Posted by: gmscan | April 18, 2014

It is Finished

Last night at Maundy Thursday services, our pastor read from Isaiah (53:1-10)

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation,  who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

I can’t hear these words without also hearing Handel’s Messiah in my head. Handel intended his oratorio to be performed during Lent, not Advent, and it is far more appropriate for Easter than Christmas.

I have always especially loved the chorus, “All we like sheep,” dancing, bouncing, and carefree, followed by the soaring and mournful, “And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Long before I realized I was a Christian I would choke up when I heard this music.

But it is breathtaking how this prophecy was fulfilled at the cross – “he opened not his mouth,” “he was pierced for our transgressions,” “they made his grave… with a rich man…”

In this town, the YMCA closes for Good Friday and holds an early morning service. This morning, they read from John (10: 10-18)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.

He did it. God’s prophets predicted it and Jesus fulfilled it. He laid down his life of his own accord to save his sheep from the wolves. It is done. It is finished.

Praise be to God.

Posted by: gmscan | March 27, 2014

God, the Sociologist

An entire issue of  “Modern Reformation” was recently devoted to the question of Holy War,  notably the book of Joshua and Israel’s conquest of the Holy Land. The companion radio show  devotes three segments to the topic, — “The Gospel According to Joshua,” “Is God a Moral Monster?” and “Holy War.”

The core article is by Michael Horton, who writes, ”How can we reconcile the God who commands the extermination of men, women, children, and even pets and possessions with the God we know in the face of Jesus Christ?” He notes that some Christians excuse these “texts of terror” as being merely allegorical, i.e., they didn’t really happen, but are supposed to represent the struggle we all face between the good and evil inside us. Others say that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New, so we shouldn’t have to defend that mean old God.

Horton rejects both rationalizations. He offers two counter theses. I don’t want to go into detail on his explanations, but he argues, first that Israel was subject to the same judgments and penalties as the Canaanites if they violate God’s covenant, — “It has nothing to do with ethnic cleansing or genocide, but with the fact that child-sacrificing, violent warriors, and unjust oppressors are squatters on God’s land.”

His second argument is that “No modern nation – including Israel (much less the U.S.) can engage in holy war.” He explains –

“This does not mean we can invoke the old covenant holy wars as a literal basis for modern nation-states, including Israel. Not even the church can use the temporal sword to defend the gospel. There are no nations in covenant with God: whether Israel, Britain, or the United States. “Christendom” is a serious error of Biblical interpretation. No nation will ever again be identified with God’s saving purposes in history. “

I have no argument with Horton here. I think he is right on both counts. But I think there is also something else he doesn’t deal with. That is that God is a pretty good sociologist (and anthropologist, too). He deals with us on our own terms, through our own social norms, in the context of what we are capable of receiving from Him, given our current state of development.

God hasn’t changed a whit. The God of the Old Testament is the exact same God as in the New. Both show us a God of love and forgiveness, but also a God of justice and righteousness. Neither book shows us a God who coddles sin. Jesus said he would separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. The Great Commandment Jesus spoke is the same as the one in Deuteronomy (with the addition of loving your neighbor). Jesus constantly quoted from Hebrew Scripture and said he was here to fulfill the prophesies. He did not reject the Old Testament and neither should we.

Mankind hasn’t changed, either. We are every bit as lustful, envious, greedy, and violent today as we were 4,000 years ago. All of the stories of deceit, rape, adultery, drunkenness, and betrayal in the Old Testament are familiar to us today.

What has changed is fashion and social structures. Jesus wasn’t dressed in blue jeans when he roamed Galilee, he dressed in the fashion of the time. If Jesus came today he would not be wearing a tunic and a robe. If he did, everyone would talk about his clothing rather than his message. God comes to us as we are.

In fact, I’ve heard a number of people say that God really screwed up by sending us Jesus when he did. If God were smart, they say, he would have waited until today when Jesus would have had access to the internet and cable TV to spread his message.

It’s an interesting thought because in fact God DID choose the perfect time for Jesus. It was a unique slice of time in which the sociological conditions were just right for Christ’s redeeming work.

The Jews had gone some 400 years without a prophet. They were hungry for it. They had been conquered and occupied several times after the last prophet, first by the Greeks under Alexander in the fourth century B.C, then ruled by Ptolemy in 323 B.C., then Antiochus III took over Palestine in 198 B.C., then Antiochus IV in 175 B.C.

This last Antiochus brutally suppressed the Jews, burning their Holy Books, banning the Sabbath and circumcision, and desecrating the temple. This all had a couple of effects. It made knowledge of Greek almost universal in Palestine, but also resulted in the Maccabean rebellion and the advent of the ultra-orthodox Pharisees, which came into being only about 100 B.C.

The Romans didn’t enter the picture until 63 B.C. when they occupied Jerusalem. They installed Herod as king in 37 B.C. Herod began rebuilding the temple in 20 B.C. [1] Ultimately the Romans would drive the Jews out of Jerusalem and all of Palestine, and destroy the Temple in 70 A.D. So there was a very short time of 90 years in which the Jews and Romans intersected and set the stage for Jesus.

Why was this intersection important? Because elements of both cultures were essential for the propagation of the faith after the Pentecost. Obviously the Messiah was an outgrowth of Judaism, but also the dispersion of the Jews during the Babylonian exile meant there were established Jewish communities and synagogues throughout the world. The Apostles used these synagogues as bases of operations as they spread the Gospel. The Roman Empire meant open borders and good roads throughout the territory they controlled. It was relatively easy for the Apostles to move about, not just the Middle East but southern Asia and Europe as well. And, of course, Rome finally accepted Jesus as the Messiah and spread the Gospel throughout the world.

So God knew exactly what he was doing. He waited until our society was ready before sending us the Christ. It had nothing to do with God’s abilities, but with our capacity to accept God’s purpose. God knows very well, in fact perfectly, what are the limits and capabilities of human society and of each human being. It’s often said that God will not ask us to do things beyond our abilities. The same holds true for human society.

So it was with Joshua. But before we go there, let’s go back to the Exodus.

Here we meet a landless people who had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) Actually they were barely “a people” at all. They had no written scripture, no law, no tradition of governance. They had a common language and an oral tradition, but that was it. This was a massive congregation of people – 600,000 men plus women, children and livestock, according to Exodus 12:37. Through Moses God freed them from slavery in Egypt, but what then? God had to turn them into a nation.

To do that, God made them wander in the wilderness for a generation. He would not allow any of the people who spent their adulthood as slaves to enter the Promised Land, including Moses himself. Perhaps adult slaves are not capable of self-governance, even once they are free.

Those 40 years gave Moses a chance to write the Pentateuch, providing the Israelis with a national history. God gave them the Ten Commandments, as the basis of their law. He gave them specific dietary restrictions and detailed instructions on how to build the Tabernacle. He divided them into a federation of tribes. All of this was to form them into a nation, one that was different and distinct from all other nations at the time.

Finally, we get to Joshua.

So we have some two million people, a new nation-to-be without any history of governance, economics, or warfare, coming upon a land occupied by idol worshipping heathens. God has united them into a people, but not yet a nation as they have no land and no borders.

God needs to teach them how to conquer. What he teaches them is no more than how war was conducted at the time. He was not uniquely brutal. He was attuned to the sociology of the times. The Israelites are triumphant as long as they follow God’s commands, but when one of them steals plunder from Jericho against God’s instructions, they lose the next battle at Ai. Once they correct the trespass, God makes them victorious again.

When Israel takes a city, they kill all the inhabitants, men women and children. Some people take offense at the brutality. But, as we said, none of this was unusual in those times, or for that matter today. Israel killed all 12,000 residents of Ai. But Josephus records that the Romans killed 1,100,000 Jews in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and took another 97,000 as slaves.

Before we get all superior acting about the barbarity of the ancients, let’s remember that the United States killed 66,000 with one bomb at Hiroshima – men, women, and children, all noncombatants. We did the same at Nagasaki and we firebombed Dresden. We would do it again if we thought we had to. War is likened to Hell for a reason.

So, again, God takes us as He finds us. With some notable exceptions we don’t do passive resistance very well. Gandhi and Martin Luther King were successful at it, but they were dealing with oppressors who were capable of shame. The March from Selma to Birmingham was broadcast on television to the whole nation. We were ashamed of the conduct of Bull Connor and it galvanized the rest of the American public to support remedies. Dictators and emperors have no such constraints.

God works through human beings, with all our faults and our sins. It was time to create the Nation of Israel, so that the Messiah would eventually have a place to be born. It was time to establish the Law, so we would know how sinful we are and so that the Messiah’s grace would eventually replace it.

It is all one Bible, all one story. God does what is necessary to build His kingdom within the constraints of human society. We are very slow learners but the Lord is very patient. To him a thousand years is like a day. Two thousand years ago he told us to spread the Good News to every corner of the world and we still haven’t got it done. He told us to love our God with all our hearts and all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How we doin’ on that one?

Yes, I know, I know. We’re really, really busy, and the kids need to go to soccer practice and the boss wants me to work overtime, and the car needs a new transmission. It’s all right. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We don’t need to make excuses, He knows what’s going on and He loves us anyway. And for that, I thank God every day.

——

[1] This history is taken from “Intertestamental Period” in “The Reformation Study Bible,” R.C. Sproul, general editor, Lingonier Ministries, 2005.

Posted by: gmscan | March 5, 2014

Prayers From the Food Bank

I’ve been volunteering at the local food bank for the past year. We are privately funded, mostly by local churches. We often invite clients to put in prayer requests. We’re not especially systematic about this, and sometimes forget to ask, but then someone’s desperation is so obvious that we are reminded again.

In looking over these requests from the past couple of months, I was struck by a couple of things –

  • Most of the time, people are not asking for prayers for themselves, but for friends and family members.
  • When they do request prayers for themselves, the requests are extremely modest – find a job, get through some medical treatment, find a better home, get over an addiction. Only one person prayed to win the lottery and that was so he could get his old house back.
  • Very often they are confident that God will indeed help them through their times of trouble. Their faith is strong.
  • These prayers are often answered.

These are beautiful people and I am grateful that I can contribute to their healing if only in a little way.

If you would, please join us in these prayers. I am not using people’s names because I don’t want to embarrass them or violate their privacy, but the Lord knows who they are and what is in their hearts.

 

January 2, 2014

My son – health & mental help. Let go of demons. God help him.

 —-

N—- is having trouble with colon. Please, Lord, I’m praying for healing and your will be done.

 —-

D—–, job

A—–, find a job

 —-

Thank you, God for all the wonderful people who work here. God bless.

 —-

GOD IS THE LORD OF ALL, MY SAVIOR AND PROTECTION. AMEN

 

January 6, 2014

S—- W—— has been in York trauma since Dec 21, 2013

 —-

J— Y—

PLEASE PRAY FOR THE PRISON MINISTRY AT FRANKLIN CO. JAIL. Thank you

 

January 9, 2014

Please Lord, help C——– with her car troubles and help those shopped here and didn’t want to trust your saving grace and love that you have to offer to those who surrender to you/

 —-

Husband’s health and sobriety.

Daughter’s mental health

Friend w/ thyroid cancer

Friend who lost twins

 

January 10,2014

Pray for my son and girlfriend and baby to get along and healthy baby

 —-

O——– going through a custody battle

 

January 13, 2014

C— addicted to pain medication and in a clinic to get off his addiction!!!!

 —-

Touch the heart of employer whom I have put application in with. Bless me with your will in obtaining employment. I need a second job to maintain. Lord, just allow your will to be done in my life. Amen. I am thankful for everything.

 

January 14, 2014

S——‘s new baby coming. Hope and pray that the child is healthy.

J——

 —-

R—— pray to get off her pill addiction, and for R—– going through domestic relations. Help them work things out. No jail for him.

 —-

J—–

Pray for my son R—— with his court things, child support, and getting his paperwork.

 

January 16, 2014

C— getting his job at T— for his family and income and pray that he knows Jesus as his personal savior.

 —-

B—- D—– family

Motorcycle accident, pelvic broken in 4 places, boys ADHD

 —-

Pray for the backpack program (NOTE: this is a program sponsored by the food bank that gives school kids food to take home on Friday so they can eat over the weekend) and the children that have to go through this life style.

 —-

Pray for A—- that she stops smoking and that the patches work in her life.

Pray for D— to stop drinking and to know the Lord and surrender to your will.

 

January 17, 2014

D— K—-

Pray for business D- M—– P—-.

 —-

B—–

Pray for my grandson & for my daughter. She had a heart attack.

 

January 24, 2014

T—-

Please God, let me find a new home since I had a fire and please let me get a job soon. Thank you!   I—- (son) K—- (BF)

 —-

Lord God & Jesus, watch over our good friend in the after life. His name is G—– D—–

 —-

Please, God, help me through the situation I’m in. Please bless us with smooth move back to ND, and please help my husband find a job.

Thank you, C—— C—-

 —-

Prayer request for D—— H—– need a job and W—– S—-.

D—- S—-

 

January 25, 2014

P– & N— M—–

Housebound & bed ridden

—-

W—- R——-

Full time help – need a place to live.

 —-

My prayers are for all, as well as my enemies. Pray those that must find the Lord and pray 4 forgiveness mean it and change for the better within. I wish all well. Grudges and hatred are not good, forgiveness is to an extent. Amen

 —-

Please pray for my family. Our car broke down, my husband lost his job and just found out we are having our 7th child.

 

January 29, 2014

Pray for K—, T— L—–, having problems in relationship and J—‘s addiction to porn.

 

January 30, 2014

I need prayer, need to obtain employment.

—-

B—-,

I pray food help.

 —

K—–

Pray for my family and my son and pray that I get to go back to school.

 

February 10, 2014

J—-

Please pray for the family of the funeral she went to for the loss of their family member.

 —-

J——

For myself and for a job and a home.

 

February 11, 2014

V—— for surgery.

C—-

 —-

Children w/ disabilities. Dad w/ medical issues, my sister w/ medical issues.

—-

A—- in hospital, not knowing what is going on.

 —–

K—-

B—— E– & B—— G—— please pray for these two people, COPD and stoke.

 —-

T—-, Thurs for catheter & diabetes and nerve problems

 

February 20, 2014

M——‘s mother P—- just lost her father end of last year. Pray that she gets thru the estate sale this weekend.

—-

D— B—–

Money, new job, peace.

 —-

S— N——-

Pray for our daughter going to school in Pittsburgh. May God keep her safe and may she keep God close to her heart.

 —-

Pray for K—– S—— & her baby to come.

 —-

Pray for the E—- Children to stay healthy & their baby brother who is on his way soon.

 

February 21, 2014

S—– N—–, infant medical conditions

 —-

D—–, surgery (bowel resection)

—-

M—, family to get spirit of God in them – go the right way.

 —-

L—- & K—-, my grandbabies.

 —-

B—– R———-, God knows circumstance. Thank you.

 

February 24, 2014

That M—— C—– and I win the lottery. Top Prize. Also that I can buy my old house, move back in, and be OK

R—– S—-

 

February 25, 2014

Lord, Pls grant me a new townhouse to dwell in peace & safety in. You know my heart as w/ other desires for a husband & good health & anything else you feel I am worth of receiving. Thank you for your blessings, Lord.

 —-

Lord, thank you so much for the food and people who work here. Also would pray for my family and friends. Very thankful for everything. God bless people who have helped me.

J—- W—-

—-

N—- F— had a heart attack in Sept. having some difficulties. Pray for me and my family, and a little baby named W—— who has cancer at 10 months old. Thank you.

—-

Lord, please help me and my family find a comfortable safe new home, please. Thank you.

B—— S—-, V— B—-

 —-

K—- & K—

I just wish she’d respect me and I wish the best for her. I love her.

 

February 28, 2014

Pray for D——‘ s sister B—-, heart attack.

 —-

J——

Pray for employment or extended employment benefits.

 —-

Aunt T— continue Recovery!

E—– G——- Port wine stain covering his face. Please pray that there are no health issues to come from it.

Mother

 

March 4, 2014

J—– & A— S——-

Pray for our son, he is going into the Marines.

—— 

J—- M——

Please pray J—‘s arm heals fast and keep her steady on her feet to prevent her from falling again! Keep her safe and let God’s grace embrace her.

 

 

Posted by: gmscan | February 20, 2014

Pope Francis on the Worship of Money

Last time we looked at The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation  we focused on the 210 pages that had to do with the joy of evangelism. But the American press focused instead solely on the seven pages that had to do with money and economics. This by itself is quite a commentary, suggesting that Francis was not wrong when he observed that the worship of money has become the modern idolatry.

Below we’ll take a look at much of the reaction, but let’s keep in mind that this section was not a primary, or even important, topic in the paper. It was there mostly to set the context in which evangelism must operate today. The Pope is not an economist and is not even speaking primarily about the American economic system.

The man was a Jesuit priest in Argentina. He has no reason to know the nuances of political discourse in the United States. So when he uses terms like “trickle down economics” it is not because he is endorsing the Democratic Party’s critique of Ronald Reagan’s economic program or commenting on the 1980’s policy disputes between Jack Kemp, Art Laffer and David Stockman.

That the American Left reacted so triumphantly and the Right so defensively is either silly or sad. Although it is also interesting that both sides, secularists all, should be so concerned about the writings of a man of God. Maybe there is hope, after all.

Francis makes some fairly conventional points about how “humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history” and how, while great progress has been made in areas such as health care, education and communications, it is still the case that “the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences,” and that “many people are gripped by fear and desperation…”

These things are true and much discussed across the political spectrum. Moving from the industrial age to the information age is creating great turmoil and economic uncertainty in the United States but even more all across the globe. The educated elite is doing very well while blue collar workers are struggling. The media obsess over the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident while ignoring the slaughter of children on the South Side of Chicago. Millions upon millions of Syrian refugees are living in misery in tent cities and the world’s political leaders do next to nothing to help.

Perhaps Francis’ most controversial statements are these –

“… some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

And –

“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”

Now some take these lines and distort them to fit their political agenda. Writing in the National Review,  James Pethokoukis provides a stark example –

“Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias, a liberal, approves of how Pope Francis “really lights into libertarian economics” but adds that there’s “lot of stuff about Jesus in his thinking that I can’t really sign on to.”

Imagine – all that “Jesus Stuff” coming from a Pope! He’d be great if it weren’t for that.

On the other hand, writing in The Federalist  David Harsanyi takes just the opposite stance. The Pope’s Exhortation is “a beautiful document and a joy to read…” when he sticks to theology, but when he discusses economics… –

“…the Pope didn’t simply point out that the wealthy weren’t doing enough to help alleviate poverty. He used the recognizable rhetoric of the Left to accuse free-market systems of generating and nurturing that poverty. And these platitudes — things that run wild in the liberal imagination like unfettered capitalism and “trickle-down” economics — were clearly aimed at the United States.”

In other words, the “Jesus stuff” is great but not the economics.

But some people don’t like “the Jesus stuff” or the economics. Writing in Reason Magazine,  Shikha Dalmia takes a tiresome poke at the Church for getting 60% of its money from the United States and being “reportedly the largest landowner in Manhattan (which) puts undisclosed sums into its coffers.” Therefore, “the new Pope needs to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds his institution….” She adds that it is ironic that the Pope “is speaking for an institution that excludes half of humanity—women—from the ranks of priesthood.” (I’m not sure I see the irony, other than just a slam at the Church.)

All of the writers on the right point out that capitalism has done more to reduce global poverty than any system ever devised, and certainly more than the Church has done. The argument is summed up by Harsanyi –

“The World Bank estimates global poverty was halved from 1990 to 2010. In fact, according to the World Bank, the United Nations’ “millennium development goal” of cutting world poverty in half by 2015 came in five years ahead of schedule despite a major global recession. The decline in poverty coincides, not coincidentally, with developing nations embracing more market-based systems.”

But this argument applies only if you misread what the Pope said as an indictment of free market capitalism. He is not disputing the benefits of such capitalism. Writing in the Sunbeam Times, Dr. David McKalip does a sterling job of explaining that the Pope was aiming his criticism, not at “free market capitalism,” but at “crony capitalism” in which a small elite uses its political influence to enrich itself and block potential competitors.  McKalip explains –

“Pope Francis was interviewed in Italy’s “La Stampa”newspaper regarding, among other things, the controversy generated by “The Joy of the Gospel”.  In it, he made clear that he is merely pointing to the Church’s Social doctrine…. That Doctrine … specifically rejects collectivism and socialism by name.  It recognizes that all of society is ordered to the individual and that the individual is not created to serve society….  In short, Catholic Doctrine absolutely rejects all big government, central economic planning, elite groups at the top and anything that violates the individual dignity of human beings.  That is why the Pope offered in that interview “I am no Marxist”.

McKalip goes on to quote from the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church” and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” –

On True Free Markets

…“If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy’, ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy’.”

On False “Free” Markets:

“…. But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. In this way a Christian perspective is defined regarding social and political conditions of economic activity, not only its rules but also its moral quality and its meaning.”

On the Responsibility of the State:

”Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can   enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly . . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations, which make up   society.”

McKalip summarizes –

“So to be clear, Pope Francis is attacking the practices of an elite who sit atop an unnatural economic system. That is a system in which the elite set the rules, debauch our currency, and invent wealth redistribution programs ostensibly to serve the poor, but that really serve politicians and the rich. The Pope rightfully points to an economy of “Exclusion” and “inequality”. Such economic problems are present in the one created by global bankers and politicians cause massive economic bubbles in the housing markets that then burst and cause major economic exclusion and inequality which cause massive economic crashes and displace people from their homes or cause them to lose life savings.”

McKalip’s analysis is supported by Donald Devine, also writing in The Federalist.  Devine argues that the Pope’s view of capitalism may have been tainted by his experience in Argentina, which at the dawn of the 20th Century was “among the ten wealthiest nations per capita in the world,” but dropped to 70th one hundred years later, mostly due to the “crony capitalism” (which I would call Fascism – private ownership of state sanctioned companies) described by McKalip. Devine explains –

“In Argentina, Peron created what was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state, trading benefits to the masses for their political support. Since there never were enough funds for everyone, a state capitalism under strong political regulation was developed to direct benefits to powerful clients such as unions and producers without so fettering the businesses as to deprive him (Peron) of the wealth needed to support his regime. Under Argentina’s many forms of repressive government, capitalists could only survive by being political partners of the state, sometimes its power behind the throne but more often too powerful to eliminate but clearly having to defer to state power to remain in business.”

All of this should be very familiar to an American audience. The extreme reaction from Left and Right is perplexing to me. Those of us who pay attention to politics and economics in today’s United States are very familiar with the idea of Wall Street versus Main Street, with the bailout of big national banks to the disadvantage of local and regional banks: To the obscene subsidies offered Solyndra and other “green energy” companies, and the war on disfavored coal companies: To tax breaks offered to rich farmers who don’t farm and movie studios that produce lousy movies: To a Washington DC area that is now the home of seven of the ten richest counties in the country.

Actually, in The Transom Ben Domenech expresses it better than I can by quoting Richard Reeves

America, in 2014: The affluent, the squeezed, and the entrenched. “At the top, we can see an elite doing well in a labor market offering big returns to human capital. This is perhaps not the just the top 1% (much though politics might be easier if that were so) but, say, the top decile, or 10%, of the income distribution.

“This stratum is not only prospering economically. For the people on this top rung, education levels are high and rising. Families are planned, marriages strong, neighborhoods safe and rich in social capital, networks plentiful, BMIs low and savings rates high.

“Below this affluent class is a broad swath sometimes dubbed the ‘squeezed middle.’ This group have decent labor market participation rates, but wages that are rising slowly. In many cases, two wages are needed to support the family. They own a home, but are not otherwise wealthy. Savings exist for emergencies or one-off expenditures, but run out fast if the household has a serious downward shock to income. Private schooling is rarely an option, financially…

“At the bottom of the social scale are those whose poverty is entrenched. Labor market attachment is weak, with many people in long-term unemployment. Teen pregnancy is still heard of, unlike in most communities today. Poverty is felt in most domains of life – crime, health, education, parenting, drug addiction and housing. The growing economic segregation of neighborhoods further isolates this group from chances of work, better schooling or valuable social networks. Upward intergenerational mobility rates are low.”

Our government is busy picking winners and losers in the economy based solely on political considerations, while median incomes have fallen, jobs disappear, and the people are forced to rely on food stamps to survive. THIS is what the Pope was objecting to. And it is far worse in many of the countries of Africa, Asia and South America. He is right – working people are being trampled under the feet of a self-centered elite, and no one is blowing the whistle on it – except Pope Francis. Thank God for him.

Posted by: gmscan | February 1, 2014

Has the Pope Become a Protestant?

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation

I have finally finished reading the Pope’s “Evagelii Gaudium” paper. Please don’t take my slowness as a criticism of Francis’ writing. In fact it was a joy to read. But I am a slow reader. I look up Scriptural references and make many marginal notes when I read. What I lack in speed I make up for in persistence.

Most of the reaction in the American press focused on his comments about money. But that was a very small part of what he had to say, taking a mere seven pages out of a 217-page document. I will deal with all that in a future posting, but for now I want to emphasize what he emphasized – the joy of evangelism.

He starts right out with this in the very first paragraph –

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

He immediately cautions about the dangers in today’s world –

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”

This is less a caution about capitalism than it is about materialism. He is absolutely right. People who are lost and hollow often try to fill that emptiness with possessions, entertainment, drugs, sex. It is easy enough to drown in a sea of “stuff,” and fail to see that our hunger can be filled only by God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I cannot say this better than he does, so let me quote –

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven.”

And this is where the joy comes in –

“When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: “For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). His message brings us joy: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart. He promises his disciples: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). He then goes on to say: “But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). The disciples “rejoiced” (Jn 20:20) at the sight of the risen Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians “ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be “filled with joy” (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (8:39), while Paul’s jailer “and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”

With this joy it becomes easy to want to share it with the world. Joy cannot be hoarded, it must be shared –

“’Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment.”

Spreading the Gospel is not heroic because the real work is done by the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine likens us to the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We are happy to do it, it is our purpose, but the crowds are not singing Hallelujah to us, but to Jesus. –

“Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer.” In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit.”

Interestingly, Francis makes many of the same points Bruce Dreisbach makes in his call for Christian witness. In reaching out to non-believers, Francis writes –

“Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy… “

Like Dreisbach, Francis says it is futile to sit in our churches and wait for people to come to us –

“… the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”.

Some of Francis’ writing could have been taken directly from Dreisbach’s work –

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”

“… each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are.”

“Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers.”

Now, one of the things that surprised me about this paper is the Pope’s embrace of “reformation” of the church. In many ways he sounds like a Protestant. He quotes Paul VI as saying –

“Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth”.

Many of the lay Catholics I know believe that salvation lies in our own hands, that if we try our darndest to abide by the Ten Commandments God will reward us in the next life. But Francis quotes Thomas Aquinas, saying –

“We do not worship God with sacrifices and exterior gifts for him, but rather for us and for our neighbour. He has no need of our sacrifices, but he does ask that these be offered by us as devotion and for the benefit of our neighbour.”

He adds –

“The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.”

He adds that, “an imbalance results…when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”  He says, “The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed”–

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

Later on he cautions against being too devoted to the rituals of the Church. –

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.”

And –

“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.”

He seems to believe there are only two essential sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist in Catholic terminology.

Salvation by grace alone, the primacy of the Gospel, love as the greatest virtue, the two essential sacraments. If this Pope had been in office 500 years ago, I wonder if Martin Luther would have bothered writing the 95 Theses.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this. He is still big on shrines, rosary beads, lighting candles for the dead, and the veneration of Mary. But even there, he devotes only the last six pages to extolling Mary, almost as an afterthought, something added at the last minute.

Next time I will take up his thoughts on the worship of money.

Posted by: gmscan | December 23, 2013

The Duck Dynasty Brou-ha-ha

 

First, a little Christmas present in case you have not seen Pentatonix doing “Little Drummer Boy.” It’s the best music video of the season.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ_MGWio-vc

Have a very wonderful Christmas full of blessings

Now on to –

——————

The Duck Dynasty Brou-ha-ha

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

Phil Robertson in GQ

I wouldn’t write about the Duck Dynasty controversy but for the fact that I have yet to see or read anything about it that is true. (Complete article here) One of my (many) pet peeves is hearing people attack other people for things they never said or did. Feel free to criticize others for what they say, but don’t make things up and criticize them for your fabrications.

This applies to Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation as well. People on both the Left and the Right have been taking a couple of sentences out of a 250-page document and spinning them to suit their particular political orientation. I am doing what I expect very few of them have done – I’m reading the whole piece and will comment on it shortly.

In the Robertson case, one of the worst offenders is Bill O’Reilly who has repeatedly condemned Phil Robertson for damning homosexuals to Hell. But Robertson never said that. In fact, as the quote above indicates, he said just the opposite of that.

O’Reilly has also said repeatedly that you can’t change the minds of secular people by quoting Scripture – you have to use reason. That may be true if you hope to change public policy. But that isn’t what Robertson is trying to do. If O’Reilly had bothered reading the article he would have seen this –

When the show runs its course and the production trucks drive off the Robertson property for good, there will be nothing keeping Phil from his greater mission. He could step back if he felt like it, given that he’s now a very wealthy man. He could stay in these woods and live out the rest of his days hunting. But he has a flock now. He and the other Robertson men happily tour the country, giving speeches and hosting Bible studies. I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”

When Uncle Si went to Conway, Arkansas, recently for a paid appearance, 20,000 people showed up. It led the local news that night in Little Rock. The show is merely the platform. The end goal is to save souls. And the Robertson family is more than happy to sacrifice a little privacy out here in the woods—visitors regularly congregate outside Phil’s security gate hoping for a glance at the family— to spread the good word.

The Robertsons aren’t being political, they aren’t trying to change laws, they are trying to spread the Gospel, and you can’t do that without speaking the Gospel.

Other people have criticized Phil for giving an interview to GQ Magazine. They say he should have known it is a liberal, secular publication. Of course he knew that. The man is not uneducated. He gave them the interview because it is a liberal secular publication. It was a way of reaching an audience that would never have listened to a preacher. He doesn’t care if a majority of the readers were offended by his comments. He’s not running for Homecoming King. He hoped to break through to a few people who are ready to hear about the Word.

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson was citing very conventional and foundational Christian beliefs. He was not saying that homosexuality leads to bestiality. He was including both as examples of sin, along with adultery, drunkenness, and so on.

And, by the way, it was not a “gotcha article.” The writer, Drew Magary, was not looking down his nose at these rednecks and chortling when they said something outlandish. Mr. Magary was actually quite self-deprecating and talked about how inadequate he felt around these men. He clearly enjoyed their company and the article brought them alive to the reader.

Finally, dear reader, there is the most attention grabbing part where Phil says he thinks a woman’s vagina is more desirable than a man’s anus, but “that’s just me.” It is amusing how persnickety some secularists got over this.  Many of these same people who loved Molly Cyrus’ cavorting on television, who enjoy explicit pornography, and who embrace the demeaning sexual lyrics of rap musicians, are suddenly offended by the words vagina and anus? Good grief. Could they be more hypocritical?

Overall, I am glad this all happened. It provides stark evidence for who is judgmental and who is not, and for who is a bully and who is not.  I will take Phil Robertson over the bullies at GLAAD any day of the week.

 

 

Posted by: gmscan | November 28, 2013

WASHINGTON’S THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION

Hat tip to Ben Domenech at The Transom

 

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION:

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war – for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted – for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us – and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

- Go: Washington

Posted by: gmscan | October 30, 2013

Lunch with Bruce Dreisbach: Evangelism Isn’t Enough

 {I have not been posting much here this past month because the on-going disaster of Obamacare has occupied most of my time. If you want to keep track of all this, visit the blog of the National Center for Policy Analysis at healthblog.ncpa.org)

——–

My men’s group has been reading “Growing With God,” by Bruce Roberts Dreisbach.  We chose this book because Bruce headed up a business association here in Waynesboro about ten years ago – well before I arrived here. Not many around here realized he was an accomplished Christian writer, the author of ten or so books.

The book is very good. It is aimed at new believers, but is helpful for old timers, too, to help them rekindle the joy of discovering Jesus. There are sections on how to talk with God, reading scripture, building a community, caring for the poor, and sharing with the “spiritually hungry.” He talks about how different people may experience God differently, and how we each have unique gifts provided by God to fulfill the purpose He has given us.

We decided to invite Bruce to join us for lunch. He was going to be in the area anyway, so he agreed to spend some time with us and a few other people we invited, notably a couple of local pastors.

It turns out Bruce has been working on a project for quite a while to help believers become witnesses, It is something he touches on in “Growing With God,” but he also has a book devoted to this, “Out of the Belly of the Whale.”

He makes a sharp distinction between evangelism and witnessing. Over lunch he explained that evangelism is a gift that very few people have. It is the ability to bring someone to Christ who has never thought of it before. Stories abound of people who can do this in the course of an airplane ride, or a trip on a ski lift. It is like building a wooden rowboat on a Saturday in your garage. It is quick – if you are one of the few people with the talent to do it.

Witnessing is more like growing a garden, he says. Almost anyone can do it, but it takes time and patience. It is a slow, nurturing process, and can be done only with the grace of God, who provides the sun and the rain.

Too many of us, and too many churches, focus on (or at least give lip service to) evangelism and are frustrated that our efforts rarely bear fruit. Bruce writes –

The embarrassing little secret of the evangelical Church in America is that we have lost the ability to do evangelism. How ironic is that? Evangelicals without evangelism! In the last fifty years the evangelical Church has grown less than 2 percent, not enough to even cover the biological growth of our congregations.

Over time we despair of reaching out to nonbelievers because all of our workshops and programs and open houses and charitable activities fail to find the lost sheep. We end up using the church for worship, fellowship, and good works. All commendable and necessary activities, but they fall short of Christ’s Great Commission.

Bruce writes that he was once involved in a study of 6,000 churches and found only fifty that had “regular ongoing evangelism.” The rest had great preaching, good music, excellent fellowship, but no effort to reach out to adult non-believers.

Out of 300 million Americans, only one-third are followers of Christ. Yet, he says, there is a hunger out there to find spiritual meaning – “Research indicates that more than half of all the lost secular people are interested in having conversations, asking questions, and exploring different aspect of faith.” This hunger is being filled, not by the evangelical church, but by spiritual cults.

Too often Christians blame the lost for not being receptive to the message. We offer programs and outreach, we make our houses of worship friendly and welcoming, we introduce modern music and video sermons, yet no one comes. They must all be nursing hangovers on Sunday morning and seduced by the allure of football games on Sunday afternoon. What can we do? It’s their loss.

Bruce Dreisbach reminds us of how Jesus did it. He did not sit in a chair waiting for the curious to come to Him. He went out to where the sinners were and talked to them. He had dinner with tax collectors and Pharisees. He talked with a woman at the well –

Jesus did not offer a program. When you read the Gospel accounts of his life, you don’t find him stuck in a box, offering religious programs. Instead, he was out living with people, wherever they happened to be living. He went to parties and weddings. He went to people’s houses for dinner. He hung out at the docks, talking to fishermen and other rough sort of folks.

Bruce cites a survey of 10,000 believers that asked how they came to Christ. The responses were –

  • 0.5% came through an evangelistic crusade
  • 1% through a home visitation
  • 2% through a “special need”3% on their own
  • 3% through a program or event
  • 5% through Sunday School
  • 6% through a pastor
  • 79% through a friend or relative.

You get the point. If we are going to bring people into fellowship with Jesus, we need to do it ourselves, with the people we know.  If each of us reached only two people in the next ten years, instead of only 100 million Christians in the U.S., there would be 300 million. This does not mean being “Bible thumpers.” In fact Bruce has a graphic description of the wrong way to reach the lost –

I have a friend who is convinced he should be trying to convert all of his lost friends from their wrong world view to his view (which he believes is also God’s view). He is rude, harsh and offensive in these encounters. I have to admit that if he was the only demonstration I had ever seen of God’s love, I would quit being a Christian right now.

Rather, witnessing means identifying one or two people in our lives who are not currently believers and nurturing them as we would a garden through prayer, love and sharing.

It starts with prayer, so God can help us identify the people who will be receptive. It goes on to building a loving relationship with them. And eventually leads to talking about what Jesus has done in our own lives. We don’t need to be scholars or theologians. We don’t need to have all the answers and we don’t need to be perfect people. We need simply to be ourselves, with all the flaws that we share with all of the other people we know. But, if we are walking with Jesus, we are leaning on him for comfort and strength through all of the challenges we face. Our friends will see how our trust in the Lord strengthens us in facing the same kinds of problems they face. Eventually they will ask about that. Then we have to be able to share our story of how we came to faith and what it means in our lives. Then, God will do the rest. Like a gardener, we can prepare the soil and plant the seed, but it is God who grows the stalk.

Bruce strongly recommends having a community, or a support group for our witnessing. Becoming intimately involved in the lives of others can be hard. People’s lives are messy and we need prayerful friends to help us see when (and how) to get involved and when to step away. Bruce doesn’t talk about this, but from my own experience it is important to not get sucked into supporting someone’s self-destructive behavior. We don’t want to be so “helpful” that we enable them to continue these habits. A community of supporters can help us discern the proper course.

One caution – many of us might assume the purpose of all this is to get them to go to church. If only we can get them to attend a service or two we can hand them off to the professionals and be done with it. Bruce asks us not to do that. He notes that many, many people have had bad experiences in church. They may have witnessed hypocrisy or sanctimony.  It may be why they fell away from Jesus in the first place. Even without those bad experiences, churches can be intimidating – the rituals and language seem foreign (what is a doxology, anyway? What is an acolyte?), and the people all seem like an in-crowd to a stranger. The time for church will come, but let the new believer ease into it by meeting other believers in less formal settings first.

Let me wrap this up the way Bruce does in his book. He writes –

My wife, Martie, and I have always had a heart for lost people, but it became obvious that neither of us have the spiritual gift of evangelism. In the first fifteen years of our marriage, we were both very active in the church, holding most of the jobs available. Yet we probably saw only a person or two come to faith during that time. Then we learned about lifestyle witnessing. In the first twelve years after we adopted this perspective on life, we saw over two dozen people from our circle of influence come to faith! We have even had the joy of seeing our kids’ friends come to faith though witnessing.

Lifestyle witnessing really works. It is God’s plan to reach the lost and grow the church. It is his Plan A t reach your lost family and friends. Just try it. It will change your own walk with God and allow him to use you to change others – for all eternity!

To find out more, contact:

The New Life Center, Inc.

1216 Whitby Road

Richmond, VA 23227

brucedreisbach@gmail.com

804-461-9523

Posted by: gmscan | September 26, 2013

The Real War on Christians

We tend to use hyperbole too much when it comes to political issues. “The War on Women” of the last presidential campaign is one example. Another is “The War on Christians,” used to describe secular society discouraging recognition of Christmas and Easter.

These expressions are used by a rich and complacent society that has too much time on its hands and preoccupied with too many entertaining diversions. These are desperate attempts to garner attention to political or social issues for a population that is focused on other things.

But there is a real war on Christians going on. It involves bombs, bullets and burning of churches, homes, and businesses. People are being systematically slaughtered, and executed for their beliefs. It is not isolated. It is happening everywhere there is a large population of Muslims – Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, even Nigeria.

People in the United States are finally waking up to this reality. At least some people are. Others prefer to turn over and go back to sleep.

Here are links to three major articles on the subject I’ve seen in just the past week.

I’m not sure what to do about all this, but I do believe we have an obligation to stand up for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Obviously, above all we should pray for their safety. Beyond that, what? Are there organizations on the ground we can support? Can we get our government to speak out?

One thing to remember is that Israel is the first target in the wide push for Muslim hegemony in the Middle East. The Jews were purged from all these countries long before they came after the Christians. Did the indigenous Christians stand up for their Jewish brethren? I am afraid of the answer to that one. I fear the answer may be found in Martin Niemoller’s famous poem –

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Even today there are Palestinian Christians who would like to destroy Israel. They don’t believe they will be the next target.  If you are concerned about this, visit Christians United For Israel.

Posted by: gmscan | September 19, 2013

Is Pope Francis a Calvinist?

The media was ablaze for a few days with headlines like this –

Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven

Pope Francis tells atheists to abide by their own consciences

Pope Francis: God’s mercy extends to atheists and agnostics

The Pope had written a lengthy letter to the founder of an Italian newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, in reply to a series of editorials the paper had published. It is a very long and thoughtful letter, but the media (as it will) ignored all but one paragraph, that states –

“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”

The secular media was triumphant – “See, we don’t have to believe in God to go to Heaven!” Which raises a host of puzzlements:

  • Why would an atheist or agnostic care about being forgiven by a God that doesn’t exist?
  • Why would they care about going to a Heaven that doesn’t exist?
  • How could they “go to him with a sincere and contrite heart” if they don’t believe in Him?
  • Plus, I’m not sure being forgiven of a sin is quite the same thing as a ticket to Heaven.

But orthodox Catholics were in a tizzy over the whole idea. Some called the Pope a heretic, others tried to explain his troubling position. In the latter camp was David Werling, who wrote a blog post, “Please stop calling Pope Francis a heretic over the Scalfari Letter.” 

Mr. Werling’s item was a long and tortured essay on the meaning of “conscience” with a host of quotes from Thomas of Aquinas, and concludes that the only conscience worth obeying is one that includes a belief on God –

“Pope Francis, by telling Scalfari to follow his conscience, is telling the atheist to also go and give homage to the Almighty God. Belief in God is, after all, not only reasonable, but also necessary for the first dictate of the natural law inscribed upon the intellects of all men. Perhaps that is the Holy Father’s intention, but we simply can’t know because he doesn’t express this outright.”

I have a rather different thought – the Pope is a closet Calvinist. Calvinists say that salvation is foreordained from the beginning of time. We cannot earn it. Or as Philip Yancey says, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Similarly, faith is a gift from God. We do not choose to be faithful or not. Or, as the Westminster Confession puts it –

5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.

6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

(Westminster Confession, Chapter III, 6.018-6.019)

The Pope has no idea who is to be saved and who is not. And just because someone is an unbeliever today, does not mean he will be an unbeliever tomorrow. He will be given the gift of faith when God chooses, not when you or I or the Pope chooses. That this person is a sinner makes no difference, whatsoever. We are all sinners. Once we are given the gift or faith, we (try to) repent of those sins. But it would be silly to expect someone who has not yet received faith to repent of his sins, or even to acknowledge that he is sinning. Faith comes first, repentance follows.

Certainly my own experience confirms all this. I was not given the gift of faith until I was 62 years old. But as Jesus explained in his parable of the workers in the field, it doesn’t matter that I came late to the party, my reward is the same as those who have had faith their entire lives.

I suppose the Pope may be justly accused of violating the traditional understanding of the Roman Catholic faith — that Good Works will earn you a place in Glory. But in so doing, he has also joined the Reformation. Praise be to God!

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