And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward

last night was a great way to end 2008. We used the worship time to reflect on the blessings of God through 2008. I was a time of reading the praise reports that went into the business meeting minutes of 08 and to allow folks to testify of God's work of grace and blessedness in the past twelve months.

As we look to 2009 we are making no plans, Lord willing. We do however purpose to make ourselves available to God by reading through the Bible in a year and memorizing at least 50 selected scriptures.

All this is a focus on developing at our core a passion for Christ. We are seeking to shed the encumbrances we have put on through various means. As I will be wrapping up Ephesians in a few weeks we will also look at what the Bible teaches about keeping the Sabbath holy, and how to do that in today's age. This coincides with our "theme of the year" which is "Be still and know I am God".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Atheists Signs, Nativity Displays, and a Good Apologetic

>For years now there has been a war on Christmas. It is not a simple snowball fight. I get countless e-mails and news about who supports Christmas in advertising and what goes on in the schools. In Michigan they quit putting up Christmas trees in one university library because employees complained. In England they disallowed a cross in a prison chapel as the Muslims “might” be offended. Recently the State of Illinois agreed to allow a nativity scene to be on display in the rotunda, a public forum, in Springfield. This I applauded. However my joy was short lived. To my displeasure, the Atheists added a sign on display also. It reads "Our message at this season of the winter solstice is may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Now we live in a country that is supposed to allow freedom of expression, even when we do not like it. We need to talk a look at what happens when we force people to our ways as opposed to winning their hearts. In the twenties “the church” worked lawmakers into banning alcohol, creating the days of Prohibition. Fighting the war on the wrong front allowed the formation of speak easies, heightened the power of organized crime, bootlegging, etc. (I sometimes joke that we would not have NASCAR if it were not for Prohibition.) In the end, Prohibition was canceled. In essence, the hopes of “the church at large” backfired.

Despite this we can however legislate morality, but not the hearts of men. It is the heart being changed that will cure the moral ills of society. Until this is accomplished, sinners will continue to sin.

The departure of the basic Judeo/Christian values of the founding fathers has led us to such a society as we now have. Mind you, even the theists like Jefferson and Franklin argued exhaustedly for the preservation of the tenants of scripture.

What is wrong with this sign is its placement near the nativity scene. It almost garners the thought that it is included in the celebrations depicted. From my contact with the state capital, I am under the understanding that the rules of displays regulate its location. I am thankful that from the photos I have seen that it is not next to the nativity itself as this wild be a sacrilege attack of greater importance, giving the illusion of being part of the display. It goes to reason that the other displays, nativity and menorah, could use a sign explaining their significance and who has erected them.

It’s a sticky issue. As I said, we can and need to legislate morality for the good of the nation. We need to fight for what is right, such as putting an end to abortion and protecting marriage and the family as God has clearly implied and defended in the Bible. The value of life needs to be upheld. What we also need to consider is this an expression of an opinion or is it a law that affects the whole land. Laws should be looked at for their validity to ensure protection, peace, and prosperity for the people of the land, under the umbrella of what is known to be right not simply opinion. The common good needs to be considered, as well as the long term implications of any law. For example, laws of not littering can be see in this category as litter disrupts property values, creates harbors of disease and other time tested values, laws on global warming would not be as there is insufficient information to warrant need nor effectiveness. Here I see the Atheist sign in the rotunda as a form of verbal assault on the religious expression of others. It is disruptive, even in a visual form. At present the rules allow it, but I don’t like it. It provides no good for anyone.

Lets think about the basis of Atheist driven legislation. Atheist legislation is anarchy. For without God the question needs to be answered, “Who is to say what is right?” It is survival of the fittest? The biggest weapon wins? I see a crumbling foundation here. When God was taken away from the education of the masses it led to this question, Who is to say what is right? That is why we now have the narcissistic view and the slogan “What’s right for you may not be right for me”. Truth is what is right regardless of opinion and feeling. Truth is consistent and stands on its own. (Atheism tends to change the laws of its own intoleration at whim to fit the argument of any given moment. Its arguments often fail under scrutiny and reduce themselves to name calling and poisoning the well.

Laws need to be enacted for the good of the people. Any law that does not conform to God’s laws is not for the good of the people. God’s laws come from love, even for His enemies. The last seven laws of the Ten Commandments are generally accepted worldwide as what is right fro a society to exist. Mind you God first commanded the first three laws to give the other seven authority. Again, without God’s authority for the basis of the laws you have a crumbling of who says what is right and wrong.

For those Christians reading this, remember the purpose of the law is to convict us of sin and to bring us to repentance. We need laws. As the Bible points out, God appoints rules for our good. Mind you there do come times when new can’t see that good such as when Hitler ruled Germany. And we may then even see an need to contradict laws that oppose God’s ways, such as rescuing Jews bound for Auswitz. Christianity requires common sense.

The question should be asked, “Where should this war be fought?” Maybe we should ask a few more questions, such as “What is defending the Nativity about?” and “Who’s job is it to make this truth known”?

Scripture tells us to study to show ourselves approved, and to be ready to give everyone an answer. Unfortunately, most Christians have not taken the Bible and Christianity seriously enough to have a strong apologetic answer for their faith. We too often live on a cheap grace and peddle a Christianity that is more akin to a commercialized product that redemption. The Atheists of the Springfield rotunda say that we should operate with “reason”, but do they? Would they be willing to sit down and hear our reasonings? Let us engage in conversation, but let the Truth speak for itself. No where in scripture does it say to battle the authorities, but to reason with them and show by our lives the Truth that has set us free. We see the apostle Paul when the opportunity presented itself reasoning with Festus and others. This is the entire background of the seromon in Athens on Mars hill, should we not do likewise? Too often the church at large has shirked the command to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel”. Or if we have, we too often present a watered down Jesus, a Christianity lite.

Further, forced morality is putting them on the yoke of the law, not grace. We ourselves can’t keep the law, not to mention those without redemptive grace. We need moral laws to keep the peace. We need the peace of Christ to keep men.

Ultimately, the defense of the Nativity is a defense of the glory of God. It is the spreading of the message of condemned man headed for judgment only to be saved from wrath if they come to know God as Savior, Lord, and Love.

Do we need to express our opinions to our legislators and official, YES! But we also need to meet with Atheists and reason with them as Paul did in Athens. We can not simply say “these are our rules and this is the way it is”. We need to give reason for the hope that is within us. Mind you, there is a time when we may find ourselves casting pearls before swine. But we also need to follow the example of Christ and eat with those “sinners” who are interested in what we have to say. Make sure though that you say what ought to be said in love not condescension.

Christians need to quit living for leisure, retirement, and ease of life. Its not about changing someone to our way of thinking or mindset. Its about redemption. Pastors, quit making the people comfortable to sit in the pews and build more buildings. We need to be teachers, legislators, board members, neighbors, Samaritans. We are not making disciples anymore. We just assume the gospel and give cheap grace. We have become the best country club in town. Henceforth the results we now see. The church in Acts made an impact on society. Revivals thought out history have demonstrated what can happen when the church is the church. I would highly recommend reading Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.

It is not just a war on Christmas, it’s a war against Christ that has taken place before Eve ever saw that fruit. Use the Nativity controversy as an opportunity to have legitimate dialog with your neighbor. This is an opportunity. Seize it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where to hide?

In the past few hours ministry has had all sorts of challenges. I had a 12:30 am call that someone had damaged the church sign. Mind you the surround of the sign was brick. It must have done a number on their truck.

Then came the heaviness that the mother of one of our members dies suddenly in a house fire. One minute she is laughing on the phone and having cappuccino, and a few moments later the firemen are searching for her in an inferno.

With lack of sleep and a heavy heart, I find it imperative to hide in the shadow of the almighty to gain strength, then to come out, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, sharing doctrinal truths that set us free.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eleanor Rigby

Here is a little news I sent to our church.

Good Morning! Isn't it a brisk day for soup or coffee? As each change in season brings the joy of change, new holidays, parties, fall colors, and a holyesque whiteness with snow, it brings its problems too, planning travel, rushing to events, winter chores, and sometimes loneliness. Winter can be a lonely time even in the midst of celebrations, joyful songs, and friends that are dear.

Eleanor Rigby is a mystery that speaks to us all.

In 1966 the Beatles released a song entitled Eleanor Rigby. It talks of lonely people, going about their lives with an empty meaningless despair. Now when asked about her, the Beatles said that she was fictional. Yet in Liverpool, near the boyhood neighborhood of one of the band members, a grave was found of an Eleanor Rigby. Recently, a woman with The Sunbeam Music Trust, a charity in England, was looking for a donation from Paul McCartney for their fund raising auction. He sent her a pay ledger from 1911 with a scullery maid's signature E. Rigby. Who was she? Why was she Significant to the Beatles, and now why do so many identify with her in the world? And though she has been given a place in song, she still seemingly represents loneliness despite popularity.

Maybe you can relate to Eleanor.

All this has had me thinking, Despair is that Giant the seeks to destroy us, as in Pilgrim's Progress. We were meant for joy. Yet the question should be answered of "How can you glorify God when you are lacking faith, love, or care"? Pews are inhabited every Sunday Morning by those Eleanor Rigbys just going about life. Because of this, and the doldrums of our spirit, In January I am planning of having a Saturday Salad, Soup, and Scripture time. We will meet at about 9:30 for a time of looking at Being a Christian Even When I Don't Feel Like It. In this I would hope to teach from the scriptures, have a break for Soup and Salad, and answer your questions. Please let me know if you can attend or are interested. We should be wrapped up around 1:00.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rambling Toward Joy

How can a guy write a blog called Persevering Pastor and never have difficulty? The last several days have been those that should qualify me to write such things. I will admit there have been moments of bumps and potholes in the road, and well, even a bridge out or two. What keeps me going is the call of Christ. Concentration for me lately has been as reliable as car I once knew.

But onward and upward. What really keeps us persevering is hope in Christ. Not wishing, not traditionalizing, not even embarrassment of failure, but hope in the promises of God to be true is what will sustain us.

There we find Truth that sets us free and we can go on. E-mail me for encouragement! (your and mine)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sorry I haven't been blogging..

The days are too crazy. But then again, if God, or should I say because God won't give us any more than we can handle does the craziness reveal a lack of abiding? Maybe so, but it could be that this craziness comes as we are too busy for what is most important. I believe much of our trouble is a failure to keep the Sabbath and perspective of abiding in Him.

But other forms of craziness do come. For example, my wife had shoulder surgery last week as a result of a fall in July. Now life takes a turn, a turn God saw all along. Though it turns my schedule and plans around I find that I need to stop and see what His plans and provisions are. Its a test of perseverance. I have fond direction in John Piper's Don't Waste Your Cancer article(see the articles I found interesting section). It may not be craziness, but an opportunity to see God at work and glorify Him. Keep first things first and abide in Christ.

Crazy is only a matter of perception.

On that note, please pray for my wife