Monday, December 08, 2014

God Cares About Us

Most of us, from the world’s perspective are insignificant and unimportant.  But a great truth of Scripture and of this Christmas text is that there are no such persons with God.  With Him, every person is significant.  In His sight, you are important—you matter.  I am so thankful we have this Biblical record, this record that God spoke to shepherds.

Interestingly, this is the only place in the Bible that records this story of the angelic interruption of shepherdly slumber.  We could go one of two ways with this and with all other such places in the Bible.  On one hand, we could believe that since it isn’t repeated, it isn’t that essential.  For instance, all four gospels record the crucifixion of Jesus.  We might be prone to lean toward a belief that the Bible would repeat what it wants us to grasp--that God is redundant with stubborn and dull sinners, not leaving them to catch on one hearing His important messages.  But that isn’t a healthy Biblical viewpoint, is it?  That belittles and devalues the Word of God.  It advances a notion that only a part of the Bible is really worth grasping, while others, though they are perhaps interesting and helpful, can generally be overlooked.

Perhaps you realize that only the gospels of Matthew and Luke give us anything at all on the birth of Jesus.  Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, while John begins with Jesus’ pre-existence.  Why the Holy Spirit moved only within the heart of Dr. Luke to record this event I do not know.  I only know I am grateful that God has given us this passage.  God speaks to people the rest of society is prone to forget or ignore.

The Amherst, Massachusetts poet Emily Dickinson wrote in 1891, “I’m nobody!  Who are you?”  I wish she had known God better.  No one is a “nobody” with him.  Not Emily Dickinson.  Not shepherds abiding in the fields.  Not me and not you.  Jesus tells us “the very hairs on your head are numbered; don’t be afraid.  You are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).

God cares about us.  It is why He sent Jesus.  Jesus would die on a cross so that our sins could be forgiven.  That’s how much God cares.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving: Come Into God's Presence

The upcoming Day of National Thanksgiving should not be taken lightly or routinely by the people of God.  If we are not careful, we will get pulled into a cultural viewpoint of the day and not fulfill one of our greatest privileges and responsibilities—that of giving thanks to God.

Psalm 95 exhorts us:

O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.  Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

It is hard to differentiate between singing, praising, worshiping and giving thanks.  Theologians and Hebrew scholars would, no doubt, have a different viewpoint, but from my perspective of this particular psalm, they are all synonyms.  What I do wish we Christians would contemplate is that tiny, stubborn verb:  “come”. 

It is stated twice in these two verses, underscoring a need for movement from us toward God.  The psalmist implies we are not where we should be, so let us come into His presence.  Once you are in God’s presence, it’s fairly easy to sing to Him, to make a joyful noise to Him and to offer Him thanksgiving.  It is while there is distance between us and the Rock of our salvation that these things are difficult and intrusive.   And there is simply too much distance between the modern church and our God.  Psalm 95 will later call us “the sheep of His hand” and Isaiah 53:6 reminds us of a sad fact about God’s sheep—they stray.

The sad reality of this upcoming Thanksgiving is that the only difference between unbelievers and God’s people is that the Christians will pray before their meal.  For 120 seconds someone will “say grace”.  The other 23 hours and 58 minutes will be lived out just like every other American—with no notice of God and no acknowledgement of His blessings.

And that is why the Bible says “O come…come into His presence”.   Come.  It is such a beautiful word.

 It is what Jesus said to Peter one very early morning, probably around 4 a.m. after the disciples had spent a fearful night fighting for their lives on a storm-ravaged sea.   There was Jesus, the Eternal Creator, the Sovereign of the Seas, walking on top of the waves, subduing the laws of nature, drawing near to them and their boat of exhaustion.  “Do not fear” he said.  “It is I…come.” (Matthew 14:27-28).

And who could forget the invitation of Him who loves us that none other.  “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  Jesus is, of course, not talking about physical exhaustion, though some Thanksgiving Day chefs might take refuge in him after a long day of cooking.  There is nothing more exhausting than trying to make your life acceptable to God all on your own.

And that’s the heart of thanksgiving.  We aren’t alone.  God has been, is, and will be there for us.  He has provided for our spiritual salvation through Jesus Christ.  And, He has journeyed with the United States of America since the pilgrim landing of 1620.  Shouldn’t we as a nation, and particularly as Christians, give Him much thanks this Thanksgiving?







Friday, October 17, 2014

Houston Mayor Wants to Censor Pastor's Sermons

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is fulfilling Christians’ prophetic warnings of past years regarding homosexual political gains, categorizing denunciations of homosexual behavior as hate speech.  In an unbelieveable and outrageous power grab, Mayor Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor, has demanded that pastors turn over copies of their sermons that deal with homosexuality.  And she has done so, via legal subpoenas. 

It is doubtful this breach of the American principles of separation between church and state and free speech will survive the legal challenges.  But it will not be the last challenge.  And slowly, but surely, Americans will cede ground on this pivotal issue.

Could we imagine Jonas Clark submitting his sermons against the Stamp Act to King George III?  Or asking permission to train militia? It was his house to which the patriot firebrands Samuel Adams and John Hancock had gone to discuss strategies for the Revolution.  That is where Paul Revere rode the night of April 18, 1775 to find them.  And it was many parishioners from Pastor Clark’s church who opposed the British regulars the next day at what history would call the Battle of Lexington.

What of the Reverend Dr. Mayhew and Reverend Dr. Cooper, who John Adams said were the “most conspicuous, the most ardent, and influential [in the] awakening and revival of American principles and feeling.”?  Who could imagine them submitting manuscripts to that state for approval?

Or consider the Reverend John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg.  A devout pastor and ardent patriot.  He actually pastured two churches, an English speaking Episcopalian church and a German speaking Lutheran church.   He also served as a member of the Virginia legislature.   On January 24, 1776 Reverend Muhlenberg preached a sermon out of the book of Ecclesiastes, a time of peace and a time for war.  Afterwards, he flung off his clerical robe revealing his militia uniform and asked for men to follow him to war against the ‘tyrants’. He assembled 300 men from his church that became the 8th Virginia Regiment.

The power hungry lesbian mayor of Houston will lose her insane legal overreach.  But she has sounded the first shot in a long battle to silence Christ’s church on moral issues to which the state does not concur.  And judging from the measured, calculated response from the churches and Christians of Houston, the state will succeed.

Long gone is the view of Thomas Jefferson who said:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

The fight is on.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Feminist Father or Flaked Out Dad?

Perhaps you've seen this photo of a New Jersey dad's shirt?   His 20-year-old daughter was so giddy about her father's support that she posted the picture on Facebook this past Sunday.   And after a retweet by an Australian TV star, the photo went "viral" with some 34,000 likes and shares on FB and 190,000 shares on Tumblr.

So is she a heroine addict?  And the Dad is telling would-be suitors they need to be ok with her depressing her central nervous system?  And that he and they both should be ok with her collapsed veins, a heart lining and valves that are prone to infection, abscesses, cellulitis, and liver disease; as well as possible pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia?   Hey, it's her body....her rules!

Maybe Daddy is saying she'll be prone to go to bars and consume massive amounts of alcohol and the boy better shut up about her drinking too much...after all, what's a little cirrhosis of the liver, polyneuropathy, pancreatitis and skeletal fragility, anyway?  Her body....her rules.  And if she wants to destroy her body with alcohol abuse, let's all support her.

No, I have a feeling Dad would come unglued if his sweet little girl became an abuser of alcohol or drugs.   I'm quite sure he'd instigate a few rules over her body in an instant.

Actually, we know exactly what Dad is talking about.  He would never apply his asinine philosophy in any other area except the area of sexuality.   We are in the 21st century after all.   Dad has no right to tell his baby girl what she can and cannot do with her body in the area of sex.

But because Dads aren't telling, we see 116 million Americans infected with Sexually Transmitted Diseases along with over 1 million abortions every year.

The Bible has a different approach about parental involvement in the life of their children.

Proverbs 22:6 says "Train up a child in the way (s)he should go..."

And Deuteronomy 6:5-7 couldn't be more clear:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Fathers need to pass down their morals to their kids; and in particular, they need to be their daughters protector.  What testosteroned, sexually driven young man wouldn't think in a heartbeat he could put emotional pressure or physical intimidation on a daughter who had no protector at home.  It was her choice, after all.

I like this shirt a whole lot better.

Rules For Dating My Daughter shirt  t shirt Perfect Father's Gift

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Rant Against the Southern Baptist Convention

As a former Southern Baptist pastor, I still care deeply about the goings on of the convention.  What I have just learned warrants an intelligent blog post, but it’s late at night, so I’ll just give a rant…an opening salvo to one of the SBC’s saddest upcoming chapters.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave an exception two years ago, and allowed a Muslim to become a student at the seminary.  Allegedly, he has also allowed two Mormons to enroll in the seminary.  This is in clear violation of common evangelical sense and the seminary’s own documents.  I’ll cite sources later….I’m venting after all.

I have enormous respect for Dr. Patterson, but he needs strong reprimand on this point.  Non-Christians have no place in a Baptist seminary dedicated to training Christians for future ministry.

Evidently, Dr. Patterson is citing “evangelism” as the reason he made the exception.  He wants to witness and expose the student to Christ, hoping for a conversion.  We’d have to wonder, then, why only one Muslim and two Mormons?   Why not 20 or 50?   And what of Wiccans?   Are they not worthy of evangelization?  And surely we share the gospel with pedophiles, prostitutes, drunkards, meth users, strippers, evolutionists, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists,  Hare Krishnas, Jews and Jehovah Witnesses.  If allowing persons of other faiths entry into SWBTS for the purpose of evangelism is a priority, shouldn’t recruiters start targeting these faiths for enlistment? But of course, that is absurd, since the purpose of theological education is to educate one in a certain theology—in this case Christian theology.

But lest anyone think Dr. Patterson is being reckless, we are told he secured assurances from the Allah devotee that he would conform to the moral code of the seminary.  Whew!  The fellow won’t smoke, drink, cuss or womanize; he’ll only blaspheme Jesus Christ.  What a relief…admission application approved! (allegedly along with a nice presidential scholarship and job with the seminary landscaping department).

But there is nary a peep of objection from the bulk of the people called Southern Baptists.  They used to call themselves people of the book.  When I was there, we fought a battle over inerrancy and the truth of the Bible, fundamentally centered on Jesus Christ.  There are a few rumblings and some action coming from an old Patterson nemesis, Wade Burleson.  But, for the most part, there is no outcry.

The professors at SWBTS are silent, presumably in fear of losing their jobs.  The students at SWBTS are mostly silent, presumably in fear of their futures.   The trustees of SWBTS are silent, presumably out of respect for the conservative patriarch Patterson.  The presidents of the other five seminaries are silent, presumably because it’s not their business.  The churches of the SBC supporting the Muslim student with their Cooperative Program dollars are silent, presumably because they don’t practice accountability.  And the messengers in Baltimore’s  upcoming SBC Annual Meeting will be silent.  A few dissenting voices will sound out, but they will be too measured and tepid, and  outmaneuvered by a system that will protect this insanity.

It’s one of the reasons I separated from the SBC.  They talk truth.  But they don’t practice it.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Prayer from the Valley of Vision

O Lord God, who inhabits eternity,
The heavens declare your glory,
The earth your riches,
The universe is your temple;
Your presence fills immensity,
Yet You have of your pleasure created life,
and communicated happiness;
You have made me what I am,
and given me what I have;
In You I live and move and have my being;
Your providence has set the bounds of my habitation,
and wisely administers all my affairs.
I thank You for your riches to me in Jesus,
for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word,
where I behold his Person, character, grace, glory,
humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection;
Give me to feel a need of his continual saviourhood,
and cry with Job, ʻI am vileʼ,
with Peter, ʻI perishʼ,
with the publican, ʻBe merciful to me, a sinnerʼ.
Subdue in me the love of sin,
Let me know the need of renovation
as well as of forgiveness,
in order to serve and enjoy You for ever.
I come to You in the all-prevailing name of Jesus,
with nothing of my own to plead,
no works, no worthiness, no promises.
I am often straying,
often knowingly opposing your authority,
often abusing your goodness;
Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges,
my low estimation of them,
my failure to use them to my advantage,
But I am not careless of your favor or regardless of your glory;
Impress me deeply with a sense of your omnipresence,
that You are about my path,
my ways, my lying down, my end.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Thomas Boston on the Sabbath

The puritan Thomas Boston wrote some thoughts on the sabbath.  I've reposted one of his sections below for your reflection.

VI. Some Improvement of this Command.
USE. Let me exhort you then to beware of profaning the Sabbath. Learn to keep it holy. And therefore I would call you here to several duties.

1. Remember the Sabbath-day, before it come, to prepare for it, and let your eye be on it before the week be done. Timeously lay by your worldly employment, and go not near the borders of the Lord's day, and strive to get your hearts in a frame suitable to the exercises of this holy day.

2. Make conscience of attending the public ordinances, and waiting on God in his own house on his own day. Loiter not away the Lord's day at home unnecessarily, seeing the Lord trusts to meet his people there. This will bring leanness to your own souls, and grief of heart to him that bears the Lord's message to you.

3. Before you come to the public, spend the morning in secret and private exercises, particularly in prayer, reading, and meditation; remembering how much your success depends upon suitable preparation. Put off your shoes before ye tread the holy ground.

4. Make not your attendance on the public ordinances a by-hand work, and a mean for carrying on your worldly affairs. If ye come to the church to meet with some body, and to discourse or make appointments about your worldly business, it will be a wonder if ye meet with the Lord. If ye travel on the Lord's day, and take a preaching by the way, it may well cheat your blinded consciences; it will not be pleasing to God, for it makes his service to stand but in the second room, while your main end is what concerns your temporal affairs. Among the Jews no man might make the mountain of the house, or a synagogue, a thoroughfare. And beware of common discourse between sermons, which is too much practised among professors.

5. When ye come home from the public ordinances, let it be your care, both by the way and at home, to meditate or converse about spiritual things, and what ye have heard. Retire and examine yourselves as to what ye have gained, and be not as the unclean beasts, who chew not the cud. Let masters of families take account of their children and servants how they have profited, catechise and instruct them in the principles of religion, and exhort them to piety.

6. When ye are necessarily detained from the public ordinances, let your hearts be there, Psalm 63.1,2; and do not turn that to sin which in itself is not your sin. And strive to spend the Lord's day in private and secret worship, looking to the Lord for the up-making of your wants. As for those that tie themselves to men's service, without a due regard to their having opportunities to hear the Lord's word, their wages are dear bought, and they have little respect to God or their own souls; and I think tender Christians will be loath to engage so. But, alas! few masters or servants look further than the work or wages in their engaging together!. A sad argument that religion is at a low ebb.

7. Do not cut the Sabbath short. The church of Rome has half holidays; God never appointed any such; it is one whole day. Alas! it is a sad thing to see how the Lord's day is so consumed, as if people would make up the loss of a day out of Saturday's night and Monday's morning, which they do by cutting short the Lord's day.

8. Lastly, Labour to be in a Sabbath-day's frame. Let the thoughts of worldly business, far more worldly words and works be far from you. To press this, consider,

(1.) It is God's command, whereby he tries your love to him. This day is as the forbidden fruit. Who does not condemn Adam and Eve for eating it? O do not profane it any manner of way!

(2.) Heaven will be an everlasting Sabbath, and our conversation should be heaven-like. If we grudge the Lord one day in seven, how will we relish eternity? We are ready to complain that we are toiled with the world: why then do we not enter into his rest?

(3.) The great advantage of sanctifying the Lord's day. He has made it a day of blessing. It is God's deal-day; and keeps up the heart of many through the week while they think of its approach.

(4.) Lastly, Ye will bring wrath on you if ye do not sanctify the Sabbath. God may plague you with temporal, spiritual, and eternal plagues. Many begin with this sin of profaning the Lord's day, and it brings upon them the wrath of God, both in this world and that which is to come.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Martin Luther King Day

Not to detract from the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in the American Civil Rights Movement, but it is important to note, especially on this day, that behind every great leader are a host of others, named and unnamed, who give power to a movement of justice. One such leader in the Civil Rights Movement was Pastor Fred Shuttlesworth.

While I am no scholar of the American Civil Rights movement, I do believe there would be great unanimity in saying that Birmingham was the turning point of this great movement of equality. It was there Dr. King was jailed for eight days and wrote his masterful
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail". It was there that racist police commissioner Eugene "Bull" Conner unleashed his dogs and his thugs and his high pressure water hoses on peaceful marchers and children in Kelly Ingram Park. After the smoke from Birmingham cleared, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And at the heart of Birmingham was the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth. Georgia Representative John Lewis called Shuttlesworth "the soul and heart of the Birmingham movement."

Indeed, while King and others experienced only temporarily the horrible abuse of "Bull" Conner and Alabama’s extreme and violent racism, Pastor Shuttlesworth lived it. Black homes and churches were regularly bombed for nearly a decade before the famous march on Birmingham. In 1955, he led a delegation petitioning the city for black police officers. In 1957, he attempted to enroll his daughters in the all white high school. He was beaten with brass knuckles and bicycle chains. When the doctor wondered aloud that he wasn’t in worse condition, Shuttlesworth said, 'Well, doctor, the Lord knew I lived in a hard town, so he gave me a hard head." And it was Shuttlesworth who persuaded King to bring his movement to Birmingham, where history would be changed.

What Shuttlesworth had was a deep and abiding faith in God. And he trusted Him at every obstacle and act of injustice.

While Dr. King is the rightfully acknowledged leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he is not alone in making sacrifices that changed our nation.

Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth
March 18, 1922 -- October 5, 2011




Friday, January 03, 2014

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Biblical Authority

Thanks to some alluring marketing by Yahoo pop up ads, I found my way over to a little internet screed on the Duck Dynasty flap, You know, the one that’s been going on for a couple of weeks about Phil Robertson sharing his views in a GQ interview that homosexuality is wrong behavior and condemned by the Bible.

Well, over at the Huffington Post blog today, some actor, writer, radio host guy equated Robertson’s views with hate speech, entitling his tirade "Duck Dynasty, the Bible and Justification of Hatred". It’s the same old mantra that’s been going around for awhile. If you say anything against homosexuality, you’re hateful. You can’t have a viewpoint different from the Huffington Post Blog guy and every other person who believes homosexuality is an ok behavior. If you do happen to have a different viewpoint, and dare to make it known (even if an interviewer asks you a question for a magazine article) you are "spouting hateful speech".

The Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy doesn’t hate the Bible, of course. He can share a viewpoint different from a majority of Americans and disparage a deeply held religious tenet of millions of Christians (the Bible is a source of moral authority) and not be hateful. Because, of course, "hate speech" only works one way. Besides, he gets his "moral direction" from a "higher power" – his gut. I’m not quite sure what he does on pizza night, when the somewhat digested pepperoni and cheese go to war with the Pepsi and cheese cake. Maybe his gut is more just reliable than mine.

Of course, we won’t talk about Joseph Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, Timothy McVeigh and the hundreds of thousands of others down through the ages who have followed their own "guts" only to do dastardly deeds. I’m sure the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy doesn’t really believe in everyone following their "gut". The Nazis did that in the 1930s and 40s and the results were horribly sinister. He just doesn’t like the idea of a Sacred Book and accountability to a Creator God.

Somehow, having a viewpoint different than his is "believing and saying hateful things about entire groups of people" although he never says what Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson said that was hateful.

I wonder what the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy would say about Nazis, arsonists, drunk drivers, child molesters, the Taliban, and other such "entire groups of people". And I wonder if he would call expressing a viewpoint different from those within those groups "hateful"? If his fulmination against the Bible and its adherents is any example, I don’t think he’d be the least bit shy about haranguing any "entire groups of people" with whom he disagreed. He is after all, just following "his gut" --those good, ole trusty, reliable innards.

The problem with following your gut—your innermost visceral response, as any gastro-intestinalogist (or criminologist for that matter) will tell you, is that not all guts are created equal. There’s your gut, my gut, that Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy’s gut, and of course, there’s Phil Robertson’s gut. I reckon when he was talking to GQ about sin, he was just following his own gut. So, if that’s the higher power, what’s the problem?

Of course, our "gut" hardly trumps the Bible. It is an eternal, external, objective moral standard; not the transient, internal, subjective standard advocated by the Huffington Post blog writer-actor-radio host guy. It was not hateful for God to give us His Word, and it is not hateful for us to declare it to others, even if they recoil at its message.