Whenever 2 or More Are Gathered?

Imagine yourself traveling back in time – a little over 1900 years back, to take a look at the early Christians and what they were enduring. Scripture gives a few indicators that believers were gathering for more formal worship on what we know as Sunday (the first day of the week). But what the Bible itself only hints at, those early believers often were assembling in direct contradiction to the demands of the day set by the “ruling authorities”. We can read in the book of Acts the records of Peter and others being commanded to stop preaching Jesus and Him crucified (aka – the gospel) – with the understood implication that the gathering of like-minded folks (aka – the church) was also on the prohibition list – because what else draws believers together like the common bonds of our crucified and risen Savior?

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These early gatherings were not held in big, multi-million dollar temples of brick and stone (or steel and glass…), but in homes – sometimes the LORD blessed a local body with a wealthy believer who opened their estate up for the assembly (like Nympha of Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:15). But what we can gather from history plus Scripture – is that believers regularly met together for edification, teaching, and worship via hymns, songs, and spiritual songs, bearing one-anothers burdens, and frequently observing the LORD’s Supper in remembrance of Christ Jesus and HIS sacrifice on their behalf. We also know that this was often an al-day event, and generally included food. But of prime value to this post – we must recognize that often – these meetings were considered “unlawful”.

House church raided by police in China

Now let us return to our present time – but fly across the Pacific to China (or several other Asia/Pacific nations). We find ourselves there on a Sunday – and other than a scarce state-authorized “church” that teaches a Chinese Communist Party edited and approved religion that barely resembles biblical Christianity. But keep looking. In apartments, homes, and even in some of the few remote outdoor places – you may find churches – often comparatively small, meeting together – singing songs of praise, edifying one-another, often sharing a meal, and preaching Jesus and Him crucified – all in a jurisdiction that is actively engaged in the arrest, torture, and murder of those engaging in biblical Christianity – and those small house churches are growing – and despite heavily-enforced prohibitions – they continue to meet – taking quite literally the command that God recorded in Hebrews 10:25 “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Their love of Jesus and their faithfulness to the call for believers to come together as the Body (and as a side-note, often an amazing zeal for sharing the gospel despite the unlawfulness of it) is a much higher priority than the laws of the earthy authorities.

But this brings us to today, right here in the USA & the rest of North America – And we have seen government entities, under the guise of a global “pandemic”, shutting down churches. On the surface, we might not see a problem – in the “interest of safety”. Yet even as other gathering places and businesses were allowed to reopen under the guise of “essential” (including casinos, big box retailers, liquor and tobacco vendors and bars, etc.), some jurisdictions continued to demand churches remain closed and/or strictly limited attendance to a small fraction of capacity.

Grace Life fenced off by Alberta Authorities

One high-profile example comes from Edmonton, Alberta Canada, the home of Grace Life Church, who’s pastor, James Coats, had led his church to continue in their corporate worship. The church refused to tell some (the majority) of the local church that they couldn’t attend – that only a couple dozen could worship together. As the situation escalated, provincial health authorities and police began showing up, then began threatening tickets, and finally demanded they cease or there would be arrests. Eventually, Pastor Coats was arrested and spent a month in jail, as a judge refused to allow bail – because this pastor would not promise to stop preaching and meeting with the church assembled. Since then, other churches in that province have also faced arrests and massive fines. And just this week, RCMP and Alberta Health Authorities took the unprecedented action of raiding the church to have a riot-style, double-fence installed to physical barricade the church from meetging on their own property. Even here in the US, churches like Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California faced similar threats from Los Angeles County authorities for holding in-person worship services. They still are accruing thousands of dollars a week in fines from the county.

And in defense of those who are trying to prevent churches from assembling – are those (some of which profess to be Christians) shouting “ROMANS 13!!!”. For those who may not know, this is a reference to Paul’s command to “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)

Unfortunately, those using these two verses as a club against churches fail to take the context of that passage (which follows in verse 3 & 4) the PURPOSE of government – which becomes moot when said government rejects its biblical mandate. Indeed, we have no biblical reference or example to validate believers shutting down corporate worship (the assembly together) based on any government or ruling authority mandate. Quite the contrary, we have example after example of believers meeting together in spite of mandates and laws, and yes – sometimes even to their own arrest and martyrdom.

But that brings us to the cryptic title of this article “2 or more are gathered…” I have been attacked for supporting Grace Life Church (and others who have been fighting the fight for the church and their right, regardless of mandates, to assemble as they see fit). Most recently, this has been in repeated misuse of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” The story goes something like this:

What we find here, is a complete misunderstanding (or intentional plucking out-of-context) of what Jesus was talking about. The immediate context (Matthew 18:15-20) is about dealing with sin in the church or when your brother sins against you. It isn’t a description of, or a prescription for worship. In this case, it is a reference to the Old Testament law regarding witnesses (again – remember – this was a passage about church discipline).

The ESV Study Bible notes the following for Matthew 18:16:

Evidence of two or three witnesses follows the guideline in Deut. 19:15 and refers to witnesses of the subsequent confrontation described in this verse, not necessarily eyewitnesses to the original offense.” And 18:20, “Jesus affirms that he will be divinely present among his disciples as they seek unity in rendering decisions, which is rightly understood also as an affirmation of omnipresence and therefore of deity. “

So, what we have here is a completely different subject matter than corporate worship/assembly. The verse is so frequently and wrongly used (being forced into a meaning other than its actual meaning is called eisegesis. NO, a gathering of two or three believers together isn’t a substitute for corporate worship. Believers are expected – and the biblical example in this IS prescriptive – to assemble together regularly for worship, prayer, fellowship, and the teaching/preaching of God’s Word. Period. It is not a sin to do this even when the “ruling authorities” tell you not to. Indeed, Scripture couldn’t be more clear that we are to chose this day WHO we will serve – God or man. If choosing to follow God’s commands is wrong – then Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were actually sinning for refusing to bow down before the Babylonian emperor and his golden statue, or for refusing the food offered them.

And even more troubling – that means that the first-century churches that gathered in spite of the ruling authorities and their commands to the contrary…

And our brethren around this globe today who worship despite laws against it – who face literally torture and death for their assembly…

Are actually committing sin against God.

Are you really willing to go there?

For Sake of God’s Kingdom: OPEN THE CHURCH!

This past Sunday, thousands of small house churches met in China, Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and several other nations that are lethally-hostile to Christianity. Each led by a pastor, an elder, or simply a layperson who understands Christ’s call to His churches to assemble regularly together. Each faced slightly differing threats – some from neighbors, others from police or government officials – and all also under a declared world-wide pandemic. And without a doubt, there were some who were found and reported, some who have been beaten for gathering with the saints. And we have no way to know for certain just how many may very well have died for their faith as a product of simply trying to meet together with the local body of believers.

Meanwhile, here in the US, Canada, and several other far more “Church-friendly” nations, thousands of churches were empty, doors locked or with only a skeleton crew to operate a camera and to “preach” to, in hopes that an electronic video would stream to a social media or video hosting platform that some of their people might tune in. Some of these local churches are claiming to be following Romans 13’s command to subject themselves to the ruling authorities who have issued mandates and regulations that have all-but made church gatherings illegal. Others are simply scared of this virus and fear being blamed if someone were to get sick and die from it. Figures like Andy Stanley (I refused to call him a “pastor” as he has turned apostate on all manner of foundational doctrinal matters) closed their corporate mega churches months ago wiht promisees to reopen in January, yet their auditoriums are still empty with the lights mostly off – and their flocks still scattered… and like the flocks, big-or-small across this nation – the sheep are suffering and even dying from discouragement, spiritual deprivation, and growing malease from the lack of a fundamental need of all genuinely regenerated believers: the personal fellowship and edification that comes with corporate prayer, worship, and preaching.

I ask, first: which is the biblical picture? Which is seeking to please God rather than man? Which represents a hope of and in a God who is Sovereignly ruling and reigning still? Which holds a low view of God and His power and authority? Which fulfills the writer’s admonition in Hebrews 10:25

25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25

How do we fulfill the command to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) through Zoom teleconference or a recorded video?

How can we share together the ordinances of the church Christ left for us through a pre-recorded message? The Lord’s Supper, that beautiful reminder of the sacrifice Christ made of Himself on our behalf is commemorated in the sharing together of the elements – with the combined illustration of humble service. Jesus didn’t die virtually, nor should we remember that sacrifice “virtually”.

But lets address a few things. First is that claim of Romans 13 submission to ruling authorities. Throughout Scripture, God’s people are commanded to obey God first. And every single time that man’s law and rulers conflict with God’s Law & Commands, the positive choice is always God’s Commands. Whether in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, or the Pharaoh in Egypt, or in the face of Roman and Jewish rulers who demanded the early believers not proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the God-glorifying, Kingdom-building and righteous decision is to always obey God rather than man.

For those who refuse to open churches for in-person worship based on threats of fines or arrest under law or dictatorial edicts, particularly in the United States, I encourage you to find a copy of the U.S. Constitution and turn to the Bill of Rights and the first Amendment (included here for your convenience):

The key component here is that it clearly prohibits the government from prohibiting (interfering with) the free exercise of religion or the abridging of the freedom of speech… or the right to peaceably assemble. So, even if one were to try to twist Hebrews 13 to be a mandate to obey governing authorities even when their demands contradict God’s commands, these mandates and forced closures are themselves unlawful. This doesn’t’ change just because there is a virus.

So lets turn to fear. Yes, the virus that has triggered the “global pandemic” is a real virus. Yes, I personally know people who have died either directly from, or as a result of complications arising from the virs formally known as SARS-CoV-2. My intent here is not to chase theories regarding where it came from, if it was a human engineered weapon, or if it is a sign of the prophetic end times. But I will argue that Satan has used Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (hereafter referred to as FUD) to cause authorities and church leaders to make un-Godly decisions. And as we see our world (and especially the USA) turn increasingly anti-Christian, anti-church (if the church isn’t #WOKE with the Social Justice false gospel of the day), and so-called “Christian leaders” sacrifice the gospel and kingdom building on the altar of politics and political correctness to appease the culture – we see an increasing hopelessness: the exact opposite of what Christ’s people are suppose to be showing the world.

And please don’t take this wrong – many churches have been forced to reach beyond their physical building via streaming or video uploading of sermons. Indeed, the church I pastor has seen an interesting audience well outside of our local “mission field”. But again, this in no-way justifies shutting the doors of the local church meeting.

Among the most common phrases in all of Scripture, directed always at God’s people:

Each and every time the doors of the local church open, people make a decision if they are going to assemble together with the saints or not. This has always been true (and is the core of admonition regarding not forsaking the assembly as is the matter of some). Long before their was a Coronavirus causing panic or being used to create FUD, people made this decision. Week-after-week. But as a pastor, I have no right to take away an the opportunity to assemble together with believers. I don’t even take issue with taking reasonable precautions as one would with any spreading illness (we can save discussion of the efficacy of some of the current mandates and requirements at another time), if that is what it takes to help people overcome their fear. But ultimately, whether someone assembles together with the local church at any given time is a matter between the individual, their doctor, and their Creator. But I will do everything within my ability to make sure the doors of the church I have been called to lead, are open for for all who desire to worship as we have been called to worship (together), and I call out other pastors – for the sake of the sheep – the flock of God, and even more importantly, for the Glory of God and the sake of His kingdom:

Hypocrisy in High Places

There are few things that really cause me anger and disgust like lies. Most people simply think that a lie is when you say something that is blatantly untrue, with intent. But there is an even more insidious version of the lie that actually often does more damage – its called hypocrisy. From Dictionary.com:

Hypocrisy (or the label applied to the person accused – hypocrite) is often used against those who profess to be Christian. I won’t deny that many over the 2000 years of the fatih have said one thing, while living another. And undoubtably, this is a major issue that most of us must battle on a regular basis. But there is another form of hypocrisy that has helped divide this nation. It’s the hypocrisy of double-standards (or selective outrage, as I often call it).

One example is a county I use to live in, that had the highest per-capita number of people on public assistance (particularly disability). Many who claimed disability were more able-bodied that the majority of the population, but they found ways around that. Other’s, their disability was fundamentally based on drug addiction and the aftermath (the same county was featured on an HBO special for it being the #1 Methamphetamine county in the nation). Yet this county, despite the incredible dependance on the Federal Government, is also the most anti-government I’ve ever been around! The same people who demand a check from the government every month, don’t want the government meddling in their life. This seems certainly hypocritical. How can you reconcile demanding a small government, low taxes, and the government having nothing to do with you, while simultaneously demanding more money from the same government?

But more recently, we have seen a nation-wide (maybe world-wide) trend towards a much bigger form of hypocrisy based on political viewpoint. This has had hits greatest demonstration in the media, both social media and news media. With all three areas taking extremist perspectives while censoring or twisting the opposing views. This has grown to the point of fueling selective outrage, which is one of the most glaring forms of hypocrisy of all. A few recent examples include the past year of riots, mass violence, burning down of many city blocks in major cities by groups alligning themselves with “BLM” and “antifa”. BLM, who lifts up primarily some very bad people who, such as in the George Floyd case that sparked most of this year’s biggest riots – was a man who had taken a lethal dosage of illegal drugs just prior to his encounter with police. He was violent, he was aggressively resisting arrest, and sadly – he died while in police custody. I won’t defend the officers who seemed to pose in very dangerous positions. Yet at the same time, the man was undobutably resisting arrest and had already practically committed suicide by his massive overdose of fentanyl and other intoxicants. Yet this man was portrayed as an innocent, godly man who never hurt anyone (well – except his criminal record tells a much darker story) – which helped spark nation-wide protests, riots, and unfathomable property damage (in part due to widespread looting of devastated businesses). The media seemed to endorse the behavior, many high-profile figures including elected officials proudly supported (and even participated in) some of these violent events.

Yet at the same time, while each of these never lost a single post or had a bit of negative backlash from the media platforms, those on the other side of the political spectrum have regularly been suspended, banned, and panned by the news media as violent terrorists. Most recently, after President Trump spoke to a massive crowd in DC (January 6, 2020), then told his supporters to march to the Capitol (which is the same procedure and schedule as the majority of large protests and events in DC – it is symbolic to march to the Capitol and conclude your protest there). But when some arrived, they began struggling with some Capitol Police. Then, oddly, the same police then opened barricades and unlocked doors and ALLOWED in some of the most vocal and agitated of the protestors. In the ensuing hours, an unarmed white woman, a US Air Force Veteran, was shot dead by Capitol police in a hallway. She was not being violent. Another of the Protestors collapsed and died of a heart attack (apparently not related to any violent acts). Also, a Capitol Police officer was crushed in what looked like a doorway and succumbed to his injuries. While the “storming” of the Capitol (even having been let in by police) was wrong, the news media, print media, and social media immediately began widespread attacks, censoring, and banning, leading up to the permanent ban on the Twitter account of the President of the United States for “violence-inciting posts that present a danger to others”. While President Trump did keep the fires burning of questioning the 2020 election results, he never, EVER suggested, endorsed, or encouraged violence in any form. Further, his text and video posts to Twitter and Facebook trying to tell his supporters to back off and to pursue peace – in which he clearly denounced the violence – both social media platforms deleted the posts! Their selective outrage and censorship actually silencing a voice that could help calm the anger. #hypocricy.

“Pastor” Eric Mason

In the days that have followed, many posts on these same platforms have endorsed violence against anyone who supports Trump. And one particularly well-known SBC pastor actually tweeted the insinuation that (white) folks should have been shot in the Capitol. How is this any more acceptable than the other hate-filled vitreol from the Left that consistently goes untouched, while even questions of WHO was involved in the storming of the Capitol is grounds for having posts deleted and accounts suspended or banned?

And the hypocrisy goes on – with post after post by major figures calling this event an act of insurrection. Yet such a horrific event – and these so called terrorists (a term actually used) even respected the satin ropes protecting various parts of the building. Nobody lit the place on fire (though I’ve seen pictures depicting the Capitol on fire being used!). And the actual damage done was relatively minor, particularly in comparison to the widespread and horrific damage done to cities all over this nation by those on the political Left.

And lest we forget – whe Donald Trump was confirmed as the victor in the 2016 election, there was massive rioting in DC that included setting cars and buildings on fire, destroying landmarks, and much more. Or more recently, the BLM protests in DC that not only saw the destruction and vandalism of property and attacks on innocent bystanders, but these “protestors” stormed an historic church just a block from the Whitehouse in an attempt to burn it down (for what political purpose, other than the hate of Christianity?).

We’ve been told for years that labeling an entire group of people (especially identified by skin color) is wrong, yet the explosion in the last few months of the acceptability of blatantly racist posts and statements, so long as they come from those of the “oppressed group” (based on Critical Race Theory) have become commonplace. The image of the Mara Gay tweet was reposed by someone that I have long considered a brother and friend, who happens to be African-American. Someone who I though knew me better than to post or confirm something like this that is so brazenly racist.

And further, to justify the year-worth of violent rioting, bloodshed, and property losses on “angry people trying to have a voice when they feel they are unheard” – yet when every court in the land refused to even allow a LOOK at evidence of widespread corruption in our election system – a fundamental constitutional crisis – that is not even worthy of people posting on social media, much less having an event that a tiny portion of the people involved acted badly (with the help of the Capitol Police), is utterly mind-boggling.

And then we have the other race-baiting, selectively-outraged, racists who claim that the folks who stormed the Capitol received special “white privilege” and would have been treated far more differently were they “people of color”. I suppose that unarmed people getting shot to death by police is only bad when it happens to drug dealers with non-white skin? NO – its’ ALWAYS bad. But again, #hypocrisy seems to be winning the day.

And when the likes of Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission call for the dramatic prosecution of every person who entered the Capitol building on January 6th (even those that just stood and watched/videoed), but remained absolutely silent on the widespread violence all this past year – its hypocrisy demonstrated in selective outrage.

I even drew a 24 hour suspension from Facebook for reposting a tweet that points out the hypocrisy.

And the hate just keeps flowing –

Hypocrisy is wrong, regardless of who is committing it. Double-standards are wrong, regardless of who benefits from it. And selective outrage is among the most vile of all forms of hypocrisy.

Pray for our nation, though I personally have stopped praying for peace and God’s blessings. We as a nation don’t deserve God’s blessings. We deserve His wrathful judgment. And remember – Scripture says that judgement begins in the House of the Lord! I do pray for a spiritual awakening, beginning with me, my family, and the church I try to lead. I pray for my fellow believers and pastors who are desperately trying to tell the Truth – regardless of the circumstances. I’m praying for churches that have been fighting to even keep their doors open. I pray for God to raise up great spiritual men who will boldly stand for truth. And I pray God would bring to repentance those who seem to love a lie more than the truth.

The “#GreatReset” and the future of America

Many woke up this morning with something that shocked them on their TV screen or Twitter feed: Both GOP Senate candidates/incumbents were supposedly defeated by two of the most radically Left-wing Senate candidates in Georgia history. This was most shocking to them because they went to bed with both GOP candidates with fairly comfortable leads in the vote counting and some statistical figuring that said a flip was not likely.

Yet in a near-copy of the November election, over-night ballots were delivered and counted that conveniently swung the totals into the DNC column. Yet this shouldn’t be a surprise. This was predicted weeks ago when Georgia refused to fix the very problems that led to the November debacle.

One might also rightly ask: How did this nation flip after experiencing 3+ years of some of the greatest economic growth, shrinking wage gap, record low unemployment for all demographics, the first significant reduction in foreign war entanglement in decades, increased American manufacturing, and the most campaign promises kept in US history?

COVID? What some refer to as the CCP Virus – which has caused more division through the weaponizing of it through FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Regardless of one’s views regarding this virus – and no doubt, many have died from or WITH the virus (we won’t get into the way deaths are being counted- but remember FUD). This virus conveniently undid a significant portion of the economic advances of the previous 3+ years via shutdowns, restrictions mandates, and quarantine of the healthy. Small businesses, unable to meet stringent and over-reaching regulations to open, died. COVID didn’t bring this about – but the response and division it was used to create did add to the destruction.

4 years of never-ending attacks on the President, that began literally hours after his called victory in 2016, were all part of a very literal coup engineered by the very people in BOTH political parties who were in his “drain the swamp” crosshairs. Look – President Trump is no saint. He is no savior or messiah. He is a man with faults just like the rest of us – with past baggage and a quickfire and unfiltered Twitter-finger. Yet he has tried to do what was best for this nation – even trying to put a positive spin on the all doom-and-gloom of Dr. Fauci and the “experts” who predicted millions of Americans would die from COVID. President Trump made mistakes (and I called him out on them). He endured attacks as no US President has ever faced. And as each collusion & corruption case died, despite near unlimited investigation resources and budgets… and even as the US Congress tried to remove him from office – even as the “Pandemic” began spreading – he kept fighting for this nation. His negotiations and efforts brought Muslim nations – long the sworn enemies of Israel, to the table, resulting in several historic treaties that many said were impossible. President Trump was even nominated multiple times for the Nobel Peace Prize (something his predecessor was actually awarded for doing nothing – who actually expanded US warmaking).

But here is the real deal, from my biblical perspective: God is still in control, and NONE of this has caught the LORD by surprise. None of the rapid expansion of wickedness, none of the electoral shenanigans and blatant corruption have taken anything away from God and His plans. In fact, I believe we are seeing the hand of God working mightily among us! All the nastiness, the divisions, the loss, the heartbreak, and so much more has been allowed, indeed I say was brought by God for a purpose.

You see – God punishes wickedness – in HIS time. When we look at Scripture, we see God’s people and nation Israel judged by God. But we also see pagan nations also judged. And how does God often bring judgement? It isn’t always with hellfire and brimstone raining down, with mighty earthquakes, or by a massive worldwide flood. In fact, God’s judgement is often brought in ways that look amazingly like what we are seeing today.

Attacks from Outside: The US has long had a twisted relationship with the world. Just the last massive spending bill reminds us – the world LOVES our Tax Dollars, but hates our historic values of freedom, self-determination, and yes – our reputation (deserved or not) as a “Christian nation”. From international pressures to the likely election interference, we have been under attack from outside since the Soviet Union began – in fact, Nikita Khrushchev many times said that they wouldn’t beat America with might, but from within…

From Within – Our own worst enemy: What exactly did Khrushchev mean by destroying us from within? You see, Satan is better at playing the “long game” than we who are believers in Christ. Likewise, Marxism plays a waiting game, planting seeds, working behind the scenes. In this case, from the entertainment industry, education, and finally in the open of the past few years, actual, real Marxists have been working tirelessly to undermine this nation from within.

Think about ancient Israel and Judah – while God did often use external forces to bring judgment, the vast majority of kings were wicked men. Even those who had good intentions and actually made progress had “issues”, which often times undermined their efforts (sound familiar?). Add in the many false prophets, whether fake prophets of God, or the avowed prophets of Baal, Moloch, and others – were allowed to deceive the public and kings. Look today at some of the biggest names and organizations in “Evangelical Christianity” – the likes of Tim Keller, Dr. Russell Moore (@ERLC), Beth Moore, Karen Swallow Prior, Charlie Dates (Progressive Baptist Church and Gospel Coalition writer, SBC Executive Committee), Jackie Hill Perry, Thabiti Anyabwile (formerly known as Ron Burns), JD Greear (Pastor of Summit Church, and current President of the Southern Baptist Convention) and yes, even historically-conservative Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist Seminary, heir-apparent to be President of the SBC) who have systematically adopted various forms and productions of the false gospel of the “Social Justice Movement” and more recently are endorsing Critical Race Theory (CRT), supplanting the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the poison of this Marxist tool (oh – who saw that coming?). Add in the birth, spread, and massive export of the heretical prosperity gospel/liberation theology – which again is about the here-and-now, fleshly satisfaction with no spiritual meat or foundation – which actually is a development of the official religion of Marxism: Secular Humanism, and you have yet another attack on any remaining biblical foundations.

Rev. Warnock – abortion preacher

And let us zoom in for a moment on the Georgia US Senate run-off and one of the two Democrat candidates: the “Reverend” Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. Who has a history of preaching abortion as a biblical right! Again – a blatantly false prophet (in his case, maybe profit is a better word?). With men like Warnock (and those men and women mentioned previously) preaching from pulpits and being published as “Christian leaders”, is it any wonder so many are deceived and why biblical Christianity has so little influence any longer? And as more than one of America’s founders said – the system of government they left us requires a moral foundation, and particularly one like principals of Christianity, to survive. Satan couldn’t defeat Christ’s church, so he joined to destroy from within. Likewise, the greatest damage being done and what will likely be the final downfall of the USA – is for the remaining “good men” to sit idle by and let it happen. A bleak reminder – there are none righteous…(Romans 3:10).

Today, we see the clear fulfilment of Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” We see before us the unfolding of the warning Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:3-4) “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

And this brings us to the entire point of this post. Yes, be aware of what is REALLY going on. There is a coordinated effort to systematically destroy this nation, which WILL not only take away our God-given, Constitutional rights, which likely will result in more measurable persecution against those who cling to their “Bibles, Guns, and God” (the #1 terrorist threat to this nation, according to President Obama and his administration!). We are very likely to see a marked reduction in income, due in part to massive tax increases that will be absolutely necessary to pay for the unprecedented spending proposals by the political Left. And yes, the voice of biblical morality will become public enemy #1.

BUT

GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL! God is still on His throne. And Jesus’ blood is STILL sufficient to cover not only my sins, but the sins of ALL who would believe in Him! And this is why Paul could follow his warning to Timothy (see above in 2 Timothy 4), with verse 5: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

You see – for genuine, born-again, regenerated Christians – we are not deceived. We are not led to follow false gospels – and our duty, our responsibility, our mission remains absolutely unchanged! Remain sober in all things (this is less about being literally intoxicated, but instead – means not to be led astray or influenced by the distractions of the world- or in short, be CLEAR MINDED), prepare to endure hardship (yes, God’s Word yet again warns that being sober and continuing to do what God has commanded WILL result in hardships), do the work of an evangelist (while not all have this as a spiritual gift, it is the calling of all the redeemed to be a messenger of the Gospel to all we encounter in life – both in word and in our actions). And finally – fulfill your ministry! All who have received the heart-transplant of Christ, the redemption bought by His precious blood – have a ministry, a ministry summed up (regardless of the actual specific ministry avenues) is to MAKE DISCIPLES, and more importantly – GLORIFY GOD and ENJOY HIM FOREVER! If we allow ourselves to be so utterly consumed with the wickedness of the day – we take our eyes off of “things above” and begin to stumble and fall in our ministry. No, I do not suggest we ignore wicked and evil – quite the contrary: we must know what is going on – so that we can address it with Scripture and our actions! And never stop speaking the truth into ALL circumstances. Never stop being a light of truth. This nation’s future depends on it – your neighbor’s soul needs it – and YOU need it!

Do not be afraid, nor discouraged. God is on our side! We may yet witness more heartache and pain. We may even see our nation literally destroyed. But that doesn’t change our mission or purpose.

But if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:15

Stop and Think – Election 2020

NATION DIVIDED

I have a great deal weighing on my mind and heart tonight. It is Saturday evening, November 7, 2020 – a full 96 hours since the polls began closing on Election Day 2020. This was a presidential campaign that defied all logic and reason, in a nation that is divided like it hasn’t been since the US Civil War 155 years ago. Some have even suggested that the division is along the same lines – yet that is utterly incorrect, and I will explain momentarily.

2020 has been a year that will go down in history as a very dark year for most of the world, despite some incredibly positive events and achievements. Primarily, this year will be remembered for a virus that became a political issue above a health issue from the earliest outbreak. SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19 (the name given to the illness caused by the virus), originating in Wuhan, China has been blamed for 234,264 deaths (as of this writing) in the US and 1,255,516 worldwide. It has been a year of some high-profile deaths and of course, a very dark presidential election that still has massive question marks over the results…

But this post isn’t to bemoan the media calling the election for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris. It isn’t to dissect and complain about how a virus has been used as a political tool. This post is to ask the reader to stop and thing, especially if you believe you are a “Christian”. Think on these things:

  • The majority of votes cast in this election were for the wholesale slaughter of the unborn. This wasn’t an issue of Roe v Wade being undone – that simply isn’t likely even with a supposedly “Conservative majority” on the US Supreme Court. Despite the loud complaints by those on the political Left, Roe is in no real danger of being overturned. What this REALLY was about: dramatic expansion of abortion from conception to natural birth, unlimited and paid for with the tax dollars you pay. Indeed – for the millions who voted for the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket – you voted for this. Own it.
  • Those who voted for the Democrat presidential ticket voted for promoting gender confusion and even a promise to change the law to allow gender reassignment “treatment for 8 year-olds. YEs, that is 8 years old!
  • Those who voted for the Biden/Harris ticket endorsed the systematic destruction of the oil and gas industry along with millions of jobs that are directly connected to this still extremely needed energy sector.
  • Those who voted with the majority in this election support the radical so-called “Green New Deal” that even the most favorable number crunchers say will cause irreparable damage to our economy.
  • Those who voted in the majority said loudly “no exceptions for your religious beliefs” when it comes to running your business – or maybe more troubling – even for churches (The First Amendment was in the crosshairs for the Democrats, specifically on this issue – but also for restrictions on free speech – to include only allowing that which aligns with their positions and narrative (see what the social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been doing the last few months – selectively blocking, suspending, and censoring Conservative posts and most recently – even video evidence of election fraud).
  • Those who voted for Biden/Harris cast their vote directly against the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution – with both of these people being on the record as promising massive bans, confiscations, and heavy taxes on any firearms remaining in the hands of civilians. In fact – Joe Biden is among the most anti-2nd Amendment politicians in my lifetime.
  • There were so-called leaders in the Evangelical world (labeled #BigEva), including several Baptists (primarily SBC) who not only downplayed the above, but actually proclaimed that voting for Joe Biden was morally superior, in spite of these anti-God, wicked campaign promises (that actually are included in the DNC Platform). Figures such as John Piper, J.D. Greear (SBC President and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, NC), The Gospel Coalition, Russell Moore (@ERLC/SBC), Mark Dever (Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC), Tim Keller (founding pastor Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC), and a slew of lesser-known followers of the same #WOKE/ Social Justice false gospel these men are proponents of.

And while I would like to bemoan the details, let me circle the proverbial wagons back around to this reality:

Our divisions, while attributed to race, police, “inequality”, and so many other excuses, the REAL problem in our nation is a SPIRITUAL PROBLEM! The USA is NOT a Godly or Christian nation. Period. While we can debate whether this nation has ever been either (and that is a very hard case to make from a Biblical perspective), the majority voted for the most anti-God, anti-Bible presidential ticket in the history of this nation. And this was supposedly morally superior to a man who once said on a high microphone that he grabbed a woman’s p________. But you know what – I cannot change the outcome of this election. It might drag on in the courts until inauguration next January. Or this might be over with altogether by a myriad of other possible means that are circulating on the internet… NONE of that changes my personal mission, nor the mission of the apparently minority of this nation who actually have been redeemed by Christ Jesus, and who truly believe the Word of God – taking what God says as evil to be that…

What this means to the remaining churches who still cling to God and the Bible: Our mission is even more clear, and ought to be seen with more urgency than ever. We live in a nation that is, by any definition, wicked. A nation that bemoans “rights” yet deprives the most innocent of humanity (the unborn) of the most basic and fundamental right of all: the Right to Life – the opportunity to even draw a single breath.

And we got here, particularly to the point of professed Christians voting for and endorsing Biden as the somehow “morally-superior” choice via two, related realities:

  • There are a LOT of people who claim to be Christians, who are not, and churches have, in the interest of numbers, money, and attendance, perpetuated this problem via unregenerate church membership and “preaching” that never calls for repentance or genuine change.
  • Churches have, for years, failed to make Biblical disciples of Jesus Christ. Decades of programs, literature, and classes that have done nothing to actually engage church members to live lives that genuinely reflect Christ Jesus – by teaching them ALL that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20), have led to blblically-illiterate people who profess Christ, but believe whatever the winds and media tell them, who’s faith is more about what they feel and their opinions, than what God has said.

So – what will we do? I can only speak for my self and what I plan to encourage the church God has entrusted me to do: Refocus on the mission the LORD has given to His people – as found in Matthew 28:18-20, and that is to Go Make Disciples, which includes baptizing them, teaching them, and leading them. And this election, regardless of the outcome of it from a political realm, will serve as the eye-opening proof that our nation is one of unregenerate people in need of the real Gospel. But we absolutely cannot stop there. For if there is any hope for this nation in the future, then we need biblical disciples who will be humbled before God, not man – submissive to the LORD, not wordly systems, who will bow before the King of kings, instead of seeking worldly saviors.

And lest we forget:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God;and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

A Broken Man And His Need for Grace…

I am a broken man. A man who easily preaches grace, bu often fails to demonstrate it. A man who has honestly tried to do what is right for my family and those I have been called to serve and lead. Yet I am still a broken man. And no – I don’t want sympathy. I don’t deserve sympathy.

Not broken in the sense of lost without Christ. But broken in my imperfections. Broken in my personal issues. Broken in my failure to grieve over the loss of both of my parents within months of each other. Broken in my apparently vain attempts to be the man I think I am suppose to be.

I love my family – indeed, there is nothing else in this uspide-down world that I love more. From Diana, my wife going on 30 years, to my two daughters who really are precious jewels to me – and in who I have a great deal of pride – and yet I am so very unworthy to be a husband or a father. I have so frequently demonstrated a lack of grace, or sometimes a misdirected grace. You see, I get angry. No – I am not a danger to anyone when I am angry. And indeed, over the years, my anger has become far more compartmentalized and even more constructively-directed. Mostly. Yet there is still ONE thing that will push my proverbial button – ONE thing that I simply cannot tolerate – and that is lying. And the more brazen the lie, the deeper the anger wells up from.

It doesn’t really matter WHO it is lying – whether it be a politician or a family member – lying just simply triggers me in ways nothing else will. Yes, we have sadly grown to essentially expect politicians to lie – it is almost as if our support hinges on just how good of a liar a politician is. But when it comes to our family (or those we view as close as family), a lie is a particularly offensive and painful dagger. Even small lies cut deeply. So when big lies, on top of big lies – then in the face of contrary evidence- even more lies – the offense becomes more than I can handle. I pray. I count. I try to distract myself – but alas: I simply fail and generally blow my lid. And this is where I most fully fail as a husband and father: I forget about grace. Maybe it is the fleshly perspective of personal offense and injury (lying is an act of hate and betrayal). Or maybe it is my own personal pride being dented by the lack of concern by the one lying. But regardless – lying, particularly brazen lying by those I love – quite simply is intolerable.

Unfortunately, even a justified outcome/penalty for lies, when not administered with reasonable grace can be more of a hurtful kludge than a useful and productive tool. And I’m afraid that, by my own grace failures, I have begun to learn the real meaning of this text:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6::4

For years, this one verse has hung out at the tail-end of an often-preached passage. Many enjoy reading and hearing the command for children to obey their parents (vvs 1-3) that come right before it. But verse 4 is essentially as tossed in the closet to be ignored nearly as much as the seemingly politically-incorrect verse 5 (slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters). Right there in-between – is the clear command for fathers to NOT provoke your children to anger. But what does this really mean?

I must admit, my perspective was way-off. Maybe partially as a product of my first encounters with this verse in the KJV – “provoke not your children to wrath“. In all honesty, I would guess my viewpoint was primarily a picture of child abuse- unreasonable expectations (even super-human demands), impossible standards, even dramatic forms of favoritism might would have fit into my viewpoint.

But recent events have brought new light to my eyes – a new light that causes me much grief. Because the actual sense of this actually is, as John MacArthur put it:

“…suggests a repeated, ongoing pattern of treatment that gradually builds up a deep-seated anger and resentment that boils over in outward hostility.”

MacArthur, John F., Ephesians (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary) ©1986, p. 317.

In fact, Dr. MacArthur went on to say that often it is really thought of as in the child’s best interests, and could include well-meaning over-protection. But the one point he brought out was that continually questioning their judgment can build walls between a father and their child. Trying to control a child’s will is a futile battle – but with grace, one can often help guide it.

And I have utterly failed. Failed to the point of now believing that even outside intrusions that recently have come to light, that I wasn’t even aware of – are still, indirectly, my fault. Have my grace-less words and over-bearing responses pushed my daughter into a state of brokenness? Have a I unintentionally placed her on the edge of oblivion totally confused and lost regarding faith and eternity even? Have I, in my efforts to protect her, actually driven her into danger and trouble? My youngest and I use to share some hobbies, I most definitely enjoyed her accomplishments and have always been proud of her equine knowledge and developing riding (and training) skills. She was my hunting buddy – my deer-cleaning helper, and my “partner in crime”. And I have apparently, despite my best of intentions, lost that buddy. Not that I expected her to remain that little girl hanging on her daddy’s words and wanting to be with me – but I feel like I lost her – because I lack grace- and because of it – I have provoked her to anger…

In my efforts to be consistent and firm, while also trying to convey the seriousness of offense (remember my beginning regarding the truth)- I have taken away what is more precious than her own life (in her eyes) – and now I don’t even know what to do. Again… Fail.

At this point, as we seek help to deal with the current situation, while also dealing with some recently-revealed external issues, our biggest need… MY biggest need – is prayers. Prayers for grace. Prayers that I would demonstrate far more grace, and not just talk about it. Because at this point, I feel completely unqualified to be anything – unworthy to be this young woman’s “father”, and have most assuredly lost the title of “Dad”. I just pray I haven’t lost my daughter…

INJUSTICE FOR INJUSTICE?

Much like many of my generation, as a child, my mother use to repeat the phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Obviously as a child, I really didn’t grasp the depth or even the full application of this phrase. Yet today, if we just look at the news, we see the most glaring illustration of this truth unfolding before our eyes over-and-over.

America woke up today to another day of some of the worst violence and rioting we’ve seen in quite some time in relatively small Kenosha, WI, where 19 year-old Jacob Blake was shot by police over the weekend. The violence seems to be a magnified version of the rioting that took place in Minneapolis in response to the ugly death of George Floyd.

Let me preface this with the following: I abhor injustice. I honestly do not believe anyone can be an honest, sincere follower of Jesus Christ and not be deeply affected when someone, regardless of their skin color or the circumstances, loses their life. And yes, it can be particularly shocking and grievous when the death comes at the hands of those who’s job is “to protect and to serve”. I will also take this moment to say that, YES – there is a problem with injustice in our legal system. While I might not agree with HOW we define many things labeled as unjust, and further – in many ways I would definitely disagree with what “JUSTICE” might ought look like. I won’t get into the statistics that actually paint a much different picture than the “open season on Black men” claim of the #BLM movement – what we have is FAR less a skin color problem and far more heart issue. We have seen some pretty brazen and senseless violence and deaths at the hands of law enforcement. And YES, the “system” has allowed many to go unpunished.

But we have seen a great deal of attention placed on police and the sad over-use of deadly force. The system IS changing. Unfortunately, we now live in a knee-jerk, emotion-driven society that doesn’t care to wait and give the justice system a chance to do what is right. Instead, a whole new form of vigilante “justice” has been born, primarily led by the #BLACKLIVESMATTER and #ANTIFA anarcho Marxists who’s immediately response to ANY possible unjust case: RIOT (though the media seems to want to call them “Peaceful Protests”, no matter how many people are hurt or businesses burned and looted).

In our most recent example of the shooting of Jacob Blake: nobody seems to be willing to give the prosecutory, police department, and the justice system as a whole the opportunity to do what is right. In the cries of “INJUSTICE”, these folks actually prevent justice from being had! Governor Tony Evers didn’t even wait for the body of Br. Blake to grow cold before he labeled this shooting as criminal and pronounced the officers involved to be murderers. GUILTY! And in his public proclamation, he has likely tainted any chance for justice to be done.

You see – while the system has a history of failures and missteps, the foundation of our legal justice system is suppose to be “innocent until proven guilty”. We have seen many police-involved cases where the initial, even damning video or witness testimony turned out to not tell the whole story. But even if the initial video of this particularly death turns out to be teh “whole story” (and evidence has already emerged that there is, indeed, more – even if not exculpatory). The point is, there has not been enough time passed to evaluate even the known evidence, much less give time for even a preliminary investigation. Yet almost immediately, massed took to the streets – and in two days, it appears that more damage and property loss has occurred in little Kenosha than happened in Minneapolis. Businesses and property destroy – that have no connection to the police. And this is being done in the name of “Justice”? Burning down a youth correctional facility? Burning an office furniture business?

The reality is – these so-called “protests”, are simply acts of injustice perpetrated as a supposed answer to injustice. This is NOT about Justice! And again, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. In Minneapolis, the officers involved in the death of George Floyd were not just suspended, they were terminated. They were arrested and charged – all in the matter of three days – a stituation being taken very seriously. Did this do anything to quell the violence, looting, and even deaths? Nope. Likewise in Kenosha, the dead man’s body wasn’t even in the morgue and the “protestors” – aka: violence-minded, hate-filled rioters, were already about their dastardly actions. This is NOT about Justice! This is all about unregenerate people burning, destroying, and bringing evil into an already hurting community. This is about destroying justice, adulterating justice, cheapening justice. And it must stop. Unfortunately, this is directly tied to America’s political far-Left. A pattern that was actually promoted by the previous President, and is being perpetrated by the political party that had its “virtual” convention last week, where they completely refused to even mention the massive damage and injustice perpetrated by #BLM and #ANTIFA mobs on cities across the country.

TWO WRONGS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT!

Preach The Word (even through tears)

I was privileged to participate in an ordination service for a young man who had recently been called a pastor of a church that had been without a pastor for quite some time. As is boilerplate, the charge was brought centered around the command to “preach the Word” from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Sadly, you rarely hear spoken in these services (or even in seminary classes) that simply “preaching the Word” will bring grief. Yet I’ve had reminders of that truth in the last 24 hours.

A friend in another state, faithful expository preacher of the Bible – who holds no unscriptural view, who has never even been accused of preaching falsehoods, but instead – because of a broken local church ecclesiology (theology of church polity and power) – has been pushed out the door and forced to move from the parsonage, without pay to even afford another place to live. This man has been a faithful preacher of the Word. He has been honest and faithful to his call – but this faithfulness has also been the dagger that stabbed him in the back. When you preach in an expository format, you cannot easily skip over the controversial, uncomfortable, and “hard” stuff that many topical preachers conveniently just avoid. If you preach the Word, you will meet these difficult passages with honesty, love, and in a way that will very likely step on toes. And sometimes a church that has members rebelling against God in their personal lives will become offended and want more candy and less meat.

But add in the clear need for biblical discipline – such as a church member going on a well-publicized (in state-wide media) racist rant, or radical, community-rocking sexual sin (thing the incestuous forniaction of 2 Corinthians fame) then to get blocked by the church’s un-biblical church government – and you have a perfect storm to completely devastated a pastor and his family.

broken church

No sooner did I get some details on the above case (which is FAR from the first similar case I’ve become acquainted with among pastor friends), I got word of another friend in a somewhat different ministry position who also has been pushed out of his position via an extremely unbiblical and un-Christlike manner.

This is a sad pattern that, as I shared with my friends this morning, is nothing new and will continue to exist until Jesus steps foot on this earth. But I grieve for the damage done to these men who are simply pouring out their heart, giving of themselves in a very sacrificial way to glorify God and “preach the Word”, to make disciples – and to endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Much of this is rooted in an extremely dangerous theological perspective that many churches have, one that I heard hints of even in the ordination service I was a part of yesterday. While we who claim the Bible as our sole foundation and measure of faith and practice, we often take things to extremes. One example we find – we claim that Jesus is the “head” of the local church. We might even give verbal assent to a pastor being an “under-shepherd” to “lead” the church. Yet I have heard many times (and again heard it yesterday afternoon) that a pastor “serves at the pleasure of the church”. This always strikes me as completely incongruent with Scripture. It is about a maximum stretch to find a full-on “democratic rule” of the local church depicted or prescribed in the New Testament, but to find anything that remotely resembles a pastor being nothing more than a convenience to serve at the fleshly whims of the local church is exactly what brings us to the above mentioned recent cases, and these all are found in a very man/me-centered theology, which is an upside-down theology. It is a very small-view of God that actually places man ABOVE God. While Jesus is the head of the local church, and the church belongs unquestionablly to Him who gave His life for her – scripturally, we have the model and even command for the church to be “elder-led” – meaning God’s man (or men) are called to “rule” (we really hate that word). At the same time, the church does have a voice in many factors – but ultimately, a pastor is God’s man, called to be the primary lead – not as a hireling that can be cast aside when tastes and fleshly desires or feelings blow in a different direction.

But don’t we see this in many help-wanted pastor listings? How often do we see a church saying that they are looking for a man who holds certain degrees from prestigious institutions, who has decades of successful (by what standard?) ministry, yet never even mention that they are looking for God’s man – for the soul that the LORD Jesus Christ would be preparing to lead that congregation. As a seminary graduate myself, I appreciate the tool that seminary was (and still is) in my life and ministry – but the seminary does not make a pastor (or preacher). Wordly preferences do not dictate what God would have for the local church. And the sad reality of many congregations, filled with nominal or immature Christians, we have a recipe for disaster.

Does a pastor, who is faithfully dedicating his life, heart, blood, sweat, & tears deserve to be treated in any matter less than with genuine love, grace, and biblical processes? Understand that a God-called man sacrifices more than you could ever know. He isn’t going to brag about the hours spend in prayer and studying. He isn’t going to post a time card listing the miles and hours dedicated to helping that stumbling church member, that sick widow, or the questioning worry-wart. He won’t trumpet the inconvenience of going to a funeral home with a grieving family that doesn’t know how to put a funeral together. He doesn’t ask for lots of vacation time or leave unless there is no other option available. His phone is on nearly all the time, even when it means sacrificing family. And whether you know it or not: he is praying for you, usually by name every single day.

And in our current world of confusion and fear – he too is dealing with anxiety – and possibly measurable depression. Some who have been deprived of preaching time due to lockdowns or personal quarantine and illness, are struggling with simply not emotionally breaking down. These men… we pastors are not selfish when we pray for some return to “normal”, we are not uncaring when we have expectations that believers would act not out of fear but out of confidence in the LORD as a witness, a living testimony to a fear-paralized and broken world. When we desire the least-restrictive church operation possible, we are not seeking the illness or death of church members, but looking to make the facilities, ministries, and services accessible to the most people.

If you are a member of a local church, you may not realize it – but your pastor loves you. He has been entrusted with your spiritual growth and maturity – and tasked not with babying you and acquiescing to the world or church member preferences, but admonishing, encouraging, and yes, even bringing biblical church discipline when justified. If he preaches a message that spiritually slaps you in the face, don’t get mad, but instead get on your knees and thank God that the LORD and your pastor love you enough to speak the truth – then repent and pursue righteousness! Don’t launch a devil-inspired campaign of dishonesty and destruction in retaliation. And if we slip, if we fail – then remember the Biblical means of addressing that – in the spirit of love and reconciliation, walk and act in grace, covered by prayer, remembering that this pastor is a soul too –

Cast all petiness aside (Read and pray through Romans 14, especially the last 13 or so verses). And seek to walk in the truth of God’s Word.

Please pray for these two men hinted to in this entry – one in Missouri, the other here in Arkansas – and the many facing similar circumstances that I just haven’t heard about yet. If you have issues with your pastor – please pray both for him and for your own heart in the matter – and seek the biblical answer to the perceived problem. And act in LOVE, not vanity and flesh.

Numbness and Psalm 51…

Have you ever simply felt numb? The kind of numbness that envelops you like the cold depths of a lake as you sink ever-deeper into the cold grip of the waters? Yeah… I now am beginning to understand the concept.

For those who may not know – in April, I lost my mother, Judy Harris. In the midst of the insanity of a “pandemic” and widespread knee-jerk responses by government and IMG_2544 2people, along with the ongoing aftermath of her death – dealing with the probate of her estate and juggling two memorial services almost 900 miles apart, we then see an eruption of division, with Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA bringing violence, destruction, and fear to cities across the nation.

And then my father’s condition makes its final “bounce” – this time landing flat.  And just like that, in the course of just a few months, I IMG_8152have lost both parents. Preaching memorial services for both my mom and dad in a relatively short time was not on my ministry radar – but then again, neither was seeing our nation literally torn apart by politically-motivated manipulation of a virus, and a systematic attack on the very values that have endured and helped make the USA the nation that people still dream of escaping to.

I’m numbed by the apparent widespread apostasy of many popular Christian “leaders” who twist Scripture to endorse rebellion against God. I’m deeply saddened to see churches finding themselves faced with never meeting together again because of fear and widespread propaganda (again, politicizing of a pandemic).  I’m aching as I see loving people suddenly turned into veritable monsters over a piece of cloth over one’s face.  And I hurt for those who have long claimed to absolutely trust God, and who would acknowledge His sovereignty, well – except for this particular virus. Its as if some parts of God’s Word no longer apply? Is it not the same Bible that also tells believers that they are not given a spirit of fear? (2 Timothy 1:7)

I’m grieving not only for the loss of my own parents, but for a dear member of my 
112296745_10224032764792020_5060914239429042049_n84643334_10157023350568596_7312122881603796992_ochurch family, Sister Jeanie Greene, and more recently an old friend fromcollege, Michael Marlin who left behind a family that needed him.

And it all just grows ever-more numb – as I approach those I can with my “pastor hat” – a way of dealing with grief and frustration in a somewhat logical and spiritual way.  But that detachment from the personal side comes at a cost. Numbness. And the more that it all seems to pile on, the more numb and cold things become. And it would seem – that my old refuge of just a quiet place and my Bible just isn’t taking the numbness away like I had hoped.

Yet it is not as if I am without hope – for I still believe that Christ died for my salvation – that He paid the price for each and every one of my sins – and that His Spirit still dwells within me. Yet I also feel an immense pressure – to be something that I am rapidly losing grips on – a rock of strength for my family. A foundation stone for the church body the LORD has entrusted to my care. I’m not suppose to show weakness. I feel as if I must bottle up my grief, my pain, and my sadness – for the sake of those around me, for I’ve failed if I don’t still shine brightly with the Joy of Christ.  IN the midsts ot the numbness, I find myself grasping – grasping for anything to help me feel the joy of Christ in an overflowing, renewing, recharging way. Yet instead, I find myself having to try to restrain emotions that well up – that might cause me to lash out in frustration. And the cycle grows more rigid – and numb…

So I sit here in the coffee shop, reading, praying – and trying to “put on a happy face”… and then David’s cry comes to my mind.  A cry of one who also felt numb and distanced from the joy of God’s salvation.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation

And sustain me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners will be converted to You.

Psalm 51:10-13

Of course, this Psalm wasn’t from a man who was passively experiencing grief and hardships – the distance he felt was because of his own sins, his own transgressions, his own rebellion – David had committed adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. Yet I cannot help but still feel as if my numbness, my bottled grief – isn’t in some way due to my own sinful failure to absolutely trust God and to dwell in His promises through Christ. I cannot help but feel as if I could somehow press a magic button, or say the right prayer, that suddenly I would feel all better and the numbness would ease. Yet it just isn’t that simple.

Tears? Or maybe finding a field away from everyone to just cry out at the top of my lungs…

And then I think – at the very center of David’s prayer in this Psalm – is the fundamental need that I too have, even if our circumstances are different:

Restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation.

Salvation belongs and comes from the LORD – it is His to give, His to comfort with, and His provision. In Him will I trust. And just maybe if I would grasp Psalm 91 and it’s reminders that God is my refuge and my strength – in Him is found real refuge and comfort.

Spiritual Warfare is Real – and NOW

One aspect of the Christian walk that I have often heard people talk about, but I find most professed Christians are sadly unprepared for.  Unfortunately, we really don’t realize just how real the spiritual war is until we are put to the test.

For many, 2020 has been (pardon the term) the “year from hell”.  The entire world has now experienced the first significant pandemic in most people’s lifetime. We began with what we know were lies from the country where the virus originated, and have seen a battle between credentialed experts on whether we would see millions of deaths in the US, or if it would more resemble a bad flu season. We’ve seen a virus become quickly the most political virus in all of history. And caught in the middle of it all are churches and their pastors. Our kids have been deprived of so very much, and are now missing the important camps and activities that often are their only escape from lives that are often quite difficult. We now are seeing churches with splits forming over opinions regarding how this virus should be addressed. In the public square, we see professed Christians attacking one-another over the wearing of masks, of closing or reopening churches for worship, or even how many people we might “allow” into worship services.  I have witnessed very public abuses of Scripture to justify unbiblical viewpoints as well as biblical viewpoints pushed using worldly standards.  Many pastors that I am connected to have expressed similar battles and frustration and sadly, growing heartache. Indeed, the most heart-crushing reality of pastoral ministry today, beyond trying to comfort those most affected by this virus, is figuring out just HOW to minister in this environment.

For other churches, while having some issues related to COVID, have been separated by the politics of the current version of #BlackLivesMatter – from a church planter friend who’s ministry is basically near ground zero in Minneapolis, MN, (link to facebook fundraiser page) to churches that are now having to confront actual racial issues within their own membership – more heartache on top of the very well-publicized destruction and hate. Even more disturbing is the growth of so-called “woke” churches and theology, that employs Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality to systematically destroy the gospel from within. This is becoming another wedge in not just local churches, but denominations as the Social Justice false gospel replaces the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Divisions and heartache…

On a more personal level, after the sudden onset of illness and the death of my mother in April, handling the insanity of probate of her estate, and now my father who’s health has been in decline for several years and is now down to managing comfort as there is nothing left to “fix”, my own life has been turned upside-down. Each day goes by and the urge to just throw up my hands and give up grows stronger. But I know this is not God’s game plan. But for biblical Christians, we do know who’s game plan involves confusion, division, and anything possible to obscure or completely cover the gospel – Satan.  And that brings us back to the title of this post and a bit of Scripture.

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

Every battle we are facing as individuals, as cities, states, and a nation – whether over a virus, race, destruction of history, divisions in churches, or the political headache and corruption that has become so evident – while carried out by people, is actually the work of the father of lies and division – Satan. The devil. Beelzebul. The false accuser – and we who may not be really prepared to battle in this spiritual war – either caught unaware or simply not properly equipped, are easily drawn into the wrong side in the battle. And the very first error we usually make in fighting this spiritual battle that is very much going on in our world today: misidentifying the real enemy.  As the verse from Ephesians above clearly reminds us – the REAL enemy is not one-another. Even when we mess up and say things or take actions that are wrong, even when people can even act with what seems to be hate and violence – the REAL enemy is found in the rulers, powers, word forces of this darkness – the SPIRITUAL forces of wickedness. Our real enemies are spiritual enemies – and Paul went on to address this – we are given the battle plan for the believer:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…

In Ephesians 6:13-19, at its core, tells us that God has provided the weapons to fight this spiritual battle – both defensive and offensive weapons!

  • Girded your loins with the TRUTH
  • Breastplate (of Righteousness)
  • Boots of the Gospel of Peace (the real, Biblical gospel)
  • Shield (of Faith)
  • Helmet of Salvation
  • Sword of the Spirit
  • Prayer…

And notice – all of these armaments have to be picked up and put to use.  It is like having an unloaded firearm in your safe as a “home defense weapon”. It does you no good if it’s not at the ready! Likewise, all of these arms provided by God are of no use if not taken up and put to use. We must regularly practice with them as well.

Paul began with girding our loins with TRUTH – yet we live in a world that makes truth into something subjective – something that is up to the individual. But the Word of God itself is the TRUTH and is ALWAYS true – what God says is good is good. What God has said is bad is bad.  Scripture leaves very little room for anything grey – and certainly no room for relative morality. In fact – that is the rest of verse 14 –

breastplateThe Breastplate of righteousness – Which begins and ends with the righteousness of Christ – but in living lives that reflect the righteousness of Christ – based on the Word of God – when we walk by what God has said is good and bad – and when we take a firm stand on that – true righteousness – our hearts are protected – we are not so conflicted and divided at the core –

Boots of the Gospel of Peace – we often do not think of boots, especially in the context of roman_boot1_1.jpge999de54-042f-4d5e-93b2-7410d18ce558Originalbattle, as instruments of peace – but the concept is quite simple here – we must have something solid as a foundation. In athletics and in work – the right footwear is important to our ability to stay in the work at hand. Those of us who have done real work with the wrong shoes know exactly what this can be like. In the case of our equipping for the spiritual war that we ARE involved in – is having a solid foundation – that we might not be tripped up – and that is the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. One that isn’t carried away by cultural norms and expectations – a gospel that reflects the understanding of the utter sinfulness of mankind – our inability to “fix” that ourselves – but instead requires the supernatural actions of God in the great exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness – all by the grace of God. A false or weak gospel is no foundation for us to stand.

12-Roman-Helmet-BBHelmet of Salvation – when one is truly, soundly saved – with the right understanding of the gospel – with the heart for righteousness and truth – the helmet of salvation – the knowledge of our security in Christ Jesus – because HE has paid it all – and it is in the power of HIS resurrection by which we stand redeemed – that our minds – our thinking can be confident.

And the Sword of the Spirit – the NASB intentionally capitalizes “Spirit” here because we SD4116L_a1are dealing with wielding the power of the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power we are given! A power that is based on being actively filled by the Holy Spirit in walking WITH the Spirit day-by-day.  When we practice the presence of the Lord in our lives – We are, as Kyle Idleman wrote in his “Not a Fan” book, empowered in ways that we cannot be by our own power. What is interesting – the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is described as “fruits of the Spirit by Paul elsewhere – with the chief fruit being… Love.

Then the repeated weapon that many miss in this passage – prayer.  Prayers and petitions before God’s throne.  We cannot confuse the sovereignty with God with being unable to bring about change by our prayers!  Moses prayed for the Hebrew people – time after time God changed His actions based on the fervent prayers of righteous men on behalf of themselves and others. Prayer is one of the two most powerful tools given by God – if we genuinely believe in the power of prayer!

So – if you are really a Christian – whether or not you are a member of the church I pastor today, member of another church – or are seeking where the Lord would lead you to be an active part of a church body – please join me in praying that we would take seriously the very real spiritual battle all around us. Pray that we would see the REAL enemy, the devil – not our neighbors whom we are suppose to love. That we would not view one-another, especially within churches, as the enemy, and that we would truly take up the FULL armor of God and be not only “at the ready”, but willing to STAND for truth, for Love, for the Gospel – for the Kingdom of God!