Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mass Murder and Christmas

The following is the intro to the sermon I preached on 12/16/12 shortly after the mass murder of Sandy Hook Elementary. It addresses why I think Christmas is more important now than at any time in my life. If you'd like to hear the sermon in its entirety, you can listen to it at:  http://firstfreerockford.org/sermons.htm#2012
Good Morning Everyone. As you know, a tragedy occurred in Connecticut that has shaken our nation. As a father of four, my heart is very heavy. I’ve felt shock, rage, frustration, and an almost unbearable sense of sadness for the families that lost those children. I don’t know about you, but I can barely watch the news. I saw a picture of a mother and father in the aftermath that immediately caused me to weep because their despair was so evident. I’ve been crying daily over all of this. How about you? Has this hit you as hard as it has me? It’s a terrible, terrible national wound.
You know, this morning, I was going to give you a cheerful Christmas message. It was going to be fun and engaging and inspiring. But after what happened on Friday (which, by the way, I heard about right after I preached at our Mother’s Day Out program and was with little kids) I decided to change this message. I even considered not preaching about Christmas at all because, what does mass murder have to do with Christmas? Right? How do you reconcile this horrific event with Christmas? That seems impossible.
But then it occurred to me. The first Christmas was not as peaceful as we tend to think. In actuality, the first Christmas was also surrounded by a tremendous amount of violence. In Rev. 12, we’re told that when Jesus was born, Satan himself tried to destroy Him. The text describes Satan as a murderous fiery dragon, a monster, who, on that first Christmas, tried to devour the Christ child. We’re told in the Gospel of Matthew that one of the ways Satan tried to do this was through the mass murder of children. Right after the wise men visit Jesus, King Herod issues an executive order that all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem be killed. And a massacre occurs, but Jesus survives.
When we celebrate Christmas, we tend to ignore the mass murder associated with Christ’s birth and the cruel, demonic creature intent on destroying all things precious and good in the world. I’ve seen many Nativity scenes. I’ve seen Mary and Joseph and the baby and the star. I’ve seen shepherds and sheep and wise men. But I’ve never seen in the background a massive dragon seething with filth and wickedness murdering children. That is, until Friday. We saw him at Sandy Hook and we’ve all been traumatized.
However, I want to tell you something else we will see in the days ahead. Just like at the first Christmas and at the first Easter, there may have been a monster, but there was also a King. And, like at the first Christmas and the first Easter, the King will win. I agree with one commentator who said, “Jesus didn’t go to that school with guns, but He will go to those families and all who have suffered loss.” And I guarantee you He did go to those children and this season, they are celebrating Christmas not by a manger, but in a Mansion in Heaven. Jesus wins and will win again. And that’s why Christmas, maybe more than any other time in my life, is so crucial. Christmas tells us that no matter how evil or horrendouos our world becomes, Christ wins and will win again. If He came the first time, He will keep His promise and come the second time and all this mess will be cleaned up. And, just as He defeated evil through love, we too must defeat evil today through love. This Christmas, spread more love than usual. Touch the world with the reality of a God that conquers death and takes children into His home. Remind a hurting, wounded world that God is real.


Friday, November 30, 2012

In-Womb Fighting

Currently, I'm preaching a series out of the Book of Genesis entitled "Start." One of the stories I'll hit is of Jacob and Esau, twins who had a terrible sibling rivalry and whose descendants, to this day, continue to have conflict (i.e. the Israeli/Arab conflict). What's interesting is that the rivalry starts in the womb of their mother, Rebekah. Gen. 25:22 states that her twin boys, "struggled together within her." Later on we're told that when Esau, the older, is born, he emerges from the womb with Jacob's "hand holding on to Esau's heel." I point this out because people have undoubtedly accused the Bible of manufacturing this story. Surely two babies in the womb aren't developed enough to fight one another. This is simply mythology. Yet, once again, the Bible is proven to be plausible through scientific discovery. Notice the recent video of twins fighting in their mother's womb captured by a modern sonogram in the following link.

 http://wtvr.com/2012/11/30/sibling-rivalry-video-shows-twins-fighting-in-the-womb/

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Old is the Earth?

Recently, I preached a message on Genesis 1 and explained the idea that Satan seems to have rebelled against God between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. But I did not say that I held to the so-called "Gap Theory." I have come to the conclusion that the earth of v. 2 is much different than the earth of v. 1. Verse 1 seems to me to be a proclamation about how everything was made: God made it! He creates the universe, "the heavens and the earth," and it is good. God doesn't tell us when the universe was created in the verse, however. But the earth of v. 2 is different. It has ominous qualities. It's chaotic, empty, a waste, and has darkness over it (and God imediately begins to renovate the earth to make it good again, just like He is doing with all who call upon Him as Lord--we're all going to be renovated and be "very good" one day!). All of this chaotic imagery of v. 2 is used elsewhere in Scripture to suggest the results of judgment (ex. Jer. 4:23-28). I'm not sure if there is a huge gap between the two verses, however. It's possible that the fall of Satan could have happened instantly. It's also possible it could have happened before the entire chapter and v. 1 is simply a summary statement about creation telling us that God made it all at some point in time and then the text quickly moves into the final phase of that full creation starting with v. 2. Or, as many of my Dallas Seminary professors would assert, v. 1 could be the the beginning of the first day and the phrase "heavens and earth" are describing the earth and its sky. In this view, we are being told in Genesis just about the creation of the current earth and not the entire universe, with the idea that Satan caused the chaos before v. 1. This view can be called the pre-creation chaos view and it asserts that the term "in the beginning" means the beginning of our planet as it is. In other words, Gen. is talking about "in the beginning of God's renovation of the earth as we know it," leaving the possibility that Genesis is not discussing the beginning of all time (although they argue that the Bible elsewhere certainly teaches God created everything out of nothing at the absolute beginning). Are you getting confused? Don't worry about it. Great Bible scholars with great arguments differ on these questions. All of this, it seems to me, is splitting hairs and misses the point. I hold to the position that v. 1 is a big view of everything and then the focus shifts to a broken, chaotic earth damaged by Satan's fall in v. 2. I have a number of reasons for holding to this view, but they can be discussed elsewhere and are not crucially important to the Genesis account. Moses is not focusing on Satan or the time of Earth's creation. His focus is on God as our Creator and His care in preparing a home for us.
My view is pretty fluid on some of this due to so many scholars who are much smarter than me and disagree on these issues. I've landed on a view, but am open to the possibility that I could be mistaken (by the way, I'm like this with my end times picture as well). I think the following article from the brilliant theologian, Norm Geisler, may prove helpful to you as you weigh the arguments.

The Current Debate on Creation and Evolution
by Dr. Norman Geisler

Since the time of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), debate has raged within Christianity on whether or not total evolution is compatible with the historic biblical and theological teaching on origins. Two basic camps have emerged: theistic evolution and creationism. Within the second faction (creationists), there are two major groups: old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists. (The former are often called progressive creationists, and the latter, fiat creationists.) Currently, in America, the young-earth creationists are led by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), based on the work of Henry Morris. Progressive (old-earth) creationism is championed by Hugh Ross and his "Reasons to Believe" organization; another proponent of this view is Robert Newman at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

Young-Earth Creationism
The primary difference between young- and old-earth creationists is the speculated amount of time between God’s creative acts. Young-earthers insist that it was all accomplished in 144 hours–six successive 24-hour days–while old-earth (progressive) creationists allow for millions (or even billions) of years. This is usually done by:
(1) placing long periods of time before Genesis 1:1 (making it a recent and local Creation);
(2) placing the long periods of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (called "gap" views);
(3) making the "days" of Genesis 1 long periods of time;
(4) allowing long periods of time between literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1(called "alternate day-age views); or
(5) making the days of Genesis to be days of revelation of God to the writer, not days of Creation (called "revelatory day" views).
There are several variations within these perspectives, making a total of more than a dozen different views held by evangelical theologians on the matter.

Old-Earth Creationism
Old-earth (progressive) creationists are not to be confused with theistic evolutionists. Old-earth creationists do not accept macroevolution as a method by which God produced the originally created kinds of Genesis 1. Old-earth creationism was strong among nineteenth-century creationists, though the view dates from at least the fourth century (in Augustine). Again, prominent contemporary defenders include Hugh Ross and Robert Newman.

Theistic Evolution
Broadly speaking, theistic evolution is the belief that God used evolution as His means of producing the various forms of physical life on this planet, including human life. All theistic evolutionists believe that God performed at least one supernatural act—the act of creating the physical universe from nothing. However, this may more properly be called deistic evolution, since there are no miracles involved after the first act of Creation.
Most theistic evolutionists hold to at least two acts of Creation: (1) the creation of matter out of nothing, and (2) the creation of first life. After that, allegedly, every other living thing, including human beings, emerged by natural processes that God had ordained from the beginning. Some theistic evolutionists do insist that God directly created the first soul in the long-evolved primate to make it truly human and in His image….

Areas of Agreement Between Young- and Old-Earth Creationists
Young- and old-earth creationists have much in common, at least among those who are evangelical. This includes several basic things.

Direct Supernatural Creation of All Forms of Life
Both young- and old-earthers believe that God supernaturally, directly and immediately produced every kind of animal and human as separate and genetically distinct forms of life. Both hold that every kind produced by God was directly created de nova (brand-new) and did not come about by God’s using natural processes over a long period of time or tinkering with previous types of life in order to make higher forms (evolution).

Opposition to Naturalism
Both groups are also agreed in their opposition to naturalism, which they see as the philosophical presupposition of evolution. They correctly observe that without a naturalistic bias, evolution loses its credibility. Ruling out the possibility of supernatural intervention in the world begs the whole question in favor of evolution even before one begins.

Opposition to Macroevolution
Likewise, both are united in their opposition to macroevolution, either theistic or nontheistic; that is, they reject the theory of common ancestry. They both deny that all forms of life descended by completely natural processes without supernatural intervention from the outside. They deny that all living things are like a tree connected to a common trunk and root; rather, they affirm the separate ancestry of all the basic forms of life, a picture more like a forest of different trees. Microevolution, where small changes occur within the basic kinds of created things, is acknowledged, but no macro (large-scale) evolution occurs between different kinds. For example, both old- and young-earth creationists agree that all dogs are related to an original canine pair—part of the same tree. However, they deny that dogs, cats, cows, and other created kinds are related like branches from one original tree.

The Historicity of the Genesis Account
Further, both young- and old-earthers who are evangelical hold to the historicity of the Genesis account: They believe that Adam and Eve were literal people, the progenitors of the entire human race. While some may allow for poetic form and figure of speech in the narrative, all agree that it conveys historical and literal truth about origins. This is made clear by the New Testament references to Adam and Eve, their creation and fall, as literal (cf. Luke 3:38; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

Areas of Difference Between Young-and Old-Earth Creationists
Of course, there are some differences between the two basic evangelical views on Creation. The primary ones include the following.

The Age of the Earth
A crucial variance between the two views, naturally, is the age of the earth. Young-earthers insist that both the Bible and science support a universe that is only thousands of years old, while old-earthers allow for billions of years. Young-earthers connect their view to a literal interpretation of Genesis (and Ex. 20:11), but old-earthers claim the same basic hermeneutic, which they believe can include millions, if not billions, of years since Creation. They too cite scientific evidence in their favor.

At a minimum, it would be wise if both sides could agree on the following:
(1) The age of the earth is not a test for orthodoxy.
(2) Neither view is proven with scientific finality, since there are unproven (if not unprovable) presuppositions associated with each.
(3) The fact of Creation (vs. evolution) is more important than the time of Creation.
(4) Their common enemy (naturalistic evolution) is a more significant focus than their intramural differences….

Conclusion
The doctrine of Creation is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. The essentials of this teaching have universal consent among orthodox theologians. They include the following:
(1) There is a theistic God.
(2) Creation of the universe was ex nihilo (out of nothing).
(3) Every living thing was created by God.
(4) Adam and Eve were a direct and special creation of God.
(5) The Genesis account of creation is historical, not mythological.

While there is lively debate about the time of Creation, all evangelicals agree on the fact of Creation. There is also agreement on the source of Creation (a theistic God) and the purpose of Creation (to glorify God). The exact method of Creation is still a moot question; however, increasingly, the scientific evidence supports a supernatural Creation of the universe, the direct creation of first life, and the special creation of every basic life form. Hence, macroevolution, whether theistic or naturalistic, is unfounded both biblically and scientifically.1

Note:

1 Taken from Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003), p. 468-73. Used by permission.







Sunday, November 4, 2012

Voter Guidance

The following entry was written some time ago, during the primaries. I think, however, it should be helpful for Tuesday. --Rusty
How are Christians supposed to determine who to vote for in crucial elections? Hopefully, the following ten guidelines will help. They are influenced by Stoyan Zaimov’s article published in the Christian Post Reporter on 12/26/11 (Iowa Pastors' Advice for Christian Voters as Caucuses Approach).

1. Pray. As Christians, we are commanded in 1 Tim. 2:1 to pray for our governmental authorities. Certainly this would apply to praying over the placement of people into these positions of authority. Before you vote, ask God to give you clarity and wisdom. Politicians are notorious for saying what we want to hear, not necessarily what they believe. Not all politicians are like this, but certainly many are. We need discernment to know who the real deal is and who is a fake.
2. Faith. I believe the most important freedom our country has is the freedom to practice our faith without government intrusion. If a candidate does not respect the Bible and the rights of our citizens to worship the God of the Bible, it would be unwise to vote for him or her. Pay attention to how the candidate talks about people of faith.
3. Life. If a candidate has little regard for the life of an infant or of the elderly, I will not vote for him or her. Admittedly, some candidates make a distinction between being pro-choice and pro-abortion. That is to say, they want to eliminate abortion somehow and in some way, but prefer to look to medical science and/or social reform rather than a repeal of Roe vs. Wade as the means of ending abortion. Nevertheless, if a candidate does not see a fetus as a life or supports unfettered euthanasia, I have a hard time voting for that individual. Pro-life is a big one for me.
4. Poverty. If a candidate is overly focused on capitalism or wealth to the neglect of the poor, I am less inclined to vote for him or her. Our leaders should show concern for the poor. However, by poor, I don’t mean irresponsible. The Bible is clear that we are to expect our citizens to be productive contributors to society (2 Thes. 3:10). The government should provide help to those who have been hit by difficulties and are infirmed. But for able-bodied citizens, we should more frequently offer a hand up than a hand out.
5. Character. It stands to reason that a leader, if he or she is to lead well, must have a strong, moral character. The best indicator of future character is past behavior. If elected, this person is given a public trust. If that leader is not trustworthy, there will be problems keeping the trust! So, it’s fair game to look at a track record when it comes to marriage, family, fiscal responsibility, job performance, etc. Is this person a man or woman of integrity? What does the past tell us?
6. Family. The biblical standard of marriage as between a man and a woman is an important issue for me. This is not simply ideological, but practical as well. Society simply functions better when the family unit consists of one father and one mother in a faithful, healthy, sacred, and monogamous relationship. Redefining marriage in homosexual or polygamous terms (FYI, there is also currently a movement to recognize polygamous marriage) logically leads to redefining the ideals we pass on to future generations. Where a candidate stands on this issue will have an impact on my vote.
7. Economy. It is a biblical principle to pay back debt and to reward those who work hard. It is important to me, therefore, for a candidate to be fiscally responsible with state or national debt and to encourage economic development. If our government penalizes financial success with over-taxation and hikes up debt to pay for too many entitlements, our nation will not be prosperous enough to provide for the poor. The greatest institutions for helping the poor, our churches and other non-profits, will not have the income to provide maximum care because donations will be too low in a struggling economy. We do need governmental oversight to protect the public from corporate corruption (such as predatory lending), but we must be careful to allow a healthy free market to thrive. I want to know that my leaders possess fiscal understanding and have the leadership skills necessary to provide strong economic direction.
8. Military/Law Enforcement. Throughout biblical history, the government had the noble responsibility of protecting its citizens from attack. Strong, moral, and disciplined military and law enforcement agencies are necessary for the sake of freedom. Yet, these forces should be used only for just causes. In candidates, I look for men and women who respect the military and law enforcement and expect these agencies to abide by the highest standards of human decency.
9. Education. When it comes to educating our kids, the most important question is “What’s best for the children?” If a candidate begins the discussion with teachers’ rights or a strict separation of secular and private education, I’m less inclined to vote for him or her. However, I applaud those who want to encourage educational systems that reward educators who truly love kids and are gifted in training them.
10. Global. We are to be good neighbors to other countries in the world. I expect my governmental leaders to be ambassadors of good will, champions of freedom, well-informed, diplomatically savvy, and tangibly formidable when it comes to other nations. Israel, in particular, is an ally that must be given special attention due to biblical wisdom (Gen. 12:1-2) and strategic objectives (its alliance is crucial in the struggle against militant Islamic terrorism). If a candidate seems shallow, ignorant, naive, or feeble with regard to foreign policy, I’m less likely to vote for him or her.
These are some of the guidelines that help me filter candidates in an election. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive. It also requires us to research where each of the candidates stand. But, perhaps, it will aid you as you ask for the Spirit’s discernment in the ballot box.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Which Candidate: A Mormon or A Liberal?

The following is an excellent blog entry written by Dr. Randy Alcorn, an outstanding theological thinker. I completely concur with his evaluation of the candidates and the subsequent difficulties of this election. Sorry about the format (no paragraph sections), but I had a hard time importing the text to my blog.
Election 2012 Part 3: Which Candidate Has More Christian Beliefs? (And Should I Vote for a Mormon?) By Randy Alcorn My previous blog, on religious liberties, concerned the response of Christian organizations and business owners filing suit against the Obama administration because of its demand that organizations pay for, via their insurance coverage, their employees’ surgical abortions and contraceptives (including abortifacients). I was surprised reading my blog’s comments to hear professing Christians say that they do not believe it is an infringement of religious liberties for a Christian university, ministry or business to be required to do this. If you haven’t read that blog you may wish to. This subject has far-reaching importance. I find it difficult to understand how the administration’s demands can be seen as anything other than a fundamental violation of historic religious liberties. Well, time to move on so that I can offend others. :) (Truthfully, I’m not trying to offend anyone. But that won’t keep it from happening.) Regarding Mitt Romney’s Mormonism…. I grew up in a nonchristian home. My dad was a tavern owner, we never went to church, and even Billy Graham was persona non grata in our house. I was empty and searching, but in high school my life was radically changed. The Jesus I came to know was the one I learned about through reading Scripture. This Jesus is not “however you wish to define him.” Rather, he is the second member of the triune God, not creature but Creator (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16). I believe in the gospel of God’s grace secured on the cross by Jesus Christ, the God-man. It cannot be earned or achieved in by human works, ceremonies or church affiliations (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). This is the only true gospel, the one of which Scripture says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). The Mormon faith began with the appearance of an angel to Joseph Smith, proclaiming a gospel contrary to Scripture’s. Am I troubled by the idea of voting for a candidate who has served as a bishop in, and continues to be part of, a religious group that misrepresents both Jesus Christ and the gospel? In a word: Yes. Some will argue that it’s hateful and bigoted to say this. I feel no hatred. I know and love a number of Mormons. (I also know atheists and agnostics—and for that matter, Steelers and Raiders fans—and countless others whose beliefs and passions I don’t share, but whose company I still enjoy :). Others will say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about—you know nothing of Mormonism.” On the contrary, I have studied it extensively. Years ago I read all the Mormon holy books, including the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I went to a Mormon library to read portions of Journal of Discourses, the 26-volume collection of sermons by early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Published by the stenographer of Brigham Young, it records over 1400 sermons of the most prominent LDS leaders in the first four decades of Mormonism. It includes sermons by Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball and fifty-some others. I have met at length with Mormon elders, current Mormons and former Mormons who left the church after coming to faith in Christ. We have together looked at passages in their documents that teach many things that contradict Scripture. I know enough about Mormonism to know it is distinctly different from biblical Christianity. (I know I will hear from sincere Mormons grieved that I have said this. I truly do not want to offend you or any of my Mormon friends, including those I grew up with; what I want you to know is the saving grace of Jesus, the God-man revealed in Scripture, who went to the cross and paid for our sins, offering to us an eternal life we cannot in any sense earn or achieve.) Al Mohler expressed some helpful, clear thoughts about Mormonism. I will quote a paragraph, but his article is well worth reading: Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. To the contrary, the central claim of Mormonism is that Christianity was corrupt and incomplete until the restoration of the faith with the advent of the Latter-Day Saints and their scripture, The Book of Mormon. Thus, it is just a matter of intellectual honesty to take Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, at his word when he claimed that true Christianity did not exist from the time of the Apostles until the reestablishment of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods on May 15, 1829. There are various websites where former Mormons present the church’s doctrine as it was taught to them, and is recorded in the writings of LDS leaders God supposedly spoke through. Had I not personally studied Mormon writings and dialogued with Mormon leaders, I doubt I would believe that the following are teachings of the church. Here are just some of them: •God was once a man like us. •God has a tangible body of flesh and bone. •God lives on a planet near the star Kolob… The sun receives its light from the star Kolob. •God the “Heavenly Father” has at least one wife, our “Mother in Heaven,” but she is so holy that we are not to discuss her. •Jesus was married. •There are many gods, ruling over their own worlds. •We can become like God and one day rule over our own universes. •Jesus and Satan (“Lucifer”) are spirit brothers, and they are our brothers—we are all spirit children of Heavenly Father •Jesus Christ was conceived by God the Father by having sex with Mary, who was temporarily his wife. •Before coming to this earth we lived as spirits in a “pre-existence”, during which we were tested; our position in this life (whether born to Mormons or savages, or in America or Africa) is our reward or punishment for our obedience in that life. •The Garden of Eden was in Missouri. All humanity before the Great Flood lived in the western hemisphere. The Ark transported Noah and the other survivors to the eastern hemisphere. •If a Gentile becomes Mormon, the Holy Ghost actually purges his Gentile blood and replaces it with Israelite blood. •A righteous Mormon will actually see the face of God in the Mormon temple. I see Mormon websites denying these are their doctrines, but when I look a number of them up in their texts they are there. I recently read a Mormon scholar in a popular magazine saying that a number of these doctrines have never been taught by the church. He said it was absolutely false that Mormons believe God the Father took on a human body and had sex with Mary in order for her to conceive Jesus. Yet here is Brigham Young, second president of the LDS, whose words were supposedly inspired by God: “The birth of our Savior was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood—was begotten of his father, as we were of our fathers” (Journal of Discourses, volume 8, p. 115). Look it up for yourself. Or, if you think the star Kolob stuff is made up, just read Pearl of Great Price as posted by the Mormon church online. Please don’t leave me a comment saying this is not what the church teaches. Just go to the link, search for “Kolob” and you can see for yourself what it says (see Abraham 3:2–16, on page 36 of the linked file). Read it in context. It will be an eye-opener. Read the article by former Mormon Sandra Tanner on the location of the Garden of Eden. Here’s a summary of the teaching of the Heavenly Mother. And here’s Jesus and Satan as spirit brothers. Here’s another summary of Mormon teachings. (link to). And a helpful comparison between Mormon and Christian doctrines. Okay, so where does this leave me in regard to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism? Honestly, in the past I would have said, “No way would I vote for a presidential candidate with those beliefs.” I don’t like the idea of the president of the United States being the most prominent face of Mormonism in the world. I don’t like the idea that as a sharp, well-spoken person he could draw people toward a faith that denies the deity of Christ our Savior, and distorts the gospel of grace. But none of that changes the fact that one of only two candidates will become president of the United States. And while the presidential candidates both profess to be Christians, in my opinion they each have beliefs that sharply contradict historic, biblical Christianity. In Governor Romney’s case there is a rejection (though likely never explicit) of the biblical gospel and identity of Christ, as well as a number of bizarre beliefs unique to Mormonism. What President Obama believes in his heart about Christ, I cannot tell you. But I do know that he has been a devastatingly outspoken opponent of the right to life of our smallest and most vulnerable children. He has boldly implemented a healthcare plan that violates historic religious liberties, actually attempting to compel Christian organizations to pay for their employees’ abortions (which they believe to be child-killing). He also has affirmed that gay marriage should be established on a legal level equal to heterosexual marriage, changing the historic view of the family. I believe each of these positions is a dramatic departure from Scripture, and from the historic Christian faith. I don’t just mean from modern evangelical Christianity, I mean Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and every tradition within Protestantism that has ever professed belief in the Bible. (Modern liberal Protestantism is different in that it simply follows secular culture in either explicitly or implicitly denying the Scriptures.) So how do I choose between two candidates who in my opinion fall far short? I must consider not simply the candidates’ professed religious beliefs, but their past positions on moral issues, their promises and statements of intentions of what they will do in office. Respected evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem says of Mitt Romney, “He seems to me to stand for policies that reflect biblical values, including all or nearly all of the policies that I advocated in my book Politics — According to the Bible.” Grudem says, Romney is a Mormon, and I strongly disagree with a significant number of Mormon theological beliefs, which I find to be inconsistent with the Bible and with historic Christian teachings. But many Mormon teachings on ethics and values are similar to those in the Bible…. …Have we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. Grudem has more to say about this, and you may find it helpful. Some believers are saying that given the choices, they’re not going to vote. I understand. I’ve been there. But not this time. Part of me really resists the lesser of two evils approach. I find it hard to explain what’s different this time, except that in the last four years we have lost things (particularly in the arena of religious liberties) which, if not recovered in the next four, I think may never be recovered. I have children and grandchildren. I don’t want them to pay the price for my disenchantment and unwillingness to choose between two candidates. I am voting for their sake because I can’t figure out, this time at least, how I can help them by not voting. I was just finishing this blog when I saw John Piper’s “I am Going to Vote.” He explains, “The likelihood that both presidencies will be identical in the good and evil they do is infinitesimal. One will very probably do more good amid the bad, even if only a little.” If I might make a lot of difference for my children and grandchildren, I will certainly do it. And if I could make even a little difference I will do that too. All Christians should do our best and search the Scriptures, weigh and measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, and vote as best we can considering the options before us. So, yes, I am troubled voting for a candidate who is a Mormon. But am I more or less troubled voting for the other candidate? Ravi Zacharias says, “If you are choosing between those for whom the Christ is not supreme in salvation, you have to choose the one who will give you the best moral soil in order to live for Christ and to live out your faith.” I take comfort in the fact that we are not voting for a pastor, but a president. (If we were voting for a pastor, I would definitely do a write-in!) In a Christianity Today article “Is There Anything Wrong With Voting for a Mormon? Three Views”, Molly Ziegler Hemingway quotes Martin Luther as saying, “Christians are not needed for secular authority. Thus it is not necessary for the emperor to be a saint. It is not necessary for him to be a Christian to rule. It is sufficient for the emperor to possess reason.” Luther meant not only wisdom, but moral reason. So as you consider who to vote for in an election that lacks an ideal candidate, ask yourself which man’s (and include the vice presidents too) stated values and track record is in the best interests of: a sound moral framework, care for the needy that motivates and empowers them, financial responsibility, the upholding of civil and religious liberties, and a reasonable national defense. Subsequent blogs in the short time before the election will include abortion, gay marriage, and a few other issues. So if there is one more person left I haven’t yet offended, take heart. I’m not done. :) To see this blog entry, along with the links Dr. Alcorn mentions, visit: http://www.epm.org/blog/2012/Oct/18/election-2012-part-3

Friday, September 21, 2012

Does Prayer Change Things?

An election is happening in about a month. Maybe you heard of it. Hello! It's for the office of the President of the United States of America! I wonder: if we prayed over this election, would it change anything? It's a good question. Throughout Scripture, God often holds people responsible for their choices. For example, in Zephaniah 3:1, God says of Jerusalem, "What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime!" Later, He tells us why this judgment is coming: 'I thought . . . surely they will listen to my warnings. Then I won't need to strike again, destroying their homes' But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds." (Zeph. 3:7). It is clear that the people of Jerusalem at this time have a choice: follow God or follow evil. We see this often in the Bible. So, back to our question. If we pray for God to place the most biblical candidate into office, will He answer the prayer and actually move the wills of voters to a certain candidate? What if we soup up the prayers and add fasting and more godly people praying to the equation? Will that increase the chances that the right candidate will win?
I think it probably will for at least three reasons with one encouragement:
1. When we seek to pray honestly and humbly, WE will tend to do God's will. The old adage that "prayer doesn't change God, it changes us" is definitely true. I've found that when I'm in a spirit of desperate, worshipful prayer, I conform more to His character, for I have been with Him. He rubs off on me. Therefore, if I'm in serious prayer about the election, I am more probable to vote for the candidate that conforms most to His ways.
2. God has actually caused others to change due to prayer. For example, in Acts 2:42 we see the early church devoted to prayer and the result was that "the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Prayer moved people to repentance in some mysterious way. If we pray fervently, it is entirely possible that God will actually cause people to open up their eyes and vote for the right candidate.
3. God has used prayer to effect tremendous change in America's past. It is a matter of historical record that both the First and Second Great Awakenings, as well as other huge revivals (ex. the 1857 Revival), relied heavily on prayer. These revivals radically changed our country for the better and brought enormous numbers of people to Christ. Entire regions of America became devoted to God. Personally, I believe this changes a country far more than any election. If the average person gives his or her life to God, we will have fewer societal problems because more people will be living responsible, healthy lives. I love the word "awakening." When the Holy Spirit moves, people awaken. We wake up! This is so needed in America today!
4. (Encouragement) Prayer reminds us that God is our King and at its essence, prayer is request. I forget where I heard this, but someone great said that prayer is, at it's essence, request before a King. It was probably C.S. Lewis who said it because, let's face it, he was awesome. But, bottom line, God is not obligated to answer our prayers the way we want Him to. And there is tremendous comfort in that truth. When I pray, if He says "No," I can rest in the fact that He knows what He is doing. He may not place my candidate into office. He may have other plans. Regardless, when I bow before the King, I get Him. I'm reminded that I serve THE King and one day, everyone will know He is King. There is a new reality coming. He will take over. It's only a matter of time. And there will be no vote on that.
So, I encourage you to pray and fast and get others to do so for our election. Our nation needs it and, guess what, so do you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vote!

The Following is a letter sent to me from my friend, Ralph Reed, of the Faith and Freedom Coalition (whose Executive Director, Gary Marx, has ties to First Free--his mother attended our church years ago). I've modified some of it into my own words, but want to recommend it to you as a reminder of the importance of voting. I also encourage you to check out their website as a source of very helpful information regarding the election.

Dear Christian:

America is just weeks away from one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.
Christians are citizens too, and we should play a vital role in the civic life of our nation. Sadly, in 2008 there were 17 million Evangelical Christians who did not even bother to vote. You and I simply must not allow this to happen in 2012 through our collective inaction. As Christians, we are called to be “salt and light,” including in the civic arena, and the Bible teaches that our earthly citizenship carries certain rights and responsibilities. (Romans 13)
We know you have many competing obligations and opportunities. But with the stakes in this election so high, we urge you to make a priority of educating and informing yourself on where candidates stand.
God bless you for all you do to transform lives by sharing the Gospel message with others.

In His Service.

Faith and Freedom Coalition
www.FFCoalition.com

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gabby Douglas: God's Gymnast

God seems to be displaying Himself lately through a number of remarkable athletes. Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, and now Gabby Douglas. The following link is an interview of Gabby from her Pastor, Quintin Stieff. I've been to a number of retreats with Pastor Quinton as he serves at a one of our sister churches, Valley Church in West Des Moines, IA. He's a great pastor and Valley is a wonderful church. This also happens to be the church where our own Pastor Brandon Early has now accepted a call to be their Student Pastor. Please pray for these high profile athletes as they share the message of Christ. And pray that our nation will listen!

 http://youtu.be/P4kEwgS93Vg

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Did Jesus Ever Sin?

The following is my answer to a question I recently was asked. Someone asked me if Jesus ever sinned, or if He could even sin if He wanted to. I was also asked if Jesus was born with a sinful nature like all other human beings.  I thought my answer may prove helpful to some of you:

Brother, here are three passages that clearly show Jesus never sinned. 1 John 3:5 also indicates that there was no sin whatsoever in Him. The sinful nature (that portion of ourselves that is sinful by nature) is, in itself, a form of sin’s pollution. The tendency to walk away from the Father is inherently sinful (that is, we are polluted by sin from the moment of conception and are prone towards it at times). Jesus had no such sinful tendency. The Spirit preserved His perfect, sinless, and divine nature through His immaculate conception (not Mary's, by the way--although Mary is the greatest woman who has ever lived--but that's another topic).

As for the question of whether He could have sinned or not, there has been considerable debate on this throughout history among very gifted and godly theologians. The "Impeccability" position holds that Jesus could not have sinned even if He wanted to. The "Peccability" position holds that Jesus could have indeed sinned and disobeyed the Father, but never did. I lean more toward the Peccability side, but agree with the old adage, “Jesus could have sinned but never would have sinned.” Hope that helps. Pastor Rusty

"15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin." Heb. 4:15

"He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone." 1 Pet. 2:22

"5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin." 1 John 3:5

Friday, June 22, 2012

You in Review

At First Free, we are in the process of our end of year reviews. Our fiscal calendar ends on Aug. 31, so I'm in the process of reviewing my direct reports and just went through my own review recently. Such times can be very helpful. If done honestly, a review can be a great encouragement for a job well-done as well as a time to reflect on areas that need improvement. When carried out correctly, a job review can be a great aid to increased excellence for an employee.
As I have reflected on the process at my job, the thought hit me that it could be helpful to have a tool to evaluate myself spiritually from time to time. The following is a tool I found helpful. It's borrowed and modified from the Ignite Worship blog.

FELLOWSHIP: CONNECTING Your Heart to Others'
•Grab a piece of paper and Rate 1 to 5 (1 being poor, 5 being outstanding)
1.I meet consistently with a smaller group of Christians.
2.I'm connected to other Christians who hold me accountable.
3.I can talk with spiritual mentors when I need help, advice, or support.
4.My Christian friends are a significant source of strength and stabilitiy in my life.
5.I regularly pray for others.
6.I have resolved all conflicts I have had with others.
7.I've done all I possibly can to be a good member of my family.

Take time to answer the following questions to further evaluate your spiritual health.
8. List the three most significant relationships you have right now. Why are these people important to you?
9. How would you describe the benefit you receive from being in fellowship with other Christians?
10. Do you have an accountability partner? If so, what have you been doing to hold each other accountable? If not, how can you get one?

DISCIPLESHIP: GROWING to Be Like Jesus
Rate 1 to 5 (1 being poor, 5 being outstanding)
1.I have regular times of conversation with God.
2.I'm closer to God this year than I was last year at this time.
3.I'm making better decisions this month when compared to last month.
4.I regularly attend church services and grow spiritually as a result.
5.I consistently honor God with my finances through giving.
6.I regularly study the Bible on my own.
7.I regularly memorize Bible verses or passages.

Take time to answer the following questions to further evaluate your spiritual health.
8. What books or chapters from the Bible have you read during the last month?
9. What has God been teaching you from Scripture lately?
10. What was the last verse you memorized? When did you memorize it? Describe the last time a memorized Bible verse helped you?

MINISTRY: SERVING Others in Love
1.I am currently serving in some ministry capacity.
2.I'm effectively ministering where I'm serving.
3.Generally I have a humble attitude when I serve others.
4.I understand God has created me a s a unique individual and he has a special plan for my life.
5.When I help others, I typically don't look for anything in return.
6.My family and friends consider me to be generally unselfish.
7.I'm usually sensitive to the hurts of others and respond in a caring way.

Take time to answer the following questions to further evaluate your spiritual health.
8. If you're currently serving in a ministry, why are you serving? If not, what's kept you from getting involved?
9. What spiritual lessons have you learned while serving?
10. What frustrations have you experienced as a result of serving?

EVANGELISM: SHARING Your Story and God's Story
Rate 1 to 5 (1 being poor, 5 being outstanding)

1.I regularly pray for my unbelieving friends.
2.I invite friends to church.
3.I talk about my faith with others.
4.I pray for opportunities to share about what Jesus has done in my life.
5.People know I'm a Christian by more than my words.
6.I feel a strong compassion for the lost.
7.I have written out my testimony (God-story) and am ready to share it.

Take time to answer the following questions to further evaluate your spiritual health.
8. Describe any significant spiritual conversations you've had with unbelievers in the past month.
9. Has your faith been challenged by any non-Christians? If yes, how?
10. What have been some difficulties you've faced with sharing you faith?
11. What success have you experienced recently in personal evangelism? (Success isn't limited to bringing people to salvation directly. Helping someone take a step closer at any point on his or her spiritual journey is success.)

WORSHIP: SURRENDERING Your Life to Honor God
Rate 1 to 5 (1 being poor, 5 being outstanding)
1.I consistently participate in worship experiences at church.
2.My heart breaks over the things that break God's heart.
3.I regularly give thanks to God.
4.I'm living a life that, overall, honors God.
5.I have an attitude of wonder and awe toward God.
6.I use the free access I have into God's presence often.

Take time to answer the following questions to further evaluate your spiritual health.
7. Make a list of your top five priorities. You can get a good idea of your priorities by evaluating how you spend your time. Be realistic and honest . Are your priorities in the right order? Do you need to get rid of some or add new priorities?
8. List ten things you're thankful for.
9. What influences, directs, guides, or controls you the most?





Thursday, May 31, 2012

Harmonica in Carnegie

This has nothing to do with anything serious, but I liked it. It's not often that you hear of a harmonica concert in Carnegie Hall. While this music style is a little dated, I was blessed by it. I have a vivid memory of my father taking us to a Gaither concert in Lake Charles LA when I was a boy. This brought back some of that good time. Enjoy!

http://www.wimp.com/harmonicacarnegie/

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gay Marriage

To be honest, I hate addressing this issue. Judi and I have family members that we dearly love who are gay. We also have dear friends who are wonderful, loving, precious people . . .who are also gay. Years ago, several gay couples started attending my church. They sat in the front and faithfully attended every service, taking notes and learning the Word. But one year, I preached a series entitled "Things We Don't Talk About." The idea was to hit head-on topics churches typically avoid because of the fear of people. The titles included politics, other religions, and, you guessed it, homosexuality. A speaker and friend of mine who is an expert in the field of homosexuality asked if he could preach that week. Since he had done much ministry among homosexuals, I agreed. But his sermon was not well received. The gay couples were outraged by the message. This prompted me to invite them all over to our home. My wife, mother, and children served these friends homemade gumbo and we enjoyed a great meal together. We later retired to the living room and discussed their feelings. The evening was loving, civil, and very helpful to us all. They shared with me their stories and the pain they had received at the hands of Evangelicals. I was deeply grieved, to the point of tears. And I shared with them my firm belief that the Bible is a gift from God that teaches us how to live an optimal life. The restriction of sex within the covenant of biblical marriage between a man and a woman is not designed to hurt us but to bless us. And I affirmed that I will teach this principle to both gays and straights out of my belief that it leads to the best life. In addition, I shared my conviction to live up to to the vows I'd taken as a Minister of the Gospel. I simply will not break my vows to the Bible for political correctness. But, I also affirmed that I loved them all and considered it an honor to be their Pastor. And, because they knew me and had sat under my ministry for some time, they believed me. They knew that I really loved them. All but one stayed at our church and continued to enjoy it immensely.
So, before I give my thoughts on gay marriage, let's get something straight. I'm not a bigot and I don't hate homosexuals. I'm also not an isolationist who has refused to befriend gay people. My guess is that I have more homosexual friends and have done more ministry to homosexuals than the average person. These opinions are not forged from a fear of gays or a desire to assault freedom. On the contrary, my views come from a deep conviction that following the Bible helps everyone, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.
Now, on to a quick statement of why I'm against gay marriage.
1. Gay marriage is not biblical. The Bible does not recognize the concept. Marriage is always between a man and a woman in the Bible. Since I have vowed to uphold the Bible in all of its teachings and believe it outlines God's principles for life, I will never perform or endorse a gay marriage. God has spoken and I will revere His Word.
2. Sex outside of the marriage covenant is not ideal. Since the Bible defines marriage as between a man and woman, and gives married couples the gift of sex exclusively, I also affirm that the purest form of sex is reserved for marriage. If a man or woman is engaged in sex outside of this covenant, it is not blessed of God and is not, therefore, ideal. I, therefore, do not encourage sex outside of marriage for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
3. The marriage covenant is crucial for children. Since marriage is the foundation of the family and society, there are repercussions for what we as a society endorse. For example, it is an established fact that children do better when they have both a father and a mother. This is beyond dispute from both a scientific and, more importantly, a biblical standpoint. Therefore, to endorse same sex marriage in any way as an ideal will undoubtedly promote family units where either a father or a mother is absent in the lives of children. Some will say, "well, isn't it better to have two loving mothers or two loving fathers than to have a traditional family that's dysfunctional?" But such an argument is irrelevant to the point. The ideals we endorse become our realities. The existence of poor traditional families does not mean that a healthy traditional family is impossible or should not be emphasized as THE goal.
4. To not promote THE ideal is to lower the bar and, therefore, hurt society. Since President Obama and other prominent leaders have now promoted redefining marriage to include gay couples (even celebrating this as an alternative ideal), he has added to the demise of the actual ideal scenario for children and, therefore, contributed to a further weakening of our society. As much as I admire about our President, I believe he made a terrible mistake in his recent "evolution."

Two final points: 1. The gay couples of our church mentioned above agreed with me on much of this. They did not support gay marriage. Many gays do not agree with this agenda. 2. Many in the black community are offended by the argument that marriage is a civil rights issue. Marriage is a gift, not a right. If a man asks a woman to marry him and she says no, he does not have a right to marry her. If a six year old asks a thirty year old to marry him, he does not have a right to that marriage. Marriage is a blessing not a right. The following debate between two African American pastors on this issue may be of interest. While I didn't like some of its volatility, I found it to be a fascinating discussion.

http://www.dennyburk.com/dwight-mckissic-debates-gay-marriage-on-the-laura-ingraham-show/

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Is Jesus Misquoted?

A very popular book today about the Bible is Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. I saw it recently prominently displayed at Barnes and Noble. Dr. Ehrman is a former Evangelical who claims the Bible that we have today is significantly not the original Bible of the Apostles. After studying his arguments, from my perspective, his greatest point is that there are variant readings in the manuscripts behind our translations that suggest some doctoring has happened. Here's the problem: even he suggests that the cardinal truths of our faith are not affected by these variants (most of them are spelling errors and the like). Another issue that is worth mentioning is that our current New Testament has more corroborating manuscript evidence than any other form of ancient Greco Roman literature by far. In other words, we have more evidence supporting our New Testament's reliability than any scholar on the planet has for the writings of Plato, Homer, or the Caesars.The following link is a 10 minute discussion of Ehrman's claims given by Dr. Dan Wallace (my former Greek Prof.-Go Dallas Seminary!) and Dr. Darrell Bock. It is moderated by John Ankerberg. I found it fascinating.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftHecLxquCg&feature=related

Friday, April 27, 2012

NIV 2011

After all the hoopla that's going around over the NIV 2011, I thought I'd comment. This week, I've reviewed scholar after scholar regarding their views on the latest NIV. Several quick conclusions. I believe the NIV is still very solid as a translation and I'm in very good company. Dr. D.A. Carson, Dr. John MacArther, and other very prominant Bible teachers endorse it. I've also had the honor of sitting at the feet of one of its translators, Dr. Douglas Moo, at Trinity and one day in class, he walked us through a typical day of translation for this version. I was extremely impressed with his mastery of the language and the seriousness with which he approached the Text. But what put me over the top in my endorsement of this work was the scholarly review of Dr. Daniel Wallace, Bible translator extraordinaire and arguably America's greatest living Greek scholar. I refer you to his brilliant four-part piece at the following link. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/07/a-review-of-the-niv-2011-part-1-of-4/.

Finally, an appeal to civility. For some reason, in the church, we like to snipe at each other. I continue to be amazed at the almost instinctive reactionary tendencies of some church folk to assume the worst of other brothers and sisters in Christ. So many live in constant fear, hyper-suspicious of any change. Whether it's a change in their church's color of carpet or an update in the language of their favorite translation, church people are quick to throw precious children of God under the bus, run over them, and back up to do it again. This is not what God had in mind when He said, "4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Cor. 13:4-7 (NIV 2011-Oh yes I did quote from it!). The world and Satan himself laughs at such nonsense. Let's be better than this! Remember, God is love and He expects us to be loving even when we don't agree. 



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bible Translations

I often get asked which translation is the best. The question is more complicated than it appears because different translations are attempting different goals. The following chart created by C. Michael Patton is very helpful when evaluating translations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Friend's Tough Decision

The following is an answer to a question from an old friend who just discovered he has a tumor in his ear. He has three choices: 1. Wait and eventually lose hearing. 2. Operate and immediately lose hearing with a very long recovery. 3. Radiate and lose hearing, and possibly cause more cancer. He asked for my opinion. The following is what I wrote him. If you have a difficult decision to make, perhaps this will help.

______, so sorry you and your family are going through this. When I have to make difficult decisions, I follow a grid to guide me composed of five filters: 1. Biblical. What does the Bible give me in terms of direction? Scripture tells us in Romans 12:1-2, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." The text links worshipful devotion to clarity. If I were you, I'd go away for a period of time alone with God and meditate on Scripture in a spirit of prayer. Ask Him what He wants you to do with the situation and how He wants to redeem it. There is a testimony that He is forming through this. Give every part of your heart to Him in this time. Ask Him to reveal anything you may be holding back from Him. There may be nothing, but the process will help you to discern His perfect will more clearly. This discipline has always helped me with huge decisions. 2. Prayer. Obviously, prayer is important. But prayer isn't just one-way communication. God often prompts us in times of prayer. I suggest fasting for a period of time in order to "fasten" yourself to Him more than usual. Fasting has a long history of helping to discern God's will (see Acts 14:23). 3. Counsel. Seek wise counsel from godly people (which is what you are doing in this blog). I listen intently to my wife and to a number of mature mentors in my life when it comes to big decisions. I tell them everything and ask for their honest opinions. God will often confirm His direction through His people (see Prov. 1:5). I've used the question, "If you were in my situation, what would you do?" (which, again, you do in this blog). Very helpful, especially if you get the same answer over and over again from different sources. 4. Circumstances. Sometimes, God tells you His will through open or closed doors. For example, if a treatment that has a highter rate of success statistically opens up to you, that may be God opening a door. If a world renowned specialist suddenly becomes available to treat you, God may be talking. While I don't recommend this very often, with time sensitive issues, there is biblical warrant to assign a date for an obvious "open or closed door." That is to say, you could say to God, after much prayer and devotion, "Lord, I have until this date to make a decision. If I don't hear something to the contrary from You that is so obvious I can't ignore it, I'm going to go with this decision." Gideon did something similar and God blessed him for it (see Gideon's fleece, Judges 6). 5. Passion. Sometimes, the Lord through His Spirit gives us a strong, impossible-to-ignore passion for a certain direction. This prompt can be pleasant and joyful or painful and difficult. Jeremiah didn't want to preach, but his burning heart compelled him to do so (Jer. 20). Paul, however, passionately enjoyed preaching the gospel (1 Cor.9:15-23). Passion towards a certain course may be the Lord's prompting. 6. This is not one of the decision filters, but I think it's very important. Have the elders of your church pray over you and anoint you with oil. I've seen God miraculously heal in this way in my ministry at churches I've pastored (James 5:13-16). Let me close with my opinion of your situation. I'm not claiming this is from God, but it's how your decision hits me initially. If it helps you, great. If not, discard it. If I were in your position, I'd wait a little while to deeply seek God through the above steps. I'd also get a second opinion just to be comprehensive. But, I'd set a date to make a decision. Once that date arrived, barring any new information, I think I'd go with the radiation. From what I understand, it would kill the tumor and possibly shrink it. If that doesn't work, you can always do surgery later. Surgery seems like a radical last step to me. I hope this helps brother. Know that you are in my prayers. Grace, Rusty Hayes

Thursday, March 22, 2012

God's Greetings

The following is a fascinating insight provided by Dr. John Piper on grace and the Bible. Hope it blesses you:

Grace to You in Your Bible Reading; Grace with You as You Live Your Day
by Tony Reinke | March 22, 2012
In 1994 Pastor John began explaining a theme he noticed in the introductions and conclusions to all 13 of Paul’s epistles. Paul begins each epistle with grace, and he closes each epistle with grace. The pattern is “a bracing trumpet call to the centrality of grace in Christianity.”
It is. But there was more to be discovered in the pattern.
As he studied these bookends closer, Pastor John discovered that each grace-centered greeting included some form of the phrase “grace be to you.” Each grace-filled benediction included some form of the phrase “grace be with you.”
Here are the passages:

“grace be to you” / “grace be with you”

Romans 1:7 / Romans 16:20
1 Corinthians 1:3 / 1 Corinthians 16:23
2 Corinthians 1:2 / 2 Corinthians 13:14
Galatians 1:3 / Galatians 6:18
Ephesians 1:2 / Ephesians 6:24
Philippians 1:2 / Philippians 4:23
Colossians 1:2 / Colossians 4:18
1 Thessalonians 1:1 / 1 Thessalonians 5:28
2 Thessalonians 1:2 / 2 Thessalonians 3:18
1 Timothy 1:2 / 1 Timothy 6:21
2 Timothy 1:2 / 2 Timothy 4:22
Titus 1:4 / Titus 3:15
Philemon 1:3 / Philemon 1:25

Pastor John explained the significance of this discovery in his book Future Grace (pages 66–67):
...at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow “from God” through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, “Grace to you.” That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read—“grace [be] to you.”
But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, “What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?” He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: “Grace [be] with you.” With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch.
What then do we learn from Paul’s unbroken pattern of beginning and ending his letters in this way (“Grace be to you.” “Grace be with you.”)? We learn that grace is an unmistakable priority in the Christian life. We learn that it is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that it can come through people. We learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living.
In other words, we learn that grace is not merely a past reality but a future one. Every time I reach for the Bible, God’s grace is a reality that will flow to me. Every time I put the Bible down and go about my business, God’s grace will go with me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tongues

The attached video was forwarded to me by my friend, David Genn, with the following text:
"Before watching the video clip, read the background below.
Several years ago, Rockwell International decided to get into
the heavy duty transmission business.
They were getting ready to tape their first introductory video.
As a warm up, the professional narrator began what has become
a legend within the training industry.
This man should have won an academy award for his stellar
performance.
Now remember this is strictly off the cuff, nothing is written down.
I think you will enjoy this once in a lifetime performance from
this gentleman."
Surely this is proof that speaking in tongues is real!


video

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Church & Politics

I recently did a survey of large Free Churches on the issue of how they handle politics and our faith. The following is a white paper prepared by Valley Church of West Des Moines, IA. Since Iowa is so cruicial to presidential politics, this issue has received particular attention from Valley Church. I have found their thoughts and position on the matter helpful. Though it is somewhat lengthy, I hope it proves to be a blessing to you.


The Church as Salt and Light

The Lord's Command: Jesus said to his followers: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)

Observations and Affirmations:
1. Salt and light: God's Word clearly declares that Christians individually and the church corporately are called to serve as a preservative from decay (salt) and as a guide to truth (light) in their respective cultures and settings. Clearly, God does call us to pray for our leaders, to be responsible citizens, to be change agents in society, and to not forget that we are called to carry out many social responsibilities as Christians and as a church.
2. Different approaches: Christians and churches have (often legitimate) differences of opinions, convictions, goals, priorities, approaches, and strategies concerning how to engage and influence their culture to the glory of God. God has honored many different approaches, as seen in biblical examples and church history.
3. Need for wisdom: Great wisdom is needed to determine the specific calling on an individual's life and ministry, as well as a particular church's calling and ministry.
4. God's calling: God may call different individuals and churches to differing kinds of involvement, priorities, and methods. We should, as far as the Scriptures and conscience allow, show respect to God's specific calling on that individual or church. Christian charity, respect, patience, and gentleness require that, as we develop our own biblically-based convictions, we give others the freedom to do the same. Where we find common ground, we can work together. Where we find differences, we agree to disagree agreeably.
Valley Church's Vision and Guiding Principles Vision: The church's primary vision is to help people become wholehearted followers of Christ. This vision is in line with the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19,20)
Certain guiding principles explain our core values and ministry philosophy. Specifically, the following two of our guiding principles shed light on the issue of being salt and light in culture: Outreach should be at the heart of all the church does. Like the heart, it drives the Body, and provides nourishment and vitality. We desire to reach as many as possible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are focused outward, not inward (Acts 8:1-4; 2 Timothy 4:1-5). It is our goal to penetrate our community by presenting the good news of Christ and by demonstrating love to the needs of the whole person (spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, material, etc.). The integrity and love of Christians opens the door for authentic communication of the good news to those who do not yet know Christ. (Matthew 5:13-16; James 2:14-17).
Valley Church's Approach to Salt and Light Issues: Given our vision and guiding principles, the church will engage in salt and light involvement in our culture with certain priorities and strategies. The principles that follow represent our primary, though not exclusive, involvements.
1. We make a distinction between "the church gathered" (the visible Body of Christ gathered in public assembly) and "the church dispersed" (individual members of the Body of Christ dispersed into their daily activities). Clearly, God calls "the church dispersed" to fulfill many responsibilities (e.g. civic, social, political, armed forces, police, business, etc.) as individuals that he does not call "the church gathered" to fulfill. For example, God may call an individual Christian to become a member of the armed forces. But God does not call the church as a whole to armed conflict. (The remaining explanation of the church's approach to salt and light issue refers to "the church gathered.")
2. The highest priorities of the church in relation to the culture are the proclamation of biblical truth(evangelism and discipleship) and the demonstration of Christian love (compassion and service). It is our desire to avoid goals and methods that undermine these highest priorities.
3. Evangelism and discipleship are accomplished by many methods, including prayer, preaching, Biblestudy, personal witnessing, mentoring, apologetics, and practical training in the Christian life. The church must also teach and proclaim biblical truth regarding issues facing the culture. Examples include: abortion, euthanasia, bio-medical ethics, marriage, divorce and remarriage, sexual ethics, financial stewardship, violence, racial reconciliation, poverty, hunger, education, war, gender issues, and others. The goal in this instruction is to fully equip believers with a biblical worldview, so that they can interact in society with truth, godliness, integrity, compassion, and love. The presence of fully devoted followersof Christ in the society insures the fulfillment of Jesus' call to be salt and light.
4. Compassion and service are accomplished by many methods, including: our highest calling: to pray for all people, including those in positions of authority; personal acts of kindness, love, compassion, generosity, reconciliation and service; compassion and service ministries aimed at helping the poor, the abandoned, the widow, the orphan, the bereaved, the sick, the imprisoned, the unloved and unlovable, the estranged, the hated, the homeless, the hungry, the troubled, the broken, the sinful, the abused, the neglected, and all who need to experience a human demonstration of the love of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The opportunities for these kinds of ministries are limitless in our needy, broken, fallen world.
The Horse and the Cart: Let's say that the horse represents evangelism and discipleship and the cart represents compassion and service. Churches today may fall into any of the following four general categories.
1. "The cart but no horse" church. There are churches who pursue social action, compassion ministries, acts of service and kindness, but who ignore sharing the gospel and helping people to grow in Christ through biblical instruction. There are thousands of churches in America who perform many acts of kindness, but the good news of personal salvation through Christ is no longer believed or shared. When this happens (and it has happened often), the church no longer really is a church, but merely a religious social service agency.
2. "The cart before the horse" church. There are churches who do believe in evangelism and discipleship. But they so emphasize social service and action that the biblical priorities of evangelism and discipleship are either neglected or obscured. This dangerous practice can occur in evangelical and Bible-teaching churches. For example, some evangelical churches have so emphasized political action and legislative priorities that non-Christians identify the church with a certain political party or movement. Right wing politics become a barrier to the unbeliever hearing the good news of Christ. By its socio-political emphasis, the church alienates the very people it is called to reach! Paul said, "I resolved to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified." We must commit ourselves to never obscure the gospel by our social or political statements or actions.
3. "The horse but no cart" church. This kind of church preaches Christ and Christian discipleship, but completely ignores Christ's call to compassion and service to our neighbors. This church is suspicious of anyone who talks about social involvement, because they fear theological liberalism and apostasy or perhaps just spiritual drift. This suspicion is unfortunate because both the Bible and church history are replete with examples of believers who were engaged in cultural issues and who kept their biblical moorings.
4. "The horse and the cart" church. This kind of church is what we desire to be. We recognize the primacyof evangelism and discipleship. But we also believe that we must meet the needs of the whole person (spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, material). Evangelism/discipleship ministries and compassion/service ministries go hand in hand. In fact, they both foster growth for one another. Both are necessary. Both are attractive. Both are biblical. At Valley Church, we desire to greatly expand our ministries in both of these areas.
The Uneasy Relationship Between the Church and Political Involvement:
A special case arises when we talk about the church and its involvement in political issues. Admittedly,the topic is gigantic in scope, controversial in nature, and divisive at times. Nevertheless, the following comments can serve to help explain the posture that Valley Church has taken since its inception in this difficult and sensitive area.
1. Governments are ordained by God primarily for the securing of freedoms, protection of citizens, and punishment of evildoers. The ruler is called "a servant of God" because he fulfills a God-ordained role. It is a noble calling and one in which individual Christians, though not the church as a whole, may serve with God's approval.
2. Christians must remember that ultimately our citizenship is in heaven, that we are aliens and strangers in this world, and that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. At the same time, we are called to be good and responsible citizens, obedient to the laws of the state, and we may exercise (within biblical parameters) the privileges that our earth-bound citizenship may offer us. We are clearly called to be submissive to the governing authorities, except in the case when it conflicts with clear biblical commands.
3. The church's primary role in relation to culture is to make disciples of Jesus Christ (evangelism and discipleship). This is the highest form of love for our neighbor. We are also called as a church to show compassion, justice, and service within our communities. The church must reclaim these important responsibilities which we have largely abdicated to our government.
4. We distinguish between "the church gathered" as a Body and "the church dispersed" as individuals (see earlier comments). Individual believers may be called to serve in political roles and that is a noble calling. Individual Christians are also encouraged to be involved in political action and service, to vote, and to lovingly express their convictions in political discussions and forums.
5. For reasons of priorities, wisdom, missionary-sensitivity, and biblical unity, Valley Church is not active in a public, direct, political activity. Of course, the church must proclaim openly God's Word on (sometimes unpopular or controversial) subjects that may have a political dimension to them. But this proclamation of the Word is not the same as direct political involvement or confrontation. It is not the same as attempting to directly influence specific legislation or endorsing candidates or parties. These activities are ones we do not pursue. Sometimes, it may even be legally permissible to do so. But wisdom dictates a more careful, nuanced approach.
6. In its proclamation on controversial subjects that may have political dimensions, the church must be careful to present thoroughly biblical positions. Sometimes, the tendency is for churches to align themselves with a particular party or candidate, and uncritically accept their positions as the Christian position. We must resist this tendency.
7. We must realize the lack of consensus on many political issues, even among Bible-believing Christians. We must have the humility and courage to admit and recognize that our political positions are shaped not only by the Bible, but by our culture, personal experience and background, nationality, race, and more. We need to be sensitive to other Christians who may differ with us on political issues, and not make it a test of fellowship. We must also distinguish between a biblical command/principle and one's personal application of that biblical command/principle. Sometimes, Christians will quote a Scripture and then say: "That's why we must do this or that." But not all Christians may see that application. Or they may see it in a different way. Or God may simply call them to fulfill the command/principle in a completelydifferent (often non-political) way.
8. The church must never obscure the cross of Christ, nor put stumbling blocks before unbelievers. Thus, we must be extremely careful not to make it even appear that being a Christian means to hold to a certain political persuasion or position. Many churches have unwittingly done this very thing. To do so is a serious offense in the eyes of God.
9. The church should always present positive and compassionate alternatives to the world, rather than merely condemning ungodly behavior. We must present "a better idea" and back it up with compassionate action. This is irresistible influence.
10. The church must resist the temptation to believe that revival and awakening will come through political action. Government simply does not serve this function in God's plan. Many evangelical Christians have over-inflated the importance of politics. This tendency becomes clear when people make their political convictions just as important or more important than their theological convictions. Or when we believe that electing the right President, or getting the right Supreme Court Justice, or passing the right legislation will solve the ills of the world. Though these things are not unimportant, they do not bring ultimate change to human hearts and do not change the eternal destination of a single soul. In fact, such an undue emphasis may lead to a false sense of morality and security among unbelievers. It leads to a deadly and nominal civil religion that has some trappings of biblical morality, but lacks the power of a relationship with Christ.
11. The church must also resist the tendency to become hostile, mean-spirited, and self-righteous in its presentation of a biblical worldview. We must love and bless our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We must resist our selfish tendency to want to reclaim a biblical morality for our nation solely for our own comfort and enjoyment. Instead, we must be motivated by brokenness over our own sin and the world's sin and plead with God for mercy and forgiveness and restoration.
12. We must also realize that much of the Christian morality that once existed in our nation (but now does not) was first established because the vast majority of the people held to a Christian worldview. But nowadays, the vast majority of the people do not hold to a Christian worldview. Thus, attempts to change the morality without first changing the heart and the worldview will end in failure. The greatest need in our nation today is for individuals to hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. People need the Lord.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Voter's Guidance

How are Christians supposed to determine who to vote for in crucial elections? Hopefully, the following ten guidelines will help. They are influenced by Stoyan Zaimov’s article published in the Christian Post Reporter on 12/26/11 (Iowa Pastors' Advice for Christian Voters as Caucuses Approach).
1. Pray. As Christians, we are commanded in 1 Tim. 2:1 to pray for our governmental authorities. Certainly this would apply to praying over the placement of people into these positions of authority. Before you vote, ask God to give you clarity and wisdom. Politicians are notorious for saying what we want to hear, not necessarily what they believe. Not all politicians are like this, but certainly many are. We need discernment to know who the real deal is and who is a fake.
2. Faith. I believe the most important freedom our country has is the freedom to practice our faith without government intrusion. If a candidate does not respect the Bible and the rights of our citizens to worship the God of the Bible, it would be unwise to vote for him or her. Pay attention to how the candidate talks about people of faith.
3. Life. If a candidate has little regard for the life of an infant or of the elderly, I will not vote for him or her. Admittedly, some candidates make a distinction between being pro-choice and pro-abortion. That is to say, they want to eliminate abortion somehow and in some way, but prefer to look to medical science and/or social reform rather than a repeal of Roe vs. Wade as the means of ending abortion. Nevertheless, if a candidate does not see a fetus as a life or supports unfettered euthanasia, I have a hard time voting for that individual. Pro-life is a big one for me.
4. Poverty. If a candidate is overly focused on capitalism or wealth to the neglect of the poor, I am less inclined to vote for him or her. Our leaders should show concern for the poor. However, by poor, I don’t mean irresponsible. The Bible is clear that we are to expect our citizens to be productive contributors to society (2 Thes. 3:10). The government should provide help to those who have been hit by difficulties and are infirmed. But for able-bodied citizens, we should more frequently offer a hand up than a hand out.
5. Character. It stands to reason that a leader, if he or she is to lead well, must have a strong, moral character. The best indicator of future character is past behavior. If elected, this person is given a public trust. If that leader is not trustworthy, there will be problems keeping the trust! So, it’s fair game to look at a track record when it comes to marriage, family, fiscal responsibility, job performance, etc. Is this person a man or woman of integrity? What does the past tell us?
6. Family. The biblical standard of marriage as between a man and a woman is an important issue for me. This is not simply ideological, but practical as well. Society simply functions better when the family unit consists of one father and one mother in a faithful, healthy, sacred, and monogamous relationship. Redefining marriage in homosexual or polygamous terms (FYI, there is also currently a movement to recognize polygamous marriage) logically leads to redefining the ideals we pass on to future generations. Where a candidate stands on this issue will have an impact on my vote.
7. Economy. It is a biblical principle to pay back debt and to reward those who work hard. It is important to me, therefore, for a candidate to be fiscally responsible with state or national debt and to encourage economic development. If our government penalizes financial success with over-taxation and hikes up debt to pay for too many entitlements, our nation will not be prosperous enough to provide for the poor. The greatest institutions for helping the poor, our churches and other non-profits, will not have the income to provide maximum care because donations will be too low in a struggling economy. We do need governmental oversight to protect the public from corporate corruption (such as predatory lending), but we must be careful to allow a healthy free market to thrive. I want to know that my leaders possess fiscal understanding and have the leadership skills necessary to provide strong economic direction.
8. Military/Law Enforcement. Throughout biblical history, the government had the noble responsibility of protecting its citizens from attack. Strong, moral, and disciplined military and law enforcement agencies are necessary for the sake of freedom. Yet, these forces should be used only for just causes. In candidates, I look for men and women who respect the military and law enforcement and expect these agencies to abide by the highest standards of human decency.
9. Education. When it comes to educating our kids, the most important question is “What’s best for the children?” If a candidate begins the discussion with teachers’ rights or a strict separation of secular and private education, I’m less inclined to vote for him or her. However, I applaud those who want to encourage educational systems that reward educators who truly love kids and are gifted in training them.
10. Global. We are to be good neighbors to other countries in the world. I expect my governmental leaders to be ambassadors of good will, champions of freedom, well-informed, diplomatically savvy, and tangibly formidable when it comes to other nations. Israel, in particular, is an ally that must be given special attention due to biblical wisdom (Gen. 12:1-2) and strategic objectives (its alliance is crucial in the struggle against militant Islamic terrorism). If a candidate seems shallow, ignorant, naive, or feeble with regard to foreign policy, I’m less likely to vote for him or her.
These are some of the guidelines that help me filter candidates in an election. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive. It also requires us to research where each of the candidates stand. But, perhaps, it will aid you as you ask for the Spirit’s discernment in the ballot box.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Financials in the Church Bulletin?

Recently, I was asked by a faithful and very godly church member why we don't put a financial statement in the church bulletin every week. While the decision to remove it preceded me, I agree with the action for a number of reasons which I'll give in a moment. Let me first say that currently, we offer a financial statement at the information desk for anyone who requests it. We also have a line in the bulletin indicating this. But why not include an insert in the bulletin every week and eliminate the extra step of having to go get one from the info desk? Let me give four reasons why:
1. Confusion. In previous generations, church goers tended to give in a linear manner. That is to say, people would tithe weekly. Today, many people give in lump sums at various times of the year. For example, it's not unusual for churches to receive over 50% of all income around the month of December. For tax purposes, it is not uncommon for givers to donate large amounts before the end of the year. Many businesses and most individuals, however, do not have such patterns of income. Most people get a regular paycheck with a regular amount every two weeks. Therefore, when they look at their own finances, they can see linear income and expense patterns. If a church gives out a weekly giving statement, the months that are typically low giving months can give the impression that the church is in financial trouble when, in reality, it's simply a normal low giving pattern that will be offset later in the year as December approaches. I've found that every church is a little different in terms of its giving patterns, but I've never been at a church that had linear giving week to week. As one mentor of mine (a pastor of a very successful church) put it, "since most of us have a strong December, it makes things look artificially bad through most of the year. While that might be a good way to 'scare' some money out of people – it’s also a good way to insure that most of the year they think the leadership is financially irresponsible." Why introduce confusion to the church unnecessarily? Currently, we have quarterly business meetings where our finances are explained precisely by our accountant so there is no confusion. If we are struggling, this is stated and if we are not, the patterns of giving can be more adequately explained.
2. Visitors. One of the reasons good people disagree on this is their differing views on what, exactly, a bulletin's purpose is. For me, a bulletin is similar to a program at a concert or a menu at a restaurant. It is to orient visitors to the order of events and invite them into participation. It is not primarily for the insider. If I went to the Coronado Theater to see Fiddler on the Roof, I'd find it strange to have a financial statement from the Coronado stuffed in the program. That would seem to be more appropriate for its board of directors or its Coronado Arts Membership Society (if it has one). When a visitor goes to a church, he or she already feels like an outsider. If the bulletin is filled with "insider information" such as jargon that only members understand and announcements that are to already-assembled groups, the visitor gets the clear message that he or she is, indeed, an outsider. I remember a doctoral professor of mine who said he could tell within five minutes if a church was growing or dying. If he saw that the church listed its finances in its bulletin, he knew it was primarily aiming its ministry at insiders and was probably dying. Putting insider information in the bulletin to me is similar to showing my checkbook balance to our new neighbors when we invite them to dinner. It's not visitor sensitive and could give the impression that I'm hitting them up for money (something many visitors suspect churches are only about).
3. Stewardship. The truth is that most attenders have little if any desire to see this information. I've found that in churches where leadership is doing its job and has established a track record of integrity, there are virtually no requests for financial information. When there is such a low desire for financial statements among regular attenders, there is a stewardship of resources issue that arises. It takes time for a staff person to assemble figures every week, put these figures into a format that is understandable (the typical person cannot read the complicated spreadsheets of a large church), have it printed, and then have the document stuffed into a thousand bulletins. This also takes money for printing and paper costs. I find it difficult to justify the expense of staff time and church money on this if the vast majority of these reports will not be read and will, in fact, immediately end up in the trash. It makes more stewardship sense to have a smaller number of copies available for any who requests one.
4. Propriety. This reason is less weighty to me, but it's worth mentioning. I believe anyone who gives to the church has a right to see how the giving is spent. But I have trouble with giving out this information to just anyone. We've all met people who attend churches who are destructive critics. I've known of people who were, as Chuck Swindoll describes them, "savages" to local congregations. Jesus described them as "wolves in sheep's clothing" in Matt. 7. These are people who want power but who don't sacrifice and are not committed to God or the church. They wouldn't be caught dead tithing, but will show up at every business meeting with an agenda. Doesn't a church have a responsibility to protect its body against such malcontents? One friend of mine who is also a very successful and wise pastor told me that his church will not issue financial statements to anyone who does not actually give to the church. Other pastors have told me they will only issue that information to people who are actually members of the church after being adequately evaluated for membership through a solid membership process. I think there is wisdom in this. Recently, a good church in our area found itself as a major story in the local newspaper. Due to the economic downturn and its effect on church giving, the church leadership had gone through the painful decision to lay off staff. Soon after, a negative story was printed in the paper with slanderous comments from critics. I personally talked to the Pastor of the church and found that the leadership had been very responsible financially. Yet critics of the church took financial information that was nobody's business but the members of that church and splattered it on the cover of a newspaper hurting that church's reputation in the process. It seems to me that giving this information as easy-access to anyone who walks in off the street may be irresponsible, especially in this age of slander and attack against Evangelical churches.

These are some of the reasons behind my support of our current method of sharing financial information. We give the information freely out to members who request it and we give detailed financial reports to our members at our regularly scheduled business meetings. There is a weakness to this method, however. The weakness is that those who may be disposed to pray for our finances may forget to request a copy of the statements. One precious prayer warrior recently stated this as a reason for his concern that finances were not listed in the bulletins. In weighing the pros and cons, I'm still inclined to follow our current pattern while trusting that those who pray regularly will take it upon themselves to seek out this information. But, we will continue to evaluate this issue as we go along.