Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Double Standard

GOP candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney had an interesting start to his campaign in New Hampshire yesterday. Read the following AP report:

Tue May 29, 12:30 PM ET

Mitt Romney’s visit to New Hampshire started on a sour note Tuesday when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for the Republican presidential contender because of his faith.

“I’m one person who will not vote for a Mormon,” Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when the former Massachusetts governor approached him inside Harvey’s Bakery. Romney was kicking off the second of two day’s worth of campaign visits in the lead primary state.

Romney kept smiling as he asked, “Can I shake your hand anyway?”

Michaud replied, “No.”

Michaud later told reporters he was not “a right-winger,” alluding to some evangelical Christians who have compared Romney’s faith to a cult. Instead, Michaud stated he was “a liberal.”

He said he planned to vote for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., should she win the Democratic presidential nomination.

If elected, Romney would be the first Mormon to serve in the White House.

While I feel that the “patron” was rude, his opinion of Romney, or Mormons for that matter, is not what has me chaffed. Read the title that Yahoo News ran over the above story Romney Criticized for Mormon Faith in NH“. Technically, I agree with the title. Romney was criticized for his faith. I cannot help but wonder; however, what the title would have been had a restaurant patron told Barack Obama, “I’m one person that will not vote for a black.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I just do not believe that the title for that story would have read “Obama Criticized for Being Black”. The same holds true had Hilary been told, “I’m one person who will not vote for a woman.”

I do not think that anyone should withhold their vote from a candidate based strictly on race or gender. That is not the point of this post. I just think there is a double standard in the media.

My Pastor Used to Be a Woman!

Not my pastor! My former pastor is, has always been, and always will be a man. But there is a congregation of United Methodists in Charles Village, MD who can honestly say, "My pastor used to be a woman."

WOW!

Women are spiritual equals with men and the ministry of women is essential to any church. According to the scriptures women fulfilled an important role in the church (Acts 1:12–14; 9:36–42; 16:13–15; 17:1–4, 10–12; 18:1–2, 18, 24–28; Romans 16; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 1:5; 4:19). Women still fulfill an important and vital role in every church today, but women are not to serve as pastors in the church (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1-7).

Evidently the United Methodist Church did not get the memo, or they didn't read the book, or something. Once a congregation, or a denomination, begins to compromise on clear Biblical teaching more compromise is inevitable. Take as an example the Charles Village congregation. Read this unbelievable excerpt from the Baltimore Sun:
A year ago, the Rev. Ann Gordon received her routine reappointment as minister of a Charles Village Methodist congregation. Yesterday - after undergoing a sex-change operation and taking on a new symbolic name - the Rev. Drew Phoenix received another one-year contract to head St. John's United Methodist Church.

I was made aware of this story via Al Mohler's blog post. I have linked to it here. I encourage you to read his post, and, if you have time, the articles which he has linked as well.

Repentance and returning to clear Biblical instruction is the only remedy for doctrinal compromise. At least, that was the counsel that Christ gave to the church at Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17). That next step down from doctrinal compromise is flat-out heresy.

The sentence, "My pastor used to be a woman" has taken on a whole new meaning.

Spiritual Check-up pt. 2

Your vitals were checked last week. Now let's do a brain scan!

What's on your mind? What do you spend most of your time thinking about? On what do your thoughts dwell? Listen to what the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:6-8, "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God."

Having a carnal mind is simply following your human nature as opposed to your spiritual nature. In which category do your thoughts fall: carnal or spiritual? All of us are continually filling up the memory bank of our minds; depending on how long you’ve been around is what determines the size of your particular memory bank. All of us, young and old, are consistently filing stuff away in our memory bank, and I’ll promise you this, if you stick stuff in there that is sinful, Satan is really good at recycling that garbage. Images you shouldn’t have seen, lyrics you shouldn’t have heard, actions you shouldn’t have taken, or should have taken. On and on and on and on…what are you downloading into your memory bank?

Here are two multiple-choice questions that you need to answer.

1. How would you describe your understanding of the Bible? (Pick one of the following phrases that best sums up your ability to understand the Bible.)

  • a) Bible? What's a Bible?
  • b) I can't ever find anything I need when I need it!
  • c) I'm OK with the NT, but the OT is like a foreign film with subtitles.
  • d) I'm beginning to understand it.
  • e) I'm a Biblical genius- next stop is memorization of Leviticus

2. How would you describe your ability to fight off temptation? (Choose the phrase that best describes your approach.)

  • a) Hot dog! This looks like fun!
  • b) Honk if you love Jesus.
  • c) Get out of Dodge.
  • d) Pray
  • e) Get with people who are spiritually stronger than me.

The brain scan is complete, please open up and say "Ahhhhh!" Let's have a look at your tongue. The Bible teaches that you will know a person's character by their speech. So what does your speech, and I'm not talking about your grammar, say about you? Are you like the fool in Proverbs who talks with a perverse mouth, a lying and deceitful tongue, who pours forth foolishness from his mouth? I hope not. As Christians our speech should be, as Paul put it in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (cf. Colossians 4:6)

Does your speech uplift people, or tear them down? Do you spread gossip or put a stop to it? Do you tell the truth, or do people have to doubt the reliability of everything you say? You should never underestimate the power of a soft answer and an encouraging word. My former pastor told me a story about a 4th grade class in a small-town that was having a hard time with their Math lesson one day. Everyone was starting to get on each other’s nerves, so the teacher told the class to put their Math books away and get out one sheet of paper and a pencil. On the paper they were to write only their name and nothing else. Then they were told to pass their paper to the student next to them who was then to write down something nice about that person. When it was all said and done each kid in the class had a sheet full of compliments and the tension and anxiety of just a few minutes earlier was all gone. The story does not end there.

Many years later one of the boys from that class died in Vietnam. His 4th grade teacher attended the funeral, along with many of his ex-classmates. After the funeral, the boys parents pulled the teacher aside, showed her the piece of paper from the day many years ago and said, "This was found in one of our son's pockets when he died." And one by one that teacher's former students admitted that they too still had their papers. Some had them in their hope chest, others in their desk drawer. And they all said that when they are depressed, discouraged, or stressed out, they pull out that sheet of paper, and remember the day years ago when their 4th grade teacher taught them the power of an encouraging word.

What are your words saying to your family, your friends, your co-workers, and even the strangers you meet? Does your speech reflect Satan or does it reflect the Lord?

The examination is almost finished; all that remains is a visiona nd hearing test, and then a check of your reflexes.

Please step up to the eye chart. Do you have a vision for how God might use you? What are the blind spots in your life that seem to keep getting you in trouble? Two of my all-time favorite hymns are Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and Be Thou My Vision. Those hymns are excellent reminders for me to constantly keep my eyes, my attention, and my desires focused on Jesus Christ. When I do that, as the songwriter says, the "the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." Or in the words of Be Thou My Vision's fourth stanza: "Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,Thou mine inheritance, now and always:Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art."

Please step away from the eye-chart and I'll have a look into your ears. Do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you, or are other voices and sounds drowning out what God wants you to hear? Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." Be still, waiting on and listening to your God. There are a myriad of voices that seek to drown out God's words. He speaks to us today, not in an audible sense but through His relevant, powerful, Word of life. The question has never been "Is God speaking?" The question has always been "Are you listening?"

Once we have checked your hands and feet will be finished! Are your hands involved in the work of the Lord? We all need to have our sleeves rolled up and be elbow deep in service to Christ through His church. Are you involved in the Lord’s work, or are you just sitting on your hands? Do you maintain a meaningful membership in one of the Lord's churches, or do you operate as a Christian free-agent. Search the scriptures. You won't find any free-agents in there.

How are your feet? Maybe I should ask, what are you doing with your feet? Where are they taking you? Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”

On what path are you walking? After whose footsteps are you following? Do y ou realize that there are others who are following after you? Where are you leading them?

The spiritual check-up is finished. What is your diagnosis?

(HT: this and the previous post are grateful to Duffy Robbins' book The Ministry of Nurture.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Shameless Promotion

I know that I have just begun to post here at The Oxgoad after a month long hiatus, but I have also posted at my new site The Coffee House and I encourage you to check it out when you have a chance.

Why not visit there now?

You may be thinking, "I've visited that blog before and it's basically all about the Cincinnati Reds." Well, there is not much to write about them right now, although I have written a small post on their current plight. My most recent Coffee House post is a short review of the five most recent non-theological books that I have read.

C'mon, go over there, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Book Reviews

Being a pastor, much of what I read is related to theological matters. I do not, however, like to restrict my reading to that area. I’ll share with you what I have recently read, and provide a little blurb or two about each book. (By recent I mean in the last month, and I’ll list them in their reading order.)

Who knew? I’m a Fascist.

The Harvard educated son of a Presbyterian minister journalist Chris Hedges has exposed to the world that Fascism is not dead, nor is it lying dormant in some under-developed corner of the globe. Fascists populate the American nation in great numbers. They are everywhere! They are leading the country to utter ruin.

Who are they and where may they be found? The new fascists are any Christians who believe and live as if the Bible was literally true. Did you not know that D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, and the now deceased Jerry Falwell are all fascists? They seek to destroy American life and reform it in their twisted image.

Yes, I am employing a bit of hyperbole. The book is interesting in the sense the reader is able to see conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism from the perspective of an educated, “spiritual”, and secular mind. I do not agree with all the men I listed in the previous paragraph. I do not find from scripture that Christians are to raise a Moral Majority or any other such para-church organization to Christianize a nation or the world. Hedges is spot on in some of his criticism and observations in that area. But he holds to the theory that anyone who literally believes the Bible, anyone who seeks to win converts to Christ, anyone who believes that Christ will literally and bodily return to this Earth, anyone who believes in a literal heaven and a literal hell…well, those people are literally “escapist” and basically fascist.

Who knew?

I followed up American Fascists with NPR political correspondent Juan Williams’ book Juan Williams can take no more!Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It. I was interested in this book for two reasons. First, I enjoy listening to Williams’ political reporting on NPR. Second, I was curious to hear, from a black man’s perspective, an opinion on the “leadership” of such African-American luminaries as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Plenty of good stuff in this book.

Tired with non-fiction, next I turned to Can’t get enough of Tolkien.J.R.R. Tolkien; one of my favorite authors. Children of Hurin is an old work newly edited and released. Tolkien fans are well aware that as far back as 1918 he began work his “Great Tales” of the mythical Middle Earth. Tolkien worked on the Middle-Earth mythology throughout his life, and some of his writing has remained unpublished. His son, Christopher Tolkien edited his father’s many drafts and published the current book. This story is actually told in the Silmarillion, but in that book the story is just parts of another whole. In Children of Hurin we have the uninterrupted narrative of Tolkien’s must tragic hero, Turn Turambar the son of Hurin. If you like The Lord of the Rings then you’ll love this book. I certainly did!

With my fiction fix achieved, I once again turned to non-fiction by reading in one evening Tolerating the Intolerable. This book chronicles the DePauw University v. Janis Price case, in which professor Price was ostensibly fired from DePauw for promoting Christian beliefs and practices on her students. I no live, pastor,This book hits close to home. and work in Greencastle, IN which is where DePauw University is located. The author, Jeffrey Shively, is a DePauw alum who happens to to be an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech; where I happen to work a part-time job.

The book was obviously biased in Mrs. Price’s favor. The author and Mrs. Price are friends; both members of Greencastle Christian Church. Still, the book is well written and documented. Facts are not skewed, but are honestly reported. This affords the reader an honest view of an ugly event. Mr. Shively does a good job of reporting on an epidemic in American higher education - the intolerable attitude of administrators for anyone who is Christian.

We could use one like him now.Finally, I just finished my favorite of the four non-fiction books that I read; Peggy Noonan’s When Character was King: a Story of Ronald Reagan. Noonan does a marvelous job of describing an excellent man. She reveals what made Reagan great. It was not his intellect…his charisma…his conservative positions. Reagan was a wonderful man and a great leader because he was a man of character. This attribute has been lacking in the Oval Office for quite a while.

I believe that Reagan was one of the top five Presidents of all time, and he is greatest post WWII President. He didn’t finish his two terms unscathed, and he was far from perfect. Through it all, however, he displayed dignity and integrity and he did it all with a natural, disarming, and ingratiating humor. This was a wonderful story about a fabulous man who is sorely missed.

These boots are too big to be filled by any of these guys!

Worst Team in the NL Central

It’s official: my beloved Cincinnati Reds are now the worst team in the National League. They own a scintillating 18-30 record; which gives them a solid hold on the cellar of the Central Division. They are the worst team in the worst division in the NL.

They just lost three of four games to the Washington Nationals, the former NL basement champs. Of course, one could call the Nationals “Cincinnati Reds East” because the team has Jim Bowden, Bob Boone, and Barry Larkin in the front office and Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns, and Felipe Lopez on the field. By the way, all three of those players shined at various times against the Reds.

I just do not understand this free fall. Last yeat this team was in contention for the entire season, and should have won the Central division. They imploded down the stretch, but they haven’t even lifted off this season. It’s May25 and you can already stick a fork in this season. The only reasons left to watch this team are these:
  • Will Junior stay healthy?
  • Will Hamilton stay clean?
  • Will Dunn hit 40 homers for the fourth consecutive season?
Other than the above storylines there is no compelling reason to watch this team. Nevertheless, I shall watch and listen to Marty!

Before I finish I want it to be understood that I do like Adam Dunn. I really do. I have to be honest, though, this guy is a liability in the field, and how does someone with such a good “eye” strike out a couple times every game; usually in a clutch situation? I loved his effort last night on Young’s bloop hit to left, but his decision to attempt a shoe-string catch was bone-headed. It also cost the Reds a run. It was great effort combined with a poor decision. The Reds need great effort and smart decisions. They need them in a hurry.





Spiritual Check-up

I do not like going to the doctor, and I cannot think of too many people who do. Think about it, when you're at the doctor's office you often get asked to do some pretty uncomfortable, embarrassing, and even painful things:

  • "Strip down completely and put this robe on."
  • "Fill up this bottle."
  • And the worst of all, "Bend over and cough."

Hey, nobody likes the sound of that! On the other hand, it's no fun being sick. So, an occasional check-up or physical performed by a good doctor can help keep our bodies in shape. Knowing that still doesn't make the visit any more fun, but hopefully you are convince you of its value.

The purpose of this post is to provide you with a cost-free check-up. Not of your physical body, but of your spiritual self. Please, do not worry, I promise that you can keep your clothes on, as a matter of fact I insist on it. You will not be required to fill any bottles with bodily fluids, and there will be no bending over and coughing.

This check-up may still be a little uncomfortable; however, and you may feel the pressure of some probing questions. You may even feel the pain of some areas or subjects that you do not like to think about. While taking this physical, there are two things that you need to keep in mind.

  1. Honesty is important in this examination. The answers to these questions will be between you and God. You cannot fool Him, so don't try. Be honest, no matter how painful that honesty might be.
  2. Remember, Jesus Christ is the Great Physician. The Bible says,
    He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 - "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.")

Christ is not an uncaring, heartless, cold, impersonal Savior. On the contrary, He loves and cares for you like no other physician can or could. Isaiah 53:5 proves that: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (cf. 1 Peter 2:24) Christ isn't out to hurt you. He desires to heal you.

Let's begin, and the place to start is with your vital signs; specifically your pulse. I think we would all agree that having a pulse is fairly important. After all, if you don’t have a pulse, you’re dead. Do you have a spiritual pulse? How do you check for a spiritual pulse? The only way to have one is to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. If you have not done that, then you do not have a spiritual pulse, and if you have yet to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior you are spiritually dead. There is a huge difference between a physical pulse and a spiritual one, namely the fact that you are born with a physical pulse. No one is born with a spiritual pulse. We are all born dead in our sins, and only faith in and on Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection, can give you a spiritual pulse. Ephesians 2:4-10 says, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

Now that we have taken your pulse, let's probe your heart. The Bible says in Proverbs 23:7 that "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Your heart is also evidence of what you treasure most. Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." If you have a spiritual pulse, then are you trying to become more like Christ in your thoughts and motives? Do the priorities of your life bring you closer to God, or do they drive you away from Him? Do you have a heart for God? If you do, then your heart will be:

  • Fixed on God - Psalm 112
  • Joyful in God - 1 Samuel 2:1
  • Desirous of God - Psalm 84:2
  • Broken and Contrite before God - Psalm 51:17
  • Obedient to God - Psalm 119:112
  • Completely Devoted to God - Psalm 119:10; Psalm 119:145
  • Prayerful - Psalm 27:8

Do you have a heart for God, or do you have a heart for the things of this world? Your words, your thoughts, and your actions will reveal where your heart is.

You’ve had your pulse taken. You have had your heart examined. Now roll up your sleeve and let’s do a little blood work. Are you afraid of needles?

First, I want to check your red blood cells. They carry oxygen through your body and this prevents anemia and sluggishness. What your red blood cells are to your physical body, your devotional life is to your spiritual self. Answer the next question truthfully and carefully.

  • How much time do you spend each day studying your Bible?

Please notice that I said studying, not just reading, your Bible. The Word of God is not just an interesting piece of literature to read. It's not just a book of ancient stories. It is the very Word of God. A Christian must spend time in God's Word; studying and meditating on it. All of this studying and meditation is for one purpose: application. You learn it so you can live it; just reading the words will not help you, it takes application of the scriptures for this Book to make a difference in your life. Read Lord of the Rings, but study, interpret, and apply the scriptures to your life.

Next question:

  • Do you spend time daily in prayer with God?

Bowing your head, closing your eyes, and being quiet, while someone else is praying does not count. I am talking about some serious one on one time between you and God! "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near," Isaiah 55:6. (cf. Psalm 62:8; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:16).

How is your spiritual blood circulation? Are you helping the blood to pump and flow like it should by studying God's Word and spending time in prayer, or are your arteries clogged with things of this world?

The first part of the check-up is complete. Next week we'll finish.

(HT: This post and the following post are grateful to Duffy Robbins' book The Ministry of Nurture.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Natural

Amazing.

That is the only word that sufficiently describes Josh Hamilton. The guy simply does it all. He hits for average, spraying the ball all over the field. He hits for power. He has speed; on the bases and in the field. He has a ”laser-rocket” arm (to quote one of the many Peyton Manning commercials). The young man is literally a natural. His story is, as Thom Brennaman correctly stated during yesterday’s telecast, this year’s best story in baseball. All season long Hamilton has displayed his many talents, but during this past week the young man, who has been out of baseball for four years, batted .429 with nine hits, including two home runs, a triple, a double, two walks and a stolen base. Not only has he clobberd the ball at the plate but his defense has been, well, his defense has been Griffeyesque: a diving grab on Saturday, an over the shoulder catch on Sunday, and an 8 - 5 assist (that’s from CF (8) to 3B (5) for those of you who can’t keep score) on Willy Taveras, who is arguably the fastest player in the NL. After yesterday I doubt if anyone in their right mind will attempt going from first to third on his arm.

Hamilton must be an every-day player, and I believe that Narron has done a fine job of regularly inserting him in the lineup. My feeling is that Edwin Encarnacion should be dealt away so that Freel may become the regular 3B and Hamilton the everyday CF. Freel is a better outfielder than infielder, in my opinion, but Hamilton is a better CF than Freel, and Freel will play just as good at 3B as Encarnacion.

The only bummer about this past week is the inability of the Reds to win! That’s always a downer. Yesterday’s victory stopped a 4-game skid, but tonight’s prospects are grim because the great Reds slayer Roy Oswalt, he of the lifetime 18-1 record versus Cincinnati, will take the GABP mound. The only good news about Oswalt being the pitcher this evening is that Hamilton has done all of his damage against RH pitchers. (Although the Natural did post an o-fer against Oswalt in their first meeting.)

Besides Hamilton this year’s bright spot for me has been the play of one Ken Griffey, Jr. His defense is not, well, Griffeyesque. In fact, during one game in the Houston series he looked horrid in RF, but his RF defense will improve and his bat is coming into fine form. Griffey has absolutely stung the ball the last few games. It seems as if his wrist is completely healed. The only thing Griffey can do better offensively is be more productive with 2-outs and runners in scoring position.