Tuesday, May 19, 2015

JUST AN "ET CETERA"

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Amid the cultural chaos of our day, there are many people who are viewed and treated as those who fall into the category viewed as the “et cetera” group. It is a Latin phrase that grammatically is used mostly in the adverb form to mean: “and others; and so forth; and so on (used to indicate that more of the same sort or class might have been mentioned, but for brevity have been omitted).” It is easy for one’s memory system to block out or deliberately forget unpleasantries of the past. It is even more strange to realize that more than seventy years since the end of World War II in Europe there is new evidence being uncovered that reflects and illustrates atrocities from the distant past. 

In an Associated Press article for May 19, 2015 journalist Liudas Dapkus wrote about: “Lithuanian power grid has dark secret buried in Soviet past.” The report was based upon a gruesome discovery. It was revealed when a simple question was asked and explored: “Why build an electrical substation with granite blocks instead of regular bricks?” In a hands-on investigation, the report states: “When he examined the building more carefully this month, he made a chilling discovery: Dozens of stones had inscriptions in Hebrew or Yiddish.” He said: “I touched the stones and I realized that they're really gravestones…” In another summary statement, he wrote: “Across the street there used to be a Jewish cemetery that was demolished in the 1960s when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union…Posted pictures of his discovery on social media, set off an emotional discussion about a dark chapter in Lithuania's history that didn't end when a Nazi occupation was replaced by a Soviet one in 1944. Lithuania's once-vibrant Jewish community was nearly annihilated by the Nazis and the few who survived found little sympathy from their new communist rulers. Hitler wanted to destroy Jews physically…Stalin came, and he wanted to destroy the whole memory of the Jewish people, making sure that nothing will stay.”

While there are other illustrations of the atrocity and subsequent desecrations, in summary, “The issue has touched a raw nerve in a country that has been accused of not confronting the role some Lithuanians played in killing Jews during the 1941-44 Nazi occupation. More than 90 percent of Lithuania's prewar Jewish population of 240,000 was killed…In the Soviet Union there were no Jews because there was just one people, the Soviet people…It was a friendship between the Lithuanians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Russians, et cetera, The Jews were among the et cetera.” Just a question for reflection: Are the Biblical Christians currently being marginalized and relegated to the et-cetera classification? 

Franklin Graham has been outspoken and quoted widely regarding: “We're Losing Our Country…The Foundations of This Country Are Collapsing.” His concern is that so-called Christians will be persecuted similarly to that which is occurring in the Middle East. We would do well to note that as Jesus prepared His disciples for life and ministry after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, He stated: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours…” (John 15:18-20 - ESV). Jesus was preparing them for their marginalization, persecution and being viewed as expendable and part of the “et cetera” group that was not wanted or needed in/amid the cultural chaos. 

What will you do as that day approaches? Will you take your stand for Jesus Christ and let Him be magnified in you by life or by death (Philippians 1:20)? Are you willing to be identified with those who marginalized because of their faith? Could you endure when you are relegated to being part of the “et cetera” group? Will you be one who betrays a Biblical Christian so you can preserve your life for a bit longer? How real is YOUR Christian faith? Consider thee things with me!

Monday, May 18, 2015

WHY GO TO CHURCH TO BE BORED?

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An article in The Blaze, May 13, 2015 written by Matt Walsh was titled: “Maybe Christianity In America Is Dying Because It’s Boring Everyone To Death.” He begins with: “I recently attended a service that might help solve the riddle of the fantastic decline of American Christianity.” His entire article should be read to understand the context of his opinions and analysis (http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/maybe-christianity-in-america-is-dying-because-its-boring-everyone-to-death/). You may conclude that he is caustic in his approach and views the church with a jaundiced eye. However, some of his points deserve to be considered. 

About the music in the church service, he wrote: “Finally, church started. The choir, or jam band for Jesus, or whatever it was, played a song that sounded like a cross between a 90′s Disney soundtrack and an easy listening favorite you might hear if you skimmed through your aunt’s second generation iPod. It wasn’t really contemporary, or good, or relevant, but at least it wasn’t traditional. Because YUCK! Tradition is old! The singer was relatively talented, but he carried on like an American Idol contestant. I got the impression that he was fishing for applause, not worshiping the Lord of the Universe. His style and demeanor said “talent show” but the music said “wine and cheese festival” or maybe “my dentist’s waiting room.” It definitely didn’t say “truth,” or “heaven,” or “the Great King sitting upon his throne amidst throngs of mighty angels.”

As he listened to the pastor, he opined: “The pastor began with another round of jokes. They weren’t very funny but they succeeded in being unserious, which I guess is close enough. The sermon was jam packed with youth slang and pop culture. He mentioned a couple of TV shows and Netflix. He made sports metaphors. He didn’t do anything with the references, he just hung them out there like we were supposed to be impressed that he knows about these things. I think he even said something about Angry Birds. Dated, sure, but it did the job of letting us know that the guy speaking also used a smart phone at some point in the last five years. He totally gets us! The word Gospel made maybe one appearance in his message. The words truth, sacred, reverence, sin, hell, virtue, obedience, and duty were conspicuously absent, just as they’re absent from most sermons delivered in most churches, everywhere in the country. Of course he did throw in a friendly helping of friend. And tolerance. Obviously tolerance. It’s important to only preach the sort of principles we can practice from our couches, you know.”

Is the writer correct in his assessment? What about the church you attend? Is it on the cutting edge of the culture or is it just “another day at the office” and ho-hum type of service? I have the privilege of visiting some of the smaller churches that contain a shrinking membership. Some press on to call another pastor for their church without ever pausing to ask themselves: Why? Questions that are seldom asked are: What is your calling in ministry? What is your motivation in wanting to be considered for this particular church? What is your vision for ministry? Is it an overall vision that has been used in other pastoral opportunities? Do you view ministry as a job that offers an acceptable salary? Why would you want to move yourself and your family into this area? Have you assessed the demographics of the area? Is the seeking church open and willing to do cross-cultural ministry? Have they done so - ever? Is Romans 15:20, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” your goal in ministry? Is the seeking congregation plugged into that approach for ministry? What are they doing now in that regard? An overall assurance in terms of ministry effort for the Head of the Church is Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The goal and purpose for ministry is given by Jesus Christ (John 4:23-24), “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” May that be the aim and heart-cry of The Church today! Consider these things with me!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

CONTEXTUAL CLARITY

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A text out of its context is a pretext. An example of this occurred when the President took a Biblical phrase out of its context to champion another of his socialistic programs. He was at Georgetown University and part of a panel discussion on Poverty. The President’s comment was: "I think it’s important when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty for us to guard against cynicism, and not buy the idea that the poor will always be with us and there’s nothing we can do -- because there’s a lot we can do. The question is do we have the political will, the communal will to do something about it.”

The context of that phrase is Matthew 26:1-13. It is amid the efforts of those who wanted to put Jesus to death. As Jesus is speaking with His disciples, a woman appears and pours perfume on Him. When the disciples question the wastefulness of such an act because they felt it could’ve been sold and the monies distributed to the poor, Jesus said: “You always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial” (Matthew 26:11-12). 

The Pulpit Commentary shares the following thoughts: Verse 11 - “You have the poor always with you. St. Mark adds, ‘and whensoever you will you may do them good.’ This was in strict accordance with the old Law: ‘The poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land' (Deuteronomy 15:11). The existence of the poor gives scope for the exercise of the graces of charity, benevolence, and self-denial; and such opportunities will never be wanting while the world lasts. Me you have not always; i.e. in bodily presence. When He speaks of being with His Church always to the end, He is speaking of his Divine presence. His human body, His body of humiliation, was removed from the sight and touch of men, and He could no longer be received and welcomed and succored as heretofore. In a different and far more effectual mode He would visit His faithful servants by a spiritual presence which should never fail or be withdrawn. To the objectors he would say, "You will no longer have opportunity of honoring Me in My human form; why, then, do you grudge the homage now paid Me for the last time?”

From the original languages (Clarke’s Commentary), the force of what was done and the purpose  of what Jesus is saying  is: “You have the poor always with you - And, consequently, have the opportunity of doing them good at any time; but me you have not always; My bodily presence is about to be removed from you forever. The woman, aware of  My imminent death, is preparing Me for my burial. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. The Amplified intent is: “She has done it to embalm me - ενταφιασαι με. The Septuagint uses ενταφιαϚης for the person whose office it was to embalm, (Genesis 50:2)  and ενταφιαζω for the Hebrew הנט which signifies to prepare with spices, or aromatics, (Genesis 50:3). Our Lord took this opportunity to tell them, once more, that he was shortly to die.”

The primary focus of the text is on the nearing death and burial of Jesus Christ. The secondary application is the ongoing generational care of those who are truly poor (and not entitlement oriented). The follower of Christ should not just throw money or stuff in the direction of the poor. It is an opportunity to display charity and to be graciously benevolent. We should always have in mind, the faithful provisions of God to us and a readiness to share with those who are destitute, without human resources, neglected, poor, helpless and hopeless. Consider these things with me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WHEN STORM CLOUDS GATHER

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To suggest that we are living amid transformative times would be an understatement. The world is in a state of tumult. Nations are involved in unimaginable atrocities. Threats and dangers of nuclear proliferation are resounding across the Middle East. Treaties and national boundaries are inconsequential. Europe is marked by a wave of disunity and suspicion. Asia, especially China, is a giant casting its shadow of uncertainty and unrest globally. The generational restraints on Communism, Cuba, have been removed by a mere executive order of a sitting U. S. President.  Cities in America are seeing an increased number of protest marches and rioting. The destruction of property is somewhat condoned (as per Baltimore, MD). An anti-civil authority, especially against law enforcement, is becoming more pronounced. 

A popular song that captured the American imagination was written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and revised in 1938. He first wrote the lyric while serving in the Army during World War I. As Europe began to experience Germany’s expansion that would soon include Great Britain and later involve America, he revised his lyric to fit the threat and lurking dangers. The stanza that introduces that which was construed as a national prayer is:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
The prayer follows his concerns regarding the Gathering Storm Clouds:
God bless America, land that I love
Stand behind her and guide her, Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans white with foam
God bless America - My home sweet home.

The question for our day and the cultural shifts of our day is: Will God be obligated to bless any nation that has forsaken Him and violated His standards? The United States has both ignored and forgotten the clarity and preciseness of the observant Almighty God. God has recorded in His Word: “The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught. The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:15-17, ESV). When any nation or people fail to take a serious God seriously, there are and will be repercussions. God will not sit idly by as wickedness is gaining a foothold.  An additional assessment of Israel is applicable to the conditions that are prevailing in the United States. Can the United States be exempt from God’s judgments? In Isaiah 5:14-15 (NLT) are these vivid words: “The grave is licking its lips in anticipation, opening its mouth wide. The great and the lowly and all the drunken mob will be swallowed up. Humanity will be destroyed, and people brought down; even the arrogant will lower their eyes in humiliation.”


Are we a nation that has forgotten God? If you plead that you are unaware, read the latest Pew Research released this week (http://www.religionnews.com/2015/05/12/christians-lose-ground-nones-soar-new-portrait-u-s-religion/). Christianity is on the decline. Church attendance is also declining. More and more people from all age groups have “had it” with the Church today. They are “done” with the traditionalism and impersonal nature of the Church. Others are among the “none” who have decided to seek other paths for personal fulfillment. The “done” and “none” are unlikely to return to the traditional Church and its dormant routines.  It is past time for us to wake up to the reality of our times! Consider these things with me!

Friday, May 1, 2015

HIJACKING THE LANGUAGE

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One of the trends within the contemporary culture is redefinition of words and terms. The latest attempt is with the word “thug” (a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer). Those who are contributing to the widening racial divide in the United States are now suggesting an equivalency of “thug” with the “N”-word. A direct derivative of “thug” is the noun,  “hoodlum” and the Thesaurus possibilities also include the synonyms: (a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the language): “bandit, bully, criminal, gangster, hood, rioter, rowdy, troublemaker, delinquent, ruffian, gang member, hired killer, professional killer.” The particular synonyms that stand out are: (1) Bully - “to be loudly arrogant and overbearing; to intimidate and domineer.” (2) Rioter - “violent or wild disorder or confusion; an unbridled outbreak; to take part in a riot or disorderly public outbreak.” (3) Troublemaker - “a person who causes difficulties, distress, and worry for others, especially one who does so habitually; a matter of malice.” The synonyms for “troublemaker” are: “instigator, fomenter, inciter, rabble-rouser.”

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He was soon viewed as a “rabble-rouser” or as one who had a political agenda. This was also the case for the Apostles after Jesus had ascended into Heaven. There is sone indication of this suspicion and reaction in Acts 5:17-18 (ESV), “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” Miraculously, the Apostles are freed from prison by an Angel of the Lord. Verse 23 expresses the officer’s perplexity when they report to the high priest, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” As the high priest ponders incarceration or some other physical restraint, Gamaliel, a Teacher stood up and gave the following orders: “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men..I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! So they took his advice.”

As a contemporary Biblical Christian living in the twenty-first century culture of changing values and vocabulary, how would you respond to threats, beatings, imprisonments and directions to cease and desist living the Biblical Christian life, as well as maintaining silence about the Gospel? What would you do? This should be the time to review and renew your commitment stated in Philippians 1:20-21, 27-30 (ESV) where Paul reminds the people of God,  “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents…For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

The words of Paul to the Church at Philippi should resonate with the twenty-first century Church. Overall, the visible Church has been too accommodating and complicit with the cultural trends and demands of the day. Is there any occasion where the Bible suggests or allows that the visible Church can set aside the foundational principles and moral values of the Holy Scriptures. Did Elijah do it with King Ahab and Jezebel? Did Daniel and his friends do it before the Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar? Did John the Baptist do it before King Herod? Did Paul shrink back from King Agrippa? Did Peter cower before the menacing acts of Nero and the power of Rome? We cannot and should not allow the reprobate climate of our times to cause us to cringe before the thugs and bullies of our times. In the first century, when Polycarp stood before the Governor, who “still went on pressing him. Take the oath…Revile your Christ. Polycarp replied: Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” And with that response ringing in their ears, Polycarp was burned at the stake. Should we be or do any less in the twenty-first century than Polycarp willingly did in the first century? Consider these things with me! 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A HOLE IN THE HULL

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How does a once great nation become just another casualty of the human race in cultural denial and decline? What role can the Church and Biblical Christian have in times such as these? Can either become complicit with the culture and begin to adapt and condone that which a Sovereign and Holy God has condemned? Where is the voice of clarity? Who will stand for that which is right and acceptable to the Lord of lords and the King of kings?  

The culture that has been adrift for several years has decided to cut a hole in the hull. If it was just one small hole, temporary repairs could be made to keep the ship of state afloat. However, when there is a persistence in cutting holes in the hull, it becomes an improbable and impossible to prevent the ship of state from sinking. For the past two generations, there has been a constancy of eroding values and dismissiveness of foundational principles and moral values in America. For a brief while, the ship of state seemed to be listing toward the left as it championed the removal of Prayer and Bible Reading in the Public Schools, the attempted removal of Christ from Christmas, the legalization of abortion on demand and the legalization of marijuana and likely other mood modifiers. This has brought the culture to another crossroad moment before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), same gender marriage. What will the court do and what will they decide. This court is divided equally between the more liberal versus those who are mostly conservative. While the culture and Church has been sleeping, or attempting to play both ends against the middle, the dictionary definition (dictionary.com) has already been modified to define marriage as: “(broadly) any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially, granting the participating partners mutual conjugal rights and responsibilities and including, for example, opposite-sex marriage, same-sex marriage, plural marriage, and arranged marriage.”

They are not calculating that by so doing they will sink there own ship. Regarding the Solicitor General for POTUS and Company, Religion News Service (religionnews.com) reports: “Arguing on behalf of the Obama administration, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli framed the case — and the very nature of marriage — in the broadest possible terms. What I would suggest is that in a world in which gay and lesbian couples live openly as our neighbors, they raise their children side by side with the rest of us, they contribute fully as members of the community, that it is simply untenable...to suggest that they can be denied the right of equal participation in an institution of marriage, or that they can be required to wait until the majority decides that it is ready to treat gay and lesbian people as equals, he said. Gay and lesbian people are equal, said Verrilli. They deserve equal protection of the laws, and they deserve it now.”

In Jeremiah 50:33-40, we read about God’s condemnation and judgment of Babylon because of their cultural choices and their offensive ways. “Thus says the Lord of hosts…All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon. A sword against the Chaldeans, declares the Lord, and against the inhabitants of Babylon, and against her officials and her wise men! A sword against the diviners, that they may become fools! A sword against her warriors, that they may be destroyed! A sword against her horses and against her chariots, and against all the foreign troops in her midst, that they may become women! A sword against all her treasures, that they may be plundered…For it is a land of images, and they are mad over idols…She shall never again have people, nor be inhabited for all generations. As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities, declares the Lord, so no man shall dwell there, and no son of man shall sojourn in her.” Is this applicable to the United States of America and the cultural choices being made and the trends that are bringing about departure from the Lord and His standards? Have we become Babylon? Consider these things with me.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

OPTICS AND ILLUSIONS

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One of the fascinating experiences is to observe a skilled Magician captivate his audience with his sleight of  hand technique and skill at diverting the attention of the audience away from the actual trick that is about to take place. This gives rise to the use of the term Optical Illusion. When applied in other areas of real life, the idea of Optics and Illusions has an entirely different use and meaning. An informed person will listen to a News analyst of a Politician and be subjected to their optics and version of events. It may not always be in agreement with that which is actually occurring but it is a narrative developed and stated in a way to divert attention away from Optics to that of Illusion. In other words, giving life and meaning to the phrase: “Are you going to believe your lying eyes or what I am saying?”

In a rapidly changing and chaotic culture in a contemporary world, optics are more fabricated than actual. Politicians create a narrative about an opponent. Many times, the truth is sacrificed in the hope that the listening audience will believe the narrative (in this case, the illusion) rather the optics (that which is correct and true). In legal cases, the exceptional Lawyer can create a narrative about the defendant  and tell the Jurors a story he wants them to accept and believe. The idea is to create elements of doubt in some Juror’s mind so the defendant will be deemed not-guilty. On the other hand, the Prosecutor must dispel the Defense Attorney’s narrative by presenting the overwhelming facts and evidence that should cause the Juror to determine Guilt.

In the area of Religion, the use of Optics and Illusions is present in most churches. The influential and wealthy are deemed to be “heaven-bound-Christians” solely on the basis of their person and presence. It matters little if such individuals are authentic Biblical Christians. I was Pastor of a Church years ago where the most prominent individual in the congregation would refer to the ordinary people attending as “those little people.” As Treasurer of the Church, he would sometimes refer to them as the “dollar-giver people” and that if wasn’t for him the Church would not be able to maintain itself. As a brash young Pastor, I suggested he keep his money and that we would sink or swim with the “dollar people.” It was difficult to operate without the larger offering but the Lord met our needs and provided for His Church.

Matthew 25 affords one with a classic illustration of Optics and Illusions. It is the judgment scene where Jesus speaks of the separation of the sheep from the goats. In verses 41 through 45, those who were more oriented to “illusions” rather than the actual “optics” hear these words from Jesus Christ: “He will also say to those on His left, Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. Then they will answer, Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You? Then He will answer them, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”  Are you a person who has invented a personal narrative to impress others that you are a self-made “Christian” (illusion) or have you come to Jesus Christ on His terms and the product of your life and actions model that you are a Biblical Christian (optic)? Consider these things with me!