Previous month:
April 2011
Next month:
June 2011

Posts from May 2011

So They Have a Car. . .Now What?

"What can I do?"

"How can we help?"

"I would like to do something for them?"

I've been receiving text messages, emails, and phone calls from members of the church wanting to help Jesse James and her sisters. As you know, on Thursday, we were able to gift Jesse and girls a car. This answered one great need for them. Some local news blogs have carried this story and it's always interesting (but not recommended) to read comments of readers to these postings. Many are positive. Some are wondering why they can't get a car from the church. Others bring up the challenges now of maintenance, insurance and upkeep of the vehicle. Those are good points, but Jesse is a responsible young lady and worked Thursday to secure insurance on the car and had funds to do such. As for maintenance and upkeep, I'm confident that if made aware, we have people in the congregation more than willing to help in these areas as well. Of course, our hope is that the car is as reliable as it seems for many years and nothing more than regular preventive maintenance will be required.

Yesterday, one of the members of First Baptist let me know that through his construction company, he would take care of repairing and re-roofing their home. (Thanks Logan Bowen.) Apparently, a lumber yard has agreed to donate the material needed.

Another member of the church has volunteered his legal expertise in areas of negotiation surrounding home title and mortgage issues.

Others are offering to help her discover what aid may be available regarding food and clothing for the long term.

I have had numerous women contact me asking if they can help Jesse with anything related to the girls or house work or various other things.

The Justice Coalition has done well to get the information regarding their needs as well as providing tangible support and legal help. In fact, it was through Ann Dugger and the Justice Coalition that we were invited to join this story. Thanks Ann.

I believe all the help that's been offered may be overwhelming to Jesse, though she is very appreciative. Can you imagine being eighteen and dealing with the loss of your parents and now having a bunch of strangers coming to your home for a press conference and then offering to help? 

So at this point, we are offering what we can without overwhelming the girls too much, hopefully. I believe all our volunteers will have ample opportunities to step in and help. I told Jesse that all that we do is for one reason - to bring glory to God and to show her His great love. 

If we claim to be missional in our practice and really believe that this life is not about us, then when these opportunities (or tests, as I referenced yesterday) come, we must boldly step out of our comfort zones and show God's love visibly to the community around us. This is not about p/r for First Baptist Church. It's about being the people of God that we have been called to be.

NW_Logo My promise to Jesse, on behalf of the church, is that as long as she desires, we'll be there for her. It was made clear that we care greatly for her and her sisters, for their spiritual lives as well as their physical situation. It's so easy for a story to peak and be interesting, but then the days, weeks and months go by and sometimes we get busy with other things. We don't intentionally forget, but let's face it, we're a sound byte culture and stories come and go. Let's make sure that we don't forget those we serve, whether it be Jesse or someone else. 

One of our ladies said she is putting a list above her computer screen with names and pictures of things like this, just to ensure she continues to pray and doesn't forget.

I was wondering yesterday why these types of stories seem to become part of our story. Why does First Baptist Orange Park find itself in the middle of these types of things? Then, it hit me. God has been molding us for years and preparing us to be His hands and feet in this community. We're not the only church doing these things, but we're now at a point where it just feels natural to serve.

Love God.

Love people.

To God be the glory!


A Test to See If We Believe What We Preach

Last week I received a call from Ann Dugger of the Justice Coalition in Jacksonville. This victim's advocacy group does some pretty amazing things in our community. I first became acquainted with them through the Somer Thompson ordeal.

Ann told me about a press conference they were having and she wanted me to come. Honestly, I was not too keen on the idea of going to another press conference. They sometimes just seem to be times to promote self or even organizations. However, she then told me the story of Jesse and her sisters. 

Jesse's mother was tragically murdered on April 8 by her step-father who then committed suicide. Jesse and her three sisters, ages 10, 8 and 4 were left orphaned. After numerous meetings with DCF and court dates, Jesse was awarded full custody of her sisters. This was a great victory, but the challenges of an 18 year old High School graduate needing to provide for her three sisters and make house payments loomed heavy.

The purpose of the press conference was to make known the needs of the family. Therefore, I told Ann I would come and stand in the crowd of supporters and see what we could do.

I had not met Jesse and honestly, did not really know the story. I believe I had heard of the murder-suicide in early April, but unfortunately, it was just another news story at the time. 

As I stood there with other community supporters and representatives from a couple of other churches, I was overwhelmed with the thoughts that we, the church, must step up and help this family.



DSCN0173 I later had the opportunity to talk with Jesse. She seems to be a very mature young woman. She's shy and the attention and the press conference was pretty overwhelming. She has neighbors and friends willing to help, but no close family available to step in. In truth, she is now the "mom" and is having to make some very adult decisions. She has a very supportive boyfriend, Derek, whom I met and believe is offering all the help he can.

After standing there at the press conference and seeing a couple of organizations make some donations to help Jesse offset expenses (the big deal is that she owes $50,000+ on the home and property to keep it out of foreclosure) I was struck by how much God has blessed His people and that rather than relying on local businesses or community clubs and fraternal organizations, we, God's people should step up and love this family with our words, but also our actions. We were told that the girls needed a safe, reliable, more fuel efficient vehicle. The only vehicle they had was a pickup truck with over 300,000 miles on it and leaking oil pans and other engine issues. They also needed a new roof on their home. There are soft spots and old shingles and the home needs to be "up to code" in some areas.

So, I used the power of Twitter.

I tweeted, while at the press conferece the following:

Anyone have a car for a family in need?

I received some responses to that.  Then, I tweeted:

We need a team that can reroof a girl's house in GCS.

I then called one of our church secretaries and directed her to send out a church-wide email explaining the situation and that God has given us another "Be the church" opportunity.

Wow! God's people at First Baptist Church responded and continue to do so. What has been revealed to me is that as I have been preaching through Haggai and other passages focused on the God-centric life we are to live, He has been softening and changing the hearts of our people.

I have heard stories of people selling jewelry and giving the money to missionaries and other minsitries we support. I have heard of people donating clothes to those in need, providing food, serving at the Clothes Closet, etc. God is creating, within His people, the generous hearts that bring Him glory.

That's why I confidently told Ann and others at the press conference, and Jesse as well "I think we can help here."

So, within about four hours, with people offering very generous financial donations, prayers, and the willingness to do whatever is needed, we were able to give Jesse and the girls a new (to them) 2005 Ford Taurus. What is so incredible is how God provided all the funds. We were able to write a check to Mike Shad Ford (thanks to Shad and to Lance Lindsey) and we handed Jesse the keys to the car last night. The girls kept saying "Is this really our car?" Pretty incredible. Her boyfriend asked "So, this isn't financed?" Nope. Free and clear. 

Then, today, another church member called and said "I think I can take care of roofing that house." He's supposed to coordinate with Jesse and Ann Dugger and check it out tomorrow. There may be opportunity for volunteers to help, and folks are available.

I told Jesse that our gift of the car and the work on the house was not bait to get them to come to our church. Her mother attended a nearby church, but apparently, Jesse never really connected and wasn't very active and is looking for a church to attend. I explained that the car and the things we do are all done in the name of Jesus Christ, not the name of First Baptist Church of Orange Park, and that we just believe God loves us so much and has blessed us to such an extent that we must bless her through this time. It's for His glory.

There are many Christian books and Bibles in their home, but I gave each of the girls new "girly" Bibles (with pink and purple covers) yesterday. I wanted to make sure that they understood God's great love for them even through this tragedy. 

This is a long-term story and I'm not sure how God is planning to use us in the coming chapters. I have heard from many women in our church who just want to love on Jesse and the girls and help. We'll try not to overwhelm her, but we are available. We want Jesse and the girls to know Jesus Christ and to experience His great love for them.

This verse came to mind today. . .

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  James 1:27 (HCSB)


The End of the World As We Know It. . .So What Do We Do?

You can just hear Michael Stipe and R.E.M. singing it now. . .

It's the end of the world as we know it.

It's the end of the world as we know it.

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

It seems that the global disasters are increasing. Just look at this partial list of global events.

JANUARY

  • Queensland, Australia -  severe flooding. Three quarters of the state was declared a disaster zone. Over 30 people were killed and 200,000 were affected.
  • Brazil -  severe flooding. Nearly 500 people killed in the Rio de Janeiro region. Fear that many more were dead and many others missing.

FEBRUARY

  • Flooding in NW MSxm Queensland, Australia - Powerful cyclone hits area.
  • New Zealand - A 6.3 magnitude earthquake ripped through Christchurch causing multiple fatalities.

MARCH

  • Japan - Massive earthquake and tsunami hit the island nation, followed by ongoing nuclear threat from power plant.
  • Georgia - Wildfires grow in sothern Georgia as firefighters work to contain burn.

APRIL

  • Japan - Another earthquake hits the area causing great fear and caution and triggers tsunami warning.
  • North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama - Hundreds dead as tornadoes tear through Southern states.

MAY

  • Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana - flooding of the Mississippi River continues.
  • Texas - Wildfires cover hundreds of acres of Texas.
  • Joplin, Missouri - Hundreds dead and town faces great destruction as tornadoes wreak havoc.
  • Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas - Hundreds dead and tons of damage as storms and tornadoes hit.

There are more, but these are depressing enough. For those of us in Florida, we look at this list and then we think . . ."and hurricane season hasn't even started, yet."

"What is going on?"

2d7c4452cf884d2eafbb37acf6730507-bdff852b0b654d64bde98f10fe46abd6-12_t615 I hear that asked by a number of people. The same people who joked about the false prophet Harold Camping's prediction of Judgment Day (now moved to October 21) are still wondering if we're not really closing in on the end.

So, are we getting close? I believe so. Romans 8:22 speaks of the earth "groaning" in anticipation of the end. Perhaps this is what we're experiencing? Regardless, as Christians, we should continually be prepared. Scripture is clear on this. I wrote about this at the end of the post here.

However, as I hope you can tell, Christ has not yet come back. Therefore, there are still things God has for us to do in order to bring Him glory.

Can God get glory through disasters such as we are experiencing now?

These tragic disaster stories seem to come daily now. Some are wondering how much more can we take. Yet, I find that God's church, especially, but not exclusively, Southern Baptists are readily available to help in times like these.

There was a report on one of the major news stations following the Alabama tornadoes that the American Red Cross and Salvation Army had arrived and were distributing goods and offering aid to victims. However, when the camera panned the volunteers, they all were wearing bright yellow T-shirts and caps. While most of the viewing audience may not have caught this, those of us who understand realized quickly that these were not Red Cross or Salvation Army volunteers (Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they were there as well as other groups like Samaritan's Purse, and working and they do well. It's just that the images shown weren't of them.) The yellow shirts and caps are the distinctive emblems of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams.

250036_224675404224831_221421797883525_972710_4417227_n In these last days, God will draw even more people to Himself. His church will serve and I believe that for Southern Baptists, the Disaster Relief efforts may result in the greatest harvest of souls in generations.

This is not to discount the Great Awakenings of the past or the evangelistic revivals of previous generations. God definitely used those and many souls were saved as a result.

It's just my opinion that God is raising up an army of missional (yes - disaster relief is missional) believers who are ready to love and serve their neighbors in the name of Jesus Christ.

We pray for the families of victims. 

AL_tornado_0533 We do not desire more disasters, by any stretch of the imagination.

We do, however, believe that God has and will use His church in these days to bring the nations, the people groups, throughout the world to the  saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

R.E.M. may be singing a politically left-leaning statement in their song, but in truth, this may be the "end of the world as we know it" but you know what?  "I feel fine," not because of who I am, but because of whose I am.

So what do we do?

We prepare. 

We realize that we are here for a reason. . .and that reason is not about us.

We double check that which is truly valuable in our lives (not the homes or cars or "stuff" we accumulate - looking at the images following the tornadoes reminds me how temporary those things are) and live from our hearts for God's glory.

It may not be that you can serve on a disaster relief team. You may never have a yellow T-shirt or cap, but you probably know someone in your family, school, work or community that is facing a personal "disaster." Be ready to "be the church" to those God puts in your path.

BTW - to read current updates from SBC Disaster Relief with info on how you can help or donate, go to http://www.namb.net/dr/.

 


Saying "I'll Be Back" May Not Be Enough This Time

Once again, a high profile marriage is falling apart in the public eye. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver have called it quits. At first, it seemed strange, but many just chalked it up to another Hollywood marriage going down the tubes. Then, the story took a strange twist when it was revealed that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with the family's former maid. 

Schwarzenegger-and-Shriver-1 By now, you've heard all this. The purpose of this posting is not to become another TMZ or Extra site, but to bring to light the continual attacks on marriage that are occuring in our world.

I wish I could say that these types of marital failures and the high rates of separation and divorce are relegated to the celebrity crowd, but that's just not the case. Stories of separation, infidelity, extra-marital affairs. . .and if you want to get biblical and call it what it is - adultery and fornication (i.e. sin) abound throughout our culture and even our own community.

The reality is that ever since Eden, marriage has been under attack.

Why does the Enemy hate marriage so?

There are a number of reasons. Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order:

  • Marriage was designed by God and ordained by Him. He hates everything about God.
  • Marriage is built on a love relationship and Satan cannot love. Love is not his nature.
  • Marriage is a picture, an illustration, of the relationship between Christ and His church. That's why we're called the "bride of Christ." Therefore, every time the Enemy sees a marriage (even if it's a marriage between lost people) it reminds him of Christ and the church.
  • Marriage is about relationship. The Enemy cannot have true relationships.

There are other reasons, but it becomes pretty obvious that all marriages are vulnerable to attack. Therefore, we, as believers, must protect our marriage and stand firm against the attacks. 

The Schwarzenegger story just brings all this back to the forefront. We've seen these types of stories before. When Elizabeth Taylor died, her marital and relational escapades made the news again (it still amazes me that she and Debbie Reynolds were able to work together later in life following the Eddie Fisher story.) The Brad and Angelina mess continues to keep Jennifer Aniston on the front of supermarket tabloids since the public continually feels sorry for her. The stories of politicians who have been unfaithful (Gingrich is in the news again due to his presidential announcement) also seem to be more common. 

There's even a popular television series (I've never watched it, but I gather from the commercials what it is about) focusing on what happens when a famous couple is split over the issue of infidelity. The show is called The Good Wife and seems to have been developed after numerous politicians admitted to marital infidelity while their wives stood by their sides at the press conferences.

These high-profile stories are just added to the ones we all know of friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members and Christians who are facing their own marital issues, albeit without the paparazzi.

So, what can be done?

This question has been asked over and over by friends and church members.

Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, on his blog, states his personal strategy for not becoming a casualty of broken vows. Here are his guidelines (click here for the full posting)

  1. I invest in my relationship with Gail (obviously, Gail is Michael's wife). It is amazing to me that so many men are willing to invest such enormous spiritual, emotional, and financial resources in relationships other than the one they have. This doesn’t make economic sense. If you want your marriage to grow and flourish, you must invest in it. This means investingtime—dreaming, laughing, listening, and crying together.
  2. I set specific boundaries. This may sound old-fashioned, perhaps even legalistic. So be it. I think our world could use a little old-fashioned common sense. Therefore:
    • I will not go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will not travel alone with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will not flirt with someone of the opposite sex.
    • I will speak often and lovingly of my wife. (This is the best adultery repellant known to man.)
  3. I consider what is at stake. What story do I want my grandchildren to tell? This puts it all in perspective for me. Do I want them to be proud of my life’s story or embarrassed? Do I want to be remembered as a person who loves his wife and is faithful to her? Or do I want to be the one who squandered his legacy in a moment of indiscretion?

Another thing that I believe will help strengthen our marriages is the development of mentor couples. Every marriage book and counselor I have read and listened to references the need for mentor couples. These mentor couples are those who have been married for some time and are winning. They aren't perfect. Many have had serious issues in the past, but they have covenanted to remain together and their marriages are strong. My desire is to partner mentor couples with newly married couples initially. The agenda is loose, but based on relationship. It's not so much a curriculum, but two couples praying together and communicating about what really matters in life and marriage.

Perhaps, through the ministry of mentor couples, more marriages can be stronger for the long-term and avoid the potholes and pitfalls the Enemy throws at marriage.

The goal is that husbands and wives remain faithful to each other, loving and serving God together. How crazy would that be in this fallen, sinful world?

It is possible. However, it just doesn't happen automatically. Remember, we're in a war. We have to be strategic. We have to fight for this.

BTW - I pray that all marriages survive and thrive. . .even the celebrity ones. So often, these celebrities are reduced to caricatures. The reality is they are people with real hurts, real pains, and real loved ones. The Schwarzenegger-Shrivers are suffering. As are others. It's good that Arnold has "taken full responsibility" but that alone does not heal the relationship. Remember, God is for marriage. 


Apparently Christ Returns Saturday at 6pm. Is That Eastern or Central Time?

The billboards are all over the place. There's even one on Blanding Boulevard in our community. Apparently, there are over 1,200 here in the United States and 2,000 more in other nations. The billboards state plainly that Judgment Day (the biblical one, not the one from the Terminator movies) is May 21 and will begin at 6pm.

May21-11_END_OF_WORLD These billboards promote a teaching from Pastor Harold Camping and his Family Radio ministry. Camping has been down this road before. He predicted Christ's return was to come in September 1994, but at least then he stated "I could be wrong." No such cavaet this time. He has stated on his radio program and in leaflets and booklets printed by his ministry that "The End of the World is Almost Here! Holy God Will Bring Judgment Day on May 21, 2011." A friend of mine gave me copies of this leaflet as well as others titled "God Gives Another Infallible Proof That Assures The Rapture Will Occur May 21, 2011," "No Man Knows the Day or the Hour" (which is a supposed explanation that even though Scripture clearly states that no man can know the day or hour of Christ's return, that Camping now knows through a better, clearer understanding of Scripture) and other leaflets affirming the date May 21, 2011 as Judgment Day.

The fact that Camping and his followers have placed these billboards throughout the world has caused many to take notice. In most cases, these have become punchlines for jokes, even among pastors (I guess I don't have to worry about my sermon for Sunday, etc.) In truth, this is a pretty sad situation.

On one hand you have Camping (89) whose teachings have for years been outside the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy, being set up by some in the media and the world as an example of Christianity and biblical teaching. Camping's teachings have long left believers shaking their heads. His unfulfilled predictions (which, by the way, seems to put him in the false prophet category) and unorthodox doctrines, not to mention his teaching that all churches are apostate and corrupt and that he was the only voice that believers should be listening to, have shifted him to the fringe of Christendom. Hmmm, seems to me that this statement about being the only voice that God uses would shift him into the "cultic" category.

On the other hand, you have many people in our world searching for hope. Many live in fear. Cults and religions have popped up globally for centuries that have played on these fears and have left followers empty without an authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

"End of the world" prophecies and forecasted dates have been shared for centuries. The Assyerians wrote of this around 2800 BC. On the clay tablet, the words were written "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common." Sounds like today, doesn't it?

In the year 70 AD, a group of Jews pointed to the year 365 as the day the apocalypse would come.

The year 500 AD was calculated as the end by the Roman theologian Sextus Julius Africanus.

In the 1800s, William Miller and his Adventist followers believed that Christ would return March 21, 1844.

In the 1970s, some popular preachers predicted dates for Christ's return.

Today, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims to have received word from Allah that he would be used by Allah to help end the world by making war on Israel. At this time, the Twelfth Imam will reveal himself and create a worldwide caliphate. By the way, anyone or any nation who discounts Iran's or other radical Muslim nations' views and prophecies of the Twelfth Imam will foolishly believe that peace can occur with these nations. I recommend you read Joel C. Rosenberg's blog regarding this and other Mid-East issues. Click here for a sampling regarding the prophecy of the Twelfth Imam.

As you can see, end times predictions and judgment day scheduling is nothing new.

So, what are Christians to do with this? 

Undoubtedbly non-believers will question their Christian friends. Some, sincerely. Others, mockingly.

Some would say to me "Well, don't you believe that Jesus is returning?"

My answer is "Yes!"

They might say "Do you not think it could be any day now?"

My answer is "Absolutely!"

"Why couldn't it be Saturday at 6pm?"

I guess it could be, but Scripture is clear that no man knows the day or hour and I'm pretty sure that Camping will not receive credit for picking the right day and time. Why? Because he is a false prophet.

I've heard some say "But some of what he says makes sense. Some of it is right." Maybe so, but even Satan himself quoted Scripture. Remember the temptation of Christ? The Scripture he quoted was real, but that didn't make him anything other than what he is. . .a liar.

Camping has been wrong before. He is wrong this time. Yet, he is certain that he hold the truth. He shared this with New York magazine:

God has given sooo much information in the Bible about this, and so many proofs, and so many signs, that we know it is absolutelygoing to happen without any question at all. There’s nothing in the Bible that God has ever prophesied — there’s many things that he prophesied would happen and they always have happened — but there’snothing in the Bible that holds a candle to the amount of information to this tremendous truth of the end of the world. I would be absolutely in rebellion against God if I thought anything other than it is absolutely going to happen without any question.”

Knowing the Bible and reading this statement by Camping raises red flags, or at least it should.

Michael S. Rosenwald of The Washington Post explains, Camping "says he came up with the very precise date of May 21 through a mathematical calculation that would probably crash Google's computers." Camping's mathematical formula "involves, among other things, the dates of floods, the signals of numbers in the Bible, multiplication, addition and subraction thereof." Many have noted that these formulas seemingly only make sense to Camping.

In a sense, Camping claims that God has given him a special revelation to understand these things.

The claiming of this type of knowledge was strictly forbidden by Christ.

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. Acts 1:7 ESV

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36 ESV 

Nevertheless, though we do not and will not know the day nor the hour, I truly believe Christ will return for His church, as Scripture foretells. I believe that the day is close. It most likely will happen in either my lifetime or my children's. I know that people have been saying that for centuries, and that's OK. We are to live as if it could be any moment.

I saw an online poll that asked if this were your last day on earth, based on the prophecy, how would you spend your time? The possible answers were. . .

  • Pray that I get chosen for heaven
  • Party hard
  • Nothing different

The most picked response was "Party." 

Of these three, what answer should a believer in Christ give? Some may say "Pray" but the right answer should be "Nothing different."

Why?

How can I say that?

I say that because as fully-devoted followers (i.e. disciples) of Jesus Christ, we should be living each day as if He could come at any moment. For those who only live like "Christians" when at church or around other believers, this should be a wake up call.

Most likely, I'll see you Sunday morning.

Information in this posting taken from numerous sites and my own brain, but I felt I should reference two sites in particular - Cal Thomas' article for the Washington Examiner and Al Mohler's posting on his blog.


Can War Be Justified for Christians?

01 19 - Peace & War

While men and women are wearing the uniforms of the American military in war zones even now, questions come up among Christians regarding our stance on war. Can war ever be justified? As Christians, who are called to seek peace, can we ever justify armed conflict? If so, what guidelines do we have to determine if it is a "just war?" What about if a draft is reinstituted? Should Christians respond to the draft or run and hide (or burn draft cards?) Is it lawful for Christians to defend themselves, their families and their homes?

As you read this, you may have immediate answers to each of these questions, but we must go back to the entirity of the Word of God for our understanding.

We must avoid having an answer and then seeking to find a verse that supports that answer. That is done all too often by many people, and not just in the case of the subject of this post.

Article 16 of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) states this. . .

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

What does Scripture teach about this subject?

Christians, undoubtedly are called to peace. Peace must be our priority. The teachings of Jesus call us to be peacemakers.  There is much emphasis throughout Scripture on making peace. Note that there is no call to be peacekeepers. Peacekeeping is a passive response to disharmony. It is ineffective and most often just covers issues of conflict without resolving them. I find it interesting that the UN sends peacekeeping forces globally.  Well, I digress. That's a subject for another day.

Romans 12:18 states "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." 

There aren't that many verses with such qualifiers as this one - "if possible" and "so far as it depends on you." This reminds us that peace and peaceable livingis the goal, but the reality is that it is not always possible and it isn't always dependent on you. Hmmm. So, how we flesh this out?

Ammun_all3 Some state that the only Christian response is to be a pacifist. This teaching has been propagated for centuries. Some claim to be "conscientious objectors." Pacifism is the total rejection of all armed conflict. To truly be a pacifist, one must object to all offensive wars, but also the defensive use of force as well.

Dr. Al Mohler says "Pacifists claim that war can never be justified, whatever the cause or conditions. The moral failure of pacifism is found in its deadly naivete', not in its abhorance of violence. In reality, the world is a violent place where humans with evil intent will make war on others...Pacifism fails to keep the peace against those who would take it."

While naive pacifism is one end of the spectrum, the other end would be seeking to justify war under the banner of heaven. This is the theme of the ancient crusades where many atrocities were done under the name of God, and the mandate of the Pope. Both extremes are wrong and have no answers for the believer.

Augustine of Hippo, in the mid fourth and early fifth centuries, developed a teaching that come to be known as the guidelines for a "just war." As Augustine thought through the teachings of Scripture and placed them over and against the practical realities of living in a fallen world, he came up with his guidelines. First, he says that war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Third, love must be central to the motive even in the midst of violence.

There are numerous debates as to whether our current wars are just. Most of these debates tend to fall down political lines. As believers, we must seek to follow the whole of Scripture when understanding and living out these difficult issues.

Calvin Wittman, a Southern Baptist pastor and leader has shared seven principles of a just war. I'll list them here:

  1. The cause of initiating war must be just. That it, it cannot be for aggressive purposes, but rather for the defense and protection of the innocent.
  2. War cannot be initiated justly except by those who hold the proper authority and responsibility (i.e. governments, not terrorist organizations, etc.)
  3. The moral merit on our side must clearly outweigh the moral merit on the other.
  4. War can only be declared with the right intention, which is to obtain or restore a just peace. The desire to punish or humiliate are not justifiable intentions.
  5. War must be the last resort.
  6. War cannot be justified if the prospect of success is hopeless. (Now, this one concerns me. It can be read different ways. I'm not sure I fully agree with this statement as made. Who determines a war is hopeless? Some would have said fighting the Nazis was hopeless. Hmmm. This point needs to be clarified more, I believe. Perhaps, the point is to not "fight hard and die quickly" but to be prepared so that the best hope for victory remains.)
  7. War should be seen as a tragic necessity, not an agressive opportunity.

It's challenging because by showing and sharing all these points for justification of war, one would think Christians are advocating war. That is not the case. We seek peace and to be peacemakers. Our desire is that others may come to know the Prince of Peace and we look forward to the day of His coming.

However, we live in an evil land (I'm speaking of the world, not our nation) and the Enemy reigns. Therefore, wars and battles take place. They have since the beginning of time. We do not have the right to run away and hide. The Lord, He is a warrior. We have been called to battle as well. We must remember, though, that our primary battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of spiritual evil.

 


When "Our" Plans Get Derailed. . .Or Get a Flat

Today I received an email from some friends and church members. The subject line stated this: It's not about us. . .It's about God. Our plan may not be HIS plan.

Well, that sounded familiar. I think I said it last Sunday or the Sunday before. It's one of those common Christian phrases that we say, but I'm not sure we really comprehend. Apparently, we are beginning to get it. Unfortunately, it's not always fun.

So, after asking permission from Steve and Diane Toney, I am sharing their email here. I thinnk it is pretty clear and doesn't need any commentary from me. Diane is writing.

 

Toney Our desire for many years was to travel out west. We planned and saved, set a target date and focused on “our” plan. As the time got closer, we kept saying we were excited but nervous. We ran into some things that we “fixed” so we could make “our” planned trip the first of May. In March, I hurt my back. So I hurried to the doctor to get it taken care of so we could stay with “our” plan. Even though it delayed us by a couple of weeks…that was okay because “we” had a plan. A few weeks before the trip, we were called by the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief team to go to Alabama, but we declined because we had too much to do to stay on target with “our” plan. Then the week before our trip, we took our truck in for regular servicing (oil change, etc.). It was something that should have cost a few hundred dollars…but turned out to be over $700. But, that was okay because we were taking our trip…it was “our” plan.

Toney tires

Monday we got up, finished packing, said our prayers for safe travel and headed out. About 1:00pm, we had a tire blow out on the RV. It wasn’t bad, Steve replaced it, and we were on our way; staying with “our” plan. Approximately 25 miles up the road, we had another tire blow out, this time with damage to the RV. We immediately called the road service so they could bring us a tire and we could keep moving with “our” plan. At 7:30pm we were still sitting on I-10 with no new tire. During that time we questioned if our trip was God’s will. Surely it was…we had planned it for years, right? We ended up having to unhook our RV and leave it on the side of the interstate for the night. We found a hotel and tried to get some rest. But that night rest didn’t come easy. God revealed to us that we had never asked Him if he wanted us to make this trip. He said He had been trying to tell us but we just refused to listen. He said He was disappointed in us and He said we needed to come home. Wow…what a humbling experience. Today we are heading home.

 God never ceases to amaze me. We may never make the trip “we” planned and that’s okay. I know He will reveal His will in our lives but we have to open up to Him and be willing to accept that our wants and desires may not be His. God continues to be an awesome God and I’m thankful every day that He is my Lord and Savior.

 


Becoming the Remnant

01 3 - Becoming the Remnant

As we continue through Haggai's prophecy, it is becomins more and more clear that the underlying principles of this book are speaking to us today.

As I read the first chapter, I find the people of Israel being challenged in the following ways:

  • They have sown much (or invested much) but harvested little.
  • They eat and eat but are never filled
  • They drink and always want more.
  • They make money but it seems that the purse they put it in has holes in it.

Sounds just like 21st century America doesn't it?

Our investments have not always panned out (just ask those who had Enron stock.) We consume so very much, but always want more. We try to work to make a decent living, but never seem to have any money left at the end of the month. Maybe our "purses" have holes in them as well.

Scrap fabric The thing that strikes me is that God sends Haggai to bring the people's attention to the fact that while they believe God has abandoned them, the opposite is true. This is illustrated in the passage regarding the paneling used in the people's houses. This paneling was intended for the house of God, the Temple, but instead was used in the people's homes while the Temple was forgotten.

How this applies is varied, but deep. That which was designed for the glory of God (in this case, the wood, but in our cases so much more) was used for the glory of the people themselves.

This is the message of the prophet.

How guilty we are of taking that which God has blessed us with for His glory and squandered it or used it for our own? Whether it's material possessions, money, talents, gifts, or something else. We must come to the truth that we exist primarily for one reason - to bring glory to the Father.

No longer can we plan our lives as we desire and then tack a "God bless these things" prayer on the end of it. We cannot continue to put our will first and then hope God "rubber stamps" it. We must seek Him first! Isn't that what the Scripture says?

This is the challenge of the day. This is message from a prophet 2,500 years ago to a people in the city of Jerusalem that feels like it was written yesterday just for us.

Haggai uses the term "remnant" often in his book to describe the faithful few who seek the Father. As you know, a remnant is a small piece of cloth left over when making a garment or other item. However, these remnants are valuable. Have you ever seen a quilt made of remnants? Beautiful.

Well, in a sense, we are a remnant as well. This means we may never be in the majority. We may, in fact, be the only one in our families who "gets it." Yet, God never called us to be in the popular majority. There's too much compromise there.

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14. . .

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

As Haggai says. . ."Consider your ways."


We Were All POWs

I am currently in Americus, Georgia. I am leading a group of our senior adults on a trip to some sites up here nearby. Yesterday, we left early from Orange Park and arrived a little after lunchtime at Andersonville. While some in our group have been here before, the vast majority have not.

Andersonville, Georgia is the home of the National POW Museum and a National Cemetery. If you travel on I-75 in Georgia, you may have seen the brown sign showing an exit leading toward Andersonville. If you're like most, you just drive by. Click here for the National Park Service info regarding this site.

Andersonville is not close to the interstate. It's a bit of a drive.

So, why did the federal government put the National POW Museum so far off the beaten path? 

DSCN0070 Andersonville is the home of formerly named Camp Sumter - the largest Civil War era POW facility in the nation. In this Confederate camp, that existed for only 14 months, over 43,000 Union soldiers were confined. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. The camp was not a prison as many would imagine, but an open air 26 1/2 acre stockade with a 16 foot log wall surrounding. While the walls no longer exist, a portion of the stockade has been recreated to help visitors imagine the setting. Today, it's a grassy hill with a few large trees growing in one corner, complete with monuments from northern states commemorating their war dead. At the time the prison was active, there was no grass, just red clay and sandy ground with a trickling stream running through the middle (which was the only source of water, and also served as the public toilets.) 

In 1970 the legislature established Andersonville as a National Historic Site. The goal was to create at the park a museum that would "interpret the role of prisoners-of-war camps in history" and "to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps." This museum is wonderfully designed and takes the visitor through the plight of POWs in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm (expansion to cover stories from current wars is in the works.) The features of this museum are interactive and very emotional. 

DSCN0045 As we walked through the museum, toured the prison grounds and the National Cemetery, the sobering reality of the depravity of man is very clear. I heard some of our seniors saying things like "It's hard to believe that man can do this to other men." 

We discussed how this relates to the larger story. In a sense, every person on the planet is a POW, being held by the Enemy in a prison of sin as the great spiritual battle continues. The sad thing is that most do not even realize they're being held prisoner. Once a person surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepts Him and his substitutionary atonement, he/she is rescued from prison and set free (see Galatians 1.) This is true liberty.

In the museum, there are a couple of short films shown. One titled "Echoes of Captivity" we have shown at our church in the past. Yet, every time I view it, I tear up. The personal stories of men (and one woman) who have served in the American military and have been held captive (some for almost a decade) as prisoners-of-war are incredibly moving. Perhaps the most moving portion of the film is when the former POWs describe the day they were liberated. Some are sharing of an event that took place decades earliers, but the tears start flowing. 

These reunion stories of former prisoners and family are incredible. The joy that is described is overwhelming. The images of these men (and woman) stepping out of planes to be greeted by spouses and children will bring a tear to one's eye. 

DSCN0088 We are reminded as believers that heaven rejoices when one soul is saved. I think perhaps this rejoicing resembles these images somewhat (but on a much larger scale.) The rejoicing that takes place when a child who has been held, unknowingly, as a POW in the real battle is liberated and set free. Now, that will bring a tear of joy to your eye. . .or at least it should.

So, this started as a trip to a historic site and has become a great illustration of God's great love for us. I guess it's true. . . everything's spiritual.

He who has ears to hear. . . listen.