Deepest Darkness

By now everyone in America is aware of the tragic events in Charleston the other day.  Since and in the coming days we as a nation have choices to make.  We will choose to judge, hate, fear, legislate, and either draw closer to or push away others.  We will either fall victim to the fear of similar events in our own communities.  Churchgoers will look over their shoulders more often and watch outsiders critically out of fear.

fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41;10

We have already seen politicians trying to leverage the blood of these men and women for their own particular myopic view of what’s wrong with this country – namely what they think is the over-proliferation of guns despite the statistics that demonstrably have proven that more guns has not led to more crime, but rather the marked decrease in violent crime.

Others will grab on to the killer’s racial motives and say that this is an example of the extreme racism prevalent within society.  They will say that this is a more common problem and that this particular tragedy is just the latest example of it.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

These knee-jerk reactions don’t capture the problem though, and it is the problem we all have.  We live in a world of darkness, of hate, of violence, of evil, and sin.  But, the good news is for all of us, and that is that the brightest light is possible from the deepest darkness.  It is in fact not only possible, for God uses evil for ultimate good.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us[h] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:11-12

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
    he enters into peace

Isaiah 57:1-2

While it is tragic that people had to lose their lives, we should rest assured that they died at peace righteous and redeemed.  What an evil men wrought God will turn into something beautiful – and I suspect that it will begin today, with love, not hate, politics, or legislation, in Charleston.  From deepest darkness the light of Christ shines brightest.

Pray for those left behind, thank God for the grace that covers us all, and praise Jesus for reaching though time and gathering all sin to himself so that all men, women, and children of all ages and all nations are redeemed in the Father’s sight – even the man holding the gun the other night.

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Training

An interesting question my wife posed the other day has me thinking.

Why do churches and other believers not spend more time in teaching not just what prayer is, but rather how to pray?

I’m not talking about your conventional routine prayers

There are even catchy acronyms for Christians to follow: PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield), ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), FACTS (Faith, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, and others.

These guidelines show what we should pray and can even guide how we approach prayer, but how do you go about teaching someone how to pray?

How can you convey through words how to approach an omniscient God and not just focus on what you feel led to tell Him, but rather how to reciprocate and allow prayer to become that two-way conversation?

Considering that prayer is a spiritual discipline, it requires training and instruction.

Why aren’t churches stepping into this void and teaching people not just what to pray, but rather how to pray?

The Bishop of Rome

Viva Papa Francis.

I am not Catholic, but I respect the Catholic Church and the devoted people within it that daily follow Christ’s calling to be His emissaries in this world.  So today, I celebrate that Spirit-led election of the new Bishop of Rome and the titular head of the Church.  I pray that he is received a double-helping of the Spirit, the courage, bravery, and boldness of Christ in all that he does.

The elevation of this man to the head of the Church comes at a crucial moment, not only in our time as Christians, but also for Americans and lovers of liberty alike.

Why is that you might ask?  I wasn’t even so sure myself until I spoke with my Jesuit-educated bride about it.

The Church will benefit from a man that has lived a life of humility and service despite his titles and authority formerly as a Cardinal and the Archbishop of Argentina.  He seems to deeply believe that the calling of Christ is not to be taken lightly or to be abused, but rather it is a calling to service first and foremost.  The Church will also benefit from a man dedicated not only to service, but also justice.  The man himself, while open to “free-thinking” as espoused by the Jesuits is a rigid defender of the Faith and of Catholic doctrine, not just when it comes to Christ’s teachings, but how those teachings apply in the modern world.  He has come out against gay marriage, gay adoption, and a litany of other social issues that leftists and outsiders use to try to cleave the Church in two.  The arguments and defenses that the Jesuits use in defense of the Church doctrine are usually exceptionally well-thought out, well-versed in Scripture, but also well-versed in science, history, and philosophy.

What it ultimately comes down to for Pope Francis as he begins his tenure as the most visible ambassador of Christ in the physical world is that he will enter this post with humility, but I do not expect him to be timid or meek.  He will rather seek to emulate the founders of his order, Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis.

The man may be 76 years old, but he is one of God’s Marines.  And to steal a saying – only two kinds of people understand marines: marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

What More Can We Do?

I have tried to focus on persecution this week and hope to have sufficiently shined a spotlight on how the modern church is not immune from persecution, but rather that it has evolved and adapted to attack the church effectively, but not necessarily violently as is the most easily recognizable form of persecution.  I think this is an often neglected topic because of how depressing it can be to see fellow believers, fellow humans, suffering at the hands or words of other human beings who either believe in a different religion or none at all and choose to attack the faithful.

As a man who lives in the freedom and liberty of the United States, I have the opportunity to look out at the world and see these atrocities, and like Peter, am prone to think first of the “sword” rather than God when I hear of them.  Rather than trusting God and having faith that His will is being played out, I think of protecting those that cannot protect themselves.  While this is not Biblically wrong as we are called to offer ourselves as a shield of protection for those that are unable, my myopic view fails me often.  I, aside from prayer, cannot impact what happens in Nigeria, Iran, or Malaysia any more than they can directly impact the persecution that may befall believers here in the United States.

I want to bridge the gap from the spiritual to the practical now.  Prayer is the best weapon to combat persecution as we hope to turn our persecutors into believers themselves and may need to suffer in order to accomplish this goal.  That is great in theory, but from a day-to-day perspective, we need to heed other teachings of Christ as well.

Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

Luke 22:36

And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

Luke 22:38

We are not called to sell our lives cheaply.  We might be a speck in terms of all things, but we are precious to God, which means we should consider ourselves as precious to Him.  This is where the concept of moral, lawful, and rightful self-defense originates.  Christ did not preach pacifism, nor militarism, but something contrary to both.

So back to the upper room, when Christ asked if there were swords present.  Christ, as God incarnate, knew there were swords there.  Now you could extend the story out to include the events at Gethsemane when one of the disciples used, presumably, one of those swords to sever the Priest’s servant’s ear so Christ could admonish them for it, but if you look at the context of the command, He is directing them to arm themselves if are not already armed.  By indicating that two swords were enough for their small group, you could also extend that out into modern thinking as not a force of arms (which would be the case if all were armed), but rather as a deterrent against force.

Now let’s take this scenario and fast-forward it to the modern day.  Your church is a ripe target for persecution in the form of a religiously-targeted attack.  When I wrote this, I cited statistics which show that religiously-targeted attackers are on the rise in the United States and violent crimes within churches as an whole are on the rise as well.  We need to be aware of this growing threat to our fellow believers and take deterrent measures, as I explained above.

Credit: Oleg Volk

What those measures are lie with you, your family, and your church.  Some may carry concealed as they are permitted, some may elect for pepper spray, some may reconsider where they attend church based on the neighborhood, some may ask their church to consider starting a security team or if there is already one in place.

Christ called the believers in His time on Earth His flock, implying sheep.  He is the Good Shepherd.  To steal a Toby Keith lyric, “when the wolf growls at the door” sometimes you need a sheepdog to scare the wolf away.

This mindset may be uniquely American, but by virtue of being an American and having the liberty to be that sheepdog for not only my family, but also my church, and the community at large, I can look out at the world and recognize the very real threats.  The very real persecutions just waiting to happen, but they will not happen needlessly or without cost.  We should not sell our lives cheaply for our faith.  The price for our lives is high, it is Christ’s blood.

Deterrence is the art of producing, in the mind of the enemy, the fear to attack.

Sterling Hayden

 

Persecution

What is persecution?

Simply, persecution is oppression and war waged against believers either openly or privately with the sole purpose of punishing the believers’ faith in Christ.

There are many in America that are blind to persecution because of our open and tolerant society where all religions and faiths are accepted and practiced.  It also helps that we are a majority self-identified Christian nation and founded based on Biblical principles as I have written about before.  Does this mean that we are immune from persecution here?  Not at all.  Persecution will always exist.  If you are willing to profess belief in something radical, and Christ’s promises and challenges for us are definitely radical in the eyes of the world, then you will be attacked for this belief.

When lots of Christians think of persecution today, they think of Christians being herded into coliseums in the Roman Empire for slaughter.  They think of missionaries attacked in the field by the very people they came to teach the Gospel.  They think of things that have happened in the past where the lens of time provides a clear picture of how and why something happened so we can easily label it persecution.

You can look about a list a host of countries where Christianity is not just scorned, but openly attacked.  Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, China, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Russia, India, Cuba, Tanzania, and Indonesia are just a few of the examples where being a Christian can open you up to public ridicule, public arrest and punishment, or even death.

With Christmas coming soon, I think you’ll see a form of persecution in this country, and possibly in your own town.  Put up a manger scene.  Will it be defaced?  Will it be burned to the ground?  Will it be stolen?  Will it be protested?  If it is on public land, will it be the target of a lawsuit?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12

I even heard a ministry team member state yesterday that he was thankful that we are safe in this country from attack while we worship.  I don’t often disagree with the pastoral staff at my church, but on this point I disagree. Christians are not safe anywhere while they worship and to think otherwise is foolish and short-sighted.  The statistics say that it doesn’t matter how you worship in the US – the illusion of safety within a church is just that, an illusion.

I plan on diving into this topic all week because how thankful can we really be unless we have the right perspective?  Tomorrow – in the face of persecution, what can and what should we do?

 

Bubble

What kind of Christ follower are you?  Do you welcome with open arms at your church people that dress like they just rolled out of bed or spent all night out at the club?  Do you tolerate the smell of alcohol seeping from their pores?  Do you look down on the people that aren’t as good as you?  Do you have contempt in your heart for those that are not living the life that Christ would have them live?  Do you love them?

One of the big problems that the church faces is the image of being “above it all.”  Christ did not come for the righteous… they’re already taken care of because they’re doing it all right.  Christ came for the unsaved.  What have you done today for the unsaved?

Did you help them rake their leaves?

Did you babysit their kids?

Did you help them track down their lost cat?

Did you come check on them when they were sick?

Did you buy them a beer at the local watering hole?

Did you invite them over for dinner?

Did you exhibit Christ through your actions?

Did you exhibit pride by refusing to come down to their level?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

It doesn’t matter in the end whether you were saved on your deathbed or as a child.  In Christ’s eyes, you are equally brothers and children of God.  So the next time you sit in church and see someone dressed shabby, wearing something too revealing, with dozens of piercings, or smelling of stale alcohol consider that maybe, just maybe, that is EXACTLY who needs to hear the Word of God the most.

Pulpit Freedom

This upcoming Sunday, October 7th, is Pulpit-Freedom Sunday.  This day has been chosen by the clergy across these United States as a day to defy the Internal Revenue Code and to speak the Truth from the pulpit in terms of government policy, politics, and political issues of the moment.

The website above describes the point of the day as one where the clergy “explore what Scripture says about the selection of our national, state, or local leaders and applies Scripture and/or church doctrine to candidates and the issues held by the candidates such as life, marriage, and family,” (What happens on Pulpit-Freedom Sunday?).

Most people do not know that this is a violation of the Internal Revenue Code that classifies churches as tax-exempt.  This tax-exempt status is dependent on the church not advocating any particular politics or political philosophies though.  So the church, in order to avoid taxes, has for the most part stayed out of political messages from the pulpit, but at what cost? 

Simply, the moral decay of our entire country.  How can men called to serve the Truth and the Word stand by as men fall victim to sin and fall away from His Glory every day?  Christ came to save the lost, He came for the sinner.  If the church is unwilling to interject itself in the public conscience, then it is failing at one important aspect of it’s role in the world.  But how can we rectify the church being civilly disobedient when the Scriptures tell us to obey the governing authorities?

As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state—to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying towards its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally self evident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man’s property against his will, is an infringement of his rights.

Herbert Spencer

As long as by being civilly disobedient, we do not impair someone else’s God-given rights, then we are justified to be disobedient to the civil authority if that authority is threatening to violate what Spencer calls the Moral Law.

Politicians and bureaucrats, in service to themselves, have written into law that it is illegal for churches to be used for political purposes or they would forfeit their tax exempt status.

In a country where the seeds of revolution and liberty were planted and nurtured from the pulpit, this is an abomination.  I have written before (here and here) how this is a Christian country, despite calls and arguments against that statement.  The Founders own words, actions, and deeds prove otherwise.  I hardly think it reasonable that men of faith would approve of the inability of other men of faith from speaking about politics from the pulpit.

IN most Countries, they who blind and enslave the People, are popular, and reverenced; they who would enlighten and free them, hated and persecuted… It is with Measures as with Men; they are praised, or condemned, not because they are Right or Wrong, Beneficial or Hurtful, but because they come from this Party, or the other. Evil is turned into Good, and Good into Evil: Truth passes for Falsehood; Falsehood is dressed up in the Guise of Truth: The best Actions are decried as the worst, if they arise from one Quarter; the worst Actions adored as the best, if from the other. The Resisting of lawless Tyrants, is, at one time, Rebellion and Damnation: To rebel against the most lawful Authority, is, at another time, Duty and Glory… When we have taken a Fancy to a Man, and choose or consider him as our Chief and Leader, we are disposed to see all Excellency and no Fault in him, to think him every way able to serve and support us, and quite uncapable of betraying or hurting us, or of ill serving us. We represent him to ourselves, just like ourselves, full of warm Zeal for Us and our Cause, without any Views to himself, or any Motives that are personal… Party Principles are therefore substituted for moral Principles; the sure way to destroy all Morality, and to confound the Characters of Men, and even those of Good and Evil. In truth, Morality, with Sense, is the only true Standard of Popularity, and the only just Recommendation to it. A virtuous Man can never endanger Liberty, nor hurt Society; nor is a wicked Man ever to be trusted with the Support of either. Yet from this Spirit, this baneful and pestilent Spirit of Party, the ablest and best Men are often precluded from the Service of their Country; the weakest, the worst, and most contemptible, employed in its Service; and the best Men often forced from that Service, to make room for the worst.

Thomas Gordon

If those that we trust with explaining and exposing us to the Truth and the Word of God are not allowed to speak about the contemporary issues facing us today without fear of persecution via taxation, then we must force the issue.  Without this moral compass projected on to the national stage from our churches, then we are adrift in an amoral sea of opinion and vicissitude.  This is why each election seems like the choice between the lesser of two evils.  Our own civil laws are insulating us from the Truth and it’s role in our political fate.   By not advocating God’s Word openly about everything in the world today including political issues, we are offering a pinch of incense for Caesar rather than giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

I stand with these clergy, and I hope more and more say “ENOUGH. I will not stand silently by as my country descends into moral darkness.”  I hope that they will stop hiding from persecution and embrace it as edification of a job well done and the friction of a fallen world to the Truth and Glory of the Risen Lord.

Maybe one day we will be able to say we have the choice between the greater of two good men rather than choice between the lesser of two evils.  If only we would shine the light of Truth on all candidates and policies advocated from the pulpit, where the origins of this country’s freedoms and liberties were first planted.  Then we could see the end of the indulgences, of bondage to the state as the arbiter of good and evil, and see the restoration of Liberty and Freedom.

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