(1) What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) What if I could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? Without love I would be nothing. (3) What if I gave away all that I owned to feed the poor? What if I surrendered my body to be burned alive as a martry? Without love I would gain nothing.
(4) Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, or proud. (5) Love is not rude, selfish, or quick tempered. It doesn't keep a record of wrongs that others do. (6) Love rejoices over good things, but never in evil. (7) Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.
(8) Love never fails.
In His Grace,
Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.
The "astronomical evidence" to which Jastrow refers is the scientifically proven fact that the universe is expanding. Beginning with Albert Einstein in 1915 and his Theory of General Relativity, scientist began to discover that the universe has not always been here (the static universe theory), but was created in a moment in time and is exploding outward in all directions (the Big Bang). Dr. Jastrow goes on to write:
Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth ... That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact"
Jastrow believes "supernatural forces" (i.e. "God") is now a "scientific fact" because science follows its own scientific method and knows: (1). Whatever begins to exist has a cause; (2). The universe began to exist; (3). Therefore the universe has a cause (i.e. "God," "The Intelligent Designer," "supernatual forces."). Now, for the money quote. The price of the book is worth what Dr. Jastrow writes next. I laughed out loud when I read it.
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about the conquer the highest peak. As he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
As I picked up and read your note from the living room table yesterday afternoon, I had to blink away the tears. I had just come from the back bedroom where your dead body lay. Your mom was weeping quietly on the couch, and the ambulance's siren was wailing and echoing toward the house. The hurt and shock of it all hindered my full comprehension of what you had written in your letter. The police would take your letter with them, but I remember your main points. You wanted your friends' and family's forgiveness for what you were doing, you knew you had God's forgiveness through Christ Jesus, and you were taking your life because you saw no way out of your problems.
Fine. Now it's my turn to write a letter to you.
I can't write for anyone but myself, but after spending the rest of yesterday and several hours this morning with your family and friends, I think my few, brief words reflect what those who love you feel.
You have done the most incredibly selfish thing a human being can ever do. You have believed that your pain and your problems are deeper and more foreboding than the pain and problems you leave behind for others because of your self-inflicted death. The searing throbs in the broken hearts of those you love are almost audible. The tears of your loved ones sting them like hot irons pressed on flesh. Surely you considered the emotional devastation your suicide would create, right? Then, why? Why did you do it? Had you become so self-absorbed the last few months that you lost your way and forgot God's call on your life to only and always love others more than yourself? You and I both know our lives are designed by God for the benefit of others. God's grace in your life turned you into an incredibly selfless and loving person. But where is your graciousness and love in death? You died in an extremely selfish state.
I know, I know... you thought that ending your life would be a way of escape for you--and possibly others--from the pain of having to face your problems. On the contrary, your death and your willful absence from the lives of loved ones brings searing torment that is far deeper than you can imagine. You have family asking, in feelings of guilt, what they could have done to prevent your death. Others, those who often received encouragement and spiritual comfort from you, are now wondering if your spirituality was simply hypocrisy. Some loved ones are even pondering whether Christ really does give meaning to a life, because if He does, what happened to your sense of purpose?
Do I sound angry about what you've done? Truth is, I am.
I'm angry that you thought more of yourself yesterday than you did others. I'm angry that your self-inflicted death has brought so much agony to the people who love you. I am angry that you were so doggone selfish yesterday.
Yet, I refuse to let your life be defined by your death. Your life meant so much more. That's why when I see you in heaven, I'll hug you, then give you a belt to the chin, then hug you all the more. Our relationship will not be--cannot be--ultimately defined by your death. It will be forever defined by our mutual life in Christ.
It's just hard for us right now.
Some people said to me today, "How can he be forgiven of suicide? Is it not the unpardonable sin? He had no time to repent?"
I understand their thinking, but I simply explained to them that one of these days we also will die, and there will be many unconfessed sins in us as well--even unseen sins of the heart such as selfishness, pride, envy, etc ... Thank God our forgiveness of sins is tied to the fidelity of Christ's work at Calvary and the power of His resurrection from the tomb and not our ability to remember, confess and repent of every single sin in our lives. We serve a gracious God who atones for sin through His work, not ours.
I feel better after writing this letter. Day after tomorrow we will remember and celebrate your life at a memorial service. When your family sits in front of me it will be my task to help them see past your death to the goodness of God in your life. It's my belief I can only do that after I help them deal with your suicide through both truth and grace. Your suicide was an incredibly selfish sin; that's the truth. Your sin has caused us to fluctuate between feelings of sadness and anger. But we shall not remain there in our feelings. We've been forgiven by God so totally and completely that we can't help but forgive you; that's grace.
I would like for those who are even remotely considering taking their own life to know that your example in death is not worth following. But your example of life in Christ is.
It is impossible to ignore the pain you have brought us by your sin of suicide, but we shall rejoice in the grace that God brings to all us sinners through His Son Jesus Christ. He is our Balm in Gilead, and to Him we look for our healing.
Always in His Grace,
In a much smaller fashion, but in a similar spirit, God seems to be sending revival to Emmanuel. Two weeks ago we baptized twenty-five people during our Sunday night fellowship at the lake, and we have many more awaiting baptism. Each convert shared with our church family an incredible testimony of God's transforming grace. We are seeing a number of lives transformed through new ministries like Celebrate Recovery. Our youth pastor said we had more youth in the Sunday morning corporate worship this past Sunday than he can ever remember. We have young couples coming to Christ, older couples having their marriages restored, and there is truly a sense of God in all three of our morning corporate worship services. There is not a day that goes by that someone doesn't stop me and tell me how their Core Group (or their small group at Emmanuel) has impacted their lives. I think Rick Warren may be right when he wrote, "history often demonstrates the fact that difficult times are fertile ground for spiritual awakenings."
Our staff at Emmanuel deserves a great deal of credit, including Dan Heath, Executive Pastor/Worship; John Stam, Missions Pastor; Cameron Moles, Discipleship Pastor; Kevin Choate, Single Pastor; Ted Kuschel, Media and Senior Adults Pastor; Andy Wilkins; Next Generation Pastor (Youth and College); Adam Weatherford, Jr. High Pastor; Paula Minx, Children's Pastor; Jared McClellan, REFUGE Pastor and Associate Worship Pastor, and a host of support staff and volunteers.
Today, though, I would like to highlight Jared McClellan. Jared is in charge of our REFUGE worship service, an 11:00 a.m. worship service that is attracting a number of unchurched people. The contemporary music, the casual feel, and the small groups that launch out of the REFUGE worship service is making an impact on a part of our community that we have never before reached. Jared is a missionary kid, growing up in Guatamela. His father, Dr. Mark McClellan, is formerly missions professor at Boyce College (a branch of Southern Seminary), but is now Vice-President at Oklahoma Baptist University. Jared is a particularly gifted worship leader, and on REFUGE's my space page, there are a number of orginal songs that Jared and his band have written and led others to sing during worship in REFUGE.
I'd like to invite you to listen to one of my favorite REFUGE songs, one written and sung by Jared, entitled How Can This Be. Simply listen by clicking on the MUSIC button halfway down the REFUGE my space page. Also, if you from Enid or the surrounding area, let me encourage you to sign up to be a "friend" of REFUGE. God is blessing here at Emmanuel and we'd like to invite you to join us Sunday for corporate worship.
In His Grace,
An advantage of having a blog that is is somewhat widely read is that I get letters and emails from people all over the world who have various opinions on a variety of issues. The following letter came to my email from a Christian man named "Chuck Brown." Chuck is greatly concerned about our health care system in the United States and he wrote a letter articulating how he felt Christians should view the health care debate. I do not necessarily agree, nor disagree, with Chuck's letter. I'm still processing much of what he writes. However, with his permission, I am posting the letter below and asking you, my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, to respond to his arguments for government health care. The only rule of thumb for the comment stream is that I ask you respond with your viewpoint in a kind, gracious and civil spirit.
"I have really good private health insurance through my employer. I pay a small fortune for it every month, and my employer pays them a much bigger fortune just for me and my family. My needs are being met right now, but I do not trust the private health insurance interests because, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “...the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
The private health insurance interests do not love you and me. They do not love the sick. They love only what is in someone’s pockets — yours and mine. I am personally convinced that they would gladly let a sick child die to save a dollar. This is why I am in favor of the health care reform plan taking shape in the U.S. Congress right now, including a government-run health insurance option to work in competition with private health care insurance. If you please, I would like to make the following four major points:
1) I would like to see the uninsured become insured. As a Christian, I would have to do that even if it was not what I wanted to do, but I want to do this. I make under $250,000 per year. Nonetheless, if it were to come down to it, I would be personally glad to pay more taxes to help these uninsured people. It is just plain the right thing to do.
2) The private health insurance interests are not in business to provide health care. They are in business for the same reason most other businesses are — to make money and as much of it as possible for their stockholders — and I am probably one of those stockholders. Back in the late 1980s, the private health insurance interests duped American businesses into thinking that they could control skyrocketing health care costs by taking over virtually the whole system. No doubt some cost savings were achieved for a while early in the game. Nonetheless, the overall costs of private health care kept rising at a tremendous annual rate over time, and it is still rising fast. One of the reasons was private health insurance profits.
I recently read an article that highlighted the story of a man who was a manager in a private health insurance company for 3 years. Most companies and small businesses feel fortunate to take home a 5 percent or 10 percent annual profit. The insurance manager said the annual profit for his company, over those 3 years, were 29 percent, 37 percent, and 49 percent. Where does that come from — your pocket and mine — while the cost of health insurance continues to skyrocket. Private health insurance is expensive because it is the only game in town. When you are the only game in town, you can jack prices into the stratosphere. The government-run option in the health care reform plan would create the competition and price control pressure necessary to put an end to this. If you dislike the multi-million dollar executive bonuses at failed Wall Street investment banks, the private health insurance rip-off should have your soul literally on fire. If it does not, you need to pinch yourself to see if you are still alive.
3) How soon we all forget. Many of us have selective amnesia, but I do not. I actually remember the time about 10 years ago when the private health insurance interests were denying treatments and drugs to patients right and left so they could line their pockets with the proceeds from human misery. That all changed rather suddenly when the federal politicians started getting seriously interested in something called “health care reform.” The naughty boys among the private health insurance interests saw dad reaching for his belt, coat, and the pathway to the woodshed. Collectively, these interests decided they had better “cool it” and get really reasonable with their patients --- that is until the storm blows over. They did get more reasonable. However, you folks out there have to understand that they did this only because of their fear of the looming fight ahead — the one we are in right now for real health care reform.
If the private health insurance interests win this health care reform fight we are in now, they will be King of the Hill – alone on top — no challengers — all enemies vanquished — in total control — answerable to no one — with absolute power over your health care. As the old saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If they win this time, the cancer treatment that is merely questioned today could be denied next year. The expensive drug your son desperately needs to stay alive this year could be denied next year. There will be, quite literally, no one to stop the private health insurance interests, and they will do what they have always done — take maximum financial advantage of their wonderful new situation while your loved one sinks deeper into illness.
4) Be on the lookout for lies. The private health insurance interests and their cronies are in the BIG LIE business right now. One of their biggest lies is that government health plans do not work. That is not true. There are some problems in Canada and Great Britain, but even those are being addressed. They made some bad planning decisions. You will hear a lot about how Canada and Great Britain failed, so that must mean we will fail too. What they do not tell you is that Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Switzerland have universal government health insurance that works very efficiently and is a lot less expensive per person than our current private health insurance system. Taiwan actually studied what Canada and Great Britain did wrong, so they could identify their specific mistakes and avoid them — which they did. It has been a tremendous success. If we Americans can put a man on the moon, we can do even better than Taiwan did with health care.
An associate of one of my close friends had a teenage son who was recently on travel in Great Britain. Somewhere in London, he had the great misfortune of getting his arm broken. Naturally, they rushed him to the hospital. He had good American health insurance. Was he denied help because he was a foreigner? No. Did he have to wait for hours in a long line for care? No. They treated him right away. He flashed his American health insurance card at them, and they laughed at him. “You don’t need that here,” they said. They fixed him right up and had him on his way to a full recovery in no time. What were the hospital and doctor charges? It is my understanding that they were ZERO.
Therefore, as a fellow Christian, I urge you to be watchful on this issue in both directions. If you are skeptical of the current health care reform program that is taking shape in the U.S. Congress, I would urge you to be equally skeptical of the private health insurance side. Some of the national news outlets like CNN (particularly Anderson Cooper Live 360º (at 10:00 p.m. EDT and 9:00 p.m. CDT) have spots each night where they examine the claims on both sides to see who is actually telling the truth. It is crystal clear to me that the great weight of flat-out LIES is being told by those who are opposed to health care reform. Jesus would not have us take sides with a position that is caught nightly in a perpetual state of lying to the American people.
A great many of the millions of uninsured citizens in our country are what the King James Bible refers to as “...the least of these...” I am talking about the poor, the working poor, the mentally ill, the handicapped, sick people who are labeled as “too risky to cover,” those whose health insurance has been terminated, and many others. In light of that, I wonder when we, as Christians (as well as our pastors), are going to take seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, as follows:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord,when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Ultimately, health care reform is not about whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitutionalist, or whatever else. It is not about whether you are conservative, liberal, independent, or apolitical. It is not about whether you despise Barack Obama or like Barack Obama. Health care reform is about “…the least of these...” among us and our ability to make some changes that will help them.
Therefore, I would urge you to please support the health care reform bill that is taking shape in the U.S. Congress right now. Write to you elected representatives and ask them to support health care reform, including the government-run health care option to serve as “checks and balances” on private health insurance costs and excesses. As you consider this, please remember that security in this world is promised to no man, woman, or child. Life may look good for you right now, but tomorrow you and your children could quickly find yourselves counted among “...the least of these...” All it takes is a lost job, a mortgage foreclosure, a business deal gone bad, a serious car accident, a major illness, and many other unforeseen things. Too many of our neighbors all over this great country of ours have found this out the hard way just over the past 9 months. God bless you and thank you for giving consideration to this important issue."
Flake's formula failed to take two major factors into consideration. For one, a day was coming in the post-modern world where, in many places, Sunday School would cease to be the most effective way of reaching people. The major flaw in Flake's paradigm was that church growth was too narrowly defined by how many people you could get into the church building on Sunday morning, a standard most Baptist churches still use to define the success of their professional leadership.
Another factor overlooked by Flake's formula was the natural tendency of church people to become territorial. After a few weeks in the same room, that room becomes the exclusive domain of the people who meet there for one hour a week.
The result was the billions of square feet at a cost of uncountable billions of dollars have been built since WWII that sits empty for seven days a week, except for one hour on Sunday. The back-hook of territorial thinking is that, before long, the building owns the church, literally defining and driving the church's mission."
The comments above are from Glen Schmucker in an article he wrote entitled "Survivor: The Story of a Pastor and a Church" shortly after resigning from Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, reprinted in the Fall 2008 edition of Christian Ethics Today.
Glen's insight seems keen. I often wonder in our churches, denominations and Christian ministries how many times we let the established program, the buildings, the overheard and traditional annual budgets, the fear of change and loss of personal influence, and the crystallized mentality of "That's the way we've always done it" drive our purpose and mission vision?
"You and your friends would have called Jesus' harsh words to the Pharisees about them being white-washed tombs as being unChristian. When Jesus told the Pharisees that they were children of the devil, I suppose you think that was unChristian as well. Your smooth words are just that "smooth words." They sound good on the outside but disdain and sarcasm are behind them ... Brother, you have a huge problem with narcissism. You think you're always right and loving and graceful. As you've said many times, even in your book, "Just ask anyone who knows me." Do you realize how arrogant that sounds? Oh well, I choose not to cast my pearls before swine any longer. You have never exhibited any tendency for correction as I can tell either from your blog or your book, thus I will no longer attempt to beat a dead horse."
It seems to me my brother in Christ--whom I sincerely believe is truly a brother in Christ--has misunderstood the true spirit of Christianity. Jesus Christ has not called us, His followers, to condemn one another--but to love one another. In other words, we Christians ought to be more concerned with how we treat each other rather than what we teach each other.
In preparation for a sermon series from I Corinthians 13, I came across a very poignant quote by Jonathan Edwards in his book entitled Charity and Its Fruits:
When the disciples, on their way to Jerusalem, desired Christ to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who would not receive him, he told them (Luke 9:55), by way of rebuke, "Ye know not manner of spirit ye are of."
We are to understand by Jesus' rebuke NOT that the disciples did not know their own hearts, but that they did not know and truly feel what kind of temperament was proper and becoming to their character and spirit as his professed disciples. They did not know the kind of spirit that was becoming of the evangelical dispensation that Jesus had come to establish ... Christ's kingdom is a kingdom of love and peace; but the disciples believed that a revengeful and condemning spirit was a proper spirit for them as followers of Christ. It is for this belief that Jesus rebukes them
Amen, Jonathan Edwards, Amen.
In His Grace,
Word has come tonight from North American Mission Board trustee chairman Tim Patterson that Geoff Hammond, President of NAMB, and his three close associates at NAMB have "resigned" from their positions. Geoff has shown me nothing but Christian civility and grace since his election at President at NAMB in March of 2007. Last year at the Southern Baptist Convention, Geoff was seated on the platform with several SBC leaders. I was leaving the stage after asking the SBC parliamentarian a question when Geoff stood from where he was seated, stopped me, warmly shook my hand and greeted me by name--an act of Christian kindness that could have cost him a great deal in terms of those watching him, Geoff didn't seem to care what others thought. He struck me as simply a Christian gentleman. I will not offer an opinion of the action taken by NAMB trustees to release Geoff from his duties, but allow me to point out just a few things that I hope may shed some light on the character of Geoff Hammond.
(1). He was elected President of NAMB unanimously by trustees just two years ago (March 2007).
(2). The Florida Baptist Witness, Baptist Press and other Southern Baptist news agencies released trustee chairman Patterson's statement about the resignation--but not Geoff's.
(3). The resignation(s) came behind closed doors, and as everyone knows, trustee leaders were meeting to terminate, so the resignations were allowed as the lesser of two evils.
(4). Closed door meetings allow one side of an issue to be reported--the side that controls the media. Geoff ought to consider starting a blog (smile).
(5). SBC institutions are in some serious danger.
My prayers are for with all those affected.
In His Grace,
Allow me to set the record straight.
I am a Republican. President Carter is a Democrat. We don't see eye to eye politically. I am pastor in a church active with the Southern Baptist Convention. Though President Carter's church still gives 50% of their mission offerings to the Lottie Moon offering, Maranatha is no longer active in the SBC. We don't see eye to eye ecclesiologically. I am calvinistic in my soteriology, partial-preterist in my eschatology, open communion in my ecclesiology, conservative in my theology, inerrantist in my bibliology, and continuationist in my pneumatology. President Carter would probably agree with me in less than half of the foregoing theological positions. We don't see eye to eye theologically.
Yet, in my opinion, President Carter is a man of the highest Christian character and integrity. It should be an honor to all of us who name Christ as Lord to call Jimmy Carter a brother in Jesus Christ.
(1). He professes privately, publicly and without apology that "Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ."
(2). He serves his church as deacon, mowing the church lawn on a set rotation, fulfilling the responsiblity of being a church deacon with humility and grace.
(3). On two occasions that I have spoken privately spoken with him, not one time has he spoken a critical word about a fellow Christian in terms of their character, in spite of the fact he has been criticized, condemned and censored by several Christian leaders.
(4). He teaches Sunday School every Sunday that he is in town. Last Sunday was his 503 time to teach, and hundreds from all over the world came to hear him in a town with a population of only 600.
(5). His mission in life is to make the world a better place to live, striving to eradicate disease, educate children, and initiate peace between countries known for war.
(6). The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 to Mr. Carter for "his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democrac and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."
(7). Every year the President Carter and Rosalynn volunteer one week to help build homes for the homeless through Habitat for Humanity.
For the above seven reasons alone, not to mention what could be said about his marriage, his family, and his tireless support of Baptists worldwide, every follower of Jesus Christ with Baptist convictions should refrain from attacking the character of this man. Disagree with him? Of course. Question his Christianity? Not unless you wish to answer to His heavenly Father for your attacks.
There are four areas that Christian leaders seem prone to use as an occasion to incessantly attack Mr. Carter's Christian character. I would like to show how one may disagree with Mr. Carter with civility and respect--while upholding the dignity of his Christian character.
Israel, Palestine and the Middle East
Many evangelicals are pro-Israel because of a seemingly uniform eschatalogy (pre-tribulational pre-millenialism). As a result, some Christian leaders castigate President Carter's advocacy for a Palestinian state and his defense of the Arab people. I happen to believe the United States should protect Israel, not because of my eschatology, but because I believe Israel stands alone in her democratic principles in a region known for autocratic dictatorships, religious theocracies, and other dysfunctional forms of government. Nevertheless, all of us must deeply appreciate what President Carter has done since the 1970's to bring peace to an area that most simply believed would never experience it. Whether you agree or not with Carter's position on the Palestinian question, no fellow Christian should feel compelled to attack Carter's character as he fulfills his role as statesmen in the Middle East. In fact, that in itself would be un-Christian.
Women in Ministry
See my previous post. Whether one agrees with his position or not, it would be prudent for all to treat his views with respect and to respond with civility due the dignity of his person. I predict that within a few decades even the Southern Baptist Convention will believe Carter's views on women in minsitry to be orthodox and biblical.
Christian universalism is the belief that all people are redeemed by Christ and will eventually be brought to faith in Christ--either here or in heaven. Mr. Carter has repeatedly stated that the only way to be delivered from God's judgment is "by grace through faith in Jesus Christ." I have asked him why some insist that he is a universalist when he is so clear about how a sinner is delivered from God's judgment. He says he believes people misunderstand his views because he is gracious, respectful and tolerant of those who disagree with him, even those from other religions. Of course, he does not change his own views, but he is uninterested in condemning people who do not agree with him. He simply shares his views and believes God will do the saving.
If there is one thing that keeps some evangelicals from seeing the call of God on women, it is the fear that recognizing "women preachers" is the first step down the slippery slope of recognizing "homosexual" preachers.
I don't understand that kind of thinking--unless of course, one believes homosexuality is part of one's personhood, rather than one's choice of behavior.
Let me illustrate.
Our church views homosexuality the same way we do adultery, or sexual activity before marriage, or any other sexual act outside the confines of a husband/wife marriage. We have many people who attend our church that are involved in these particular sins. We love them, we help them, and we encourage them, but we let them know that their lives will never be holy or genuinely happy until Christ enables them overcome their sinful sexual behaviors. We don't single out any one particular "sexual activity" as worse than others. We identify them all as sin before God.
There are some Christians who believe that God makes "homosexuals" the way they are and that having sex with a same sex partner is not "sin" if the relationship is monogamous, committed, and loving. We believe that the sacred text in several places, both Old Testament and New Testament, disputes this. The essence of Christianity is repentance of sin--and same sex homosexual behavior is sin. At the same time we love the person whose heart tends toward this sin - we will simply help him or her overcome it by the power of Christ just like we help the adulterer, the pedophile, the sexually immoral, overcome their urges toward sexual sins. We no more believe a homosexual is qualified to be pastor than we do an adulterer, a pedophile, etc . . . because of abnormal and sinful sexual behavior. For those who want others to believe that homosexual or lesbian sexual behavior is normal, just remind them that it's a good thing their parents didn't homosexuality normal sexual behavior. Again, homosexuality is a behavioral choice.
But a black man who preaches the gospel can't change the color of his skin. A woman who preaches the gospel can't change the gender of her person. A homosexual who preaches the gospel can change his or her behavior. Homsexuals are not part of a minority group, they are part of a behavioral group.
President Carter is not opposed to the government recognizing "homosexual unions." All of us know that the government must designate people in various civil unions for tax purposes, census taking and other government reasons. Carter himself, however, called "homosexuality" a sin at the conference where I heard him speak this past week. What baffles me is why we Christians rail against the United States government recognizing "homosexual" unions while we are often stone quiet when it comes to the practice of our government recognizing civil unions among men and women who live together outside of the covenant of marriage--and this type of civil union has been recognized by our government for decades. Both types of sexual unions (homosexual and heterosexual), outside of the covenant of marriage, are "sin" as defined by the church. Could it be that Christians like Jimmy Carter don't believe governments should be involved in the business of the church and vice-versa? In other words, just because a Christian is not opposed to homosexual civil unions being recognized by the government doesn't mean that Christian doesn't view homosexuality as sin.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Carter's views in the above four areas, my point in this post is to remind those of us who follow Jesus Christ that it is important that we refrain from attacking the character of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters and simply voice our disagreements with the grace of Christian love. Respect, civility and dignity should be the accompanying disciplines of all us who have been saved and are being transformed by our Lord Jesus Christ.
And I believe with all my heart that this Christian grace, civility and love should be shown toward Jimmy Carter, a man of genuine Christian character.
In His Grace,
Let me say just a couple of things about my impression of the two day conference in general:
(1). I was refreshed by the humility of all those I heard speak, sing or share testimonies. There didn't seem to be any ego, any agendas, just a simple desire to honor Jesus Christ.
(2). I was personally blessed by some powerful messages and testimonies. I've already mentioned my new friend Ellis Orazco's message (previous post), but both Kim and Brad Henry's respective testimonies spoke very deeply to my heart. In addition, I really enjoyed hearing Pastor Major Jemison of St. John's Baptist Church speak and Sarah Stewart share her testimony of being called to ministry.
(3). I am writing a post about Jimmy Carter for next week, so I will reserve any comments regarding the former President until then, but for anyone who would question the man's genuine Christian character or sincere desire to serve Christ and His people, I offer this one little anecdote about the former President's trip to Oklahoma - he had to leave immediately after he spoke in Norman because it was his turn as deacon at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia to mow the church yard on Saturday morning. He doesn't pass this job off on others. Mr. Carter, now 84, mows it himself.
(4). While listening to the speakers at the Conference, my wife leaned over to me and whispered, "I've heard more about Christ and what it means for us to honor Him than any Convention I've attended in a long, long time. These folks aren't either heretics or infidels like we've been told." I agree.
(5). I enjoyed making new friends and enjoyed fellowshipping many Southern Baptist Convention friends who attended the Conference.
(6). Everything was very professionally done, including the hiring of the same production crew who produced the 2007 Oklahoma Centennial Celebration at the Ford Center in November of that year.
(7). The diversity of the people attending was refreshing for me as well: Blacks, whites, hispanics, Indians, men, women, young, and old - there was a good mix of Baptists from various backgrounds.
(8). A gripping and award winning video on the history of Baptists and racism was shown at the Conference. I look forward to using the video in my own church.
(9). Never in my personal history of twenty five years of preaching ministry have I had a more personally moving and fulfilling time than the thirty minutes after the Friday night message when many people waited to speak with me personally. Their stories, their tears, their encouragements will never be forgotten.
(10). I preached primarily for those not present at the Conference, but those Baptists of future generations who will be looking back at this first decade of the new millenium with a historical perspective. The transcript of the message, in its entirety, is below:
A Personal Confession – A Public Challenge
By Our Love Shall All People Know We Are His Disciples
"Shortly before His betrayal, Jesus gathered His disciples around him and said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By (your love for one another) all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
On July 4th, 2009, Baptist pastor Rick Warren spoke at the 2009 Islamic Society of North America Conference in our nation’s capital. Over 40,000 Islamic believers gathered in Washington D.C. for this conference, considered to be the largest annual gathering of Muslim Americans. Pastor Warren challenged the gathered Muslims to join Christians in modeling for the world what it means to:
First, respect the dignity of every person by not merely tolerating people but valuing them.
Second, restore civility to civilization by disagreeing without being disagreeable, and
Third, reinforce the protection of the freedoms of speech and religion for every individual within our respective cultures.
Warren proposed that in this very diverse world, when Christians and Muslims model this mutual respect and love for each other, while protecting the freedoms of the individual, an even greater common good will arise–-peace. Warren pointed to the 60,000 different kinds of beetles as evidence that the God of all peace loves diversity. As for me, I believe that God’s love for diversity is irrefutibly proven by the 60,000 different kinds of Baptists God has created.
Rick Warren--a family friend since the late 1970’s when he attended Southcliff Baptist Church, a church which at the time was pastored by my father–-acquited himself and all evangelicals quite well in his speech before those 40,000 Muslims. Some Baptists have expressed surprise that the Muslims issued Rick an invitation to speak. Other Baptists have expressed regret that he accepted. My disappointment is that the different kinds of Baptists like those of us represented here at the New Baptist Covenant Conference, and others who are not here, were not in the audience in Washington D.C. to hear the speech ourselves.
For it seems to me that we Baptists can never really value Muslims, treat them with civilility, or grant them the freedom to speak and believe as they see fit until we first learn to treat our different kinds of Baptist brothers and sisters around the world in the same manner. In other words, until I can treat all my Baptist friends with dignity, value them as people, and respect their views-–particularly and especially those Baptists who disagree with me--it will be impossible for me to treat Muslims in the same manner. Likewise, until my liberal or moderate Baptist friends experience Christ’s love in their hearts for me, a theologically conservative Baptist, and until they value my personhood, respect my views, and work with me toward a greater common good, it will be impossible for them to do the same for Muslims. The greatest barometer for how well we Baptists understand the importance of agape love, which Scriptures call the distinguishing mark of followers of Jesus Christ, is our treatment of each other.
This evening I would like to make a personal confession to you, my Baptist brothers and sisters, who do not see eye to eye with me either theologically, socially, morally, spiritually or politically. I come from a long line of Baptist preachers. The Burleson family settled in Texas with one ancestor, Dr. Rufus Burleson, becoming the first President of Baylor University. My branch of the Burlesons moved to Oklahoma at the turn of this century, and and several of the Burlesons would eventually become pastors or missionaries. We like to talk about the Baptists in our family, but don’t often mention the Burleson who is the only person to ever escape from Alcatraz (smile). I have served two terms as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and now I pastor a large church in northwestern Oklahoma. Tonight I speak for myself only. My confession and corresponding repentance is personal, spoken with a heart that genuinely desires to do my part to build bridges between all Baptists who name Christ as Lord.
The people I pastor know what kind of Baptist I am-–Calvinistic in my soteriology, partial-preterist in my eschatology, open communion in my ecclesiology, conservative in my theology, inerrantist in my bibliology, and continuationist in my pneumatology--( I know that sounds like a medical diagnosis, but they are the proper labels for my theological views). I held these views when I began pastoring over a quarter of a century ago, and I hold to them unto this day. I have not changed what I believe, but I myself have changed in one very critical area over the past few years.
I now believe deep in my heart that Jesus is more concerned with how we Baptists treat each other than He is what we Baptists teach each other. The people loved by Christ–-particularly those who differ with me--are to be far more precious to me than any finer point of theology believed by me. Jesus did not tell me that it would be by my “truth” that all people would know that I am one of His followers, but by my “love.” The only description ever given of our Lord was that He was a person “full of grace and truth.” Word order is important in Scripture. Grace should not just precede truth, it should permeate it. Or as our host Jimmy Allen so brilliantly puts it: “Our love should reach beyond our theology.”
A few years ago, Pastor Julie Pennington Russell held the hand of her seven year old son Taylor as she walked through the picket lines that had formed outside Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas. The picketers, Baptists from surrounding churches, were there protesting Julie’s call to become the pastor of Calvary. As she walked through the picket line her little boy squeezed her hand, pulled his mother down where she could hear, and then asked, “Mommy, who is Jezebel and why are they calling you that?”
It has been said that when the old Irish immersed a babe at baptism they would leave out the babe’s right arm so that it would remain “pagan for good fighting.” I have sometimes wondered if it is our custom as Baptists to plunge all but the convert’s mouth into the baptismal waters to keep the Baptist tongue “pagan for good fighting.” I confess that in years past, it has been easier for me to stand behind a principle and say something negative about the character of those who disagree with me than to simply love my fellow Baptists who do not see eye to eye with me theologically.
I have not changed what I believe, nor have I moved away from a conservative view of the infallible sacred text, but what has changed is the need to point out that people who disagree with in interpretations of the Bible are less Christian, less “spiritual,” less loved by God than I. This is simply not true. The love of God for His people never changes or wanes, regardless of our actual or imagined theological unfaithfulness. Or perhaps it should be stated by me more precisely. God’s love for His people never wanes or abates regardless of my fellow Baptists actual or imagined theological unfaithfulness. Jesus warned us that we tend to focus on the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own. I am now committed to follow the commandment of my Lord and to display total and unconditional grace, kindness and love to all my Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our theological differences. You are more important to me – more so than even my principles–-and this is both biblical and Christian. To me, this is the peculiar mark of real, genuine Christianity.
This, of course, does not mean that we should not speak out when we perceive an injustice against God’s people. It is often the wise and prudent course to graciously keep silent when we hear fellow Christians voice interpretations of Scripture that are contrary to our own interpretations, knowing that we are fallible people dealing with a sacred text. But when a fellow human being, ESPECIALLY a believer in Christ, is personally being abused or mistreated, our silence or non-action can never be justified or condoned by Christ and His sacred command to love one another. Those who risk everything to correct injustices against Christ’s people, who diligently protect the powerless in God’s kingdom, who defend the downtrodden in this world, who rescue the abused, and who care for the needy are expressing the love that Christ mentions as the peculiar mark of His followers.
It has come to my attention these past few years that my sisters in Christ within the Baptist faith are often in need of such defense. The parallels between the modern American Baptist woman and the 19th century American Baptist black are numerous. To defend a gifted Baptist woman today is considered by some Baptist men as an unbiblical act. To call any mistreatment of Baptist women today “un-Christian” is tantamount to treason in the eyes of some Baptist leaders. Many Baptists believe, particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention, that to defend Baptist women and to attempt to set them free to serve to the full extent of God’s call and giftedness in their lives is a denial of the faith. But I propose that any action taken to prevent the mistreatment of Baptist women in ministry is the most loving thing that can be done to both the victim and the one who is oppressing. In my opinion, the protection of a Baptist women who minister is the fulfillment of Christ’s biblical command to love each other as Christ has loved us.
In 2004 Dr. Sheri Klouda was terminated from Southwestern Theological Seminary’s faculty as the distinguished professor of Hebrew because the seminary’s new male administration held to a principle that a “woman should never teach a man.” Sheri was released from the job of her dreams and forced to relocate to Indiana, taking a far less paying position at a Christian college. Sheri’s husband, Pinky, whom administration knew was suffering from critical cardiac problems at the time, had to leave his medical care in Fort Worth because of the forced relocation. Sheri’s daughter also had to leave her much beloved high school where she was to graduate the very next year. Sheri and her family were forced from a house in Fort Worth that they had purchased just a few months earlier-–all because of administration following a perceived “theological principle.”
When our church contacted Sheri a few months after her termination, we discovered she was selling pints of her own blood to help meet medical expenses for her husband. Regardless of one’s views regarding women “teaching” men at Baptist seminaries, the question each Baptist faces is whether or not the treatment of Sheri Klouda fulfills Christ’s commandment that we love one another as Christ has loved us. If it does not, then something must be done. The God who shed his blood for us would not want us turning a blind eye to His people selling their own blood for the sake of others. Over several months our church helped raise over $20,000 dollars for the Klouda family. Christ’s command to love one another precludes silence or indifference when injustices occur. We are not even allowed by our Lord to hide behind our principles when it comes to loving His people. Our love should reach beyond our theology.
For this reason, it seems to me that if we Baptists are serious about loving one another in the manner that Christ has loved us, then we cannot, we must not, remain quiet or silent when we see our Baptist sisters in Christ suffer. Baptist women in ministry, believers like Sarah Stewart, from whom we heard a testimony tonight, are women we are called to love, support and protect. These women profess a call from God, show real evidence of being set apart by Christ, and have experienced the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified to the world–-yet many of them are being subjected to abuse, and that by Baptists. When our Baptist women in ministry experience such personal mistreatment, ridicule or harm, we are commanded by Christ our Lord to bind up their wounds-–and sometimes we must even take the weapon of abuse out of the hands of the perpetrators of those wounds.
In 2004, during the last business session which I moderated at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, an extraordinary, godly woman from Quail Springs Baptist Church, OKC was elected second vice-president. I will never forget the sight from the platform as several men throughout the auditorium stood and literally turned their backs to the platform as they voted “against” the first woman to be elected to general office within the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. That moment was an awakening for me. I realized that any cherished principle that would ever CAUSE a Christian to be uncivil, unkind or unloving toward a sister in Christ is a principle that should be thrown out for the sake of obedience to the command of Christ to love one another. I am not offended by those who wish to argue with me over this point for your argument is not ultimately with me, but with Jesus Christ. It is His command, not mine.
History will one day look back on how we Baptists in the 21st century treated our women who were called by God to minister. It is my prayer that conservative, Bible believing men will not make the same mistake our Southern Baptist forefathers made when they remained quiet two centuries ago as another minority experienced abuse. The ground at the foot of the cross is level so that there is no supremacy of whites, no supremacy of males, and no supremacy of the rich--the wall of partition has been removed, and we are called to love every believer in Christ the way Christ loves us.
I will never forget the email I received from one of the young ladies in our Baptist seminaries who wrote me, confiding that she typed with tears in her eyes, having just come from her “preaching class” where the professor allowed all the “men and boys” in the class to remove themselves from the room so they would not be subjected to hearing a woman teach the Word of God. The young lady found herself preaching to the walls and wondered whether or not she had a place in Baptist life. I reminded the young lady that she was not preaching to the walls, but to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit who were One in her midst as she preached. The prophet declares that God sings over His people with joy (Zephaniah 3:17) and I guaranteed her that the Father sings all the louder over a woman who unashamedly and boldly declares the glories of His Son!
One of these days we Baptists will get to the place when we realize that publicly censoring women preachers like Julie Pennington, firing Baptist women professors like Sheri Klouda, walking out on women preachers like that young seminary student, or turning our back on women Baptist leaders--acting as if women don’t have a place in the kingdom of God--says more about our lack of love and grace toward all the followers of Jesus Christ and our own disobedience to Christ’s great commandment than it does our “love for truth.”
Last week National Public Radio religion editor Barbara Bradley-Hagerty interviewed me for a piece she was doing entitled “Baptist Leaders Face Challenge On Women’s Roles.” She quotes me in the radio interview saying “Jesus treated women as equals” and that I believe “there is a quiet underground movement within the convention to rethink women's roles.” After my quote you can hear slow laughing from a deep voice in the background–-“Ha..Ha..Ha…” It was the Director of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Washington D.C. He then tells the radio audience, “Burleson is dreaming.” I reflected on this the Director’s statement. He is a brilliant man, capable of playing three dimensional chess and formulating his rationale with cogent logic. He, like I, believes in an inerrant Bible. Upon reflection of his statement that I was dreaming, I came to the conclusion that he is right. “I have a dream . . .”
I have a dream that a woman like Wendy Norvelle, former acting Vice-President of the International Mission Board, will be promoted to a permanent position of leadership among Baptists because of her qualifications and gifts–-and not barred from promotion because of her gender. I have a dream that a Southern Baptist woman like Major Paige Heard, the Regimental Army Chaplain at the historic West Point Military Academy, will be heard preaching the gospel at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday at the historic Cadet Chapel, and we Baptists will all know and believe that Major Heard is honoring Christ in her proclamation of the gospel and be proud to call her one of our Baptist chaplains. I have a dream that Baptists will one day make much over the gospel that women like Sarah Stewart preach and absolutely nothing over the gender they possess. I have a dream that unlike slavery in the 1800’s, Baptists in the south will realize the Bible speaks against patriarchal homes where wives are slaves to their husbands, autocratic churches where women are servants to leaders, and authoritarian societies where women are subservient to men. I have a dream that young women in our Baptist Conventions can follow great women missionaries of the past and travel overseas to share the gospel with both men and women, baptizing converts in the name of Jesus Christ and nurturing them in the ways of Scripture–- just as Lottie Moon did over 150 years ago.
If some Baptists would say to me that my dream is simply capitulation to the agenda of radical feminists, I respond with loving, but firm words: “No, setting Baptist women free to serve is not relenting to societal or cultural pressures, but rather, it is fulfillment of the commandment of Christ Jesus Himself.” Regardless of whether or not my fellow Baptist conservatives agree with what I believe the Bible teaches regarding the real equality of women in Christ’s kingdom, there is no wiggle room when it comes to the commandment of our Lord. Every Baptist is obligated to love our Baptist women as Jesus has loved us.
I do not know of one time when Christ has ever withheld from me any good gift, has stifled my expression of any praise of Him, or shut me up from proclaiming His Word – so logically His commandment to love my sisters in Christ as He has loved me should negate any and every attempt to withhold from our faith community a Baptist woman gifted by Christ. Our obedience to His command should preclude any attempt to stifle a Baptist woman compelled to publicly praise Jesus Christ. It should lead us to resist any effort to shut up or censor any Baptist woman called to preach Christ and Him crucified. It is impossible for my Baptist brothers to point to any text – let me repeat this–-it is impossible for my Baptist brothers to point to any text, that is properly understood in its context, that ever compels Baptist men to suppress Baptist women in terms of ministry. On the contrary, we are called by our Lord to support and love those women of faith just as our Lord has loved us.
Black Mesa is in the far northwestern edge of Oklahoma’s panhandle. Its summit is 4,972.9 feet above sea level, just under a football field of being one mile high. It is the highest point of elevation in Oklahoma. People come from all over the world to observe the stars that “kiss your nose” at night on Black Mesa. This past June, on a sunny afternoon, I hiked to the top of Black Mesa. As I rested and reflected on the plateau before my descent, my eye caught a passenger jet flying east to west above me. I could clearly see the plane’s fuselage and the long, white crystallized cloud the jet formed as it crossed the blue sky. I thought about the couple of hundred passengers heading west. Then I looked down and saw a Burlington Northern - Santa Fe train snaking its way west as well. Beside the train was a modern state highway where a handful of cars were also heading west. Just a few miles south of the railroad tracks and the highway, easily seen from my position on Black Mesa, was the Old Santa Fe Trail (Cimarron Cutoff). Most travelers and traders heading west in the 1800's took this trail by horseback, wagon or foot. As I was thinking about all this, I pulled out my Blackberry Curve and saw that I had missed a couple of calls.
And then it hit me. For the past 200 years the mission of every person who traversed the land before me was simple–-go west. Their mission never changed and was the same-–west, west, go west! But the methodology of going west has changed over the years – from foot, to horse, to wagon, to train, to car to plane! How foolish would it be for someone today to use the same methodology that was being used in the 1820’s to fulfill the mission of heading west.
For Baptists our mission has not changed for the past 200 years–-nay, for the past 2000 years. Our mission is to proclaim Jesus, to preach Jesus, to publicize Jesus, to present Jesus, to give Jesus to a lost and dying world. Our mission is all about the story of Jesus. Men and women of faith are called by the One who commissioned us to support and love one another as we seek to fulfill that mission.
It is time we Baptists see that the methodology by which we share Jesus must change, or we will die a slow death without ever accomplishing our mission. Whenever institutions crystallize their methodologies rather than their mission, the institution becomes brittle and dies. Jesus commands us to love each other–-love those different from us, love those on mission with us, love each and every follower of Jesus. How we fulfill our mission will continually change. The walls are down. Our methodologies should be fluid, but our mission shall never changes.
You may not like the fact that women are now being called by God to preach, or called by God to do missions, or called by God to teach. You may even consider it a violation of your principles for a woman to teach a man, or preach Christ to a man, or baptize a man, or lead a man, but there is one thing that you and I cannot--we must not--forget.
You and I are called to love each and every sister in Christ who feels called to ministry. We are called to affirm the dignity of every Christian woman called to minister. We are commanded to treat them with respect and civility. We are also called to love, respect and affirm the autonomy of local Baptist congregations and denominations that utilize these gifted women in ministry as they see fit. To censor them, reject them, abuse them or condemn their character is a sin of the first order.
The principles Rick Warren gave to the Muslims one month ago are just as relevant to all us Baptists today and for the years to come. The only way we will ever have peace between Christians and the Muslims in this world is when we Baptists first begin to value the dignity of our sisters in Christ who are called to minister, to respect those churches that call them to serve, and to protect the individual freedoms of our fellow Baptists to think, believe and act as their conscience leads them in obedience to Christ and His Word. It is only then that we will we display the kind love that Jesus says will distinguish us from the rest of the world.
May the God of all peace give us the grace to live in this manner before all people for Christ’s sake. Amen."
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In His Grace,
Andrew Bonar “The Hidden Life of Prayer”