On Sunday, November 11th, I was privileged to be among a group from our church that joined Church Under the Bridge in Oklahoma City, to minister to the homeless at their usual spot under the bridge at Oklahoma City Boulevard and South Virginia Avenue. Our time working together for the homeless was both joyful and sobering, and I want to share a bit about it.
In 1938, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster introduced a troubled nation to an enduring icon: Superman (1). From as far back as I can remember, Superman has been one of my favorite superheroes. I have always enjoyed watching him deal one crushing blow after another to the bad guys. He has never been afraid of a necessary fight, even at great risk to himself. Superman unashamedly fought for truth, justice, and the American way - that was, until DC Comics decided that Superman’s way and the American way are no longer the same way (2).
We should take a hard look at what many now want to be the American way. Truth and justice should be inherent to the American way, but many now live among us that do not believe this way.
“You’re just a single-issue voter.” That is a common dismissal of pro-life voters by many professing pro-life candidates, when the pressure is high to put the fight against abortion first and present a clear strategy for the fight. “I am not a single-issue candidate,” is often the defense of candidates that want the pro-life badge without being badgered to take on the abortion issue with real action against the abortion industry. While the abortion industry is pro-active with its abortion agenda, not merely defending abortion for it to be legal but promoting abortion for it to be profitable, such candidates want justification to be partially or completely passive with their pro-life “stance”.
Serious pro-life voters like myself want more than a pro-life “stance”. We want a pro-life movement - a steady and strong march toward the end of legal abortion. And for a candidate to have our votes, he or she must convince us that he or she is going to steadily and strongly lead us in that march, with nothing less being acceptable. Every step of progress will be a step toward that end.
We human beings like our clubs. We like to belong and throng together with others that look like us, think like us, talk like us, and walk like us. We like the camaraderie of consistency in our ranks, and the tighter we can pull in those ranks, the better. And, oh, how we tend to like seeing ourselves as a little (or a lot) better than those not in our ranks.
To me, it is a disturbing irony that so many professing Calvinists, while touting the doctrines of grace, are so ungraciously treating non-Calvinists, and even other Calvinists, with that trait of our depravity. Some of the statements and attitudes I see from some other Calvinists make me wonder if they really believe in the doctrines of grace they claim to defend. I wonder how they can rub elbows with one another in their tight ranks of their cliquish Calvinism and think themselves to be agents of both grace and truth, as we have received from God in Christ. I am moved to write this article by the red-faced, furrowed-brow, shrill-voiced, mean-spirited ugliness I have seen from them.
BUY A SWORD, BUT DON'T TAKE UP THE SWORD: COMPARING JESUS' STATEMENTS IN CONSIDERATION OF ARMING OURSELVES
Putting aside liberal versus conservative agendas - putting aside the biases of culture and experience - should we Christians arm ourselves for any reason? Should we carry guns (or any weapons), whether for self-defense or war? While the 2nd Amendment is a bulwark of American life, does it have any place in Christian life? As Jesus is our Lord, giving and defining life for us, we must carefully consider what He might say about the 2nd Amendment, if He was to step into this society today. And we need not look too hard for help from Him on this issue, as He left for us some poignant statements about the sword that should shed some light for us, as we consider them together. What He said about the sword also applies to the gun.
I had other plans for today, other than writing this article with a broken heart. The people in Las Vegas and beyond, that have been impacted by the worst mass shooting in American history, for whom my heart is breaking, had other plans, too. The people that were murdered had other plans. The people that are fighting for their lives and health had other plans. The people that have lost loved ones had other plans. The only person that planned and prepared for this shooting was the shooter. (Although, I doubt he was prepared for what happened one second after he shot himself.) Could anyone else have been prepared for this? Some say you can never be prepared for something like this. While we can never perfectly prepare in every way for every possible scenario, we can and must prepare in some ways, and I offer you some thoughts as to how - spiritual and practical thoughts, because God's will is always a blend of both.
WHAT JOHN THE BAPTIST TEACHES US ABOUT GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN SALVATION (THUS HOW TO PRAY & EVANGELIZE)
Do you present the gospel to infants expecting a response? If you are a preacher, can you give such an effective invitation that even the babies in a congregation respond in repentance and saving faith? In our conversations about witnessing, why don't we talk about how many babies we have recently led to Christ?
Many Christians tend to be very formulaic with how they handle the gospel. To them, if we say A-B-C and tell people to do 1-2-3 to "get saved", then we should be able to expect a certain percentage of those to whom we recite our presentations to respond with a decision to be born again and become a Christian. (And unfortunately there actually is a gospel presentation that tells people getting saved is as easy as A-B-C.) With such an approach, we just need to convince the lost to believe "this" and pray "this".
Christians that approach sharing the gospel this way generally think that leading people to the Lord only comes down to them being offered the right facts and the right opportunities to understand and embrace those facts. And, of course, that's impossible for babies.
I watched Fox News interview a congressman about a shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. (A gunman opened fire on about twenty-tw0 congressmen having baseball practice for a charity game to be played the next day.) In the interview, the congressman said something, a few times, that prompted me to write this article: "Somehow we all just need to come together." It seems that in his mind the answer to this kind of violence is for us Americans to just come together as a nation. I wonder if this would have been his appeal to the shooter prior to opening fire: "Please don't do this. Let's come together as Americans and find another way." As I listened to him, I sat there thinking about that possibility. Can we Americans all really come together?
We all know storms are part of life. And in accepting that reality, we can generally feel like we are shored up and prepared to withstand whatever storm might form over and pound on us. However, the most unforeseen and destructive storms are those that hit us in the home and heart.
The pain is unimaginable by those that have not experienced it. A pastor with a passionate heart for God and His people, in spite of all the high hopes he had for fruitful ministry, faces not only an unforeseen storm in his ministry, but also in his home as his wife, therefore, wants him to quit his ministry. In the hurricane force of this storm, he faces the possible loss of his ministry and marriage. This is happening to pastors right now. This could happen to you. You must be prepared for your wife to possibly want out if things go wrong.
If you have never been to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, I recommend you make the trip, especially if you live in Oklahoma. You should go there to remember what happened there twenty-two years ago.
I do not need to go there to remember, though. Even after twenty-two years, my memory of that tragic day has not dulled. Even though the tragedy of that day did not touch me directly (as it did so many others for whom my heart still breaks), it did mark me permanently because of my involvement in the events at the Murrah Building that day and in days to come, on which I will write more later. Right now, I just want to share what I remember about that day, as it took shape for me personally.
Why do we have mouths? From a Biblical perspective, primarily to praise God in our worship and in our witness - to proclaim the excellencies of God for His exalted glory in the exceeding joy of all in Jesus Christ. That is the highest use of our mouths and should be our highest aim in using our mouths. As such, we must keep our mouths out of the gutter. Do you have a clean mouth or a dirty mouth? Do you praise God with that mouth?
"Is it possible to be passionate about the gospel and care deeply about politics? Can we engage in politics responsibly, confidently, graciously--even Christianly?" I believe so, and I believe we must. Over the course of my 21-year Christian life, this conviction has grown stronger. So, knowing that some Christian leaders downplay or downright denounce Christian political involvement, I am glad Bruce and Chris have written this book, offering "A Christian Hope for American Politics". I offer this brief review in the hope that I can prompt a few other people to read their book and think seriously about how the Gospel and the lordship of Jesus are to apply to politics.
Bruce and Chris are rightly concerned about two extremes Christians can fall into with politics: "Some Christians think of politics as an insufferable necessity; others conceive of politics as nigh unto salvation. Ironically, these two perspectives tend to feed off each other. Those who imbue politics with unrealistic and salvific expectations are most liable to conclude--even if it takes years to get there--that politics is not worth it after all and must be abandoned at all costs. 'Politics as salvation' leads to political frustration, which leads to political withdrawal. For many well-intentioned believers, what begins as an arena of endless hope often ends as an arena of darkness and despair."
In the 15 years I had the privilege of knowing him, I don't know how many cups of coffee I drank with my father-in-law. We drank them in our living rooms and yards. We drank them in cafes and restaurants. We drank them on job sites where he and I carpentered together. We had a lot of what my son called "coffee talk", when he was still Bull's little buddy. ("Bull" is what Joshua called his grandpa very early on. We're not sure why, but it stuck.)
This article is in response to Nik Ripken's article,
Should We Help Believers Escape Persecution?
If you have not read Nik Ripken's article, I ask you to follow the link above and read it before reading this article. I am going to respond to him without extensively quoting him, and I want you to know exactly where he stands on this issue in contrast to where I stand.
I am certainly no celebrity. To talk about my platform is not to talk about much. I am a small presence on a small platform on the huge stage of the worldwide web. But…do I want to be a celebrity? That is a legitimate question for someone to ask me in keeping me accountable as to why I have my own website, the exposure of which I am intentionally growing on social media, as I share what I preach and write. Why am I sharing what I preach and write? My preaching and writing have been heard and seen across this country, as well as in other countries. Why do I want that? I hope that thinking through this with me will help you think through your own motivation (or lack of motivation) in stepping up to speak up about God.
The lack of courtesy between Christians is a trend that troubles me a great deal. Common courtesy, it seems to me, is not as common as it should be. Of all the people in the world that should understand, exercise, and expect common courtesy for and from each other, we brothers and sisters in Christ should.
I am a pastor. Whether I am impressive or not is not for me to say. "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;/A stranger, and not your own lips." (Proverbs 27:2, NASB) But for someone who might want to say, it is reasonable for me to ask by what standard I will be critiqued. To whom will I be compared? How will it be decided whether I’m impressive or unimpressive? -By a set of objective characteristics or by subjective impressions?
Planned Parenthood aborts fetuses. That is the clinical, sterile language they want us to use, but I refuse. They kill babies. No, that's still not the right way to put it. They murder babies. With foresight, planning, and for profit, they exterminate the lives of tiny human beings. That is murder. No, not by our current legal standard, but by the objective moral standard demanded by the unique value of human life and dictated by the God who created us. Make no mistake about it, every Planned Parenthood official and employee that faces God apart from the redeeming mercy of Jesus Christ, will be judged by His Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).
Planned Parenthood murders babies. But that's not all. They dissect and sell baby body parts - brains, hearts, lungs, etc. - whatever the customer requires, and, again, for a profit.
The man stood cradling his baby sister at the edge of the cold river water lapping up on the concrete steps. He was sobbing over her in deep regret over what he thought he had to do to cover up his Russian-mob-boss father's rape of a fourteen-year-old girl. As he hesitated in his anguish, the emerging hero of the movie comes gingerly down the steps behind him, pleading for the baby's life. As the hero slowly approaches, he presses his fingertips together and says softly, "We don't kill babies." (The fourteen-year-old girl would have appreciated his appeal - she sacrificed her own life to save the life of her baby.)
In that movie, a baby girl was saved, because stone-cold killers had a line they would not cross. In America today, thousands of baby boys and girls will be lost, because ordinary citizens cross that line every day. We do kill babies.
The time of wide-spread ignorance has passed. Gone are the days of collective confusion about what goes on in the womb. Incredible and accessible technology has given us on-demand, amazing views of what God is doing to fearfully and wonderfully make a tiny human being in His own image (see Psalm 139). While there are still many individual young ladies and young men that have not been sufficiently educated, all that are in education, the abortion industry, and the medical field know that, from conception to birth, a distinct, unique human being is growing in his or her mother’s womb, whether they attribute personhood to that human being or not (which is strictly a bias, ideological, subjective determination of value, not a biological, existential, objective determination of a shift in being). They know that an abortion is always killing a human baby.
In 1973, this nation crossed a morally reprehensible line when our Supreme Court legally threaded abortion - the killing of babies - into our social fabric. They made it part of who we are. At that point, we became a nation that kills babies. Lord willing, may the day come when we collectively, morally and legally repent, and say together to one another and the world, “We don't kill babies.”
If you reside in Oklahoma, are pregnant and need help, here is a link to find a pregnancy help center: Oklahomans for Life. If you have had an abortion and are suffering under the guilt of killing your baby, please contact us so that we can share with you the grace and truth of God's forgiveness in His love for you.
Baby Photo Copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_timelessphotoart
Because of Jesus' love for His church and your love for Him, I hope you will love this series.
I understand that this kind of series will not tend to spark a lot of enthusiasm. This is not one of those series in the Bible that people are going to flock to hear. But I want to tell you why it should give us some real enthusiasm - I want to tell you why we should love this series - because Jesus loves His church.
Jesus loves His church.
We sing that simple, little song and teach it to our children: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Well, Jesus loves His church, we know, because the Bible tells us so.
Will you stop and think about that for just a second? How does Jesus feel about His church? In His infinite heart, how does He feel about His church? In His infinite mind, what does He think about His church? He loves His church. He loves us.
And we love Jesus.
So, anytime we come to the Bible to look at things regarding us as the church, we should find enthusiasm in that truth - that Jesus loves His church. God has put these things in the Bible, about what it means to be a church, because He loves His church. Because of that - because of your love for Him - I hope you will love this series.
In feasting on God's blessings, to be purified from the idolatry of the world, let your table be His table and feast on Him.
I cringe inside every time I hear it and at the fact that I have said it: “Let’s pray so we can eat.” For so many, prayer has become an awkward nuisance of a mealtime formality to get out of the way so that we can get on with our meal. And we use prayer this way with other occasions, too - to get on and get finished. Prayer is little more than an opening invocation and a closing benediction - something to set the tone and send us on our way.
We can live now for the crown of righteousness to be received then, so that in redeeming all of our time, we can actually live forward and look forward to the time of our passing at the end of our lives, and to the time of our Lord’s appearing at the end of this world.
In a fiery flash, Paul Walker’s life tragically and sadly ended when the Porsche Carrera GT he was riding in smashed into a light pole and burst into flames, killing him and the driver, Roger Rodas. The 40 year-old Fast & Furious franchise star no doubt was not planning on dying that 30th day of November when he got out of bed and got ready for his Reach Out WorldWide charity event at the motorsports shop Always Evolving in Valencia, California, showing off his fast cars and collecting toys for kids in disaster areas. Little did he know that his last second on this earth was rushing at him far faster than that sports car was moving when it fatally hit that light pole, ripping him away from his 15 year-old daughter and his friends.
As this series continues, I want to go to the next expression of fear: terror. We have covered why we should fear and what happens when believers and unbelievers do not fear The Lord. So lets transition to the polar opposite of a lack of fear, and talk about the terror of The Lord.
The life of another is worth those thousand words you and I must speak in sharing the Good News of our Redeeming Savior and Living Lord.
"A picture is worth a thousand words."
For many things that is true. I would rather soak in a picture of a gorgeous landscape, than try to imagine it through a thousand words working in vain to fully describe it. I would rather be knocked back by a graphic photo of a catastrophe, than try to understand it through a thousand words working in vain to fully capture it. Pictures have a wonderful way of bringing us into an experience of things, which would otherwise be out of reach. For this reason, they have a prominent place for capturing memories and moments to be shared and passed on. However, pictures can only go so far.
We only want features that are helpful to us in overcoming our deficiencies, not any implied (deliberately or not) deficiencies in the Bible itself.
This last Saturday, I was browsing the Bible section in Mardel Christian Bookstore. I picked up a hardcover NIV Study Bible and was struck funny by a gold, circular call-out declaring “COLOR on EVERY PAGE”. I thought, “Does that really need to be a key marketing point for Bibles now?” Does that really need to be a key design point for Bible design committees now, because “plain” black-and-white Bibles won’t do anymore? Do we now need to dress up the Bible, reaching a point when the Word of God is not enough of an attraction without colorful accents and accessories? These questions are not as much for those designing and selling Bibles as they are for us buying and reading Bibles.
Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)