Politics as “Un”-Usual – Breaking Down Platforms

Image result for ballot box

Our suburban community recently completed much-anticipated municipal elections.  Voters turned out in significantly higher numbers than 4 years ago and “regime change” proved to be the order of the day.  Neighborhood residents in the area are probably all happy to have the normally scenic wooded hillsides no longer blocked by the collage of signs with LARGE LAST NAMES and tiny slogans.  But for many, myself included, the intense local campaign season, actually provided a welcome distraction from a befuddling national political scenario.

Feel free to jump to the bottom of this post if you want to get right to some summaries, from one Christian perspective, of what the national parties generally stand for.  But, if you have a moment, perhaps you will want to join me as I try to frame things up…along these lines.

It seems maybe some lessons from the local might help with the national.  Certainly our municipal election was a reminder of the privileges and responsibilities of living in democratic republic like ours.  In fact, although our church is not a massive one, we have close association with two candidates who attend, or have family who attend.  With 12,000 votes cast by residents of our 90,000 population community, one of these candidates squeaked out a win by just 9 votes (still being confirmed in fact).  We get to vote, and our votes do make a difference.  A whole lot of people throughout history, and throughout the world today would not be able to say that.

“Acting locally, and thinking globally” also provides a fresh lens on the biblical teaching that God’s sovereignty always supersedes (could have used another verb starting with a “t” there) human will.  And at the same time there are primary and secondary causes working simultaneously, such that, it is perfectly sound to urge one another to conscientious action and at the same time to prayerful trust in God.

Keeping all that in mind, I do get asked from time to time about my political thoughts.  I am pretty sure the role of pastor is not to play party politics, while simultaneously proclaiming a message of the one King of Kings and Lord of Lords who reigns over all nations and peoples.  However, I also know that Christians are called to seek the good of their city, state, and nation, as well as their world.  That does not happen only through politics, but it can include political involvement.

With that goal in mind, I hope if you’ve read this far you will take some time to click on the following links, which as we approach November, may be helpful summaries for all those who name the name of Christ, and even those who are not sure about such things, to read before we cast a ballot.  My younger sister will probably not be happy that I did not include the Green Party, but beggars can’t be choosers and the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian were all I could find from this source.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-you-should-know-about-the-democratic-party-platform

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-you-should-know-about-the-republican-party-platform

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-you-should-know-about-the-libertarian-party-platform

Crossing the 2 Samuel Finish Line! 

As we finish up our sermon series in second Samuel this Sunday it is a great time to pause and reflect on all that I trust God has been teaching us these last few months. In a sense he has also been teaching us since last year when we journeyed through first Samuel.
Going through an entire book of the Bible as we have done in this series certainly takes focus and concentration. Growing through weekly sermons is like a lot of things in life – God must work,but we also get out of it what we put into it. So now is a good time to pause and think back on some of the central themes that we have seen particularly in the life of David.

The central question we have addressed is, who is king? And of course we have seen this somewhat rhetorical question answered each week in the recognition that God is king and the kingship of the Old Testament people of God is ultimately fulfilled only and perfectly in King Jesus.

As I share a final message from chapter 24 this Sunday we will hopefully get a chance to reflect on some more of the lessons learned over the last few months but I found the following article to be insightful both for our current national situation and for dealing with one of the most common struggles and sin patterns we all face of worry and anxiety and fear. I hope you will take a few moments to read through it. Oh and stay tuned for info coming soon on a topical outreach series I will preach through in aug and sep, “Knowing and Sharing Our Faith” starting Aug 7.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-king-david-can-teach-us-about-overcoming-political-anxiety

Man is Wolf Unto Man: A Reflection on Dallas, Nice, & Beyond

[Written by Ben Halbrooks]

Having taken 5 or so years of Spanish in school and remembering only the food-related vocab words, I certainly won’t pretend to know any Latin, with the exception of a few famous phrases. One is this: Homo homini lupus – “Man is wolf unto man.” It’s an ancient saying about human nature that’s difficult to deny after the violence and division our country has witnessed just in the last few weeks. Of course, American soil isn’t the only one with fresh stains – in Nice, France, the blood of its terror victims cries out from the ground for justice. In our own country, racism, hatred, and hostility threaten to further factionalize a nation increasingly dominated by a spirit of bitterness and accusation.

My heart aches at the brutal, senseless loss of lives. The families! How will they ever recover? As we mourn and earnestly pray for healing, the news of such horrors is a sobering reminder of an unpopular truth: people are not basically good. Evil is real. Scripture is crystal clear on the point. “The heart,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah, “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (17:9)

We want to believe that deep down we’re all naturally decent people. That we can fix our situation, our world, through self-help and determination. This regimen. That policy. Trial and error, and we’ll eventually find the perfect ingredients… right? Believing it makes us feel better. But who are we convincing? We look outside ourselves for the problem and within ourselves for the solution. The Gospel shatters our illusions and tells us that’s backwards.

If we strip away all our excuses, we find the core of the problem is us. We are fallen. In and of ourselves, we have no power to overcome evil. Even our best efforts succumb to selfishness. We are all Lady Macbeth, scrubbing our dirty hands in vain. Guilty. The Apostle Paul’s characterization of humanity left to itself is far from flattering: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29-31) Man is wolf unto man.

But there was one man who became a lamb.

“Behold, the Lamb of God,” John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world.” There is no hope but His. “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) This is the hope of the Gospel. The hope that something outside of ourselves, Someone outside of ourselves, can bring us peace. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) Salvation from sin and the brokenness and misery of a fallen world – salvation from Dallas and Nice and every other unspeakable tragedy – comes only through the blood of the Lamb. And His way is love.

So as I mourn, pray, and reflect on these events, my hope is not in the wolves, but in the Lamb. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb… For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14,17)

People of the Lamb, rest in this:

“‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress… The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:17-19,25)

Would a Person Die for a Lie?

We have stepped a little out of the box this season at Cross Creek Church. In order to finish up our sermon series through the book of 1 Corinthians, which began in August, we have been looking at chapter 15, about the resurrection, in the middle of advent season. In one sense advent is decidedly about the incarnation, not the resurrection, or the crucifixion, for that matter. But as we lay hold of even the most fundamental Christian teaching, we know that all three form the central links in the chain of our salvation.

As we know, the incarnation, Jesus fully-God, and fully-man, is essential to the good news (Gospel) message of Christianity. In order to reconstitute humanity, enable us to resist sin and provide redemption, Jesus had to be fully God. In order to highlight how personal God’s love is, serve as a substitute for all of us who deserve the wrath of God, and function as the “pioneer” of the resurrection, Jesus had to be fully man. But whether we consider the incarnation or the resurrection or the crucifixion, Christians believe, with very good reason, not blindly, that these monumental realities are also historical events. In fact they must be or they are ultimately meaningless.

Christianity is distinctive from belief systems which are merely life philosophies or spiritual ideas, because it is grounded in the historicity of the redemptive events recorded in the Bible, performed in space and time by Jesus Christ. This is why in 1 Corinthians 15, the early church leader, Paul, says that if the resurrection is not true, then we who profess the Christian faith should not only all go home, but also should be pitied for believing something which offers no actual hope or salvation.

It reminds me of a poignant series of questions a seminary professor of mine, shared with our class. The first is this, “Would a person die for a lie?” Yes, sometimes people do. But not that many. People might profess a lie or proclaim lies, but when it comes to giving their life for it, the field is narrowed. The second is, “Would a person die for a lie, which he knows is a lie?” The field just got very slender. I suppose if someone wanted to pass along a life insurance inheritance to her struggling family she might give up her life, knowing that the cause for which death comes is false. Likewise with a mercenary soldier perhaps. Islamic terrorists don’t fit this category, though, because they believe they will go to heaven. Which leads to the third question, “Would a person die for a lie, which he knows is a lie, but that would not profit him anything?” It is tough to imagine anyone who would do this.

What does this have to do with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection? As Paul says at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, many people witnessed Jesus as resurrected. And we know from historical accounts that almost every one of the 12 disciples, plus Paul, died horrific deaths. So, if the Christian teaching on these central acts of Jesus Christ was contrived by the early apostles, they would have known that it was untrue. Even if none would have blown the whistle on the scam, certainly not all of them would have maintained their belief to the point of death, particularly in light of the fact that if the Christian belief is not true, it does not profit Christians after they die?

“Proving” Christianity true is not like a mathematical or scientific formula, but it is a lot like a courtroom trial. When we see the evidence for its veracity, we have to take a look at its life transforming message, and ask ourselves, “What does this truth mean for me?” “What am I doing to understand it and live in it?”

If you found this discussion engaging you may also enjoy reading the following from Timothy George of Beeson Divinity, which ties in and also relates to the current crisis in the Middle East.

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/11/after-dinner-a-beheading

 

Reflection, then Press On

seagullsW2During this busy time of year, it is hard to take time out to reflect on the year. We are too overwhelmed, rushing to purchase stuffings for the stockings and gifts to place under the Christmas tree, lists to check twice; then, before we know it, the New Year rolls in, with those resolutions already broken.

So, it has been helpful for me, and perhaps will be for you as well, to take a moment to reflect about several developments this past year in our church community, from the perspective of office manager and ministry admin assistant.

1) Land Closing and Events – In March we closed on land which we trust God will use to bless and serve our community. Then in May, we held our first Worship Service Celebration on the land, concluding with an outdoor picnic lunch. This fall we had our first fundraiser, “Horticulture Heaven,” with all proceeds supporting our land fund. Now, at year’s end, we are making good progress to paying off the land! We thank the Lord for all He had done to accomplish this, and how He worked through the generosity of so many of you.

2) Missionary Send-off – This year we sent off our first home-grown missionary family, Derek and Laura Dougherty, MTW/Peru. Through our prayers, support and co-sponsoring “Music for Missions Benefit Concert & Auction”, we are thankful that we could be part of their “‘key moments” that God orchestrated in their lives calling them into the mission field.
(http://afewkeymoments.blogspot.com/p/about-us_7.html)

3) New and Improved Website – This year we introduced to you our new brighter, more navigable, mobile-friendly website, http://www.crosscreekchurch.net. The website was designed for both the new visitor and the Cross Creek member/participant. Directly from the homepage you can quickly link to pages to learn who we are; what it means to “Grow in truth, Live in community, Serve in the kingdom;” when things are happening at Cross Creek Church; where and how to become connected. The homepage also highlights current events and photos of activities in our church community.

4) New Pathways for Financial Giving – We also researched and implemented systems for additional pathways of financial giving besides traditional check and cash. Now you can donate online directly from our website under the Contribute link on the homepage. By setting up an account you can contribute just one time or create recurring giving schedule, view your history for online giving, edit your profile. We also offer mobile app giving, by searching for and downloading “Shelby Next | Giving” from your app store. All these are done securely through Shelby Systems, Inc. cloud based program, “ShelbyNext Giving.”

5) Welcoming New Members – We host membership classes as needed throughout the year. It is a time to learn about the vision of Cross Creek and how to Grow, Live, Serve. This year we welcomed two classes. It is exciting to see how God is working in and through you, using your gifts and talents to grow His church.

We had several ‘firsts’ this year and expect more ‘firsts’ in the coming years. We continue with those tasks that make our church ‘run’, pressing on to the calling God has for each one of us.

Wearing many hats in our office, I am so thankful to be of help to our church family, always with the thought of how best to use our resources, in helping and serving our members and our community – all to God’s Glory!

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14, The Message)

Pastor’s Job Description – Super Star or Hired Hand?

As our church works its way this Fall through the letter which the early church leader, Paul, wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, we’ve seen a church possessing much zeal coupled with considerable confusion. As a result the congregation in Corinth apparently struggled in a number of ways – everything from the nature of the resurrection, to the role of women in church leadership, to mishandling of the Lord’s Supper, and misunderstanding marriage, and even their sometimes haphazard application of Spiritual gifts.

As we see in 1 Corinthians 4, it also shaped their understanding of what a church leader, a pastor, or in the case of Paul, an Apostle, should look like. Ironically, underlying their competition over which pastor/teacher to align with – Paul, Apollos, Cephas, was on the one hand an elevation of human leadership beyond appropriate consideration, and on the other hand a neglect on the part of the people to actually heed and follow the sound things that any, and all, of those leaders might say.

As a pastor, it is a little awkward to talk about the role of the pastor.  Yet even if it was not the next thing in our journey thru 1 Corinthians, it would be a good thing to consider, so members of the congregation can be mindful and prayerful to help our leadership stay on track as a church, and so us pastors can be mindful of what our task is and is not. As always, Paul seeks to correct their perspective by pointing them and us, to Jesus, and drawing a contrast between what we might call the Super Star and the Hired Hand pastor.

I’m grateful to Rev. Tom Cannon, for the seed of thought that I hope will bear fruit in today’s sermon, having heard him preach a message on this passage a number of years ago, where he drew this contrast.

I scarcely need to explain what I mean by Super Star pastor, and even in using the term I want to be careful not to be motivated by some jealousy I might have of other pastor’s skills. Indeed in some sense Martin Luther, George Whitfield, Charlie Spurgeon, and Billy Graham, could be called Super Star pastors in terms of their mass appeal. When I talk about the super star pastor, I’m referring more to the pastor who gains acclaim and following, not by force of the Holy Spirit in his ministry but by careful packaging of ministry strategies, skillful presentation of personal appearance and persona, that is not always rooted in readiness to boldly proclaim all the God’s Word has to say. The Super star has a lot of outward force to his ministry, but frequently lacks depth of character, sincere shepherding, and seems to have little place in his life or Gospel for sacrifice and suffering.

Likewise, when I speak of the Hired Hand pastor, I do not want to disparage the calling of other folks like me, who pastor small to medium sized congregations, and have little fame or notoriety. There is no shame in that. And in fact a pastor of a large church might operated as more of a hired hand. But instead I reference the Hired Hand as someone who might care deeply for the individual sheep in his congregation, and might genuinely desire to serve the Lord, but who lack’s backbone to actually lead. Indeed in its saddest form the Hired Hand pastor has an implied agreement with the congregation or at least the lay leaders of the congregation. We will make sure you are provided for, and can do the pastoral care and even the preaching you would like, but only as long as you don’t rock the boat too much, or attempt to lead too decisively. If the Super Star pastor misunderstands sacrifice, the Hired Hand does not lay hold of ministry power granted by the Holy Spirit.

Obviously the Apostle Paul did not use these terms but the ministry approaches are underlying what he says in 1 Corinthians 4, where he calls for pastors and ministry leaders, as well as their congregations, to embrace this truth – Since Jesus comes with power and sacrifice, we should desire pastors to be trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God.  What is your view of the pastor’s role?  What is your pastor’s view of it?