election_2012

God Voted Obama

As I lay down to go to sleep last night I thought to myself, “What is the best way to respond to those I lead this week regarding the electoral decisions of our nation in this 2012 campaign.” A couple of hours earlier a member of the church had texted me asking, “Well, any words of encouragement, pastor?” My immediate thought and response was, “Jesus is the King of kings!” So as I faded into unconsciousness a reoccurring thought swirled in my mind, “God Voted Obama.”

I received an email this evening with the subject, “THE SADDEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE U.S.” The email happens to be from someone I do not know who somehow had placed me on their distribution list many months ago and instead of actually unsubscribing I’ve consistently just delete his messages, but this one caught my attention. After reading the opening sentence (that’s as much as I could handle), I once again began thinking “God Voted Obama.” The failure of the author to recognize God’s active involvement in the affairs of men is startling to me, but gives me some further insight into his theology.

I realize that what I’m about to say will not be popular with the largely evangelical, center-right crowd that will likely read this post, but I’m convinced it’s scripturally supported and worthy of consideration.

In the 6th century B.C. the Nation of Judah was led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. There are a number of contributing reasons for Judah’s captivity, but one of the major ones was Israel’s unwillingness to obey God’s command for sabbath rest. Every seven years the land was to lay fallow, but in Israel’s greedy desire for ever increasing yields, they disobeyed the sabbath rest for 490 years. Thus God required 70 years of rest for His land, which translated into 70 years of captivity for disobedient Israel, as they worked as slaves under the taskmasters of Babylon. This is just one of several such instances in the Old Testament. God is very serious about righteousness and justice. He does not take lightly disobedience. The blessings and curses of the commands still apply and are, I believe, generally applicable to all humanity.

For many years our nation has greedily pursued ever increasing yields. We’ve selfishly sought for extravagant abundance and idolized the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Our bent toward instant gratification has, in recent times, pushed us to do so with little thought for the long-term costs and consequences. After more than a generation and a half of such pursuit we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that “tomorrow will be as today and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:12).

Furthermore, as of December 23, 2011, a staggering 78% of Americans self-identify as Christians (Gallup). Obviously there are a number of cultural guilt factors that play into people identifying as Christians when asked. Be that as it may, there is good reason to believe that the 78% have at least some connection to Christianity in their past. Yet the scriptural exhortations to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), do justly, love mercy and walk in humility (Micah 6:8) have done little to stir our social engagement and curb our indolent pride.

With these things in mind I wonder; is it not possible that we’ve been given the government that will reprove and correct — even if it be by taxation — our unroghteous behavior? Is it possible that the church’s abdication of social responsibility has created a vacuum that someone or something must fill? The government being the logical “something?”

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like taxes per se. Nor am I a fan of individual mandates or social safety-nets hung upon deficits and debt. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and think loving charity is far more noble than begrudging taxation any day of the week. But if we indeed believe that promotion comes from The Lord (Psalm 75:6-7) and that there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1), then perhaps we should consider why God has given us the leaders we’ve elected? Before we tune in to Foxnews and Glenn Beck, maybe we should hearken the Prayer of Daniel…

1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.
8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;
10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.
14 Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.
15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.

Daniel 9:1-19

Let me end by affirming my heartfelt prayer for President Obama; for the president he defeated a mere 24 hours ago has left him with one heck of an economic mess.

 

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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

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Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

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Chick-Fil-A-Melee

Last week, pictures circulated Facebook encouraging people to support Chick-Fil-A on August 1.  Initially, I didn’t notice the cause because it doesn’t take much to convince me to eat tasty food!  With this attitude, I shared one of the pictures with this statement: “This sounds like a great excuse to eat Chick-Fil-A to me!”  I had no idea the firestorm I was about to walk into.  I was blindsided by the outrage and attacks that came from some of my friends who hold values different than my own.

So much has been published about last week’s event that I wonder if I can actually contribute any new or pertinent ideas to this discussion.  Joe Dallas wrote “To My Angry Gay Friend” which I believe is the best Christian response to the LGBT community I have read.  I however have no intention of composing an apologetic post to last week’s event, but will attempt to express some thoughts that I think are particularly important to pastors and Christians as we navigate these interesting times.

Christ Crucified.

In this discussion, along with other hot buttons in our culture, I have seen Christian leaders opt out of the conversation for the sake keeping Christ crucified as the only message.  I agree with this position at first glance.  I certainly don’t want to minimize the Gospel—the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the jugular vein of Christianity.  It is the message of hope to a dead world whom God loves and has called us to reach.  The stance of preaching Christ crucified alone has been my response to a number issues in the past, but in all honesty I question my motives sometimes as I feel like I am hiding behind the Gospel for the sake of not having to take a controversial stance on a particular issue that is critical, sensitive, or divisive.

I guess the ultimate question at hand is does the Bible call Christians to be Switzerland (i.e. neutral and passive) on all issues outside of our message Christ crucified, or does Christ call the redeemed person to challenge the fallen culture in which they live as they proclaim Christ crucified?  In seeking to answer this question an article in Time Magazine (go figure) helped me square this issue as it relates to my calling as a pastor.  The article essentially asked Jerry Falwell how he dealt with Billy Graham’s criticisms of his political involvement.  His response was something along the lines of, “Billy Graham is an evangelist called to lead people to Christ.  I am a pastor called to lead people to maturity in Christ.”  I found this response to be helpful and insightful as it shows Billy Graham’s goal was to remove all barriers outside of the Cross.  Jerry Falwell’s goal was to lead people to Christ and then equip them to live out their faith in Christ.

There is a story in Acts 19 that I find particularly relevant to the debate in our land today.  If you don’t remember this story, let me refresh your memory here.  Paul had entered into Ephesus, and ministered there for about two years (Acts 19:10).  God used Paul’s ministry in a mighty way.  Many came to Christ and lives were transformed.  Their lifestyles changed and it affected the local economy radically.  One of the local businessmen was financially devastated because so many of his clients accepted Jesus as Lord.  He pulled the “silversmith union” together try to stop the Gospel because it had utterly destroyed his industry and livelihood (Acts 19:27) as the Christians essentially boycotted their services.  This is a story that clearly demonstrates the Gospel penetrates further than the soul of the individual it saved, but to everything touched by the saved individual.  The Bible seems to encourage believers to give preference of doing good to those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).  Maybe it isn’t even an intentional action by a group of believers, but rather an organic byproduct of a group of people living according to Kingdom standards as revealed in the Scriptures?  Nonetheless, it seems to me the whole August 1 event was a display of support and blessing a corporation that stands for Biblical values.  Quite frankly, I was pleased to see Christians stand united for something they were for instead of the rallying against a particular cause that Christians have deemed inappropriate.

History records that the majority of people are silent as their culture is making a shift in a bad direction or towards evil.  I love what Bonhoeffer said in his context of Nazi Germany, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  The most difficult thing for me is determining which things are worth standing for and what things are not.  But I am certain that the majority of people choose silence instead of doing the right thing in the face of opposition.  Cowardice is not a Biblical virtue.  Christ instructs His followers “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11-12)

Our Citizenship.

In Philippians 3:20, Paul teaches that believers in Christ are citizens of heaven.  The lesson is clear that we live in a world filled with pain and sorrow and we are pilgrims passing through a foreign land.  I became a Christian while serving as a US Navy SEAL.  To say that I saw myself as a patriot would be an understatement.  During those early years God began to challenge my confusion, or syncretism, with my American citizenship and my new Christian citizenship.  God used the above passage to help me shape my new identity in Christ.  Does our new identity in Christ negate our earthly citizenship?  I don’t think so. Paul wrote this letter while under house arrest in Rome.  He was in Rome because he used the benefits of his Roman citizenship, as he did in a number of other places, to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11).  Clearly Paul was okay using his Roman citizenship for the sake of the Gospel.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he instructs believers to be in “subjection to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)  American Christians, in large part, have had the easiest job in obeying this command in comparison to other believers throughout history.  The United States is a governing authority that is of the people, by the people, for the people, and was born out of strong Judeo-Christian values.  One of our greatest privileges as Americans is the right to vote.  It saddens me that so few people who are eligible to vote actually register to vote and very few of those who are registered to vote actually exercise that right.  I do believe that we as pastors should encourage believers to register and to prayerfully consider who to cast their vote toward.

Clarity Beats Agreement.

As a final word, I’ve been going crazy over statements made in the midst of this whole Chick-Fil-A discussion.  I am shocked by the attacks against Christians and even more shocked by the Biblical illiteracy of the average believer as the Bible is clear concerning God’s position on homosexuality.  I would like to end with a quote from Rick Warren as it helps untangle some of the false accusations and assumptions made in this discussion.  He said, “I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone. Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

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Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

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Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

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Remember The Holocaust – Pastor Jim Stretchberry

Today is April 19, 2012; it is Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.  Today in Israel you can hear the sound of sirens all over the land, as everyone stops everything (banks, policemen, cars, buses, trains) It is a moment for remembrance and contemplation.  Every year on this day, I think of my mother, a 91 year old living survivor, and so many of our extended family who perished.  And I remember being a young man, becoming aware of our Jewish roots and our family’s long and rich history. I remember how my mother would tell me, “Never speak about being Jewish. Be silent, never tell anyone about us and, especially, about our Jewish family history. It will happen again.  It happened to my father, his father, and his father’s father. It will happen again.  Let me tell you, Jimmy, what has happened to us Jews. It has happened for as long as anyone can remember, to all of us.”  My thoughts were always the same, such a scared, silly old woman. Never again would man bring such horror upon fellow human beings.  Even as I became a believer and studied the Word in depth, I thought, surely the western world has learned a great lesson from the horror of so much human tragedy brought on by the Holocaust.  Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Today, let’s consider this for a moment. Let’s go back just 70 years. In 1939, before WWII, radio listeners in America heard reenacted on the ‘March of Time’ radio program, a scene that took place in Nuremberg, Germany. Jules Stretcher was the speaker, and he proposed in a speech broadcast to the world that all nations join Germany in exterminating the Jews. In 1941, another spokesman for the Nazi government, Joseph Goebbels, speaking at the Nazi Party Congress held in the same city, declared that Germany would only be satisfied  when its war against the Jews was taken up by all other nations.  Let me say here that I have the highest regard for the German people.  I have had four German interns in the past eight years, and we minister in Germany.  Germany has given us many valuable gifts, and there are some wonderful believers in Germany today, as there were during the entire war.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, a WWII German martyr, is one of my favorite authors.

Psalm 83:1-8 offers something important for us to consider today.  As we remember the horror of 70 years ago, there seems to be another horror quickly coming upon the Jews.  I suggest that Psalm 83 is a relevant commentary on our current situation:

O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.  “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.”

Is this language out of today’s headlines?  Are these the countries mentioned later in this Psalm, lined up against Israel?  Are these the inhabited lands of Israel’s current neighbors? Edom and the Ishmaelites were in land occupied by southern Jordan today, while the territories of Moab and Ammon make up the rest of that country. Ahman, the modern spelling of Ammon, is the capital of Jordan.  It all speaks of modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia.  So here we have all of Israel’s next-door neighbors, all of them sworn to Jewish destruction, and all of them being whipped into frenzy by Syria and Iran.
The Jews have been persecuted, scattered, scorned, rejected, outraged, murdered, hated and legislated against; the Jews have been without a nation, without a home, without a capitol, without a government, without a temple or priesthood.  They have been the subject of every republic, kingdom, empire and monarchy- and even now are citizens of most nations in the world.

So to Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, to name a few… I would say to you, this Remembrance Day, if you want to destroy the Jews here is what you must do:  Blot away the sun, the heavens, the moon and the stars.  The Apostle Paul very clearly shows us that if the Jew is totally and finally rejected, exterminated, the very foundations upon which our salvation began and rests are obscured and in danger, for the covenant made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was an unconditional covenant.

What a glorious opportunity we have as we remember the Holocaust!  If we reach out first to our Jewish believing friends, encouraging them to share our precious Jesus as Messiah to the many Jews all around the world, then the Holy Spirit will move to change hearts and minds.  Jewish believers will turn to others of their nations and say “Arise shine, for thy light is come.” (Zach. 8:22-23)

So, we must strive to bear witness to the claims of our precious Jesus Christ.  We should remember that it is our witness first, for we will never urge any Jew to consider Christ unless our own life reveals Jesus to him.  The end of Psalm 83 clearly states that those who would attempt to crush God’s covenant people will be destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth.  God’s truth is clearly evident.  Let us all consider our attitude toward God’s chosen covenant people.

 

 

 Jim Stretchberry has been the executive director of the American European Bethel Mission (AEBM) for the last 9 years.  Prior to his tenure with AEBM Jim served as a Pastor with Pastor Rickey Ryan at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara.  Jim’s passion for the lost is evident in his commitment to missions for much of his Christian walk.  He regularly travels throughout Europe and the Middle East ministering both humanitarian aid and the glorious gospel of Christ.  His Jewish heritage has given him a passion to see his Jewish brothers come to recognize their long-awaited Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth.
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Act of Valor Review

The Act of Valor came out in theaters a few weeks ago.  Since then, I have been repeatedly asked for my opinion about the movie.   I am not a movie critic and find this review particularly difficult.  My plan is just to sort of lay it out there without much thought.

Initial Hesitations.  Going to this movie came with some concerns.

First, I was concerned about the fighting scenes.  I don’t particularly enjoy “war movies” as they draw out emotions in me that I don’t particularly enjoy.  The more realistic it is, the more I feel like I should be fighting back, yet find myself strapped to a chair helpless.

Second, I knew there would be fatalities suffered by the SEAL platoon in the movie.  For those watching the movie from the outside this is just standard movie stuff, but for me those who died in the movie were connected to real buddies who have been killed.  I sort of dreaded the death and funeral scenes because they would transport me back to the all too many funerals I have attended over the last ten years.

Finally, my greatest concern had to do with people in the movie theater.  I am highly sensitive to the lack of patriotism found in our nation today.  It really bothers me when I attend events and people don’t stand, or stand still, in respect for the National Anthem.  I knew I had to brace myself to listen in silence to all the know-it-all movie attenders who would be spouting their mouths about the SEAL teams following the movie.

Thankfully, I really only had to deal with the second concern.

My review of the movie.  Again, I am not sure that I can give this movie a simple review…it is far too complex from my perspective as it was not just going to the movies for fun sort of event.

First, if you have never served as a SEAL you will not get it.  Period.  You can’t watch a movie or read a book and think you actually understand what the SEAL teams are all about.  To understand and know the culture, you have to have lived it.  There is simply no way to convey it any other way.

Second, this was a Hollywood movie–not a documentary lest we get confused. The scenes were fairly realistic, but the timing and choreography of events are clearly based around the storyline which is clearly that–a storyline.

The bottom line is I really enjoyed the movie.  I enjoyed being launched back into the teams for that short while.  My mind was able to fill in the blanks where the movie missed it–the camaraderie, the adrenaline of leaving an aircraft, the discipline if takes to stay quiet, the misery of transitioning from water to land, and the truly amount of lethal fire power a select few men are able to sling down range when it is needed.

Watching the action unfold, I feared the movie was glamorizing what we do in the way that the last Summer Olympics motivated half of America to start swimming laps after watching Phelps’ domination in the pool.  The spectator doesn’t understand the extreme amount of hours of training and sacrifice that go into the exceptional moments that come far and few between.  It is this extreme commitment that the Christian is to apply to their walk with the Lord.  As Paul says, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

I don’t know the stats, but I am certain that the recruiters offices around the nation have been overrun with young guys that want to give it a shot.  I wonder how many guys were chipping paint and slinging slop during the 80’s after enlisting to be an F-14 pilot after watching Top Gun?  I am certain this movie will have the same impact on recruiting.

As the glorification of war seemed to be reaching its pinnacle, a SEAL was killed and sort of changed the atmosphere in the theater.  I don’t want to ruin the end of the movie, but I greatly appreciated the sobriety that the movie ended with.  It was hard to watch.  Flashbacks of my friend’s funerals came back in living color.  While painful to watch, I was glad because this movie ended in reality.  We live in a time when reality is blurred by television, movies, and video games.  The good guys don’t always survive the impossible.  I hope the ending of this movie will filter some future candidates who have no business going.

War is horrible as it decimates lives.  Unfortunately, evil is real.  We need warriors who will stand and defend the weak–this truth will remain until Christ returns.  (For more on my thoughts on combat see my most read post on “Reacting to Osama Bin Laden.”)  If you saw this movie, enjoyed it, and are compelled to thank a SEAL, I would encourage you to make a donation to the SEAL Foundation which exists to serve the Naval Special Warfare Community.

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Consistency?

At the beginning of this month the American South was devastated by 65 confirmed tornado touchdowns in less than 72 hours. The storms resulted in 41 fatalities and countless injuries. Immediately following the horrific storms many in the Christian community began to weigh in, as often we do. We aim, with our words to bring comfort, perhaps hope and, at times, to help make sense of what has happened from a biblical point of view. Following nearly every such event, one well known American Evangelical can be counted on to give his perspective.

Within 48 hours of the last tornado touchdown, Pastor John Piper had posted “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God” to his Desiring God blog. In his article, Piper wrote…

“We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

Piper went on to identify five verses that seem to lend support to his view that God, by His sovereign power, directed the awesome power of these storms to bring about the death and destruction that ensued.

Several well known evangelicals have weighed in on Piper’s words, some uttering their own words in agreement with “amens,” while others challenged his theology. Although I’m not in full agreement with Pastor Piper and have several contentions with the passages he chose to support his view, I do agree with his three concluding points, (1) that we can (and should) bless God in the midst of such tragedy, (2) that events such as these should soberingly inspire repentance, and that (3) Christians are not exempt from such suffering. My purpose here is not necessarily to challenge or question Piper’s theology or position, rather to pose a question that came to my mind as I read his blog earlier this month.


When I visited the Desiring God blog mid-month I found it interesting that this featured article sat right next to another Piper article entitled “Tell Your Children What Hitler Did.” Upon seeing that title, I was immediately struck with a thought, “If I’m to believe that tragedies such as these terrible storms, which took the lives of 41 Americans were the act of God’s sovereign direction and plan, then why not entitle the second featured article, “Tell Your Children What God Did [to the Jews]?”

Just a thought…

“I Love Jesus But Not the Church”

There was a recent Youtube video by a guy out of the state of Washington who talks about his hate of religion but his love for Jesus. There have been countless replies and I guess mine is no different except for one… I love the Church.

You see whenever people lop in religion, church, Christianity, politics, etc. they always arrive at the final destination that we are all Pharisees and that Jesus came to rebuke them. Anybody who has studied the Bible for more than five minutes knows that it is not only false but the exact opposite… Jesus didn’t come to rebuke the religious but instead point out their errors in hopes of seeing them repent (which in the end many of them did).

The church, or religion as they like to call it, is the Bride of Christ and it has a special place in God’s heart. You only have to read Revelation 19 to see that Marriage Supper of the Lamb is to the church, and most specifically the New Testament church. Jesus cares for and nurtures his Bride like any man would who is engaged to someone he loves.

We could point out a lot of flaws in the church but if we truly believe that God is sovereign and all knowing then we have to believe that when He created the church he knew it would be a place for perfectly flawed people. I, as a pastor, am comfortable with that. I love nothing more than seeing seriously broken people come into the church and be restored. That is what God designed it for and it is the only place it happens.

Let’s address some of the issues. The first knock is that the church doesn’t feed the hungry. Hmmmm, I don’t know about your town but in Lompoc the church is the ONLY group that does feed them and I am sure that is true in most cities. To say that feeding the poor should be the main focus, which is asserted by it reference, it shortsighted. No one ever has come to Christ because of a bowl of soup, but because the Holy Spirit was working through the church in their service to Him to move on the heart of the people.

Second, Christians don’t vote Republican because that is the Christian thing to do. They vote against the liberal, progressive, freedom-stealing policies of those politicians who usually happen to fall into the Democratic camp. Sadly the younger generation see politics from a social justice perspective where as older generations see politics from a personal freedom perspective. I grew up in a family that voted for Democrats by default and we rejoiced when Jimmy Carter was elected. What a train wreck! Now thirty-six years later he is seen as a knight in shining armor.

Finally you could say that you love Jesus but hate religion but if you profess to be a Christian then you would essentially be saying that you hate yourself. As a Christian you are part of the church (religion) and thus the Bride of Christ. And Christ laid down his life for you, the church, and all those Pharisees.

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Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7

Thoughts/Comments?

 

 

On Pat Robertson’s position

NYT

Washington Post