Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find more pictures of our event here:

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

Merry CHRISTmas.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Faithfulness, it ripens slowly:

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Proverbs for Preachers:

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

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

Maybe these will encourage some thought and discussion

What Does The Bible Say About Abortion?

Last week, I did a series of posts over STTA, and some parallels here, on the moral/ethical/political/cultural issue of abortion and the aanctity of life.  I finished this round on this subject, over at STTA on Friday.  My intention was to do one more post, here.  Her it is.
This is mostly some notes from a message I did a while back.  Notes, at least my notes aren't intended for general consumption, so I'm cleaning this up some.  I figure it will still have that note-ish quality about it.

 What Does The Bible Say About Abortion?  
1       Is Human Life Unique?
 Not too long ago this would be a question that would not make any sense.
Today it is a question that cries out to be answered.

I am not in any way encouraging cruelty to animals.  We have a responsibility to treat them properly.

“A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10, NASB95)
The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel. (NLT)
Peter Singer, of Princeton University is obviously an extremist on the matter, but he and other philosophers like him are obviously exerting an influence. .  .
In the previous chapter I gave reasons for believing that the fundamental principle of equality, on which the equality of all human beings rests, is the principle of equal consideration of interests. Only a basic moral principle of this kind can allow us to defend a form of equality which embraces all human beings, with all the differences that exist between them. I shall now contend that while this principle does provide an adequate basis for human equality, it provides a basis which cannot be limited to humans. In other words I shall suggest that, having accepted the principle of equality as a sound moral basis for relations with others of our own species, we are also committed to accepting it as a sound moral basis for relations with those outside our own species - the nonhuman animals.  (rest of article)
Another writer on the subject, Joan Dunayer, had this to say, “When I was writing Animal Equality, a friend questioned the book's title. Did I really mean to say that all animals are equal? Yes, I did. Like human equality, animal equality doesn't mean equal abilities. It means that all animals have an equal right to moral consideration and legal protection.”

The position of the Bible is entirely different.
I’ll summarize it by referring to 3 passages of scripture.  Jot them down.  All 3 refer to the image or the likeness of God.  The later 2 are after the Fall:
(Gen 1:27 NASB)  And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

(Gen 9:6 NASB)  "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.

(James 3:9&10  With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
There are a great many things that we have in common with animals, we can take great joy from their companionship, and we have a responsibility to treat them in an appropriate manner and to spare them any unnecessary cruelty.
But, one of the great gulfs that exist in God’s creation is the gulf between the value of human life, and the value of the life of animals.

The life of human beings is special—sacred—because of that creation in God’s image.  That great worth is powerfully made known by the death of God’s Son to redeem us.
You can see this in the natural realm . . .
In the very act of denying that there is a difference, people demonstrate that there is.

2When Does Human Life Begin?

Again let me marshal some Biblical evidence for an answer, and then look at this in the natural realm.  All of the following, more material is available in the supplement, I referred to.

The Bible indicates that God oversees the formation of human life within the womb.
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” (Psalm 139:13–16, NASB95)

The Bible consistently speaks of life as a continuum
It is a person in the womb, the same person that is after birth.  The Apostle Paul speaks of that continuation in Gal. 1:15.  “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was please to reveal His Son in me . . . ” (Galatians 1:15, NASB95)

Note the interaction of the born and unborn in Luke 1:39-44
Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:39–44, NASB95)

Modern medical science has made it very difficult to miss this truth.
·         18 days from conception, heart begins to beat, with the baby’s own blood.
·    28 days from conception a baby has eyes, ears, and even a tongue!
·    28 days from conception: Muscles are developing along the future spine. Arms and legs are budding.
·    30 days: Child has grown 10,000 times to 6-7mm (1/4”) long. Brain has human proportions. Blood flows in veins.
·    42 days: Skeleton is formed. Brain coordinates movement of muscles and organs. Reflex responses have begun.
·         42 days: Brain waves can be detected, the jaw forms, including teeth and taste buds. The unborn baby begins to swallow amniotic fluid.Fingers and toes are developing.
·    45 days from conception: The unborn baby is making body movements, a full 12 weeks before the mother may notice such stirrings. By seven weeks the chest and abdomen are fully formed. Swimming with a natural swimmer’s stroke in the amniotic fluid, the baby now looks like a miniature human infant.
·         44-45 days: Buds of milk teeth appear, and the unborn baby’s facial muscles develop. Eyelids begin to form, protecting the developing eyes. Elbows take shape. Internal organs are present, but immature. 99% of muscles are present, each with its own nerve supply.
·    52 Days: Spontaneous movement begins. The unborn baby then develops a whole collection of moves over the next 4 weeks includinghiccuping, frowning, squinting, furrowing the brow, pursing the lips, moving individual arms and legs, head turning, touching his/her face, breathing (without air), stretching, opening the mouth, yawning and sucking.
8 – 10 weeks
·         8 Weeks: Now a small-scale baby, at approximately 3 cm (1 1/8”) and weighing a gram (1/30gth oz.), yet well proportioned. Every organ is present. Baby’s heartbeat is steady. Stomach produces digestive juices. Liver makes blood cells. Kidneys begin to function. Taste buds are forming.
·    8 ½ Weeks: The unborn baby’s fingerprints are being engraved. Eyelids and palms of hands are sensitive to touch.
·    8- 8 ½ Weeks: Of the 4500 structures in the adult body, 4000 are now present in the unborn baby. The skeleton of the arms and legs and the spine begins to stiffen as bone cells are added.

The person known as Howard Merrell has been changing for the past, nearly 65 years.  Most recently he acquired a very sophisticated new right knee.
In the 9 months prior to that change was much more rapid and profound. 
But from the moment of my conception it was certain that I would blue eyes and a gap in my teeth.  There was no doubt that I would have black hair that would turn to gray. 
The genetic predisposition to having big legs with knees that were prone to wear out was there the moment the cell from my mom and the one from my dad were united. 
From that moment until the present, and indeed for the rest of eternity I am that person known as Howard Lee Merrell the son of Irene and Audley Merrell.

Is it ever right for one human being to take the life of another?

The most accurate translation of the 6th Commandment is, "Thou shalt not murder."
All needless taking of human life is to be avoided.  When a human takes the life of another without Divine sanction, it is wrong—grievously wrong. 
Not all taking of human life is murder.

·         While death resulting from accident is horrible, it is not the same as what is condemned in the 6th Commandment.  Numbers 35 is helpful in sorting that out. 
·         The death of another that takes place in self-defense is not murder.
(Both of these can relate to questions in regard to the death of the unborn.)
·         When one takes the life of another in war, or in the execution of police action . . .
·         Properly administered capital punishment. . . .
Abortion as it is currently carried out in our nation is in almost every instance totally removed from any of those.  Arguing on the basis of the few possible exceptions to justify the whole is dishonest. 

What Should We Do About It?
  I put this question forth knowing it is a horribly polarizing issue.
Certainly it has divided our nation politically.
It divides families and has split churches.
It has been over 40 years since the Supreme Court of the US changed our nation’s laws.  Many in the Christian community are just tired of the whole thing.  The newer debate over the definition of marriage has taken up some of the oxygen.
It’s much more trendy to rally for social justice and to advocate for an end to human trafficking than it is to uphold the right to life for the unborn.  Those are important, but. . . .

With that in mind, what do I recommend in 2015?  This is something for you to do . . .
·         Keep the main thing the main thing.
This may sound strange in a message in which I am encouraging you to take a stand for the life of the unborn, but we need to know that the primary message of the church is not pro-life—for that matter it is not traditional marriage, or any of the other social issues on which we need to take a stand.
I am not encouraging compromise.  I am saying that we ought to make sure that we don’t do anything to negate the most important message.

·         Be politically aware and use politics properly.
Several years ago I wrote to one of our state politicians.  Really a good guy.  I don’t remember precisely what the issue was but it was something in this realm.  I asked him to vote for, and advocate for, a proposal that would move our commonwealth in the right direction in this regard.  He wrote back that what was proposed would be struck down by the courts anyway.  It would be a waste of effort, time, and most important money.  He wasn’t going to support it.  Nothing was really said about whether it was right.
Just about any great social advance ever made, began as a losing battle. 
Yes, I want a representative who knows how to get things done, but more important than that, I want those who lead my nation and state and community to be dedicated to doing what is right.  I want a representative who will advocate for a losing cause if it is the right cause.
I didn’t vote for that guy.  I’m not going to tell you who he is or what party he is in, but I don’t think you should either. 
I do not believe that the answer is primarily political, but having said that, it is incontrovertibly true that the state of things as they currently are is a result of our having elected representatives with a particular view of right and wrong who have appointed judges and bureaucrats. .  .
Since, as Abraham Lincoln said, ours is a government of the people, I must not only heed the commands of scripture addressed to those who are ruled.  I must heed what the Bible says about those who are in power.  When I vote, or even more so when I campaign, I am exercising power.  In the same way as a king, or president, or congressperson, or judge should use their power for good.  I should as well

·         I said it is not primarily a matter of politics, though that is not something we can simply ignore.  It is certainly not a matter of force.  We must seek to reach the heart.  It is not a matter of coercion.  It is a matter of persuasion.

·         Don’t just talk—especially don’t just yell—do something. 
What are we doing to uphold life?
Snack pack (This is a local program that provides food to kids who depend on school breakfasts and lunches.  Some of them don't have anything to eat when they aren't in school.  This program seeks to help.)
Every week we have the privilege of reaching out to kids who are otherwise ignored. 
James put it this way, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27, NASB95)

·         One more, and this one is especially for people like me.  We need to proclaim grace.
At my weekly gathering with some pastor friends there were four of us last Thursday, representing two churches.  My colleagues from our sister church addressed this subject last Sunday night.  Doug and I knew this message was coming this AM.  
      We asked one another, "Do you think anyone was, or will be present who has been touched by abortion?".
Almost certainly.
Some of you, because of someone close, or maybe even because of personal experience, find this terribly hard.
Many, perhaps most, abortions take place in the midst of confusion, despair, depression, and pressure from others.
God loves each of us.  He loves you.  He loves that person you are close to who has been horribly hurt.
Come to His love.

The testimony of Norma McCorvey, Roe, is that she found that grace in Jesus Christ.  It wasn’t hard preaching that caused Miss Norma to change from pro-choice to pro-life and more importantly to turn to the Lord Jesus.  It was the love of a little girl.

Let us make sure that our message is always one of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

For the mom carrying a precious life, there is help.

I don't have much time, but I wanted to post a couple of links.
One of the accusations that is often made toward we prolife folk is that we are only concerned about the life of the unborn child.  The claim is we have no sympathy for the life of the mother.

Our rhetoric and political strategy often communicate that.  We need to do a better job.  That is one purpose of this emphasis at STTA and this blog.

To our credit, many prolifers are putting their money where their mouths are.  Below are a couple of resources in our area where moms in difficult circumstances can find help.

I'll post other information that readers provide, if it checks out.  We have worked with the above organizations and I trust them.

Beyond that, I'm pleased to have been involved with Covington Bible Church all my adult life.  We don't have a Crisis Pregnancy Center or any special program for moms or babies, but we have helped many moms, dads, and others do the right thing and reap the blessing.  I promise that if you get in touch with us we'll do what we can to reach out to you with the Lord's help.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Maybe we can't all just get along, but can we sit down and talk?

Again the issue of Abortion/Sanctity of human life is front and center with those of us who take the teaching of God's Word seriously.  Some things are abundantly clear, but that doesn't mean knowing what to think, what to say, and what to do is easy.  It's not.

First, after all these years, why are we talking about this distasteful concept again?  We've got dead babies, women wrestling with horrendous life and death decisions, politicians being politicians, and people screaming at each other.  Can't we just agree to disagree and all get along?  I'd love to get along, but we can't simply ignore a horrendous moral ethical issue and pretend as if this doesn't matter.  Many of us believe that human lives are being lost.  Even many, perhaps most, of those who declare themselves to be pro-choice no longer try to deny that what is being removed from a woman's body is a human being.  Sophisticated ultra-sound and late-term abortions have made it harder and harder to deny that this little creature who looks every bit like a little baby is indeed a human.  For now I'll let others present the scientific evidence.  I'll just function in the realm of the obvious.  This is a baby.  I'll come back to that in a moment.
As I write a debate rages.  I recently wrote to my congressman, and one of my senators.  I'm working on the letter to the other senator.  My congressman, Morgan Griffith, who voted for the bill defund Planned Parenthood (There are an abundance of articles about this bill, spun in various directions, here is one that has a pro-life perspective: included this in his carefully worded reply:
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I am a member, continues to investigate Planned Parenthood aggressively. I joined several members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in sending a letter to the President of Planned Parenthood requesting a briefing for committee staff that includes information on several pressing issues raised by the disturbing video, such as Planned Parenthood's consent procedures for fetal tissue sale and the price paid to the organization for fetal tissue. The Committee has held interviews with and continues collecting information from Planned Parenthood officials and tissue collection organizations to uncover more about these practices. 
     Other House committees with jurisdiction are also conducting a review of Planned Parenthood's alleged acts, probing whether relevant federal laws have been properly enforced, and scrutinizing fetal tissue collection practices. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has requested more information on funds that Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government and documents illuminating the process by which tissue collection organization StemExpress obtained fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood. In addition to examining the Department of Justice's enforcement of laws related to fetal tissue collection, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a series of hearings entitled, "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider." 
     House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also announced their commitment to uncovering more information about the claims in the video.  

The internet and other sources have an abundance of material about the development of life in the womb.  Even if we are not sure, should we not give the benefit of the doubt to these amazing little creatures that grow inside their moms?  All kinds of activities are restricted because the result of those activities might lead to the death of a human being.  Can we be so dedicated to protected the rights of the expectant mother that we neglect any protection for the life of the unborn child?

Any time we are dealing with an unborn child, we are dealing with the life of a woman.  The chosen titles of the two sides in the argument reveal each sides particular focus.  Those who identify as pro-choice emphasize the importance of caring for the woman in whose body the child is growing.  Those who call themselves pro-life focus on the need to protect these most defenseless of humans.  Each side has driven its stake in the ground on what it sees as a slippery slope--going down-hill and opposite directions--put on their badges, picked up their banners and pretty much refuses to hear anything the other side has to say.

I'm pro-life.  I believe that life begins at conception.  That being said, let me see if I can encourage us--all of us--to pursue a course that might actually lead to a solution.  I hope you'll be interested enough to stay with me and join the conversation.  I'm planning to continue it for a couple of posts.  I have already shared some other thoughts over at STTA.   I promise that if you'll be respectful, I'll treat you with respect.  Can we at least talk?  If you'll leave your campaign posters at home, even politicians are welcome to join us.  Unfortunately, the medium won't allow me to offer you coffee.  You'll have to bring your own.

More to come:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Challenge We Need to Take:

I became acquainted with Roger Olson--in an online way--through two avenues.  A good friend of mine spoke of his writing as being helpful, and I read Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, a book to which Olson was a contributor.  He and I disagree on some matters, but as I read his blog, I find that he often helps me to think more clearly.  Even when I disagree with him, I find what he says to be fair and clear.
In his 9/11/2015 post, "Is the “Prosperity Gospel” a Variety of Evangelicalism?" Olson asks an important question.
Some of you know from other posts on this blog, and other comments that I have made, that I have an ongoing struggle concerning what to call myself (here, here, here, here, and here).  I think the old title of "Fundamentalism," has for all practical purposes been abused to the point that it no longer serves any useful purpose.  Though on some days I would say, "Not quite."  Olson is trying to preserve some worthwhile meaning for another abused title, "Evangelical."
Referring to Olson's post, linked above, I posted on my Facebook page today:

Especially when you consider Olson's background (he refers to it in the piece) this is powerful. In the post he urges "all evangelical leaders, influencers, to take a strong public stand against this alternative gospel and reject it as non-evangelical. It is, in my opinion, cultic in the theological sense. That the media are beginning to treat Word-Faith promoters of the “gospel” of health and wealth through magic as evangelicals is scandalous. The movers and shakers of evangelical Christianity in America and everywhere need to band together in spite of our differences and say to the media “They are not us; stop calling them ‘evangelicals’.”My moving and shaking is pretty limited, but I raise my hand to join Roger's club.   
I hope that some true "movers and shakers" will rise to Olson's challenge.
In particular I hope that some of my Charismatic brethren will respond.

Whether you are a Christian leader of large influence who happened upon this blog, or just another small fish, like me, in the big pond of Evangelicalism, I invite you to help keep our pond clean.  Let's make known that these name-it-and-claim-it folk are not evangelicals.  They are part of the Jannes and Jambres magician guild.

Monday, August 17, 2015

An Unfortunate Controversy Among Young-Earthers

I just read an excellent article by Kevin Bauder about an unfortunate trend among some who, like me, hold to a Young Earth Cosmology.  His article is based in part on a paper written by Mark A. Snoeberger.  Both are well worth reading, especially so if you are a part of the Young Earth Creation discussion.  I have been interested in this discussion since high school, when I was a proponent of the Gap Theory.  Or, as I confidently called it the "Gap Fact."  These articles confirmed some of my thoughts about the evolution of the creationist movement.

I was beginning to think that maybe I remembered how things had developed wrongly.   I was privileged to be in a gathering, in the late 60s where the late Henry Morris shared his views on Creation and the Flood.  I read the seminal volume that he and John Whitcomb wrote, The Genesis Flood.  More recently I went through  a time when I periodically read materials from Answers in Genesis.  I've heard Ken Hamm, and a couple of others from AIG speak and have read some of their materials.  As a pastor who spent his career ministering in the formerly segregated South I found their work on race to be very helpful.  I have referred people to articles like this one a number of times.

Over the years, though, two observations about the kind of Young Earth Cosmology presented by AIG and those who follow their lead, have caused me concern.

  1. As I listened to some of their presentations I heard them using a flat-footed literalism in their hermeneutics.  I believe there are good interpretive reasons to conclude that the earth was created in six 24-hour days, and to accept that the entire world was flooded in the days of Noah.  However, to simply bluster that anyone who says anything different is not holding a high-view of Scripture is simply wrong.  If the same hermeneutical principles were applied to other passages of Scripture that these Young-Earthers were applying to the creation and flood accounts, one would end up concluding that Solomon married a monstrosity, and would be forced to teach that when Christ returns His kingdom will come in the form of a rock rolling down a mountain.  A literal interpretation of any document is to understand that document as it is it written, and that must include the author's intent--in the case of the Bible "authors' intent."  It is a principle that we often have to apply to conversation.  If wife interprets her husbands joke as a literal statement he is liable to spend the night on the couch.  On the other hand if he takes his wife request to go shopping as anything less than a clear cut statement of what ought to be done.  He'll also end up on the sofa.  Maybe I'll write another article about staying off the living room furniture, but for now, I'll get back to the point.  I know there are scholarly presentations about the genre of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, but this willingness to wrestle with these issues needs to filter down to popular presentations, or as a friend of mine says, "Rhetoric matters."
    One of the keys to good preaching--I've been trying to get there all my life--is to make something as simple as it can be made.  But, as Einstein warned us, it should not be made one bit simpler.
  2. Related to my first concern is the second.  It is the one that Buader and Snoeberger deal with.  Many Young-Earthers have chosen an unfortunate hill to die on.  I'll call it Mount Ussher.  I'll let you read the articles, but it is unfortunate that those who speak the loudest about Young Earth Cosmology insist on an absolute adherence to the view that the Genealogies of the early chapters of Genesis exist to give the earth's age.
    I don't think they do.

Friday, June 26, 2015

After the SCOTUS Decision:

I haven't watched TV news today.  I'm sure it is full of interviews and punditry concerning today's decision by the US Supreme Court requiring all states to legalize same-sex marriage.  I've already seen some online comments.  Some are rejoicing, some are mourning, while still others are still shaking their heads at the lightning speed of this change.
I've spoken in the past about my conclusions on the matter of marriage.  You can find videos of the messages here and here.
Recently, my pastor, Doug Williams has been leading us in the formation of a statement about marriage and sexuality.  It hasn't been finalized, yet, but here it is:

We believe the Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is a wonderful gift from God to be expressed exclusively in a marital relationship between a man and a woman.  (Genesis 2:24-25; Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5; Hebrews 13:4)  We further believe that each of us were born with physical characteristics that make us male or female, and that this sexual identification in which a person is born is established by God and should be accepted by each person as a gracious gift from Him (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; Mark 10:6-9; Luke 1:13)
 Therefore, any form of sexual intimacy outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman, (such as premarital sex, adultery, or homosexual activity) or any attempt to change the sexual identification in which one was born, are both sin and outside God’s design and desire for our lives. (Leviticus 18:1-30; Proverbs 6:32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-18; Romans 1:26-27; 1Timothy 1:9-10; Ephesians 5:5-7)
 Though humbly seeking to remain true to the clear teaching of the Word of God on this and all other matters, we also seek to remain true to that same Word in reaching out in love and compassion toward everyone, including those whose sexual lifestyles we cannot endorse or accept (Matthew 9:36; 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 6:11).  So we also commit ourselves “ speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:2 (ESV)

I agree.

A Godly friend of mine will often comment when he is saying good bye.  "Keep it between the fence posts and keep the shiny side up."  Did I mention that my friend used to be a professional truck driver?  Let me suggest some ways for those of us who are seeking to follow Jesus to stay in the road in the aftermath of today's SCOTUS decision:

  1. Nothing has really changed.  I'm not disrespecting the judicial branch of the US government, and I realize that "nothing" is hyperbole, but the reality is, the Supreme Court nor any other human institution has the power to make something right or wrong.  They can declare what is legal and illegal, and/or they can identify rights that within their jurisdiction cannot be denied others, but they do not have the power to make something that is inherently wrong right, or vice-versa.  The rightness or wrongness of human slavery, the death penalty, the right of women to vote, the racial segregation or integration of schools, and the sanctity of life are not created by any body of people.  Obviously, since the Supreme Court has changed its decrees on various issues it is not infallible.  Beyond that we need to remember that the obligations of Christ's followers are not determined by the government, but by our Lord.
  2. One way or another all of us are living in the Book of Ecclesiastes.  We are trying to find meaning in this life.  One of the great lies of our world is that meaning and satisfaction come from getting what I want.  This chasing of the mirage of self-pleasing is not something that is limited one particular people group.  It is shared by people of whatever sexual orientation.  While I may not understand, the urge that another is trying to satisfy--I may even conclude that satisfying that desire is wrong--I can sympathize and empathize with the desire to find meaning, peace, and satisfaction in life.  This world is populated, not by "us and them," but by us.  We are all dream-chasers.  We all desperately need the reality of Solomon's conclusion to the whole matter--"Fear God and Keep His commandments."  (Ecc. 12:13)
  3. In the United States we Christians have gotten a free ride.  For some time, now, a number have been looking out the window wondering whether we ought to get off the train and walk.  I recently posted about the Benedict Option (here).  My thoughts are worth looking at chiefly because they point to other better informed and more nearly complete explanations.  The Christianity of the New Testament is clearly counter-cultural.  Clearly, there is a place for seeking to influence the nation in which we dwell, but expecting that nation to maintain and enforce our Christian standards for us in inappropriate and unhelpful.  Today's decision will force individual Christians, churches, and other Christian institutions to focus less on what our government can do for us and more on what we ought to do.  
  4. I see a dangerous backlash--probably not the one you think I mean.  It is a self-imposed backlash.  Some of my colleagues have rightly observed the hypocrisy, and unnecessarily harsh rhetoric of some conservative Christian leaders toward those in the gay community.  Meanness, and demeaning language are totally out of place.  We should repent of and abandon that kind of behavior.  However, some have gone too far.  They seem to say, because some have spoken harshly, and have condemned sin in others while hypocritically ignoring their own sin, we should just be quiet and say nothing.  That is an option we cannot choose.  Walking in the paths God has marked out is the way of blessing.  For some staying in that path is very hard.  We dare not deny anyone the opportunity to experience the fullness of God's blessing by our silence. 
  5. I'm out of time.   I need to go practice what I'm about to say.
    Love others, whoever they are, whatever label they have, love them.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  “This is the great and foremost commandment.  “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:36–39)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Benedict Option, Minds That Have Been Closed, and Lions In Waiting:

The "Benedict Option" is a concept that has been fairly big lately in the online neighborhood where I hang out.
Breakpoint recently interviewed Rod Dreher, who has written about the concept.

Click here for a brief commentary, and/or here for  1/2 hour  interview with Dreher.  

I appreciate Dreher and Breakpoint encouraging this conversation.  I look forward to hearing from others about how Christians need to live according to a different standard than the "over-culture" that dominates our society.  In the past we Christians in the USA--others will need to calibrate their own communities--have lived in a culture that was still clearly marked by a system of Christian ethics.  Even the "evil" people in our culture acknowledged the morality of the mores they violated.  "I know I should, but don't."  What has changed in the past few years is that now the majority culture is looking at what could be called "traditional values," or what I would call, "values built on the left-overs of a Biblical worldview"--the standard by which the Cleaver family lived, or what what was more formally called "civic religion," and saying that is evil.  I read somewhere a while back that it used to be that our neighbors didn't like Christians who take the Bible seriously because we talked about sin too much.  Now the same culture looks at us and says "I don't like you because what you believe is sinful."
In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom spoke of students in the prestige colleges of the day as believing in only one virtue, openness.  The young leaders who were being trained in the era Bloom spoke of have spawned the college, high-school, and elementary teachers who have shaped our world.  As the mono-virtue of openness/acceptance has permeated our society, we have passed through the live-and-let-live phase to a new standard.  It is not sufficient to give someone the freedom to do that to which I object, now I must fully embrace and rejoice in others expression of their freedom to do as they please.  Not only must one obey Big Brother, one must love Big Brother. Since those of us who take the Bible seriously cannot be accept that which God's word rejects we are the evil ones.     
The situation in which we find ourselves is not new.  Christians in the Roman Empire were accused of being atheists.     
As Christians became more numerous, and their beliefs more well known, the charges of immorality became harder to sustain. But one accusation is repeated time and time again- "Atheism"; rejection of the tutelary deities of their communities. This was a very serious matter; deities were believed to bring good fortune to a town, and slighting them might bring down their wrath. According to Tertullian: "If the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn’t move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is, plague, the cry is at once: "The Christians to the lion!"" Outbreaks of persecution often coincided with natural disasters. Earthquakes in Asia in 152, and an outbreak of plague in Alexandria at the time of Origen, were blamed on the Christians. Around 270, Porphry blamed the plague in Rome on the fact that the temple of Aesculapius had been abandoned for the Christian churches. This sort of accusation was persistent; as late 419, Augustine wrote "The City of God" to prove that Christians hadn’t caused the fall of Rome by slighting the old gods. The charges of atheism and immorality help explain the hatred of the mob for Christians, evidenced in the pogroms in places such as Smyrna and Lyons.  (
 We are the new atheists.  We reject the god of absolute autonomy.  We can no longer live as if things haven't changed.  They have.

Or, maybe not.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Praying for the welfare of my city, even if I don't live there.

Though I have never really lived in the country, I think there is country in my bones.  My parents, and as far as I can tell all my ancestors were country-folk, farmers and such.  I have enjoyed time in
cities.  I've been privileged to visit Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Prague, Rome & Florence in Italy, Alamaty Kazakhstan, Dresden Germany,  Jerusalem, Athens, and Corinth in Greece, Quito Ecuador, Austin Texas, and Washington DC.  In addition to those notable places, I've enjoyed time in some smaller, but impressive in their own right, cities like Roanoke VA, Ibarra Equador, and Neuva Ocatepeque Honduras, and College Station TX.  For all my adult life I've lived in a mill-town in the mountains of Virginia, that though technically a city, is quintessential, small-town America.
If you give me a box of crayons, though, and a piece of paper and ask me to draw the ideal place to live, it is none of the above.  Likely it would be a place on a lake, situated so the sun would rise over mountains behind the house, and set across the water spread out before my spacious front porch.  No antelope in my art-work, but deer would roam there.  If you pressed me for details, though, somewhere, just out of sight, far enough away that I couldn't hear or see it, there would be a city--a city where my wife could shop, where I could take her on a nice date, go to concerts and see lovely architecture.  I'd like for there to be a baseball team there--triple A would do.  There ought to be places to work and learn.  The college there ought to have a noble laureate on faculty.  The signs, as you come into town should boast "Home of . . ."

In other words I want the benefits of city, I just don't want to live there.

Sound familiar?

I was brought up short, along these lines, this morning as I was studying 1 Timothy 2, getting ready for Sunday's message.  I Timothy 2 has a strong emphasis on praying for our community and our leaders.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. . . . Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (1 Timothy 2:1–8, NASB95)     
This led me to consider Jeremiah's instructions to a group of exiles,
‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ (Jeremiah 29:7, NASB95)
I confess, I tend to think of cities in a somewhat negative light--"Nice places to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."  Cities, however, when done right, are places that produce great works.  As people pool their resources, talents, dreams, and hard work, great things emerge.  That is, if those people are able to "lead tranquil and quiet lives."  On the other hand, some of the recent unrest in cities, reminiscent of the late sixties, reminds us that piling people together without the benefit of that which fosters tranquility and quiet, is like piling oily rags in the furnace room.  Sooner or later . . .

All of us, whether we live at the end of a dirt road or in a high-rise looking down on millions, ought to be praying for our nations, our leaders, out communities.  And for all of us that includes our cities--those engines of culture and influence that drive culture.

Trevin Wax suggests some ways to pray for our cities:
Below I have listed out prayers that we have recently been utilizing to pray for our city. My prayer even now, is that the Lord would use these to glorify Himself in the redemption and renewal of your city.
  • Sunday - That the Gospel would be boldly and unashamedly proclaimed in our local churches. That our churches would be places for the broken, unwanted and hurting. That Christ will be offered as the only remedy for the very thing we cannot do, make our selves better or save ourselves.
  • Monday - Pray that Romans 8:35-39 would become a reality. Pray for yourself, for your family, for your pastors, for your church. That our hope would be found in Christ and in Christ alone and that his hope would produce Gospel boldness in our lives.
  • Tuesday - Pray Matthew 6:10 over your city. Spend this day replacing the word “earth” with the name of your city… for me it is “In Charlottesville as it is in heaven”.
  • Wednesday - Pray that the Spirit would weed out the sin in your life that has kept you from living a life on mission. That He would open up opportunities for you to be present and intentional with the gospel in your neighborhood. Pray for your neighbors by name.
  • Thursday - Pray boldly Psalms 33:8 over your city.  The the people would stand in awe before Him.
  • Friday - Pray Habakkuk 3:2 over your city. That the Lord’s love, wrath, justice and mercy would be made known in the City.
  • Saturday: Pray that the Lord would increase our burden for our city. That our love and growth in the Gospel would produce a desire to see others saved, and grow in their love and understanding of who God is, what He has done and what He is doing.
You can read his entire blog post here.