Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comment on "Metro-Evangelicals"

A friend pointed me to an article about the emphasis in Evangelicalism on urban ministry.  The article, at least in part, explores what some see as a put-down of ministry in small places, like Covington VA, where I have invested my life.  But, you red for yourself:
As a guy who has spent his life ministering in a small, getting smaller, city, and sparsely populated county, it would be easy to jump on this.  I resist.  I see the rational for Urban ministry as kind of like the old bank-robber's line:  "Why do you rob banks?" " . . . minister in the cities?"  "That's where the money/people is/are."  Since there are buildings in major cities that contain more people than my city, and since guys like you, Bart, tend to move away from places like Covington, to places like Washington, all other things being equal.  Pastors like Keller are going to have greater influence than pastors like Merrell.  I'm content to influence a creek.  That water flows into major streams.
Strong influential ministries like Redeemer Church add something to the Evangelical culture that helps folk like me.  We have used Keller's books for studies here.  Keller has opportunities in NY that he didn't have in Culpepper, VA.  I'm glad.  From my perspective, he (I don't know much about Driscoll.) has used those opportunities in ways that have helped those of us in smaller places.  I'm thankful.  When I think of it, I pray for Tim Keller & his ministry.
Bottom line:  I assume that those who choose to minister in the big cities choose to do so for the same reason I have invested my life in a small place.  I think this is where God wants me.  I think there are people here who need what I have, by the grace of God, to offer.

Note some of the comments.  The headline writer is guilty of being too cute.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A horrible tragedy, and a smaller one that didn't happen:

The horrible events in Sandy Hook, and a blog-post by a mom greatly in need of our prayers, have caused me to reflect again on an incident that ended well, but could have been tragic.
I'll get to the incident in a moment, but first some context.
I'll leave the details to historians; anecdotal generalities are sufficient to make my point.
In the early-mid 70s when I began my ministry I remember visiting patients at Western State Hospital in Staunton VA.  It was an institution that had begun in 1828.  Over its history the worst abuses of psychiatric care--lobotomies, shackles, straight-jackets, poorly controlled electro-shock, forced sterilizations, etc.--had taken place there.  By the time I visited there the worst of these abuses had been eliminated, or largely so, but, still, it was a terribly depressing place to visit.  It didn't take long to figure out that many of these people had been very effectively rehabilitated.  Unfortunately, the habitation in which they were best able to function was Western State Hospital.  The place was ready for Jack Nicholson.
A national combination of budgetary constraints and compassion swept our nation about that time.  Places like Western State were closed or drastically reduced in size in as close as a bureaucracy can come to overnight.  All over the country patients who were marvelously well equipped to live in a mental hospital were placed in nursing homes, half-way houses, or just on the street--environments where they didn't know how to function.
"They'll be fine as long as they take their meds."
"Who will make sure they take their meds?"
"That's up to them."

It was late enough that I was already asleep--asleep soundly enough that when Kathy woke me up, my main thought was to get back to sleep.
A neighbor had called and told Kathy the "Annex (a house our church owns and uses for various ministry purposes) is on fire."
I figured it was just some lights reflecting off the picture window, or something like that.  I just wanted to get back to sleep.
Kathy stepped out to where she could see for herself and confirmed.  "The Annex is on fire!"
I had no choice, now.  I got up jumped into some pants and started walking/running the seventy yards, or so, to the neighboring building.  A few steps in that direction, I turned and yelled for Kathy to call the fire department.  There is a porch/carport on the front of the building.  I could clearly see the flames under that roof.  After moving a bit closer, I yelled back, to call the police as well.
There was a pile of firewood under that porch roof.  We used it for the fireplace in the Annex.  There was also an old church pew there in the shelter.  The firewood, flames licking at the wooden ceiling above, was burning brightly.  An older man was sitting on the bench, looking for all the world like this was exactly what one was supposed to do on a cool night.  I don't remember whether I spoke first or immediately started throwing burning pieces of firewood out into the yard, but rather quickly I asked the man, "What in the world are you doing?"
He calmly replied, "I'm just trying to keep warm."
I remember reading somewhere, something like, "Even the actions of the most disturbed person make sense, if you look at the world the way they see it."  I have no clinical language for this man's problem, but he saw the world in such a way that it made perfect sense for him to build a fire under a wooden porch roof, attached to a house that he did not own, and then sit down on a wooden bench and warm himself.  I think, had I been a few minutes later in arriving, I would have found the old gent slumped over in the pew from smoke-inhalation or lying in the yard with third-degree burns.
Being awakened in the middle of the night convinced me that folk who think building fires on other people's porches shouldn't be allowed to be out on their own.  Later when the police officer arrived he told me that they had found the gentleman on an earlier occasion trying to sleep in a tree.  It wasn't and isn't illegal--though I understand there is a bill in congress--to sleep in trees, so he was turned loose.  Building a fire on somebody else's porch is outside the law, so he spent the rest of the night in a warm place.

Right now, I can hear a friend of mine yelling, "So what's the point?"
Let me make it mostly with some questions:

  • I understand that before my time it used to be common for families to keep mentally/emotionally troubled family members out of sight.  Sometimes that was cruel, but in light of the fact they didn't burn down porches or, infinitely worse, go on shooting sprees at elementary schools, can we say that is all-together bad?
  • It was horribly abused--I saw the tail-end of that abuse nearly forty years ago at Western State--but do we too easily dismiss the old thought that there are those from whom the rest of us need to be protected, and indeed, who need to be protected from themselves, and that some of these folk have never, yet, broken the law? 
  • I personally have run into the syndrome that frustrates the mom in the blog-post I referenced, that kept local police from doing anything about a man who tried to sleep in a tree, and that may have been part of the story in Sandy Hook.  Is there something wrong with a system that tells a parent, or one who truly cares, "Unless, this person breaks the law, there is nothing we can do?"
  • Have we elevated the concept of personal freedom--even for people who can't personally handle it--to such a place in our culture that it trumps all other considerations?
I end with questions because I have more of those than answers.  I pray there is an intelligent conversation going on at a level where it can make a difference.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Team MERRELL, Bible Run Around the Island:

Many of you know that I am involved with Pacific Islands University, a small Christian College on Guam, serving the People of Micronesia and beyond. We are doing a fund-raiser, prayer encourager, awareness-raising event on January 5. I wo
n't be there for the Bible Run. (it is a pretty good trip.) But I will be participating as an off-islander. I'll get my mile(s) in with family in Texas. We'll be praying for the ministry of PIU. I'm encouraging friends to join Team-MERRELL. You can go to the sites below, or get in touch with me. If you join Team-MERRELL you will receive a commemorative email, which you will cherish until your hard-drive crashes. :)
Make a donation to the School in any amount. You can do so online here:
Message me and let me know you are a part of Team-MERRELL. I'll post a picture of my participation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Merry? Christmas:

Since this STTA has an editorial flavor, I'm posting it here as well as over at the STTA site.

It has begun.  I speak of course of the annual--at least in recent memory--fight over whether store-clerks and such should say "Merry Christmas," or "Happy Holidays."  And, "Is that evergreen in the park, the one with all the lights on it, a Holiday Tree or a Christmas Tree?" 
There are some inconvenient facts that line up on each side of the argument.
On the side of Merry Christmas:
  • It is the name of the Holiday in question.
  • There is our undeniable heritage as a nation--"Christian" or at the least strongly influenced by Christian thought.
  • Most Christians don't seem to get bent out of shape when Jewish merchants recognize Hanukkah, or Muslims observe the fast of Ramadan.  "Why," we ask, "all the fuss over Christmas?"
On the other side:
  • Though not a majority, a significant element of our population belongs to a non-christian religious group.  
  • A minority of Christians find the 21st Century Christmas celebration offensive and want no part of it.  (I'll leave aside the fact there is a significant group of Christ-followers who observe Christmas in January.)
  • It is the task of the church, not Walmart or the US government to proclaim Christ.  
  • Business people should be free to observe, or not observe, religious based holidays, and we should be free to steer our business to those businesses we choose to patronize.
The middle ground is strewn with, "Yeah, but!"s and ugly accusations.
For the record: I have already started wishing folk "Merry Christmas."  I am seeking to use the holiday as an opportunity for spreading the name of Christ.  I appreciate it when businesses enter into that spirit.  You'll notice, I even donned a Santa hat for the season.
I am, however, going to avoid any Yuletide arm-twisting, and I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters to do the same.  Rather than demanding that Merry Christmasbe on store clerks lips, let's put our energy into living and witnessing so that the Christ of Christmas is more likely to enter their heart and make them truly Merry.
It's STTA.
Find lot's of information about how God stepped into our world to meet needs we cannot meet on our own, here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Thanksgiving began tonight.
For the last, who knows how many, years Covington Bible Church has participated in a Thanksgiving service with several other local churches.  This year it was our turn to host the service.  We chose to keep it simple, to emphasize the ministries of labor in our churches every week, and to give an offering to others who have needs.  I hope the other folk who were part of the service appreciated it as much as I did.  I am thankful.
It was good to be reminded of why we should be thankful, even in hard times.  It seems that we have gotten really good at whining and complaining.  It was good to be reminded that what we ought to be doing is offering thanks.  No one who participated in the service was whistling in the dark.  They were folk who had lived long enough, looked hard enough, and yielded to God's plan completely enough, that they have come to see that indeed God is good.
A group of young people from our church presented a funny and thought-provoking drama about the importance of thanksgiving.  I confess that there are times in my life when I could be rightly arrested for failure to be thankful.  Lord deliver me.
It was good to be reminded that I am part of a team.  Several churches banded together in tonight's service.  I could focus on those who weren't there--if you look at the rolls of the participating churches there were far more who weren't there than were--but I choose to focus on those who were: fellow pastors, dedicated missionaries, solid leaders, dedicated workers--the kind of people who build the Kingdom of God.
Thanksgiving began, for me, tonight.  May it last all year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Christianity is about faith in Christ

From the message this morning at Covington Bible Church, from Acts 24:24-26. The rich, powerful, and beautiful Felix and Drusilla, heard Paul on faith in Christ Jesus.

In our day of pluralism and tolerance gone amok, we need to be very clear.  Christianity is about faith in Christ.  Not just faith in a generic Supreme power kind of a God, the great Architect of the Universe, or the Higher Power however you define she, he or it.  We are talking faith in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, Who was born as a man, lived a sinless life, died as our substitute, came forth from Grave in victory and lives today to intercede for and save forever all who put their trust in him.We need to be kind and polite and respectful to Jews and Muslims and believers in the gold mega-ball, but we cannot back off one inch from the reality that there is “one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  We must not compromise from the absolute conviction that there “is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Except for my gray hair I look like a paleo-evangelical, but I'm not quite ready to adopt the label as mine.

A young friend of mine, Bart Gingrich, recently introduced me to a new label, here.  I'm pretty tired of labeling, and particularly relabeling--as if calling something by a new name somehow made it different.  This label, though, caught my attention.  Bart, in his article, responded to an article by Thomas Kidd.  A colleague of Bart's also contributed a piece--sort of an across-the-table-with-coffee, friendly debate.  This morning again through Bart--he expands the view from my keyhole--I found that the new moniker, and Bart's article had been passed up the food-chain to First Things, here.

I've had three primary reactions to the discussion about "paleo-evangelicals":

  1. I regard it as a very good thing.  I have for sometime thought that the dual sleeping arrangement between a large section of Evangelicalism and what I would call conservative politics has been unhelpful, and, more importantly, unhealthy.  It appears to me that those who are saying, "I guess I am a paleo-evangelical."  Share that discomfort with their political bedfellow's snoring.  My thinking on this was advanced and clarified by some of Chuck Colson's writings, and a very practical straight forward little book, Blinded By Might, written by two former associates of Jerry Fallwell,  Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson.  To a lesser extent my thinking was tweaked by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons' book, Un-Christian.
  2. I was actually surprised--pleasantly so, mostly.  As the name of my blog would imply, I don't get out much.  Even as I type this, I have other, much more local things to do.  So it isn't hard to bring up things in the bigger world that surprise me.  I think, though, that I'm more thoughtfully surprised on this one.  I know that the first half of the hyphenated term was transplanted from a well established--though not popularly recognized--label, Paleo-conservative."  Applying "paleo" to evangelical would indicate that this is what evangelicalism was, before it became what it is today.  If I'm wrong about that, I hope my better informed friends will correct me.  But what I find somewhat shocking is that Evangelicalism has morphed into a movement--at least this is how it appears to a significant body of thinking observers--that is identified more by its politics than it's Theology.  At this point I go back to reaction #1.  I'm glad for the recognition.
    I also offer an apology.  I get the idea that I'm much older than most of the voices in this conversation. I'm about forty years older than Bart.  I don't regard myself as directly responsible, but on the part of my generation, I just want to say that I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that we made, or allowed "Evangelical" to become a political term rather than a word that calls to mind what it originally meant--Good News, John 3:16, and Amazing Grace.
  3. This is really #2 from the other side, and a return to #1, sort of:
    I am an Evangelical.  As you can tell from some of my previous postings on this blog, I have been somewhat conflicted over that title, but I wear the title with much more comfort than I ever have before.  I grew up in the result of, and the core of my education came from, the Fundamentalist movement that took place in the first half  of the Twentieth Century.  I was taught that "Evangelicalism" was a bad word.  I still have friends that regard it as such.  As I observed what happened to Fundamentalism in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and as I grew (I hope).  I came to mostly reject the label Fundamentalist.  I hadn't really changed what I believed, but I saw that in the eyes of many--in particular young people--Fundamentalism was seen as something that I wanted no part of.  So, with apologies to some of my forebears, I, mostly, quit using the title.*
    At the same time, though, Evangelicalism took on overtones with which I was not comfortable.  Unlike many of you in this conversation, I was alive before the Moral Majority.  A large part of my thinking here was shaped, not by broad reading and careful reasoning, but by association with some very Godly people who were absolutely Evangelical in the Biblical sense, but thoroughly un-evangelical as defined as a political movement.  If you search this blog for "political" and/or "politics" you'll find that on my side of the keyhole I've been campaigning for some time, that evangelicalism is not a political movement.  I'm sorry we have allowed it to become seen as such.  I would challenge others in the conversation--unless they are political operatives of the ilk who can tell you which way Toyota driving accountants are going to vote (I guess you are paid to that)--to stop looking at Evangelicalism through a political lens.  Yes, because Evangelicals tend to take seriously what the Bible actually says, we are likely to be pro-life, for instance, but to say Evangelicalism is pro-life, as if that defined us, is to distort us.  
Bottom line.  I reject the label Paleo-evangelical.  Not because what I've seen so far does not describe me, it does, mostly.  I said as much in my comment, here.  I reject the label, because I'm not prepared to surrender most of the field and claim just a corner.  I maintain that what is described as Paleo-evangelicalism is really Evangelicalism.  Let's describe the other folk as Politically-distorted-evangelicals, and reclaim the word "Evangelical" for what it really means.

*It doesn't quite fit in the flow of this piece, but the book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, helped clarify my thinking.  Chiefly, the editors choice to include Fundamentalism as one of the subsets of Evangelicalism confirmed a view I have had for some time.  Historically, and Theologically they have common roots.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is This OK?

Some time ago I was made aware of the Lifebook Project,
It is a very simple concept.  It involves students giving a book to fellow students.  The bulk of the book is the gospel of John; the rest is some Old Testament background and questions and answers for teens.  You can see all of the book at the link above.  

The books are provided for free by the Gideons International.  
I and my associate decided this could be a great opportunity for our students.  I signed Covington Bible Church up.  A sister church also registered.  We received 1,000 books each--enough to saturate the middle and high schools in our area.
Having signed up and received the books, I was about at the end of what I could do.  This is a student to student project.  So I approached several high school and briefly described the project.  Every one of them quickly said they would be involved.  In fact one of the student leaders actually approached me and told me that she wanted to lead the effort at her school.  Some of us met together to eat pizza and watch the training videos--they are on the website, too--and I pretty much told the teens they were on their own.  A few weeks later a couple of them came to me and said this and that, and is it OK if we do it this way?  I told them it is their project.  Go with it.  
They did and are.
It makes a gray-haired pastor thankful.

In the last couple of days we have received some discouraging news.  Even though it is completely legal for students to engage in religious activity in non-disruptive ways, some of our local administrators and school boards have said the students cannot pass out these books, or they are being needlessly restrictive.

I am including the links to some information about the legality of this kind of activity toward the bottom of this post, but before I list them let me say a couple of things to you adults.

  • Please commend these youngsters for being willing to participate in this project.  I'm doing it right now.  You gals and guys rock!  I hope adults rise to the challenge of evangelism, as you have.
  • Let's not get in the rock-throwing, chanting, marching on the school board office mode.  Unfortunately we live in a time in which the ACLU and groups like them have cowed school systems into submission.  (There are lots of political implications to that, but those are matters for another post.)  It really doesn't matter to many school systems who is right.  What matters is the knowledge that if they get taken to court, it will cost them money--money they don't have.  I don't want to be guilty of using the same bullying tactics as the other side.  Rather, I appeal to the consciences of those in charge.  What these youngsters want to do is right, and it is wrong to tell them that they can't.  BTW, A BIG THANKS TO THOSE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS WHO ARE WORKING WITH US.
  • In appropriate ways, make the facts known.  We live in a land where there are appropriate ways to make the truth known.  I'm not encouraging you to be obnoxious, at least not too obnoxious--in fact I hope you will be nice--but I am also not saying you should be quiet.  We probably shouldn't be quiet.  That's why I publishing this.
  • Know that the Gospel is not stopped by these kinds of roadblocks.  Let's go on.  BTW, if you can come up with a creative way of distributing these books off-campus, let me know.  I'll try to help.
In 1995 President Bill Clinton and US Secretary of Education
Richard Riley wrote clearly and extensively about the rights of students on school property.  Here is a brief quotation, followed by the link to much more:
. . . the First Amendment imposes two basic and equally important obligations on public school officials. . . . First, schools may not forbid students acting on their own from expressing their personal religious views or beliefs . . . [and] must give students the same right to engage in religious activity and discussion as they have to engage in other comparable activity. . . . At the same time schools my not endorse religious activity or doctrine. . . .

Here is another article that explains the rights of students: 

Summary of what the above looks like to me:
I'm a preacher and not a lawyer, but it would appear to me that unless the schools that are preventing the distribution of Lifebooks are also banning passing out invitations to birthday parties, and advertisements for non-school concerts, tractor-pulls, and scout meeting, that they are violating the rights of students by zeroing in on this project because of its religious content. 


Friday, August 31, 2012

Politics, Let's Let the Church Be the Church:

I just published this on my STTA blog.
This one, though is less "daily" than a lot of what gets put there, so I'm posting here as well.

Politics is a horribly messy business.  I have frequently found myself voting for people that I don't think I would really like, if I had the opportunity to get to know them.  In past local elections--where I actually do know some of the candidates--I have found myself voting against people that I actually do like.  On one occasion, I remember trying to talk myself into voting for a guy.  "He's nice."  "He means well."  I remember a politically active lady asking me--sincerely and somewhat plaintively--concerning issues regarding the sanctity of life.  "Can't we make room for just a little of this?"  The woman was caught in the messiness of politics.  She is committed to the Biblical position of human life from conception onward being sacred, yet, at the time of our conversation, she continued a life-long 
allegiance to a political party that is overwhelmingly "pro-choice."  My dad put food on the table through his labors in a steel mill.  Not only did he wear a hardhat, he gave old discarded ones to me and my siblings so we could play with them.  So I sympathize with the voters in my predominantly blue-collar area.  Some of my neighbors sat on the knees of grandfathers who wheezed out stories of mines, and miners, in the days when virtually every underground miner contracted blacklung.  It was just a part of business.  Folk with that kind of a background tend to see politics along the lines of "Us and them."  It was the alliance between certain business interests and certain politicians that resulted in labor being exploited in times past--some would say, still today.  And it was an opposing alliance that brought better conditions to working people.  It's complicated.

Our national election, almost four years ago, caused the messiness to explode in many homes and some churches.  Lot's of older evangelicals said, "How could you vote for a platform that doesn't honor the sanctity of life?"  Many younger evangelicals said, "Here is an opportunity to decisively speak against the greatest injustice in the history of our nation.  How can you not vote for that?"  There was, and is, a strong case on each end.  Knowing my characterization is a great oversimplification, I present it as one more illustration of the messiness of politics.

As one who has led a church for all of my adult life, and who has sought to influence the church.from my seat in my modest study in a small church in a little town, I put out a warning/challenge:  Let's not allow the messiness of politics to sully the church, the Bride of Christ.  I plan to say some more but here is a starting place.  Let us know with rock-solid, unshakable certainty that the relief people desperately need does not lie primarily in the political realm.  That is because the problems are primarily spiritual.  We deal in the Word of God.  We offer the water of life.  We represent the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Let's not allow the church to be seen as the lackey of a political party or movement.  Let's let the church be the church.

Here, is an excellent article that says much of the above better than I say it:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Continued, Courageous Bible Interpretation:

The "How do I want it to turn out?" question:
Let me start right in with an example.  I came of age in the church in the early 70s.  It was a time when Fundamentalism, of which I was (maybe am) a part, was spelled with a capital "F."  One of the tenents of the brand of Fundamentalism of which I was a part was a total, or almost total condemnation of divorce and remarriage.  When I began examining scripture on this subject one of the objections that was raised against any liberalization of the view on marriage, was basically, If you say this, then they will do that."  In other words let's decide the outcome that we want, and then say that's what the Bible teaches.  It was never blatantly stated, but that was the clear implication.
I've heard the same rational put forth concerning the Bible's teaching about drinking alcohol, and concerning teaching about upholding Christian liberty.
It is legitimate to follow a scriptural interpretation through to its application and ask whether that application is consistent with what we know about scripture and God, but there is a difference between using this "Where does it lead?" question as one of the tests that apply to an interpretation and making it the controlling concern.  We distort the scripture when we ask what interpretation do I need to adopt in order to lead to the ethical teaching I want?"  Instead we need to fearlessly ask, "What does the Bible say?"  Having answered that, then I need to seek to responsibly put that into a consistent Biblical ethic.
There needs to be a certain fearlessness in proper Bible interpretation.
Have the courage to ask, "What does it say?"  not, "What do I want it to say, so it will lead to the behavior I want?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

". . . in ways wonderful to behold."

I have been reading a book that originated as a set of lectures by A. T. Robertson, delivered at Princeton Seminary nearly a 100 year ago.  The Pharisees and Jesus is a worthwhile read--so far anyhow.  Over the course of my ministry I have read a good bit about the Pharisees.  I am always amazed at their hermeneutic and ethical gymnastics.  Robertson made me aware of one routine I hadn't seen before (or had forgotten) Is it acceptable to eat an egg that a hen laid on the Sabbath?  One doesn't have to go farther than the New Testament to observe the contortions Robertson speaks of:  "They either read all the oral law into the written law (eisegesis) or twisted it out of the written law (exegesis) in ways wonderful to behold."* (emphasis added)  Just look at Matthew 23 and Mark 7:9-13 for some examples.
Another good read on Pharisaism is Extreme Righteousness, by Tim Hovestol.  He points out that 21st Century (Well it was still the 20th when he wrote.) Conservative Christians bear a closer resemblance to the Pharisees than they (we) may care to admit.  This premise has been born out in my reading of Robertson, thus far.
One of the similarities of 1st Century Palestinian Pharisees and 21st Century American Evangelicals is our faulty hermeneutics (principles of interpreting scripture).  I hope to explore this concept over the next few posts.  I would welcome your input.

At this point indulge me, and perhaps be amused, while I use humor to make a point.  There are several versions of this joke.  If your version is better, please share it.  A Fortune 500 executive had an important decision to make.  He needed some data.  He called in his lawyer, the head of public relations, an accountant, and an economist.  After explaining the gravity of his situation he told them he needed their best answer to a question.  Each of them were to report separately on, "How much is 2 + 2?"
The accountant was sure that he knew the answer, but had been recently accused of bean-counting and not understanding the nuances and complexities of business, so doubt began to creep into his mind.  He spent a sleepless night wrestling with formulas, and running calculations on several different computers.  The next morning the strain was evident on his face when he fearfully reported, "Four."

The PR guy and the economist likewise stayed up all night plying their trade.  The PR specialist shared various surveys.  "If women spend $2.00 for one item, and $2.00 for another, they consistently report the sum to their husbands as "about $3.00."  On the other hand surveys show that when a fisherman catches two fish each weighing two pounds he reports the total to his fishing buddies as "about five pounds."  With a possibility of error of +or- 3 my research indicates 4."  
Fine the exec said and dismissing him, called in the economist, who after displaying an office full of charts declared that he was comfortable with a range of three to five with things in (insert state of choice) trending toward six."
Giving him time to gather his stuff the decision-maker thanked his employee and sent for his lawyer.  He had stopped off on his way home the evening before for a few games of tennis, after a sumptuous meal he had enjoyed time with his family, and slept soundly.  Tanned and fit he strode into the room, pulled down the window shade, and made sure the door was locked.  Satisfying himself that no one was listening he leaned across the bosses desk and in a low whisper asked, "How much do you want it to be?"

Too often that is the approach that we take in our interpretation of scripture.  We already have a conclusion then we go to the Bible to justify it.  Here are some ways that I have seen this happen:

  • The "Which Translation?" question:
    Those of us who are English speakers are blessed with a number of good translations of the Bible.  Generally they say the same thing--perhaps one doing a better job of it than another.  Sometimes though they don't.  I ran into this with the text I was dealing with last Sunday.  In Luke 18:11 some translations indicated that the Pharisee prayed to himself.  Others have him standing by himself praying.  I'll let those more capable than me weigh in on the Greek grammar, etc.  The fact of the matter is, I want the passage to say he prayed to himself, because that translation fits my sermon better.  I came to the conclusion that that is the best translation, for reasons that, no doubt, some of you would regard as inadequate, but the fact of the matter is that I need to restrain the "What do I want it say?" question, (I hope I did.) and work hard (2 Timothy 2:15) to answer the only question that really matters--"What does the text say?"
    Here is a yellow flag for laypersons.  If a book, sermon, or study sheet, quotes from a number of Bible translations, it is fair to ask, "Is the author picking translations that agree with him, or is he using the translation that best captures the sense of the original?"
    Sometimes "things wonderful to behold" take place in this regard.
  • The "How Do I Want It To Turn Out?" question:
    Stay tuned.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Prayer Request for some friends on the other side of the world:

I just posted a prayer request, with fairly lengthy explanation, on Covington Bible Church's Facebook page.  I'm re-posting it here, with even more explanation and links.

A prayer request:
It will require a bit of explanation.  Chuuk, one of the Federated states of Micronesia, is one of the places that missionaries from Liebenzell Mission worked in the last Century.  Churches were started there.  These churches banded together in what amounts to a small denomination, the Evangelical Church of Chuuk (ECC).
The US branch of Liebenzell is an organization with which I am privileged associate.  Missionaries from Liebenzell Germany and US bravely went to the Islands of Micronesia with the Gospel (You can get some basic information about Micronesia here:  Keep in mind that "Micronesia" is the name of a region in the Western Pacific (about the size of the continental US, but with a land mass like Rhode Islands), and at other times is used as an abbreviated reference to the Federated States of Micronesia.  Chuuk, the subject of this prayer request, is the largest of the four states that make up FSM.)
Unfortunately the church organization, and some of the local churches, have been influenced by politics and clan in an unhealthy way.  (The same can be said for many US Evangelical churches, but that is another posting.)  Recently, a major split has taken place within the ECC.  I know people on both sides.  They love the Lord, and on some level are convinced they are right.  I guess, because of broken relationships in my recent past, I am particularly sensitive to this (though I know that much more than feelings are involved.)  When people with whom you formerly wept and worked cut themselves off from you, it is painful.
I know that I don't know what should happen in these lovely Islands.  Perhaps the sound churches within the ECC should simply do what my Fundamental ancestors did--separate and become independent.  Perhaps the young men graduating from solid schools like Pacific Islands University (a majority of our student body is Chuukese) should simply start new assemblies of believers rather than try to work in churches torn by--or at least affected by--the strife.   I raise those questions with a profound knowledge of my ignorance.  I am compelled to pray that God's will be done, Romans 8:26.  I ask you to join me in that prayer.  Knowing the limited resources of Chuuk and the incredible investment that has gone into what has become the ECC, my heart and gut would like to see it redeemed and the conflict resolved.
There have been and are those, both on the islands and off, who, it appears to me, are more interested in building their kingdom, rather than THE Kingdom.  I know this is a charge that is easily made, and just as easily denyed.  I make the observation with humility.  I pray that wherever it is true there will be repentance and a heartfelt praying of the part of the "Lord's Prayer" that says, "THY KINGDOM COME."
Several friends of mine, including Bill Schuit (Global Ministries Director of Liebenzell USA, and leader for the Micronesian area for Liebenzell International), whom many of you know, will be traveling to Chuuk later this month.  Their plan is to meet with, pray with, and encourage leaders on both sides to seek Godly solutions.
Pray for this team.
Some of the key Chuukese leaders that I know are Mokut, Yosta, Switer, and Asael.  Some outsiders with strong influence are Martin, Roland, Steve, Ron, and Sandy.  Pray for them and their colleagues.  There are many others in both groups.
Pray for these leaders on and off Island, who have opportunity to make a difference.
There are many outstanding Chuukese men and women, some recent graduates, who just want to impact their Islands and their world for Christ.  Pray that they will have wisdom and sound guidance in making career decisions.
(By the way it will help you remember to pray if you know how to say the name of the place.  If you say what you do with food and put a "K" on the end you'll be close or say "you" with a "ch" on the front and a "k" on the end you've got it--at least good enough for a small-town American like me.
Please join me in prayer.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Additional resource on the 5/27 message:

The message this morning is on a very Scriptural Memorial, Baptism.
In the message I will mention--at least I plan to--a debate between R. C. Sproule and John MacArthur on the mode of baptism.  This material can be found various places, but here is one link that will lead you there:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some thoughts on Democracy, before the flag-waving holidays:

I'll get back to the thoughts on prejudice.  I have already decided.  :)
But, first, here is a package that needs to be delivered before the season is gone.
A slew--well maybe not that many, but several, anyhow--of patriotic holidays are in America's near future.  Of course this fall there is, also, a national election.  One of the goals of political campaigns is to maximize the distinctions (real or imaginary) between their candidate or cause and the opposing side.  Often patriotism and politics takes on troubling, almost, if not completely, idolatrous overtones.  On the other hand among many Christians there seems to exist a cynicism, often reflected in complete non-participation in the electoral process, that has set in.  "They're all the same." or, "A pox on both their houses." becomes the watchword.  As is often the case the truth lies in a position of tension between those two poles.
Here is an article written when the "cold war" was still hot, that articulates some much needed balance and points to some anchor points.

As I say the article was written at a time when the world could much more easily be divided into two sides--ours and theirs, Democracy and Communism, dare I say, "light and dark."  Some of the trends in the world since then, in particular the rise of militant Islam, highlight the wisdom contained in this article.  The article warns of a system that seeks to achieve monolithic control by either eliminating the religious institutions of a culture, or bringing them under the control of the state.  The Islamic "Theocracies" achieve the same ends by conflating the religious and the secular under one head who holds absolute power.  The trouble they have caused, serve to amplify the argument the article makes
I find the thoughts of the article as applicable today as they were thirty-one years ago.

A couple of credits are due.  Steve Cornell pointed me to the article here.  In his posting Steve gives a twelve point application-focused, summary of the article.  For those not ambitious enough to tackle the longer article I recommend the summary.  For those who read the First Things Article I still recommend it.  My friend Bart Gingerich writes for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  IRD published the article in First Things when it was still in its infancy.  Anyhow, had it not been for the "Oh, this is Bart's outfit," connection I probably wouldn't have taken time to read the article, so, in a soft sense, he referred me to it as well.

I encourage your conversation around these thoughts.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Some percolations on prejudice:

As a 62 year old, with roots in the South who grew up in the Suburban North, and has lived his adult life in the small-town (barely) South, I have observed a variety of positions in matters related to prejudice.  Historically, in America, prejudice has had to do with skin color, what is wrongly called race. I say "wrongly" not only because of the information in the above article, or this one  which states that has been abandoned "as a biological category during the last quarter of the twentieth century," but, more so, because of my own unscientific observation.  President Obama is our "first Black President," yet his mom is Caucasian.  The same observation can be made in regard to the parentage of Halle Berry, Tiger Woods, and by-and-large the whole so-called "Latino" race.  The fact is racial labels are placed on people because of social, political, and geographic reasons.  Especially in places like America with our melting-pot history these distinctions have little if any relation to genetic reality.  (That is not to say, however, that such things have no reality.  The point of my musings is that unfortunately they do.)
Some of you have heard me tell about my personal acquaintance with the proximity in American history of radical segregation and exemplary racial egalitarianism.  I was helping a sweet older lady get through the horribly slow passage of time while her husband was in surgery.  Knowing she was interested in antiques, and things related to the Civil War, I told her about a gun I had seen a few days before (here is a picture of the type of gun or one similar).  Mrs. Rice got quiet for a moment and then said, "I think cousin so-n-so has Daddy's Civil War gun.  I was having this conversation more than a-hundred years after the surrender at Appomattox, so I assumed either she said "Daddy," but meant "grand"--or even "great-grand daddy," or that she meant "Daddy's gun" in the sense that he had inherited, or bought it somewhere along the line.  Over the next few minutes however, I probed and questioned a bit, and soon came to the startling realization that I was sitting with a true Daughter of the Confederacy.  I never did check, but she had to be one of the last living examples.  Her dad was one of the boy-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy at the end of the War.  He came home, and raised a family.  At some point his wife died.  He remarried, a much younger bride and raised a second family.  Frances was the youngest child of that brood.  Some quick arithmetic led to me realize just how close the war between the states was.  Is it any wonder that during my lifetime we had still been living down, and pushing back on the gross injustices that stemmed from a culture in which one group of people were bought, owned, and sold by another group.  This ongoing issue comes, in large part, from the fact that whether one descended from slave or master is largely clear by the color of ones skin.
A few years later the chairman of our local Democratic Party, a friend of mine and member of the church I pastor, asked me if I would deliver the invocation at a political event.  Mark Warner, current senator from Virginia, was beginning his run for governor of the Old Dominion.   We met on the courthouse steps passed pleasantries and shook hands.  I make an assumption here.  Mark Warner plays basketball.  I figure that at some point in the last few years he has been on the court with our hoop-shooting President.  So, I put my left arm around the shoulders of, and prayed with, a lady whose father fought in the Civil War--a conflict that at the least, had to do with enslavement of people from Africa who had been transported to America-- and with the other hand I shook hands with a man who plays basketball with the first African-American President of the United--a union made secure by the result of that war--States.
Taking the word at its simplest, to judge before, is it any wonder that throughout the past century,  and into this one, many Whites look at people of African extraction, and Black people look at Whites and make up their mind about them before they know anything other than their skin color?
It is explainable, but it is without excuse.  

The Bible gives clear input on the matter of pre-judging. 
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24, NASB)   
"Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God." (1 Corinthians 4:5, NASB)   
Proverbs says,  "To answer before listening— that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13, NIV)

That's enough to chew on for now.  Prejudice is foolish and wicked.  Nuf-sed, for now.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Some thoughts on the current marriage controversy:

I'll get back to that third thing that I've been thinking about, but for now, here is something else that a bunch of us have been thinking about.
Steve Cornell is a good thinker.  He comes from a solid conservative Evangelical mindset.
In this article,, he raises some questions that have been stewing in my mind.
Like many of you, for me, these questions are not merely theoretical.  I love people who have chosen the gay lifestyle (I say that carefully, knowing that they would likely reject that description.  I mean no disrespect.), so I am not only trying to be Biblically correct, but properly compassionate, as well.

Here, in outline form, are some of the things that have been ruminating in my mind, some of which Steve speaks to.  I would appreciate your thoughts.

  1. In this as in other areas we cannot expect the government to do our work for us.  Or to put it another way, not everything that we regard as immoral ought to be illegal.
  2. Having said that, there are totally secular reasons to regulate issues related to family and marriage.  Balance . . . 
  3. We have to, have to, have to realize that the public in general does not keep track of who is who in the Christian--especially Evangelical--realm.  When I say, with a very calm and reasonable manner, "I have some concerns about homosexual marriage."  many of those who hear me speak equate me with the likes of Fred Phelps.  This is one of the areas where I need to remember that I have a responsibility, and privilege to reach out to all kinds of people.  The primary function of the church is the preach the Gospel not lobby for legislation.
  4. It is important to proclaim the truth.  I need to make sure, though, in the words of Micah that I not only "do justly," but, also, "love mercy."  (6:8)
It is something we need to think carefully about.

Monday, May 14, 2012

If we had better background, we'd have less need for checks:

Like a great many churches and ministries we are starting to require background checks of those who work with youngsters.  A while back, when we were discussing how to proceed on this matter, I asked the group how many of them had had bckground checks done on them for Little League, Scouts, etc.  It was interesting that the response to the question divided the group almost perfecctly from an age perspective. With almost no exception, those who raised their hands were in the fifty and under demographic, while those with their hands down get a discount on their coffee at fast-food restaurants.
That chronological divide represents several changes in our culture.  Changes that we're not the better for.

We used to be people who tended to put down roots.  My grandmother, for instance, lived in the same little community for forty years.  Before she lived in Huntland Tennessee she lived in a couple of other little places not as far away as the morning commute of many moderns.  I can remember conversations on her front porch.  "You remember Joe Bob Sampson?  He married one of the Luttrel girls."  At this point in time none of the "Luttrel girls" had been girls for thirty years.  But somebody on the porch had gone to school with one of the girls, and another had sold a hog to Old Man Luttrel, etc.  Nobody needed to send out for a background check.  Checking with a couple of neighbors would yield all the information anybody needs, and more. 
That's no longer the case.

That same lack of community-stability that  keeps us from knowing about someone's past also makes it harder for us to do anything about an infraction of what is proper.  Small town justice in earlier times may have sometimes been cruel, but there was a certain effectiveness about it.  Communities knew who to watch for, who to avoid, who to warn others about, and because no one wanted to endure the humiliation associated with such contempt, it also had a preventative effect.  Families were made to feel responsible when one of their own violated community standards, so they helped reign in unacceptable behavior.  There have always been those who do terrible things, but today too many only have to be concerned about being caught by the authorities, and they can be eluded easier than family and neighbors in a close knit community. 

Unfortunately we may think that we are taking better care of our youngsters than we did in the past, by requiring things like background checks.  At this point I need to say that I'm not against responsible ways of checking on teachers and leaders.  I am in favor of doing it, but not because it is best.  It's not.  It is just the best we can do, with what we've got.  Likely you know people who have been through our latest and greatest checks.  Theyr'e reports came back A-OK, but they aren't.  Because you have personal knowledge about them you know that if the security checkers knew what you know, these folk would be sent packing.  It may not be your place to make that information known.  In fact in some cases it is your place to not make it known, but it ought to keep us from placing too much trust in the system.  Systems are poor substitutes for real communities.

Bottom line, I guess I'm glad that we are taking this step.  We ought to do all that we can to protect the children entrusted to us.  I'm just sad that we have to.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A couple of things have been brewing--slowly, kind of like sun-tea--for a while.
The first, the least brewed of the three, I talked about in another blog of mine.  It has to do with that can-do spirit that made America--and I'm sure a lot of other lands as well--great.  I fear it is something we are losing, but maybe not.  A couple of days after I saw the old gent I wrote about on the other blog, I was helping with a big ladies event that our church pulled off.  It was one of those events that you folk involved in church work understand.  Somebody says, "Let's do it."  to which some other folk say, Let's!"  And they're off.  Folk take a limited resources and produce maxi-results.  (See here
In this case the limited resources included a group of guys who volunteered to make the women's special evening more special for not having to prepare the food--don't forget the limited resource part. Catering was out. Anyhow at the end of the evening, when the work had turned the least attractive--cleaning up--a teen guy, a son of one of the other guys showed up.  Without any prompting that I saw this young man started busing tables and putting stuff away, all with a kind spirit and sweet attitude.  In addition to accomplishing a lot of work, he sure encouraged me.

Whether we are young and healthy like my teen friend, or old and nearly worn out like the man in the other story, each of us needs to ask, "What can I do?" and then, at least a great deal of the time do it.  I'm thankful for a couple of reminders about the virtue of just plain old hard work.

Soon to come, some thoughts on background checks and jumping to conclusions, prejudice.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Colossal Misunderstanding, A Disaster Avoided:

(My devotional reading recently took me to Joshua 22.  A misunderstanding fueled, at least in part by zeal for the worship of the Lord, nearly led to a tragedy.  Thankfully, the disaster was avoided.  My thoughts are as much a reminder for me as for others, and probably more so.)

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh had been as good as their word.  Because of their impressive livestock holdings and the lushness of the land taken by the Israelites in the beginning of their occupation of Canaan, these two-and-a-half tribes out of the twelve tribes of Israel asked for and received permission to take their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan.  The deal they made was that they would take time to build dwellings for their families and corrals for their livestock, and would then join the other nine-and-a-half tribes in conquering the land across the Jordan.  (Numbers 32) Obviously, this arrangement left their loved ones exposed to danger, yet they followed through, even leading the way when the people began the conquest of Canaan proper under Joshua's leadership.  (Joshua 4:12)   
When the conquest of the land was complete.  The east of the Jordan contingent of Israel's army headed home.  As they were getting ready to leave, Joshua told them:

You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have listened to my voice in all that I commanded you.
You have not forsaken your brothers these many days to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.
And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as He spoke to them; therefore turn now and go to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan.
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.
So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.  (Joshua 22:2-6)
At this point it appears to be one those rare good-news moments.  Things worked out the way they were supposed to.  People, in particular leaders, did what they said they would do.  I can picture the men marching back to the homes they had never really had opportunity to live in, in an upbeat mood.  The words of Joshua were still ringing in their ears.  The booty of their successful campaigns were in wagons and carts and traveling in flocks and herds with them.  (Joshua 22:8)  As they walked the men talked of longed for reunions with families and plans for developing the homesteads they had recently been given,  As they passed people in the field, or came near a village of fellow Jews, they probably straightened their back and quickened their step, taking on more of a martial air.  They would politely, but modestly acknowledge the cheers and the "Thank-you"s that came from their grateful countrymen.

But then the great misunderstanding, or "almost misunderstanding" kicked in:

Joshua 22:10 records that they "built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance."
Their motives, which will see in a moment, were entirely good.  
But, "When the sons of Israel [that is the other nine-and-a-half tribes] heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war."  (Joshua 22:12)

The people on the west side of the Jordan fell into a pattern of thinking that I observe in me and in others way too often.  They saw not only what their brethren to the east had done, they concluded that they knew why they had done it.  Read verse 16 of Joshua 22.  Note the accusation.  "What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the LORD this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the LORD this day?"
Especially those words "to rebel," speak of motive. Other translations put it "in rebellion," or "that ye might rebel."   "This is an act of rebellion, a willful act against the will of God."  (my paraphrase)  All other explanations--ignorance, stupidity, misinformation, that this was really a monument that had no relation to the worship of Jehovah at Shiloh, etc.--were brushed aside.  This, the indignant army said, is an act of rebellion. It must be dealt with for their good, and to prevent it from spreading.
I have noticed how often the Lord Jesus answered the thoughts of people's hearts, thoughts they didn't speak out loud.  John 2:25 says about Jesus that "He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man."  I don't.  I may think I do, I may claim I do, I may flatter myself at being very adept at reading between the lines (or the ears), but the fact is that I, like these people in Joshua, often get it wrong.  I need to hear the counsel of 1 Corinthians 4:5, "[D]o not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God."
The Jews in Canaan proper saw what was done--an altar had been built.  They were right to be concerned.  God had clearly spoken that at that time worship was to centralized. (Deuteronomy 12:5>>).  Their zeal, especially when you consider their war-weariness was commendable.  But, they had it wrong.  

Wisely a delegation was sent to make inquiries before the army was sent to make war.  (Joshua 22:13>>)  After the necessary (so it seems) outrage and bluster, they let the east-side folk actually tell why they had done what they had done.  I would love to have been there to see the changes that came over the faces of the delegation of the righteous, who had just been making such vociferous, bellicose statements, when they heard the real reasons the two-and-a-half tribes had built their altar by the Jordan.
 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the Lord do not save us this day! 23 “If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself require it. 24 “But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 “For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.’ 26 “Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.” ’ 28 “Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.” ’ 29 “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.” (Joshua 22:22–29)   
It turns out that the reasons the east-side Jews had for building the altar were exactly the opposite from the reasons assumed by their outraged brethren, to the west.  In eloquent understatement the text says when they heard the explanation, "It pleased them."

I've battled this on two fronts lately.
I find myself creating elaborate scenarios, much like the mobilization of armies in Joshua 22, based on motives that I assign to the actions of others.  Truth be told, I often don't even know why I do what I do.  Lord, help me to realize that generally I don't know why others do what they do.  Amen.
On the other hand, words that I have spoken have been taken in the precise opposite way from the way they were intended, and I recently heard that I had taken a position on a matter, concerning which I am mostly ignorant, and, concerning which, as I can remember, I have never spoken at all.  
Would that folk would send a delegation to investigate before they declare war.  Lord, help me to remember that I don't know, and to inquire first, even when--especially when--I, in my arrogance, think I know why . . .

If we would talk more, and in particular listen more perhaps we would see more results like this from the end of Joshua 22.
 [T]he sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living.
 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.” (33-34, see also John 13:35)  


Monday, March 5, 2012

Blessed Are the Peacemakers,

Blessed are the peacemakers, but it doesn't pay so good.

I'm reminded of a comment from my Uncle Mc.  "If you are going to break up a dogfight you better have a big stick."  Thanks, Unc.  That has kept me from getting bitten more than once.  You, readers, do know that human bites are much nastier than canine ones, don't you?

Frequently those who get into the peacemaking business, only end up uniting the warring factions on one point--both agree that their pacifistic (former) friend ought to but-out and mind his own business. 

Some friends of mine were recently on a couple of peace-making missions.  I'm glad to say that their efforts, at least in one case, show some promise of success.  I don't mention their names, nor identify the belligerents, because I don't want to undermine their efforts.  (They know who they are.  My intent is to encourage them, so, guys, when you read this be encouraged.  Furthermore, if you are an ignored, or maligned peacemaker--and most are--that I don't know, I hope this will encourage your efforts and spirit.)  My friends spent considerable time understanding the situations, then talking to each side individually, and brokering, or attempting to do so, meetings between the two sides.  They pressed the Biblical truth that peace is good.  We might not--in fact I'm sure we don't--get all the Old Testament Jewish allusions in this Psalm, but still we can see that peace is good.
Psalm 133
The Excellency of Brotherly Unity.
    A Song of Ascents, of David. 1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever.
 My friends were miles from Hermon--and I will reveal that none of them are named "Herman"--but if their attempts at peacemaking yield fruit it will be "good and pleasant."  I'm praying it will be so.

The other end of the Lord's beatitude about peacemakers is "they shall be called sons of God."  James and John were called "Sons of Thunder" because of their thunderous ways.  The "sons of the prophets" were disciples of Elijah and Elisha.  They learned from them and learned, at least in some ways, to be like them.  In Luke 10:6 a peaceful man is called a "son of peace."  While the worthlessness of Eli's sons, and some other "worthless fellows, was indicated by the title "son's of Belial." Belial basically meaning worthless.  In this since we are sons of something or someone when we exhibit the distinctive quality of the father.

It reminds me of a plumber's truck that I heard about.  On one side it said:

Joe Jones & son
Plumbing Contractor
The sign on the other side of the vehicle read
Joe Jones Jr. & dad
Plumbing Contractor

When one thinks highly of his father it is a privilege to be in the same business as dad.  Even in my case, though I followed a different career path than my dad, I very much want to exhibit the sterling qualities that I remember seeing in him.  Don't miss this:

When I am involved in peacemaking.  I am involved in my Father's business.
So, guys, I know that peacemaking often doesn't pay well.  Frequently, as my Uncle's homey proverb indicates, it will earn one a bite on the leg, or worse.  Just know this:  It is a task that is worth doing.  If you don't get anything else--and if your attitudes are what they appear to be, I know that before the Bema Seat (here, & here) you will get a great deal more--I offer you this.

You done good!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Satan is still going "to and fro in the earth, and up and down in it."

(I just finished reading Chuck Swindoll's book, The Church Awakening, so I'm updating this with some more thoughts from him.)

I really had no intention of reading about Satan’s activity, but lately some powerful warnings have come my way.  The first two are from Chuck Swindoll’s book The Church Awakening.  The second batch come from a daily emal that I receive, Thought for Today.  For a week or so E. C. Haskell complied statements that scripture makes about Satan’s activity.
“Clearly we enter a battle zone—true spiritual warfare—when we claim Christ as Lord and determine to follow Him no matter what.  We should not be surprised by conflict.  We should expect it!  Understand then, where the real war is.  The battle should never be fought among Christian brothers and sisters. . . . The church needs to realize that the real battle is spiritual . . . and to complicate matters, our real enemy is invisible.
“. . . We need to know there is a conspiracy occurring . . . an insidious war is being waged. . . . Satan heads the world’s system.  It is a plan that leaves God out, that is hostile to the Holy Scriptures, and that has as its goal to destroy the church that Jesus is building. . . .
“. . . The enemy of our souls wants to tap into our own sinful natures so that he can drive a wedge between God and us.”  (Swindoll, The Church Awakening, pp. 151-152)
“Everything God’s people love, Satan hates.  He hates your Christian marriage. . . . Our adversary hates harmony in the family.  You’ve likely seen ugly fights in your own church. . . . More than likely, the conflicts occurring in your occupation have reached such an intense level you may be thinking, I don’t even know if Christianity works anymore.  It’s all part of the enemies strategy.  (The Church Awakening)

New, 3/27:

Swindoll refers to Paul’s words to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:28-31.

“The first three words sum up Paul’s charge to the Ephesian church: Be on guard. This phrase translates a single Greek term that means “to be in a continuous state of readiness to learn of any future danger, need, or error, and to respond appropriately.”

He goes on to say, “Ultimately all attacks from Satan against the church are assaults against God’s people—first personally, then corporately” (220&221)

“Jesus predicted that the ‘Gates of Hades will not prevail against’ the church (Matt 16:18, NRSV). But that’s not to say that the adversary won’t attack it any way he can.” (240)

In his conclusion, Swindoll gives a good overview of the devil’s activities. “. . . even in healthy churches, we learned, the devil is alive and well, doing all he can—through worship wars, moral pollution, and doctrinal erosion—to dismantle what Jesus is building.” (267)

From a Thought for Today:
When the Apostle Paul encountered people trying to hinder his ministry and dissuade hearers, he saw the hand of Satan. See Acts 13:10        
When the Apostle Paul looked over an audience of unsaved individuals he blamed Satan for their lostness. Acts 26:18       
The Apostle Paul lamented to young Timothy that those who reject the gospel are "caught in the snare of the devil." II Tim. 2:26   
When the Apostle Paul encountered trouble makers in the church he discerned the crafty hand of Satan. Romans 16:17-20        
When the Apostle Paul became sick he believed Satan had a hand in it. He referred to his illness as "a messenger of Satan to buffet me." II Cor. 12:7       
When the Apostle Paul was unable to visit the Thessalonian church he wrote, "We wanted to come to you but Satan hindered us." I Thes. 2:18 
When the Apostle Paul exercised discipline on an erring member, he was turning such an one over to Satan. I Cor. 5:5         
When the Apostle Paul came upon the Gentiles worshiping idols, he knew Satan was behind it. I Cor. 10: 20-21
In Ephesians 6:10-18, the Apostle Paul speaks of the spiritual warfare that goes on all around us.  He tells us that we must be prepared to face this enemy.    

Quite an impressive list.  We wrestle not against flesh and blood . . .
Satan is going about like a lion--a smart lion.  He wants to devour those who are doing the most good.  That certainly includes churches who are preaching the Gospel.