Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Religious Freedom and the right to discriminate:

Several pieces of input come together in my mind this morning.
Maybe it is just the cyber-neighborhood that I hang out in, but around here there has been a lot of talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Is it a tool of raw bigotry?
Is it a guarantee of due process before one can be forced to do something that he finds religiously objectionable?
Probably the answer is "Yes." to both questions.  Or to be more specific, "It depends."
Unadulterated, evil, malicious bigotry does exist.  Far too often it wears the clothing of religion--to my horror, and perhaps shame, too often the robes of Christianity.  Those intent on getting their way, and keeping "those other people" from getting theirs will use whatever weapon they find handy to enforce their "standards."  I'm sure there are Hoosiers who fit that description.  They are everywhere.  It is equally clear that "Religious Freedom" is being redefined into oblivion.

  • Ross Douthat of the New York Times warned about this a couple of years ago.    
  • He weighs in on the current debate with some thought provoking questions here.
  • Al Mohler gives "evidence for [what he calls a] massive and dangerous shift" here.
  • Here is a lovely article that helps put the matter in perspective, and, perhaps, provides a model for civil behavior, as opposed to civil suits.
Religious freedom is being redefined in two ways.
  1. It is being seen as a purely private matter.  One is free to be religious as long as it does not effect others in any way, emphasize the any.
    At this point the redefinition is a matter of degree.  Some of the religions and philosophies of the world have held as one of their basic beliefs the superiority of their kind to any other people in the world.  In extreme cases such religious beliefs include the right to, or even the obligation to, kill all others "who aren't like us."  We rightly defeated Nazism over such a doctrine.  I'm glad to say that no one (except perhaps abortionists) can successfully defend themselves against murder by pleading, "My religion made me do it."
    In today's climate, though, no slight to a representative of an oppressed class is too small, to be seen as greater than any breach of conscience of one who objects, "I can't in good conscience do that."
    Let's not forget that we are not talking about lives being taken, or genocide, or whole communities being deprived of education or other basic services.  The recent cases are about cake, pizza, and pictures, all of which can be easily obtained elsewhere. 
  2. As the above would indicate, religious liberty is now seen as a right in small print, at the bottom of the list, below other far more important rights.  
    Society says, "It's not important.  Get over it!"
I recently watched a TV show in which there was a mock trial pitting the rights of religious people to discriminate against the rights of others to not be discriminated against.  It was interesting.  Good arguments exist on both sides. You may find it hard to believe but there is a right to discriminate.  My older son's former career was management in poultry processing plants.  Two of the plants he worked in provided food products for specialty markets.  One plant would periodically do a run of Halal chickens.  "Halal" is the word used by Muslims to describe the kind of food that they regard as clean.  Among the other requirements for a chicken to be Halal is that it must slaughtered by a Muslim.  Another plant where Chad worked provided poultry for the Kosher market in the New York City area.  The staff includes many rabbis, the birds are killed by shochets, a person who has been specially trained and licensed to slaughter animals and birds in accordance with the laws of shechita. The facility has a place for the shochets to take a ritual bath before their shift begins.  In both operations there were jobs that my son could not fill.  Because the companies were involved in providing products for people with high religious motivations they had to discriminate in their hiring practices.  
Historically, courts and governments had a mandate to balance the right to discriminate against the right to be treated equal.  
What is happening today is one side of the argument is being removed by force.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SAGELY WORDS FROM THE OTHER SIDE

Yesterday was my first full day of, what I’ll call by default and surrender, “retirement.”  I live in a blue-collar, carry your lunchbox, and wear a hardhat community.  When I announced what I was going to do—step down from the lead role at the church I have pastored for forty+ years, assume a supporting role there, and engage in some other ministries on the side—almost every one, after my careful explanation said, “You are retiring.”  J  What I have in mind for this next phase of life just doesn’t fit very well in a lunchbox.  Most of the guys I know work hard until they are done, and then they quit.  An uncle of mine, former high-iron worker, gun smith, cabinet builder, and contractor, told me a few years ago he wasn't working any more.  He was “drawing,” as in drawing a pension.  Uncle Jim’s explanation is an apt way of putting how most folk in my community see it.  It's a binary thing.  So, even though I’m not “drawing,”  Since I quit doing what I used to do, I guess, in that sense, I am retired.
Part of my first post-what-I-used-to-do day was spent caring for some odds and ends.  That was a lot like a lot of Mondays have been for decades.  I went to the bank, Post Office, and the insurance office.  A car had broken down and I had to make arrangements to have it towed and get it fixed; again, nothing new there.  I've never owned an automobile that didn't break down now and again.  Some of my errands were personal, some related to work.  I found myself engaged in a dialogue in my head.  I was asking a conjured up lunchbox/hardhat guy, "Tell me this.  If I'm retired, why do I still have a job?"  He just got his bologna sandwich out and while chewing gave me that look reserved for fools who don't get it.  
As well as those mixed-bag kind of tasks, I visited an inmate at the local jail.  If I weren’t still a pastor I couldn’t have gotten in, and more importantly, I might not have gotten back out.  I payed a call on, read scripture to, and prayed with a dear lady who is dying with cancer.  I spent a couple of hours working on our church’s website and doing some other cyber-work—part of my new job description—my wife and I had supper and serious conversation with a missionary couple, and I got ready to leave on a short-term mission trip—again, part of my new job-description.  I figure that since my new church job calls for about twenty hours of work a week, I came close to getting half-a-week’s work done in one day, yesterday.  Not bad.  Today, or tomorrow--I’m crossing so many time zones I don’t what day it is—I’m on my way to do a short term stint as adjunct faculty at Pacific Islands University, a school with a definite missionary emphasis.  Again, I've done this kind of thing before.
So, so far everything is exactly the same except it’s different.
I received a really timely article the the other day.  It was in the week building up to March 15, the day when I officially stepped down from the role I have filled, or tried to fill, for the past four decades.  Ten things for Old Preachers.  I think you can see how the title grabbed me immediately.  Let me digress a moment.
Back when I was a student at Appalachian Bible Institute there used to be a wonderfully Godly, kind, and wise old preacher on staff.  To tell you the truth, I never did know what Mel Seguine’s job was.  As far I was concerned all he need to do was just be there.  I don’t think I was alone among the preacher-boys in thinking, “When I grow up I want to be like Mel Seguine.”  The other day I looked in a mirror and thought that in one insignificant way I have grown to be like Mr. Seguine.  My hair is now white, like his was.  I pray that I will become like him in ways that are far more important. 
That brings me back to the article.  When I read #4, I thought of Mr. Seguine, and I thought that, in large measure describes what I hope to do in this next phase of my life.

Embrace the transition from king to sage. Too many leaders have undone their good work by resisting this transition and clinging to power. As we age, “strategic ministry” shifts from a position and office to an attitude and role. We need sages freed from leadership responsibilities, who have a fresh passion for the gospel and enthusiasm for the next generation of leaders!  (http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/peter-mead-10-pointers-for-olderpreachers-2131.asp)

I don’t want to run things, though, from time to time I expect to be in charge.  What I want to do is help others run things, and help prepare those who will run things.  I don’t think I have stepped down.  What I have done is step over into a new role.  In a lifetime of ministry I have learned some things, much of which is not contained in books, or found online.  Some of what I have learned was taught to me in the school of Hard Knocks, an institution that I’d like to help others avoid. 

When Pastor Doug, the newly installed Senior Pastor at CBC, and I discussed the transition that we completed this last Sunday, one topic of conversation was what our new titles would be.  I don’t think he’ll print it on his business cards, but I kind of like the “Right Reverend Boss Man,” as a title for Doug.  We never discussed this one, but how about this as new moniker for me, The Sage?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This was the conclusion to this morning's message based on the book of Job, If God Is Good And God Is Great, Then Why Does Life Hurt So Bad?

Back when I was in college, Vicky Fought, my English teacher passed out a story that she had found in a magazine.  I lost my copy of that story, but I’ve never forgotten the gist of it.  One of the goals of my ministry has been to remember the lesson of this story. I want to put some present day flesh and skin on those fifty year old bones and share that story with you today:


Behold a preacher ascended to his pulpit and looked out on his congregation.  Two-hundred eyes looked up at him, and in the eyes of the100 could be seen the eyes of the world. 
The preacher sipped his honey and tea, and his voice was smooth as his words emerged from between his brilliant white smile.

Let us Pray.
Amen, said the 100, but there was no joy in their “Amen.”

The preacher, drawing inspiration from his tea, said,
Lord, we thank you for our health our ability to walk, and dance, and enjoy the wonders of creation, eyes that see and ears that hear. . .
The preacher was so enamored with his eloquence that he didn’t notice as a blind man felt his way down the aisle, and a woman, hard of hearing, went out into a world of silence.  Crutches clicked and wheel chairs quietly rolled.  Those who ate their food painfully, and others who nightly fought their beds to win a few moments of sleep, together with a man who just that day had read the bad news from an MRI, stepped out into the darkness--eight in all.

Taking a sip of tea, the preacher went on with renewed sweetness in his voice,
Lord, thank You for family and friends, those who love us, bring joy to our lives, and on whom we count as the years pass . . .
Residents of foul-smelling nursing homes far from families long-forgotten, the abused, the battered, the put-down, the abandoned, the lonely man who eats in isolation at the corner restaurant, and the old woman who lives behind closed shades, one by one, never making eye contact with one another, each going his own way, a dozen in all left the little group.

But the preacher, impressed with the power of his prayer and warmed by his cup, gave no heed and plunged on . . .
Lord, we may not be as wealthy as Trump or Gates, but we thank you for the material blessing that you have poured out on us—houses and cars, clothing and food, things that make our lives enjoyable.
With holes in their shoes--or none at all--clutching their rags against the cold wind, stomachs bloated by hunger, and minds warped by need, 20 more stepped into a world where they had no home and no prospects.  Some in groups and others all alone, as they had for millions of nights, they shivered in the darkness, and both hoped for and dreaded the coming day.

But the preacher enraptured by the music of his voice continued . . .
We are grateful for virtuous lives, lives that point the way for others to follow, not like the masses out there . . .
Those that struggled with addictions of demonic proportions, a boy who sought out dark corners in his world so he could view that which was darker still and hated himself for it, a woman who secretly hated her father who came nightly to her room, those who struggled with thievery, prostitution, laziness, covetousness, lying and adultery, a quarter of a hundred in all, seemed to vanish through the cracks in the floor, and they were no more a part of that assembly.

Not because the people were leaving, for in his self-induced bliss, the preacher was unaware, but from sheer enjoyment of his own fluency, the preacher sped on . . .
How grateful we are, God, for the justice we receive—the fairness and equity of our world.  We live and work and enjoy the fruit of our labor . . .
But before the words were out, the downsized, and the outsourced, the disenfranchised, and the persecuted, the ghetto kid stuck with a public defender who advised pleading guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, the children whose parents drank up their welfare checks, the Christian from Iran, and the Jew from Iraq, quietly--they had learned to be silent--stepped out into the world awaiting the next blow fate will deal them.

Lord, You are the God of beauty, and we thank you for the loveliness you have bestowed on us, pleasant faces and forms agreeable to behold . . .
Hoping no one would notice, the cross-eyed, the bald, and gap-toothed, together with the fat girl who endures daily bullying, and the skinny guy who avoided the rest room at school, the misshapen both real and imagined, clinging to the shadows, hoping no one would see, melted into the darkness and its momentary relief.

The preacher looked out as he his prayer oozed toward its finish and saw that the room was empty—no eyes looked back, no heads were bowed.
He rushed to the door and flinging it open he surveyed the darkness.  He hurled his empty teacup into the night and cried in a voice no longer smoothed with honey,
Where have they gone Lord, Where are the 100?
And the voice of the Lord replied,
Because you have spoken of things that I did not promise, they have forsaken you.
When did I promise that in this world my children would be comfortable and well treated with kindness?  When did I say that the way I asked my children to walk would be an easy road?  Look at how they treated my Son.

And the preacher cried out,
Then, O Lord, what will you give us?

And the voice replied,
I will give you myself, and that is enough.

And the preacher called out into the darkness with a voice that was cracked and raw,
Oh, people, forgive me. I have promised you that which the Lord did not.  He has given us Himself, and if we have nothing more that is enough.

Slowly, eyes appeared from the darkness, as they passed the preacher they gave a light of their own—the flicker of hope.

Behold, the preacher ascended to his pulpit and looked out on his congregation.  Two-hundred eyes looked up at him, and in the eyes of the 100 could be seen the eyes of the world.
And in a voice plain and simple he said,
Let us pray.
And with joy the 100 said,

Amen!  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Looking back to not only where I've been, but where we've been:

In a couple of previous posts, here, and  here, I've talked about the transitional phase of life and ministry that I'm in, right now.  Since I last posted on the subject, things, as they sometimes do with the passage of time, have cleared up a bit.  After March 15, I'll be a part-time associate pastor with a missionary component thrown in.  At least for now.  The church's commitment on this is only for the rest of year, and I'm entering a phase of life when very little, besides heaven, is long-term.  If you are really curious, you can find out more here.

Tomorrow and the following Sunday, 3/8/15, I decided I'd do some looking back at a couple of messages that have particularly motivated and given definition to my ministry--a couple of capsules of ecclesiastical autobiography.  For most of my life I have preached messages.  I have preached sermons about sermons--the Sermon on the Mount, for example.  Having preached in the same church for more than 40 years, there are plenty of times that I have preached the same message.  The first message I preached as Pastor of Covington Bible Church, I've probably preached 25 times (On March 15, I'm planning to use that one for my half of a tag-team sermon.  I'll start and Pastor Doug will finish.), but I don't remember preaching about one of my past sermons.  (We'll be posting the videos of the message at our Truthcasting site.  I'll try to remember and post the links in the comments on this blogpost.

As I said, the past message, as will tomorrow's message, have an autobiographical element to them.  I grew up spiritually in Fundamentalism.  I owe much to that heritage, but I am bothered that so many have taken an excellent heritage and squandered it.  They have forgotten what to be fundamental about.  They are the reason that I seldom use the title to describe myself.  I don't think I've changed all that much.  Much, maybe most, of the movement has.  You can listen to the message, when it is posted, to find out more, but below are a couple of good articles that help explain Fundamentalism and what has become.

  • The first article was published last summer by Biola University.
    The Fundamentals vs. 'fundamentalism'The Fundamentals publishing project is a part of the history of fundamentalism in America, to be sure, yet the two words are also different in important ways
    Note especially the last section on legacy.
  • The second is published by Wheaton College's Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.  The article, titled simply "Fundamentalism" gives a brief history of the movement.
  • This third, very short, article, by Alvin Pantinga, is, using the standard of many Fundamentalists, vulgar.  He uses the term that technically means that one's mother is a canine several times and with several regional variations in his brief article. If you are going to be insulted or bothered by that don't click the link.   I include the article, with warning to stay away if you are likely to be offended, because it gives a clear picture of how most people outside the movement see it.  They regard "Fundamentalist" as a " term of abuse or disapprobation"--an insult.  Again I offer a warning.  Here is the link.
    Keep in mind though, that sometimes being insulted is a good thing.  I didn't tell you this was easy.
A while back in the midst of a health crisis I recited my heart-health heritage.  It is awful, full of people who died young and had major crises/surgeries even younger, but we don't have the privilege of picking our ancestors.  Since most of us were young and dumb when we started our Theological journey, we didn't have a lot of intelligent choice over that heritage either. What we do with our heritage is another matter.  I'm still working on that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A "Senior Religious Leader" Condemns the Murders in Chapel Hill.

I just read, on a friend's Facebook page, about the murder of three young adults in Chapel Hill, NC.
herehere
The killings have an obvious inflammatory twist.  The victims were Muslim.  The alleged perpetrator is an atheist who had made his anti-religion views known.
My friend had merely posted the first story with the comment "awful."  I absolutely agree.
Another comment-er said, "How sad. Three non-extremist Muslims killed by an extremist atheist. I wonder what his reasoning was."  Again I agree, but not because "three non-extremist Muslims were killed by an extremist atheist."
I started writing the following as a comment on my friend's Facebook wall, but then realized it was too much for that venue.  Even though my friends page has a bigger audience than this blog, I choose to write my comments here.

I agree this is a terrible act.  I do take exception to the comment, however, that implies that this act is sad because of the religious views of the victims, or the lack of religion, and extremism of the alleged perpetrator.  What is horribly sad is that three people--image-bearers of our Creator and therefore possessing lives of value beyond our ability to measure or express--were wrongfully killed.  The Sixth Commandment does not contain any commentary on the racial or religious make-up of the people under consideration.  People's lives are worthy of protection because they are people. Period!  Adding to the tragedy of what happened in Chapel Hill is that, apparently, another human being, who likewise bears God's image, has so distorted that image that he was willing to perform such a heinous act.
The second news story above indicates that the motivation for this killing my not have been religious at all, but, rather, a dispute over parking.  If that is the case, is this crime any less awful?  Not in the least.  We should be outraged because God's standard for human habitation on His earth has been violated, and because His image has been further marred.
The first story indicates that some folk interested in making a political/social justice statement out of a horrible tragedy are calling for "senior religious leaders" to condemn this act.  I'm sure I'm not who they have in mind, but I am a religious leader, and I am almost 65, so I qualify.

I CONDEMN THIS ACT.

I condemn all unwarranted taking of human life.  I uphold the sanctity of human life without regard for racial, social, national, religious, or gender-related considerations.  The accused in this case should be given a fair trial.  The families and friends of the victims should be able to grieve the loss of their loved ones without political or media pressure.  Their community, including Christian neighbors and friends should reach out to them with comfort.  There should be no attempt to build a riot, demonstration, or petition-drive on the back of this crime.
Further, to stretch my already thin "religious leader" status even more, I wish to go on record as upholding the sanctity of all human life.  People's lives' have value because of the image of God that we bear.  That is true in Chapel Hill, Mosul, Afghanistan, and wherever the life of a fellow human being hangs in the balance.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lasts and Firsts, #2

I know that nothing is impossible with God, and I know that Moses didn't really get started until he was eighty.  (I'm fifteen years from that starting line.)  I know, however, that, unlike the great leader
of Israel, I probably won't live to be a vigorous hundred and twenty.
Looking at things with, what I hope is an appropriate, realism I have to conclude that some of my last chances have passed.  The first time I preached to Covington Bible Church as pastor is now more than forty years past.  The last time I will speak in that role is just a couple of months away.  What I can accomplish in that role is largely past.  I could go on and list other lasts, and speak of other opportunities that are past, but I'd rather focus on firsts and new possibilities.
For the first time in a long time I find myself in a situation where I know that I don't know exactly what is next.  It is frightening, but kind of exhilarating, as well.  I would like to think that I haven't been addicted to functioning within my comfort-zone, but serving in a local church context--the same local church all my life, doing the same basic tasks for decades--is something that I have enjoyed.  That is likely to change.  My ministry within the church will be different.  I'm already exploring possibilities and making plans to work outside that context.  As I already said, there is a lot that I don't know.  I do know that for the first time the possibilities are a lot more varied than at any time I remember.  There are  a lot more possibilities than certainties.
That is driving me to count on one great certainty.  "I will never leave you or forsake you."  (Jesus Christ).  I've known that as long as I can remember, but this is the first time I've had to cling to that promise with such tenacity.  My comfort ought to have nothing to do with how deep I am in my zone, rather I need to be concerned with how close I remain to my Lord.  I'd like to think that I've doubted that truth or struggled to live in the light of it for the last time.  I can't.  I am, however, beginning to see it more clearly.
That's not a bad first.

My last post also had to do with these musings.  It was the first in this series.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I'm doing some musing on the phase of life I'm in.  It is a time that is filled with more uncertainty than I'm familiar with.  It will involve change.  There is an element of struggle.  My two grandpas died at 25 & 60, my dad at 63.  As I approach 65, I'm very aware that the continuation of my time on this earth is not something I can take for granted.  I want to use the time I have for God's glory.

I'll be posting some thoughts on "Lasts & Firsts" in the near future, but today I want to be intensely practical.  Shortly after March 15, 2015--my 65th Birthday and the day that Rev. Doug Williams will take the role that I have occupied for all of my adult life, Senior Pastor of the Covington Bible Church--I will begin a short-term ministry.  This could lead to longer-term possibilities.

I'm seeking a team of people who will partner with Kathy & me in this next phase of serving the Lord.  If you think you might be interested, send me a note at covbchm@gmail.com, and I'll send you a letter explaining this opportunity.

Happy New Year & God bless,
HM