Thursday, July 28, 2011

I was recently reading someone’s short blog posting and observation about our ministry and others.  It was in the context of a commitment to world evangelism.  He said:

“But unless you’re Pastor Warner, Mitchell, Rubi, Stephens, and others who are heavily invested in world evangelism, and who have to support regardless of how much and sadly how little comes in month after month.”

It was the phrase “heavily invested” that jumped out at me, which I could certainly relate to.  It echoes Jesus’s “treasure principle” which he spelled out in (Mt.6:20,21) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Jesus is clearly talking about our eternal investment portfolio, or our lives and investments in the light of eternity.  In the last two or three years, many people’s investments have taken a major hit, suffering some significant losses.  This is why there are all sorts of companies, large and small, who specialize in “investment strategies” to help build and protect your portfolio.  I’m not sure how successful many of them have been, but I do hear at least a half a dozen radio advertisements every day about gold as the place to be, the only safe haven with a falling dollar and the prospect of hyper-inflation etc.

It was the earlier blog reference and assessment of things that was “spot on.”  A few years back, our accountant, who does our annual financial compilations, remarked that he had not seen a church with such a large percentage of its operating budget dedicated to missions.  Sometimes, this puts you me into a precarious state of mind, wondering if we aren’t over-extended in the pursuit of the Lord’s Great Commission.  I was surprised last week by the title of an article that said, “The End of Church Planting” - A look at whether churches should expand through a missionary model rather than relying on professional entrepreneurial pastors to plant churches.  It turned out to be a discussion about methodologies, but I couldn’t get the title out of my mind since it so contradicted the priority of being heavily invested in God’s harvest. I couldn’t help but compare that title with the recent international church-planting announcements from the Tucson and Prescott Bible Conferences: Bamenda, Cameroon; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Yerevan, Armenia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Praia, Cape Verde Islands, Pusan, South Korea.  Church planting is certainly not over in my mind!

To be “heavily invested” in world evangelism is not the same thing as living life with blinders on, or being a monomaniac.  It means being invested in God’s entire plan of redemption in all its many aspects.  From winning souls and unchurched people, making disciples, edifying the church, gifts of the spirit, family and marriage ministry, training in service, and raising up new leaders, all with the goal of reproducing the same life of Christ in other cities and nations.  Paul’s motivation captures this when he said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” (2Cor.12:15a) The Message version put it, “I’d be most happy to empty my pockets, even mortgage my life for your good.” 

All of this is not simply the promotion of a program as it is the igniting of the heart in the direction of God’s burden.  Again, I think about how prominently this figured into the thinking, the theology, and the passion of the apostle Paul.  How many times did he refer to people as “my joy and my crown” or the focus and fruit of his investment.  To the Philippians he said, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” (Phil.4:1) To the Thessalonians his heart overflowed, “Or  what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  For you are our glory and joy.”  (1Thess.2:19, 20) He is affirming what he is heavily invested in before the Lord.  Finally, he verbalizes his ultimate goal at the end of his life in (2Tim.4:8) “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
The exciting thing about this to me is that he is not excluding the rest of us.  In fact, he opens the door wide to us all to be invested when he said, “not only to me but also to all who love His appearing.”  It is also important to realize that this investment will not always be immediately repaid, but realized and fully-amortized in heaven!

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tour de France just ended on Sunday, and a new winner was crowned.  While some of the sporting world’s attention was riveted on this grueling and iconic cycling event, that carried 167 cyclists throughout the nation of France, another event was getting ready to begin in the city of Marseilles: revival services with Evangelist Marty Carnegie!  Marty was and still is preaching for Desmond and Matilda Bell our church there, that was pioneered by Charlie and Dawn Forman.  I was excited and anticipating good things going in, but I thought I’d give you brother Marty’s report so far!

“We kicked off revival here in Marseille last night, it was very good.  Desmond said he’s never seen the crowds or the response that God gave us last night.  As the singing began, it was supernatural as we watched people just start flowing in.  It was like a faucet opened in heaven and they came.  The building was so packed, they overflowed to the sidewalk.  I saw folks standing in the back looking for seats.  The altar call reminded me of a crusade in Africa, people getting up and coming to pray. I’m sure I counted between 10-12 who received Jesus.  Many other visitors mentioned coming back tonight with their families.  This is real pastor, this is a move of God.  Charlie Forman must know, God sent him here years ago for this purpose.  Don’t know how we’re going to manage the next few nights with space.  Imagine, this is France.  Maybe this is the backfire I preached about in conference.  The devil tried to sink France in atheism and unbelief, but now it’s backfired and created even more interest in the gospel.  Jesus is drawing them in.  Watching last night’s service, you feel a fire rising that’s going to spread.  The Gospel changes everything.”

Hallelujah!  Pray that the seed of God’s Word takes foot and brings forth fruit abundantly: some thirty, some sixty, some one hundred fold!  What a blessing to see God continue to raise up an evangelistic, disciple-making, church-planting center in this city and nation!
Thursday, July 21, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the whole realm of healing, especially what a marvel and blessing it can be.  On June 29th I had a surgical debridement of a chronic wound on my right ankle bone.  An MRI had shown that the underlying cause and barrier to healing was some minimal osteomyelitis (bone infection).  Given that diagnosis, I had little choice but to move forward with this procedure.  Going in to it I knew a few things: 1st, I was going to wait until after our 2011 Bible Conference in June, 2nd, it was something that had to be done, and 3rd, there was going to be subsequent time and recovery issues.  Any paraplegic knows about and must be constantly aware of and vigilant for any skin or wound issue.  As a result, I have gathered a fair amount of understanding of this over the last nearly forty years.

Wound care happens to be one of the growing, necessary, and cutting-edge fields of medical science today.  This is due in part to the huge increase in the number of victims of diabetes in America and much of the Western world.  Wound care and its related costs are also expected to grow with the increase of the elderly population.  So, being informed about this can obviously be helpful.

Enough talk about wounds or infirmity, since what’s been at the forefront of my mind is the matter of healing.  First, because this is one of the biggest grace needs that exist today.  Part and parcel of the human condition that we are confronted with on a daily basis is brokenness or wounded people.  This can be physical, mental, emotional, relational or spiritual.  This is not saying that the most basic root of human behavior is the therapeutic model.  No, it is moral, or at the root of man’s condition is the problem of sin.  However, the results of that sin leads to all kinds of brokenness.  We are confronted with this reality on a daily basis in a myriad of difficult manifestations.  This gives real insight into the power of God’s working, which is bringing wholeness to people living in a broken world!  This is why the revelation of God’s Name and nature is so fantastic.  (Ex.15:26) says, “...For I am the Lord, your Healer.”  This is one of the compound names of God where we anchor our faith: Jehovah-Rophe, the Lord, your Physician.  I think this is why the human body is such a marvel!  God has created and formed us in such a way that in the presence of injury or sickness, the human body, its cells and immune system goes to work immediately to protect and to heal.

One quote that caught my interest said, “Wound healing is a complex, multi-faceted and dynamic process.”  A major aspect to this process is creating a healing environment that promotes overall healing.  This “environment” is essential to breaking through the various barriers to healing that always present themselves (everything from the excess of bacterial burden or edema, the absence of moisture, lack of adequate blood flow etc.).  It has helped to clarify and define in my mind a large part of the church’s calling: the church is called to be God’s hospital...a healing community.  (Eph.4:11-13) sums this up for us, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  Since I’ve been pondering this, let me give you some of my thoughts (Bible-based) about some important elements in creating this healing environment.  I’ve actually come up with 9 elements, in no particular order; but enough for you to digest and apply to your own life.

Following Doctor’s Orders - Obeying God’s Word

The Psalmist put it succinctly “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Ps.119:9).  Healing is inextricably connected with God’s Word.  At the beginning of the Lord’s ministry at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, Mary, Jesus’s mother said, “whatever he says to you, do it.” (Jn.2:5) Let’s visit again the revelation of the God of healing in Exodus 15, and put it in its context, "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer."  Obedience to God’s Word is such a powerful and necessary healing element.  On July 10th I gave a live Skype progress report to the church where they could see me on the large screens, and I could see and hear many of them.  In that report, when I said, “I am following Doctor’s orders” the congregation spontaneously clapped and voiced their approval.   What were they trying to say?!  They just might know me, so it said, “Pastor, don’t be too reckless, but flow with the program.”

The Power of the Blood

Oh, yes, the miracle of the Blood!  (Lev.17:14a) said long before the advent of modern medicine, “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.”  Nothing is more important to healing in every dimension of life as the Blood.  If the blood can reach a wound, it brings with it marvelous healing power.  This is why in praying with people for healing we appeal to the power of the blood, for this reason.

Sterile Environment - It Must Be Clean

I must admit, for the two and a half days in the hospital until today, it’s easy to become a bit “germaphobic.” 
My wife has a little sign and list of requirements in the kitchen, and at the top of the list is, “Wash your hands!”  God is looking for people He can use, and He’s looking to use people who want to be holy.  (Heb.12:14)LB puts it this way, “Try to stay out of all quarrels, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for one who is not holy will not see the Lord.”  This is our master passion: to see the Lord and help others to see the Lord!  As a Christian and leader, there’s no greater way to be used, and we’ve got to be holy to do that.  We’re not talking about perfection, but a heart and life that keeps short accounts with God, seeks to remain humble and honest before God.  All of which is vital to God’s healing grace.

The Time Element

It’s amazing again how well people know you (if people know, then how much more God).  Tom Connors sent me a message right after the surgery, and it consisted of really one word, “patience!”  There are different things we can do to assist in healing, but there’s no substitute for time in the healing process.  As a younger Christian and pastor, I used to think that change could come quickly and easily.  The more I’ve matured, I still have great confidence in God’s power, but I realize that real change and healing takes a lot more time than we think.  Time is not an enemy, but it is a factor that none of us can escape.  This is why we call it a process, because it is a process!

Nutrients - Watch Your Diet

Bill and Kim Neil allied themselves with me a few weeks before my surgery to help with my diet.  “You are what you eat” has some truth to it.  If we want to heal, then our intake is a very important matter.  The Apostle Paul said (1Pet.2:2, 3) “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord's kindness.”  The mile and the meat of God’s Word contribute to a balanced spiritual diet to grow strong in the Lord.

You Need Help - No One Heals Alone

I’ve always held to the adage, “If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fencepost, you know that it got some help!”  That’s true with all of us.  None of us are going to finish this race well on our own; we need the help of others.  The principle is spelled out in (Ps.68:5, 6) “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.  God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”  It is a fact of spiritual growth that God uses other people to help, to heal, and to mature us.  We’re not going to experience these things in isolation.  I love the story that John Ortberg tells about a friend traveling to the South, and ordering breakfast one day.  He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item.  So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”  Her response in classic Southern drawl was, “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”  Grits don’t exist in isolation!  The point here is that to be spiritual and to be made whole is to be relational.  God uses people to help us grow.  The word “community” is one of those currently popular and frequently used religious words.  I think the definition puts it well: “A group that possesses and implements an irrational commitment to the well-being of its members.”  This was the early church’s environment, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46, 47) They worshiped together, ate together, talked together, prayed together, taught together.  They stayed connected! 

There is a Cost Element to Healing

The cost of wound care is high.  As far back as 1995, in the United States alone, spending on wound care and management exceeded $3.3 billion a year.  That figure has gone up substantially since then.  It makes me think of Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan in (Lk.10:33-35) “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” Caring for others may be costly, but the alternative of an uninvolved life is a poor one indeed, and does not see God’s wonders or power.  Healing and compassion are connected at the hip.

Not A One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Healing, like people’s needs, are all individual in nature.  This is why Jesus employed a variety of healing methods from spit and mud, to the laying on of hands, to words of command, to specific steps and direction that led to healing; even delay was used by the Lord to demonstrate His power.  I think it’s quite common if we find something that works, to ride that into the ground.  While there are principles that never change, methods always do or need to be flexible.  Individual needs and healing is not a simple formula or an exact science, but it is a combination of a number of factors and markers.  Wounds, for instance, must be treated individually, and sometimes changing approaches can lead to a real breakthrough. 

Elevate, My Good Man

Especially, if you’re dealing with injuries to the lower extremities, you are encouraged to elevate your leg and foot.  A focus, a perspective, an attitude that looks upward is essential to a healing environment.  This is true with a harvest of souls: Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (Jn.4:35)  Elevate.  It is true with mental stability and spiritual growth, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col.4:1, 2) Elevate.  Personal strength flows from this elevation principle as well, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa.40:31)

In the Gospels, as Jesus touched people’s lives and brought healing, deliverance, hope and transformation, a frequent description (kind of like a “release form”) was “your faith has made you whole.”  That is the comprehensive word, “sozo” for salvation, healing, forgiveness, and deliverance.  If I were to sum things us here, it is the Gospel that heals and saves people!  In our therapeutic age, we must never lose sight of this pivotal fact: that it is repentance and forgiveness of sins that flows from faith in Jesus Christ that is the only answer to the human condition.   Jesus’s ministry was inaugurated with the prophetic declaration, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isa.61:1) Do you remember the children’s nursery thyme, “Humpty Dumpty?” 

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men,Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Well, what all the king’s horses and men couldn’t do, the Lord Jesus Christ can and does!  Make sure you are still being part of this on-going process.  Open your heart to Him and embrace His healing power and the various elements that contribute to this healing environment.  
“Preach to broken people, and you will never lack an audience, for there’s one in every pew!”

Oh, by the way, my E.T.A. for church services again in 7-31-11, the start of a revival with evangelist Stacy Dillard!
Friday, July 8, 2011

Note: Our 2011 Bible Conference was a fantastic time of God’s visitation; but it ended on a sad and tragic note which took place on Sunday, June 19th.  Five young men from the church in Kearns, UT were driving home when they suffered a horrible accident outside of Phoenix, AZ.  It resulted in two fatalities (Mike Peterson and Anthony Gallegos), with the other three being injured (Markel Taylor, Joe Gallegos, and Ezekiel Contreras).  The most seriously   injured was Ezekiel, who suffered a very high spinal cord injury.  All of these, along with their families should be kept in prayer.

Let’s get a few things out of the way at the start.  First, it’s early.  For any spinal cord injury, Ezekiel, you find yourself trapped in a very jumbled time, where there are far more questions than answers, but then you even forget the questions.  They’re still trying to stabilize you and your condition, my brother, and that takes time.  You own body is trying to adjust to a myriad of issues.  This is why sometimes victory is just making it day by day, and sometimes even hour by hour.  Second, it is not easy.  Things in your life and world have been turned upside down.  I could hear the concern and maybe even fear the other day, which is perfectly understandable.  When I was injured 38 years ago, and my dad came to visit me from the East Coast, he had some of the same emotions, even though it was hard for him to express emotion.   Finally, I realize things are not equal.  The difference between a cervical SCI (spinal cord injury), and a lumbar injury is night and day.  So, I can’t really say, “I know what you’re going through.”  I struggled with what to say that had any kind of meaning, knowing that sometimes you should say nothing at all.

Ezekiel, when I heard the news of your accident, it brought all kinds of “memory flashbacks” reminding me of some of my own challenges, some of which are still fresh in my mind.  On April 30, 1973, I was driving back to Prescott from Kearny, AZ, with the distinction of the shortest church-planting venture in our fellowship.  I arrived there on Friday, and by Monday morning I was returning to Prescott with the church-planting door closed in my face!  It had just rained lightly in the area, there was fresh pavement on that stretch of highway, and the tires on my car could be described as well used.  Suddenly, we went into a skid towards the side of the road, hitting and then the car rolling over a 20-25 foot embankment.  What I didn’t know at the time (although I did know something bad had happened) was that I suffered a compression fracture of my L-1 vertebrae, severing my spinal cord, and ending up paralyzed.  Since it was beyond their capacity in the little town of Kearny, I was immediately transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, AZ replete with my now torn clothing, dirt on my face and in my mouth, and securely strapped to a stretcher.  What followed were seemingly endless tests, work to stabilize me physically, surgery to fuse my vertebrae, countless Doctor’s visits, all the time trying to learn what had happened to me, and how I was going to move forward.

Needless to say, this was my real lesson that life can sometimes be tough, bordering on the cruel and unexplainable.  The Bible tell us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” which is certainly true.  Another unspoken element in this creative marvel, which is our bodies, is that we are also fragile at times.  Superman only exists in comic books or at the theaters.  I learned that life can be turned upside down on a dime.  From one moment to the next your whole world can change.  Everything in my life had radically changed in a matter of minutes; but the one thing that did not change was my relationship with God!  “Behold, I am the Lord, I change not” was certainly true, almost surreal at the time.  Everything else had changed, even down to some of the most personal and intimate needs, but God and His grace toward me did not change one iota. 

All of this has gone into what is almost a life motto, “LIFE IS TOUGH, BUT GOD IS GOOD!”  It is not an accident that one of the most common refrains in the Bible is, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” with the congregational response “for his love endures forever.”  Over the years, there have been two questions asked me more than any other.  The first is, “Were you a Christian (saved) before your accident, or did you come to Christ after?”  In some, I think the underlying motive in that question is human pride, that I must’ve need someone or something to lean on after the accident, as if the timing would somehow invalidate my experience with Christ.  Ultimately, it would not matter how or when I came to Christ, but I simply tell people the truth, “No, I was already living for God at the time of the injury.”  The second big question people have asked was “Did you get bitter?”  Of course, there were some major mind battles, but my honest answer was “No.”  Why?  Well, for one, God didn’t do this to me.  If your car goes into a skid, and rolls over, then there are laws of physics that are involved, not a failure of God’s love toward me.

Ezekiel, I don’t want to try to comfort you with empty word, what the Book of Job calls “words without knowledge.”  Let me just tell you of some of the “anchors” that brought me through, and are still keeping to this very day.  Looking back, there were a number of real “difference makers.”

  1. God’s supernatural grace.  I’m not talking about a religious clich√© here either.  When God said to Paul’s urgent request to remove his harassing “thorn in his side,” the Lord responded “My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  He was describing a real supernatural provision.  It’s hard to explain it to people, but when we’re at our wit’s ends, and say, “this is more than I can bear,” there is a Divine grace upholding and sustaining us.  I was recently reading the testimony of Joni Eareckson Tada.  She was an athletic teenager who broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967 in the Chesapeake Bay.  It left her totally and permanently paralyzed.  After 25 years in a wheelchair she began to have health problems and had to go back to bed.  Hoping to cheer her up, her husband Ken hung a bird feeder outside her window.  At first she envied the birds their freedom.  But then she remembered what Jesus had said about sparrows.  She wrote: “I glanced at the bird feeder and smiled.  I could understand Jesus noticing an eagle....but a scrappy Sparrow?  They’re a dime a dozen.  Jesus said so himself.  Yet from thousands of bird species the Lord chose the most insignificant, least-noticed, scruffiest bird of all.  A pint-sized thing that even dedicated bird watchers ignore.  That thought alone calmed my fears.  I felt significant and noticed...if the great God of heaven concerns Himself with a ragtag little Sparrow clinging to the bird feeder outside my window, He cares about you!”  The old-fashioned American lyric puts it, “His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”

  2. God’s family, the Church.  I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for the church since I was saved, but I can tell you, having committed and caring Christian brothers and sisters during this time made a huge difference.  Much of this was their faithful prayers to God for me, which have continued to this present day. some of this involved their timely visits, like the time one brother “hijacked” me from the hospital, and took me on a rolling stretcher out “for a walk” in the streets of Phoenix around the hospital!   Ezekiel, I know that you’ve been blessed with a church family that loves you, and a Pastor, Josh Scribner, who will stand with you.

  3. An incredible wife.  My wife, Mona, had been God’s special gift to me, and an extraordinary care-giver.  

It is going to take time, my brother, for things to untangle and start to come together.  Jesus is with you every step of the way, and you have people who are “blanketing you in prayer.”  Whatever hospital or medical facility you are in, make sure you ask as many questions as come to mind.  There are a lot more places and information available for spinal cord injury patients than when I was hurt.  Their input, care and help can be invaluable.  Plus, if you want to call or write to me, or have someone do it for you, feel free to do so.  We are there for you.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The 4th of July holiday celebrations are over, the American flags have been taken down, most people have returned to work, but the importance of freedom to all of us remains, no matter what day it is!  Probably, the foremost question to ponder is WHERE DOES FREEDOM COME FROM?  As individuals and Christians, there’s an easy answer to that,

“If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (Jn.8:36)  

You’ll find no arguments here from me, but I’d like you to travel with me on this road for a bit. 

The Foundation of Our Freedom

The secret of American freedom is the Bible, God’s Word!  This has some profound implications which I’d like you to consider.  In his quest to change the oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush argued that “everyone desires freedom.”  Yes, that’s definitely true; but any genuine or lasting freedom must have some deeper roots, or if will fail.  For instance, everyone also desires a happy marriage, but does this mean that everyone therefore can automatically have one?  Look around at various nations: freedom does not flow from the barrel of a gun, nor does freedom flourish in every country or society. 

Let me ask you a question: why do most American Presidents place their hand on a Bible to take their oath of office?  Some would say that it’s just symbolic or a meaningful tradition, but the tradition exists because the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom!   This great nation was built by an ethic: a spirituality that taught its citizens to work, to earn, to save, to invest, and to use their wealth to help and serve their neighbors.  That ethic is enunciated directly from the pages of Scripture, from God’s Word as the motivating force and intellectual reasoning (i.e. the Protestant work ethic). 

I recently read a review of a book by Vishal Mangalwadi, a native of India, called “The Book That Made Your World” - How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.  His basic premise is he explores the Bible’s impact, not only in leading the West to unparalleled liberty and prosperity; but also helping India and other nations to share in the West’s success.  He examines the intellectual and spiritual roots of Western concepts such as: human dignity, morality, science, liberty, and self-sacrificial heroism.  Each of these concepts grows out of the Bible, and he contrasts the Biblical view with alternative worldviews like secularism, Islam and Hinduism.  A major point he makes is that false worldviews lead to de-humanizing consequence.  It was very refreshing to read this from a native-born Indian, rather than someone raised in a Bible-belt, fundamentalist Christianity background. 

Think about some of the following “freedom virtues,” starting with human dignity.  A Biblical worldview sees all people as valuable because they are made in God’s image. 
(Gen.2:26, 27) “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” 
Created in the image of God, we are given the freedom to choose, to work to change our lot in life   In contrast, the Hindu worldview of fate or karma leads to little hope for change, self-improvement, and a happy and successful life.  Think about the freedom issues from literacy.  Translating the Bible into the vernacular of the common man brought about a social revolution.  Now, even the poorest peasant had as much right to read and study the Word of God as the priests and nobles.  Another powerful freedom relates to marriage and family life, which emphasized the equal dignity of women, contributing to Western prosperity.  Essentially, Mangalwadi has researched and credits the Bible for everything we value in Western society.  Look no further; these are the Christian roots of religious freedom.

The Corrupting of Freedom

It is accurate to say that “relativism rules” in many sectors of American life.  Relativism denies moral absolutes of objective standards of truth.  To paraphrase, relativism says “Your beliefs are true for you; my beliefs are true for me.”  Unfortunately, this is not the legacy of religious freedom: religious freedom and relativism are not the same thing.  True religious liberty rests on a Biblical foundation.  While relativism denies the very existence of truth, real religious freedom upholds truth as something precious, something powerful, something created by God, which we may freely embrace – or not.  A recent cover story in Newsweek magazine asked, “What Do Teens Believe?”  There is both encouraging and distressing parts of the story.  It is distressing to find that more than half agree with the statement that “all religious faiths teach equally valid truths.”  That is relativism, and ultimately, it undermines our freedom.  Remember that the greatest dangers to any nation or culture are not just the enemies without, but the erosion caused by the enemies within. 

Back to an earlier argument involving marriage and family life.  Almost everyone desires a happy marriage, but without the Bible, America cannot even define, let alone sustain marriage as one man, one woman, in an exclusive and lifelong relationship.  One of the cornerstones of the West’s greatness has been Biblical monogamy, because it harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, men, women, and children.  Human history knows of no other force other than the Bible that has the capacity to dam sexual energy and build powerful families and nations.  Indeed, no non-Biblical culture has ever been able to require husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church” and give them the spiritual resources to do so. 

While giving some powerful and positive insights, Vishal Mangalwadi did issue a sober warning: in abandoning Biblical beliefs and practices, the West has lost its soul and is starting to visibly degenerate.  This is true with all false worldviews: they don’t free people and give them hope, but end up imprisoning them, robbing them of the dynamic of hope and leading to the process of degeneration.  This is why secularism is always a failed experiment.  The Biblical ethic that helped build this nation has been replaced by secularism and an entitlement culture.  This teaches people that they have a right to this, that, and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve.  This kind of corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, robbing us of liberty, responsibility and dignity.

Guarding Our Freedom

Many of you no doubt have seen the bumper sticker that says, “QUESTION AUTHORITY.”  Our modern age represents a challenge to authority at every level.  The greatest authority that an anti-authoritarian spirit must topple is the authority of the Bible as the Word of God!   While ours is certainly a changing world, our anchor is God’s unchanging Word! 

There is a trend today of people attempting the impossible: acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ while rejecting the Bible!  The only explanation for this is a spirit of deception powerfully at work in people’s lives.  Jesus spelled out the path of following Him when he said
“If you continue in My Word, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and truth shall make you free.” (Jn.8:31, 32)  
Each and every part of this is critical to a life of freedom and wholeness.   Being a Christ-follower is indispensably connected with obedience to His Word, which is the source of true freedom.  A tragic example of this is the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the 33-year effort to remove all restrictions of homosexuals serving in the church’s ordained ministry.  They recently voted to ordain openly homosexual candidates to its ministry!  This represents the denomination’s tragic surrender to those pushing for the normalization of homosexuality. 

Beyond the specific issue of homosexuality, the church faced two of the most fundamental questions of Christian theology – the authority of the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  What the church is trying to affirm is that one may submit to Christ’s lordship without submitting to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Can you say, “impossible” or “nonsense?”  We’re talking about the completely implausible position of claiming to believe in the Lordship of Christ, while subverting the authority of Scripture.  Not only has this church denomination capitulated to the spirit of our times, but they’ve engaged in an act of open defiance against the Scriptures.  Here is the church-wide letter to the denomination, PC (USA) where the leaders stated:
“Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum.  Some will rejoice, while others will weep.  Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PCUSA an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office...  Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture.  The feelings of both sides run deep.”
The feelings no doubt run deep, but the injury to this church runs far deeper than feelings.  This is another tragedy in the sad history of mainline Protestantism’s race toward theological disaster. 

The Bible includes so many different metaphors of the Word of God: it is like water, like bread, like a searchlight, like a mirror, like milk, like meat, and like a hammer.  One intriguing metaphor comes from
(Isa.56:10) and has to do with a watchdog!  “For the leaders of my people—the Lord's watchmen, his shepherds—are blind and ignorant.  They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.” 
The purpose of a watchdog is to sound the alarm.  If you are in a building that catches on fire, the most loving thing you can do is to scream, to get people’s attention, to warn them of the potential danger, if they don’t do something.  My job as a Pastor, as a truth-bringer, is to try to do my part to stem the tide of moral relativism, of casual Christianity, of ethical decline; and to challenge you to a life of prayer, a life in the Word, a life of holiness, and a life of victory when Satan tries to “sift you like wheat.”  

Monday, July 4, 2011

On this 4th of July America celebrates another birthday.  Americans across the land are hoisting their flags, marching in parades (unless you live in Tucson where it is 100+ degrees), preparing for BBQ’s, and setting off fireworks.  It still moves me to hear the lyrics, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.”  The reason is because God has indeed blessed America, the reason it has endured for over 230 years.  America is the oldest constitutional republic on earth.  It is for this reason that we all need to think seriously about this great and noble experiment in freedom.

This is why religious liberty is America’s first freedom.  The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution states,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” 

 It is our nation’s first freedom not just because of its order in our nation’s founding documents, but because religious liberty and our relationship and responsibility to God is foundational to every other freedom.  The inalienable rights are granted by God.  Charles Colson wrote,

The references to God in the Declaration of Independence provide a foundation for an ongoing moral conversation within civil society.  And moral truths pervade our founding documents from beginning to end.  Without God as the source of all those moral principles, the public square would quickly revert to the law of the jungle.  British power would prevail.  The weak, the unborn, the elderly, and the gravely ill could be quietly terminated."

I’m talking about this because religious liberty is being imperiled both at home and abroad.  I want you to consider a number of things with me.  This is not a “political sermon” but truth that I want you to measure through the filter of the Word of God.  Remember King David’s words (Ps.127:1) “Unless the Lord builds the house [you can put nation here also], those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”


While America’s beginnings were not perfect, they were rock solid, and took their cue from a Sovereign Creator.  Anyone who wants to debate the reality of the roots of America’s godly heritage are being willfully ignorant of history, or trying to “edit” history later.  Jesus used the imagery of building on a rock when He said, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt.7:24, 25) I can see a picture of America in these words.  Government’s duty is not to try to create rights, but to simply protect those endowed by our Creator. 

I’d like you to consider just a few examples of this foundation throughout our history.  On May 17, 1776, Congress actually appointed a day of fasting and prayer for the colonies, so that they might by sincere repentance “appease God’s righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.” 
The first thing George Washington did after being inaugurated was to stoop down and kiss his Bible, as an affirmation of the submissive spirit that he had to have toward the rule and authority of Almighty God.  John Adams, the 2nd President of the U.S. said it best, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.  For democracy to work, the majority of the people have to be religious and moral at their core, or it falls apart.”  Add to this the fact that many of our institutions honored God back then as well.  Did you know that 106 of the first 108 schools in America were founded on the Christian faith?  Did you know that Harvard and Yale began as ministry training schools–schools to train preachers?  What’s remarkable is if teachers taught this in our schools today, their job would be in jeopardy!

What about Abraham Lincoln, who is considered by many as the greatest President in our nation’s history.  On February 11, 1861, he spoke in Springfield, IL, and said, “In regard to this great book,” -and he held up his Bible- “I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man.  All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated to us through this book.  But for it, we would not know right from wrong.”  In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “After a week of perplexing problems, it does so rest my soul to come into the house of the Lord and to sing and to mean it, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.’  My great job and great glory in occupying this exalted position as president of the nation is that I am enabled to preach the practical moralities of the Bible to my fellow countrymen and to hold up Christ as the hope and Savior of the world.”  Taken as a whole, there was an unashamed resolve that our forefathers demonstrated.  They were unapologetic about faith in the Lord!  This is a far cry from the politically-correct, multi-cultural drivel we are being fed today.

A great, modern day lesson on freedom and religious liberty comes from China.  According to the Pew Research Center, 50 to 70 million Chinese Christians belonged to an unregistered house church in 2007.  They vastly outnumber members of the legal but government-regulated “three self” churches.  These house-church Christians are not rebels.  They love their country and want legal recognition, but not at the price of government control over their religion.  The Communist government views this growing Christian movement as a threat to its authority.  They tolerate churches that submit to government control, but churches independent of the state face serious persecution.  In the wake of recent persecution, 19 pastors from house churches across China are circulating a petition that urges the government to investigate its policy and treatment of the house-church movement.  It goes even further by asking for broader protection for religious freedom.  They claim freedom of religion as their “first and foremost freedom” (right out of America’s foundation).  Without religious liberty, they claim, a diverse society like China cannot “form a peaceful civil society, or bring about social stability, ethnic solidarity or the nation’s prosperity.”  These Chinese petitioners know the difference between being allowed to worship in state-regulated churches and being allowed true religious freedom — the freedom to live out their beliefs in all areas of life without government restriction.


I am deeply concerned about the condition and direction our nation is taking, because it is not a positive step, but a slippery slide to tyranny.  We’ve gone from being a God-fearing people who wanted religious freedom, who knew that God was sovereign and important, to a nation where we can hardly talk about God for fear of offending someone in these multi-cultural times.  Someone likened it to cracks appearing and growing in the foundation of freedom!  There is a definite spiritual dimension to this as the Psalmist recorded, “Why are the nations so angry?  Why do they waste their time with futile plans?  The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. "Let us break their chains," they cry, "and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

Over the last few decades, legions of skeptics have mounted a massive assault on these “self-evident truths.”  From prestigious law schools, to the halls of government, and especially in the Supreme Court, God is often banished from the public conversation.  It’s what I call a God-scrubbing.  The assault on God in public severely damages our republic.  If God is thrown out of history, we lose our basis for believing individuals have rights and dignity.  Without God there are not inalienable rights, no certain proof that liberty is better than tyranny.  Everything becomes a matter of opinion or power.  Listen, I’m not saying everyone needs to be a born-again, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing person, but, neither is God a curse word or Someone who has no place in the public square. 

The most recent example of this came from NBC’s final day coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament.  It began with a patriotic segment featuring children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to a video montage of past U.S. Open golf highlights.  In this taped vignette, the kids omitted from the Pledge the phrase, “under God, indivisible.”  The criticism came so fast and furious that NBC issued an on-air apology before the day’s programming was even finished!  Here’s what NBC’s Dan Hicks said on-air, “We began our coverage of this final round just about three hours ago and when we did it was our intent to begin the coverage of this U.S. Open championship with a feature that captured the patriotism of our national championship being held in our nation’s capital for the third time.  Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that fear was edited out.  It was not done to upset anyone and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.”  Ah yes, another “non-apology apology” that said “we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.”  It’s not our fault, but you out there who are overly sensitive, well, we’re sorry.  The following day, Monday, they did go farther in their apology.  They said, “Unfortunately, when producing the piece – which was intended to capitalize on the patriotism of having our national championship played in our nations’ capital – a decision was made by a small group of people to edit portions of the Pledge of Allegiance.  This was a bad decision.”
This is an enlightening admission that this decision was made by a “small group of people.”  A small group of people who want to dictate to the majority of Americans on all matters moral and spiritual.  This is what we’re up against today. 

I think it’s also revealing that even our President is complicit in these kinds of omissions.  In a statement issued on Friday, June 17, 2011, President Obama declared that “LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual-trans-gender] persons are endowed with what he called “inalienable rights – and entitled to the same protections – as all human beings.”  Words right out of the Declaration of Independence, but conveniently omitting the word “Creator.”  The actual wording is “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”  How significant is that?  Well, if you omit or deny God the Creator, then who’s to say what or where or why these so-called “rights” originate.  I seriously doubt that the revolutionary war was fought over LGBT issues!  We all make mistakes, so I’m fully prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, a simply mistake.  However, this isn’t the first time.  This was actually the 3rd time this year that the President has used the “inalienable rights” language and omitted reference to the “Creator.”  Let me add that the amount of illustrations of things of this nature are legion today, and are almost weekly news stories.

How else to you explain three years ago the school board at Arlington H.S. in Massachusetts making the decision that there could be no American flags in classrooms.  They also stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  After a three year battle to get those things reinstated, the principal relented and decided the pledge could be said after school in the lobby area, so as not to offend anyone.  Like some kind of covert operation rather than gratitude, loyalty and a simple faith acknowledgment.  Our Constitution is under attack from all directions, even though it grants us freedom of speech!  Recently it came to light that Wilder Publications has begun printing copies of the Constitution and reprints of the Declaration of Independence with warning labels on them.  It reads, “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.  Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”  In other words, they really didn’t know what they were talking about back then, so take it with a grain of salt.  Three weeks ago in the Cape Cod area, the school board unanimously passed a policy for elementary students — yes, I said elementary students – to be able to distribute free condoms at school.  It even requires that school officials keep it confidential so parents will never know if their child has requested them.  Totally unbelievable!  It’s like it comes to us from the theater of the absurd.  The school superintendent says, “Well, the intent is to protect kids.”  If you think all of these are just isolated events, you are mistaken.  They are happening with more and more frequency; it is like we’re becoming a different nation.

I don’t know about you, but I am growing increasingly weary and upset, by so-called atheists or minorities who are supposedly hurt and offended, or feel their rights have been infringed upon by the mention of God in normal public life.  The latest were the group of NYC atheists who is “demanding” that the city remove a street sign honoring seven firefighters killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, because they say the sign violates the separation of church and state.  The street’s name is....“Seven In Heaven Way.”  But, the group is saying “there should be no signage or displays of religious nature in the public domain.”  One representative told Fox News Radio that his organization was especially concerned with the use of the word “heaven”...“we think this is a very bad thing.”  No, what’s a bad thing is, people like you who are ignorant both of our nation’s Constitution and history.  The word “heaven” is a bad thing?!  I wonder if they are as deeply offended by the escalation of profanity, vulgarity and incivility in media, entertainment and the public discourse.  By the way, much of this is fueled by the ACLU, which is a group of God-hating, and in my opinion, un-American communists.  Time won’t allow a full expose, but the phrase “the separation of Church and State” is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied statements used today by ignorant people, reporters and even jurists; who mistakenly think it’s part of our nation’s founding charter!  Just a hint, folks, it’s not found in the Constitution at all!  I’ll leave that for another time. 

My point, dear ones, is that religious liberty is under assault in our land.  (Ps.11:3) says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"  Those precious foundations that gave birth to our nation and have sustained us for over 200 years have been targeted by a relatively small group of agenda-driven people.  The other dangerous reality accompanying all this is that we have diluted what it means to be a Christian.  We have compromised and made it easy to be a Christian in name only.  So, instead of the resolve that made our nation strong, we have a relativism that makes “sincerity” the measuring rod of everything, and not truth.  (Jn.14:6) is still the bell-weather, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”


This is a pivotal time in our country.  Even with all I’ve documented, I am still hopeful; but it is the kind of hope that God is giving us one more chance, and we’d better not blow it.  This is why the desperately-sought for renewal BEGINS ON OUR KNEES.  Paul the Apostle made that the first order of business in (1Tim.2:1-4) First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Our responsibility is to pray!  Pray for those leaders who are in power; pray that righteousness would prevail; and pray all this in the context of evangelism.  The God “who desires all people to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”  You see, you can’t restore something if you don’t know how it was built.  At the heart of the building of America, of this blessed nation, was God’s Word, prayer and holiness.  Our nation’s founding document declared independence from Great Britain, but with equal fervor, dependence upon God.  Expressing “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” the signers committed the American experiment to their Maker.  The spirit of 1776 was one of reverence and trust.  For the first two centuries of existence, our strength as a nation was our morals, not our manpower; it was our faith, not our finances.  (Ps.20:7) “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Our hope is in God!  We look to Him for direction and guidance.  As families, churches, and as a nation, our politics can help us, but they’re not the answer.  Our government can help us, but government is not the answer!  Spiritual revival is not going to start in the White House; it’s got to start at our hearts and houses.

Let me close with prayer.  It is a prayer for our nation offered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 at a pivotal point in our nation’s history.  I’m going to give it to you exactly as it was prayed:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten you, O God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.  It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. 
Amen and Amen!

Special thanks to material by Charles Colson, Dave Stone and Rob Schwarzwalder

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