A Cross-less Day of Prayer?

“So, when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you.  Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). 

Harsh words from God, don’t you think?  And given to His covenant people, no less.  These were the “people of promise,” the very people called by God’s name.  So, what in the world was going on?

Space obviously does not permit me to give a full answer to that question. I must simply direct and urge you to read the Book of Isaiah.  There you will discover for yourself what was going on.  In a nutshell, the people had abandoned true worship of the One True God.  They had taken it upon themselves to define worship, to set their own parameters for how they would approach the Holy Lord of Hosts.  They had replaced God with gods of their own making.  They had neglected to continually acknowledge their absolute dependance upon God to change their hearts and enliven them to humbly obey His commands.  They had dared to come to God presenting their own righteousness; rather than crawling to Him begging for mercy because of their rampant unrighteousness.  They tried to reach God on their own terms. 

The result?  God turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to them.  But all was not lost.  A Suffering Servant was promised, One who would make atonement for the sins of His people.  A child was promised, who would be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; and His kingdom would never end.

That Child-Redeemer-King has come.  His name is Jesus. 

Today, all across America, people gather to pray.  It is the National Day of Prayer.  I applaud the effort and do not doubt many who pray today do so with hearts truly burdened to see God deliver our nation from itself, its own evil and filth and self-love and idol worship.  Many Christians will cry out to God for mercy.  Many will plead with God, “in wrath, remember mercy.”  So, I am in no way against the National Day of Prayer.

My heart, however, is made sad by how many thousands will not pray at all today.  God is meaningless to them, unless their health fails or a trial comes.  I am sad for the thousands who will pray to false gods today.  Idols cannot hear, or see, or act.  Prayers to dumb, deaf, dead gods are, well, dumb and dead (Ps 115).

But saddest of all to me are the myraid people who call themselves Christians, claim to be the church, who will today and in the days ahead try to approach God in prayer, or in worship apart from the bloody cross of Christ.  Saddest to me are the tons of people claiming to be believers who have replaced the Cross-Centered gospel with mandates to transform the culture via activism.  Saddest to me are so-called Christians who spend countless hours stumping for candidates who want to reduce our carbon foot print, while almost never speaking to anyone about the atoning, bloody footprints of Jesus.  Activism and stewardship of the planet are good in their rightful places, but they are surely not even close to the greatest good.   

Jesus, absorbing the wrath of God against our sins on the cross, so that by God’s grace, through faith in Him, we might receive what we most need from God – mercy!  That’s the gospel.  America will never be made better apart from the Cross of Christ.  May God forgive those who call themselves His followers, yet are embarrassed by the cross.  To the sinfully depraved world, the message of the cross has always been viewed as foolish, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). 

This is my prayer on this National Day of Prayer:

Oh God, fill Your people with a consuming passion for the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Help us return to the priority of the cross.  Give us grace, like Paul, to “preach Christ crucified.”  Help us tell sinners far and wide “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  Forgive us for thinking we can preach more effectively than Jesus did.  Give us the fortitude to cry out to America: “The kingdom of God is here.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  For the sake of Jesus, have mercy on us.  Give grace to Your people, to “humble themselves, pray, seek Your face, and turn from their wicked ways.”  Oh Lord hear my prayer, not because of anything I have ever done, for my righteousness is as filthy rags; hear me only in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.                            

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Eat This Word

“But you, son of man . . . open your mouth and eat what I give you . . . eat this scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel . . . then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezek 2:8-3:3).

Our access to the honey of God’s Word in America is ridiculous.  We are the recipients of ridiculous grace!  If you have any doubts, American Christian, take some time tonight to gather up every single copy of the Bible in your house.  Pile them all together.  Have your family count them.  Note how many translations.  Styles.  Forms of bindings and coverings.  Large print and so tiny nobody can see the print.  Black covers, burgundy, blue, white, pink, teen study Bibles, the Bible for Plumbers, it is ridiculous.  Digital and audiovisual copies, too! 

What’s even more ridiculous is how few hours we spend in the Bible each week, given our amazing access to it.  Do its pages, after all, contain the very words of God?  Then why are we not “eating this scroll”? 

There remains an even more ridiculous fact, however.  According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, over 2200 people groups on this planet have still not seen even one verse of God’s Word in their own heart language.  Now, friends, if we really believe the Bible is the Word of God, and that God saves us and sanctifies us by His Word (and He does – Rom 10:17; John 17:17; James 1:18), then this lack of access to it among the people of the world has to rank as the crime of our day.  In this day and age, when we can whisk documents around the world at light speed, millions still have no access to the Words of Life? 

My friends, Karl & Debbie Crossman are absolutely committed to getting the Word of God to the ends of the earth.  As Wycliffe missionaries, they served for many years in Papau, New Guinea.  They and their four children are all missionaries at heart.  Their oldest daughter, Abby (15 years old, I think), is going to Peru this summer to spread the love and message of Christ. 

Karl’s skill set in radio communications and IT, however, were most needed in the JAARS center in Charlotte, NC.  Check them out at www.jaars.org.  The move from Papua New Guinea to Charlotte has not been easy on the Crossman family, and the level of support required for them to serve at JAARS is considerably higher than it was in PNG.  They need your help to get to the 100% support level by June if they are to remain on the field with Wycliffe.  Please, dear Christians, prayerfully consider giving to them.  Put your money where your mouth is when it comes to this precious gift of God’s self-revelation to humanity. 

Contact Karl and Debbie at kdcrossman@windstream.net for more info or to have them come speak at your local congregation.  Why not pledge even a small amount of $25 a month to the Crossman’s?  Visit www.wycliffe.org and click the “Give” link to make the transaction quick and easy.  Simply designate your gift (one time, monthly, quarterly, or yearly) to Karl & Deborah Crossman on the on-line form or mail your contribution to Wycliffe Bible Translators, PO Box 628200, Orlando, FL 32862-8200.  The Crossman Acct # is 352527.

Last night, our pastor preached from Matthew 6, with an emphasis upon our heart treasure.  Where is your teasure?  Your pocketbook won’t lie.  Why not give more to missions, missionaries, and Bible translation, and see if your heart does not follow?  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21).

Heavenly Father, may Your name by revered, and may You be pleased to make Your name great through the work of my friends, Your servants, Karl and Deb Crossman.  Use them and us, O Lord, partnering together to send Your Word to peoples who have never heard of Jesus, nor ever read a verse of Scripture in their own language.  I ask, Lord, that You do a mighty work of grace, gather the financial support needed to keep the Crossman’s living out their calling.  Stir the hearts of Your people to give, for in Christ You have given lavishly to us.  Please do it for the sake and fame of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.  Amen.

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All My Facebook Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight!

The American Family Association Journal (www.afajournal.org) recently reported on a research study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  They surveyed 8-18 year olds to assess the amount of time they spend with entertainment media (TV, the web, iPods, texting, cells, etc.).  The results were staggering, even to this old-fashioned guy who thinks an hour or two a day spent texting, talking on the phone or Facboking is far too much.  Drumroll . . .

Young people in America spend nearly 8 hours a day using entertainment media!  That’s 53 hours a week!

66% of young people own cell phones, while 76% have iPods or similar MP3 players.

So, let’s get this straight, the avergae kid in America spends 13 hours more than a full work week on electronic gadgets.  I can only imagine what our churches would be doing for God’s glory if kids spent even 10% of that time studying Scripture and talking about Jesus.  How in the world do they find time to go to school?  Oh wait, a 5th grade teacher recently told me she spends an inordinate amount of time fighting with kids and parents to get them to stop texting while she is teaching.  How do they make time for homework?  Sports?  Maybe this is why kids are becoming more and more obese, unhealthy and diebetic?  When do they eat, for crying out loud?  Family time?  Proper sleep?

Dear Christian parents and friends, this is absolutely absurd to the point of insanity.  You do tightly monitor your child’s electronic media usage, don’t you?  Surely your child is nowhere near this 53 hour / week average?  If your child is even close to that threshold, I must ask you, when are you praying together as a family (and no, I do not just mean at meal time)?  When are you talking together about missionaries, lost people groups, ongoing persecution of believers around the world?  When are you opening the word together and hearing the very words of God in your homes?  When are you serving your neighbors and the hurting people around you?  When are you spending time with real people in face-to-face relationship? 

God help us!  I have viewed things like Facebook and texting with extreme caution for years now.  Friends and family have told me to lighten up.  I did, which is why you’re reading a blog by me now.  But, I am still not on FB and have no plans to be.  My children do not have cells phones and will not for many years to come.  I do not have a cell phone.  My Daddy taught me growing up that men who talk on the phone for hours are “sissies.”  I took him at his word!  Now men have phones permanently afixed to their ears. 

My fear is that we are becoming a more self-centered culture at light speed, and training our children to be focused on their own importance first and foremost.  Do we really all think people are just sitting on the edge of their seats at night waiting to see what petty activity we’re doing at the present?  Why the unstoppable desire to check MY text messages every few minutes?  Are all the texts you are sending and receiving so critically important that you cannot even turn off the phone to drive, during school, or while listening to the sermon at church?  Maybe this is why so many are so enamored with texting – it is a great escape and avoidance of any real significant, deep conversation about things that matter forever.  

The Apostle John, the elder statesman of Christianity in the 80s A.D., wrote to those redeemed in Christ: “I have many things to write to you, but will not with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full”  (2 John 12).

Friends, we’re losing this passion for real relationship.  The church is losing her desire for real flesh and blood community, and our children are losing any ability to even interact meaningfully eyeball to eyeball.  I’m not the only one worried.  Jesse Rice wrote a book about it called The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community

I realize all entertainment media outlets are not evil in and of themselves.  FB can be used in a positive way even to spread the gospel.  Keeping up from afar is a piece of cake now, and that’s not so bad, especially for people in my community separated by military deployments.  My concern is how few Christians I see actually redeeming their FB account.  My concern is that Christians spend more time on the web or on the phone than they do in the Word each week.  My concern is that Christians are now viewing FB as their “church.”  My concern is that Christians are terrified to share the gospel with others face to face, or to lovingly correct false belief or corrupt living, unless of course it’s over email, where we’re all bold as lions. 

Real community is joyfully messy.  It involves bearing burdens side by side, fighting sin in the power of the Holy Spirit shoulder to shoulder, singing to God mouth beside mouth, listening to the Word ears alongside ears, and serving King Jesus arm locked in arm, taking the gospel to our cities and to our world.  This real world flesh and blood visible expression of the Gospel of Jesus being lived out is the local church.  Her task and privileges simply cannot be adequately performed on Facebok or cell phones. 

We must raise up the next generation to know and love the joyfully messy reality of real sinners, redeemed by a real risen Savior, living out the faith in real covenantal community, for the glory of God and His Christ.  To do it, we’ll have to turn off the TV more often, log off, shut down the cells, and bury our flesh and blood faces into the pages of our Bibles TOGETHER.

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The Psychology of Preaching

Chico, California is a quaint city.  Nestled about 120 miles north of Sacramento, it is surrounded by miles of orchards, rice fields, plowed fields, and neatly manicured cattle ranches.  In the distance, one can see the mountains reaching heavenward between Chico and the Pacific Ocean.  Gorgeous.  Not at all like Southern CA.

My wife lived in Northern CA for the first few years of her childhood.  She had always told me how beautiful it was, and that it was not like the hot deserts of Southern CA in which I trained while in the US Marine Corps.  After 37 years on this planet, I finally found myself on a flight from Atlanta to Sacramento, on my way to a wedding in Chico.  And, Northern CA did not disappoint, unique in its landscape, a testimony to our Creator God’s greatness, beauty, and glory. 

Except one little detail, which did disappoint me greatly.  On the second morning of my stay, I nestled in behind the local newspaper with a hot cup of what had to be the best hotel coffe I have ever imbibed.  The coffee notwithstanding, what I saw in the “Religion” section of the paper ruined my day.  While it was not shocking to me or even surprising, it was disheartening.

There, on the page where local churches and pastors list the worship service times and the upcoming sermon titles, I saw churches offering “Pet Blessing Services.”  Come have Pastor so-and-so pronounce a blessing on your furry friends.  One has to wonder how such a blessing goes:

Almighty God, please bless and keep Fluffy.  Please cause Your face to shine upon Fluffy, and be gracious to him.  Please lift up Your countenance upon Fluffy and give him peace.  Amen.

Or,

Now unto Him who is able to keep Lassie from running into parked cars, and to make Lassie street-wise and blameless before His glorious presence . . . be all glory, majesty, dominion, and authority forever.  Amen.

As if that advertisement were not enough to raise my gospel hackles, I read on and found the sermon title from the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship:  “The Psychology of Uncivil Behavior: Exploring how uncivil behavior affects personal, civic, political and spiritual lives.”

God help us!  If this is what the “church” is offering to Americans, no wonder they are staying home in droves.  And, if this is what they’d hear if they did attend a “worship” service, then by all means they might as well stay home and watch the TV preacher.  At least maybe he would say a little something about unholy sinners living in outright rebellion to a holy God, and therefore living under His just wrath and condemnation.  Maybe, just maybe, the TV or internet preacher would mention the provision this holy God has made to forgive unholy sinners, to spare them His certain wrath, through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  Maybe the televangelist would at least quip about Jesus absorbing the Divine punishment rightly due us guilty sinners.  Maybe he would exhort sinful people to flee from the wrath to come, turn from sin, and trust wholeheartedly in the saving work of Jesus.  Maybe he would remind listeners that they are completely helpless to earn heaven or God’s gracious forgiveness.  Maybe he’d say sinners can never be good enough to meet a standard of absolute perfection.  Maybe he’d again urge people to cry out for mercy from God, and lean wholly on Jesus’ perfection.  Maybe he’d preach like Jesus, saying “The kingdom of God is here.  Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).       

Oh, how far American religion has fallen from the days of Roger Williams and Jonathan Edwards.  Pet blessings and Psychology lessons are a far cry from “Preach the Word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2).

Preachers, if you’re listening, preach the Word.  Teachers, teach the Word.  Parents, talk with your children about the Word.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17).  The stakes are too high, and time too short to worry over Fluffy’s spiritual status.  Incivility is not the root problem.  Sin is and it is heart-deep.  Preach the Word. 

     

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Pro-Life or Abortion Rights Opponents?

In the regular email updates I receive from Life Institutes, one writer referenced an intraoffice memo sent by a higher up at NPR.  The memo urged NPR employees / broadcasters to stop using the term “pro-life” and instead substitute what was labeled more “neutral” language like “abortion rights opponents.” 

Oh, surely they do not take the average American for a fool?  These PC language games have been going on for decades, and thoughtful Christians ought to see right through them.  Am I to believe “abortion rights opponent” is a neutral label?  So, now the biblical position that stakes its claim to every person being made in God’s image and therefore being worthy of dignified treatment is in opposition to a “right.”  Sounds un-American, to oppose someone’s rights, doesn’t it?  Funny we pro-lifers are now being portrayed as un-American when the US Constitution clearly states every person is entitled to the “right to life.”  And, our Founders rested this premise on the Creator’s endowment!  Silly, ignorant, antiquated Puritans that they were.  It is the abortion rights proponents who oppose the Constitution, and no, I do not believe for a second the Supreme Court has a “right” to overrule the Constitution, as they so clearly did in Roe v Wade.   

But, as a blood-bought follower of the One True Supreme Judge, Jesus, my chief concern is honoring Him, not a legal document, a government, or any other man-made ideal or institution.  Has it ever occured to you that if ever there was a prime “candidate” to abort her baby, Mary was it?!  So young.  Probably 13 or 14 at most.  Very lower middle class or perhaps upper lower class, as evidenced by her offering doves at the temple rather than a bull or lamb (Luke 2:24).  Pregnant out-of-wedlock, for which she could be rightly stoned under the laws of her land.

Friends, the infanticide industry led by Planned Parenthood and funded by our tax dollars and piles of crooked blood money has placed us squarely under God’s wrath.  I am not one to advocate for Christians to spend inordinate amounts of time stumping for certain politicians or political platforms.  It pains me to see some believers spending countless hours working for a political party while their children remain untaught in the Bible, family worship is not present in their homes, and the local church and its mission to reach the world with the Savior’s gospel go mostly ignored.  But this one issue – the killing of millions of unborn babies, all of them Divine image-bearers – is truly a watershed issue.  We must not grow weary in this fight!

As a pastor, it occurs to me that some of my part-time pastor friends may soon be forced into a major dilemma.  If I understand the new health care package, if they do not currently have insurance, they will have to buy it from Uncle Sam, or face large tax penalties.  If they buy the socialized insurance, their money goes directly to support the dismantling of babies in the womb.  But wait, if they refuse and pay the large tax fine, some of that money also goes to fund the slaughter, both at home and abroad.  Sounds like a lose-lose, especially for babies.

Oh, America, America, oh church, church, “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).

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