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The New York Daily News boldly proclaimed in regards to our current fears of terror and gun killings that “God isn’t fixing this.” It’s unclear as to what the Daily News expects of the deity, considering that most of the time in New York and elsewhere the invocation of divine persons is typically followed by “damn.”

Politicians want us to feel safe. Our society thinks it will be safe if there are more laws & more government surveillance and intrusion. Some even think the Bill of Rights is an obstacle to safety. The current Attorney General seems more concerned about curtailing free speech than prosecuting terrorists. The current regime seems ready to impose its will on any who disagree with its definitions of truth, morality or justice with the full power and sanction of the state. However, our society rejects the source of true law, the divine word, and delights in violating the divine order which brings life. It refuses the divine governance which brings peace – the kingdom of God.

Despite the official reassurances of its spokesman that all is well, that we are safe, these efforts apart from alignment with God’s design are doomed to fail. The stink of panic is in the air. It’s “last call” for this cultural Titanic. It’s been weighed in the balance of divine judgement and found wanting.

I agree – God isn’t fixing this – our way. What God has done through his son Jesus Christ is to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20). It is not that God is unable or unwilling to fix things. To the extent that society and even the church continues to reject the gospel the situation will not remain the same but will get worse.  There is only one source of peace. It is not found in any of the current proposals offered to fix things. It is through the child born for us, the son given, who is the Prince of Peace. “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Defund the Ghouls

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Dr. Jen Gunter (OB/GYN ) in her defense of Planned Parenthood’s practice of abortion had this to say regarding the slice and dice procuring of the human child in the womb:

“These are not “baby parts.” Whether a woman has a miscarriage or an abortion, the tissue specimen is called “products of conception.” In utero, i.e. during pregnancy, we use the term “embryo” from fertilization to ten weeks gestation and “fetus” from ten weeks to birth. The term baby is medically incorrect as it doesn’t apply until birth. Calling the tissue “baby parts” is a calculated attempt to anthropomorphize an embryo or fetus. It is a false image—a ten to twelve week fetus looks nothing like a term baby—and is medically incorrect…There is no reason a conversation about products of conception requires more or less reverence than one about a kidney or a biopsy specimen.”

Definitions, definitions, definitions. While this doctor and perhaps many in the abortion industry rely on such a dehumanizing, linguistic ideology, I find the equating of a body appendage or a biopsy specimen with a human being as ridiculous as well as grotesque. These so called “products of conception” are bearers of the image of God no matter what their level of development. This is only “anthropomorphizing” to a nihilist.

Sadly it is part of the dehumanization required to do the obscenely violent act that ends a human life in abortion and then selectively chops it apart for resale.  No matter what twisted medical terminology is used to justify the hideous industry of Planned Parenthood, it (and its promoters like Dr. Gunter) have more in common with the Josef Mengele school of medicine than the “health care” organization it claims to be.

Its time to defund this ghoulish enterprise.

Exsurge Domine!

Train-Wreck

So eventually it has come to this. Over the last 30 years I have watched the our cultural meltdown concerning human sexuality metastasize from Hugh Hefner and girly mags in brown paper wrappers to “don’t ask, don’t tell” to a rainbow illumined White House, from denominational task force arguments about Bible texts to the Federal redefinition of marriage by judicial decree. Many times I was told by church leaders and other pastors not to cause waves, counseled that it was not a pertinent issue but a dead end distraction, to ignore things and “do mission” instead. I rarely listened to that counsel and did my best to be faithful to the truth but did finally grow weary at congregations that did not want to wrestle with tough moral issues, didn’t want to rock the boat, or instead wanted to fight and fume over pipe organs and chorus music yet still expected God to increase their coffers and people fill their pews. It was the counsel of avoidance – if we just ignore this or pretend it doesn’t matter it will go away. It was the counsel of cowardice – and how has that strategy worked?  The churches and denominations, such as the Episcopal Church in which I was raised, that have capitulated to the culture tsunami of sexual confusion have shrunken and declined. Those more evangelical who have soft-pedaled or censored the truth of God’s wrath against immorality, sexual or otherwise & the requirements of holiness in the name of relevance and market share will now see how lasting the shaky one way bridge of cultural engagement they were trying to build will last.

But now the gloves are off and the make-nice façade of “dialogue” has been exposed as a stalling tactic for the end run it concealed. Pastors, churches, leaders and believers will have to make known where they stand since neutrality is no longer possible. The previous implicit social contract between the culture, the state and “churchianity” of “God & Country” that dates back to colonial days has been dangling by a thread for decades with the hope that “our guys” in office would get us back to the way it was. Forget it. Believers have known for a long time that they can no longer assume or hope that the culture or the state will support their values or beliefs. This will be good for the church. This will be good for God’s people. Now the Gospel, can be demonstrated and revealed not as 10 steps to self-improvement or life balance enhancement within the expectations of upper middle class prosperity but God’s liberating power to transform people created in God’s image from sin’s destructive and damning power. It is also an opportunity for God’s people to shine in our culture’s Stygian morass and to rebuild the shattered lives that will result from the inevitable pile-up that’s coming.

And it is coming. Beyond the dismay so many believers feel is the purpose of God in demonstrating his wrath in action – by removing his restraining grace and abandoning people (giving them up as Romans 1 puts it 3 times) to the warped desires of their hearts. However, there is a future court date set with a Judge of supreme authority (2 Timothy 4:1) who will weigh the nations in the balance – including those nation’s leaders, presidents and jurists.

As always…

  • It is necessary to pray for elected leaders
  • It is necessary to pray for pastors & spiritual leaders
  • It is necessary to pray for churches & ordinary believers who will have to make crucial decisions
  • It is necessary to pray that the Gospel will be boldly proclaimed.
  • It is time to call out to the Triune God to arise and employ us for his purpose so that we can see “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 11:15

 

But for How Long?

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“At times our Lord, as judge among the nations, arises to visit the sins of a people upon them. Patience makes room for justice, and Providence determines that guilty nations shall be scourged: at such times they are blessed indeed who can cause the King to stand still. This wicked country of ours has often escaped through the prayers of the saints. No man can read our history without perceiving that among guilty nations we hold a sorrowful place; for we have had more light than any other people, and have sinned against it full often. This erring nation had been scourged to destruction if it had not been that the intercessions of Gods people have caused the Judge of all the earth to stand still. Jesus now rules all nations as Lord of Providence, and metes out justice and judgment among them, but a plea for mercy brings a decree of forbearance, and sinful nations are permitted still to stand within the bounds of grace.”

Charles Spurgeon

“A Future Not Our Own”

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(The Long View –Archbishop Oscar Romero)

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Confessions of a Church Shopper

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It’s exciting and challenging to move to a new community but leaving the familiar and established behind means loss whether its friends or knowing who to trust with your car repair or more important relationships in the local church. Since I have been a pastor for many years, in the past moving to a new location and congregation meant having somewhat of an “automatic community.” This time has been different since I am not pastoring. I never thought finding a church would be so hard! Over the last 7 months we have been visiting area churches. So here’s some feedback and ideas from an “official outsider” about what it may be like to visit your church & what you might consider doing when a visitor stops by – at least if you want them to come back.

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We have visited at least 15 different congregations from Baptist to Presbyterian to Independent of various stripes. Of the 15 only 5 had web pages that told the basics of who, what, when & why of their existence. For some, even finding a working phone number has been hard as well as a real human to talk to. One church had a prominent sign but no phone number and another had times for worship posted but were not up to date. I had to visit on a Sunday morning to find out when they worshiped. I have to conclude that these churches are really not interested in having visitors or reaching out to the public – they make it extremely difficult to know what’s going on!

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Visiting a church as a stranger is not easy – it can be even scary and intimidating. It helps to know ahead of time what my family and I might walk into – do I have to dress up or dress down? Speak in tongues or handle snakes? Carry a KJV Bible? Do I need to limber up for the Pentecostal 2 step or bring ear plugs & sunglasses for the worship time? A web site is an easy, inexpensive way to inform people about who you are – I am still amazed that most churches don’t have one. A web site or internet presence is neither hard to create or expensive. There’s no excuse in this day for a congregation not to have one when most people still breathing are connected on-line – unless, you subscribe to an extreme theology of the “invisible church” and really don’t want people to find you!

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The next challenge for the visitor is walking in the door. Honestly, I don’t want to be ignored (which has happened) but I also don’t want to be interrogated such as being asked “what are you doing here” or play 20 questions about my job. The answer should be obvious – checking out whether you are an authentic community of believers in Christ and whether I want to stay or come back! It’s a fine balance between being smothered with inquiries and being given the cold shoulder. How we have been greeted (or not) may be due to living in an area whose population is less mobile & more established than say in a metro area but if a person looks like they are new, chances they are & it’s an opportunity to welcome a stranger who (although perhaps not an angel, i.e. Hebrews 13: 2) may bring gifts that could bless your congregation. Do I really need to mention that I don’t want to be asked “to stand up and introduce myself” – I guess I better – it still happens & I cringe when it does. And please respect my teen age daughters’ boundaries – they don’t like to be hugged, grilled about school or told to smile. Try the Golden Rule – it works!

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I also find it helpful to know what you believe – something written that introduces me to your theology, worship, leadership and activities is very helpful. Who are you? What do you believe? What makes you different? Where are you going? If you cannot summarize that then I may conclude you don’t know. It may not matter to you but it does matter to me and the spiritual health of my family.

While I value worship & preaching and what’s happening “up front,” I am also looking at who I am worshiping with – are the other congregants present and active or bored and checking their cell phones? Is there opportunity for me to know people better and develop relationships or am I expected to show up, stare at the back of someone’s neck and just pay & watch the Sunday morning show?

Maybe this is all too much for a busy pastor on a Sunday morning to consider. Most churches are not busting at the seams with people. There can be many reasons why that is so – it might be it’s because you’re invisible to the community or what does or does not happen when the rare visitor shows up.

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We are still looking for a place to belong. Maybe, our family expectations are too high and we are being too picky as “church shoppers.” I try to extend mercy, grace and benefit of the doubt to where we have visited & the people we have met. I want my family to be part of a living, worshiping community of faith. You never know – we may be that strange family at your place next week. That is if we can find you!

Institutional Ailments

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Near the end of last year, Pope Francis listed “15 Ailments of the Curia,” the sins and short-comings of the administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican State. While the Bishop of Rome was aiming his critique at the institution he leads, they are applicable to any church, ministry or religious organization – simply replace “curia” with “Board-Elders-Deacons-Trustees-Council” or the appropriate ecclesiastical term:

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”

2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”

4) Planning too much. “Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.”

5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.’”

6) Having “spiritual Alzheimer’s”. “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

7) Being rivals or boastful. “When one’s appearance, the color of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”

8) Suffering from “existential schizophrenia”. “It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”

9) Committing the “terrorism of gossip – It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

10) Glorifying one’s bosses. “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honor people who aren’t God.”

11) Being indifferent to others. “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

12) Having a “funereal face”. “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”

13) Wanting more. “When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.”

14) Forming closed circles that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad scandals especially to our younger brothers.”

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off. “It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”

 What to do? Repentance & reform is hard for individuals, it’s even tougher for organizations. Institutional structure and power over time become entrenched, inflexible and reactive. Mission drift, decline and death are typically the end result. Change requires the seeking of forgiveness and the power of the Spirit to switch course and the determination to follow after Jesus, no matter what the cost. That is a rare but necessary trait for leadership.

Who Has to Die for Your Belief?

Who Has to Die for Your Belief?

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Some 65 million died for Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward;”

At least 50 million perished in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet system;

6 million Jews died because of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution as well at least 5 million “undesirables” in the name of racial and social purity;

At least 5,500 have died because of ISIS, 7,000 by Boko Haram and unknown thousands by Islamic terrorists such as the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden in the name of Allah.

The body count could go on.

Even Dick Cheney & the CIA have their share in the name of “national security.”

Add to that the civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria and countless other casualties of war, revolutions and regimes.

     I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the one who said he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). I don’t have to kill or wage jihad. I don’t have to avenge the defamation of his name or life by murder or acts of terror even though he is regularly ridiculed and vilified.

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses (based on the Greek word “martyr”) of his life, death and resurrection, to “take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:24-25). No one need die for my belief – except (somewhat paradoxically), as Bonhoeffer wrote (The Cost of Discipleship), “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” – die to self, die to sin, die to destructive desires of the fallen nature, die to hatred, revenge and retaliation – die, in order to live.

How much better is a faith not worth killing for but worth living for.

Top Eleven Predictions for the New Year

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OK, so they’re not exactly predictions – but they are promises from God’s Word and worth pondering for 2015 & a whole lot better than the usual prognostications for the future. These are also not original but a combination of lists from hither and yon.

1 – God’s love is everlasting
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Jer. 31:3
2 – Christ’s blood cleanses from sin
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”   1 Jn. 1:9

3 – We are Blessed in Christ
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Eph. 1:3

4 –God will provide
“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” – Psalm 37:25

5 – God is at work

“…in him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”  Eph. 1:11

6- God is faithful
“God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
1 Cor. 1:9

7 – His promises are true
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”    2 Cor. 1:21-22

8 – His Love does not fail

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lam. 3:22-23

9- God’s grace is immeasurably rich! Eph 2:7

10 – Our God reigns
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. Ps. 4:7-8

11 – God surprises those who wait for him (Lk. 2:25)

God’s Gospel

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”                                                      Luke 2: 8-14

Most people long for a better world. I know I do. A world without terrorists, without torture, without brutality, without tragedy, without heartbreak, without catastrophe, a world without disease, a world without suffering, a world without death.  Such a world will come one day. This is not another a utopian view of the future, another project by the human race to save itself. Such a world only comes through the one born in Bethlehem to reign in heaven and on earth. To those who believe in him and recive him is promised a new earth and a new heaven. This is why the incarnation and birth is the gospel – God’s good news.  The joy for us is to believe & to worship in wonder