Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts following the murder of Father Jacques Hamel:

This post was sent out and posted as a Something to Think About article.  I am posting it here because it is bit more serious, and hopefully far-reaching than some of what I put on STTA.  I think it is something worthy of consideration particularly for those of you who share my background, or for others trying to figure us out.  This wasn't the first time a Christian leader was martyred, and it won't be the last.

Standing with Those Who Stand for Christ


Ask not for whom the bell tolls:

The Institute on Religion & Democracy calls it Jihad on the church.
Father Jacques Hamel, an 86 year old Roman Catholic Priest was leading worship when two Muslim extremists, burst into the church in Normandy France, shouting, "Allah Akbar," and slit the cleric's throat.  ISIS issued a statement that two of its soldiers had carried out the attack.
The murder took place in a country other than mine, in a church that is different than mine, and it was perpetrated against a pastor whose Theology and practice are not my own.  What I, and others like me need to realize is what made Father Jacques Hamel a target of terrorism is something that is absolutely true about me.  He died as a representative of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died in our place, and arose victorious.  In no sense was it one of them who died in this cowardly, ugly attack.  Father Jacques was/is one of us.

So, how do I react?
My branch of Christendom--Evangelicalism, Conservative Evangelicalism, The movement formerly known as Fundamental, Historical Fundamentalists, I don't know what to call my kind--suffers serious division on how to answer this question.  At the risk of creating further divide, but in hopes of moving us toward sanity, I make the following suggestions:
  • My kind has a history of "coming out from among them."  I was taught the virtues of separation.  Not so much the value of unity.  This is a time to link arms, to embrace.  We may disagree on the definition of what it means to be a Christian, certainly we have a variety of answers to the question of how we do Christianity, but let us not forget.  Father Jacques was not killed because of what he believed about the mass he was performing, or because of his allegiance to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  His throat was cut because he was a follower of Christ, and because he was leading others to follow Christ.  He and I are the same.  No "buts."
  • We have to walk spiritually, and chew gum politically at the same time.  One of the terrorists who attacked the church in Normandy was a known terrorist.  The church was known to be on a hit list.  One of the tasks of governments, perhapsTHE task, is to keep order, to keep the citizens of a land, and others within its borders, from killing each other.  I need to be disciplined enough to give the same answer when the attack is by "Christians" on a group of Muslim worshipers.   My nation, the United States, has a history of protecting freedom of worship.  That value seems consistent with the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible presents a balance and a tension between a personal response that is characterized by charity and forgiveness, and a governmental policy of security and justice.  Having police armed with Glocks is not contradictory with the response of the members of Emmanuel A.M.E. church in forgiving the murderer of their pastor and fellow-church members (here).
    Christians who emphasize the importance of forgiveness are right.  Likewise those who stress law and order are on solid ground.  Those who exclude one or the other are wrong.
  • We need to eliminate from our thinking any notion that this business of standing up and speaking for the Lord is safe.  It isn't.  That distortion has been perpetuated because we, my kind, have been living in an anomalous time and place.  Christians always and everywhere have been called to a Romans 12:1dedication.  It's just getting clearer, now.
    We do not stand for Christ because it is easy or safe.  We do so based on this calculation:  
We believe that Christ died for all,
we also believe that we have all died to our old life.
He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves.
Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
(2 Corinthians 5:14–15, NLT)
  • The prayer requests that the Apostle Paul offered in the First Century make a great deal of sense in our world.
    ". . . pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified . . . and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2).
    ". . . pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19–20).
    One missions leader, for a period of time, forbid the people in his office from praying for the safety of the personnel they represented.  Prayers for safety were taking up all the air in the room.  Prayers for boldness and effectiveness need to be offered, as well.
So, I close this STTA with prayer.

Lord, I pray for those who love Father Jacques; May they know your comfort and peace.  Grant that they will respond with the grace that is becoming to those of us who bear your name.
I ask that the authorities in France, the US, and around the world will act with justice and appropriate firmness.  I pray that all--even those whose worship is a lie--will have freedom to worship in safety.
As the Lord of the harvest, I ask that You will send forth laborers into the harvest, even the parts of the field that are not safe.  I pray that those who represent you in dangerous places will be effective witnesses.  As your servant, the Apostle Paul observed, that might be by life, or by death.
I pray that Your will be done down here in this messy world, and, Lord, I yield myself, dedicate myself, to that task.
I long for Your Kingdom to come.
It’s STTA.

You can read more about the life-changing Good News, that gives us something worth dying for,  here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is This The Best We Can Do?

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Thoughts Following the Tragedy in Dallas:

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


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

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

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

It’s STTA.

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

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

Before we go, let's pray together.

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