Apr 242017
 

Go To Church

“One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should.

One life with each other: sisters, brothers.

One life, but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other.

One, one.”

U2

Last month in The Atlantic, I came across a fascinating article by Peter Beinart with the title of “Breaking Faith”

It is well worth reading.  In the article, Beinart, explores the demographic shifts in faith and culture and the way in which they have impacted the current political scene.  According to Beinart, the key to understanding what is taking place is not by how people self-identify, but by what they actually do.  In practical terms, this means that the key factor is not whether people self-identify as “evangelical” or “Roman Catholic”, but rather the more basic question of “do you attend church?”.  When the question is put in these terms, everything changes.  As Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman put it, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church”.  He might have added, that Trump did best among Roman Catholic men in rust belt states who only see the inside of a church when attending a funeral or wedding.  

We are becoming an increasingly secular society.  Of that there can be little doubt.  It is a secular society, however, with memories of better times.  We remain nominally attached to certain values such as church, family, and community, but in reality these have become only abstract ideas to which many only pay lip service.  This has led to a conflict between the ideal and the real. As W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia wrote, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and forging real and abiding ties in their community.  The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives”.  Of course, the same could be said of white Roman Catholic men in many of the rust belt regions of America as well.  Divorce rates, opioid addiction and financial uncertainty are all blind when it comes to denominational affiliation.

It is easy, however, to point to “them” as the problem.  “They” don’t go to church.  But, how about us, do we go to church?

Recently on a friend’s social media feed, I saw an astounding statement – “Podcasts are my church this year”, with a listing of the podcasts they listen to on a regular basis.  My friend commented, “Have said the same myself, and heard it said by so many others…” There seems to have been a progression in recent years.  Originally, we were participants in a community of faith.  Then, something happened… or, maybe, many things happened. Perhaps there was an issue with the pastor (that’s always a favorite one), or we perceived something in what was being taught that seemed at odds with our  understanding of the Bible, or history, or theology.  Maybe it was the new praise band or the new worship leader.   It might even have been the people in the congregation – they were too conservative, too liberal, too rich, too poor… Regardless, we take ourselves elsewhere.  No longer feeling connected and not really wanting to be a participant, having been burned, hurt or disappointed, we find a place to be a spectator.  A mega-church works well for this, as do many liturgical churches.  All you have to do is sit in your seat and watch the action.  Yet, when once you’ve been a participant, it’s hard to be a spectator.  Anonymity has it’s price.  It’s difficult to make friends.  You begin to wonder if anyone cares if you’re attending or not.  Besides all of that, the preaching and/or teaching leaves much to be desired and you’re really getting more spiritual sustenance from a video series you’ve discovered, or a blog site, or even, a podcast.  Not only that, you can pick the ones that agree with your way of thinking.  You don’t have to engage, unless it’s in an anonymous comment, and you can do all this in isolation, comfortably, on your schedule, from your home or office.  You can even confess your sins and have others in the comment thread tell you that you’re forgiven… all without leaving your chair.  It’s church… or is it?

It is not church. 

Friends, church is hard.  Firstly, you’ll not find a perfect church, and if you do, it won’t be perfect after you join it.  That’s just the way it is.  Secondly, you’ll never find a perfect pastor.  Setting aside those who are in ministry for all the wrong reasons – narcissists, abusive personalities, etc. – generally you’ll find a person who is really trying to do a good job.  Not only are they trying to do a good job, they are generally sacrificing a great deal to do that job, especially in terms of family and financial security.  Even the small perk of the respect that was once automatically given to clergy by the outside community is pretty much a thing of the past. It’s a tough job to do well.  Moreover, they will make mistakes – some big, some small – and it will be up to you to extend grace to them as you would wish for grace to be extended to yourself.  

Church is a place to know and be known.  Church is the first place in which we are called to live out the precepts of Christ in a common life with others.  For some, such as myself, Church is the place where I partake of Communion – in communion with both Christ and those kneeling or standing beside me.  It is not a solitary act.  Baptism is to be buried with Christ and raised to new life.  It is also taking one’s place with all the baptized, through all the ages.  It is not a solitary act.  When we equate teaching that we hear online, or blog sites we participate in, or videos that we watch, with “church”, we have missed the point.  Not only that, we also run the risk of a gnostic spirituality that denies the physical in favor of an ethereal abstract ideal known only to ourselves. In terms of “spiritual health”, we may be the ones creating a crisis, not only for ourselves, but for the Church itself and perhaps society as well.  Salt is a compound, not a singular element. Light is a diverse combination, not a stand alone phenomena.  If we’re to be salt and light, we need what others bring. We need church.

So, find a church, even if it’s imperfect.  There’s a wide selection to choose from these days.  Find a church that aligns with your theological understanding if you can, but find one!  Then, be faithful – in attendance, in learning, in service, in giving, in prayer.  

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Apr 232017
 

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages.

Amen.

Apr 212017
 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

(Matthew 7:7–11 ESV)

I have noted here before that my cats have a feeding schedule that you can set your proverbial clock by.

If you don’t have a proverbial clock you could almost tell time from them as they are quite punctual.

There is no need for an alarm clock as most of us can’t stay asleep with a cat standing on our heads knitting our hair together.

That means it’s 6:00 AM and time to get up…

An interesting thing happened the other day, however.

I rose as commanded and went to get the cats breakfast…and the cupboard was bare.

We were out of cat food.

Uh oh..

Now, the way the morning ritual goes is that Miss Kitty sits by her dish on the bed and Chester sits by his dish on the floor as they wait for me to go in the other room and fetch the vittles.

Missy gets fed first because she’s Missy and then Chester chows down after.

On this day, I came back with empty hands and they just sat and stared at me.

After making the proper apologies, I started to get ready to go get breakfast…I would have to get cleaned up, get gas in the truck, go to the store, and come back.

It was going to be a while.

They understood none of this, they only understood that they were hungry.

They were still sitting by empty dishes when I left.

When I came back from the store, they were sitting in the exact same places I left them in and eagerly commenced to wolf down their Friskies without comment.

This, naturally, got me musing about God and my own “empty dishes”.

There are things that I’ve been asking God to do that only He can do for me.

There are needs that need to be met as regularly as I fill the cats dishes.

If He doesn’t fill them, they won’t be filled.

There are the empty dishes of others that I pray He will fill with finances, healing ,hope, and so many other things common to us all.

We all spend a lot of time sitting by empty dishes in expectation.

Sometimes, when we think He’s going to fill our dish, it seems like He has left the building instead.

We sit with our empty dishes and wonder what to do.

Here’s what to do…be like my cats.

Keep sitting there next to your dish in expectation.

Keep sitting there with your empty dish in expectation even if it seems that He’s late…again.

He knows the best time to fill it and His cupboard is never bare.

You’re more than a pet, you’re a beloved child and an heir.

He knows the need…and He loves to meet your needs.

He’s good.

The Friskies is on the way…

Make your own application…

 

Apr 202017
 

One of the criticisms leveled at me by the online discernment ministries is that I’m ecumenical.

Guilty as charged.

This does not mean I believe in the brotherhood of all religions, it means that I believe that all who confess Christian orthodoxy are family.

The next question would be, how do you decide who is orthodox?

For me, (your mileage may vary) the early church defined the boundaries of orthodoxy in the creeds.

The one I confess in my daily prayers is the Apostles Creed.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

I also affirm the Nicene Creed.

WE BELIEVE in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Those are the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith…if you can confess them, you’re family.

Granted, like all families, there are some weird relatives…

These creeds are the basis for Christian unity…most of us also have confessions that detail why we fellowship in different buildings.

Anglicans have The 39 Articles, the Reformed have the Westminster Confession and the Three Forms of Unity, Lutherans have the Book of Concord, etc.

All of the above also confess the creeds I posted.

I appreciate the confessions, but the creeds are the hill I’ll die on.

That’s what it means to me to be ecumenical…

 

Apr 202017
 

Peace Through Christ

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ ” (Acts 10:34-43)

World War II ended in 1974 for Japanese Lieutenant, Hiroo Onoda. That was the year Onoda came out of hiding on the remote Philippine Island of Lubang and handed over his sword. Peace had been made 29 years earlier when Japan surrendered to the United States ending World War II, but Onoda either did not receive or did not trust the news until his former commander went back to Lubang in 1974 to personally deliver the news of peace to him. The Onoda story may provide us with a useful comparison for exploring the proclamation of the Gospel which Peter described as “peace through Jesus Christ.”

Through His death and resurrection, Christ won a cosmic war which pitted the world against God. Christ defeated the powers of sin, death and the devil: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15); “For ‘God has put all things under his feet’ ” (1 Cor 15:27a); and “[Christ] is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). This is the good news of peace through Jesus Christ.

But Christ’s victory brought more than a cold peace between former enemies, His victory brought, reconciliation and grace. “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:19-20) Christ’s victory brought the world a gracious God.

Therefore, beginning with the apostles, Christ commissioned His Church to proclaim the good news of peace through Him. Just like the story of Onoda, the good news of peace must be proclaimed and believed if the war is to end and peace and reconciliation are to be made between former enemies. Without this proclamation, humanity is still at war; it is still living under condemnation and wrath at enmity with God. As Paul wrote: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 10:14)

War creates bitter enemies. For most American Christians, until recently, we have not experienced here at home the opposition which is the byproduct of the war against God. However, the war is showing signs of heating up. We have heard about skirmishes waged against pastors, such as Reformed Pastor Tim Keller and Lutheran Pastor Jonathon Fisk, and against small business owners, who hold traditional views on marriage and sexuality based on God’s Word. If you follow these stories, you may notice there are groups who will settle for nothing less than to discredit, demonize and/or financially penalize Christians who follow God’s Word as traditionally taught on these subjects. To be fair, not all so-called “progressives” on these subjects are publicly opposed to the teachings of Scripture, but there is a vocal, active minority who are.

However, if you look at the deeper issue, we should recognize that the enemy ultimately is not the Christians (who are Christ’s ambassadors, and in these skirmishes, may suffer for Christ); the enemy ultimately is Christ and His Word. Unbelievers either have not heard that the war is over, or do not believe that Christ has been victorious. Therefore, for them, the war continues on. As Christians, we may suffer as human representatives of Christ, but we should understand that in this war, our oppressors ultimately are the enemies of Christ and are fighting against God.

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42)

The reality is that the war really is over; Christ has won (Christus Victor); the devil has lost; and God has appointed Christ to be judge of the living and the dead. There may be sinners lost or hiding in the jungle of unbelief, unconsciously following a defeated devil, but the cosmic war is over. Therefore, any temporary persecution that the world may inflict on Christ’s Church or His Christians on account of His Word has no eternal significance for us who are in Christ. On the other hand by continuing their war against God and His Word, unbelievers remain children of wrath. Should they land as unbelievers before Christ’s judgment seat on the last day, they will face the eternal consequences of their unbelief.

Therefore, Jesus has commanded His church to proclaim the good news of peace through Jesus Christ to all nations.

“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

The good news of peace through Jesus Christ must be heard and believed to bring forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. He is Lord of all! Sadly not everyone who hears the Gospel comes to faith in Christ, and we who bring this good news, each in our individual vocations, can expect rejection and opposition by unbelievers. However, it is not the messenger but the message and its Author which the world ultimately rejects. Remembering this may help us as Christ’s ambassadors to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us. For our Lord “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4) Amen.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ ” (Isa 52:7) Amen.

Apr 192017
 

A man named Bill Lyon has been one of my favorite sportswriters. 

He long wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer and still does from time to time since his retirement several years ago.  A masterful wordsmith, Lyon’s manner of writing makes me envious as I now attempt to hack my way through this thing called prose.  Seemingly able to effortlessly turn a phrase and to captivate his audience with the telling of a story, Lyon has a special gift.

Just to give a quick impression of his talent, I quote a small snippet about him from an article by a current Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist, Mike Sielski.  Sielski is telling the story of the time Lyon reached out to him, at the time a college kid and aspiring sportswriter, and invited him to join him on the job of covering a Phillies game.

From Sielski’s article:

“Then the game begins. The Dodgers’ starting pitcher is Hideo Nomo, an international sensation who is dominating the National League in his rookie season. He lasts three innings. Gregg Jefferies becomes the first Phillies player in 32 years to hit for the cycle. Jeff Juden, the Phillies starter, hits a grand slam, throws a complete game, and conducts his postgame interviews with a cowboy hat on his head and an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. Daulton tears the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a seemingly innocuous slide into second base. The Phillies win, 17-4. It is the kind of game that can overwhelm a sportswriter. How do you capture so much? In the press box, the college kid glances at Bill’s laptop and watches these words materialize on the screen:

This all begins to unfurl, this night of madness, at 8:16, when, to a firestorm of flash bulbs from the stands, Nomo pretzels himself into that bizarre contortionist’s windup, stretching like a man just awakening from a long nap, then pivoting until he is turned halfway around, and from that bewildering posture the ball suddenly emerges, hot and hissing.

Bill writes the entire column in 45 minutes. Some things are beyond explanation.”

Lyon, as mentioned at the beginning, still writes from time-to-time for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  However, a good many of his columns over the past year have very little to do with sports coverage. 

Rather, they are his personal accounts of dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.

His first article was published last June.  The series has continued on through his most recent piece published just this past Easter Sunday.  Throughout the series, Lyon tells of his travails battling this terrible disease and how it brings pains and humiliation to a man who once prided himself, and still tries to, in his strength and abilities.  Amongst many stories, he tells of times like when he can’t find his way home when driving a route he has done so many times before and describes things like the constant danger of navigating the steps he had automatically and flawlessly handled thousands of times before in his home of 42 years.

Lyon has been humbled by this disease.  Yet he also maintains a defiant spirit and refuses to give into the affliction.  He balks at any thought of conceding defeat and vows to fight to the end.  He denies his nemesis (whom he calls “Al”) from gaining full control of his life and keeps on going the best that he can.

I was saddened when I read Lyon’s first article in this series where he publicly revealed the battle he is fighting.  I had never met the man and knew very little of him beyond his sports writing.  Yet it was still disheartening to hear such bad news from a man that I had a respect for in some regard and felt like I knew in some way.

I now find myself rooting for Bill Lyon in his battle.  His attitude and outlook has been inspirational as he wrestles with this harrowing condition.  I don’t know where the man stands before God or in any religious faith as I can’t recall any references of significance to such in his writings.  But I pray that God would strengthen him in his journeys and that if it hasn’t happened yet, that he would come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Why do I write about Bill Lyon today?  I really don’t know.  I don’t have any cogent application or attempted lesson to impart, and I don’t have some specific grand topic to put up for discussion before the community.  I had been thinking about writing about Lyon for a couple months now but really wasn’t sure where to go with it.  I still don’t know where to go with it.

Maybe there was a need to tell this story for someone who needed to hear it for some reason unknown to me.  Maybe there was some kind of need of my own to put my thoughts about Lyon into written form that I have not yet recognized.  Or maybe I’m just grasping at something to fulfill my weekly article.  I’ll leave it up to God to decide.

In the meantime, God bless all those who are either personally stricken by Alzheimer’s or similar debilitating conditions, or care for people close to them with such conditions.  May God have mercy.                   

Apr 182017
 

My decision to join the Anglican communion has been greeted with the usual intelligent comments from the ODM crowd… I didn’t know how subversive I really was.

Now, I’m not going to link to these comments/titles as they probably wouldn’t receive the gift of intelligent traffic well..but here are some highlights.

“Disgruntled former Calvary Chapel pastor Michael Newnham [aka the “Phoenix Preacher’] – Critic of Chuck Smith and advocate of Brian Brodersen – Comes out of the closet, declaring, “Why I AM (becoming) An Anglican” in a recent post.”

“he and alot of his friends are Catholic contemplative promoting, emergent & ecumenical.”

“Phoenix Preacher [interesting name] is basically entering the left/liberal wing of the Catholic church.”

“I’ve debated with Michael many times over the years. He was always a strong proponent of the “lordship salvation” false gospel that leads to hell, which also came primarily from catholicism through its daughters calvinism and arminianism (Michael was a calvinist). So I made a comment on his anglican post that he is just taking the natural next step from the “lordship salvation” heresy to Rome. He’s always been a fake, he was never a Bible believer. He was a “traditions of man” believer”

What would an ODM be without a conspiracy theory?

“Interesting that Newhan, being such a Fan of BB and his new direction for CC – that it’s the Anglican COE that BB is in bed with in his ‘Creation Fest’ UK… small world after all.”

“With Phoenix Preacher, I think Calvary Chapel serves as a “home to Rome” mechanism anyhow, maybe he’s still taking orders? “

Then there are the historians…

“Michael Newnham and me have debated quite a bit. He is an angry man that has a warped view of church history. He makes excuses for Rome and their idolatry because he knows that if he admits that the Church of Rome has been the Whore of Babylon since 196 AD, then that legitimatizes the Protestant daughters.”

About the only thing these folks got right was the name of the blog and my name…and they couldn’t always spell that correctly.

Now, I admit to being very amused by this stuff… because I can afford to be.

These wild hillbilly rants have no real effect on the rest of my life.

Others are not so fortunate…and that’s why we will continue to try to bring correction when we see other brethren attacked with lies and fantasies and without cause by the ODM’s and their ilk.

 

Apr 182017
 

Many of you were with us years ago and shared in the story of Bryon Mondok and how he and his wife took over the care of their granddaughter Allie after a tragedy. You can get caught up on Allie and the family here…

How does Christianity help us deal with evil and suffering?

Fourteen percent of Christians left their churches after the election…

Walter Brueggemann with Pete Enns

Church discipline and abuse…

Would be Anglican bishop rejected seven times…

People I don’t need to listen to…

Kristoff interviews President Carter…

Will the real blind man please stand up?

Wisdom for a foolish age…

Does God exist and is Jesus God?

The hard edged hope of Wendell Berry…

Four ways Satan uses Christian generosity for evil…

How single women became an unstoppable force in Bible translation…

Turbulence at Gordon College…

Bible Answer Man kicked off radio network for Orthodoxy conversion…

The Good Shepherd…

How smartphones are like crack…

Implications of the resurrection…

Self care doesn’t mean self centered…

God is bigger than your quid pro quo…

10 things you should know about catechesis…

The roar heard round the world…

Despising the Bride…

Surveying sex, denying childhood…

“I just go by what the Bible says”…

The inconvenience of victims…

Huge thanks to EricL for his faithful link help…support him at top right!

 

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