Meanderings of a Minister


I Pledge Allegiance

American flag flying in the wind

I have been writing this article for years.  I have written hundreds of articles for many different publications, blogs, newsletters, and web sites.  I don’t say that to boast, but to say that I do not think I have ever written an article like this one.  I should have written about this before, but have not.  I am not sure why when it seems so needed.  I have written on much more important issues than this one.  I have written on topics much less important than this.  I just have never written on this topic before.  What is that topic?

Not that long ago in our nation’s history, children all over our nation used to say these words at the beginning of each day of school.  Meetings were begun with these words.  Congress was started with these words.

 

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands:  one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.

You may know these words as the Pledge of Allegiance.  Do you know why we say these words?  Red Skelton did an amazing skit on his radio program explaining each word many years ago, so I won’t do that here.  But do you know why we say these words?

In 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus making it to our side of the world, these words were used throughout public schools.  Since then, the words have been modified one time, instructions for its recitation have been added to the United States Flag Code (Title 36), and schools have been instructed to recite it, but given permission not to, if they do not desire to do so.

On June 22, 1942, the pledge was officially added to Title 36 of the U.S. Code.  This was the official recognition of the words school children had been reciting for 50 years.  In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced or coerced into saying the pledge in school.  In 1945, the title was officially changed to the Pledge of Allegiance.  In 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower, as President, authorized the addition of the words “under God” to the pledge.  Other than that, the pledge has remained, and hopefully will remain, a unifying statement shared by all citizens of this nation.

With that being said, it is interesting to note how attitudes have changed over the years.  President Eisenhower authorized the adding of the words, “Under God”, for the purpose of distinguishing us from the officially atheist and communist Soviet Union.  In his official statement on that day, President Eisenhower stated, “In this way, we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

Did you notice that our President humbly admitted that he desired for our nation to be different than those around us?  This is the definition of holy.  He desired for our nation to be holy.  He further stated that our greatest asset in maintaining our freedom and prosperity would be to acknowledge God daily in our recitation of our Pledge of Allegiance.  To pledge our allegiance to America was to acknowledge the role of God in our history and our future.  How far we have fallen!

It seems that we are now trying to become like everyone else, which is unholy.  If President Eisenhower was right, and I believe he was, then to attempt to remove God from our nation is akin to sabotage.  To want the United States to become like every other nation is to cut our collective knees out from under us.  Perhaps it is time that we got back to living holy as individuals, and realize that we are only indivisible as a one nation when we realize we are under God and not take His place.

I told you it was going to be different.



Who Are You Following?
May 12, 2016, 8:57 am
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follow-the-leader

In the book of Judges, we find an interesting story.  The Israelites had been sinning against God, so God allowed Jabin, the king of Canaan, to harass them for twenty years.  During this time, Barak was the commander of the Israelite armed forces.  During this twenty years, Barak did nothing to fight against the foreign king so God raised up Deborah as a judge to deliver Israel.  Deborah told Barak to gather his forces together and to go to Mount Tabor and attack Jabin’s forces.  In Judges 4:8, we get Barak’s response, “If you [Deborah] will go with me, then I will go; but if you [Deborah] will not go with me, then I will not go.”

In other words, Barak was saying that he would not do his job unless Deborah went with him.  Now, there are a variety of reasons for this, but notice how different and how similar Barak’s statement was to that of Moses earlier in the Israelites’ history.  In Exodus 33:15, Moses said to God, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.”  Did you catch that?  Moses was saying that he would not lead if God did not go with him.  Barak was saying he would not lead if Deborah did not go with him.  Before you jump to wrong conclusions, allow me to make this observation.  The main difference was that Moses appealed to following God while Barak appealed to following a person.

That brings us to the title of this article.  Who are you following?  Many times people in churches follow a pastor.  When the pastor leaves, the people leave.  In Bible Study groups, people follow the Small Group leader.  When the leader leaves, the people leave.  For people who are following God, the leader, while important, is not the ultimate reason for attending, serving, and working in the church.  So, when the leader leaves, the people following God continue following God and doing what they have been called to do.

Now, you might object, “What about Paul?  He told the people to imitate him as he imitated Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)  Doesn’t that mean that Paul wanted them to follow him?”  Actually, the key to what Paul is saying is when he said AS HE IMITATED CHRIST.  What Paul wanted of the Corinthians more than anything was that they would follow Christ.  He told them earlier in the book not to divide up in church over what person you follow, but to follow Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)  He even went so far as to tell the Galatians that if he were to begin preaching another gospel, other than salvation by grace and through faith, they should remove him from leadership and treated him as an unbeliever. (Galatians 1:8-9)

So, who are you following?  Why do you go to church?  By the way, can I say that the people in the pews (or chairs) are not the only ones who easily succumb to this pressure of following people instead of following God.  Pastors and leaders can fall into this trap as well.  First, everyone likes to be liked, so there is a pressure to only do what will make the people of your church like you.  But what do you do when that Cult of Personality hijacks following God?  As leaders, we had better follow God, but this is not always easy.  Sometimes there are situations in which there is no clear, one-biblical-way, to do something.  We know what we need to do, but how to do it becomes a different situation.  Who do we follow then?  And how do we know we are following God and not just pridefully resisting someone we want to not have to follow?  How do we know if we are bowing to financial pressure, popularity pressure, or even job security when the way is not right before us?  It comes down to our relationship with God and whether or not He has given us enough direction to know we must die for our decision.  If we are following Him, we will persevere.  If we are going our own way, we will walk away.  If we are following someone else, we will follow them.

So, church leaders, church members, regular attenders, and even guests of churches would do well to ask the question, “Who are you following?”  Having asked that question, we need to be able to respond, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”



Ten Commandments of Christian Social Media, Part II
April 11, 2016, 3:21 pm
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Last week, we started looking at Craig Groeschel’s book, #struggles.  At the end of this book, Groeschel gives Ten Commandments for how Christians should use social media so that the usage matches their claim that Jesus is Lord of their lives.  The first five were as follows:

  1. Put God first in all you say and post.
  2. Love others as you want to be loved.
  3. Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.
  4. Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.
  5. Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you.

Sixth, do not post out of emotion.  When you are emotional, this is not the time to address sensitive issues in real life.  What makes us think it would be any better online?  If you are mad, sad, way too glad, or some other emotion you may be feeling extremely high or low, this can be a dangerous time to post.  Much like the syrupy love letters you wrote in middle school, emotional posts can be an embarrassment later.  The difference is that they live on forever in cyberspace and you never know when they will come back to haunt you.

Seventh, always reflect Jesus, loving God whether online or off.  The hallmark of a believer in Jesus is that they ought to love God, Jesus’ Father.  They ought to love Him in the way He desires to be loved.  How is that?  1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God; that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”  So how do we love God?  By obeying God.  How has God told us to treat others?  With love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  How has God told us to use our mouths?   Cleanly (Ephesians 5:3-5).  How has God told us reflect His character?  In truth (Colossians 3:9).  Make sure that the posts, texts, emails, pins, and anything else you do online reflect your obedience to those commands.

Eighth, do not use social media to fuel temptations.  Wait!  I know many people are automatically going to think of pornography when they read this statement, but temptations do often include pornography, even for believers.  Nearly one half of all website visits each year are for the purpose of pornography.  80% of Christian men responded to a survey from Focus on the Family indicating they had visited a pornographic website in the previous week.  But temptation does not only come from pornography.  For some, it is visiting amazon.com and shopping.  For others, it is zappos.com and shoes.  For some others, it is online gambling.  For still others, it is the temptation to be fake on social media to impress people and make people think you are better, richer, prettier, stronger, or more connected than real life.  Paul told Timothy, But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”  (1 Timothy 6:11)

Ninth, form your own opinions and don’t just follow the crowd.  For many people, seeing the trends of online activity causes them to want to adopt the same thoughts, values, or opinions.  For instance, many people were doing the bucket challenge to raise awareness of ALS.  Soon, celebrities were posting their videos as well as just about everyone.  People donated a lot of money to the research for ALS until they realized some of the money was used to harvest embryos for stem cell research.  Another trend is the self-promotion that comes from selfies.  Should we always be shouting to people, “Look at me!”  Should we instead have the same attitude as John the Baptist, “He must increase.  I must decrease.”

Lastly, do not base your identity on what people think of you.  Many people can become joyful of depressed depending upon the number of people who “like” their pictures, repin their pictures, retweet their tweets, or mention them and their blog.  We need to be careful that we don’t make public acceptance the measure of our worth.  Some people spend their time worrying what people think of them until they realize how seldom others actually do.  Instead, why don’t we adopt the stand of David in Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”

Let’s use social media, but let’s make sure it matches the rest of our lives in living for Jesus.

 



The Ten Commandments of Christian Social Media, Part I

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Craig Groeschel is the author of Lifechurch.tv.  This is a multi-campus church that reaches several thousand people each week.  Craig has written a new book, #struggles.  In this book, he asks the question if we are addicted to social media.  Are we more impacted by and committed to social media than we are to the One we call our Lord.  After eight chapters designed at helping us to see our problem, redirect our attention and refocus our lives, Groeschel listed the Ten Commandments of how a Christian should treat social media.  I found this list helpful and thought I would pass it along as a means of helping us to loosen the grip social media has on us, but also as a means of ensuring that our use of social media reflects the relationship with Christ we claim.

First, put God first in all you say and post.  It is too easy to use the distance of social media to embolden us to be ruder than we would be in person.  It can enable us to be careless or even to be deceptive in only showing others what we want them to see or to even try to fool them into thinking we are more than we really are.

Second, love others as you want to be loved.  What does this mean in social media?  Don’t be unnecessarily harsh, critical or demeaning on social media.  Just because you can respond to something does not mean you should.  There are some things we let go in real life, but feel we must say something on the web.  In addition, you should “like” people and things online as much as you wish others would like or repost your stuff online.

Third, we must use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships.  It is much easier to sit behind your desk and comment on posts than to actually go have a conversation with someone.  It is much easier to send an instant message telling someone you are sorry for their loss than it is to actually go and visit them and hug them and look into their tear-reddened eyes and suffer with them.  Don’t allow virtual relationships to replace actual relationships.

Fourth, use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol.  We must make sure that a good thing never becomes the ultimate thing.  If your cell phone is the last thing you check before you go to sleep, and the first thing you check in the morning when your eyes open, then you have a problem.  Social media has become an idol.  It is something that can control our moods, schedules, and even where we will travel.  This is the place of a master and Christians have said Jesus holds that place.

Fifth, turn your virtual cheek to posts that offend you.  Again, just because you can respond does not mean that you should.  When someone posts something against your favorite team, school, restaurant, or even your church or religion, you don’t have to respond.  I know this sounds like I am saying you should be ashamed of the Lord, but that is not the point at all.  When someone posts a blast like this, they are egging people on to engage in online warfare.  They are not interested in open debate and are not willing to consider anything other than their point of view, so engaging them is a lot like wrestling with a pig in the pigpen.  You both will get dirty, but they like it!  You don’t have to respond.

This is just the first half of the Ten Commandments of Christian Social media, but even just following these five would already eliminate much of the poor testimony of many Christians when using social media.  Just following these five brief instructions would take the teeth out of the criticisms of many online that Christians are hateful, uncaring, and hypocritical.  Look for the final five next week.



Who Is This Jesus We Worship at Easter?
March 21, 2016, 3:13 pm
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Jesus-Christ-on-the-Cross

I first wrote this article many years ago, but people have asked me to republish it time and time again, so here it is:

In Genesis…He is the Creator and the Seed of Woman that would overcome the Serpent

In Exodus…He is our Passover Lamb

In Leviticus…He is our High Priest, the Sacrifice for our sins, and our Cleanliness before God

In Numbers…He is the Cloud by day, the Fire by night, and the One High and Lifted Up

In Deuteronomy…He is the One True Prophet

In Joshua…He is the Captain of the Lord’s Army

In Judges…He is the Lawmaker, Judge and Jury

In Ruth…He is our Kinsman Redeemer

In 1 and 2 Samuel…He is the Prophet of the Lord

In 1 and Kings…He is our only King

In 1 and 2 Chronicles…He is the Source of Righteous Decisions and a Cleansing from Wrong

In Ezra…He is our Inerrant Scribe

In Nehemiah…He is the Repairer of Broken Down Walls and Lives

In Esther…He is our Advocate and Deliverer

In Job…He is our Dayspring and Living Redeemer

In Psalm…He is our Shepherd and our Song

In Proverbs…He is Wisdom Personified

In Ecclesiastes…He is the Goal of All Pursuit for Meaning

In the Song of Solomon…He is the Shepherd-Lover of our Souls

In Isaiah…He is the Coming Messiah and the Prince of Peace

In Jeremiah…He is the Righteous Branch

In Lamentations…He is the Weeping Prophet and the God of Faithfulness and Truth

In Ezekiel…He is the Son of Man and the Wheel within a Wheel

In Daniel…He is the Striking Stone and the Fourth Man in the Furnace

In Hosea…He is the Husband and Healer of the Backslider

In Joel…He is the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit

In Amos…He is the Heavenly Husbandman and Burden Bearer

In Obadiah…He is Our Savior

In Jonah…He is the Resurrection and the One Who Forgives

In Micah…He is the Messenger with Beautiful Feet

In Nahum…He is the Avenger of God’ elect, the Stronghold in the Day of Trouble

In Habakkuk…He is the Great Evangelist, and the God of Our Salvation

In Zephaniah…He is the One Who Restores the Lost Heritage

In Haggai…He is the Desire of All Nations and the Cleansing Fountain

In Zechariah…He is the Fountain of Life and the Son Who Was Pierced for us

In Malachi…He is the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in His wings

In Matthew…He is the promised Messiah

In Mark…He is the Wonder-working Servant

In Luke…He is the Son of Man

In John…He is the Word Made Flesh and God the Son

In Acts…He is the Ascended Lord, Voice from the Heavens and the Source of the Church

In Romans…He is the One Who Justifies

In 1 and 2 Corinthians…He is our Sufficient Lord

In Galatians…He is the One Who Brings Liberty from Sin and the Law

In Ephesians…He is the Christ of Great Riches and our All in All

In Philippians…He is our Joy and the Meeter of All Our Needs

In Colossians…He is the Fullness of the Godhead Bodily

In 1 and 2 Thessalonians…He is our Blessed Hope and the Coming King

In 1 and 2 Timothy…He is our Mentor and Mediator

In Titus…He is our Example and Devoted Pastor

In Philemon…He is our Friend and Brother

In Hebrews…He is our High Priest That Understands

In James…He is the Great Physician and Our Pattern for Daily Living

In 1 and 2 Peter…He is the Chief Cornerstone of Our Faith

In 1, 2 and 3 John…He is Love Everlasting

In Jude…He is the Lord coming with Ten Thousands of His Saints

In Revelation…He is the Lamb that was Slain, the Triumphant King, the Bridegroom, the Lord of Lords and the Final Say

How do you respond to a Savior like that?  You surrender in worship to Him!  No wonder we shout “He is Risen!”



What Stirs Your Heart?
March 10, 2016, 5:20 pm
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16780a_Heart-Bowl-Engraved-Ladle

Earlier this week, we listened as our very own Liberal High School Redskins played in the state basketball tournament.  They played a great game and came just a mere few points from winning the contest to make it to the medal rounds of the tournament.  As I listened to the game on the radio, I heard as the crowd seemed really into the game.  Our Liberal crowd outnumbered the home team.  I am pretty sure we out-cheered them as well.

This morning, I was reading my Bible and came across the following verse:

Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.” (Exodus 35:21, NASB95)

As I read this verse, I noticed what this had to say about Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness.  It says that their hearts stirred to be able to participate with God and contribute to the building of the Tabernacle, also called the Tent of Meeting.

As I thought about this reality, the following thoughts came to mind.  First, this incident happened after the incident with the Golden Calf.  God had told them they had sinned by worshipping another “god”.  The people had struggled with not being able to see the God they worshipped and so they built a “god” they could look at, touch, and handle.  God told them that they should worship no other “god” before the One, True, Living God.  On top of that, God allowed them to build a Tabernacle so that they would have a place to visit Him, worship, offer sacrifices, come to hear from God, etc.

Next, God told them to bring items for the building of the Tabernacle, but only if their hearts were stirred with the forgiveness they had been offered, the presence of God in their midst, and His position as their Lord.  How did the people react?  Their hearts were stirred and they gave.  And, boy, did they give!  They gave so much that Moses had to issue a directive for the people to stop giving because they had way more than they needed.

And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.” (Exodus 36:4–7, NASB95)

They gave until there was too much!  That is amazing!

As I thought about this reality in light of my experience with the basketball game, I wondered, “What stirs my heart?”  What really stirs my heart?  Do I really believe that my church serves God?  Does that stir my heart enough to help, to cheer them on, to give to make sure they have what they need to do the ministry God has called them to?  Do I really believe that my church is doing the work of God’s ministry?  Is my heart stirred to join with them in doing that ministry?  Am I fanned into flame to see that I contribute to the work personally, familially, gift-wise, time-wise, or any other way?  If not, why not?  Does it mean that there is something wrong with them?  Is there something wrong with me?  What is going on?

I guess that my prayer has to be, “God, help my heart to be stirred by the things that stir Yours.  Help me to enjoy the amusements of life, but help me to more enjoy musing on the things of You.”  What stirs your heart?



Passing of Saints
March 3, 2016, 11:12 am
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Dawn After the Dark

Just this week, I have watched as a friend said goodbye to his father.  His father was married for 70 years and was a deacon in his church for most of that time.  He was a hard worker, a great father, an amazing husband, and a friend to his pastor.

Later this week, I will say goodbye to a friend that was a stalwart in our church.  Her husband was the pastor at our church in its history for about 10 years and helped us to move to our current location.  My friend, Edith Scruggs, was a delightful lady that always had a kind word for me, no matter how much I fumbled through my sermon.  She was always complimentary of her church and a friend to those who were here.  She was generous, helpful, and faithful.

As I reflect on these two saints, and many more that I have had the privilege to pastor over the years, I am encouraged by their example, amazed by their legacy, and a little envious that they get to see Jesus before me.  I am encouraged by their example because they are proof that God is still at work around me.  Both of these saints mentioned above were well into their 90’s and were still as faithful as their bodies would allow.  They prayed when they could not attend.  They gave when they could not go.  They lifted others up when they needed someone to lift them out of bed.

Can I say that I want to be like them?  I think I can say this and be okay because they emulate the Apostle Paul when he said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)  They have shown a life dedicated to the display of the glory of God.  They have taken seriously the call to put others before themselves and lay down their lives for their friends.  They have shown what it means to be dedicated to their Lord and to love His Bride, the Church.

As I meditate on the legacy they have left behind, I have to admit to being a little intimidated.  They both seemed to live for God seemingly effortlessly.  They were so convinced of the reality of the presence and pleasure of God that they could do nothing but speak of Him often, share Him readily, serve Him humbly, love Him wholeheartedly, and represent Him faithfully.  They have shown what it takes to be wholly His.  As I struggle with managing a home, a church, trying to be all things to all people, I wonder if I will ever be grown into the stature they reached under the direction of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

All that being said, I realize they were not perfect.  I realize that Edith and Dillan were not flawless.  I think that gives me hope, but also challenges me at the same time.  It is a comfort because it means that God can use me as He used them for His glory.  It is a challenge because it means that I have no excuse for not submitting my life to God with the same abandon.  It further challenges me to ask, “Am I follow Christ like they did?”

As I think about these two, and many other, saints that have gone on to glory, I am reminded of the words of Psalm 116:12-19:

“What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation And call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones. O Lord, surely I am Your servant, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid, You have loosed my bonds. To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people, In the courts of the Lord’s house, In the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!”

Thank you, friends, for the reminder to give God all that I am and all that I have!




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