Category: Religion

‘I miss Him’

Anselmo was a benevolent, peaceful man, raised in the church, and thrust into the perils of the Spanish Civil War. Having seen the atrocities of the war, Anselmo’s faith wavered.

Struggling to harmonize the sufferings of the war with the existence of God, he told Robert Jordan, “If there were God, never would he have permitted what I have seen with my eyes.

“Clearly I miss him, but a man must be responsible to himself.”

While Anselmo is nothing more than an imagination of the late Ernest Hemingway immortalized on the pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls, his unbelief and reasoning are typical of the modern mind, which struggles to understand how a loving, righteous God can allow evil to flourish in this lost and dying world.

Clearly the evil of this world cannot be overstated. Texas Child Protective Services are overwhelmed by caseloads as thousands of kids are abandoned, neglected, abused, harmed, and prostituted by their biological families. Human trafficking has become the modern day slavery, a dark underbelly of an otherwise prosperous and advanced culture.

Law enforcement is overwhelmed by the increased prevalence of illegal drug abuse to the point that law enforcement officials, politicians and correctional facilities are even beginning to wonder, “why bother?”

Contemporary Christians preach against judgmentalism and absolute truth while abusive husbands maim their wives. Yet, adding a coffee bar to the church foyer will somehow save the world.

Murder rates skyrocket and hope plummets in the inner cities, and students on college campuses have become incapable of debate without riots.

These are all first-world problems. Overseas, people sleep in fear of being captured and executed for no other reason than being born into the wrong tribe. The atrocities happening around the world are unprintable, but we’ll gladly pretend they aren’t happening if we can build a factory producing cheap electronics, or if we can buy cheap bananas from the despot in charge.

Modern man living in western culture has been blessed with technological and medical advancements that allow him to solve almost any problem that arises in his life. We have become comfortable with modern living.

Therefore, when faced with the suffering that man faces in the third world, and that man has faced throughout history, our perception of blessings versus suffering is challenged, and often, western man comes to the conclusion that suffering negates God’s presence, and with so much suffering in the world, God must not be present at all. Therefore, He does not exist.

This conclusion ignores the facts of God’s character as revealed in the Bible.

First, God did not create suffering, man did. In Genesis 1, God created a perfect world. In Genesis 2, God placed man in paradise. In Genesis 3, man tried to overthrow God, and was thus banished from paradise. In doing so, sin and disease entered in, as did ambition, avarice, lust and evil. The result, man suffers for his sin, and all too often inflicts suffering on others. God didn’t create this chaos, but He is working to correct it.

Since the fall of man, suffering is a natural part of life. Whether it is Adam eating bread in the sweat of his brow, or the Christians in Romans 8:35-39 who are killed all the day long, suffering is a common part of the human existence. In modern times, it manifests itself in political turmoil and physical illness. In other times and places, it manifested itself in conquests, persecutions, and famines.

God is present throughout the suffering. While modern man equates suffering with the absence of God, scripture actually teaches that God is present through the suffering. Romans 8:38-39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Suffering is not the result of God withdrawing His presence. It is the result of sin and evil. Meanwhile, God remains present, working through the suffering to transform His children into the people He intends on them being, building our endurance, building testimonies for Him, and lining up the global geopolitical situation to bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

God Himself suffered. Or, as Romans 8:32-34 says:

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

God suffered in that He gave His only begotten Son, who suffered at the hands of sinners during the crucifixion which resulted in the payment for the sins of all mankind.

Hebrews 4:15 says, He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Jesus Christ lived the human experience in a country that was occupied by a tyrannical empire, working to survive in a meager economy, before launching his earthly ministry which saw Him live on nothing, sleep outside, and suffer the persecution and rejection of His own people.

God is not some mystic being who sits in comfort in the clouds completely oblivious to the plight of those who suffer. Bette Midler is full of baloney. He is one who has experienced our suffering, weeps when we weep, and takes our pain personally.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Anselmo made the false conclusion that the sufferings of the war negated the existence of God. As a result, Anselmo’s life lacked direction, meaning and comfort. Thus he said, “I miss Him.”

For us, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Recently, I was counselling with a young mother who wanted to get her kids involved in a youth program. She discussed how simple and good life was when she went to church as a girl. There were youth car washes where they raised funds for church camp. There was church camp, retreats, lock-ins, and Sunday night pizza.

“Those were good days,” she said. Truth be told, she was missing the peace and comfort that come from living by faith in the company of other believers. The fact is, this young mother can return to that lifestyle any time she chooses.

So, if you have wandered from the faith, and are finding your life empty and hopeless, address the root cause of your emotional strife. You miss God. But you don’t have to. You can return to His presence at any time. Turn from your sins, place your faith in Him, and then gather with other believers at a true church that teaches His word, and that fellowships together.

Do this, and God will not only give you the grace to endure, but you’ll understand the “why,” and then receive the peace that surpasses all understanding.

God of the Valley

In times following global tragedies like the terror attack in Manchester, England, or when we experience personal trauma, it can seem like God is distant. He isn’t present. He isn’t paying attention. He doesn’t care.

Bette Midler summed this up perfectly in her epic hit, “From a Distance,” which proclaimed that, from a distance, the world was blue and clear, beautiful and harmonious, while on the ground we were all at war. While her song sounds beautiful enough to sing as a special music presentation at church, it paints a picture of a God who likes the view from above, and does not engage with the struggles of man.

The reality is that God is not only aware of world affairs, our personal struggles and the pain of the real world, but He is also working through these events to bring in a better world where we will no longer suffer.

Daily Wire podcaster Andrew Klavan discovered this first hand. In his book, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, he related an experience where he was listening to a New York Mets baseball game on the radio while contemplating suicide. The Mets had won in the last inning, thanks to the heroic effort of a Christian baseball player, who in the post game interview, said, “Sometimes, you just have to play through the pain.”

During the above-posted interview on my radio show, Klavan said that when he heard those words, it was as if the Lord told him, “You have to play through the pain. You are needed.”

That moment was one of the key moments that led to his conversion to Christianity. Reflecting upon that moment, and the moments of his life that led him to Christ, Klavan noted that people live in the real world. There is violence, problems, death, suffering, and fear. In order to reach people, we have to start by meeting them where they are. That involves an acknowledgement of the reality of their situations, but also showing them that God is present during times of pain and suffering, and that he is using that pain and suffering to bring them into a place of glory.

That’s why, even after his conversion, he continued writing suspense-thrillers. That is also the approach he takes with his daily podcast on the Daily Wire.

In times of tragedy, catch-phrases like “give it all to God” don’t carry much weight. What does carry weight is ministering to people during times of tragedy. That involves being there, listening to them, and reminding them that they are not alone.

Woody Allen once said that 85 percent of life is showing up. Let’s show up. Let’s be there for our families, friends and neighbors. Let’s minister to them during times of distress.

And when we find ourselves in distress, let’s remember that God is always present, and always active. He is God when we stand victorious on the mountaintop. He is also God when we struggle through the darkness of the valley. He is the God of the mountain, and He is God of the valley. Trust Him, and know that it will all work out.

Charly’s attempt to engage culture

Over the past two decades, Christians and churches have sought to engage popular culture through music, movies and even through news media sites like The Stream.

Following the observation that movies bear more influence on American culture than the pulpit, the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., produced a series of movies that gave us box office hits like “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” The movies, flanked by correlating Bible study curriculum for churches and small-groups, were tools in reaching many.

These efforts have led to the conversion and discipleship of many nominal church goers and fence riders, however, cracking the shell of the culture at large presents a challenge. While individuals are being reached through these efforts, the public at large is not.

My proof? In 1986, Top Gun was a box office smash. Americans lined up around the corner to see Maverick pursue his quest of graduating at the top of his Top Gun class. The movie, which featured many action scenes featuring the F-14 Tomcats and F-15 Eagles, wooed many young men into joining the Navy under the auspices of becoming fighter pilots.

Recruiters, seeing the opportunity, set up recruiting booths outside movie theaters, signing young men who were excited about the opportunity to fly the F-15 into hostile air to intercept Russian Migs. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Historically, the only time a Christian movie has generated a large-scale response was following the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” A heart-felt and detailed depiction of the Gospel is bound to elicit a reaction. No doubt about that. However, aside from the anecdotal stories of the criminal who confessed to a crime for which someone else was convicted, there was no shift in American culture. A large number of professed conversions came from that movie, but America’s culture still trended toward unGodliness.

If the purpose of Christian movies is to create conversions, or to call marginal Christians back to faith, then those movies are accomplishing the goal. However, if Christian movies are designed to sway the culture at large, we are missing the mark. And, until this week, I’ve wondered why.

Sunday night, my wife and I enjoyed some “date time,” where we sit down and watch a movie via Amazon Prime or Hulu. We found a romance movie called “Charly,” about a New York woman who visits family in Salt Lake City and meets a young Mormon, and the two fall in love. Charly convinces Sam, the young Mormon, to be more spontaneous. Sam leads Charly to convert to Mormonism.

The plot was good, the acting was good. The depictions of family and the importance thereof were good. What turned me off to the movie was when the film would unabashedly preach Mormonism. There’d be a Sunday School scene non-germane to the plot. The main character would try to preach it to his love interest. Those scenes disrupted the plot, and raised my antenna. I spent the rest of the movie looking for the Mormon innuendos.

Now, I mean no disrespect to my Mormon friends, but as a Baptist pastor, I have several, deep, theological differences with the Mormon religion. Having those differences brought to the forefront of my mind, I began to wonder if non-believers had the same reaction to Christian films as I was having to “Charly.”

Are Christian filmmakers hindering their influence on the culture by inserting outright Christian preaching into Christian movies? I don’t know, and I have no complaints.

However, as we produce Christian movies, let’s set our purpose before writing our script. Are we looking to influence society to adopt our values? Or are we looking for mass conversions. If mass conversions are the goal, then by all means, insert explicit Bible teachings. Do a movie about the Gospel, like “The Passion of the Christ.”

However, if the goal is to influence societal values, maybe embedding Christian values into the plot is a better way to go.

How the Johnson Amendment is used to target churches

LBJ

Any pastor will tell you that unless you put the scriptures into practice, they will not change your life. As a result, pastors are responsible not only for teaching the text and meaning of scripture, but also for teaching their congregations how to apply those scriptures to life.

However, when scripture applies to the legislative process, or a political election, the pastor must step out of the pulpit before applying scripture to the situation. Otherwise, the church can lose its tax-exempt status under the Johnson Amendment.

To be clear, pastors can discuss abortion, homosexuality, benevolence and relief for the poor, drug abuse, sexual immorality and the definition of marriage from the pulpit. It’s when those issues become tied to legislation, or a political campaign that the Johnson Amendment comes into play.

Such was the case in Houston during the fall of 2014. Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, adding sexual orientation to the list of things for which one could not be discriminated against. While this sounds like common decency on the surface, many felt that the ordinance infringed on the religious freedoms of Christian business owners, contractors, and political hopefuls. Then, there was the bathroom issue.

Pastors who preached against homosexuality could not reference the proposed ordinance, or discuss petitions to call for a public referendum on the ordinance, from the pulpit. To engage the ordinance, those pastors would have to work on their own time, apart from the churches. Such is common, and such took place in the aftermath of the passage of HERO.

The petition to call for a referendum failed, and Houston area pastors filed a lawsuit claiming that many signatures on the petition were unlawfully disqualified. During the discovery phase of that suit, attorneys for the city subpoena’ed the sermons of some of the pastors who helped promote the petition.

Time magazine reported that lawyers for the city wanted to search the sermon notes to see if any of the pastors had discussed the petition, or instructed their parishioners on how to participate in the petition during church services.

Immediately, there was an outcry from the Christian community in Houston, and Mayor Parker ordered the lawyers to drop the subpoenas for the sermon notes, telling the Texas Tribune that she had not approved those subpoenas prior to them being sent out.

The legal and political process played out, resulting in the referendum on HERO being put to the voters. It ultimately failed.

This post is not to reopen the debate on HERO, bathrooms or same-sex marriage. This post is to examine how the Johnson Amendment was used, though not cited, as a legal tool to overcome the political activities of Christian pastors.

Under the Johnson Amendment, churches are not allowed to engage in activity that would influence an election, or legislation. Churches cannot lobby the legislature, their local councils, and cannot endorse candidates. Churches cannot contribute to political candidates or political action committees. Doing so would cost them their tax-exempt status, and subject them to federal regulation.

There are good reasons for the Johnson Amendment, as no one wants to see churches become stealth super-PACs, as Roll Call fears. On the other hand, the premise of the Johnson Amendment was the basis for the City of Houston’s subpoenas for Sunday sermons. They wanted to see if any pastor had crossed the line. Had that been established, the city could have used the violation of the Johnson Amendment to put down the lawsuit, thus saving HERO. And that’s where the problem lies.

If the government has the right to examine Biblical teaching, and then ban or penalize it for becoming “too political,” then what’s next? The separation of Church and State would eventually be weathered down, and government would control religion. That has resulted in disaster every single time it has happened throughout history.

Churches are tax-exempt to preserve the separation of church and state by preventing government regulation through tax incentives or penalties. If government wants to ban financial contributions from churches to political causes to keep that separation in tact, fine.

However, the government should never have any say in what is taught from the pulpit, or the Sunday School rooms. Furthermore, churches should be able to advocate for policies that parallel their mission. Stand up, speak up, but don’t pay up.

For those reasons, President Donald Trump’s executive order for the IRS to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is a good thing, even if it doesn’t make any significant changes to the way things are.

The real reason Millennials are leaving Christianity

WP_20141002_003Rev. Darryl Bowdre has spent much of his adult life serving the community in north Tyler, Tex. He serves as pastor of the South Central Church of Christ, advocates for the community’s schools and students, mentors young men, and at one time had a radio show on the now-defunct KZEY 690 AM.

Once, Rev. Bowdre spent an entire episode of his show addressing the crisis with young people. Rev. Bowdre lamented that the younger generation was being seduced by violent music, drugs, peer pressure and sexual immorality. These temptations, according to Bowdre, were even overtaking what we would refer to as “the good kids.”

When Rev. Bowdre recorded that show, America was in a time of unparalleled prosperity. It was a prosperity that blinded many to their responsibilities to guide their children, and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

“One day, when this party is over,” Rev. Bowdre stated, “We will stand before our Lord, and answer for what we didn’t do. We will answer for why we didn’t save the children.”

The day we stand before the Lord has not yet arrived. However, the party is over, and we are seeing the results of not having “saved our children.”

A recent article from Fox News offered 10 reasons why millennials are abandoning Christianity. Among those reasons were the breakdown of the family, lack of spiritual authenticity from adults, and the cultural abandonment of morality. These three reasons, along with the other seven, are symptomatic of the central disease diagnosed by Rev. Bowdre almost two decades ago. We didn’t teach our children. We didn’t intervene in their lives. We didn’t save them. Now, those children are young adults, and we are seeing the fruit of our inaction.

With the breakdown of the family, fathers have not been there to teach the children about their heavenly Father. Furthermore, with no functional family present, children have not been taught values, virtue and faith. They have been left to teach themselves.

The children have been teaching themselves using Hollywood, atheistic professors, and personal pleasure as their curriculum. This problem is compounded when they see the adults in their lives being hypocritical; being one person at church, and a completely different person at home. The lack of leadership and guidance from their parents has breed contempt for their parents’ generation, and all the traditions and values that go with it, including religion.

Meanwhile, millennials seek purpose apart from God. They want their lives to mean something, while turning away from the One who designed life itself.

As a result, there are riots at Berkeley, riots in Ferguson, Mo., skyrocketing STD rates, and a willingness by many western youth to join terrorist organizations like ISIS.

Most adults today are horrified at what the millennial generation has become. However, we only have ourselves to blame. In the party of the 1990s and the early 2000s, we abandoned our children, allowing them to raise themselves in society, opening the door for Satan to steal their hearts.

Rev. Bowdre warned us. One day, we will answer for the fact that we did not save our children.

The good news is, if you woke up above the grass today, there is still time to change.

Historically, Christians have been in the minority in the world. We have never really steered the world agenda, although we enjoyed a lot of influence in the founding of the United States of America.

Being the cultural minority leads to revival in the Christian community. Being culturally dominant often leads to complacency, which leads to surface-level faith and weak theology. Being in the cultural minority challenges our faith, which forces us to learn more about God, strengthen our faith, and stand on truth even when it’s not popular to do so.

And on that note, the millennial generation is ripe for a soul harvest. Millennials crave meaning, and desperately want their lives to have an impact. Once they take up a cause, they will follow it no matter the consequences. Which means, if you lead a millennial to Christ, you have not only led a soul to salvation, but you have created a super-evangelist, apologists, author, speaker, and disciple-maker.

When millennials accept Christ, and conform themselves to His image, and not a man-made Christ-like image, they totally sell out for the Lord. The result is more millennials being won for Christ.

It’s not easy. You will not win millennials to Christ by talking about the ABC plan of salvation, or by asking them to say the sinner’s prayer. You have to be the embodiment of Isaiah 1:18 (Come, let us reason together.) You have to be able to discuss your faith, what salvation is, and answer the hard questions. However, if you are sincere, the millennials will see it, respect it, and may even repent and believe.

That’s not to say that the majority will be reached. You may only reach one in a thousand.

However, before that happens, you have to settle your faith in your heart. Authenticity is the highest virtue to millennials. And to have authenticity, you have to be authentic.

Therefore, make your calling and election sure. Study your Bible, learn all you can about the Lord. Settle your faith in your heart. Then get busy reaching these young people for Christ.