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The Greatest Generation

6 Mar

This week I visited a church member in the ICU of a local hospital. Even though he had been through a rough time, he was able to talk with me and in our conversation he referred to his time in combat during World War II.  As I talked with him, I was humbled and a little overwhelmed to be the pastor of a man who had given so much for his country.  As I walked to my car, I couldn’t help but think of others in the church I serve who are also World War II veterans.  In the short time I have been pastor here, we have buried several of these veterans.  A number of years back, news anchor Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the World War II generation and he titled it “The Greatest Generation.”   I believe Tom Brokaw had it right; this generation is the greatest generation in American history.  Please allow me to share why I believe this statement is true.

1)  The World War II generation is a generation of deep faith.  Not every member of this generation is a born again Christian, but many are. Some came to faith during the war, while others came to Christ later in life, but the reality is that many of this generation came to a deep and abiding Christian faith. Practically every evangelical church in the post World War II decades has been filled with faithful members from this generation.

2) The World War II generation is a generation of hard work & sacrifice.  Many of them were children during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and grew up in families working hard just to survive. After the war was over, they came home, got married and began their careers and families.  In a very real sense, this generation built the America we know today. They built businesses, communities, churches, etc. Even in their retirement years, the World War II generation has stayed busy. They have worked until they were not physically able to work any more. That is no coincidence. Work is all they have known.

3)  The World War II generation is a generation of a healthy patriotism. I have never met a World War II veteran who thought America was perfect. However, each one loves their country.  Many of them have seen first hand the results of evil and despotism.  They take the phrase “land of the free and the home of the brave” to heart.  They came up in a time when the American flag transcended Democrat or Republican  – it was a symbol of our whole country and what it stands for. Certainly, we do not worship America, but the Greatest Generation shows us how to love America in a healthy way.

According to the National World War II museum, 16 million Americans served in World War II.  Today only about 855,000 remain alive. They are dying at the rate of 492 each day.  In Alabama, there are only 12,700 left alive in the entire state.   Let’s take the time to thank and honor those members of the Greatest Generation that we know. Unfortunately, we do not have very long to do so.

Clash of the worldviews

20 Feb

Dr. Del Tackett who helped produce Focus on the Family’s excellent series “The Truth Project” defines a person’s worldview in this way…

A person’s worldview consists of the values, ideas or the fundamental belief system that determines his attitudes, beliefs and ultimately, actions.

It’s important to understand that there are many worldviews in operation today. Very often these worldviews are shaped by religion.  For instance, the worldview of a Bible believing evangelical Christian in Alabama is very different from the worldview of a Muslim in Egypt.  However, if a person is an atheist or if they make decisions as if there is no god, then that is a worldview as well.

A quick glance at the world headlines reveals that we are watching a clash of worldviews play out in international affairs. The rise of ISIS and Iran’s continuing march toward a nuclear weapon all reflect worldviews in operation. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a clash of worldviews. China is operating out of its worldview – very different from the Middle Eastern worldview but still a very definite worldview.

Here at home in the United States we are seeing a clash of worldviews that is no less real.  Over the last few decades, the United States has gradually replaced the Christian worldview with a secular worldview.  The moral revolution that our nation has experienced is the direct result of this change.  The clash of worldviews is playing out in every segment of American culture right now.  The cultural elites look at Bible believing evangelical Christians and wonder why we do not just “go along” and “get on the right side of history.”  They do not understand that we are operating under a worldview that values the approval of the Lord above the approval of men.

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1–2, HCSB)

The silent judgment of God

13 Feb

“In a world where anything goes…eventually everything will.” –  Dr. James Merritt

I had forgotten about that quote until I saw it today in a friend’s Facebook post. To be honest, it is a fitting quote to describe this week.  Of course, here in Alabama the week began with court battles over the definition of marriage. I have addressed that issue in earlier posts. The work week is ending with the debut of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey which appears set to become a hit with millions flocking to see it this weekend. The book series that inspired the movies has already sold millions of copies. I was blissfully unaware of either the books or the movie until recent days. Thanks to several Christian bloggers that I follow, suffice it to say that I very quickly learned far more than I cared to know about the background and subject matter of that series of books and movie. It is the big movie on multiple screens in the area where I live and all over the country today.

Yes, I can already hear the voices of those who say, “OK, if you don’t like it, then don’t go to that movie.”  I assure you that I will not. In fact, I will go so far as to say that anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ has no business going to see that movie (and many others for that matter). The issue of Christian standards isn’t what is on my mind today.  The issue on my mind today is a culture that is almost daily casting aside moral boundary after moral boundary. This issue isn’t just seen in the battle over the definition of marriage. When a film like Fifty Shades of Grey can be celebrated as a mainstream film fit for consumption at the local theater alongside kids going to see Paddington Bear, then what is next?  Can someone please tell me where the moral boundaries are for almost anything?  In America now anything goes….and everything is.

As a preacher/pastor for many years now, I have frequently preached that America needed to wake up or we would face the judgment of God. When we think of the judgment of God, we tend to think in terms of the fire and brimstone that reigned down on the Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  There are certainly biblical examples of the judgment of God coming loudly, quickly, and with devastating effect. However, there is another way God’s judgment is expressed which is often overlooked. I call it the “silent judgment of God.”  No fire. No brimstone. No voice from heaven proclaiming judgment. No particular day when it begins. Yet, the silent judgment of God also brings devastating effects. The silent judgment of God comes when He allows a group people to totally go their own way and reap the consequences. The silent judgment of God comes when God does nothing and lets a people go in their sin.  The book of Romans begins with a description of this silent judgment of God. Several times in Romans 1, the Bible says that God delivered the people over to their own desires. That’s the silent judgment of God.

For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error. And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die —they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.” (Romans 1:18–32, HCSB)

Some will say the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is an indication that America had better repent before the judgment of God comes. Personally, I wonder if it is an indication that the silent judgment of God is already here.

Speaking the truth in love

6 Feb

There is absolute truth.  I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation and the only way to Heaven. I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ literally died on the cross for the sins of the world and literally rose again on the third day.  I believe the Lord Jesus Christ is literally coming again to this world where He will finally defeat Satan & those he leads.  I believe there is a literal Heaven where those who have placed their hope in Christ will spend eternity.  I believe there is a literal Hell where all who reject Christ will spend eternity.  I believe God created the heavens and the earth. I believe the God who created the heavens and the earth also created the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman as the universal building block of human society.  I believe we all stand as sinners before a Holy God and the only solution for our sin was the Cross where Jesus died. I believe there is hope for any person on the face of the earth who will repent of their sin and place their faith in Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation.  Here I stand. I will hold these (and other) convictions until my last breath. Anyone who knows me or who has listened to many of my messages will not be surprised. These convictions guide how I live out my life every single day.

My convictions have not changed, but the culture & environment I minister in is transforming rapidly.  There is a growing cultural hostility toward people who hold these and similar views. Recent events in our nation and even my own state have made it clear that the government and the courts increasingly do not affirm such convictions.  In fact, it seems that some in the government and the courts are actually adversarial to those of us who hold Biblical convictions.  The news media and popular culture have long despised Biblical convictions.  Many people are understandably angry and respond in ways that aren’t helpful. Others attempt to give a reasoned, winsome defense of the “faith once delivered to the saints” in the public arena to varying degrees of effectiveness.  Virtually all of those reasoned, winsome voices for truth get disparaged, shouted down, marginalized, and labeled as hateful, bigoted, or worse.

Today as I sit at my desk reflecting on how the landscape of culture has changed even in my beloved state of Alabama, I am also overwhelmed to think of the people. Outside my office window I can hear the vehicles roaring down I-459.  The majority of those in those vehicles do not know Christ. In any direction we look there is ample evidence that the moral, cultural revolution that has taken place over the last few decades in our country has brought incalculable harm.  There are more broken homes and more no homes. There is more poverty, more anger, more abuse, more addiction, more depression, more confusion, and more pain than ever before.  Everywhere we look there is more and more brokenness of every kind.  Go to the wealthiest zip codes and the poorest zip codes. The story is the same: more brokenness of every kind. Yet, America seems intent on continuing down the same path at a rapidly accelerating pace.  I do not know how all of this will play out, but I am absolutely certain of one prediction.  Continuing down the path that has brought us great brokenness will result in even greater brokenness. My heart aches for people.  They need hope.  True hope is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way…” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)

That verse challenges me more today than ever before.  If I am a faithful Christian and pastor, then I am to speak Biblical truth and be a man of staunch conviction.  If I am a faithful Christian and pastor, I am to love even my enemies and love my neighbor as myself.  If I am a faithful Christian and pastor, then I will have a spine of steel conviction and a heart overflowing with love for people no matter their convictions, religion, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, attitudes, or actions. If I am a faithful Christian and pastor, I will speak the truth, but speak in a way that communicates love – both God’s love and my own.

That great balance of truth and love requires more prayer and thought today than ever before. It’s a daunting task. Thankfully, we have a great example to emulate from a well known preacher. This preacher has the perfect blend of truth and love. This preacher deals with “hot button” issues like relationships, sex, temptation, marriage & family, money, sin, Heaven, and Hell. He pulls no punches.  Yet, this preacher’s love for people has prompted many to call him “a friend of sinners.” He has brought  hope and new life to people everyone else gave up on. Perhaps you’ve heard of him:  the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, in today’s challenging cultural environment, help me live, preach, and love more like Him.

 

The new tolerance isn’t the old tolerance: Josh McDowell saw it coming

16 Jan

In 1996 I attended my second Southern Baptist Convention in the New Orleans Superdome. One of the speakers was the well-known Christian apologist Josh McDowell.  In his sermon to Southern Baptists that year, McDowell surprisingly did not speak about the evidence for the Christian faith.  Instead he discussed the rise of what he called “the new tolerance” in America and the challenges it would present for the Christian church.

According to Josh McDowell, the “old tolerance” as he described it was the type of tolerance that had been ingrained in American culture. Intertwined with the American ideal of personal freedom, McDowell described the old tolerance as the idea that I can respect your right to have your beliefs and practices without sharing or affirming them.  The old tolerance meant the free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and practices for everyone.   Then McDowell described the rise of what he termed the “new tolerance” which is a totally different concept.  The new tolerance demands affirmation.  The new tolerance says you do not have the right to do anything but affirm my beliefs – even if you don’t share them.  If you do not affirm whatever I believe or want to do, then you are a bigot according the new tolerance and unworthy of respect or a voice in society.  McDowell went on to describe the effects of this rising new tolerance that he was seeing on college campuses where he spoke. He shared how the new tolerance sought to silence and ostracize anyone who did not go along. He predicted that the new tolerance would eventually lead to the overthrow of American morality and present the greatest challenge to the American church of the 21st century.

As I walked out of the Superdome that day, I saw a pastor friend who was a mentor of mine. He looked at me and said, “That was a prophetic word by Josh McDowell, he is exactly right.”  To be honest, I really didn’t think much more about it. After all, I was a busy young pastor and seminary student struggling to keep my head above water.  However, I have gone back in my mind to that day in New Orleans many times recently.

A simple check of the news reveals what is happening.  Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states.  Christian photographers and bakers are being sued because they refused to participate in gay weddings.  Each week brings new stories about how our public schools and colleges are descending into moral insanity while they are busy affirming every lifestyle or belief system – except any lifestyle or belief system that refuses to affirm all other lifestyles and belief systems!  Many who work in corporate America report the unspoken pressure that is felt to keep conservative Christian beliefs to yourself or risk losing promotions, positive reviews, or even the job itself. The city of Atlanta just terminated its fire chief because he espoused his Christian beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage – beliefs which could not be tolerated by the new tolerance running rampant in Atlanta.  Incredibly, at some point in all of the controversy, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was quoted as saying he took action against the fire chief because he (the mayor) works everyday to ensure that Atlanta is “a welcoming city for all citizens – regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, and religious beliefs.”  Chief Cochran and the many thousands who share his beliefs certainly don’t feel the welcome.

The message could not be more clear:  Biblical beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and morality cannot be tolerated.  Why?  Because the new tolerance only works for those who go along. Anyone who dares to disagree must be ostracized and silenced.  Their views cannot be tolerated. We are assured by many leaders that everything is fine because we can believe whatever we wish in our “pews, hearts, and homes.”   Everyone still has “freedom of worship” in the church of their choosing. They say everything is fine.  Don’t you believe it for one moment.  Our nation is headed down a path that will inevitably lead to tyranny and a loss of freedom for everyone.  Even more tragically, many millions of people will enter the eternal destruction of a Christless eternity in hell having tolerated everything except the one message that could have saved them.

Josh McDowell saw it coming.

Two indispensable ingredients of leadership

7 Nov

Leadership is needed in all areas of life.  Leadership is needed in our homes, in our companies, on our sports teams, etc. Leadership is needed in the church.  Leadership is needed in government and civic organizations.  In fact, many of the issues that we face today can be traced to a lack of good leadership. Many books and blogs are written every month about leadership.  I enjoy reading some of them. However, as a person who has been on the front lines of leadership for over twenty years now, I have come to believe that leadership can be boiled down to two indispensable ingredients.  They are found in one verse of the Bible.

By any measure, King David was a tremendous leader.  He had courage.  He had people skills.  He was a successful military leader and a successful government leader.  He had a strong faith in the Lord – to the point where he is referred to as a man after God’s own heart.  In the book of Psalms, there is a section that describes God calling David from being a shepherd boy to being King of Israel.  Then there is this verse which describes David’s leadership…

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.” (Psalm 78:72, NKJV)

This verse identifies two indispensable qualities of David’s leadership…

(1)  INTEGRITY  David was king.  He had the position and the power.  However, the Bible says that what set him apart was his integrity.  Both history and today’s headlines are filled with those who enjoyed position and power but lacked integrity.  The truth is that people follow people they trust and believe in.  You lead from who you are first and foremost – not your position or title. This is certainly true in the church, but if you read what is written about leadership from a secular point of view you will find the same principle.  From talking with friends of mine in the armed forces, the best leaders today are those that people believe in beyond their rank or position.

(2)  SKILL  A leader is competent. A leader gets results.  The organization benefits from the presence of the leader.  Every leader has problems, but the successful leader deals with problems in a way that moves the organization forward.  People will not follow someone they know is incompetent. If they know you are competent, they will follow even if they disagree.

Integrity and skill are the wings of the plane in leadership.  One doesn’t work without the other.  All of the skill & competence in the world will not ultimately overcome a lack of integrity.  On the other hand, a sincere heart of gold will not produce results apart from skill.  Think about it. A lack of either integrity or skill creates unbalanced leadership and steers the organization into the ditch.  A lack of both quickly produces a disaster.

While I have read and benefited from many leadership books, the Word of God is best leadership text ever written.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Lord over Halloween

31 Oct

As a kid growing up on Sand Mountain, Halloween was always a fun time.  We knew all of our neighbors and trick or treating consisted of going to see people our family had known for years and getting treats. Certain neighbors always had certain treats for the kids. For instance, Chalmer and Verma Chloe Watkins allows had hot parched peanuts in the oven for trick or treaters. They so enjoyed watching us grow up and it was a community connection.  After I got older, there was church events with friends, hay rides, etc.  After becoming a pastor, some of the churches I have served actually had a “trunk or treat” party on Halloween night for the community.

At various times, I have had some Christians tell me that we shouldn’t acknowledge Halloween at all in the church.  They cited the holiday’s pagan origins and the frightening, demonic costumes and movies that are pervasive the week of Halloween.  Certainly, those are valid concerns.  From what I have read, Halloween does have its early roots in pagan festivals.  The website www.history.com has this to say about Halloween…

Evolving from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, modern Halloween has become less about literal ghosts and ghouls and more about costumes and candy. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead.  Over the millennia the holiday transitioned from a somber pagan ritual to a day of merriment, costumes, parades and sweet treats for children and adults.

If you turn on the television this week, you can’t escape ads for horror movies.  Haunted houses used to be fun, fund raisers for local schools, but now they are big business in metropolitan areas particularly. Certainly, evil is rampant enough today without celebrating it further!

Personally, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with letting kids dress up and go trick or treating. It’s all in fun and part of growing up in America.  There’s nothing wrong with going to a good, wholesome, fun party with friends tonight.  Personally, my son has a high school football game tonight, so we are going to dinner with friends and then on to the game. I’ll have on my normal costume that I wear every day!

However, Christians should take care to remember that spiritual warfare and the demonic realm is very real. It is nothing to laugh at or revel in.  On Halloween (and every day for that matter) Christians should take great care what we expose our minds to and what we participate in.  The boundaries and guardrails we have in our lives aren’t put on hold for Halloween.

Finally, let’s all let Halloween be a reminder to think of Jesus. He is not one of a bunch of “spirits” but rather He is Lord over all…

The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19, HCSB)

What should a Christian do about Halloween?  Worship Jesus. Love Jesus. Serve Jesus. Tell someone about Jesus.  Jesus is Lord over Halloween!

A thoughtful response to the gay marriage issue

4 May

I just came across this interview from USA Today.  The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco gives a very thoughtful defense of traditional marriage and the life of the unborn. While I certainly would have many theological disagreements with Archbishop Cordileone, I do admire his very strong stand on these issues and his responses are well worth taking your time to read. I particularly appreciated his answer to the final question regarding the trends in the courts and in society going against him.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/21/archbishop-cordileone-gay-marriage-catholic-church/2001085/