Monday, November 1, 2010

Fear God, Honor the King

Not me. I won't just shut up, sit in the back of the bus, and let the Secularists tell me what's best for me, my family, and my country. Actually, I expect to be told that from the progressive, intellectual class. But sadly, that's what some Christians want me to do as well!

Should a Christian dirty himself with the political issues of the day? Shouldn't we be about the Great Commission instead? If I'm actively involved in preaching the Gospel I won't really have much time to worry about who's up or down in the polls, who is winning the day, and what those wicked, sneaky people over at Fox News are doing.

How about a brief survey of the New Testament. It is not silent on the issue of politics, leaders, and the Christian's relationship to them. 1 Peter 2:13-17:

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king" (NASB).

"Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God , an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:1-4 NASB).

"First of all, then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4 NASB).

Christians are told to respect their leaders. That is a hard one! It's easy to enjoy the jokes that Letterman, Leno, and others tell about them. It's hard not to snicker at references to Monica Lewinsky and a stained blue dress. It's easy to rail against the lies and deception of Watergate, the reaction time to Katrina, and the list goes on. More than once I've fought the urge to buy the "OBAMA" bumper sticker that says, "One Big Ass Mistake, America!"

I've had the opportunity to see two presidents in person. One is my all-time favorite, Ronald Reagan. The other was Bill Clinton. Both times I stood and applauded. They were my Presidents. One I loved, the other ... not so much. But they held the office, as does the current occupant, and whoever comes after him, whether in 2012, or 2016. They are worthy of respect for the office they hold, and submission because that's what God asks us to give, even when they aren't so good, or favorably disposed towards Christians. As an American, I will continue to respect the office holder, and work to elect those whose values are in line with Christian values, whenever they can be found. The same holds true for other elected leaders.

I'm going to pray for them. But this is prayer with a purpose! Yes I want them to be safe from harm, healthy, filled with, and led by God's wisdom. All that is pretty easy to understand. But why am I praying for them? Paul says that I might lead a "tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity..." I want them to do their job, and then get out of my way so I can do mine!! God desires all men to be saved, and when government isn't oppressing me I am going to have an easier time, and perhaps more opportunities to do just that.

Peter's words are very instructive: "Act as free men..." To act is to do something, and he indicates that I'm to do something positive, and not use my freedom to do evil things. Some Christians seem to have forgotten that we have unique freedoms and opportunities here that other Christians who live in other parts of the world do not presently enjoy. It is right that we use our voice as effectively as those who do not espouse Christian values use theirs. Maybe this is why Jesus said, "...for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light" (Lk. 16:8).

The Secularists are not going to be quiet. My impression is that if they lose the election they will become louder, more shrill, more angry, and more determined to seize power at the next opportunity. Are Christians to just roll over and dutifully take it? If we have the God-given opportunity to let our voice be heard, why not let it be heard? If we can stay in submission to our Constitution, government leaders, etc. and use the process that it affords to all citizens, why wouldn't we? If we can find some political leaders who espouse values similar to ours, why wouldn't we support them? Maybe there is a Nehemiah or even an Esther out there yet! I'll support them in that secular work, in hopes that my Christian ministry will be more effective as well.

I don't want to be naive and just stick my head in the sand when so much hangs in the balance. My voice and my vote may not count for much, but it's about all I have to impact the political process. I think I'll continue to use both.

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Get Off Glenn Beck's Case

I'm reading a lot of criticism of the rally led by Mr. Beck this past weekend, Aug. 28th. First let it be said that it was a great day to hold it. Not because it was the anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech, but rather because it was my birthday!!

It seems that people on both sides of the political spectrum are angry at Beck. I'm not surprised that those on the left didn't like it. He stands for morality, principle, the constitution - all the things that liberals typically reject.

It is bothersome to me that many Christians object that a Mormon could lead such a rally, and speak for many evangelicals on issues of the Constitution, and returning to a Judeo-Christian ethic, bringing God back into the public arena, etc. They seemed incensed that a LDS could garner attention, enthusiasm, and support from Christians who agree with him on these issues.

OK, so where was Billy and/or Franklin Graham? Where was Bill Hybels? Where was Jerry Falwell, Jr.? Where was Pat Robertson? Max Lucado? Where was the president of the North American Christian Convention, or any of the leaders of the Restoration Movement colleges and seminaries? Were they busy? Out of town? It seems rather easy and convenient to dismiss Glenn Beck's passion for the Constitution, but where are the other evangelical leaders to step in the gap? I could also wonder why we reject Glenn Beck because he is a Mormon as if we should be more happy and willing to accept the message if it came from a Catholic, a Baptist, or a Presbyterian? Was doctrine the key issue of the day? On this issue I may suggest that we should follow the pattern set down by Jesus who said, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (See Lk. 9:50).

I think the emphasis should not be on the messenger but the message. Surely the Framers of the Constitution did not all come from the same religious background, yet they were in agreement on the place of God in country.

John Quincy Adams said on July 4, 1837, "Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth?"

Samuel adams wrote on Feb. 12, 1779, "He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man... The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a Virtuous people.

Oct 22, 1774, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts met. John Hancock declared: "We think it is incumbent upon this people to humble themselves before God on account of their sins, for He has been pleased in His righteous judgment to suffer a great calamity to befall us, as the present controversy between Great Britain and the Colonies. {AND} also to implore the Divine Blessing upon us, that by the assistance of His grace, we may be enabled to reform whatever is amiss among us, that so God may be pleased to continue to us the blessings we enjoy, and remove the tokens of His displeasure...."

To the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776 John Adams said, "Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgement approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it. And I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment. Independence now, and Independence for ever."

I'm thankful that the founders were willing to build the foundation of this nation on their faith in God and belief in His word. I don't think they were aiming to be in accord on all points of doctrine, but they understood the big picture as it related to the nation, and the Freedoms we hold dear, including that of religion.

I fear what has happened to this nation in the last 18 months as our freedoms have been taken from us without the consent of the governed. I'm thankful for the groundswell of enthusiasm to return this nation to the principles upon which it was founded. And if it takes a Mormon television personality from Fox News to do it, then I say, "God bless Glenn Beck."

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bless the Gift and the Giver

The topic of giving is one where preachers often step very gingerly! Perhaps this is for fear of offending those who are faithfully giving already, or worries about 'putting off' new people who haven't yet learned the grace and responsibility of stewardship. Maybe it is for fear of being hypocritical telling others to do what they aren't doing themselves! So let me put in the obligatory "I'm not perfect in this either" statement. In fact, there have been times when my giving has been non-existent; other times when it has been very selfish; and yet times when I'm faithfully giving as well.

Have you ever felt like your only purpose and function at a church was to 'write a check'? That's been something I've struggled with in recent years. I've heard people express this before, but only recently could I relate to it. For example, I believe I could teach something far more valuable than whatever monetary amount my check might reflect, but that hasn't been asked for by the leadership. I could participate in some way in the service, which may be a bigger blessing to someone than whatever money my wife and I might give that day. But when those opportunities don't come, I wonder why I'm there, or why I'd want to support that work. Is that selfish? I've struggled to come to grips with that.

Excuses for not giving are many, but none are valid. It is a responsibility, opportunity, and a blessing to support God's work with money. From the Sermon on the Mount; 2 Cor. 8 & 9; Galatians 6, and the list goes on, supporting God's work monetarily is not an option! But we do have options available to us.

For some time we visited a number of congregations trying to find a "fit." And we wrote checks to a lot of different places in that time as well. Whatever became of those funds, and how they were dispersed remains a mystery to me. You hope that principles of wise stewardship were used and that the money was used wisely. But when you aren't plugged in at a local church you never really know for sure (and sometimes even when you are!!)

But I wasn't satisfied with this. We wanted to give to a ministry where we knew there was a need, and one where we trusted in the leadership to do the very best they could with the gift. So we chose a mission organization. There are many great missions out there that are doing fantastic work. But we chose one in particular where we had first-hand knowledge and confidence, and that is where we've been doing the majority of our giving, for the time being.

I expect that as we again find 'our place' of service in a local church that we will again support it with both our talents and abilities as well as with money. But I'm no longer content with just being a 'check writing spectator' at a church somewhere. To be blunt, if they don't want me then I will choose to give somewhere else. There are many fine ministries where I can give with a cheerful heart and will choose to do so, not grudgingly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7).

Perhaps my sentiments are shared by others. As we involve people in ministry I believe they will see giving as a partnership rather than a 'price of admission' each week at the Sunday service. Their financial support will complement other means they have for serving and expanding the work of a local congregation. When members treasure their role in a congregation, and enjoy a sense of involvement in that community of believers, their checkbook will begin to reflect that priority in their lives as well. Where their heart is so will the checkbook follow!

I'm thinking that when a congregation only focuses on young people, or young couples with children, and sends a signal that older people have but one function, namely to financially support what is being done for young people and young couples, there will be problems that develop, and financial issues won't be far behind. Catering to just one demographic will have negative repercussions somewhere along the line. And yet, if only the mature givers are ministered to, there probably won't be many new members to become involved either. This is why it should not be one or the other, but all have something to offer in terms of their service and their stewardship. Leaders must work to assimilate all into the life and program of the church, including both their abilities as well as their finances.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve and for the opportunity to give. The treasure we hold in earthen vessels is priceless (2 Cor. 4:7). What we can faithfully give in our finances can be multiplied as well (2 Cor. 9:9-11). I desire to give both!

C'mon, Murphy, let's go outside!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Teaching the Preacher: What Have They Really Learned?

Recently I had a conversation with a man on a pulpit committee. He is a Deacon at a church that is looking for a preacher. He was telling me about the difficulty he was having finding some 'fill-in' until they hire a new preacher. I asked him about the local Christian University and if they were helping. He said not too much, and the ones they had sent so far usually preached one sermon and the congregation told the committee to not ask them back! I asked what was going on with the crop of preacher boys.

He said, "They don't want to preach about the Bible, or even seem to want to mention the Bible." He went on to say that "they talk about other books they've read, but never say much about the Scripture." Sadly, I had to say I wasn't surprised. I've sat in a lot of pews, well not really pews but folding chairs, and I don't hear much of God's Word either! I learn about whatever latest and greatest book the "preacher" has read in recent weeks; and watch the amusing videos to support whatever point they are trying to make; but I don't hear much about God's Word.

This problem is greater than just one little country church in Northeastern NC. This speaks to the mentality of the preachers coming out of Bible Colleges and/or Christian Universities. These young preachers will most likely parrot what they've seen their peers do, or guys they admire do; or what they've been taught is 'acceptable and relevant' preaching from their preaching professors.

What did Paul do? The Apostle determined to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Here's what I think: You Cannot Preach Him That You Do Not Know!

The problem not only goes beyond a little country church struggling to find a preacher, it also goes beyond whoever teaches preachers how to preach. The issue boils down to this: What are students in institutions that bill themselves as a preacher training facility actually learning about Christ and His Word? Hear me on this: I've been through the whole hand-wringing on why Regional Accreditation is essential, and the whiney apologetic as to why it is necessary to churches and individuals from whom a college seeks to solicit support (that means money!) It goes like this:

A Bible College begins with a singular focus of wanting to prepare preachers. As it grows and accepts more students the issue evolves into what are students who don't want to preach, or females that aren't going to preach going to do? Without Regional Accreditation they cannot transfer very far, and so in order to help them out, and improve the institution's own prestige in academic standing, they pursue Regional Accreditation. (Actually I have a lot more to say on this subject, but these bare bones will do until that time comes.)

Regional Accreditation places a large financial burden on an institution. It requires an infrastructure of its own, and demands faculty have the 'right degrees.' I'm amazed at the measures an institution has taken to make room for those with the "right" degrees. But it also demands certain courses be taught in a program which requires a sacrifice in those truly essential courses that a preacher needs to have. I also cringe when I see the unnecessary debt that students from these schools accumulate in 4 years.

I didn't come along early enough to go to Cincinnati Bible Seminary when Gospels was a three year course. I didn't say three semesters, I said three years! I still hear some great saints talk about the thrill and privilege it was to sit under R.C. Foster (who didn't have a Ph.D.) and walk with Jesus for those three years. Now some schools offer ONE SEMESTER of Gospels and feel they've pretty well covered the subject. Biblical Doctrines now merits one semester, not a year; and the list goes on.

Science is valuable, as is math, as are computer courses. The list of general ed. courses all have some merit and the debate will not be settled soon about where they belong in a curriculum. But they will never replace what a preacher needs to know about the Word of God, and the Son of God revealed in those pages. And the more the Bible is removed from present day Bible College or Christian University curriculum the less-prepared preachers will be to actually preach God's Word. They won't know it, and it will become more and more foreign and irrelevant to them. And if there has to be some 'give and take' in the curriculum it ought not to be in the Bible and Theology areas.

Years ago I used to hear the yearly re-telling of how in Eastern North Carolina there was a "dearth [lack] of preachers," and the ones that were coming from Atlantic Christian College were liberals. A new Bible College was formed to prepare a faithful, i.e. conservative ministry. Far be it from me to say that those who fail to learn the lessons from the mistakes of the past will repeat them." I'm ready, however, to see a singular focus Bible College return to prominence again. I pray that preachers will return to preaching God's Word, and be properly equipped to do so.

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Came, I Saw, I went Home

My title doesn't quite measure up to the words attributed to Julius Caesar in 47 BC: "Veni, Vidi, Vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered). But it does sadly describe the "church" experience of many. The formula goes like this: They come, they watch the show, and then they go home. This is to be repeated until they die or the Lord comes. At least that is the impression often given as worship is "done" for them; as they have little opportunity or motivation to be personally involved; or as long as the church is just one more thing in their life, and not "THE" most important thing in their life.

Granted, it is not for a lack of trying on the part of church leaders. I believe they sincerely want involvement, commitment, sacrifice, and growing relationships with Jesus. They just have skipped some important, but essential parts of the process to get people from "spectator" to "disciples," i.e. involved. The "I'm the one who knows what's best for you" mentality exhibited by many church leaders works about as well for the Church as it does for Barack Obama's presentation for a government takeover of health care. The people just don't buy it, and why should they? They want to walk away from it.

I look back at the first Gospel sermon preached on the "Day of Pentecost." Let's step back a bit. None of the people were "regular church members/Christians." The Church had not yet begun. They were Jews from all over the empire (see Acts 2:9-11). They had traveled great distances for the feast of Pentecost. They had no idea they were about to be preached to about a Messiah by the name of Jesus. They happened to be "in the right place at the right time" for that! You couldn't even call them "seekers," because they weren't exactly looking for what they were going to get that day!

I suspect that most of the people who were at the feast had been there many times before, as the Law instructed them to be. Maybe it was as exciting for them as we get about major holidays in our calendar. But even so, there is a predictability about what we will do on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Our holidays are special and exciting, but once you've done it 20, 30, 40 years or more, it does get a little predictable!

And then comes the sermon! Peter preaches a message to them that ties in their experience from the "here and now," i.e. seeing Jewish men speak in the tongue (known language) of these various visitors. Those who didn't quite understand what was happening thought they were drunk! Peter assures them that they weren't drunk, and it was a little early in the day for drinking anyway (Acts 2:15, about 9 am). He took what was new and interesting and applied it quickly and accurately to the Scripture! He reminded them of what Joel said would take place in the last days (2:17ff.)

In other words he took the real life situation of the audience, and shared with them something that was Biblically relevant and timely. It hit them where they lived! But it didn't stop there. The sermon tied the "here and now experience," with the Biblical background, and from there they preached Jesus!

I could stop there and say many times I hear sermons that talk about present issues, problems, challenges, and throw in a verse or two that are often used as a "cure all." But I hear little about Jesus! Peter smartly takes the confusion of the people about the tongues phenomenon that was taking place around them, something they hadn't seen before in their previous visits to Jerusalem for the feasts. He gives them a relevant biblical basis for what they were experiencing, that it was not unexpected! God had promised that one day it would take place, and they were blessed to see it happen before their eyes and ears! And from there Peter preaches about Christ!

Just like Joel had predicted a day when God would pour forth His Spirit, God had also chosen a time when His Son, Jesus would be delivered up and nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23). But the story does not end there. Jesus would rise from the dead, not seeing decay in the tomb. Peter says that he and the apostles were witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:32).

An amazing sermon on an amazing day! Had Peter stopped right there I dare say that the experience by the multitudes gathered on that day for the Pentecost feast would be the same as many church-goers today. We get a good service, with good music, and good preaching, and then we go home. Peter was offering great lessons and great truths. It was worth hearing!

But then Peter goes the next step. And this is the step I see missing from most services and sermons today. It is the step of conviction. Peter didn't just stop at the end of the lesson and say "see you next week." Rather, he put the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus squarely on the shoulders of those who just happened to show up and heard the sermon! Peter said, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36).

How's that for a mood killer! Peter tells his audience that they are to blame for the death of God's Son!

And then something happened! Something amazing and wonderful happened. The words didn't just go in one ear and out the other. They didn't just say, "well let's go home now the show is over." What happened next is recorded for us in Acts 2:37. They were "pierced in the heart." This seldom used Greek word is, "katanussomai." The lexicon defines it as "be pierced, stabbed, figuratively of the feeling of sharp pain connected with anxiety , remorse, etc." (BAG, 415). Other English translations render it, "pricked in the heart" (KJV); "cut to the heart" (NIV); "they were stung (cut) to the heart" (Amplified Bible).

This message of Peter impacted their lives so profoundly that they couldn't just go home the way they came. The regular and mundane had been wiped away and replaced with an incredible sense of "we are in HUGE trouble with God! What, if anything, can be done?" In other words they were convicted by Peter's words that day.

He went on to tell them what they must do in order to find forgiveness, as well as receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38. But before he got to baptism, his words got to their heart! It led THEM to ask the questions, seek forgiveness, and then to become active participants, i.e. members in the Lord's Church which began that day.

We're afraid to bring people to conviction! We shun the idea of making them 'feel bad' or uncomfortable for their sins. We tell them God wants to forgive without telling them why they need to be forgiven! We fear if people "feel bad," they won't come back to our church any more. So we give them a steady diet of "I'm ok, you're ok; and God will pick up the slack if we think we need it."

When we get "convicted" we'll do things. We'll start exercising, eat better, and lose some weight when we are convicted we don't look good, or are jeopardizing our health. We may give up smoking or other bad habits. Conviction led 3000 who heard Peter preach that day not just to go home the way they came, but to go home changed, to go home forgiven, and to go home "Christian."

Lead people to repentance! Lead people to conviction! Lead people to Jesus!

C'mon, Murphy! Let's go outside.