Monday, July 28, 2008

Thoughts on the Tennessee Valley shooting

My primary reason for writing this post is to answer the question: "What is the Unitarian Universalist church?" I was asked this yesterday and couldn't give a clear answer. All I knew is that they are a very liberal group, but I didn't know really what they believed.

It turns out, they don't really believe in anything. Maybe better said is that they believe that whatever you want to believe is okay. This link will take you a web site that provides some facts and figures concerning this "church," and also gives a summary of their "faith" and a good, biblical response.

The danger in my response is that you may think that I'm being sympathetic toward the murderer. I'm not at all. A man walks in through the open doors of a gathering where people are enjoying a children's program, and he begins shooting. What this man did was horrible. There is no excuse for his actions, and he deserves to be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

I feel terrible for the victims, their families and this church. I also realize that the same thing could easily happen in the church where I pastor, and it could easily happen in just about any church anywhere.

In fact, his rampage causes serious problems for any who would dare to speak out against the Unitarian Universalist "church" for whatever they do or don't believe. I run the risk of being accused of stirring up an environment of hate by saying that I oppose what this "church" represents. I realize that some will see this man's action - and view anyone else together with him who thinks this "church" is false - as being intolerant, hateful and bigoted. Homosexual activists will try to persuade the public and legislators alike that speech and/or action taken against the pro-homosexual views of this "church" must be silenced. They will attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among the public. They will try show that conservatives on this issue are violent and must be stopped.

Anyway, you can see for yourself on their own web site that the Unitarian Universalist "church" is obviously not a true, biblical church by any means. They have no doctrinal belief about God. He/She/It can be whatever you want he/she/it to be. Or you can choose to not believe in a god at all. Or you can believe in many gods. It doesn't really matter.

They describe themselves as a "religious community that encourages you to seek your own spiritual path." That's a long way from Jesus saying: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). It's a far cry from Jesus declaring: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Of course, to this "church" there's no point in referring to the Bible because it's just one of many religious books on their shelves which you may or may not look to for inspiration. One member is quoted on their web site: "I claim the Bible as one more chapter, among several religious texts, in the Unitarian Universalist guide to living." (Laura Spencer)

And Jesus certainly holds no special place in this religion. You can find inspiration in Him if that's what you like, but there are various views concerning Jesus, the Bible and Christianity within the UU faith. Obviously, none of them refer to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

There's room in this community of faith for people who claim to be Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists and others. To quote again from their site: "As there is no official Unitarian Universalist creed, Unitarian Universalists are free to search for truth on many paths."

I could continue indefinitely describing this so-called "church" as a false church. Again, for more details see this helpful site for information on a wide range of religions, cults and denominations.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Asking, Seeking and Knocking

"Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer." - Dwight L. Moody

Didn't Jesus say, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened"? (Mt. 7:7-8)

And did He not leave His disciples with this promise: "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it"? (John 14:13-14)

Does not the counsel of God's Word testify to His awesome power available to His people for the asking? Don't we realize that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16)?

So why do we devote so little of our time and energy to prayer? Is this not the case in the church today?

We find so many ways to keep busy - at work, at home, at recreation and entertainment, even at church activities - but we're missing something huge here. We're missing something supernatural by failing to spend hard time on our knees before the Lord Almighty. We're forfeiting the blessings of God's grace and peace and joy and comfort all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer (they should write a song about that).

The God of all creation invites us to come before His throne of grace with confidence, and He promises there we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). He says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Psalm 50:15). We are invited to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us at the proper time, "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Draw me near, O God, nearer, O Lord, to You. Forgive me for making so little use of the power of prayer, when You would so generously pour out Your blessings in abundance. Help me to want to seek after You, and more and more so every day. Make my heart like that of the Psalmist who cried out, "O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water..."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dropping In and Rocking Out

So the music was loud. Guitars were screeching. Drums were pounding. Voices were ringing. Hair was flying.

It was the Drop In and Rock Out Tour featuring the bands Philmont, Our Hearts Hero and High Flight Society. And professional freestyle skateboarder Tim Byrne.

Yeah, I wish I would have brought my earplugs. I didn’t catch most of the lyrics anyway. But as I sat and watched about 50 young people crowded around the stage, God moved in my heart to pray for them. And He moved in me to devote myself to the obedience of evangelism and discipleship.

Some of these students were probably not saved. They may have heard of Jesus and known about Him. But they didn’t know Him as the Savior of their souls from the clutches of hell. They didn’t know Him as the Lord (the “Boss” as Tim Byrne said) of their lives. No doubt many of these students were living for themselves and not for the One who died for them and was raised from the dead (see 2 Cor. 5:15). I pray that God will prepare their hearts to receive Jesus, believing in His name.

Others have likely made “professions of faith” but aren’t sure about living out what they say they believe in front of their friends and family. It’s one thing to stand for Christ in their youth groups, and another to stand boldly for Jesus at school. Jesus said this: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). I think this group includes a ton of people – students and thousands of adults alike. They’ve signed the card, they’ve walked an aisle, they’ve prayed a prayer…but have they truly repented of their sin and let the Spirit of Christ reign in their lives? I wonder, and I pray that God will make them into wholehearted followers of Jesus.

And some in this motley crew of young people were certainly saved and sold out to the gospel of Christ Jesus. What an opportunity to allow God to use them to witness in the power of the Holy Spirit among their friends! A young person on fire for the Lord can make an impact in his or her world more than most adults ever will. I pray that God will keep them strong in His grace, loving, merciful, humble, teachable, useable, zealous and obedient to the faith.

No, it wasn’t exactly my style of music. But I believe that God can take these guitars and skateboards and use them for His glory. Tim Byrne gave a mighty testimony for the Truth last night. I pray that the students heard Him. I know I did.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"It's a bad night to be an athiest."

I love this line from ESPN's Rick Reilly at the end of this story. Check out this demonstration of God's power in the life of Josh Hamilton, From heroin to home run hero.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You Might Be a Missionary

I came across this list that I'm thinking about using to introduce Jerry and Ruth Moye on Sunday. Jerry and Ruth have been long-time missionaries in Hong Kong, where Jerry currently serves as pastor in a local church, and Ruth teaches in China. I'm looking forward to hearing how the Lord has been and is still using this couple to preach the gospel of Christ Jesus and make disciples of all nations.

We're also sending two of our youth on a week-long mission trip to Metro East St. Louis this week.

I think this list provides a humorous look at missions life - or at least our preconceived ideas of what missions life might be like! If anyone reading this has other suggestions to include, then please respond and we'll see about getting airtime Sunday morning.

You might be a missionary if...
  • You don't think two hours is a long sermon
  • You refer to gravel roads as highways
  • Fitting fifteen people or more into a car seems normal
  • You realize that furlough is not a vacation
  • You do your devotions in another language
  • You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel
  • You can cut grass with a machete but can't start a lawnmower
  • You watch nature documentaries and think how good that animal would taste if it were fried
  • You can't answer the question "Where are you from?"

There are probably some other good ones. Let me know, and I look forward to Sunday morning!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Beautiful Feet

Are your feet beautiful?

Many people claim to have some kind of religious or spiritual belief system, but they often don't want to talk about it. "My faith is private," they'll say. Or, "It's between me and God. It's really nobody else's business."

I read in Reader's Digest (July 2008) an interview with Pierce Brosnan - Agent 007 turned singer/dancer - in which he was asked about his religion. Here's the published report:

Q. Do you still practice the Catholicism you were reared with?

A. I was an altar boy. That never leaves you. So when there are churches around, I go to church. I just went yesterday. I also love the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. It's my own private faith. I don't preach it, but it's a faith that is a comfort to me when the night is long.

I think this type of answer is very common among our generation in this culture. "I agree with this part of that philosophy. I like this part of my upbringing. I like what that verse says in the Bible and what this verse says in the Koran..."

You see how it goes. We just make up our own faith. Discard the stuff you don't like and keep the stuff you do. You just rearrange it all to fit your style and to fit your ideas. In the process you just make up your own god to be whatever you want he/she/it to be. In fact, you become your own god by creating one you like.

And you keep it, for the most part, very private. You don't preach it, at least not too emphatically. Probably for fear of offending someone, or not desiring to impose your off-brand beliefs on anyone, because after all, aren't all beliefs the same? As long as you believe in something? But who's to say that mine is right and yours is wrong. This works for me, but hey, whatever works for you is OK too.

Oh how deceived this generation has become! How far we have wandered from the truth of the Word of God. How little attention we heed from John's Revelation: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)

Rather, we are commanded and compelled to preach the Good News of the gospel of Christ Jesus! The reason that the kind of "private faith" doesn't preach well is because it's flawed. It is untrue and unfounded. It is contradictory. It's mixed up and it's wrong.

Those, however, who know what it means to be saved from death and given new life through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can't help but tell others about it because we want them to experience this life, too. It's not our own blend of beliefs, but it is the Truth according to the very Word of Almighty God. It's a life of abundance that Jesus came to give, and it's a life everlasting.

You just don't keep Good News to yourself.

Friend, if you don't know Jesus and the power of His salvation and righteousness which saves from sin and death and hell, and assures His followers of the glory of heaven that awaits, then I urge you to call upon Him right now. Jesus will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, that you may stand faultless before the Throne on the Day of Judgment. He will give you a new life, for anyone who is in Christ is a new creation - he is born again by the Spirit of God.

Call upon the Lord Jesus today and you will be saved. It's news so good you can't keep it to yourself.

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tony Dungy's "Quiet Strength"

What do you do when things don’t go your way? What do you do when disappointments seem to shatter your dreams? What do you do when you get fired unexpectedly from your job? What do you do when your nineteen-year-old son commits suicide?

Think about it: How do you respond when life throws you for a sudden detour? Some people retreat. They withdraw and often succumb to bouts of deep depression. Some people squeak and squawk. They get angry and throw temper tantrums that could rival any three-year-old. Some people seek revenge. They are the ones wearing the T-shirts, “Don’t get mad. Get even!” And they’re the ones whose lives are ruined by resentment and bitterness. Others whine, complain and sing the doleful refrain to as many who will listen.

You know that this journey in life is full of unexpected twists and turns. How you handle them helps define who you are and where you are going.

I’ve been laid up this past week following a minor surgery. There’s an unexpected turn for you. I’d much rather be playing ball in the back yard with my boys and helping my wife with the laundry. Summer’s made for baseball, bicycling, and barbeque – not for sitting immobile in the living room reading books. Even so I must ask myself: What am I doing when things aren’t going my way?

Last week I finally read the book, Quiet Strength, by Tony Dungy. Many of you know that Tony Dungy is the head football coach for the Indianapolis Colts, who led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2007. I bought this book several months ago and have been looking forward to reading it. My wife and I heard Coach Dungy speak briefly at the Southern Baptist Convention last month, as well, so it was about time I got to it.

The book is a memoir of Dungy’s life. Repeatedly he reminds his readers that even though he loves the game of football, and even though the sport has brought accolades and honors few others have attained, Dungy maintains that life’s not about football – it’s about the journey. He writes in the Introduction: “It’s about the things I’ve learned, the mistakes I’ve made, and the heartaches that have made me lean into the Father’s presence.”

Dungy is the guy whose dreams were shattered with disappointment. As a standout quarterback for the University of Minnesota in the 1970’s, Dungy dreamed about moving on to the next level and playing quarterback in the NFL. His dream, like that of millions of young boys, was about to become a reality. The disappointment came, however, as he sat by his phone while twelve rounds of players were being selected in the draft – without his name being called.

How did he respond? Dungy kept his faith in the Lord and prayed for direction through his devastation. Offers had come in from other teams to try out for different positions, and he eventually made the Pittsburgh Steelers as a non-drafted free agent defensive back. It was from this life detour that he later met his wife and began a coaching career that would prepare him to become one of the greatest coaches in football.

Dungy is also the guy who was fired from his job unexpectedly. Despite turning a losing Tampa Bay program into a strong playoff team in only two years, Dungy was fired as head football coach at Tampa after six great years. Why? His teams never quite made it all the way to the Big Game. He was running a terrific football program, filled the stands at every game and was extremely involved in community outreach, yet it wasn’t enough for the owners.

How did he respond? Dungy writes: “There was no one to be upset with. God just wanted me to move on to a different situation. His time for me in Tampa had been completed.” No bitterness, no revenge. Dungy saw God’s hand at work and submitted himself to follow wherever the Lord opened up the next door – which would soon be Indianapolis.

Tony Dungy is also the guy whose nineteen-year-old son committed suicide. As the Colts sprinted to a 13-0 record in 2005, at the top of his game as a coach, delighting in the joy of his family, strong and growing stronger daily in his walk with the Lord, Dungy’s oldest son took his own life.

How did he respond? He took comfort in the promises and presence of God. Dungy spoke at the funeral service saying: “What’s kept our family going these last couple of days is what we believe, and we believe God when He says that He works all things for His good for those who love the Lord. It’s hard to accept because we can’t always see it, but we have to believe it…”

Friend, how do you respond to life’s unexpected journeys? A final quote from the last page of Dungy’s book that I hope helps your faith rest on God’s sovereignty: “And so we press on…We press on with our sense that life’s not always fair. And we press on with the knowledge – and assurance – that even though we can’t see all of God’s plan, He is there, at work and in charge, loving us… We press on into an abundant life on earth, followed by an eternity with God.”