Category Archives: Church

Where Is The Middle Ground?

ropeThis is the question when it comes to sexuality issues for many in the United Methodist Church. For decades our church has wrestled with this question and tried to find the safe place to stand that holds both Scripture and culture together.  I am not writing to those who wish to rehash all of that.

I am writing to the majority of pastors and churches who wish to go on like this issue won’t affect them or their churches, to those who want to keep their heads down and focus on their local church, to those who don’t want to inform their congregations of denominational troubles because of the conflict it will bring.

I am writing to let you know, as politely as I can, the middle ground doesn’t exist anymore. Actually, I doubt it ever did.  We were only made to believe that it did because we were not forced to make a decision.  We could go on doing what we do at the local level and hide our dysfunctional denomination.  We could table the issue, talk in code, manipulate words, ignore the elephant and continue to dialog with a vain hope of discovering middle ground.

There is none.

The culture won’t allow middle ground. Sexuality has become peoples’ identity.  It is the core of who we are.  Our uniqueness, our distinctiveness, our individuality springs from our sexuality.  God made us this way and there is no ability, reason, or need to conform to an ancient standard.  To say otherwise is to deny our rights, our freedom, our God-given being.  We define marriage, parenting, and family in new terms that must be accepted, respected, and taught without question.

The Scriptures won’t allow middle ground either. They are clear about sexuality.  They state that our identity is much grander than our sexuality.  Our identity is found in Christ and He is remaking us into His image.  That process is called sanctification or, as Jesus put it, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Our sexuality has a context that is not to be desecrated or debased.  Throughout Scripture the message is clear: The context is within marriage between a man and a woman.  Anything other is to be left behind.

The church has reached the point of decision because the culture and Scripture do not coexist on this issue. One is right, and therefore, one is wrong. General Conference is only a few months away and again these two positions will clash.  Only this time, there will be no fence to sit on, no place to keep your head down, no middle ground.

The United Methodist Church will be the first large denomination to address this issue since the Supreme Court ruling on June 26th of this year.  Do you think the culture will allow the church to maintain its current position without a fight?  And do you think the news cameras will not be there to cover it?  And do you think your church won’t hear calls of bigotry and intolerance?  And do you think your people will not be confronted on social media by friends and family as to why they belong to a hateful church?  Don’t be fooled.  The culture won’t allow it.

When that happens, which way will you go? It’s the broad road or the narrow way, the rock or the sand, the sheep or the goats, the wheat or the chaff.  The middle ground is gone.  The time for choosing has come.

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Taxes

Taxes have always been a controversy for preachers. Some people get upset when you talk about money from the pulpit, how much more so if you talk about taxes? Which is exactly why the Pharisees ask Jesus this question. They want to get Him in trouble. It is a trap.

Julius-Caesar-coinMark 12:13-17, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial taxto Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

 Jesus doesn’t do what most of us do (that’s avoid the issue), He answers the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Well, the Lord’s answer leaves us to ask a few follow up questions. “What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s?”

Let’s start with easiest question, “What is God’s?” The answer is obviously, “everything.” Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” It is all God’s. We are just stewards of His creation. All the things we possess – from materials, talents, to the breath in our lungs and the beat in our hearts –  are really His and we will give an account of how we used them on judgment day. Did we use all of our resources to glorify Him and expand His kingdom or not? (For further reading see Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents.)

So what does God require of us with these resources? Jesus summed it up nicely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.)  In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Easy to answer, difficult to do.

Now, what is Caesar’s? What is owed to the government? I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If 10% good enough for God, good enough for the IRS.” This question is a bit trickier to answer.  In order to do so, we need to know what God has established government to do.

Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God establishes government for maintaining justice in society. Commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong. You see the Bible says that all of us are sinners. Left to ourselves we have a natural inclination to sin and do evil. We are not basically good. The Bible calls this condition of humanity original sin. (See Romans 7:14-25).

God gives us government for the benefit of society to bring order from chaos, provide the rule of law, and ensure justice is done among the people. We pay taxes to pay for the courts, police, prisons, salaries, maintain defense, roads, etc.   We must have structure to live together in peace and prosperity.  The preamble to the preamble constitutionUnited States Constitution gives us the reasons our founders established our government.  We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God institutes government for these reasons and we owe Caesar for these services.  But that leaves me with this follow up question: Is that where our taxes are going?  In the next few posts I’m going to delve into the spiritual issue of taxes.  Jesus says to pay taxes, but what if our tax money is going for purposes that oppose God and limit liberty?  What if our tax money is going to things that are good, but God did not ordain government to do?  And more practically, what if some of those things just don’t work and bring harm rather than good?  Then what?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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Called To Be Strangers We Are

star wars yodaWho wants to be Yoda?  Small in stature and green to boot.  He’s bald and got hobgoblin ears.  Powerful in the force is he, but English syntax is not his strong suit.  Let’s face it, Yoda is strange and nobody wants to be strange.

We really want to fit it.  As much as we might desire to be different from others and express ourselves, we generally express ourselves in the same manner.   I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers.  Now I have two of my own and I can tell you –  standing out is not high on their priority list.  From the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, even what time they show up at an event is about not standing out.  And what is true of teenagers is true of adults.  Adults, though less concerned about their music, are more concerned with opinions and being thought us as “open-minded” and “intelligent”.  I’ve seen grown men and women deny their faith in order to fit in.  Truth be told, I’ve seen churches, even entire denominations give up their Biblical identity just to be part of the crowd.

I’ve read and heard people talk about America being “post-Christian” for about 10 years, but I didn’t really believe it until this past election.  I believe them now.  After watching several denominations take unbiblical stances on marriage and sexuality, remain silent on issues of right and wrong, give way to political correctness, and concede the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise the culture has moved in the direction of paganism in the name of tolerance.  And, unfortunately, many adult Christians have gone right along with the culture in order to fit in.

The time has come for the church to remember who we are and what we are called to be.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

God has always made His people distinct so that they would be different from the culture around them.  The Bible has a word for being set apart for God.  The word is “holy.”  Fitting in with the world has never been an option.  In fact, a sure sign that you are missing it, is that you go right along with the world.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Jesus said his disciples were in the world, but not of it.  I am afraid we have forgotten who we are.  And by forgetting our set apart nature, Christians have failed to be salt and light in this world.  We have failed to declare the truth about who God is and live by His Holy Spirit.  That is why the culture around us is deteriorating exponentially. 

After Peter writes this resume for  Christians, in the next breath he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…”  He just called us Yoda.  People should be looking at Christians like we are from another planet.  They should see in us a holiness that is not from these parts.  Any concept of doing what the world does in order to fit in is at odds with being a Christian.  It’s time for each of us to examine ourselves.    Are we trying to fit in with the culture around us?  Are we, in order to fit in, sacrificing our identity and denying our Lord?  James, 4:4 asks, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?”  Have we forgotten who God has called us to be?

I believe we are living in a time where the difference between following Christ and and fitting in with the norms of the culture will be stark.  Issues and life choices are going to be light and darkness.  Fitting in for Christians is not an option any longer.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” 

Even in Star Wars, Yoda is strange.  Have you ever noticed another Yoda?  There are plenty of Ewoks, Wookies, humans, droids, but Yodas?  Aliens and strangers called to be we are.

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If My People

I try to tell myself that today is no different than any day in the last four years. No wonder I feel terrible. I turned off the tv last night about 10:30 and went to bed. I went to bed, but I didn’t get much sleep.

This morning and throughout the day I have received emails and texts from friends asking some hard questions. “I don’t understand how God would allow this leadership in government. Is this His will?” “How do I get past the anger and anxiety?” “What are Christians suppose to do now?” Reminds me of the Psalmist lament in 11:3, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous to do?” I wish I had an answer for the Psalmist.

One friend told me she could not remember an election so prayed over. I had made that same observation. I can’t recall more materials coming across my desk, more calls for prayer and fasting, and even prayer meetings for an election than this one. “Why didn’t God answer those prayers?” I don’t know that one either.

But I can say this with full confidence: Purity is on the other side of the refiner’s fire. God wants a holy people. And let’s be honest, the church is far from it. Oh, we’ll be decent and kind as long as it doesn’t inconvience us, but even in churches we don’t use the word “holy” anymore. We pretend the word is too offensive to others, but the reality is, it’s too offensive to us.

Our nation is in need of a Great Awakening. The foundations are being destroyed before our eyes and we are helpless to do anything about it. Or are we? I believe the cure begins with each one of us. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Did you notice who God requires to humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways? Is it the entire country? Is it the government? No, it is His people. We must be the ones to pursue holiness in our lives. And when we do, God will heal our land.

The world will continue to act like the world. But judgement comes when God’s people act like the world. Or didn’t we read the Old Testament? How serious are you willing to get with the Lord about your sin and His holiness? Are you willing to turn from you wicked ways? Will you humble yourself before the the Lord? There is no more time for games with God. He is not one to be triffle with.

What we do now as Christians is to humble ourselves before God, confess our sin and turn from it, and seek to honor Him in all our ways. Then God will hear us and heal our land.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tune in tomorrow to hear from Jonathan Witherspoon, a minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, on his thoughts concerning this.

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The Pulpit and Politics

Should pastors preach on political issues? I have heard both yes and no. From my congregation I have heard people tell me, “I’m a big believer in separation of church and state.” I’ve also heard, “Why don’t we hear about these thing from the pulpit?” I believe that pastors have a responsibility to preach on political issues…..sometimes. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

I believe that because there is nothing outside the realm of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As Christians we don’t get to compartmentalize our life and surrender only parts of it to Jesus. We do not have the option of saying, “Be Lord of my life here and here, but not here.” I also believe that the wisdom contained in the Scriptures can and should guide our lives, especially in how we live them out in society. The whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “You are the salt of the earth, light of the world” thing means we should be informed and active for His glory in the world around us.

Most pastors want to avoid controversy that preaching on a political issue is sure to bring. I certainly don’t want to cause rifts in the church. But if the Bible says something about a particular issue, don’t you want to know what it says? Don’t you want to know what God’s opinion is on the subject so that you can live in accordance with it? The Bible certainly doesn’t shy away from political issues. It is full of examples of preachers confronting, encouraging, and preaching to rulers, kings, judges, cities, and whole nations. And the topics range from adultery, extortion, private property, taxes, freedom, limits on power, role of governments, poverty, and the list goes on.

It has only been recently in American history that we expect preachers to remain silent on issues. During the Revolutionary War the British called the clergy, “The Black Robe Regiment” because of their preaching and influence in current affairs. Preachers did not shy away from preaching on God-given rights, limits of power, freedom, equality of all men and so on. And their legacy was passed on. What would have happened if preachers had remained silent on the issue of slavery? What would the civil-rights movement have been like if Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had decided not to preach on political issues?

As I stated earlier, I believe a preacher should preach on political issues. Not all of the time, but when it is needed. Take for instance the issue of marriage. Since when did marriage become a political issue? The church has been consistent about what marriage is and is not for two thousand years. Marriage is an institution established by God. The pastor who remains silent in the face of the government redefining it is not worthy of the calling and leads his or her people astray.

The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27. As a preacher, I know that I have a duty to proclaim, as best I can with love, the whole counsel of God. I am not looking to offend anyone by doing so. But I have found the truth contained in the Word of God is offensive all by itself. Perhaps the reason most people don’t want to hear about politics from the pulpit is because it would require some rethinking and possibly even – change.

Over the next month I am going to be addressing some political issues and exploring what the Bible says about them on my blog. On October 24th I am leading an Election Issues Forum at my church so this will be kind of a warm up. I have found Dr. Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible very helpful. You can hear Dr. Grudem speak about pastors preaching on political issues here.

I hope we will have some good discussions and gain insight into the wisdom God offers to us in the political arena. DISCLAIMER: I do not pretend to think that my opinions on these issues are from the mouth of God. I have tried to form my opinions based on His Word, but I am still quite falliable – just ask the Mrs.

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Your Bride Is Ugly

I keep bumping into this sentiment lately: “I like God, but I can’t stand the church.”  Or, “I’ll take Jesus, but I can do without Christians.”  It seems like even folks who claim the faith are taking their shots at the church.  Criticisms range from the church being too involved in politics to being irrelevant, from Christians being judgmental to not knowing what they believe.  Some people have decided that they are no longer going to call themselves “Christians” because it carries too much baggage.  “Christ-follower” is much more vogue and it gives one the option of following Jesus without being part of the church.

I wonder how that makes Jesus feel.  I think those comments are a kin to going to a bridegroom and telling him, “Dude I like you, but your bride is ugly.”  Honestly, how long do you think you are going to be friends?  Can you continue to have a relationship with the bridegroom and disparage the bride?  Do you think you are still going to get an invitation to the wedding reception?

I do not think that the church is above criticism.  In fact, when the bride is unfaithful to the bridegroom she needs to be corrected.  The Scripture is clear that judgment begins with the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17.)  But who is entitled to do the judging?  And to what standard is she being measured?  If the standard is other than the Word of God, then it is, at best, a distraction and, at worse, an idol.

Is there another institution that has done more to lift humanity out of the slim of history than the church?  Has government done more to restore the dignity of humanity to the elderly, the poor, the unborn?  Does Madison Avenue preach a message that gives people hope and peace?  Has technology been able to restore broken relationships, especially a relationship with God?  Can forgiveness be purchased on Wall Street?  Perhaps a little tolerance could be extended for poor coffee and hokey movies.

So why the hostility towards Christians and the church?  R.C. Sproul writes in The Holiness of God, “People have an appreciation for moral excellence, as long as it is removed a safe distance from them.  The Jews honored the prophets, from a distance.  The world honors Christ, from a distance.” (pg. 71)  Two thousand years later it is easy to admire Jesus, but get close to Him and you might find out why the prophets were killed and He was crucified.  The closer He gets the more our unholiness is revealed.  Sproul continues, “They feel crowded by holiness, even if it is made present only by an imperfect, partially sanctified human vessel.” (pg.82). Imperfect, partially sanctified human vessel is a pretty good description of the church.

Yet, the Church is the bride of Christ.  She is not perfect (not yet anyway), but He is the one who has called her.  Jesus purchased her with His own blood.  He washed her in His Word.  Jesus is preparing a place for her at this moment for eternity.  And Jesus is anxious to return and get her so that she can be with Him.  Jesus loves the church.  The church is His creation.  He will make her holy and pure in His time. 

The church has issues, no doubt.  However, Christians should be a bit more careful before throwing her to the curb the way the world does.  For there is coming a day (sorry, I don’t mean to fixate on end times) when those who “love Jesus but can’t stand the church” are going to be very glad they are counted among her.

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How to Start a Revival

I am convinced that the church needs revival. I am convinced that revival is this country’s only hope. So how do you start a revival?

I recently met with a group of men to talk about prayer and revival. God’s will was one of the points of the discussion. How do you know what to pray for? How do you know if it is God’s will? It becomes a stumbling block to our prayers when we aren’t sure what to ask for or how to go about asking for it. We freeze up and our prayers become timid and unsure.

I find this passage inspiring. I’ll share some thoughts on this passage and revival over the next few posts. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“We constantly pray for you.” We best learn by example and so Paul is modeling for them the first thing they should do. Pray! And to do it constantly! E.M. Bounds writes, “The one weak spot in our churches lies right here. Prayer is not regarded as being the primary factor in church life and activity, and other things, good in their places, are made primary.” (The Ministry of Prayer, Chp 7). We do lots of things, have lots of activities, but where is prayer on the list? It’s the formality. It is how we open and close an activity, not the activity itself.

That is not the case with Paul. He is showing them to pray constantly, make it your number one thing you do and do it all the time. Paul has already told them this as he closed his first letter to them, “pray continually” 1 Thes 5:17.

Revivals always begin with prayer. Are you hungry for revival? Do you look at the world and sense in you spirit that we are in need of a mighty wind from God? Then begin to pray continually. Gather others together and pray with them as well. Make prayer THE activity.

Isaiah 62:6-7 “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

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