A Christian Pastor’s 2016 Election Day Message

[Published BEFORE election results are in, with the belief the following applies whichever candidate wins.]

God is NOT in control of this election! We the people are.

When the day is done and the results are in we cannot say of the winner, “It is God’s will.” Unless you also want to say that it is God’s will that Eve ate the apple.  Eve eating the apple and the outcome of this election are not God’s will but rather the result of we humans exercising our God-given free will.

Of course God could have been in control but he delegated that to “we the people” a very long time ago.  We have been given the gift of free agency with the ability to make choices.  Here in the United States those choices include being able to determine our leaders through free and open elections.  When the election is over we will get the leader we have asked for, not the leader God would want for us. Might they not be one and the same?  That is theoretically possible but I believe it is absolutely not the case in this election.

Even as the primary season began we had already been using the wrong criteria to fill  the pool of potentials.  We were looking at candidates through the eyes of the world rather through God’s eyes.  We were not seeking a person after God’s own heart  (The criteria God used when he selected David.).  Instead we sought out and nominated candidates from a posture of fear. We have asked questions like: Which candidate is the strongest and most powerful?  Which candidate is the smartest and wisest (with the wisdom of this world)?  Which candidate has the most influence?  Which candidate presents best?  Which candidate can best keep us safe and secure, both physically and economically?

I do not and cannot judge where any candidate stands in their relationship with God.  But this I do know:   Based on observable behavior–not just recent but also life-long patterns–we will elect a candidate whose character does not mirror that of God, whose values and priorities do not align with God’s, and who does not love as God loves.  We will live with the consequences of our choice for the next few years.  But there is hope!

1 Chronicles 7:14  says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I suggest our starting point for humbling ourselves may very well be with admitting and confessing our sin for our part in this election.  Let us pray:  “Heavenly Father, we humbly come before you confessing our sin.  We as a nation, jumped out ahead of you and we have freely chosen our leader for the wrong reasons.  Forgive us. Help us to move forward from here in the right direction.  Draw close to the leader we choose and give guidance and direction.  Speak to our leader’s heart and mind.  Soften the heart of our leader so that there can be genuine transformation.  From where we stand today, work for the good of your people and heal our land.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

Unhappily Ever After

(The following was previously published in the Church of the Nazarene’s denominational magazine, The Herald of Holiness, in Sept. 1994.)

“Once upon a time a teenage girl was praying and distinctly felt that God was calling her to be a missionary. The idea frightened her. She didn’t know if she could ever move far away from her family. She certainly didn’t think she would be a very good missionary. Besides that she had other plans, including a boyfriend who did not feel called to be a missionary. So the young girl went to college, became a teacher, married her boyfriend and lived unhappily ever after.”

I wish stories like that only happened in fairy tales. The truth is, this is all too real. We probably all know people who find themselves living “unhappily ever after” because at some point in their life they said “no” to God’s call. Ever since that day they have lived with the tyranny of guilt. From that day forward they feel like second-class citizens in the kingdom. They feel they can never be spiritually fulfilled because they missed God’s plan. Maybe even you personally are living “unhappily ever after” because you said “no” to God’s call on your life.

The good news is that saying “no” to God at some point in your life doesn’t have to mean defeat for the entire rest of your life. Our God is not a grudge-bearing God. He is a God who forgives and forgets. We seem ready to accept his forgiveness for a multitude of sins but not this one. We believe that God can heal broken bodies and twisted relationships. We believe he can give meaning to life. But for some reason–Satan’s suggestion most likely–we don’t think he can or will heal our life’s course after we have said “no” to Him.

It is certainly unfortunate when we make the mistake of not realizing that God’s plan for us is best. There is no question that we are in the wrong. There isn’t even any question that God is displeased by it. However, making such a mistake should not mean living the rest of our lives unfulfilled, unhappy, and spiritually defeated.

The key is repentance. Like any other sin, saying “no” to God’s call eats away at a person’s relationship with God. Allowed to go on unchecked it will eventually completely destroy that relationship. But, I John 1:9 should apply here just as it does with stealing or bearing false witness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9 NIV).”

Not only does God forgive us and cleanse us, he also forgets. The Psalmist expressed it this way, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12, NIV).” Through the prophecy of Jeremiah we have this word from the Lord, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34, NIV).” In spite of Scripture passages like these we too often forget that God for¬ gets. When we confess our sins, God no longer holds them against us. That means you need no longer feel like a second-class citizen in the Kingdom. In God’s kingdom there are no paupers.

The question to ask yourself is whether or not you have really confessed this sin to God or have you merely regretted your disobedience and wished that you would have obeyed? Wishing and regretting heals no one but confession and repentance heals everyone–even those who have said “no” to His call.

But what about consequences? After repenting for running from God’s call, Jonah was able to go ahead with that call. In your case perhaps your life has taken some turns that prohibit you from going ahead with God’s original call. Then what?

While it is true that there are consequences to our actions, sometimes even lifelong consequences, it is not true that God cannot continue to work through our lives. To think that God cannot create fulfilling and meaning¬ful service opportunities after you have said “no” is to greatly limit God. Recall that we serve the God who called the universe into existence out of nothing. If you have said “no” to God and repented of it, then the important thing is to say “yes” the next time He calls.

A Christian Country

Generally speaking, Christians in America like to think that the United States of America is a, “Christian country.” Those who say that we aren’t, generally wish that we were.

Of course, even if we all agree that we ought to be a Christian country, that doesn’t mean we actually agree. It seems that there is still a discrepancy in what we even mean by the term, Christian country.

For many it simply means that we are a country where…

  • Christian prayer is allowed, or even encouraged, in our schools and other government settings
  • saying, “Merry Christmas,” is always accepted and preferred
  • the Ten Commandments are welcome in our courthouses
  • nativities are welcome on public lawns
  • the pledge to the flag includes, “under God”
  • our money declares, “In God we trust.”
  • Christian churches can build where they want (mosques, not so much)
  • churches are tax exempt
  • Christian ethics guide the laws of the land
  • Christians are free to live out their own convictions without fear
  • etc.

While this may be the way many people think when they think of what it means to be a Christian country, this list actually falls way short. This conception of a Christian country reflects a self-centered understanding. It basically means that a Christian country is a country for Christians; a country that favors Christianity and creates/maintains a very Christian-friendly environment.  This idea of a Christian country is all about making our country pleasant and comfortable for we Christians.

I would suggest a different idea for a Christian country.  Rather than  a country for Christians, I would suggest that a Christian country is a country that behaves in a Christlike manner.  In other words, it is a country that takes personal Biblical, Christian ethics and applies them at a national level.

Let me share some examples of what I mean.

Way back in Genesis, when God first called Abraham, he made this covenant:

“I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3, emphasis added)

Here is the general principle that can be drawn from that passage: When God blesses, the blessed are supposed to bless others! The Marvel hero, Spiderman, famously learned the lesson that, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This passage teaches the rest of us that with great blessings comes great responsibility. As a nation, we here in the United States, are greatly blessed. As a Christian I credit God for those blessings. Consequently, if we are to be a Christian country, we must use our great blessings to bless others!

This plays out in a wide variety of ways. Among other things, it means that as the most powerful country in the world, we should help and assist the less powerful. It means that when we make trade agreements, we should think not only of how it benefits ourselves, but also how it benefits those with whom we make the agreement. (Note Philippians 2:3-4 — “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”) It means giving aid to nations that are not as blessed as the United States–nations dealing with drought, famine, war, and so on.

A truly Christian country will not horde its blessings for itself but will use its blessings to bless others.

For another example, consider the environment. In the beginning, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) Notice that the command is two-fold. We are to, “work it,” but we are also to, “take care of it.” It is an unfortunate truth that our culture has been better with the former than with the latter. We must bring that into balance.

A truly Christian country will not only “work” the planet but will also “take care of it.”

As another example, there is the issue of how a Christian nation should treat the marginalized and needy within its own borders. Here are just two relevant Scripture passages (from among many) that should guide and direct our policies if we want to be a Christian country: 1 John 3:17 asks, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” Along the same vein, James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

The directives of these and other relevant passages would include assisting with basics like food, shelter, and health care. It would also include ensuring that our laws don’t favor the well-to-do and that we proactively give the needy a hand-up in things like educational opportunities. It means we would make sure that our tax code doesn’t favor the well-to-dos over against those in poverty.

A truly Christian country will take care of its marginalized and needy.

Immigration is a divisive subject in our country. How should a Christian country respond to immigrants? Turning to Scripture, we are in Leviticus 19:34, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” It is an inconvenient truth (to some) that this passage makes no distinction between documented foreigners and non-documented foreigners. We are simply told that if they reside here, we should treat them the same as our native-born.

A truly Christian country will love its immigrants.

There is the issue of equal rights… According to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, …” Our own Declaration of Independence mirrors this teaching with those well-known words, “all men are created equal.”

A truly Christian country will not discriminate, but will operate from a stance of equality under which everyone has “equal protection under the law.”

Domestic Economic Policy: There are Biblical principles that address business. For example, Deuteronomy 25:13-16, teaches: “Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.” The details of this passage were written in a different time and place but once again a general principle can be gleaned. The idea is to be fair in all our business dealings. Wages and prices should be fair, not simply, “whatever the market will bear.” The principle of, “let the buyer beware,” is just another way of saying that you can cheat customers if you can get away with it. Such a principle should have no place in a Christian country.

A truly Christian country will enact policies that aim for justice and fairness.

For the final example, I want to think about how we posture with our enemies. I often hear a call to to overcome our enemies by destroying them with our power and controlling them with intimidation and threats. Biblically, however, we are told: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…” (Matthew 5:43-44) We are further told, in Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone…”

A truly Christian country will have a foreign policy that is based on goodwill, negotiation, and peace, rather than control through power, fear, and intimidation

I for one would love to live in a Christian country. Not simply a country that loves Christians but a country that embraces Christian love.

It’s something to cerebrate!

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, March 1, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Are you a believer?

Usually, when that question is asked, “believer” is being used a synonym for, “Christian.”  That’s fine.  However, it couldn’t hurt to remind ourselves why the word, “believer,” makes a good synonym for, “Christian.”

Let’s go back to the days of Abram.  When he was about 99 years old, God sent word that he and his wife were to become parents.  His wife was about 90 herself and had been barren for her entire life.  The idea that after all those years of not being able to have children, that they would have a child at this old age seemed unbelievable.  The Bible tells us that initially both Abram and his wife laughed at the idea.

He got over that soon enough.  The Scripture records that Abram believed God and it “was credited to him as righteousness.”

That notion that God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, loves us and forgives us seems unbelievable.  But believe it and it will be credited to you as righteousness!  That’s why Christians are called “believers.”

Are  you a believer?

 

 

 

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 22, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

It’s a pretty common question. Lent is, after all, a time in which we commemorate Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness.   Thus our commemoration usually includes giving up something.

But Lent (and fasting in general) ought to be about more than just giving up something. Isaiah 58:6-7 puts it very well:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

The bottom line is that there is another side to the give up Lenten coin.  Giving up something frees up resources.  Those resources can take the form of money, time, energy, or some combination of them.  So, once you’ve given up something, thereby freeing up something, then take the next step and give to something.

It’s been hundreds of years since Isaiah was written but the causes he specifically mentions are still a good place to start:  loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, providing the poor wanderer with shelter, etc.

What are you giving to for Lent?

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 15, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Mountain wisdom is simple and profound.  Here are couple examples:

  • “Don’t sell your mule to buy a plow.”
  • “Don’t corner something meaner than you.”

Simple and profound. But I think some of the wisest advice to ever come off a mountain top was of a very different nature from those folksy examples.  Jesus was there with three of his followers along with a couple of very special and unexpected guests: Moses and Elijah. As this mountain top experience was coming to close a voice was heard, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7, NIV)

Listen to the Son of God!  it doesn’t get much more simple and profound than that.

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, February 8, 2015

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached about on a previous Sunday.)

Mark 1:21-34 tell of Jesus amazing the people by the way he taught as one with authority. It also tells of Jesus acting with authority by the way he overcame evil spirits and healed various diseases. The result of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and actions was immediate popularity. It must have been an exhausting day. The next morning, did Jesus sleep in and order breakfast in bed? Isn’t that what pop stars do?   Well, it’s not what Jesus did.  Did he call a press conference to exploit the momentum? After all, that’s what pop stars do. Well, that’s not what Jesus did either. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

I think this reveals something very important about Jesus. Very simply, it reveals that Jesus placed a high priority on prayer. Equally simple is the implication: If Jesus placed a high priority on prayer, then we should too!

Twain’s Bad Little Boy: The Rest of the Story

As much as I enjoy Mark Twain’s writings, I have to say that he didn’t always get it right. Take for example what he told us about a particular boy, in his “Story of the Bad Little Boy.”*

This particular bad little boy was named, Jim. This in itself is unusu¬al. As Twain points out, everyone knows from their Sunday School books, that bad little boys are ordinarily called “James.” Nevertheless, this particular bad little boy was called “Jim.”

His unusual name is only the beginning. There are many other interest¬ing differences between this particular Jim and the Jameses of the School lessons. As Twain tells us for example, “Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and be good. Oh no!; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him.” As curious as that is, it was not the exception, but the norm. It seemed Jim’s whole life was patterned nearly totally opposite as the events that occurred in the life of the bad little Jameses as told in the Sunday School papers.

If you are the curious sort, and if you haven’t read Twain’s “full” account of this bad little boy, then you are probably wondering whatever happened to this Jim as he grew up. Twain doesn’t leave us in the dark on the matter but spells it out for us explicitly, “And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legisla¬ture. So you see there never was a bad boy James in the Sunday-school books that had such a streak of luck as this sinful Jim with the charmed life.”

As you can see Mark Twain didn’t know everything. If he had, he would have told us about the important things that happened to Jim when his term in the legislature was over. Take heart, dear reader! I am now prepared to present to you “the rest of the story.” Even if your curiosity isn’t running rampant it would do you some good to read it, lest Twain’s short ending leaves you with wrong impression–the impression that you shouldn’t put much stock in the Sunday School books.

To begin with, most curiously, this Jim didn’t get implicated in a financial scandal, though while in the legislature he was involved in a few. He didn’t get impeached and cast out of office. He didn’t serve time in prison where he reflected on his life and saw the error of his ways as have happened to our exemplary James. Oh! no. Jim retired at a ripe old age and spent the rest of his days lavishing upon himself all sorts of earthly pleasures with his ill-gained fortunes. He didn’t have an earth-shattering revelation that taught him the true values of life. He never did turn over a new leaf and become the giving¬est, helpfulest man in the county. He didn’t even lose it all in a shady, risky, speculative investment. No, Jim died filthy rich in the most comfort-able house around, surrounded by a large band of money grubbers pretending to be friends.

Having read all about all these differences between the grown up bad boy named Jim and the Jameses we read about in the Sunday School papers it should¬n’t surprise you to hear that even after death his scenario was quite different from that of all those Jameses.

In the Sunday School papers, if James ever dies–perhaps at the hands of the headhunters to whom he was trying to present the gospel, after he had learned his lessons and repented–he invariably stands before God the Creator and Judge who proclaims as the Good Book said He would, “Well done, good and faithful servant; . . .; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21, KJV)”

Not so with Jim. Instead, Jim stood before God the Creator and Right¬eous Judge and heard, as is also written in the Good Book, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41, KJV)”

And so you see, while this Jim’s life varied greatly in details from that of the Jameses we read about, the moral of the Sunday School lessons stands: There are consequences to pay for sin. Even if your life is as “charmed” as was this Jim’s, be sure your sins will find you out. Mark Twain didn’t always get it right.

*Quotes are from “Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old” (1875), as found in, Bradley, Scully, et. al., editors, The American Tradition in Literature: Fourth Edition Vol. II, (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1956, 1957,1961, 1962, 1967, 1974.

When My Dad Said, “Yes!”

My dad was a pastor.  After he passed away I spent some time sifting through his handwritten sermon outlines and manuscripts.  Among his works I found this testimony to the time he said, “yes,” to God’s call on his life.  The following story is his:

I remember when I completely surrendered my life to God and answered the call to the ministry. It wasn’t without a fight with the Devil.  I listened to him, and like Moses who had excuses of why he could not go back to Egypt and lead God’s people out of bondage, I had many excuses as to why I could not go into the ministry. The old Devil just filled my head with excuses. . . But God wouldn’t take my excuses.

“My children are in school here and love it. Lord, couldn’t I just stay until they finish school? And then there is the house. I just remodeled and we love it here. I could just stay here and teach Sunday School and serve on the church board. And Lord, if you really want me to, I will try to preach once in a while here in my church.”

That night God seemed to come so close to me. He assured me there were other schools and that He would provide a place for me to live.

“OK, Lord, I’ll begin my studies and when I finish, then I will go preach.”

You see, I thought I was pretty smart. I thought I could put one over on the Lord, for I knew it would take four or five years or longer to get all my studies finished. Maybe by then, I could just stay right in the New Lothrop church!

“PUT YOUR HOUSE UP FOR SALE NOW AND BREAK ALL TIES.”

“As soon as school goes out. How’s that Lord?”

“NOW, TODAY!”

It was then that final, full, surrender came, and with it, the tears of peace began to flow. I had been keeping all this to myself. As the tears began to flow, I was painting the hallway in my house. My wife didn’t really know what was happening. After explaining to her what was happening and telling her we were to sell our house and was to go into the ministry, I’m sure many questions came to her mind. But she said, “Whatever you do, I am with you.” Thank God for those that stand by our sides.

This was taking place at about 10:00 in the morning. I was working second shift so I had to leave for work at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I went to the hardware store and bought a sign: “FOR SALE BY OWNER.” I took it home and placed it in the corner of the front window the of the house and went to work.

You know, when I came home from work that night I found my wife had left a note on the table. It said, “You are to call this number. Someone called about the house and wants you to call him when you get in tonight.”

I called. A man answered and said he had seen the sign and wanted to know what I was asking for the house. I told him. He didn’t question the price. He just said, “Take the sign down. I will be down tomorrow and make a deposit.”

 

The Truth Behind, “Everything Happens for a Reason.”

Those who have seen the movie, Karate Kid, will never forget the scene when the young Daniel is ordered by his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, to paint the fence, sand the deck, and wax the cars. Daniel is angry and impatient while carrying out the tasks but eventually learns that there was an important reason. The tasks were Miyagi’s method for developing some reflex motions that were very relevant to his martial arts’ self-defense. The reason behind the frustrating chores made everything OK.

There are those who want to place God in the Miyagi role every time something bad happens. You lost your job? Be patient, God has a reason. Your spouse cheated on you? You might not see it now, but there is a good reason. You have cancer? Don’t worry about it, everything happens for a reason! The logic behind those statements is, “Just like Miyagi did to Daniel, God is doing that to you for some reason that will later be clear. Therefore, everything is OK.”

The problem that way of thinking is that it is just wrong! It is true that, “everything happens for a reason,” but that reason is not always because God pro-actively caused it to bring about some desired result. That just isn’t how God works. To God, the end doesn’t always justify the means. To God, the means matters.

Recently, my daughter was in a bad car accident. Some people would have us asking, “Why did God do this? What was he trying to teach?” The answer is, “God didn’t do it. A drunk driver did.” The actual reason was a combination of chemistry, biology, physics, and free-will. The driver exercised her free-will to drink too much of a substance whose chemistry affected her biology in such a way as to give her impaired judgment and reflexes. In that impaired condition she operated a piece of heavy machinery (her car). Simple physics dictate that when a vehicle going over 90 miles per hour overtakes a vehicle going 60 miles per hour the impact is going to cause damage.

On the surface it might not seem as comforting to think that the accident was a result of chemistry, biology, physics and free-will instead of some important unknown God-in-the-Miyagi-role reason. But think a little deeper and I believe it is more comforting! Personally, I prefer a God for whom the means matters.