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We experienced two tragedies this week. On Thursday I saw an alert on Facebook that a church in Adell was on fire. The name didn’t sound familiar, but given the size of the community, I only knew of one church: Adell Community Church, pastored by a friend, Mike Wiley. A few minutes later, I received an email from the Weatherford Ministerial Alliance’s president asking for us to pray for Mike and the church. I called him later and he said that their new sanctuary had all but burned to the ground.

The next day was Friday and we heard the news of the second deadliest mass murder in American history: twenty 5- and 6-year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT had been killed by a sick man. It was an evil act. Of course, Facebook and Twitter were ablaze from both sides of the gun control debate. So many pundits were politicizing the tragedy even before the bodies were removed from the school. One of the wisest things I saw was a Tweet from Glenn Beck:

Our society is broken. Our communities are suffering and it is because of the ever expanding lack of self-control & personal responsibility. It’s not the gun. It is the soul.

A high school friend commented, “I don’t know if God exists. But if he does, I’m not keen on worshipping someone who lets twenty young children die.” In a later comment, she said, “If we have an omnipotent being regarding us all, he’s either doing a [horrible] job or doesn’t love us as advertised.” Her comments typify the response most of us have as we try to wrap our brains around the problem of evil.

As I studied and prayed through Friday and Saturday, I came across an excellent post from Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. I highly recommend reading his response.

This morning, I responded to these tragedies from the pulpit. My sermon’s thesis statement was that we will find Jesus in tragedy when we confidently trust in God’s absolute sovereignty.

I remember a discussion in our Christian Ethics class in seminary. The professor said that when wrestling with these issues, we are tempted to deny one of three things:

  • God is all-loving
  • God is all-good
  • God is all-powerful

But to take a Biblical approach, we must affirm all three points. We don’t have to understand why God does all that He does. He doesn’t owe us any explanations and He doesn’t have to get our permission. Our task is to trust that He is all-loving, He is all-good, and he is all-powerful. He’ll take care of the rest.

If God were small enough to be understood He would not be big enough to be worshipped. —Evelyn Underhill

 

What do you think about this tragedy? How we should approach this subject from a Christian perspective?

I am interested in hearing your comments below.

 

 

As I type this on the morning after the 2012 General Elections, I am physically sick to my stomach. Not because “my guy” didn’t win. I feel sick because of where I see us as a nation and where we are heading as a nation. We are getting what we have asked for. And we deserve exactly what we are getting.

I don’t claim to have the spiritual gift of prophecy, but this is what I see in the coming months and years:

Homosexuality will continue to be paraded in the public square. “Gay marriage” will continue to garner support, either blatantly, or through laissez-faire attitudes by heterosexuals.

Abortion on demand will continue to be “legal and safe”. But it won’t be rare. More babies will be killed (at taxpayer expense), and more women will suffer the physical and emotional consequences of abortion.

First Amendment Religious and Free-Speech Liberties will continue to erode. Religious institutions and other organizations that are pro-life in nature, or pro-life in the organization’s leaders’ beliefs will be required to provide insurance that covers abortion/abortifacients (abortion-causing drugs).

Second Amendment Liberties will be restricted, either through the banning of certain weapons, or through the taxation of weapons and/or ammunition.

Several Supreme Court Justices will be replaced, resulting in decades of even more left-leaning decisions.

As of December 31, 2012, United States citizens will arrive at the “fiscal cliff”, seeing tax increases and cuts to our military and other programs such as Medicare. With President Obama’s reelection and continued Democrat control in the US Senate, our elected leaders will not feel obligated to address these issues — and the US House will have no authority to do so on their own. Our deficit will continue to increase exponentially, increasing the tax burden on our children, grandchildren for generations to come, as we spend more and more of what we don’t have. The result: the “recovery” trumpeted by the Democrats for the past few years will fall into another recession or worse.

Free Market Capitalism will be more restricted through increased government regulation. More workers will be laid off — or their status will be reduced to “part time” status — as employers seek to avoid the increased costs of providing mandated healthcare for their fulltime employees or fines if they don’t.

 

In short, our nation will continue to become much more different than what we have been accustomed to.

 

Our Mandate for 2012 and Beyond

It is incumbent on all Christians to pray.

Paul commands that we pray for all those in authority (1Timothy 2:1-2). If we haven’t been, we must begin to pray for our leaders. If we have been praying for them, we must not stop praying. We must pray more, not just that we get our way, but that God will bring us back to Himself, His ways, and his purposes.

“My people” in 2Chroinicles 7:14 applies to all of God’s people, not just the Nation of Israel, led by Solomon in that passage. In fact, the context of 2Chronicles 6-7, if God’s people fail to follow Him, He would bring calamity to them. If “My people” respond in repentance, then He would hear their prayer and bring restoration.

We are in 2Chronicles 7:13, 22. May we be brought back to experience 2Chronicles 7:1-4.

 

May God have mercy on us!

I recently posted a link on Facebook to “‎10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate Is Never Asked by the Media”: http://ow.ly/eM9ND. A friend responded that most pro-lifers appeal to Scriptural rhetoric. Since he wasn’t well versed in Scripture, he asked if I could enlighten him on the biblical basis of life beginning as conception and not at first breath? That’s a GREAT question!

Note: I am choosing to talk about what I am FOR (i.e., life) as opposed to what I am AGAINST (i.e., abortion). If we do not begin from this perspective, we will not realize the moral ramifications of abortion.

The Pro-Life issue can easily be explained on a scientific basis, including a detectable heartbeat at 61/2-7 weeks. But what does the Bible say about when life begins?

Anyone familiar with the Ten Commandments has heard the Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder. Murder is defined as the taking of an innocent life, as opposed to capital punishment, which the Bible prescribes in specific cases. That’s all well and good if we’re talking about murdering another person. But what about an unborn baby? Is an unborn baby a “person”?

Psalm 139:13-16 is probably the most often quoted Bible passage regarding this issue, where we’re told that the psalmist recognized that God knew his unformed body and he was knit together in his mother’s womb. Actually, the word translated “unformed substance” is used only here in the Hebrew Bible, and means “embryo” (Hebrew golem).

In Jeremiah 1:5, Jeremiah says that God consecrated him for his ministry before he was born.

Jacob and Esau are said to have fought in Rebekah’s womb in Genesis 25:22. Genesis 25:26 adds that Jacob was grabbing Esau’s heel as they were delivered.

Luke 1:41 speaks of John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb when Jesus’ mother came to visit John’s mother Elizabeth. Dr. Luke (a physician) calls Elizabeth’s son a baby (Greek brephos).

Perhaps one of the most clear statements about personhood before birth is in Job 10:18-19 where Job says he wishes he had died before he was born. Further, he says he wishes that he had never come into being. Job certainly recognized life before birth! After all, how can one die if one is not alive?

Perhaps the most striking statement is when Jeremiah mentions being killed in the womb in Jeremiah 20:17. Again, how can one be killed in the womb if one isn’t living?

Perhaps these passages aren’t enough to convince someone about personhood before birth. A look at how the Bible addresses injury or death of an unborn baby would be helpful.

Exodus 21:21-25 does just that. If two men are fighting and it causes the premature birth of a healthy baby, the father determines the punishment the guilty party with a fine. However, if the mother or baby is injured, the punishment is to be met in like kind. Specifically, if the mother dies, or if the baby is stillborn, the one/ones who caused the death is to be put to death.

Clearly, the biblical writers, under God’s direction, spoke consistently from a pro-life worldview; they recognized and protected life through the continual development from conception and birth.

 

Implications

If an unborn baby is a “person”, then it logically follows that terminating the pregnancy of an unborn (or partial-born) baby is murder. Since the Bible makes no distinction between a baby inside the womb and one outside the womb, there are moral ramifications we must address regarding abortion. Perhaps this is why many people insist on using euphemisms for abortion, or why they try to deny that life begins at conception in order to make their position more palatable.

 

1. In the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, Senator Joe Biden said that his personal, Roman Catholic pro-life beliefs do not dictate his public, political actions. He didn’t think it was right to force his personal beliefs on other people. Indeed, Senator Biden and many other Catholic member of Congress have voted consistently against the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance on abortion.

Because the issue of life is so important, we must strive to consistently defend and follow the Bible’s pro-life stance against abortion. Is it not hypocritical to attempt to separate our personal religious beliefs from our public positions? Truly, what someone proclaims in the public square betrays the true beliefs of the heart, regardless what they may say otherwise.

 

2. If life does begin at conception, and if taking the life of the unborn is murder, then we must take such truths into account, even in the “hard case” questions. In fact, we must begin with the question of when does life begin in order to properly answer those “hard case” questions.

 

3. The Bible commands Believers to love the Lord with all of our heart. Is it really possible to love God with all of our heart if our heart is in stark opposition to the pro-life heart of God?

 

4. Finally, does abortion disqualify someone from being a Christian? What about a person who has either had or paid for an abortion? What about the abortion provider? What about those who support abortion through the legislative process or through voting for politicians who do?

 

I thank God that my qualification for being a Christian is not limited by what I have done or by what I have not done! My qualification for being a Christian is because of what Jesus did! The same is true for anyone else who claims to be a Christian. That being said, however, what I do and what I do not do can reveal where my heart is, and how seriously I want to follow Him. May God give His children a heart to passionately follow His heart in these issues!

 

Christians, let’s stand for life!

 

I will publish all comments that deal with the issues I have discussed. I will not tolerate “flaming”, name-calling, foul language, etc.

 

A member of our church, away at college, messaged me on Facebook, asking what I thought about “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. The question was accompanied with the comment that this individual didn’t think that it was necessarily right for a preacher to endorse a candidate from the pulpit.

I thought other people might be interested in my response, so I’m putting it here.

In generations past, people looked to pastors for leadership on moral issues. Not only that, but they expected their spiritual leaders to take a stand. However, since 1954, preachers have been bullied into silence on many moral issues. As an example, prior to last week, I received a letter from an organization that warned pastors to be careful in our preaching leading up to the Presidential Election.

First, a little background. “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” seeks to challenge the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code 501(c)(3). In 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the IRS code in order to silence some of his critics. Basically the amendment says that nonprofit organizations (churches, etc.) cannot endorse political candidates. Since that time, nonprofits have been threatened with revocation of their status if they violate the provision. The amendment never been tested in court.

Since 2008, the Alliance Defending Freedom has encouraged pastors to preach messages on Pulpit Freedom Sunday that address moral issues, including speaking to where the candidates stand on those issues. They have encouraged the pastors to even record their sermons and send the recordings to the IRS in order to bait them into revoking the church’s nonprofit status. The next step would be for the Alliance Defending Freedom to sue the IRS, challenging the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment. The ADF has offered to represent participating pastors and churches pro bono for exercising their First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.

I understand my member’s s concern about a preacher endorsing a candidate from the pulpit. After all, people go to church to hear what God says through His Word. But what should a preacher do if a political candidate or political party’s position differs from clear Biblical teachings?

It’s safe to say that everybody who attends our church knows who I’m voting for and who I think they should vote for — even without my saying his name. I have provided several resources that lay out the very clear differences between the Democrat & Republican platforms (and thus the candidates) on some key moral issues.

A week prior to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I told the church that I would be no more and no less political than any other Sunday. In my sermon on God’s Name “Adonai” (Master, Lord), I emphasized that embracing the Lordship of God has consequences in life decisions, specifically in the voting booth. I didn’t need to come out and say “vote Republican” or “vote Democrat”. However, I did say that how one votes reveals one’s core beliefs about the authority of the Bible and the key issues in this year’s Presidential race — regardless of what one may claim otherwise.

The Democrat platform is in CLEAR opposition to the Biblical teachings of the sanctity of innocent human life, and marriage between one man and one woman. The Republican platform has denounced abortion on demand and “gay marriage”. Now, having said that, if someone says that they believe in the authority of the Bible, their choice for President has already been decided. If they vote otherwise, their belief in the Bible’s authority for their life can legitimately be called into question.

A preacher doesn’t have to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. All he needs to do is expose how the moral issues are addressed by the clear teachings of the Bible. Groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have volunteered to come alongside churches if our nonprofit status is revoked by the IRS due to exercising our First Amendment Rights.

It’s time for preachers to boldly and confidently stand up to the bullies and speak to the moral issues of our day.

 

A few years ago, I was inaccurately labeled an “antinomian” by a friend. An antinomian is someone who believes that Christians are not obligated to obey any moral law. It was an incorrect label, because I believe that while Christians are not under the Law, but under Grace, we are obligated to the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

We are not to use grace as a license to live however we want (Gal 5:13). The very fact that Paul and other church leaders used imperative (i.e., commands) and subjunctive (i.e., “let us…”) verb tenses in their epistles proves that there are some things that believers should do. A problem arises when we confuse cultural mandates and Biblical mandates.

A case in point: Going to church.

Meeting with other believers is very important. In fact it is necessary if we intend to grow in our faith. Our meeting together helps others grow in their faith, too. (Heb 10:24-25). But does this mean that we have to be in church every time the doors are open?

In many churches, there are multiple opportunities to meet for church services and Bible studies each week. Should church members be at the church building for all of these opportunities? I have seen people act extremely judgmental when somebody misses church. However, “twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday” is a relatively modern tradition. For instance, Sunday School was started in the 1780s to provide religious education to children on their one day off from work in the factories, as well as to keep the children from getting into trouble with the law on their day off. A mandate to be in Sunday School every Sunday is hardly a Biblical mandate!

On several occasions, a church member has approached me, apologizing for not being at a church service or Bible study due to sickness, exhaustion from working the previous night, etc. I have often responded with something like, “No need to apologize; you were where you were supposed to be.”

This may not sound like something you would expect a pastor to say, but I sincerely believe that it’s ok to not be in church every time the church doors are open. However, this isn’t to say that people don’t need to go to church.  But sometimes people need to be in their bed instead of church. Sometimes.

It comes down to a heart issue.

John 10:27 tells us that we are responsible to hear and obey Jesus’ voice.

If a Christian feels they have no obligation to go to church at all, or only when it’s “convenient”, I would wonder about their commitment to grow in their faith and what “church membership” means to them. I would encourage them to listen to their Master and obey with all their heart.

However, if a Christian occasionally needs to recover from a long night at work, or wants to be at the deer lease on opening day of deer season (once a year), I would encourage them to listen to their Master and obey with all their heart.