November Newsletter Article

The day is almost here.  Tuesday, November 8th is the day we are called upon to go out and vote for our leaders.  The best (but not perfect) Bible verse concerning the importance of voting and the importance of who to vote for may be Deuteronomy 16:18:

You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.  You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.  Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

I say that it’s not perfect since there are some interpretive difficulties in taking a verse giving instructions for Israel when they are entering the promised land and applying it to our representative democracy today!  However, there are some other Bible verses that give us clear instruction regarding how we are to live as Christians regardless of the government we have.

  • We pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
  • We obey our leaders (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
  • But we always recognize that our greatest allegiance is to God, and He comes first (Acts 5:27-29).

In the midst of it all we believe that God is ultimately in control (Daniel 2:20-21), and that He can do as He wishes (Proverbs 2:11).  The issue becomes the difference between what God decrees and what God allows.  God says that certain things will happen and they do!  But other times He works in the midst of our decisions and our choices, because He can still accomplish His will.  Our responsibility then may go back to Deuteronomy 16:18, remembering that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34).”  Please make your decision on November 8th based on prayer, the Word, and a continual reliance upon God’s Spirit.

May newsletter article

I worry about our culture and the Christian response to it.  This issue is an age old one, with many different solutions.  Should we withdraw from culture?  Should we go along with culture?  Do we try to transform culture?  Do we exist in parallel with culture?  My musings were actually brought about by the comments of a football player, whose jersey I regularly wear.  The comments made me wonder if perhaps my allegiance should be elsewhere.  How should I respond?  What should I do, if I do anything at all?

Now some might feel that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.  After all, just because I wear the jersey doesn’t mean that I support everything that they say or do!  True, but perhaps there are role models out there that I would be better off supporting, even if they don’t play for my team!  I remember when Charles Barkley famously said, “I’m not a role model,” and belittled the idea that professional athletes serve as examples for society.  That begs the issue.  We are a celebrity culture, and we like anyone that is humorous, beautiful, wealthy, powerful, or athletic. We follow them on Twitter, and Facebook.  We buy their products.  We go to their movies.  We watch their games.  We support their campaigns.  We wear their jerseys.  And we say something about ourselves when we do.  We say something about who we like, who we support, and who we are.  And we need to remember that we are role models too! 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” We represent Jesus Christ to the world, and it should impact everything that we do.

The answer to my current dilemma is easy: I wear the colors and the logo, but not the jersey.  I support the team, but I don’t necessarily take a stand on the individual.  No, nobody is perfect.  But my responsibility as a Christian is to be and to point people to good examples and godly lifestyles, not end up in a position where I am defending what someone else does simple because I’m a fan.  I need to be a bigger fan of Jesus, which brings a responsibility of its own!  For you see, Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Pushing the boundaries…

There is so much that one could say about the upcoming “50 Shades” movie, but much of it has been written about already.

Here is an excellent article about the movie/book, and this article provides 7 lessons we can learn from the “50 Shades” phenomena.  Finally, here is an interesting read about the possible emotional effects of romance novels.

My best word on the subject comes from the Bible: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

December Newsletter Article

Labels can be extremely important.  If you don’t think so, go ask a diabetic!  But many people are uncomfortable when it comes to labels and Christianity.  There is concerted effort to redefine or change the terminology these days.  It used to be enough to say that there was a difference between being religious and being Christian.  Now you can’t even be a Christian anymore, but you need to be a “Christ-follower.” We’re told that this is not only hip and trendy, but necessary to reach a people that don’t like Christianity or the church anymore.  Some even say that they don’t have a problem with Jesus, just the church!  We’re too judgmental.  We’re too hateful.  We’re too opinionated.

What I find is that most people have a caricature of Jesus, Christianity and the church that they are responding to.  Let’s take Jesus for a minute.  Yes, he is loving and kind.  Yes, he died for us.  But he called out sin.  He even called people names.  He made a whip of cords and drove people out of the temple, probably not once but twice!  Do you have a full picture of who Jesus is?  Does society?

Many people look at the Church or the concept of Christianity and feel physically sick.  They see a constant picture of abuse and neglect.  They think about the people that have harmed them in the past.  They can’t get beyond any of that.  But, from my understanding, most Red Cross meals that are served after a natural disaster are served by Christian organizations.  Food banks are provided by churches.  Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization, is on the forefront of the fight against Ebola in Africa.  Churches offer counseling.  They house community events.  They reach out.  They help provide a sense of belonging and caring that can be so difficult to find in today’s world.

I believe that one of our basic problems today is that we don’t have a real sense of who God is and how he works in the world.  We don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit convinces, that God calls, or that the Bible convicts.  We think that it’s all up to clever marketing, high pressure sales, and a watered down message.  Blame my rant on my current sermon series.  God is Sovereign!  God is in control!

Does that mean we don’t try?  Does that mean we don’t present the gospel?  Does that mean we don’t reach out to people? Of course not!  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.”  We are called to proclaim.  We’re called to be faithful.  We’re called to follow.  But we have to make sure that we understand that God is doing the work, God is doing the calling, God is doing the convincing, and that, try as we might to have an effect through our own power and reasoning, we probably just end up convincing ourselves how clever we are instead of pleasing God.

So, after all is said and done, what am I?  Sure I’m a Christian, but I’m also a protestant, evangelical, Baptist pastor, and I’m not ashamed to say it.  I believe that if we follow God it doesn’t matter what we’re called or what we call ourselves.  I believe that theology is important.  I believe that the gospel is important.  I believe that God is on his throne.  And I think that all of that it important this Christmas.

The Seven People Americans Now Trust More Than Their Pastor (2013)

Views on clergy honesty and ethics hit record low. However, Gallup still finds clergy rank No. 7 out of 22 professions.

Makes you wonder if Hebrews 13:17 matters anymore: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Friendship, Facebook and the 21st Centry

Ok, I know.  It’s been quite a while since my last blog post.  I really should do this more frequently, but I’m not going to promise anything.  Every time that I think that I’m going to do better, I do worse!

Anyway, I just got back from vacation — an almost Facebook free vacation.  There was only one place where we were staying that we even had internet access, so our email, twitter, and facebook time was severely limited.  And you know what?  It was okay!

While we were away, someone wondered on Facebook why people would just delete their accounts and not tell anybody.  I think that I may actually have insight into that…

Facebook isn’t really a place for intimate friendships.  It mimics intimacy while actually breeding superficiality.  You touch base in a few sentences, and people may get the gist of what’s going on in your life, but you can never get very deep.  Intimacy requires time and conversation.  Facebook doesn’t really offer either.  I made the mistake of offering a full dossier of my life to some old college and high school friends who got back in touch with me on facebook, only to find out that they really weren’t that interested!  Most people would rather just have you as a “friend” and get an occasional update.  The problem is as you collect friends, even this superficiality can be overwhelming, and it becomes tempting to just turn it off so that you can work on real relationships.

As an aside, I also spent some time trying to talk to three people sitting on my couch, and all three of them were on their smart phones sending text messages and checking Facebook.  How’s that for Facebook affecting intimacy!?!?!?

Facebook can also be a painful experience.  It can be difficult getting some updates.  Sometimes it’s like watching a train wreck coming in slow motion, and you can’t really do anything about it.  The temptation then is to just stop tuning in.

Some people also post a lot.  Some people are preachy.  Some people put political opinions up constantly (something I’m tempted to do, but don’t — if you only knew all the things I wanted to say but didn’t)!  Some people share inside jokes with their friends, leaving everyone else to feel left out.  All of this can make you feel that Facebook is just too much to deal with.

Facebook, just like the internet at large, can also suck you in.  It can become a huge time waster.  Sometimes you don’t even realize how much time you’re spending, and, when you finally do, you are tempted to just stop doing it!

So, with all the negatives, what could possibly be good about Facebook?

Well, for close friends and family, it can be a way of keeping up on the day to day, especially because you can share photos with others.  Ironically, this is the opposite of the superficiality that I spoke of earlier.  But in the context of an ongoing relationship, Facebook can actually foster growth and intimacy, especially for family that is far away.

Facebook is also something neat to be a part of as a Christian.  We can know what is going on with people, and we can pray for difficulties they are experiencing  and praise God for the good things that He’s doing in their lives.  It’s especially nice because I’m a pastor.  People can know a little bit more about me, and I can know some of the difficulties they are experiencing and be available for them.

So, there you go.  The good and bad of technology in the 21st century.  We work with what we’ve got, and use it for the glory of God.  And, if some people become more than we can handle, we can always just “hide” them rather than deleting them from our friends list or deleting our accounts!