Billy Graham and Gun Violence

I never met the Reverend Billy Graham and I never heard him preach in person, but I know the message Billy Graham was about – The message that Jesus Christ forgives sin. And for all the controversy in the Church with some of the positions and decisions Billy Graham made in his life and ministry, his message was one that is both greatly needed in the conversation of our day, and one that will not be tolerated.

He Preached Sin

The influential voices of our day are not preachers, because faithful preachers of the Word of God preach sin, and to preach sin in our culture is to preach “intolerance”. To be for the Bible is to be against what God despises, and our culture does not accept such a message. God does not despise people made in His image; He does despise the evil of sin that every man, woman and child was born infected by. Billy Graham would not point merely to external factors as the greatest problem, but the virus of sin in the hearts of every man. He would not rely merely on laws, protests, and politicians to solve the problems of our day, he would herald the only answer for sin – A Savior, Jesus Christ!

He Preached Christ

Though Billy Graham had a place of immense influence with politicians and presidents, he came as an ambassador of a greater leader. His message was not swayed by the wind of cultural acceptability or political correctness, his message came from the Author of Salvation, the Creator of the Universe. Today, town halls and marches to discuss problems and create man-made solutions abound, but hearing from God empties rooms and draws nothing but critique. Religion is considered personal, and Jesus considered a figure of an old-school America (or backwoods America). To preach Christ, as preachers and people, is to choose a path of being marginalized. Never again will America allow a Billy Graham a seat at the table or a position of such influence, because never again will America listen to the voice of God or champion the miracle of salvation accomplished by Jesus.

He Preached Compassion

Though Billy Graham was known as a “fiery preacher”, he exuded the love and compassion of Christ. Conservative, Bible-believing Christians all-to-often just try to talk louder to make their case or win their argument. When Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and saw that the people were confused and hurting, like sheep without a shepherd, He was filled with compassion. It’s a rare word these days, because it means keeping your mouth shut (being slow to speak), putting others before yourself (quick to listen), and not accepting raging rhetoric and emotional outbursts as appropriate behavior (slow to anger). It sees not a moment to be won, but people who need to be cared for, with the greatest care someone can give being the love of Christ through the hands of His people. The answer will never be in laws, protests, town-halls, hashtags, pundits on FOX or CNN, metal-detectors, stricter background checks, better mental health care, active-shooter training, yelling parents or pictures of grieving kids … it will only always be through the compassion of a Savior who left heaven, took on human flesh, paid the ultimate price for our sin, rose from the grave, commissioned a church to make disciples, is seated at the throne of God, is sovereign over the planet He created, and will return to judge the living and the dead.

But God … 

Though from my vantage point of a local church pastor in a small community looking at the national conversation of important people and powerful politicians it all seems headed in the wrong direction … We are never without hope! Great Awakenings have dotted the history of our country; awakenings of people to their greatest need of forgiveness of sin through the power of a Savior. Awakenings brought about not by the plans of men, or programs of governments, but by the breath of God. Unless the Lord builds the house, the people labor in vain; and unless the Spirit moves there is no power. So we pray … and seek the face of God for His gracious help in our time of need. And we preach … and declare the timeless truths of the God of all Creation. Knowing that men’s hearts are the problem, Christ’s death is the answer, and only the Spirit of God can make the change!

Please please please pray with me for this move of God in our day!

What Target May Have Overlooked

Last week, Target, the “go-to” store for what you need, announced that – “In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” Right now this is a hot topic in our culture and one that surprisingly appears to me to lack the clarity on all sides needed. In turn it has become simply another “divisive issue” to go to war about between liberals and conservatives, organizations representing Christian morality and those championing inclusivity. I don’t think it has to be that way.

Obvious Differences

Let me start be recognizing I don’t expect we will ever bring both sides together to hold hands and sings songs. There are clear and obvious differences as to one’s belief systems, presuppositions, and authority. Behind these actions and the sides we take are both very personal beliefs and strongly held convictions. These don’t get uprooted by social activism or convincing arguments. But honor and dignity for every person created in the image of God, whether stated that way or not, is something we can agree on. We should be able to recognize that both sides hold strong beliefs related to their commitment to the authority of the Bible or the authority of “no discrimination tolerated”. DA Carson in his excellent little book The Intolerance of Tolerance so aptly points out a day when tolerance actually meant we respect each other’s opinions and beliefs even while strongly opposing them. We should be able to interact with opposing ideas and the actions corresponding to those ideas with honor, respect, and yes … tolerance. This does not mean we check or brains at the door, nor our obvious presuppositions based on theology, culture, or family values.

Protection For All

This is probably the point I am most confused about regarding this decision and ones like it. As a pastor of a church that champions the supremacy of the Scriptures I actually don’t have a problem with attempting to honor all people in retail stores through creative solutions that make everyone feel honored and cared for. The problem and obvious oversight appears to be when you make a decision to do that for one person or group that then puts another person or group in danger. How is that inclusivism done well? I don’t think the issue or problem we should be focused on is about whether a transgender person can select which bathroom to use, but those predators that will take advantage of this decision to openly prey on the vulnerable. I suspect that an individual born male who has transitioned to female might already be using the bathroom or fitting room labeled women. Perhaps without issue, controversy, or causing anyone to feel uncomfortable. The decision made by Target may be affirming that they are supportive of this choice and certainly that makes the transgender community feel supported. But what about those predatory individuals who now are given license to enter the bathroom, fitting room (and in some cases locker room) to take advantage of our children? If indeed the goal of Target is, as they stated – “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target”, then why in fact does that not apply to everyone including the most vulnerable in any culture – the children? Perhaps we can do better at thinking this one through … together.

Clearly Other Options

I have been known to go into the women’s bathroom from time to time. It’s true. At Starbucks, and other places, where single bathrooms are used, if the men’s bathroom is occupied and the women’s is not … well, yeah I sneak in and used the bathroom that doesn’t correspond with my gender. Without being crude, yes … there is a difference in the two bathrooms, but it’s not as if a man and women can’t use the same toilet. We need to be careful to not get too “up in arms” over the morality issue with those who clearly hold an opposing position. We might also want to recognize that in many cases stores have created “family bathrooms” for us dads who were alone with our young daughters in the store and needed to help them as they were potty training. It may mean that public establishments need to think more consistently about how to create appropriate options for everyone so that everyone feels safe and dignified. As a Christian, I care about Biblical morality, but I’m not that interested in having that intensely personal and immensely important subject over a urinal.

These are tough subjects, and they aren’t going to get any easier to discuss. But we would all be well served to not try to change people’s hearts by public attack. We must care for the vulnerable in our society. We must do our best to treat everyone with dignity and honor, especially those we disagree with. We must be willing to disagree and clearly make a case for truth. We must do all of that in a way that is salt and light to a world in need of a Savior!

What Might Star Wars and Your Church Have In Common?

This morning I heard a movie critic on the news describing the blockbuster-opening weekend of the new Star Wars movie. At one point he was celebrating the communal event of everyone in the theater together. I’ll admit I gasped! Communal event? Then I thought, yeah that’s probably right … that is the definition of a communal event in our culture – A lot of people in the same place united by a common pleasure who don’t know each other and leave feeling just as alone as when then arrived. I wonder how many people have that same communal event experience at their local church? They hear the words community, fellowship, and relationships, but have neither given nor received anything close to what those rich Biblical terms promise. Just what is the communal event that the Bible offers and what is being asked of me to participate in that event?

It requires inner attitudes other than those of consumers

 A consumer heads to the theater expecting to be entertained. He purchases a ticket in anticipation of being “wow-ed”. Once he enters his particular hallway he searches for a seat that gives him just the view he wants and situates himself in a way designed to repel others from sitting next to him. He’s quickly annoyed if someone forgot to silence their cell phone or a child becomes disruptive. And he leaves having formed his review to post online long before even opening his car door to head home. I’ll just say, as a pastor, that scenario is one of the most important things we combat in the local church. There is nothing in that movie-going description that should mirror that of a child of God entering the doors of his local church. He should head into his local assembly eager to worship the King of Kings in spirit and in truth. He has purposed in his heart what he will give to the work of the Kingdom. He looks for brothers and sisters to interact with, sit next to, and encourage through his engagement in the service. When the inevitable disruptions come he is patient with people in process, and those children being taught how to sit through a worship service. He isn’t quick to rush out, and hasn’t formed his lunchtime complaints. Rather, led by the Spirit, he looks for new people to introduce himself to, faithful friends with whom he can share the weeks heartaches, and people in need of a genuine embrace.

 It requires outer actions other than those of superficiality

 Now some people “get into” Star Wars and the new movie. They come dressed as movie characters, equipped with light-sabers and their childhood action figures. They may interact with one another, exchanging memories of days gone by, favorite scenes, or the buzz they read online about the direction this movie takes. But none of that touches the soul, nor lasts past the final credits … it just doesn’t have the staying power of relational depth. As the body of Christ we are to be engaged in intentionally redemptive relationships. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the movie we just saw, it just means that we won’t only talk about the movie we just saw. Maturing followers of Christ push for spiritual transactions not merely superficial interactions. Here’s a few descriptions of what those look like:

  • Selfless Questions – You don’t ask the question that you can’t wait to answer, you ask the question that invites someone to share life knowing they’ll be listened to. Selfless questions come from a heart that is ready to have self forgotten should nothing be asked in return. They are motivated simply out of a desire to serve another and the healthy human need to speak of their experiences and feelings.
  • Thoughtful Input – Do you ever prepare for a conversation you intend to have with someone on a Sunday morning? Yes, I mean you actually come with a plan to pursue seeking a particular someone out to share something you have been thinking through – a word of specific spiritual encouragement, insight God gave you as you prayed for them this week, an observation about their life that has taught you, etc. Input doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t always be) spontaneous … you can plan to give input.
  • Vulnerable Sharing – You get to let people into your life, even when they don’t ask. It’s called asking for help. Go to a friend (old or brand new) and ask them to pray for you. You do have needs don’t you? Why not think through what is weighing heavy on you, what is causing tension in your soul, or what is approaching fast that makes you fearful. My guess is that your step of faith in being vulnerable will be met with at least one question in return. Sure, some will feel caught off guard, but most will feel honored that you trusted them.
  • Godward Praying – When in doubt, pray. No really, if you don’t know what to ask, don’t have any Biblical insight to offer, and aren’t ready to share something about you … just ask if you can pray together. It might be awkward (at first), but imagine a truly communal event where people are actually being the community of God’s people. They don’t just chat, hang out, or rub shoulders … they turn to the Lord together with grateful hearts for the work of Almighty God who always cares for His children.

None of that stuff happens at movie openings … but all of that should happen at local church gatherings. So, practice community … then go see a movie together!

What Happened to Self-Control?

I sit here on Monday, September 14th, 2009 and within the past week a politician, tennis star, and celebrity musician have all acted with utter disregard to what used to be called “manners”.  Guess what Rep. Joe Wilson?  People don’t always say what you want them to say and agree with how you think things should be done, maybe they don’t even always tell the truth.  Guess what Serena Williams?  Line judges don’t always get it right and the calls don’t always go in your favor.  Guess what Kanye West?  People win awards other than you … you may not actually be the center of the universe.

I suppose it’s old fashioned to teach our kids to show self-control, to think before they speak, and that a wise person restrains his tongue … oh wait, of course that’s old fashioned because that’s in the Bible.  Oh Mark, you’re being sarcastic … Forgive me for expecting that our leaders (Wilson) and public figures (Serena and Kanye) actually set an example for us and our children.  Of course they are human, not perfect, and so I too can exercise my self-control in not condemning them, but it sure would be nice to see them actually do that old fashion thing called “take responsibility, and … yes, actually ask for forgiveness.”

Thankfully there are other role-models out there, yes even ones that don’t love Jesus but still understand manners, respect, and self-control.  Thanks to all of you who listened to your mom’s advice and hold your tongue and mind your manners when things don’t go your way.

Just a Rant,

Pastor Mark

The Church in Troubled Times

Yes, we are living in difficult economic times, this is unquestioned.  But is the Church in troubled times?  Or maybe the better question is how do we know if the Church is in troubled times?  Let me answer a few ways, but all of which are completely independent of economic hardship, or the cultural issues we may face in any given community.

1- Is Christ being preached?  When the Church moves away from the message of the cross, troubled times are upon us.  When the Church feels the need to be “relevant” over being “right” we’ve headed down a dangerous road.  We are only as “right” as we keep Jesus central in the teaching of the Church.  In a time when messages abound for “recovery” and “bailout”, our message rings constant and hopeful.

2- Are people being cared for?  When the Church moves away from the “one-anothers”, troubled times are upon us.  If people start looking out for themselves, keeping back for themselves, and trusting in their own resources rather than the limitless resources of God, trouble is upon us.  We are never, never called to hold back from giving to others, even when we have needs perhaps going unmet.  This is a time where the Church gets to stand out as very different from the messages of the day.

3- Is the Church moving forward in its Mission?  When the Church hesitates, or stops reaching out, troubled times are upon us.  We are called to the Great Commission, period.  And the reality of Church History is that often times her mission advanced greatly when troubled times were upon her.  So if anything, these days should be rich mission-directed times for the Gospel to advance through the Bride to the World.  

Let’s not change our message, stop our giving to others, or falter in pushing the mission forward.  This is faith in action, trusting God over trusting men, and being influencers of our culture, not scared of it!  

Join me in the Mission,

Pastor Mark

Michael Phelps – Swimmer and Sinner

My sons and I loved watching Michael Phelps make Olympic history this past summer, we were riveted to the TV, but guess what … he’s a sinner in need of a Savior.  No superhero, no rescuer … He too needs rescue.  Good to be reminded that even those of worldly success can’t take their gold medals to heaven and need the joy of the Gospel to fill up what their achievements only mask.  Read CJ Mahaney’s great post on Phelps here:

Pray for Michael to come to Jesus!


Can’t Swim, But Love Jesus,

Pastor Mark

A Growing Concern about “Honor”

OK, I rant … The established Church has often grasped for power, the true Church sought to live out love and humility.  Those interested in change grasp for having a voice, those passionate about God’s glory for unknown lives of faithfulness that point people to an all-glorious God.  I fear sometimes we get confused on this issue when it comes to how we treat, talk about, pray for, love and honor those in leadership over us … specifically now speaking of President Obama.  I have a concern for “honor” in the American conservative church these days.  I have read, heard, and observed those who seem to think whoever doesn’t agree with a Biblical World View should be treated with disdain, called evil, maybe even undermined.  This is so contra-Biblical and opposed to the Gospel Christ preached and lived.  Let me offer these few arguments in my defense …

(1) The word “honor” (timao) used in 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God. Honor the emperor (king) is the same verb Jesus used speaking of honor to His father (John 8:49), in the calling of honor to the Son (John 5:23), in honoring parents (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2); in honoring widows (1 Timothy 5:3); and in those the Father will honor who serve Him (John 12:26).  If we teach our kids to honor and obey their parents, but speak disrespectfully about the President we have established a double standard.  If we offer love and compassion to widows in need, but speak without love toward our leaders we are hypocrites.  If we say we love the Lord Jesus Christ, but refuse to speak with grace and honor to those He has put over us, we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

(2) If we take the example of Christ as a model for our service (Philippians 2:5) then our heart is to be that of humility and service, selflessness and not grumbling.  He loved to the ultimate, is our response to complain and attack to the ultimate?  He came for the sick, to heal and help, not to ridicule and despise those who stood against him (He reserved the ridicule and attacking for the religious frauds).

(3) How about the example of Joseph, mistreated by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten by friends, and he made no attacks, complaints against the leadership, he humbly endured and God elevated him.  What about Peter and John (Acts 4) who when they were told to stop preaching said they couldn’t but were willing to accept whatever consequences without grumbling or harsh words against their accusers.  Then there is Paul, who faced some pretty aweful stuff (2 Corinthians 6:4-10) but never attacked those over him, called them names, or dishonored those he sought to lead to Christ.

(4) If, as some believe, President Obama is evil and against the plan of Christ, then shouldn’t their response be as Jesus directed in John 15:20, not suprised and no need for alarm or attack in response, but rather humble acceptance as Jesus, our Master did?

(5) It seems to me I recall the Sermon on the Mount talking about loving enemies and praying for them.  I actually read a “Christian” leader say we shouldn’t pray for President Obama because his agenda is evil.  I guess I missed that caveat in Jesus’ sermon.  He said loving those who love and agree with you isn’t that hard, even the unbelieving world does that.  Do not you who oppose the President have an opportunity to demonstrated that you live the words of Jesus by how you respond to a situation that you call unjust?  Maybe it should be practiced.  I also recall that when President Bush was in office, these same voices wanted his attackers to treat him with honor, why do we not offer the same thing we were asking of others a few years ago?

(6) In a world where terrorism is an ever present reality we need to be far different.  Terrorists attack their enemies to hurt and destroy.  The pattern of the Christian martyr is to love their attackers and pray for their salvation. Why would Christians resort to attack, to dishonor and disrespect?

(7) If God wants to bring about His purposes for you, for the awakening of the Church, and for the glorious display of His character, we should welcome that, not only when it comes as we think it should, but whenever it comes.  

You can certainly disagree with leaders.  You can oppose what they teach and stand for.  You can debate and vote against an elected official, but let us follow the call of the Gospel in the way we love all people and honor the President.  I pray the Church in America will stand for truth these next four years … and will do it with amazing grace!

For the Love of the Church,

Pastor Mark