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September 08th, 2010 | Author:

As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the battle continues to rage over plans to build a mosque near ground zero; a church in Gainesville, Florida has dubbed the day International Burn a Quran Day; and analysis of the 9/11 text messages posted by Wikileaks reveals that the greatest emotional response to the attack was not anxiety or sadness, but anger.   Here’s a chart showing how we felt as the day progressed:


I submit that the anger represented in this chart has only continued to increase over the past nine years.  Not satisfied with destroying Iraq and Afghanistan, with murdering  thousands of civilians, we seek further revenge.  We want to burn their holy books and prevent them from building their holy buildings.  In our hearts, we don’t want them in our country.  As many people I know would say privately, “kill the towelheads.”

I am not concerned with how the “many people” act.  As Paul told us,

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

But I am deeply concerned with those who call themselves Christians, particularly those in public places, for I am seeing and hearing little on this subject that reflects Christ.  I am particularly grieved by the common attitude that Americans “deserve” the respect of Islam, that our desires are more important than theirs, which is the complete opposite of this biblical injunction:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;  (Philippians 2:3)

If we are truly living for Christ, then our concern would be to win Muslims to Christ, not satisfy our own sensibilities.

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Do not mistake my meaning.  I am not among those who think that all religions are equal, or that Muslims are going to heaven.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

I believe this completely, and am convinced that until I was born again at 39, I was destined to hell.   No good deeds or acts of martyrdom will gain us access to God.  Only repentance and faith that Jesus died for our sins can accomplish that.

So then, if we have truly been saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, our response should not be to banish Muslims or denigrate Muslims, because it is not Muslims that we battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

This is an oft-quoted verse, but at least as it relates to 9/11 and Islam, few Christians seem to actually believe it.  We respond no differently than the world.  We want to keep what we think is ours, and forget that it all belongs to God.  And we want revenge.  Oh, how we want revenge.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

If we continue to seek revenge, if we continue to try to outlaw Muslims in this supposed land of the free, then we are exposed as hypocritical Christians and have already been overcome by evil … and Islam has won America.

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July 14th, 2010 | Author:

With the myriad of churches around the world divided by denominational and doctrinal lines, there’s one thing that almost all have in common.  You’d think (and hope) the commonality of Christianity would be Christ, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are many Christian churches today that deny the atonement of the cross, among other things.  No, the one thing churches have in common is “the pastor.”

Walk into most any church, and you will find rows of chairs or pews facing a pulpit (or a platform or a stage).  That’s probably the most conclusive method of determining that you are in a church.

While others may make an appearance, the position behind the pulpit belongs to “the pastor.”  This is where he/she stands to conduct a worship service.  It’s the place where “The Word” is delivered to the people each Sunday morning.

And when the pastor is not behind the pulpit, he’s doing all the other things that make a church a church.  He’s visiting the sick, mediating disputes, baptizing infants or adults, preparing sermons, consoling the bereaved, setting a vision for the church, teaching Bible studies, making decisions, and generally running him/herself ragged.

In most cases, without the pastor there is no church.  Given this emphasis on the position, I think we should see what the Bible has to say about it.  Ready?

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

That’s it.  The word pastor appears in the Bible just this once, translated from the Greek poimen, and even then it’s part of a list.

So why is a position that has so little biblical emphasis the one that most clearly defines the church?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but here are a few possibilities that occurred to me.

  • Following a flesh-and-blood person that you can see behind the pulpit each Sunday is a lot easier than following the Holy Spirit, whom you never see.
  • It’s far easier for pastors to adopt some form of the Old Testament priesthood than to follow the Holy Spirit, too.  A scripted worship service is much more predictable.
  • Before the printing press, when most people were illiterate, it may have made some sense for one person to read from the limited number of biblical scrolls that were available. That can only apply now to those in repressed countries where the Bible is forbidden, especially in light of the internet.
  • Like the hypocrites Jesus refers to in Matthew 6, some pastors like having a title and a position that brings honor to them from other men.
  • Some pastors, like some CEO’s, like the power of their position.  They like being in charge and making the decisions.
  • People often prefer having their ears tickled from the back of the church once a week than being accountable to one another, day in and day out.
  • Tradition.  For most of church history, there’s been a priest (or a pastor) behind a pulpit.  Why question something that is so well established?

Why?  Because I don’t think God ever intended that the church be arbitrarily divided into clergy and laity.  I don’t think He ever intended that worshipping Him be reduced to a Sunday morning formula.  I don’t think our mindless rituals bring Him honor or pleasure.

And I don’t think church as we know it draws people to Christ.  As this is our main purpose for being on this earth, I think we would be wise to give some prayer and thought to just what God did intend that His church look like.  I don’t have all the answers to this, but here are some scriptures that I think give us clues.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:20-26)

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:19-26)

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  (Revelation 12:10-11)

In light of these verses, I think the real question then becomes, “Why don’t we do these things?”

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May 19th, 2010 | Author:

When I touched on America as a “Christian Nation” in my last Word for Wednesday, Rebecca from Freaky Frugalite left a comment that made me realize that much of the controversy surrounding this issue results from fuzzy terminology.  This post is an attempt to rectify that problem.  [I also want to acknowledge that a pithy comment left by Dave from Brainbiter resulted in the title of this post.]

In my attempt to do away with the fuzzies, I’ll start with some definitions in bold taken from the 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary.  My personal definitions are more  narrow (and blunt), so I’ve included my thoughts on each.

CHRISTIAN, n.

  1. A believer in the religion of Christ. Simply believing doesn’t cut it. Demons also believe. (James 2:19)
  2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. Many hypocrites profess belief in Christ with their lips, but their heart is far away from God. (Matthew 15:8)
  3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. No flesh will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law. (Romans 3:20)
  4. In a general sense, the word Christian includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents. Our first birth is immaterial.  We must be born again of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3-8)

NATION, n.

  1. A body of people inhabiting the same country, or united under the same sovereign or government; as the English nation; the French nation. It often happens that many nations are subject to one government; in which case, the word nation usually denotes a body of people speaking the same language, or a body that has formerly been under a distinct government, but has been conquered, or incorporated with a larger nation. Thus the empire of Russia comprehends many nations, as did formerly the Roman and Persian empires. Nation, as its etymology imports, originally denoted a family or race of men descended from a common progenitor, like tribe, but by emigration, conquest and intermixture of men of different families, this distinction is in most countries lost.
  2. A great number, by way of emphasis. This definition does not apply.
  3. The etymology of “nation” shows the root word comes from the Latin nationem (nom. natio) “nation, stock, race,” literally “that which has been born.”

While the following passages are not the only definitions of a Christian, they contain the elements that are closest to my heart, emphasis added:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:3-8)

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they [the Jews] heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38)

If being a Christian requires a second birth, a heart-piercing acknowledgment of sin, repentance from those sins, baptism, and a receipt of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and if a nation is comprised of people joined only by geography or government, who may or may not fit this definition of Christian; how can a nation possibly be Christian?   A Christian is an individual who has given their life to Christ.  It’s rare for an entire family to give their lives to Christ.  It stretches the imagination that even a small town would be comprised of all Christians.  An entire nation has never, and will never, be a Christian nation, regardless of the laws that may exist. It’s an oxymoron.

Governments are given the sword for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14) Whenever government steps beyond that narrow mission, it is no longer in God’s will.

By claiming that America is a Christian nation,  we claim that what is done by our government is done in Christ’s name.  On a smaller scale, it’s the same principle that applies to a car with a fish on the back.  If that car cuts someone off, or otherwise drives in a reckless manner, the driver brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

When our government tortures people and kills innocent people – like native Americans or those who live over oil fields or other coveted lands – it brings shame and reproach on the name of Christ.

Again, I have no doubt that many of those who founded our country were Christians.  I have no doubt that they did their best to create a government that would please God.  But that did not make us, or our nation,  Christians.

In a previous post on church and state, I concluded this way:

American Christians typically approach government from one of two perspectives. Desiring to help those in need, they use the government to redistribute wealth. Others, motivated to see repentance from sin, use the government to define and enforce moral behavior.

Both positions use the coercion of the state to enforce religious practice. Neither position draws people to Christ, and in fact, interferes with the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, it allows Christians to avoid their personal obligation to speak the truth with love, help those in need, and preach the gospel to all creation.

If Christians truly desire to draw others to Christ, they will not force society at large to fulfill their responsibilities. Moral laws do not change people, they only create self-justified hypocrites or criminals. Neither do laws save people. God changes people, and God alone, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, can save people.

I believe the real, underlying problem in this controversy is a matter of motivation.

If our goal is to make this world a better place according to what we consider important, which is largely based on dominionism – to raise moral standards, to reduce poverty levels, to educate, to increase longevity – then passing  laws  may accomplish that, although a recent NY Times article by David Brooks points to a conflicting result:

Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They’ve done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They’ve done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

Again, huge policy differences. Not huge outcome differences.

I suspect that if someone could calculate the Christianity of  two different countries, one of which had laws about a National Day of Prayer and many Christian symbols strewn about, and the other which completely ignored religion, the results would be the same.  Governments do not make Christians.  It’s not their job.

If our goal, however, is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15), then government laws are at best irrelevant, and at worst counterproductive.  As Jim from the Chestnut Tree Cafe commented on the previous post, the atmosphere of the palace has always been deadly to the Church. Persecution is the food on which she grows.

We can fight to keep the National Day of Prayer and the other Christian elements contained in our government.  Or we can fight for souls.

God gives each individual the free will to choose to repent and follow Him, or to continue on the path to hell. Government should do the same. The language of the First Amendment in this regard is God-given:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ;

Among the last words attributed to Jesus in the Bible are these, addressed to the church in Laodicea:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16)

Government laws, if they do anything, create lukewarm Christians.  What a heart-breaking tragedy.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’  (Luke 13:23-27)

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October 21st, 2008 | Author:

German Reformer Martin Luther declared: “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”

If only that desire would fill our hearts today.

[Note: This is part of a series on tidbits of church history, taken from An Almanac of the Christian Church by William D. Blake. Click here to see the whole series.]

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September 11th, 2008 | Author:


1857 – Mormon fanatic John D. Lee was angered over President James Buchanan’s order to remove Brigham Young from the governorship of the Territory of Utah. In retaliation, Lee incited a band of Mormons and Indians to massacre 120 California-bound emigrants in Mountain Meadows, Utah. [The Mountain Meadows Massacre is surrounded by controversy. PBS said Lee was "a man whose life was stained by tragedy." The wikipedia entry is much less sympathetic, stating that "Lee led the initial assault, and falsely offered emigrants safe passage prior to their mile-long march to the field where they were ultimately massacred." They were unarmed.]


1962 – American Trappist monk Thomas Merton observed in a letter: “We have not known and tasted the things that have been given to us in Christ. Instead we have built around ourselves walls and offices and cells and chambers of all sorts, and filled them full of bureaucratic litter, and buried ourselves in dust and documents, and now we wonder why we cannot see God, or leap to do His will.”

[Note: This is part of a series on tidbits of church history, taken from An Almanac of the Christian Church by William D. Blake. Click here to see the whole series.]

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