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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Bind Us Together – Identity Clash

Christian UnityKey Bible Verse: Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother. Mark 3:35

Bonus Reading:  John 20:17-18

I went to a football game in my hometown of Houston, Texas, back before the Houston Oilers defected to Tennessee as the Titans. They were playing the Oakland Raiders in the Astrodome. That day I was seated in the middle of the biggest bunch of loud-mouth drunks I’d ever seen at a sports event. It practically made me ashamed to be an American.

Three weeks before I’d been on a mission trip to Russia—just one month after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. I was with so many Baptists who wanted to worship in this little church building that they were holding six services on Sunday. And people were still standing outside in the snow with the windows open so they could hear the sermon. (We all had communion with a common cup. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such hygienic intimacy with so many people!)

I was acutely aware that I’d been more at home with my Russian brothers and sisters in Christ in the nation of our former sworn enemy than I was sitting in a football stadium about 15 blocks from the house where I grew up with people who didn’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Christians are blood brothers and sisters with a common Father.

—Richard Land in Real Homeland Security

My Response: Who do I feel most at home with, and why?

Adapted from Real Homeland Security (Broadman & Holman, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

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Bind Us Together – Dissonance Resolved

Christian UnityWho Said It…Steven Fry

Steven Fry has recorded four Christian worship albums, including the Dove Award-nominated We Are Called. He authored the key prayer song for the Promise Keepers “Stand in the Gap” assembly in Washington, D.C.

Steve is also a conference speaker and author. He’s the president of Messenger Fellowship, a network of churches and leaders seeking to model ministry that is spiritually fresh while maintaining biblical integrity.

He lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, with his wife, Nancy, and their three children.

What He Said…Dissonance Resolved

The linkage between unity (practically expressed in forgiving, encouraging, and being patient with each other) and the Lord’s presence is critical. At a conference for pastors, I witnessed how unity prepares the way for worship. For a couple of days, I’d sensed an undercurrent of tension. I eventually realized that rifts had surfaced between the planning team and the two worship leaders.

On the second night, one worship leader deferred to the other—in the middle of the set—by inviting her to lead worship for the rest of the evening. The atmosphere of the gathering promptly changed. I sensed a dramatic easing of tension. The rest of the conference was marked by a sense of holy exhilaration—the stuff that defines the kind of life God desires to give. Worshiping God had tenderized that worship leader to his need for humility. By humbling himself, he created a context in which the Holy Spirit could unify hearts and impart life.

Adapted from Discipleship Journal (11-12/02)

Prayer for the Week:  Give me the love it takes, Lord Jesus, to live in harmony with the people You died for.

Curse or Gift? – Overwhelmed

OverwhelmedPsalm 90 would be Psalm 1 if Israel’s hymnbook were arranged chronologically.

It may strike us as strange that its author, Moses, who lived to be 120, should write about the shortness of human life. But even a long life is limited when contrasted with God’s eternal nature.

Here is a perspective on time that has stood up to its test.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 90:10-17

  1. Taking Moses’ figure of 80 years to be a normal life span, what proportion of your earthly life is left?
  2. What of eternal significance do you want to see happen in the life segment that remains to you?
  3. Would this qualify as growing in wisdom (v. 12)?
  4. What small step could you take toward that purpose today?
  5. What do you need to savor if you hope to “sing for joy” to the end of your life (v. 14)?
  6. How can your work be successful and merit God’s approval (vv. 12, 16-17)?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to help you focus your discretionary energies on pursuits that reflect His permanence and your eternal home.

Psalm 90:10-17

10 Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we are gone. 11 Who can comprehend the power of your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve. 12 Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.

13 O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. 15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.

16 Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work. 17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Curse or Gift? – Hurry Sickness

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. … Let us do our best to enter that place of rest.  – Hebrews 4:9, 11

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 4:1-11

Not long after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in the church I then served, which tended to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we were in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy.

Long pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.

Another long pause.

“Okay, I’ve written that one down,” I told him, a little impatiently. “That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?” I had so many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.

Another long pause.

“There is nothing else,” he said. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

I’ve concluded that my well-being depends on following his prescription, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry destroys souls.

—John Ortberg in LeadershipJournal.net

My Response: What might a breathless lifestyle be robbing me of?

Thought to Apply: Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.—Fred Mitchell (British missionary leader)

– Adapted from LeadershipJournal.net

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

UMC – “The Way Forward” in 4 Pictures

Here is a quick summary of the three options under the UMC’s Way Forward in photos, courtesy of Joseph Richmond:

 

 

Curse or Gift? – Clockwatchers Anonymous

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night … God gives rest to his loved ones.  – Psalm 127:2

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 90:10-17

About five years ago I stopped wearing a watch for the simple reason that my preoccupation with it was turning me into a time legalist. Everything I did—like meeting with someone for lunch—took on significance based on how much time I spent doing it. I began breaking up the day not by blocks of hours, but by minutes and sometimes even seconds (I could brush my teeth in 22!).

Time—not God—was the fixation of my life. Sure, I was never late for appointments, but I wasn’t much fun attending them either, as they all seemed like unforgiving deadlines to me. Megan was glad when we got time together, but I was always thinking about the rest of my schedule and had trouble really enjoying those moments. None of this was healthy, and I finally recognized that I needed to stop the cycle.

I still don’t wear a watch, but I do check periodically on the handheld iPAQ I carry around. Since I took a break from always and easily glancing at my watch to see how late, early, or right on time I was, my perspective has changed. Now I try to consciously decide to use time as the gift it is rather than the curse I’d made it to be.

—Craig Dunham in TwentySomeone

My Response: I’ll recall a slice of time that has become a treasured gift.

Thought to Apply: There is more to life than increasing its speed. —Mohandas Gandhi (Indian nationalist &spiritual leader)

Adapted from TwentySomeone (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Why Same-Sex Acts Got the Death Penalty in OT, but Not Today

Here is an important article by Tim Keller summarizing why some Old Testament laws (e.g., moral regulations) still apply and why other OT laws (e.g., ceremonial cleanliness and sacrifice laws) no longer apply following Christ’s resurrection.


I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.”

What I hear most often is, “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t they just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality.

The New Testament has plenty to say about it as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this.

Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God.

As part of that sacrificial system, there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared, he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

But the reason is made clear.

When he died on the cross, the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus’ name,’ we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19).

It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament.

Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live.

The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethics of the Old Testament are restated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).

If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments.

Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament, things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament, the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments.

The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11).

Why this change?

Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense.

Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed.

Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties.

It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities.

If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything.

But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: “Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

 

 

UMC – Human Sexuality – Recent Developments

In light of the speed of recent developments that will determine the future of the United Methodist Church, here is a quick summary of where we started, where we are now, and where we might be going before the special General Conference convenes in February 2019.

Background

Within The United Methodist Church, there is deep disagreement about human sexuality, among other issues.

This disagreement reached a boiling point during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, where a motion was passed to form a special commission to deal with our disagreement on human sexuality, and all legislation related to this topic was thereby tabled.  A thirty-two member commission, consisting of people from a wide variety of theological and ethical positions, formed and met over the past two years.

They have brought three models forward:

  • One is a “Traditionalist” model meant to hold ordained clergy accountable to our current denominational standards.
  • A second is a variation of the local option, now called the “One Church Model.”  It would remove our current language around human sexuality from the Book of Discipline and would move the authority for ethical decision making on these matters to the local church and the annual conference.
  • A third model would divide the UMC into  at least two large branches with distinct ethical standards regarding human sexuality.

The bishops’ plan of action, then, was to receive the report and subsequently draft its own report for the 2019 special session of the General Conference.  The General Conference delegates would then have the option of taking up the bishops’ report for legislative action.  (This is an extraordinary way for our decision-making processes to proceed, since our practice is for bishops to preside over legislation, rather than to pursue a legislative agenda themselves.)

As part of their report, the Council of Bishops plans to recommend the “One Church Model”, but to include the traditionalist and multi-branch plans as part of the report’s “historical narrative.”  There has been some confusion about what this means.  Would the bishops make all three models available for legislative action, or only the “One Church Model”?  Apparently there was disagreement even within the Council on this matter.

There was also the question of what legislation, besides the bishops’ report, could be submitted to the special session. According to the official announcement from the Council of Bishops, “The purpose of this special session of the General Conference shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

The Council of Bishops then asked the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding the kinds of legislation could be properly submitted.  The purpose of this request was to restrict legislation and focus on the bishops’ recommended plan of action, the “One Church Model”.

The Judicial Council, however, has ruled that a wider array of petitions could be submitted than the bishops’ request would have allowed.  In other words, the Judicial Council ruled that petitions to this special General Conference session “may be filed by any organization, clergy member, and lay member of the United Methodist Church, as long as the business proposed to be transacted in such petition is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call.”  The General Conference itself will have to decide whether a given petition is “in harmony” with the conference’s called purpose.

This ruling resulted in all manner of reactions ranging from elation to fury.

Summary

  1. United Methodists disagree over human sexuality.
  2. The General Conference mandated the formation of the Commission on a Way Forward to deal with our disagreement and avoid a division of the UMC.
  3. The Council of Bishops received a report from the Commission, and plans to submit its own report.
  4. The report of the Council of Bishops will be available for legislative action.
  5. The Council of Bishops is recommending the local option (“One Church Model”).
  6. The Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference will deal with a wider range of legislation than the Council of Bishops would have wished.

Recent Developments

What seems to have been largely overlooked in the wake of this recent Judicial Council decision is footnote 6.

Specifically, the third paragraph of footnote 6 seems to indicate that the stated purpose of the called General Conference is out of order.  As mentioned above, according to the stated call for the special session of the General Conference, its purpose “shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”

According to the Judicial Council, however,

There is nothing in the proceedings of the 2016 General Conference suggesting that the Commission on a Way Forward was supposed to submit its recommendations to the Council of Bishops.  Similarly, there is no evidence in the legislative debate prior to the vote on the motion indicating that the Council of Bishops would develop specific legislative proposals based on the recommendations of the Commission and present them to the called special session of the General Conference.

In other words, this footnote states that the 2016 General Conference did not mandate that the Commission submit a recommendation to the Council of Bishops, nor did it empower the Council of Bishops to bring a report for legislative consideration by the special session of the General Conference. 

This changes things considerably, so we might now anticipate that the bishops will revise the call in keeping with the Judicial Council’s decision.

Curse or Gift? – A Time for Everything

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.  – Psalm 90:12

Bonus Reading1 Timothy 4:7-10

Kids will wait forever to practice, start their homework, or clean their rooms. We adults are much the same. Calls and letters go unanswered, repairs go unmade. We intend to do them “when I feel like it” or “when I have to.” Since those times come erratically, today’s molehill quietly grows into tomorrow’s stressful mountain.

Our responsibilities cease flowing uncontrollably when we grab a calendar and assign them a time. Set a time to assign time blocks for the coming week. Remember, the anchor of your schedule is your quiet centers: your Lord, your wife, your family. In the spaces left around those centers, courageously assign time blocks to your other known commitments. Deciding in advance eliminates the stress of those predictable tasks chasing you until they catch you.

I found it frustrating at first to commit to a regular dinnertime at home. I preferred an open-ended day, unaware of the uncertainty I was causing my family. Finally realizing that there’ll always be one more thing to do, I set a boundary on my office day. The family makes its plans around my commitment now. And I’m starting to enjoy the predictability.

—Ron Hutchcraft in Living Peacefully in a Stressful World

My Response: How am I taking charge of the predictable sector of my time?

Thought to Apply: Procrastination is the thief of time.—Mr. Micawber (in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield)

Adapted from Living Peacefully in a Stressful World (Discovery, 1985, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Curse or Gift? – Spread Too Thin?

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: The man won’t rest until he has followed through on this. He will settle it today.  – Ruth 3:18

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 21:28-31a

All of us want to be liked. But saying “yes” to everyone who asks for your help is dangerous. If you make a commitment to do something, your integrity and reputation are on the line. You should work diligently to fulfill your promise, finishing the project on time, and doing a quality job. That won’t happen if you’ve made so many other promises and commitments that your “to do” list exceeds the memory capacity in your handheld computer.

If you’re overcommitted, you probably lack the ability to say “no.” Perhaps you don’t want to disappoint each friend who makes a request of you. But you aren’t doing your friend any favor if your busy schedule forces you to miss the deadline or do a slipshod job. If that’s likely to happen, you’ll do your friend a favor if you decline the request.

Overcommitting yourself isn’t fair to the members of your immediate family, and your closest friends, either. You’re in crisis mode all of the time. Everything is an emergency. You’re always running behind schedule. You have no leisure time, and everything you do is rushed. That’s no way to live.

So don’t take on more than you can handle. Learn when to say “no.”

—Bruce Bickel & Stan Jantz in Simple Matters

My Response: When have I said no to protect a vital yes?

Thought to Apply: The really idle man gets nowhere. The perpetually busy man does not get much further.—William Heneage Ogilvie (British surgeon)

Adapted from Simple Matters (Promise Press, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

Curse or Gift? – What’s Blocking Your View of Jesus?

OverwhelmedKey Bible Verse: Fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  Hebrews 12:2

Bonus Reading:  Mark 3:20-21, 6:31-32

My brain has a muffin top. It’s not visible to the naked eye, but I’m sure high-tech medical equipment could reveal my brain is spilling over with too much information: facts, ideas, concepts, future books, trivia, minutiae, and useless thoughts. And moments with Jesus.

The less crowded my brain, the more those moments with Him stand out. Did I just write that? Did I just admit it to myself? Should I take a more minimalist approach to what’s stored in my brain so the Jesus moments have room to shine? That was rhetorical.

What does the Bible say is the secret to successfully maneuvering the labyrinth called life? “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”

Like a woman–not that I would know–who can’t see her feet for the excess around her middle, it’s hard to fix my eyes on Jesus with excess in the way. So, I’ll discard this thought, and that one, and that whole file full over there, so I can maintain better eye contact with Jesus.

I’ll purge my overloaded brain circuits of the broken bits of information that don’t connect to anything else or that block my view like fog which prevents me from seeing more than the street below, even though I paid for an oceanfront room.

It’s the Jesus moments that keep me going, that infuse meaning into what I’m muddling through. Time to do some brain purging.

—Cynthia Ruchti, in Mornings with Jesus

My Response: Dumping information isn’t as easy as pushing a Delete button on a computer. What works for you? Time alone in a retreat setting? A hike through the woods or along a beach? A virtual “ceremony” surrendering unnecessary though ts to Him? Try one of those brain and stress purges today.

Adapted from Mornings with Jesus (Guideposts, 2014)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I want to use the time you’ve given me in ways that yield long-term significance.

What Are Your Favorite Hymns?

Hymns are sung in traditional worship because we need the grounding, the shaping, and the “rootedness” that it brings us, while looking for new and creative ways to express our Christian story.  Because it reminds us of what has already been done in Christ, and what one day will be.  These are things that all worshipers need, regardless of our own preferences.

But one byproduct of historic Christian worship is that, through active participation and repetition, it helps our faith become a part of us.  Most of us who grew up with hymns undoubtedly have some that are our favorites, usually those in which we have found meaning, instruction, solace, and encouragement.  Many of us learned these hymns as a kid, and it’s nothing but a benefit to us to have them in our hearts and heads as we go through the seasons of life.

One of the main problems with the current commercial repertoire is that it’s not created to last.  By its own definition, contemporary worship has little use for anything that isn’t current and that doesn’t produce a limbic response.

Even the few hymn texts that remain are usually restrung into a pop performance piece.  It becomes a bit like striking a match.  It’s exciting for an instant, but then it’s gone, and we’re left to try and recreate it.

When we choose songs to sing in worship, we ought to be doing so with an eye toward lighting a candle, a lasting flame that will stay with us.

When we ask for your favorite hymns, we’re really asking for a deeper answer.  We’re not looking as much for the hymns that give you a strong sentimental connection.

We want to know which hymns are the ones that stick with you throughout the seasons of your life, nurturing the flame of Christ’s gospel inside your heart.

Below are some popular hymns, in no particular order.  We want to know yours, as well.  Give us your own top ten, even if in no particular order.  If you can’t come up with ten, make it five, or even three.

We’ll be checking the comments on this post, along with any we can view on Facebook, as well!

God Is Here!

Fred Pratt Green, 1979; rev. 1988 (ABBOT’S LEIGH)

Lord of all, of church and kingdom,
In an age of change and doubt
Keep us faithful to the gospel;
Help us work your purpose out.

Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know

Johann C. Schwedler, 1741; trans. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, 1863 (HENDON)

This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in Him who died to save,
Him who triumphed o’er the grave,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name

Attr. Ignaz Franz, c. 1774; trans. Clarence Alphonsus Walworth, 1858 (GROSSER GOTT)

Lo! the apostolic train,
Join thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from morn till set of sun,
Through the church the song goes on.

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Charles Wesley, 1747 (BLAENWERN, also BEECHER, HYFRYDOL)

Finish then thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Martin Luther, 1529; trans. Frederick Henry Hedge, 1852 (EIN’ FESTE BURG)

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever.

Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above

Johann Jacob Schuetz, 1675; trans. Frances Elizabeth Cox, 1864 (MIT FREUDEN ZART)

Sing praise to God who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of power, the God of love,
The God of our salvation.
With healing balm my soul is filled,
And every faithless murmur stilled:
To God all praise and glory.

There Is a Fountain

William Cowper, 1772

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.

Thine Is the Glory

Edmond Louis Budry, 1884; trans. R. Birch Hoyle, 1923

No more we doubt thee,
Glorious Prince of life!
Life is naught without thee;
Aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors
Through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
To thy home above.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 5th c. (DIVINUM MYSTERIUM)

O, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!

Reginald Heber, 1827 (NICAEA)

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see.

 

 

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When Asking Beats Telling – Everyday Evangelism

Everyday EvangelismTrained as a rabbi, Paul was taught to think about God and life through a style of debate still used today in Jewish training schools called “yeshivas.”

This “pulpil” method responds to questions with other questions.  Acts 17 is the chapter that most fully describes how Paul engaged in the give-and-take of “rabbinic evangelism” in synagogues, and then exported it to Gentile communities.

Interact with God’s Word

Acts 17:1-5, 16-20, 32-34

  1. What verbs (vv. 2-3) describe how Paul functioned during his synagogue visits?
  2. Does this sound to you more like a sermon or a Q and A session?
  3. What points do you think prompted the most lively discussions in Thessalonica?
  4. Which issues today need the most debate?
  5. What kind of responses (vv. 4-5) did the interactions with Paul produce?
  6. How and with whom did Paul interact in Athens (vv. 17-18)?
  7. What kinds of reaction were there to Paul’s discussion with the Council of Philosophers?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a growing confidence in the gospel that will allow you to casually engage in give and take about it.

Acts 17:1-5, 16-20, 32-34

1 Now Paul and Silas traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he interpreted the Scriptures to the people. 3 He was explaining and proving the prophecies about the sufferings of the Messiah and his rising from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.”4 Some who listened were persuaded and became converts, including a large number of godly Greek men and also many important women of the city. 5 But the Jewish leaders were jealous, so they gathered some worthless fellows from the streets to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd.

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. 18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “This babbler has picked up some strange ideas.” Others said, “He’s pushing some foreign religion.” 19 Then they took him to the Council of Philosophers.[a] “Come and tell us more about this new religion,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather startling things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”

32 When they heard Paul speak of the resurrection of a person who had been dead, some laughed, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.”33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them,34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Council, a woman named Damaris, and others.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Dental “Dialogue”

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.  – Proverbs 18:13

Bonus Reading: Isaiah 1:18-20

The waiting-room sign warns, “Blessed are those who engage in lively conversation with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called dentists.”

My dentist drives me crazy! He asks really thought-provoking questions right as he puts sharp, pointed objects into my mouth. “So, what’s the real solution for the Palestinian problem?” Or, “Aren’t all religions basically the same?” I want to respond, but my attempts are muffled by his hands in my mouth and that noisy suction thing.

I wonder if some of our evangelistic conversations sound like interactions between my dentist and me. One side posits a question, not really expecting an answer or listening for a response. The other side sits frustrated, not really getting to answer or expecting to be heard.

Scripture admonishes us to always be ready to explain our Christian hope (1 Peter 3:15). But doing so requires listening in order to know when and what we’re being asked. Listening primes the pump, opening hearts to accept conviction of sin, establishing common ground for further dialogue, or giving insight to felt needs.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: I’ll listen-out a friend, connecting and clarifying without interjecting my own thoughts, so he’ll know I’m hearing him accurately.

Thought to Apply: If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.—Dale Carnegie (writer & speaker)

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Gospel-paving Questions

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse:  As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. Acts 16:14

Bonus Reading:  Acts 17:1-5a, 16-20, 32-34

A pastor urged his congregation to open the door to evangelism by challenging the prevailing slogans of our day. “The next time someone at work says, ‘Image is everything,'” he told them, “Respond, ‘No, it’s not! The glory of God is everything!'”

I agree with his theology. But a better response would be a puzzled look and “Really?” After getting the coworker’s attention, you could add “What do you think is everything? What would you say is the most foundational thing in life?”

When your cousin asks, “Why are you so narrow-minded as to believe that all Buddhists are going to hell?” don’t indignantly quote, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Ask her, “What have you found about Buddhism that convinces you that its adherents are worthy of heaven?”

When your neighbor asks, “Why do you think that Jesus was more than just a good moral teacher?” don’t take out your Lord-liar-lunatic diagram just yet. Ask her, “What makes you think that Jesus was a good teacher? Have you read a lot of His teachings? Which messages impress you the most about Jesus’ teaching ability? What would you say was Jesus’ main message?”

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Who is someone with whom I could have this kind of give and take?

Thought to Apply: More and more we should hold back our answer, and with a question, pave the way to receptivity. —Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Wake-up Questions

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God.  – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

When people say things that, given some thought, don’t add up, we must help them see the fallacy of their statements. A good way is a one-word question: “Really?”

When people say, “I think all religions are the same,” We could respond with “Really?”

After they begin to awaken, we can elaborate by asking, “Do you really think your religion is the same as all others?  How about the religion that led people to kill themselves when they saw the Hale-Bop comet?  They thought that it was going to take them to heaven.  Do you really think their religion is the same as yours?”  The ensuing discussion could explore which religions are ridiculous, which credible.

When people say, “I think all people are basically good,” we could respond with, “Really? Does that include Osama Bin Laden? Or the boys who killed their classmates at Columbine High School?” If they’ll concede that they didn’t mean all, it’s worth exploring where the lines are drawn between good, not so good, pretty bad, and downright evil.

This waking process might hurt. So say the word really with as little sarcasm in your voice as possible.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: An illogical belief a friend must question before he can receive the gospel is …

Thought to Apply: Confronting a prospect with unpleasant truths doesn’t work in sales, but it is essential in evangelism.—Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Reflecting the Heat Back

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: Let me ask you a question first … . Did John’s baptism come from heaven, or was it merely human?  – Luke 20:3-4

Bonus Reading:  Luke 20:1-8

At a dorm-room Bible study, the host’s antagonistic roommate showed up—along with a handful of likeminded friends. “I suppose you think all those sincere followers of other religions are going to hell!” said one, more as an attack than a sincere inquiry.

“Do you believe in hell?” I responded.

After a puzzled silence, he said, “No. I don’t believe in hell. I think it’s ridiculous.”

Echoing his word choice, I said, “Then why are you asking me such a ridiculous question?” I wanted him to honestly examine the assumptions behind his question. His face indicated that he was considering issues of judgment and God’s righteousness for the first time in his life.

Another guy chimed in, “I do believe in hell. Do you think everyone who disagrees with you is going there?”

I asked, “Do you think anyone goes there? Is Hitler in hell?”

“Of course, Hitler’s in hell.”

“How do you think God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Does He grade on a curve?”

From there, the discussion turned civil, and serious interaction about God’s holiness, people’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ atoning work ensued.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Do I really need to know all the answers to represent the gospel?

Thought to Apply: Learn what questions non–Christians are asking (some indirectly), and what to ask to move the conversation in a Christ–ward direction.—Randy Newman

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Beyond Take It or Leave It

Everyday EvangelismKey Bible Verse: When they handed him the coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”   – Matthew 22:19-20

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 12:9-13

I usually answer non-believers’ questions with a question because I’ve grown tired of having my answers rejected.

At times I’ve responded to questions with biblically accurate, logically sound, epistemologically watertight answers, only to see questioners shrug their shoulders. My answers, it seemed, only further confirmed their opinion that Christians are simpletons. My answers had hardened them in their unbelief rather than softened them toward faith.

I realized that, instead of moving people closer to a salvation decision, an answer can push them further away. Rather than engaging their minds or urging them to consider an alternative perspective, an answer can give them ammunition for future attacks against the gospel.

So I started answering questions with questions, with far better results. Answering with a question brings to the surface the questioner’s assumptions. It also takes the pressure off you—the one being asked—and puts it on the one doing the asking. Shifting the burden is important because as long as we’re on the defensive, the questioners aren’t really wrestling with issues. They’re just watching us squirm.

—Randy Newman in Questioning Evangelism

My Response: Have I pictured witnessing as a monologue or a dialogue?  Why?

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

When Asking Beats Telling – Hold That Answer

Everyday EvangelismWho Said It…Randy Newman

Randy Newman—not the famous singer/songwriter—has served with Campus Crusade for Christ for more than 20 years, relating to students on college campuses. He also teaches a seminar every week at the Pentagon for Campus Crusade’s Christian Embassy.

His book, Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004), is designed to help believers deal with objections to the gospel in an engaging manner.

What He Said…Hold that Answer

Because I’m Jewish, I grew up with dialogues that went like this:

Randy: “How’s the weather down there?”

Granny Belle: “How could the weather be in Florida in the middle of July?”

Or …

Randy: “So, how have you been?”

Uncle Nat: “Why do you ask?”

Or …

Randy: “How’s your family?”

Aunt Vivian: “Compared to whom?”

So that may explain why I think this way, responding to questions with questions. I’d like to think, though, that it’s because I’m following the example of Jesus.

Try reading through the four Gospels to see how the Rabbi answered the questions put to Him. A clear, concise, direct answer was a rarity. Answering a question with a question was the norm.

A rich man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to get eternal life?” (Mark 10:17-18). What a great setup for a clear, concise gospel presentation! But how did Jesus respond? He posed a question, “Why do you call me good?

Adapted from Questioning Evangelism (Kregel, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me share the Good News in a less cut-and-dried manner, softening hearts through relational give-and-take.

High-Profile Turnarounds – Through God’s Eyes

CelebritiesWe all become aware of the vices and virtues of people in the public eye. But God doesn’t view them as special cases.

Just like us, they become Christians through His unmerited favor—not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service.

They are, however, specially visible examples of the way He transforms lives. That is the focus of this Scripture passage.

Interact with God’s Word:  Ephesians 2:1-10

  1. What does verse 1 tell you about the original status of “all of us”?
  2. What do verses 2-3a tell you about the natural condition of “all of us”?
  3. Why were “all of us” under God’s anger (v. 3b)?
  4. What does Paul say (vv.4-8a) God did to liberate us from our hopeless predicament?
  5. What else is implied in “all he had done for us through Christ Jesus” (v. 7)?
  6. What is it that you “can’t take credit for” (v. 8)? Doing good things? Believing?
  7. In what ways are you God’s “masterpiece” (v. 10)?

Spend Time in Prayer: Thank God for making you “examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. 2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much,5 that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)6 for he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus.

7 And so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus. 8 God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – “W” for Wild

George W. BushKey Bible Verse: Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2

The sweaty man I used to watch outdistance his bodyguards jogging at the ballpark and fumble his way through a press conference was born into a privileged family and spent the first part of his life acting like the world owed him an existence. Arrogant and irresponsible, he lived large and partied hard. In business, he was a moderate success, but his first foray into public life was a resounding failure. He worried his parents, worried his wife, and worried his friends. There were times when alcohol got in the way of both life and love. And then one day around the age of 40, this man grew up.

A few years later, someone asked George W. Bush who his hero was. Without hesitation, he answered, “Jesus Christ.” There was a lot of snickering over that answer in the next few days, and speculation that he was simply trying to score a few points with his audience. What many people failed to notice or didn’t take seriously was what he said immediately after his confession—”because he changed my life.”

Everyone who knew Bush back in his wild days will tell you that his life is truly changed. His confession was guileless because he really meant it.

—Jody Dean in Finding God in the Evening News

My Response: Who do you know whose life has been radically changed by Jesus?

Thought to Apply: Once I was dead . . . and now I am alive. And the difference is Jesus.—Walter Brueggemann

Adapted from Finding God in the Evening News (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – The Goal

Paul HendersonKey Bible Verse: The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:2

Bonus Reading:  Romans 8:1-11

Most mature Canadians know exactly where they were on September 28, 1972, during the final hockey “Summit Series” game against the Russians. With 34 seconds left, Team Canada’s left winger Paul Henderson banged home the winner!

Despite the ensuing fame and fortune, within months Paul grew restless. “I’d buy a new car or set of clubs,” he says, “and in two weeks, I was bored with them.” What’s wrong with me? he wondered. Why can’t I sleep at night?

Paul pictured God as a cosmic killjoy; a man’s man, he assumed, couldn’t be a follower of Christ. But finally, in desperation, he picked up a Bible he’d received as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For two-and-a-half years he laboriously studied it and grilled a Christian friend. “I came to believe there really was a God, and that He loved me,” he says.

But in the same breath in which he surrendered his life to Christ, Paul warned God, “Don’t expect me to tell anybody about this! I’ll never have the guts to do it.” Today, as director of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada’s Leadership Group, he’s told tens of thousands about something more important to him than scoring The Goal.

—Judy Nelson in Worldwide Challenge

My Response: With whom could I share the story of my own turnaround?

Thought to Apply: Once I was blind … and now I see! And the difference is the good news of God’s love. —Walter Brueggemann (professor)

Adapted from Worldwide Challenge (3-4/98)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – Mel Gibson’s Search

Mel GibsonKey Bible Verse: He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 1 Peter 1:18-19

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 2:13-15

At the height of his stardom, Mel Gibson had achieved everything he ever hoped for—except a sense of purpose. Gibson felt he was drowning in fame, wealth, drink, and despair. This led the one-time “sexiest man alive” to his knees and back to God. In a Reader’s Digest interview, Gibson told Peggy Noonan, “I was really searching, asking ‘What’s on the other side? Why am I here?’ I might have looked like I’m living the high life, making movies and jetting around the world, but true happiness resides within. I was spiritually bankrupt. It was like a spiritual cancer starting to eat its way through. I simply had to do something or it was going to take me.”

This 12-year pilgrimage led Gibson to the Gospels and the passion of Christ. He realized what Jesus did on the cross. Gibson described it to Noonan this way: “The purpose of the sacrifice [of Christ] was to expiate the transgressions of all mankind. The testimonies from the Gospels speak of love, of ransom, and a complete forgetting of self for the sake of all others, which is really the height of heroism. Jesus became the whipping boy so that we have a chance, because we can’t make it on our own.”

—Matt Neace in PreachingToday.com

My Response: I’ll thank Jesus for becoming the “whipping boy” for my sins.

Thought to Apply: Once I was lost … and now I am found. And the difference is the Gospel.—Walter Brueggemann (professor)

Adapted from PreachingToday.com (4/4/04)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

High-Profile Turnarounds – “Pat Summerall Here”

Pat Summerall and John MaddenKey Bible Verse: But God is so rich in mercy … that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life.  – Ephesians 2:4-5

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 2:1-10

For 45 years Pat Summerall’s voice and face have spelled football. After his own career as a star kicker, Pat went into broadcasting, at first covering golf and tennis. Teamed for years with John Madden, he was a Sunday afternoon voice of Fox TV NFL football.

But Pat was an only child whose parents divorced before he was born, leaving him feeling empty and alone. He became an alcoholic, living from drink to drink as his body broke down. During the 1994 Masters tournament, he faced up: “I’d been getting sick a lot, throwing up blood—and I got sick again at 4 a.m. I looked in the mirror, saw what a terrible sight I was, and said to myself, ‘This isn’t how I want to live.'”

Pat spent 33 days in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. This helped alleviate his alcohol problems but didn’t address his spiritual vacuum. Then he bumped into his old coach, Tom Landry, who explained about his spiritual need and connected him with Dallas Cowboys chaplain John Weber. Pat’s life was transformed, and he was baptized at age 69. “Summerall was once the life of every party with a drink in his hand,” Weber says. “Now he gets his power from another source.”

—Art Stricklin in Sports Spectrum

My Response: How has the Spirit’s power broken destructive patterns in my life?

Thought to Apply: Once I was enslaved … and now I am free! And the difference is God’s rescuing merc —Walter Brueggmann (professor)

Adapted from Sports Spectrum (11-12/01)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

Memorial Day: For What Shall We Live?

Here on Memorial Day, below please find an insightful reflection by Roger Brady, retired as a general from the United States Air Force,that appears in today’s issue of Christianity Today online:


Whether we wear a uniform or not, we all have sacrificial service to offer.

Memorial Day: For What Shall We Live?

Image: Ken Holmes / Lightstock

Memorial Day likely conjures up memories for all of us. Mine start from when I was too young to know what the day meant.

When I was a young boy, it was a family time, a holiday from school or other obligations, and a time for picnics, multi-generational baseball games in an open field, and reunions with seldom-seen relatives.

Over the years I have gained a much greater appreciation for this day and what it means. From my first assignment in Vietnam to my last in Germany, I was continually reminded of the extraordinary sense of commitment and service in the young men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

During my last assignment, as 33rd commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, I routinely received invitations to speak at memorial events at one or more of the many cemeteries in Europe where young Americans are interred. I was particularly moved by an event in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe.

The heavy traffic that normally circles that beautiful edifice at a frantic pace had been stopped, and a crowd had gathered to remember and honor French and American men and women who had given their lives in the horrible wars of the 20th century. Many living veterans of those conflicts wore the uniform they had first donned at a much earlier age, and some of them still bore the scars of war. It was humbling to be in their company that day.

For four decades, I was honored to serve with thousands of dedicated young men and women. Some of them would die in service to their country. We were extremely sad at their loss as we comforted their loved ones and each other. They gave their very best, and we were reminded that we must do the same. They died serving something bigger than themselves—the transcendent ideals that make America the country we cherish.

For us as Christians, this day should have an even more poignant meaning. Many of the same values that our nation hopes to nurture and the traits military members are challenged to embody are consistent with those perfectly modeled for us by our Savior. He was the quintessential example of service and sacrifice.

In his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul said, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7–8).

But before he died, he lived. Boy, did he live! To the consternation of those watching him, he invited himself to the home of a hated tax collector named Zacchaeus, he challenged the hypocrisy of religious leaders by coming to the rescue of a prostitute, he exposed the meaninglessness of their religiosity by healing the sick on the Sabbath, and he challenged bigotry and insensitivity by publicly engaging in conversation with a Samaritan woman that his society said was unworthy of his time.

As Christians, this example is our heritage also, regardless of our earthly citizenship. Citizenship in his kingdom, after all, is the one that counts. Do not mistake what I am saying. I am grateful every day for that I am a citizen of America, and there is no other place on earth I would rather call home. Like most Americans, I am here by virtue of circumstances over which I had no control. I cannot explain it. I can just be thankful for it.

Patriotism and Piety

As I now view life in America as a private citizen, I am struck by the similarity of our expressions of patriotism and faith. Occasionally I wonder if we get the cross and the flag confused. As American Christians, we are indeed twice-blessed, but we should not get the two confused. America is an imperfect place, an unfinished project, an ideal we hope to make a reality.

Our citizenship in the kingdom of God is a gift extended to us freely by God’s grace. Paul told the Ephesian Christians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8–10).

The society in which Jesus lived also had many problems. There was hypocrisy, bigotry, poverty, and oppression of the weak by the strong, and he condemned all of that. America is probably a better place than that for even the most marginalized of our citizens, but it is not always what it should be for all of us. As Christians, regardless of our earthly citizenship, this is part of the work he left us to do. Is it our duty as Americans? Yes, it is—but even more so as citizens of his kingdom.

I do not always understand how God’s providence works. I cannot explain why those extraordinary individuals we now call our “founding fathers” came together when they did. They created a country based on their belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” Their belief in these universal, eternal truths—however imperfect their understanding and expression of those truths—yielded a society in which people of faith can function with more freedom than anywhere else in the world.

Does this mean that God favors America? I often hear people express that belief, but what I read in his Word is that he favors people who rely on him, who place their trust in him, and who proclaim him as their God, regardless of their earthly citizenship. Does that ensure their health and wealth and a life of ease? No, it ensures us of the opportunity to be his sons and daughters, to tell others of the salvation that was freely given to us, to share in his suffering, and to live with him eternally.

The American writer Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, once said we should give loyalty to our country always and to the government when it deserves it. I believe he meant that our only true loyalty is to those eternal principles to which governments aspire but do not always demonstrate. There may well come times when our government takes a path we cannot in good conscience follow, and we must stand where God stands. But it is right that we devote time to remember and honor those fellow citizens who gave their all for us—we are forever in their debt.

Living a Life of Service

Most Americans will never serve in the military—actually less than one percent of our population do so.  And even among those of us who do, very, very few of us are asked to give that last full measure of devotion.  So what is the question for us on this day as we remember those Americans who died on our behalf?

I believe that question is —for what shall we live?  Whether or not we wear the uniform of our country, we all have a service to offer, a service to those ideals that reflect God’s universal truths and that our American ancestors captured in the formation of this country.

When Jesus left this earth to take his place at the right hand of the Father, he left us, his bride, the church, to carry on his work.  So when evil strikes in the form of a school shooting or when nature unleashes its fury and devastates property and lives, when children suffer, when people are hungry or homeless and ask “Where is God?!” we must be there and have them see him in us.

We must bring his comfort and his healing to this world. When we live lives of service to those around us, we honor the God who saved us and we honor all those who gave that last full measure to secure for us all the things we enjoy in this nation.  Someday we will find ourselves at the end of our lives looking back, and we will ask ourselves what it was all for.

At that moment, we will all want to recall a life of service to something larger than ourselves, to children who needed our teaching and our example of service, to people whom we gave a hand up in time of need, to friends and colleagues whom we comforted in times of sorrow, lives with whom we shared the many physical and spiritual blessings that have been bestowed on us.

If we live that life of service, we will have fulfilled the challenge of the Savior when he said, “Whatever you did for one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

So on Memorial Day, and every day, we need to ask ourselves, for what shall we live? How are we doing at fulfilling not just the ideals of our American forefathers but those universal values set in place by the one who made us in his image, who sent his only begotten son to secure our salvation, the one who “created us in him to do good works?”

Roger Brady retired as a general from the United States Air Force. He speaks and writes on principled leadership and serves as minister of adult education in his local congregation. His books include Forget Success!! and Nothing Has Changed.

 

High-Profile Turnarounds – Holy Edge?

Franklin and Billy GrahamKey Bible Verse: Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God”  – John 3:3

Bonus Reading:  John 3:4-17

Upbringing is never enough to give anyone an “extra push” into heaven. Ask Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy. Talk about having spiritual connections! But Franklin will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t enough. Raised in the spiritual greenhouse of the Graham home, Franklin went through the right motions: baptism, regular church attendance, and exposure to a steady diet of the gospel. But deep inside, Franklin knew he was hollow.

One evening in Switzerland Billy Graham confronted his son. “Your mother and I sense that you’re struggling in your heart, Franklin. You need to face the truth; you need to make your own decision. Until you do, you won’t have peace.”

Angered by his father’s words, Franklin decided to run from the truth. He ran to several Middle East countries trying to fill his life without committing it to Christ. Then one night in a hotel room in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus had conversation with Nicodemus[John 3:4-17], Franklin decided Jesus was right. He prayed, received Him into his life, and was born again. Now he was more than the son of a world-renowned preacher. He was a child of the living God.

—Skip Heitzig in Jesus Up Close

My Response: Do I sense that I’m hollow … or know that I’ve been reborn?

Adapted from Jesus Up Close (Tyndale, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

Memorial Day

High-Profile Turnarounds – My 180-degree Turn

Darrell WaltripWho Said It…Darrell Waltrip

Darrell started racing go-carts at age 12 and entered his first stock car race just four years later. He became a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup competitor in 1975. In the 1980s, he earned its Driver of the Decade award. Today, he holds 84 Winston Cup victories.

Darrell is currently a commentator for NASCAR Fox Sports and hosts a weekly Bible study in his garage for 75 men. He and his wife, Stevie, have two children and live in Franklin, Tennessee.

What He Said…My 180–degree Turn

I was a church kid. So I knew when I was doing something wrong, but I’d do it anyway. I lived that way as an adult, too.

After Stevie put Jesus first in her life, she was on me about going to church. I raced on Sunday; that was my excuse for not going. Then a friend told us about a church that met in a high school on Wednesday night, and I lost my excuse. We went. Everything the pastor said seemed directed my way. God was getting my attention.

We were at church one July night in 1983. That racing season wasn’t going well; neither was our marriage. I was desperate enough to ask our pastor to pray for us. Then I prayed. I asked the Lord to come into my life and get me out of the mess I was in. I told Him I was a sinner and asked Him to forgive me.

God didn’t flip a switch; rather, my life and outlook slowly started to improve. God had changed me.

Adapted from Darrell Waltrip: One-on-One (Regal, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.Psalm 51:1

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Divorce

DivorceThe Pharisees were trying to corner Jesus by getting him to take sides in a controversy over interpreting Moses’ regulation about divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Could it be granted for a variety of reasons, or only for marital unfaithfulness? By quoting Genesis 1:17 and 2:24, Jesus pushed the discussion back to the prior question of God’s design for marriage.

Interact with God’s Word: Matthew 19:3-9

  1. Why, according to Jesus (in v. 6), does dividing a husband and wife run counter to God’s plan?
  2. Why (v. 6) are human attempts to justify separation usurping God’s authority?
  3. To what human failings does God attribute the breakup of a marriage (v. 8)?
  4. How does Jesus describe God’s allowance of Moses’ provision for divorce (v. 8)?
  5. How should current rationales for divorce, such as “incompatibility,” be viewed in light of Jesus’ statement in verse 9?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God for the unshakeable resolve and sacrificial love required to keep your marriage intact for a lifetime.

Matthew 19:3-9

3 Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ 5 And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’

6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together.” 7 “Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?” they asked.

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. 9 And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Renewable Vows

DivorceKey Bible Verse:  A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does … let her remain single or else go back to him. And the husband must not leave his wife. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

Bonus Reading:  Hosea 2:7, 14, 23; 3:1

John Cayce, the chief justice of the Court of Appeals for Texas’s Second District, and his lovely wife, Diane, have two daughters and one lively granddaughter. There were the usual struggles early in their marriage. They occasionally fought. Eventually the tensions crowded out the romance, and John and Diane were divorced.

After being separated for around four years, John and Diane remarried—each other! They worked through their hurt, anger, frustration, and rebellion—and found their love on the other side. Whatever they had before wound up being replaced by something more beautiful and enduring. Romantic love became mature, complete love. The solution, as John and Diane happily tell anyone who’ll listen, is inviting God to the marriage, not just the wedding.

As miraculous as their renewed vows seem in our disposable society, John and Diane didn’t stop there. They now host a Marriage Reconciliation seminar in their church. Since it was initiated several years ago, more than 100 other couples have renewed their vows—with a beaming Chief Justice John Cayce presiding, and a proud Diane and one fidgety granddaughter looking on.

—Jody Dean in Finding God in the Evening News

My Response: I’ll set a time with my wife to repeat our wedding vows.

Thought to Apply: A successful marriage demands a divorce—a divorce from your own self-love.—Paul Frost

Adapted from Finding God in the Evening News (Revell, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Bailout?

DivorceKey Bible Verse:  Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.  – Luke 9:62

Bonus Reading:  1 King 19:19-21

Hernando Cortés had a plan. He wanted to lead an expedition into Mexico to capture its vast treasures. When he told the Spanish governor of Cuba his strategy, the governor got so excited that he gave him 11 ships and 700 men. Little did the governor know that Cortés had failed to tell him the entire plan.

After months of sailing, the 11 ships landed at Veracruz in the spring of 1519. As soon as the men unloaded the ships, Cortés instituted the rest of his plan. He ran the ships aground and dismantled them!

Like it or not, they were now committed. By disassembling the ships, Cortés eliminated the options. He didn’t know what he’d encounter on his expeditions to the interior. He didn’t know the strength of the people he’d be fighting. But he did know this: There were no escape routes for his men. If the fighting got too fierce, or the expedition got too exhausting, there’d be no talk of going back to Veracruz and sailing home. In one fell swoop Cortés had eliminated their options and created an intensely powerful motivation to succeed.

Men, there’s only one way to save our marriages. Commitment is saying that no matter what comes in the future, we’re going to stick it out. We have to dismantle our ships.

—Steve Farrar in Point Man

My Response: What escapes from a difficult marriage am I ruling out?

Thought to Apply: When the Coast Guard band strikes up “Semper Fidelis” and your husband says, “They’re playing our song,” you know you’re married.—Erma Bombeck

Adapted from Point Man (Multnomah, 1990)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

God Didn’t Make That, but He Loves You and Other Truths About the Homosexual Lifestyle

This article is the third in a series concerning the issue of whether of whether the United Methodist Church should retain its current language in the Discipline concerning homosexuality will be the subject of a special General Conference in 2019.

The current Discipline language currently provides that:

  • All people, including homosexuals, are persons of sacred worth.
  • Nevertheless, the practice of homosexuality in incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals cannot serve as clergy (since pastors serve as role models and therefore cannot openly advocate by their lifestyle any sin (e.g., adultery, homosexuality, embezzlement) as acceptable).

The following material is excerpted from article by Susan Wright dealing with Scripture’s position on homosexuality that was published on May 21. 

(Susan’s article focused particularly on the appropriate response to sexual sins committed by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and those comments are not reproduced below since they add an additional level to the discussion that is not currently under discussion in the United Methodist Church.  However, you can read her complete article at:  “God Didn’t Make That…”.)

God did not create homosexuality or make anyone gay.

To believe this is to believe our Father in Heaven changes and contradicts Himself.  He does not (Malachi 3:6).

I’ve heard this corrupted line of reasoning before, that those caught in the gay lifestyle were created that way.

In Genesis 2:24, God lays the groundwork for sexuality and marriage. This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.”

It’s specific.  There’s no room left for interpretation.  Father, mother, man, wife.

The harsher, pre-grace Old Testament version specifically notes in Leviticus 18:22You shall not lie [intimately] with a male as one lies with a female; it is repulsive.”

So what about the New Testament?  Did Jesus come and wipe away the old rules and make it an anything goes society?  Not at all.

Mark 10:6-9But ‘God made them male and female’[a] from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife,[b] and the two are united into one.’[c] Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

Romans 1:26-2726 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

God’s Word is clear, from beginning to end.  And He will not contradict Himself to create that which He calls repulsive or an abomination.  To suggest it makes no sense and distorts the truth of Who God is.

The more likely scenario that is troublesome and against human nature here is that homosexuality is a result of the Fall of Man from the beginning.

Adam’s first act of pride and disobedience in the Garden of Eden introduced sin into the world. As a result, the children born after carried the DNA of Adam, a sinful man.

Sickness, birth defects, disorders, and every manner of perversion were visited through the seed of Adam.

Are people “born gay”?

I believe they are, but they were never meant to live that life, any more than the original intent for life was to be born deaf or blind.

Am I calling homosexuality a “birth defect”?

I’m saying it is a perversion of God’s plan. It is a spiritual defect, exacerbated by a church that has failed to exhibit the compassion of Christ for far too long, and a dark world that tells them they can live outside of God’s will, as long as it “feels good” right now.

If God can love the lame and destitute, as Jesus Christ showed by preaching and healing the sick or granting forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery, He can surely love the homosexual.

There are no levels of sin, except in our own view.

God loves all sinners, but He calls them all to abandon their flesh and to live according to His way, because He knows best for us.

God showed that He loves us, even in our sin, by sending His best to stand as a sacrifice for those sins, but it’s a free gift of grace that only becomes valid when it is accepted.

This world has burdened us all with struggles, some more devastating than others.  We were told to expect troubles in this world.  We were, however, given a promise of something better, if we have faith, grow and persevere, dying to self and picking up the cross of Christ.

There is grace and forgiveness at the cross for the homosexual, loved by an almighty God, in spite of the worldly stumbling block placed on them.

That being said, God does not ignore sin, and has given ample warning through His Word.  To suggest anything outside of that is dangerous.

We should also pray for the LGBT community, that they understand that their worth in the eyes of God is immeasurable.  There is grace available to them, and that a rejection of the LGBT lifestyle by Christians is not a rejection of them, as human beings.  They are loved.

We, the Body of Christ, need to do more to get that message across.

 

 

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Faceoff

DivorceKey Bible Verse: Anyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Luke 16:18

Bonus Reading: Matthew 19:3-9

I heard that Alan was divorcing Karen. I immediately called Alan and arranged to meet. His first words: “You don’t know the whole picture, Kenny.”

“Really?” I replied. “Can I tell you what I do know, Bro? I think you’re throwing your wife under the bus after 15 years of a good marriage. In a matter of three months, she’s somehow gone from being the best thing that ever happened to you to becoming Cruella de Vil. How convenient for you and your new friend!”

“It’s best for me and for Karen,” Alan responded defensively.

“Right! Alan. You get to have sex with a beautiful woman half your age. You don’t have to change or grow or take responsibility for the day-to-day demands of raising the kids. You can have your cake and eat it too.”

Alan mumbled that he’d “think about” what I said, but I could tell he believed his sin nature’s lies: “It can’t be God’s plan for you to live in a miserable marriage. The kids will eventually understand, and you make enough money to provide for them.” Otherwise, how does a guy go from being dedicated to God, his wife, and kids to becoming an alimony-paying divorcee living in a one-bedroom apartment?

—Kenny Luck in Every Man, God’s Man

My Response: What steps could I take to redeem a “miserable” marriage?

Thought to Apply: Marriage is our last best chance to grow up.—Joseph Barth (pastor)

Adapted from Every Man, God’s Man (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Ask The UMC: Can you explain Way Forward plans, COB recommendation?

The issue of whether of whether the United Methodist Church should retain its current language in the Discipline concerning homosexuality will be the subject of a special General Conference in 2019.

The UMC’s Council of Bishops has abandoned its role of working to discern God’s will from Scripture on this issue and is instead focusing on marketing in an effort to avoid members leaving the Church.

The current Discipline language currently provides that:

  • All people, including homosexuals, are persons of sacred worth.
  • Nevertheless, the practice of homosexuality in incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals cannot serve as clergy (since pastors serve as role models and therefore cannot openly advocate by their lifestyle any sin (e.g., adultery, homosexuality, embezzlement) as acceptable).

Click here to see the first article on this issue from May 18.

Below please find an additional explanation from the Council of Bishops.  As you read it, ask yourself whether Scriptural analysis or marketing analysis was used when the Bishops decided to abandon the UMC’s current, Bible-based position in favor of not taking any position at all?


Could you explain the plans of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops recommendation?

The Council of Bishops considered three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward. The Council of Bishops has indicated its majority recommendation for the One Church Plan, which could allow for different approaches in different places.  Their report to the special called 2019 General Conference will also include information about the other two plans.

  • One Church Plan (recommended): The one-church model would allow different United Methodists in different places to make different decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates everywhere throughout the worldwide church. This plan would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to “uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church.”

United Methodists in central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe would retain the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and could continue to include their traditional language and values. 

This plan would also protect the rights of United Methodists whose theological convictions will not allow them to perform same-sex weddings or ordain LGBTQ people.  

  • Traditionalist Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law.

  • Connectional-Conference Plan: This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished. 

Adaptations to the Book of Discipline would be allowed by each connectional conference. Annual conferences would determine their affiliation with a connectional conference. Local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference could vote to join another conference. This plan would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution.

The full report and legislation will be available following translation into the official languages of the General Conference. The estimated release date is July 8, 2018.

The 2019 General Conference will receive the report and legislation and make decisions about whether or how to change our current connectional relationships.

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Bedrock

DivorceKey Bible Verse:  “I hate divorce!” says the Lord. … “So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife.” Malachi 2:16

Bonus Reading: Malachi 2:13-16

Our culture treats marriage as a contract—a civil agreement between two parties that can be broken if either feels its terms have been violated. Most people don’t take divorce lightly, but many see it as a back door exit if their marriage doesn’t “work out.”

In contrast, Scripture teaches us that marriage is a lifelong union. God’s relational power and presence mysteriously bring two people together and make them one. The bond between a man and a wife is a covenant, a binding promise both partners make to one another, with their Maker as a witness. This bedrock, upon which a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman can be built, requires much of both spouses. Yet it offers life, protection, and security as no mere legal contract can.

Our individualistic culture has profoundly shaped me. The covenant of marriage demands that I lay down my imbedded independence and self-sufficiency for the sake of another. God doesn’t grant me permission to renege on my promise if disappointment or suffering in marriage seems overwhelming. The marriage covenant is a solemn oath before God to honor, esteem, and care for my wife—’til death do us part.

—Adam Holz in Discipleship Journal

My Response: How may cultural assumptions about marriage have eroded my allegiance to the biblical standard?

Thought to Apply: A covenant cannot be terminated. It can only be violated.—Ross T. Bender (seminary professor)

– Adapted from Discipleship Journal (7-8/04)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Two Phony ‘Facts’

DivorceKey Bible Verse:  The man who finds a wife finds a treasure and receives favor from the Lord.  – Proverbs 18:22

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 5:31-33

  • “Everyone is sleeping around.” – Despite what you hear in popular music and on TV sitcoms, research reveals a high degree of fidelity.

A study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center showed that 83 percent of Americans slept with only one person or else none in the course of a year. That leaves just 17 percent who were promiscuous.

  • “The annual American divorce rate is one out of two.” – This, pollster Louis Harris writes, “is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated.”

Think about it. On the block where you live, is every second home breaking up?

Out of the roughly 55 million current U.S. marriages, a tragic 1.2 million will end in divorce this year. But the other 53.8 million marriages, Harris notes, “just keep flowing along like Ol’ Man River.”

The one-in-two superstition arose by comparing 1.2 million divorces in a year with 2.4 million weddings in a year. But the couples getting divorced aren’t the same couples who just got married; the two numbers have no direct link. So Generation X shouldn’t be afraid of getting married! You can make a go of it—especially if you put God at the center of your relationship.

—Dean Merrill in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church

My Response: I’ll ask God to preserve the marriages of families in my community.

Adapted from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church (Zondervan, 1997)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Ban the ‘D’ Word – Shatterproof Homes

DivorceWho Said It…Richard Land

Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The Commission works to keep the public informed on critical issues facing the family and the nation.

He was also appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Dr. Land (with a Ph.D. from Oxford University), has also served as pastor, professor, and adviser to a former Texas governor.

What He Said…Shatterproof Homes

Speaking at his father’s funeral, former Vice President Al Gore said something penetrating, “My father, Albert Gore Sr., was the greatest man I ever knew. And the greatest lesson that my father ever taught me was the way he loved my mother. I knew that nothing was ever going to shatter my world.”

What did he mean by this observation? Quite simply this: he knew that his dad was never going to leave his mother.

God intends that kind of security for every child. It’s a telling difference that the biggest differences in lifestyle and personality between Al Gore and George W. Bush on the one hand, and Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich on the other, can be traced to the fact that Al Gore and George W. Bush were raised in homes in which they knew their dad loved their mom and wouldn’t leave, and Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich didn’t.

Evidence continues to mount that divorce has devastating effects on children well into their adulthood.

Adapted from Real Homeland Security (Broadman & Holman, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, make my marriage a faithful illustration of Your eternal love for the church.

Pentecost – Come Down, O Love Divine (Down Ampney)

King's College, Cambridge, England

This Sunday, May 20, 2018, is Pentecost Sunday.

Come Down O Love Divine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, is a hymn loved around the world that is often sung at Pentecost.

This particular version is performed by the world renowned choir of King’s College Cambridge and led by director of music Stephen Cleobury.

Verse 2 is particularly charming as the male only first half breaks into a full choir fortissimo harmony for the second half.

Click on either the photo or the hymn name to go to the YouTube video of the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, England singing this beautiful hymn.

Come Down O Love Divine

Central Church's Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Central Church’s Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

 

A Heart for Holiness – Impure Thoughts

Impure ThoughtsMuch of the letter of Paul’s that we call 2 Corinthians is an emotional response to sniping by his detractors. He acknowledges that his actions may appear to be out on the edge—even a bit crazy. But he explains what drives him to his extreme behavior.

The primary thrust of this section is about evangelism; but a strong secondary emphasis concerns a lifestyle that zeroes in on God.

Interact with God’s Word:  2 Corinthians 5:10-11, 14-15

  1. What is the reason for our “solemn fear of the Lord” (v. 11)?
  2. Have you absorbed the teaching of Scripture that God’s gracious gift of eternal life doesn’t exempt you from standing personally before God’s judgment seat?
  3. What motivation is stronger than fear for Paul (v. 14)?
  4. What evidence is there that you have died with Christ to the old life you used to live?
  5. What indicators can you cite that demonstrate you are no longer living to please yourself, but to please Christ?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank Jesus Christ for dying for you. Ask for His power to live the new resurrection life that will please Him.

2 Corinthians 5:10-11, 14-15

10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in our bodies. 11 It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.

14 Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018

 

PentecostPentecost Sunday is on May 20 this year.  Pentecost represents an ending as well as a beginning: the end of the “Great Fifty Days” of the Easter Season (Pentecost means “the 50th day” in Greek) and the beginning of the commemorations of the early church.  Pentecost also gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves the question, “What is our community ‘on fire’ about?”

For the early church, Pentecost was the second most important part of the Christian year after Pascha or Easter.  Originally, it commemorated both the Ascension of Jesus and the descending of the Holy Spirit, but became two distinct celebrations by the end of the fourth century.  (As Christianity became legal, there was no reason not to have as many celebrations as possible.)

Pentecost also became a favorite time for baptisms with its focus on the work of the Holy Spirit within the church and within our lives.  The holy day continues to be a wonderful celebrative time for rites of passage including baptism, confirmation and the reception of new members.

A Heart for Holiness – Worth Fighting For

Impure ThoughtsKey Bible Verse: To others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Jude 23

Bonus Reading:  Revelation 3:4-6

An ermine is a cute little animal that lives in northern regions. It has shiny black eyes, short legs and a narrow body. In summer its coat is a rich chocolate brown. But in winter the color changes to snow-white, broken only by a black tip on the tail. The ermine seems to realize the beauty of its coat and takes great pride in maintaining it. Indeed, the animal’s most unusual characteristic is its hatred of anything that might soil its fur.

Hunters who know this will fill an ermine’s burrow with filth and wait with their dogs for it to return. Once the ermine spots the dogs, it will dart for the safety of its burrow. But finding its home fouled, the ermine won’t enter, but will fight the dogs to the death, preferring to die with a bloodstained coat than live with a dirty one. Its instinct for purity outweighs its survival instinct. That’s why for centuries the robes of European rulers and judges have been lined with ermine fur. It symbolizes the purity of justice.

Christian men need a similar instinct. When we understand the holiness of our God that He’s imparted to us through His Son, we’ll realize that personal holiness is a value worth fighting for.

—Bill Perkins in Six Battles Every Man Must Win

My Response: How have I fought for holiness this week?

Thought to Apply: The Christian must be consumed by the conviction of the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.—Thomas Carlyle (Scottish historian)

Adapted from Six Battles Every Man Must Win (Tyndale, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

Just Say No– To “Local Church” Options for the UMC

The issue of whether of whether the United Methodist Church should retain its current language in the Discipline concerning homosexuality will be the subject of a special General Conference in 2019.

The UMC’s Council of Bishops has abandoned its role of working to discern God’s will from Scripture on this issue and is instead focusing on marketing in an effort to avoid members leaving the Church.

The current Discipline language currently provides that:

  • All people, including homosexuals, are persons of sacred worth.
  • Nevertheless, the practice of homosexuality in incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals cannot serve as clergy (since pastors serve as role models and therefore cannot openly advocate by their lifestyle any sin (e.g., adultery, homosexuality, embezzlement) as acceptable).

The Council of Bishops has identified three options:

  1. The Traditional alternative (“the Traditionalist Plan”) – Retain the current Discipline language;
  2. Punt (“the One Church Plan”) – The UMC won’t decide so let the local congregations decide for themselves; or
  3. Anything Goes (“the Connectional Conference Plan”) – The UMC will split into separate groups (all retaining the United Methodist name) so each local congregation can choose to belong to the Traditional group (homosexuality is a sin) or a group advocating that homosexuality is not a sin).

The Council of Bishops recommended the One Church Plan, on Friday, May 4, after nearly a week of meetings in Chicago.  The Bishops will submit a report to the special session including all three plans and  a narrative of the council’s discernment process regarding those plans, but they are recommending the One Church Plan.

  • The May 9, 2018 article below by Ben Witherington advocates for the retention of the UMC’s current Traditionalist position.

Annual Conferences are just around the corner all over the USA and there will be petitions submitted to annual conferences suggesting something along the lines of a local church option when it comes to defining what counts as Christian marriage, what counts as proper sexual morality, what counts as moral fitness for ordination.

It is no use denying our beloved and belabored Methodist Church is in a crisis, but neither of the local church options that are currently being noised about in the council of bishops and elsewhere are viable solutions to our problems.

Why not?

First of all, because they are profoundly un-Methodist.  Methodists do not decide major issues of doctrine or polity at the local church level, nor even at the annual conference level.  They are quite rightly decided at the General Conference level, which is the only body which can speak for the whole church on such matters.

This is why we have A United Methodist book of Discipline, which includes the doctrines and sanctioned practices in it. This has been the Methodist way for basically our entire existence.

Ours is not a Baptist or Congregational church polity, nor should it become one. If it did that we would lose the genius that is Methodist connectionalism.

So NO!— the local church should not suddenly become the arbiters of truth as to what counts as holy matrimony, what counts as being morally fit for ordination, what counts as appropriate Christian sexual behavior.  No, no,no.  Whatever solutions we may come up with to deal with our difficulties this is a ploy of desperation that denudes us of our Methodism and should be soundly rejected.

Secondly, for the entire existence of the Christian church, including the Methodist church, Christian marriage has been rightly and Biblical defined as when God joins together one man and one woman– period!

This is exactly what Jesus himself directly says in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, and the only second option he gives in Matthew 19 is to be celibate for the sake of the kingdom.  He even uses the dramatic term being a eunuch for the Kingdom.

To change our view of what counts as Christian marriage is to disfellowship ourselves from the larger body of Christ— the Catholics, the Orthodox, most Baptists and Congregationalists, and so on.  We should not go there if we care at all about ecumenism.  Modern cultural trends that have affected and infected some of the Protestant mainline denominations here, and in a few places abroad, should not be allowed to overturn 2,000 years of what the church has said about proper Christian marriage.

Thirdly, it was Chaucer who said about priests ‘if gold rusts, what then will iron do’?  He was saying that clergy should be absolutely above reproach morally speaking because otherwise they will set a horrible example for congregations and mislead them.

When a church is divided about appropriate sexual behavior, for example, the clergy above all, should be those who err on the side of caution, on the side of Christian tradition, on the side of what the Scripture actually says— which is that same sex sexual activity (whether involving men or women) is a sin.  And of course if that activity is a sin, then so-called ‘gay’ marriage is non-starter.

St. Paul was right in insists that what we cannot do in good faith and in good conscience, we should not do at all, for it will be a sin for us. In other words, if one has any doubts about the ethics of these local option proposals, in whatever form they take, then one should vote against them as good Methodists. I speak to those who are wavering in one direction or another.

I remember a day long ago when I was watching the Watergate hearings and my own senator, Sam Ervin was sick and tired of what he was hearing from John Dean. He finally shook his finger at Mr. Dean and quoted Galatians— ‘Mr Dean, God is not mocked, whatsoever you sow, that you shall also reap. Tell the truth!’

Well, God is watching, and we should have been watching what happened to the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant Denominations who have already gone the way Methodists are now contemplating going.  If you will know the tree by the fruit it bears— the fruit that such moves have borne is just bad fruit— membership decline, laws suits over property, more rancoring because now the fight takes place in the local churches.

Methodists have a chance to not kick the can into the local church sanctuary and make each one, or each annual conference decide these matters.  We should take this opportunity to just say NO!

 

A Heart for Holiness – Foundational Fear

Impure ThoughtsKey Bible Verse: God has come in this way to show you His awesome power. From now on, let your fear of Him keep you from sinning! Exodus 20:20

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:10-11, 14-15

I recently phoned an influential organization leader who I’d covenanted to call regularly. “Henry,” he told me, “I’m so grateful you called. You’ve no idea how important this call is.”

When I asked why, he said, “I’ve never been been so utterly terrified. God began to deal with sin in my life bringing to mind what He sees as sin and how serious it is with Him. For three weeks, he brought up things I haven’t thought about for years. Things from my youth I’ve never dealt with—things that have affected my marriage and my assignment. A few days ago I cried out to God and asked why He was doing this to me. He responded, ‘Because you’ve lost your fear of Me.'”

When you don’t fear God, you won’t fear sin. There’s a direct relationship. Many people believe that as long as they don’t feel something is bad, it isn’t; as long as they feel okay about it—and God doesn’t deal with them immediately—it must be okay. They can continue to do it.

People in Old Testament times would have been put to death for many things people do today. We’re moving closer to an absolute confrontation with a God who makes no exceptions.

—Henry Blackaby in Holiness

My Response: An area of my life about which God is dealing with me is …

Thought to Apply: When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is left in him. —C. S. Lewis (British scholar & writer)

Adapted from Holiness (Nelson, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

A Heart for Holiness – Hard Drive Dilemma

Impure ThoughtsKey Bible Verse: Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable … excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 6:10-12

When I bought my computer two years ago, I thought a 40 GB hard drive would be plenty big. But soon, with bigger programs and my penchant for keeping things, I found it nearly filled.

After checking into the cost of upgrading my hard drive, I realized there had to be another answer: cleaning out the garbage. When I did so, I found that more than half the space had been taken by stuff I didn’t need anymore!

What about my brain?

For 50 years I’d been stuffing information into it. Could my gray matter be needing a storage upgrade? Or did it also just need a good cleaning? I asked God to show me.

He revealed sin areas that were putting stress on my operating system, pointed out past offenses still stored there, and showed me erroneous thoughts still logged in my memory bank.

Through repentance, I moved all that garbage to the recycling bin and clicked to empty it. Up popped a message asking if I was sure I wanted to permanently eliminate those files. My fingers hesitated as the enemy whispered in my ear all the reasons I should hang on to that stuff. But God’s voice was stronger; I clicked the yes button.

—Rod Nichols in Washington

My Response: I’ll ask God to reveal the garbage that needs to be deleted from my mind.

Thought to Apply: Spring cleaning should begin with the head and end with the heart.—Source Unknown

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

A Heart for Holiness – Traffic Flow

Impure ThoughtsKey Bible Verse: When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Romans 7:19

Bonus Reading:  Romans 7:15-25

One morning I was driving alone to speak at a men’s Bible study, enjoying the uninterrupted flow of my private thoughts.

The thick traffic flowed steadily. As I slowed for a traffic light, I was relieved to see that I would make it through the intersection on the next green light. As I braked, the car next to me saw a “hairline crack” in front of me and, without warning, swerved over. I slammed on the brakes and checked the rearview mirror. So far so good. Anger swept over me but, since I was on my way to speak at a Bible study, I quickly recovered and kept my spiritual glow. I even forgave the bum for being such a spiritual degenerate.

The light turned green and the long line inched toward the intersection. Guess who was the last car to make it through the light? You guessed it! He made it, but I was stuck in line at the red light. That did it for me, Bible study or not! I let out an audible expletive that came from a part of me not surrendered to God.

If this were an isolated incident, then I wouldn’t be too concerned. But every day we each battle for control of our thought life. The real battlefield for the Christian is the mind.

—Patrick Morley in The Man in the Mirror

My Response: Am I chalking up any victories on this battlefield?

Thought to Apply: Sanctification is the mind coming more and more under the Holy Spirit’s control.—David Jackman (British pastor)

Adapted from The Man in the Mirror (Zondervan, 1989)

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

A Heart for Holiness – Displacement Dictum

Impure ThoughtsKey Bible Verse: I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 77:11-12; 104:34; 119:48, 97

As you set out to rid your mind of years of impure thoughts, remember that merely trying to stop thinking bad thoughts won’t work. You must fill your mind with the crystal-clear Word of God. There is no alternative plan. We overcome the father of lies by choosing the truth!

Picture your polluted mind as a pot filled to the brim with stale black coffee. It’s dark and smelly. There’s no way to get the pollution of coffee out of the liquid. However, sitting beside the coffeepot is a huge bowl of clear ice cubes. Your goal is to purify the contents of the pot by adding ice cubes to it every day. I wish there were a way to dump all the cubes (words of the Bible) in at one time, but there isn’t. Every cube dilutes the mixture, though, making it a little purer. Since you can only put in one or two cubes a day, the process seems futile at first. But over the course of time, the liquid begins to look less and less polluted, and the taste and smell of coffee decreases.

The process will continue to work. But only if you don’t add more coffee grounds! If you read your Bible then look at pornography, you’re treading water at best.

—Neil Anderson in Finding Freedom in a Sex-Obsessed World

My Response: What am I displacing impure thoughts with?

Adapted from Finding Freedom in a Sex-Obsessed World (Harvest, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

A Heart for Holiness – Fierce Fight

Impure ThoughtsWho Said It…Neil Anderson

Neil was raised on a Minnesota farm. After his Navy stint, he became an aerospace engineer. But then he switched to pastoral ministry for more than 20 years.

Neil next turned to teaching at Talbot School of Theology. He founded Freedom in Christ Ministries to equip churches to enable recovery from addictions.

Now retired in Carefree, Arizona, Neil works on his golf game and keeps on writing books about Christ-centered living.

What He Said…Fierce Fight

When I was a young Christian, I decided to clean up my mind. I had had a good upbringing, for which I am thankful, and had become a Christian in my twenties.

After four years in the Navy, however, my mind was polluted with a lot of junk. I had seen enough pornography aboard ship to plague me for years. Images would dance in my mind for months after one look. I hated it. I struggled every time I went to a place where pornography was available.

When I made the decision to clean up my mind, do you think the battle got easier or harder? It got harder, of course. Temptation isn’t much of a battle if you easily give in to it. It is fierce when you decide to stand against it.

Although you may despair, with all your steps backward, God won’t give up on you. Remember, your sins are already forgiven. This is a winnable battle, because you are alive in Christ and dead to sin, you can become all God has called you to be. The bigger war has already been won by Christ.

Adapted from Finding Freedom in a Sex-Obsessed World (Harvest, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.

This Mother’s Day, give Mom something better than flowers or chocolate

Mother's Day 3Better than flowers or chocolate-how can that be?  Flowers are a treasured tradition and chocolate is, well  – chocolate – what more needs to be said?

You know Mom will appreciate these things, but there is something that would mean even more.

You already know what that is.  You know she would love it if every Sunday you were where you are now, with her in Church.

It isn’t simply your physical presence that is meaningful, although she loves to be with you.  What would make it meaningful is if you were coming as a faithful follower of Jesus.

There may be many reasons why “faithful follower of Jesus” does not describe your life today. Maybe:

  •  When you were young, you were excited about the Church and Jesus, but you feel you’ve outgrown it.
  •  You had questions the Church couldn’t answer, so you went looking elsewhere and never came back.
  •  Life is simply too busy and Church never was much of a priority.

Whatever the reason, take some time to consider Jesus.  Here are some websites that might be useful:

http://www.whoisjesus-really.com

http:1lwww.allaboutjesuschrist.org/who-is-jesus-n.htm

http:1lwww.christiananswers.net/jesus/home.html http://www.whosjesus.com

Mother's DayAfter doing that-tell Mom about it, talk about it and give her joy that won’t fade like even the most beautiful flowers do.

Give God Glory – Passionate Worship

Passionate WorshipMost of the psalms are prayer songs, and most include praise to God.

Praise expresses admiration, appreciation, and thanks to God, not only for what He does—His creation, His blessings, His forgiveness—but also for who He is—loving, just, faithful, forgiving, patient.

In Psalm 145, David anticipates a time when all people will join together in recognizing and worshiping God.

Interact with God’s Word:

Psalm 145:1-13

  1. If God blesses someone, His favor and protection assures that person’s well-being. But what does it mean (vv. 1-2) for you to bless God?
  2. Read verses 8 and 9 several times as an example from David of blessing God.
  3. How can you become one of the “faithful followers” (v. 10) who bless and praise God every day?
  4. Does the pace of your life leave room for meditation (v. 5)? Should it?
  5. In what ways is giving God glory a group exercise (vv. 4, 7, 11-12)?
  6. David assumes that every child of God will be talking about Him. List the verbs he uses to express this in verses 6-7 and 10-12.

Spend Time in Prayer:  Try just praising and blessing God in your own words.

Psalm 145:1-13

1 I will praise you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 I will bless you every day, and I will praise you forever. 3 Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! His greatness is beyond discovery!

4 Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts. 5 I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. 6 Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness.

7 Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is kind and merciful, slow to get angry, full of unfailing love. 9 The LORD is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.

10 All of your works will thank you, LORD, and your faithful followers will bless you. 11 They will talk together about the glory of your kingdom; they will celebrate examples of your power. 12 They will tell about your mighty deeds and about the majesty and glory of your reign. 13 For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule generation after generation. The LORD is faithful in all he says; he is gracious in all he does.

Prayer for the Week: You are entitled to praise from all Your creatures, O God.  Free me up and energize me to do my part.

Give God Glory – Weekday Worship

Passionate WorshipKey Bible Verse: O God, we give glory to you all day long and constantly praise your name. Psalm 44:8

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 63:1-8

Would it seem odd to worship God in a checkout line, sitting in traffic, or waiting for your computer to boot up?

Our lives weren’t made to turn off and on between the spiritual and the worldly. There’s no time or place to which our worship of God should be restricted. So how could I begin?

  • Speak praise to God (sometimes out loud, sometimes not). In your own words tell the Lord you love Him and are glad to be His son. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Review His attributes. Personalize verses that come to mind.
  • Sing songs to the Lord. Ask God to bring a song to mind that expresses your love for Him. Don’t worry about the vocal quality. Concentrate on truly meaning the words, and stay focused on the Lord.
  • Don’t neglect the physical. Lift up your hands to God. Kneel before Him. Bow down in reverence. Or walk about, praising the Lord with every part of you.
  • Meditate on the Word. Mull over a line of Scripture and ask God to reveal Himself through this biblical concept.
  • Give quiet adoration. There are also times to simply sit before the Lord and, in awe-inspired adoration, feel the joy of His closeness.

—Patrick Kavanaugh in Raising Children to Adore God

My Response: A recurring time in my schedule I could earmark for worship is …

Thought to Apply: Singing is for believers. The relevant question is not “Do you have a voice?” but “Do you have a song?”—Donald Hustad (church musician)

Adapted from Raising Children to Adore God (Chosen, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: You are entitled to praise from all Your creatures, O God.  Free me up and energize me to do my part.