A Congregational Primer | How should a church body find and express God’s will in a change?

When we speak of a “congregational” church or government for the church, there are a number of ideas that may come to mind that are not healthy. While I would never want to opt for some outside authority, either denominational or hierarchical, to make decisions for local fellowships, we have not always taken time to consider what that should or should not look like.

Some of us have grown up with a “political climate” as our model—this is wrong. 

Having a congregation of believers prayerfully consider what is to be done and then express their combined wisdom should not involve adversarial politics, because we are all in this together. It may involve animated discussion of the text of Scripture, how interpretations are formed, what the ramifications of interpretations or decisions might be, and so on. But it should never be about winning and losing, but humbly participating. If our path is the one chosen, we are thankful that God gave that wisdom. If our path is not, we are equally thankful that God has guided the church. And we only question a decision that is clearly opposite the teaching of Scripture–and such questioning may require us to move to another fellowship if the matter is of primary importance (the kind of matter that affects salvation, for example).

 

Some of us have grown up with a complacent attitude—this is also wrong.

 Many of our younger members aren’t really interested in church government, and yet those who lead the church have such a tremendous impact on what we are all taught, how we prioritize for ministry and money spent on ministry, how we staff the church, and so many other important issues. Complacency in congregational churches will lead to both unchecked leadership and a much greater influence on direction by the smaller portion of the congregation that exercises its ability to vote and make choices. If that small group has an agenda, that can also be very dangerous. The church needs its members to care about its direction. It is wonderful when people trust their leaders, but the choice of trustworthy leaders has to be made by the congregation.

So, how should a congregation approach a decision about a change, as we are doing now?
Normally we should hope for unity, and we should accept a strong consensus. And if we believe our leaders are acting in good faith to implement plans and directions according to their understanding of Scripture, they should receive the benefit of the doubt with an attitude of godly submission. It should never be the thought that a “unanimous” vote would somehow be too much like a rubber stamp! I’m afraid that someone (or a few someones) in our church must think that, because in ten year’s time, the only matter to ever receive a unanimous approval in a ballot vote has been the acceptance of the annual meeting minutes–and that has not even received a unanimous approval every year. I have to wonder if this shows a love for the unity of the church that Paul said was so important in Ephesians 4? I love this church, and even when suggesting things that may not pass unanimously, I want to do all I can to encourage agreement. When someone finds nothing–not a single deacon candidate, a single budget, or a single special action that they can support, I don’t think the problem is with congregationalism or the rest of the church.

So, is there ever a time when you should vote “No” on a change?  Here are five suggestions…

 

  1. Vote no if a proposal violates Scripture
  2. Vote no if the status quo is a superior, biblical approach
  3. Vote no if you do not trust the teaching or the motives of the pastor(s)
  4. Vote no if you do not trust the wisdom of the leader that made the recommendation
  5. Vote no if the change will endanger the flock

I would think that most of these should be obvious. I would also hope that any person who held one of these reasons would love the church and its leaders enough to share their concerns or biblically confront them in the cases of 3, 4, and 5. What about positive reasons to vote “Yes?” Here are five more suggestions…

  1. Vote yes if you believe the proposal lines up with Scripture
  2. Vote yes if you see biblical and practical rationale for the change
  3. Vote yes if your pastors have shown trustworthiness in decisions
  4. Vote yes if your leaders have a record of showing good judgment
  5. Vote yes if you see potential benefits of the change for the flock

Finally, consider these principles to help a congregation and its members (that would be you) to act and decide issues biblically.

  1. Study the issues in Scripture
  2. Listen to what leadership has to say
  3. Pray (and fast) for wisdom, unity, and blessing
  4. Be willing to follow the congregation’s decision
  5. Submit to your leaders as they implement decisions
  6. Humility for everybody!

If we will operate with these principles, unified change is not only possible, but probable. Let’s pray that it will be this way.

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Reaping the Social Media Whirlwind

Our freedom to express ourselves creates unexpected dangers

social_media_strategy111I am a very well-intentioned social media participant. I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I have a Snap Chat account but never use it. I officially have a Vine account, but have never figured that I had 6 seconds of creativity to spare on it. I first joined social media to know what it was about, especially why my kids and the college students in my previous church were so interested in it. I have found the ability to get connected with family and friends, along with the opportunity to share information with others, has been a largely positive experience.

However, social media definitely has its downsides, from the mildly irritating to the personally devastating. Oversharing is common–while I might love to see a picture of your child’s first day of school, the “every fifteen minute update” can be a bit much. Some people seem to develop “emotional binge/purge syndrome” and are constantly oversharing their various upsets and heartaches, under the mistaken assumption that Facebook friends are, well, friends. Others see sensational headlines, read the incredibly incendiary stories they link to, and share them–never checking to see if the story is real or not. I’ve seen more than a few such stories shared by some of you that would be very disturbing if they were true. They originate with fake sites that exist only to stir various pots and make people look foolish in the process. Be careful or you will be duped.

A very dark trend on social media–especially Twitter–is the rapid responses that pile on when someone says or does something they shouldn’t–it is a massive and immediate public shaming. I just watched a TED talk (you can see it here, but be warned, the tweets recounted include some very unsavory language) about this phenomenon, and it was sobering and frightening. It told the story of Justine Sacco, a woman who had 170 Twitter followers and a job with a PR firm. Just before boarding an international flight to Africa, she made a bad joke about AIDS–she meant to be sarcastically poking fun at people’s attitudes, but sarcasm doesn’t always come across in 140 characters. She boarded the flight and fell asleep. But one of her 170 followers forwarded the tweet to a friend at a major site who sent it to his 15,000 followers with a statement condemning her callousness. It went viral, and by the time she landed in Africa hours later it had become the #1 trending subject on Twitter, with thousands upon thousands of the most horrible things said about her, and calling for her to be mocked, shunned, fired, and physically harmed. Her career was over and she was emotionally crushed by the weight of tweeted indignation of tens of thousands of people’s disapproval and disdain. People will gladly do on Twitter what they would never do face to face.

One other grave concern is how our social media posts and content can adversely affect our testimonies for Christ. If we are friends with unbelievers, and our lives in social media are all politics, complaints, and mockery of those with whom we disagree, what are we communicating about the way we view others, or what’s most important in life? Do we rant at mistreatment and make clear that the fruit of the Spirit is currently lacking in our lives? Do we demand justice from a fallen world? Do we spout positive platitudes about success and life as if our attainment of certain goals in this life is what defines us? We used to ask, “if you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Now, we could ask, “If your most positive testimony for Christ in social media is that you clicked ‘Like’ when asked to ‘stand up for Jesus,’ have you really done anything?”

Don’t give up on social media–but make your presence there redemptive, not corrosive. Connect with others, but not to browbeat or brag. Share concerns, but be very aware of the whole of your audience. It’s not just future employers who may look at your various media feeds; it’s also people wondering if Christian faith is real and if Christians are kind or if they are jerks. Speak truth, but speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Let’s be “flying snakes” when it comes to social media (my shorthand for those who are wise as serpents and harmless as doves–Matthew 10:16).

A Summer of Shifts & Shocks

Vantage PointsBeing driven to one important conclusion

It’s the midpoint of summer, and as often happens, plans for a slower pace have been blown to bits by the onslaught of the summer “specials”–those things that come along where you decide, “Sure, I can do that, it’s summer and the normal stuff isn’t happening.” Except, as you probably know, much of the normal stuff does keep going, and now you have more to do than you thought.

Don’t get me wrong; the special stuff makes the summer exciting and, well, “special.” We’ve hosted a few special events at our church that have been a real delight. We’ve had unexpected guests in our home, spent enjoyable time away, and were blessed with unique opportunities to serve. This weekend, for example, we’re hosting 40-50 TCKs (third culture kids) attending a cultural “re-entry seminar” for a Nacho Bar!

But it’s been a very different summer in a number of key points. The weather has been atrocious. Here in Ohio we had the same terrible winter that lots of the rest of the country had, and because of that you hope for a respite in a beautiful summer. We managed to get one week of that–in Myrtle Beach on vacation. Coming home, we’ve had mainly clouds, rain, and cool temperatures until this week, when we went directly to hot and humid with thunderstorms. I can count on one hand the number of warm, sunny days we’ve experienced (OK, maybe the thumb of the other hand would be needed). Our experience is not different than so much of the rest of the country.

There have been a few disappointments this summer for people and relationships. I’ve seen people who were seemingly getting healthy die, and had people who said they would be around decide to disappear.

But it’s also been a summer of unsettling news and change. I won’t take time to revisit the Supreme Court decision to require all states to recognize the union of same sex couples as “marriage.” In overturning a fundamental definition that has existed from the beginning of history, five justices have just done something that undermines family and society, defies common sense, and finds a “right to marry” that simply does not exist in the Constitution (the basis for any ruling they are making). It would be as if they declared blue to be yellow, along with yellow being yellow, and pity the person of aesthetic soul and conscience, as well as logic and a smidgen of historical sense who says that only yellow is yellow.

ESPN ignored genuine heroics by people who achieved great things, paid incredible prices (and in some cases lost their lives) to achieve success in the realm of sport and have served as examples to inspire others, and chose a former athlete who is now a transgender celebrity whose actions have more of the self-aggrandizing than the self-sacrificing about them to designate as the winner of their “Courage” Award. How does milking your former athletic glory and subsequent celebrity marriage, reality TV show, and coming out on national television count as courage?

Planned Parenthood’s medical director was video-recorded having a nice lunch over which she sips her wine and discusses the proper way for an abortionist to crush heads and legs of a fetus to save the liver for sale. It’s guided by ultrasound, don’t you see? And the reaction of many? How terrible that such “sting” videos make the news–unless it is a video for a cause we like!

Our government officials have negotiated a deal with Iran that ensures their continued ability to enrich uranium and move toward possession of a nuclear weapon, while they lead public chants of “Death to America” and continue to hold four Americans as prisoners for no justifiable reason, including a pastor. If you read Joel Rosenberg’s novels and commentary on current events and prophecy (not to mention those scriptures themselves), you can’t help but shudder at these developments, just a little bit.

And as we get ready to select a new president next year, one party can’t field a single candidate who would say a good word about any abortion limitations (ban on late term procedures, require an ultrasound to be shown to the mother, allow the father a say, parental consent for minors, forbid when pain can be felt, etc.) for any reason [For me, abortion is one of those “beyond debate” issues, and when given the chance I will ALWAYS vote for a pro-life candidate, having led me to vote for candidates in the past whose other positions were not mine, but whose commitment to protecting life was solid. That’s me, and I’m not telling you that you are wrong if you disagree, but do think about it.]. Their front-runner seems unable to give straight answers, tell the truth about past decisions, or hold a position held ten years ago, but the others just can’t seem to attract any real attention yet.

And the other party? Well, it is quite a “party” actually, with more candidates than people who attended my last birthday party. I actually can respect a number of them, and they all support protecting life, EXCEPT THE CURRENT FRONT RUNNER! I am mystified that a blowhard billionaire can, by sounding mad as h###, move to the front of the pack when he previously supported the current president that he’s now blasting, gave money to his potential opponent from the other party, and has advocated policies most in his party abhor. He recently said a decorated veteran and senator, who was a POW in Vietnam, was not a war hero just because he got shot down and spent years in a POW camp. The billionaire says he likes guys who didn’t get captured. He ought not to be taken any more seriously than his TV show. But I also have to wonder what makes a man (or woman) say, “I am sure I can pull away from 15 others and be the next nominee and president.” When does self-confidence slide into self-delusion?

Just for good measure, I’m seeing reports of an expected mini “Ice Age” coming in my lifetime (maybe we can promote more global warming to stave it off), and a 30% chance of an earthquake that will wipe out the Pacific Northwest coast in the next few decades. The economic recovery isn’t huge, and financial institutions are very nervous, as Greece’s eventual default may rip through the world’s banks, if China’s massive economic slowdown doesn’t shake them first.

So, let me see where I stand.

  • I can’t count on my bank account or retirement.
  • I can’t count on the environment.
  • I can’t count on the ground under my feet.
  • I can’t count on political candidates or solutions.
  • I can’t count on my governmental leaders.
  • I can’t count on the culture.
  • I can’t count on the media.
  • I can’t count on law or judges.
  • I can’t even count on the weather.

Even I can see that, perhaps, this is a not so gentle reminder from the God of our salvation that there is only One in whom we can trust and never be disappointed. How about you?Share This Post!

A Brief Response to the Recent Supreme Court Decision on Marriage

abcTwo Sundays ago, I read a brief statement about my reaction, as your pastor and spokesman for our leadership, about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to make same sex marriage the law of the land. I’ve been asked to reproduce it here, and other than some corrections and brief expansions of my “talking point” notes, here is what I said.

1. We respectfully disagree with the decision of the majority—both its legal reasoning and its conclusions.

2. We are against discriminatory practices toward any person or group in society, but we cannot agree that marriage is simply a legally defined relationship, but rather it is what it has been from all time—the union of a man and a woman, in a covenant meant to be permanent, and carrying specific rights and responsibilities. It is not invented by society, but created by God.

3. We will continue to recognize only those marriages that fit this biblical definition, and we will not perform or host any marriages that do not.

4. We will joyfully accept God’s sovereign plan for us now to be what the Church often is, a minority voice, a counter-cultural community, and a winsome witness to truth, even if we must someday suffer misunderstanding, disadvantage, or even persecution.

5. We will continue to love those sinners who face the temptations of same sex attraction, opposite sex lust, pride, gluttony, lying, and every other sin. No sin except unrepentant unbelief puts anyone more than one prayer away from the foot of the cross.

6. The landscape has changed, and what we will face is uncertain. But as Russell Moore has said, the church cannot be afraid of its mission field. In fact, we can look forward with great joy. One quote I saw captured it well.

“The first century church did not look around and say, “What is this world coming to?” They said, “Look what has come into the world!”

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Pastor’s Update | More Generous Than You Know

You are…

More Generous Than You Know

I have always been blessed to know that the family of Grace is a generous congregation. You have shown that through your responses to various needs we have announced over the years. From local emergencies for individuals and families, to missionary crises overseas, to crushing human need in the wake of international disasters or wars, Grace has given approximately $100,000 annually in special offerings, including our Benevolent Fund and Harvest Offerings. That makes around $1 million since I’ve been here!

But your generosity is also seen in your consistent support of our budget. While not exactly a “glamorous” cause, giving to the church weekly toward the general fund pays the bills, funds your staff’s salaries, and supports our ministries, including Global Outreach. I wanted to let you know about two gifts you’ve given in the last month in response to pressing needs that you didn’t even realize you gave, because the funds were supplied through regular giving.

We received an urgent note from Jon and Joni McGinnis that their current vehicle would not be able to handle the roads in the rugged terrain where their ministry is now focused in the mountainous region of Costa Rica. They needed a much sturdier jeep-type vehicle, and $10,000 to buy it. Because we have budgeted for missionary emergencies and saved those funds for when needed, we were able to give them $5,000, which matched what they had received from their other supporters and they are looking for that vehicle this week.

Then, the same week, we received word from John Cook that progress on the campus for Grace Bible College in Amravati, India required raising around $37,000 to complete the Dining Hall (we helped them complete 2 dorms last year, built out of shipping containers!). Students will arrive in July to begin the new term. We were able to give another $5,000 for that need, and this amount, along with other gifts, has allowed the work to continue, even as more funds are needed. This school trains Bible teachers, pastors, and evangelists, who have planted hundreds of churches in the last ten years, and students we have sponsored have been a part of this. You have made this possible.

On top of this, your giving has allowed us to continue to support missionaries, provide increases when needed, (not always, and not as much as might be needed, but often), and consider new missionary support. You will be hearing about some new developments very soon!

Would you like another opportunity? Nepali refugees desperately need housing, and IMI is seeking to supply the same kind of tents we purchased for Iraq to pastors and ministries in Nepal. You can give through Grace’s Open Treasury, simply by writing a check to the church and designating it- IMI Nepal Relief.

I just want to thank you for this faithful giving, which allows us to engage in Gospel work far beyond what you may realize. And don’t get tired of doing what is right!

Life on the Day After… | Pastor’s Update

Life on the Day After…

The Ascension might have set up the disciples for a let down

When you’ve been on an absolutely amazing trip, the first day back home can seem a bit anti-climactic. Of course we all know that the day after Christmas is, for many, a bit of a let down after all of the build up for the holiday. As a kid, if you went to church camp, you were warned that leaving “the mountaintop experience” could be difficult, and it probably was.

But imagine having been through what the eleven remaining disciples had been through by the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven one Thursday, forty days after his resurrection. You had watched the triumphal entry (up), and then heard Jesus talk about His impending betrayal (down). He confounded the Pharisees and Sadducees (up), but they were angry and looking for ways to destroy Him (down). At the last supper He talked about the kingdom (up) but said one of them would betray Him (DOWN). He was betrayed (by Judas, the man they’d trusted as treasurer! down), tried, crucified and buried (down, Down, DOWN), then rose on Sunday and they saw Him (UP x100). For forty days He continued to appear and tell them about the kingdom and the coming power of the Spirit (UP). And then He left and went back to Heaven, having told them to wait for that power.

While I doubt they were depressed at His ascension, I do wonder if they felt a sense of loss–He clearly was doing something miraculous, but separation had come. And the next day, there was no power–yet.

And the power didn’t come the next day either. They had to live in anticipation without any certainty of when things would change–except that Jesus had said it would be “not many days from now” before He left. That would be encouraging, until you start wondering what a “short” time for God would be–after all, Jesus said He was coming “quickly” at the end of Revelation, and 2,000 years is within that “quick.”

What they did was especially instructive for those of us who also live in a time where we already have received much, but are awaiting more. Today is the day after the anniversary of the Ascension, and we, too, need power to live faithfully until Jesus comes. I would suggest that they took four essential actions for living in the days in between mountaintops.

1. They obeyed the last instructions they had. Jesus had made it clear, they were to wait until the power that He would send would come. Apparently, His references to “baptize you with fire” was enough for them to know that when that power came, they would recognize it. Until then, they would stay where they were. Are you wanting God’s power, or direction, or anything else He might have for your future? Let me ask you this–are you doing the things He has told you to do up to this point? Are you seeking God’s direction for the future? While you wait, are you doing the last thing you know He had made clear was what you were supposed to do? Until new directions come, you follow the last ones you received.

2. They didn’t hold on alone. We see in Acts 1 that the disciples gathered together in the “upper room” where they were staying (1:13–very probably the same upper room where they had celebrated the Passover/Last Supper), and that the company of believers–about 120 people–was together then or soon after. Even before the official birth of the New Covenant Church, there was a clear and continuing pattern of togetherness for support, encouragement, prayer, and decision making. Imagine how much harder it would have been had they all dispersed to their own places for a week. I know that we can hardly get 75% of our people together weekly on any given week (it’s actually closer to between 50-66% of “regulars” in church on any given Sunday), but there was a sense that they really needed each other–to reaffirm what they had seen and heard, to encourage, and to comfort when doubt might strike.

3. They took what actions they could. The Scriptures were Peter’s guide in leading the believers to replace Judas, and they did so using biblical means appropriate to the times. Matthias was chosen, and that settled the matter–there was no later message from the Spirit that they had blown it and it was supposed to be Paul, even though he was also an apostle. Their motivation was pure, and it was simple–Jesus wanted 12 witnesses, and we only have 11, but there are others here who have been followers from the beginning that can fill that role, so let’s get this done. There may be power you have to wait for, but there often are steps you can take to prepare to be as ready as you can be for the power when it comes. I think about King David here. He was told he couldn’t build the Temple. So, what did he do? He gathered as much of the material needed as he could so that when Solomon started he would have what he needed. That’s what the believers did, too.

4. They prayed. Marking their gatherings and their decisions, and even their waiting moments, they sought God. They prayed for the power to come. They prayed for wisdom in decisions. They probably prayed about a lot of things, but corporate conversation with God set the stage for the arrival of the power. The more they talked to God and each other, the closer they were to the Spirit’s coming, but also the closer they were to each other and God! We want power, but do we pray together for it? We want greater unity, but do we regularly unite in prayer? We want to know God more, but do we even talk to Him, or just settle with ideas about Him?

Ascension Day was when Jesus went to His throne, but also when His absence was keenly felt by His disciples. They had His promises and the angels’ words that He would return, but the more immediate concern was a mission to be witnesses to the world, and the inability to do it without power. They came down the mountain (Mt. Olivet to be exact), and did exactly what was needed to prepare for power. May we use this day after Ascension Day to consider how we might faithfully live between the mountaintops.

Odds and Ends

Family Matters! Our series, Crisis @ Home, has begun, and this week we will wrestle with the reasons that the subject of the family is so closely tied to Christian life and thought. After all, isn’t the gospel the central message? Why are Christians and churches so hung up on questions about marriage and family? Come this Sunday and see.

That’s about it for now–I know, only one O & E item! Consider it an early summer reprieve from information overload!

See you Sunday. Love you, Grace Family!

Urgent Prayer Request

This news just came to us this morning as we were about to send out this newsletter:
Our former Associate Pastor‘s wife, Joyce Farlow, passed away unexpectedly this morning.  While no details are yet available, their church, Harvest Baptist of Oswego, IL, where Mickey Farlow currently serves as Associate Pastor of Outreach & Pastoral Care, has asked your prayers for the family and their church family.

We will inform you of the details of her service and an address to send condolences as soon as they are made available.  Thank you for your prayers for Mickey, their children, Jeremy, Andrea & Julia & their families.

Pastors Update | Living out Joy

Living out Joy

No shortage of opportunities to practice

The Philippians series was barely finished when this week brought its first reminders that truth requires us to embrace it to reap its benefits. Tuesday morning one friend texted to let us know that an expected positive event had suddenly de-materialized. The next day a friend let us know of a profound challenge that had come and brought great pain to the family. In both cases, I was reminded by the person of one of our four “takeaways” from Philippians that had sustained them in facing these challenges. Another person this week cited another of those takeaways as a thought that was in the forefront of their thinking.

Those four takeaways, if you weren’t there or don’t remember, were:
1. Christ is the “interpreter” of life’s circumstances for the joyful Christian.
2. Christ is the “mindset” in life’s relationships for the joyful Christian.
3. Christ is the “passion” of life’s pursuits for the joyful Christian.
4. Christ is the “supplier” of life’s needs for the joyful Christian.

In each case, the takeaway was being used to reinforce the decision to stay on the path of joy–trusting that these circumstances were from Jesus for gospel purposes, that relational challenges were to be thought of as Jesus would think of them, that this was an opportunity to keep focused on knowing Jesus better, and that Jesus was giving what was needed in each moment.

This pastor was encouraged and joyful!

Of course, seeing some of you make choices to live these things out takes many forms. I was reminded and blessed even today of this when one of our senior saints was telling us about befriending a local single mom who needed some encouragement in tough circumstances. As he found ways to encourage and help, he became a friend to the young teenage daughter as well, and found out she wanted to go be with her friends at a local church’s midweek program, but had no way to get there since her mom had to work. Our friend became the ride, and now weekly takes her to this program, along with two friends she invited. What a testimony of selfless service! He told me that at times the challenges of age and failing health make leaving for heaven seem to be a more desirable option (didn’t Paul say that in Philippians?) but I think his being around is more necessary right now. May his joy be multiplied!

Joy results from our choice to live and believe a certain way, and I love seeing our daily opportunities being grasped!

Odds and Ends

I love feedback! I’m so grateful for those of you who respond to the various questions I ask through this email. Your feedback is helpful as we make decisions, and often you give me great personal encouragement. Thank you.

Based on our most recent survey, we are moving ahead to schedule Dr. Scott Carroll for Sunday night, June 28th, for a family-friendly presentation on the Bible and ancient manuscripts. I hope you can plan to be with us.

I continue to get quotes, and a number of you have shared wonderful stories of how you heard the quote, or who made it memorable for you. That is a blessing!

Thanks also for so many kind words (personally and via email) regarding our just completed Philippians series. Remember you can access it in either audio or video formats at our website, and you can request copies of outlines as well by contacting the office.

I posted a prayer for our nation yesterday to mark the National Day of Prayer. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, or pray it, you can go here to do so!

Our new series: “Crisis@Home”!  We are beginning our new sermon series this week, entitled “Crisis@Home.” It will seek to address pressing questions that are being raised by the actions or patterns of our culture as it relates to the family and its members. Using a more topical approach, similar to our “No Easy Answers” series, we will consider a number of important topics related to our society’s increasing disconnect from eternal truths about men, women, marriage, and family. You won’t want to miss it, and if you have questions after a message, email me here and ask. I’ll try to address them either in this email or in a following message.

That’s it for now. See you Sunday, Lord willing. Love you, Grace family!

Pastor’s Update | One Generation Ago…

One Generation Ago…

Where were you, if you were alive 40 years ago? I trust it was not Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Because this was the first full day of Communist control after what was the capital of South Vietnam fell to their antagonists from the North. It was just a month before my high school graduation. Many of my friends’ older brothers or fathers had fought (and some had died) in Vietnam, and my peers and I had all registered for the draft that had taken so many into the service and to Southeast Asia. We had rejoiced when peace talks yielded an agreement a few years before, but in what was a stunningly fast collapse, the forces of South Vietnam fell before the North Vietnamese army and their guerrilla allies, the Viet Cong. It was a sobering sight to watch a nation we had fought for over ten years to protect fall so quickly, and you could not help feeling that we had been defeated. The images of a helicopter preparing to lift off from the top of a Saigon hotel with people crammed inside and many more standing helpless and abandoned below was etched in a generation’s memory, and has haunted Americans when it comes to foreign military commitments ever since.

But one photo that was even more powerful from the war came from a few years before, when a village was bombed using napalm, an incendiary substance that burned the area where it hit. Four such bombs hit this village, and sent people fleeing in panic and pain. One young girl whose clothes literally were burned off her body was seen screaming and running away in a photo that went viral before the internet. This little girl, Kim Phuc, grew up into a young woman whose scars were a constant and painful reminder of the war and who was used by the new Vietnamese government as a propaganda tool. By her own testimony, she was a very angry and bitter person.

Interestingly, I heard her interviewed this past week, and discovered that, in 1992, in a time of great personal despair, she read the Bible and became a Christian! She now leads an international foundation seeking to help children who are victims of war. She said that the message of Jesus was the message that could stop such suffering–finding his love, peace, and forgiveness. She’s right, and I rejoice for her, even as similar carnage continues around the world. Kim Phuc was in an image that turned a nation against a war. She was a casualty of the war and the life that followed. But now she is an ambassador for Christ and his power to change lives.

The Vietnam war shaped a generation. We came to learn of PTSD through its aftermath and political fault lines that formed then have only gotten worse. But out of that war also came stories like that of Kim Phuc, and of Christians who endured terrible tortures and imprisonments after the war in Vietnam and who now lead a growing church movement there.

It’s May Day! Poles or Baskets, Anyone?

This spring (or summer) day has quite a history

Well, it’s the first of May, and our little community is in its normal upheaval.

  • Students from Cedarville University are taking their last finals (whoever thought that having classes on Monday of finals week was a great educational idea, and that having some students wait until Friday to take their finals was beneficial for preparation was, well, wrong).
  • Seniors are not only moving out of the dorms, but getting ready for graduation. A few of them are getting ready for weddings–some on this very weekend. I hope they make it through it all!
  • Couples are taking those last walks around town, trying to get in all the time together that they can, and the famed “awkward couples” seem to be multiplying! Someone said the new motto was “Ring by this weekend.” We’ll see. The tradition of “laking” engaged men continues, and has become a revenue stream for the school as fines are imposed on the “lake-er” and in some cases the “lake-ee.”
  • Stores and businesses are gearing up to get slammed Friday and Saturday, and then have to get used to the slower summer pace. Seats will be easier to find in our coffee houses, even if hours are shorter. We all go to bed early around here anyway.
  • Speaking of “summer,” it is officially a ways away, but being a college town, most things here move to what we refer to at Grace as “summer mode” or “summer schedule.” After ten years here, I’m still a little freaked out by having “summer” and “Mother’s Day” on the same weekend.

It is graduation weekend for Wright State University as well, and while I’m sure that households gearing up for that are very busy, the fact that the campus is in a metropolitan area probably means that the effects are a bit less pronounced than they are here. (Central State and Wilberforce wait a week for their graduation festivities, which means driving down U.S. 42 may be an unusual traffic adventure as they have their baccalaureate services, other special events, and graduation over that weekend.)

In much of the world influenced by Europe, May Day is a big deal–a holiday, but also either a spring festival (it finally feels like spring) or the beginning of summer.

Byron Shearer wrote yesterday from Russia that he was watching tanks going down the main street in the city where he is (I think it is Moscow right now). No, there wasn’t a coup or a war, but May 1 is the day that Russia (and the Soviet Union before that) marked their “International Workers Day” by parading all sorts of military hardware through Red Square in front of reviewing stands of generals with more medals than troops soberly saluting. He mentioned he thought it strange to celebrate workers with tank parades, but that’s what they do. And he said it was quite interesting to add tanks to the mix during rush hour!

Of course, nobody around here that I know of has a “May Pole” or dances around it, or knows anything about crowning the “May Queen” or “May baskets.” The last of those was an activity in elementary school when I was very young, but the rest are trappings of celebrations from Britain and northern Europe, where “May Day” was the first day of Summer (February 1 was the first day of Spring and our first day, the solstice on June 21, was called “Midsummer.” Frankly, that makes some sense). When children dance around the May Pole correctly, their ribbons make a pretty pattern. I’m sure it would be banned in our schools since children might accidentally tie themselves or others to the pole, or might choke when an errant ribbon was carried by too closely and caught them by the neck.

And what were “May baskets?” They were small baskets with flowers or candies that one would leave anonymously at the door of a potential sweetheart. You would “ring and run” the doorbell. The person receiving the basket could decide to chase after the person who left it, and tradition was that if you caught him (or her), a kiss was exchanged.

England still has May Pole dances, but they must be tamer than they used to be–Puritans were so outraged at some of the May Day observances that they banned the pole and the celebration during the time of Oliver Cromwell! Britain still has lots of observances of the day, has used it as a bank holiday, and it used to be a common school holiday as well.

In Finland, it is called “Vappu” and is the country’s one day of street fairs and carnivals. In Ireland, it was the end of “Beltane,” a pagan festival that was later “converted” into a feast for Mary, the mother of Jesus. And Germany and Sweden celebrate St. Walpurga’s Day, who is credited with bringing Christianity to those nations.

In the U.S.A., the traditions from Europe followed their immigrants here, but generally have died out over the last 50-75 years or so. The lack of strong significance has meant various groups have tried to claim it–labor movements and environmental groups have claimed it, and most recently it was claimed by those opposed to the “Illegal Immigration Control Act” as a day to protest for greater immigration. Those aren’t the kinds of holidays most of us care about, and I haven’t seen any Hallmark Cards that let us wish others a “Happy Pro-Immigration Day” yet.

May Day is an apt example of how time and circumstances change cultural patterns. What many peoples used to celebrate isn’t celebrated anymore. What some people choose to celebrate has nothing to do with what used to be celebrated. And even today in some parts of the world, celebrations are taking place marking the day but for reasons that have no connection to each other. May Day isn’t the official first day of summer. Its ties to “workers” in the Socialist/Communist movements has no real point. Its innocent “May Pole” and leaving of “May Baskets” on the porch of someone you “fancy” are largely forgotten.

These are not necessarily bad developments, but a lesson that cultural patterns shift when attention is not paid and value is not assigned. Perhaps it is a lesson for our times.

Odds and Ends

Another Great Opportunity! We are going to host an event for Jim Blumenstock and Asia Biblical Theological Seminary in June. This is meant to promote the seminary for support by churches and pastors here in the U.S.A. The speaker, Dr. Scott Carroll, is a great scholar and presenter who specializes in ancient manuscripts and antiquities, and he brings some with him!

We have been offered the chance to host an event for our church the night before the ABTS event with Dr. Carroll on Sunday night, June 28. It would be structured for the whole family to learn about discovering and preserving manuscripts that tell the story of the Bible. I’ve been in his presentations, and they are amazing. If you think this is a good idea for us to pursue, and you would hope to be there, would you let me knowhere? Thanks.

Pastoral Internship Available! [Repeated from last week, since I didn’t get any responses then] As many of you know, Grace has a pastoral internship program that allows young men headed to ministry to serve closely alongside me in day to day pastoral work as a means of training and learning the nature of the pastor’s role. We have been blessed over the years by some of the men who have filled that role around here (Michael Strawser, Stuart Olley, Tyler Kirkpatrick, and Wade McComas are the last four). We are looking for candidates who might want to serve in this role beginning in the fall. If you know of an upperclassman or recent graduate who believes they are called to pastoral ministry and would be a good candidate, have them email me here for an application.

One last look at Philippians! I’ve decided we can’t leave the book without one final look to consider four “takeaways” we should carry with us from our study. I hope they will be helpful for you in your pursuit of joy.

That’s it for now. See you Sunday, Lord willing. Love you, Grace family!

Pastor’s Update | Nothing Funny Edition

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It’s Not Funny

News that might bring a chuckle shouldn’t

When I was a kid, it was not uncommon for some of my friends to begin to laugh when something bad happened to one of our companions. “That’s not funny!” the sufferer would yell, but often that didn’t stop the inappropriate reaction, and it only made everything worse.

This week I heard an examination of a news story that was so ridiculous that it made you want to laugh. But as I was hearing it, it only made me grieve. Let me tell you what it was and why I had that reaction.

The report concerned a court case where lawyers representing two chimpanzees kept in the labs of the Stony Brook University were suing to have the chimps let out of the lab and moved to shelters because, in the words of the suit, their “imprisonment” was a violation of their rights. A New York state judge has opened the question for consideration of the two chimps as “legal persons,” issuing a writ of habeas corpus. A hearing will argue this point before the judge and the result will decide whether “human rights” will be extended to non-humans. Meanwhile, the chimps are awaiting a final determination of their status, of course being oblivious to anything about the case.

The attorneys work for the “Nonhuman Rights Project” (NhRP), and is seeking to establish that human rights should extend to all “cognitively complex” animals–such as apes, monkeys, orangutans, and also dolphins, whales, and others. The NhRP said that the chimps’ “voice will be heard.” That is obviously not true, because the chimps didn’t ask anyone to sue anyone!

From a practical standpoint, how cognitively complex would a creature need to be to meet the standards of the NhRP? My dog is pretty complex in her thinking, and some people think cats are. Pigs are said to be smarter than both of those. As you might imagine, the NhRP people believe they have their foot in the door, and there is no going back.

As a Christian, I accept the Bible’s teaching that the mandate of creation given to humanity in Genesis is to tend, rule, and cause the fruitfulness of creation, for the glory of God and the good of people and then the rest of creation. Humanity, by virtue of its direct creation by God and stated possession of the image of God is placed uniquely above all the rest of creation. We are not to be cruel to other creatures, but we are not to view them as peers.

Thus, this suit is nonsense, and would be worth nothing more than a chuckle and a “smh” comment (“shaking my head” for the non-text abbreviators out there), except for one thing. Earlier this week, I also heard Joel Rosenberg in a simulcast event we hosted here, talking about why he believes judgment is going to fall on America.

Rosenberg pointed out that our nation has allowed the murder of 57,000,000 people in the womb. We cannot argue that they are not human, only that they are not fully developed yet. Some were killed because they were the wrong sex. Some were killed because they might not be physically perfect. Most were killed because they were an inconvenience to their parents. We rightly condemn Nazi Germany for its murder of 6,000,000 Jews and millions of other “undesirables” in the Nazi equation. We would see the destruction of Germany in World War 2 as God’s judgment on that nation. Rosenberg argued (persuasively, in my view) that a nation that has killed nearly 10 times as many defenseless people as the Holocaust is certainly deserving of severe judgment.

So, on the one hand, we continue to sanction the killing of unborn babies. On the other hand, we are going to have a court case to debate the whether chimps and other cognitively complex non-humans should have similar rights as humans. I cannot laugh at this. And given the inability of American courts specifically and society generally to hold onto well established and universal cultural norms, I have no confidence that we will not find ourselves giving more non-humans “human rights” even as we decide certain humans (the unborn, the imperfect, and the aged) should not have them.

God’s Word assures us that He will bring history to its perfect conclusion, and that He will judge with perfect righteousness. My confidence in Him and His plans is not diminished, even as my confidence in our nation’s future continues to diminish.


 Odds and Ends

Thanks for all the wisdom!  I’ve enjoyed reading the quotes that a number of you sent to me after last week’s Update, and am adding many of them to my files. In a few cases there were quotes that have been other favorites of mine as well. The collected wisdom of  generations past and present can be a gold mine indeed!

Pastoral Internship Available! As many of you know, Grace has a pastoral internship program that allows young men headed to ministry to serve closely alongside me in day to day pastoral work as a means of training and learning the nature of the pastor’s role. We have been blessed over the years by some of the men who have filled that role around here (Michael Strawser, Stuart Olley, Tyler Kirkpatrick, and Wade McComas are the last four). We are looking for candidates who might want to serve in this role beginning in the fall. If you know of a upperclassman or recent graduate who believes they are called to pastoral ministry and would be a good candidate, have them email me here for an application.

That’s it for now. See you Sunday, Lord willing. Love you, Grace family!

Pastor’s Update | Some Smart Sayings | Quotes that made me think this week

Some Smart Sayings

Quotes that made me think this week

I love good quotes, and too often I lose track of them. I came across a few this week that were pretty good, and I’ll share them with you–that way I won’t lose them, and you can have them, too!

“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China… I don’t know who it was… It must have been a man… a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing… and God looked down… and saw Gladys Aylward… And God said – ‘Well, she’s willing.'” ~Gladys Aylward

I don’t know if you know the story of Gladys Aylward, who was a young, uneducated girl from Great Britain who worked as a housemaid, was told she couldn’t be a missionary to China, but spent her life savings and went anyway–having to walk from Siberia the final leg of her journey. She did amazing work and her story has been told in books and a Hollywood movie (that so glamorized her that she was mortified), but she never lost her humility. In that humble mind-set, she tackled incredible odds in very difficult circumstances and brought many to Christ.

I read this quote and thought about its clear theological error–she certainly was God’s choice for his work, even over a “well-educated man.” Paul tells us God chooses the “foolish things” to confound the wise. But I love her humility, and her understanding of the priority of surrender and willingness. Are you willing to be used, even if you don’t have what the world may tell you it takes?

“Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”~Josh McDowell

McDowell was being quoted by someone else when I heard this, in the context of authoritarian parenting. The speaker was saying parents must manage the task of being an authority in their children’s lives (“children, obey your parents in the Lord…”) without resorting to an “authoritarian” approach (“I said so, that’s why”). That is a tough balance to strike isn’t it? That is, until we see how God does it with us. Now, of course he gives lots of commands and doesn’t always give reasons. But because he has revealed himself so fully, we know his heart is for us, his love is given to us, his nature is totally good, and we have a relationship with him. When we give our kids rules, but do nothing to build relational capital (they know we have their best interests at heart, that we love them, and that we believe in what God is doing in them), they will rebel. It may be outward or inward, and I think the second kind is harder to handle.

“In one sense, this injunction [Philippians 4:4] is so self-evidently right that it is embarrassing that we should have to be reminded of it. Surely all redeemed men and women will want to rejoice in the Lord. Our sins have been forgiven! We have been declared righteous because another has borne our guilt. We have received the gift of the Spirit, the down payment of the promised inheritance that will be ours when Jesus comes again. We are children of the living God. Our ‘threescore years and ten’ may be fraught with difficulty, but eternity awaits us, secured by the Son of God. We shall see Christ face to face and spend an eternity in the purest worship and in consummated holiness. If we fail to respond with joy and gratitude when we are reminded of these things, it is either because we have not properly grasped the depth of the abyss of our own sinful natures and of the curse from which we have been freed by Jesus or because we have not adequately surveyed the splendor of the heights to which we have been raised.”~D. A. Carson, in Basics for Believers: an Exposition of Philippians (p. 104). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996.

I shared this on Facebook earlier this week, and I share it again here because I can’t seem to escape it, especially the last part. How is it that I can, so often, read of, hear about, or even contemplate the blessings of salvation and not be overwhelmed with joy? Am I still so oblivious to the depths of my own sin and the judgment it deserves, or do I fail to grasp the wonders of what God has in store for me? Either way, I surely need God to work in my heart to cure this joy-killer!

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”~C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

I saw this again this week, and include it simply because every time I see it I am reminded to ask God to deepen my desires for things that bring true and lasting delight, rather than the shallow pleasures (not always bad, but destructive when made ultimate) of this life.

Do you have a favorite quote, new or old? Share it with me if you like! 

Rosenberg Simulcast This Sunday Night!

This Sunday night at 6 pm, join us in the auditorium for a special simulcast from Joel Rosenberg on the current situation in the Middle East. This free event is open to all (an offering to help defray the cost will be taken) and we encourage you to come and bring anyone who might be interested.

All eyes have been riveted on the ISIS offensive in Syria and Iraq in recent months. But Radical Islamic jihadists are also intensifying their operations against other countries in the region. This is news to some but no surprise to those that follow closely the prophesies and stories of the Bible. Very few have traveled the lands, conducted the research, or written the texts that continue to point out the eschatological happenings all around us.

Joel C. Rosenberg, New York Times best-selling author and Founder & Chairman of The Joshua Fund shares insight into this most dangerous time for Christianity in the history of the region Rosenberg calls the “epicenter.” He shares firsthand the fight of the persecuted, the prophetic implications, and potential answers to a pending question… Who is the third target of this rising Islamic State?

During the simulcast, he will answer questions such as:

· What is the “Islamic State” (aka, ISIS and ISIL) and what are its objectives?

· Why is ISIS so much more dangerous than al Qaeda?

· Why does Joel say “genocidal conditions are emerging” in Syria and Iraq?

· Why is ISIS trying to destroy Christianity in the lands of its birth, and could it succeed?

· What are the prophetic implications of this horrific wave of persecution?

· What are The Joshua Fund and other Christian ministries doing to make a difference?

· How can Christians throughout North America and around the world pray for and help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East?

Odds and Ends

What Next?  If you are keeping track, you might have noticed that we are running out of chapters in Philippians. In fact, we are in the last one! That means we have a new sermon series coming, and it will cover some familiar material in a different way.

The series is entitled “Crisis@Home” and it is an attempt to deal with major fault lines, questions, and challenges facing Christians as we seek to build biblically faithful families. Modeled after the approach we took in the “No Easy Answers” series, these messages will not just be biblical descriptions of family roles and responsibilities, but an attempt to apply biblical truth to the many situations where family life seems to be falling apart and offer both hope and practical instruction as to how to strengthen the church family and its family units at a time when so much seeks to undermine it. You’ll be hearing more in the coming weeks…

Live Streaming works! Over 30 people listened in this week live to our sermon live stream, including one family from their car while on the road (thanks to the Mixlr app on their phone). If you can’t be here on any given Sunday, and won’t be worshiping elsewhere, remember you can hear the message as it is given. Just go to the church website and click on the Mixlr button, or download the Mixlr app for your phone, search for “GraceBaptistOH” and you will find us! It even lets you know when the stream is live. It sent me a notice that it was live Sunday–but I already knew that because I was preaching! 🙂

That’s it for now. See you Sunday, Lord willing. Love you, Grace family!