Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Thoughts

The Nation has spoken. Donald Trump is president. As we stand on the far side of the most divisive election in decades, my question as a pastor and Christian is, how do we move forward as Christians? As people who name the name of Christ and want to see him glorified? Whether you voted for President Elect Trump, or for Secretary Clinton, or one of the other candidates, whether your candidate lost, or won, or never had a chance, how do you move forward?

I write this as someone who was a #NeverTrump voter, and refused to vote for either major party candidate. But the question is for all of us. How do we move forward, together? How do we act as the church on the back side of election day?

First, speak and act with respect.

8 years ago, as we came up I to the election of president Obama, I was listening to a news report, and the reporter referred to the president as Mr. Bush, rather than President Bush, and was sharply critical of President Bush. Soon after that, I heard a local talk show personality from a different perspective state that if one political candidate won, he would not call that candidate president, and do everything that he could to see that this man’s presidential agenda was undermined. That was in 2008, and things have just gone downhill from there. We have reached a point where it seems that respect and civility is dead when it comes to our political dialogue. Worse, many Christians do not act much different. We show much of that same disrespect. We often act the same way that those who are not Christians act, showing the same disrespect that those who are not Christians show. This cannot be. It cannot be, can saltwater and freshwater flow from the same spring, James asks? The answer is no. of course not. And the same goes for us, and what we say. We must speak and act with respect. 1 Peter pointedly remind us in 2:17 that we are to “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” Paul echos this thought when he says in romans 13 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 

Everyone means everyone, it means people, on both sides of the aisle. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. Man. Woman. Rich. Poor. Urban. Suburban. Rural. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. Everyone.  Model grace, model dignity, model civility. Remember that we are called to bright red dots, spiritual salt and light in a dark world, and do not engage with hostility and disrespect. However you feel about the election, and however you feel about both the winner, the loser, and the parties of either, show a different path to the watching world.

Second, pray for the new president and pray for the nation.

On election night, I stayed up late, and reached the point where I couldn’t stay up any longer. At that point I said, “Four years ago I basically said congratulations to the president for winning the election again, and called on people to pray for the new president and honor him. Today we've elected a new president. Same thing folks. Congratulations to president elect Trump. Fear God, honor the king”, referencing Peters words in 1 peter 2:17. “I pray the he may find a way to unify the nation and heal its wounds. I pray he shocks me and leads well.” That call needs to be cranked up to ten. We need to pray, and keep praying, remembering the words of 1 Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-2)”.

But with this, we must pray for the nation. “When God wishes to judge a nation, he gives it wicked leaders”, said Calvin. The track record of both candidates was such that we were all but guaranteed a wicked leader, which means that we need to be praying for God to work in hearts and minds to transform this nation, knowing that apart from his mercy, we are going to experience his great and terrible judgment.

Third, work to extend grace but do not excuse evil.

Every president will succeed in some places and fail in others. Every one of us does. Remember that King David was a man after God’s own heart, the greatest king of Israel, and the progenitor of the messiah. And he had an affair, and then killed the husband of Bathsheba. Ever leader fails in some way shape or form. This will be true of every leader until the day that Christ restores the world and brings everything to complete submission to his perfect will.

But with that said, there cannot be a hint or a whiff of excusing racism, torture, misogyny, the mistreatment of others, and the like. Not one hint or whiff. We must be willing to call sin, sin, and be absolutely unflinching in our refusal to wink at or paper over moral evils. Right now, many are looking at the church, waiting to see if we will excuse the bad behavior of Donald Trump (or worse, join in), or if we will take seriously what the bible says about sin. 20 years ago, many Christian leaders rightly called Bill Clintons activities sin, and now many of these men turned around and excused it with trump. Other leaders rightly stood up and said, his words and actions are a problem. I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. But, at the same time, I have no intention of excusing one bit of sinful, evil behavior.

Fourth, expect that Christians in America now have allot of repair work to do to our reputation.

Many are looking at the church, asking, how did a man with his moral track record end up with such an incredibly high number of believers voting for him? I believe part of the answer is that they believed the other candidate was worse. But, with that reality, we must understand that our reputation is in taters to a watching world.
Writer Jared Wilson of the Gospel Coalition rightly observes that 

There may have been no popular image more representative of this winning campaign than that of Jerry Falwell Jr. gleefully standing with Donald Trump in his office, Playboy Magazines prominently on the wall in the background”. He goes on, “Again, this may sound counterintuitive, since the candidate backed by what’s left of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority won handily last night. But what institutional evangelicalism has gained in a presidency it has lost, in my estimation, in gospel witness. And it’s not like this was hanging in the balance. Evangelical credibility was already circling the drain. It just experienced a decisive flush last night. Our new president had the full-throated support of the Klu Klux Klan and other white nationalist/supremacist groups, the conspiracy-obsessed tabloid alt-right, misogynistic shock-jocks, and . . . evangelical Christians? As the weeks went by and more of us became shocked by the kind of thinking — poor logic, poor theology, poor spirituality — on display from certain Christian Trump-supporters, it wasn’t so much a Trump ascendancy we feared but a certifying of evangelicalism’s biblical illiteracy and, thus, theological bankruptcy.

I said it before the election and I’ll say it now: most evangelical support of Donald Trump was hypocritical, double-minded. Character matters, except when it doesn’t. Biblical virtue matters, except when it doesn’t. When power and influence (and fear) are on the line, we will sell out in a heartbeat. The result is this: evangelicalism as an institutional movement has revealed itself to be exactly what the world has accused it of being all along. What will it profit the movement to gain the White House and lose its convictional soul?


He’s right. Which means we have an incredible amount of repair work to do.

Finally, keep your hope in Christ.

On the backside of this election, the world has not changed. Christ still rules. “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. (Dan. 2:21-22). He makes clear that there is no salvation in politics. He tells us in his word that we are not to  “put our trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. He says in his word “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever” (Psalm 146:2-6). We must never forget this. On the backside of a crazy election we must remind ourselves of it regularly. Our only hope is found in Christ, the perfect king, who will right the world. We are citizens of his higher kingdom. Keep your hope in Christ, and Christ alone.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando

Another mass shooting. I’ve lost track of the amount of them since I became a pastor. And I find myself thinking, I don’t feel like I have anything new to say. I really don’t. Nothing of substance. Nothing of note. There’s a constant urge to say something new. To get to the front and speak. But some days, you just need to mourn. Or stare at a tragedy until you find the capacity to mourn. These are 49 image bearers that no longer live. People who were made in the image of God, and had their lives snuffed out. We should be heartbroken by this.

But more than that, we also need to speak clearly on this as Christians. There is no place for violence against those in the LGBT community. Some are going to be tempted to say, they got what they deserve. No, they did not. No one deserves to be gunned down in cold blood. No one. I watched a pastor say that they deserved it. That kind of thinking has no place in the church.

Christians must not betray their own convictions on the subject of homosexuality. But Christians must never go beyond where the text takes us. There is no place for even considering justifying this. Murder is evil. This attack is sin. We must call it what it is, an assault on those who bear the image of God, and an evil to be decried.

The other think we need to do, is to guard against a temptation to use this to make an argument for our cause, whatever it is. There is a tendency to move to pet issues when something like this happens. It’s been evident in the news.

Shots fired. The shooter is Muslim. The problem is Islam.
Shots fired. The problem is guns.
Shots fired, God gave them what they deserved.

Sometimes, God allows us to look in the mirror and ask, “Where is our heart?” This weekend, different writers and politicians have put their spin on this and score political or social points. We must not do that.

The real question for us this day is, “Do you weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn”.

This is a time when we must weep. Whatever our disagreements with the gay community, this is not the time to have that conversation. Many of them are scared and stressed. They worry that this will happen in their cities and neighborhoods. Will we love? Will we weep? Will we offer hugs and comfort? Will we hold up hope and say, we stand for your protection, safety, and best?
There is no place for violence against the gay community. No one should be physically assaulted because they are gay or lesbian. Pray for the peace of Orlando, and pray that in this moment, they receive not our begrudging nods that this is bad, but real, true heartfelt compassion.

Let me end this, with a prayer. I did not write it. My friend Brandon did. It appeared originally at his blog.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

Gracious Father,

As we wrap our minds and hearts around this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando—the murderous rampage of an Islamic terrorist targeting the LGBT community—we’re shocked by the magnitude of callous hatred, devastated by the sweeping loss of life, and reminded yet again that this world is severely and sickeningly broken.

Moreover, we confess that at times like this we wonder where you are and why this happened. This is not how your world is supposed to work. Human life is precious to you—every soul made in your image. Our hearts break at the thought of cries for help going unanswered amid the attack. We mourn with the families and friends whose lives have been forever changed through such wanton violence. And we join their cry, “How long, O Lord?”

How long will violence go unanswered?
How long will fear and hatred rule our culture?
How long until you bring an end rebellion and sin on this earth?

We know that moments like this are not times for explanations, but first and foremost for grief and mourning. And so raise our voice in lament over this tragedy.

And yet we know that even when it doesn’t feel like it, you do hear our prayers. You do see the violence committed on earth. And you have promised to act. The day will come when you will bring the ungodly to justice and wipe every tear from our eyes. A day when mourning will cease and death will be no more. And we have confidence in that day because you have already acted to establish justice, conquer death, and offer mercy through the life, death, and resurrection of your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ there is hope, and in that hope we pray:

WE PRAY for the victims and their families, those for whom this is not some distant news story, but a personally crushing blow. We ask that you hold them in their grief, and comfort them in their loss, anger, and devastation. Fill them with a comfort that can only come from your Son.

WE PRAY for justice for the perpetrators. Not only for the gunman, who now awaits your divine judgment, but for the culture of death that radical jihadist Islam has fueled in this world. Would you open blind eyes to the evil of this corrupt and corrupting system. For those who are attracted to the idea of worshiping god through murder and hate, would you convict them of sin and open their eyes to the truth, forgiveness, and new life of Christ.

WE PRAY for those in the LGBT community, upon whom a shroud of fear has now descended through this weekend’s tragedy. No person deserves to live in fear of their life being taken, especially because of something like sexual orientation. Would you remind each person that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, precious in your sight, and loved by their Creator. Would you work in our world to bring about changes that protect and honor the dignity of all human life, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, developmental ability, or age. Would you help those in the LGBT community to look to you for strength and security, and not to what this world can offer. Guard their lives and guide their steps to a love and security that nothing in this world can take away—the love and security of new life in Christ.
WE PRAY that our churches would be places of safety and love for the LGBT community, and that our Christian witness would be one of hope and not hatred. May we not let our differences of conviction about sexuality and marriage allow us to tolerate hatred or withhold dignity and respect. May we stand united against hatred and terror, and work together for the protection and preservation of all human life, even as we continue to hold out the life-changing message of the gospel.

WE PRAY, finally, that our Lord Jesus Christ would come again. We long for the day when Christ himself will “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Come Lord Jesus.

In Christ’s powerful name, Amen.







Wednesday, March 23, 2016

God loves Medfield 2016

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper," God told the exiles in Babylon through the prophet Jeremiah (29:7). One of the core values of the church, is that we exist for the building up of the community, and the good of world around. We don’t exist for ourselves, or to seek our own ends, but the good of the world around, remembering that the one that sent us, didn’t look out for his ends, and his wants desires and needs, but ours. One of the ways that we do this, is through God Loves Medfield.

So, What is God Loves Medfield? That’s the first question that comes up when we talk about God Loves Medfield is, what is it? God Loves Medfield is an initiative that we take part in with Church of the Advent, and other partner groups, to bless and serve the community. In essence, there’s two parts to it.

First, we clean up the community. I am hoping, ambitiously, to see at least a 100 people out all across Medfield, cleaning up parks, the Charles River where it crosses into Millis, and more. We are partnering with Medfield Green, the regulars from the Charles River Cleanup, the Boy and Cub Scouts, and others in this. After, we will be having a community celebration. Food will be from “RockNRoll RibJoint”, and there will be bounce houses, games, and fun. It’s going to be a great day of service and celebration.

With this come another question. What are we trying to accomplish? The first part of that answer, is that we are not out, to just make First Baptist great. We exist for the good of the world, and this is not about us, but the good of the community. But the rest of the answer is that there are four primary aims in my mind.

  • First, I’d like members of the community of all age and lengths of tenure to rub shoulders, work together, and build relationships. One of the best parts of God Loves Medfield last year was introducing myself to people while pulling debris with them, and putting up bounce houses with them. We had a great time working, and getting to know each other, and that has led to some neat relationships. I know others had the same experience.
  • Second, I hope to see us get real work done. As I write this, I hear the beeping of the snow removal vehicles dealing with what I pray is the last storm of the winter. We’ve had a mild winter, but there is still debris, be it lawn debris, branches, leaves, or trash of various kinds all around. It’s the nature of winter. And I’d like to be getting real work done as we act as stewards of the environment that God has given us, starting here at home.
  • Third, I want us to bless the community by highlighting areas of need. At the community celebration last year, we had Medfield Green, and the Lowell Mason House do presentations on what they are doing, and highlighted the needs that they have. This year, I hope to have Medfield Green back, but I’d also like to shine the spotlight on other groups, as a way of serving the overall community.
  • Finally, I want us to share God’s love. We are doing this, in God’s name, and under the auspices of God Loves Medfield, because we want this to be more than just a community cleanup day, it’s a way of communicate the love of Christ for the world, through actions, through relationship  (both  existing and newly formed), and, through the sharing of the gospel. Last year, we gave a light touch time of sharing the gospel, that’s part of it.


The last question is this is, How can you help?
  • First of all, save the date and plan on helping out that day. Clear April 30 from 9-3.
  • Second, spread the word. Share Godlovesmedfield.com. Like, and then give shares from God Loves Medfield’s Facebook page. Invite friends. In addition to newspaper and web communication, we’re also going to have invitation cards to hand out. Take some and invite people to come.
  • Third, volunteer. Volunteer to help in the planning, and the working. We’re going to need to have a dedicated team taking the lead in all kinds of areas, from being site coordinators, to helping setup the bounce houses and community celebration, to serving food, and serving in countless ways.
  • Fourth, wrap your head around the motivation for this. If you are a Christian, or someone that see's yourself as a church person, don’t see this as a way to recruit people to come and be part of the church, but make it about loving and serving the community and as the Lord gives you opportunity, sharing the love of Jesus. If people see us coming out, and just making this about us, it’s going to be off-putting, and make us less effective, not more. Really work to understand the biblical motivations, and serve in a winsome selfless way that is not about saying, hey look at us, but hey look at Jesus and his call.
  •  Finally, pray, pray, pray. Pray that relationships are built. Pray that the community is blessed, that those in need are served, that the gospel may be communicated as a result of this work, and that in all, God will be glorified.



Living as Resurrected People in a Challenging age

Sometimes you think the headline is a joke. The headline read “Christians banned simply for being Christian”. The article from Australia, went on to talk about how the University of Sydney Union for students had given the Evangelical Union two weeks to change its constitution to allow non-Christians to be members, or face deregistration. Basically, this is saying that the equivalent of Intervarsity or Navigators must stop asking that the members or officers to be Christians (could you imagine how that would go down if a school asked the local atheist club to stop asking that its members- not those coming to the meetings- the members and officers, don't have to be atheists?).

The whole request, and many more like it that we see here in the United States, are somewhat absurd, but they are just one part of a larger story, the story of the increasing marginalization of Christianity in the modern western. Christianity one lived at the center of the Western culture. It founded Modern Western Civilization as it exists today. The beliefs and ideas of Christianity provided the intellectual framework that undergird Modern Western civilization, and because of that, its institutions and leaders were looked at and revered. And yet, for a variety of reasons, Christianity, and Christians with it, find ourselves not at the center of the culture, but on the outside looking in, feeling like exiles in our own homeland. And the question is, “how we will then live?” As people called by the gospel for the glory of God, as people called to live as “Aliens and strangers”, people whose citizenship is “kept in heaven for you”, people who are equipped and sent out by the fact that Christ rose, how will we then live? How will we live when we are not the majority living in the promised land, but the exiles in Babylon and the diaspora, spread out in a land not our own (or our own any longer)? How do we live, when we’re not the majority, but the minority, and worse yet, part of a hated minority?

The Scriptures are rife with resources to answer this question. They tell of Esther, a young women in a foreign land, being called to be the queen of Persia. They tell us of Daniel, the righteous young man who is called to serve the empire who has conquered his homeland. They tell us of God’s word to the exiles through the pen of Jeremiah, and more than that, they show us how the early church, pressed by Jewish religious leaders on the one hand, and the Rome on the other hand, pushed out into the world, and loved and served and blessed the world, even as they lived as exiles.

Over the next few months, we’re going to explore what it means to live as the minority for glory of God as we continue to think about what it means to be aligned by orthodoxy, as a church and the people of God. We’re going to do this, by looking specifically at the Jeremiah 29, the first half of Daniel, and by ranging through the Bible from there as we think about the call of God to us.

And what we will see, is not the approach of hiding in the shadows, as people who felt like they had drained the cup of bitterness to the dregs and now just wanted to curl up and protect themselves, but a people who were out, living and engaging the world around with gusto for the glory of God.

We live in tumultuous times. There may have never been a more challenging time in this country’s history to be a Christian, but we have been called, like Esther, for “such a time as this” I’m looking forward to this series, and to exploring with you the question of how do we live not as the majority but the minority, for the glory of God.