Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's the kind of world we live in, but the kind of God we serve demands (in a logical sense) Thanksgiving:

Kathy, my mother and I traveled to Charlotte NC yesterday to spend Thanksgiving with Kathy's sister, her family, and their mom, who lives with here with Dawn & Jim. One of Kathy's brothers had also flown in. We were, and still are, looking forward to the time together.
Last night my mother-in-law fell and broke her hip.
After a very late night, I was awakened earlier than the rest of the house by a call from Kathy's other brother. So, I and a cup of coffee are doing a little computering.

Thanksgiving always involves an act of the will. That is made abundantly clear in the little OT book of Habakkuk. If things aren't going as well as you like for you, I encourage you to make it your Thanksgiving reading. I imagine that our Pilgrim Forefathers had to adopt that "determined thanks" stance that I see in the prophet.
I will give thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Preachers Won!

OK, in case you don't know, I'm a pastor, what some old-timers call a "preacher." In fact some folk address me as "Preacher Merrell." So, I can hardly plead impartiality on this matter. Having established my place behind the pulpit--figuratively, since we haven't used our pulpit for several years now, I'll proceed.

For some time now the point has been made that people won't listen to preaching anymore. We have to use PowerPoint and videos, we need to put on carefully scripted shows, and never quote Charles Spurgeon or do anything else "preacherly." People who have been making this point overlook some well-known and very popular preachers. Even listening through my keyhole, I am aware of a number. Many of them are best known through radio, so obviously the video element is not a factor in their effectiveness.
  • Chuck Swindoll keeps on telling stories, enthusiastically laughing at his own jokes and highlighting the intense practicality of the Word of God.
  • Granted it appears that Charles Stanley has bought some hair, but he is still counting off 3 of this, 5 of that, and 7 of the other thing on his long slim fingers.
  • John MacArthur, and James McDonald seem to just talk about the Bible.
  • Even from the grave Oliver Greene and J. Vernon McGee continue to have a following. I think they died before Powerpoint was invented.

Another preacher, Allistair Begg, has helped me clarify thinking on this. Part of the reason he has impressed me comes from the fact that he has come to some of the same conclusions I have, only he said it better. (Don't you love it when someone agrees with you?) You'll have to do the research if you want to find out more (and if anyone wants to send me a link to any of this, I'll be glad to post it.) since the input Preacher Begg has had in my life has been through borrowed Cd's and a couple of Pastor's Conferences I have attended at Parkside Church. Begg acknowledges that many critics claim that people won't listen to preaching anymore. In part he--and I--agree with that conclusion, but not for the reasons that are usually given. Since I don't have Begg's words in front of me, I don't want to take a chance on misrepresenting him. So the following points are mine. These opinions have been shaped by the Scottish preacher's words, though.

People don't listen to preaching because:

  • Much of it isn't worth listening to. I notice this in particular when I go to funerals. Here preachers have the opportunity to talk to the people that they wish they could talk to on Sunday. If what they do at the funeral-chapel is typical of what they do at church it is easy to understand why people don't listen.
  • Much of our preaching lacks authority. Messages that are like presentations of feel-good magazine articles garnished with scripture offer little of interest to people in need. Oprah and Dr. Phil have a bigger budget than we do. If we try to play in their court we'll lose. If we preach God's word, we win, because they don't.
  • We seek to preach what people want to hear, or what they think they need to hear. Pastor Begg said something to the effect, "We cannot preach what people want, because no one is demanding the gospel."
  • This one is mostly mine. We act as if all the truth of God's word can be mastered with little thought or effort. Proverbs talks about digging for treasure. Paul told Timothy to be diligent in his approach to the Word of God, 2 Timothy 2:15. I haven't read the book yet, but I understand that Bill Hybells has something to say on this matter.

In other words much of the lack of interest in preaching can be attributed to the sorriness of the preaching being offered up.

I've been thinking these thoughts for several years now. The recent election provided further confirmation that the day of preaching is not past.

  • It is not coincidental that the best speaker won the presidential race.
  • Then there was the highlight of the campaign. Sarah Palin's fresh, frank, folksy, effective rhetoric energized the race.
  • Mike Huckabee did more with less, and landed himself a job on Fox News to boot, on the basis of his ability to speak clearly and persuasively. In case you didn't know, or forgot, Mike Huckabee is Rev. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
  • Huckabee went to Seminary with Rick Warren. The civil forum at Saddleback clearly showed that a preacher who actually believes something could speak sensibly, persuasively, and reach across barriers.
  • In my state we elected a new Senator. No doubt Mark Warner (No relation to John Warner, whom he is replacing) was helped by the Democratic tidal-wave, but Governor Warner is also a much more effective speaker than Governor Gilmore, whom he not only beat, but buried.

The preacher--the good ones at least won.

For those of us who seek to persuade people, It's Something to Think About.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salute to our Veterans and Armed Forces currently serving:

On Friday I'll have the privilege of speaking to a group of High-Schoolers at a Veteran's Day assembly. (Friday is the day that works in their schedule.) Last year when I was asked speak I thought it was strange, since I have never been in the military. This year I was even more surprised when I was asked to come back.

It is also the Thanksgiving season. The two days of recognition overlap. I am thankful for my country and for those who defend it.

Friday, I plan to talk about 3 people.

Sam Falanru (I probably don't have his name spelled right) is a man I met on Guam. He and I served together on the board of Pacific Islands Bible College. Sam is from the Island of Yap. He was a boy during World War II when our planes were bombing his Island. He told me how the air-raid sirens would go off at night and he and his family would have to find their home-made bomb shelter in the dark. "We couldn't even light a candle or a match." The shelter consisted of a hole in the ground covered over with coconut logs, then that covered with dirt. He said one time during a time of rain, he remembered standing in the shelter in the dark with water up to his chest, hearing the bombs going off and seeing the flashes of light from the explosions.

You would think that after enduring such an ordeal that Sam would be anti-American, but he isn't. Most of the men on Yap had been rounded up and taken to other Islands by the Japanese. They were used, essentially as slave labor to build airstrips and such. Like many people in the world, Sam regarded the US forces as liberators. A friend of mine served on a battleship in that area of the Pacific. Another friend who just died, flew for the Army Air-Corps in the Pacific. A gentleman who was a charter member of the church where I serve carried a ringing in his ears to the grave; the ringing came from firing the big-guns as our troops fought Island to Island for victory.

I met Saul at Dachau in Germany. A friend of mine says about Dachau and Auschwitz, that everyone should have to go there once, and only once. I totally understand. I was standing in one of the chapels built on the ground of this former concentration camp, when an older gentleman said, "I was here."

Sam grew up a Jew in Czhekoslovakia. He and his family were put in Dachau. Sam was the only survivor. He told me that as far as he knew he had put his own father's body in the oven. He said that he came back there, because it allowed him to feel close to his family. He had spent most of his adult life in America, the land that had been willing to shed its blood to stop the evil that imprisoned and killed his people. In America he made a good living and raised a family.

My dad and his two uncles were part of the war that set Saul, and millions like him free.

The third person I'll mention is a lady I never met. Her image though is imprinted on my mind.

She was one of the Afghans who for the first time in the history of their land went to the polls and voted. To cut down on the possibility of people voting more than once, each voter signified that they had cast their ballot by dipping their finger in indelible ink. It became not only a security measure, but a point of pride.

A friend of mine was serving with the US Army during that election. He recognized the significance of all those indigo fingers and so obtained one of those ballots to bring home and frame and give to his little girl so that she would know that her dad was involve in something that was worth doing--something that made a difference for people.
Unfortunately a lot of bad things are said about our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Air-Force personnel. I'm glad that I've been able to meet some people around the world who bear witness to the good things these men and women have and are doing.
On this Veteran's Day I thank those who have served, and are serving.
Let's be sure to pray for those in harm's way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting past Election Day:

Please note that I'm writing this before the winners of Tuesday's Elections are announced. Most of you will read this afterward. I'm writing it with that in mind.

Especially, on the presidential level, this has been a very emotional campaign. As I am doing a final edit of this piece there is a spot on TV about parents with adult children who are voting the opposite of their parents. One dad said he could hardly talk to his daughter. Find a way to get over it! Unless we deal with the emotion properly, it could get in the way of our moving on to the business at hand. And it is clear there is business at hand.

It is clear that this election will make history. We will have elected either the first African-American President, or the first female Vice-President. This has been the most expensive Presidential race in history, and some commentators are predicting a record vote. It seems that the campaign has lasted so long that some of babies the candidates kissed at the beginning of their run were old enough to vote for them by the end. By Tuesday evening nearly half the nation will be disappointed--some bitter. With all there is do before us, we had better get over it.

  • For those of us who know the Lord, the bond that we share in Christ is more important than the political divisions that come between us. If our political enthusiasm led us to actions that offended others, we ought to make that right.

  • We need to understand that not all Republicans are cold-hearted war-mongers, nor are all Democrats devoid of concern for the life of the unborn. Politics are complicated. Some of my friends make decisions that I don't understand. It is appropriate for us to have spirited discussions about the issues (in the right context), but it is not acceptable for me to "demonize" others or to assign motives to them that may not be theirs. Political campaigns lend themselves to caricatures--one dimensional cartoons--real life is populated by very complex individuals.

  • No doubt in the months to come a new version of an old bumper sticker will proliferate, "Don't Blame Me, I Didn't Vote for ________." It's amusing the first 10 times you see it--a little--OK, very little--but the attitude it expresses is pretty non-productive.

  • Don't gloat, either--that is if your side won. That is perhaps even less productive than the whining about losing. Sooner or later, politically or otherwise, you are going to need their help.

  • We must be committed to get along with those we ought to get along with. I imagine that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the former tax collector had some interesting discussions.

God is still on the throne. This will get too long if I explore God's sovereignty, so you work on it on your own. Bottom line: If my guy won it won't bring in the Kingdom of God. If the other guy won that doesn't mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Who ever our new President-elect is, and the other newly elected candidates, we need to pray for them, and those who continue in office. 1 Timothy 2
Transitions are critical times. Pray.

From my perspective as a pastor, having heard the discussion that led up to the election, it is clear to me that there is a great need for the people of God to clarify our thinking. What really matters?
Gene Veith, writing on his blog, included part of an article by an Australian journalist that included this quote, "This election marks the triumph of celebrity as the essential organising principle of US politics." (You can find more on Veith's blog, You'll need to scroll down a ways.
This is not a criticism of just the other side. This campaign has impressed me with how thin the thinking has been. Some of the ads and speeches have contained outright lies. The implication is, "Go ahead and lie to them. If it is what they want to hear, they'll like it, and many who don't like it won't be smart enough to figure it out." The majority of the campaign was based on half-truths and stuff that doesn't matter. From Grecian columns to expensive wardrobes to appearances on Saturday Night Live everything was about looking good.
People who don't know what they believe can be easily led astray. Lot's of Christians don't have a clue.
  • Are there wars worth fighting, even if people die in them?
  • When does human life begin? Is all human life worthy of protection?
  • What is the purpose of government? What do we have a right to expect from our government? Concerning what do we have a right to expect government to leave us alone?
  • What does the Bible tell us about human nature that needs to be considered when setting up an effective government?
We have been asked to make decisions related to secondary issues, without having a clear idea of what we think/believe about more fundamental issues. How, for instance can you make policy decisions related to abortion and euthanasia if you have not answered the basic questions about human life: Is it special? To whom does it belong? When does it begin? When does it end? What one believes about the basic goodness or badness of humanity has impact on decisions related to war, education, and more. People are making world-changing choices about the latter without a clue--or worse, the wrong conclusion--about the former. The same can be said about many of the other issues before us. Many of God's people don't have a Biblical worldview. Rather their view of reality is primarily formed by the forces in the world itself. In such a climate decisions tend to be made on the basis of popularity, emotion, trendiness, special interest--as in mine--or based on labels that are largely meaningless.
A while back I asked one of our elected officials to tell me where the line is that he would not step over in relation to one of the moral issues of our day. In essence he said he didn't know. Yet that didn't stop him from making decisions on that issue. My friend-the-politician could get the answers if he wanted to. I have to assume that he prefers to be ignorant--or to profess ignorance--because it gives him/her greater flexibility. Some of us are doing the same in relation to our vote. One of our Presidential candidates said when asked when human life begins that to answer that question is above his pay-grade. The person who is going to lead the nation in protecting life ought to have an answer to that question. The other candidate professes to believe that life begins at conception, yet is not willing to follow through with the consistent, though hard, conclusion that therefore all human life is worthy of protection. (Or make a cogent argument as to why those particular humans should not be protected) Why is that we laughed at the candidates on Saturday Night Live, but we did not ridicule such inadequate answers? Could it be that we don't know either, that we are more comfortable being ignorant, that we are not willing to follow through on what we do know?
Before the personality and emotion of the next election kicks in dig in and get some answers.
I figure that some of you have some thoughts on this matter. If your comments show promise of leading to reconciliation, I'll be glad to post them for others to read.

To my friends whose candidates won, congratulations.
To the rest--well, there is next time.

PS. As I was preparing this post, I heard that Barak Obama's grandmother just died. Pray for the family. It kind of puts things in perspective on a number of levels.

2 very articulate young ladies:

I know it isn't real spiritual, and I know I have to consider other factors, but one of the ways I judge the health of our church is whether or not I have fun. Yesterday was a lot of fun. I think if you were with us at Covington Bible you agree.
Our musicians did a great job leading us in, and sharing, music.
At our 11:00 service we began with a Baptismal service. I figure that baptism ought to focus on the one declaring her or his faith, so we have the person being baptized share their testimony. Yesterday the 2 young ladies, good friends of one another, and members of the Jr. Hi. Sunday School Class, where I get to hang out, Kayla Douglas and Makayla May did a wonderfu job in sharing their story of faith. I wish that we had video of our services online (I'm looking for someone willing to do that) so you could easily see and hear these young ladies' testimonies. You can get a DVD if you want, write me and I'll pass it on to the crew that handles that.
Way to go M&K!
As an into to the message, "What Have We Done With Christmas?" we used a spoof of the 12 Days of Christmas. You can see it here,
The little movie was made even more amusing by the fact that our son's new in-laws were guests in our home over the weekend. They are definitely not like the ones in the video.
Anyhow, I had a good time.
From those who cleaned our building, to ushers, to musicians, to K&M, to all who came, thanks.

I mentioned that the parents of our daughter-in-law were weekend visitors. Not only did we enjoy getting to know Wanda and Steve better, we enjoyed showing off our lovely part of the world to them. I am blessed to live in such a lovely part of God's creation.

I'm praying for the election tomorrow. My hope is in the Lord!

live 4 Jesus.