The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: July 2015 (page 2 of 2)

Unborns’ Body Parts for Sale

O PreacherThis video sickens me.  I hope it does you, too.  Now (with our tax dollars!) not only does Planned Parenthood perform abortions, it seems irrefutable that they sell the babies’ body parts.

In my view, most abortions are child sacrifice, an abomination against God who created us in his image.  “Are you not children of transgression . . . you . . . who slaughter your children in the valleys . . . ?” (Isaiah 57:4,5).  What, then, shall we call the selling of their body parts for financial profit?  Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, discusses this “business deal” while casually eating dinner and drinking wine!

I planned to write the next installment of our Mark study today.  But this is too shockingly evil to overlook.  We must be informed!  And we must do what we can—everything from praying to emailing our reps in Washington.

So I hope you’ll make the time to read the blogs below.  The first is from Dr. Albert Mohler.  The second is from the “National Review”.  And the third is from “Focus on the Family.”  It contains an easy way to do the emailing I mentioned above.

How often these days national and world events have pointed me back to these sobering and frightening words of the apostle Paul . . .

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator– who is forever praised. Amen.  Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.  Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;  they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them
(Romans 1:18-32).

How can we not be living in the days when God has given this nation over to the consequences of the godlessness we’ve wanted?  Our only hope is in the righteousness of God that he gives through Christ . . .

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24).

http://www.albertmohler.com/?p=35257

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/421198/planned-parenthood-fetus-sale-business-corporation-profit?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=NR5PM&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign

http://jimdaly.focusonthefamily.com/four-things-you-can-do-now-about-the-latest-planned-parenthood-scandal/?utm_source=nl_dalyfocus&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=289101&refcd=289101&crmlink=content-keep-reading

embryo
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Growth by Persecution

P.Allan“Persecuted believers have become the new face of genuine Christianity.  They are filled with passion to live or die for Christ, and we in the West have much to learn from them.”

Product Details

So writes Tom Doyle in his book, Killing Christians:  Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe.  Tom  pastored for 20 years in CO, TX & NM before launching into missions in the volatile Middle East.  His eye-opening book is available from Amazon . . . http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Christians-Living-Faith-Believe/dp/0718030680/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436986616&sr=8-1&keywords=Killing+Christians

I just started reading it, but I couldn’t get past the Introduction without commenting.  Listen to Doyle . . .

Persecution Malfunction.  “Oppressors over the centuries have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative.  It just doesn’t work.  To the contrary, killing believers routinely accelerates the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.”

This reminds me again of Psalm 2:4a about the nations who rage against the LORD and his Anointed . . .

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD holds them in derision.”

Radical Islamists like ISIS and antichrist governments like Iran may vow to destroy Jesus’ followers, but their plots (according to Doyle and history) produce the opposite results.

Why?  “Because Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation thrives in a climate where hostility, danger, and martyrdom are present.  Persecution and the spread of the gospel are as inseparable as identical twins.  Suffering propels the growth of Jesus movements around the world” (Doyle).

Muslim vs. Christian Growth.  Can that be true?  Are persecuted churches really growing, especially when they are virtually all little house  or underground churches?  Certainly our mega-churches far exceed their growth! But Doyle writes what all American-church studies have shown:  “For those of us in the West, the threat of persecution is virtually nonexistent, but statistics show church growth in America—which experiences no persecution—has leveled off during the last twenty years.”

Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Muslims are out-growing us.  Not so, writes David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements (in 2012).  “The annual global growth rate is currently 2.6% for evangelicals, 1.2% for historical Christians, 1.2% for the world population growth [and] 1.9% for Islam (with 96% of that growth estimated to come through biological births).”

Global vs. American Church Growth.  Whew!  Gospel-spread remains ahead of Islam-spread!  Globally.  But in America church growth has been level for two decades.  And I would argue that much “growth” we see in most local churches has come mainly from “church shoppers.”  Four-plus years ago, when we moved into our new church building, newcomers visited about every Sunday.  A new church building attracts “shoppers.”  So does the latest and loudest praise music.  And smoke and disco lights.  And a coffee bar with free Sunday newspapers.  And a “multi-plex” where six different-style services are held simultaneously.  That’s church growth by Madison Ave. marketing.  Books have unashamedly argued for it.  Many pastors have bought into it.  Only recently have they learned that  church growth by marketing usually produces consumer “Christians.”

Growth vs. Gospel.  The term “church growth” implies we’re playing the numbers game.  Counting people is biblical (see Acts), but only as a sign that the Gospel is spreading and converts/disciples are being made.  That’s how I’m using the term here.  Not bodies in a building, the Spirit of Christ in lives.

Persecution and Gospel-Spread.  We should ask why “persecution and the spread of the gospel are as inseparable as identical twins.”  Listen again to Doyle:  “As inconceivable as it is to Christians who have not faced life-threatening persecution, the suffering produces immense blessing through the radical transformation of individual believers.  Each one comes away marked, never truly returning to the same life.  Sometimes survivors are unrecognizable even by their own families because, in the midst of their brutal afflictions, they experienced Christ in an hour of need as few of us ever do.”

How sobering!  Apparently the higher the cost of following Jesus the deeper the devotion to following Jesus!

Oh, we do suffer.  Chronic physical pain.  Broken heart over a broken marriage.  Loneliness from losing a loved one.  This is real suffering— but suffering common to fallen humanity.  It’s not suffering because we follow Jesus (even though it genuinely, and sometimes cruelly, tests our faith).  Nevertheless, despite the growing threat to religious freedom,  I’d guess 99% of us aren’t suffering for Christ. 

Action Suggestions.  So what can we do?  Pray for persecution?  That’s not being a fool for Christ, that’s just being a fool!    Here are three sensible suggestions . . .

  1. Read Killing Christians or Dreams and Visions (both by Doyle and available from Amazon), or other books or websites about persecuted Christians (Voice of the Martyrs-http://www.persecution.com/.)  Media news says little about Christian persecution.  So most of us are only vaguely aware of what’s happening.  We’re left with a truncated view of the Body of Christ and presume all Jesus’ followers live in a “Disney World” somewhat resembling ours.  Consequently, we’re blind to the life-and-death war that following Jesus drafts us into.
  2. Mentally compare our Jesus’ following with theirs.  Even when we are informed, it’s easy to dismiss what we read.  How much greater impact when we measure our life of following Jesus with the lives of believers in the Middle East!  Let’s read, but then imagine our following Jesus potentially costing our job, our home or our lives.  How would we respond if Jesus invited us, “Come, follow me and die”?
  3. Repent of lukewarmness and pray for the Holy Sp[rit to inflame our hearts with passion for Jesus.  In the final analysis, reading and comparing are only aids.  The Holy Spirit alone can inflame our hearts with passion for our Lord.  What changes he might work if we regularly prayed,  “Lord, ignite my heart with passion for you.  Deepen my devotion to you, so that I’ll die more to myself and live more to you.”
  4. Pray in daily devotions for the persecuted church.  Lois and I have established that habit.  It reminds us of our suffering brothers and sisters everyday.  And who knows what the Lord might do in response to our little prayers for a “little” believer in Iran?
  5. Ask the persecuted church to pray for us.  We may have beautiful air-conditioned buildings and overflowing  libraries of books and the freedom to argue secondary theological points.  But what I’m reading tells me they have the heart, the passion and the devotion to Jesus that we’ve lost (if we ever had it).  So maybe when we send our missionary offering each month, we should send this humble prayer request . . .

Will you please ask the Jesus’ followers you serve
to pray earnestly for us in America?
We so need the faith and passion and life-or-death devotion to Christ they have!

 

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Dead End

O PreacherWhat a confusing juxtaposition Mark 1:15 and today’s text Mark 6:14-29 is!  In 1:15 Jesus proclaims “the gospel of God” . . .

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the good news.”

Affirming that proclamation’s truth, Mark reports Jesus’ kingdom authority and power over unclean spirits, disability, illnesses, nature, and even death (1:16-6:6).  Unexpectedly, though, in 6:14-29 Mark reports how King Herod beheaded John the Baptist.  John was Jesus’ cousin and unique messenger.  Where was the demonstration of Jesus’ kingdom power when John was slaughtered by a crazed king?

This King Herod was Herod Antipas, son of  Herod the Great, infamous for the slaughter of young children in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.  Antipas was appointed by the Roman emperor Augustus to rule over a quarter of his father’s kingdom (Galilee) from 4 B.C.-39 A.D.  Here’s Mark’s report of John’s death . . .

Herod Antipas, the king, soon heard about Jesus, because people everywhere were talking about him. Some were saying, “This must be John the Baptist come back to life again. That is why he can do such miracles.”  Others thought Jesus was the ancient prophet Elijah. Still others thought he was a prophet like the other great prophets of the past.  When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.” For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her.  John kept telling Herod, “It is illegal for you to marry your brother’s wife.”  Herodias was enraged and wanted John killed in revenge, but without Herod’s approval she was powerless.  And Herod respected John, knowing that he was a good and holy man, so he kept him under his protection. Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.  Herodias’ chance finally came. It was Herod’s birthday, and he gave a party for his palace aides, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee.  Then her daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased them all. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.”  Then he promised, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half of my kingdom!”  She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?”Her mother told her, “Ask for John the Baptist’s head!”  So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!”  Then the king was very sorry, but he was embarrassed to break his oath in front of his guests.  So he sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison,  brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother.  When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came for his body and buried it in a tomb.

Herod Conflicted (6:14-16).  Obviously.  Herod knew John to be righteous and holy, so feared him.  He  happily listened to John, but could never really understand him.  With news of miracles spreading through Galilee, Herod thought John had been raised from the dead.  I’m guessing that terrified him.

Herodias’ Grudge (6:17-20).  Herodias was not a happy king’s wife.  John the Baptist publicly condemned her marriage to Herod Antipas, because he was her brother-in-law.  But Herod (who still held final word despite his wife’s charms) would make John a dead man.

Herod’s Birthday Banquet (6:21-28).  Herodias’ opportunity came party night.  She had her daughter, probably from her “previous” marriage, dance for the crowd of nobles, military commanders and leading men of Galilee.  The teenager’s dancing got the men’s juices flowing.  Herod was so overcome he dramatically promised the girl anything she wanted up to half his kingdom.  (Can you see the sweaty, lustful smile on his face?)  She ran to Mommy for advice.  Mommy didn’t hesitate:  “The head of John the Baptist.”  One would think the girl would turn squeamish.  But either she knew better than to disobey Mommy or was, like everybody else, caught up in the sensuality of the moment.  She strolled back in and seductively said, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  Herod was hoping she’d want a Corvette carriage.  But what was a king to do?  The offer was out there and his step-daughter grabbed it.  And so the deed was done.  The executioner carried John’s head to Herod on a platter and he handed it to the girl, who slithered offstage  with it to Mommy.

John’s Burial (6:29).  His disciples heard the news and came and laid his body in a tomb.  What did they think?  Their master had announced the arrival of Messiah!  Yet, when the executioner flashed his sword, Messiah was absent.  John, who fearlessly challenged King Herod and announced the nearness of God’s kingdom, met a dead end.

Our Dead Ends.  Not as violent and antiChrist as John’s.  Ours are mini-dead ends (until our body actually dies).  No need to list examples.  Who of us hasn’t been there when we expected Jesus to make a way where there was no way—and instead we ran smack into a dead end and got pretty banged up?  And given the state of the world, who knows how much like John’s our death may be?

Right about here I could cite Romans 8:28.  Instead, I’ll quote 1 Peter 4:12,13 (NLT), because this too is the Gospel.  And this too is reality for Jesus’ followers in this fallen world.

 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through,
as if something strange were happening to you.
Instead, be very glad–
because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering,
and afterward you will have the wonderful joy
of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.

(If you haven’t listened to the video, do it now.
Even if you have, listen again—
and rejoice that His kingdom overcomes . . . all . . . forever!)

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How High Is Christ?

P.AllanDON’T PLAY THE VIDEO YET!

The Christian church is doomed without a high view of Jesus Christ.  That should be self-evident from the name “Christian church.”  Yet, just as we take for granted (or even ignore) a familiar person, it’s easy to take for granted (or even ignore) the breath-taking heights of Christ’s  deity.

I’m reading Dreams and Visions, a book of narratives about Christ appearing in dreams and visions to unbelievers in countries where Christians are persecuted.  It’s a fascinating read I recommend.

Product Detailshttp://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_18?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=dreams+and+visions+tom+doyle&sprefix=Dreams+and+Visions%2Cstripbooks%2C201&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Adreams+and+visions+tom+doyle

In the chapter, “The Swords of Baghdad, Part 1”, is the section, “Two Faces of Iraq.”  From it, I was reminded that Christianity has roots in (of all places) Iraq.  In the 5th century a preacher named Nestorius became patriarch of Constantinople (in today’s Turkey),  Nestorius believed Jesus had “part of God’s spirit”, but was not fully God.  Because he enjoyed wide influence, church leaders in other jurisdictions of the church convened the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.  The Council formally denounced Nestorius, removed and banished him to Egypt.  But many of his followers moved east to Persia.

Here’s the map to understand the logistics.  Turkey is big and orange on the left.  Egypt is pink toward the bottom left.  Persia is today’s Iraq in the middle, also pink.  That’s where Nestorius’ followers ended up.  (No extra charge for the map.  If you want driving directions, though, I’d suggest Mapquest.)

https://s.yimg.com/fz/api/res/1.2/9yOaqor8UIAcnUU_MAj1WQ--/YXBwaWQ9c3JjaGRkO2g9MTY5OTtxPTk1O3c9MTQ0Mw--/http://www.zonu.com/images/0X0/2009-09-17-613/Middle-East-Political-Map-1995.jpg
In Persia (Iraq) Nestorius’ followers found listening ears for their “low-view-of-Christ” theology.  The church they planted became known as the Assyrian or Syriac Church and even sent missionaries back to today’s Turkey.  Today “Assyrian Christians” are scattered through most of the Middle East.  In 1976 the Assyrian Church rejected some Nestorian beliefs, but debate remains over the church’s acceptance of the full deity of Christ.

Tom Doyle, author of Dreams and Visions, makes this telling observation:  The Assyrian Church’s weak view of Christ explains, at least in part, why Christianity fell apart in Persia when Islam swept in.  Without a proper view of Jesus, the church anywhere is doomed to a mediocre existence.  If Jesus, the head of the church is (considered) weak, how can the church be anything but weak? . . . The most troubling aspect of this errant belief system in Iraq is the effect it has on individuals within the church.  The understanding that Jesus is somewhat less than God leaves each Assyrian at a sharp disadvantage when faced with the overwhelming presence of Islam—that is, until he or she encounters the overwhelming presence of Jesus Himself  (in dreams and visions).”

Most of our churches maintain proper doctrinal statements about the deity of Christ.  But usually we picture him walking the roads of Galilee or hanging on the cross.  Thank God he did!  However, without being less than a man, he was and is so much more, more exalted than we can imagine .  Here are just a few Scriptures to raise our sight of him.

 In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God (John 1:1).

Long ago, at many times and in many ways,
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
whom he appointed the heir of all things,
through whom he created the world.
He is the radiance of the glory of God,
and the exact imprint of his nature,
and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:1-3a)

He (the Son of God) is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation (i.e., like the “firstborn” who inherits all that is the father’s).
For by him all things were created,
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—
all things were created by him and for him.

And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning and firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell . . .
(Colossians 1:15-19).

Then [Jesus] said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here, and see my hands;
and put out your hand, and place it in my side.
Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Thomas answered him,
“My Lord and my God! (John 20:27,28)

NOW LET’S  PLAY THE VIDEO ABOVE
AND WORSHIP OUR HIGH AND EXALTED CHRIST WHO IS GOD!

 

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Mission–Sent

P.AllanRadical Islamic ISIS and Christianity are both proselytizing faiths.  ISIS reportedly proselytizes by giving non-Muslims three choices:  convert, pay a fine or die.

In today’s section of Mark’s Gospel (6:7-13), Mark reports how Jesus sent his disciples on a short-term mission.  His means and message were radically different.

Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two
and gave them authority over evil spirits.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff
— no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.
Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 
And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you,
shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” 
They went out and preached that people should repent. 
They drove out many demons
and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Jesus sent them out  two by two.  The Jewish historian Josephus counts 204 towns and villages in Galilee in the first half of the first century A.D.  It might have taken six pairs of disciples six months to go to each town.   We don’t know if they did.

Jesus likely sent them in pairs because in Old Testament Israel a testimony was corroborated by two or three witnesses.  Jesus sent them (Greek apostellayn) to represent and bear witness of him–his words and his deeds.

Dr. Derek Thomas (the Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta and Minister of Preaching and Teaching at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina) observes that the 5,000 whom Jesus fed (6:30-44)—ten or twelve thousand counting women and children—may very well have followed after Jesus because these teams of disciples had visited their villages.

ISIS sends out an army.  Jesus sent out six groups of two men each—not outwardly impressive, but by his grace ultimately effective.

Jesus gave them authority over evil spirits.  Jesus had authority over evil spirits.  He ordered an evil spirit from a man in the Capernaum synagogue (1:21-28).  He cast out many demons in the same town that evening (1:29-34).  He commanded a legion of demons to leave a Gerasene madman and enter a herd of pigs (5:1-20).  And he himself resisted Satan’s temptations for forty days in the wilderness (1:12,13).  Jesus’ coming to bring God’s kingdom stirred up a hornets’ nest of demons, because the coming of God’s reign marked the beginning of the end of the devil’s—a hornets’ nest over which he had authority and power.

ISIS’ authority is the power of the gun, sword and knife inspired by demons.  The disciples’ authority comes from Jesus’ word empowering them to free people from demons.

Jesus told them to travel lightly and stay wherever welcomed and shake the dust off their feet to those who wouldn’t welcome them.  “Take nothing for the journey except a staff— no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” 

Why travel lightly?  So they would learn to trust God for their needs—a lesson they needed to learn for their long-term mission to come.

Why stay wherever welcomed?  So as not to compromise their mission and message by finding “better” homes in which to stay, but to validate their mission by humbly accepting whatever was offered.  (What does this reveal about “faith teachers”, who represent the crucified Christ while flying their million-dollar jets and sleeping in luxurious hotels?)

Why shake the dust off their feet at those who wouldn’t welcome them?  When Jews returned home after visiting a Gentile country, law required them to shake the dust off their feet so as not to pollute the Holy Land.  Disciples were to dust-shake as a testimony that those folks were no better than Gentile unbelievers because they had rejected the Gospel of the Kingdom.

ISIS travels with heavy weapons, violently forces their way into towns and murders those who refuse to adopt their belief.  Jesus’ disciples travel lightly, humbly stay only where welcomed, and gently warn of judgment to come by their Lord.

The disciples preached repentance and worked miracles.  They went out and preached that people should repent.  They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

“Repent” is probably Mark’s typical sound-bite version.  We can assume Mark emphasized repentance (turn around to follow Jesus in faith)  while not recording the whole message Jesus preached:  “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).  They also worked Jesus-like miracles that confirmed their message.

 ISIS preaches repentance (convert to follow Islam) or die.  ISIS has no miracles; only weapons to destroy.  Jesus’ disciples preach repentance (convert to follow Jesus) and live.  Jesus’ disciples have miracles—“weapons” of divine power that heal from sickness and liberate from devils.

 Jesus sends usWe’re not apostles.  We may go in pairs or singly.   We have authority to represent Jesus against evil forces in this fallen world.  We usually don’t have to worry much about traveling or lodging and we probably won’t be shaking much dust off our feet.  But we should preach repentance as a key response to the Gospel and believe that our Lord will miraculously change lives through us.

We are a force to be reckoned with,
because Jesus sends us
and goes with us.

Jesus (Joseph Mawle) and the disciples approach Jerusalem for the ...

 

 

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Faith and State

O PreacherListen to a beautiful presentation of “America the Beautiful” from the Hillside College Choir by clicking on the flag . . .

Listening makes me nostalgic.  Violence in our cities and division over race, politics and same-sex marriage  make that song sound like something from the “Leave It to Beaver” and “Little House on the Prairie” days.

But America had its problems then, too.

In 1950 the U.S. Senate authorized a wide-ranging investigation of homosexuals “and other moral perverts” working in government.  Two months earlier the Civil Service Commission intensified its efforts to find and fire lesbians and gay government employees.  Last week (just 65 years after the government hunt for homosexuals!) the U.S. Supreme Court mandated each state to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  A swift, seismic societal shift!

Rick Segal commented on it in a “Desiring God” blog July 3rd . . .

“The 350-year marriage of Protestant Christian theology and American popular culture is over. Christianity, it may be sadly said, is no longer the preeminent social influence in American life. We Christians who dared to presume that America was ever all and only ours are, apart from some God-ordained awakening, unlikely to ‘get our country back.’ We will live and work henceforth, as do most other Christians around the world, amidst a public square hostile to our beliefs.”

The First Amendment, of course, guarantees religious freedom:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ”  Nevertheless, here are a few ominous signs of what may be coming.

  • Oregon  bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000, forcing them into bankruptcy, because (as they explained to their former gay customers), their faith forbade them from participating in a same-sex wedding.
  • Washington florist Baronelle Stutzman (a grandmother) is being prosecuted for refusing to provide services for a same-sex wedding.  She could lose her home and life’s savings.
  • Colorado baker Jack Phillips faces jail time if he violates a court order to bake cakes for a same-sex wedding.  (Source for the first three points “The Christian Post” http://www.christianpost.com/news/battle-lines-for-religious-liberty-and-same-sex-marriage-are-set-141179/
  • Mark Oppenheimer in “Time Magazine” (June 28th) called for the government to stop subsidizing religion and non-profits through tax exemptions (http://time.com/3939143/nows-the-time-to-end-tax-exemptions-for-religious-institutions/).
  • Debate on “Fox News Sunday” (July 5th) between Kelly Shackelford (president of Liberty Institute) and Evan Wolfson (attorney and gay rights advocate) revealed the fierceness of the division.  Wolfson argued that no one has the right to let their faith impact how they run their business, claiming that one’s beliefs then become a license to discriminate.  Shackelford insisted that Wolfson and his allies want a license to discriminate against Christians.
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissenting opinion, “The majority ‘graciously suggests’ that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage.  The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion.  Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.
  • Supreme Court Justice Alito added this in his dissenting opinion:  “[This decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy . . . this will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent . . . I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

I’m not confusing the kingdom of God (“My kingdom is not of this world”–Jesus, John 18:36) with the USA.  I do believe, however, that God shed his grace on America.  In my view, the recent Supreme Court decision is another example of America dismissing that grace.  And I sense that, because of it, Christian living will become costlier in this country.

In Mark 12:13 Jesus answered his enemies, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are Gods.”  Oscar Cullmann (1902-1999), a liberal Protestant theologian, said implicit in Jesus’ statement is this:  “Do not give Caesar more than his due!  Give him nothing that belongs to God.”  He went on to charge, “When the State demands what is God’s, it makes itself independent of God, absolutizes itself, deifies itself and becomes satanic.”

Certainly we’re not there—yet.  By God’s mercy, may we never be.  We still live in the Romans 13 phase of history where we’re to “be subject to the governing authorities.”  But one generation will live in the Revelation 13 phase where government becomes openly anti-Christ  and Caesar demands what is God’s alone. That’s the direction history is moving.

“If we are to enter God’s kingdom,
we must pass through many tribulations” (Acts 20:22). 

Are we ready?

 

 

 


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Concern After the Court

O PreacherThe U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 Obergefell decision not merely allows all states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but mandates they do so.  Concern:  What does this mean for religious freedom?

Rather than my prophesying, let’s get it straight from five of the justices.  Under each opinionI’ve repeated what I considered their most-concerning remarks.  Warning!  This is a long blog.  Make a pit stop and grab a snack now.  And let’s read carefully to allow these words to hit us full force.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy devoted only one brief paragraph to the issue . . .

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

(Kennedy wrote that we may “advocate” and “teach” our faith-principles about marriage, but wrote nothing about our exercising or practicing those rights.  This implies that the baker and photographer may talk about unbliblical same-sex marriage, but they can’t refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding.)

Usually only one justice writes for the minority opinion.  In this case, all four dissenting justices did.  Here is what Chief Justice Roberts had to say . . .

“Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. They have constitutional power only to resolve concrete cases or controversies; they do not have the flexibility of legislatures to address concerns of parties not before the court or to anticipate problems that may arise from the exercise of a new right. Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Amdt. 1.”

(“Today’s decision . . . creates serious questions about religious liberty.”)

“Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”

(“The First Amendment guarantees . . . the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion.  Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”)

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

(“Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage.“)

“Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same sex marriage. Ante, at 19. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples. Ante, at 19. The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,” “disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors. Ante, at 17, 19, 22, 25. These apparent assaults on the character of fair-minded people will have an effect, in society and in court. See post, at 6–7 (ALITO, J., dissenting). Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted. Ante, at 19.”

(“It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s ‘better informed understanding’ as bigoted.”)

Justice Scalia opined nothing about religion, but his remarks clearly  warn about potential loss of liberty . .

“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

(“Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of nine lawyers on the Supreme Court . . . [This} robs the People of . . . the freedom to govern themselves.”)

“Thus, rather than focusing on the People’s understanding of “liberty”—at the time of ratification or even today—the majority focuses on four “principles and traditions” that, in the majority’s view, prohibit States from defining marriage as an institution consisting of one man and one woman. This is a naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ “reasoned judgment.” A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”

(“A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”)

Justice Thomas’ dissent may be even more concerning . . .

“Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect…

“Numerous amici—even some not supporting the States—have cautioned the Court that its decision here will “have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty.” Brief for General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists et al. as Amici Curiae 5. In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Id., at 7. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.

“The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph, ante, at 27. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition. Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Ibid. Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

“Although our Constitution provides some protection against such governmental restrictions on religious practices, the People have long elected to afford broader protections than this Court’s constitutional precedents mandate. Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process. Instead, the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.

(” . . . the majority’s decision threatens religious liberty . . . It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples . . . Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process.  Instead the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”)

Finally, Justice Alito warned . . .

“Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. The decision will also have other important consequences.

“It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. E.g., ante, at 11–13. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

“Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

“The system of federalism established by our Constitution provides a way for people with different beliefs to live together in a single nation. If the issue of same-sex marriage had been left to the people of the States, it is likely that some States would recognize same-sex marriage and others would not. It is also possible that some States would tie recognition to protection for conscience rights. The majority today makes that impossible. By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas. Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fair play. But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds. Today’s decision will also have a fundamental effect on this Court and its ability to uphold the rule of law. If a bare majority of Justices can invent a new right and impose that right on the rest of the country, the only real limit on what future majorities will be able to do is their own sense of what those with political power and cultural influence are willing to tolerate. Even enthusiastic supporters of same-sex marriage should worry about the scope of the power that today’s majority claims.”

(“It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy . . .  I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools . . .  If a bare majority of Justices can invent a new right and impose that right on the rest of the country, the only real limit on what future majorities will be able to do is their own sense of what those with political power and cultural influence are willing to tolerate.”)

Concern:  What should we do?  Love the same-sex-marriage folks.  At the appropriate time, let them know we believe what the Bible commandsBut let’s do it as their friend, not their judge.  Let’s pray for them.  And let’s pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1,2) and for our Father to have mercy on this nation.

Remember:
the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t have the final word.
The High King of Heaven does!

 

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Jesus Amazed

O PreacherAmazed at what?  The people’s unbelief.  Given today’s world, is Jesus still amazed?  Or given how I sometimes react to disability, is Jesus amazed at my unbelief?  That unbelief especially strikes us in this next portion of Mark’s Gospel (6:1-6 below),  when contrasted with the faith of Jairus and of the bleeding woman in the preceding portion (5:21-43).

 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.
2 When the Sabbath came,
he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked.
“What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!
3 Isn’t this the carpenter?
Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?
Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown,
among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”
5 He could not do any miracles there,
except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

Nazareth.  According to archaeologists, Nazareth was an inconsequential village of maybe 500 people.  It had been Jesus’ hometown since the family’s escape to Egypt after the slaughter at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:19-23).  No one expected anything good to come from  nondescript Nazareth (John 1:48a).

Synagogue.  On Sabbath Jesus  went to synagogue.  The hometown boy back for a visit was invited to read Scripture.  According to Luke 4:18,19 it was Isaiah 61:1,2.  Mark, in his usual bare-bones style, omits the Scripture content in order to focus on the congregation’s reaction.  They were “amazed”.  In this context, the Greek (ekplayso) is probably best translated “shocked”— shocked at his wisdom and shocked at his miracles.  But not good shocked!  This was Jesus of Nazareth.  The carpenter.  Mary’s boy.  James’, Joseph’s and Simon’s brother.  There were his sisters right there.

Scandal.“And they took offense at him.”  The Greek word is skandalizo.  They were scandalized.  It was shameful, unseemly, outrageous to claim what he did about himself!  (See Luke 4:18-21 for those claims.)  Who does he think he is?

Nobody’s scandalized by Jesus these days.   When Franklin Graham is interviewed on TV and (as he always does) squeezes in a word about Jesus dying for our sins, no one says, “How shameful, how outrageous that Graham should claim that about Jesus!”  Only by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit does an unbeliever even give it a thought.   Like the trodden-down path in Jesus’ parable, we’ve become so hardened that the seed of the Word doesn’t sink in at all.  So Satan steals it without breaking a sweat (Mark 4:14,15).

Rebuke.  The synagogue congregation certainly verbalized (probably shouted) their skandalizo.   But Jesus didn’t turn the other cheek.  Instead he turned the heat higher by answering his critics with a familiar proverb:  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (6:4).  Just as Israel historically had rejected God’s prophets, so now the people of Nazareth were rejecting him whom God had sent.

Results.  That service didn’t end well.  Mark observes:  “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.”  And he went about among the villages teaching (6:5-7).

What should we make of “And he could do no mighty work there . . . “?  Obviously “their unbelief” was why.  But are Jesus’ mighty works limited by our unbelief?  We’re afraid to say “yes”, because we don’t want to imply that we contribute to Jesus’ miracles.  We hesitate to give so-called “faith-teachers” more ammunition:  “Let me teach you how to have the kind of faith that Jesus must answer!”  But, to be true to the text,  we have to say “yes”, their unbelief stopped Jesus in his tracks.  But “yes” with this amendment:  This is how the sovereign God “set things up.”  ” . . . without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6).  Sure, Jesus drove the demons from the Gerasene graveyard-dweller without any faith from him—although the demons believed (5:1-8).  But normally Jesus responds to faith, even faith as simple as, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38).

Mark’s funny, isn’t he!  “And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”  I’d count a meeting where a few sick people were healed one of my crowning ministry moments.  For Jesus, healing just a few was the exception. 

But overall, Jesus was “amazed because of their unbelief” (6:6).  The tense of “amazed” (or, “marveled”) implies a sudden, overwhelming emotion:  Jesus was “slapped in the face by amazement because of their unbelief.”  We’re apt to say, “Jesus knows everything.  How could he be stunned by their unbelief?”  But Jesus was the God-Man.  Where deity stops and humanity starts, who can say?  But clearly here, the man Jesus was “blown away” by their unbelief.

Sad! How sad that he could do only a few healings there!  How sad that he then left to go to other villages, leaving the people of Nazareth stuck in the hardened cement of their faith-lessness!

When we reject Jesus
—when we don’t even trust him enough to go to him and say, “Don’t you
care?”—
we close the door to the One with whom all things are possible!

 

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