Thursday, January 23, 2020

An Unbelievable Truth

I’m reading a book called “Confronting Christianity,” a well-written and very well documented book exploring twelve hard questions for the world’s largest religion.  Questions such as, “Doesn’t religion cause violence?”  Or, “How can you take the Bible literally?”  Or, “How could a loving God allow so much suffering?”  Rebecca McLaughlin, the author, digs deeply into scholarly material to help provide answers to these and other questions.
In answering the question of, “Doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?” she comes out with some telling statistical information from a reliable source that I want you to know.
In 2016, The Gospel Coalition (Google it if you want to know more about this organization) published an article by Mark Howard, who works with Elam Ministries, an organization founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders with a mission to strengthen and expand the church in the Iran region and beyond.  In the article, Howard asserts that “The church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.”
Now, that isn’t something that most Western Christians would readily believe, and in fact would dismiss outright as the ramblings of someone deranged.  Iran?  The church in Iran??  The fastest growing in the world???  That has to be in error.  Alas, but it’s not.  And the church in Afghanistan is right up there with the Iranian church in growth, fueled in part by the Iranian church evangelizing Afghans.
I will quote here from the article.  Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.
How did this happen? Two factors have contributed to this openness. First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution.
As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. In 1979, there were an estimated five hundred Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands—some say more than one million. Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The article summarizes the explosion of Christianity in those areas like this:  Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church.  Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.”
Would you ever in a thousand years have thought that Christianity in that area would even have any growth at all, let alone be the fastest-growing religion in the world?  I’m telling you, God is at work.  He is at work in areas that many in the Western world have written off as unreachable…either because of what appears to be an incredibly difficult evangelistic field, or because of our bias against people and nations of other religions and other cultures.
It is reliably told that China will be largely Christian in thirty years.  South Korea already exports more missionaries to foreign fields than the United States.  Nigeria is seeing thousands proclaim Jesus as Lord, especially in the face of persecution and chaotic government.  It is time to recognize the fact that God works in places and in ways that the Western church can sometimes barely fathom, let alone participate in.
May the God of heaven and earth be praised for His marvelous and incredible love!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

These Days Will Pass

Toby Levering, preaching minister at our sister church Northside Church of Christ, posted the following today on Facebook.  I’ll comment following your reading his post.

Most days I take the kids to school.  And before I drop them off, we take a few minutes in the parking lot to talk & pray together.  It’s not always about super deep things, but sometimes it is. It’s my imperfect attempt to be a Deuteronomy 6 dad.
Right now, life is a grind.  Every day.  But as we stopped to pray, for whatever reason, it occurred to me that these days will pass. Their hands will continue to grow. This season will change. I will not always have these moments.
It’s just a phase so I must make the most of it. I’ve got to pause, get off my phone, slow down, appreciate these days and moments.  Because, in a day closer than I want to think, these days will pass.
To my fellow parents out there.  Whatever phase you’re in, appreciate it, make the most of it, and do your best to make God a part of it.  Whatever the phase, my job as a parent, is to glorify God and help my children get to heaven. May we make the most of these fleeting moments.

This is Jay again.  Toby is doing a good thing.  This time with his kids is precious and necessary, because life really is a grind, sometimes.
But I want you to key in on what he says toward the end.  “In a day closer than I want to think, these days will pass.”
It may seem like life goes on forever just as it is.  But you and I both know that isn’t true.  I speak from experience, just as Toby understands; “In a day closer than I want to think, THESE DAYS WILL PASS.”  Toby intentionally created those before-school moments with his kids.  You can create moments such as this as well.  So, create the moments…and do as he says…get off your phone, slow down, and appreciate these days and moments.  Because they will never come again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Response

Last week, I received a response to my last post on the bulletin back page.  In the event you don’t recall, I mentioned that another congregation was advertising their church experience as being “fun.”  I said that church could be about many things…thanksgiving, fellowship, instruction, worship, humility, service, joy…but in my opinion, “fun” as generally defined wasn’t necessarily one of those.
In the response, the writer rightly says that as we enter the sanctuary, “Should we not be meditating on why we are there, or praying for our Lord to be with us?”  She differentiated here the difference between an auditorium and a sanctuary, giving the idea of some kind of hallowed area in the building that was to be used only for certain purposes.  I prefer to not designate any area of the building as necessarily holy or sanctified; rather, to understand the purpose behind any gathering in any part of the building.
However, I do not dispute her premise.  The answer is, “Yes, of course.”  As we enter our time with our church family, wherever that is, we also enter into the presence of God in a way that we normally do not do individually.  As the writer/responder says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them.”  It seems that God is present in a crowd of believers, even if only a crowd of two or three, in some way that is special and unique.
The writer then goes on.  “People all over the world are being persecuted and many killed because of their belief in our God and our Savior Jesus Christ.  They are forbidden to gather for worship or even own a Bible.  We are so blessed in our country to openly meet to worship together.  We are blessed to own Bibles and openly speak of our faith.  Can we show our God how thankful and humbled we truly are by showing reverence when we enter to worship?”
And then I thought about Psalm 100.

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.  Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.

Somehow, it seems, God desires us to sing and shout with joy, giving praise and thanksgiving to him, and gladly serve him while also humbly recognizing our brokenness and dependence on him.  While at first, these seem to be opposites, the reality is they are part of the whole of the worship experience.
Encountering God is so much more than any one descriptive term.  It transcends any ideas we have of proper decorum, thoughtful reflection, ritual exercises (communion, singing, etc), fellowship, commonality, joyful expression and the like.  Encountering God is one of the Great Indescribables and Undefinables of life.  To limit it in any way, whether as to place, time, season, or event, is to miss out on one of the great blessings of the Faith.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"Fun" Church

I recently ran across a social media post about a local church that was starting a new year push for attendance with a promotion using various fictional characters such as Buzz Lightyear, Bo Peep, and others. One of the comments in the post had this to say. "We make church fun because we want to introduce everyone to Jesus because of what He has done in our lives."
While churches certainly can do whatever they think best without any interference from me, I have to wonder if the goal of having church is to make it fun. Maybe I'm old school, but it seems to me that church that is fun may well be church that is shallow in substance and reality.
I'm thinking, and this is only my humble opinion (IMHO on social media), that church should be a place where, among other things, humble, sinful, and contrite human beings, trembling, approach the footstool and throne of a holy and unfathomable God, thanking Him for the righteousness imputed to them through the holy sacrifice of the very Begotten Son of this same God.
I'm not cognizant of any way that church can be fun and also be what I've just described. There's no fun in admitting my brokenness to God and to other humans. There's no fun in knowing that Jesus Christ took my unrighteousness to the Cross and gave me His righteousness in the place of my unrighteousness. There's no fun in approaching the footstool of a righteous God in naked reverence and righteous fear with nothing to offer except the blood of Jesus.
Church also is a place of acceptance, safety, celebration, fellowship, renewal, thanksgiving, praise, and spiritual growth. It is, or should be all of this and even more. But to describe all of this as being fun is, in my mind, reducing all of the greatness of God's revealed mystery into something that entertains and takes our minds off of the reality of our brokenness and depravity for a short time.
Can there be times and periods of fun in church life? Of course. Fellowship, activities together, and even classes can have times of fun and enjoyment. But we must always have as the underpinning of our faith the reality of the God of the universe so desiring relationship and fellowship with his creation that he offered himself in righteous sacrifice in order to make that happen.
To do any less is, in my mind, to cheapen church and “trample underfoot the Son of God.” May God help us all.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Saying Good Bye

Today, I had a lunch date with a woman friend who I will probably never see again. (Yes, my wife knew all about it and was invited to the lunch, but couldn't come because of work.) Aimee was our across-the-street neighbor when we moved to where we are now. She, along with her hubby and young daughter, became friends of ours over the years.
A few years ago, they moved to another location. We maintained a connection via social media, however. Some months ago, she contacted me, saying that she had been thrown out of their house by her husband, who had developed a relationship with another woman, and had been living in her car for several days. We immediately invited her to join us at our place. She had no clue the ouster was coming, and needed time to gather herself.
She stayed with us for only a few days, finding a place to stay and other friends that would help her. She has been in survival mode for quite some time. But we've maintained contact through all of this, and have served as an “ear” for her from time to time.
Recently, she found out about work that she could do (she has a disability) in Ohio at a women's fraternity. (Yeah, I didn't know women had fraternities either.) She interviewed, and was given the job. The work fits her perfectly and will be a good thing for her. She also will be able to get out of this area, which has so many reminders of a life no longer viable. She will be leaving for Ohio this coming Wednesday, so I asked if she could have lunch one last time before she left.
I admire how she has crawled out of the hole dug for her and has determined to make her own way in the world. Her daughter, now in Iowa, originally siding with her father, has recently begun to repair the relationship with her mom. The divorce is final, so that's over. She has no reason to stay here or come back here.
I don't know about you, but these kinds of meetings and good-byes are difficult for me. Knowing I will probably never see her again, even though we are obviously “just friends,” makes it doubly difficult. Social media will relieve some of that, but it is not an adequate substitute.
Life sometimes hands us situations, circumstances, and conditions that we are not prepared for, not expecting, and haven't a clue how to handle. Such was the case here when we learned she was homeless. We knew we would be riding this one out with her, along with other friends of hers. And we did. Hopefully, we were helpful to her along the way.
Aimee, we wish you many blessings as you start life anew yet again. And if you happen to be traveling in Kansas close by, let us know. We'd love to see you and catch up with you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Balance Perspective

I think it’s appropriate to comment here on the shooting incident that occurred at a Church of Christ in Texas last week.  This should not be a political issue, but rather a human issue.  As Bud Norman said in his daily column last week, Churches of Christ are “blessedly apolitical and focused on more eternal matters.”  There is, however, a truth that cries out to be heard.
Those of the church family who were killed by the shooter are surely to be greatly missed by the church and blood families as well as friends.  The trauma inflicted on the survivors in the congregation will be deep and long-lasting.  The deacon who shot the intruder will face and confront life-long after-effects of his action.  No one emerged from this a winner.
There was also another victim here.  The shooter.  He has been described variously as “evil,” a “threat,” or in some other neutral terminology by the media.  Those descriptions may well be correct; however, we need to remember most of all that he was a human being.  He had a father, mother, and possibly other blood relatives.  He may have had friends.  He had a soul.  He was loved by God.  He was one of whom it was said in II Peter of God, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  He was indeed one of whom Jesus said that we are to, “Love your enemy.”  He had a name:  Keith Thomas Kinnumen.
But please don’t misunderstand.  Even though the above is true, it is also true that Mr. Kinnumen, and only Mr. Kinnumen is responsible for the deaths of two people, and his own demise at the hands of another.  Only he is responsible for the trauma and stress.  Only he is responsible for the grief and heartache. 
As Christians it seems we are balanced between two poles, if you will.  On the one hand, we are to love as Christ loved; on the other, the reality of this fallen creation demands that we sometimes do things that seem to fly in the face of this overarching love.  We may be called to make, in a split second, decisions regarding our love for God, love for fellow-man and how that is to be lived out in our lives.  Sadly, those that responded did what they had to do.  That has been the case in innumerable places and situations before that, and regrettably will continue to be the case.
May we always understand that no matter where we as Christians may be on the political spectrum, or what our opinion is regarding the Second Amendment and gun control, we dare not dehumanize those whom God loves and desires that they come to repentance.  Let us be thankful for those who “stand in the gap,” protecting and serving.  And may we always long for The Day when all will be restored, evil will be forever defeated, and God’s people will forever be with him and with each other.

Jay Plank

Thursday, December 19, 2019

God and Inspiration

When we Christians say that the writers of the Bible were inspired, we are saying that the words they penned, although they were their own based on their own recollections, experiences, or knowledge, came as a result of some kind of prompting, nudging, or other means of helping the writer write what was written.  And that nudging or prompting came from the Holy Spirit of God, guiding (in whatever ways and means he saw fit) the writers in what they have written.
So, we believe that the words of the Bible are essentially God-breathed, and as such are inerrant and worthy of being read, understood, and followed.  We know that sometimes things are lost in translation, and we also know that there are some minor variations in the various Greek texts, but those variations and translation issues don’t change the fundamental teaching of what was written.
But what about now?  Are people inspired now when writing or speaking?  Or was inspiration only a gift for the Old and New Testament writers?  Most Christians would say that inspiration has ceased, at least as far as the inspiration of Biblical material is concerned.  But does God not play any role in human speech and writing anymore?  Are we totally on our own?  I think not.
I have only anecdotal evidence…things that I myself have experienced…to lean on, but I know that there have been times in my life where I was prompted to write or to say something that, when I thought about it later, asked myself if I really said that…and if so, where in the world did it come from.
I know that when I write, I sometimes can flow words and sentences such that the only way I can express it is that I get lost in what I am writing.  Then later, I read what I said and wonder where the words and thoughts they express came from.
The same has happened when talking with someone else.  Especially in counseling or mentoring situations, I have found myself listening to what I am saying, wondering if I am really saying it or if someone else has taken over.
I don’t pretend to believe that these incidents are at all miraculous in nature.  However, I do believe that the hand of God works through my thoughts and abilities to help me to not only create thoughts I otherwise would not have apprehended, but put them to words either written or spoken that convey those thoughts accurately.  I also believe God works through the latent talents and abilities of others to produce the result He desires, whether those abilities are in art, music, drama, writing, carpentry, food prep, accounting…the list could go on endlessly.
I believe God IS interested in our daily lives.  I believe God IS interested in how we use the abilities he has given us.  I believe God DOES guide us at times to fulfill His will in whatever ways he sees fit.  And to that end, I need to dedicate whatever abilities I have to his service, and allow him to work with me, alongside me, and through me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Yesterday and Today

I've spent some time the last few days on YouTube watching various videos of Peter, Paul, and Mary. For those who may have been living on a deserted island for the past 60 or so years, Peter , Paul, and Mary was a folk singing group organized in the early 1960's and continuing on most of the next fifty years until Mary's death in 2009. The group was, and continues to be an icon of the boomers as well as generations since.
Their concerts were wholesome and heartfelt, as were their songs. Suitable for children of all ages, Peter, Paul and Mary will be enjoyed by music lovers in generations to come, just as Sinatra, Martin, Glenn Miller and others of the earlier eras continue to be enjoyed by the generations of today.
But I don't write this to extol the virtues of the group or the individuals in the group. Sometimes as we age, we think back to earlier days and times. We sometimes wistfully wish we could transport ourselves back to those times. We long for the innocence of those times. And we do things like listen to those old songs indelibly imprinted in our conscience by groups and individuals we will never forget. The songs themselves sometimes take us back to specific times of our lives in ways that are unique to each of us.
God knew what he was doing when he created us with the capacity to remember, reminisce, and lose ourselves at times in memories of days and years gone by. Those memories evoke emotions and thoughts that help keep us grounded and give us a respite from the struggles of the present. They help us sort things out and appreciate what we enjoy now in life and living.
However, there is a danger in dwelling too much on the past. It's one thing to enjoy remembering and recounting one's life from time to time. It's quite another to live in that past as an escape from the present.
Nothing remains the same forever. Things change. The world changes. We change. Our thoughts change. Our opinions change. Our relationships change. Like it or not, time marches on, and we can either stay up with it or lose ourselves in the past. And to do that is to live in a reality of one's creation...not the reality that truly is.
So, put on those vinyl records of PP&M, The Carpenters, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, The Righteous Brothers, or whoever else you enjoy. Enjoy them for a time. Remember. Recall.
Then, put them away and go out into the present. Live in the reality that is yours today. And as you do, remember the God who put you here and has given you the life you now enjoy.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Promise

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righeouusness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
The above are some of the last words of the Apostle Paul as he awaited his execution at the hands of Rome. Paul was confident he would see his Lord and Savior, and if there was any fear or apprehension in his mind, it never showed in any of his writing...least of all this portion.
Mariann also fought the good fight. She kept the faith. And today she finished her race. A part of our life group and member of our church family, Mariann battled liver cancer and its associated physical ailments for several years. She was working on getting on the transplant list and being healthy enough to survive the surgery when an infection took hold of her body and rapidly spread. There was nothing that could be done.
Mariann was also confident. In recent conversations with her, she was saying that she wanted to heal...wanted to qualify for a transplant...wanted to live. But, she said, she was also good with the alternative if she did not make the list or have the surgery. There were days she felt better; there were days she felt worse. There were days when she brightened up the room; there were days when her disposition was in need of some outside encouragement. But through it all, she held on to the Promise...and I'm not talking about words, but rather The Word.
I'm reminded of a gospel song, “The Promise.” It tells the story of the daughter of Jairus who had died (Matthew 9). The father of the girl came to Jesus and asked him to come to the house and heal his daughter, knowing only that she was very ill.
When Jesus arrived with the father, the crowd there told them that he shouldn't bother Jesus because the daughter had died. Jesus told the crowd that she was only asleep, and they laughed at him. Putting the crowd out, Jesus went into the daughter and raised her, healing her.
The chorus of the song, “The Promise,” goes like this:
There's a Promise coming down that dusty road
From His holy hand healing virtue flows
He's got the keys to what you need
Death and hell He will defeat
There's a Promise coming down that dusty road
Mariann didn't experience the healing of Jesus in this life. However, by clinging to “The Promise,” she now has experienced total and complete healing. And she will continue to be an example to the rest of us who knew her and went with her through the ordeal of liver failure.

May God continue to heal, bless, and comfort Steve and the family.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Why Do We Even Try?

Kendra Broekhuis, a friend of mine, is an author and speaker.  She and her family moved to the inner city some years ago to learn to practice, “Love your neighbor.”  They have three living children (and one miscarriage child).  Awhile back, Kendra wrote the following.  Although what she wrote is specifically for parents of small children, the message is good for us all.

Sometimes I wonder why we even try.

Why do we go through the fuss of getting here with three small children?  Why do we come to sit down, just to have to get up and walk out when the baby starts screaming through the middle of prayer?  Why do we mess with the Kid Shuffles and the Mom Shushing? WHY DO I RUIN MY KID'S NAP FOR THIS?
But there's three things I want my children to know about Church:
1.      Christianity is not just about a personal relationship where you hide in your room and keep your life between you and Jesus.  There's an entire Body involved, which makes that whole "Jesus but not Church" thing a decapitated version of this faith.
2.      Church is community when the world feels friendless.  It's family when your own blood breaks down or is too far away to touch.  It's the place - no matter how much our own nation gets it wrong - for Jesus People of every tribe, tongue, and nation to belong.
3.      In a healthy church, the sick are the most welcome - the ones who know they need the Doctor.  The ones who desire to bring their sin to light and who want to rest in Grace.  And that's not a coming of age thing, but a heart thing.
And so even though I can't force the Spirit into my children's lives, I also don't expect them to suddenly "get it" on their own someday if Church isn't made a priority now.  So we talk the Bible at home.  But we also see that these kids - they're picking up on what we're doing here each Sunday.  Word by word.  Song by song.
I want my kids to not only hear but to see how much we needed the Church all along - even during seasons when all Mommy and Daddy heard were broken up pieces of a half hour sermon.

Kendra’s book, “Here Goes Nothing: An Introvert's Reckless Attempt to Love Her Neighbor” is available on Amazon and at bookstores.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Greater Danger

In the book “Foundations of the Christian Faith,” James Montgomery Boice talks of the tension between church and state, and the role of the Christian in that tension.  He speaks of the sovereignty of God over that of the state as a “God-dominant” condition.  And he uses the example of Pontius Pilate and Jesus, who told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
In this text, Jesus recognizes the authority of the state, but does so with the understanding that this authority is derived from a greater authority…God.  And Jesus also gives the Jews the greater condemnation because they were sinning out of hate-filled hearts and against their own laws, where Pilate was sinning against his conscience—he had already pronounced Jesus innocent.
He concludes this part of the discussion with these words.
“…the greater danger lies, not with the state, but with those who are closest to spiritual things.  Others may sin out of ignorance or neglect or cowardice.  But religious people are inclined to sin out of arrogance or pride or actual hatred of God and God’s truth—even when they think they are most moral.”
This is Jay again.  This statement hauled me up short.  Boice’s point is well-taken.  To think that I may sin out of arrogance and pride, or even hatred of God or the Truth of God, is a sobering thought.  The fact that I have knowledge of God and His Word creates a greater accountability on my part before the Righteous Judge.  And to know that I might commit that kind of sin thinking I am the most moral and righteous is doubly-frightening.
This world is filled with sin-traps.  And this is a big one.  It is obvious that we can never successfully navigate life unaided.  But thanks be to God, who provides us with the “paths of righteousness” and leads us in those paths “for His name’s sake.”

Friday, October 25, 2019

Comments from Attorney General William Barr

Barr is right about religion
Attorney General William Barr recently gave a speech on religious freedom at the University of Notre Dame law school. He said that that mainstream faiths were being attacked by secularists, mass media, academia, movies, TV and the like, that our traditional moral system was being degraded and that the traditional self-discipline of the past was fleeing.
In no time at all, he was proven correct. He was not attacked just by atheists and know-nothing politicians, but by fellow Catholics of a leftist persuasion and even a theological professor who said he was threatening separation of church and state. Christians should not carry their faith with them while exercising public duties, we were told. They just might then disregard the rule of law, for instance, and threaten the rights of nonbelievers.
Barr dispelled that goofiness in what he actually said. He does not want government insisting on any faith. He wants religious freedom. He wants limited government that becomes more possible as we get the kind of moral discipline and virtue that the Judeo-Christian tradition instills. When people behave decently, they can be counted on to govern themselves. They do not need of a cop on every corner or bureaucratic enthusiasm for rules that enclose our lives instead of opening them.
But, oh dear, some say, Christians of the Barr kind will heed moral notions that transform our democracy into a theocracy. I wonder if these superiors among us know what Christian morals actually are: if they understand, for instance, what Paul said when he talked about love and described its elements: patience, kindness, humility, calmness, delight in truth, perseverance in helping others, hope and letting one’s life revolve around something bigger than self.
Now let’s turn to secular morals.
Relativity is a biggie. No moral truth is absolutely true, some secularists tell us, and you wonder if they ever heard of the philosopher who asked if it is then sometimes OK to torture a baby to death for the fun of it? We get multiculturalism that tells us all cultures are equal in their values even though we know some cultures approve of killing homosexuals, adulteresses and people of other faiths. We have utilitarians who are willing to dismiss some evils if they make large numbers of people happy, and we know this can be a terror. We have political correctness that often sees the trivial as momentous and sometimes punishes transgressions by ruining lives.
All of this gets complicated. But it is not complicated to say that someone heeding basic religious precepts is ordinarily going to be far less dangerous to democracy than, say, Sen. Bernie Sanders and his historically catastrophic aspirations for governmental envelopment. Though not generally recognized, Christianity has been a major force in giving us science, universities, liberty and the values that still instruct to at least some extent the values of nonbelievers. Though the New Atheists say religion gives us war, research indicates that no more than 10% of wars have some religious connection.
None of this is meant to say that no horrors have been committed in the name of religion or that religious people are ipso facto better than the non-religious. Most Christians recognize their own sinfulness. But it is the case that religion is in steep decline in America today and that the consequences could be the loss of meaning and of what has made us great. The sociologist Charles Murray has shown for instance that the most constant churchgoers among us are the upper middle class and that the working class is suffering mightily from the communal help and guidance that came from churches dying out where they live.
Hurrah for Barr.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Church and Irrelevance

As you may know, I’ve been wading through the book by James Montgomery Boice; “Foundations of the Christian Faith.”  In the book, Boice goes into great depth on many topics having to do with Christianity and the Christian faith.  In one chapter, he talks about “The Secular Church.”  That is, the church that is abandoning divine authority in favor of the voice of human reasoning and understanding.  He outlines four consequences of that abandonment and substitution of humanity’s reasoning.
First, he says it produces “a pitiful state of uncertainty and insecurity in church leaders.”
“Church leaders,” says Robin Scroggs, professor of New Testament at the Chicago Theological Seminary, “find ourselves in the abyss of a continual uncertainty…we have no assurance that where we happen to be is the best or final place to stand.”
Second, he says that the church turns “to the world and its values.”
“The secular world,” he says, “with its vacillating but audible words (is) the only place to which one could turn for direction.”
A third result, he says, “is a pragmatic dependence upon the fifty-one per-cent vote, the validation of values, goals, objectives and programs by consensus.  Earthly authority will inevitably take Scripture’s place.”
The fourth and final consequence Boice outlines comes from a quote by Peter Berger of Rutgers University.  Berger criticized the lack of authority in the church, which leads to irrelevance.  It was the word “irrelevance” that caught my eye and forced me to thoroughly digest Berger’s quote in the book by Boice.  Here is the quote.
“If there is going to be a renaissance of religion, its bearers will not be people who have been falling all over each other to be ‘relevant to modern man.’  Strong eruptions of religious faith have always been marked by the appearance of people with firm, unapologetic, often uncompromising convictions—that is, by types that are the very opposite from those presently engaged in the various ‘relevance’ operations.  Put simply:  Ages of faith are not marked by ‘dialogue,’ but by proclamation….  I would affirm that the concern for the institutional structures of the Church will be vain unless there is also a new conviction and a new authority in the Christian community.”
This is Jay again.  The church has been, and continues to struggle with irrelevance in today’s society.  I had a conversation just today with our pulpit minister on this topic, and he told me of a recent minister’s conference where the topic was the decline of the church.
Instead of installing more lighting, buying more instruments, putting on more pageants, and engaging in more concerts, perhaps we need to come down firmly on doctrine and the authority of the Scriptures…and do so with conviction…unapologetically.  I’m not talking about the dogma and traditions that have invaded Christendom for centuries…I’m talking about the foundations of the Christian faith.  God, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, Grace, Adoption, and the like.  Leave instrumental music, the name over the door of the building, the way we do communion, and women’s role in the church behind.  Concentrate instead on those things “which pertain to life and godliness.”  Preach them.  Speak them.  Live them.  And we may yet see that renaissance that is wistfully and longingly spoken of by so many.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Power of Grace and Forgiveness

Earlier this week, Amber Guyger, former Dallas police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Bothan Jean.  You’ve probably heard about this if you follow the news at all.  It made national headlines.  You’ve also probably heard about people who are protesting the sentence, demanding justice for the young man who was killed in yet another seemingly too familiar scenario of police versus minority.
Let’s try to go beyond all of that for a moment.  Some facts are crystal clear.  First, this event was a tragedy for everyone involved.  There are no winners.  Everyone loses.
Second, the circumstances surrounding the incident are unique in nature.  Normally, things like this don’t happen.
Third, many lives were unalterably changed forever.  The police officer and her family.  The family of the young man.  Friends, business associates and others all have suffered unwanted change in life.
Fourth, there is a place here for justice.  Someone has to pay the penalty for what was done.  Otherwise, the rule of law is worthless.
Fifth, there is also a place here for mercy.  If ever there was a need and a time for mercy, this situation…this circumstance…would be it.
And last, if there ever was a time for the Christian virtues of love and forgiveness to come out, this would be it.  And those virtues were very much on display when Brandt Jean publicly forgave Ms. Guyger, wished the best for her, said he wished she would not have to serve time, said he loved her just as he loved everyone, and asked the judge if he could give her a hug.  The judge approved, and there was a tearful, emotional scene in the middle of the courtroom that shook those watching to their depth of their souls.
One more thing.  This is an opportunity…an opportunity for redemption, healing, and love to prevail over hate, politics, and ideology.  This is an opportunity for Christians to show what we are made of, and to demonstrate in stark and unmistakable terms the love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus.
Just like the Nickel Mines tragedy, when several Amish school girls were murdered in their school some years ago, the world witnessed here what love and forgiveness can do…the power that is in grace extended to the undeserving.
May the world take note and follow the example.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Of Cold Fronts and Gratitude

Have you ever been outside when a cold front air mass came through where you were?  Before the front comes through, the old warm, humid air mass that has kept everyone miserable for several days blows in with southerly winds.  Then, for a brief moment, the wind subsides and there is a calm.  And in just a split moment, there is the first whiff of cool, fresh air on the north side of the front.  The breeze quickens and continues to cool things off in a very, very refreshing sort of way.  And you know that the big blue line you’ve seen on the weather maps in the last few hours has gone through you.
If you’ve never experienced that, you need to do so once in your lifetime.  There are several reasons for doing so.
1.       Change.  Things change.  Situations change.  Life changes.  Change is all about us.  We can embrace the inevitable, or we can continue to rail against it to no avail.  As Archie Bunker once said, “I like change better when everything stays the same!”
2.      It DOES get better.  The staleness and stagnation of the old, humid air mass gives way to refreshment and coolness.  The spirits of people are lifted, and things perk up.  It’s the same with life.  It WILL get better.  There are many downers in life, but there are the peaks as well.  Look for them.
3.      Provision.  There is indeed a Provider who knows what His creation needs and sees to it that those needs are met.  Colliding air masses promote rainfall, change of season, and other benefits.  Our needs are being met as the blue line of the cold front passes through us.
4.      Gratitude.  We live in a generally ungrateful world.  We humans believe, for the most part, that we make ourselves into what we are and have to look out for ourselves.  To an extent, that’s true.  But there are many things about life and living that we haven’t any idea how to control or manipulate.  The weather is one of them.  That front will come through regardless of what humanity may do to slow it down or speed it up.  We need to have a measure of gratitude for those things which come our way purely from the grace of a merciful Creator.
Whatever your taste in weather…rainy, foggy, snow, cold, warm, cloudy…whatever it is, some time take the time to follow an air mass as it creeps closer to you, then plan to be outdoors when it comes through.  And think of the lessons that it brings to you.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Only By Grace

I was sitting out on the back patio of our home over the weekend.  In a quiet time, I started looking around at all that I saw, thinking about how it all got there and why I was so privileged to enjoy it.
I must confess that I don’t have answers to those questions.  Ultimately, I believe that God created all that we see and know, and all that we don’t see and don’t know.  However, just how the park woods which borders our back yard came to be, and how the tallgrass around the fish pond came to be what it is, with its seed pods high in the air this time of the year…I haven’t a clue.  And even the goldfish, the roses, the birds…all of that and more are beyond me in terms of how it all got there for me to enjoy.
The question of why I was privileged to enjoy it is even more puzzling for me.  I don’t deserve any of it.  I don’t deserve to have a back patio that borders Pawnee Prairie Park.  I don’t deserve to have a fish pond or tallgrass surrounding it.  I don’t deserve to have rose bushes that bloom even now.  I don’t deserve to have eyes, ears, or a brain to perceive, understand, and enjoy these thing.  I don’t even deserve to be here.  Yet here I am…in the middle of all of this beauty and enjoyment.
One might say, “You’ve worked hard all your life.  You deserve to have some nicer things.”  No, I don’t.  Yes, I’ve worked hard.  But no, there is no guarantee that any of that will result in enjoying nice things.  I’m not even guaranteed to be alive tonight, let alone next week.  Why should I think I’m entitled somehow to have running water, air conditioning, transportation, and a bed?
No one owes me anything.  God owes me nothing.  The government owes me not one thing.  If anyone is indebted, it is I.  And I’d better make sure I understand that.  If anyone is indebted, it is I.  I am indebted first to God.  I am indebted to those who have sacrificed to make this nation what it is.  I am indebted to the sheepdogs who keep the wolves away from us sheep.  I am indebted to my family, my parents, my ancestors, my friends.
The next time you get the feeling that the world owes you something, or that God is repaying you for some great thing you’ve done for Him, remember the story of the rich fool in Luke chapter 12.  After surveying all that he had accumulated, he decided to take it easy and live off of his largess.  But that very day, God comes to him and says, “‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
It is fine to enjoy the things God may grant to us from time to time.  It is good to benefit from the grace given to us.  But we must remember…it is only by grace that we can enjoy these things…and that they are in no way guaranteed to us.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

American Prosperity

One of the announced candidates for President in 2020 has reportedly said An entire generation, which is now becoming one of the largest electorates in America, came of age and never saw American prosperity.”
I am not naming the candidate as I don't wish for this to become a political article. But just stop and think for a moment about this statement. While I understand that “American prosperity” can mean different things to different people, let's look at it from a rational point of view.
Has the generation the candidate references (a younger generation) had the privilege of clean water? Showers? Toilets? Hot water? Microwaves? Refrigeration? Transportation? Communication? Education? Health care? Energy (electricity and heating fuel)? Shoes? Underwear? If so, the generation HAS indeed seen American prosperity, because those things are sure signs of it...signs that most of the world can only dream about.
It is disingenuous to say the least to talk of an entire generation of Americans not seeing American prosperity. It is also incorrect in so many ways. American prosperity does not mean all are millionaires. It does not mean that there is no need to work hard for a living. It does not mean that all have everything they may desire. And it doesn't mean that anyone owes that generation...or any generation...anything or should collectively feel apologetic for the state of the world today.
No generation is entitled. No generation is deserving. No generation has an automatic lock on wealth or the American dream (whatever that means). Each generation must work, be good citizens, demonstrate a pragmatic and decent moral compass. Each generation must find its own prosperity, for only in doing so will that generation appreciate, cultivate, and hold dear to the principles which have made this nation the envy of the world.
American prosperity? If you have running water, you are ahead of most of the world in terms of prosperity. It's time we began to appreciate and cherish what God has given us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Factual Evidence Matters

I just started a book called “The Virgin Birth of Christ by J Gresham Machan.  Published in 1930, it remains one of the apologetic standards regarding the birth of Jesus Christ.
In a preliminary discussion on opposition to the virgin birth, Machan has this to say about those in antiquity who were anti-Christian, and of course dismissed the virgin birth as a figment of the imaginations of Christians.
“…the early denials of the virgin birth by opponents of Christianity have no weight whatever against the historicity of the event.  The opponents presuppose the Christian doctrine, and have no historical tradition of their own to substitute for it.  The mere fact of their opposition is of no importance whatever, for it is only what was to be expected.  Unless they were to become Christians, they could hardly accept the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.”
Going beyond the doctrine itself, do you see what Machen has done here?  He has dismissed as having no importance at all the mere opposition to the doctrine.  And he has done so at least in part because the opponents have offered no contrary evidence…they are just opposed…which, he says, they naturally would be since they are not Christians.
OK.  Carry that forward to today’s world.  The mere fact that someone is opposed to something is of no importance UNLESS and UNTIL they can offer some concrete evidence supporting their opposition.  This works in all arenas of life…politics, family relationships, religion, education, and so on.  For example, the fact that you may be opposed to tariffs on Chinese imports has no standing unless you can offer some solid, factual evidence that supports your opposition.  Or as another example, the fact that you may be opposed to instrumental music in worship carries no weight unless you can offer some solid, concrete evidence that supports your assertion.  Or you may be opposed to vaccinations for your child.  You need to support that with good, solid, factual evidence or your opinion matters not.
Let me say it again…just being in opposition to something has, or should have, no importance unless you can offer a reasonable alternative and support it with good evidence.  It’s time we ceased being noisy opponents without solid foundation and started looking at all kinds of issues in life reasonably and carefully.  In so doing, we formulate our opinions based on factual evidence and can support our opinions with that evidence.
And let me clarify here that good, solid, factual evidence does NOT consist of Facebook memes, what your brother-in-law thinks, or what you heard on talk radio.  Factual evidence is evidence that has a solid, proven foundation compiled by people who are as unbiased as can possibly be regarding the subject.  This means that sellers of homeopathic remedies are not the best source of evidence for the ingestion of those remedies.  It means that athiests are not the best source of evidence contradicting Christian doctrine.  And it means that Democrats generally are not the best source of evidence to oppose a Republican idea or ideology (and vice-versa).
So, before you become a noisy opinion-teller, stop and think about the facts that support your opinion.  And do so with as much of an unbiased heart as you can muster.  Then realize that other people of good will, intelligence, and patriotism have opinions that are the opposite of yours, and speak with care and with love.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Such Should Not Be

A long-time Facebook friend and fellow church-member unfriended me yesterday.  I’m not exactly sure what the issue is, but suspect that it has to do with the fact that I called him out on a post he made that was political/societal in nature.  I happened to not agree with the tone of the post, as to me it seemed as if it was advocating an attitude that in my mind is unbecoming of a Christian.
He is more to the right than I am.  I consider myself more middle-of-the-road and in fact am an Independent.  That had little to do with the post, however.  The post called out those rich who would sleep well at night even though they know that they are accumulating wealth on the backs and with the lives of many in developing nations.
My comments had to do with the fact that we all are rich in this nation and we all are guilty of doing much the same, while sleeping very well at night.  We purchase and possess diamonds and gold that could well have been mined in Africa by laborers making pennies a day in work conditions that would shorten the lives of anyone who labored there.  We buy sneakers, underwear, and other apparel that may well have been assembled by people in sweatshop conditions earning a dollar or less a day.  We know it; we know where the stuff we buy is coming from.  Yet we do anyway and think nothing of it.
The post itself, in my mind, presented the author (and by extension those who posted it) in a “more righteous than they are,” attitude.  Such an attitude is, in my view antithetical to the Christian world view.  And I let him know that.  And I was unfriended as a result.
In this global economy, it would be very difficult to divorce oneself from all instances of worker abuse.  We can try as best we can to do so, but the fact is that we will not be able to eliminate it from our material lives.  That wasn’t my main point, however.  My point was the apparent “more righteous than they are” attitude.  Just the fact that it was posted betrayed, at least in my mind, that attitude on his part.
So, for one Christian to unfriend me based on that exchange…I can’t help that.  I wish him well and trust he will continue in his walk with God through his life and I will see him again.  I have to wonder, though, just how many of these kinds of relationships have been damaged by a Facebook post or a Twitter comment.  How many people have severed ties with someone else based on an ideological disagreement or a political difference of opinion.

Such should not be.

Christians are not all Caucasian, heterosexual, western culture Republicans.  Christians come in all colors, flavors, and ideologies.  People from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” are even now gathering at the throne of God to praise and worship their Creator and Redeemer.  We’d better be ready to be surprised at who gathers ‘round with us when that great day comes.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Wondrous Apprehension

Today, I hung a framed, 11 by 14 photo of the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters constellation, on the wall of our church office.  It joins an enlargement of the earth as seen from the moon, the Pillars of Creation, Horsehead Nebula, and a Hubble Ultra-Deep Field photo, along with a photo of the full earth and a full shot of the dwarf planet Pluto.  I have another photo…a panoramic photo taken on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew…in process.  If you can’t tell by now, I like astronomical photos.
I’m not sure why I have a fascination for these kinds of things.  After all, I can’t see this stuff with my eyes only, nor do I have the telescopic means to observe them directly.  I must rely on someone else to see the beauty in the skies and take a high-enough resolution photo that I can have it enlarged and printed.  (The photos themselves, by the way, are in the public domain, having been taken by one or the other governmental agencies.)
For me, observing the beauty in the skies through these kinds of photographs is a kind of worship.  I know how they came into existence and know who holds all of it together.  Of course, I don’t have the scientific knowledge…I have the knowledge that comes by faith…the preponderance of the evidence accompanied by a stepping out of the bounds of mere human experience and into the realm of the reality of the spiritual.
You may have some other means by which you approach the God of the universe in worship.  For you, it might be music.  Or perhaps the miracle of metamorphosis or migration in nature is your thing.  You may look at the human body and marvel at the design.  Or you might see the intangible things such as love, joy, and peace and see their origin in the God of it all.
Whatever it may be, know that you aren’t alone.  Untold millions have looked at the Pleiades, a newborn baby, the monarch butterfly, and other untold phenomena and have broken out in unbridled worship and praise to the God who made it all.  It is a glorious and wondrous thing to be able to transcend the scientific explanations (or lack thereof) and grasp a truth that begs to be apprehended…begs to be known…begs to be embraced.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The Manifold Wisdom of God

I have always had a special fascination for a portion of the Bible found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  In chapter 3 starting with verse 8, Paul says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Just what is it that the church is doing here in conjunction with the “manifold wisdom of God?”  If I am part of the church, do I have a role in whatever this activity is?  Who are the “rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places?”  And just what is this “mystery” which Paul talks about?
This is deep stuff.  I would suppose that, were I teaching on this passage, I would say something like, “It doesn’t get any deeper than this.”  This passage affects everyone who is part of the church of Christ (church of Christ is meant in the universal sense throughout this blog).  For (according to Paul) it is the Church that reveals God’s wisdom…even to those spiritual beings in the heavenlies.
James Montgomery Boice in his pinnacle work “Foundations of the Christian Faith,” says this about this passage.  “Any reader of the New Testament will understand that the church is important in this age, just as God’s dealings with Israel were important in the Old Testament period.  But the text from Ephesians says more.  The fullness of God’s wisdom is being revealed in the church even now, and the principalities and powers—the phrase refers to spiritual powers such as angels and demons—are scrutinizing the church to learn of the wisdom and plan of God revealed there (emphasis mine).  It is as though the church is a stage upon which God has been presenting the great drama of redemption, a true-life pageant in which it is shown how those who have rebelled against  God and wrecked his universe are now being brought back into harmony with him, becoming agents of renewal and healing instead.”
Do you see that?  Do you understand what Paul is saying here?  Do you truly “get it” in that a part of what you as a member of the church of Christ do is display the awesome and unfathomable wisdom and plan of God in the redemption of His creation?
So, dear reader, how are you coming along with that?  How is that going for you?  How are you working to display the marvelous wisdom of God and in the revelation of what, until the days of the church, was a great mystery, seen only through a glass, darkly?  Are you doing your part in demonstrating to even the evil spirits and demons the wondrously incredible plan of God to redeem not only his people, but the entire creation?
OK, it’s time to do some soul-searching.  It’s time to understand truly what it means to be part of the church of Christ.  We may be pressed on every side by evil, indifference, ignorance, intolerance, and apathy.  But God is bigger than all of those things.  And it is His power, working through us, which enables us to show even those satanic, evil spiritual beings the power and wisdom of God.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Glorifying God

Have you ever wondered just what it means to “glorify God”?  If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lifetime with some sense of that phrase, but never really sure just what it means.  And it’s important for the Christian to know what glorifying God really is and means, because we are called to glorify God just as Jesus recognized that his work was to glorify the Father.  (Romans 4:20, I Corinthians 6:20, Matthew 5:16, and many others)
In reading through the book “Foundations of the Christian Faith” by Boice, he gives a good, succinct definition of glorifying God.  He uses Jesus as the ultimate example.  Here is the quote taken from his book.

Glorifying God means “to acknowledge God’s attributes” or “to make God’s attributes known.”  God’s attributes are best seen at the cross of Christ.  There above all other places God’s sovereignty, justice, righteousness, wisdom and love are abundantly and unmistakably displayed.
·         We see God’s sovereignty in the way in which the death of Christ was planned, promised and then took place, without the slightest deviation from the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning it, or adjustment to meet some unforeseen circumstance.
·         We see God’s justice in sin’s actually being punished.  Without the cross God could have forgiven our sin gratuitously (to speak from a human perspective), but it would not have been just.  Only in Christ is that justice satisfied.
·         We see God’s righteousness in recognition of the fact that only Jesus, the righteous One, could pay sin’s penalty.
·         We see God’s wisdom in the planning and ordering of such a great salvation.
·         We see his love.  Only at the cross do we know beyond doubt that God loves us even as he loves Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish by have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)
Jesus fully revealed these attributes of the Father by his death.  Hence, his obedience to the Father’s will in dying fully glorified him.

-----James Montgomery Boice in “Foundations of the Christian Faith”

When we glorify God, we acknowledge all that God is.  We also express thanksgiving to God for who and what He is, because it is the attributes of God…His righteousness, justice, mercy, wisdom, love, etc…that have made it possible for us to be sons and daughters of his, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that unvarnished gratitude should be at the foundation of any glorification efforts on our part…gratitude for all that God is and is to His creation.  For we can offer nothing to God other than our devotion, gratitude, and love because of His great work of salvation on the cross.
“To God be the glory; great things He has done!  So loved he the world that he gave us His Son; who yielded his life an atonement for sin; and opened the life gate that all may go in!”
“Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  Let the earth hear His voice!  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  Let the people rejoice!  Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son; and give Him the glory, Great things He has done!”

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tribute to Bill Altaffer

A good and humble man is no longer with us. Bill Altaffer passed away today after a long bout with cancer. No longer suffering, Bill now is in the presence of the God he loved, and is thanking his Lord Jesus for taking the penalty for his sin.
Bill was a different sort of guy. I guess I am sort of attracted to that type of person for some reason. He and I just seemed to know each other well, and got along from the first. He was the kind of man who made friends easily, and just as easily shared his faith. Here is one example of that.
I recall one trip he and I made to Oklahoma. We weren't in a hurry to get there, and it was a good thing we weren't as we had to stop at every rest area on the interstate so he could drop off some homemade gospel tracts in the men's restroom and wherever else he could leave them. Those tracts asked anyone who responded to contact him. I don't know if he ever got a response, but he wasn't afraid to put his name out there for the cause of Christ.
Bill loved the Psalms and was a sort of local expert on the poetry that makes up that book of the Old Testament. He expecially liked Psalm 119...the one that talks over and over about learning, loving, and meditating on the Word of God.
He wasn't afraid to go door-to-door, "cold calling," trying to find someone who would hear the Good News.  He expected results from the presentation of the Gospel. He never talked about “If” we would get a response...but “when.” The community where he and I met...and became friends...Oakley, Kansas...was a difficult place to share the gospel. He and I talked a lot about that difficulty, and what could be done to break through, so to speak. Although he never had the apparent success in converting many while in that community, he left a lasting mark on many, and demonstrated to many what true humility and service were like.
Rest now, my friend. There are no more doors you need to knock. No more tracts you need to hand out. No more sermons or lessons to prepare. You'll not need to wonder any longer what some passage in the Psalms means. The glass that you have been seeing through darkly is now removed and you are seeing face to face. You'll never need to present the Gospel ever again to a lost and dying world. Your work is done.