Christian Oppression Comes to the U.S.

oppressionCurrently, I’m taking my church through the Psalms of Ascent – Psalms 120-134.  One message that keeps coming through loud and clear is that Christians will experience many trials and much suffering in this life.  As a matter of fact, one of the principles I discovered in Psalm 129 is this: God’s people have always been and will always be oppressed, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we are. In the United States, we really haven’t seen a lot of Christian oppression like our brothers and sisters experience in other countries, but a recent headline on Fox News reveals that a deeper level of Christian oppression may be coming ashore.

The headline read: Pastor David Jones and his wife Mary have been told that they cannot invite friends to their San Diego, Calif. home for a Bible study – unless they are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to San Diego County.

Pastor Jones told Fox News that “on Good Friday, we had an employee from San Diego County come to our house, and inform us that the Bible study that we were having was a religious assembly, and in violation of the code in the county.”  Jones told the county employee that it really wasn’t a religious assembly; it was just a normal Bible study with friends consisting of a meal and prayer.

A few days later, Jones received a written warning that cited “unlawful use of land,” ordering them to either “stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit” that could cost the Jones’ thousands of dollars just to have a few friends over.  Pastor Jones sees this as a religious attack – Christian oppression – and says that if San Diego County refuses to allow his small group to continue gathering without acquiring a permit, he will consider a lawsuit in federal court.

I know that many Christians who read this will be shocked, but the Scriptures make it clear that we shouldn’t be.  God’s people have always been and will always be oppressed, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens to us.  In America, we have been incredibly blessed to be able to practice our Christian faith in relative freedom from any kind of oppression, but we should not always expect it to be this way.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t pray against or speak out against oppression like the kind Pastor Jones in San Diego is experiencing, but we must not come to expect that just because we’re American citizens we have a right be free from this type of oppression.

Jesus said it Himself: “In this world, you will have trouble.”  And rather than tell us how to get out of the trouble we find ourselves in, He tells us in Psalm 130 how to persevere in it.  He invites us to cry out to Him for mercy, wait for Him like a night watchman waits for the morning, and place our hope securely in Him because He loves us and redeems our lives from the pit.  Not a quick fix, but it’s the only biblical way to respond to suffering and oppression.

So, as Pastor Jones waits on the Lord and places His hope in Him, let’s join our brother in crying out to the Lord for mercy on his behalf.  And when oppression visits you, whatever you do, don’t be surprised.

Memorial Day Tension

pledge-allegianceIt’s Memorial Day weekend.  A time when people zonk out, camp out, cook out, and remember.  It’s a weekend when we remember those who have sacrificed so much for our country.  As an American, I am truly thankful for the sacrifice of the men and women who have made it possible for me to live the life I live.

As part of my sermon this weekend, I’ll talk about some of the people in other countries who are being oppressed and persecuted for being Christians.  I’m mindful that it’s because of the sacrifice of men and women before me who have secured for me a country where we I’m allowed to freely practice my faith.  For that, I am truly thankful to them.

However, as much as I love my country and as much as I’m thankful for the freedom that others have secured for me, as a Christian, I feel torn this weekend.  As a matter of fact, I feel torn most of the time.  The Scriptures say that this world (including my country) is not my home.  My citizenship, the Scriptures say, is in another Kingdom.  Not in the kingdom of the United States, but in the Kingdom of God.  Therefore, I’m torn.

My allegiance, the Scriptures say, is to be pledged to God, not to the American flag.  My ruler is ultimately to be the King of Kings, not the kings of America.  My money is to be used to further God’s Kingdom; my time is to be spent building God’s Kingdom; and my mind is to be utilized for strategic Kingdom of God thinking.

Unfortunately, I’m living in a time when the Kingdom of God is often equated to the kingdom of America.  Pledging allegiance to the flag and pledging allegiance to God have been reduced to the same thing.  Patriotism to America is seen by many in the church today as a Christian requirement.  It’s as if the church has bought into the idea that loving God and loving America are one in the same.  And this is where the tension lies.

I’m glad to be an American, and I truly enjoy the benefits that come with my citizenship here.  My name has been registered for the military draft now for 21 years, and I faithfully pay my taxes!  But, I can not allow myself to be sucked into the prominent thinking in the church today that patriotism to America is a requirement of being a Christian.  The Scriptures make it clear that my allegiance can only be to one thing, and as a Christian, it must be to God.

Scientists claim to have found the missing link. Seriously?!

A team of researchers this week unveiled an almost perfectly intact fossil of a 47 million-year-old primate they say represents the long-sought missing link between humans and apes.  Seriously?!

Scientist, Jens Franzen, hails this discovery as “the eighth wonder of the world.”  He says, “We’re not dealing with our grand, grand, grandmother, but perhaps with our grand, grand, grand aunt.”  Seriously?!

Scientists say the cat-sized animal’s hind legs offer evidence of evolutionary changes that led to primates standing upright – a breakthrough that could finally confirm Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Seriously?!

The fossil of the lemur-like creature dubbed Ida shows it had opposable thumbs like humans and fingernails instead of claws, thus scientist are considering this the missing link.  Seriously?!

I – for one – am not convinced.  As a Christian, I realize that I am biased, but seriously?! Is this one fossil enough for anyone to be convinced that humans evolved from apes?  Are one hundred fossils enough to convince thinking people that humans are simply glorified, ape upgrades – Apes 2.0, if you will?

On my last visit to the Albuquerque zoo, I sat and watched the apes for quite some time.  They’re fascinating animals who do resemble humans in some pretty uncanny ways.   But, when the large male ape proceeded to dig feces out of his hind quarters, ball it up, throw it my way, then lick his fingers clean, I became sure that not even a “revolutionary” fossil find could convince me that I am in any way, shape, or form linked to him.  Seriously.

Why Some Church Kids Go Bad

kings_of_leon7214I’ve been intrigued lately by a relatively new band called, Kings of Leon.  Their latest album entitled, Only By the Night, is musically unique (and in my opinion, exceptional).

However, it’s not just the music that intrigues me, it’s the story of the guys in the band.  Three of the four members were born and raised in the home of a traveling Pentecostal camp meeting preacher, and it seems that their upbringing – in many ways – screwed them up.  Because this is not something I want to do to my kids, I did a little research on these guys to find out what went wrong, and here’s what I discovered.

Nathan, Caleb, and Jared Followill spent much of their youth traveling around the South with their father, Ivan, a traveling United Pentecostal Church preacher.  Their mother home-schooled them when they were traveling, and the boys learned to play drums, guitar and bass as children while performing gospel songs in the church.

While Ivan preached at churches and tent revivals (anywhere from 3 days to 12 weeks at a time) throughout the Deep South, the boys attended and were occasionally enlisted to play worship music. All three of them thought that they would follow in their father’s footsteps and end up being preachers.

While their mother listened only to gospel music during the family’s long road trips, their father would often play rock music in the car by musicians like the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Bad Company while their mother was not around.  Did that brief and secretive exposure to “secular” rock music ruin these boys?  Is that what pushed them over the edge into a life of Christian skepticism and rock and roll?

Probably not.  As the boys got older, their father became an alcoholic which ruined his marriage and his ministry.  Their divorce of their parents deeply wounded the boys and seems to have served as the event that sent them spiraling away from their faith roots. Caleb says of their former strong religious faith: “That was our past, ever since 1997 to 1998 when our parents divorced and our dad got out of doing what he was doing.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 2004)

Their mom has since remarried, attends church regularly, and lives near the boys in Nashville, TN.  Their father, however, has not returned to the faith.  My conclusion is that it probably wasn’t the rock music that sent these boys spiraling, but it was the broken rock upon which their family had been built – their parents’ marriage – that did it.

I’ve learned through my 15 years in church ministry that parents can make a lot of mistakes (pretty big ones included) and still not send their kids spiraling away from the faith.  But, when mom and dad divorce, it almost always rocks the faith foundation that they worked hard to build in their kids.  Unfortunately, the Followill boys are experiencing the same faith disillusionment that thousands of church kids face when their parents divorce.

Let me end this sad story with a bit of hope.  Even though the boys have – famously – been somewhat less than clean-living, they appear not to have lost their faith entirely. There’s a lyric on their new album that says “Jesus don’t love me”, and Caleb has admitted that when it was first played back to him and he heard the line, his eyes welled up with tears, and he said, “That’s the worst thing that I could imagine happening”.

Who’s In Charge of Your Church?

whos-in-charge-picWho’s in charge of your church?  Weird question, I know, but who’s really in charge?  Is it the pastor? The deacon board? The elders? The trustees? The rich old people? The church secretary?  The janitorial staff?  Who’s in charge?

You may think this question isn’t very important, but it’s actually one of the most important questions a church can ask itself.

In Ephesians 5:23, Paul says that Christ is the “head” of the church.  Most church-going folks would grunt an “Amen” to that truth, but how many churches can honestly say that it’s actually Christ who’s really in charge of their church? And, if Christ were to be in charge, what would it look like?

To get the answer to that question, it requires that we understand the meaning of the word “head” in the original Greek. The Greek word is kephale, and to say that it’s meaning has been hotly contested is an understatement.  The word appears 75 times in the NT, and most of the time it is used to mean the literal head of a person or an animal.

However, there are times where kephale is used figuratively and is translated “head” as well (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15, and Colossians 1:18).  In these cases, the word translated “head” is not being used literally.  It’s being used figuratively, and when it’s being used this way, kephale (head) carries with it the meaning of “chief, ruler, or authority.”

In 1985, Bible scholar and professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dr. Wayne Grudem, did a massive study on the word kephale.  He looked at 2,336 examples of its use in Greek literature – from Homer in the 8th Century BC to the church fathers in the 4th Century AD – and here’s how he summarizes his 36 page initial report and his 43 page “rebuttal to a rebuttal” in 1993:

Where the Bible says that the husband is the “head” (kephale) of the wife as Christ is the “head” (kephale) of the church (Eph. 5:23), and that the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3), the person who is called the “head” is always the one in authority (such as the general of an army, the Roman emperor, Christ, the heads of the tribes of Israel, David as head of the nations, etc.)

So, when Paul called Christ the “head” of the church, he meant for us to understand that Christ is the chief, the ruler, and the authority over the church.  And because of this, we must allow Him to be in charge of our churches, which leads us back the question: If Christ were to be in charge of our church, what would it look like?

Allow me to suggest a couple of ways that a church would look if Christ were in charge…

1. A church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.

John Piper says: The meaning of human marriage is based on another greater marriage designed by God in heaven before creation, namely the marriage of Christ to the church. Since this is the case, then we’d better work diligently at building up and strengthening our own marriages in order to properly represent the marriage between Christ and the church to the culture in which we live.

Pastor and author, Douglas Wilson, offers these sobering words about the connection between our marriages and the marriage between Christ and the church:

Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. A husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies – but he is always talking.  If he deserts his wife, he is saying that this is the way Christ deserts His bride – a lie. If he is harsh with his wife and strikes her, he is saying that Christ is harsh with the church – another lie.  If he sleeps with another woman, he is an adulterer, and a blasphemer as well. How could Christ love someone other than His own Bride? It is astonishing how, for a few moments of pleasure, faithless men can bring themselves to slander the faithfulness of Christ in such a way.

Our marriages are meant to be pictures of the loving, faithful, nurturing, cherishing, sacrificial relationship between Christ and the church.  Therefore, a church with Christ in charge will take marriage very seriously and will do all that it can to build strong marriages.

2. A church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does and will allow Him to have supremacy over all things.

John Calvin says:

Hence should anyone call us anywhere else than to Christ, he is empty and full of wind. Let us therefore without concern bid him farewell. The body, the church, will be in a right state if simply the head which furnishes the several members everything that they have is allowed without any hindrance to have the preeminence.

The church with Christ in charge will exalt Christ in all that it does, and its leaders will allow Him to have preeminence in all things.  In a day and age when many churches are run like businesses where decisions are made based on finances and “business sense,” and in a day and age where many churches are run like democracies where decisions are made based on the popular vote of its members, allowing Christ to be in charge is rare and radical.

Not only is it rare and radical, but its also messy.  Not being able to hide behind decisions based solely on finances or votes is scary for many church leaders.  Making decisions based upon prayer, fasting, and waiting upon the Lord can be painful and time consuming, but when Christ is in charge, church leaders use His methods for decision-making, not theirs.

3. A church with Christ in charge will submit to Christ’s headship by ordering itself according to biblical instruction.

This means that the senior pastor (and the rest of the paid staff) fully recognize that Christ is the head of the church, not them.  They serve as leaders under the authority and headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and place themselves under the watchful eyes of the other “Christ-called” elders of his church.

God has laid out a clear biblical plan for the leadership of His church through biblically qualified, called-by-Christ elders and deacons (Acts 6:1-7, 20:17-35, I Tim. 3, Titus 1).  Too many times, churches are led by warm bodies who were either elected to positions of leadership or who muscled their way to power through their strong personality, their giving record, or their availability.  In these cases, little or no consideration is given to God’s instruction and requirements for leadership in the church.  A church with Christ in charge will adhere to His instructions regarding leadership, not theirs.

So, I ask again: Who’s in charge of your church? If your answer is anyone other than “Jesus Christ,” then may God grant you the wisdom, strength, and courage to help your church make a leadership change.

The Nerve!

img00200As you know, I have four teenagers living under my roof. Two of them are graduating from high school this month. The cost of graduating a child from high school can be measured in the thousands of dollars: books, school fees, homecoming, prom, spring break trips, multiple ACT tests, college application fees, senior pictures, graduation parties, graduation gifts, college orientation fees, etc. It all adds up, and for our family, this cost is doubled.

So, needless to say, I was shocked, angered, and overwhelmed with destructive thoughts when I saw this sign at a local car dealership last night. The nerve! How many parents who are fighting off the entitled requests of their high school graduates for a car have driven by this sign with their teen only to be attacked again with renewed vigor?

“See dad! Not only do ALL my friends have a car, but I deserve one! And look…I’m not the only one who thinks so!”

I know this dealership thinks this is a funny and creative sign, but it’s obvious that the people responsible for it don’t have teenagers. If they did, the sign would read: “Parents, don’t you deserve a car for raising your teenager? Come on in for a GREAT deal!”