Friday, January 13, 2017

THE PRICE OF AMBIGUITY

Let me start this article by some “up fronts.” Since this article is about a political figure it is therefore a political article. I am not a Hillary Clinton supporter.  I am pro-life, I am opposed to homosexual marriage being made legal, I am concerned with radical Islam.  I am also pro-civil and human rights and I believe the government has a role to play in upholding justice and the care of the poor, the sick, and the elderly.  Okay, so these are a few things up front in case you seek to put me in a political box.   I didn’t vote for either majority party candidate for the sake of my conscience.

   I will try to pray faithfully for our new president, as I tried to do for our departing president.  As I seek to honor that office and seek to refrain from slander, gossip, or malicious talk about the President I am still committed to speaking out as to my concerns.  This means that sometimes those comments will be negative. I am concerned about the behavior of President-Elect Donald Trump, and therefore concerned about our future as a country.

    I am afraid our president elect is putting himself in the position of being suspected of some shady things.  This reminds me of the dilemma that Saddam Hussein got himself into when he just wouldn’t let inspectors come back into Iraq while the U.S. government suspected him of having weapons of mass destruction.  Many people accused George Bush of lying and using the WMD fear as a pretext for war.  I blame Saddam for creating ambiguity and defying the United Nations which ended up in our invading his country and in his eventual execution.  This is simply an example of creating ambiguity, and not of anything else in regard to Saddam Hussein.

    The ambiguity Mr. Trump is creating has to do with Russia.  He won’t disclose his tax returns, he won’t be open about his dealings with Russia, and seems to be in denial about Russia’s hacking of the DNC computers.  He seems to prefer Putin to many of his fellow Americans.  So, what are we to make of these things?   He has the opportunity to be transparent, and if he is an advocate of closer relations with the Russian leader he really needs to be transparent, or else the suspicions are going to linger.  We certainly hope there will not be further reason to suspect his motives due to some strange realignment of our national interests which might just compromise the freedom of other countries.

    I remember when the arch-conservatives were paranoid of the Soviet Union (the rest of us were somewhere between concerned and terrified, and not that there weren’t Americans who advocated for communism).  There was a book in the 1960s called, None Dare Call it Treason, by John Stormer.  The John Birch society loved this book.  It smacked of some of McCarthy’s accusations back in the 1950’s, with the suspicion that communists had infiltrated the State Department.  The Obama administration was accused of making room for Muslims in the government (which by the way is quite legal) and this was seen by some as giving way to the enemy, (which in not Islam but radical Islam). For any President to compromise our national interest or strategic security due to his own personal interests would indeed be a step toward treason.

  The way Mr. Trump has handled things leaves open the idea that the President Elect might be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian President.  The fear is that if he can be manipulated by them he could be used as a Russian stooge. Is it possible that a Republican President, not a Democrat or a liberal one, is in fact our worst nightmare for an unethical national compromise with an adversary that invades other sovereign nations (Georgia and Ukraine), supports and cooperates with our avowed opponents (Syria and Iran), attempts consistently to intimidate our military in fly-bys, uses cyber warfare against us on a fairly regular basis, and plays hard ball with us and our allies with the threat of nuclear weapons?   Ambiguity leads to just these kinds of questions.  Admiring strong leadership is ridiculous when it comes to strong arm dictators.

   When I see conservatives, especially Evangelicals, defend Mr. Trump from even being asked legitimate questions I am a bit chagrined.  Some of the same people who slandered Barack Obama incessantly, and insisted he wasn’t even born in the USA, was a Muslim, a Socialist, and a liar (and all of this before they mentioned what policies he stood for that they didn’t like) don’t seem to realize how hypocritical they sound today.  At one time character seemed to matter to these folks but evidently not recently.  What protection do any of us have for the pursuit of policies in which we believe not being thrown overboard by someone whose integrity we cannot trust?

     What I am left with is the impression that conservatives are saying, “if your policies are in agreement with mine I don’t mind your lack of character.” I think a President’s character is always an issue, as well as their policies.  They both count as either one can hurt or help us as a nation. Having endured top secret security checks during my own military career I know that consistent loyalty to America matters when you work for the government. Not only was loyalty an issue but so was susceptibility to financial or moral compromise. It wasn’t taken for granted, it wasn’t simply accepted by verbal affirmations or denials, and it had to be verified and proven.  But now, for our highest office it is evidently to be taken simply by trust while we are given no means of verification. 

   Defending Mr. Trump cannot be done simply by attacking the policies of Barack Obama, or those that Hillary Clinton might have advocated. He cannot be defended by simply bashing the press. This situation has nothing to do with them, it only has to do with someone in whom we will all have to (at least to some degree), and want, to trust. Our freedom of the press is one thing that helps the American people to believe that we have something on which we can rely to ask probing questions.  I certainly hope we will not have another Richard Nixon in office, nor a Richard Nixon type scandal.

     The President is someone we all will need to act wisely and faithfully in America’s interest and not his own.  Mr. Trump is, at this point, leaving us with lots of questions that come from an ambiguity which he has created, that leads to fear, and will create not only continued disunity but increasing cynicism.  Again, this has nothing to do with his political opponents, nor about changing the election.  It only has to do with him and the leadership that he is not giving at the moment.  I hope you will join me in praying for him, and our collective future.  My hope for that however lies with the God in whom I do trust.
END


Saturday, December 31, 2016

URBAN PASTOR ISSUES

Today I had one of those interesting moments where all kinds of issues came together for me as an urban pastor.  It was all about being a pastor that made the moment happen.  I was in a place of business where two young African American women were behind a business desk.  One of them happened to know who I was as I had spoken at her church sometime previously.

   As  I left the place of business the one woman who knew me called out to me and used the title “Pastor.”  I said good-bye and went on my way.  As I was walking down the sidewalk I heard a woman calling out to me, “Pastor, pastor!”  Here chasing after me was the woman who did not know me, and would not have known I was a pastor except for her colleague.

   I was thinking I had done something wrong or that I must have left something in the office but her call to me was actually because she wanted and needed to speak to me as a pastor.  What followed, right there on the sidewalk, was a conversation that included pastoral issues, but also ones of sociology, history, apologetics, morality, and theology.  The pastoral issue was the one concerning her heart, but all the other issues were playing their role.

    The essential issue was that she has a man she wanted to marry.  She is Christian and he is Muslim.  She was looking for someone “open minded” who could counsel them about potential conflict due to their different religions, but yet would be willing to marry them.  Here was the pastoral issue, which of course led to the theological issue, which led to the apologetics issue, which meant we had to deal with the sociological, historical, and moral issues.  

    I was able to distance myself a little by speaking to the reality that Bible believing, Bible obeying Christians would certainly have a problem marrying her to a Muslim.  I did not want the conversation to simply be about what I thought versus what she thought. She brought up the idea that maybe the Bible has been “diluted” and that it could be interpreted this way or that.  We spoke together some of what the Bible did say, and what she said Muslims believe about Jesus, and what the Bible actually says about Jesus.

   Then there came the moment when the existential pain of history cut across the faith of her childhood.  The distortion of true Christianity by racism and slavery, and the reality that so many black men were in prison.  She began to cry at this moment, and I wanted to join her.  We agreed with her about history, about the demographic-cultural-sociological reality of a dearth of eligible black men for black Christian women to marry.  I told her that we didn’t need to deny the history, or the realities, but she still had to deal with the claims of Christ or else call Jesus a liar.  Is He the only way or not?   Everyone is welcome to Him, but there is no way without Him.  We spoke of the Muslim view of intermarriage, that it only goes one way, where Muslim men may marry Christian women but Muslim women are not allowed to marry Christian men.  Despite all of her boyfriend’s efforts to convince her there really wan’t much difference in the two faiths, which is typical in such relationships, that quest for Muslim domination doesn’t go away.

   I asked what church she attended, and she told me, but then said she didn’t respect the pastor for how he lived outside of the church.  Here was the moral issue.  I encouraged her to get into a church where she could receive good teaching.  She yearns for a marriage like her parents, where her father worked hard and was faithful and her mother took her to church every Sunday.  That is all she wants, a marriage that had formed and shaped her and that she admired in her parents.

    This is part of the pastoral challenge, and pain, for urban pastors.  African American pastors and cross cultural pastors who pastor black folk; they must face all of these issues.  They are issues of theology and apologetics, but they can’t be easily faced without a knowledge of history, and culture, and sociology.  They can’t be honestly discussed without a humble acknowledgement of the sins of the institutional and historic church and the reality  of how the true faith has been distorted.  These are issues that cannot be honestly faced without some recognition of injustice in the criminal justice system, about the Evangelical church’s failure to evangelize and make a cultural impact on millions of African American young men.  

   I encouraged her to get in to a good church, one like her colleague at work attends.  I gave her names of men who could counsel her and her boyfriend, and who would certainly seek to lead him to Christ.  My heart also bleeds for her, and for my country.  It bleeds because we are wasting so many young men who could be the answer for her and a million other black young women. 

    I do celebrate and rejoice in every young black man I have known who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, loves the Word of God, is in touch with his own culture and history, has a strong sense of worth, and self, and purpose.  I rejoice in those men who have married and love their wives as themselves, love and participate in the raising of their children, is a model of what it means to be faithful, hard working, and a builder of his church and community.  They are here and in more numbers than might be first realized.  They are usually quiet in their success. 

   In some strange way this made me think about the movie “Fences.”  The thought that occurred to me was Denzel Washington plays all kinds of characters, and he is good at it.  I believe that the one movie role he hasn’t played is that of himself, which is the very model (at least as far as I know about and of him) that is the most to be followed and imitated.  In his personal life he is a believer, he is a husband, he is a dad, he does his work well, he cares about people, culture, and society.  He is great at playing bad, but even better at living good in the righteous sense of the term.  This is the kind of man women need.  Actually, we all need that kind of man and we need a whole lot of them for our communities, cities, and nation to be what they should be.

  So while I celebrate the fact that we do have some good men at one and the same time we do not have enough of them.  We have too many in prison, and even more on the corners.  Too many without an education and without meaningful work, too many producing children without raising them.  We have too few effective evangelists among them, too few pastors who even know how to speak to them, too few congregations that are bringing them into discipleship.  So we end with the “missional” issue. 


     If you wish to fight me on the idea that there is no missional need, that the churches that exist in the cities are doing fine, that I have in some way misrepresented and that the percentage of broken families, poverty, crime, and violence are really not too alarming, or that the lack of urban black young men in anybody’s church is a distorted presentation I am happy to be corrected.  I would just have to say that I am not interested in strategies that “piss on forest fires.” I don’t find church planting by transfer growth or the gathering of the already saved as the answer to these problems. Nor am I impressed by critics of those who do missions poorly as if that in someway excused our lack of mobilization for a modern missions movement not simply among the poor, but among the resistant, violent, and the antagonistic.   If the critics ask, “but what about so few evangelistic church plants among poor whites?”  or “What about Native Americans and the scarcity of church plants among them?”  My answer is, “exactly!”  To everyone and every community that is being left unreached and undiscipled, this is where we must go.  Citing one unreached area cannot be an excuse not to pursue another.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A DISTURBING CONVERSATION

Recently my wife and I were in Miami Beach for a few days of vacation.  We walked over to a restaurant called Pollo Tropical for a meal and while I was in line a white man standing next to me began to talk.  We were in a very multi-ethnic setting with all kinds of folks around. Now my wife Joan is African American, and I am white.  Joan was sitting at a table waiting for me so this individual who began to randomly speak to me didn’t know she was with me. 

   Sometimes this happens, where you are standing next to people you have never met, and either you or they begin to make observations about life, or the weather, or the situation we are mutually experiencing.  This man began to talk about race.  His comments went something like this, “They’ve been treating me like a black guy for the last eight years and I resent it.  Now it’s our turn.  I drive a cab and I pulled over to pick up a black lady, but then she said, ‘oh never mind!”  I said, ‘Why, because I’m white?’  She said, ‘No, that has nothing to do with it.”  I said, ‘whatever!’ Now we get to do it back to them.”

   Since this conversation sprang up rather suddenly I didn’t quite know what to do or say, especially since Joan was close by.  When I suspect there might be racial hostility I become a bit hyper vigilant, which means I get real quiet and get ready to fight, even though I am too old to be doing such things. It comes from growing up in Newark I think.  These comments coming from the mouth of a stranger were pretty revealing to me as well as being illogical, threatening, and sad.

   I mean, the very idea that being “treated like a black guy” is a bad thing in his mind means he is admitting that black guys are being mistreated, although with the implication that the color of their skin makes them deserving of such treatment.  If he thinks that is a bad thing why would he assume he has the right to mistreat anyone else?  And who is the “they” he is referring to, except the obvious reference to President Obama having been the president for 8 years?  So was he assuming this was a “racial” election and now white people have their turn to treat black people like “black guys?”  I might have suspected there were some who thought this way but it was bracing to actually hear it from someone’s mouth.

  I have been amazed at those who blame President Obama for an increase in racial hostility over the last 8 years, as if latent and incipient racism wasn’t boiling in people’s hearts already, and incited to some extent simply because the president is black.  There is a definite feeling in some people that every racial incident and development, and the hostility within black communities against police brutality, is not only somehow caused by President Obama but fostered by him and that therefore white people have a right to be angry at black people and a right to blame their racism on the president.

   Even if President Obama made a mistake in something he might have said about any particular situation, which I can’t help but imagine he and every single president we have ever had has done at some time, surely none of us can blame our sinfulness on him.  Racism is hatred, it is also the idolatry of our own race or ethnic sense of superiority.  So here you have the sins of pride, idol worship, and murder all wrapped up in attitudes within our hearts.  Whose fault is it?  “They wouldn’t feel that way if he hadn’t said that, or this, or done that, or this.”  Surely if racism is sin then each individual has to own the responsibility of it for themselves and not blame it on the words or actions of others. At least, this is my understanding of how we are to take ownership of our own sins.

   I am distressed when I read or hear other Evangelicals excusing sin in people who agree with their political platform and support that sinfulness by using a political opponent as a ‘scape goat.  I am reminded of conversations of children who say such things as, “well, I wouldn’t have hit him if he hadn’t made me mad.”  So, you have no responsibility for being violent, you have no responsibility for maintaining self-control, you are in fact helpless before the power of others to make you react emotionally, sinfully, and recklessly?  That this is all too human doesn’t make it any less childish.


    Now the book of Proverbs warns me against rebuking a fool but foolishness does need to be rebuked.  I am concerned that we are in a time when lots of foolishness needs to be rebuked.  There is to me a sense of danger in the air, as if there is an ascendancy of racial evil.  May the Lord rebuke it.   May the Lord also rebuke any rebuttal of my argument by bringing up any and all bad policy causes championed by President Obama, or faults of Hillary Clinton.  I can be against racism without giving tacit approval to the ideas or programs of other political figures, which seems to be the accusation by some of my critics as soon as I seem to say or hint at anything that they think favors the president. It does cause me to suspect either their ability to read accurately what I have said, or suspect that their political agenda leaves them deaf to conviction.

Monday, November 21, 2016

ANNOYED AND PLEASED

  This is a reflection on athletes not saluting the flag during the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of their games.  This is a reflection from a patriotic veteran, a retired Colonel of 32 years with a couple of trips to a middle-east war zone.  This is the reflection of an American who is deeply concerned about the issues of justice in our country, the relationships between ethnic and racial groups, and the increasing public political polarization of race.

   When Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, decided to protest the injustices he was seeing and hearing about in the USA he decided to do so in a very public manner.  He decided to use that patriotic moment at the beginning of a football game to register his concern about injustice.  His protest was not at a rally or a march over one specific instance, but a general complaint about injustice in the country. This was not a protest, as I understand it, about how he has been treated personally. The way he did it was televised and controversial and remains so even till now.  Other athletes in professional sports, college sports, and even high school sports have copied his example.

    Let me state quickly that no matter how I feel about his protest I absolutely believe he has the right of conscience and free speech to make it.  My military service is a testament to my commitment to the Constitution of the United States which means I have to defend the rights of people with whom I might disagree as to their opinions.  If I only defend those with whom I agree my commitment to free speech and the right to protest means little or nothing.

   I personally felt that those athletes who took a knee at the anthem were making a mistake.  From some comments I have read the idea that since there is injustice in America we must therefore protest America as a country (which is what not honoring the flag implies) has taken root among some.  The logic does not follow.  There certainly have been times when protesting America as a country might have been in order, especially during the time of slavery or segregation by law.  One of the glories of our country has been the painful and difficult process of self-correction in such ways as the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement.  These were events where people were forced to pay with their blood in order to bring about change.

    When I hear the anthem I don’t associate unjustified police killings with the flag.  In fact if anything I associate the opportunity to change such unjust practices by protest, political action, and legal redress as being very American.  There has certainly been injustice in our country, in every state, in every city.  Unfortunately, in my estimation of human beings, I believe that there will always be instances of such behavior and cruelty.  If the protests are to continue during the flag and anthem ceremony as long as there is injustice in the country, well, then it will continue through all our life-times.

   Yet, it doesn’t matter if I think the object or the context of the protest is confused.  If citizens are not breaking the law, damaging other people or their property, then they have the right to protest even if it annoys some of us.  Annoying others is exactly the point so that some of us might get the message that there is something wrong in the Republic.  Obviously the paying customers or viewers of such events have the right to protest back by not coming back to the games or watching it on television. 

    As to what these athletes are concerned about I have every sympathy and even agreement.  There are things that need to be corrected when it comes to the relationships between authorities and minority communities.  This is not just a matter of an administrative fix, this is a national dilemma and one that if not corrected will continue to get people killed.  This is a matter of deep and pervasive attitudes revealed by fairly consistent and widespread behavior.  These things are not just a one-time event but a sad historic pattern of fear, distrust, callousness, hatred, and racism.  The purposeful killing of police officers because they are police officers is also part of this problem; it is an evil, horrible, and unjust response to someone’s fear and bitterness.  Murder is not protest.

   We live in a time when the right wing of politics has decided to take every opportunity to label and use racial protest or concern as a reverse form of racism.  Since the left wing of politics has seemingly carried the torch about racial injustice the right wing has decided to trump their effort.  If one brings it up, if one implies race or bigotry might be behind an action or event, then the strategy is to cry racism against the complainers.  As if the mere mention of racism or ethnicity or culture was actually the cause of the problem.  The message is that if it makes white people feel bad it will ignite racism in their hearts where there wasn’t any before. 

    That reaction will certainly take place if propagandists aid and abet the idea that anything that makes you feel guilty, confused, or defensive is just cause to label racial complaints as racism itself.  This is not true, just, or logical.  It is very political and very deceptive.  It justifies people in their ignorance and instead of bringing people closer together in understanding it polarizes them.

   So, though I think the context for the protest may be in error, I believe I have to have some tolerance for another person’s right to protest. I am not even sure what alternatives I would suggest to get the nation’s attention. I appreciate the respect shown in taking a knee and not just going about your business.  I appreciate the respect of my fellow Americans to realize this is not a matter of law or of law breaking but rather a transgression against patriotism, which part of our culture has more power over us than we sometimes realize.  It is not a sin against my religion, it is not blasphemy, and it is not even as egregious as burning the flag might be (which is still protected speech by the way).  I am annoyed, and rather pleased to share simply by exposure or inconvenience in a very American moment of exercising one’s rights.

END.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

OBSERVATIONS ON THE ELECTION


I confess that not much of this is original, I am sure many others have seen what I have seen.  These are my observations from the campaign and the post-election results.  For the sake of full disclosure I was not able in conscience to vote for either of the big party candidates and did in fact write-in my vote.  Let me also just put one pastoral or spiritual note here.  The motto on our American money comes from Scripture, and it is upon that which my hope is built, “In God we trust!”  I hope you will do the same.

1.    As far as “Evangelicals” go I see two camps that don’t seem to hear what the other is saying, or seem to be somewhat deaf to what the other side is saying.
a.     One side has listened to Mr. Trump and heard things that were anti-immigrant, anti-woman, and anti-Muslim.  They have seen clips of his rallies and seen abuse of black people.  They have seen who he is asking to be on his staff and see a racist being given a prominent position.  They have heard him imply threatened violence if he did not win.  They have seen the documentation of his immoral and worldly life-style.  They have seen and heard him fudge the truth and be abusive to his opponents.  These people have felt threatened by Mr. Trump and could not in conscience vote for him.  Some of these same “Evangelicals” voted for Hillary Clinton, and some did not.
b.    One side has listened to Hillary Clinton and seen the threat of four more years of a liberal slide into national immorality, especially in the area of abortion and an aggressive homosexual social agenda.  They heard from her, and saw in President Obama, a threat to religious freedom. They were wary of coming Supreme Court appointments which would continue this liberal agenda.   It is estimated that 81% of Evangelicals that voted, voted for Mr. Trump.  Others voted for other candidates or did not vote.  Many of those who voted actually voted against Hillary Clinton in their view of her as ambitious, lying, manipulative, and corrupt in her life as a chronic politician and the wife of Bill Clinton.

2.     These two groups don’t seem to see the rationale in the other side’s position.  Those Evangelicals who voted for Trump can’t imagine Christians voting for someone who supports abortion or homosexuality.  Many of those Evangelicals who voted for Hillary don’t buy into the Republicans being sincere about fighting abortion or homosexuality due to scant evidence of fighting to change it within government previously, but they are fairly convinced that the Republican party isn’t concerned about issues such as racism or poverty or other kinds of injustice.  In short it comes down to what each side fears and what each side ignores.

3.    Many Evangelicals who voted for Trump are suspicious of his personal lifestyle and comments but seem to be willing to overlook warning signals of his instability, immorality, or incompetence in favor of a Republican government.  In the past issues of personal character seemed to be a high priority for most Evangelicals, but not in this last election. Those Evangelicals who voted for Hillary are fairly convinced that the way Mr. Trump has lived his life and the things he has said should all be taken seriously as to what we can expect from his future behavior and see a bit of hypocrisy in Evangelicals who have overlooked character issues this time.

4.    There is a split in the Evangelical world with some attempting even to distance themselves from that word and that group, even though they may have similar theological doctrine.  It is still largely conservative and Republican but it will no longer be monolithic.

5.    In the general population there have been some other dynamics at play:
a.     One is the loss of those jobs for men that provide an adequate living.  While employment has gone up it has not gone up in significant ways for working class men.  They are not only concerned but bitter about it and haven’t felt government was taking their personal situations into account especially in international trade deals.  They see competition not only with foreign countries but with immigrants.  These men see feminism not as success for women but sometimes as an attack against themselves and their ability to support a family.
b.    While there has been a kind of “triumphalism” in minority communities over the last decade about the rise of Hispanics as a minority, and the decline of the white population, (and the prediction that the white population will become the “largest minority”) there has also been a backlash against this dynamic.  Since some of that rise is from a Hispanic population that is undocumented much of the white population doesn’t see it as legitimate or permanent.
c.     One of the most dangerous things that could happen to our country is for white people to see themselves as a “tribe” in competition with other tribes.  This last election has empowered racists and nativists into seeing themselves and the USA in just that way.  They see every protest and complaint by African Americans as an attack against their privilege or somehow as a threat against themselves.  They don’t sympathize at cases of injustice but usually blame the victim.  A white tribe would be the largest, richest, most entrenched, and most powerful of all the tribes in this country and would create just the kind of tribalism that Africa continues to face and Europe still struggles against.
d.    Many minorities assume that this is what the majority of white people already think about themselves as a group (that they are a tribe in competition with others), when in reality many if not most white people don’t think of themselves first as a race or a color.

6.     Another dynamic of this election was the demagogue power of right wing conservative media that used slander, innuendo, ad hominem arguments, and fake news (much of this spread on the internet) to create a narrative or myth about President Obama.  This myth was used to create a sense of “losing our country” to a suspected Muslim who lied about his birth so socialism could take over the government and control our economy.  While there were plenty of legitimate policy arguments, and plenty of moral and justice issues to join with President Obama a great many conservatives were more concerned with aspects of this fostered and manufactured myth than they were with actual policy disagreements.  These myths empowered the Republican congress to pursue a policy of non-cooperation so that possible compromises were hindered.  Compromise became a nasty word to the radical right wing.

7.    Those who voted for Bernie Sanders especially, those who are concerned with the power of banks and financial institutions to lead us once again into a national financial disaster unless they are regulated, those who are concerned with predatory companies that abuse and misuse the environment and fear that the unraveling of regulation will lead to ecological disasters are all very concerned with the direction that Mr. Trump may take us.  Others think government regulation has strangled our economy and it will now be set free for a time of heightened prosperity. 

8.    Those who are concerned with foreign policy and the rightful use of our military are concerned with the things Mr. Trump has said about our allies, about our war heroes, about our military leadership, and about our potential enemies.  What lies ahead is anybody’s guess as those principles which seemed to be America’s way of looking at the world may be radically changed.  War and certainly the threat of war seems possible.

  We are entering a very different time for ourselves as Americans.  Many are unnerved and others feel a nativist and even racial boldness which some have felt gives them license to be abusive to others.  There will be racial violence and at least an atmosphere of ominous threat in various places over the next year.  No matter what Mr. Trump says to silence it, and we certainly hope he continues to speak out against it, there is a spirit of racial hatred not seen in public since the days of George Wallace.

    No Christian should excuse sinful, wicked, or unjust behavior.  All of us should be quick to condemn that which is evil.  All of us should pursue love and live our lives with faith and not fear. Our Lord and master is Jesus Christ and our mandate for how we live our lives is the Word of God.  We certainly respect our Constitution but neither it, nor its interpretation, provide the absolutes by which we set our course.  We are confident in the Lord of nations to protect our souls, our future destiny, and help us through whatever times may come.  So, if anything, we should all determine to do a lot of praying.


END.

Monday, November 14, 2016

SO WHAT ARE YOU FIRST, CHRISTIAN, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

This last Sunday I had the joy of preaching from Colossians 3:1-17.  I entitled the sermon, “What you wearing?” with the subtitle, “Wha’d you call me?”  Please don’t worry about the spelling or grammar.

   I don’t usually write my sermons, and don’t have very extensive notes, but I thought I might want to share some of my sermon thoughts on my blog.  This passage I find especially pertinent to the recent presidential election as it has affected the unity of some of our congregations.

    In brief, one can look at this passage and see Paul’s argument built first on who we are in Jesus Christ, that we are joined to Christ in his resurrection, and that our life should now have a focus on things above, not on earthly things.  He makes a big deal of this union with Jesus in the idea that we died with him, our life is now hidden with Christ in God, and that he is our life.  This of course reminds me much of Galatians 2:20, which you can look up as it is one of the great verses in the Bible.

     That is pretty total and complete in our association with Jesus.  We are not just following him, we are certainly not just remembering what Jesus did or imagining what he would do, we are not simply imitating him.  We are all wrapped up in his death, burial, and resurrection, and future appearing.  This is just an amazing and glorious set of ideas and it is rich in what it means for us, as to the power available to us to live a new life.  This all happened by grace through faith, it all happened by the will and power of God at the cross.  It is a victory God accomplished for us.

   So then Paul begins an application of this truth by telling us about not setting our minds on “earthly things.”   He tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature.  He gives a list and it comes at us in two parts.  First is a series of sins that are very personal in our behavior: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.  These, as well as those sins I have yet to mention, Paul says are part of the life we used to live.

   I like telling people here that the means to see these kinds of sins “put to death” does not come about by effort, or will power, or determination, or from strong feelings of guilt and regret from constant and even addictive falling into sin.  Our liberation comes from the same grace that saved us.  In justification (when we are saved) it is an act of God’s free grace that saves us, through faith.  In sanctification it is a work of God’s grace, but get this clearly, it is grace and not our strength that delivers us from sin.  Faith gets us the victory!  This is so important, and so wonderful, and so freeing from the frustration that we experience when we attempt to make ourselves holy.  Of course I get a lot of this theology from the book of Galatians and Romans, but it is important to remember it when we read such commands such as to “rid yourselves of all such things..."

   Now the second list begins, and note here that these are sins done in the context of community:  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.  Then he tells us not to lie to each other (again a social sin).  Paul uses the language of taking off and putting on, like clothes, as a metaphor of how we are to deal with our sins.

    Later he will tell us what clothes to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  He will tell us to bear with each other, and to forgive whatever grievances we have, and he trumps it all with this, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”   That pretty much does us in as there is now no room for excuses or justification about an unforgiving heart.  He tells us to put on love, which binds everything together. 

   You may have noticed I seem to have jumped over verse 11, which may seem very out of place in this passage about behavior.  Actually it couldn’t be more on target.  I have mentioned the distinction between personal sins, or internal ones, as compared with social ones.  Notice in verse 11 Paul says, “Here.”   I believe, as he is writing to the church at Colosse, he is referring to the church of Jesus Christ.  In other words, here, in the church, we don’t look at each other (or call each other) simply by our earthly distinctions such as our ethnic, cultural, or gender designations.  These of course are important and God given, but these are not ever an excuse to have us abuse each other.  Our social sins can be actively engaged when there are differences in a church, differences of any and all kinds, and right now we can be aware of political differences. 

   We are not color blind when it comes to racial or ethnic distinctions; that is not the application of this text as it is not the application of a similar verse in Galatians.  We know that because the context of the book of Galatians is Paul’s defense of the Gentiles from having to become Jews. We all can see color, we can all hear language, we can all usually tell gender. Yet he proclaims this new unity which supersedes all others because Christ is all, and is in all, and this refers to Christians in the Church of Jesus Christ.

   I appreciate Paul’s admonition greatly since he seems to be pointing out that in a multi-ethnic church there might be great temptation to stress the differences.  Paul stresses Christ, and the personality of Jesus Christ, as what ought to define us.

    So, Paul calls us to unity, and encourages us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, because we are called to peace.  We have to live our lives in every part, with every word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus.  If peace is our calling then everything about our political discourse as Christians ought to keep that in mind.

   So, for some people who bother us we might see something “earthly” about them that makes us doubt them, or be afraid of them.  Maybe like people in Paul’s day were afraid of Scythians.  Maybe people might see me as an old white man and suspect my racial attitudes, or some might be afraid of a young black man, or despise someone else because of their gender, immigration status, etc.

   If you are going to call me something I suggest you call me a Christian first, and I am commanded by Paul here to let the life of Jesus be all over me in the way I act and treat others so the title of “Christian” would have validity.  I am not hiding my ethnicity, age, or gender.  These are part of me, but they come after my union with Jesus.  Certainly my politics come after my union with Jesus, and if that is what I lead with, and condemn you because your politics don’t agree with mine, then I am living in the old life and not the new.  Honest and sincere discussion is fine, disagreement is fine, but sin is never fine while love is always the finest thing we have and the finest way to live.

   I challenge you to read the lists in the passage, both the negative ones and the positive ones.  Compare your diatribes on Facebook and the internet; compare your comments about others to the list that reveals the personality of Jesus.  How do you measure up?  If it has been anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying then you have been living in the old self and you need to repent.  God doesn’t care how “right” you feel about your political opinion.  You need to remember where “here” is, it is the church, and that kind of stuff doesn’t have any place “here,” in God’s house with God’s people.

END.

Monday, November 7, 2016

PRAYER FOR THE NATION

    Lord, I come today to pray for my country. I believe you are my Father, the mighty God, ruler of all mankind and all creation.  I believe you are King of time and history, the Ancient of Days, but also the controller of the days to come.  You are the One who is able to see the end from the beginning; you are sovereign and work all things after the counsel of your own will.  Yet, you tell us to pray, and teach us that you make future events in history dependent on our faith and prayers, working both your will and our needs and requests together.

   Your ways are not our ways, and I confess I don’t always understand why you do what you do, or even how you can do them.  I am content Father in you being God and in my being your creature.  I believe you love me, I believe you mean me good and not evil, even when trouble comes into my life.  I believe you placed me in this country in which I was born and live, I believe your hand has been at work in the history and development of this nation, I believe you care about all nations and call each one to righteousness as you do for the United States of America.

   Father, I also know and believe that you judge nations.  I know that your revealed will is that all the nations be discipled in the following of Jesus and what he has taught us.  I confess Lord that I see much in my country that is not obedient to Christ.  Father there is much in America that is not obedient to Christ in its laws; it is not discipled in its culture, nor discipled in how we treat one another.  Oh Lord, I confess that there is in fact much evil in our land, and blood on our hands.  Our fathers have sinned and we have sinned.  I confess you have every right to judge us and take vengeance for the slaughter of unborn children, vengeance for our racism, vengeance for our neglect of the poor, vengeance for our arrogance and pride, vengeance for our celebration and encouragement of immorality.

   I confess Father that this nation which talks so much of you, has the motto that we actually trust in you, believes more in itself.  I confess that we are a land of adultery, our men abandon the children which they produce and thrust the mothers and the children into poverty.  Father, I also confess that sometimes we believe and act as if this nation is the greatest of all upon the earth, and that even those of your own people who say they worship you seem to set our nation even over your Word and truth.  Forgive us for loving our wealth, our security, our power, over your Church and over your name.  Lord God you know that there is much unbelief in this land while we have worshiped the god of money.

   So, I come Father pleading for my nation.  You have told us to pray for the place where we dwell, you have told us to pray for all in authority, and you have also told us that government is ordained by you and that you in fact set the people who govern over us.  You have told us to show them respect and honor. This confuses me Lord, as sometimes evil people rule over us, so I assume Lord that you are working out your will, either for good or ill, either for blessing or curse.  I’m praying for mercy today Lord, and asking you to forgive our sins so that we might actually be blessed.

    I’m asking you today Lord not only for an eventual good ending, but for good people to run this country. I’m asking Lord that you give us good leaders, leaders who do the right and good thing, leaders who will be a model and example to our children, leaders who will do justice, punish evil doers, and reward those who do right. So Lord, I am asking you even to over-rule the choices we have before us and give us good leaders.

    Father, I confess we don’t deserve good leaders.  I confess we have sinned enough, disowned you enough, rebelled enough, and mistreated the oppressed enough that we should get only wicked and deceitful leaders who will take us further and quicker to the precipice of justice.  Dear God restrain your hand and turn the hearts of our countrymen back to you the living God!  Please Lord, for the sake of your great name, for the sake of the many that have loved and followed you in faith in this land, for the sake of the lost yet to be saved, and for Jesus sake, forgive us and don’t treat us as our sins deserve.

   Father, I know that no earthly man or woman is Jesus except Jesus.  As you use broken and forgiven preachers so you use broken and forgiven, and even unforgiven, politicians.  Lord, turn the heart of whomever you have chosen to be our next president to do right, no matter what their own evil heart, plans, or manipulative party wants them to do.  Save us from confusion O Lord!  Save especially your people from being taken captive by the evil scheming of men so that they give up love and faith and become so partisan that they destroy fellowship in the body of Christ.  Save your people from being malicious in their slander, save them from believing or spreading gossip, save them from unbelieving cynicism or skepticism.  Save them from compromising their Biblical principles in the name of political victory.

   Thank you Father for the great blessing of being in a nation where we the people have the right to vote, (and please Lord give us wisdom in that vote) to speak and advocate, to gather, campaign, protest, march, and call for change.  I pray for peace in this nation, and peace between nations, Lord that whoever takes office we, your saved people, will still be able to preach and proclaim the Gospel with boldness.  I pray that even if leaders insufficient for the times, leaders incompetent for the task, leaders of which we become ashamed take office that your agenda will still be accomplished.  I pray that our confidence will not be in rulers, nor that we will on man depend, but solely on you, the Lord and the One who rules heaven and earth forever and ever.

   Father I ask that you will give your people grace to be saints, to live as salt and light, to love and be kind, to be merciful, to proclaim an unpopular Gospel and Biblical morality with courage and humility, to comfort those in distress, and to speak truth to power with confidence and faith in your mighty will and strength.

I ask this for myself, my family, the people who are called Christians, for my fellow citizens, for all the people in the world that this nation will affect, and for the sake of your great and holy name.  I ask it in the name of Jesus,


AMEN!