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Well . . . . . . .

Writing a blog is a labor of love; though going through and dealing with the spam is more often just like labor!

It is humbling when I read the comments many have taken the time to make on this site.  The vast majority are exceptionally encouraging, the ones not in the “vast majority” fall under the headings of either “spam” or they are just annoying . . . .

First, let me get the “business” part of this post out of the way!

Writing is a difficult task!

Writing is a difficult task!

I am writing using WordPress as my blogging platform.  I have received nothing less than excellent support and help from the WordPress staff.  They have sent me not just the answers to my immediate questions, but they have also included helpful hints on site management and dealing with the dreaded scourge called “spam!”  I have yet to figure out a way to minimize the amount of spam which accumulates in my spam filter.  Unfortunately, there are far too many legitimate and good comments which may often get thrown out with the spam.

I pay a very nominal fee for a custom URL (“jimgrieme.com”).  If my web traffic continues to increase, I may invest in their “Premium” services which add to the cost, but the value is worth the expense.  There are other blogging platforms available, yet since I am very pleased with the service and flexibility I receive from WordPress, I am not motivated to look for another service.

Second, to those of you who take the time to read my posts: I have been getting a significant number of Polish readers and allow me to say (using Google translate here; I’m good but not that good!)

Poland

Poland

 

Jestem bardzo wdzięczny za tych z Państwa w Polska, którzy czytają mojego bloga. Moim pragnieniem jest, aby jasno komunikować swoje pomysły i fakt, czytasz to pozwala mi wiedzieć, to jest realizowane! Pokornie dziękuję za czytanie! Jestem Pastor i modlę się Pan nadal będzie chronić Ciebie i Twój kraj w tych czasach niepokojów politycznych na kontynencie. Bożego błogosławieństwa na was!

 

 

To my Italian readers:

Italy

Italy

Grazie per aver letto il mio blog! Ho amato il suo paese da quando ero bambino e il mio desiderio è quello di presentare le idee chiare, Dio onorare in un modo che farà la gente a pensare con la mente e il loro cuore. Sono molto grato per il vostro tempo e attenzione! Molte grazie! Benedizioni di Dio!

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there have been a few Russian visitors as well!

Russia

Russia

Добрый день! Пусть наш Господь продолжать покрывать вас Своей благодатью! Спасибо вам большое за прочитав мои мысли я написал здесь! Я возжелал посетить вашу землю с моих дней в колледже – Я изучал Россию, ее земля и ее народ и лелеяли все это! Время, которое вы потратили читаете этот блог отрадно и унизительно. Спасибо вам большое! Джеймс melvinovich.

 

In my world, I must struggle to find time to write.  Many times I will begin with an idea, write as many as two or three pages then end up deleting all I have written!  Yet even when I follow this process, I may end up enunciating an idea which will eventually become the main idea of what I finally write.  The very act of putting “words on paper” often allows me to solidify my “final” idea!

Now remember, I am a pastor (No, no, I really am a pastor!  I realize very well I do not “act” like most pastors act and I’m good with that!)  When someone says to me, “You’re not like most pastors!” I interpret this as a compliment!  My desire is not to be either crude or rude or even to act like some “unholy teenager with an attitude problem!”  My desire is to be real!  I struggle with the same things every other person struggles with: money, politics, thoughts and ideas.  I sin, I do not break into a Christian hymn when I hit my finger with a hammer and I get frustrated at the number of proverbial “morons” I encounter while driving!

I really am a pastor!

I really am a pastor!

So what’s the difference?  Years ago I encountered a person who has demonstrated He truly loves me.  He knows all of my weaknesses and my issues.  He has given me the ability to be better than who I am.  He has forgiven me, changed me, and if there is anything good in me at all, it is because of the person Jesus Christ!

My desire is to write in a manner which is real and fully human.  I would like those who take the time to read to actually enjoy yourself and understand the ideas I am communicating.  It is my prayer the Lord will use who I am and what I’ve written in such a way as to draw people to Him.

Grace to all of you!

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Noah: “People are the Disease. Judgment is the Cure!”

[Spoiler Alert: Some {not all} key plot facts are discussed in this blog!]

 

In May 1986 the movie Cobra starring Sylvester Stallone premiered in the US market. While this movie made a respectable showing over the course of its release, it has managed to get on the website www.imdb.com’s list of “Movies So Bad They’re Good.”

"Crime is the Disease.  Meet the Cure."

“Crime is the Disease. Meet the Cure.”

In many ways, Stallone may be underrated as a talent; in other ways, quantity does not always equal quality . . . .

The most compelling aspect of the movie Cobra was its tag-line: “Crime is a disease. Meet the Cure.” This short seven word phrase communicated the entirety of the movie’s plot; Stallone is a tough cop who will clean up the mean streets filled with crime.

It would have been better, however, to simply add as a reprise from Rocky III the Survivor ballad, “Eye of the Tiger” to mitigate some extremely sad screenplay . . . .

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the movie Noah with some longtime friends of ours. After spending enough money to secure a very nice steak dinner and tip at the steakhouse, we settled in for the 138 minute long interpretation of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. While Stallone fought crime, Russell Crowe fought the ecological equivalent of ignorance: people!

Darren Aronofsky who is both a writer and the director of the film Noah stated in an interview with the Washington Post he didn’t have much detail to work with from the four chapters in the book of Genesis (where the story of Noah is contained). Aronofsky observed in the book of Genesis not one word of Noah is recorded; he also points out the name of Noah’s wife, nor the names of any of the wives Noah’s three sons, were recorded. He made this point in the context he had taken liberties with the biblical story. He did take liberties, but eight minutes of spoken word cannot equal 138 minutes of film; he had to add “something” to the story!

For the moment, let’s examine some of the additions and the messages inherent in the film. The biblical story mentions nothing regarding the environmental impact of the pre-flood humanity on the earth. The film makes it clear everywhere man was prior to the flood he also destroyed the environment. Animals were hunted to extinction, lands were deforested and there was a clearly implied element of cannibalism in one of the scenes near the end of the film.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

The biblical account makes it clear there were eight people on the ark: Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives. The biblical account also gives us a means to understand Noah’s sons were around 100 years old when they entered the ark.

Tubal-Cain, the name of a genuine biblical character listed in the Genesis genealogies, managed to become a stow-away on the ark only to be killed when discovered by Noah with Hem’s assistance. What is noteworthy about Tubal-Cain is his position as the antagonist in the movie and what he is given to say. It was Tubal-Cain who told Hem, “We are made in the Creator’s image” and man had a will to be exercised; the irony of this statement was accentuated with him stating these things while eating raw an “innocent animal!”

One of the greatest mysteries of Scripture is the awesome fact man was created in the “image of God” (imago dei); it is this fact which places the true value of man and human life into perspective. Man has value because he was created by God, made in God’s image and because of Christ’s death on the Cross, we belong to Him. To place this statement in the mouth (no pun intended here) of Tubal-Cain undermines the integrity of this fact and its importance; it also prejudices the viewing audience against the statement we were made in the image of God.

One of the most gratifying things of this movie was Aronofsky’s depiction of the ark. This was the most realistic and biblically accurate representations of the true size of the ark I have ever seen. I read several interviews of Mr. Aronofsky and his Jewish heritage and upbringing surely influenced his desire to show deference to the biblical story. I did not go to this movie expecting either biblical or orthodox accuracy, but the movie was majestic in its sweep.

For all it had, it was what it did not have which misrepresented this story of judgment, salvation and mercy! Gone was the concept of grace—a loving God choosing one man and his family from the midst of a fallen, depraved and incredibly sinful humanity. God chose Noah not because Noah was good, but because God was good and chose Noah to demonstrate His goodness to him and his family!

Aronofsky’s Noah is following a Creator who neither prepares His chosen spokesman nor provides clear evidence of His existence through revealing His plan to Noah. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah, while believable and empathetic, is more akin to a wild-eyed jihadist rather than the man of God who served his Lord for 120 years—one who served his Lord while building the ark and testifying of God’s coming judgment.

The movie neglects to mention how God shared with Noah not only His intentions (judgment of all who have the breath of life in them and detailed instructions for building the ark), but also the reason why God was judging the earth; the Genesis story relates it was because of the wickedness of man which spread throughout creation. The movie would have its viewers believe it was the aggression against nature, its animals and the eco-system man had destroyed which caused the Creator to destroy the earth with a flood.

The message of the movie is just as man is destroying and has destroyed the ecology of this planet today, humanity prior to the flood did the same. In the biblical story God sent the rainbow as a testimony He would never use water to destroy the earth again (the next judgment from God will be fire according to 2 Peter and Revelation), yet it is almost ironic environmentalist today are using global warming to herald a new era of coming floods with rising sea levels which will again destroy our world.

The denouement of the movie occurs in the final few minutes of the film. Noah, in an act clearly running counter to the stated goals given to him by the Creator, refuses to following the thus-far revealed “will” he is to accomplish. Rather than choosing to end the lives of the two infants, Crowe’s character states, “As I looked I them I was filled with love” and he chose to allow them to live!

The dramatic license taken with the facts of the biblical account and even to the point of changing the motives, attitudes and milieu of the characters was understandable and I even accepted all up to this point. Face it, I did not come to this movie to receive a brush-up lesson in biblical theology! Yet the implications which resonated from Crowe’s utterance was unmistakable; when it comes to a choice between following God (in the movie, “the Creator”) or listening to what is in the heart of man, man far too often has a superior morality based on love rather than retribution from a judgmental Creator.

I am not angry about the message the writers and director are sending. The message being communicated is this: while man has destroyed the Creation (and in this movie, the creation is treated with an almost god-like worship) and the Creator has judged and destroyed man and all life for doing so, only man is capable of overriding the will of the Creator (judgment) through a perceived superior moral claim, love.

This is unfortunate in the extreme. Whether through a purposely motivated decision or through an unfortunate experience of circumstances, this movie portrays God as a capricious hateful being who forces those who would serve Him to guess and surmise His will through inference. Even though in Scripture God never expects nor asks man to act on or be judged by that which man does not know, in the movie Noah, it is Crowe’s Noah who rises above the circumstances and provides the true rescue and salvation.

Crowe’s character believed God chose him and his family to be the last of humanity for the purpose to provide a means to reseed the animal kingdom on the newly cleansed earth. It was only through a change of heart in Crowe’s Noah which allows man the opportunity to repopulate and multiply on the earth once more. After his family saw the protection of the animals and their release after the subsiding of the waters, humanity would have ended with them; in some ways this would have been but a slight change in the motivation behind some of today’s suicide bombers. They will surely die, and others with them, but it is a necessary death needed to accomplish the will of their god and guarantee them paradise.

Noah is a fast moving film with plenty of drama and action. The PG-13 rating is due to the scenes of violence and implied animal violence. The acting is superb—which is what motivated me to see this film—but the film leaves one feeling there has to be something more; a better reason, a better explanation or even a better plan for such an event to occur.

God’s intention for the believer, non-believer or even someone who is merely searching, is for them to see the need of a Savior through the events of the Genesis account and the events of our world today! Christ is our ark and our salvation who bore us through the judgment of God. Yet it was God who initially chose Noah and his family to be saved. It was God who provided an ark, the plans, the guidance and the animals to allow life to begin again on a cleansed earth. Of course in the Noah epic, man was still flawed and capable of sin and poor decisions, yet God had a plan to eventually bring His Son to this world so all people who accepted His gift of salvation could come to Him!

Those of us who know Christ are also chosen by the Father! Those who know the Son as Lord are rescued even though our bodies are corrupted by sin.  We will live again in Heaven with God when we have accepted the salvation the Father freely offers to us. One day Christ will return for us; there will no longer be crime, or disease or flaw or flood or death, for all will be perfect.

And perfection needs no cure.

Criminal Thinking

Criminal Thinking

 

Crime dramas have been a major fare of TV viewing diets since the 1950’s.  Whether a show opens “On a dark and rainy night,” or we are ushered into a crime scene as the crime occurs in medias res, the crime drama continues to draw viewers.

 

Yet here’s an observation I have made: while watching a particular, unnamed drama which would fall into the above mentioned category, I noticed while the characters have no scruples about “blowing away” a bad guy with a gun intent on harming someone, no one—and I mean no one—is allowed to head-shoot the crazed dog trying to take a bite out of one of the characters portraying a cop at the order of the above-mentioned bad guy!

 

Fido with fangs gets to live; Guido the killer pimp does not.

 

Now you may be thinking, “Hey dude, it’s not the dogs fault!  I mean, dude, it was trained that way!”

 

You may believe I desire to see Fido (Fee-Fee, Rover, Claude-the Killer-Cat, whatever) get whacked, I don’t.  My wife and I are owned by five cats (“Please, call me ‘The Litter Whisperer’”) and we treat them like family—we love our cats!  My observation here has to do more with perceived value and balance.

Fritz & Murphy

Fritz & Murphy

 

There are laws and caveats always protecting the mistreatment of animals.  Animals are viewed as innocent, as creatures in need of our care and stewardship so we should not do anything which could be construed as cruelty to them.  We do not desire, as a people, to communicate anything which would denigrate and devalue the life of animals.

 

I’m good with this.  I love my animals and I have given up even the slightest desire to hunt because of my feelings in this matter.  I believe it’s fine for others to hunt, but I cannot.  My issues are more with my total dislike of death—especially death in which I would be a cause.  Yet while I personally do not desire to cause any unwanted death (yessiree, I’m one of those people who honk and brake for squirrels), I would not hesitate to make the choice between a fang-laden Cujo and me; I win and Cujo gets whacked!

 

So here’s my concern: we go out of our way not to ever show an animal being hurt, but we have no issues with shooting holes in people, with someone shot bleeding out of their mouth and with news people taking pictures of the aftermath of the Boston Bombings and putting them on the news and Internet.

 

Am I missing something?

 

Who have we become as a people?  Lines will form with angry voices screaming at the mistreatment of animals, there are cries for baby whales, walruses and seals, yet we receive nothing but silence (and occasionally applause) over the depiction of human death and dismemberment.  Are we to be extolled for protecting animals all the while we allow the wholesale slaughter of humanity–portrayed with fictional characters or in real life?

 

Has anyone ever thought this is a reflection of our values rather than an attempt to influence them?

 

I mean, really?

 

 

Deciding Our Fate

Follow along class: “suicide” is self-killing; “herbicide” is weed killing; “homicide” is the killing of another human; insecticide is the killing of insects and “genocide” is the killing of a whole group based on race. When we “decide” we are killing off options, the other possible realities we could experience when we make a decision.

Very few people have even heard of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor whose trial over the last five-plus weeks has illuminated the dark, bloody and heartless world of late-term abortions. The fact almost no one has heard of this man is a testimony to the complete apathy of the major news outlets regarding their responsibilities—implied or otherwise—to keep the nation informed.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

As it turns out, few members of the national media consider this a worthy subject to cover.

While I find abortion abhorrent, despicable, cruel, and as an act, nothing short of legalized convenience-killing, my desire is not really to focus on abortion per se, but rather what its practice and tolerance says about us as a people.

Over this past month our country has been shocked with the violence of the Boston Bombings. How could these men choose to do these things? How is it the majority—if not all—of these types of violence been committed by young men obsessed with killing and “striking at” a perceived lack in their world?

As a pastor and a Christian who believes in the authority of Scripture and the exclusiveness of salvation through Jesus Christ, the 1973 SCOTUS decision of Roe-v-Wade which legalized abortion on demand is a watershed event in our country. Regardless of the arguments now forming in your mind, Roe-v-Wade did more than merely legalize abortion; it validated and rationalized an attitude toward newborn life in particular and “life” in general.

The generations born since this turning point of societal and cultural thinking have realized life is nothing more than a whim; a decision of an adult dependent on circumstance and convenience. According to society and now mandated by law, all children have been a mere subject of choice, a convenience and nothing more than the proverbial whim of the mother. Gone is the idea of intrinsic value of life, of its gift and the imprimatur of Deity on it.

It is no wonder why life is viewed as “cheap” and of no value. Life has become nothing more than the result of a choice. Some may say, “Life is what you make of it, what you do!” While I may be able to comprehend the sentiment, what happens when we as a people fail or we are hurt or crippled? What do we do when we get too old to “do” anything making us significant?

The atheistic mind believes life is found only in the “now” (because when you’re dead you’re dead and there’s nothing but nothing) and the past is nothing more than something we “hope” (an avenue of faith I might add) we may improve on.

The evolutionary mind sees us essentially as “Humanity 1.8”; the apes, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal species we have surpassed prove our superiority. Homo-Sapien-Sapien has overcome, has evolved and survived as the fittest of the species and “Humanity 1.8” is the latest release in the evolutionary line. We are “better” and therefore more valuable because we survived and do survive.

Yet may I point out this rings hollow for those who lost life and limbs in Boston, on September 11 or any other of the mass killing occurring throughout the twentieth century until today.

Do we as a people sacrifice everything on the altar of the convenient? We are taught through the actions of society we all have our “rights” and how dare anyone violate our rights or offend our sensibilities! Those right-wing whackos clinging to their God and their guns are the reasons we have violence and hatred still in our country!

How quickly we have forgotten Nazi Germany outlawed guns and Hitler replaced God. Lenin and Stalin outlawed both God and guns. The resultant loss of life: Hitler killed over 6 million Jews and millions more undesirables; Stalin, not wanting the Nazis to outdo him, conservatively killed over 45 million people.

So much for God and guns, eh?

Yet I offer an observation: if the fittest survive, if we all have a choice, if we all have our rights—especially our right to never be offended—what do we then do with those who cannot speak, cannot stand or especially those who are never given a chance to speak, to stand or even to live?

As a country we mourn our losses—especially difficult are the ones we view as “senseless.” Yet contrary to our words, our actions scream our attitude; life is cheap because choices are easy. We are unable to know the full extent of those choices because we have nothing oppositional giving us a comparison; once we de-cide we have literally “killed off” all of the other realities providing a comparison to our choice.

And after all of the killing and maiming we have witnessed lately, shouldn’t we be more judicious regarding our killing decisions?

I mean, seriously?

“Getting a Grip” on Politics

I am conservative in my politics, my morals, my finances and my theology.

As of November 6, 2012 Barrack Hussein Obama was re-elected to his second term of office as President of the United States.

IMG_0240

In reference to my opening sentence, President Obama is my president.

He is my president because I know this is the path God has chosen to allow for this country.  Did God do this because Mitt Romney is a member of a cult?  Was President Obama re-elected as a means to punish American believers for their lack of trust and commitment to Him?  Does the Lord know President Obama is uniquely qualified to avert an upcoming disaster only God can see?  Or is it God has prevented us from becoming a nation of bicycle-riding, white-shirt wearing missionaries from Salt Lake?

I mean, really?  Seriously.

Evangelicals have perhaps over-invested themselves in the political process.  We feel we must mould all of society into our likeness and everyone must believe our beliefs.  We far, far too often forget this is not a Christian country; it never was.  Oh, there was a time when a Judeo-Christian world-view was not only accepted but practiced, but one should never equate the acceptance of the Judeo-Christian world-view as equal to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Of course this brings up the question, “What is best for the country?  I mean, shouldn’t we be about the process, as Christians, of expanding the kingdom of God (I am speaking to believers here), for seeking to pass God-honouring laws and to ‘fight the good fight’?”

Yes . . . . and no.

I am convinced (not by polls but through the study of God’s Word) we are as professing believers to seek and promote God’s laws and to expand His kingdom; yet we are never called by God to legislate change for the cause of Christ through the ballot box!

This doesn’t mean we do not support those who we find in agreement with biblical principles.  As many times will occur, we are often called to decide the lesser of two proverbial evils.  My thought about this has always been rather straight-forward: who better to determine which evil is indeed “less” than those who know what is indeed righteous and moral?

We should view our calling as believers in Christ as being about the task of performing political triage.  I do not believe Christ is best served through single-issue voters who base their support of candidates on a single issue whatever they may be.  This is not a call for either compromise or a call to become political chameleons; it is a call for us to live lives of holiness while making the best decisions possible for a pagan, pluralistic dying world and for it to be the best place possible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to accomplish its task of changing people!

Christians far too often are afflicted with the hubris of ignorance; we fail to remember the basic tenets taught by Scripture.  The Pharisees sought to fulfil every aspect of the Law personally and attempted to convince others they must do the same—all to no avail!  Just like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, believers today are too invested in arguments regarding life, policies of sound economics and legislation promoting our moral values.  The Law only punished unacceptable behaviour and highlighted the reality no one could follow it perfectly—and we have forgotten the importance of living a life changed by Jesus Christ!

We, as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, must realize who we are and where we live.  First, we are sinners saved by the grace of God.  As such, we are commanded to convince others of the truth we believe by living lives changed and empowered by God’s Spirit!

I have pastored some incredibly hateful and bitter people who proudly proclaim they are pro-life.  While doing this they make everyone around them to desire their life will quickly end and in the process they further polarize the world around them.  If we desire to see our world change, to see laws passed which honor God and His Word, then we should heed Peter’s warning in his New Testament letter: judgment begins in God’s house!  God’s blessings are not contingent on everybody being obedient to Him; God states, “If my people, who are called by My name!,”  If God’s people would obey, then He would bless and heal the land!  The whole country does not have to obey God’s laws, just God’s people do.

Second, Christians in the United States need to get over themselves!”  We live in a pagan, pluralistic culture and we, as those who carry the name of Christ, are minimally culpable if not outright responsible for the condition of our nation!  All believers are expected to be a “sweet smell” of Christ according to the Apostle Paul.  Unfortunately, too many who profess the name of Christ just stink.

Far too many Christians act like their whole salvation—this country’s, its economy and security—is dependent on who we elect!  Have we so quickly forgotten the One on whom we believe?  If there are those who are convinced God has given us “the government we deserve” in order to bring about punishment, have we chosen to ignore God’s call for us to “turn from our sin” and therefore receive His blessing?

If we desire our country to change, believers must be changed by God.  If we desire security, we must draw closer to God in obedience.  If we want real change in our government and our leaders, then we better pray passionately for them!

Then if we are indeed faithful in the little, God may choose to bless us with the “much” we desire.

The Disciplined Church

These days no one likes the term “discipline.”  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Body of Christ, the local church.

When I was much younger, I grew up in an Independent Baptist environment where church discipline was more the norm rather than the exception.  Of course, the few events I remember seemed to deal primarily with going to movies, listening to the wrong music and the occasional affair in a marriage—which the last one was certainly legitimate!  Yet the occasion of “discipline” had all the hallmarks of a massacre scene in movies like Scream—minus the ominous foreshadowing music.

Why is the consideration of discipline—as outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13—is so shocking to people who profess the name of Christ?  Well, it’s kind of like this: as a cat owner (a euphemism for being owned by a cat), there have been those nights where I had to get up and get a drink (another euphemism) after going to bed.  Now I have owned cats for most of my life and am familiar with kitty behavior.

Yet even though I know what cats do, it is still a jarring shock to step in a cold, congealed mass of kitty cat ack!  I know they do it, I even know I will eventually find it with my toes; it’s just so shocking to stick one’s toes in something I don’t even want to see—much less squish between my toes!

Too often “discipline” means “judgment” in many minds.

Church discipline is much the same way for many people.  James in his New Testament letter makes it clear “we all stumble in many ways”; we all make mistakes, we all sin and everyone is error prone.  So in reality, the shock is not the fact there is a corrective action and tool which exists within the church, it is, more often than not, that we rarely consider the importance and necessity of obedience!

As those who profess the name of Jesus Christ, our obedience is to be observable and unquestionable by believers and the world.  Peter tells his readers judgment begins with those who belong to Christ—we are His; bought with the price of His blood and we therefore are to live according to His Word.  If obedience is emphasized, taught and expected, discipline would then be moot.  Unfortunately obedience is under-emphasized and the mention of a holy God almost a foreign concept in many churches.  Obedience cannot exist without personal discipline and there is a massive misunderstanding of the concepts of freedom and discipline in the life of a believer.

The writer of Hebrews informs his readers without the presence of discipline by the Lord in the life of the believer, there is no evidence of a relationship with the Lord.  The same is true of the Body of Christ: if obedience is not exemplified, is not proven, by the everyday lives of those who profess Christ as their Lord, there is no evidence of the truth of that profession.  If the church in turn chooses to not discipline and correct those who have wandered away from obedience to Christ, where then is the evidence of relationship?

American Express used to have “membership has its privileges” as its marketing buy-line.  Membership does have its privileges, but membership also has responsibilities.  If we row out into a lake in a small boat, you will not be allowed to exercise your freedom to drill holes into the bottom of the boat over which you are sitting; to do so would infringe on my right to remain dry and un-drowned!  Drilling holes will affect others besides yourself—and this is why you may not drill holes!

To become a member of a church is to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  As a member, you are part of the Body of Christ, an interconnected organism where the actions of the individual affects the whole of the Body.  The Body is maintained through obedience to the Lord, through mutual submission, through a people trying to out-love each other through their demonstrative love performed to each other.  For someone who is part of this Body to think they may live any way they desire, engage in any activity they wish and to “love the one they’re with,” is reckless, unloving and inconsistent with their stated belief in Christ.

As a pastor, I would prefer to emphasize obedience and see the blessings of God poured out in abundance to His people, the church.  Yet as a pastor, I am responsible to protect and care for the flock God has entrusted to me.  This means on rare occasions I and the Body—the church—must discipline individuals for the good of the body and them.  Because I am the pastor, I must above even my personal likes and dislikes, be obedient to the Lord and Scripture.  The consequences of disobedience are far too great.

Think of it this way: someone who competes in track must discipline themselves to get out of bed at a specific time, eat a specific diet, exercise in a specific manner and order their life in a specific way.  Their life is characterized by discipline.  Discipline is not an end to itself; it is the tool, the means by which they have the ability to cross the finish line and win.

Church obedience, consisting of church discipline, is not an end to itself; it is the means by which we secure the blessings of God both now and in eternity.

 

The God of Sports

Over the past several years there have been many sports stars who proclaim their faith through a publicly exhibited bent knee on the court or in the end zone.  The reaction has been fairly mixed; some appreciate their courage and commitment to demonstrate their beliefs so openly.  Others may feel offended or merely disdainful of such a frivolous display.  Yet one thing is certain: the discussion over the inclusion of God in sports is far from over.

I have been playing tennis for almost thirty-five years now—you would think in this amount of time I would actually be rather good, but some goals are continually elusive!  There are many reasons for why I choose to play tennis.  I love the game, its angles, strategy and the camaraderie enjoyed by those who play.  Since I’m insulin dependent diabetic, the exercise is extremely beneficial for my overall health, but more than anything, I just enjoy the game.

As with any sport, tennis can be rather frustrating.  The majority of this frustration stems from too little time, even less practice, an almost total lack of natural talent and the fact I will never be paid to play!  One of the guys on my ALTA team has a habit of saying, “Can I get you anything? A drink?  A snack?  Some lessons?”  Some people just have the gift of encouragement!

Over the years I have heard sportscasters almost sneer as they have made comments like, “I really doubt God cares about football (insert any sport here).”  Others, trying to attach the implied exclusiveness of Christianity may observe, “God certainly doesn’t have a favorite team!”

As a believer and follower of Christ, I find myself in an ongoing conversation with Him about every aspect of my life.  I sometimes speak with Him “under my breath,” thank Him for not letting me hit the parked car that I barely missed, and while on the tennis court, I even ask Him to help me make a particular shot.  There is virtually nothing we do not talk about.

Now I can state with absolute certainty the Bible does not contain any doctrines regarding sports.  So for those who have always believed as much, congratulations on your keen insight!  What the Bible makes crystal clear is this: God most likely cares little for sports, but he does care very much for those who are His children.

I have uttered numerous prayers to the Father regarding a particular shot or allowing me the ability to return an extremely well-placed serve; and I can say God does not always grant me my request.

So is God apathetic toward my plight?  Is He more interested in watching my frustration rise or the other team win?  Could it be when I am on the tennis court my prayers are nullified since I am not in church, expanding His kingdom or ministering to the needy?

Some people feel they must be exceptionally demonstrative with their faith by the outward demonstration of faith’s existence; this is where fist-pumps heavenward, kneeling in the end-zone and any other overtly Christian demonstration may be witnessed.  Are any of these wrong or “over-the-top?”  They could be, but the Lord has not given me the ability, or the right, to judge the motivation of another.  About the only reasonable thing an observer can do is to continue to observe and see if the demonstrable is really a “proof of life.”

I believe there are times when the most appropriate action we can take to demonstrate our faith is a silent prayer to make a shot, kick the field goal or net the basket.  Our faith is not a series of quasi-annoying demonstrations of our faith while we are in the spotlight.  True faith experiences life all the while realizing it is God who grants the ability to live and to play.

Our culture is enamored with the spotlight and Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame.”  It is better to pray and live rather than to live and forget to pray.  If our desire is to give God the glory—and for Him to receive all of it—we must live our lives avoiding as much of the attention as possible and allow God to speak through the existential, everyday circumstances which make up life.

It’s better for someone to point and say, “Look at how God uses that guy,” rather than someone to point and smirk, “Look at how that guy uses God!”

Just sayin . . . . . . . . .

Let’s Pretend

Let’s pretend.

There is nothing past this life.  There is neither heaven nor hell.  Whatever we put into this life is all we will get back; we answer to none other than ourselves.

Life then becomes a series of experiences; occurrences which may or may not fall under our control.  We vacillate between conqueror and victim depending on the circumstance.  If we plan well, things should go well unless events transpire beyond our ability to see or plan.  If we find ourselves in situations we find inherently unpleasant, we either become another statistical anomaly subject to actuaries and their tables or we must rely on humanly devised coping mechanisms: personal, pharmaceutical, psychological or other remedies of self-medication.

Now since we have developed over the course of countless tens, if not hundreds, of millennia (remember, we’re still pretending here) and the ever evolving ability to rationalize our environment and milieu to some balance point so we can function normally (defining “normal” as a comparative Bell curve of society, longing to be included into the ever-present sixty-eighth percentile), we have no other longings or desires beyond the moment, the “now,” the “what is.”

If all of this is indeed true (yep, still pretending here) should we not see less stressors in our world, less discomfort at one’s death (since death is nothing more than the evolutionary outworking in our midst) and more equilibrium in society as a whole?  Would not crime become self-regulating since evolution would have naturally de-selected those whose motives were not more toward equilibrium and balance?  Would we not see a greater emphasis on relationships knowing they alone give intrinsic value to life?

Yet none of these musings are true; none of them have any basis in reality.  They cannot since we are merely “pretending.”

Our world desperately pretends there is nothing other than the “now.”  Society screams individualism yet demands compliance to the accepted norms.  While no long-term, objective, evidence exists for the evolutionary model, it remains the “holy grail” of science; all the while its very existence is morally and logically self-defeating.  As one writer claimed almost 2000 years ago, while they “profess themselves to be wise they [become] fools.”

Every single person in this world longs for the eternal: more time, more life, or simply just “more.”  The time we have alive is fleeting and never long enough.  The desire to live is paramount, yet to believe we only desire to avoid death for the sake of more and greater experience is as simplistic as it is puerile.  It is not the experience of things but of relationships which make our “time” possess its intrinsic value.  Time has meaning because of the relationships we have with others.

If what we “pretend” to have is true, why do we still long for “more” beyond what we have and will be given?  Would not “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” have long ago removed those who think such things from humanity’s midst due to the weakness of such characteristics?

I do not advocate religion.  I do not advocate following a set of rules.  What I do advocate is a relationship extending beyond this life into eternity.  Jesus Christ invites people “Come to Me,” not “Come to those who claim to follow Me.”

When we trust in what He has done, what He has taught and what He promises, we are not changing merely our minds but we embark on a relationship which changes who we are!

No one can keep pretending forever.

Who would want to?

Us vs. Them

Imagine you’re at your favorite Japanese restaurant.  As you are being seated you become aware of those who are at your table.  Some have been there before; others are brand new to the experience.  As the waiter comes and begins to take everyone’s order, the couple that has been to the establishment many times begins to insist everyone must have what they are having.  It’s what they like and it’s best.  Why would anyone want anything other than what is best?

You can almost smell the fried rice!

 

Now keep in mind, other than the obvious immature notion “everyone should be just like me,” everyone at the table is eating Japanese food.  The banging of steel will enthrall everyone, the tumbling utensils and the “choo-choo trains” and “volcanoes” made out of the onion rings will cause “ooo’s and aaaah’s.”  So if the only “difference” is personal preference—since everyone will eat Japanese food—why the insistence by the regular patrons that everyone must eat what they like?

 

Welcome to “Sunday Worship Wars!”  While every analogy eventually breaks down somewhere, this one is fairly accurate.  If we assume for the moment (and yes sports fans, I do know what “assume” means to many) there are true believers in church who desire what God has for them, we must then begin to define our terms clearly—to avoid confusion and rancor if nothing else!

 

First, what is church?  The Bible is quite clear regarding who makes up the “universal” church: it is the “body of Christ” and is made up of all who have a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father through faith in Christ.  Our professed faith is evidenced by the way we live our lives: if we live like Christ, we are demonstrating the validity of our claim of faith according to James 2:17.

 

So the Universal church are believers everywhere.  Yet the local church—the koinonia or the local fellowship of believers—is comprised of those who are truly a part of the universal church and those who are not.  The reason why there is this corpus permixtum (mixed body) is simple: while God knows and guarantees those who are part of His body, we, being mere humanity, cannot make the same guarantee.

 

Having given a brief definition of “church,” let’s talk about its purpose or what the church is to be.  One of the best definitions I have come across is this: “The church is to be the sign and instrument of God’s kingdom” according to Ed Stetzer, head of Lifeway Research.  People should see the church as representative of God’s kingdom and the church (those comprising the body of Christ) are to be the instrument God has chosen to use to reach this world with the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

Now we know whom we are and what we are to be doing.  Now back to the Japanese restaurant analogy: if we are here to give visible and physical matter to God’s kingdom, and if we are to be the instrument to be used to reach those who are currently outside of the kingdom, should we who are “regulars” in church always go about stamping our proverbial feet demanding that one of the most powerful and universal tools of communication God has given to humanity (music) be defined “our way?”

 

I am openly contemporary in my presentation as a pastor and in my musical preference.  Yet my passion isn’t CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) or Traditional Hymns (which were part of “contemporary music” in their day and context).  My passion is to communicate!  God has granted me the ability and position to be able to communicate His Gospel and for me to communicate—period.  He has given me an opportunity to serve Him as a pastor and as a communicator.

 

I do not use the same verbiage, grammar or context with every audience.  When teaching and preaching, I use the same message, but not the same style and words; I cannot because I desire to communicate the message God has given me to communicate—and to do it effectively with different audiences!

 

Music is a tool.  It is not God, it is not the message: it is the vehicle through which the message is carried.  In my congregation, we overwhelmingly sing traditional hymns—partly due to the audience make-up, partly because of the skill-sets of the musicians—yet for our church to reach the lost and communicate with them in a means and manner they can comprehend, we will also need to change our methodology in the future—and thankfully, my congregation understands this!

 

There is error in both the CCM camp and those who argue for Traditional Hymnody.  This is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.”  In Political Science there is what is referred to as a “zero sum game”—somebody wins and somebody loses.  While there are contexts in this fallen, sin-ravaged world where this observation is valid, yet in the Kingdom of Christ it is invalid and heretical.

 

When believers understand worship, they comprehend it is a 24/7/365 thing; it is not the hour or two on Sunday mornings or the quiet time spent alone with God.  Worship is the life of the believer!  If as Paul insists in Romans the “just will live by faith,” then all of life is worship!

 

Jesus in John 17:22 in His High-priestly prayer on behalf of all believers, asks the Father “May they be one as We are one.”  True, this verse has far too often been hijacked by the ecumenical movement, yet it is uniquely applicable here.

 

We do not need to be perceived by the world, the lost, that we do not love or get along.  We can be different and even Paul in Ephesians 4 highlights the necessity of unity in the midst of diversity within the body of Christ.  Does your love of CCM bring you closer to God?  It does?  Praise the Lord!  Does the organ enunciating the majesty of God in “How Great Thou Art” move you to tears and to aid in your understanding of God!  May His Name be praised!

 

It’s not an “us vs. them” thing; it is an “Us bringing them to Him” thing!

Slapped Silly for Our Own Good

After finishing the modern equivalent of being a hunter-gatherer who had returned from a dangerous foray into the wild to secure food (yep, went to Wal-Mart & Sam’s), I was in our kitchen basking in the glow of appreciation while Frances and I were putting away the “kill.”

I know, I know, many of you guys are thinking “Oh if I could only be brave enough, and strong enough to do something like that!”  May I say (ahem!) I didn’t do anything any red-blooded, living and healthy husband anywhere wouldn’t also do if they were told to go get food – or else!

So there I was, fully appreciating my skills as a modern day hunter-gatherer.  I was oh, so carefully putting away my extra-large box of Lucky Charms (this is a necessary part of the “Real Men Eat Lucky Charms” diet).  I vaguely remember looking into the eyes of my adoring and appreciative wife, then, bending down to retrieve my box of Animal Crackers (you know, the ones in the box that looks like an animal cage) and while I was about to say something pithy and wise to my wife, my whole world suddenly came completely unhinged!

For one brief moment, I thought perhaps I had a stroke, or at least some kind of cerebral infarction!  I remember hearing and feeling the air pressure change right before my world exploded into a cacophony of sound and light!  As I picked myself up off the floor, struggling to remember what day it was or if I knew my phone number, Frances informed me there was a mosquito on my cheek and knowing my aversion to bugs and insects, she killed it.

Of course, she had to slap me silly in order to rid the world of this blood-sucking threat!  Struggling to see the crumpled remains of this microscopic menace, I remember her telling me how thankful I should be that she loved me so much to spare me the agony of the beast’s vicious bite.

In the days since my recovery from this “near death” experience (Hey!  This is my story and I’m sticking to it!) I recalled a very important principle in this.  For anyone other than my wife to have done this to me (yes of course, she has cart blanche and can pretty much get away with anything because I adore her), this would have caused a fight and a big one!  What enabled my understanding of my wife’s motives is the relationship I have with her; our relationship allows us to care for one another—even when that care can be, uh . .  er . . . “painful” at times!

God tells us in His Word, “The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son He receives.”  There are many times in our lives when God punishes us not only because we are doing something we should not be doing, but also because what we are doing will cause us harm.  We know the circumstances we face are from God through our experience with Him and the presence of God’s Spirit which indwells every believer who knows Christ as their Savior!

What motivates God’s discipline is His love for us.  Often when God disciplines us, we might think He has overreacted and perhaps been heavy handed in our discipline.  “It really wasn’t that big an issue, right?”  Often it isn’t that God was heavy handed but we think far too little of the travesty of the sin we have committed.  We want to “laugh it off” as some small mistake; but we habitually overlook the price He paid for our sin.  We place great value on cars which decrease in value, on homes which can burn or be destroyed in a storm, but we overlook the cost associated with the removal of our sin so we might have a relationship with the One who created everything, God Himself died – for us and in our place—when Jesus Christ died on the Cross!

We can do unbelievable damage to ourselves: we can drink ourselves to death, overdose on drugs, catch untold diseases by having sexual relationships outside of marriage and we can be hurt physically and emotionally.  We must remember it isn’t the degree of the sin that is evil; it is the fact we have sinned at all!  Whether it is a small lie, a stray thought or an uncontrolled action – any and all of these will keep us away from God!  If it were not for Christ’s death, we could never experience the forgiveness which gives healing and life.

Here’s a bizarre thought: we should want discipline.  No, no, I do not want to experience the life-saving efforts of my lovely wife anytime soon, but I do desire a relationship with her.  Discipline is not always corrective; it is sometimes willfully taken for future ability.  Runners discipline themselves through exercise in order they might compete and win.  God disciplines us—sometimes through allowing us to “reap” whatever we have “sown”—to correct us and to demonstrate we are His.

It would be easy to desire to simply avoid all pain and inconvenience.  Yet as desirable as having “no pain” would be, it loses its luster if it means I no longer know I have a relationship.

Being slapped silly every now and then isn’t so bad now is it?