Posts Tagged Faith

Mending Fences

Barbed Wire Fence

Howie Homestead Fence Line.

Following the past election cycle, (2012) I saw something in myself which concerned me. No doubt, many of my gracious friends and family have known this about me for a long time but I am sometimes (believe it or not based on my body profile) a little slow at coming to the table. Prayerfully, I decided to break away from my typical outspoken, opinionated, arrogant self to remain (almost) silent over the past few years about political ‘things’ while interacting on social media. My ‘absence’ was unannounced (funny how silence works that way) and is not significant enough to have made any difference, truly I am not so arrogant as to think it was even noticed by anyone, but I have been quiet on social media so I can just observe. For now, I will break the silence long enough to share (for what it’s worth) my observations but I will do my best not to tread on things of a specific political view. So, from the ‘for what it’s worth’ corner of my square brain, I offer the following observations.

I’ve noticed there are a lot of people who have not honed the skill of critical reading. (I have theories as to why this is the case but I won’t share them so as not to bore the two or three who may read this post in entirety.)

Many people sift through ‘information’ to find a tid-bit or nugget to prop up their preconceived theory or position while ignoring the greater context.

Intellectual integrity, in my opinion, is greatly shown in the measure of graciousness one affords for a differing view.

Absolute truth is cast away, with absolute certainty, by some for the oft touted ‘sophisticated’ idea of truth as fluid and changing.

The thoroughbred of genuine, intellectual discourse and debate, is almost lost in modern society and has been traded for something of far lesser pedigree.

For some folks, feelings are everything.

Social media is an interesting experiment. It is my observation, a lot of people (myself included) have become far less ‘social’ over the past decade. Restaurants used to have an ambiance about them which allowed social interaction and conversation with folks as they enjoyed a meal together. Not so much anymore. Many restaurants blare music in order to ease patrons from the burden of conversation and even offer wifi to allow people to stare at their phones and ignore the persons with whom they are seated so they can post a picture of toast online.

One more observation. Our great nation suffers from a serious division which must be healed if our Republic is to survive. I’m not speaking about political division… American politics wield division as a sword to leverage a particular agenda. The division of which I speak goes far deeper than political party affiliation and carries a longevity of impact far greater than election cycles. Our nation suffers division because the only bastion of genuine hope in this world has, in large measure, faulted in its purpose.

Christians (in general) have missed the mark of our calling and the signs are all around us. Over the past 8 years it has become clearer to me than ever… people are seeking hope and are tired of their circumstances. Many cannot articulate why they are driven by this pursuit for hope and, sadly, the Church has allowed the carpetbaggers and drummers of the political arena to sell ‘hope’, something they know precious little about. Lots of folks misplaced their trust, and lest you think I am speaking of ‘them’, let me be clear… a whole lot within the Church are guilty of this as well. While lots of Christians have been preoccupied with things of no eternal value, the hurt of people around us has been compounded by those who know nothing about binding up wounds or genuine healing. It breaks my heart to see some Christians further compound the hurt of others by employing behavior & speech which creates deeper wounds and then celebrate it as a victory while the wounded limp away from them.

During the American Civil War our nation suffered a very similar divide and, likewise, faced a similar moral & spiritual dilemma. Nearly all of the major denominations of Christianity suffered division during this period because Christians lost clarity of their spiritual calling. The Restoration Movement suffered almost no division during this era simply because they were driven by truth and remained focused on their eternal purpose.

Christians… for healing and restoration to occur we must wake up! With this in mind, and based on my above mentioned observations, I humbly suggest the following for consideration.

If ‘your’ candidate won, don’t gloat. From a purely non-spiritual perspective, we are all Americans whether we agree on all things or not. Be the gracious person and reach out with genuine friendship to others whenever possible. Keep in mind, for some of you this will require taking off your hat and extending a sincere apology for acting in an ungracious and unbecoming manner. We are still required by Christ to be humble, aren’t we?

Focus on the ‘main thing’. People need Christ because genuine, sustaining hope is only found in Him. Political promises are worthless but the promises of Christ are reliable beyond measure. Share the hope of Christ and act as if you know what you’re talking about.

Allow your speech (or social media posts) to be seasoned with the grace of Christ and use words with caution. Sensationalistic and brash behavior may win a few high fives but in the broader audience they tear at credibility and seldom show the true spirit of Christ.

Mending fences is a tiring and unending task for the rancher… but it is necessary. Mending fences is humbling because you feel the pull of the line and realize you aren’t as big as you think you are. Sometimes the wire is beyond repair and needing replacement in sections and most of the time it is a tangled up mess at best. At the end of the day, as you look down the row and see a nice, taught and straight wire, you have a sense of accomplishment couched by the perspective of only a small staple or wire tie holding the integrity of your labor in check. Fence mending is tough work but it makes for much better neighbors. It’s time to do the hard thing, the humble thing, the necessary thing… and mend the fences which have been long ignored.

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No Substitution for Truth

A recent announcement by a high profile leader within the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ has rocked our brotherhood. Since the late 1970’s this man has been at the forefront of planting new congregations as well as providing spiritual insight & instruction through articles and speaking engagements for many ministers who serve ‘in the trenches’, even as serving as editor for one of the major publications within the Restoration Movement (RM). His announcement of a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria was made public via social media outlets and his personal blog. Sadly, this admission included the revelation he is choosing to ‘integrate’ male into female, and has already begun to identify himself as a woman, which is truly heartbreaking as it identifies a desire to intentionally rebel against God’s Word.

Scripture condemns a man denying his masculine traits by participating in feminine behavior, mannerisms, or even dressing as a woman.

A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 22:5, NASB’95

Such condemnation is not simply focussed on a woman putting on a pair of slacks, or even a man wearing a Scottish kilt. Condemnation comes when someone desires to present themselves as a gender other than the gender with which they have been created. Modern culture has enabled the concept of an individual identifying a gender based upon how they feel, or think heir gender ought to be. Such is the case with ‘Gender Dysphoria’.

The coming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes a revision from the forth edition 1. with the new identification of ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (formerly ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ 2.) as follows:

… people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with will be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This diagnosis is a revision of DSM-IV’s criteria for gender identity disorder and is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults. 3.

To be clear, ‘Gender Dysphoria’ encompasses more than simple gender non-conformity as it involves a level of  distress for the person which is clinically recognized as significant. The DSM-IV identified the disorder by a different name (Gender Identity Disorder) and justification for the change in DSM-V is offered as follows:

DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder”with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. 4.

Mental illness often carries a social stigma, and public admission of a mental illness or disorder is not often the path chosen due to the potential social impact upon the person. For some, the impact of public admission is so stressful it compounds the distress already being experienced. Living in a fallen world, racked with illnesses of all manner, we must remind ourselves illness is the enemy the patient, is not. Compassion is called for in such circumstances. Unfortunately, many in today’s culture have confused love and compassion with acceptance of a behavior, and grace has been replaced with ‘tolerance’, a buzz word for complete agreement.

How should Christians respond to those who have embraced ‘lifestyle’ choices which are outside the acceptable boundaries of Scripture?

Truth

First, we must recognize the Scripture as the only rule for acceptable practices. Nothing has changed in God’s expectations for mankind, nor have moral values ‘evolved’ to become more sophisticated or relevant.

Second, it is important to note these ‘choices’ are nothing new, but have been in the world since the beginning. The Old Testament gives account of cultures given to all manner of immorality and the Apostle Paul, as recorded in the New Testament, also lived in a culture saturated with sexual immorality. His disciples ministered in this same cultural context and Paul wrote letters (now contained in the New Testament) to Christians and congregations from within this culture. Yet, led by the Holy Spirit, he never endorsed or tolerated immorality. In fact, the Apostle was very bold in his writing as he called people from a life of sexual immorality to a life of purity in Christ. He called offenders out by name. He referenced specific and public circumstances of immorality. He even called for Christians to pull away from those calling themselves ‘Christian’ and living in unrepentant immorality. None of this made him popular among men.

Modern American culture seems to be very similar to the 1st century culture of Paul’s day. Open promiscuity is the expectation of even the youngest of students. Couples choose to co-habit rather than commit to marriage. Marriage as ‘traditionally’ known is being assaulted by those who desire not simply to ‘redefine’ but to eradicate. Immodesty is so common it has become a powerful tool for advertising. Pornography and all manner of deviant sexual behavior is not only accepted but actually able to leverage penalty upon those who dare to disagree.

Impact of such cultural changes are also bearing upon the Church, and it is not along strictly generational lines. More and more people, identifying themselves as ‘Christian’, find moral boundaries within Scripture as no longer applicable for modern people. In fact, Scripture has endured many assaults from both within and without the walls of the modern Church.

Finally, Christians must be cautious not to isolate themselves from those involved in embracing immorality. Although Scripture cautions not to embrace evil, living as aliens & strangers in the world, we are also expected to live as ‘salt and light’ in a world which desperately needs Christ. Christians must never condone, nor enable immoral behavior, and Scripture is clear in response to a professing Christian who continues, willingly, in such immoral behavior… such a person is to be shut out from fellowship. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

Our challenge as Christians in modern culture does not lie in the ambiguity of Scriptural instruction on the matter for such ambiguity does not exist. Modern Christians face the same challenge Paul faced in the 1st century… holding to truth, and expressing the love of Christ to those outside truth. While maintaining the delicate balance of love without acceptance of sin, we must condemn immoral behavior, urging repentance by the individual toward restoration.

 

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Faith in the Bleachers

My father was exceptionally athletic. I remember the first time I saw him ice skating and I was amazed at his speed and dexterity on the ice, especially when I attempted the ice for the first time. Oldest of six boys raised in Newfoundland, Canada, my father cut his teeth on a hockey puck, and was no slouch with a baseball either. At one point, dad was even offered an opportunity to play professional hockey, which he turned down because his life plan to become a Catholic priest left no room for hockey. He hung up his skates and donned the habit, entering the monastery. (Obviously, he did not become a priest.)

As I said, my dad was a great athlete… I am not. I was always the kid who liked playing kickball, but loved shooting my bow or a .22 rifle more. In fact, if given an option, I’d rather hunt rabbits or crows than play baseball any day. For me, a quiet day with my bow was valued much higher than a day in a neighboring pasture playing baseball. Let me clarify, I’m not opposed to sports, and enjoy a live baseball or basketball game, and I love watching hockey, but I’m not a fanatic. I liked the idea of sports, but didn’t possess the desire, drive or ability to pursue sports with passion.

For the 2011 season thus far, I’ve watched a grand total of two UK basketball games, both post season tournament play, and one of which (UK -vs- UNC) I recorded on my DVR and missed the final 2 1/2 minutes due to improper programming. (And my life didn’t end for missing the final moments of the game.) I don’t know all the players, and cannot quote their stats, in fact I didn’t even know their standing going into the tournament. But, I would consider myself a UK fan, or at the least a fan of life in the bluegrass state. I confess my heightened interest with UK now in the Final Four, and I will probably be watching the game with UCONN on Saturday night… probably.

While enjoying the game Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I’ve already mentioned his athletic abilities, which were impressive, however this was not what immediately came to mind during the game. For whatever reason, what came to mind about my dad was his intense passion for the Gospel. My dad was one to jump in with both feet in whatever he did, he wasn’t just committed to something… he became what he was committing to. Nothing has ever made an impression upon me like my father’s conversion to Christianity, specifically (redundantly) his commitment to Jesus. When my dad was converted, it was full sail. In fact, mom & dad made their confession of faith together and that night my father was immersed, and in response he immersed my mother. He understood the call of Christ and for the first time, shedding the traditions he had known all his life and embracing Scripture alone, it made perfect sense to him. What he had earlier committed to (with regard to priesthood) left him empty and confused because he was told to teach tradition and not Bible. He told me of many occasions of discipline for reading to children from Scripture, rather than teaching tradition. This disillusionment caused him to leave Catholicism, but he just couldn’t abandon faith. When a young preacher encouraged him to study the Bible, my dad suddenly had a whole new world open up before him and his focus, priorities and purpose was restored.

From the time of my dad’s conversion forward, I cannot remember a single morning when he wasn’t seated at the kitchen table first thing in the morning reading his Bible. My father was consumed with a passion for the Word. At the time, I was not a Christian, although I considered myself a believer. For a number of months my dad faithfully and patiently led a life of faith and witnessed to me as much as was productive to do so. Our minister frequented our home and became a good friend to me and my family. Eventually I began attending services and listening a little closer as it became apparent my father was not participating in a passing fad, but undergoing a transformation of his life and a renewing of his mind.

The UK -vs- UNC game Sunday night, began at 5PM, and our evening services are at 6:00PM. For some congregations, and some Christians, this would pose a very real dilemma… which shall I choose, to stay home with the HD quality programming of NCAA tournament play or participate in the assembly? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with watching a ballgame per se, so long as it does not impose upon my ability to edify another Christian, or impede my availability to His Word. Some would argue attendance on a Sunday evening as unnecessary, especially if they faithfully attend morning services. Perhaps, but I do tend to believe such thinking reveals something about us. Allow me to illustrate my point.

My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company, so much so that I am often distracted by thoughts of her through the day and truly long to be with her again. When we have to be apart, it is bearable only in the thought we will be together again and our commitment to one another remains strong in spite of the temporary separation. I cannot imagine “skipping out” on an opportunity to be with her, even if it should only be for a brief while. My wife trusts me and knows me better than any other person alive. Such trust strengthens our relationship through difficulties or challenges. Therefore, should I choose to go out with friends, or some other activity within the bounds of our vows, my wife would be OK and have no doubts or concerns. Concerns could creep in, however, should I choose to neglect her, or avoid her, show less passion or become apathetic toward being with her. Love for my wife constrains me to prioritize my activities and interests in such a manner as to build her up and strengthen our marriage. Again, so long as my priorities remain in cooperation with my vows to my wife, everything is good.

Similarly, Christian faith requires commitment and priority, it demands cooperation of action and words.

Empty stadium seats with a man alone

James mentions faith and action, a faith which transcends the lip service of shallow “belief only” and bears the grit of substance. Such faith is evidenced by action. Recently, I was referred to as “zealous”, a comment intended to be taken as a punch. In context, it was an argumentum ad hominem employed to silence my disagreement with a prospective change to a city ordinance. Its implication being I am limited in my view and “close minded”. I, however, have an advocate which speaks for me… my actions.

How does this relate to the NCAA tournament? I guess it just got me to thinking of an opportunity to share the Gospel. No doubt, Monday morning was filled with a number of conversations about the game. What a wonderful opportunity Christians have when asked about the game to “open the door” by sharing they didn’t watch the game on live TV because they were occupied by something more exciting… participation in worshiping God. I firmly believe our convictions bear out in our actions, and as a Christian I never want to fail in assembling with the body of Christ if at all possible.

As a preacher, I get teased quite a lot about the length of my sermons. There are always a few jokes about cancelling or shortening services when a big game is on, accompanied by a wink & laughter. Here at Union City, it is understood comments about sermon length which are intended to jibe me a little are not to be taken seriously. Our attendance Sunday night made me very proud of our congregation and my opportunity to serve such a spiritually focused group. Granted, most folks didn’t linger long following the service, however, they were active and present and would never have considered skipping out of the assembly for any reason short of illness or another serious family concern. They chose to participate in the assembly, enjoy opportunity to commune with one another and to increase their faith by studying Scripture. No wonder I thought about my father upon seeing such a strong attendance.

I love assembling with the saints!

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A Convenient Excuse

In nearly 30 years of Christian faith, and 25 years of professional ministry, I am still amazed at the ease with which people make excuses for not actively fellowshipping with a Christian assembly.

Recently, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the death penalty and commuting the 15 inmates presently on death row when the law takes effect on July 1, 2011. As justification for the move, Quinn cited potential errors in the system, also chanting the ever popular mantra of racism, citing death sentences “may be imposed on minorities and poor people more than on the wealthy, white defendants.” The AP pointed out that, although Quinn commuted the death sentences of the current 15 inmates, they will still serve life in prison with no hope of parole. “If the system can’t be guaranteed 100 percent error-free, then we shouldn’t have the system;” Quinn said, “It cannot stand.” You can read the AP article by going here.

America is one of 58 nations employing the death penalty (if we may borrow that term) according to Amnesty International, along with China, Thailand, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Japan.

Interestingly enough, Illinois death penalty inmate Gary Gauger is quoted as saying “The death penalty is a throwback to a time when society did not have the ability to hold homicidal maniacs for the rest of their lives.” To add further consolation to the families of victims killed by these inmates, Governor Quinn offered the “family of Illinois” was with them.

It would seem Americans would grow tired of being treated as less than intelligent by elitists in legislative positions. A simple review of this account reveals a number of shocking “ideals” held by these same elitists which are not commonly held by the average American. Let’s review what is really being said by this move, shall we?

Governor Quinn, in commuting 15 death sentences, has essentially pruned the judicial branch from the American system of government. In his defense, this seems to be a popular trend of late, and however wrong it may be, he is simply parroting our narcissistic culture of relativism. In one fell swoop, Governor Quinn has silenced the voice of “peers” who served as jurors over the trials of these criminals. Additionally, he has removed the penalty for such violent actions by lifting the responsibility of sentencing from our judicial branch and promptly placed it under the subjugation of the legislative branch. It must be noted the elites love to use the sliding rule of government to their advantage, making adjustments between the Judicial & Legislative branches as it suits their agenda, paying no heed to true justice or the protection of the American citizen.

A comparison of the nations which employ the death penalty is deviously cited as more than a simple comparison. It is, in fact, intended to communicate an association with non-progressive thinking. Apart from the United States, Japan is the only other “developed nation” on the list. Such an association adds punch to their position by the absurd conclusion the US judicial system is similar to that of Iran, Iraq or Thailand, and, as such, mutually exclusive to progressive thinking. Ask any of these same legislators if they would prefer to be indicted under charges in the US or one of the other 57 nations and they would not hesitate in choosing America. Why? Because, imperfect as it is, the American judicial system is still better than any other system in the world… or at least it has been until now.

Another subtle tool employed by such civil engineers is to appeal to the masses. I’m going to get on a soap box here, people, so be warned. It really fries my biscuits to hear otherwise intelligent people refer to America as a “Democracy”. Our founding fathers structured America as a Republic, not a Democracy. As a Republic, we depend upon responsible representation of American ideals in government… not the mentality of the majority ruling. Just because the majority wants something, it does not mean it is the most responsible or beneficial thing. Who really cares if more people want violent criminals locked up for life rather than face death as retribution for their crimes against humanity? It still doesn’t make it right. In such an environment, injustice reigns and no culture can stand in an environment of anarchy. I for one am growing increasingly tired of these “wards of the state” and recognize the only way of reversing this downward slope is by imposing greater penalties, not loosening the belt and providing room and board.

I do value human life, and, as such, must impress the ultimate punishment for those who do not.

The “100% Guarantee” can never be implemented in any system by man, nor should it be expected in any other area, yet it is often presented as justification for radical social changes. Similar to “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, power hungry elitists love to use this 100% concept while ignoring the facts regarding actual death penalties. Certainly, there will be mistakes made in the judicial system of criminal penalty; however, in light of the exceptionally small number of executions, they are essentially non-existent. One recent report by the Death Penalty Information Center mentions “mistakes” in their 2010 year end report, however, no citations of such mistakes are offered.

Subjective “moral standards” are neither a standard, nor moral.

Such is the appeal of the “informed” who force radical change upon the common citizen under the plea of enlightenment, tolerance, open mindedness, advancement or whatever rhetorical catch phrase is in season at the time. And, in answer to the argument against the death penalty due to “racism inherent to the system” I must say “give me a break”! No other nation in the world has provided a greater voice for minorities than the USA. This is not a skin color issue… it is a moral issue. Large numbers of minorities are presently incarcerated precisely because of the type of moral flip-flop in our culture. Groups which honor and venerate cop killers, gangstas, drug pushers and civil irresponsibility as a whole will naturally comprise the larger representation within the criminal system. It isn’t because “the man” is holding them down, and it is not exclusive to any single ethnic group.

Please do not misunderstand me to think human life, even of the criminal, is not of value. Au contraire, I do value human life, and, as such, must impress the ultimate punishment for those who do not. It is offensive to think the appeal made by such change is the nobler, honorable, moral high road of valuing human life. In fact, it is just the opposite. What is actually being said by such legislative positioning is the life of the “homicidal maniac” (to quote the aforementioned convict Gauger) is valued above the victims of his mania. The fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees “Due Process” under the law… where is the due process in this legislative move? It is truly absurd to consider such positioning would be tolerated by the American citizen. And yet, it is. Why? Because America has (in large) surrendered her values and abandoned moral standards for the sake of convenience.

Subjective “moral standards” are neither a standard, nor moral.

At this point, you may be asking “What does Illinois have to do with Christian involvement in the assembly?” Well, consider the following.

Governor Quinn’s “100%” appeal is the same ol’ worn out excuse used by the unbelieving, as well as lazy, uncommitted Christians today. Namely, “I don’t attend Church because I’ve known too many Hypocrites who go to Church.” or “I’ve been hurt” or “I’ve seen too much evil” or “I’ve known Churches who have split” and on, and on, and on they go. Are you serious? In an age of “enlightenment”, let’s employ a little logical thinking with this excuse and see how well it holds up.

  • Should you stop eating because you’ve noticed gluttony, obesity, eating disorders or waste of food?
  • Should you stop driving because you’ve seen too many people violating the law, engaged in rude behavior or driving recklessly?
  • Have you sworn never to enter a romantic relationship due to the high rate of divorce, spousal abuse or unhappiness you’ve witnessed in others?
  • Have you stopped breathing in a statement against air pollution, the possibility of airborne disease, or in taking a stand against lung disorders?
  • Should you have your teeth pulled as a protest against tooth decay, your hair pulled out in a plea against baldness and refuse to see a doctor due to medical malpractice?

Shall I continue? To appeal for the “100%” rule demands consistency in all areas.

You see, the proper response to injustice, civic unrest or anarchy is to raise the bar of responsibility, not lower it. Criminals must be punished, severely in certain cases and entirely in others for those who have, by their actions, shown no regard for human life.

Unfortunately, folks who claim to be Christian often succumb to the same tactics employed by culture in an attempt to exempt themselves from active faith. This only underscores our struggle against self, or lack of struggle as the case may be. First of all, we do not “go to Church” anymore than a fish goes swimming. We are the Church and we gather together at a building, or another meeting place. People do not “do Church”, rather… we are Church. Secondly, the contemporary concept of “Church should meet my needs” is completely bogus. God is worthy of our worship, even if we should “get” nothing out of it… the simple truth is we receive much out of true worship offered to God. Honestly, I don’t care so much about catchy songs as I do about honoring God, being challenged to spiritual growth, greater service, stronger faith and edification of someone else.

Bottom line, be honest enough with yourself to admit why you really choose not to actively assemble with the Church. It just isn’t as high of a priority as other things.

You can check out another topic along the lines of Democracy by going here.

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In Christ #2, Identified in His Burial

Logo banner for the "In Christ" sermon series.For forgiveness of sin to be granted, one must be identified by and linked to the blood of Jesus. However, since we cannot go back in time to the Cross of Golgotha to physically come into contact with Jesus’ blood, there are two possibilities: 1) God is unreasonable & unjust by placing an expectation upon all mankind which only one generation could fulfill; or 2) There is another way to come into contact with the blood of Jesus. Since the first option is entirely out of the Character of God, we can only surmise that option #2 is the only logical answer to our problem.

As stated earlier, we are removed from the crucifixion of Jesus, so, although we have solved one issue in our knowledge of God’s character, we must discover the Biblical means of coming into contact with the blood of Jesus in our time. Certainly, based upon what we have seen in Scripture concerning God’s character, we know that He would select a means which would not limit redemption to a small portion of people. The good news is that He has selected a method and agent which is readily accessible to all people groups in all parts of the globe… and it always will be. Additionally, compliance to this method is very simple and fair.

So, what could possibly fall into all of these categories? Accessible to all people, readily available and simple, economically inexpensive or at no cost. Baptism by immersion in water.

Now, I know all of the arguments that so many people from denominational groups use against baptism. And, I can say without hesitation, that they are not valid. An honest reading through the New Testament, without viewing through any lens of religious tradition, lands on the same conclusion. Baptism is the only event which links us to or identifies us with the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus. Why is this such a big deal? Well, if God has established conditions for us to enter His family & receive the benefits of salvation (and He has) then we should be urgently concerned with knowing what these conditions are, and just as urgent about complying with these same conditions.

Chart comparing current forms of baptism with New Testament baptism

Baptism was a widely known & accepted practice in the Jewish community long before Jesus implemented it as a part of His plan for our forgiveness. Because it was widely accepted as a significant act of devotion, it was reasonable for Jesus to use as a practice for identifying His followers. There is another reason for Jesus using baptism. Romans 6:3-7 states that baptism is the point at which we are identified with the death of Christ, and “raised up” with Him in His resurrection.

This text provides a wonderful word picture of what actually happens at our baptism. We are “buried with Christ” and “raised up with Him”. This use of phrasing helps enforce the baptism by immersion model, as found in the New Testament. Think about it: do we sprinkle dirt onto a casket & refer to it as burial? No! We cover the casket completely, just as immersion resembles burial by our complete covering over with water. Sprinkling & pouring do not accomplish this.

Additionally, if we are sprinkled or poured we cannot “rise up from the grave” as is clearly done in immersion. We come up out of the covering of water, just as Jesus came up from within the covering of the grave. As a result, New Testament baptism acts as a proclamation of the Gospel by symbolically referencing Christ’s death, burial & resurrection.

I have created an article on this topic, which addresses each of the passages in the New Testament dealing with baptism. The article can be found in our resources section of our website, at the following URL: Baptism by Comparison All articles are in Adobe pdf format, and require Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can get the reader at the Adobe site by clicking here.

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In Christ, identified in His death

Logo banner for the "In Christ" sermon series. The Apostle Paul uses the phrase “In Christ” a total of 87 times in his writings, as provided by the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition. Obviously, Paul in his use of this phrase, is speaking to the Christian and is referencing a number of truths.

When someone becomes a Christian, we refer to their placing faith “in Christ”, we mention them being “in the Church” and encourage them to walk “in faith”. Unfortunately, some seem to believe that this simply refers to participation in Church related events, ministries or programs, or in terms of attendance in services. Paul is speaking to something far greater than simple attendance… being counted in attendance is not going to do anything for us in regard to our legal problem with sin. Paul is providing an understanding of a change in our legal standing with God in relation to Christ, from being on our own to actually being identified by the righteousness of Christ.

The question at hand is how are we identified with Christ? Is there a specific point in time, or an event which can identify us to the person of Christ?

Paul’s writings provide for us clear identification with Christ in death, burial & resurrection. Apart from this unique identification, we are outside Christ, and thus, unable to receive the benefit of identification with Christ. It should be noted before entering into this study, that the Holy Spirit does not provide an exemption to this identification… everyone must comply in order to be identified as “in Christ”.

Perhaps the clearest text on this topic, from Paul’s writings, is Colossians 2:9-14. For the purposes of this study, we will use the New American Standard Bible.

9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 2:9-14, NASB’95

Paul is speaking of the fullness of Christ (vs. 9) and is very explicit in our need to be connected or identified with Him. His teachings are clear:

  • We are complete in Christ, inversely… we are incomplete apart from Him.
  • Christ is the source of Authority, and so He alone is uniquely and singularly authorized to establish qualifications for those identified as His.
  • We have been circumcised or marked by His hand & not by an action of our own.
  • We are buried with Christ in baptism… thus, we are identified with the death of Jesus.
  • Through our faith in the working of God, we share in His resurrection.
  • All of our transgressions are forgiven.

To be “in Christ” we must be identified with His death, burial & resurrection.

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Rushing the Quarterback

The 2010 NFL Championship game, aka “The Ultra Big Football Championship Serving Container” (in order to preserve trademark & copyright) is slated to occur on Sunday, February 7th. Most Americans are somewhat aware of the Titanic struggle, able to identify the teams playing on Sunday, or at the very least identify an American football when shown a picture. However, another epic struggle is occurring on Sunday with consequences far beyond a trophy or championship ring. Perhaps you’ve heard…

Focus on the Family has partnered with Tim Tebow (former college quarterback for the Florida Gators) to produce a TV commercial which affirms the value of human life to be aired during the “Big Game”. The commercial, which has not been officially aired, will be shown during the game and available at Focus on the Family following the game. There has been significant attention created by the ad, which tells, in part, the decision of Tim Tebow’s mother not to abort her unborn son (Tim) and end a pregnancy that was not planned or ‘wanted’ at that point in her life. The ‘controversy’ surrounding the ad is created by ‘Pro-Choice’ groups, especially Planned Parenthood, for what they perceive as a threat to the ‘choice’ of women. CBS is airing the ad, with a suspected $2.6 Million in profit, and has been the epicenter of the raging social storm.

It takes far more than a thin wall of latex to preserve the sexuality of women, and it is ever saddening to me that intellectual women fail to see this exploitation.

There are two groups who are largely vocal about the ad… Planned Parenthood leads the charge for the champions of ‘women’s rights’ while the pro-homosexuality groups throughout the nation are also weighing in. Although the homosexual advocates probably have no dog in the race of ‘choice’, they are upset with a homosexual ad for the website ‘Mancrunch(dot)com’ which was denied by CBS. Amid the cloud of dispute can be found the real issue. The ad is not ‘anti-abortion’ as touted by Planned Parenthood & the like, rather, it recognizes the value of human life. Funny, when an ad or publication appeals to preserve life, and respect it, the pro-choice groups show their true colors. They are not concerned about human life, nor do they preserve the rights of women as they hold their banner of choice so highly… exactly the opposite is achieved… women are perceived as nothing more than a vessel exploited to produce the product they need to remain in business (a huge, highly profitable business)… unwanted human life. Women are humiliated, mutilated & scarred with no regard or respect, then encouraged to go out & enjoy their ‘sexual freedom’ under the pretense of sexual protection. It takes far more than a thin wall of latex to preserve the sexuality of women, and it is ever saddening to me that intellectual women fail to see this exploitation.

You can view the Planned Parenthood response by going here: You Tube Planned Parenthood Response

I’ll weigh in at a later date on the specifics of the issues surrounding the decision by CBS not to air the mancrunch ad, as well as sharing an in depth examination of the Planned Parenthood schemata & agenda. If you are interested, you can watch the blog for a new post on these issues very soon. (You may want to subscribe via the rss feed at the top right of this blog page.)

Touchdown for Tim Tebow! And bravo Focus on the Family… for placing your values & finances above the corporate bottom line. It is far past time for the American citizen to speak out against such murderous hostility toward any human life and insist that the federal subsidizing of murder via abortion be stopped, and violators be pursued & prosecuted under strictest penalty of the law.

Where is the choice of the unborn in this matter?

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Sons & Daughters #1: “Intimacy”

Young couple enjoying a walk along the beachThe topic of sex has been taboo for many years in the Church. Unfortunately, many preachers & teachers have strayed from teaching on the topic, apart from condemning misconduct in a general way. This void of responsible, Biblical instruction on Sex has created an environment of dysfunction, compounded by guilt and shame. It has also created the false understanding that the Church is opposed to human sexuality, condemning it as ‘dirty’ or ‘sinful’ in any capacity apart from procreation.

The American culture has become increasingly saturated with images & conversation regarding sex, yet, the Church has largely held to a Puritanical ideology in respect to the subject. The irresponsible, immoral teachings & practices advocated (propagated) by culture, coupled with the relative silence of teaching from the Church, have created a sense of “We can’t talk about that here.” For many Christians, sex is something which carries a negative connotation and is better left unspoken. For non-believers, the idea that Christians are celibate, or prudish, or hypocrites only closes the door for the Gospel. Their thinking is that they are unwilling to consider faith in Christ if it demands that they deny their sexuality. Who can blame them? After all, if we are going to be very honest with ourselves, we must admit that sexuality is a large part of who we are as a person.

Upon opening the pages of the Bible, and reading passages from Song of Solomon, one becomes frustrated. The frank manner in which sex is described within its pages leads a person to think that God is OK with human sexuality… even encouraging it’s practice within the right boundaries… yet, it remains an elephant in the sanctuary. When did Christianity come to the idea that sex is a ‘dirty’ topic? Why has this element of the human experience become so awkward a topic among the assembly? Is the Christian free to enjoy sex?

For many Christians, sex is something which carries a negative connotation and is better left unspoken. For non-believers, the idea that Christians are celibate, or prudish, or hypocrites only closes the door for the Gospel.

For the next four weeks (the entire month of February) I am covering the topic of sex in the morning assembly. The entire series is intended for all Christians… married & unmarried alike. We’ll address the Biblical perspective on sex, and delve into why it has become such a taboo topic over the years. My goal is to instruct and in so doing, remove the myths, misconceptions & false teachings on the topic. I will be respectful, but frank on the topic… as I believe any Christian should be. It should be noted that the assembly will be covering a mature topic, which I intend to handle in an open & mature manner. Therefore, parents are urged to use discretion in allowing their children to remain with them in the assembly. Our children’s programs offer unique, age appropriate learning during our assembly which will aid parents during this sermon series.

Due to the nature of the topic, I will be using a slightly different approach to this sermon series.

  • First, this blog will contain devotional information to aid you in discovering what the Bible says on the various topics. Typically, this info is posted by Wednesday evening.
  • Second, since questions are inevitable, and I wish to answer your questions, you are encouraged to bring your cell phone into the assembly & text your questions directly to me during the sermon. My cell number is listed in the bulletin & will also be displayed on the screen at various points during the sermon.
  • Third, all questions will be answered discretely on this blog during the following week.
  • Lastly, the final sermon will provide answers to text only questions in a question & answer session during the message. This final sermon will be the only one in which I will receive & answer text questions ‘live’ during the message.

For those of you who do not have text capabilities, or who do not like to text, I am also receiving questions via email. It should be noted that questions in text format have a certain sense of anonymity to them, in that unless I have your contact info in my cell, I will not know who has asked the question. The email format loses some of the sense of anonymity since I typically will know who sent the email. Having said that, I want to assure you that I will maintain complete confidentiality in the handling of these questions & answers.

The sermon series is entitled “Sons & Daughters” and is based upon 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5 and some other select passages. Sermon #1 (February 7th) deals with Intimacy. In preparation for the message, please read the following passages & consider the questions which accompany the passage reference.

    Genesis 2

  • What is the context & meaning of the term ‘suitable’ as used in vs. 20?
  • What was man’s response to the woman according to 2:23?
  • The expectation placed upon the man & woman by God was (is) what, according to 2:24?
  • What is the meaning behind the use of the term ‘one flesh’ as used in vs. 24?
  • Why were the man & woman naked?
  • How did God describe His creation in 1:31?
    1 Peter 3:6

  • What responsibilities are placed upon the sons & daughters of Sarah?

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The return of Jesus

There are no shortages of theological positions & views on the coming appearance of Jesus. Such diversity of opinion can create real confusion in the minds of believers, and it is difficult to settle the disputes they bring. Of this we can be certain: they cannot all be correct, however, it is possible for all to be incorrect. Therefore, we must be cautious to allow Scripture to remain the authority on the subject, and to be cautious of embracing those which have no Biblical foundation.

Scripture is explicit on certain details regarding the return of Jesus, which cannot be denied.

First, His return is imminent, or expected at any time. This further confirms the understanding which has been asserted, namely, that no one apart from the Father knows the time of Jesus’ return. Some have suggested that because the Apostles & 1st century believers expected Jesus’ return at any day, that to hold to the imminent return teaching today is wrong. This thinking is that it could not be imminent today & at the time of the apostles as well. Because of this erroneous thinking, some have presumed that the return of Jesus has already occurred… a thought common in the time of the apostles, and further developed around a fascination with the events of 70AD. Such thinking cannot be further from the truth. The urgency with which the Apostles conveyed the imminent return of Jesus only underscore the realization that no one (Jesus, Apostles, Angels, Prophets) apart from God the Father knows the time of Jesus’ return. Of this we can be sure, it will be in the fullness of God’s timing, it will be at the perfect time, and it will be at a future time.

Second, Jesus’ return will be apparent to all humanity… no secret appearing. Every eye shall see, and there will be an audible announcement with the voice of the archangel & the trumpet of God. During the time of the Apostles, the false teaching of the resurrection having already occurred was already infiltrating into the Churches, and creating confusion & discouragement among the saints. Scripture is very clear that the coming of Jesus will be evident to all humanity, dead & living included. Many outside the faith have questioned such a simultaneous appearing by the Lord, citing the know time zones of the earth. It should be noted, however, that Jesus is not limited by time, space, or the reason of man. What is impossible with man (even to understand) is possible with God.

Third, it will be Jesus Himself, accompanied by the angels, who will appear. This is one of the most encouraging aspects of the Christian faith. God will send Jesus Himself to claim His bride, the Church. And, who better than the King to appear at His coronation? This will not be a messenger or another agent of God, but Jesus Himself.

Fourth, the dead in Christ shall rise… all of the dead in Christ. This is the expected resurrection, which the saint’s in John’s vision longed for and asked “How long?” (Rev. 6:10) “bringing His saints with Him” (1 Thes 4:14) The resurrection has yet to occur. Scripture does speak of the graves breaking open at the death of Jesus, and recognized people appeared throughout the area. It should be noted, that the Scripture never designates this as the final resurrection, but it is a miraculous resurrection of the recent dead… recognized by those still living… as a sign of Christ’s redemptive death. Many confuse this resurrection with the final resurrection of the dead, yet, this resurrection is no different from that of Lazarus at the word of our Lord.

Fifth, His appearing will be sudden, as a thief in the night… just as in the days of Noah. (Luke 17:26,27) This is a further word of caution for those who would be tempted to listen to the ‘date setters’ or ‘prophets’ of today. Mankind has been setting dates since the ascension of Jesus, but Jesus Himself made clear that no one apart from the Father would know the day established for His appearing. Knowledge & awareness of His coming is always upon His arrival, suddenly & without warning.

Sixth, His appearing will be final… offering no second chances at repentance & obedience. One of the most destructive doctrines within the religious world is this idea of a 2nd opportunity of Grace. Some site as a proof text the appearance of our Lord in the place of the dead while in the grave, preaching to those who had died. A simple examination of the text, and a proper understanding of the language reveal that His preaching was not evangelistic in nature (urging repentance) but it was a declaration of the fulfillment of His coming & sacrifice. Jesus left no unanswered question regarding the time of his atoning death… everyone among the dead, both saints & wicked, had full understanding of His appearing.

And Lastly, it shall be triumphant, as a reigning, victorious King. John’s vivid imagery of the returning Christ is one which conveys a victorious, conquering, reigning King. Every symbolic image reveals within its use the fact that Jesus is over all… King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus will not cower secretively in His appearing at a secret location to a select few… He will return with thousands upon thousands of angels, the dead in Christ shall arise “coming with Him” and those who are alive & remain shall be changed in an instant. The reigning king shall then be seated in a place of judgment over al people & nations and complete His actions of redemption by purchasing for Himself a people through His own blood, poured out at Calvary. The return of Jesus will be nothing short of a victorious, conquering appearing of the eternal reigning King of Kings.

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Relief is on the way

Recent images from the Haitian earthquake have stirred memories of the needs I saw first hand while serving on a short term mission trip in Haiti. In 1989, the Church I was serving (Fairview Christian Church, Foster KY) partnered with the Rappahannok Church of Christ (Virginia) to provide assistance to a missionary we jointly supported. Leontes (Leon) D’Orleans is a native Haitian and graduate of Cinncinati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian university) who has an impressive and infectious love for the Lord.

In preparation for the trip, each of us had to have a series of shots, followed by taking medication to prevent Malaria. I did very well with the shots, but the Malaria medication made me sicker than a dog as we were leaving for the airport… I had to make a couple ‘stops’ on the way, if you catch what I mean. Our team in Cincinnati boarded the plane, which lost an engine about 5 minutes into our flight, causing a nightmarish delay & potentially killing our effort to go. Fortunately, we split up & were able to catch individual flights, ultimately joining again for the single flight into Haiti. All this while I was running through airports with my new friend Bill Fudge trying to keep my physical composure so as not to repeat any of the fun activity I experienced on the car ride to the airport. We made the flight, and our delayed arrival into Haiti was without further issue.

Upon landing, 2 things immediately struck me. First, the smell. It was overwhelming, and a smell I shall never forget. Following the devastating flood of 1997 throughout our region of Kentucky, I relived a little of that memory while assisting in the cleanup of our camp & property of some townsfolk living in Falmouth, KY. I remember reading about the Biblical location of the Valley of Hinnom, a place where open fires of human waste, garbage & the bodies of the impoverished deceased were a daily event outside Jerusalem… “surely, this was similar to what Jesus was talking about” was the thought rushing through my mind, via my nostrils. The second impression was of the ‘guards’ posted by the Haitian government at the airport. They were dressed in rag-tag ‘uniforms’ and possessed weapons which dated from the pre WWII era.

Leon met us at the airport… his huge smile was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen all day. We were travel worn, but excited to hug Leon & begin our work. Our lodging was generous… far above the Haitian standard of living… and we were offered a meal of fried chicken that night. I could not eat, partially due to illness and partially due to the poverty all around me… it was staggering.

Cite Soliel is translated to mean “City of the Sun”. I have seen the light of their sun, and it outshines that of many in the American Church, which has become shaded by stained glass and the trappings of material possessions and inward focused programs.

We were there to offer assistance in constructing a building for the Church that Leon served as minister, and provide them with encouragement, instruction & resources in developing a Christian School & proper leadership within the Church. The Church was in Cite Soliel, a slum of Port Au Prince and only a short distance from the capitol city. The next day, we loaded up in ‘Tap Taps’ (Haitian taxis) and headed to the work site… The smell, the heat & the stupid malaria medication once again put me in a humble position of prayer upon stepping off of the Tap Tap. I spent the next morning lying prone in my room, trying to regain from the dehydration & illness which held me so tightly.

The remainder of my time in Haiti was so life changing. I thought I knew what poverty looked like, but I was face to face, hand in hand with the ‘least of these’ whom Jesus spoke of. I listened with shock as Leon described a husband and father eating only 1 meal every other day in order to provide enough for his children to eat a single meal every day. Child mortality was shocking and the life expectancy of the Haitian people rivaled nothing I had ever seen or heard before. Yet, I celebrated & worshiped with my fellow Christians from Haiti & was so struck by their joy & generosity. The Church is alive & well in Haiti!

Amid the poverty & oppression, the death and hopelessness of this life, the Christians of Haiti shine with a light of Jesus that goes beyond the temporal sufferings of this world.

Leon has endured many sufferings in his commitment to Jesus. Possessing a keen mind & very sharp intellect, Leon has been offered a number of ministry opportunities here in the US, yet he maintained his single minded vision of serving the Lord in his own country. Leon’s wife, Jackie, was kidnapped & held for ransom some years ago… he has suffered illness & poverty, lack of resources, exploitation by the government & threats from those opposed to the Church, yet, the Church of around 100 has grown now to well over 1000. Leon has helped the Church establish a Christian school, and has founded a network of support for hundreds of orphans to receive food, clothing, shelter, education & love in a Christian environment.

Cite Soliel is translated to mean “City of the Sun”. I have seen the light of their sun, and it outshines that of many in the American Church, which has become shaded by stained glass and the trappings of material possessions and inward focused programs. Amid the poverty & oppression, the death and hopelessness of this life, the Christians of Haiti shine with a light of Jesus that goes beyond the temporal sufferings of this world. So much so, that they continue to sacrifice in order to send young men to the US to attend Bible College and receive training to serve as evangelists & missionaries.

My point in all of this? Haiti needed assistance before the earthquake, and they certainly need it now. Our congregation is currently planning a special offering on Superbowl Sunday and we will send that donation, earmarked for use as Haitian earthquake relief, through I.D.E.S. (International Disaster Emergency Service) because 100% of the funds go to the effort. Many other groups eat up large amounts with their overhead, and we have a long standing relationship of trust with I.D.E.S. which confirms their responsible handling of such matters. Please pray for the Haitian people, and those presently providing relief to them. Your role in providing relief cannot be underestimated, and I’d encourage your prayerful consideration in our efforts on their behalf.

For a little additional reading, you may want to check out the following article:
Busted: 5 Myths of Disaster Relief

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