Thursday, August 17, 2017

Two Ways to Change The World

     Watching the news lately I see the world has not changed.  For the most part things are the same, only the issues have changed and the faces of those who are participating.  As of late, "Racism" has once again reared its ugly head.  This time over the symbolism of a past war, its effects on a people, and a geographical region of the United States.  As I contemplate the atrocities of the past, present, and inevitable future I am once again reminded there are only two options available to change the world in which we life.  To change the world you must choose either to change the circumstances or change your heart.
     We live in a world that is as diverse in thought and culture as it is in anything else.  People cling to the things that they hold sacred and can become very emotional when their perceived identity is threatened.  For instance, I would say that someone's identity as an American is something that most US Citizens hold sacred.  Even to the point of being willing to lay down your life for the sake of the cause.  This of course is just one example and for any circumstance this will most likely hold true. 
     Let us say that your identity comes under attack.  How then are you going to respond?  As I have said there really is only two responses.

     First, you can change the circumstances.  This may seem to be a cliché statement.  However cliché it still holds true.  It may seem hard, but truly it is not.  If you live in a society that encourages free speech and the right to self government then there is already a mechanism for this change.  Non-violent protest and voting is a way that the ordinary everyday individual can effect change in the world.  But let us say for the sake of argument this is not an option for you.  There is another mechanism for changing your circumstances, violence.  You may feel shocked that I would mention that violence is a way to change the world.  But, in effect it is and has been the most exploited method to change circumstances throughout history.  All governments, and countries have their past rooted in conflict and violence and it is what has ultimately bond together the current social fabric of our world.

    The second method is something that is most difficult.  In order to change the world I would say you must change your heart.  Also cliché.  Through history there has been only one force that has been able to change the heart in an effective and permanent method.  That force of course is the Holy Spirit.  Mock me if you will, but I tell you that the only way to change the world is to change the heart of humankind. The only thing that has the power to do that is the power of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection.  The Bible tells us in Genesis 8:21 that the "imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth."  This being the case something drastic must happen.  In order for the heart to change our heart must die.  It must be put to death and be reborn by some miraculous power.  Romans 6:4 tells us "we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life."  The mechanism for the change of heart was created through Jesus.  The oly Spirit indwells the believer of Christ and makes the necessary death and rebirth in Him.

    The world can be changed.  When you change it by human hands the world will never be perfect.  You may make it more manageable for a while, but in the end the evil of man's heart will bring its ruination.  If you allow God to change your heart the change is permanent and will require everything that you are. 

    This post was born out of a conversation that I had with someone very close to me.  He was very agitated about the current state of affairs and he stated well you better get ready they are coming for your rights next.  I have clearly made my beliefs known in the past.  I serve Jesus Christ alone.  People cannot and will not ever be able to take this away from me.  I believe what I preach and if it comes to it I will die if that is what God requires of me.  I cannot and will not violate what the Bible says or what my conscience tells me that God's path is for me.  They may take my church, my home, my family, my rights, or my life, but they can never take my heart.  I pray that God will keep me from persecution, but moreover I pray God will strengthen my heart He has changed to withstand the evil one.
     I feel compelled to share a story of a martyr.  His life gives me inspiration and should be a model for anyone who "says" they follow Jesus Christ.

When President Paul von Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor in 1933, Paul Schneider was the pastor of the Hochelheim congregation.  Initially, Pastor Schneider believed that the new Chancellor, with the help of divine guidance, would lead Germany into a bright future. It did not take long for him to perceive the true character of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Schneider did not stand by idly as Nazi leaders ridiculed the morality of the Church. In writing and in preaching, he protested against the attacks directed against the Church by Nazi officials. Pastor Schneider received no backing from his denomination of the old-Prussian Ecclesiastical Province of the Rhineland. On the contrary, in order to placate Nazi officials who complained about Pastor Schneider, his superiors tansferred him to a remote region of Germany.

Early in 1934, Schneider and his family moved to Dickenschied, where he became pastor to the Dickenschied and Womrath congregations. That same year, Pastor Schneider became a member of the Confessing Church, a Protestant organization that opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. On one occasion at the funeral of a Hitler youth boy a Nazi official said in his speech that the deceased would now be member of the heavenly storm of Horst Wessel. Pastor Schneider responded that he would not know if a heavenly storm of Horst Wessel existed but the Lord would bless the boy and take him into his realm. After this, the Nazi leader came forward and repeated his words. Pastor Schneider then responded sharply that he would not allow God's word to be adulterated during a Christian ceremony. As a result he was arrested, told to not preach against the Nazi Party, and then released.

In spring 1937, with the support of members of his church elders, Pastor Schneider began the process of excommunicating parishioners who, because of their allegiance to the Nazi Party, engaged in conduct which violated congregational discipline. Complaints led to his arrest. Following two months in the Koblenz prison, officials released him with the warning not to return to the Rhineland, where his home and parish were located. Pastor Schneider knew if he returned to his flock, it would mean imprisonment in a concentration camp. Yet, the night before his release, he read in his Bible the story concerning the crisis confronted by Deborah. When Deborah summoned the twelve tribes together to confront the common enemy, only Naphtali and Zebulun responded. Pastor Schneider saw in this Old Testament story [Judges 5:18] a parallel to the crisis which the Church confronted in Nazi Germany, and he concluded even if his was a minority voice, he must act in harmony with his conscience, and protest.

As a result of his preaching, Schneider was incarcerated in Buchenwald, near Weimar, on November 27, 1937, just a few months after the camp opened. In the labor camp, Pastor Schneider watched out for his fellow inmates. After being sentenced to solitary confinement for preaching, he preached the good news of the Gospel from the window of his prison cell. He was moved to the cell when he refused to remove his beret in honor of Hitler on the Führer's birthday, April 20, 1938 and to salute the swastika flag. He explained his behavior by saying "I cannot salute this criminal symbol". He also refused, as he had done earlier, the Hitler salute, saying that "you can only receive salvation (Heil) from the Lord and not from a human being". From his cell, Schneider accused his captors and encouraged his fellow inmates. On one occasion on Easter Sunday, when thousands of prisoners were assembled for mustering, despite being severely handicapped by previous torture he climbed to the cell window and shouted: "Comrades, listen to me. This is Pastor Schneider. People are tortured and murdered here. So the Lord says, 'I am the resurrection and the life!'" His speech was interrupted by the guards.  As others had pleaded years earlier, the man who mopped the floors in the solitary confinement building begged Schneider, "Please stop provoking the SS against you... They will beat you to death if you continue preaching from your cell window".

On July 18, 1939, Schneider was murdered with a lethal injection of strophanthin in the camp infirmary. Camp officials notified Margarete Schneider of her husband’s death and she made the long journey from Dickenschied to retrieve his body in a sealed coffin. Despite Gestapo surveillance, hundreds of people and around two hundred fellow pastors attended Pastor Schneider’s funeral, including many members of the Confessing Church. One of the pastors preached at the grave side, “May God grant that the witness of your shepherd, our brother, remain with you and continue to impact on future generations and that it remain vital and bear fruit in the entire Christian Church”. Excerpt from Wikipedia

    Chose right now how you want the world to change.  Through your efforts or through Christ's effort. 

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Christian Veneer

     I have the great privilege to be friends with a couple of genuine people.  We often speak on matters of God, faith, the Bible, the world, and many other subjects.  A conversation I had with these people not to long ago led to a statement that has been bouncing in my head for about a month.  The gist of it is this, "When you identify a problem, don't stop there, give a real solution."

     This statement has really opened my eyes to how we in the church use our Christianese (a term to describe our church talk) to answer questions that people pose to us.  When people come with real problems we throw out some phrase, our maybe even a Bible verse thinking that we are doing a great service, but in the end we give them no real answer or peace.  I am reminded of James's words.  "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or food.  If one of you says to them, Go in peace; keep warm, and well fed, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" 
     The sentiment that James uses is the same with our one word or stupid phrase answers.  For instance, if you say, "sharing the Gospel is the most important and overriding function of the church." Ok, Great!  When was the last time that you yourself, individually, and one on one, shared the Gospel with a lost person?  How well did you know this person?  Are you seeking out people that you both know and don't know to share this Gospel with?  If not, do not say the Gospel is a primary mission of yours, because it is a lie. 

     Or if someone comes to you and says "I am having difficulty dealing with this or that, or my world is crashing down."  Do you give them empty words saying that this is all in His plan?  Or do you embrace them physically, emotionally, and spiritually reassuring them that you are here for them.  Do you take time out of your day and resources away from yourself in order to show them God is caring for them?  If you are not doing this, you cannot say that you love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    The Christian Veneer is only as deep as you allow it.  The sad thing is that it is easy to spot a "Veneer Job."  Think about a counter top in a kitchen.  What is the difference between a real granite counter top and one that has been veneered with an imitation surface. From a distance it looks the same.  With every small move forward you can tell a real difference.  The person who has the veneer will tell you how wonderful it is and will try to convince you it is real.  But, lets be honest, it looks fake and it feels fake because it is fake.   The real granite is strong and sturdy and it is there to be used for what it is.  It does not have to constantly remind those who look at it that it is strong and sturdy.  The veneer on the other hand needs special attention.  It says, "I am what I pretend to be!"  BUT! Test it.  It fails in everything but appearance. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Gaurding against our sin is now our sin?

   I have been following a strange news cycle this week that has left me dumbfounded.  It has been reported that the Vice President of the United States of America follows a variation of the Billy Graham Rule.  For those who do not know the Billy Graham Rule, I will give you a little background.

   In 1948, Billy Graham was conducting a Crusade and one night a woman came to seduce him.  He was not overcome by her seduction and in order to avoid future issues he and his ministry team started to develop a set of rules to govern themselves.  They are as follows:

1.  Operate with complete financial transparency.  Meaning all financial issues are above board, completely accounted for, and managed by someone who is not the figurehead of the organization.

2.  Avoid even the transparency of sexual immorality.  A minister or male employee of the Billy Graham organization will not be alone with, travel with, eat with, or associate with a woman that he is not married to, or without his wife present.  This was to avoid even the appearance of compromise or the suspicion of it.

3.  Billy Graham's organization refused to criticize other ministries or pastors.  Pretty self explanatory, but the idea here is that their job was to preach the Gospel of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection and not to wage war against other camps.

4. The Billy Graham organization refused to exaggerate success.  It is not uncommon in churches or businesses to claim more success than you are actually having.

   So, those are the Billy Graham rules.  Mike Pence is under pressure now for following number 2.  He refuses to associate alone with any woman without his wife present.  Much to the ire of todays moralists, he follows this rule.  This week he has been called sexist, old fashioned, stupid, immoral, weak, childish, etc.  Though I do not know Mike Pence, I am sure that these terms fit him well from time to time, as they fit all of us from time to time.

  What I find most confusing, is that our known weaknesses have become our weaknesses.  Much like the kids that we all laughed at in Kindergarten for having some perceived or actual abnormality that they were helpless to change on their own.  I can remember being the child that was singled out from time to time and other times being one that singled others out for ridicule.  It of course was wrong, but it happened. 

   Reading through the news headlines about Mr. Pence were all just about the same.  However, I did come across one that proudly stated the following: 

           The problem with "don't eat alone with women": good character is better than strict rules.

I agree with this statement whole heartedly.  I feel that a high moral standard and impeccable integrity are valuable things in any time and society, especially one as morally bankrupt as which we live in today.   The moral man can accompany, counsel, associate, dine, or even cavort with any woman he so chooses and never once fall into the trap of sexual infidelity.  This man has no need for rules. 
   The problem is this.  I only know one man that fits this bill.  Jesus Christ the Nazarene.  People have been yelling and screaming on the internet how this rule is sexist.  Degrading women to merely objects of sexual desire and saying that women need the same face time with men that is afforded other men.  Maybe so, but I see a definite trap in forgoing rules to keep our sinfulness in check. 
   I find it so strange that our admittance of our sinfulness is now our sin in the eyes of the world.  The Bible clearly teaches all are sinful.  Every man, woman, and child among us.  The Bible also says to flee from our sin, as well as to resist the Devil and he shall flee from us.  How then, are we who are sinners to act if our barriers we have installed to keep us on the path towards righteousness are being broken down by our society?   Is it a matter of self control or will?   Should we just give in to temptation like everyone else?

   Ask yourself this.  Have you ever overcome any adversity on your own?  Be honest.  I will tell you this now the answer is a resounding no.  If you grew up completely isolated in a sterilized pressure chamber in the remotest part of the galaxy and only had your own thoughts to guide you the answer would still be no, as you inherited traits from your mother and father that keep you alive.  But, Man (meaning all of humankind) was not meant to live alone or in a vacuum.  We are constantly bound to one another from cradle to grave.  The one thing that binds us all together is that we all (men and women) are immoral sinful monsters of iniquity.  Completely given over to our base desires to fulfil and serve self.  This is why we have community.  Community is built to help control our base desire. 

   In the Christian sense, we have community as Christ with our head.  Jesus Christ the morally perfect God-Man who has no need for law, but followed it perfectly anyway.  Christ not only followed the law, but He perfected it.  Asking his followers to be wise as serpents but as harmless as doves. 

Be wise - know your faults.  Know that you need things in place to help keep you on the narrow path.  Have boundaries (i.e. rules to live by), have a brother or sister in Christ that will keep you accountable, and most importantly take God's law serious and Christ's call for you to be perfect seriously (be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.)

Be Harmless - know that the person next to you is also as week as you.  Do not give opportunity to anyone to sin by your actions.  You will be held accountable not only for your own sins, but also for the sins that you lead others into by your actions or through your inaction.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Your Only Human, so am I

   This evening I was able to have a deep conversation with a few people that I dearly love.  The conversation came around to expectations that we have for ourselves and for each other.  Many of us admitted to having anxiety and sadness about how we have not lived up to our potential.  This of course is a favorite topic of mine, due to it being how I see myself.
   I oftentimes catch myself in mid-wish.  Silently thinking to myself how if I had taken the right instead of left, gone straight instead of turning around, or done such and such better.  A part of me desires to correct the things that I did wrong.  But, like the bell that has been rung, we cannot undo the past.  Although I am certain that God is capable of rewinding the clock if He so chooses, I am not sure that is His will for any of us.  Like the sound when the bell is rung, so it is with my past experience shaping me to who I am today.

    It is human nature to desire to be perfect.  But in our fallen state and in a fallen world we lack the ability to do so.  Sometimes the one thing we desire more than our own perfection is perfection in those around us.  Knowing our own limitations (even if we don't care to admit them) we still have an unreasonable desire to not be troubled with the failure of those around us, especially those closest to us.  You will see those expectations in almost every relationship: husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee, friend/friend, etc. 

   This is the crux of what Jesus spoke about in Matthew 7.  How often it is quoted.  "Judge not lest ye be judged."  Oh how we love to say that, and especially when we are the ones being judged.  Jesus never commanded us not to judge or not to have high expectations of one another.  On the contrary, He said "Be prefect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  Oh what a standard and a goal.  One that we can desire after and strive for, but ultimately one that is completely out of our grasp.  That is why Jesus came to die.  So what does He mean by that?  To not judge but to also be perfect.

   A man is on a journey through a forest that is overgrown and dangerous.  He is making bad progress and he slips down into deep pit.  He struggles to jump out, to climb out, to dig out, but with everything he tries he sinks deeper into the pit.  He yells out, he can hear people talking and walking by, but it seems that nobody cares.  He finally gives up and decides he is better off dead and begins to regret ever starting his journey.  Just then from up above he hears someone at the top of the pit.  The man looks up and sees a friend.  He cries out for help.  His friend waves at him and jumps down into the pit.  The man looks at his friend and says, "Why did you jump down here you fool? We are both going to die now."  The friend smiles big, places a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and says, "Do not worry, I've been down here before.  I know the way out." 

   What Jesus meant was that we are to use our shortcomings to soften ourselves to our brothers and sisters.  He gave Himself for us and he expects each of us to treat each other accordingly.

Monday, March 6, 2017

3 people 3 responses

   I have had the sorrowful experience lately to be around three people who have had to endure some very heartbreaking and earth shattering news.  Two of the individuals received very similar news and the third lost a very close relative.  I have been able to observe their overall demeanor and would like to make a few observations about how they handled it.  For background, all three of the individuals grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist environment and had made professions of faith in Jesus as children.  They all studied religion in college and had at one time or another felt led into the ministry.  One of my friends believes in God, one probably believes but you could never know it, and the third says that God is a myth. 

   My first friend has found out just recently one of their parents died.  In speaking to my friend and offering condolences their demeanor can only be described as casual and unconcerned.  Our close circle of friends are heartbroken for our friend and have expressed sorrow at the passing of their parent, but they just explained that they were not that close and it is what it is.  They seemed more annoyed with the loose ends needing too be tied up. 

   My second friend learned recently that their spouse does not love them anymore.  Their spouse asked for a divorce after announcing a few months earlier they were unhappy, and they were just tired of being unhappy all the time.  They also explained how they have secretly developed an emotional attachment to a co-worker and feel this other person is now their best friend ever.  Mind you just a few years earlier they said the same thing about my friend.  My friend is full of sadness, anger, rage, and confusion.  Not knowing which way to go or what to do now, they only know that their world has just turned upside down and it is impossible to fix the problem.  All of the friends in this friends circle are outraged and want to seek vengeance on their behalf.

   My third friend has learned recently their spouse has had an extramarital affair.  The sordid details of the affair came not through direct revelation or discovery, but through rumors that all of their friends had gathered and shared.  When my friend and their spouse were finally coming clean about the affair, the friends started to intervene and make comments not directly at the situation, but it was obvious these were veiled attempts to get a steamy response.  My friend has handled this situation with great dignity and grace.  The spouse has admitted to wrongdoing and my friend has forgiven them and vowed to make their marriage work.  When speaking to those closest to this friend you can hear the outrage and anger in their voices.  They feel that the spouse should pay dearly for the sin, but my friend asks them please leave us be and let us rebuild our marriage.

Be a sport tell me which one believes in God.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

To God be the glory.

    I feel it necessary to share a recent experience.  Being an Elder/Pastor of County Line Baptist Church in Bullard, TX, I receive many calls about our church on a fairly regular basis.  Our church belongs to our local Southern Baptist county association, known as The Smith Baptist Association,  and has for many years.  In Baptist circles, each local Baptist church is an autonomous, self contained, self governed church.  To the Baptist, there is no higher earthly authority than your local church where you are a member.

   On the first Sunday evening of each month our church has a congregational prayer time.  Usually a small number of our church gathers and we pray for God to work in specific areas of the Kingdom, our church, and our community.  As I was leaving the prayer time this evening, I noticed I had missed a call from a local number I did not recognize.  I called it back and asked if they had called me.  The person on the other end of the line identified himself as a representative of our local Baptist association and that he was in charge of a program called M.O.R.E. 

   He explained that M.O.R.E. stands for More Out Reaching Everyone, or something to that effect.  He inquired if we had evening services and I told him about our weekly services.  He informed me that County Line Baptist had won an award through the M.O.R.E. program.  He stated that our baptisms were over 15 percent of our church membership and we should be proud.  Along with this award he wanted to present to our church a plaque during one of our meetings.  He said it was quite an honor and we should be proud of ourselves and the work we are doing for Christ.  He explained we should have received the award at our yearly associational meeting but for some reason County Line Baptist Church's ministers were not in attendance. 

    He thought he was telling me something I did not know.   The truth is we all knew the association was trying to give this award to us.   We chose not to attend based on personal conviction for the following reasons.

  1. I could care less what they think about me, my church, or our work for the Lord Jesus.
  2. Our church discussed this issue and this award and decided we did not think it was in our best interests to participate in a "pat me on the back" award program for doing what we are supposed to do for Jesus.
  3. Our association needs to put its resources to reaching the lost for Jesus and not creating commemorative plaques to show off how important we are.
  4. Finally and most importantly:
      Matthew 6 1-4

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward!  But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

    I Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

   After I explained to him that County Line Baptist Church would not accept or welcome any award he said, "Well, there is nothing in the Bible saying that we can't give out awards."    Well I guess Jesus and Paul said it best.  You have the reward of your suffering.  I hope your plaque gleams brightly for all the years it hangs in your church.  As for County Line Baptist Church we will not accept any corruptible trophy.

   I am  independent, I am Baptist, I believe in the fundamentals of the Bible.  Since when did Baptists care what anyone else thought about them?  And I just love how our association likes to praise each other.