Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Need to Know Nuremberg: Hobby Lobby, Oliver Stone and the Orwellian United States Government

Hollywood film director Oliver Stone is no ideological conservative. He is probably one of the more ideological liberals in Hollywood. Yet, in an interview yesterday with historian Peter Kusnick, Oliver Stone declares that "the United States has become an Orwellian state." For those unfamiliar with George Orwell's classic work 1984, an Orwellian state can be characterised by a government that is involved in:

(1). The invasion of personal privacy, either directly or physically, or indirectly through surveillance.
(2). State mandated laws designed to control the citizens' daily life, from infancy to death.
(3). The official adoption of laws and policies designed to disentegrate the family.
(4). The development of cult status for state leaders and their Party.
(5). The promotion of "doublespeak," so that the citizens learn to embrace inconsistent concepts without dissent. Examples of doublespeak would be "giving up liberty for freedom." Orwell himself defined doublespeak as "the defence of the indefensible… Political language that consists largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms"
(6). The revision of history in the favor of the State's interpretation of it.
(7). A dystopian future where the individual within the State is dehumanized and the State is exalted and promoted along with a totaliterian view of society. The State rules; not the people.
(8). The use of euphemisms in the naming of State branches of government. The department that wages war on other countries is called The Department of Defense. The department that imprisons the conscientious objector who protests the actions of the State is called The Department of Justice. The formerly named Peace Officer becomes a Police Officer called upon to enforce Political Laws (police and politics come from the same word).

The Hollywood film director backs up his claim that the US has become (notice the past tense) an Orwellian state by giving various facts in the interview. The Obama administration has issued one million Top Security clearances to assist in the surveillance and surreptitious spying on US citizens. The US government has imprisoned more American citizens for espionage in the last four years than any previous administration. The US government now intercepts over 1.7 billion private, daily communications of its citizens. The US is codifying thousands and thousands of new, political laws that compel citizens to lives according to the State's desires. Oliver Stone summarizes his concerns with the following statement (emphasis mine):

I think under the disguise of sheep’s clothing President Obama has been a wolf. Because of the nightmare of the Bush presidency that preceded him, people forgave him a lot. He was a great hope for change. The color of his skin, the upbringing, the internationalism, the globalism, seemed all evident. And he is an intelligent man. He has taken all the Bush changes and basically put them into the establishment, he has codified them. That is what is sad. So we are going into the second administration that is living outside the law and does not respect the law and foundations of our system and he is a constitutional lawyer, you know. Without the law, it is the law of the jungle. Nuremburg (sic) existed for a reason and there was a reason to have trials, there is a reason for due process – ‘habeas corpus’ as they call it in the United States.
The Nuremberg Trials

The trouble a totalitarian, Orwellian State brings to its society is tragic. Look at North Korea today. Look at the Soviet Union in the 1960's and 1970's. Look at Germany in the 1930's and 1940's. Yes, let's look at Germany.

During Germany's existence as a nation, the killing of an innocent person was held to be murder based on Natural Law.  Murder was seen by the German courts prior to the 20th century as a crime against--as America's Founding Fathers put it--Nature and Nature's God. Then, political leaders in Germany acquired the political power in the 1930's and 1940's to change the laws regarding murder. When the Nazi government began executing undesirables, judges in Germany, rather than interpreting Natural Law which never changes, went along with the new German Political Law and their cult-like political leader (Adolph Hitler) and ruled that the extermination of undesirables was legal.

The judges in 1940's Germany ruled that the mentally incompetent could be killed by the State without the crime of murder being committed. Then, the  Gypsies and the Poles were marked for death by the totalitarian government of Germany and the courts went along. Finally, the Jews were marked for death by Hitler and millions were killed in extermination camps. When all was said and done, the German State had LEGALLY put to death over 11,000,000 people.

When the Allies won the war, the political, judicial and military leaders of World War II Germany were placed on trial in the city of Nuremberg. At the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazi defendents claimed they were innocent of wrongdoing because they had been following orders from the State and were within the laws of the state in their actions. Their claims were true! The Nazi judges, political leaders and military officers were acting within their nation's laws, but the prosecutors at Nuremberg eloquently argued that "there is a higher duty" than anything a State can impose on its citizens. The Nuremberg Trial judges agreed with the prosecution. They ruled:
"The fact that the defendants acted pursuant to the orders of their government shall not free them from responsibility."
The defendants were executed. The Nuremberg judicial decision is probably the most important legal decision of our time. However, governments that are moving toward an Orwellian State do their best to ignore or hide the signficance of Nuremberg. Interestingly, Oliver Stone mentions Nuremberg. He understands that (1). There is a Higher Law than that of any government's law, and (2). We are all obliged to obey this law, and that (3).judicial courts must seek out and enforce this Higher Law, not Political Law.

Hobby Lobby and the Orwellian United States Government

Oklahoma City based corporation Hobby Lobby is defying Obamacare. Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will not comply with a federal law that requires employee health care plans to provide insurance coverage for certain kinds of contraception that the firm's owners consider to be "abortion inducing drugs and devices." Hobby Lobby's announcement came after a federal court blocked Hobby Lobby's appeal of the consitutionality of Obamacare.

The front page of the paper to which we subscribe, the Daily Oklahoman, reported yesterday on Hobby Lobby's decision to defy the State's mandate. Hobby Lobby believes that the child within a mother's womb is a person, and that to encroach on that person's life for the purpose of killing it is murder. Hobby Lobby's officials are obeying a Higher Law and ignoring Political Law. However, the United States government is now acting just like the German government of the 1940's. Political Law of the State is replacing Natural Law.

Watch the US government's reaction to Hobby Lobby very closely. It would not be surprising to me if the fines against Hobby Lobby were increased into the millions and millions of dollars. It would also not be suprising to me that if Hobby Lobby continues its defiance of Obamacare in the years to come, the US Justice Department will move to imprison company officials. Those who are unfamiliar with history are destined to repeat history's mistakes. America is fast becoming 1940's Germany.

I recently wrote a post explaining why the Founding Fathers established the Second Amendment. Our forefathers believed in a government described by Abraham Lincoln as "of the people, by the people, for the people." In other words, if the State ever exalted itself above the people and established Political Laws that compel citizens to encroach on persons or their property (think of a child in a mother's womb), then it was the duty of a free people to overthrow the State, by force if necessary. This duty is founded on what our Founding Fathers called Higher Law or Natural Law.

I am not a political radical. I don't even consider myself a political conservative. I despise politics. I believe in liberty and freedom. It is a strange day in America when a Christian writer and amateur historian in Oklahoma finds agreement with a Hollywood film producer. I resolve in the foreseeable future to (1). Continue to write on the tragic slide of America into Orwellian statism, and (2). To shop at Hobby Lobby as much as possible.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Authority and Legalism in the Church

I have just finished reading Wayne Grudem's Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism. Dr. Grudem is Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix, University and a founder of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Grudem's book is eleven chapters long, but he spends only one chapter articulating his views of manhood and womanhood.

In that one chapter Dr. Grudem lays out 83--count them, eighty-three--things that women can or cannot do within a church, encompassing three areas: (1). Governing authority, (2). Bible teaching, and (3). Public visibility. I found Dr. Grudem's list of 83 do's and dont's more than a little bizarre. In the area of authority, Grudem says that a woman can never have any authority over men. Though Grudem says he has no problem with women exercising influence through voting as a member of the church,  a woman is never to have what Grudem calls governing influence in the home or church. Governing influence is reserved for men, for men are designed by God to lead, and women are designed by God to follow. The illustration Grudem gives to amplify the above principle is found on page 56, footnote 33:
There is a huge difference between exercising influence through voting and exercising authority through governing the congregation. To take an analogy, an-eighteen-year-old American can vote for president of the United States, but cannot be president of the United States, and authority residing in the office of president far exceeds the authority of any individual believer.
The analogy is revealing regarding Grudem's thoughts on women. The Constitution deems an eighteen-year-old to be unqualified to serve as President. Similarly, Grudem believes women are unqualified to lead men. The startling two-fold reason Grudem gives for a woman's inability to lead men is given on pages 38-39. Grudem writes:

(1). Because God gave Adam a leadership role when He created him first and Eve second, and (2). God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church (emphasis mine), a disposition that inclines more to rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the docrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, in general, a disposition that inclines more toward a relational, nurturing emphasis.
Grudem is just flat wrong on many fronts; biblically, historically and morally just to name a few. Biblically, a number of bible-believing, Christ-honoring scholars disagree with Grudem's faulty interpretations of the pertinent scriptural texts (search this blog's search engine with words like "authority," "women," and "gender equality" for examples). Historically, try telling Margaret Thatcher she lacks the 'disposition that inclines toward rational, logical analysis' and cannot lead men. Morally, Grudem is violating women by saying something untrue about them, somethng directly contradicted by Scripture itself (see Galatians 3:26-28).

But the point of this post is to reveal Grudem's legalism. If one rejects the biblical truth that both men and women image God, and if one insists that only men can lead and women should follow, and if one believes that women shall be eternally subordinate to men, then one must come up with a whole series of things that a women can and cannot do, a list that is extra-biblical in nature. In fact, the further you get away from Scripture, the more rules one must employ.

On the other hand, those who receive the simple biblical truth that men and women in Christ are equal in terms of spiritual authority and Kingdom ministry will find that no rules are needed.

"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free."


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Missing Metaphors Make Men Mad

I am currently in a series of messages designed to help people Know God the way He reveals Himself to us in Scripture. The fundamental principle of this series: God is spirit (John 4:24). That means God is formless and has no body and knows no end. He is also not gendered. Both orthodox Christianity and orthodox Judaism affirm the spirit nature of God. God is not a man. God is not a woman. God is spirit.

Yet, the Bible declares that God saves and upholds us by His powerful right hand (Ps. 108:6; 138:7; 139:10; Isa.41:10). The Bible also speaks of God's knowing eyes (Gen. 1:4,31; 6:8; Exod. 33:17; Num. 14:14; Deut. 11:12; Zech. 4:10), His strong arm (Exod. 6:6; 5:16; Deut. 4:34; 5:15), His hearing ears ( 1 Sam. 8:21; 2 Kgs. 19:16; Ps. 5:1; 10:17; 18:6), His beautiful face (Exod. 33:11; Lev. 20:3,5,6; Num. 6:25; Deut. 31:17; 32:20; 34:10; Ps. 114:7), His finger (Exod. 8:19; 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ps. 8:3), His feet, (Exod. 24:10; Ezek. 43:7), His breasts (Genesis 17:1; Revelation 1:13), His womb (Isaiah 46:3; Genesis 49:25),  His... WAIT!

"God has breasts and a womb? You've got to be kidding me!"

Uh, that's what the Bible states, and no, I'm not kidding. A handful of people who have heard the messages I've preached the last few weeks have been perplexed, puzzled and maybe even a tiny bit peeved that their pastor would preach such nonsense! Others have investigated the truth of Scripture for themselves and have come to the conclusion that their pastor is speaking truth about God, but they remain perplexed. How can God be represented in Scripture as having breasts?

It's a metaphor, people.

Metaphors, Metaphors, Metaphors

Let me explain biblical metaphors.

In the Old Testament, El Shaddai is given as one of the names for God. El Shaddai means "The God with breasts" or even more precisely "The God with many breasts." Some Christians are very uncomfortable with such language. If you are one of those, I remind you that divine revelation (truth) is uninterested in your comfort. Truth is truth whether you can accept it or not.

Hebrew linguist and orthodox Jewish rabbi Justin Goldstein clearly shows the Hebrew meaning of El Shaddai is "the God with breasts."  Herbert Lockyear, the evangelical conservative scholar who wrote the classic work All the Names of God, points out that in the glorious and full revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:13), the Messiah is portrayed as El Shaddai, One who is "girt about the paps (breasts) with a golden girdle." Lockyer goes on to comment on this image of the glorified Christ, "Has Christ not invited us to come to him and drink? (John 6:53-57) [from All the Names of God, page 15].

The inspired revelation (Scripture) reveals the Spirit God in metaphorical language, using male and female characteristics (including body parts) so that we can understand His character. God is not gendered, but He possessess both masculine and feminine attributes. God no more has actual breasts than He has an actual right hand. God no more has a literal womb than He has a literal eye. Because the Spirit God transcends our ability to comprehend Him, He reveals Himself to us using metaphorical, anthropomorphic language.

When the Bible speaks of God's "powerful right hand," it is describing God as one might describe a man--He is strong, powerful, and will give you aid--but God has no actual hand. When the Bible speaks of God's breasts, it is describing God as one might describe a female--He is compassionate, loving and caring, just like a mother who nurtures and suckles her infant at her breasts--but God has no actual breasts. God is spirit, but when He created men and women, He created both genders in His image. God possesses all the wonderful and good attributes of men and women. For example:
I am God, your father, who supports you, the Shaddai who blesses you with blessings from the skies above and from the deep sea below, blessings from breasts (shadayim) and the womb (Genesis 49:25).
The biblical revelation declares the Spirit Creator made us in His image, both men and women (Genesis 1:27)  Ladies, you reflect the image of God. Men, you reflect the image of God. God is spirit, and as such, He could be described metaphorically as the strongest and most powerful man or as the most gentle and compassionate woman suckling her child.

Metaphors are figures of speech. When someone tells you that it is "raining cats and dogs," you don't go outside and look for actual cats and dogs raining down from heaven. Someone has given you a metaphor. "Raining cats and dogs" is comparing the storm outside to the fury, viciousness and wildness of cats and dogs fighting. If you have ever heard a group of cats getting entangled in a fight with group of dogs, then you know instantly the kind of storm outside.

Likewise, when the Bible reveals God with breasts, it does not mean you should think of God as having actual breasts. This is a metaphor. This metaphor means God treats His people like a mother treats her children. When He revealed Himself to Abraham as El Shaddai (the God with breasts), He was saying to Abraham, "I am the breasted God. Walk before me Abraham and be made whole. I am the your Source. I am the One who can enrich you, suckle you and prepare you for your life's journey. I am your All-Sufficient One."

When you begin to see that the Biblical authors constantly mix and mingle gender metaphors in describing God, then you agree with biblical commentators like John Calvin, who in his commentary on Isaiah 46:3 states, "God represents Himself as a female and we are the fruit of his womb."

We need more biblical literacy in our churches. Too many Christians are intellectually lazy. We need an understanding that when God created men and women He created us both in His image. Both genders reflect the character and nature of God. Sure, the Father gave to us the Son, as the language of Scripture declares, but the Father is the transcendent, spirit God who possesses the character and nature of both the masculine and the femine. Sure, Jesus Christ was physically a man, but "in Him all the fulness of the Deity lives." All the character qualities of being human are beautifully and wonderfully blended and fused in Christ. Ladies, look to Him. Men, look to Him.

Some Christians teach that the male is created in the image of God and the woman is created in the image of the man in order to be the servant to man.  God forbid you fall into that fish trap.

God created Adam (mankind) in His image, both male and female created He them. If you want to know the character of God, you must look to both the man and the woman, for Scripture represents God using both masculine and feminine metaphors. Ladies, God understands you because you reflect His image. You are from Him, to Him and for Him. Men, God understands you because you reflect His image. You are from Him, to Him, and for Him.

Do you really believe the Bible, or do you just say you do but you really don't? If you actually believe in the inspired and sacred text (as I do), then you must treat the opposite gender with dignity, respect and honor. Both genders reflect God's image.

(1). Ladies, become intimate with God as a friend would with a friend because you are in HIS IMAGE.
(2). Ladies, don't allow a male physical image of God to limit your understanding of character and nature of the One true God.
(3). Ladies, don't let anybody tell you that you have less worth and significance than men. You are made in HIS IMAGE.
(4). Ladies, when you begin to know God as He really is, "you will be strong and take action" (Daniel 11:32).
(5). And finally, missing metaphors makes men mad. In other words, men,  if you are struggling with the feminine portrayals of God in Scripture, take a deep breath, relax, and realize you may be missing the biblical metaphors of God--missing them as in missing out on an intimate relationship with God Himself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

True Humility: A Christmas Reflection

The clearest description of Jesus' character as He came to be born in Bethlehem is the word used by Paul in Philippians 2:8 -- "He humbled himself."


This is a word bandied about by Christians like a tennis ball during Wimbledon warm-ups. A person who is decisive and unbending to the pressure of others is often said "to lack humility." A person who is quiet like a church mouse and easily fades into the room's wallpaper is often called a "humble" person. It's as if humility to many Christians is a synonym for indecisiveness.

C.S. Lewis disagrees. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points to errors that Christians make in defining humility. Some define humility as "thinking less of oneself." This is seen in language like, "I'm just a little ole nobody," or "I'm nothing compared to so-and-so," or "If people really knew the way I really was, they'd be unimpressed." Lewis is irritated by such thinking. He writes that thinking less of oneself is not gospel humility at all.

Other Christians define humility as "thinking more of oneself" because of God's grace. These people say things like, "I'm a child of the King, so I'm somebody pretty special!" or "By God's grace, I am not what I used to be, and I'm not what I will one day be, but I'm better today than I was!" or "I am what I am by the grace of God." C.S. Lewis says that this group of Christians comes closer to an understanding of gospel humility than the former group, but both groups miss defining true humility. According to C.S. Lewis:
Humility is not thinking more or less of oneself; humility is thinking of oneself less.
Say it out loud. Humility is thinking of oneself less. Humility is a state of unself-consciousness. There's no thought of self. Humility is others focused. The humble person wants to know the story of others. This means a humble person can be decisive, immoveable, and even somewhat stubborn, because his actions are about other people, not himself. Most Christians would consider immoveablity and stubborness to be characteristics of pride, but not so! Christ "set his face like a flint" as He went to Calvary. Nothing could sway Him. Nothing could stop Him. The jeers of peers and the woes from foes caused not one footstep to falter. Yet Jesus was humble. He was doing what He was doing for the good of others.

More than a few Christians may need to tweak their definition of humility.

The one who continually feels himself the victim is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who is constantly worried that he's not measuring up is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who reacts in anger to others over changes in his life is not humble, for he is thinking of himself too much. The one who changes or alters his actions or views because people are disappointed in him is living a life void of principle and is not humble. The person who is always thinking of himself--how he looks, how he is perceived, how he has been short-changed, how he is not being heard, how he is a victim--is a person without gospel humility.

Just a little food for the soul this Christmas week.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Control and the Tragedy at Sandy Hook

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family members of those killed in yesterday's horrible school mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut. On two occasions in my lifetime I have been in the middle of a crime scene that involved the death of more than one child. The gruesome images have never left me, so I add to my prayer list the emergency medical and police personnel who entered the building to do their jobs. It will be a long, long time before healing comes to the community of Newton.

President Obama spoke emotionally  yesterday afternoon and said our nation must "come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this." Many assume the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school will be the tipping point for gun control in the United States. I would argue that the reason we have mass shootings like yesterday is because government has already encroached and intervened in personal freedoms.

Let me explain. When our country was founded, our nation's Founding Fathers believed in what is called Natural Law. Natural Law is a view that certain rights or values are inherent in or universally known by human reason. The best summary of natural law is contained in the following seventeen word statement:
"Do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property."
In the early days, when a criminal encroached on another person or their property, the courts of the United States established the precedent that restitution would be made to the victim(s). In the case of murder, the murderer would be swiftly brought to justice via execution. In cases of encroaching on property (i.e. theft, vandalism, etc...),  restitution would be made by the robbers to the victims as ordered by the judge. Over time, a series of decisions in the courts of the United States established what what we call common law. This means, as various acts of crime occurred, judges would look at legal decisions in previous similar cases to make a ruling on restitution that would be fair and equitable to the victim. The people encroached upon were the victims, not the state. The criminals who encroached made restitution to the people, not the state.

It was necessary, because our forefathers understood Natural Law, that American citizens always have the right to keep and bear arms. So, Amendment II of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution gives to citizens of the United States "the right to keep and bear arms." What most Americans don't understand are the two reasons our forefathers felt this right to keep and bear arms was absolutely necessary for a free society to exist.

(1). Our nation's forefathers knew there would be occasions when criminals would not make restitution to their victims as ordered by the courts. When this happens in a country built on Natural Law, outlawry is invoked. Outlawry is the ability for citizens in a civilized society to pass judgment and punish those criminals who refuse to make court ordered restitution to their victims. Most of us understand the term "outlaw," but few of us understand that it is derived from the word outlawry. Outlawry means criminals who run from court ordered restitution are handed over to society and placed "outside the protection of law." This is what it meant for an outlaw to be Wanted: Dead or Alive. It did not matter how he was captured. When you brought the outlaw in before the judge, dead or alive, you received a bounty for the capture. The outlaw was outside of "the protection of the law."

In the old days, prisons were fairly empty. Incarceration was limited to those awaiting trial. Once a court ordered the terms of restitution, the criminal was released in order to work and pay for his crimes. If the criminal ran from his responsibilities, he was turned over to society (by the courts) as "an outlaw."  Our Founding Fathers understood the need for civilized society to "keep and bear arms" because a society of free and civilized people were ultimately the highest power in the land. The citizens of the United States would need to keep and bear arms because of outlaws. Natural Law demands the principle of outlawry.

A modern version of outlawry would be a free and law-abiding citizen in a school, armed with a weapon, shooting and killing a murderer in the act of encroaching. The citizen doesn't wait on "law enforcement" to take action--our Constitution, built on Natural Law, demands the citizen take action. Many believe a country is more civilized when free citizens don't have guns. Our Founding Fathers believed just the opposite. A free society, according to Natural Law, makes the free people of that free society the highest authority--not the state or the government. Government is of the people, by the people, for the people.

Could law-abiding citizens in a free society make a mistake in dealing with an outlaw? Of course, but the checks and balances on a free people is the knowledge that you yourself might be deemed an outlaw if you violate Natural Law and encroach on an innocent person. Natural Law is as much a science as biology, physics and math. It is understandable regardless of one's religion, because it comes from Nature and Nature's God. Natural Law understands that victims are those who experience a crime of encroachment and the criminal is the encroacher.

Unfortunately, our government has assumed the role of victim. The criminal pays his or her debt "to the state." The government of the United States has replaced the people of the United States. When a state usurps the governance of a free people, the state will eventually devolve into a fascism. A fascist state does not arise overnight. Just like Germany in the early 20th century, fascism progresses slowly as more and more power is handed to the state and more and more freedoms are taken from the people. One of the fundamental needs of a fascist state is for its citizens not to be armed.

(2). Our nation's forefathers understood that there could be an occasion when government violates Natural Law (by encroaching), and it would be the duty of the free citizens of that state to rebel. Very few Americans know that the reasoning of those we call Patriots, the men and women who fought their government during the American Revolution, was built upon Natural Law. People like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, and others believed that England was encroaching on the people and property of the colonists. In other words, America's Patriots believed people should always be able to keep and bear arms because there always needs to be the ability for a free people in a free society to revolt against a government that violates Natural Law. England violated the principles of Natural Law, and in obedience to Nature and Nature's God, the American colonists revolted against England.

Thomas Jefferson, when writing the draft of the Constitution of Virginia, wrote "No free man shall be debarred the use of arms."  Alexander Hamilton wrote, "The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." (The Federalist Papers, pages 184-188). Abraham Lincoln, declared at the commencement of the Civil War, "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it."  These men understood that any government which removes the right to keep and bear arms from her free citizens takes a gigantic step toward statist facism.

So, though we grieve over the mass murder at Sandy Hook, and though we deplore acts of violence by criminals throughout our land, we should resist with all our might any intrusion by the government to take weapons from us.

Natural Law demands free citizens have the right to be armed.

As a Christian, I may choose not to bear arms, to turn the other cheek, and to live like Jesus Christ lived. But as an American, I will resist any effort by the state to take weapons from her citizens.

Natural Law demands this of me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas and the Status Quo in Churches

I sometimes hear evangelicals condemn churches and pastors for being accomodating to culture in their ministries. From having church-wide Super Bowl fellowships on Super Bowl Sunday, to using contemporary style music during worship services, some Christians loudly condemn the church's adoption of cultural habits or practices to reach people for Christ. I propose in this post that the adoption of cultural mores and norms to communicate the message of Jesus Christ is precisely what the inspired Scriptures mandate we Christians should be doing.

It is what Paul did in Acts 17:19-30. He went where the people of his culture gathered. He learned what the people of his culture liked. He met people in their comfort zone, and then he delivered to the people of his culture the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

The apostle wisely made the distinction between cultural traditions and gospel truth. The former changes; the latter does not. Methods are amoral. Truth is eternal. Paul determined to use the best method he could to bring the good news to the lost.

Paul and the early apostles followed the New Covenant commandment to love others as Christ had loved them (see John 13:34-35). In love for the people of Athens, Paul stood on Mars Hill and quoted pagan poets (like Aratus). But before he could quote the pagans, he had to read them. Paul walked with comfort and ease among the philosophers of Athens. He conversed with them on their turf, in their language, and with a singular purpose. Paul met the pagans of Greece on their playing field in order to give them Christ.

Christians throughout the ages have adopted cultural norms to communicate Christ. An illustration of this principle would be the use of music in church worship. The early Christians sang Psalms acappella. Eventually instruments were introduced into worship, and even though we now consider the organ a traditional instrument, when it was first introduced into the church, it caused an uproar because it was an instrument “from the saloons.”

When Charles and John Wesley sought to communicate the gospel to the people of their day, they took bar tunes (songs sung in pubs of England) and changed the words to communicate Christ. This was scandalous! "How dare the Wesley boys use bar ditties in the sacred house of God!" said some. These “bar ditties” are what we know today as hymns.

The early apostles, as well as Christians throughout the ages, have adopted cultural mores to better communicate the message of Christ. Again, the message never changes, but the means by which the message is conveyed BETTER CHANGE or Christians will never have a new audience. Sadly, more than a few evangelicals in our day attempt to crystalize the methodology through which the message is communicated. Someone once said:

Everything that is in place was originally considered a good idea.
Everything that is in place was originally somebody's good idea.
Everything that is in place began as a challenge to the status quo.
To complicate matters: In every organization there is someone standing guard of the status quo.

The challenge for pastors is to recognize the status quo in our churches, patiently challenge those who guard it, and find new and creative ways to communicate the gospel to people in need of Christ. Though it is not always easy to lead others to adopt the customs of culture in order to reach people with the good news, it is a practice rooted in Scripture and in history.

Let's use Christmas as an example. Before Christ was born in Bethlehem--most likely in the late spring of 4 BC-- the day we now celebrate as His birth, December 25, was actually a day of pagan celebration. It was the day the sun reached its lowest point on the horizon, and afterwards would begin its rise (i.e. 'the winter solstice'). The Romans rejoiced that the winter cold and darkness was ending, and they celebrated "the return of the sun" on December 25. According to historian Melissa Lauber, on December 25 "a huge log or  a whole tree, the Yule Log, would be cast into a bonfire. Roman revelers would dance and sing around the fire, hoping to awaken the sun from its slumber.”  

This Roman celebration of the sun occurred every year during the time Christ walked the earth. The week long festival, beginning on December 17 and culminating on December 25, was called Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of light, for the ascension of the sun on the horizon meant the return of more daylight. December 25 was the highest holy day of Rome. "Everyone feasted and rejoiced! Work and business were for a season entirely suspended, and houses were decked with laurel and evergreen. Visits and presents were exchanged between friends, and clients gave gifts to their patrons. The whole season was one of rejoicing and goodwill and happy indulgences,” writes historian J.M. Wheeler. The Romans called the actual day of December 25 "The Day of the Unconquerable Sun."  This pagan festival was deeply ingrained in the pop culture before, during, and long after Jesus died and rose again.

However, during the reign of Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337), Christians began taking and using the pagan customs of Saturnalia as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus Christ. It was through the intentional efforts of early Christians in using the customs of their culture as a vehicle to deliver the message of Jesus Christ that we Christians today have what we know as
"Christmas." Imagine being a Christian two thousand years ago in a culture where people are celebrating the resurrection of the Unconquerable Sun ("s-u-n"). It's a no-brainer for Christians to say to their lost friends, "Look, you're worshiping an inanimate object in the sky. Let me tell you about the Unconquerable Son of God - Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and lived and died and rose again - a  real resurrection - for your sins and for mine.

Contrary to what you have heard, Jesus was not the reason for the season in the beginning.

Nowhere in Scripture is the date of Christ's birth mentioned. Nowhere in Scripture are Christians ever seen celebrating the birth of Christ after that first Bethlehem morning. Yet, for centuries Christians have used the pagan customs of Saturnalia to teach others about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Christians, don't be afraid to change. Don't be afraid to take cultural norms and adopt them as your own in order to share Christ. The celebration of Christmas ought to be an annual reminder to us that Christians throughout the ages have adopted pagan customs as their own to give the message of Jesus Christ to a people comfortable in their culture.



Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Male Sex Mobs Targeting Women Is the End Result of Not Knowing God

I am currently teaching a five-week series entitled Strength Through Knowing God, based on Daniel 11:32b where the prophet writes, "Those who know their God will be strong and take action." Last Sunday's message revolved around the biblical revelation that God is spirit (John 4:24) and is not gendered. To pray "Our Father who art in heaven" no more means that God is a man than to hear God say, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13) means God is a woman. Scripture explicitly states that God is spirit, but possesses both masculine and feminine attributes. This is why when God created adam (the Hebrew word for "man"), He created both the male and the female in His image, and called them both adam (see Genesis 1:27). In fact, in the process of creation, the only thing that was not good was when the male was created without the female. It is only in the male and the female that the full-orbed image of God is revealed. Men and women are God's image-bearers and both genders must be seen, treated and respected as equal representatives of the character of God.  As John Calvin writes in his commentary on Isaiah 46:3, "God has chosen to liken himself to a female and we are the fruit of his womb." Only a person well versed in the biblical revelation of God would be able to make such a statement about the feminine character and attributes of the spirit Creator.

In some evangelical Christian churches, there has been a tendency among Christian men to emphasize God's image as only male. It's as if some American Christian men view God as drinking Red Bull, attending stock car races, growing His beard like Duck Dynasty men, and sitting on His throne like a king who orders his women servants to do his bidding. Some Christian men often see themselves as leading their families and churches like they view God leads the universe. These men see Christian women as 'helpers,' given to them by God so that the women can follow the man's authoritative reign. Sadly, this emphasis on male god-like authority has placed Christian women in a similar status to that of Islamic women.  It may seem bizarre for some to compare an aberrant evangelical Christian view of women to fundamentalist Islamic views of women, but the belief that women are designed by Allah (God) to be helpers of men and the object of a man's sexual desires, is a common belief shared by both. It is a belief, however, that is not supported by the biblical revelation.

Scripture reveals God as both masculine and femine in character. His attributes included feminine and masculine attributes. I am spending five weeks on a Sunday morning to prove this truth from the inspired and infallible Scriptures. God's word never hesitates to compare God to a Mother and a Father, to a husband and a wife, and to a man and a woman. He is none of the above, because He is spirit, but He is like all the above, because of His eternal character and attributes. When God created adam, He placed His image in both the male and the female. Though the man and the woman are different physically, they are equal in possessing the temperament, character, and attributes of the Creator (i.e. "His image"), qualities that the spirit God has possessed from eternity. This Sunday I will show how in Jesus the Anointed One, "all the fullness of the Deity lives" (Colossians 2:9). Jesus Christ is the perfect human being, displaying the full-orbed character and attributes of God during His ministry on earth. Both men and women learn how to live life to its fullest by imitating Christ.

Therefore, men, when you seek to dominate a woman (or vice-versa), you are rebelling against God. When you use a woman as an object to fulfill your sexual desire--rather than as a person of equal personhood with whom you enter into covenant--then you break covenant with God. Whatever a man does to or against a woman, he does to or against his God.

MSN reported this morning that in the country of Egypt "...male sex mobs are targeting women because men have no fear of being caught."

Let me write a better headline that applies to the world: "Male sex mobs are targeting women because men have no fear of God when it comes to His image in women."

Men mistreat women because they don't know their God; that's true in Egypt, and that's true in America-even in our churches. I am hopeful that my five-week December series will give to Christians at Emmanuel the proper view of God and give us strength to take action when women are treated as if they are servants to men instead of image-bearers of God.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Mega-Church Buildings And the Future of Evangelical Christianity

Church history is often cyclical, particularly since the Reformation. From small groups meeting in secret locations to escape persecution, to worshipers entering massive European cathedrals built with state money, modern Christianity goes back and forth between an emphasis on loose organizational structure and wide ministry to an emphasis on large brick-and-morter structures and more narrow ministry. Beginning in the 1970's, evangelical churches swung toward the latter. For the past forty years, "successful" churches built massive structures, sometimes borrowing millions of dollars, to have the largest auditoriums, best recreational centers, and in some cases, the finest restaurants, cafes and coffee shops in the area. From Prestonwood in Dallas, to Bellevue in Memphis, to Fellowship in Grapevine, and to the now defunct Crystal Cathedral in California, mega-churches from coast to coast have spent millions and millions of dollars on plush facilities. Evanglical leaders have deemed it best to have the largest and best buildings in the community. The penultimate example of this era of evangelicalism was the decision of FBC Dallas to build a $130-$150 million downtown worship center for a church with an average attendance of less than 3,000. I believe future generations of evangelicals may look back at this event and consider it the event that ended an era.

The definition of a mega-church is 2,000 or more people in average weekly attendance. I would argue there is nothing morally wrong with mega-churches constructing massive and/or plush facilties, particularly if the church refuses to take upon herself unreasonable and unservicable debt. There are plenty of other churches for Christians to attend if they disagree with their church's decision to build larger and plusher buildings.

There is, however, a need for evangelical pastors and leaders of large churches (numerically) to take a step back and evaluate a desire to enter into a massive building program. The pendulum is swinging back toward churches creating loose organizational structures in order to faciliate a wider array of ministries. For the next few decades, those evangelical churches that will continue to grow in numbers and Kingdom influence are those churches that spend less on facilities, learn how to worship in mulitiple venues and at various times, and focus more on building a network of effective small groups that collectively do missions both locally and globally. The climate and culture of the evangelical church has changed. Any church that focuses on large in-house productions, massive buildings, and ministries more conducive to "come and recieve" instead of "go and give" is in for a surprise.

Let's call it the Evangelical Fiscal Cliff.

Churches that have borrowed to build massive facilities are behind the proverbial eight ball. They must continue to focus on sustaining and maintaining the organization (utilities, repairs, staffing, and publicity to bring people into the high dollar facilities for "special events"), instead of empowering people to do the work of the ministry away from the buildings. The new evangelical culture is about going and doing. The new wave of Christianity is about serving, not receiving. Churches who are trapped into maintaining buildings built for "come and see" special events are going to struggle.

Because the world is flat, young Christians can pull up on You Tube and watch something ten times better than anything they will see performed on their local church platform. What next generation Christians are interested in is CONNECTING. Those churches that focus on discipleship through expanding small groups and involving their members in local and global missions are the churches that have healthy futures.

Things may eventually swing back to the other direction, but I don't think it will be in my lifetime.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Going Nuts About Jesus

I am reading, for the third time, The Divine Conspiracy by former University of Southern California professor of philosophy Dallas Willard. Theologian Richard Foster has placed The Divine Conspiracy alongside the writings of Bonhoeffer, Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, and Augustine. I would agree with Foster's assessment with this caveat: The Divine Conspiracy is much easier to read.

The premise of The Divine Conspiracy is that when the life of God enters the soul, a transformation occurs. Christianity is more than just believing certain facts about Jesus Christ; it is experiencing the life of God, an experience that transforms human existence.

Read aloud Dallas Willard's paraphrase of John 3:16:

God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique Son among us, so that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God himself.
"Those who count on him...." What a wonderful phrase. How many of us count on our work for a fulfilling life? How many of us count on peoples' opinions of us to avoid a futile and failing existence? And how many of us, when what we are counting on fails, turn to things that mask the pain of our futile existence? Human existence is all about a fruitless search for a meaningful, purposeful, significant and fulfilling life.

Enter God.

God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique son among us, that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God himself.

Ultimately, what each of us does with Christ will determine whether or not there is fulfillment in this life. As Dallas Willard puts it, you must go "nuts" about Jesus to experience the undying life of God. When we see Jesus as he is, we will either 'turn away or else shamelessly adore him.' The former group ends life's journey in futility and failure. The latter group experiences the life of God, and what a grand, meaningful life it is!

The Divine Conspiracy has again challenged me to realize that it serves no purpose to condemn those who give lip service to Jesus on Sundays and then struggle with substance abuse, addictions, and all sorts of internal painful behavior (anger, pride, bitterness, resentment, etc...) during the week. Real, soul-transforming help comes when we can identify the root problem and help others see it and respond to it.

The root problem? People are crazy about everything but Jesus. That path only leads to futile and failing existence.

The solution? The only way to experience the undying life of God himself and avoid a futile and failing existence is to go nuts about Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Blood of Jesus Equals His Death

French philosopher Voltaire criticized Christianity as a “bloody religion,” because of the emphasis on blood, particularly the bloody death of its founder, Jesus Christ. Voltaire, like many who hear the word "blood," envision that this word, as used in the Bible, can only refer to the red internal liquid of the human body. This is just not so. When the Bible uses the word blood, it often is a synonym for life. In addition, the shedding of blood is a synonym for death. For example:

"For the life of a creature is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11)
"Without the shedding of blood (loss of life), there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).

In the Old Covenant, the blood of the sacrificial animals played a prominent role in Jewish worship. From the priest dipping his fingers into the blood and sprinkling it on the ground and the altar, to the various instructions for the use of the blood according to the kind of sacrifice being offered, blood was a predominate theme. However, there was no magic in the blood of the sacrificial animals, and there is no magic in the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood in both represented their lives and the blood shed by both represented their deaths.

When Christians sing songs like Nothing But the Blood, Are You Washed in the Blood? Oh, the Blood of Jesus, and There Is Power In the Blood, the thought processes of the worshipper should revolve around the death of Jesus Christ, not the red blood cells of Jesus Christ. The shedding of Christ's blood is simply a synonym for His death. God gave His Son to die. It is not the actual blood of Jesus that saves us, it is the death of Jesus that saves us (I Corinthians 15:3).

Christ's death is a voluntary, penal, and substitutionary death. Christ died for us willingly (voluntary). His death was punishment from God. The word penal, as in 'the penal system,' means "punishment." God punished the Son He loves so that He might never punish those who love His Son. God, the righteous Judge, accepted as payment for our sin the death of His Son. Christ's death was substitionary (for us). Because the emphasis in Scripture is on God providing His Son to die for sinners, salvation from God's punishment is called "salvation by grace." Sinners who believe in Christ "gain approval with God by  faith" (Hebrews 11:39). You can't gain approval with God unless you were once in disapproval with God. This is why Jesus Christ cannot be bypassed and anyone expect to have a relationship with God.

Ultimately, the problem skeptics have with Christianity is the notion that God holds people accountable for their sins--or maybe to drill down even further--that there is even such a thing as sin. Yet, it is clear from logic and the logos (the Word) that God, as the righteous Judge of the universe, punishes those who hate Him and harm others. What kind of judge would He be if He didn't?

Yet, God's punishment is not arbitrary or capricious. He is holy and righteous in all His actions. The punishment will always meet the crime. This is why Scripture declares that the punishment of God for sinners (hell) is a punishment of degrees (Matthew 10:15). It's  also one of the reasons John Stott came to the conviction that hell is temporal, not eternal. Stott believed God's righteous punishment is meted out toward sinners in various degrees and lengths, and then there is the end of the sinner. I am not saying I agree with Stott on temporal punishment, but I am absolutely in agreement with him that hell is not the same for every person.

On the other hand, all the riches of God's grace are the possession of every believer in Christ. Christ died for our sins. He rose for our justification. All the rewards of Christ are ours because of His active obedience (His life) and His passive obedience (His death). We are co-heirs with Christ because of our faith in Him.


The next time you sing about the blood, reflect on what it is that you are actually singing.  The emphasis in Scripture is not on the red corpuscles in the body of Jesus as if they  possess some magical powers...

The blood of Jesus Christ is His death.

Why is this important to understand? Because there is a difference between literalism and a belief in the infallible, life-giving Word of God. Wise is the one who understands the difference.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Focus on the Function of Your Life, Not the Form of Your Family

This week I renewed fellowship with a cousin I had not seen in a long time. His wife is in charge of Nike's Air Jordan brand, a one-and-a-half billion dollar division of Nike Corporation. They live in Portland and have three beautiful young kids. My cousin used to be a stockbroker in New York City, but when his wife kept being promoted by Nike he decided to stay home to take care of the kids, while his wife worked for a living. For the past decade, my cousin has taken the primary responsiblity of caring for the home and raising the kids while his wife has "put the bread on the table" as they say.

What a fun family! I had the chance to interact with their kids and each of them was friendly, engaged, and at ease around strangers. Mom and dad were great conversationalists, comfortable in their own skin, and genuinely delightful people. Our only regret is that we have not known them as well as we would like, and our time with them is limited because of geography. However, seeing them this week brought to mind an important principle that church leaders often forget.

God is interested in the functionality of the individual, not the form of the family to which that individual belongs. For example, how many churches overlook the divorced, the widowed, the orphaned, the abandoned, and the people who come from broken and fractured homes because they are not in a "traditional" family unit? My cousin and his wife have reversed traditional roles intentionally, but I'm thinking right now of the number of men and women whose families and personal lives have been turned upside down unintentionally.

When church leaders put an emphasis on the form that family units should take, even if it is a well-intentioned effort to encourage families, the emphasis of Scripture is missed. God is not nearly as interested in the form of a family group as He is the functionality of the individual person. Let me prove this:

(1). Marriage is temporal, not eternal.

Granted, there are a few non-traditional western religions (i.e. Mormonism) and  a few long-time eastern religions (i.e. Islam) who advocate that marriage, even mulitiple marriages for men, are eternal. That's just not so. Jesus said that in heaven we "will not marry nor be given in marriage" (Mark 12:25).

Marriage is something that is not eternal. At some point, marriage will end for everyone.  If a marriage happens to end here on earth for a Christian, it is possible for that Christian to experience the same fulfillment and joy here and now that he or she will experience eternally. A divorcee who trusts Christ, a graced widow or widower, and even Christian singles who have never married or never will marry have as much personal value, identity and significance as any married Christian. In fact, it might be said that there is an advantage for the Christian who is not married; he or she has the opportunity to understand how to function individually now as Christ intends us to function eternally then.

So let me be crystal clear. Since marriage is a form of relationship that will one day end for everyone, when there is an overemphasis in church on the form of one's family to the neglect of the individual's function within his or her family, then churches fail in our biblical mission. The function of a Christian within the family never ends, and when properly understood, never fails. So what is our function as Christians? We are to love others in our family unit as Christ has loved us (John 15:12).  When we learn to function in this manner we never fail, though the form our family takes comes to an end (I Corinthians 13:8).

(2). Parenting is temporal, not eternal.

Think about this. In the resurrection, you will not have small children, nor will you have aged parents. You will not relate to one another in the dynamic of family as you relate to your family members during this life. To many of you, this is a blessed thing because your Christian family is highly dysfunctional.

The best way to define dysfunction within a Christian family is "dependence upon another family member to look a certain way, act a certain way, or be a certain way for me to be a whole, healthy and happy individual."  When you need your spouse, children, or family members to look a certain way in order to feel signficant and worthy, then you are dysfunctional as an individual Christian. What you need to be a whole, healthy and significant human being, you have from Him. God is interested in you becoming functional as an individual far more than He is you be involved in a traditional form of family.

For example, a divorced Christian and a single Christian share the same function as a married Christian. The form of relationships with others may vary, but the functionality and identity those individuals share in Christ are the same. Pastors should put far more emphasis on those things that strengthen individual functionality.

When church leaders put an emphasis on standardizing the form of families (men work, women stay at home and have children, children are to listen and not be heard, etc...), then we miss the intention of God's Word and our true calling. We are called by God to encourage individuals to love others as Christ has loved us, and this is the message of His Word. While that love is Christ's love in us, the context in which that love is displayed, and how it looks in application, will be different according to the situation the individual Christian finds himself or herself in.

Just like with marriages, there is a temporary nature in parental roles, child identity, and extended familial relationships. Yes, we will have relationship with one another forever, but that relationship will be based on being able to relate to one another as individuals of equal value--co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Therefore, that person who finds his identity in his position of authority, or his performance, or his power and posessions, is in for a really tough wake-up call. "Naked came I into the world from my mother's womb, and naked will I return" (Job 1:12). Blessed is the individual Christian who understands his or her identity comes from the love of God in Christ and not the form of their family on earth.

(3). Churches that emphasize the form of the family mean well, but miss wide.

There seems to be a growing desire among conservative, Bible-believing churches (like ours)  to be "family friendly." Trust me, I love my traditional family! And, I also  pastor a church full of people who love the traditional family, Christ and His Word. However, allow me to issue a caution to any of us who tend to want to overemphasize a particular form that the Christian family should take. We live in a world and a culture where the family has undergone all kinds of change. Divorce is rampant. Homosexual couples are adopting children. Cohabitation is normal. The church emphasizing "family friendly" ministry sounds good. We are distressed by the breakdown of the traditional family unit. However, there is no reason to get too upset. Nothing about the form of the family is eternal.

Marriage ends. Parenting ends. Familial relationships on earth all come to an end. We relate to each other for eternity as equals, on the basis of our relationship with Christ and our love Him. There is a slice of heaven on earth when we can relate to one another in the church, regardless of the form our family takes, as individuals equal in worth, significance and value. It deserves to be said again: God is far more concerned about the functionality of the individual Christian in the family than the form of the family the individual Christian is in.

Therefore, enjoy your family! Whatever it looks like, enjoy the people around you and learn to love them! Know this: if you are an adopted child of a homosexual couple and you come to Emmanuel Enid, you will find a place where you will be encouraged and strengthened in your call to function as an individual Christian full of His grace, mercy and love. We will help you love your homosexual parents, and we will not make you think you are deficient  in identity and worth because the form of your family is different than the pastor's. The same could be said of the divorced Christian, the blended family, the single Christian, the orphaned Christian, and the widowed Christian

God is interested in you. He (and we) are interested in how you function in this life. The function of your faith is far more important to us than the form of your family.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful for Giving at Thanksgiving

Emmanuel Enid receives offerings in our four morning worship services the old fashioned way - we pass plates. Since coming as pastor of Emmanuel in 1992, it has been our standard practice to invite people in the auditorium to either give to the offering or receive from the offering. When we pass the plates we encourage those in financial need to take from the offering if they have genuine need. We only ask that they take the cash and leave the checks and the envelopes because those are checks made to Emmanuel, and they couldn't cash them anyway. We also typically announce that if there is not enough cash in the plate to meet their need, they can see us after the service and we will see what we can do to help them financially. There are no restrictions. Members and guests are invited to take from the offering plate. Money can be taken by the same person every week for fifty-two weeks. We mean what we say, and we have many stories of people who have been helped through our offering, sometimes in surprising fashions. One young lady who was in college stopped me one Sunday with tears in her eyes. She was an only child. Her only surviving parent and grandparent, her father, was dying of cancer. She was driving sixty miles one way from Stillwater every weekend to relieve her father's caregiver. She could not afford the gas, and for the past several weeks she had been faithfully taking her gas money from the offering plate. Her father was not a believer in Christ, though she was, and after she told her dad what we had said about the offering, and what she was doing for gas money in order to get home to care for him, he said, "If that is what Christians are all about, then I want to be one." Anyway, you can understand her tears.
Last Sunday a friend of mine told me at lunch that the lady in front of him took her hand and scooped up almost the entire offering, cash, checks, envelopes--everything. Obviously, that presents a problem, particularly if people are giving to Emmanuel in the form of checks. The problem is not so much that we will not receive the money (the Lord ultimately is in charge of meeting our needs, and we trust Him), but that we don't look real professional if we have someone who has written a check and we have no record of receiving it and they have no record of it being cashed. On occasion we have had different individuals unsuccessfully try to cash checks at banks, and of course, we don't press charges because we just assume there is a misunderstanding of what can and cannot be taken from the offering plate. It's almost worth the adventure just to see the expression on the faces of bank employees when they are told that worship attenders at Emmanuel are encouraged to take what they need from the offering plate.
Anyway, Monday's offering count was the lowest it has been in many months. Emmanuel takes no giving commitment cards. We do not emphasize the "tithe." We tell people to give what the Holy Spirit leads them to give. For the past eighteen years in a row we have exceeded our church budget in receipts. Last year we exceeded it by a quarter of a million dollars. Around Thanksgiving however, we are always behind in budget receipts, sometimes to the tune of $200,000 to $300,000 dollars. Emmanuel has no guarantee that we will meet budget by the end of the year, and we make no special emphasis--but somehow, someway, God has provided.
After my friend told me about the woman who emptied everything from the offering plate, and after I received the news of the low offering this past Sunday, I found myself thinking through our practice of encouraging people to take from the offering plate. After a little reflection, I came up with the reasons why we will not change a thing.
(1). God is quite capable of meeting our needs as a church ministry as He sees fit.
(2). If we ever fall short in our missions and ministry budget, we will cut our budget to reflect the giving we have received (or not received). The people of Emmanuel, having been filled by the Spirit, will give precisely what the Spirit leads them to give and take what the Spirit leads them to take. The answer is not for leaders to demand more, but for leaders to trust more.
(3). Trust in God involves trusting Him to work in the lives of those who give to and of those who receive from Emmanuel. Sure, people can abuse the offering, misuse the church's generosity, and take money from the offering plate for things that some might not consider appropriate, but our God is big enough to handle His people. He neither needs our control or demands our micromanagement.
(4). Thanksgiving reminds us not only to give thanks, but to be thankful for giving. Too many of us are so accustomed to being on the receiving end that the concept of churches being the initiators of giving has been lost.
(5). In time, the lives of people are changed by the love involved in giving, not the control needed in taking.
I close with a Thanksgiving Facebook message I received this morning from a woman impacted by Emmanuel. I have left off her name and current living location to protect her identity, but I believe her message was only a confirmation from the Lord that it is far more blessed for Emmanuel to give than to receive.
Pastor Wade
I wanted to take time to tell you how much I miss Emmanuel. I had no idea how important and significant Emmanuel was in my life. Now that I have moved to _____, my new husband and I are looking for a church home. We have been to the Baptist Church here 3 or 4 times and it isn't even close to being the church for us.... I wanted to thank you for teaching me what God's Grace is. Grace is God! God knew what He was doing when He called you to preach His word. I have so many examples of how you and Emmanuel have touched my life but there are three that really stand out to me.
1....One Christmas Eve the girls and I were at the candle light service and afterwards you just randomly came up to me and handed me a voucher for $75 in groceries. You couldn't have known how much I needed that...but God did.
2. I had surgery in 2009. I was to be off work for at least 6 weeks which turned into 11 weeks. I had the surgery of state,  and I had asked if the church could help me with a donation to "Kathy's House" which is a place for patients to stay who are in the hospital for medical reasons. The donation is what they accept as payment. Well, not only did the church write a check for the donation but they paid my bills for a month. That was amazing! Thank you!
3.  EBC helped me raise my 3 daughters and keep God in every part of their life. I pray that God sends my husband and me to a special church like Emmanuel. Please pray for us. Thank you!
Wade and Rachelle Burleson


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Criticize Your Pastor and Bring God's Curse?

With a hat tip to my friend and fellow pastor Tyson Wynn, I share Creflo Dollar's recent message where he opines the person who criticizes his or her pastor on Facebook or Twitter brings a curse from God down on their own heads. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Dollar and suggest that any of the members of the church I pastor who wish to criticize me publicly or privately are free to do so. I take the position of David who said, "Let them alone. God has bidden them to speak." (II Samuel 16:11)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When Methodology Is Crystallized, the Mission Is Sterilized

"I have become all things to all people in order that I might win some ..." (I Corinthians 9:22 NIV). When speaking to Jews about Christ, Paul emphasized his Judaism. When speaking to Gentiles about Christ, Paul emphasized his Roman citizenship. Paul adapted his teaching delivery to the thought and the culture of the people that were around him. The message of Paul never changed, but the method through which the message was delivered adapted to the times, the people and the situation.

Jesus comissioned us to "make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you"  (Matthew 28:20). A good fisher of men understands that you must change your methods if you are going to make catch peoples' interest and make them disciples of Christ. The message of Jesus never changes, but the manner in which people hear His message must change.

Thirty years ago I came to First Baptist Church, Holdenville, Oklahoma from Baylor University. I was introduced as a new staff member to Oklahoma at the annual Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in November of 1982. Since then I have served in about every capacity one can serve in the BGCO. This week I attended the 2012 BGCO. I noticed something interesting. The crowds are much smaller, the heads are much greyer, and I am much older. Our leadership at the BGCO is more progressive than many state conventions. I know they work constantly to change, adapt, and stay relevant to today's culture.

It is not easy.

The church tha refuses to change its methodology in reaching people is doomed to a day of decline. We are on a mission to make disciples. Every staff member, every pastor, and every church member ought to be asking the question, "Is what we are doing today fulfilling our mission?"  I think we would be amazed at the number of things that are done because "that's the way we have always done it."

Dan Heath and Chip Heath, in their  #1 New York Times bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, write:
Two professors at Harvard Business Schook, writing about organizational change, say that change is hard because people are reluctant to alter habits that have been successful in the past. 'In the absence of a dire threat, employees will keep doing what they have always done.' 
Dan Heath, yokefellow at Harvard, believes that an organization needing quick, specific and immediate change, must used negative emotions as needed (i.e. fear, anxiety, etc...). However, most of the time, organizations are dying a slow and diseased death rather than a sudden and catastrophic one. Organizations must have people who are creative, flexible and ingenuious in order for change to be built into organizational structure. Good organizations are filled with people who have positive emotions such as joy, self-fulfillment, and personal contentment. These postive emotions broaden the interest and desire of everyone in the organization to investigate new things and adapt methodologies. Employees who carry negative personal emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger, will find that these negative emotions narrow their minds and limited their abilities to fathom how or why change is needed, much less comprehend the steps that must be taken to effect that change.

I would highly recommend the book Switch. It will turn the lights on for you regarding the necessity of institutional change at your organization in order to fulfill your mission. If our churches and conventions crystallize our methodologies and refuse to change, and if there is no reproduction of spiritual life in the making of more and more disciples, then there is nobody else to blame but us.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

We Christians in the West Are Soft

We who name Christ as our King and are immersed in western civilization and culture have little concept of what it means to suffer for "Christ's name's sake." Our church buildings are beautiful and comfortable, our worship services are moving and meaningful, and our lives run like clockwork. Think back to how you felt the last time the lights went out during a storm. Were you irritated? Lost? Or do you remember your reaction the last time your 4G phone service went off-line? Were you frustrated? Perplexed? When our greatest discomforts in life revolve around electricity and electronics instead of challenges to our faith and discipleship of others, we American Christians have become too soft. Don't misundersand: This softness isn't a moral dilemma for us; it is simply a meaningful description of us. We didn't ask to become soft, our culture has made us soft.

This is why a knowledge of history, geography, and current events is so important. When Christian kids in the west feel the greatest disappointment for them during the holidays is in not getting just the right number or kind of gifts, then we are doing a disservice to them by not helping them become interested in the world at large and the world of the past. For many centuries, Christians have been persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Sadly, Voice of the Martyrs tells us that more Christians have been killed or martyred in the last century than in all of the previous centuries combined. We don't know about this because it doesn't happen in the west. That's why it is important for us to open the eyes of our kids to the world outside of modern western civilization. When the Burleson kids were growing mom and dad read to them Fox's Book of Martyrs during our morning devotional. It made their cereal and oatmeal more difficult to eat as we read, but is sure helped them understand that many Christians have not lived as cushy of lives as we.

Today, I was moved by reading a letter from Pliny the Younger to Roman Emperor Marcus Trajan. Pliny was the governor of Bythinia in northwest Turkey in the early second century, and he considered Emperor Trajan his best friend. The letter, written about AD 111, vividly describes to Trajan how Pliny deals with the Christians in Bythinia, people Pliny considered enemies of the Roman Empire for their refusal to ascribe deity to the Roman Emperor and say, "Caesar is Lord."

Pliny writes,
"I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist in avowing themselves followers of the one they call Christ, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished...

The sum total of their guilt amounts to no more than this: they meet regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and they also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery...

This has made me to decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconnesses. I find them to be nothing but a degenerative sort of cult carried to extravagamt lengths."

Next time you complain about the carpet in your auditorium, or the comfort and style of the chairs that you sit in at church, or the lack of funding for your special church programs, remember those two Christian deaconnesses from Bythiania and the torture they endured so that Pliny could get to the truth about this cult called Christianity. Those two women endured something you may never face in your lifetime, but we can sure learn from them. Christianity to them was life, not convenience. The only thing that will harden us up in the west without facing persecution ourselves is a vocal acknowledgement that much of what we get attached to in church are those things that are comfortable and make us feel wonderful instead of those things that are missional and make us very purposeful.