For The Troubled Heart

The pressures and burdens of life don’t have to result in despair. It’s important to know where to go for comfort.

BY CHARLES F. STANLEY

 

The holiday season has always been one of the highlights of the year for me. As the chill of winter approaches, I look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas—occasions to celebrate the blessings God has given, especially the birth of our Savior. But through my life and years of ministry, I’ve seen how these holidays can also be difficult—how despair often lurks close by, following us from errand to errand and event to event—threatening to weigh down our journey to the manger of Christ’s birth.

The sad reality is that our lives don’t always look like a picture-perfect Christmas card. Loss, loneliness, health concerns, relational conflicts, financial and other problems know no season. And sometimes they come when the rest of the world is celebrating. The stark contrast can leave us feeling even more defeated and discouraged.

 

WHERE CAN WE GO FOR HELP WHEN LIFE LOOKS HOPELESS?

When we see no way out of despair or trouble of some kind, most of us want the company of someone who’s gone through a similar situation and understands our struggle. Perhaps that’s why we so readily identify with biblical characters like David or the apostle Paul, who experienced the discouragement of afflictions.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul writes of one of the most difficult times in his life, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” This crushing experience was so overwhelming that he saw no way out and felt his life was soon to end: “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Whether you feel slowly pressed into hopelessness by the accumulation of many everyday stresses or life has been upended by one overwhelmingly difficult and painful situation, what you need is encouragement. The Greek word translated as “comfort” or “encouragement” is paraklésis, which means “a calling to one’s aid.” And isn’t that what we need when we’re overwhelmed—someone who will stay with us, walk beside us through the dark valley and somehow lift us up when we grow weak?

 

THE TRIUNE GOD IS OUR SOURCE OF ENCOURAGEMENT.

When Paul was at his lowest point, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” came alongside to encourage him in the midst of his affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3). Do you see the Lord as an encourager, or does He seem more like a condemning judge to you? Sometimes we develop a lopsided perspective of God, which doesn’t include encouragement as one of His attributes.

Sometimes we develop a lopsided perspective of God, which doesn’t include encouragement as one of His attributes.

God’s comforting nature is displayed by all three members of the Trinity, not simply by the Father of mercies. Paul said, “Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5). And in John 14:16, Jesus described the indwelling Holy Spirit as “another Helper,” which in the Greek language means a comforter or encourager of the same kind—in other words, equal to Jesus Himself.

All members of the Trinity are coequal with one another, and the entire Godhead is at work lifting us up, giving comfort and support in adversity. Upon salvation, we aren’t expected to fend for ourselves. God tenderly cares for us as His children, and He’s promised never to leave or forsake us. Even when we feel as if we’re all alone in our struggles, God is there, carrying us through when we have no more strength to continue.

If we never had troubles, we’d never know this comforting aspect of God or depend upon Him as we should. In fact, He sometimes allows us to go through suffering and hardships that are beyond our ability to bear “so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God” (2 Corinthians 1:9). He sovereignly rules over every situation we face, setting limitations on the intensity and determining the depth, length, and darkness of the valley we walk—all with the purpose of bringing us through, looking more like His beloved Son and having a closer relationship with Him.

 

HOW DOES GOD ENCOURAGE US?

With so many assurances of His comfort, why are there times when we can’t sense it? We’re struggling and sinking, and feel as if He’s left us on our own. Perhaps the problem is that we have not availed ourselves of His means of encouragement.

    • Prayer. Our first response to pain or trouble should be to go to the Lord in prayer, pouring out all of our questions and concerns to Him, our loving Father. God is always with us, wherever we go and whatever we’re doing. Our circumstances might make us feel otherwise, but if we find a moment to commune with God, we can be filled with His light, wisdom, love, and peace.

He sovereignly rules over every situation we face, setting limitations on the intensity and determining the depth, length, and darkness of the valley we walk.

  • The Scriptures. Secondly, in times of pain or trouble we can prayerfully go to God’s Word, asking the Holy Spirit to help us read and understand what’s in it. This is one of the primary ways that the Lord speaks to us and restores our hope. Psalm 119:49-50says, “Remember the word to Your servant, in which You have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me.”If you don’t know where to begin, go to the book of Psalms. There you will find David calling out to God in despair while at the same time drawing near to Him for comfort. We can also derive encouragement from biblical accounts of people like Paul who have gone through suffering while trusting in the Lord.As the Holy Spirit implants God’s Word into our heart and mind, our perspective will change. We will realize the truth of Paul’s words—that compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us, our trials on earth are but momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our circumstances may not change, but our attitude will. Instead of focusing on our difficulties and pain, our eyes will be fixed on the Lord and His Word, and our trust in Him will grow.
  • The church. God’s encouragement is also given to us through fellow believers. Christians are not supposed to live in isolation but as a community of believers who love and care for each other. When one person is struggling, the others come alongside to help. And as each of us draws near to God and receives His comfort, we are then enabled to encourage others with the same comfort we received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

 

HOW WE RESPOND TO DISCOURAGEMENT IS CRUCIAL.

One of Satan’s choice tactics is discouragement. If he can bring us to despair, our spiritual growth will be limited, our fruitfulness hampered, and our worship hindered. We’ll often begin to think that God has abandoned us or is angry, yet this is when we should remember that He’s the one who can bring hope and encouragement in our time of need.

So often we want God to do our bidding and rescue us immediately, but what He’s offering us is so much greater.

When the bottom drops out of your life and you are filled with anxiety, fear, or sorrow, are you going to withdraw into a shell of pain? Will you get angry or throw a pity party? None of these responses will bring relief, and they may actually lead to further suffering.

Perhaps you’ve called out to the Lord for help but have been disappointed that He didn’t change your situation. So often we want God to do our bidding and rescue us immediately, but what He’s offering us is so much greater—the comfort that comes from knowing Him. In those quiet moments alone with the Lord, He offers us strength and encouragement to persevere and grace to trust and delight in Him alone. There is nothing in the world to match the intimacy we find in His presence during times of need. I pray you’ll live confidently and love boldly—and that as you draw near to God and His people, you discover the grace of being fully His.

 

ISTOCK

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/the-pulpit/for-the-troubled-heart

 

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Is It God’s Goodness that Leads to Repentance?

by Cameron Buettel Friday, July 12, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. Of our previous blog series, none better embodies that emphasis than Frequently Abused Verses. The following entry from that series originally appeared on September 30, 2015. -ed.

We live in an age that demands short bursts of rapid-fire information. The day is fast approaching—perhaps it’s already here—when the number of Twitter followers will hold the preeminent place on a pastor’s resume. Sermon lengths are going the way of our shrinking attention spans. Modern pastors are tempted to replace exegesis and exposition with sound bite sermons and slogan theology.

But Bible verses are not slogans or sound bites. They are eternal truths that find their meaning within the overall story God is telling. Uprooting a verse, or even a biblical phrase, from its native habitat can lead to all kinds of mayhem. That is especially the case when, independent of their proper context, verses are enlisted as the supporting cast for someone’s opinion or agenda. Romans 2:4 is one verse that is regularly misused that way—carelessly sprinkled into sermons, interviews, and social media.

For example, in January 2013, Rick Warren explained to his legions of Facebook followers how the verse factored in his evangelistic methods:

In that particular case, Warren was quoting Romans 2:4 (actually only about half of it) as justification for downplaying sin and soft-peddling the threat of judgment. But is that what Romans 2:4 is really all about? Was Paul telling his Roman readers to jettison the parts of gospel preaching that lack curb appeal?

Joel Osteen is even more explicit in his use of Romans 2:4 to defend his feel-good messages:

Listen, don’t dangle people over the fires of hell. . . . Listen, that doesn’t draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad they’ve lived. What you’ve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, it’s the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. [1]

Joel Osteen may think that people know they are sinners and that we therefore don’t need to warn them or preach about it, but does Romans 2:4 really back up his point?

Moreover, is his point biblical at all? Just as prisons are full of convicts who will proclaim their innocence, Scripture is clear that sinners reject the guilt of their sin. As Solomon explained, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). And even those who do acknowledge their sin have little grasp of the depth of their wretchedness, or the eternal cost of their transgressions.

In fact, it’s ironic that Osteen and Warren would use Romans 2:4 to excuse themselves from discussing sin and the need for repentance, since that verse is plucked from Scripture’s most profound discourse on man’s depravity.

Romans 1–3 is undeniable proof that Paul began his exposition of the gospel by first addressing the universality of sin and the justness of God’s wrath against sin. John MacArthur points this out:

The biblical order in any gospel presentation is always first the warning of danger and then the way of escape, first the judgment on sin and then the means of pardon, first the message of condemnation and then the offer of forgiveness, first the bad news of guilt and then the good news of grace. The whole message and purpose of the loving, redeeming grace of God offering eternal life through Jesus Christ rests upon the reality of man’s universal guilt of abandoning God and thereby being under His sentence of eternal condemnation and death. Consistent with that approach, the main body of Romans begins with 1:18, a clear affirmation of God’s wrath “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” [2]

It is actually our guilt and the justness of God’s wrath that provide the all-important context for Romans 2:4:

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:2-5)

Now you can see why Romans 2:4 is so frequently divorced from its context, and why it’s usually paraphrased instead of quoted. In the full context of Paul’s writing we see clearly what he means by God’s goodness—it is “the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience.” And Romans 2:2-3 explains how God demonstrates that tolerance and patience—by withholding the wrath we deserve. God’s goodness is the reality that we have not yet experienced His judgment. MacArthur adds:

Forbearance [tolerance] comes from anochē, which means “to hold back,” as of judgment. It was sometimes used to designate a truce, which involves cessation of hostilities between warring parties. God’s forbearance with mankind is a kind of temporary divine truce He has graciously proclaimed. Patience translates makrothumia, which was sometimes used of a powerful ruler who voluntarily withheld vengeance on an enemy or punishment of a criminal. Until the inevitable moment of judgment, God’s kindness and forbearance and patience are extended to all mankind. [3]

It is impossible to preach the goodness of God without talking about sin and judgment because its very meaning is bound up in those terms. When we see our sinfulness and rebellion against God, and when we see our hypocrisy in condemning others for committing the same wrath-deserving sins, then we can also marvel at God’s goodness in patiently and tolerantly withholding the wrath that we deserve.

That is what leads us to repentance. And it is entirely consistent with what Paul taught elsewhere in Scripture:

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B150930

The Consequences of Ignoring God

by Greg Laurie on Jul 6, 2019

I heard about a gallery owner who called one of his featured artists and said, “I have some good news and some bad news.”

The artist said, “Well, what’s the good news?”

“The good news is that a man came in here the other day and was looking at your paintings. He asked whether the value of the paintings would go up if the artist were to die. I told him they would, of course. So he bought every one of your paintings.”

“That’s fantastic,” the artist said. “So what’s the bad news?”

“The bad news is the man was your doctor.”

I think we can all use some good news in a bad world. But even as bad as things are now, they were even darker in Israel in the prophet Elisha’s day. It was, in fact, one of the darkest moments in Israel’s history. Everything had gone wrong. The king had basically become powerless.

A famine had swept the land, and things were so bad that they were actually eating dove dung, or to put it in modern vernacular, pigeon poop. The Scriptures also tell us that a delicacy at the time was the head of a donkey. Even worse, the people actually were turning to cannibalism.

Why had this happened to Israel?

It was a result of their disobedience to God and their repeated worship of false idols. This reminds us of a very important biblical principle: God will not share his glory with another.

You see, God put us on this earth to glorify him. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8 NIV). We were put here for that purpose. God wants us to fulfill that purpose.

And he certainly does not want to share his glory with any other gods. Two of the Ten Commandments deal with the topic of placing other gods before him.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t that a little paranoid on God’s part?”

It is not paranoia at all.

If you’re married, how would you feel if your spouse went out with a different person every night? That would be ridiculous. You wouldn’t put up with something like that.

But is it any more ridiculous when we turn from the true and living God to false gods? Is it any more ridiculous when we bow down to the idol of success or the idol of money? Is it any more ridiculous when we bow down before the idol of fame or the idol of pleasure?

God is saying, “You belong to me. I am not sharing you with another.”

He basically told Israel, “I am your Lord. I am your God. I brought you out of Egypt. Worship me. That is all I ask.”

But they kept turning to false gods. So the Lord allowed them to reap the consequences of their actions. And when the king heard about the people’s cannibalism, he ripped his royal robes. And underneath those robes was sackcloth.

At that time sackcloth usually was associated with mourning and repentance. We would assume that the king perhaps was truly repentant before God. Hardly. Because right after that, he decided he wanted to kill Elisha, the representative of God.

The king was saying, in effect, “Listen, I tried the whole wait-on-God thing. I have tried the whole faith deal. It isn’t working. I don’t want to wait on God one day longer. I am ticked off. And it’s Elisha’s fault.”

Elisha had done nothing wrong. He simply was the Lord’s representative. What the king and Israel were experiencing was a direct result of their own disobedience.

But whoever said that sin makes sense? When people are sinking deeper into sin and reaping the consequences of it, they strike out at God (and sometimes his representatives, even) instead of repenting and coming to their senses.

Maybe you’ve been minding your own business, loving God and living the Christian life, and a nonbeliever has been hassling you. You’re saying, “What on earth is this all about? What have I done wrong?”

Maybe you’re doing something right, because the Bible says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV).

We don’t necessarily want to be persecuted, but as Christians we will be. And we’re seeing it more and more in our culture today.

You’d better not say anything critical against any particular race. You’d better not say anything critical against a gender. You’d better not say anything critical about any particular group. But you can say whatever you want about followers of Jesus Christ, and that is acceptable in our culture.

Writing in the early 20th century, G.K. Chesterton said, “You are free in our time to say that God does not exist; you are free to say that He exists and is evil.… You may talk of God as metaphor or mystification. . . . But if you speak of God as a fact, as a thing like a tiger, as a reason for changing one’s conduct, then the modern world will stop you somehow if it can.… It is now thought irreverent to be a believer.”

If that was true back then, how much more true is it today?

I’ve heard it said that Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. That is ridiculous. Because the fact of the matter is, those who think the most of the next world will do the most for this one.

The Consequences of Ignoring God

Bible Contradiction? Is God the author of confusion?

 

For today’s post we will tackle the question the Skeptic Annotated Bible asked: Is God the author of confusion?

Here are the two answers which the skeptic believes indicate a Bible contradiction:

Yes

Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called [c]Babel, because there the Lord confused the [d]language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:7-9)

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

No

for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

(All Scriptural quotation comes from the New American Standard Bible)

Here’s a closer look at whether or not there is a contradiction:

 

  1. When dealing with skeptics’ claim of Bible contradictions it seems one can never be reminded enough of what exactly is a contradiction.  A contradiction occurs when two or more claims conflict with one another so that they cannot simultaneously be true in the same sense and at the same time.  To put it another way, a Bible contradiction exists when there are claims within the Bible that are mutually exclusive in the same sense and at the same time.
  2. One should be skeptical of whether this is a Bible contradiction given the Skeptic Annotated Bible’s track record of inaccurately handling the Bible.  See the many examples of their error which we have responded to in this post:   Of course that does not take away the need to respond to this claim of a contradiction, which is what the remainder of this post will do.  But this observation should caution us to slow down and look more closely at the passages cited by the Skeptic Annotated Bible to see if they interpreted the passages properly to support their conclusion that it is a Bible contradiction.
  3. A bit of background of each verse in its context might be helpful for readers.
    1. Genesis 11:7-9 in a chapter that is about the tower of Babel.  Humans were trying to gather and build a Tower that reached heaven but then we see God frustrate that attempt.
    2. Both 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 14:33 are verses in a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church in Greece at a major city of Corinth.  Here he writes to them even as the church is in chaos and confusion about right doctrines and practice.
  4. The skeptic cited 1 Corinthians 14:33 as denying that God is the author of confusion.
    1. Note in the context it is talking about the necessity of having church service in an orderly fashion.  Verse 33 appeals to the basis for that is because “God is not a God of confusion.
    2. The Greek word for “confusion” here is ἀκαταστασίας.  In the NASB ἀκαταστασίας in Luke 21:9 is translated as commotion, in 2 Corinthians 6:5 is translated as tumults, in 2 Corinthians 12:20 as disturbance and James 3:16 as disorder.  We thus see here from the lexical range that 1 Corinthians 14:33 is denying God is any of those things in His attribute of who He is within Himself (the genitive case is showing an attribute of God here).
    3. To be technically correct 1 Corinthians 14:33 says “God is not a God of confusion.”  It does not say God is not an “author” of confusion, whatever that means by the skeptic.  This is an important distinction in that God within Himself in His character is not confused but that does not mean God might ordaining confusion outside of Himself for His own purposes.
  5. The skeptic cited 1 Corinthians 1:27 as denying that God is the author of confusion but the skeptic hasn’t properly interpreted that verse.
    1. 1 Corinthians 1:27 talks about God shaming the wise and the strong people of the World because of God’s election of the unwise and the weak.
    2. Here the skeptic is making a categorical fallacy in interpreting this verse: God shaming sinful prideful people is not the same thing as somehow God being the author of confusion.  Shaming someone is not the same thing as bringing about confusion per se (you can shame someone without confusing them).
    3. Moreover part of shaming them means that they will have some understanding adequate enough to feel ashamed.  And that understanding is contrary to confusion.
  6. The skeptic cited Genesis 11:7-9 as asserting that God is the author of confusion but it still does not contradict with 1 Corinthians 14:33 when both verses are properly interpreted.
    1. Remember 1 Corinthians 14:33 is talking about God’s attribute not being a God of confusion within Himself and it is not about God not being able to bring about confusion in circumstances outside of Himself, for His greater purposes.
    2. Genesis 11:7 and Genesis 11:9 clearly reveal that God did confuse the people’s language at the tower of Babel.
    3. However that does not mean that God Himself is a God of confusion as His internal attribute.
      1. That is because God can bring about confusion upon others as an act of punishment.  Within the Biblical worldview a just punishment doesn’t mean the judge is somehow the attribute related to those punishment in other contexts divorce from acts of justice such as being a sadistic pain giver, etc.
      2. Likewise God is a God who is acting in judging sin in Genesis 11 with the story of the Tower of Babel.
      3. So this does not contradict 1 Corinthians 14:33.
      4. Also it might seem paradoxical but it not an actual contradiction to say that God in a penal way brought about confusion of language and yet He is not a God of confusion.  For example I was in the Marines and knew a sniper who saved the lives of four other Marines.  He was a life saver.  Yet in saving the life of others he taken the life of those who were violently trying to kill those Marines.  He’s a life saver, because he saved lives of his fellow Marine; yet to do this he did have to act in the capacity of taking lives.  Still given the context it would still be proper to say he’s a life saver.  Likewise God is not a God of confusion and since He is orderly He has to judge sin and frustrate the plans of sinners.
    4. Patrick Hawthorne also added this insight: ” God confused their language but not their minds. By that I mean, God’s intent was not to confuse the people through deceit. He stayed true to His Word without any violations or contradiction. The people were still able to think and act according to the plans and purposes of God which never changed. The only difference was that the were unable to communicate with each other at the present moment.”  Think of a riot.  Those in law enforcement might hinder the communication of rioters (use of tear gas, specific removal of riot leaders, etc) by means that seems chaotic but one wouldn’t say the law enforcement group are breaking the law of being disorderly when they are trying to bring about order.
  7. We shouldn’t miss that worldviews are at play even with the skeptic’s objection to Christianity.  The worldview of the author of the Skeptic Annotated Bible actually doesn’t even allow for such a thing as the law of non-contradiction to be meaningful and intelligible.  In other words for him to try to disprove the Bible by pointing out that there’s a Bible contradiction doesn’t even make sense within his own worldview.  Check out our post “Skeptic Annotated Bible Author’s Self-Defeating Worldview.”

https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2019/07/11/bible-contradiction-is-god-the-author-of-confusion/

VIDEO Worship group stops at Chick-fil-A, busts out viral rendition of ‘Lean on Me’

Jul 15, 2019

Worship Group sings at Chick fil A

(FOX NEWS) — The sounds of smacking lips and sizzling chicken were briefly interrupted by an enthusiastic a cappella group at a Chick-fil-A in Nashville earlier this month.

Fox News reports that, in footage shared to Facebook on July 4, dozens of members of the Acapella Ministries Worship Leader Institute can be seen breaking out in song – specifically, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” – in the Chick-fil-A dining room, much to the delight of the unsuspecting fast-food patrons and on-duty team members.


 


By the clip’s end, both customers and staffers had joined in on the fun, singing and clapping along with the performance.

The video, originally shared by Jake Jones, had amassed nearly a million views as of Monday.

“Awesome! Glory to God! These be my brothers!” one commenter wrote.

“I have the chills!” another added.

Jones told Fox News the group was attending Acappella Ministries’ Worship Leader Institute 2019, where they aimed to learn more effective ways to lead worship groups through song.

“Whenever you get a group of a cappella worship leaders together it’s hard for us not to sing together,” Jones says.

Jones added that this rendition of “Lean On Me” was arranged by Acappela Company President Keith Lancaster as a four-part harmony.

“The flash mob was planned to encourage patrons and employees at the Chick-Fil-A,” Jones explains. We’ve noticed every time we do something like this, people comment on the videos saying, ‘This is just what I needed,’ ‘We need more of this,’ and ‘Why can’t we have more of this in the world?’ We never know who will be touched through this.

“We feel it is our mission in life to spread God’s awesome news through the talents and gifts He’s given us,” he adds. “What better way than to lift people up in song!”

This wouldn’t be the first time a group of talented singers chose Chick-fil-A for a spontaneous performance. In July of 2018, singers attending the same conference treated patrons of a Chick-fil-A – also in Nashville – to a harmony-packed version of Hezekiah Walker’s “Every Praise.”

“This year there were too many of us to fit into one Chick-fil-A — we spread out into two groups,” said Jones, who said about 90 members went to this year’s event, which drew attendees from all over the world.

“Poland, India, Australia, Colombia, France, England, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Albania and the United States were all represented this year,” he said.

Copyright 2019 WDRB Media and Fox News. All rights reserved.

https://www.wdrb.com/wdrb-in-the-morning/worship-group-stops-at-chick-fil-a-busts-out-viral/article_6898516c-a71d-11e9-b45c-2b37f5ad4ac7.html

The Cross in the Crosshairs

image

By Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.

Last week’s cross decision was a major case for religious liberty. Perhaps it even spells the death knell of the so-called Lemon Test…an aptly-named decision from the early 1970s that has often been used against any religious expression in the public square.

The Supreme Court ruled that a 40-foot memorial cross in the state of Maryland was not unconstitutional. The cross was built beginning in 1919 to commemorate many soldiers from Prince George’s County who died in service to their country in World War I.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) sued to have the cross torn down. The 4thCircuit Court of Appeals (out of Richmond, Virginia) agreed with the AHA, and the cross had a sentence of death hanging over it. First Liberty Institute, which fights for religious liberty (including many military-oriented cases), fought to save the cross, on behalf of the American Legion. Perhaps surprisingly, the Supreme Court decided by a comfortable 7-2 margin.

The author of the decision was Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote, “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”

Writing for the dissenting minority—just herself and Justice Sonia Sotomayor—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued: “the principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.”

After the victory, I interviewed constitutional attorney Jeremy Dys for a radio segment. Dys serves as the Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty, the legal organization that helped procure the victory on behalf of the American Legion.

Dys told me, “It’s a landmark victory for religious freedom….Whatever detractors are saying, they no longer have a tool in their arsenal so they can twist the establishment clause of the Constitution to render memorials like this Bladensburg World War I veterans memorial obsolete and then take a wrecking ball to it.”

The establishment clause, of course, is the first part of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” For the last several decades, the establishment clause has been invoked to censor out virtually any religious content in the public arena.

With this decision, he says, the Supreme Court is now protecting religious monuments: “That area of the law is kind of settled at this point, and we’re grateful that the Supreme Court has seen fit to protect what was the vision of some mothers back in 1919 as a way to remember their sons for serving in our armed forces.”

Dys continues: “The day and age when [they] can weaponize the establishment clause to bulldoze memorials just because they are religious [and are] on public property are over.”

Dys feels that this decision effectively replaces the Lemon test with something he calls “the American Legion Test” (after the organization that built the monument and fought for it in the Supreme Court case). According to that test, if a religious symbol has longstanding significance in America’s history and tradition, it has the “presumption of constitutionality.” He notes that there are now six justices saying that the Lemon Test is bad law.

That is very significant going forward. Through this decision, things like “In God We Trust” on our money or displayed on our walls in public buildings would also be protected.

Dys also notes that the American Legion deserves a lot of credit in this case: “We have been working with them for about 15-20 years now, protecting monuments that have religious imagery in them….These war heroes have been working with us for years to preserve these monuments. And if you’re one of those guys or gals from the American Legion…I just want to say: Mission Accomplished.”

This new victory would have allowed another World War I cross to stand, without having to change ownership of where it stands. In that case from a few years ago, First Liberty worked to save a memorial on public land in the Mojave Desert. A judge  ruled that that cross must be covered up with a canvas bag which was padlocked and then later covered up by a plywood box. “Why?” one might ask. So the spiders and snakes and occasional hikers could not see it? It was in the middle of nowhere. That cross ultimately was allowed to stay only because the land it stood on became privatized through a land-swap.

Just as Dracula flees from the cross, so there are many atheistic legal groups in America (like the American Humanist Association) that fight the cross at every turn—even when it is a symbol of those who paid the ultimate price for our country. Thank God the cross in the crosshairs still stands.

https://www.djameskennedy.org/article-detail/the-cross-in-the-crosshairs

Developing Your Missions Statement

BY DAVID JEREMIAH

An entire generation of television viewers—from the sixties and seventies—can instantly identify the tense, anticipatory opening music to one of TV’s most popular series: the original Mission Impossible. The series ran from 1966–1973, portraying a small team of secret government agents—the Impossible Missions Force (IMF)—as they succeeded in “saving the world” in sixty minutes week after week.

The opening scene of each episode followed the same dramatic format nearly every week. The leader of the IMF would listen to a small tape recording from a government official containing the team’s next assignment. After a brief description of the problem to be solved, the agent on the tape would say, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to . . .”—followed by a specific mission description. After the recording ended, the tape would self-destruct to avoid any evidence that the assignment had been given.

Should you decide to accept it. That was the key conditional element in every assignment. The IMF was given the option of declining the assignment if they deemed it too risky—but of course they never did. Through ingenuity, spy-craft, subterfuge, brilliance, and bravery, the IMF always accomplished their mission.

Three elements characterized every assignment the secret agents received:

  1. The mission: It was always clearly defined.

  2. The mandate: Once the mission was accepted, there was no backing down.

  3. The missions: The IMF was a team; each member had their own specific role to play in accomplishing the larger mission. So, there were individual missions that contributed to the overall mission of the IMF. And those individual missions were critical; they were interdependent. If any IMF team member failed to accomplish his or her individual mission, the overall mission would fail.

The Christian Church—the Body of Christ—has three parts that parallel the assignments of Mission Impossible’s Impossible Missions Force. Let’s review the first two briefly (the mission and the mandate) before we cover the third in depth: the individual members’ unique missions.

The Mission

The Church is like the IMF in this way: We have a mission. But we are unlike the IMF in this way: Our mission is possible, not impossible! Our mission comes from God Himself; He would not have given us an assignment that was impossible to carry out. The Church, then, is God’s Possible Missions Force—possible, not impossible!

So, what is our mission? It is found in all four Gospel accounts as expressed by Jesus:

Matthew 28:19-20. Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching those who choose to follow Jesus.

Mark 16:15-16. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every person.

Luke 24:47 (see also Acts 1:8). Be Christ’s witnesses in all the world, preaching repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

John 20:21. Duplicate Christ’s redemptive mission in the world. As God sent Christ into the world, so Christ sends us: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

In summary: Go into all the world, preach the Good News of God’s Kingdom and salvation to every person, training new believers to be committed Christ-followers through baptism and teaching God’s Word.

The Mandate

Our mission is different from that of the television series in another way: Our mission is not optional. Jesus didn’t say to the apostles, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to preach the Gospel and disciple the nations in My Name.”

Not only is the overall mission not optional, the unique mission of each member of Christ’s Body is not optional. As much as we like to stress the word grace in our discussions about salvation, we sometimes don’t stress the word Lord as much as we should. Said another way, Christ’s lordship should impact our decisions, activities, and priorities more than it does.

In general, servants are subject to the desires of their master. Yes, servants can disagree or even disobey. But inherent in the servant–master relationship is the notion of obedience. It is not a relationship of options. God did not give Moses Ten Suggestions; He gave Moses Ten Commandments. Likewise, Jesus said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Government secret agents have options; they can walk away. Not so with disciples of Christ. Our calling Him “Lord” means we are prepared to fulfill His mission to spread His Gospel around the world.

The Missions

Do you remember the question that used to show up on signs in front of churches years ago? It asked, “Are you a Clairol Christian? Only your hairdresser knows for sure.” The question is a reasonable one; God never intended for us to be secret agents for Jesus. We are to be lights on a hill, not lights under a basket; doers of good works and words for all to see and hear. Our public lives—words and deeds—are to be part of our “missionary” lifestyle (Matthew 5:14-16). Our entire life, lived in service to Jesus Christ, is to be a missionary life, a mission-minded life, just as Jesus’ own life was.

But we are all different—having gifts, strengths, ages, locations—and therefore our personal missions will differ. The apostle Paul’s comparison of individual Christians with different parts of the human body illustrates this fact (1 Corinthians 12). Every organ and limb—indeed, every cell!—contributes something unique to the human body’s overall mission of health and strength. It’s the same with the Church’s mission to reach the world for Christ. We all have a unique part to play based on our unique abilities, giftedness, and location.

The following questions can help us each craft a personal mission statement regardless of who we are and where we live:

  1. Who is in my circle of influence? (neighbors, coworkers, friends)

  2. What is their spiritual condition? (churched, unchurched, secular, religious)

  3. What entry points into their lives exist? (ethnicity, language, workplace, recreation, common interests, acts of kindness or charity)

  4. With which person(s) do I have the most available opportunity for witness, service, or influence?

  5. What am I willing to invest or sacrifice (time, finances, preferences) to help this person(s) come to know Jesus Christ now and for eternity?

Those questions, and others you will think of, can jump-start your thinking about your personal mission statement—your unique role in helping the Church fulfill Christ’s Great Commission: Who am I? Where am I? Who are my neighbors? What are their needs? Do I truly believe God can use me to reach them for Christ?

The Mission Statement

The modern corporate management movement gave rise to the formulation of corporate mission statements—a way for companies to decide, and state, what their purpose is. They can be short—“To save people money so they can live better” (Walmart)—or long—“FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards” (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

Every company’s employees can craft their own unique mission statement—how they contribute to the overall mission of the company based on their job responsibilities: sales, administration, design, manufacturing, or other. And the same can be true of every Christian—developing a personal mission statement.

Mission statements can change over time and in light of varying circumstances in your life. So consider the next twelve months: What kind of personal mission statement can best reflect the opportunities God has given you to help fulfill Christ’s mission to disciple the nations? Consider using the following examples as a format for your personal mission statement for the next year, depending on your personal situation.

Example A: “To befriend my two new neighbors, invite them into our home, learn about their spiritual condition over time, and trust God for an opportunity to introduce them to the Gospel.”

Example B: “To develop a plan for evangelizing the families in my neighborhood by starting a weekly kids’ club for stories, refreshments, games, and lessons.”

Example C: “To become trained in crisis pregnancy counseling and secure a ministry position in this field either in the community or my church.”

Get the idea? Ask God to help you craft a personal mission statement that will aid the Church in fulfilling the Great Commission and impacting our world for Christ!

https://www.davidjeremiah.org/magazine/article?id=208