Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is This The Best We Can Do?

I just read Al Mohler's blog-post of a couple of weeks ago.  I found Mohler's reasoning and conclusions to be helpful.  Central in his piece is the conviction that character does matter.  His observation agrees with mine.  Evidence--and that is all we can go on--indicates a serious lack of a solid moral base in both major presidential candidates.

Mrs. Clinton simply doesn't seem to care about truth and integrity.  The recent announcement by the FBI, though indicating that the former Secretary of State would not be indited, was hardly an indication that she is a person of character.  She is clearly dedicated to the "We will absolutely not ever interfere with any abortion." position of the the Democrat party.  I cannot say whether her position is one of personal commitment or political expediency.  Either way it is a serious ethical flaw.  On one hand it represents a disrespect for human life, on the other it displays a glaring lack of integrity,  While a case can be made that she is was the victim of her husband's adultery, and her willingness to work through those issues and preserve her family is admirable, I have not heard her offer an apology to "The vast right wing conspiracy" since it became clear that, indeed, her husband did have "sex with that woman."

Recently, Evangelical (former) leader James Dobson announced that he believed that Donald Trump is born again.  The report, based on what he heard, indicates that Paula White led the presumptive Republican candidate to faith in Jesus.  I will gladly lead the rejoicing should such a report turn out to be true, but the fact is, I have no idea whether it is true or not.  I am struck with the convenience of floating this story at a time when Republican strategists are desperate to gain Evangelical support for their candidate.  In a subsequent statement Dobson speaks with greater caution.  Like me, it now appears that he is hopeful, but agnostic on the matter.  More to the point, the reality or fiction of the reports about Trump's conversion are irrelevant to the decision before me.  I know many folk--I would probably put myself in the group--who clearly are trusting the Gospel of Christ for life and eternity, who would make horrible presidents.  It is in a different realm, but the concept is relevant.  Paul, passing on counsel to his younger delegate, Timothy, cautions him to “not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others." (1 Timothy 5:22, NASB95)  When looking for someone to lead the church the standard was not, "Is he reported to be born again?" but, does he exhibit the necessary character?"  (See 1 Timothy 3) Though such character flows from a heart changed by "grace, through faith," it takes time to be seen.  We haven't had, and we won't have, the time to inspect the fruit.

In case it isn't clear, what I'm saying is I don't see either of the major candidates to be somebody I am for. As far as it goes, that is a sentiment that I hear from a number of Evangelicals.  They aren't for either candidate, however they are more, not-for, one candidate, and so they will, therefore, vote for the other.  One reason I appreciated Mohler's article is that he doesn't make that case.  Fairly early on Russel Moore wrote on that line of reasoning.  "Should we vote for the lesser of two evils?"  I admire the clarity of his conclusion.
Our primary concern is not the election night victory party, but the Judgment Seat of Christ.
When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).
This side of the New Jerusalem, we will never have a perfect candidate. But we cannot vote for evil, even if it’s our only option.
 During my pastoral career I avoided endorsing candidates.  I'm not doing that now.  If anything I'm saying that I don't see either of the major candidates as worthy of my vote.  That's bipartisan, folks.  What will I do on November 8?  I don't yet know.  I am trying to approach this mess in such a way that my integrity will be intact on the other side.  I know that many of you will disagree with me on one or more of my points.  I have little interest in arguing.  I'd rather encourage.  Do what is right; at least try.
 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Thoughts Following the Tragedy in Dallas:

Earlier this morning I posted a piece about the recent rash of shootings involving police.  In two incidents civilians were shot by police officers.  In the third, five officers were killed in an ambush attack, in Dallas Texas.  If you read this article in your email, or at STTA (http://sttaspots.blogspot.com/), you'll probably want to scroll down past the article, below.  If you haven't read it, you should.  The rest of this post is based on what is found there.

 

John the Baptist, & Jesus Christ comment on our current situation:

I was already aware of the shootings that took place in Minnesota and Louisiana.  My son spoke eloquently about the mood of our nation.  
Jesus we need you We need grace. We need wisdom. We need the gospel. All solutions fall short of the gospel."
I hurt for the state of 2016 America. I hurt for the pressure to pick a side over complex social issues. I hurt for Alton Sterling and his family. I hurt for the officers and their families. I hurt that in 2016 we will judge all parties from both sides on a passerby's 40sec cellphone video.
I say, "Amen!" to Chad's words.  After awaking to the news from Dallas I find them even more relevant.

This is not the first time that some who are responsible to keep the law have failed to do so, or have enforced the law without respect for the people they should have been protecting.  I don't think I have to convince you that the Roman legionnaires assigned to serve in far off conquered lands sometimes did so with harshness and disregard for basic human dignity.  Perhaps some soldiers had been assigned to make sure that the crowds who thronged to hear John the Baptist didn't get out of hand, or maybe they, like so many others, were simply curious about this camel-hair clad prophet.  At any rate they approached the preacher of repentance.  "Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?”  (Luke 3:14). John's reply retains its relevance.  “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with yourwages.”  (Luke 3:14)  If any readers are police chaplains, John's three exhortations provide great material for men and women in Blue to consider.  For we civilians, especially those of us who live in lands where we have input in our government, this gives a fair description of what we should expect from those who keep the peace.
In His best known sermon Jesus spoke to the conquered.  If a reporter had circulated through the crowd, assembled on a hill in Galilee, she/he would have had no problem identifying stories of abuse of power.  A photographer would have been able to snap grizzly pictures of backs that had been beaten, and of wounds needlessly inflicted by over-zealous Roman soldiers--those who paid no heed to John the Baptist's counsel.    Unlike preachers like me, Jesus knew precisely the situation of the people before Him; He knew, and cared, about the contents of their hearts.  When Jesus told the people, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two."(Matthew 5:41)  He was referring to the right that Roman soldiers had to conscript civilians to carry their equipment.  The law said they could require you to carry their baggage for one mile.  Jesus said to go beyond the requirement into the realm of kindness.  Carry it the extra mile.
Check back later at my blog .  I'll share some ideas about how to apply this.  In the mean time . . .

It’s STTA.


So, what do we do about this?
Some time ago, Hollywood produced a rather dark view of the future.  Things had become so bad that the heavy-handed government looked to technology to enfor
Robocop
ce the law.  Last night, less than twenty years after Robocop was on the screen, a police robot was sent in to deal with the sniper.  The machine doesn't look anything like the cop in the movie, but, unfortunately, the concept is similar.  Inhuman conditions motivate enforcers to adopt nonhuman resources, which then leads to even more inhuman conditions.  
A friend, who is now with the Lord, was a small town police chief.  His real life policing practices often bore a resemblance to Andy Taylor's of the fictional town of Mayberry.  How far that is from the armor-clad technology equipped police forces of our day.  In the article above I quote from Jesus, and His forerunner, John the Baptist.  I believe their counsel is relevant to us, two millennia later.  It leads toward the Mayberry-ish good-will policing of my friend, and away from the overwhelming force scene in the bad dreams of movie-makers.

Jesus words, and the context of scripture clearly tell us that we citizens are to be submissive to and respectful of those who are given the authority to keep order.  In addition to His words in Matthew 5:41, Jesus said to "Render unto Caesar what Caesar is due,"  (Luke 20:25)  The Apostles Paul and Peter--both of who endured their share of rough treatment at the hands of governmental authorities--built on Jesus words in passages like Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2:13-17.  I draw from these Biblical passages some points of application that I think will serve us well today.
  • The authority of the government and its agents is not dependent on the perfect behavior of those who wield that authority.  John, Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke at a time in which the forces in power left much to be desired, yet they counselled submission to them.
  • Exploring this is not the purpose of this post, but the threshold of civil disobedience is quite high.  Check out the experience of Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel, or that of the Apostle and other Christians in the early chapters of Acts.
  • Even imperfect governments, like that of the Romans, provide valuable services to their subjects.  That is clearly implied in Jesus words about rendering to Caesar what he is due, and Paul's observation that the governmental authorities are God's agents, "Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same"  (Romans 13:3).  Observation of the world scene bears this out.  Seldom, if ever, is the chaos that ensues from lawlessness, better than the oppression that preceded it under corrupt governments.  We can debate another day whether or not we Americans just celebrated a legitimate over-throw of our English lords.  It is clear that the best of our patriots were not merely anarchists interested in nothing more than disruption and over-throw.  Our Declaration of Independence, and Constitution (though it took a while to get there) indicate that they had a far more detailed plan than do the snipers of Dallas, or the opportunistic looters who tend to swarm in after all disturbances.  Working with, on, and through, the problems of bad government is the price we pay for the maintenance of peace in this fallen world.
  • This is just my opinion, but it is an opinion that comes after a lifetime of considering such matters, attempting to behave responsibly, and teach helpfully on these issues.  With great respect to fellow-citizens of color, our situation in the United States does not merit any kind of armed resistance, much less ambush style attacks on police.  I was encouraging to hear respected spokesmen from the Black community condemn what took place in Dallas.  We need to hear again the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, 
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Those of us who are in groups that are not as likely to be the subjects of police over-kill--that would be me--must, and I repeat, must, in our words, behavior, and input into our government make clear that how our police treat those in public must not be based on the color of a person's skin, or the part of town where they live.  The matter of "profiling" is not a simple issue.  If a criminal is reported as being a gray-haired man about six feet tall, I shouldn't be offended if the police stop and question me.  On the other hand those repeatedly pulled over for "Driving while Black," have a legitimate beef.  It should be responsibly addressed.
  • Finally to my friends who are in law enforcement.  Over my career as pastor I often would check a box on a form indicating that my profession is "minister."  Really, though, that is a job that God has given you.  Romans 13 tells us that those who bear the sword, the symbol and the tool of authority are "the minister[s] of God . . . for good" (v. 4).  I go back to those three words of counsel that John the Baptist shared with some Roman soldiers honest enough to ask a question that could have an answer they wouldn't like.  Underneath John's answer is the tendency that power has to corrupt.  Resist that tendency.  If you know the Lord, resist it in His power.
I hope this post will bring about some profitable discussion.  If your comments are helpful and respectful, I'll be glad to post them.

Before we go, let's pray together.

"Lord, we pray for those who are grieving today.  We pray for wisdom for police, mayors, governors, and our President.  We ask for self-control on the part of police.  For pastors, community leaders, parents, and other people of influence, we ask that they would speak words of peace, not incite violence.  We acknowledge, Lord, that you are the Prince of Peace.  We ask that Your will would be done, and Your kingdom would come.  As your servants, Lord, we dedicate ourselves to seeing that happen.
Amen."


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Questions, Seeking Answers: Our Current Political Situation



I have been watching the US political drama--as in soap opera--from afar. The nation of Palau, where I spent the last four months has a close relationship with the United States. For four decades following World War 2 Palau was part of a trust territory overseen by the United States. Since Palau became the fourth smallest nation in the world, Palau continues to maintain close ties with its big brother. Palauans can serve in the United States military, can go in and out of US borders with the same freedom as US citizens, are eligible to receive educational assistance, and the nation's only post office has a US zip code, 96940. Much of the island nation's government structure is modeled after America's.

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation. A friend and I had gone to a modest, but nice,
restaurant for lunch. It is owned by one of Palau's former presidents. As we were finishing out meal, Former President Nakamura, sat down at our table. He and my friend are well acquainted. He proceeded to introduce himself to me, and an interesting conversation ensued. Before long a question came up. "How," Mr. Nakamura wanted to know, "did the greatest nation on earth and two of the greatest political parties on earth come to this?" The "this" he referred to was the unfolding presidential campaign. The question is even more pointed now that what was only possible a few weeks ago has become all but a sure thing.

Just about every time I watch a news cast, or read a political article I see the statesman from the other side of the world looking at me with a gentle smile. His question haunts me. Indeed, how did we come to this state of affairs? The question would be troubling enough if I lived in a land ruled by a king, where the succession of leadership is determined by who is born to whom and when. In my land however, since I am involved in the choice of those who lead my nation, I have too admit that the current state of the state is not just an interesting point for discussion. It is a matter of personal responsibility.

Following the past few election cycles, I've seen bumper-stickers that proclaim, "Don't blame me. I didn't vote for ______." I suppose I could adopt that philosophy. "I'm right; if only people would have followed my example. . . ." Yes, in my land I am not only the ruled; when I go to the polling place I am the ruler. I do need to cast that vote responsibly, but is that all? How active should I be in politics? Is our current situation a confirmation of Burke's famous pronouncement? It would appear that evil will triumph in the current election cycle--the only question is which flavor of evil. Is the explanation that good men have done nothing? Am I one of those good men who spent too much time sitting on their hands?

I have a number of questions, and few answers, maybe we can help each other. I welcome your comments.

  • Some have adopted an attitude of fatalism. A friend recently posted an article by a friend of his that began, "The fact is, and this is a biblical fact...If Donald Trump is our next President, he will be there because the hand of God is on him to put him there." The same can be said about Hilary or, for that matter, we could just as well say, if the Ayatollah of Iran successfully seizes power over the USA and establishes a new caliphate it will have taken place within the sphere of God's sovereignty. Existentialist Albert Camus, in The Plague, sets up a dilemma. A plague had come. The priest in the story concluded that the plague had come has a result of God's judgment. Therefore to oppose the plague was to oppose God.
    In Old Testament Israel a particularly unscrupulous king murdered his way into power, I ask myself, "Why did God allow Jehu to become King?" My answer is, "Because Israel deserved to have Jehu for her king." (2 Kings 9-10) Still if Jehu had been running for office instead of riding in on a reign of terror, I wouldn't have voted for him. It is not right to choose evil.
  • What are the limits of what one can do with a clear conscious. I am told that Hitler was nice to little children. Is that virtue sufficient to earn my vote. Even those candidates who are very admirable are not perfect. Is there ever a mortal who is worthy of my vote. Theologian Andy Naselli thinks out loud on this one. His thoughts are worth considering. http://andynaselli.com/can-you-vote-for-donald-trump-with-a-clear-conscience
  • Russel Moore takes on the question that seems to dominate the conservative end of the current political discussion. Should a Christian vote for the lesser of two evils? You should read his thoughts, but in brief his answer is "No."  
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/should-christians-vote-for-lesser-of-two-evils.html
  • It is a bit more general but Steve Cornell has some thoughts on Christians engaging with culture. Clearly how we vote is one of those points where our Christian worldview stands toe-to-toe with the culture where we live.
    https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/four-reactions-to-culture/
  • Sometimes when things are bad it is good to remind yourself of some conclusions you came to when things weren't quite so bad. I reread this old piece and I think the me that is wondering what to do today needs to hear the me that spoke a while ago.
    http://howardmerrell.blogspot.com/2012/08/politics-lets-let-church-be-church.html 
I'm still thinking about the President's question.  I add another one:  What am I going to do about it?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

An excellent series of articles came my way.  The Occasional Bulletin is a publication that is generally only available to Evangelical Missiological Society.  Because of its broad relevance EMS made this edition available to the general public.  I'm thankful that they did.  I think anyone will profit from this discussion.  For those of us involved in any way in missions it is must read stuff.
https://www.emsweb.org/publications/occasional-bulletin  Click on the download button.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Instead of demanding that others keep Christ in Christmas, how about keeping Christ in Christmas?


I hope this post will be of interest to pastors and church leaders.  It contains an idea for doing something positive in regard to keeping Christ in Christmas.

I think I have a badge, maybe underneath my socks, that says something like, "I say Merry Christmas,"  or, "It's OK to say Merry Christmas."  I wore it for a few times when I first got it, but as the campaign to "Keep Christ in Christmas" became more militant and political, I put it away.  I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas, but I don't see any reason why I should pressure retailers into forcing their employees to use a particular greeting.  There are Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths, or no faith, who have no reason to wish me a Merry Christmas.  We can debate the point on another occasion, but there are some who believe that followers of Christ are a negative influence in our communities.  They find the celebration of Christ's birthday to be a bad thing.  I am glad that I live in a country in which people are free to worship, or not worship, as they choose.  I will be glad to discuss why I think Jesus Christ is Lord, but I won't participate in any attempt to force others to act like they believe something they don't.

The above gives some background to why I am so proud of my church for its Live Nativity presentation.  We aren't twisting arms to get others to "Keep Christ in Christmas."  Rather in a warm, winsome way the folk in my church are offering our neighbors an opportunity to experience the story of Christmas.  Lo and behold, when you look into the story Christ is right there, and not just in a manger.

First let me remove some possible misconceptions.  Ours is a small church.  On a good Sunday we have 150 in attendance.  No one died and left us a large bequest to finance this ministry.  We use what we have--primarily a willingness to work hard and the good will of some neighbors to put on this presentation.  Basically what I'm saying is if we can do this any church can.

Here is how it works.  Hopefully you can find some ideas here that can be adapted to your situation.

Because of the goodwill of our local Parks Department we are able to use a very nice public park for our presentation.  We transform the picnic shelter into the Village of Bethlehem.  Guests are welcomed to Bethlehem by the Mayor.  They are informed that Caesar Augustus has decreed that all must sign the census.  A money changer provides the visitors with Shekels
so they can purchase "bread" (mostly cookies,
though in the past we have offered bread and fruit).  Bethlehem is the House of Bread.  A Roman soldier struts about and makes himself obnoxious.  The Mayor warns visitors to guard their Shekels and women from the Romans.  Kids can play simple games, and buy some trinkets in the shops.




Every 15 minutes or so, visitors in the Bethlehem are encouraged to take a ride on one of the
"strange chariots" that have been provided.  Reports of strange things out in the countryside have been heard--angels, the birth of a king, etc.  Guests ride, sort of hayride style, on a trailer.  (On occasion we have used walking tours.) They are accompanied by a guide.  This year our guides included: a team, the two thieves on the cross; Elizabeth; Simon the Zealot; and Mary in her later years.  In years past we have had the Apostles John, Peter, and Paul; the little girl Jesus raised from the dead; Nicodemus; Judas (yes that Judas); and one time, Satan, though he was not able to finish the tour.  He just couldn't get past the empty tomb.
These trailers take guests past scenes that portray:


  •  the annunciation,
  • the shepherds in the field and the announcement by the angels,
  • The scene at the manger,
  • The visit of the wisemen to the young king,
  • A scene by the sea of Galilee,
  • The Crucifixion,
  • The Empty Tomb,
  • And the Great White Throne.





















































Instead of a scold, demanding that our neighbors say, "Merry Christmas," rather than, "Happy Holidays," our community is greeted with a warm smile, some cookies, an opportunity to visit with friends, and a winsome, unique presentation of the greatest story ever told.  Granted we are a Bible-belt community, but the general response we get after our presentation is a warm thanks.  Many families return year after year.  The only negative responses I recall are complaints that we only do our presentation for one weekend, and that the presentation by Satan, "Lou C. Fir" was just too frightening.  (Our ushers warned people about this particular guide, but some did not heed the warning.  There were those who spoke highly of the devil being a guide.  I think they enjoyed the spectacle of his defeat, and seeing things from a different perspective opens one's mind.)  

We know that we can't accurately portray these events.  We try to not include elements that are false--
though we cross the line with little kid angels--and we point out where some of the popular conceptions of the Christmas story are false, or at least not known for sure.  What we are trying to do is give a feel of what it was like, and give folk something to think about.  We want to fuel some positive conversations.  We don't charge anything to participate in the Live Nativity.  We offer it as a gift to our community.  It is not a good evangelistic tool, in that we don't have a list of folk who have given their lives to the Lord as a result of our event.  It does very much keep Christ in Christmas.  It is a lot more trouble to host a Live Nativity than it is to put on a button, but I think it is much more effective.  Billy agrees.

You can find more pictures of our event here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10156292371485054&type=1

We would be glad to talk to you about how you could host a Live Nativity in your community.  Write us at covbchm@gmail.com.

Merry CHRISTmas.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Faithfulness, it ripens slowly:

I just read a great report in the September Christianity Today, Why  Christianity Is Surging in the Heart of Islam. (19-20)  In particular the article speaks of churches that are starting and growing in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qutar and United Arab Emirates.  Reporter Jayson Casper points out the fact that "Gulf churches exist at all stems from relationships."  As an example of those redemptive relationships he points to some medical missions started in the region by TEAM.  "In 1960 before the oil boom that propelled the region to immense wealth, missionaries with TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) were invited by tribal sheikhs to start a hospital in what is now the UAE after TEAM's medical work in Kuwait and Bahrain attracted their attention.  [at the time] half of local children and 35 percent of mothers were dying during childbirth."  Today "many royal family members were born in the hospital."  The care that gave them life and saved the lives of their mother is not soon forgotten.  Kindness shown 50 years ago is bringing about freedom for Christian ministry today.
With all the horrible news of persecution of Christians in Muslim lands this report of tolerance and opportunity is incredibly refreshing, but it's not all.  When I came to Covington Bible Church 42 years ago, one of the missionaries our church supported was Norm Niemeyer.  Norm and Sue were missionaries with TEAM in Trinidad.  After a ministry that included establishing a couple of churches and a Bible camp in the Island nation, Norm became an executive with TEAM.  We continued to support the Niemeyers as Norm gave leadership to the organization's ministries in the region that included the Arab world.  I still remember some of the tales that Norm told about his visits to TEAM's medical operations in the Arabian Peninsula.  For several years Norm was a key player in the success of those humanitarian ministries that are today bearing the fruit of opportunities for a new generation of missionaries.
Norm is with the Lord now, but I remember back in the day when Norm was "our" missionary being impressed that it seemed that every little church I visited in this end of Virginia and over the border in West Virginia had a picture of Sue and Norm Niemeyer on their missionary bulletin board.  A bunch of small congregations all across this region faithfully sent their ten, twenty, or fifty dollars per month to support this dedicated family.  These folk faithfully served.  Because of this long, slow investment today there are "great evangelistic opportunities."
Who'd a thunk it?  If you put a question mark after the title of the article, "Why Christianity is surging in the heart of Islam?"  the answer is because Covington Bible Church supported the Niemeyers.    

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Proverbs for Preachers:

This is a post for my fellow preacher, and, perhaps even more, for those who aspire to preach.

It was recently my privilege to share six sessions in a homiletics class.  One of the things I did, in preparing for the class was come up with proverbial sayings about preaching/pastoring.  I didn't put any music with this.  Play your own.  :)

video

Maybe these will encourage some thought and discussion