for reflection:

  • Are you a student of God’s Word and biblical  doctrine?
  • When is the last time you chased down a biblical truth for yourself, apart from a Sunday School lesson you were teaching?
  • Do you know more about your favorite sport or sports team, political party, or “Brad and Jen’s life” than you do God’s instructions?

If you have thoughts on the subject or particular tools you use and recommend, share them in the comments and thanks for dropping by.

Pants ARE Required

Open Bible 1Rarely do we find anyone wrestling with an outside appearance. On the outside, most of us look pretty good. Pastors and preachers stand to preach and minister on any given Lord’s day. We shave and shower. We comb our hair. We dress the part. We carry a Bible (even the one on our iPad or iPhone). We have the language down. Based on all outside appearances, we are fully qualified and prepared to stand before the Lord and His people…

But what about the part you cannot see? What about that which is hidden just past the layers of the external? 

In Exodus 28, God gave explicit instructions on how the garments of the priests were to be constructed, how they were to be worn, and that they were for GLORY and for BEAUTY (Ex 28:40). Most people “get” the robes and the stones, the breastplate and the ephod…even the crown. But notice what God describes that is not readily seen:

42 You shall make for them ylinen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; 43 and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they zbear guilt and die. aThis shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.

God designated that the priest was to wear pants…”breeches” in the NASB actually. Underwear in our modern vernacular. This was the part of the priest’s attire that was not visible to others but would be known to God.

God is just as concerned with our private lives as He is our public. He wants our hearts to be prepared as certainly as He wants our sermons. He demands holiness and glory even in the most discreet and hidden places in our lives if we are to approach Him.

This is weighty to consider. To know that God examines every aspect of our lives and holds us to account for the private as well as the visible…should give us pause.

This truth is not only for pastors, but for everyone who ministers before the Lord. A true understanding of the Scriptures means that this includes everyone in some respect.

Perhaps power is missing because we put on the external facade of holiness and service but we chose to ignore the need to cover our shamefulness but putting on “breeches.”

“God is not mocked,” the Apostle Paul reminds us; “whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.” (Galatians 6:7). We cannot hide our unholiness from God and to flaunt it, by refusing to cover our guilt and shame with the forgiveness of Christ (through repentance and faith), is to invite the harvest of condemnation and to reject the presence, power, and peace of God in our lives.

Today…don’t forget to put on pants. They are required to please God.