Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Kingdom of Christ Is Not the Kingdom of this World

In a farmer's field a few miles beyond the city limits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma lies a graveyard reserved for two families, the Boudinots and Worcesters. Two men of special significance to evangelical Christianity in general, and to Oklahoma history in particular, are buried there. The first man is a Cherokee Indian named Buck Watie (1800-1839), better known by his English name Elias Boudinot (his picture is to the left). Elias was a very devout Christian and took his 'Christian' name from the nationally renowned Elias Boudinot, a former President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation (1782-1783), and later the director of the U.S. Mint (1795-1805). President Boudinot first met Buck Watie in Washington D.C. in the year 1818. It is said that the the former President was so impressed with the young Christian Indian that he promised to financially support Buck in his pursuit of formal education. From that day forward Buck Watie took the English name of his benefactor - an act that deeply moved the original Elias Bouinot.

Buck 'Elias Boudinot' Watie eventually became one of four Cherokee men who formalized a treaty with the United States government to sell all the Cherokee Indian lands east of the Mississippi to the United States government. In return, the Cherokee Nation was to receive from the U.S. government a 'perpetual homeland' in Indian Territory - now called Oklahoma. The overwhelming majority of Cherokees who lived in northwestern Georgian, southern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama were furious that Buck 'Elias Boudinot' Watie and the three other Cherokee leaders signed the New Echota Treaty with the United States government. In accordance with the Treaty, the Cherokees were allowed to voluntarily move west to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the summer of 1838. However, when only a few hundred Cherokees had moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the imposed deadline, the government began a forced removal. In the fall of 1838 the government escorted Cherokees under gun point to their new home. Over four thousand Cherokees died in this mandatory relocation which is now famously called The Trail of Tears. The bitterness felt by the Cherokees toward Elias Boudinot for signing the Treaty was so great that Boudinot was murdered by his fellow Cherokees in front of his wife and children on June 22, 1839 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. What is ironic about Elias' death at the hands of his own people is that Elias signed the New Echota Treaty genuinely believing his people were better off apart from the sinful oppression of the greedy white men back east who would stop at nothing, including war, to obtain the Cherokees' land.

Buried next to Elias in the farmer's field is the man I wish to honor in this post. His name is Samuel Worcester (pronounced 'Wooster') and the Cherokee Indian Elias Boudinot was his good friend, Christian disciple, and fellow laborer for the kingdom of Christ. Samuel was first an early missionary to the Cherokee Indians in Georgia, and later a missionary to the Cherokees in Oklahoma. Though Samuel is not known by many modern evangelical Christians, his missonary life and testimony rivals that of David Brainard.

Samuel Worcester (1798-1859) was the 7th generation of pastors in his family, dating back to when his family lived in England. When Samuel was born his father, the Rev. Leonard Worcester, was a minister in Peacham, Vermont. According to Charles Perry of the Peacham Historical Association, Leonard also worked as a printer in the town during the week.

Young Samuel exhibited an unusual strength in foreign languages. While studying in New England the minister met and befriended Buck Watie, the Cherokee Indian described above, who by this time had already taken the name of Elias Boudinot. Samuel and Elias became close friends. When Worcester joined the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions he requested assignment to a Cherokee village that was in particular need according to Boudinot. The village came to admire this 'white man' with a message and many were converted to Christianity through Samuel's ministry to them. The Cherokee's in Georgia gave to Samuel a Cherokee name which meant "The Messenger." (see The North Georgia Notables)

A Man Who Served a Higher Kingdom

Samuel deeply loved the Cherokees. He was the best speaker of the Cherokee language among white men in the New World. He not only learned their tongue, he lived their ways. He earned their trust. It is said that Samuel was responsible for leading many chiefs to faith in Christ, and the Cherokees came to be considered the most 'civilized' tribe of the Indians because of their wide professed Christianity, progress in formal education, and particular skills at farming and printing. Samuel and Elias Boudinot began the first ever Indian Newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, and helped bring the Cherokee people into more literacy than the white citizens of Georgia that surrounded them. However, when gold was discovered in northern Georgia in the late 1820's the insatiable thirst for riches in the Cherokee's land led the Georgia state assembly and Georgia Governor George Gilmer to officially adopt 'a policy of forcible Indian removal.' Plans were made for what Georgia called a 'Land Lottery,' to be held in 1832, where all the Cherokee tribal lands would be awarded to white settlers.

Samuuel Worcester and 11 other missionaries and pastors to the Cherokees met at New Echota in Georgia, a city near the current Rome, Georgia, to make plans to protest the forced removal. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation until it moved to Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1839. The men met and published a resolution in protest of the Georgia law that the state assembly had passed requiring all whites to get a license to work on Native American land. This law was preparation for the forced removal of the Cherokees. Worcester reasoned correctly that obeying the law would, in effect, be tantamount to surrendering the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation. Governor Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest Worcester and the others who signed the document. Quickly brought to trial and convicted, Worcester and the others held firm to their beliefs. Even though the United States Supreme Court had already ruled the Cherokee Nation was independent and all dealings with them fell under federal jurisdiction, not the state, the Supreme Court rulings were ignored by both Georgia Governor Gilmer and President Andrew Jackson. Samuel Worcester was kept in prison - for almost two years.

A Fragile and Important Diary

I recently spoke with Pastor John Worcester who lives in Seattle, Washington. John is the great-great-great-grandson of Samuel Worcester. When John was ordained into the ministry, his aunt gave to him, in a very solemn family ceremony, the diary that Samuel Worcester kept during his imprisonment in Georgia. This diary is now held by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under loan by the Worcester family. The family gifted the dairy in order to ensure its proper. The diary has never been published but John Worcester has graciously agreed to send me a copy of the microfilm for my own archives.

In the diary Samuel speaks of God's goodness and sovereignty over all things. Ironically, it was the imprisonment of Samuel that played a significant role in Elias Boudinot changing his mind about Cherokee removal to Indian Territory. Although Elias initially and publically opposed such a plan, he came to believe that if the United States government could harshly imprison a white man who opposed Indian relocation - and a missionary at that - the government would not stop at anything to obtain Georgia Cherokee land. This dim view of future treatment of Cherokees in Georgia by the respective federal and state governments eventually led Cherokee leaders Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, John Ridge and Stand Watie to sign the New Echota Treaty. This signing of the Treaty also eventually resulted in the execution of all the signers in Oklahoma by their fellow Cherokees except for Stand Watie - who was Elias' brother - and who would later become the only Indian general in the Confederate Army. Stand Watie is also recognized as the last Confederate General to surrender in the Civil War. Stand Watie laid down the fight on June 23, 1865 in Fort Towson, Oklahoma, two months after the surrender of General Lee in Virgiania.

Upon release from prison in 1834 because of a change of governorship in Georgia, Samuel Worcester moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and eventually established residence at Park Hill (just outside Tahlequah, Oklahoma). Samuel prepared the area for what he knew would be the removal of the entire Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Indian Territory. In a future post I will explain the tremendous influence Samuel had here in Oklahoma in establishing both a men's and a women's seminary in Tahlequah, printing the first book ever published in Oklahoma (according to the Oklahoma Historical Commission), and discipling the Cherokees regarding Christianity by teaching them the Bible in their own Cherokee language. My own city and region around Enid, Oklahoma have felt the influence of Samuel Worcester. When the federal government had trouble negotiating a treaty with the wild Plains Indians in the mid 1800's (our highschool mascot is the Enid Plainsmen), it was a Cherokee Christian convert and disciple of Samuel Worcester who helped the United States government make peace with the Plainsmen Indians. But, I digress . . .

Lessons from the Life of Samuel Worcester

There are a few lessons that can be taken from the life of Samuel Worcester:

(1). This highly educated missionary was considered a 'traitor' to the United States and 'unpatriotic' by his fellow citizens. Yet, even while enduring a long imprisonment, Samuel Worcester determined it was better to suffer for the kingdom of Christ than to be praised by the kingdom of men. I am reminded that my main priority as a pastor should be the gospel and not popularity. As Billy Graham is said to understand, 'The gospel trumps the Gallup Poll.'

(2). While some are going through their lives searching for comfort and temporary pleasures, there are others who are giving their lives for the sake of eternal and higher pleasures. I couldn't help but think of the thousands of people who travel to Grand Lake, or float the Illinois, or go about their daily business all around Tahlequah and never realize the significance of the actions of some great men and women that are buried near them at Park Hill.

(3). There are some events, even in the lives of God's people, that can never be explained satisfactorily by human standards. The murder of Samuel's good friend, Elias Boudinot, in front of Elias' own wife and children, is horrific. Yet, in the end, both Samuel and Elias died. How they died matters little. What they died for matters everything. As 19th century missionary to the New Hebrides cannibals John Paton said,

"I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."

Not everyone enjoys history as much as I, but I am thoroughly convinced that we have a great deal to learn from those who have gone before us.  From Samuel Worcester we learn that the world in which we live is evil and cursed, and our personal allegience is ultimately to the kingdom of Christ above all else. In addition, one should never confuse a national government for the kingdom of Christ or vice-versa, for many of the tasks our government either feels compelled undertake by necessity or natinoal security would never even be considered appropriate by Christians and/or the church. Finally, all of us will one day wind up in a grave. May it be said of us all, like it can be said of Samuel Worcester and Elias Boudinot, that we lived our lives for the sake of others, forsaking even reputation and admiration for the glory of God and the good of our fellow man.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Absolute Absurdity of Apologizing for Burning the Koran

The United States is at war with radical Islam. We hold Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, Guatanamo Bay, and various prisons in America. Recently, Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan were caught passing notes using their Korans. American military forces confiscated the Korans in question, as well as other Islamic religious materials, and burned them. Muslims rioted in the streets in reaction to the burning of their holy book. American soldiers were brutally murdered in response. Tens of thousands of Muslims now are protesting in the Afghan streets shouting, "Death to America." Our American President went on public television and apologized 'profusely' for the 'inadvertant' burning.

Why is our President and military apologizing for the burning of the Koran? We are at war. If radical Muslim prisoners are passing notes using their religious materials, then those materials should be burned, even if it is the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or any other religious holy book. I know what radical Muslims believe about the Koran. I also know what radical Muslims believe about murder. The Taliban said of American soldiers two days ago,  "Kill them, beat them, take them as prisoners and teach them such a lesson that they never summon the courage to abuse the holy Quran again." When dealing with religious fanatics who believe murder is an appropriate response for the burning of their religious material--ONE SHOULD NEVER APOLOGIZE.

The President should order the military to do what United States General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing did in the Philippines in 1911 when his troops were faced with terrorism from radical Muslims. Documentation is scarce, and Snopes is unsure whether Pershing simply threatened a particular course of action, or actually did what he threatened. Either way, Pershing definitely NEVER APOLOGIZED for anything. Faced with increasing terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, Pershing threatened the Mullahs by saying, "(If you don't stop) we will splatter your houses and your families with pig's blood. If you attack us and are killed, we will bury you in pig-skins." Pershing knew that radical Muslims believe no person enters heaven who dies with pigs' blood on him or is buried among pig carcasses, and he used their beliefs against them.

Some contemporary accounts suggested that Pershing followed through with his threat after his forces captured some radicals who attacked and killed Americans in the Philippines. Pershing is said to have tied the captured terrorists to wooden posts, slaughtered some pigs, and then ordered his men to pour the pigs' blood over the radical Muslims. The terrorists were then shot. All of them were executed. All but one. One terrorist was tied to the stake but was intentionally NOT shot. The survivor watched as Pershing's men untied the dead, blood-covered bodies of his comarades. The soldiers then dumped the dead terrorists in fresh graves. The bodies were covered with pigs' carcasses and buried. Pershing ordered his men to cut the survivor loose. The U.S. commander told the surviving terrorist to go back to his superiors and report to them everything that he had seen. The Muslims became terrified of Pershing as a result. He was deemed a hard and unapologetic man who met force with vicious force. Consequently, there was peace in the Philippines for the next fifty years. The Mullahs even made Pershing an Honorary Chieftan and never again gave him trouble during his military career.

Fast forward one hundred years. Our military is now facing the same problems in Afghanistan that Pershing faced in the Philippines. Unfortunately, our President is apologizing for our military burning the Koran. That is absolutely absurd. I wonder what Obama would say if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan did what Pershing did in 1911? Sound too tough? Well, the U.S. government should be tough. The U.S. military should be even tougher. Our government bears a sword of vengeance, and it should be used. Churches are in the business of redemption, forgiveness and love. The United States government is in the business of justice. Any government that apologizes to murderers for burning their holy book has lost its moral bearings. You don't apologize when at war. If you have to apologize, you shouldn't be at war. The United States is at war. NO MORE APOLOGIES. The more you apologize, the weaker you look. The weaker you are perceived, the more your people are murdered.

Now, if you are having a tough time reconciling this post with my previous posts on the forgiveness, love and acceptance of God for sinners who embrace His Son, or the love that Christians should have for their enemies, then you don't quite understand that the church is never called to be the government nor is the government ever called to be the church. For the world to be free, the United States needs to be a strong nation, backed by a strong military, with core values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Muslims should be free to worship in the United States, but any Muslim terrorist or nation who devalues human life, refuses liberty for his neighbor, prevents the pursuit of happiness, or kills someone who refuses to be a Muslim, should be a a terrorist  or nation that is dealt with by force, not apologies.

(Update) - The U.S. soldier who murdered women and children in Afghanistan should be executed. In fact, he should be handed over to the Taliban and let them execute him. To murder women and children, as what happened in 9/11, is not war, it is genocide. Anyone guilty of genocide should be put to death (see the Nuremburg Trials). And, any moron who tries to equate the unconscionable actions of this murdering US soldier to the actions of other soldiers fighting a just war against genocidal murderers should move to Afghanistan and live with the Taliban.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Worthy Question: 'Why Do You Judge Your Brother?'

A sincere person sent me a question after my post on singer Whitney Houston: "I wonder how you accept her as a believer, seeing her life appeared to not align with the Lord?"

I responded to my friend's question with an answer I believe to be biblically spot on. I am providing it here because most readers of this blog will have faced similar questions from well-meaning Christians. My answer is probably opposite of what you have been taught most your Christian life, so lay aside your bias and presuppositions--and read slow. You are called to be a Berean and "search the Scriptures for yourself" (Acts 17:11) to see whether or not what I say is of the Lord. 

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit, asks this questioon, “Why do you judge your brother? (Romans 14:10). It is a worthy question. Why do we make a decision about sinners who profess faith in Jesus Christ that they are, in reality, sinners lost and without hope, without God's grace, and not 'true' believers in the first place? Great question. Now, ask yourself why Paul was asking such a question. What was his purpose?

It seems to me that in Romans 14, the chapter from which this question arises,  Paul is driving home the point that the only thing that makes people righteous and able to stand before Christ on judgment day is CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Those sinners without His righteousness FALL before Christ. What makes a sinner righteous before God and separates him or her from others sinners is "faith in the person and work of Christ." It is this faith that brings Christ's righteousness to a sinner, called by theologians imputed righteousness. The difference between sinners being accepted by God and sinners being rejected by God is not personal righteousness but Christ's righteousness. Some sinners (believers) have it, other sinners (unbelievers) do not. That's it. That's the difference. To whatever extent you and I discount the faith in Christ of a sinner struggling with addiction (like Whitney Houston), or a sinner caught up in immorality (like some televangelists), or any other 'brother' whose behavior is less honorable than ours, then we are making the mistake of judging a person's right standing before God based on his or her personal obedience and not Christ's obedience.  Listen to Paul's argument against making a judgment against a sinner who personally professes faith in Jesus Christ:

(1).  Realize that God has accepted your brother in Christ.  Paul says  “For God hath received him” (14:3). and that “God is able to make him stand” (14:4).  This is what we call the doctrine of “justification by faith.” A sinner is made right with God by the righteousness of Christ “reckoned,” “accounted,” or “credited” to him by faith. It is vital to remember that the righteousness of Christ is freely and fully credited to sinners and  not personally infused in sinners. In other words, I will always be a sinner (till heaven), but I am deemed a righteous person ('saint') by God now, because of Christ's righteouesness credited to me. God measures me by the righteousness of Christ and what ties me to that perfect measurement is my faith in Christ. For anyone to measure another person's righteousness before God based upon personal character and/or moral success on earth, and not personal faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, is directly counter to the teaching of the New Testament. Whitney Houston unashamedly professed her faith in "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." I deem her a sister in Christ.
(2). Realize that we (believers in Christ) will all stand before the throne of Christ.   “For we will  all stand before the (judgment) seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10).   This verse is one of the most twisted, misinterpreted verses in all of Scripture. Pastors use this verse to hammer Christians with a future "judgment" for their not performing as they ought to have performed during their Christian lives on earth. Preachers raise the specter of a divine film of your life being projected and reviewed by God so that every action you have ever taken can be 'judged' by God. THIS IS NOT WHAT ROMANS 14:10 IS TEACHING. In fact, this verse teaches just the opposite.

The word “bema” in Greek is wrongly translated with the two English words "judgment seat" in most English translations of the Bible. This is a very unfortunate translation. Bema simply means podium or throne. Nowhere is the idea of  judgment even associated with the word bema. In Nehemiah 8:4 the Bible says that Nehemiah “stood on a pulpit of wood (bema)” to read the Word of God to the people of Israel. Bema is an elevated position of authority, or a seat of honor.  Believers will all one day stand before the throne of Christ. The Bible reminds us continually that "The unrighteous shall fall" (i.e. shall not stand) (Psalm 1:5). Standing before the throne of Christ on judgment day is comforting promise of the power of HIS righteousness, not a fearful threat to compel you to change in your personal righteousness. Believers are righteous because we have received Christ's righteousness. That is why we stand before the throne of Christ and that is why the unrighteous fall before the throne of Christ.

The very next verse in Romans 14 proves that the standing before Christ's throne on the Day of Wrath is a comforting promise and not a controlling threat. “For it is written: As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; and every tongue will confess to God” (v.11).  Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah.  Notice that God is swearing on Himself ("as I live"),  the greatest of all oaths! He swears there is coming a day when every person will give an account (confess). What is it that they confess? If you go back and read Isaiah 45, the portion of the Scripture Paul is quoting from, there is a particular thing that will be confessed: “I have sworn by myself that every tongue shall swear (confess) that in the Lord alone there is righteousness and strength' (Isaiah 45: 24).  This is the confession of those WHO STAND.

Those of us who STAND before Christ will, according to Romans 14:12, give an account as to WHY we stand.  "Every one of us shall give account”  (v.12).  The word 'account' is the Greek word “logos." Logos is used ELEVEN times in its verb form in Romans 4 to describe the action of God reckoning or crediting righteousness to the believing sinner. The LOGOS or ‘account’ we believers give as each one of us stands before the THRONE of God is simply this: In the Lord alone there is righteousness and strength.

However, sinners who fall before Christ, those who do NOT STAND,  give a different account to God. The unbeliever will swear on his own righteousness. He will point to himself and request that God to be merciful based upon his works. He will plead his personal righteousness, and according to the same prophecy in Isaiah 45, he who gives an account before God in this manner and has "raged against Him (Christ) will be ashamed" (Isaiah 45:24) The sinner without faith in Christ will be judged by God according to his deeds done in the earth (Romans 2:6). It is a dreadful and terrifying thing for this sinner to fall into the hands of the Living God.  Every sinner depending on himself will fall. God's judgment of him is just. God's retribution is holy. God's judgment is always right. God's wrath is meted out in proportion to the nature and quality of the actions of the sinner in this life. And as we all know, there are some very, very ugly things being done. Sinners who reject Christ do NOT escape God's wrath. Sinners who violate the boundaries of their Creator by harming others, destroying creation, and living a selfish, lustful life without a heart of love toward God and their fellow man, even if all the aforementioned is done in the name of God or religion, will one day be righteously judged by the true God. It's a terrifying thing to fall into His hands.

But Whitney Houston did not reject Christ. She professed faith in Christ and is free from God's wrath and judgment, and she should be from yours as well. The evidence that we are Christ's is our heart of love for others, even our enemies (see John 13:35). Christianity is distinctive from all other religions in the knowledge that the judgment and wrath of God is completely and totally gone for those who trust Jesus Christ! When a sinner realizes the generous gift he's been given by the grace of God (even while he was yet an enemy of God), he can' help but be generous, kind and loving to others, even his enemies!

Any judgment for a sinner who professes faith in Christ should be gone in you like it is gone in God. The sinner who professes faith in Christ will STAND before CHRIST and proclaim Him as the only righteousness there is. Therefore, when you pass judgment on a brother in Christ,  you may be indicating a poor understanding of the basis for your own righteousness before God. Your righteousness before God is ALL of Christ. In the Lord ALONE there is righteousness and strength.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Do We Keep Remembering What God Forgets?

“As we mature personally, as our families mature, and as our churches mature, we need the doctrine of sin more, not less; and we need to keep growing in rightly understanding and applying this doctrine. Be assured that this is no less true if you’re a pastor or teacher or ministry worker. There’s no pastoral privilege in relation to sin. There’s no ministry exemption from the opposition of the flesh. There’s only a heightened responsibility to oppose sin and to weaken the flesh, as an example to the flock.” -C.J. Mahaney, Humility (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005), page 133.

The movement C.J. Mahaney founded, Sovereign Grace Ministries, is one that is supposedly built on an understanding and application of God's grace. I recently listened to several messages by Mahaney and read a couple of his books, including the one quoted from above.  I find myself rather surprised. SGM seems to focus God's people on the subject of 'sin' much more than they do Christ. Rather than an emphasis on growing in grace within the body of Christ, there is a stated goal by SGM's founder of 'growing in the doctrine of sin.' That, to me, is quite shocking.

In Hebrews 10:17-18 the Lord says,  “This is the covenant I will make with them (us)… I will remember their sins no more.”  For the life of me I can't understand why pastors would put  emphasis on remembering what God forgets. There’s no denial Christians struggle with ‘indwelling sin.’ There's also no denial that sin is destructive. The question, though, is "How does a believer defeat indwelling sin?" I am absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent convinced that every Christian leader who places more emphasis in his ministry to Christians on indwelling sin than he does Jesus Christ, will ultimately lead his people down the path of religious bondage, emotional pain and spiritual abuse.  Sin's power and influence are only diminished by displaying the beauty of Jesus Christ. Focus on sin and it entices you; focus on Christ and He enraptures you. An easy way to remember this axiom of the faith is: "There's no high like the Most High!" When God's people regular taste of Him "and see that He is good," every false high that sin brings will be recognized as a sorry substitute for the real thing. The ancient people said as much when they asked of Philip, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).

Focusing on sin may 'sound' spiritual, but it is in essence anti-Christ. Binding God's people to
various religious rituals (church attendance, quiet time, devotionals, 30-minute morning prayers, promises, commitments, accountability, etc...) in order to overcome indwelling sin is completely missing Christ. Focus on Christ, not your performance or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your accountability or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your church attendance or lack thereof. When Christ is your focus, you will find growing satisfaction and delight in Him! When that happens, indwelling sin loses its power because it loses its enticement. Religious bondage may lead you to THINK the power of sin is gone in your life, but in reality,  you haven't changed a lick by the bondage. All that's happened to you is you've been tied down by religion's rituals. If somebody were to cut the ropes that tie you to the institution of the church, you'd be sin's dead meat. But as you taste of the sweetness of Christ, sin begins to lose its power. I've already quoted Hebrews 10:17-18 as the biblical basis for the good practice of NOT remembering (or focusing) on what God forgets, but let me see if I can illustrate this principle from ancient Greek mythology.

Odysseus and his mighty sailors sailed the Aegean Sea. The sorceress Circe had warned Odysseus and his men to be wary of the beautiful but deadly Sirens. These half-woman, half-beast creatures would entice sailors with their beautiful music, compelling the men to sail closer to the island of the Sirens. Without warning, the Sirens would swoop down, kill and canabilize the sailors who had sailed too close to the island of the Sirens. The sorceress told Odysseus that he and his sailors should have their ears filled with wax to block the Sirens' songs from being heard.   Odysseus complied with the instructions by ordering his men to fill their ears with wax. He, however, wanted to hear the Sirens'  beautiful songs for himself. So he told his sailors to tie him up to the mast with strong ropes so that when the Sirens began to sing, he could focus on the singing, but he could not jump ship and swim toward the enticing but deadly island. The sailors complied and bound their captain to the ship's mast. When the ship sailed near the island of the Sirens, music began to fill the air,  and Odysseus focused on the beautiful songs and found himself enraptured. He began to fight the ropes and chains that bound him, longing to draw closer to the Sirens. He struggled with all his might to free himself from the bondage. He wanted to free himself, but he was trapped and held by the ropes and men on his ship. His battle with bondage was bloody and ugly. Odysseus avoided death at the hands of the Sirens, but he was a miserable wretch as his shipmates sought to hold Odysseus "accountable" and keep him safe.

On the other hand, Jason and the Argonauts dealt with the Sirens in a different manner. They too sailed the Aegean, but unlike Odysseus, they refused the ear wax, the strong ropes, and all attempts to "bind" anyone to the mast of the ship. Instead, they brought the greatest musician in the land onto their ship, a Muse named Orpheus, and they ordered him to play his beautiful music. The music from Orpheus' lyre and harp was so much sweeter, so far better, so incredibly more beautiful than the songs of the Sirens that Jason and the Argonauts had no desire to listen to the Sirens' songs when their ship passed by the island of the Sirens. What kept Jason and the Argonauts on the ship was the greater pleasure and beauty of Orpheus' music.

Odysseus and Jason serve as parabolic illustrations for the modern church. The great mistake of many Christian leaders, including many associated with SGM,  is that they are attempting the Odysseus approach to indwelling sin in their people. They wish to expose sin (confess it), focus on sin (analyze it), control sin ('by binding people'), as they put more and more emphasis on sin as "God's people 'mature.'"  The only thing that this particular emphasis brings is tired, worn out people who collapse under the weight of 'authoritative leaders' and their edicts on how to be 'more holy.'

Pastors need to be more like Jason and the Argonauts. We need to bring Jesus into the church like Jason brought Orpheus onto the boat. Talk of Christ. Preach of Christ. Tell of Christ. Magnify Christ. Exalt Christ. Honor Christ. Uplift Christ. Sing of Christ. Speak of Christ. Point to Christ. Focus on Christ. The sweet music of Christ as written in the sacred hymn of Scripture is sufficient. The Holy Spirit does a pretty convincing job of guiding His people by the island of sin when the sweet song of the Savior is being played.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Perspective on the Funeral of Whitney Houston: There Are No Great Christians, Only a Great Savior

I am watching the funeral of Whitney Houston from the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey and am captivated. I imagine there will be two responses to the funeral; either people (like me) will love it for the music and inspiring messages of hope, or there will be people who think the funeral is incredibly over-the-top in terms of the personal praise of Whitney Houston and view it with a heaping dose of cynicism. Though I am not part of the latter group, I do understand the basis for their feelings. I have spoken at hundreds of funerals, even at a few of persons who possessed a little celebrity (former governors, football players, etc...), and the tendency of all funeral speakers is to focus on the good qualities of the dead person, ignoring some of the more glaring weaknesses. With all the media coverage calling our attention to Whitney's years-long addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as the struggles she had in terms of her personal relationships, some Christians might think that BeBe Winans, Tyler Perry, and Jessie Jackson, are placing too much emphasis on Whitney Houston the person. I don't think so. Why? Two reasons: First, a funeral is the time to remember all the good of the one who died, and second (and more importantly), everyone--I don't care who it is--has ugly issues in this life. If you get upset that people are making small of Whitney Houston's problems at her funeral, just thank God you aren't planning your own funeral. Your struggle with sin in this life, in terms of the internal heart motivation that leads you to commit sin, is no different than Whitney's.  Some peoples' struggles, like Whitney's, are more public than yours and mine because those people are more well-known than us. In addition, internal struggles bubble to the surface in different ways among us all, and we must be careful that we don't judge the sores of others without recognizing our common disease. Without doubt, Whitney Houston possessed an amazing voice and has been in the public eye for the last two decades because of it. Her rendition of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and her all-time classic soundtrack for the movie Bodyguard has indelibly etched Whitney Houston on our collective consciousness. But we should celebrate that Whitney also possessed faith in the Person she called "my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ." For all the cavilling critics of Whitney's funeral service, I remind you that there are no great Christians, only great sinners with faith in a great Savior.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Am Indebted to the Strong Women in My Life

I spent today interviewing 92-year-old Arthur Kennedy, Ph.D. (Northwest, Chicago) regarding his superb books on Oklahoma history. He signed one of his works for me, a history of the Seminole Nation that is, in my opinion, the best narrative of pre-20th century Oklahoma history in print. What made my conversation with Arthur particularly entertaining is that he knew my deceased grandmother, Margaret (Lee) Burleson, going to school with Margaret when she was a girl in the historic "Big Bend" area of the South Canadian River, just south of Konawa, Oklahoma, the small Seminole Nation township where Dr. Kennedy grew up. I was captivated by Dr. Kennedy's stories about my grandmother.  Someone once said, "Men are the thoughts of their mothers and grandmothers, embodied, and made alive. If a man is active, capable, and determined, he owes his inner strength to many great women, some of whom may be dead and gone, but yet speak through him today."  I believe that statement true, and am deeply indebted to my grandmothers Margaret Lee Burleson and Virginia Salyer Cherry, as well as my extremely intelligent and incredibly strong mother, Mary Frances Burleson.

Of course, my best friend (pictured) is my wife, Rachelle. She has earned my deepest respect for her accomplishments as a wife, mother and career woman. Her mixture of class, grace and business acumen is unparalled in my opinion. She is in Florida with our only daughter, Charis Burleson, preparing for Charis' wedding in June. Charis has blossomed into a beautiful and intellectual woman in her own right, providing constant encouragment to her father. The older I become, the more I know that who I am today is a result of the five women I've just named. However, there are many other females who have impacted my life for good. I think of Cherri and Melody, two gifted and talented sisters who inspire me every time I am around them.  I reflect on Debbie Kaufman and the incredible encouragement she is to me.through her words, her life and her writings. I consider the women on our church's Leadership Team, women like Gail Hackett, Carol Williams, and others and realize they have taught me much so through their leadership and friendship. It is no exaggeration to say I have been strengthened, encouraged, taught, and led by as many competent and gifted women as I have been by Christian men.

It's time to add two additional women to my growing list of personal indebtedness. Dee Parsons and Wanda Martin are two women from North Carolina who run the website Wartburg Watch. I remember when I first read Wartburg and wondered to myself, "Who in the world is writing such powerful stuff?" In the beginning, I didn't even know two women were behind Wartburg. Only after I read a few of their postings, then went and read the on-line profiles, did I realize that women were writing the posts--and writing them very well I might add! Within a couple of years Dee and Wanda flew to Enid, Oklahoma and Rachelle and I became instant and fast friends witth this delightful duo. They are wickedly smart (both have their MBA's), both have intuition about spiritual matters that can only be attributed to the Spirit, and both love (and I mean LOVE) the underdog--as do I. It is with delight that I join with Dee and Wanda in the establishment of a new ministry called EChurch@Wartburg. Rather than explain the new ministry, I would encourage you to go over to Wartburg and read what Dee and Wanda are saying about it. These gals are making an impact in the kingdom of Christ! It's an honor for me to include them on my growing list of strong, competent women who have taught---and are teaching--this pastor!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Methinks Metaxas Meant It: Eric Metaxas' Stunning Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast

Right after giving his address at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln believed his speech a failure. It is now considered by many the greatest Presidential speech of all time. When Beethoven premiered the 9th Symphony, he believed it poorly received, unable to hear the rousing applause due to deafness. Masterpieces of word and craft are sometimes not recognized by either the author or the audience until the passage of time. A couple of weeks ago, Eric Metaxas delivered what may one day be considered the greatest speech ever given at a National Prayer Breakfast. The National Review has written of Metaxas' address in a remarkable article entitled The President and the Prophet: Obama's Unusual Encounter with Eric Metaxas. After Metaxas delivered a speech for the ages, the President followed with his own speech, amply illustrating with his words Metaxas' mantra that "A dead religion uses the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It’s grotesque when you think about it. It’s demonic. Keep in mind that when someone says ‘I am a Christian’ it may mean absolutely nothing,”

The Review summarized Metaxas' speech and the President's follow-up address in this manner: "One got the feeling that this was a modern-day, and perhaps more humorous version, of what Old Testament prophets regularly did to Kings of Israel: deliver brutally honest messages from Yahweh with little regard for their personal safety. Only this time, there were no beheadings, only the difficult-to-watch spectacle of seeing a president forced to uncomfortably read a speech which had just been shredded to pieces by a man who couldn’t possibly have known what was coming. And as he did so, the audience in that room likely left with Metaxas’s four-word condemnation, intentional or not, of the 44th United States President ringing in their ears: 'God is not fooled.'"

I have spoken with Eric a couple of times on the phone, mostly in relation to coming to Enid, Oklahoma. I found him as humorous in our personal dialogue as he was on the platform with our President. Humor serves a wonderfully grand purpose: It allows the incredibly sharp words of truth to slip less painfully into the soul. The laughter in the auditorium anesthesized the crowd. What they had just heard, and I'm sure with the passage of time my judgment will be affirmed by many others, was a speech that will go down in history as a masterpiece. I urge you to fast-forward to the 35 minute mark of the embedded video linked here and listen to the introduction of Eric Metaxas, followed by his 30 minute speech. Continue watching the video and listen to the President, who immediately follows Metaxas. The irony and dichotomy of the two speeches juxtaposed against one another is jaw-dropping. Well done, Eric Metaxas. May your tribe of fearless prophets increase.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting the Saved Unsaved So They Can Be Saved Again

Yesterday after our fourth and final on-campus worship service I met a family of four in the Guest Reception. They lived forty miles away in another city but had come to Emmanuel for three consecutive weeks and were asking about becoming members. When I asked what attracted them to Emmanuel I received a startling response: "We just want to attend a Southern Baptist church where the focus is not on getting the saved unsaved so they can be saved again."  I questioned the very nice husband and father of two as to what he meant. He explained that he wished for his wife and children to attend a church where they could be taught of Christ, what it means to draw life and joy from a relationship with Him, and not hear the pastor try to convince believers that they really are not saved as he continually and repetitively pleas for people "to walk the aisle" to be saved. He announced he and his family had, indeed, found a spiritual home at Emmanuel.

Gerald Harris of the Georgia Index, the newsletter for Southern Baptists in Georgia, has written an editorial, opining on the negatives of what he calls the "rise of Calvinism" in the Southern Baptist Convention. Gerald slams what he perceives as less than enthusiastic evangelism and unhealthy church plants in the SBC, both a result of the resurgence of Calvinism.  Gerald conjectures that the proposed new name for the Southern Baptist Convention will be the Great Commission Baptist Convention, but closes his editorial by stating, "If that is the suggested name and if we dare vote for it to be our new appellation we dare not defame it with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years."


Gerald, you and I have never met, but we both are probably not on the friends list of Southern Baptist Calvinists. I disagree strongly with their view of women, their congregational polity de-emphasis, and their seeming fear to fully implement New Covenant teaching in their churches. Many of those whom you oppose in the SBC do seem to me to be more Presbyterian in polity and practice than historic Baptist.

However, we should at least thank our Calvinist Southern Baptist friends for one thing they have done. They are rooting out the destructive 19th century Finney decisionism theology that has rotted the foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention like wormwood and/or gut rot. People are absolutely tired of Southern Baptist preachers who use formulaic evangelism during worship services and turn Southern Baptist churches into liturgical halls of decisionism. "Sir, we would see Jesus," is the plea of our people, and the one thing we can thank our SBC Calvinistic friends for is that their focus has been more on God's commitment to us than our commitment to God. True life and real joy come from Him. Jonathan Edwards got it right when he surmised that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. It is impossible to be satisfied with Him when we constantly turn the gaze of our eye within.


Be careful Mr. Harris. I am in agreement with you that Calvinism presents a problem within the Southern Baptist Convention, but you are making a wrong diagnosis. The problem is church polity, gender equality, and pastoral accountability. It's not evangelism. We should give our SBC Calvinist friends a big bear hug for helping Southern Baptists see that getting the saved unsaved so they can be saved again is equivalent to spitting in the face of Jesus Christ and trampling on the blood of the New Covenant.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

President Wilson's Plea for Soldiers to Read the Bible

In August 1917, with the United States in the middle of the Great War, United States President Woodrow Wilson instructed that Bibles be given to every American soldier with an inscription from him in the front leaf. The personal words from our 28th President read:

"The Bible is the word of life. I beg you that you will read it and find this out for yourself--read not little snatches here and there, but long passages that will really be on the road to the heart of it.

You will find it full of real men and women, not only, but also of things you have wondered about and been troubled about all your life, as men have been always, and the more you read the more it will become plain to you what things are worth while and what are not; what makes men happy; right dealings, speaking the truth, readiness to give everything for what they think their duty and most of all, the wish that they may have the real approval of the Christ who gave everything to them--and things that are guaranteed to make men unhappy--selfishness, cowardice, greed and everything that is low and men.

When you read the Bible you will know that it is the word of God, because you will have found it the key to your own heart, your own happiness and your own duty." Woodrow Wilson

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Bow In the Sky As a Picture of God's Grace

When God promised mercy to Noah, He gave a bow in the sky as a symbol of His covenant of grace. Notice, I said 'bow.' We commonly speak of the covenant symbol as a rainbow, but the actual symbol of God's grace is a brightly colored bow--a weapon of vengeance. Noah's culture had just endured the righteous display of God's wrath in a flood. To illustrate that His Divine wrath was assuaged, God gave to Noah and his family a bow in the sky. There are three things true of this bow:

(1). The bow is pointed away from the earth, away from mankind.
(2). The bow has no string and thus cannot shoot any arrow of vengeance.
(3). The bow is unbent and as such serves as a true symbol of peace with God.

God gave the bow to Noah after the 'burnt offering' had been sacrificed on the altar, an act that gave the Lord 'a soothing aroma' (Genesis 8:20-21). Burnt offerings in the Old Covenant Scriptures prefigure the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would come to bear the wrath of God for His people and be well-pleasing (soothing) to the Father. Jesus Christ indeed came and fulfilled the Law, offering Himself once and for all for our sins (Hebrews 10:10-14).

Nature itself reveals the gospel. Next time you see a bow in the sky, tell your kids the story of Noah and the burnt offering that resulted in a promise of peace with God and the bow in the sky as a reminder of that peace. Impress on your hearers that because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the bow of God's righteous wrath and vengeance is unstringed, unbent and unaimed toward we who have embraced His Son.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Piper's 'Masculine Christianity' Actually Emasculates

I learned the hard way a few years ago that the immediacy of the Internet is like a surgeon's scalpel; handled intentionally and appropriately it becomes an instrument of healing, but used willy nilly  there is the potential for great harm. There are things that happen in Christendom, public things, that stir up anger within me, producing an urge to write a blog post immediately. Too many times in the past I have erred, writing too soon and too half-hazard.  Since then, I have adopted an old motto as a new paradigm for my writing: "Never make an Internet promise when glad, never write an Internet blog when mad." Contrary to what some might perceive when reading what follows, any anger over what John Piper said last week about "masculine Christianity" has subsided.

At the 2012 Desiring God Pastor's Conference last Tuesday, John Piper said, "Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel." He assured women that they could indeed experience real joy in what he calls "masculine Christianity," but Piper is unmistakably clear that his God has placed priority on maleness. I have learned a great deal from John Piper, particularly his Edwardian view that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, but I would urge my female Christian friends to ignore Piper's conception of God and find satisfaction in the God of Scripture.

It's without doubt that male personal pronouns are predominately used in Scripture to describe God, but the sacred text does not hesitate to attribute female characteristics to the invisible God. The image of God is both male and the female. God is no more all male to the exclusion of female than He is all Jewish to the exclusion of Gentile. To say, as Piper says, that Christianity has "a masculine feel" is as silly as saying Christianity has "a white, anglo-saxon feel." The same mistake our forefathers made in excluding a particular race from full participation in Christianity is being made by our modern heroes in excluding a particular gender. Christians, particularly women believers, are learning the importance of challenging statements of men like Piper. I thought that I might not be misundertanding Piper correctly, so I listened to the videos again. In one of the sessions Piper explains that "masculine Christianity" is where "men gladly bear all the responsiblity" in the church and home.

What? Seriously? Why single out men, John? Should not God's people, both male and female, take individual responsiblity for the gifts given them? Where in Scripture does it say Spirit-giftedness is restricted to gender. We are Spirit-led, not gender led. Four years ago I wrote a post warning against the growing doctrinal heresy among conservative Christians called "the eternal subordination of the Son" in order to justify the eternal subordination of women to men. The time has come for Christians, particularly Christian men, to stop remaining silent in the face of such doctrinal distortion. An excellent blog from Rachel Held Evans calls for Christian men to do just that; and the response has been encouraging.  Landon Whitsitt has written a post called Mama's Boy. Frank Viola has written a post called God's View of a Woman. J.R. Daniel Kirk has written a post called Imaging the Biblical God. Other Christian men are responding with excellent articles in rebuttal of Piper's weak masculine Christianity.

As much respect as I have for John Piper, on this matter I must express extreme disappoint with Piper's warped perception of Christianity. He is unintentionally weakening the gospel by diminishing God. Christians should maintain an unqualified enthusiasm and satisfaction for the biblical God that expresses Himself with both male and female characteristics. One of the most perceptive comments I read on this matter came from a non-Christian who posted his comment on Rachel Evan's blog. It is a strange day in evangelical Christianity when this conservative inerrantist has more affinity with the writings of a self-professed non-Christian named Michael Mock than the writings of John Piper. Mr. Mock wrote:
"Masculine Christianity? Feminine Christianity? Look, I'm not a Christian, but even asking the question seems to me to be profoundly missing the point. What I'd most like to see, myself, is a humane Christianity.

Every time I hear someone start talking about how Christianity needs to be more "manly" or "masculine" - or, by contrast, less effeminate - it seems to come at the cost of basic politeness and human decency, of empathy and forgiveness. It's gotten to the point where I assume that anyone who says that basically just wants permission to be more of a prick than the traditional reading of the Gospels says that they should be (i.e. not at all). The more of this "manly" Christianity I see, the more I'm convinced that it's just a cover for bad behavior, motivated by a misguided longing for a certain sort of machismo that Jesus neither endorsed nor practiced."

Amen, Mr. Mock, Amen.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Source of One's Life Becomes a Sacrosanct Possession

Every morning at 6:00 am two middle-aged men exercise to Insanity in front of a big screen in a children's classroom at Emmanuel Enid. My friend and I do sometimes feel insane jumping up-and-down, running in circles, and performing the various exercises, particularly since the professionals in the video are mostly in their twenties.. During this morning's video workout, the Insanity leader said, "I sometimes ask myself, 'Why do I push myself so hard?' Answer: I want to look good!" I appreciated the leader's honesty. His desire to look good drives him to push hard in exercise. That is certainly not my reason for exercise. I just want to be able to bend over without hearing a snap, crackle or pop. Regardless, his comment "I want to look good" got me to thinking about the subject of internal motivation.

Motives for Christian leaders are tricky things to evaluate. The way we talk has become so spiritualized we've lost our connection with reality. We speak about "God moving" when in reality we are manipulating. We assume that what we do is all of God and refuse to pause to evaluate whether what we do is more about us. We push because we wish to shape perceptions and 'look good' in the eyes of others, but we dare not admit this. We are conditioned to hide behind God-talk instead of transparency. When's the last time you ever heard a  pastor say from the platform, "I am pushing hard for us to have big crowds in church and more money in the offering because I want to look good to you and feel good about myself!"  I would find that refreshing and not near as repulsive as the spiritualization of Christian ministry.

My father is a very gifted teacher. He spoke to our church staff this week on John 10:10 where Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have life more abundantly." The word life (zoe) is defined by Strong's Lexicon as "the state of one who is possessed with vitality."  My father said that the source for our vitality in life is to be found in Jesus Christ. He pointed out that in Christ there is (1). unconditional love, and (2). a Person who cares that you exist. Your source for life should come from Him.

As he spoke my mind flashed to the 200 letters left behind by those who committed sucide in Tulsa during my tenure as Tulsa Police Chaplain. I keep them in a file in my office. Every letter reveals a desperation that led to death because of something the writer did not believe and something the writer did believe. First, the suicidal person did not believe he or she was deserving of love and acceptance, and second, the suicidal person believed nobody cared whether they lived or died.  Most people who ended their lives experienced a 'trigger'--something that led them to snap. The trigger was either the loss of a job, an end to a relationship, an exposure of a secret addiction, a diagnosis of a physical disease, or some other 'loss.'

Their source of life was lost.

Jesus came to give us life and to ensure that we do not depend upon anything else for our inner vitality. The exercise professional who draws his life from the acceptance of people when he "looks good" will one day need another source for his acceptance. The athlete who loves the limelight but no longer hears the cheers will one day need another source for his feelings of being appreciated. The businessman who requires cash flow and more capital to feel worthy will one day need another source for his sense of worth and value. Jesus came that we might find life in Him.

Here's the problem with church work. Too many pastors tie an umblical cord to ministry and suck their life from it. Too many Christian leaders need ministry. It's not just a job, its their life. If a Christian pastor thinks himself more important than a Christian plumber, he is drawing his life from what he does and not who he is. If a pastor feels value, worth and security when doing ministry but on the other hand he feels valueless, worthless, and insecure when not doing ministry, then he is drawing his life from ministry and not Christ. If a Christian pastor controls, manipulates and angrily takes 'authority' over other Christians in order to control perceptions about his ministry, then that pastor is finding his source and security in what he does rather than who he is.

In short, the source of your life apart from Christ becomes your sacrosanct possession. Nobody better mess with it. Nobody better question it. Nobody better criticize it. Nobody better threaten it. Nobody better disagree with it. Nobody better challenge it. Nobody better touch it. Nobody better hurt it. Nobody better say anything that causes people to question its value, purpose or benefits. Why? Because you die without it. Authoritarian, controlling, manipulative, pushy pastors can be better understood when we see the basis for such behavior: they are drawing their source of life from ministry and not from Christ. We only enable Christian leaders to continue down their path of personal destruction by keeping silent when pastors replace Christ with the church.

I suggest the greatest tool in God's shed for reminding Christian leaders that our source of life is to be found in Christ and not what we do is the Internet. It cuts the umblical cord that ties pastors to idolatrous ministry.