Friday, August 5, 2016

What is a Covenant?

This week is a special week at The Road. We are going to covenant together as a body officially. People will step up and make this promise below to each other in Christian brotherhood. A covenant is an OT idea stronger than an agreement or a contract; more like a blood oath, a solemn vow, or a three-way promise which we enter into with each other. We will still worship with all the family of Christ who joins us on Sundays, but this group will have a promised commitment to one another, with a desire to be accountable to it, as they follow Christ themselves. Baptists have always been a covenant people, with many churches designing their own in order to capture the important points for their congregation. Here is ours

Having, as we trust, been brought by divine grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows. 
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life. 
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations. 
We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word. 
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.
So excited for this Sunday, and for the body of Christ known as The Road!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Can My Worldview Not Affect My Judgment?

Can one truly get unbiased opinions, even about facts (things true that correspond to reality, which is the definition of a Correspondence view of Truth)

I read an article this morning that affirmed a principle that would be helpful for us all to remember as we evaluate our decisions in life, especially those that related to pressing issues. This article deals specifically with an attempt by a homeschool curriculum producer to give an unbiased "worldview friendly" curriculum. The article was written by Dr. Georgia Purdom of the Answers in Genesis ministry, so it dealt with creation science worldviews, and whether or not one could truly be unbiased related to science, because science, according to the publisher of the curriculum is only based on "observable" facts.

I also had a conversation on Twitter last week with a woman with a passionate agenda, who after some obvious evidence simply refused to evaluate words. It was a simple question I asked. I was willing to be persuaded. However, she just did not offer an opinion regarding the accuracy of primary source documentation on a particular website regarding statements and quotations that were made in some of Margaret Sanger's (early eugenics activist, population control, racist, and founder of what would become Planned Parenthood) books and biographies. She just refused to look, claiming she already knew, because she had read Sanger years ago. Her decision was made before ever entering the exchange.

I went on an archaeological dig in Israel in seminary, and the organization that orchestrated that dig was the Associates of Biblical Research, they believed the bible was historically accurate, even down to dates. While there, we were exposed to various interpretations of archaeological data that led to other conclusions by other reseachers. Same evidence, different conclusion.

Many issues face us today: politics (most front and center right now), free speech, right to bear arms, legalization of drugs and gay marriage, education, science (especially creation science, as the previous mentioned article points out), racism, police use of force, and within Christianity theological issues abound, even the Supreme Court is usually divided on major cases down what we could call "conservative" and "liberal" interpretations. The words in the Constitution are clear, previous decisions are clear, but their interpretations are different. One cannot get away from the fact that all people have their biases, from which they start their interpretations of facts; they have a worldview that acts as their filter for ideas and information. We must make sure that ours is informed and accurate.

Of course, other than theology as a pastor, as referenced by the Twitter conversation above, abortion is one of the issues where our biases come through, a big one where we must be informed and accurate. An issue that represents about one million lives each year. As scientific knowledge of human development in utero increases every year due to advances in technology and science, challenges to case law on many levels and to worldview abound. Ultrasound in 3D/4D, surgery in the womb, DNA advancements, cameras, fetal pain studies, earlier viability of babies due to life saving technologies, better mental health assessments related to the damage done by abortion, further studies linking abortion to breast cancer, STDs, future reproductive health, depression, abuse, suicide and other long-term effects; and social media information transmission related to these advancements are changing minds. However, the same information, interpreted by a different worldview (one espousing a pro-abortion point of view) might continue to ignore objective facts, and argue that these things do not undermine choice. They may argue that a baby is not a baby until it is viable outside the womb, or they may say that the first breath is the time where one becomes human. Or they may say that the conditions of conception can justify the taking of life, or various other reasons. Different worldview.

Culture and anecdotal evidence such as illegal sale of "fetal tissue" and the heartless means of extraction and intentionality to make money quick from the business of human body part trafficking are changing hearts. Of course, we can say that changing "hearts" is simply switching biases, even though we may rejoice at the seeming national trend of revulsion against tearing babies limb from limb inside the womb.

So as you believe what you read on the internet (or in print, or the news media for that matter), consider biases. As you choose at the ballot box, consider biases. As you choose curriculum or schools for your children, consider biases. Consider not only the fact that others in these issues and fields have biases, but we all have them, only varying by degree; and most of us do not know it, because we are convinced we are right.

My bias, just in case you are wondering, is an evangelical, Southern Baptist view of biblical Christianity. One of the reasons that I espouse the Christian worldview (differences in flavor aside) is that there is a standard outside of me. And if I believe (bias alert) that the ultimate author of the Bible is God, he will not provide incorrect worldview boundaries. I think that I can make a good case with credible evidence for my view. However, if it were that easy, seemingly everyone would be evangelical (whatever that means right now) Christians.

Thanks for reading, I know this one was kinda long. I like to read relatively short blogs, so I have failed you if you share my preference.

Friday, July 8, 2016

No Respect

In the wake of shootings this week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the five Dallas officers killed and six others wounded, our hearts are broken and our minds left wondering, "how we could come to this as a country?" Events similar in Fergusson, Baltimore, 62 other officers killed in the line of duty this year, or even things like the Orlando or San Bernardino shootings, they testify to the same: the value placed upon human life has been reduced nearly to nothing. There is definitely a racial element to it, but the underlying cause is that life has been eviscerated of its significance. Murders daily in our major cities, and even in the smallest towns of friends and neighbors, we hear of them everyday. Social media and the news media, have reported news, but I fear they've fanned the flames. Life means much less in our country than it ever has in many eyes.

Lots of reasons that we could speculate as causes; terrorism and war that we have been so much more close to than ever before; violence on TV and video games; the degeneration of the family; the declining influence of religion (and its general restraining morality); just to name a few. I definitely think it's an indicator, but maybe even a cause, maybe the most important cause in the last 50 years. The decision to allow abortion on demand, even though it seemed minor among the Vietnam War, racial integration/civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, and rise of the drug culture, was a defining point in our nation for the way that we evaluate a person's life. It said to our country that even the most defenseless of lives is expendable at another's will without repercussion.

Thousands of unborn children are killed in our country daily (75% from minority populations). Even when we are confronted with harvesting body parts for sale, the nation passes by in apathy, more concerned about the 2016 presidential election than the murder of children. God forms every human being, black or white, sick or well, embryo or senior citizen, democrat or republican, christian or muslim, man or woman, rich or poor, officer or welfare recipient, orphaned or widowed, American or European, in his image. We all represent God to creation. We are like him in special ways that all of creation is not. Therefore, since our lives have a unique display of his glory, our worth is inestimable. If only we saw it that way.

God, reveal your glory. Open our eyes to infinite worth, so that we may understand transferred worth. Let the mind of Christ be in us that humility will reign in us. Bring forth beauty from ashes in our land now...we beg you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Love Thy Neighbor and Love Thine Enemy

Plenty of Christians (and I use the term generously) throughout the years have missed these two ideas for many reasons. However, I think these two things (plus the love we are to have for one another) demonstrate the uniqueness of our faith, and it demonstrates the power of Christ to change individuals and groups into wonderful communities of love.

The shooting last week in Orlando has left all Americans in shock and grief. The sadness only deepens as many use this tragedy to further their own agendas. From celebrities to politicians to religious or social groups, they want to hijack a bad situation and carve it out to suit themselves. The reason it may be easier for them to do so, is that this attack was carried out by a radical Muslim upon a bar primarily frequented by homosexuals.

So America has a perfect opportunity to see the worst in Christians (again, so-called). They are looking for the conservative, evangelical American Church to hate. They expect it to hate Muslims or homosexuals or both. Of course, the reasons for stereotypes is that there is some truth; the downside is that there are some that don't fit the mold. So bring on the hate, right? All this when we claim to follow a man who ate and drank with sinners and Pharisees, touched lepers, forgave adulterers and criminals, and asked for the sins of his torturers to be overlooked.

What if Christians wept sincerely with all over all? What if believers, without affirming their lifestyle, let their gay/lesbian friends know that this shooting was wrong, and had they been there, they would have defended them like their own lives? What if, without affirming their theology, Christians "loved those who hate you" openly? What if Christians lived what Jesus taught?

What would the world see in us?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Forgiveness is Hard

There are pains in life that come from various origins. One thing that we all have in common is pain from those whom we consider close conspire against us. The closer that the person is to us, the greater usually is the sting. It was even prophesied in Psalm 41:9 that Jesus would deal with Judas, a friend who betrayed him. Often anger is our reaction. Depending on how deep the wound is, or how serious the ramifications are, dealing with pain and anger from personal betrayal is hard.

A couple of things before I turn to scripture. 1) Forgiveness is not saying that the offense wasn't really an offense. It doesn't mean that we must say that what the other party did was OK. 2) Forgiveness doesn't mean that you are to be a doormat and continue to or return to a position that will compromise you. 3) Forgiveness also doesn't mean forgetting. "Forgive and forget" sounds great if you live in a Wonderland, or if you erase memories at will. God can do that, but in our imperfection, we normally cannot.

Forgiveness is determining that you are going to act in a forgiving manner toward the party who injured you. Forgiveness means that you will forsake the prerogative to hold that person in a position of judgment or vengeance. Unforgiveness is something that keeps coming back, and we must keep killing it day by day, moment by moment if necessary, so that Satan does not get a foothold in our lives. This is something that we must war against.

Many scriptures line out principles related to forgiveness, but two stand out; one a warning, and the other a perspective. First, the warning. Matthew 6:14-15 says, "for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." That should scare us who are warring against unforgiveness. That should scare those that don't war on it more. How many believers refuse to forgive? Think about that, meditate on that, act on that.

Secondly, we are told to forgive as Christ forgave us, Ephesians 4:31-32. If we truly understand our treason, our betrayal of the most glorious, most valuable treasure in the universe, and our exchange of him for idols, we would begin to comprehend our forgiveness. If we are exhorted and instructed to forgive as Christ forgave, even the deepest of hurts falls under that teaching.

I am preaching to myself today. Pray for me. Two things to leave you with:

A better blog post and teaching than mine: from Desiring God, here.

And a quote from Voddie Baucham that I found very convicting:

“If we refuse to forgive, we have stepped into dangerous waters. First, refusing to forgive is to put ourselves in the place of God, as though vengeance were our prerogative, not his. Second, unforgiveness says God’s wrath is insufficient. For the unbeliever, we are saying that an eternity in hell is not enough; they need our slap in the face or cold shoulder to “even the scales” of justice. For the believer, we are saying that Christ’s humiliation and death are not enough. In other words, we shake our fists at God and say, “Your standards may have been satisfied, but my standard is higher!” Finally, refusing to forgive is the highest form of arrogance. Here we stand forgiven. And as we bask in the forgiveness of a perfectly holy and righteous God, we turn to our brother and say, “My sins are forgivable, but yours are not.” In other words, we act as though the sins of others are too significant to forgive while simultaneously believing that ours are not significant enough to matter.”

Friday, May 13, 2016

Culture Assault

Three areas that are significant to mention where our culture is continuing down a path that will bring the erosion of society and the judgment of God. I am definitely not qualified to deal with these in full, but I think it is important to note trends, and prepare accordingly. I am going to be brief, because of the multitude of topics.

Sexuality and culture: The sexual revolution in the '60s and '70s led to a number of things affecting our culture right now. Teen sexual intercourse stands now at 47% for up to high school students. Will they be yours? That's down slightly from 20 years ago, but still 47%! Marriage is going out of style too with the number of cohabitating couples rising 88% (and the latest stats from 2007). 55% of Americans now approve of this model for families (again, 2007). The culture advocates for marital privileges in law, healthcare, and benefits for unmarried couples. Gay marriage, of course, has been approved by SCOTUS, and therefore is making progress state by state. Finally, the LGBT community is forcing it's agenda on law, churches, education, and business--bathrooms, ordination of gay clergy, sex ed including LGBT lifestyle, college campus policy changes, and anti-discrimination suits against private businesses.

Politics: The Democratic party has gone off the deep end with issues like sexuality, socialism, abortion, environmentalism, and immigration. However, the acceptance of our country's more conservative population of leadership like Donald Trump with his character and behavior is insane! The only positive thing about it all, is that the possibility of the rise of a third or fourth party might be more possible than ever. The SCOTUS continually legislates from the bench, forgetting it's place in the constitution, which, interestingly enough, is used very little in government now anyway.

Silencing of the church: Christians and churches are among the most targeted groups in America. It's OK to be about anything else but white, middle-class, evangelical Christians (and to be fair, some of our behavior has earned this persecution). I only use the term persecution lightly, because in actuality, we experience little persecution compared to believers in other countries. In recent years, pastors have been forced to submit their sermons to governing bodies, sabotaged by spineless governors and legislative bodies to refuse to allow extra legal protection from discrimination because of their religious convictions. Churches are having to rewrite their by-laws to protect against gay couples desiring to marry in their sanctuaries, and after being denied, filing lawsuits.

One bright spot: abortion trends. I don't know if you can say that it is a bright spot when you are speaking of babies being murdered, but here is what I mean. The trend in the numbers of abortions nationwide is falling. We are under a million for the first time in 40 years. The high mark was back in the mid 1990s with over 1.3 million abortions. And since 2013 we have been just under one million. 2014 numbers, which are the latest we have, were ~977,000. Now, those numbers may not paint the whole picture. The "morning after" pill is not counted in that number; and there is no way of quantifying how many abortions that it may or may not have caused. Clinics have been closing at a record pace because of new state regulations. In 25 years prior to 2011, about 150 closed. Since then, we are seeing 31 per year closing; that's another 150 in five years. The number of clinics in now at about 400 (these are clinics that perform more than 400 abortions per year). Good trends, long way to go, still losing about 975,000 lives that would produce generations.

So, I lied. I said I would be brief. Most of this was preaching, rather that careful thought out writing. However, I want you to take away something from this: 1) prepare your children and grandchildren, or congregations for increasing relegation of our faith to a minority in society. Help give the tools to stand firm. Don't assume just because they go so church and seem spiritual that they will be fine. 2) Be bold. Don't shrink back from a witness to this cultural erosion. Do it in love, but maintain truth. It is not helpful to unbelievers to soften truth, but it is always helpful to love them to it. Change is continuing to happen, most of it not for the better for Christianity, but do not be dismayed, our God is with us, and He is large and in charge.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What They Meant For Evil, God Meant For Good

Famous words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20 are used in many situations to deal with the sovereignty of God, especially as it relates to betrayal, suffering, or persecution. I want to write and testify, not simply about the theological perspective, but about our response to it. I know that there are billions of things that we should thank God for every day all across the globe based on who He is and what He has done. However, I want to continue to praise Him, and declare His glory for something that which He did in my life.

I was reading this morning about praying for your enemies, and the most recent attack upon me came to my mind. Immediately, the deliverance that came on the heels of this great betrayal from a friend, burst through in my mind. Psalm 30 captures the idea of a grateful David after attack and hardship and prayer. He shares of the deliverance of God, and his determination to share it with others. Twice, in Psalm 30:5 and in Psalm 30:11-12, joy from pain is expressed.

We had experienced the depth of deception and behind the scenes attacks. Tears streamed down our faces. Anger filled our minds. Desperation filled our voices as we cried out to our God. The Holy Spirit was our comfort and rest as we trusted in Him. Our eyes were fixed on the problem, which wasn't supposed to be a problem, and suddenly was, and because of a friend's design of our failure. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, I know that many have gone through so much more. On this occasion, for us, it was the sustenance of our family on the line.

BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, had not only us, but others in mind as He revealed and brought about His plan for provision. He had us in mind as our faith needed to be strengthened. He had the righteous anger of some in mind. He had the earthly giver/provider in mind as heavenly treasure would be stored up (even working in his life for two years). He had workings through the testimony that would be given to His glory. He had work to do exposing sin in places. In fact, He will even work in the life of the persecutor. We don't usually think about that one. Even the Pharisees knew that; because in Acts 5:39, they said one cannot fight against God and win. So, God may bring the betrayer to the knowledge of the sin they have committed.

Just let me testify again to the goodness of my King. The inexplicable blessings He bestows on me. How weak my faith is, but how faithful He is. He is my sufficiency and satisfaction come feast or famine, and I can say that better now that I could months ago. A lesson that we should also think about is that sometimes restraint from provision is provision. Maybe I'll write about that someday.