Meanwhile in California…

Screenshot 2016-07-01 at 11.29.59 AMEarlier this week, The Christian Index hosted a discussion of sorts about America being a “Christian nation.” Christians who responded were split over whether America used to be a Christian nation and no longer is vs. those who felt America never was a Christian nation to begin with. Very few argued that it still is today.

Meanwhile, California is about to become the first state to do away with religious/ faith-based education at the college level. If passed as is, SB 1146 would limit religious education to seminaries. Church affiliated schools, or colleges and universities that apply Christian principles to all areas of life, would be restricted from doing so with all students except those preparing for vocational ministry.

Please read this article by Ed Stetzer and Marty Duren via Christianity Today. This is one of those issues that could drag on through the court system for years to come, but we currently have an aging Supreme Court that’s already short one member and a presidential election coming up that could dramatically alter its balance of power. Who knows what the long term implications of this state legislation could be?

My Opinion: SBC and the Confederate Flag

Here is an article from The Christian Index on the Convention’s decision to repudiate the Confederate Flag. The Index also posted an editorial by Gerald Harris and my comments to that link on Facebook got a little lengthy. Nearly blog post in length. So, below is my take on the SBC resolution. By all means you are entitled to your opinion; mine is framed on the notion the Gospel is more dear to the heart of Christians than heritage, history, culture or national identity. The end game of all believers should be unity in Christ.

I have lived in Georgia most of my life (and in Kentucky the other years). I have always been a little leary of flying that flag. I understand my heritage, the nation’s history, and the origin story of the SBC. On this issue I land here: If you want to fly the flag on your front porch or on your personal vehicle, this is still a free country and you have every right. Shame on anyone that would desecrate or remove your flag regardless of ideology. But I think it is entirely fitting for our denomination, all our churches together with one voice, to say “WE no longer fly this flag.”

If I display the Confederate flag in support of history and heritage, it may be misunderstand as racism. Indeed some do fly that flag because they are racist, believing if the South would have won we’d have it made, and signifying certain individuals need to “know their place.” At the risk of being misunderstood, I do not fly that flag. In the shadow of the cross, there are no flags, no nations, no skin colors or any other thing that divides or distinguishes. We are covered by the blood. I am disheartened that some will choose the stars and bars of rebellion (it is the rebel flag we are talking about) rather than unity with fellow brothers and sisters, but such is the world we live in.

Vengeance is Not Ours

Screenshot 2016-06-15 at 11.06.17 AMOur collective attention has been focused on Orlando since Sunday. Every angle of that story, from terrorism to gun control, has been covered. Stories with that much media attention I usually avoid commenting on completely; everything that can be said pretty much has been (whether it should have been or not).

Omar Matten reported posted “All gays must die” before the shooting starting. While Americans debate whether bakers and florists should be closed down for refusing to serve LGBT customers, homosexuality is still punishable by death in Muslim countries. I don’t want this post to disintegrate into a political discussion, but some Christians have questioned the current administration’s support of gay rights and also tolerance of Islam in light of those two things not necessarily being tolerant of each other. I want to remind all Christian believers that vengeance belongs to God. Continue reading

Red, White and Jesus

Screenshot 2016-05-24 at 2.10.13 PMMemorial Day is coming up. It’s always the last Monday in May. Will the holiday weekend have an effect on your Sunday church plans?

Scenario One:  Some churches have nothing to do with American holidays. There will be no patriotic music this Sunday or any other day they meet to worship. There are no pictures of members that have died in the service, no displays of dog tags in the vestibule. Those churches do not have an American flag in the sanctuary nor flying on church grounds. Some Christians believe our allegiance cannot be divided between the Kingdom of God and anything else.

Scenario Two: American Jesus. Some churches proudly display Old Glory in their sanctuary 52 weeks a year. They will ramp it up on days like Memorial Day and 4th of July with flag banners and other patriotic/Christian decor. They will run red, white and blue bulletins with service members names listed in memorial. They will sing the National Anthem or some other patriotic montage as a choir special and the congregation will be led in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. You may see Jesus draped in the flag or Bible verses printed over flags, national cemeteries, etc. You will definitely get the sense Jesus drives a Chevrolet and buys American (and maybe even supports your 2nd amendment rights).

Scenario Three: Something in between. Like most issues, I fall into this category personally. I believe we can be good citizens and live in a way that glorifies God. We can honor brave men and women that fought and died for our nation without making patriotism our religion. It’s probably easier to do on Memorial Day than Independence Day. Our church has an American flag and a Christian flag in the sanctuary; those were there before I was called to pastor and will be there after I’m gone. But we don’t equate America with Christianity. Jesus is no more American then he is Russian or Chinese. We are to pray for all people (1 Tim. 2:1) including kings and queens (1 Tim. 2:2). We can render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s in keeping with Christ’s command.  We are citizens of a nation AND pilgrims and strangers in this world. We are called to respect the laws of our land until they conflict with the Law of God. At this point in history we still have the freedom and liberty to do both without conflict (most of the time).

Images of Jesus draped in the flag, crosses with stars and stripes, flags with scripture superimposed; these things set off the Michael Spencer voice in the back of my head that I will never be able to get rid of. I believe we can be good Christians and celebrate our national identity at the same time if we are careful. The Gospel plus anything isn’t the Gospel anymore. We need to avoid creating a hybrid Christian-American theology. Patriotism is one thing, nationalism is another. Jesus came to seek and to save people made in God’s image from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Memorial Day honors men and women that died for America. Christian worship honors one man who died for all people everywhere. 

Your thoughts?

Post Script: Let me add that at no time of the year do we forego having church for a ceremony, celebration, awards program, etc. I will preach a Gospel message from the Word of God on Sunday morning just like on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the week of July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We might mention or recognize mothers, graduates, etc. but not to the extent we skip church and spend that hour doing something else.

 

A Ministry Oath?

Screenshot 2016-05-17 at 7.08.51 PMSince I posted this on Tuesday morning I’ve been thinking about a sermon or blog post about being very intentional when choosing our words. We are warned by James that the tongue is like a wild beast no man can tame, a small member that kindles a great fire. Jesus instructs all that minister to be wise as serpents but innocent as doves and Paul has some strict words of warning for those that would teach or preach the Gospel. Continue reading

But On the Other Hand…

Jeremy Myers of Redeeming God asks Christians to please quit using these clichés. On the one hand, I get it. Clichés are statements that are overused to the point they have lost their original value. They are easy go-to statements, perhaps knee jerk reactions, that require little thought. Christians need to be careful about creating our own Christianese language, words and phrases we often use in-house that may have little meaning to non-Christians, the people with whom we need to communicate the Gospel. Like I say, on the one hand I get it.

But on the other hand… Overused is highly subjective; if a word of phrase is truly overused there may be a good reason we were saying it so much in the first place. We don’t want our worship to become a collection of tired old repetitions, but what about liturgy? What about biblical truths that are unchanging? Some of the things on Myers’ list I never say but there’s a couple on there I would like to put back on the table. We’re not talking about revising the dictionary here, at the end of the day Myers and I are both bloggers. He does have a tongue in cheek sense of humor that I can appreciate. But these are my submissions for consideration: Continue reading

Good Shepherd; Lamb of God

jesus_shepherdIs Jesus the sheep or the shepherd?

Just about every animal has some unique feature that allows it to defend itself from predators. Some have incredible speed, such as deer, while others have sharp claws, powerful muscles or rows of gleaming teeth. Some animals camouflage themselves into the background while the purpose of some camouflage, like that of zebra, make it difficult to distinguish individuals from the group. Even the slow, ungraceful skunk has a very potent defense mechanism. Just about every animal has something, it seems, except sheep. It’s almost as if God intended them to be food for other animals. Sheep are very nearsighted and have to be led to food and water. They cannot drink fast moving water and can actually drown trying. They have to be led to food, led to shelter, and protected from every type of danger. The Bible uses sheep of all things to represent people. Continue reading