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Monday, December 20, 2010

where's the other line?

If you're a parent, you've stood in slow-moving lines keeping parental order while your children wait for their chance to sit on Santa's lap.  But if Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth, where's the line to see Him?  Check out this great song by Steve Haupt that's gone viral with his daughter Becky Kelley's music video. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

what about santa?

How should Christian parents handle Santa Claus?  Is it OK to tell children there is one--or let them believe it if they hear about him from other children or relatives?

For every Christian parent who thinks it's a harmless fantasy for their son or daughter to enjoy along with their friends, there are three who are adamant that no Christian parent should permit a son or daughter to risk being distracted from the Christ child at Christmas.  

I'm not convinced that all the Santa "trappings" are that big of a deal.  For example, I don't know that letting little Timmy sit on Santa's lap at the mall and tell him what he wants for Christmas undermines the manger.  Or that buying some discount wrapping paper decked out with Santas is a spiritual calamity.  

I do think it matters more what Timmy's mom and dad tell him--or let him think about Santa.  If l tell my children that the guy at the mall or on TV delivers their presents on Christmas eve--or neglect to correct what friends tell them about Santa, I wonder how that is different from deception?  And even if they can't say the word or define it, I think that's exactly what children will look back on it as once they learn the truth.

Why not tell them that Santa Claus is a fable based on fact?  Tell them the story of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) who lived in A.D 200-300's.  We don't know exactly when because there's not a single historical document from his day speaking about his life.  But biographers writing within 200 years say his parents died and left him with great wealth.  Which he gave away. One of the most famous legends is that a poor man with three daughters could not pay the dowry to marry off his eldest daughter.  He was even too broke to buy food.  The story goes that Nicholas learned of it and threw a bag of gold in the house during the night.  He did the same with the second and later the third daughter.  He wanted to do it anonymously but the last time the father was waiting and discovered the identity of his benefactor.

Later when he was in the ministry, he reputedly put gold coins in shoes when they were left outside the homes.  In the early 300's when Diocletian set out to destroy the church, Nicholas was imprisoned for years.  When released he continued to faithfully serve the Lord for several decades.  While I don't put much stock in some of the outlandish miracles he's claimed to have performed, to me it's telling that he neither wrote about himself--nor had others write about him.  We know that he existed, but he seems to have been quite disinterested in leaving a personal legacy.

Which makes the tale of him being chosen Myra's bishop, plausible--and marvelous.  When the bishop there died, Nicholas traveled to the city with other ministers and bishops to select the man's successor.  As was his custom, Nicholas got out of bed early and went to the church to pray.  An elderly minister was already there and asked him, "Who are you my son?"  

"Nicholas the sinner" came the humble reply.  "And I am your servant."  The aged priest asked him to follow him and they entered a room of the assembled bishops.

"I had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning was to be our new bishop.  Here is that man: Nicholas."  Indeed he was chosen as bishop.  His generosity and humility are legendary.  But legends usually have a core of truth to them.  That's the core our children can benefit from.  At least, if it doesn't eclipse Jesus.  Nicholas would have hated that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

her heart for God's heart

More from October's Lausanne Congress in South Africa: story of an 18 year old student originally from North Korea.  No wonder the third world is where the Spirit's got room to work.  A testimony like this repudiates the prosperity gospel and makes a case for suffering as one of God's most powerful tools in kingdom building. 

[Sorry if you tried the video before only to discover it's just partial; there's a defect in the embedding code.  This link should work.]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Jesus, food, or both the good news?

  • 10 days in October
  • 4000 invited guests
  • 198 countries represented
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • International Congress on World Evangelization
  • Beamed to 650 global sites in 91 nations
They called it Cape Town 2010.  Perhaps the largest gathering of international Christians..., ever.

The Lausanne Movement is the brainchild of Dr. Billy Graham.  Preaching in more and more foreign countries the great evangelist pondered how the world's evangelical Christians could work together to evangelize an increasingly complex and unstable world.  After sharing his vision with 100 world leaders, in 1974 Dr. Graham gathered 2700 Christian leaders from 150 countries in Lausanne, Switzerland (hence the movement's name), a congress TIME magazine described as "a formidable forum, possibly the widest ranging meeting of Christians ever held".

Lausanne launched a movement.  A second congress was held in 1989 in the Philippines, and this year's was the third.  The impact Lausanne has had on world evangelization and Christian unity has been far reaching.  But there's always been a current of tension in each congress as well as in the dozens of conferences sponsored in between, over the relationship of evangelism and social efforts to relieve suffering.  Which claim is right?
  1. The primary work of the Church is evangelism 
  2. Although the primary work of the church is evangelism, working for things like feeding the hungry should be the result of individual faith and a call on the church.
  3. The work of evangelism and the work of meeting people's legitimate needs are equally the work of the Church, are equally the work of the gospel.
In his address to the delegates Pastor John Piper preached that Christians must respond to all kinds of suffering of all people.  Then he added, especially respond to the threat of eternal suffering--in other words, without neglecting social justice, evangelization is at the front of the line.  World Vision's Corina Villacorta emphasized that the acts Jesus did when he was here was riddled with compassion for people's sufferings.  She decried the inequity between rich Christians and poor ones.

In the face of such tensions Denver Seminary president Dr. Mark Young quipped from Cape Town, "Those primarily engaged in social justice and development ministries quote St. Francis, 'Preach the gospel at all times --  necessary, use words.'  Those involved primarily in preaching wish that St. Francis had said, 'Preach the gospel at all times -- If necessary, don't use words.'"

It's not just Lausanne.  For over a hundred years this tension has pulled the American church back and forth.  Many remember how mainline Protestants in the early 1900's got so preoccupied with social justice issues they dispensed with evangelism.  (Remember Glenn Beck famously warning his listeners that if their church talked about social or economic justice, they were code words for communism?)  Some of these denominations never recovered biblical Christianity but preached a "social gospel", a form of good news which turned out to be bad news: Jesus got demoted from atoning sacrifice to nice example.  Certainly in this case, the food was not the good news.

Fearful of this slippery slope, some Christians wash their hands altogether of things like soup kitchens, health clinics--of anything that smacks of "social services".  But repeatedly the prophets, Jesus and the apostles send us to meet people's needs: the poor, the widows, the orphans, lepers, aliens (outsiders).  The Scriptures say...
  • Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
  • Share your food with the hungry..., provide the poor wanderer with shelter..., when you see the naked..., clothe him.
  • Faith without works is dead.  
  • Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
  • Which of these three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?
  • Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.
There's no way to dodge the Bible's mandate to care about--and for, those in need.  Nor any way to dodge the Bible's mandate that every Christian is a missionary (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20) tasked with taking the message that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners like me, to other sinners.

Again, it's the relationship between the two that's dicey.  Which takes priority--should a local church give both equal attention?  In a recent discussion with Capitol Baptist Pastor Mark Dever, Sojourners editor Jim Wallis insisted everything from racial reconciliation to helping the poor should be the  church's work--they're "integral" to the gospel he said.  Dever agreed that the gospel has social implications and that people genuinely transformed by the gospel should care about anyone in need.  And help individually as led.  But he couldn't agree that it's the church's main job.  That, he said, is evangelism and discipleship.

Manhattan pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian will keep the discussion alive with his just-released book Generous Justice about which he asserts: "All I know is, if I don't care about the poor, if my church doesn't care about the poor, that's evil."

I think I can agree with that.  However, the enemy is happy to use bad or good things to supplant the gospel.  For example, until Jesus returns, there will always be hunger, poverty, suffering.  Jesus said so.  True, some of our forebears used that to excuse a lack of concern and assistance for the poor.  Because we cannot erase something does not mean we cannot alleviate it.  

But the danger to Christ's church remains that if the magnitude of evil, suffering, hunger, AIDS, poverty, and sex trafficking gets to us, we may throw all of our time and resources at those great needs and perhaps neglect the good news whose effects transcend this life.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I love Thanksgiving.  Aging has its perks and one is a blossoming realization I'm blessed with blessings I have no "right" to.  Traveling abroad has also helped destroy any sense of being entitled to this or that.  Clean air, clean water, safe neighborhood, shoes--comfortable ones at that, lots of food, safe transportation, and living in a representative democracy all sing for me.

And then there's Betty.  It's a special Thanksgiving when our wedding anniversary falls on it like it did this year.  38 years under the love, mercy and forbearance of a woman my friends like to remind me I don't deserve.  They're right.

We met in high school when we were fifteen.  In my junior year she was one of two new girls in our class, ones I casually told my mother "were prospects".  I don't remember who the other one was.  The only class we had together was a lecture where she sat in the back by herself.  Which was necessary because there wasn't room to her left and right when she smiled.  

l zeroed in on her at a social event our Christian high school held early in the school year to help new students get acquainted.  We played a musical chairs style hand-holding game called "Walk-a-Mile".  Guys cheated so they could hold hands with the girl of their choice.  Once or twice I ended up next to Betty but holding her hand left me speechless.

Several weeks later when some of us went to Virginia to help residents who were victims of Hurricane Camille, I asked her to sit with me on the van ride.  I wish I could say it was all good from there.  A month later I got my driver's license and we began dating.  I thought we were having a good time but about 4 months later she broke up with me.  She had been trying to for some time but every night she planned to dump me I'd give her a gift.  Even the night she showed me the door I'd given her an early Valentine's Day gift. 

Within days she was dating the school jock.  What did he have that I didn't?  He was tall, good looking, and a talented athlete.  Hey, I had..., I had..., well, I was a pretty good ping pong player.  Plus, I had a job!

Over the next few months I had several dates but no one made much of an impression on me.  My sister asked me if I thought Betty and I would get back together.  I shrugged, "But I know that the way I feel around her, I've never felt with any other girl." 

6 months later I found out Betty and Mr. ESPN were history and within a month we were back together.  Unfortunately the remaining dating years were rocky: I broke up 3 times--the last time 3 months before our wedding day.  Part of it was that we were so young, and I wasn't sure I knew what I was doing.

In hindsight, I didn't.  The note that accompanied the flowers I gave Betty last week said, "For being what I never knew I needed."  We were only out of high school a year and a half when we married; she was 18, I was 19.  And I didn't know what kind of woman I wanted or needed.  Who can at that age?  But over the years I have discovered that God could not have found a more perfect woman.  I mean for me; someone who complements/completes me and I complete her.

Like every married couple, we have room to grow.  Last weekend we celebrated our anniversary by attending FamilyLife's "Weekend to Remember" in King of Prussia.  (I can't recommend that weekend enough; good biblical counsel that will gently but firmly call you to pay attention to your marriage; here's the link  We had some great talks--some were painful, but all valuable in making this wonderful thing called marriage, even richer.  Surely--apart from Jesus, this is God's finest gift!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

God and evil, or God over evil?

How big is your God?  How powerful is He?  Is your God biblical?  Is he sovereign or is He subject?  (Those are really the only two options.)  The Bible says He's sovereign even over evil.  You've got to read John Piper's provocative but glorious sermon on "Is God any less glorious because he ordained that evil be?".  It was my guide through some deep waters in the wake of 9/11.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

voting, American style

The turnout on election day for midterm voting was unusually large--which appears to have favored Republican candidates.  Since then we've all been talking about what happened--whether we're happy about it or disappointed, what should have been done or shouldn't, and what it means for the next 2 or 4 years.  But in the midst of your political analysis, have you thought about something that's remarkable?  

When Betty and I walked in the door of the township building to cast our votes, dead ahead was an armed constable listening to a conversation between a "watcher" and a voter.  His presence was the only hint anyone could have had that there might be anything other than a peaceful transition of power.

On Sunday citizens of the West African nation of Guinea got to vote for a president for the first time ever.  Former prime minister Diallo ran against opposition leader Alpha Conde but they're still trying to sort out who won.  Pre-election violence left 3 dead and it appears that both sides engaged in strong arm tactics to force opponent's supporters from their homes.  Charges say as many as 20,000 voters were urged to flee or they would be killed.  The effect was to put them far from their polling places on election day so they couldn't vote.

Voting history in the USA is hardly pristine.  Despite the lofty language of our Declaration of Independence, there has always been a back seat and a front seat.  Women and African-Americans had to fight to get their supposed "equal" right to vote; nor did it come easy for native Americans or Asian Pacific Americans.  But now we enjoy an election climate where the average American doesn't expect opposition at the voting booth.  

Since my day off each week is Tuesday, election days are always laid back for me and I squeeze voting in among the other items on my to-do list.  It can fit it in before or after any errand or task, because I don't have to plan to take a gun for defense, and I don't have to avoid certain times that might be dangerous.  Both the voting and the subsequent transition of power--such as a shift in who controls congress, is pretty uneventful.  My fellow Americans, we have much to thank God for!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

climate change apocalypse

It was 1968 and everybody was scared anyway.  Sons and brothers were dying in rice paddies in an unpopular war, kids were hopped up on weed, LSD and heroin, cities were ablaze, national guard troops were sweeping across university campuses with rifles leveled, and the background music to it all seemed bewildering to anybody over 30.  A generation gloomily hummed Barry McQuire's Eve of Destruction as it marched toward the cliff's edge. 

Into this powder keg of alarm Stanford scientist Paul Ehlich tossed his bestseller The Population Bomb.  In apocalyptic tones he predicted that hundreds of millions of the world's people would die of starvation in the 1970's and '80's.  Not a call to action, the author wrote that this WOULD happen " spite of any crash programs embarked upon now."  2 million readers bought the book and worried.  

The rationale seemed solid.  How could food production possibly keep up with the world's exploding population?  It had doubled from 2 billion to 4 billion in a single generation, and seemed set to do so again.  Ehlich proposed radical solutions like starving any country that refused to implement population controls.  He claimed most scientists shared his fatalistic predictions. 

He wasn't even close.

42 years later with the world's population approaching 7 billion, food production in both developed and developing countries has far outstripped population growth.  The main obstacle to producing enough food is not the birth rate Ehrlich worried about, but political chaos.

The current discussion about global warming (sorry, climate change) has some similar markings: all the scientists agree, the specter is certain doom, it will be a worldwide cataclysm unless we take radical, immediate, and enormously expensive action--which will inevitably hurt the poorest in the world.

I don't begin to have the scientific intelligence or vocabulary to debate the merits of scientific convictions that have become relatively uniform in the last 35 years.  But as a Christian I look at everything through the lens of Scripture.  Skeptics of the Bible will dismiss my point of view.  But my words are mainly for Christians who believe the Book is God's revelation--and therefore accurate about whatever it mentions.  It tells us all sorts of things about faith--even faith about the future of climate change.

All the scientists--even the ones frustrated by the alarmism--admit the climate's changed.  What they dispute is that humans are mostly to blame because of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.  And they dispute that it will lead the world to ruin unless we do something drastic; Kyoto and Cap & Trade legislation come to mind.  They suggest our weather changes are normal and cyclical and will not result in a world-destroying--or even radically altering, calamity.  

On Sunday I'll be preaching from Revelation 8 about God's first 4 trumpet judgments which are massive, nearly global environmental calamities unleashed not long before Jesus returns; loosed on what appears to be a rather normal, prosperous earth with lush greenery and fruit trees--not an earth inundated by the consequences of global warming (sorry, climate change).  

But it is 2 Peter 3:7 that specifically rejects the notion that man can do something cataclysmic to this planet while God looks on helplessly: ...the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  "Reserved" and "kept".  In other words, people cannot so damage the planet that they thwart God's future plans.  

Yes, we are still stewards of the earth and should take care of it like Adam was supposed to.  But abject fear is not warranted for the Christian who believes the Bible.  God has a future plan, is still in control, and has no intentions of permitting His handiwork to derail that plan.  It's "reserved", it's "kept". 

Monday, October 25, 2010

More thoughts on parental discipline

If you didn't get them, here are the parenting books I recommended during yesterday's sermon on the Grace of a Parent's Authority:
  • Everyday Talk, by John Younts
  • Instructing a Child's Heart, by Tedd & Margy Tripp
  • Kid's Need... Lot's of Love and a Spanking, by Jamie Pritchett
  • Humility, by C. J. Mahaney 

The last one is not a parenting book per se but there are some great gospel parenting tips in it. 

Some of you loved the sermon and some of you didn't.  I know not even all believers are fans of parents using physical discipline, but I don't think there's a way to get around that it's biblical.  Or that it has massive spiritual significance.  At the cross, the Father applied all the punishment for my sins and yours to the body of Jesus Christ.  Not only made Him bear that physical punishment, but in the most gruesome way ever devised by which to kill someone.  The Father planned it and saw that it happened (Acts 3:18).  If in Christ He suddenly grew adverse to physical punishment, why not find another way, a less gory way to atone for our sins?  

Because Jesus atoned for the sins of others, we call His work the "substitutionary atonement" (1 John 4:10).  Because God punished someone innocent--and perhaps because He did it physically, even some in the "Christian" world ridicule the substitutionary atonement as "cosmic child abuse" by the Father.  I find this awful/awesome work stupifying, precious and worthy of worship.  

Most of the "expert" voices opposing physical discipline look to the social sciences as authoritative, not the Bible.  (As one opponent complained, "The Bible frequently condones practices that are outrageous to modern sensibilities.")  Physical discipline is blamed for everything from lowering a child's IQ to leading to violent behavior later in life.  But the #1 charge is that the spanking parent will eventually abuse.  It's almost inevitable, some say.  If you discipline with a paddle (what the Bible calls a "rod" in Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15), you will sometimes abuse your child.  Or make it more likely that your child will abuse his child one day.

This argument is based on a logical fallacy that anything that can be distorted or perverted must be wrong in its original form.  Critics who object to the idea that God established husbands as leaders in their marriages use the same argument.  16 years ago someone gave me a book that basically said that just believing this is God's will turns men into abusive tyrants.  I will be the first to admit that there are professing Christian men whose "leading" consists of little more than terrorizing their wives.  But that's not Bible.  It's an aberration of what God says.  In the same way, there are parents beating their children with fist or paddle who never ever arrived in the vicinity of discipline; it's all abuse. 

The irate mother who slaps her son in the face in the jeans aisle at Wal-Mart isn't disciplining him.  Nor is the father who refuses to paddle his daughter but often yells at her.  The child whose mother says, "one...., two..., two and a half..." is not being disciplined.  Nor is the child who is being told, "You make me sick!"  Discipline's objective for the believing parent is to cooperate with God to make a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is done as an act of worship, done with great love for child and God, and done diligently.  And no, not harshly.  

In an anti-authority age, I suspect we need more authority in our homes, but not more authoritarians.  More moms and dads with the spiritual spine to lovingly establish expectations and enforce them.  And be able to say to their children, "I'm sorry sweetheart, what I said to you was wrong.  Will you forgive me?"  Both will help the gospel make more sense to our children. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gospel Hope for the Abuser

On Sunday I preached that a wife should submit to her husband.  (We do things like this from time to time to keep attendance levels manageable.)  Near the close of the message I addressed several questions wives might have in the "What if...?" department.  What if my husband's passive, or is a tyrant, or fails anytime he tries to lead, or abuses me; am I still to submit--and what does that look like?  

Tuesday morning I got awake early thinking about this blog and out of left field God brought an incident to my mind from about 37 years ago that I'd just as soon forget.  I couldn't go back to sleep and for the next hour and a half lay there (hey, it was my day off!) thinking about that awful day, with a growing and disturbing suspicion I was to write about it.  

Betty and I had been married about a year when we took a trip to the ocean with some friends.  We stayed in a boardinghouse and did the typical ocean things: get burnt on the sand, eat junk on the boardwalk, shop.  We were with the other couple some, but sometimes by ourselves.

Without going into detail, I'll just say that I wanted Betty to do something one way, but she did it another way.  When she came back from a walk with the other woman and I found out what she'd done, I remember raising my hand to strike her while she cowered with her hands raised over her head for protection.

With my hand in the air, I willed it not to go further.  Later my rage was replaced by shame.  Maybe Betty's fear was replaced by denial because she does not remember the incident.  Until several years ago we never talked about it and I never threatened her again.

As I said Sunday, it is Islam that lets a husband threaten and hurt his wife, not Christianity.  While the Qur'an counsels a husband to lock his recalcitrant wife in a room, deprive her of sex, and even whip her, the Bible tells a husband to love his wife like Christ loves the Church.  It infuriates me when I hear of a man who says he loves Jesus yet hurts his wife, but I know all too well how deep the root of sin runs.  Apart from God's grace, I am that abuser.  

Back then, I was religious and churchgoing but not a Christian.  Once God saved me He began a work in my heart as a husband that I cannot thank Him enough for.  I am still on the way, but at a Keystone marriage conference a dozen years ago when Betty said publicly that I was the most gentle man she'd ever met, it was one of the high points of my life.  Only God could have changed a man who saw marriage as something for me to see it as something for Him--and us.  

Even abusers can find hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He saves the repentant and trusting sinner from hell but that's not all He died for; He died to save us from the poison of sin's power--in all its forms.  With Jesus, even the abuser can change.  His sanctifying power is available to those who will humble themselves enough to admit their sin, and ask the Lord, his wife, and Christian brothers, for help. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

the gospel matters most

Tim Challies is a Canadian blogger and church elder.  Last weekend Christian luminaries like Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Wendy Gritter and Peter Rollins swept into Tim's hometown of Toronto for an emerging church conference called "The Eighth Letter".  Each presenter had 15 minutes to share what they thought God's most urgent message would be today if He addressed one to the North American church and added it to the 7 he wrote to Asia's churches in Revelation.

Facing something of a lion's den at the podium, Tim passionately insisted that getting the gospel right is the most urgent thing for the church.  Every other good thing pales in comparison.  It's worth a listen for every Christian.  It's about 2/3 of the page down on the 10/6/2010 entry.   

Monday, September 20, 2010

Houston, we have an authority problem

When I was a high school student trying to be a hippie without the commitment, I didn't have much good to say about authority; any kind.  The underground newspaper I published my senior year was full of broadsides against the establishment (60's jargon for authority).  I volunteered no alternative and I doubt I ever really thought about what would happen if the president, the police, my parents, my teachers, or church leaders decided I was right and quit.

Anarchy is what happens in the absence of governance.  It's when no one calls the shots, no one leads, no one rules; or maybe someone tries to but governs too weakly to influence those they lead, are too weak to restrain the violent or the opportunists in their midst.

Yesterday I began preaching a series of sermons on submission called "Can we learn to love the grace of authority?"  "Grace" because I think authority is such a good thing that it can fit into the category of "undeserved blessing."  Yet I don't think people in general like it--not even Christians.  

Maybe some of our evangelism tips our hand.  You know, when we skip the whole sin thing.  "Celia, I know you're feeling very alone; just invite Jesus in and He'll be your friend."  Or, "Craig, I know you've been battling depression for a while; just trust Jesus and you'll find a purpose for living."  Those may be benefits of the gospel, but they certainly aren't the gospel.  The gospel is a new and forgiven life from Jesus that requires humbly bowing the knee (Philippians 2:10).  Do we shy away from saying so because people--maybe people like us--are allergic to authority, period?

When some Christian parents won't correct their children in love and strength, I wonder if with some it's because they themselves have a bad taste in their mouths about authority.  Which leaves them few choices except pleading, yelling, pouting, bribing, or effectively turning their God-given authority over to their hapless child.  What a tragic and lifelong price children may have to pay for mom and dad's misunderstanding.

And then there are the husbands who won't lead their wives.  Good riddance to the men who have mistreated, bullied, or led their wives harshly.  But as the pendulum arcs back the other direction, can't we jump off in the middle and be strong men who are willing to assume our calling to lead our wives like tender shepherds instead of the stereotypical tyrants detractors take us for?

What about the government?  Many of us evangelicals are politically conservative.  Accordingly, we fume and rant over a government we think is too intrusive, too liberal, too quick to spend money.  Some justify cheating it because its laws are ridiculous--or just because it's too confiscatory and they feel entitled to keep what they can get away with.  Those of us who wouldn't go that far pay taxes and vote, but do we realize the institution is God's?  Pray for it and rejoice in it, accordingly?

Submission to authority has a pecking order: if human authority tells me to sin or opposes God, I must resist it, object to it like Peter and John did (Acts 5:29).  And there is a way to submissively disagree with any authority.  Even the prophets were able to do that with God.  But I hope this series gets us all to peer into the Word and let it checkmate any misconceptions about authority that our friends or culture have instilled in us.  Because based just on Genesis 3:1-9 alone, rebellion against any authority God's established is Satanic.  Check out the Satanist's pentagram.  And then the symbol for anarchy.  Hmm. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mutant Christianity

This post is for those 35 and younger (hey, I had to pick some cutoff age!).  On Sunday Pastor Brandon mentioned a CNN article on a troubling new book entitled Almost Christian.  The author is Princeton Seminary prof and United Methodist minister Kendra Creasy Dean who suspects many "Christian" teenagers, actually aren't.  Aren't Christians.

Teen or not, what do you believe?  About God, Christ, yourself, grand purposes, the world, the future?  I'm not talking about the things you don't know, but what you say you do believe.   

OK, next question: will you find it in the Bible?  You sure?  Read the CNN article:

If you're over 35 and went ahead and read anyway, do you think this is a problem limited to the younger set?  Me neither.  Luke 6:46.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Not the cape & mask kind

Friday afternoon Tyler and Becky made each other the same promise I've had most couples repeat at the marriage altar: "...whether you are healthy, sick, or even bedfast."  

The next morning Sam died.  My neighbor was 65 but had been dying for seven years.  A welder by trade, he also served as a pastor for 31 years in various places.  Then he fell from a roof and suffered major head trauma.  The injury and necessary medications left him physically and mentally disabled.  He could speak but not hold a conversation; he could shuffle along to the car sometimes, but not get up and walk on his own.  

Instead of letting him waste away in a nursing home, Hannah tenderly cared for him at home.  By herself.  Weak as he was, her husband still towered over her.  She fed him, bathed him, dressed him, cared for the house and grounds, took him to the doctor.  She did it all.

Without complaint.  No pity party.    

"...or even bedfast."  A couple of years ago I told her, "You're one of my heroes, Hannah."  No cape and mask could substitute for the love-in-practice of tenderly caring for a mate who can no longer care for you, no longer love you, no longer protect you, no longer provide for you, no longer keep you warm on cold nights, no longer take care of himself.  

You're still my hero, Hannah.  You stayed, you served, you glorified God.  Well done.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Daddy's Wallet

When Chelsea Clinton recently got married somebody wrote out a very large check.  Initial speculation put the soiree's price tag between $3 and $5 million but it looks like it came in at a modest $2 million.  I guess the checkwriter was the former president.  He said his only jobs were to walk his daughter down the aisle, and "pay the bills".  I guess he can swing it.  But should he? 

Last week I read a letter from a hapless father to one of those advice columns in the newspaper.  For their daughter, his ex-wife and her second husband were planning a very expensive wedding.  Dad was on disability due to a work accident and wondered if he was still responsible to pay for half of a wedding in which he had no say and which he could not afford.

The columnists assured him that he was not obligated to pay more than he could.  Then they gave some blanket advice to engaged couples: We strongly urge young couples to help pay for their own weddings and stop bankrupting their parents for one day's festivities.

1 day?  Part of 1 day.  The ceremony may last 20-30 minutes, the reception 2 hours.  Add some minutes here and there and let's call it 4 hours.  At an average US cost of $27,000 (not counting the ring or the honeymoon) that's $6700 an hour.  If the groom's parents take the initiative, costs are sometimes divided between both sets of parents.  But it's still a chunk of change--and you're in my prayers if God blessed you with all daughters!  

I'm with the columnists--but my beef goes beyond weddings.  For some time its been prevailing doctrine that parents are morally responsible to pay for extravagant weddings, pricey college tuitions, and anything else their kids want that a friend's parents buy her.  Parents fall in line as if this is holy writ direct from Mt. Sinai.  If they fail, they sin.

Trying to be good parents, moms go back to work, dads take a second job, maybe remortgage the house, or raid retirement accounts or take out loans.  The really desperate put some more on a credit card that's not yet maxed out.  And the children?  Most have no clue the enormous sacrifices their parents are making.  That's OK.  Sympathy's not the point; financial savvy is.  Parents who liberally fund their children's wish lists for 22 years inadvertently handicap them.  The studies all say that in general the twenty-something crowd is woefully ignorant about money; "financially illiterate" one said.  That's to be expected when Mom and Dad have always picked up the tab.  It's like taking the pitches at home plate instead of handing the bat to your children so they can learn to swing themselves.  

No student who's paying half of his way through school is going to party away his freshman year.  In fact, he's probably too busy with his part time job.  The student with some financial skin in the game is both motivated and appreciative for his education in a way that his friend whose daddy's got it covered, isn't.  Same with the bride who's been given a wedding budget.  Besides how to plan a wedding, she's learning money management.  "Oh boy, this requires decisions: if I do one thing, I can't do another.  If I get the swans and white doves, I can't invite Cindy and Bryan or my two cousins." 

On the matter of college, parents get defensive, "My kids could never afford to go without my help."  All three of mine did.  They weren't the first or last to do so.  Many, many more have paid a part of the costs.  There are scholarships, grants, summer jobs, jobs while in school, options to attend a jr. college or less expensive school, loans and the military.  For many years, people without money who wanted to attend college, FOUND A WAY to go.

When the time came for our children's weddings, we set a figure we thought we could afford and said, "This is how much we can give you.  If you spend more, it's your own responsibility."  They made some very frugal choices.  Not quite a Bride's magazine splash, but very nice and special nonetheless.  On the first day of their honeymoons, they were just as married as they would have been with $20,000 weddings.

Here's the thing: children have no idea what it costs their parents to provide all that they provide.  Even once a daughter is 18 and bound for college, nothing's changed because Mom and dad are still picking up the tab for most or all of her expenses.  If he's in college or just out, many young people are still living at home off their parents largess.  They don't pay rent (a mistake, I think), pay utilities, buy food, stock a kitchen with utensils and small appliances, don't have to buy furniture...  If they didn't pay for college, and still aren't paying for most of their living expenses, how will they learn what living really costs, managing income and outgo?  Are they ready for marriage like they think?  The financial learning curve might be stalled.

Parents can help by starting young.  Limit what you buy little children, and as they grow require them to buy some of what they want.  I advise engaged couples, "If you have children buy them less than you can afford."  Buying them too much stuff turns them into little materialists instead of disciples.  Who then grow up with a sense of entitlement instead of a sense of servanthood.  Go ahead, buy them some of what they want.  But some, they should buy (with allowance money, odd jobs pay, birthday money, etc.), and some, nobody should buy.  If you want to help them get a car, go ahead.  Help them.  College?  Help them.  Weddings?  Give them a budget.  

I don't think it is moral to help our kids more than we can.  It's certainly not moral to help them more than we should.  Requiring them to pay for some things themselves will get them started to seeing the world as it is, not the world mom's and dad's generosity pretends that it is.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I think Gratz would approve

Parking on Orange I walked down the alley and crossed King St.  Opening the Literacy Council door I stepped inside and looked around.  "Can I help you?" a woman in the other room asked as she peered around the corner.

"Yes," I replied, handing her a business card.  "I'd like to know how the people of our church can help others learn how to read."  Her mouth dropped open, "Oh that's so wonderful!"

"Several months ago we buried a longtime church member who didn't know how to read until he was well into adulthood.  He was very bright and had been able to fool his boss for a long time."

"That's very common," she explained.  "People who can't read often have very good memories and get by with them."

"It's something I've been thinking about for our church for 15 years; helping people learn to read.  Kinda slow at getting around to it," I admitted.  "Do I understand that you train the volunteers?"

"That's right.  And we provide the materials.  Sometime it's one-on-one, sometimes as a small group.  Sometimes it's for a relatively brief time.  We have a lot of people who are functionally illiterate.  That is, they can read some words, but not a prescription on a medicine bottle.  Or something on a job application.  We have people who want to learn to read well enough for citizenship.  Or to get their driver's licenses.  Or for a job.  We have people who want to learn how to read just so they can read the Bible."

I thought of how Wycliffe Bible translators have seen entire cultures transformed.  Yes, because of the Scriptures, but first they reduce unwritten languages to writing, and then teach how people how to read their own languages.  Who can walk according to the Scriptures if they don't know what the Scriptures say?  What possibilities!

I wondered, "Would there be people in our community that we could work with, or would it all be done in Lancaster?"

"Oh no, we have people from all over.  There are people many different places waiting for someone to help them.  But there might be some whom people would have to come here to the city to help."

"Hmm.  Actually, we're a rural church but a growing number of our people have bought houses in the city--including our youth pastor.  Maybe some of them would be interested in helping those in the city."  I was getting more and more enthused.  So was she.

"Pastor Rohrer..., is that right?  The woman who handles this just left for vacation a few minutes ago and will be gone all next week.  Is it ok to wait and have her call you when she gets back?"

"That would be fine.  I'll wait to hear from her."

"Oh pastor, you have no idea what a blessing this is; it's like an answer to prayer!" 

I read a book about every five days.  Plus the daily newspaper, a couple of magazines, and articles on the internet.  How radically different my life would be if reading terrorized me instead of filled me with joy: the Bible would have nothing to say to me, I'd know nothing of other cultures, and I'd know only the opinions of those I surrounded myself with.   

So, ...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16.  I'll let you know more when I do.  But I think Gratz would approve.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

God forgive us

Is Islam the fastest growing faith in the world?  Yes.  Is authentic Islam a physical threat to others?  Well, moderate Muslims will object but I think jihad Islam is more faithful to the Qur'an than their brand.  Is authentic Islam a threat to religious freedom in America?  I believe so.  Do Muslims need Jesus?  Yes.  Who is to reach them?  Us.  Christians, that is.  Is burning their holy book a good way to do that?  Uh..., I doubt it.

A small Gainesville, Florida church caught the attention of CNN with its plans to burn copies of the Qur'an on the 9/11 anniversary.  Dove World Outreach Center stated their purpose on Facebook: " remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 [ok, that's good] and to stand against the evil of Islam.  Islam is of the devil!"  Maybe I've missed it but I haven't found any Bible command to symbolically trash other faiths.  And I don't see how this shows Christian love.  Sounds more like the template of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist.

Is it really some sort of compromise with the world to stay away from a soldier's funeral except to pay respects?  Is it a sellout somehow not to brandish signs that rage "God hates fags", or not to burn the Qur'an?!  Where is the humility?  Do Dove's professing Christians forget the days when they too were condemned sinners, justly headed for hell?  And that is what some of you were (1 Corinthians 6:11).  And where is the love for Christ that usually spawns a love for lost people?  Where is the sympathy for those whose eyes are blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4)--as ours once were?

A love for Christ which ignited a love for lost people and reached an Ethiopian diplomat, a Jewish zealot, a Roman officer, a Greek philosopher, and across the centuries has set free millions of others from every tribe, language, nation and religion--including Islam.  Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among the peoples (Psalm 96:3).  e3's Tom Doyle reports that last year 23,000 American Muslims turned to Christ in faith.  I wonder if the ashes of some charred Qur'ans will make that number soar this year...  Or plummet.  God forgive us.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I wonder if he gets what we don't

Last year Brandon sent me this link and the comment, "He almost gets it".  I know what he meant because Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) is a comedian/illusionist who doesn't believe there is a God.  But I wonder if there's something he does get that we don't.  Or maybe forget.

How much do you have to hate someone...?  Loving lost people is not automatic.

For nearly a year I've been sensing this message from God: "You've become so risk-adverse that you're not leaving me with much of a window in which to work."  He used Andree Seu's 11-7-09 World editorial Taking Risks for the Gospel to make an incision in my soulI pulled it from the magazine and have been dragging it back and forth between home and church office, afraid not to be near a message I need to hear repeatedly.  

I was never what anyone would call an evangelist, but I used to hope for, think more and pray about talking to people about Jesus.  I cared about their need for the gospel.  What happened?  For one, it feels like life has taken on a fairly structured rhythm and I wonder if there's any room for some new music; am I still available to the Spirit for the unexpected?  Am I reluctant to take evangelistic risks?  Oh sure, I talk with people about Jesus every Sunday, but they're mostly sympathetic.  It's around the guys who seem ready to flip me off that I clam up.  And yet, Jesus came for the sick--not the healthy.  I'm OK with the healthy, but getting flipped off would just ruin my day.

Knowing I have too tamed my life is why I've started going to the local bar.  This too is my community.  My field.  In this timeless establishment by the tracks are people Christ loves..., and has asked me to love.  Men, if you've got a Saturday lunch or evening free, give me a call.  Before we go we'll pray, then we'll order a good meal--maybe some wings, talk to people, shoot some pool, and talk with people--maybe even offer to pray with someone.  Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mysterry of the gospel... Ephesians 6:19

By the way, the rumor that Penn has become a Christian is false.  But we can still pray.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When it's your son

West Point class of 2010

Tuesday we said goodbye to our soldier son as he headed for his first duty after West Point.  Time to start paying back the US army and the US taxpayers for his education.  Next to his trailered yellow crotchrocket, we hugged him.  I had to let him go before I..., well, you know.  With school and his 60-day leave behind him, it feels like this is the inaugural step to what we dread most: overseas deployment.  

How can a father think sanely about a soldier son?  I am so proud that Cameron is willing to bravely serve his country.  But I would give anything to keep him out of harm's way.  Is it possible for a father to love both his son and his homeland? 

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).  This Father loved both his Son and a doomed race; both His Son..., and us.  Glory to God!!! 


Monday, July 19, 2010

Flaunt Christ's brand!

  • It wasn’t that many years ago I didn’t even know what a blog was. Oh that’s right, the word’s only 13 years old (n. abbreviation for “weblog”, a running journal posted online for all to see and comment on—often with hyperlinks.)
  • It wasn’t that long ago that I would have laughed at a suggestion to blog. Course I also laughed at the idea of trading my datebook for an electronic gizmo until several back to back scheduling disasters made me desperate.
This blog is mainly for the flock of Keystone Evangelical Free Church in Paradise, Pennsylvania whom I love deeply (see my blog title). For a while now, God has been turning my “like” for the church into a love for the only thing Christ died for.

[I welcome appropriate comments but this site isn’t a democracy. I will delete ungodly or meanspirited stuff.]

Friday night we baptized 3 children and one young man in Ron & Tina Bare’s pond. Baptism is such a packed symbol: washing dirt away, dying, being buried, rising again with Christ… It’s a way of publicly flaunting the brand Jesus put on you. I know sometimes adults wonder how much children understand about the baptism they’re undergoing. Probably not a lot. Then again, I think I’ve only been really grasping its enormity in the last 10 years.

I also think that every child who goes under the waters is something of a rebuke to adult believers who’ve refused to be baptized. On Friday one of the girls being baptized was so scared her whole body shook as she told about 70 people that Jesus had forgiven her sins. Yet she went through with it.

So why is it some Christian adults postpone obeying this order Jesus gave—or ignore it altogether?

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them (“them” are the folks who say “yes” to the gospel) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

Afraid of the water? Afraid of being in front of people? Afraid of…? I think of what some Christians in certain countries face when they choose to get baptized, it’s like agreeing to wear a target; from then on it’s open season and they’re the prey.

From Jesus’ day to this one, baptism has been the treasured mark of a believer. I’d love to brand some more on October 15, 2010, our next baptism. Maybe the adults will outnumber the children!