Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Life of Little Ones and Millstones: Thoughts on Planned Parenthood

We all know how loving and compassionate Jesus was.  His whole life was one of faithful service and loving sacrifice displayed in full grandeur on the cross as he died for his enemies, us sinners.  Yet, Jesus said some things that should make us stop and pay attention, even shutter when we think of them.  In Matthew 18:2-7 (and Luke 17) Jesus calls a child to sit with him and then addresses the crowd.  "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  If anyone causes one of these little ones - those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Those last words don't sound as loving or compassionate as we may be used to from Jesus.  But he is making a very important point.  Children are important, how they are treated matters, and those who would harm have entered into dangerous territory.  Jesus has a deep passion for children and great justice will be carried out upon those who would harm them.  It is no small thing to fall into the hands of an angry God, Planned Parenthood.

In recent weeks two horrendous videos have surfaced showing that not only are abortions being performed by Planned Parenthood (ironic title for this organization), but the organs of the unborn children are being harvested and sold.  Harvested and sold.  There is a lot to say about our cultures bondage to money...but I'll let you think that through on your own.  The language used to describe the process is inhumane, harsh, violent, and grotesque.  Care was taken not to 'crush' the heart and is the quote from Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical research, Deborah Nucatola:  "I'd say a lot of people want liver," and "a lot of people want intact hearts these days."..."We've been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I'm not gonna crush that part, I'm gonna basically crush below, I'm going to crush above, and I'm going to see if I can get it all intact."  (Read more from Kirsten Powers article here.)

Unborn babies being harvested for their organs, carefully crushed so the profits from their organs aren't damaged.  It is sickening that we are at that kind of place in our country, where our greatest virtue is unbridled passion, and our greatest vice is self-control and responsibility.  Don't want your baby, then we will carefully crush it and sell it's parts...that's sick.  But here we are.  Enter the millstone.  Forget stumbling, these children have never had a chance to walk.  Jesus words are full of vivid violence.  Tie one end of a millstone to a rope and the other to the neck of an offender.  Drag them to deep water and throw them overboard.  Watch them sink, thrashing against gravity, desperately holding on the life and breath...sink out of sight, dead.  Justice.  That is Jesus too.  I do not know when or in what form the millstone will come to Planned Parenthood.  I only know that Jesus has no pity of those who show no repentance.  

In spite of recent videos, Planned Parenthood has only apologized for the 'tone' used when discussing organ harvesting of aborted babies, apparently talking in the wrong tone is the issue.

I'll be honest, part of me would love to take Planned Parenthood for a boat ride, with a rope and large rock, but God has not given me that role.  Instead, in light of this, I am commanded to love and pray for them.  "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you..."  Those are Jesus words, take issue with him if you don't like them.  Do you feel anger?  Good, your should.  Jesus was angry with a lot of people, but he died for them too, lovingly and willingly.

The question might be how to pray?  I pray that Planned Parenthood is shut down and not funded ever again.  I pray that Deborah Nucatola, and others like her at Planned Parenthood finds the love and grace of God that leads to repentance.  I pray that God shows me how to love a young, pregnant, unwed mother who is thinking of an abortion and not just tell her not to get one, but help her raise her child.  Because being Pro-Life is not the same as being against abortions.  Pro-Life is not telling a young pregnant woman to raise her child, shake her hand, and walk into the sunset.  Pro-Life means I must be willing to sacrifice time, energy, and money to help a woman or family raise a child that they once had considered aborting.  I think that is what Jesus would do.  


Friday, February 13, 2015

50 Shades of Black and White

So, Fifty Shades of Grey is in the Theater today…so what does the Word of God say about it?  Well, perhaps it is not a ‘grey’ area, perhaps God’s Word shows us a better way to live out our sexuality in a world that is worshipping sex over the One who gave us sex as a gift.  If you are wondering whether you should go see this or not, here is a helpful way to think with God’s Word in mind.  And perhaps you're not going...what then?  I give a few helpful thoughts to redeeming conversations about 50 Shades of Grey at the end.

Ask yourself this simple question:  Does whatever I am going to do violate any principle or command in the Word of God?  Or more specifically, “Does seeing the movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey” (or reading the book) violate any principle or command in the Word of God?  The answer is yes.  Here are 4, there are more.
a.     Violation of those born in the image of God.  The image of God, that he gave to men and women, is the grounds for why killing someone is wrong…we violate the image of God in another being when we do that.  Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”  The question then is, can we violate the image of God in a man or a woman without killing them.  Again, the answer is yes.  The image of God gives value and worth to each person, we devalue and degrade men and women when we seek sexual pleasure from them apart from a marital relationship.  Seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, seeks our pleasure over their good and God’s purity.  To desire them for sexual fulfillment only, objectifies them.  They are treated like a consumer product that is used, consumed, and disposed of.  Men and women are not objects that are to be used to gratify our sexual desires. 
b.     Violation of technique over purpose.  The purpose of sex is to glorify God, it is meant to be a symbol of our relationship to God…therefore it is quite honestly more than an orgasm…it is spiritual.  This aspect is often forgotten.  But today, most of the pressure is on sexual technique, separated from God’s good purpose.  To understand this, we must ask ourselves this question, “What is truly important to a sexual relationship?”  Let’s cut to the chase.  If good looks, all the right curves, in all the right places, a nice tan and varied positions is what we consider important…then why do so many Hollywood marriages fail?  They “have it all” and yet, there is a lot of cheating going on in that scene.  If that is what you think is important, there will always be someone who’s “grass is greener.”  God’s good design for a sexual relationship is more than physical.  Being “one flesh” means that a measurable spiritual aspect happens in a physical act.  Sex is spiritual too.  Most people, if they are really honest, would say that a loving, loyal, honest, trustworthy, open, sexual relationship that glorifies God is more important than what plays out in the bedroom.  If your unsure, ask someone who has been cheated on.   
c.      Violation of conscience.  If we focus too much on technique, we will “think” our husband or wife is “not good enough.”  Watching 50 Shades will inflame your desire for something that your partner may never desire in his or her sexual relationship.  This causes needless and unhealthy sexual expectations. But God shows us a better way, one that is good for both a husband and a wife.  In 1 Cor.  7, Paul gives instruction on the cooperative aspect of the marital relationship concerning sex.  Here is a quick list of what he states ( ) signifies the verses; First, husbands and wives should engage in sexual intercourse (2).  Second, the husband should have sex with his wife when she asks and the wife should have sex with her husband when he asks (3).  Third, the reason they should be mutually giving to one another is that each one is subject to the other because, the wives body is the husbands, the husband’s body is the wife’s (4).  Fourth, don’t use sex as a weapon…don’t deprive one another (5).   There is much to say here, but let me just add, that begrudgingly giving into a sexual advance by your husband or wife is not what Paul is talking about, he means, give yourself to your husband or wife with love, passion, and desire, not simply out of obligation.  This is God’s Word and His instruction to us.  God knows that if we subject ourselves to idols of the flesh, we will reap what we sow, creating unhealthy and unrealistic sexual expectations that can never be met.
d.     Violation of worship.  This is the root of all evil, all sin, all turning from God…the idea that we would worship anything outside of God.  To give you an idea of how this works, you can read Romans 1:18-32.  Paul says that people, “exchanged the glory of God” for selfish sexual satisfaction.  They put their desires ahead of God, they made sex their god and did not put God in his rightful place.  Going to a movie like 50 Shades of Grey or reading erotica or looking at pornography all do the same thing: they inflate our God-given passions in sinful ways, they turn our hearts from God to the good things God has given us.  They denigrate men and women, cause us to do deplorable acts, objectify the beauty of the image of God in one another, and inflame our desires away from our spouses…namely, they cause us to loose our love of and for God. 

However, the fact that the movie is showing in Roseau, and the fact that some of our friends will go, is not a reason to run to the hills or bury our head in the sand, instead, we must find a way to redeem this situation for the Glory of God!  Here are a couple of ideas: 
First, when someone says they went to the movie, don’t snarl at them, fake a heart-attack from shock, or run to the bathroom to throw-up…what I mean is instead of reacting like you can’t believe other people sin,  “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)  Take today to think through the pitfalls of human sexuality that is separated from it’s; God-given, God-glorifying, husband-wife intended, pleasure and purpose filled goodness that God intended. 
Second, it is helpful to remember that sexual expression is a good gift from God.  I have discussed this in an earlier post you can read here.  Speaking the truth in love is more than just telling them they are doing something wrong, it is showing them God’s love in giving us boundaries and also discussing God’s goodness in the rightful expression of sexual pleasure that is honoring of our spouse and God’s design. 
Third, sexual relations is not necessary to fulfill God’s purpose for your life or to be fully human.  Jesus was, after-all, single and so was Paul and I don’t think any of us would say it made them less of a person.  God loves, adores, calls, and strengthens those called to live as a single person for their life.  We spend too much time thinking of sex, we are commanded to “set our minds on the things above” think more of God and enjoy your sexual relationship in it’ proper place. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shifting Sheep and Swapping Spit

Shifting Sheep and Swapping Spit – What they have in common and what they don’t.  This is meant to be a companion guide to last weeks “The Numbers Game” so if you haven’t read that yet, please read that first, then read this one.

First, it is going to be helpful to define the two terms in the title.  By ‘shifting sheep’ I am speaking about people who move from one church to another.  I am not differentiating between those who move for good reasons (violation of conscience, departure from orthodox doctrine, those called to start new churches, etc.) and those who move for perhaps lesser reasons.  Second, ‘swapping spit’ is the playground verbiage for kissing several different people.  With the initial definitions set, we can move along.
Last week I quoted this statistic, “The vast majority of most churches’ growth comes from people switching churches.  Only a small percentage (1-3 percent) of the growth comes from conversions.”  This is interesting in a weird way and more than slightly disheartening in many other ways.  So, let’s pose a series of questions to work through a few dynamics.
Why are people switching churches?  There are a multitude of reasons, let’s address a couple.

1.     Doctrinal departure – When a church has departed from orthodox Christian truth, changing to appease the winds of cultural change, then leaving the church is a good idea.  Perhaps they say the Bible is one of many inspired books, or Jesus is one of many ways to heaven, or you can become god by learning more…then it is in fact not you that is leaving, they have already left, you are going elsewhere to return to the truth.  (I will address the proper way in which to “leave” as well.) 
2.     Church planting – There is something called fissiparous strategy for church planting, namely, churches multiply by dividing, much like cells.  The dividing of a church does is not negative in this situation, in fact, it is organized, strategized, blessed, and celebrated.  When a church has a vision to grow beyond it’s walls, they ask people to begin to pray for their part in reaching the world for God.  New leaders are grown, trained, and then the mother church births a new one and in order to ensure the success of the new church, they send part of their congregation with to help, permanently. 

The previous two examples explain why people leave one church for another and are both important and Godly.  But, sadly, those examples make up only a small percentage of “shifting sheep.”  The main contributor to sheep going from church to church is cultural.  We live in a consumer driven world.  Everyone wants the best possible bang for their buck, they want the best product or experience for the lowest price or cost to themselves.  If there are two theatres in town, will equal facilities and technology, the one that offers the best price is going to win.  However, that is not what Jesus called us to.  Charles Spurgeon has pointed out that “There are no crown wearers in heaven that are not cross bearers on earth.”  What’s he saying?  Giving your life to Jesus comes with a cost.  Christ died to redeem you for His service, not simply to keep you out of hell and there is a difference. 
Many times people leave because another church has something better to offer, instead, we should be thinking about what we have to offer our fellow believers.  Or perhaps someone said something or did something and so people leave because they were offended.  Being offended is not a reason to leave.  Instead, we should seek reconciliation before we even give our offer our gift at the alter (Matthew 5:23-24).  But these things are not easily done.  Doing what the Bible instructs us to do is hard, but that is no reason not to do it.  
Committing to a body of believers is a selfless act that Jesus called us to and that He modeled by giving of himself fully, even death on a cross that we may be reconciled to Him.  That is our example, that is how much we must be willing to forgive one another and continue in the mission of making much of Jesus to all people.  It is no small thing that these things happen, Jesus said that the love we as the body of Christ have for one another would be a testimony to the world.  Unreconciled, dissatisfied, or consumer driven sheep are not glorifying to God.  The idea of “shifting sheep” should taste to us like swapping spit.  We should not be comfortable with it.  We should not desire it.  We should be saddened that it occurs.  And we should be diligent in identifying and ending it. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Numbers Game

The Number Games – Church attendance is up; Church attendance is down.  What the numbers really tell us, why it’s important, and what we can do about it.

            We are a culture obsessed with numbers.  Large budgets, strong stock, quarterly ratings, all these things drive companies and measure that company’s success.  When the numbers are up, they are a good company, but, when the numbers are down, they are a poor company.  But do large numbers always mean health and success?  Not always.  In John 6, Jesus had a large following, until his teaching was “too hard” then nearly everyone abandoned him…but do we measure Jesus’ success by numbers?  I hope not.  But numbers do tell us something…so what can we learn about numbers?
            What do attendance numbers tell us about the health of the church?  When a church is full, does that mean it is a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, white-hot group of worshipers?  When a church has many empty seats, does that mean they have neglected God, are lukewarm in their worship, and care little for outsiders?  
            Before we dive into those questions, let’s have an honest look at church attendance numbers around the country and then relate that to our church.  (The information sited here comes from the ACTS 29 church-planting network…they have studied church dynamics for years to assist them in their church planting efforts here in the US.)  Here are some important numbers:  59% of the churches in the US have between 7- 99 weekly worshipers.  35% have between 100 - 499 people in their Sunday worship services…translation: 94% of churches in the US are churches much like ours.  From the years 2000-2007 MN churches declined 12.7%...that trend continues.  The total life span of a church in the US is 96 years (I spoke with an elder this week and she has seen 3 Roseau churches close, 2 of those have closed in my life-time).  Perhaps the most sobering fact of church attendance is: “The vast majority of most churches’ growth comes from people switching churches.  Only a small percentage (1-3 percent) of the growth comes from conversions.”  Read those two sentences again and again until it sinks in. 
            Why do most churches only make it 96 years?  There may be numerous factors, but let’s look at the major contributors.  When a church begins, there are a few people and families that are involved in the process.  Their friends and the people they meet begin to come (the church is young, they’re excited, and they invite people).  The planting generation and those just younger than them (and perhaps their kids) attend the church…they are heavy on evangelism which brings in new families and when the planting generation reaches their 80’s and 90’s, the church will be at it’s height (highest attendance), with those they reached being 50-70 years old.  But a change has taken place…a growing church will eventually have to shift into discipleship (how do we teach our new people about God?) (Sunday School, kids programs, youth programs, etc.).  This is a necessary and important part of being a church.  But, when that happens, if a church does not continue to focus on evangelism, it will begin the slow process of decline...though it isn’t obvious by numbers yet.  But over the course of the next several decades that problem will begin to get clearer.  The 50-90 year-olds and their families, who began the church and were there to see it grow, are slowly transitioning out of their roles.  A few new converts are coming in, but others are coming from churches who have hit the 96 year average and closed or have switched churches, but no one sees a problem because a church is still “full”…the reality is that there has been very little actual growth or conversion growth in the last few years of that churches life because they have focused on discipleship and excluded evangelism.  The church has sustained numbers by reproduction within families and people switching churches, but they have not actually ‘grown’.  So that is the progression to churches that die at age 96.
            Let’s be honest, we at RCC are not all converts and that’s not all bad.  Some of us are here because our parents brought us here as kids and now we come as adults (this is not growth), some of us are here because we came here from a closed church or we left a previous church (this is not growth)…but look around and ask yourself how many of us are really “new Christians?”  How many of us never went to any kind of a church before or had no desire for God and now attend RCC to worship God together with others?
            More honesty with ourselves.  We have seen people go from our congregation in the last couple years…this has not been easy, in fact, for many of us this has been a really tough aspect of church to deal with.  I understand that it can feel like broken relationships and maybe is.  I understand that friends have gone and we miss them…and we should.  So what do we do about it?
            First, look around and ask yourself if we as a church have grown in the past 20 years more from conversions or from people switching churches.  I haven’t been here that long, that is simply a question for you to analyze and answer for yourself. 
Second, realize that if 20 people come to our church from other churches and 20 people leave our church to go to another church…the body of Christ has neither gained nor lost.  Switching people is not gain or loss – unless we believe we are in competition with other churches…which we are not. 
Third, as one person said, there are two dangers to playing “The Numbers Game.”  First, we can sin against the full seat by desiring an empty seat filled.  Do we care about the person who isn’t there more than the person that is?  Second, we can sin against the empty seat by caring only for the filled seat.  Do we care about the person that is here so much we don’t care if an empty seat is left empty?  Loving our neighbor means finding the right balance of loving those here and loving the lost.
The central command for the church is to make disciples of all nations…this is a crazy and impossible task if we are left on our own.  Thankfully we are not left on our own.  Jesus sandwiched the great commission with these words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” absolute complete authority over all things have been given to Jesus and though the task is great, “And surely I (Jesus with supreme authority) am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Let’s go make disciples, let’s grow as God desires us to grow, let’s forget about playing “The Numbers Game” and ask God to show us the way!

Monday, July 21, 2014

No More Christians in Mosul

For the first time in 2,000 years there are no more Christians is Mosul, Iraq.  Last Thursday ISIS released a statement demanding Christians to pay a tax, convert to Islam, leave, or be killed.  The ultimatum’s deadline was Saturday at noon.  Over those 3 days, approximately 60,000 Christians fled the city, seeking refuge from ISIS.  In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, there were approximately 1 million Christians in Iraq.  Today there are less than 300,000 remaining.  These are our brothers and sisters, they are in need, they are in distress, they are hurting, and we can help.  They have walked away from family, from their homes, from their way of life, and have done so because their love for Jesus is second to nothing.  I would encourage all of you to fast for a time (perhaps a meal or a day, what you feel is appropriate for you) and spend time praying for our fellow Christians.  I would also encourage you to look into various organizations (I recommend World Relief or a similar Christian organization) and see how we can tangibly provide for them.
    “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.”  Proverbs 24:11

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday at CSM

Just a little information for you parents...the kids are getting about 6 hours of sleep a night, working from 8-8 each day and are doing great!  Today was another busy day, starting with some work at World Vision (if you are not familiar with World Vision...I will write a post on them soon).  We began by sorting Denver Broncos Super Bowl t-shirts and sweatshirts...they started with 6 semi-loads of apparel and today (after a month and a half) we finished the last piece of clothing!  FYI, Denver did NOT win the Super Bowl, so the clothing is donated.  Another fun fact, they only ship small to XL t-shirts over seas, because no one in the countries they are sending them to is larger than an XL.  So, they use the XXL or larger shirts for material that the people can use to sew their own clothing.  Then we sorted shoes. 

After this, we did a little R and R at a park for lunch.  

The afternoon is a really fun social experiment.  For 4 hours (3 seperate teams) we walk Denver and do what is called an "immersion."  During the "immersion" we have certain things we need to learn, certain tasks we must accomplish, and get an idea of what homelessness feels like.  Did you know that the average age of a homeless person is, 9?!!!  Pretty amazing, but true.

We did something similar yesterday, shorter and a little easier, but still had an opportunity to make a new friend, "Just J."  Here he is, he has an amazing story, lives on the streets for 9 months a year, we'll share more when we get home.

Monday, June 30, 2014

CSM Denver

Just a quick photo before we leave was quite the trip!

Here is a picture from just south of Sioux City, after a stop for dinner, God gave us an amazing storm to look at!

We made it as far as Lexington, NE on Saturday...lots of rain to drive through, but it was still fun.  Then on Sunday, before check-in, we went to Castlewood Canyon about 20 min. south of Denver.

Now we have spent the day helping kids read, learn computers, and learn about Dinosaurs.  Then we played soccer for a while with them.  This evening we went to Senior Support Services and helped serve a meal and spend 1 1/2 hours talking with homeless or low income men.  We are enjoying our trip!