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Monday, September 04, 2017

Presidential Faith ... in Action

Donald and Melania Trump attended at (Washington, DC) church yesterday - the day he had called the nation to prayer.

Trump had designated yesterday as National Day of Prayer, specifically asking the country to pause to pray for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. That hurricane, which hit the Gulf Coast last week, appears to be the most devastation natural disaster ever to hit the U.S. President Trump has already asked the U.S. Congress for nearly $8 billion in aid to the victims of this hurricane and the resulting flooding. The Texas Governor estimates they will need more like $125 billion to recover. But I digress.

Here's what I want to talk about today. It was front page news that our President & First Lady attended church. Looking back, it seems that neither of them have attended any regular church services since he took office. They have only attended when the church service was to inaugurate or otherwise honor Trump. This isn't a strong expression of Trump's faith.

Now, lest you think that I'm ragging on Trump, let me also mention the fact that Obama rarely attended any church services during his eight years as President. It was the same with his predecessor, George W. Bush. In fact, of all the modern Presidents of the U.S., only the Carters and the Clintons are known to have attended church services on a regular (weekly) basis.

I long to see our modern Presidents more open about their faith. Maybe Trump, with his addiction to expressing himself on Twitter, could tweet the Scripture passage that he and his wife read and meditate on together each day. (They do do that, don't they?) You know, I wouldn't mind if our President and his wife were zealous about the God they serve. I'd like to know that my President is a man under authority, that He is surrendered and submitted to Christ in every way possible.

I'd really like to see our President at least occasionally leading the nation in public prayer. To be fair, Melania Trump publicly read the Lord's prayer in a ceremony a few months ago. But again, that made front page headlines because it was so remarkable. We're not used to seeing much in the way of outward 

expressions of faith from our President or First Lady. It's something I'd like to get used to. And of course, I'd like to know that they are regularly attending corporate worship services - as God's Word commands them to. 

I've read the arguments (maybe excuses) about modern Presidents don't attend church regularly. Those range from not wanting to be disruptive to not creating a security scenario. But really don't those are valid reasons. The Scriptural command doesn't have an exception clause that lets Christ-followers off the hook if they think it might be an inconvenience to others or that it would be too much trouble for their security detail. Both of those things can be overcome. 

If the President and his family were attending the same local church regularly, the drama would die down. Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday School, for example, and his fellow parishioners seem to be managing pretty well. Similarly, the security details could be worked out so that the church would be secure enough to ensure the President's safety. Years ago I worked in England, and had occasion to visit a couple of the Queen's castles. I recall that even the Queen of England attends local church services in well known cathedrals or chapels where security has been arranged and where chaos has been overcome.

Quite frankly, if the President and his family wanted to join my local church, I would be deeply honored to get to worship, pray, and study God's Word with them. And I know that as a pastor, if I knew the President and his family would be at my church each week, I'm confident that my staff and I could work with the Secret Service to keep it secure. Moreover, I could work with my staff and parishioners to keep the carnival atmosphere to a minimum.

The faith of our Presidents is documented. Not a single President of the United States has ever identified himself as an atheist. All have said that they believed in God, and there was an assumption that that meant they also worshiped and submitted to God. The only exceptions have been Thomas Jefferson - who eventually denied that Jesus is God, and Abraham Lincoln - who was so secular that even people who knew him well questioned his faith. (See chart below.)

What is less documented and less known, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our Presidents. Jimmy Carter, for example, is the only President of the United States that is ever known to have taught Sunday School. (He still does!) We have few examples of Presidents praying, reading their Bibles, worshiping, or making disciples as Jesus commanded us to. (Matthew 28:19-20) 


I remember one time the pastor of our large church actually got up on the stage with the singers and worshiped in front of all of us. He is a terrible singer - bad voice and can't carry a tune. But seeing his heart surrendered to the Lord and him delighting in the worship moved me to tears. It encouraged my heart to see my leader worship our God.

So here's the thing. If I were President of the United States, I'm pretty sure that I would want to start my Presidency with a prayer service. In fact, my inauguration speech would include a call for the nation to pray with me. I would ask Americans to pray for me to have wisdom and discernment. I would ask them to pray that God would allow me to see what He sees, hear what He hears, and even think through things with the Mind of Christ. I would ask that my people pray for me to be humbled before the Lord and before my fellow Americans.

As President of the United States, I would pledge to my constituents that I would make confession a regular practice - and I would tell them the name of the individual that I would be confessing my sins to on a regular basis. (James 5:16) I would tell them the name of the spiritual adviser whom I would be giving authority to hold me accountable, to challenge me and ask me the hard questions on a regular basis. My weekly radio address (a Presidential tradition) would include prayer for our nation - my people would hear me pray. And I would implement regular time of prayer and worship with my staff, and even invite members of Congress to pray and worship with me. (We might have to move that Bible study to the National Cathedral!)

I don't believe the God of the universe can be expected to bless our nation if we as a nation are not submitted and surrendered to Him in real, tangible ways. I believe that there must be evidence that we are actively service the Lord in our everyday lives. (It's called Fruit of the Spirit.) Most of all I don't believe any of this will happen without our country's leaders setting the example. So of course I'm very glad to see that Mr. & Mrs. Trump were in church yesterday. I only hope and pray that this will become a regular thing for them!

Won't you join me now in praying that the Lord put a fierce hunger and thirst for God's Word into the hearts of our President and First Lady? Let us pray that God will draw both of them to Himself, and that a desire to seek Him first will overwhelm both of them.




Saturday, August 05, 2017

Shopping Cart Bible Lesson

If you’ve followed me on Facebook for any length of time, you may have seen me posting pictures from time to time of the carnage left in the wake of the marauding band of “cart pigs” that struck the local WalMart, grocery store, etc.   The other day I was confronted with no less than a dozen shopping carts in the one row of the parking lot.  Ironically, they were all abandoned and strewn about within just a few feet of a cart corral.

When I made that post, one of my Facebook “friends,” Mr. Chris LaRue, commented (on my Facebook wall) that I was a “lame-ass white guy” (sic) for caring about this.  (For the record, Mr. LaRue shares my Caucasian heritage.)  My wife and even some of my friends asked me who this was that would say something so mean about me.  Rather than act hurt or offended, I just said he might be one of those Christ-followers who leans on his own understanding of this issue. 

Love Your Neighbor
God said, way back in Leviticus 19:18, that we to love others as we ourselves would like to be loved.  Jesus said it again in Matthew 19:19 & 22:39, Mark 12:31, and Luke 10:27.  The Apostle Paul reminded us of this command from God, in Romans 13:9 & Galatians 5:14.  Even Jesus’ (half) brother James brought it up (James 2:8).  So it seems like one of the most well established Biblical principles that there are.  Surely no one who would claim to be a Christian would question this.  We are to love others as we ourselves would like to be loved.

Blessing of Shopping Carts
So what is the practical application of that Biblical principle?  How on earth could it apply to shopping carts at the local WalMart?   It’s simple really.  Think about the owners and employees of the store.  They’re offering you the use of a shopping cart, free of charge.  And they’ve made a parking place for those carts in the front of the store.  Many of the larger ones have even provided cart corrals in the parking lot – so that you don’t have to walk all the way back into the store to return it.

It’s obvious, from the provisions that they’ve made, that the owners and employees of the store expect you to return the shopping cart.  And they would appreciate if you did.  If you were an owner of the store, you would appreciate it if your customers did.  If you were an employee of the store, you would appreciate it if the customers did. 

Costs of Cart Pigs
When customers do not return shopping carts to designated space in front of the store or one of the convenient cart corrals throughout the parking lot, several things happen:

1.      They often take up parking spaces where someone might like to park their car.

2.      If they’re not taking up parking spaces, they’re probably parked on the grass or in planter – ruining the landscaping that the store owners paid for (so you could have an attractive store to use).

3.      The carts in this picture were abandoned – and blocking – a special walkway that had been provided for the handicapped parking spaces.  How would you like to maneuver your wheel chair through this mess?

4.      Sometimes the carts roll off and scratch or even dent other peoples’ cars.  And it’s not just the cars that can be damaged.  Shopping carts themselves can be damaged or even ruined altogether.

5.      The carts are not in the front of the store of other shoppers, thereby forcing them to make a trip back out to the parking lot to get one.  (This has actually happened to me!)

6.      At a minimum, the store owners must pay someone to rove around the parking lot gathering up all the abandoned shopping carts and returning them to the front of the store for other shoppers to use.

Shopping carts are expensive.  Damage to shopping carts is expensive.  Scratches and dents on peoples’ cars are expensive.  Labor is expensive.  So the store owners would appreciate it if you would return the shopping carts.  And even if the labor is paid, no retail worker enjoy having to schlep around a parking lot in the heat, cold, rain, or snow to gather up the shopping carts from all over the parking lot.  So the employees would appreciate it if you would return them.

Biblical Command
So like I said, it seems like a simple concept.  If I were a store owner, I would like the shopping carts to be returned.  If I were a store employee, I would like the shopping carts returned.  If I were a store shopper, I would like the carts returned.  This is how I would like to be treated.  So God Himself says this is how I should treat others.  In a sense, there’s a implied Biblical command here, “Thou shalt return thy shopping cart – because it is how thou would like to be treated thyself.”

Shopping Carts Identify Your Character
Blogger Craig Dacy (http://www.craigdacy.com/) has written about this.  He says there are two different kinds of people in this world: cart returners and cart deserters.  And he explains how either one of these definitions reveals so much about our character.  Here are some excerpts from one of his blog posts that really say it better than I could myself.

Cart Returners Put Others First
There are hundreds of excuses for someone to leave their cart propped up on a grassy median or left between parking spaces.  Maybe they’re in a hurry or it’s raining. … Whatever the reason is, there is one thing all of these excuses have in common; it’s all about them.

When you take the time to return your cart …, you’re showing that you care about the employees of the grocery store.  You acknowledge that if you don’t put the cart away, someone else will have to do it for you.  Basically it shows that you’re not a selfish person.

Why not take it a step further? If you see a disabled person with a cart, offer to return it for them.  It's all about helping our neighbor. 

Successful people put others first.  Instead of being wrapped up in things that benefit them, they look for ways to help and serve those around them.

Cart Returners Are Disciplined
We’ve all been tempted to turn to the dark side, right?  Your child is screaming and the nearest cart receptacle is 10 parking spaces away. ...  

These are the moments that define us.  Will you stand strong or break to temptation?  Look on the bright side; that screaming child ensures that everyone will look and see you doing the right thing!

Walking the 10 spaces shows you’re disciplined.  You’ve committed yourself to a moral standard that you won’t break.  Discipline is an attractive quality in people.


Cart Returners Are Happier People
I know I’ve addressed it already, but I’ll say it again.  Cart returning shows you're not selfish.  Which is good because selfish people aren’t happy.

Giving to others brings happiness into our lives.  Whether it’s a big or small gesture, they can make a lasting impact.  Focusing only on ourselves gives us a negative outlook on life.  We tend to only think about the things we don’t have, the things we want, or the things others have that we wish we had.  None of these bring on a spirit of gratitude or contentment.

At the end of the day, the only person you can control is you. As infuriating as it is to see a front row parking space blocked by a deserted cart, take comfort in knowing that you still have the upper hand.

To all my cart deserters out there; it’s never too late to make a change.  Cart returners are very forgiving and will welcome you to our side with open arms!

Finally, to all my cart returners; there is one last glimmer of hope for you.  While the walk to the receptacle may be treacherous, the walk back to your car can be empowering.  You did the right thing.  Hold your head up high, pump your fist in the air, and consider that walk as your victory lap.

Christ-Followers Return Shopping Carts
You had to know where this was going.  So let me just finish this post by telling you that it is a sin to abandon your shopping cart just anywhere.  My blogging friend Craig Dacy allows that there may be exceptions for people with handicaps, etc.  However, I’m not even going to give you that.  If you had the ability to take the shopping cart and use it, you have the ability to return it.  God said we are to do unto others as we would like them to do unto us.  To do otherwise is sin.  It is that simple.

If you owned the store, worked at the store, or shopped at the store and wanted a shopping cart, you would want the carts put where they belong.  So do that yourself.  Don’t be a cart pig!  Instead, honor the Lord your God, Christ Jesus, by returning your shopping cart.  It's what Jesus Himself would do.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Trump's First Budget Proposal

In April 2016, then candidate Trump told the Washington Post that he would promise to completely eliminate the U.S.' national debt over 8 years. (This of course assumed his re-election to a 2nd term.) His first budget proposal includes a 9% boost in defense spending, and deep cuts elsewhere.

Trump is proposing a 31% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 28% cut to the State Department, & deep cuts in foreign aid, medical & scientific research, as well as anti-poverty programs that do things like provide free meals to children and the elderly. Trump would entirely eliminate federal funding for National Public Radio (NPR), the Corporate for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Trump's philosophy seems to be to shift the funding of many social programs to the private sector - let the philanthropists pay for it. I'm actually okay with that because I see that our current national debt of over $19 trillion is equal to more than $166,000 for every man, woman and child in America.  And it is still growing.  We have to make deep, painful spending cuts somewhere. The problem is that that's not really what Trump is proposing.

Overall federal spending under Trump's proposed budget still comes in around $4 trillion - about the same as in President Obama's last budget plan.  Moreover, the deficit (the amount by which spending exceeds tax revenue) would be about $559 billion under Trump - nearly the same as it was under Obama.  And the Trump budget doesn't do anything to curb the growing spending - or raise revenue to pay for the growing spending for Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs that so many Americans rely on.

Trump's April 2016 pledge doesn't seem to be reflected in his budget proposal.  Don't you think it should be?  

I realize that Trump is already in for a fight.  He believes we're not secure, and by making these deep cuts he's freeing up existing spending for things like the defense departments and construction of a border wall between us and Mexico.  Already the liberals are crying foul, and the lobbyists are preparing to launch their attacks to persuade Congress not to let Trump have his way.  Based on their past behavior, I have no confidence that our Congress has the courage to make deep spending cuts anywhere.  My guess is they will either not let Trump have his defense increases - or they will just borrow more money to pay for it. 

It's even more frightening to consider the prospects of our national debt, when the Republicans are promising tax cuts.  In the face of our national debt and deficit spending plans, they think American corporations and individuals should pay less taxes.  I know there is a much-beloved theory that if we make tax cuts they will stimulate the economy and more taxes will actually get paid.  I haven't actually seen that work.  Ever.  Not in my lifetime anyway. 

While I'm not an expert on world history, I am a student of it.  And so far I'm not aware of any country that has been able to make that work either.  In all the history of the world, it seems that governments must tax their people in order to pay for what they do.  No one has ever been able to cut those taxes and actually pay for government spending.  Not in the history of the world.  And many governments have actually collapsed under the weight of their own spending (and inability to raise the tax revenue.)

Its not inconceivable to me that the U.S.' national debt could top $40 trillion or more before Trump's maximum term of eight years in office.  I remember when Obama took office.  Our national debt was already in the stratosphere.  It was breathtaking.  I could not imagine how our country could go on borrowing.  I honestly feared our whole economy could collapse if the national debt got any worse.  But Obama, and our Congress, had a different vision.  We continued our wars, our liberal social programs, and even implemented a costly health care plan.  The government spending and borrowing continued unabated for eight more years - and the national debt more than doubled. 

Here's the thing I know.  It is expensive to be America.  We have made ourselves the world's police force - moving literally on every continent to fight for freedom and democracy.  We have made ourselves the world's benefactors - shipping humanitarian aid to every continent when there is need.  We have made ourselves the freedom fighters, propping up regimes that we view as righteous, providing foreign aid to the tune of billions to countries like Israel or Egypt.  And of course, we are not willing to say no to our own people.  So we allow the people to vote themselves all sorts of benefits - by sending representatives to Washington who will work to give them what they want.  (Politicians often point to their record of "winning" federal money & program support for their own geographic constituents.)  All of this is expensive. 

Like I said, it is expensive to be America.  And so I wonder how we can move forward if we don't both make deep spending cuts AND commitments to pay more taxes.  When will American individuals and corporations decide that it is worth it to pay our own way?  When will we be willing to make the hard financial choices in order to reverse this collision course with reality?

What are YOUR thoughts about this?

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How Secure Is My Salvation?

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul effectively explains something that many Christians adamantly cling to as a truth.  They sometimes act is if it is more true than anything else in the Bible!  I'm talking about the security of one's salvation. 

Many preachers explain the act of receiving eternal life as a "transaction" that occurs when one says a simple prayer to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was born a virgin birth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again before ascending into heaven to prove that He is God.  They also confess that they are a sinner in need of His salvation, and announce that they freely accept it.

For some of us, this prayer was said in our teens, maybe at a church camp or in a youth group.  And then we go on to live our lives in no particular way - but doing whatever we think best.  After saying such prayer, we may do nothing to educate ourselves about the nature and character of God, or about what He has to say to us in the Bible (we don't read it, much less study it).  So our lives as Christians may look no different than the lives of others in the world.

I won't go into the Scripture references here, but I have studied the Bible - and there are many references which convince me that saying a simple prayer does NOT make one a Christian.  I understand from Bible study that belief must be backed up with action in order to be true.  It supports the old adage that people may not always do what they say - but they will always do what they believe.  So if someone truly is a Christ-follower, it should be evident in the way that they speak and the way that they live their lives. 

My thinking has evolved to the point that I don't see salvation as a transaction that occurs on any particular date - at least not for most of us.  Rather I believe that it occurs over time as I develop my beliefs and they shape my words and actions in life.  In the end, we all understand that God will judge our hearts.  He will know for sure who is a Christ-follower and who is not.  However, there are some clues - some evidence - that may suggest now how that judgment will turn out.  So I allow the Holy Spirit to convict me each time I sin against God or someone else.  And to be clear, I do sin.  Much to my dismay, I have NOT been able to live a perfect life - even after surrendering my life to Christ.

So why am I not adamantly declaring that my salvation is secure and that I can never lose it?  Is it because I doubt the Bible's promises of "once saved, always saved?"  Indeed not.  Those promises are definitely true.  But what is questionable in my mind is whether one is truly saved.  Jesus explained that those who love Him will obey Him.  So I look at my obedience - and wonder if the effort is truly sincere.  I look at how I've surrendered my life to Him - and wonder if there is anything else I can do to effectively surrender. 

I'm confident in my relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit.  I'm so in love with the Lord!  But I am not so cocky as to think that my sin doesn't matter.  I ask the Lord to examine my heart and show me what still displeases Him.  And then I try to make my efforts to align my words and actions with His as sincere as I possibly can.  But I understand that in the end, my fate rests on judgment day - and I trust Him with my life.  In fact, I trust Him so much that I don't need the Bible's promises to defend my salvation.

I know this is a very controversial topic among Christians.  But I also know that I can live with the apparent ambiguity of not knowing whether God sees my heart the way I see my heart.  How about you?  What are your thoughts on this subject?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Voting for President

Well, the presidential elections in the U.S.A. are about a raucous as an election could get.  I really cannot imagine it getting any worse.  Neither of the leading candidates are well liked.  Most Americans feel as if we are forced to choose between two bad choices.  (I would be one of them.)

But I had lunch today with a couple from our church.  What ensued was a discussion about the election and the candidates that was revealing for me.  One of my lunch-mates announced that he would not vote for anyone for president.  He surmised that he would just leave the ballot for that election unchecked when he votes.  I found myself admonishing him to not squander his vote.  

Moreover, as we talked about it, I began to see that Christians have a duty to vote.  Living in a democracy is a privilege granted to us by none other than God Himself.  (Just ask those who don't live in a democracy.)  I'm not sure that many Christians in America would see it that way.  We may know it is a right - which women and those of African heritage have had to fight for.  But even I have sometimes felt like voting was more of a burden than anything.  

We often resign ourselves to the conclusion that our vote doesn't matter.  After all, I'm just one person among about 300 million people.  If I don't vote, my vote won't be missed.  Of course that argument makes common sense.  Things of this world can make common sense though - and still be wrong.  It just seems that my vote won't be missed.  But the truth is, if enough people took that attitude, it could change the outcome of the election.  Conversely, if enough people vote, that could change the outcome of the election.

Romans 13:1 tells us that "... there is no authority except that which God has established.  The (human) authorities that exist have been established by God."  

To our modern way of looking at things, this makes no sense whatsoever.  There are evil dictators.  There are lame leaders.  There is corruption and bureaucracy.  We reason that God does not establish them as authorities in our lives.  But alas, we reason ignorantly.  For God's Word is true.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see places where God did indeed use ungodly authorities to punish Israel for having turned from Him and His ways.

So is God punishing America today, by giving us two bad choices for president?  Maybe.  The truth is that I don't know.  God doesn't share such things with me.  But He has shared with me that it is possible.  He has shared with me the fact that He has acted in this way before.  And He has told me what to do about it.  I am to be obedient, submitted, and God-honoring in every way.  If the Lord has given me a vote, who am I to squander because I'm apathetic about the candidates?

So what should a good American Christ-follower do?  How should we respond to the unpleasant circumstances that we find ourselves in?  The first thing we should do is register to vote.  Make sure you have registered and are ready to exercise your legal right to vote.  Then educate yourself on the choices.  Maybe you don't like them.  But you owe it to God and to your fellow Americans to educate yourself on the merits of each choice.

 I'm on Facebook.  I watch TV.  I understand there are strong, passionate arguments for why Hillary Clinton can't be trusted or is "not a nice person."  I also understand those strong, passionate arguments that Donald Trump is a blowhard who believes his own lies.  Nevertheless, these are our choices.

We need to consider the fact that the powers that be - whether they be in the worldly realm or the spiritual realm - have given us these two choices.  A few short months from now, one of these two candidates will be installed as the most powerful leader in all of the free world.  One of them will lead the largest government in the history of the world.  

One of these two candidates will be in control of your future here on this earth.  And God says that it will have been His choice.  But He has nominated you to exercise your voice in the matter.  So consider the implications.  Get on-line.  Read comparison sights that compare and contrast the candidate's respective plans and points of view on the key issues of the day. 


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Shameful Realtor Scams

If you ever see this, perhaps on Facebook (that's where I saw it), be wary.  This one appears to have been sponsored by Keller Williams (a Realty company), but I imagine it could be sponsored by any local Realtor anywhere in the country. 

Being a homeowner, and somewhat curious about the market value of my home, I clicked on the headline to what appeared to be a news article.  The picture is of a local train museum that I recognized, so it appeared that the local paper was running a story on this new "tool" that allows you to see your home's market value.

Clicking on the headline takes you right into a registration site, where you input basic information, like the property address, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and square footage of the home.  Then you're asked for some basic contact information, including e-mail and phone number (allegedly "for verification purposes").  Finally you are finished, and looking forward to seeing the "tool" provide an indication of your home's value.  But that's not what happens.

Instead, you get yet another screen that looks like this.  An informal congratulations to you!  The value of your home is being calculated and is on it's way.  But alas, there is no "tool."  This is simply a phishing site, intended to siphon your property and personal information for marketing purposes.

What happened when I did this?  A couple of days later, a strange woman knocked on my front door on a Sunday afternoon.  The dog had just peed on the hardwood floor in the entryway, so I happened to be by the front door (cleaning up the mess).  She hands me a handwritten envelope, and says it's the market valuation I requested.  Inside is simply a print-out from the MLS, showing the sales price of recent home sales in my neighborhood. 

I did not ask anyone to come to my home.  At no point in the process was I advised that anyone would come to my home.  I simply saw the supposed news story on Facebook, clicked it, and thought I was accessing a "tool" to calculate my home's value.  To add insult to injury, now I'm receiving junk mail from the Realtor who took the listing.  I'm disgusted, turned off, and really quite offended.

To be honest, I thought better of the Keller Williams franchise than this.  I'm surprised they would stoop to such a low level of professionalism (or lack thereof).  The geographic market that I'm in is on fire.  Sales are hot.  There's a shortage of available homes for sale.  I get that.  But prices are also crazy, and Realtors get paid based on the prices.  I get that too.  (Realtors are making good money in a market that's on fire.)

I may be in the market to sell my home.  My curiosity was more than just passing.  But instead of seeing me as a lead, Keller Williams and the Realtor who phished me on this site, should see me as an anti-customer.  There is not a chance that I will do business with them.  And I will be telling everyone I know what they did to me.  This is shameful, disgusting, unprofessional, and offensive.  It's scams like this that give the Internet a bad name.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pastors & Evangelicals Supporting Trump?


In a September opinion piece for Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, said that, “no evangelical (Christian) … is expecting (Donald) Trump to lead our nation in a spiritual revival.  But on Saturday, the outspoken Senior Pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church stopped just short of endorsing Donald Trump at a rally at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Trump campaign appearances have become semi-regular gigs for Dr. Jeffress, who introduced the candidate at a September rally in Dallas.  That same month, Jeffress was among a group of pastors who traveled to Trump Tower (in New York City) to lay hands on and pray over Trump.  That group included Fort Worth televangelists Kenneth & Gloria Copeland.

Through an enthusiastic introduction for Trump this past Saturday, Dr. Jeffress stressed that he was unable to lend his full endorsement to the candidate because of his position as head of First Baptist Dallas.  The Federal Internal Revenue Service Code prohibits 501(c)(3) non-profit (tax exempt) organizations from working on behalf of political campaigns.  Pastors are also cautioned against lending their support as private citizens to political candidates.

Amongst other things that Jeffress said at Saturday’s rally, he explained that, “Most Americans know we are in a mess, and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”  He went on to say that evangelical (Christians) support Trump because “this nation will not survive another third term of Barack Obama in the form of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”

When Trump took the stage, the two men shook hands and hugged each other.  Jeffress called Donald Trump “a great leader, a great visionary, and a great American.”  Trump told the roaring crowd that he had been introduced to Jeffress on television, where the pastor was talking about him.  In Trump’s words, Jeffress is reported to have said that, “He’s (Donald Trump) going to be the best leader, he’s going to be the best for the economy … He’s going to take care of ISIS and he’s gonna take care of the border …”

Donald Trump also related to the crowd that Dr. Jeffress has described him spiritually by saying, “He may not be as pure as we think, but he’s really good, and a great Christian.”  Trump acknowledged that that’s what he’d wanted to hear.  That was the reason, Trump said, that he’d invited Dr. Jeffress to Saturday’s rally in Iowa to introduce him.

In related news, Jerry Falwell, Jr. - who heads the Liberty College where candidate Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign – has officially endorsed Donald Trump.   With the endorsement of these prominent evangelicals, Fox News reports that as many as 47% of those professing to be evangelical (Christians) are now supporting Donald Trump for President of the U.S.

Folks, I’m really not sure who I support among the numerous presidential candidates campaigning right now.  But it seems disingenuous for people like Dr. Robert Jeffress to say things in support of Trump and go out of his way to support Trump – all the while saying that he is not endorsing Trump in any way.  (He most certainly is.)  Here are some points to consider:

1.     Jeffress may be one of the most prolific anti-gay crusaders in the country.  Trump, on the other hand, says he was taught that marriage is between one man and one woman – but that his views are evolving.  He’s said that he accepts homosexuality as “just the way things are.” 

2.     Jeffress, like most other evangelical Christians, takes a firm stand against abortion.  Trump, on the other hand, is clearly pro-choice.

It would seem that just on these two points alone – homosexuality and abortion – Dr. Jeffress, Pastors Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, and Christian-college leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. would have to compromise their own beliefs in order to voluntarily want to submit themselves to such a man as their government leader.  Can they really endorse or support someone whose views and values are so fundamentally different from what they themselves claim the Bible teaches? 

3.     The Federal Code for the Internal Revenue Service is clear.  Organizations that maintain a tax-exempt status for religious reasons (i.e., churches) are prohibited from engaging in any political activity whatsoever.  They - and by reason of association – their leaders, are not to endorse or campaign for any particular political candidate.  Then too, Romans 13:1 says that Christ-followers are to obey the laws and statutes enacted by the government that rules over us.  (So it would seem that endorsing Trump and campaigning for Trump is not only breaking the law, but is a moral sin.)

Come to think of it, there are a number of Bible verses which come to mind, that would make speaking at political rallies for Donald Trump – or any other particular candidate, supporting any other political candidate that doesn't follow Christian values, as well as speaking ill of incumbent leaders and other candidates, is just all kinds of wrong.  Here are some that come to mind:

1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  (Have the campaigners really prayed for and given thanks for the incumbent leaders of whom they are so critical?)

Titus 3:9 ESV
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  (Can any Christ-follower really allow himself or herself to get wrapped up in divisive political issues of any sort?)

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV
And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (Can any Christ-follower really allow himself or herself to get wrapped up in divisive political issues of any sort?)

1 Peter 2:17 ESV
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor(Can we speak ill of any incumbent leader or opposing candidate and still be in obedience to this command from God?)

Deuteronomy 17:14-15 ESV
“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it … You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.  (Can we really, in good conscience endorse a non-Christian?  Isn't that worse than just voting for "the lesser of the evils?")

Proverbs 3:5 ESV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding(Can we really endorse - or even vote for - the candidate that we think is best?  Isn't that leaning on our own understanding?  Shouldn't we be praying for God's discernment, wisdom, and guidance in regards to whom we should vote for?)

2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  (Isn't it God who will restore America to greatness?)

Leviticus 19:18 ESV
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.  (Is this what we're doing when we speak ill of incumbent leaders and other candidates?)

2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth …  (Shouldn’t we look for and vote for a political leader who meets such criteria?)

1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, ... but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor(Doesn't this mean obeying the law, honoring everyone, and honoring the current president?)

1 Samuel 2:3 ESV
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.  (How many of our political candidates can meet this criteria?)

Titus 1:6-9 ESV
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.  (How many of our political leaders can meet this criteria?  Shouldn't we try to hold them to these standards?)

1 Timothy 3:1-13 ESV
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? ...  (Can any of our candidates meet this criteria?)

Deuteronomy 1:13 ESV
Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.   (Isn’t this who we should be voting for?)

Exodus 18:20-26 ESV
 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. If you do this, God will direct you, …  (Isn't this who we should be voting for?)

Psalm 146.3 ESV
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  (Dare we think that Trump - or anyone else for that matter - can really make our country great again?  Isn't it God who makes a country great?)

2 Timothy 2:4 ESV
No soldier (of God) gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  (Isn't it a distraction of a pastor's duties to leave his church and fly across the country to introduce Trump at a political rally?)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christianity in China

Every year for Father's Day, one of my daughters has a habit of going to a Half Priced Books outlet and picking up a half dozen or so used books for me.  She knows I like non-fiction and am partial to biographies.  Some years I score better than others, as some of the books are discounted for a reason!  But this year, a couple of the books she got me were especially good.  Let me tell you about one of them - or rather let me tell you about my reaction to one of them.

I just finished reading God's Double Agent, by Bob Fu.   It's a true story of Mr. Fu's personal fight with the Chinese government over his calling from God to be a Christian evangelist.  It's a good story and well written.  Quite frankly, the level of detail that Mr. Fu is able to recall is remarkable.  It makes his story all the more believable too.  But the context of the book is disturbing to me.  It paints a picture of Christianity in China that is quite disturbing.  It leaves me in a quandary, not knowing what to conclude. 

I like to think of myself as a Christian contemporary, always staying abreast of the issues.  Moreover, I tend to dig into the issues in a search for the truth.  When radial Muslims bombed America ten years ago, I went and got myself a Qu'ran (the Islamic equivalent of a Bible).  I wanted to see what exactly Islam's position is.  (It's disturbing - but that's for another blog entry.)  When it comes to China, I thought I was fairly aware of the issues of both religion and business.  I pay attention to how our respective governments relate to each other, follow the daily business news, and have done more than a little reading about religion.

The official Christian church in China is known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).  It's sanctioned by the Chinese government, runs over a dozen seminaries, prints Bibles, etc.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement)  If you're a Christian in China, it's the legal approach to worship.  But then of course we have the "house church" movement in China - where people worship informally in the homes of individuals.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_house_church)

Through the years there's been an ongoing struggle between the TSPM and the house church movement.  That struggle has been fueled by Christians in America (and the west in general), as they smuggled Bibles, held secret meetings, etc.  When you read Christian literature from places like Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com/), the struggle with the Chinese government is justified.  Western Christianity doesn't view the TSPM as a legitimate church, asserting that the government in China (versus Jesus Christ) is the head of that church. 

After reading Mr. Fu's book, it's clear that his view is the commonly held view - that the TSPM is not a legitimate Christian church.  His story regales us of the experiences he had trying to answer God's call to evangelism first under the auspices of the TSPM, and later under the house church movement.  It is in the latter that Mr. Fu experienced his worst persecution.  He was arrested, spied on, tortured, threatened, and treated badly in other ways.  The stories he tells are really awful.  On the surface it makes you want to pick up your own cross against the Chinese government and demand reform.

The U.S. government hasn't necessarily declared that the TSPM is not a legitimate church.  Instead, the U.S. government's position has settled on the issue of human rights when it comes to how the Chinese government deals with what it would have to call religious dissidents.  The U.S. simply alleges that the Chinese government should be more tolerant of self-professed Christians who rebel against the TSPM.  Stories like Mr. Fu's provide plenty of fodder for the American assertion that it's a human rights issues. 

I don't doubt that the Chinese government is treating people badly.  Bob Fu's book is believable.  It's true.  Clearly when someone tries to spread the gospel in China outside of the auspices of the TSPM, they are likely to suffer incredible consequences doled out by the Chinese government.  So that's disturbing.  But that's the obvious. 

In Romans 13:1-5, the Apostle Paul explained to us that, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.   For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.   The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.   So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience."

I know.  You're thinking to yourself, "He's crazy.  The Chinese government is evil."  You'd be right on the latter part.  But I'm not going to give you crazy just yet.  Hear me out.  The Bible also tells us that evil can be the servant of God.  Satan is serving God right now, for example.  Anyone who knows God knows that He is a purposeful God.  He allows evil to run its course for a reason.  We may not understand that reason, but we can have confidence that the (good) reason is there.  Satan is a servant of God, whether he knows it or not.  So are evil regimes and countries.  (http://www.jimmcguiggan.com/reflections3asp?status=Satan&id=30).

So that takes me to the conclusion that the Chinese government - as evil as it can be - is a servant of God.  This is true whether it wants to be or not.  This is true whether it knows it or not.  In its own perverse way, that government allows worship of the one true God.  In its way, that government allows adults - who are capable of making that choice - to turn to the one true God.  In its way, that government allows parents to pray with their children and teach them the ways of the one true God. 

It may be a communist government.  But if I lived in China, I believe I would try to see how much I could accomplish for the Lord within the Three Self Patriotic Movement church structure.  (Can you believe I just said that?)  It seems to me that more of China's citizens might be impacted if they could see more of Jesus in their daily lives.  But when Christians openly rebel against the government (and flee to America), I wonder how much Jesus the rest of China gets to see.

Like I said, I enjoyed Bob Fu's book.  It's a good read.  But the context disturbs me.  I wonder if open rebellion is the most effective way to honor God when confronted with evil.  I once heard a pastor here in the U.S. say that the best thing that could happen to Christianity in America would be for the government to outlaw it. 

History shows us that persecution has actually been good for the heart of Christ's church.  So in that context, I would have to ask Mr. Fu how many of China's people he is reaching for Christ - now that he has fled the persecution of the Chinese government and lives safely and comfortably in Texas, supported by Americans.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

True Worshippers ... Aren't Late

I'm sure I'm going to get a backlash for writing this.  Let me just acknowledge that up front.  I'm going to call out something so central to Christianity in our culture that someone will have to berate me for it.  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  Or, "Who are you to judge?"  "Judge not, lest you be judged."  Yes, I will get those emails for today's blog.  I fully expect to get some that will remind me that it's better to get there late than not at all.  But I am not persuaded.  After all, it is my blog.

Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know ... Yet a time is coming ... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'  (John 4:22-23)

Maybe I'm taking it a bit out of context here, but what kind of worshipers do you suppose Jesus had in mind here?  What does it mean to worship "in spirit and in truth?"  Does our heavenly Father really seek worshipers at all?  And if He does, what is it about worship that particularly pleases Him? 

Psalm 99 (1-9) sets the tone for me.  "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble ... let the earth shake.  Great is the Lord ... He is holy.  The King is mighty ... Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy."  And that tone is set in the beginning of the Bible and it continues to the end of the Bible.  Just about every single book of the Bible seems to give me clear direction on how I'm supposed to regard the Lord, my God. 

But it's not a tone that we seem to embrace in our regular weekly worship of the Lord.  It happens in my church.  It happens in many churches.  The music starts, the worship begins --- and people stroll in.  They saunter in, quite casually.  In many American churches they have their coffee in hand, or maybe a cold drink. 

Others around them are worshiping the Lord, but they interrupt their worship to greet their friends and give them a hug.  Or they interrupt the worship to get the seat that they want.  I'm truly not judging them.  But for me, there is something going on. 


I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE KING!  How could I consider being late?  It's an ordained time, when people whom God has called to lead me are prepared and ready to take me to a fresh encounter with my Savior.  Honestly, it feels disrespectful not to be early. 

If I have concert tickets or tickets to a sports game or a play, I always get there early.  If we're going to a movie, we always make sure we're there in plenty of time to get our popcorn and get seated during the previews.  Is not the Lord as important as the latest movie or sports game? 

I said that the tone is set in the Bible.  Listen to how it ends.  Look at those worshipers Jesus said the Father is looking for.  "Day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.'  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne ... the twenty-four elders fall down before Him ... They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor ...'"  (Revelation 4:8-11)

Are these the kind of worshipers that you sit beside in your church?  My wife and I, we make it a habit to get to the church on time.  We're usually seated before the music starts playing.  Our church even starts with a song before the worship - and displays a stop watch, counting down the time until the worship will begin.  Usually this is to empty seats.  We often remark how empty the church is.  But then it fills up.  Somehow, between the time that the worship begins and the time that the sermon begins, the 'big house' fills up. 

But was God really honored?  Did He feel the love, while the worship leaders sang to empty seats and the worshipers getting their coffee, dropping their kids a their Sunday school classes, and greeting their friends? 

I want to stop people and ask them, "Do you know who God is?"  I'm teaching a class at my church right now and we recently talked about people whose God is too small.  I suspect that may be the God that most of us are worshiping.  For if we realized His true magnitude, could we dare not be in our seats and ready to give Him praise at the appointed hour?

I love my church and I love its people.  I love my fellow Christians in other churches.  But seriously folks, we are getting this wrong.  Is it possible that we are not the worshipers that our Father wants, but rather that He's being relegated to the worship we want? 

If you're a pastor or worship leader, please consider this an exhortation to confront the bad behavior that you see in your people.  (And I know that you see it!)  Don't be afraid to offend them.  They will be truly offended if God discards them because they never really knew Him.  Don't be afraid to offend them, when they are offensive to Him. 

I'm not saying you have to stop the service and rebuke the late comers.  But maybe you could preach on the subject, and then announce that "from now on," the doors will be closed when worship begins and people can only be seated late during the transitions (from worship to teaching, etc.). 

I remember attending Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan many years ago.  That's exactly what they did.  There were television monitors in the lobby and late comers could watch the worship on the monitors, waiting for a chance to join them.  You were only late once, and you realized you were missing out on something important.

I also remember worshipping at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I was amazed to see people lining up at the locked doors to the worship center.  When the doors opened, it was like a contact sport to see who could claim the seats down front.  (It was very exciting to imagine people that interested in declaring God's greatness!)

But alas, I don't attend those churches.  I attend my church and your church, and the one around the corner.  I attend that church that wants to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, like they matter.  But I worry that in the process, we make God feel the opposite.

Can we as true worshipers, knowing the one true God, ever afford to be late?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

That Moment ... Where Unbelief Is Overtaken

So I'm teaching a class at my church on Saturday mornings.  It's a curriculum about developing the character of Christ within you.  I actually wrote the curriculum - or rather the Lord wrote it through me.  At any rate, this past Saturday's lesson was about examining your ways. 

"Let us examine our ways, and test them.  And let us return to the Lord."  (Lamentations 3:40)

It's a simple enough Bible verse.  But even this teacher recognizes how abstract it seems.  How does one examine his ways?  How does she test her ways?  And when we return to the Lord ... what then?  Why do we return to the Lord?  What do we expect from the Lord?  What does He expect from us?

As it happens, I have considerable experience examining my ways.  You see, I've had some ways, some terrible ways.  I have had some dishonest ways, some sarcastic ways.  Many of my ways were devious and not honorable at all.  They were selfish ways.  They were conceited ways.  Quite honestly, my ways were painful.  They left me with an overall sense - for much of my life - that life wasn't really worth living. 

So anyway, I'm explaining to my class the significance of examining and testing one's ways.  I began to walk them through some examples, using some tools I'd included in the curriculum.  And then it happened.  As I was explaining head knowledge, the Holy Spirit showed up to impart heart knowledge.

Among the many ways that I have had to examine in my life, chief among them was what I believed about myself.  For much of my life, I didn't think I was worthy.  I didn't consider myself to be lovable.  My starting position with everyone was one of victimhood, distrust, cynicism, and pain. 

The Bible tells us that God loves us.  I believed that about you.  I just didn't believe that about me.  My mind could not fathom that fact that God does indeed love me.  I didn't imagine that my wife loved me or anyone else really loved me.  I assumed that my friends were either using me or they didn't really know me.  For if they knew me like I knew me - they surely could not love me. 

To make a long story short, God eventually changed my heart.  He healed my wounded, hurting heart.  But in the process, He had to convince me that I was first loved.  In working through that, I learned an important lesson about belief and unbelief. 

You see, when we believe something or don't believe something, it seems that is not really a choice.  We tend to think of it as a choice.  But consider something that you believe.  Could you imagine not believing it?  Or think of something (or someone) that you just don't believe.  Maybe you'd like to believe them.  You wish you could.  Maybe you want for all you're worth to believe them or believe in them.  But the circumstances just overwhelm you - and you can't. 

This is how it works.  Your belief or your unbelief goes along, firm in its conviction.  But then the truth swamps it.  The evidence becomes overwhelming and that thing or person that you didn't believe?  Well now you can't not believe it!  Or that thing or person that you believed in with the depths of your heart?  Well they've laid open the core of your understanding such that there's nothing you can do to believe now.  You can hope and wish.  You can pray and cry and try with all your might.  But you can't change your beliefs or unbeliefs. 

So it is with our beliefs.  We go along believing them - whether they're true or not.  And it is the same with unbeliefs - where we go along not believing them, whether they're true or not.  Of course we always like to think of ourselves as being in control of our beliefs. 

But my life experience has shown me that this is the core of my concept.  I really don't control my beliefs or my unbelief.  They are victims of truth as it gets revealed to me.  And when truth convinces me, it overtakes my belief - or my unbelief ... and they are forever changed.