Word from the Pastor

Another Monument: God’s Throne Never Insulted by Small Petitions

Small_Petitions blog

Sometimes our God simply astounds me. I am not talking about what most people would think of as one of His more dazzling works. There are just tons of things that come along, little things, not to say petty, that in the grand scheme of God’s master plan, in themselves don’t amount to spit. But given the right context, the right spirit, the right time and purpose, our God uses insignificant things to accomplish monumental personal effects.

Take for example what the Lord did for Olsie and me this last Tuesday (July 12). This I want to share so that our benefit might also be yours as you too labor in prayer, yet sometimes timidly or reluctantly, fearing perhaps that your petitions may be too piddling to merit His divine interest. Friends, never underestimate His concern for the little things that affect you, a child of God. All of life, even the small stuff, is for God a laboratory where He tests, proves and polishes our faith and walk with Him.

In our case, it was nothing earth-shaking, mind you. But at the end of the day it was still another trumpet-sounding, faith-stirring moment of God’s fatherly care, spiritual nurture and a powerful stimulation of our perhaps stagnant faith.

On a Saturday morning a few weeks back we as usual were at the church office. Out her window Olsie noticed one of our senior couples on the far side of our church property slaving away with a chain saw and a wood chipper, clearing out and heaping up a tangled nest of small, shruffy trees and gnarly shrubs located to the side of Parkview. Like worker bees, they had piled up a considerable stack of dead and living vegetative debris, sawing off, piling up and chipping away like carpenter ants.

Just thrilled to see that ugly mess being cleared out, Olsie, mindless that she was still in her relatively good clothes and shoes, dashed out of her office like gang busters to see if she could assist. Shortly she was involved up to her elbows, sweaty and soiled up to her eyeballs. Diving right in, in short order a vagrant branch out of nowhere harshly flicked her right ear lobe with a stroke of painful violence. But, hey, enthused about the work, no harm, no foul.

Except there was a little unnoticed ‘damage’ after all. Unbeknownst to Olsie at the time, that branch had separated from her ear one of Olsie’s favorite earrings, a valued gift a friend had purchased for her at a spendy little shop in Cannon Beach. The loss however did not come to her attention until after the job was finished and we were having lunch with Del and Jane (the hard working couple I mentioned above). Jane happened to notice an earring gone missing. Aw, nuts.

Sure enough. And the bad news was that the probability of finding it was virtually nil. In all likelihood when that tree limb ripped it from her ear lobe, swatting it aimlessly into all that pile of stuff, branches, sticks, briars, dry leaves and who knows what, it could have landed anywhere, including the mouth of the chipper. Finding it would be a fool’s errand. Still, later that afternoon Olsie did go back to the spot to do a surface scan, just in case she got lucky and it turned up unmolested.

Now let’s get this in perspective. We are not talking here about losing something really important. Like a child, for example. Or a home or a job or a pay check or a credit card or your driver’s license and social security information, etc. By comparison this earring loss was trivial, to say the least. Nothing to lose sleep over. It would not break the bank to replace, still it was her favorite because it was so simple yet elegant and flexible, coming with quite a number of sparkling dohickees that she could easily change out according to her colors that day.

OK, no big deal in a serious world. But I myself wanted to recover it since for one thing, I just like to please her and two, she herself will do so little to please herself. I knew she was unlikely to spend even $30-40 for a replacement. So every other day since, I resolved to stride out to the scene of the accident and with my trusty eagle eye, wet or dry, see if I might spot it. Except I kept forgetting. By this week it had been at least three weeks, not to mention unhelpful rains and foot traffic of humans and dogs.

Then Tuesday my memory caught up with my mind. So as I lit out for my daily walk around the church block, I detoured for a search (but not too hopefully). But right off I could see it was a rather futile exercise. Light debris and mulch blanketed a fairly decent space. Immediately I complained to myself that a person would need a jewelry-sniffing dog to locate something so small as that even if by chance it escaped the chipper and was still hiding there somewhere.

Anyway, I’m there and I may as well get serious. So with my foot as my paddle, so to speak, I started stirring and parting the waters, first up this way, then down that way, then around to the east side, then the west side, eagle eyes on high beam, randomly kicking mulchy stuff first this way, then that, punching and punting little mounds of chips and mulch, and clumps of softened dirt, hoping just maybe to surface that earring. Passersby probably thought that man was looney tunes. After about 10-15 minutes of fully anticipated futility, I finally said, “Oh, heck, enough of that. Let’s get on with the walk.”

About 25 minutes later as I was circling back, I pondered taking one more stab at it.

You know, after so many years walking with God and being tutored in His school of prayer, I have discovered and the Scriptures confirm that Heaven is never insulted if God’s trusting people dare to trust the caring heart of God and bring our small matters as well as our big issues to the Throne of Grace. Especially when those prayers provide the Lord a convenient and seasonable showcase for whatever He wants to teach us and however he wants to mold us for His service.

So, about 100 yards from the site I just felt prompted this time around to pray about recovering that little item. My petition went something along these lines:

“Heavenly Father, I know it’s just a small deal. Nothing of great consequence hangs in the balance here. Yet I remember You are the same God who was there, when I was just a little boy and came to my dad crying because I had lost my Boy Scout knife, my favorite gift that day. Kneeling down beside dad in his bedroom, he prayed that You would help us find the knife. And within five minutes not far from our house, we discovered it in the grass. Father, you know what a lifelong imprint that experience in prayer registered in my mind. So, Father, I know you care about little things too. Heavenly Father, you know Olsie. She gives so much and asks for so little for herself. Father, it would knock her socks off if You helped me find that earring for her. And I personally would take that favor as a reaffirmation of your good hand upon me. If you agree that would be good and timely for me, please do so. Not my will, but yours be done.”

Arriving on the site just a few steps later, I resumed my quest. Just as before, I vainly kicked around the mulch this way and that for about 10 more minutes when at last I said to myself, “Well, I guess it is not what the Lord wills this time.” Even as I was speaking to myself, I booted another small mound of mulch and dirt laying near my right foot and . . . . Oh, my gosh, right there! Right there is was! Amazing! Sticking out, as my uncle once wrote, like an orange soup bean in a black cat’s bottom. Laying there as if it had been begging for three weeks, “Please, someone, pick me up.” Oh, Olsie, I thought, you will never believe this. Almost involuntarily, my heart in an ecstatic whisper spilled out onto my lips:

“Thank you, Lord! Thank you so much! Praise Your Great Name. I rejoice! Man, just wait ‘til Olsie sees this.”

Picking up the earring like a big eagle scooping up his prey, I hustled across the front lawn, shot into the office area and straight down the hall to Olsie’s office. There I found her engrossed in reading her Bible. Before she had time to look up, I tossed that lonely silver earring on her desk. The startled look on her face was priceless. Never will I forget it.

“Jimmy, how did you find that?!” she exclaimed, seeming instantly to perceive this was no accident. “The Lord!” I answered. “It’s time to head out. I will tell you on the way (to an appointment).”

Olsie was beaming like a crystal. By now her pure joy far transcended the mundane recovery of a trivial piece of jewelry. What stunned both of us was the display of God’s great hand in such a small concern. By now the earring was a precious sign, not so much a material substance. It could be lost again tomorrow. It wouldn’t matter. What mattered now was not the finding of mundane jewelry, but the powerful spiritual meaning of its recovery.

Here was for us another sterling exhibition of the glorious ways of our gracious God, a condescending God who like a loving Father stoops to hear even the small cares of His children and, as it suits His purposes, to bring to bear His almighty power in answer to our prayers. He uses little things too.

In this experience, we both could really resonate with the experience of Peter when on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in obedience to Jesus’ unorthodox fishing instructions, caught a haul of fish that almost swapped their boat. After that Peter’s attention, like ours, was totally refocused. Now it was fully riveted on the supernatural Fisherman. That day Peter grasped his own smallness in relation to Jesus’ greatness; left the fish to helpers while he hit the deck in humble worship.

For us, you see, the great blessing in this was by no means the retrieval of a trivial earring. No, the significant thing was that God used the search as just another window to His glory. I went looking for an earring, but came away with a deeper knowledge of God and His ways. God is never too big to assist us with the small issues. He will in fact set them up and make them platforms to showcase His glory and foundations on which He builds up our trust in Him for everything. That is simply exhilarating.

Over our lifetimes together, the Lord has answered so many of our petitions, some of those recounted in my first book, Polishing God’s Monuments. However, many of our supplications, like yours, He has denied or delayed. That is why I always counsel, when it comes to prayer, be as thankful for His no-s as for His yes-s. Both are for our benefit, whether we can see it or not.

Remember also that this God is not just your pastor’s God. His throne of grace is just as accessible to you, child of God, as to any pastor. He will answer your petitions as readily as ours. Trust Him always in any case. Pray without ceasing. You never know what God will do and when He may do it.

The Emperor Has No Clothes, But Who is Watching?

Evolution_or_Evasion blog

The Emperor Has No Clothes, But Who is Watching?

Evolution is a faith, not a fact. And a pretty naked one at that.

History has now reversed itself. It is the cult of scientism that is these days opposing reason and obstructing the search for natural truth by threatening the careers of those who may break ranks with its blind dogmatism. It is the Church that pleads for academic freedom for doubters of scientific orthodoxy and wants to set educators and young brains free to think outside the creaking creed of Darwinism.

Why is the cult of scientism so militant and shrill in its opposition to biblical faith in a Creator? Essentially, they simply hate the idea of God.

And why is that?

One, they themselves like to pose as god-like minds who defeat all mysteries. In their pride they do not want to have to bow themselves humbly before a Creator.

Two, they do not want to be accountable to God. So, in every way they can, they try to convince themselves He is not there, and it helps somehow if they can succeed in convincing everyone who matters of the same thing. Denial loves the comfort of a lot of company. So as long as they can construct clever theories that make God an unnecessary supposition, they can dupe themselves somewhat into the illusion that He is not there and they will not have to give account to Him. In fact, a well known New York psychiatrist some years ago was even honest enough to say frankly that he didn’t want there to be a God. And those who don’t want God to exist will always be able to find sufficient excuses to rule Him out of existence.

And their extreme shrillness in opposition to the idea of divine creationism and rabid policing of academic opinion fairly shouts the deep insecurity of their construct.

But this dam of lies will not hold forever. The more we learn about the material and animate world, the more absurd the Darwinian construct appears to any mind blessed with common sense. It is one of those theories that is so absurd on the face of it that, as someone said, “it is so stupid that only a hare-brained intellectual could come up with and other hare-brained intellectuals could possibly accredit.” Sooner or later, the harsh facts will build up behind the dam and cause it to give way to the force of contradiction, and then the God-haters will have to scramble to find an escape route from the God who keeps stalking them with reality. I predict that by mid-century, if not sooner, Darwinism will be an academic joke, like a flat earth theory, and relegated at last to that overflowing trash bin of discarded science. People will look back and marvel that it withstood serious intellectual scrutiny as long as it did.

Still, science, if people have not lost “the faith” by that time, which is entirely possible, will not then retreat from its folly and acknowledge God as Creator; it will just find some other novel, but equally wild theory, to insert in its place. It is hard to say what that theory might be, but you can be certain, whatever it turns out to be, it has to meet this test of acceptance as a credible theory—it removes any explanation that requires God as a presupposition.

The faithful, you see, are not looking for the truth; they are looking for an escape hatch. It’s not about the facts; it’s about a faith, a faith that worships man, especially scientific man, and relieves him of the burden of moral accountability; that allows him to make and change the rules at a whim; that allows him the privilege of worshiping his own shadow. That is what the whole game is about. It is not science, which is good, but scientism, which is a bad religion disguised as science.

The emperor has no clothes. Some scientists see it, others see it but are afraid to admit it lest their academic reputations get smeared and their careers derailed, and the common secular herd is oblivious. He is stark naked and one day many will wake up. Then, watch them run for cover like cockroaches when the lights come on.

“Who me? Oh, no, not me. I always had doubts about that nonsense.”

Yeah, sure, sure.

Strategy of Evangelism or Strategy of Evasion?

Evolution_or_Evasion blog

Strategy of Evangelism or Strategy of Evasion?

Some Christians are beyond strange when it comes to evangelism. A little less than 30 years ago, I knew a young man on a church staff whose idea of making the local church fit for reaching people for Christ was to shed everything overtly religious about Sunday worship services. The irony never crossed his confused mind.

I also knew a guilt-ridden church elder whose idea of outreach was joining up with a certain parachurch ministry aimed at evangelism, but, in his case at least, the project never got any farther than occasionally having a friendly conversation with some non-believer. That to him seemed to be the end game!

In both instances, the gospel never got onto the field of play and so far as I know, neither of those individuals ever had the slightest part in leading any individual to Christ. Their kind defines uselessness.

Our inattentiveness to honest evangelism in recent times has come back to haunt our preaching in the form of skepticism. Initially we do not work at it, because we are afraid of it. Afraid of social alienation. Afraid of being looked down upon. Afraid of failure. Fear stops us dead in our tracks. Yet, like all cowards, we have to divert attention from our chicken-heartedness.

So we find some cause to bring out our bully face and to help us convince ourselves, if not others, that we are “putting it all on the line.” We may emphasize missions or even offer ourselves for missionary service or volunteer to live in a ghetto or work on a soup line or join an abortion protest or take up the fight against homosexuality or enlist in a political campaign of a Christian candidate for public office or champion the rights of the disadvantaged (social justice) or wage war on materialism and issue great calls for a return to a simple lifestyle. We will find ourselves a cause or something to martyr ourselves over. We will go to the wall over everything but the main thing.

We will do almost anything but the hardest thing—to confront unbelieving friends and neighbors and relatives with the fact that they are lost sinners that, unless they turn from their love of darkness and embrace by faith the provision God has made, they are damned to a Christless eternity—without hope and without God. I am not saying that the facts need always to be presented to lost friends and neighbors and co-workers just that way, but the point is, they need to be declared in some way, softly or bluntly or whatever, but somehow, someway.

Now that’s the really hard thing. There is nothing else quite equal to it. There is nothing else that Christians do that quite so antagonizes sinners, that so draws upon ourselves the mockery of the world, that makes us feel so lonely in it. Not that the objective is to get on people’s nerves, but simply to point out that nothing gets up the devil’s ire and draws his fire like the truth.

The blowback we sometimes get in evangelism tempts us to evade it. Our inactivity spawns inertia. Because we stray out on the periphery of duty and studiously avoid the central task, little or nothing happens. In such a vacuum of close encounters with the power and presence of God, what usually happens is that the minister, unable to question himself (he is afraid of the answers and their consequences), begins to question his message. He will either question its power to change men and societies or he will question its presentation.

In the former case, he falls back on the weapons of the world to accomplish God’s goals. I am convinced, for example, that much Christian political activism has its roots in just such a crisis of confidence in the Gospel. Lacking confidence in the Gospel, in frustration, ministers resort to political means. This will fail miserably, in my judgment. In fact it already has.

This is precisely the route liberals took when they gave up on the Gospel. Like them before us, we mask our departure with pious rationalizations. We call it perhaps “getting the salt out of the shaker.” Now who can argue with that? The problem is, for me at least, I see a lot more agitation than salinization. Who is coming to Christ? Certainly we have to stake out our Christian positions on many of these issues. What I am saying is that we can add to our agenda as necessary; but we have no right to subtract or substitute. And that, I am afraid, is mostly what this kind of activity ends up doing—subtracting and substituting.

In the latter case, we get a similar result with a different rationale. Because we are unwilling to tolerate the social risks inherent in traditional evangelism, we opt for circuitous strategies that go around by Robin Hood’s barn.

In this mode the evader of the evangelistic task likes to talk piously of a strategy of social “bridge building.” It also goes by other soothing names like “friendship evangelism.”

Now the idea in itself is sound enough, let it be acknowledged. And in some cases I have no doubt that it is a serious evangelistic strategy and one which actually bears fruit.

But for many, it appears to me, these bridges are white elephants. Bridges are useless without approaches. And we never get down to approaches. You see, our mission is not building relationships with the world. It is calling the world to discipleship. Anything short of that is functional abortion.

Let us face the reality. For most people in this mode, “friendship evangelism” is not a strategy of evangelism, but a strategy of evasion. They are not building bridges; they are hiding in bunkers. This posture is quite frequently the child of doubt, not the offspring of commitment.

And, the truth is, many preachers therefore don’t experience the power of God because they are unwilling to take the risks necessary. The power of God seems to most often find us out there on the raw edges of serious risk. Few endeavors present us with so many opportunities to encounter the power and presence of God as aggressive, up front, eye-to-eye evangelism where the Enemy is most vulnerable and defensive.

Speaking Out

Though just an anonymous citizen and a small-time pastor I am trying somehow to cope both rationally and emotionally with a windstorm of hideous evils and the torrent of crying injustices bearing down on my consciousness.

This is somewhat new territory for me. Long ago I decided to park my personal political views outside the church door. I did not marry up with either the political right or left, though neutrality is sometimes hard.

My thing has been to stick narrowly to the main thing. As a pastor, my most urgent (and relevant) business on this sin-cursed planet is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not to help boost one party or another into office. Unlike some, never has my agenda been to save America (the right) or redistribute wealth (the left). It’s not about saving the Titanic, but rescuing the passengers.

In that regard, only with great discipline have I stuck to my guns, lest I appear a captive of the political right or left and thus shorten my reach as a man of God. Yet maintaining that stance these days is a real dance. One reason is that the political left has been consistently unfriendly to the Christian faith. The other is that political issues often migrate into moral territory. At that point the stakes are raised.

By now any thinking adult should realize that your average politician cannot be trusted to decide right and wrong. Most are functional relativists living in a state of moral vertigo. As we are seeing only too well, they lack any reliable compass or sound filters for making principled moral decisions.

No wonder then that justice regularly goes begging and cries out in the streets for friends. No wonder that with many what was evil is now considered good, what was bitter is now thought to be sweet, what was once called perverted is now boldly paraded. As the Scriptures teach and our political experience confirms, “the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” To that premise our nanny state bears lamentable witness.

Besides, the typical politician is not even interested in doing what is right and just, but just doing whatever keeps him or her in office and keeps their parochial (or perverted) interest intact.

For these reasons, I am finding it more difficult to hold my fire. And why should I? Where the issues have a moral cast, speaking out is not only my right as a citizen, but also my duty as a prophet (in the informal sense). Maybe if others do likewise, critical mass will result.

Frankly, there comes a time—and I think that time has come—when moral sensibility cannot be silent in the face of rampaging evil and unthinkable savagery, such as we are seeing now almost daily in radical Islam. Killing, killing, killing. Not just killing, but slaughtering human beings wholesale, beheading poor Christian people en masse or burning people alive in bunches. . . roasted to death in cages. These criminals do not even bother to hide their atrocities. Rather they boldly celebrate. They broadcast their bloodshed as if they were doing the world a great favor by staging indiscriminate mass murders of non-combatants, brutalizing and wantonly raping and killing women and little children!

How can our government fiddle while Rome is burning?

Do we get it? Either we check the evil over there and elsewhere or tomorrow, like the ebola virus, we are going to find it raging over here.

It is high time that all citizens, and most especially we Christians, if we possess a modicum of humanity, entertain in our hearts any moral outrage, the least bit of compassion and feel any passion about stemming the tide of radical injustice and gratuitous human violence, . . .it is time, I say, to rise up indignantly and demand that our seeming apathetic, fumbling leaders get serious and roll back with all their might this onslaught of man’s inhumanity of man to man.

Where is our sense of history? Haven’t we been here before? Have we forgotten the horrors of the gas ovens of Nazi Germany, savagery of imperial Japan, gulags of the Soviet Union and blood soaked culture wars of Mao’s China, not to mention the terrors of other mad regimes with no regard for human life or justice? Back in those times, the world pretty much stood by in denial until through our inaction many, many more had to perish unnecessarily.

Can we just say, wake up, America! Wake up, Western Europe! Wake up, United Nations! Somebody, everybody, wake up! War is hell, but doing nothing presents a prospect worse than hell.

Apparently we have reached another such pass where, if good people continue to say nothing, insist on nothing, it appears nothing that amounts to anything will be done. Right now Hell seems to have the field all to itself. What our government and the West in general is doing to arrest it has all the counterforce of throwing cotton balls at rock walls. In fact, their approach is exactly what I would do if I wanted to pretend to challenge evil but secretly hoped not to discourage it.

In the face of great perils we citizens historically have usually counted on our government to recognize and react to neutralize grave dangers we face and to take appropriate measures to tame or neutralize mad men and perilous situations. Here I am not talking about mere political or economic or health threats or environmental threats. The growing and imminent danger we now face is the degrading of civilization along with the collapse of whatever moral foundations remain in the community of civil nations. That is where we are, it seems to me.

The lack of urgency on the part of our government is distressing. It borders on appalling. For whatever reasons, it seems that our current administration is disinclined to any counteraction beyond tepid half measures. Whether that is because our president has no clue as to what to do, or is in complete denial, or is afraid to do what needs to be done, or simply lacks the leadership to fill the suit, or, as some actually suspect, given his roots, is really a closet Muslim whose sympathies reside more with those who hate us than those who are for us, who is to say?

As one of our elders, Ross Crowley put it, “If Adolph Hitler were alive today he would tell us that we didn’t understand fascism and that we were Nazi-phobic. To which President Obama and others would say that we needed to treat the root causes of Nazism such as the extreme poverty in Germany caused by excessive war reparations and the wounds of Jewish attacks on German culture. If we could just correct the environment that drives young men to join Hitler, we could stop him.”

What we can say is that, whatever the case, what should be done in response to this aggressive and manifest Islamic evil apparently will not get done the way we are going about it. That is, unless an indignant American people rise up as one in such chorus that this president is forced by the overwhelming will of the people to act as any moral leader should. Meaning he should act decisively, immediately and with a sense of moral outrage in behalf of all humanity, in the name of justice and in mercy and compassion for the innocent and helpless. Otherwise, in my opinion, he should face the wrath of an outraged electorate and a real threat of impeachment and enduring disgrace. Otherwise, this nation will be ruined faster than anyone can imagine.

Granted, our national plate is full of issues. We face a plethora of evils. The worst of them are spiritual/moral, not political, though they get reflected in the latter arena. Presently our country and our world are in such a state of moral white out, so morally diseased on so many fronts that one hardly knows which filthy fly to swat first. With us lurching out of control to Sodom and Gomorrah, there is room to wonder which of the whole swarm of threats present the most clear and present dangers to our cultural survival, (whose extinction by the way, seems assured, at least to me; it is only a question of how soon).

But even on the Titanic, if indeed the ship is sinking, we cannot forget the duty to promote and enforce justice and maintain humanity to our fellow man. What can be done needs to be done and that with alacrity and all necessary force to put down unmitigated evil, appalling hate, gratuitous bloodshed and horrific injustice perpetrated on the weak and helpless. For that very purpose God ordained human government.

When it comes to militant Islam, its crazed enmity knows no bounds. Its bad intentions extend not just to Christians and Jews or even to their fellow Muslims but to every human species, for at bottom they hate themselves.

Radical Islam is, I believe, a demonic scourge on a global scale that requires vigorous resistance, not denial, not word games. It is the latest clear threat to human civilization, an aggressive cancer to the core and as wicked and blood thirsty as any movement ever to come down the blood-stained historical pike. The notion that it can be successfully turned back at the gates by finding ways to provide jobs for their unemployed is beyond absurd! Many of them are well-educated. The problem is not economic, for crying out loud. It is i-d-e-o-l-o-g-y!

Again, I say, check it now or in the future it will check us.

As a Christian pastor and a deeply concerned citizen, I call upon our president to finally step up and assert himself as the moral leader of the Western world, to step boldly into the gap where moral leadership is sorely lacking, and, if he really cares, together with Congress, to bring to bear against this enemy of mankind, all available and formidable military assets and other resources in our possession to say forcefully to radical Islam:

“Enough already! In the name of justice and humanity, with the help of God, we will pursue you to the ends of the earth, day time or night time, all the time, with everything and all the energy we possess, to make certain you pay the dearest price for your crimes against humanity or mend your ways. Until then just know there is no place to hide from your crimes and viciousness.”

I hope you will do likewise.

If that doesn’t happen and happen soon, only God knows what will happen.

However, I for one predict we will rue the day when we were picking our noses and smelling our roses while radical Islam was by the US and the rest of the world given a basically free hand to slaughter human beings like cattle in its campaign to occupy and enslave the earth. And if anyone thinks that agenda is not in play, well, their ignorance of Islamic doctrine is showing.

We are being played for fools and so far we are acting the part.

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