Pastor's Corner

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Christians, Guns, and Muslims

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Jerry Falwell Jr, the President of Liberty University (a large and influential Christian institution), spoke the following words during the school’s recent convocation:

If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know…

 I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.

His words received a cheerful reception from the crowd, and a subsequent social media defense from other believers. But I think his statements and their reception illustrate just how far some in American Christianity have drifted from where our faith should be. I also think there is a sad irony when the loudest, most brazen gun advocates, are those whose religious tradition is said to rest on the shoulders of someone who allowed himself to be unjustly beaten, tortured, and executed; who never used his power to do anything but heal and deliver those who were in spiritual, emotional, and physical bondage.

If we can no longer see this as a profound disconnect, then we are worshipping a Jesus made in our own image — and most certainly not the one in the Gospels.

But on the other side of the coin, there are the pathetic words coming out of the White House about what took place in San Bernardino, cautioning us on Islamophobia. First it was homophobia as a label to control the population and silence everyone over the president’s agenda regarding same-sex marriage, now it is Islamophobia. The White House has become expert in trying to shame everyone into submission, as well as the White House news media puppets.

Let’s be real, had there been citizens who were armed in San Bernardino, the most likely scenario would have been the shooters being stopped sooner. We know this from previous incidents around the country. The ridiculous rhetoric about gun control following the shooting, when California is one of the most limiting states regarding weapons, is just foolish.

But when Christians say things like Falwell did at the convocation, we misrepresent Jesus to the world, and I think Jesus deserves better than this. He deserves to be accurately represented before a hurting world. While Christians are speaking like this in America, missionaries are working tirelessly in Syrian refugee camps all over the Middle East bringing aid and support to Muslims who are running in fear. Because of this compassion displayed by Christian missionaries, Muslims are coming to faith in Christ every day because of what they see ISIS doing, and what they have experienced first-hand. So as we do our saber-rattling and sound like ISIS, how does that make the gospel accessible to the Muslim world?

Those of you who know me, know I am an advocate of personal self-defense. But when our rhetoric sounds as bad as ISIS, I think we risk misrepresenting the Jesus of the Bible. 

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Sin and the Christian

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You like the idea of there being a God who is above it all, there is comfort in this idea. You especially like the idea of Him loving everybody and being gracious. We all know we are not perfect, all of us can use some grace, that’s for sure.

But there is a place in our personal awareness where we can deceive ourselves. That comfort we draw from knowing God is love can become a means of excusing the reality of sin in our lives, a cloak to cover what we know to be a problem. John pulls away the covers in his first letter.

1John 3:7-10  “Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous. 8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God's seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness — the one who does not love his fellow Christian — is not of God.” – New English Translation (NET)

In John’s first letter, he lays out several tests to help us know who the believers are, such as “Do we love like God loves, or do you hate.” Here, John tells us the sin in our lives is also a critical test of the genuineness of our faith toward God. The English translations do not do justice to the original Greek which speaks of “not having a lifestyle or habit of sin,” rather than not ever sinning. We all sin, if we say otherwise, we are lying to ourselves John tells us in chapter one. (1 John 1:8-9) But God will forgive those who come confessing and seek God in repentance. In chapter three though, John is speaking of someone who is claiming to be a Christian, but is continuing to live a lifestyle of sin, it is their habit of life. These folks occasionally feel a twinge of guilt for their lifestyle, but there is no genuine repentance, no turning away from sin. John says this person, well, they are deceiving themselves about where they stand with God.

Where are you really? Is there sin in your life you struggle against, or is there no struggle at all – it is instead a lifestyle or regular habit? Is God more important to you than anything else, or is He simply one more thing you have added in along with everything else? John’s words stand as a warning to us about deceiving ourselves. No matter what you have done, God will forgive and restore those who come to Him in repentance. But, God does not deliver us so we can remain in sin. 

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Why We Pray

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I have noticed a trend which followed the terrorist attack in Paris. Atheists went online on social media, mocking and degrading Christians for praying. I recognize the hatred toward religion held to by atheists, and I understand their response in some ways. But, this seems to be something which has begun, and now follows every major event like the shooting today in San Bernardino, CA.

 

So, to our atheist friends and family: We pray and encourage each other to pray for you, not because you necessarily believe in God, but because we believe in God. You can mock us I guess as we seek God on your behalf, it will not stop us from praying to God for you and your situation. We do not encourage each other to have happy thoughts to send out to you because we do not believe our happy thoughts can accomplish anything. Others can do this, and I understand they are doing what they know to do as they face a terrible situation. And that’s fine.

 

We pray because we believe in a God who can do something. And when we are facing a tragedy like we have seen in Paris or in San Bernardino, CA, we know we can do very little to effect change on our own from all over the country. Our hearts go out to you, we share in your pain. And in response to your tragedy, we do what we know to do, we pray to “the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) We pray asking God to come alongside of you in your moments of pain and anguish, because He can and does. He weeps with us over the horror of death. (John 11:35) So, yes, we pray and we will continue to pray, even if you mock us. We will continue to reach out to God on your behalf because we care, and we know God cares as well. I hope you will understand.

 

And now brethren, let us pray to the God of all comfort.

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On Being a Christian

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There is something inherently backward about the view of the person who sees or treats Christianity like it is a system of rules. They imagine God has established some set of hard and fast rules which must be obeyed or you fail and are rejected. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of the Old Testament, and the laws which governed the lives of the nation of Israel. Then this misunderstanding is lifted off of the pages of the Old Testament and overlaid upon the New Testament, with no regard for what is being said and done there.

Being a Christian is not so much about wearing ourselves out constantly avoiding sin, than it is about actively and courageously seeking the face of God, seeking the will of God, and then doing it...every day. Yes, God addresses some lifestyle choices and behaviors He tells us to not do or to avoid, we cannot read the Bible and miss those unless we just don’t want to see them. But with God, much of what He has told us has to do with human flourishing, rather than a system to keep us down.

And what is more is the God of the Bible has not given us “case law” the way American courts now determine a ruling. Instead God more often than not provides principles based in the nature of God himself, in truth, in reality, and according to the manner He created us. Case law creates an environment where flaws and exceptions can be sought out to excuse ourselves from obligation. Principles provide an expanse of application which hems in the criminal, and opens the door wide for the one who is seeking God. This is why Christianity has been embraced in so many cultures, in so many nations, and across so many generations. The Christian in Africa worships God in his or her own language and in a style of music which stirs their heart, and this is true in China and anywhere else in the world. The Christian in Mumbai follows Christ with his or her whole heart in a way that lines up with the Bible within their culture, and again, so it is everywhere else in the world.

What God has given us is relational more than it is legal, His words are given to encourage life rather than death. As we follow Christ we pray not because it is an obligation to a religious rite, we pray because we desire to be in God’s presence. We read and study our Bibles, not out of command, but out of a desire to know God more deeply and intimately. We gather with other Christians not as a system to check in with someone, but because there is something wonderful about being in the midst of God’s people. (Psalm 133)

Hebrews 12:18 “For you have not come to {a mountain} that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,”

Coming to Christ is coming to life, not to something fearful and strangled by rules. Coming to Christ you are coming to someone who willingly gave His life for you, and He invites you to come close without fear. (1 John 4:18

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Fatal Shooting at Planned Parenthood Facility

It has not been a great day for humanity today, this day following Thanksgiving. There have been fist fights and scuffles in malls over Black Friday deals, which behaviors are never indicative of the best humanity can offer. But there have been fatal shootings in more than one part of the country today as well. And it is one of these fatal shootings which is particularly sad to me.

 

Colorado Springs, Colorado today suffered a gunman entering a Planned Parenthood facility and shooting several people, killing three. The gunman has been arrested, and we do not know his motives at this point. Since the 70s, there has been less than ten people killed over the issue of abortion in the United States, but every one of them were cruel and mindless acts by someone who has claimed a deep concern for the babies being murdered by the abortionists. There is always this justification in the minds of these people who are mentally deranged enough to commit such violent acts. But this is not a justifiable act, it is criminal and unwarranted.

 

As a Christian, there is little which could be further from the manner of life expected from anyone who would follow Jesus. So I grieve for the people who have been killed and wounded, as well as the families of these people, and I pray for them. I grieve that the nation should have to witness and emotionally deal with such a heinous crime. God help us

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When Information Becomes Viral

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Do you know what one of the most famous computer viruses is? The virus “Jerusalem”, also known as “Friday the 13th”, which was created in Israel in 1988 to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Jewish state. To activate the virus, the calendar only had to hit Friday the 13th and all the programs and files that were being used would be infected and eliminated. Crazy huh?

I was working on computers back in the early 90s with a friend of mine who was showing me various networking methods and computer systems when I learned about this virus. Compared to the damage that has been done by other viruses since the Jerusalem bug, it was not really that difficult to deal with unless you lost some important work. And it was not hard to remove from your computer either. It was among the first viruses that common users had to contend with though. But what really caught my attention about it, was learning that it was just a small software package someone had deliberately written to create chaos with people’s computers. It was not a mistake, not a defective software package, it was someone’s on purpose way of attacking others.

We are long past the days of viruses like the Jerusalem bug, and today’s viruses are virulent and more and more difficult to detect and remove. Anti-virus software companies can hardly keep up with the production of virus strains, every day there is a new threat. And who is at risk? Primarily the average user who does not know; doesn’t know what the threat is, doesn’t know how far the damage can reach, and doesn’t know just how deliberate the attack is.

This concept as a reality in today’s world has other implications as well, and it translates into other areas of life. For instance, we are at a point in social media when information is viral as well. Users on Facebook are classic examples of what this looks like. There is a continual flood of information being spread on social media sites like Facebook which are deliberately written to spread among users, lies presented as truth, lies the user wants to hear so they welcome the information and pass it on like a virus to other willing users. For the conservative crowds, lies about Obama are written and posted so they will spread like a cancer and they go viral in hours on Facebook. For the liberals and progressives, the lies will be about people like Dr. Ben Carson or other notable conservatives, and they will spread just as quickly.

Like a computer virus, these lies are written on purpose with a goal in mind; to attack users who do not know enough to protect themselves from such information, or are naïve enough to believe everything written on the internet. And we are not talking about groups like “The Onion” who are famous for their satirical information offerings, where occasionally someone who does not understand satire and will believe the information. We are talking about individuals and groups who are purposefully posting information to deceive and spread information chaos.

Believers must wake up to this and be more deliberate about what they pass on. We are people of the truth, we need to stick to the truth, and not pass on these information viruses. 

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Refugees, Alternatives, and Some Thoughts

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We all know the refugee crisis is heating up in America; should we take these folks in or refuse them at our borders? Both sides of this debate are arguing, making broad brushed statements, and all of it is getting uglier as the conversation progresses. Like many of the social debates in America in our age of technology, this debate is happening online more than in person. And online, it is easy to cast people aside, easy to insult, and easy to assume the worst of those who disagree with you. This has grown to be commonplace, and the noise is almost deafening.

The worst part of this debate regarding the refugee situation is the manner in which people are being used in the conversations. The refugees, the homeless, and especially homeless veterans, are being tossed about like pawns in a bad chess game. Too many are talking about these people, like they are not people. I wonder if you might consider something with me.

I wonder why we cannot begin talking about the crisis in a way that embraces both sides? Is there a reason why we cannot bring in these folks, and place a critical eye on all of those coming in to insure public safety as well? This is all going to be time consuming and costly, no matter how you approach it, this is a given. So why not do this right? Help the folks who are genuinely oppressed, but put added security measures in place to make sure we are really helping those who need help. There is a legitimate third way here.

I also wonder if I might ask a few questions. I do not want to sound rude or insulting, these are just honest questions about what I am hearing from both sides.

For those who are claiming we should not be helping these refugees until we help our own homeless veterans: I wonder if instead of using these good men and women as a leverage tool in a debate, if you could go and help some homeless veterans right now, instead of waiting to see the government do something? How about if you take some of your money and time, and commit to doing something to help those folks. That would demonstrate genuine care and concern for their plight.

For those who are calling for compassionate reception of these refugees: I wonder, there are already thousands of refugees who have entered the U.S. so far this year, are you doing anything about them? Have you established any refugee assistance programs in your church community? Have you committed any of your own personal resources to making a difference in their lives since you believe having them here would make a huge difference in their lives?

It’s easy to talk, right? I mean, even for me to write this only costs some of my time. Committing some of our own personal resources, time, and effort is quite another matter isn’t it? I think as a Christian I have an obligation to my God regarding the oppressed, whether that is a homeless veteran or a refugee fleeing for their life. But this argument is about what our government is doing regarding this matter. Nothing is stopping me from doing something for the homeless or the refugee already here. Just some thoughts.

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Refugees, Rhetoric, and Reality

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The people of European Union, as well as the United States, have come into a new level awareness regarding what is happening with the refugee crisis. It is 9/11 all over again. This is not said as some callous statement without regard for the pain the French are feeling right now, I genuinely feel sorrow for their recent terrorist attack. It is unfortunate, but it is the reality that such horrific behavior is a fact of the human condition.

All things being as they are, what needs to happen is a new conversation needs to be started, or we are not going to deal with the refugee issue in a coherent or compassionate manner.

If you are standing behind Donald Trump and his latest rants about how he is going to send everyone out of the country as soon as he is president, and believe what he is saying, you are not dealing with reality. The logistics of such an undertaking would be horrendous, incredibly costly, and would take a few years – it would be a logistical nightmare. These wild campaign outbursts are all meant to draw attention, they have little to do with reality. Trump is a salesman who will say anything to make the sale.

On the other hand, if you are doing the total compassion thing and wanting to just let folks in because you believe the scriptures tell you we must love the foreigner, I believe you are not being realistic either.

So much of this rhetoric is broad brushing the refugees under one banner or another, as if it is all one type of people crossing the borders. The “isolationist” folks seem to imagine the worst about all of the refugees, when the reality is the biggest part of these folks are fleeing our common enemy. But the “welcoming committee” folks seem to want to recklessly allow these folks to enter the country with insufficient security measures, which would be a tremendous mistake. We must take a good look at what type of people are coming into Europe right now, these are not all good people, nor are they all bad. Can you see the conflict of interests here? To refuse genuinely oppressed immigrants from entering our country is completely against the core of what is compassionate, but to give an open invitation to our enemies is not a sane or biblical response either. This welcoming response is already a logistical nightmare.

But these are all stereotypes aren’t they? Stereotypes the media is using to divide the world with. The news media does not generally put reasonable people on camera, only extremists.

I do not believe either side of the debate regarding the refugee crisis wants the extreme of their position, these are ugly stereotypes we should all reject. Like much of American politics, this conversation has degraded to the worst common denominator in the media. We must think realistically, listen respectfully, and act with compassion and reason. If we don’t, this will be just one more issue tearing at the fabric of the nation. We should all want to help the truly oppressed, but we should all want a secure nation as well. Let’s talk. Let’s act. 

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Eric Liddell and Sacrifice

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Eric Henry Liddell (16 January 1902 – 21 February 1945) was a Scottish athlete, rugby union international player, and a Christian missionary. Eric had delayed heading to the mission field after being encouraged to compete in various athletic competitions by family and friends. These races won “the Flying Scotsman” as he was known, entrance into the Olympics as a competitor. But while on the way to the Olympics, a problem arose when Eric learned the race he was to run was on a Sunday. Liddell being a strict man concerning what he believed to be the Sabbath, refused to run. This was unheard of for an athlete to refuse to run in a race he had prepared for most of his life, but Eric was more concerned with what he believed to be right before God than competing in the Olympics.

After refusing to run in the heats on a Sunday at his preferred distance, the men's 100 metres, Liddell was allowed to compete in the men's 400 metres instead at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Though it was longer than his preferred distance, he won the gold medal. Eric was prepared to sacrifice this honor for his faith, which shocked many people, even in an age when faith meant much more to English and American culture than it does today.

Eric returned to the mission field in China in 1925 to serve as a missionary teacher. Aside from two furloughs in Scotland, he remained in China until his death in 1945 in a Japanese civilian internment camp. Liddell's Olympic training and racing, and the religious convictions that influenced him, are depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Chariots of Fire.” (1981)

2 Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

Sacrificial living is not a popular subject, and not one you are likely to hear about in a lot of churches anymore. In a self-absorbed generation, the idea of living sacrificially is like a blinding light in a dark room. But this is exactly why a life lived sacrificially is so powerful, it runs contrary to the culture and the manner of life produced by our sensual desires. Eric Liddell lived like this. Eric, although a notable runner who won a gold medal, he left a different legacy behind. He did not live the life of a celebrity athlete, he won the gold medal, celebrated with family and friends, and then left for the mission field in China where he died. History remembers him for his faith and his personal convictions regarding that faith, even more than the gold medal.

Like the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians; when we conclude in our hearts Christ died for us and it changes us, we also conclude our lives are meant to be lived for the One who died for us. The Weight of Glory is not found in living for ourselves, it is found in living for Christ who died and rose again for us. Be a blinding light this week.

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When Our Heroes Fall

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Perhaps you have already heard, or perhaps this is the first you are hearing about it. Over the last few days there has been a troubling situation which has arisen over Pastor Saeed Abidini and his family. Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of American-Iranian pastor, Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence in an Iranian prison for his Christian activities, has decided to temporarily suspend all of her public efforts.

She is worn out, exhausted from all of the travel and the demanding speaking schedule she has been involved in now for over three years. She still hopes and prays for her husband’s release from prison, but she has found herself physically and emotionally unable to keep up any more, and is backing away for a period of time to pray, reflect, and be away from the crowds with her children. She has also halted public advocacy, citing marital problems and abuse. Carrying this secret and trying to remain in the public eye has proven more than she can bear.

In two emails written to supporters, she revealed some details of her troubled marriage to Saeed Abedini, which she said included “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse due to Saeed’s addiction to pornography.” The abuse, she said, started early in their marriage and had worsened through the years.

“I would appreciate for those who care about Saeed and our family to give us time for rest and healing and to respect our privacy,” she told a Christianity Today columnist. “I will continue to pray for my husband’s release and advocate for him as he suffers in an Iranian prison for his Christian faith. I would also ask others to join me in continuing to pray for his release.”

For many Christians, Pastor Saeed is a modern hero of the faith because of his public persecution and suffering for his faith. The human tendency is to objectify our heroes, make them bigger than life, and above the usual frailties of humanity. But, Saeed is just a man who has now been exposed as a man. Whatever shock or disappointment we may feel seeing our hero fall, must be tempered with the compassion and grace we would hope for if the reality of who we are were ever to be made public. None of us are perfect, this is why Christ came and why Pastor Saeed gave his life to Christ in the first place – he is just a man who needs a savior.

Three things remain true; our brother is imprisoned for his faith, his life is in danger there, and he remains in a position which requires our prayer and any effort to see him released. Yes it hurts to see our heroes fall, but like us, Saeed is just a man. We must remember this and not waste time judging him for his frailties. Today our brother remains in need of our prayers more than ever before. 

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Know Your God

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There is a missionary event in the life of the apostle Paul during the first couple of decades of the Christian Church I was thinking about this morning. Paul is in Athens where there are literally thousands of idols all over the city. Each idol representing a deity of some sort, each one believed in at some level, and each one worshipped on some level. But the presence of so many idols stirred Paul’s heart and he felt compelled to speak to the people of the city.

Acts 17:22-25 “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all {people} life and breath and all things”

There was such a wide range of deities, the folks of Athens were not even sure how many there were exactly. Nevertheless, they did not want any god to go unrepresented, so they erected an idol to the unknown god to make sure they did not offend him… or her. God was many things to the people of Athens, but he or she was unclear to them at the same time.

Today, little has changed. Many people declare they are religious, but do not wish to hold to any religious affiliation – they are “spiritual” they say. In fact, this is a growing trend over the last twenty years, the number of non-denominationally affiliated religious people has doubled. They are holding to a deity of sorts, but it is vague to them. For some, this god is safe, the less they know, the less demand their religious connections will burden them. They can continue on with their lives as they please and never have to contend with this god because he or she never makes any demands on them. The God of the Bible for centuries has understood the human response to Him, and the varying ways people have chosen to acknowledge Him. But, as Paul tells the crowd, this time has come to an end with the coming of Jesus Christ.

Acts 17:30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all {people} everywhere should repent,”

God desires to be known, and He has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. God does not want such ignorance regarding Himself and the salvation offered through His Son. Know your God, know what you believe, and know why you believe. 

 

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Walk in the Spirit

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It was one of those moments when I found myself overwhelmed with a desire to lash out, to hurt them because I saw the hurt being caused by them upon others. I wanted to use what is in me to do injury, to bring retribution for the wrong done. Yes, a bit of confession here. Except God, His will seized me and reigned me in. You know this struggle don’t you, I am certain I am not alone in this. The apostle Paul knew this struggle as well. That internal spiritual struggle to do what is right, despite sin’s pull.

Romans 7:18-25 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good {is} not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

I have heard some say it is like there are two dogs at war within us, and what it comes down to is which dog you will feed, and which dog you will starve. Yet I think, it is not this. Rather it is a matter of surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, or giving way to the carnal desires instead. Either I continually seek God, continually fascinate myself with God’s word, and lose myself in prayer to God, or my carnal desires gain strength instead.

Galatians 5:16-17 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

It is a walk the apostle says, not a place we arrive, it is a continual working of it out in our lives. Either we continue in it, or we lose spiritual strength and stamina. It is not a sit, it is a walk, and we must get up and do. 

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Good Men and Women and Washington D.C.

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There is a man some of you are not old enough to know, and others who are old enough to know the name of, but are not aware of all that he was. When Ronald Reagan entered office, he asked a group of Evangelical leaders if there was anyone with intelligence and integrity they could recommend for public office, Dr. Koop was the first name anyone could think of.

Charles Everett Koop (October 14, 1916 – February 25, 2013) was an American pediatric surgeon and public health administrator. He was a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and served as the 13th Surgeon General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1989. According to the Associated Press, "Koop was the only surgeon general to become a household name." Koop was known for his work to prevent tobacco use, AIDS, and abortion, and for his support of the rights of disabled children. – Wikipedia

But this short biography does not do justice to the career and struggles of Dr. Koop while working in Washington DC. Nor does this short introduction tell you about what a good man he was, and that he was a committed Christian.

Dr. Charles Everett Koop had a tremendous career as a pediatric surgeon, saving lives, and making a huge difference in the world of pediatric medicine. It was toward the end of his career that he was contacted by President Ronald Reagan and asked if he would serve as the Surgeon General of the United States. From the day he was invited to consider the office, something that was supposed to be unknown to anyone outside of the office of the president, Dr. Koop began receiving death threats and was warned to not come to Washington. It did not take long for the news to get out and the liberal media began a smear campaign against Koop that has rarely been matched – except for what we are seeing now against Dr. Carson. And this is what has brought Koop to mind.

Like Dr. Benjamin Carson, Koop was a good man who already had a long career doing good for humanity, and had no need to go into public office. But he did because he believed he could make a difference. And make a difference Dr. Koop did. The policy changes he brought to U.S. health will continue to endure – especially the war he took on against big tobacco companies.

Dr. C. Everett Koop is proof that a good man can accomplish good in public office if he labors to maintain his integrity, and refuses to engage in what has become “normal” politics. Koop left office respected as a man with integrity – even the worst of liberal media admitted this as he was leaving office. As I have said before, I do not place my hope in American politics – I place my hope in Christ alone. But in this life, in our nation, I also believe that a good man can make a real difference if he is given a chance to do so. 

 

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Believing In and not Just About God

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I have not had a lot of people say to me “Church is full of hypocrites.” It has happened, but it doesn’t happen a lot. These days I generally agree with them, but add there is always room for one more. But the truth is churches are full of a lot of different people, who are there for a lot of different reasons. There are genuine believers, there are people who are playing at religion, there are people who feel compelled to be religious because of tradition, and there are people who are using religion as a tool to get something.

The folks who are in church for any other reason than genuine faith have a knowledge about God, some more accurate than others, but they generally have something flawed in their thinking about God. These folks have not crossed a line from knowledge about God to a knowledge of God which is experiential and real. They believe some things about God, but do not yet believe in God, in a biblical sense. The biblical sense of believing in God involves a deeply held trust in God, and not just a knowledge about God.

J. Warner Wallace tells a story about a police officer he knows who was involved in an officer shooting, which he had to investigate to determine what happened and whether or not the officer did what was right. This officer did a routine traffic stop because the driver was swerving all over the road, so he pulled him over to determine whether he was drunk or had other reasons for his erratic behavior. The man was drunk, but he was also a parolee who was carrying a handgun – something the officer did not know as yet. As he approached the car he asked the man to step out of the car, but feeling uneasy about the situation, he asked the man to turn around so he could pat him down to determine if he had anything on him. The man turned around, but then pulled his gun and turned again toward the officer and pointed his gun at the officer’s chest. In that split-second, the officer, thought about the vest he was wearing and determined he could take the first shot, it would hurt, but he would not die, and then he could fire back and end the threat.

In that split-second, the officer went from believing something about his vest, to believing in his vest in order to take the shot. Here is where that difference is when I speak of believing in God in a biblical sense. You leave off believing something about God, and move to believing in God in a way where you entrust your life into His hands and determine to live for Him rather than for yourself.

2 Timothy 1:12 “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

This is exactly what Paul had done and why he lived like he did. He had entrusted his soul to God, he had entrusted his whole life to Him who is able to keep it. I wonder, have you crossed that line?

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Hold on to Your Identity

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Many people do not know who Stefani Germanotta is because she is better known to the world as the pop singer, Lady Gaga. Her behavior is generally outlandish in her stage acts, and also in her public persona. Because of her behavior some folks do not think nearly so much about her talent and musical abilities. Which is unfortunate. Too often the stage and paparazzi images become the person, and the person disappears.

But recently Stefani gave a talk at Yale University where she said: "I feel sad when I'm overworked and I just become a money-making machine and passion and creativity take a backseat. That makes me unhappy. So what did I do? I started to say no. I'm not doing that. I don't want to do that. . . . And slowly but surely, I remembered who I am." The talk was interesting and confessional, as she revealed what she had come to, and what she determined to do rather than continuing down the same road.

I commend her for not falling down the same rabbit hole as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. The world she lives in and works in easily pulls many pop stars into the hole where they are lost and too often don’t discover themselves again until it is too late.

All of us have situations in our lives which, although not like hers, can and do pull us down into a world we did not intend on going to. We get caught up in schedules, plans, and the demands of life and eventually we lose sight of who we are and we become something else. We become the worker, we become the planner, we become the soldier, and whatever else you can think of – these become our identity. Stefani decided she would not let her stage act become her identity, this was a really smart thing to do.

1 Corinthians 1:30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,”

We who are committed to Christ, are in Christ Jesus and we were chosen by God before creation Ephesians 1:4, in Christ Jesus we are loved by God with an inseparable love Romans 8:38–39, in Christ Jesus we were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins Ephesians 1:7, in Christ Jesus we are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. 2 Corinthians 5:21. In Christ Jesus we have become a new creation and a son of God 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus we are all sons of God, through faith.” In Christ Jesus we have been seated in the heavenly places even while we live on earth Ephesians 2:6, and are no longer earth bound, in Christ Jesus all the promises of God are Yes for us 2 Corinthians 1:20, in Christ Jesus we are being sanctified and made holy. 1 Corinthians 1:2.

And finally, in Christ Jesus everything you really needed will be supplied Philippians 4:19, so there is no need to lose yourself to seek to gain anything. God has got you covered! Remember who you are child of God, nothing here is worth losing yourself to. 

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Some thoughts on the World Congress of Families IX

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I have been contemplating my week at the World Congress of Families IX; the various issues which were raised, the resources which were made available, and the people I had the chance to talk to and interact with from all over the world. It really was quite a week, a very encouraging week in fact.

I went to the event thinking about our nation and the problems we are facing regarding the traditional family, and the moral decay which is growing all around us. It was interesting then to discover in conversations with people at the conference who are engaged in the battle over these things, that other nations are confused by the actions of the U.S. with recent policy changes away from our historic traditional family values. In the past we have been among those in the world who had led in these issues on family, now we have become an enigma to the world. An example of this would be a recent visit by president Obama to Kenya where he tried to push his agenda upon the Kenyan government and people. The leaders of Kenya politely rejected his agenda, and made it clear they wanted nothing to do with it.

Our national policy changes run contrary to known research and science about human flourishing, the economic realities of nations, and moral degradation which arise from such policy changes. It was strange for me to discover that UN delegates from Egypt who are Muslims, would be among the leaders advocating for the family, while the U.S. is running contrary to these policies. Yet, here we are heading down a road which will only end badly for us as a nation.

Despite this though, I was encouraged. Encouraged because all of the science and research supports the traditional family. Encouraged because I met some incredibly intelligent people from different parts of the world and from varying religions, who are engaged on all levels of society, including at the U.N. where they work with delegates from all nations providing materials and research to help the delegates advocate for the family on the floor of the U.N. I have a copy of one such report, and it is exciting to see such brilliant work. No, I do not pin my hope in political processes for the salvation of America, let alone the situation of the world. Christ is my hope, nothing else. Yet, until Jesus comes for His people, we are living here and are to engage here. It is great to see I can stand alongside some great minds who refuse to accept a political and social agenda that destroys the family, places children at risk, and leaves any nation on unstable ground.

I Chronicles 12:32 “Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.”

We have available to us some brilliant minds who are producing some incredible resources. It is time to set down all of the ugly rhetoric of social media, and focus on real facts, and hold intelligent conversations. God help us to do so.

 

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The Lies We Wanted to Hear

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Lately I have found myself at a certain level of frustration. Frustration over the reality that it is becoming nearly impossible to believe anything at face value being passed along through modern media – especially on Facebook. This is not a rant, just telling you about how it is right now. Too many folks just push a mouse button and never check to see if what they are passing along is true first. It’s a lot of work, I know. To check on everything to see if it is true or not requires time and effort. Sometimes I find myself having to go down four or five layers to find out what really happened. Facts turn out to be opinions or perspectives, opinions and perspectives are embraced as absolute truth. And worse, many people insulate themselves so they only see, hear, and are aware of what reinforces their view.

It is hard to accept the truth when the lies are what you wanted to hear. And in this age of technology, if it were not for lies, Facebook would mainly have pictures of food, cats, dogs, and feel-good sayings. We must establish or regain our filters, and stop accepting the lies masquerading as truth, which are simply propaganda meant to influence our view of the world. People hate the president so anything negative about him is just accepted as true. People like Donald Trump so anything positive about him is accepted as true. People like free, so anything coming out of Bernie Sanders’ mouth is welcomed.

But even more frustrating, is to encounter Christians who are believing the cultural lies and passing them on. As people of the truth, there is something ugly about this, something degrading and disgraceful.

Ephesians 4:25 “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.”

Every once in a while one slips by me and I get caught passing on the wrong information, so I have to apologize and move on more determined to not make that mistake again. I get it. People need the truth, not the latest propaganda. People need to know the God of truth, don’t make it harder for them to see Him in your life because you are passing on lies. Let’s get about the business of truth. This nation will not be saved through politics. This nation will not be saved through a political ideology. We need, we all need God’s truth – and Jesus the embodiment of truth!

 

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Love and Relationships

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No one ever entered into marriage to find loneliness, heartache, or pain. We enter marriage seeking someone who will love us. At first, in any relationship there is excitement and the thrill of something brand new. Everyone enjoys this stage of a relationship because both people are paying attention to each other, caring for every need, and communicating love in a variety of ways.

As we settle down into the relationship, get to know each other, and feel safe about the relationship continuing we have a tendency to not do what we used to do when the relationship was just starting. Life becomes busy, we have bills to pay, and the demands of life begins to drown out the relationship to varying degrees. As this happens the mindfulness of each other and each other’s needs gets lost in the mix of competing demands. We excuse ourselves because the job has all of these demands, or parenting has all of these demands. Tensions rise, small irritations we might have otherwise overlooked become huge fights, and we start neglecting our mate – all because love is not being communicated or felt.

All forms of love are necessary, and none are to be ignored, but all of us find some forms of love to be more emotionally valuable to us. They are a currency that we find particularly precious, a language that delivers the message of love to our hearts with the most power. Some types of love are more thrilling and fulfilling to us when we receive them...” ― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

In any relationship, there are two people who have a sense of what love feels like even though they may not be able to communicate exactly what it is. For some folks love is time spent together, for others it is when we do acts of kindness or service for them, and so on. Gary Smalley in his book, “The 5 Love Languages” defines the five most common types of love demonstrated in marriage relationships. All of us have at least one form of love demonstrated that speaks to us more than others. What is yours? What is your spouse’s? What do you do that really lights up your spouse and makes them feel like they are truly loved? You should be doing that. A lot.

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” 

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Abortion, Kelsey Grammer, and the T-Shirt

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The issue of abortion has certainly been in the news over the last year, especially since the various videos revealed the backroom activities of Planned Parenthood. Many famous people have chosen to stay out of the debate, not wanting to get political or be a part of the controversy. I don’t blame them, it gets pretty ugly out there, and all too often no one is listening on either side to what is being said – so those who choose a side are treated disrespectfully or with hatred. But this is not always the case, some folks recognize the importance of this fight against abortion, and have taken an unashamed stand against it.

So, here is a shout out to Actor Kelsey Grammer, best known for his role as radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane on the hit TV shows Cheers and Frasier, who recently posted a picture of himself on Instagram wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt. The shirt bears the image of a gun and the provocative question,

"Would it bother us more if they used guns?" with the website abort73.com listed below it.

According to its website, Abort73 exists to "demonstrate why elective abortion is immoral and unjust."  The website has a section which is devoted solely to women wishing to publicly express any regrets they have about a past abortion. In the commonly anti-gun and pro-choice sphere of Hollywood, Mr. Grammer's decision to boldly support the organization and its cause is unpopular among media critics, to say the least. One media outlet called the shirt "bizarre," while another deemed it "outrageous" and said it had an "extremely disturbing message."

Just to be clear, Elective Abortions account for the mass majority of abortions done in the United States. Dr. C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General of the United States, once said that more than 95 percent of all abortions done in the U.S. are purely for the sake of convenience, and have nothing to do with the life of the mother being at risk. So, adults are living recklessly not making good choices, and then have determined they have the right to kill a child as a choice to resolve the situation they have created. This is not a choice, it is murder. The adults have a choice, they have a choice to control themselves before having unprotected sex. Killing the child ends their immediate crisis, although there are clearly emotional wounds they will struggle with for years. But for the baby who did not have a voice in any of the choices, it is a forever decision which ends its life.

Kelsey Grammer made a choice to speak out, and has stuck his neck out on this one. Way to go Mr. Grammer!

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Women, Poverty, and the Global Imbalance

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In the latest issue of Compassion Magazine the facts on how the global economy looks for women and their chances of advancement. Compassion International as an organization, focuses heavily on women's issues in the countries where they serve and have provided the current statistics.

- 2/3 of the world's illiterate people are women.

- Mortality rates of babies born to mothers with no education are two (2) times higher than babies born to mothers with secondary education or higher.

- 1 year of secondary education increases wages by 25%
- In Latin America, women make up 63% of the two million adults participating in literacy programs.

And here is a critical number, 781 million adults and 126 million youths worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and of these, 60% are females.

When education is a path out of poverty, these are hard numbers to deal with because they mean poverty will continue, especially for women. Many of these people in the third world recognize the value of education, but they lack access for some very basic reasons – but often it is primarily survival. How to survive today, if they have children, how do I feed them and protect them.

One woman, Eduarda, who is now involved in one of Compassion's literacy programs says, “I had always wanted to go to school as a child, I am happy that now I can.” She has been working on her schooling every chance she has, and has attained a third grade education level through her studies. This enables her to help her son Ismael with his first grade homework. And Eduarda is also showing her daughter Haiti that education and perseverance are essential to breaking out of the cycle of poverty which is prevalent in Bolivia.

We take so much for granted in America and have little concept of the realities of genuine poverty and its impact upon so many people, especially women. If you are interested in learning more, check out the new Compassion International website: magazine.compassion.com Or if you want to get involved by giving to one of these important programs, check out: compassion.com for more information.  

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