Tranquil Joy

We know what the Bible says (First Thessalonians 5:18): Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Over and out. But how? How do we live out that “all” part? How?

All circumstances.

Writing as a senior fellow for the Hoover Institution, the psychological scientist and Stanford professor William Damon makes this observation: “If there is some desirable balance in life between appreciation and criticism – between a comfortable perception that the glass is half-full versus a resentful grumble that the glass is half-empty – we are living through a time when the scales are tipping in the direction of negativism. Given this, my sense is that football and the turkey will far eclipse any wholehearted expressions of gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving.”

Did you catch that? Negativity is everywhere, and gratitude is waning. If that’s what you’ve been thinking, you’re right.

And it’s not just culture-specific, but it’s holiday-specific too. A survey by the National Women’s Health Resource Center discovered that two-thirds of women report depression during the holidays. According to Healthline, here’s the deal: “The stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.” And Dr. Kenneth Johnson, a psychiatrist at Columbia St. Mary’s, boils it down even further for us: “Depression is higher in the winter months in general, but the biggest cause of holiday depression is unmet expectations.” If I might say it another way: when it comes to one of the year’s big deals, we hype it up for weeks and then get sad when it doesn’t feel like it was supposed to when it’s all said and done.

And it’s not just culture-specific, or holiday-specific … it’s person-specific. For some people whom I dearly love, 2019 has been the most painful year of their lives. With no close seconds. How in the world can we give thanks under those kinds of circumstances? It’s clearly not easy to give thanks when mental illness has invaded. When death has claimed one of our children. When the relationship most dear to us has been stolen by adultery or abandonment. When all financial resources have been drained dry. And, yet, this is life this side of heaven.

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to stretch us all for a moment. If Romans 8:28 is still true – and it is – and “all things” are working for my good and God’s glory, perhaps this moment of profound sadness (whatever it may be) is part of the plan. Here’s what I’ve found about my own seasons of depression, friends: without them, my propensity toward jerk-ness is immense. (Is it O.K. for me to admit that?) Sometimes, at least, I know that God is creating empathy in me through my own sadness. I don’t like dark nights of the soul any more than you do, but I’m discovering that they’re abundantly necessary if I’m ever to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.

Not only that, but – through our experience of pain – you and I are learning to make peace with the past. We’re having to actually trust God to cover our sin and shame by the blood of His Son, shed for us on that cruel-but-wondrous cross. And think about this: if we had nothing to consider to be “dreadfully wrong” with life in our present condition, would we really long for heaven? I have to tell you (again, I’m a little scared to admit this): I’m not sure that I would. I need to own my regrets. I need to own my sorrows. I need to own my “if only’s” – anybody else have those besides me? – because each one reminds me that the here and now is far from perfect – and that I’m not home yet!

We all want to settle in and have it all, well, nice. I get it. But this is life on a fallen planet last time I checked. Perhaps, by God’s grace, you and I can find blessings of eternal value hidden even in the putrid things. Don’t get mad at me for that last sentence – remember, it’s Romans 8:28 that’s driving us. And, if it is, then Thanksgiving does matter after all. Even this year. Even now.

The German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), is probably best remembered for his resistance to the Nazi regime. No doubt desiring more than all else to follow Christ, Bonhoeffer’s road was marked with pain and struggle. He wrote: “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man – not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God.” After his unjust arrest and two-year imprisonment, Bonhoeffer was transferred from Berlin to Buchenwald, and then to the extermination camp at Flossenburg. On April 9, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged.

That was some nasty stuff that Pastor Dietrich had to walk through to get to glory, but I think that our older brother captured it amazingly well: “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

Tranquil joy. Count me in.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Did Chick-fil-A Chicken Out?

Truth is, we don’t really know. Yet. I would agree that it appears that the company has bowed to the powers of political correctness.  Goodness’ sakes, who could argue with the good work being done by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army, and why in the world would anyone want to cut the funding of either group? Never mind answering that – I get it.

Technically speaking, Chick-fil-A’s new donations strategy (now limited to “education, homelessness, and hunger”) also means that several dozen other groups – groups that are not perceived as “anti-LGBT” – will not receive further funding in 2020 either. So, to give the benefit of the doubt, there is a possibility that the chicken giant’s new strategy was not targeted at the Army or the Athletes. And Chick-fil-A has declined to specify that the cuts were linked to the doctrinal position of either organization. Further, a company spokesperson would not rule out the possibility that the groups could receive donations in the future. There you have it.

But there’s been more than a nugget of negative emotion swirling around evangelical circles over the last 48 hours! We all know that Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea is the house wine for many a Southern Baptist, and you have to expect a certain sentiment of betrayal when something like this transpires.

I am a loyal Chick-fil-A fan, having delighted in that sweet chicken topped off with a tangy pickle since my ninth-grade year in McDonough, Georgia, not terribly far from their very first location. (Then they opened at Southlake Mall, and the rest is history.) I have always appreciated Chick-fil-A’s culture of kindness, respect, cleanliness, and getting things done right.

If you will indulge me, it will be my pleasure to share with you my concerns.

First of all, I’m very bothered by the idea that in America we now feel the need to economically cripple an organization with whom we happen to disagree. I totally understand that capitalism allows for economic pressure to be leveraged by consumers and other interest groups, but we’ve reached a dangerous place when people have to fear donating to a cause that doesn’t fit the mainstream morality party line. We’re there it seems. Simply put, it saddens me that Chick-fil-A has been threatened by their detractors for the last several years, and literally kept out of several communities – most recently the airport in San Antonio. Personally, I would prefer to enjoy my cup of coffee without having to concern myself with the politics of the owner of the coffee shop. That’s starting to sound like Mayberry compared to what we’re presently observing.

Secondly, I am brokenhearted that anybody perceived Chick-fil-A as “anti-LGBT.” A conviction around what is now referred to as “traditional marriage” has been central to every branch of Christianity – and an unquestioned truth claim for most everybody else, for that matter – for thousands of years. Not too long ago, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned nationally on just such a platform. Nearly overnight, the tide has turned, and any traditional thought in the family department is a bigoted anathema. I’d like to quote Matt Smethurst of the Gospel Coalition, who tweeted yesterday: “Christians are not anti-LGBTQ people. We are for them. If we were against them, we wouldn’t share the life-altering love that we – sexual sinners all – have discovered in a bloody cross and empty tomb.”

Thirdly, I’m troubled by a quote from Chick-fil-A’s president and chief operating officer, Tim Tassopoulos. Referring to the company’s new policy via interview, Tassopoulos explained that, as Chick-fil-A goes into “new markets,” he wants “to be clear about who we are.” Really? One of the top three restaurant chains in the USA suddenly has to reinvent itself? I would say this, will all due respect, to Mr. Tassopoulos: You haven’t been beloved just because of your waffle fries. You’ve been beloved because of your corporate commitment to marriage and family. It was as refreshing as your diet lemonade. In your effort to prove that you’re not against anyone – a noble goal indeed – please don’t walk away from the organizations that serve on the frontlines for the very causes which you claim to champion.

Lastly, I have to check my own heart. Part of my sadness is my own pride and misplaced devotion. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness – it was never meant to be placed in a chicken franchise. Regardless of what we find out, or don’t find out, about the motivations behind Chick-fil-A’s unclear charitable giving guidelines, I can’t look to any company or organization to be who Christ’s Church alone is called to be. When I do, I will be disappointed every time. It’s just that simple.

What’s next: a hookah lounge at Hobby Lobby?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

For King and Kanye

His lyrics tell the story. He used to say, of himself, “I am a God.” Now, says Kanye West: “Jesus is King!” Kanye, one of the most newsworthy pop artists of the last two decades, claims to be a bona fide Christian. Jesus is King! That’s the title of Kanye’s latest album, and the theme fits nicely with his recent concerts, which he now bills as “Sunday Services.”

In fact, Kanye West is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 140 million records. He’s been described as a rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, and fashion designer. Since 2004, Kanye’s fame has been a bit of a bumpy ride, to say the least. We never knew what he was going to say – sometimes via unexplained outburst. He seemed to possess a penchant for controversy, and a passion for igniting a public uproar.

But all of that seems to have changed. Kanye, a father of four, has moved away from graphically sexual lyrics. He seems deadly serious about his faith. He seems undeniably to have experienced some sort of profound spiritual awakening. According to Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian: “He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ.” That’s how you and I generally identify a Christ-follower, isn’t it?

We are initially thrilled by the thought of a high-profile Christian in the world of entertainment, where solid evangelical believers seem drastically underrepresented. At the same time, we’re dogged by worries about when and how the lifestyle of the celebrity will inevitably disappoint. We’ve come to expect that disappointment and disillusionment, because we’ve noticed a pattern among Hollywood stars who profess faith in Christ on the public stage, and it’s a pattern that rarely resembles genuine Christian discipleship over the long haul. So we’re a little afraid to get excited.

Don’t be. Here’s my best advice for you: get excited for Kanye!

We need to pray for Kanye. Many who hate the gospel want him to fail. Unfortunately, many who claim to love the gospel seem to want Kanye to fail – simply to validate their concerns. That doesn’t sound like a noble plan of action to me. The world doesn’t need any more Pharisees, and we have to fight the Pharisee in us on a regular basis. We’re supposed to be looking for good fruit – not bad fruit.

We need to ask God to send Kanye faithful teachers and preachers and shepherds and mentors and friends. Just like we would pray that for each other, or for anybody else who expressed an interest in the things of Christ. I can imagine a powerful, powerful ministry emanating from the life of a redeemed Mr. West, who might be uniquely qualified and positioned to help many of us to see that nearly limitless money and fame and popularity are never enough to satisfy the deepest cravings of the human soul.

I can’t tell you whether or not Kanye’s faith is real. I’m without access to the Lamb’s Book of Life. But I know that you and I are called to believe the best about each other: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (First Corinthians 13:7).

From his opening track …

                Every hour, every minute, every second

                Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down

                Let everything that has breath praise God

                Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down

                Praising the Lord, praise God in the sanctuary

                Sing ‘til the power of the Lord comes down

                For His mighty works and excellent grace and his mighty power, yeah

Go Kanye!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

No News Is Bad News

It appears that CBS News this week fired an employee after CBS discovered that the employee, who was formerly a reporter for ABC News, leaked video footage which confirms a decision by ABC to cover up a critical story about Jeffrey Epstein. In case you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Epstein, he was an American financier and convicted sex offender who committed his indecencies via an elite social circle that preyed upon women and underage girls. Epstein was arrested in July of this year on federal charges for the sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. In August he took his own life in his jail cell.

This recent development involving two of our major American news outlets deeply disturbs me. Jeffrey Epstein could have been stopped in his tracks three years earlier, but that did not happen, sadly. So ABC gets caught but seeks the help of CBS to punish the employee who brought the truth to light. And CBS dutifully complies.

Last I read, from the University of Pennsylvania, only six in 10 Americans can name any of the five rights protected by our First Amendment. So I will remind us all: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (emphasis mine).

The First Amendment protects the media. There’s no doubt about that. And we must be willing to err on that side for the preservation of our democracy. But, friends, journalists are only “journalists” if they strive for accuracy. We desperately need the journalist’s independent voice – that’s for sure – but we also depend desperately upon the journalist’s commitment to integrity.

I know that I’m a pastor, but I’m concerned that our culture is losing the discipline of journalism. I like the definition of the role of a journalist offered by Andy Crouch: “to make complicated things clear, quickly, for people who could be doing something else, in the service of truth.” I would submit to you that a noble understanding of journalism, something along the lines of what Mr. Crouch has penned, goes hand in hand with the freedom of the press which is enshrined in our Constitution.

If the truth is not at the center of the news, is there really any news?

Certainly no conservative evangelical, but warmly embedded in my childhood psyche, Walter Cronkite (1916 – 2009) said it like this: “The ethic of the journalist is to recognize one’s prejudices, and biases, and to avoid getting them into print.” Pondering his own profession, and the vocation of journalism in general, Cronkite also remarked: “Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.”

Walter Cronkite speaks during the Apollo 11 mission, broadcast by CBS-TV, July 1969. Photo made from television screen. (AP Photo)

And that’s exactly why the covering up of Jeffrey Epstein’s offenses alarms me. The public could not know something the public should have known. Something we needed to know. From the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” I can live with that. But it doesn’t feel to me like that’s what happened in this case. Especially when the withholding of critical information seems motivated by the valuing of Disney Dollars over vulnerable children.

In a season (that feels more like an epoch by now) when everything is politicized beyond measure, you and I need to be praying for a revival of truth-telling in our day. The world may feel “post-truth” on many levels, and it may seem unfashionable to speak of truth in such a way that objectivity still matters, but WE MUST TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUTH.

Jesus prayed for His own (John 17:17): “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” What more reliable word do we need? Perhaps it will be the Church at Paducah through whom the Spirit of the living God will reawaken in our day – and in our land – a passion for the truth.

“And that’s the way it is.”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Faith Alone

This is the day, friends! On this date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. What happened after that changed the course of world history.

Pastor Charles in front of Wittenburg Castle Church

Before the fires of what we now call the Protestant Reformation were lit, the 16th-century church service was a mindless ritual and a lethal burden. Perhaps one could gain from the Mass just a little more grace – at least that was the hope of the blind parishioner – but the sad truth is that there was no saving gospel at the core of the priest’s ontological hijinks. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again. There really are only two religions in the world: the undeserved grace of Jesus Christ, and some version of “I must save myself” works. Every world religion, every cult, and every pseudo-religious philosophy – apart from the gospel – falls into the latter category of deadly poison.

The Reformation recovered the truth: fallen sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Hallelujah! Other Reformers would carry the ball – and the light – forward, but we must credit Luther with sparking the movement. Luther and the Reformation paved the way for us to enjoy the religious freedom which we now experience. May we never take that for granted!

Travel with me now to London. Over 200 years later, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley “went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.” I stood on that very spot for the first time in 1988, but in 1738 Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” then and there. He was marked by the love of God like never before. Not long after, Wesley met with his Anglican community to pray and worship on New Year’s Eve, when “the power of God came mightily” upon them. This gathering of hearts in Christ, and around Christ’s glorious gospel, became the catalytic flame which would ignite the Great Awakening! It would be this warm-hearted evangelical faith which would shape substantially our American history.

In fact, the Protestant Reformation would propel a gospel awakening that would invade Europe, and overflow to the Americas and beyond. Our Sovereign God would propel His Word from the pulpits and pens of a Bible-rejuvenated church. Believers became passionate Christ-followers, and courageous compassion would become the mission of the true church into our own lifetime.

Today, I want to jumpstart your thinking about how many different and amazing blessings have come to us because of the Reformation …

We can understand what the church really is. There is no special class of sainthood or priesthood, for the ground at Golgotha is level. All have sinned and fall short. But we have an adequate and wonderful Savior! Every believer matters and is gifted for ministry. We’re all ambassadors of grace. We’re all missionaries. Christ’s enterprise of evangelism and missions is our calling and delight. There is an urgency about our calling which is as compelling now as it was in 1517.

People need the Scriptures in their own language. The Bible is not meant to be a closed book enjoyed only by a select few scholars. With the Reformation came widespread literacy. I don’t have to tell you what that accomplished for Western Civilization. And people need education. With the Bible’s being translated into vernacular languages, literature, in general, became accessible. With the Bible’s prominence at the center of church life came the modern concept of public learning. The Renaissance sparked interest in the natural world, but the Reformation told the truth about the God who created it all – and the cultural mandate which is ours in Christ to steward it all for God’s glory.

We, as God’s people, can celebrate all of God’s world! The Reformation transformed literature, science, and even art. Because the gospel became known and understood, it also became understood that an artist can paint a sunset as unto the Lord. All beauty is a reflection of the divine nature. There is no “secular” and “sacred” distinction. We’re losing this truth today, and I’m hoping that my blog posting will matter to you and to your children. Whether your kid wants to dress up tonight as a farmer or an astronaut, I hope you’ll tell that precious child that he or she can become that farmer or astronaut – and that it will be the world’s holiest vocation.

Just a couple more thoughts before I let you go, please. Here in the USA, our constitutional republic and democratic government flow directly from the Reformation. They’re based on the idea that every human being is God’s image-bearer, and that every person possesses inherent worth, dignity, and value. I think we can discern from history that there really is no lasting freedom without Christ. What we consider our “inalienable rights” didn’t just happen, but they came from a high view of the Bible. At the same time, if we understand the truth about people, we will concern ourselves with justice. Let’s not allow our country’s polarizing political climate to persuade us that evangelical faith is antithetical to social justice. Evangelicals have fought to abolish slavery, reform jails, improve working conditions, and protect the rights of the poor and oppressed. That’s because evangelicals understand that it’s all God’s world, and that its all under Christ’s rule – and all under God’s common grace.

These are the hallmarks of classic and authentic Protestantism, friends. This is our marvelous heritage. So, Happy Reformation Day!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Technopolies, Theologies, and Threads

In 1992, Neil Postman wrote a book describing a society in which technology is deified. What may have seemed at least a tad farfetched then does not seem so now. Postman considered “technopoly” to be the most recent of three kinds of cultures in which new technologies “compete with old ones … mostly for dominance of their worldviews.” Drawing from Francis Bacon in the early 17th century, Postman described technopoly as a “totalitarian technocracy” which insists upon the “submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology.”

Just yesterday, Google employees circulated an internal “dark arts” memo criticizing the company’s change to their employee calendaring system. It may seem like an insignificant matter to us until we discover the nature of the employees’ concerns: by monitoring who assembles in what room, Google may be amassing the ability to squash all dissent. Some employees fear that the company will stifle their efforts to organize. Perhaps on a more serious note, some fear that Google may be coming up with a way to prevent challenges to anything which an underling might question, like the company’s payouts to executives accused of sexual misconduct.

Do you remember the story about the boy who found a magic spool of thread? Pulling the thread made every day feel exciting for Peter, but – when he became an old man, and there was no more thread on the spool – he realized that his life had been lived without meaning. Peter had managed to avoid some pain and suffering by the distractions of thread-pulling, but a life of incessant distraction meant that he never experienced the wonder of living. A more important Peter said that you and I have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ!” I suppose that our challenge today is not to trade that awesome promise of abundant life for a thread-pulling life mostly wasted while we stare mindlessly at our tablets.

And, friends – on a much larger scale – what do we risk losing in the public square? If we keep surrendering all our time and attention to the technopolies, will we and our children not pay a steep price for our abandonment and neglect? I think it’s high time that the body of Christ wakes up from our far-too-long nap, and that we light up our sphere of influence with something of eternal value! Google, Amazon, and Facebook may dominate the internet, but they don’t define the meaning of life. Big Tech ain’t got nothin’ on our Big God!

One of my jobs each week is to give you a few things to think about. I’m not an expert on anything, but I’m interested in lots of things, so here goes …

  1. Though it puts a lot more information at our fingertips, literally, ever-expanding technology actually threatens knowledge. We must never forget that the tech giants manipulate us every day with their algorithms. My term is TechnoGod. (Spellcheck doesn’t like it, but I’m keeping it.) Don’t let all your choices, and especially your search for truth, be automated by Silicon Valley.
  1. Don’t become a cult-like follower of social media, and never allow Instagram to define your value or priorities. In many, many ways, the depictions there don’t represent real life. Always keep that in mind as you scroll. Beware of boredom. Then, turn off your phone and look up: Christ is always more beautiful!
  1. Don’t let our Western uber-connectivity fool you: it’s not all about making our lives easier. Every time we log on, we’re becoming part of an advancing and coherent vision of human existence. I know that you have to log on, and so do I, but I want us to log on discerningly.
  1. Big Tech has its own system of morality. Google tried to form an ethics board for purposes of rightly managing artificial intelligence, but then came under fire because one of the board members held a Christian sexual ethic and didn’t affirm climate change and another board member was too closely linked to the U.S. military. So it was disbanded. The only reason I mention it is to remind you that ethics and morality – without an objective standard – will be about as successful as nailing Jell-O to the wall.
  1. Big Tech will never be committed to human dignity the way we must be. People are not machines. You and I, as the Lord’s redeemed, are believers in the Imago Dei – and so we must never lose sight of the fact that every person is created in God’s image! The same social media which can launch an unknown person into overnight stardom can destroy that person in a nanosecond. It happens every day. Don’t forget that. Stay out of Twitter wars which can harm people – that’s never our job. Humanity, not technology, is the crown jewel of Creation.
  1. While we’re trying to do church as usual, even the definition of what it means to be human is up for grabs. Because the world of technology is changing so quickly around us, what we once would have considered an unacceptable loss of personal privacy we now simply assume. (What have you allowed your phone to do today?) Our digital avatars now interact with other digital avatars more than we interact with other people. We’re saving our memories to a hard drive every time we snap or save a pic.
  1. Don’t trade your one life for an empty spool of thread.

I love what Elliot Clark says in his new book, Evangelism as Exiles: “If you wanted to take America back for God, how would you do that? Generally, we think in terms of acquiring greater social and cultural power and influence; that’s the way we will ultimately bring this country into line. We’ve got to throw that away. We need to recognize that we have a gospel that doesn’t require us having a position and a status for it to be powerful … Let’s take America back for God – as in the sense of let’s preach the gospel, and let’s see lives change.”

Preach.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

When Non-God Is God

Last Friday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr addressed the Notre Dame Law School. I have a sneaky suspicion that this may go down in history as one of the most important speeches delivered in our lifetime. Barr’s address has been met with mixed reactions, as you might expect, so I invite you to read the entire transcript – which will be well worth your time (please don’t be dissuaded by the length):

Full Transcript of AG William Barr’s Notre Dame Address

If you are concerned about religious liberty in America – and you know by now how passionate Eileen and I are about this – then you’ll likely be greatly encouraged by Barr’s remarks. In extraordinary fashion, Mr. Barr traced the centrality of religious liberty from our nation’s founding onward. From James Madison, and a small group of colonial lawyers who described religious freedom as “a duty toward the Creator,” to the 21st century in which we live, Attorney General Barr set forth a rich history of American religious liberty – and a clarion call to preserve that liberty for the next generation.

Our Attorney General described how the American Experiment, and its magnificent charter of freedom – our United States Constitution – paved the way for more human progress than the world has ever known. This “quantum leap in liberty” has blessed not only our homeland but the rest of the world. Barr made it very clear that the Framers contended that “religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.” He went on to describe how an assault against religious freedom, an attack that still threatens us, was launched in the 20th century.

I’ll leave you to read it on your own, but I simply want to highlight a few of the truths that jumped off the page as I read. Unless otherwise indicated, these are not quotes, but they are summations of the AG’s speech mingled with my own observations and conclusions.

  1. Our American freedom depends upon limited government.

Our government is to provide, for the benefit and blessing of its citizenry, opportunities for individual freedoms and free associations. We are not Communist China, where social trust and civil society have been largely dismantled, and where the people have no choice but to look to the government to meet every need. Our government was designed to promote self-government, in the sense that individuals must master their own passions out of a sense of moral courage, God-given reason (my grandmother used to call it “horse sense”), and personal responsibility. Without self-government, there is always tyranny.

  1. Freedom is a test. For free people, freedom always poses a challenge: can we handle it?

This is perhaps the speech’s greatest strength. Barr drew a beeline between freedom and responsibility. Here’s the risk we’re running in America right now: “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good.” Yes, we have unalienable rights enshrined in our earliest governing documents, but those freedoms can be sustained only by a people who are personally and deeply committed to an objective moral order and framework. Said differently, rampant secularism subtly but steadily erases the foundation for, and fabric of, real freedom.

  1. Human nature, unrestrained by transcendent morality, always destroys freedom.

 Without some knowledge of God and His will, freedom fails. Created in God’s image, you and I are capable of good. But we are also capable of waging tremendous evil against one another. Barr says: “Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large. No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.” This is the pernicious lie being swallowed hook, line, and sinker by our contemporaries: that, in order to thrive, we must rid ourselves of God. The lie of the Garden of Eden, in reality, enslaves.

  1. Free government can function only when accompanied by moral order.

Where there is a knowledge of right and wrong, social order flows up from the people themselves! Barr says that religion “trains people to want what is good.” There is no real moral discipline without it. No secular creed can replace God’s creed, because no secular creed is based on ultimate truth. Freedom of religion does not flow from the government, but freedom of religion underpins the government because freedom of religion rests on a higher law. Without moral order, we may have the Roman Empire, but we don’t have the United States of America.

  1. Modern secularists, who call for morality without religion, invoke the impossible.

By way of example. why are our nation’s public schools failing on so many levels, despite public funding at record levels? Because anti-traditional values have no value simply because they’re anti-traditional. Parents in Orange County, CA (our home before Paducah) can’t opt their kids out of LGBT training. This may feel like the state is winning, but the state is – in reality –unraveling. Because whenever values, which are in effect non-values, triumph, misery follows. So the state generally doubles down in its militancy. Meanwhile, the social and societal unraveling continues unabated.

  1. When and where the Judeo-Christian moral system is eroded, secularism is the new god.

AG Barr argued, quite convincingly, that we’re trying to live on “the vapor trails of Christianity.” Thus our new “values” are sentimental and sappy – unsustainable in the long run. “In the past, when societies are threatened by moral chaos, the overall social costs of licentiousness and irresponsible personal conduct become so high that society ultimately recoils and reevaluates the path that it is on. But today – in the face of all the increasing pathologies – instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have the State in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.” You and I see this in the fight for abortion at all costs, and in every other failure of government to protect the defenseless.

  1. “Progress” isn’t progress unless there’s, well, progress.

Mr. Barr warned that America is not decaying, but that it is struggling to survive an “organized destruction.” People pretending to be morally neutral are not neutral at all, but all too often are promoting their own religion in education, media, and culture. It is a religion of no God, but it is its own God. And if one does not abide by every tenet of this new religion, he or she can expect an inquisition – and perhaps an excommunication. In our day, Twitter can create, and Twitter can destroy. For, where there is no room for God, there is no freedom. This, William Barr believes, is far from progress. From illegitimate births to drug overdoses, Barr offers example after example of our national destruction from within.

Finally, I’ll share just one more line: “The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.” Mr. Barr urges lawyers to fight for religious liberty in the public square. So must we all.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Shnorhk’ (Grace)

 

 

 

 

Some Arminians are Armenians, and some Armenians are Arminians. Somehow I felt predestined to share that thought with you. Hopefully, you chuckled by your own free will, but I did want to make a point: Arminians and Armenians are not the same people groups. Eileen and I have been hanging out with the Armenians.

And some Georgians. And some Russians. And some Iranians. And even a few Azerbaijanis. It’s been a terrific ten days! Thank you for praying for us. We’re flying home full of gospel joy.

Though Christianity landed in Armenia in 301 A.D., making it the first Christian nation in the world, and though most Armenians still consider “Armenian” and “Christian” to be synonymous, many Armenians have never heard a clear presentation of Christ’s gospel. In a country of just over three million people, there exists a long history of turmoil and suffering. The most awful chapter of that history began in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire deported and systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians. That led to the coining of the term “genocide” in 1943.

Armenia also controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a hotly contested enclave along the border with Azerbaijan, which is marked by violence and random shootings. Because of this ongoing conflict, Azerbaijan and Turkey have attempted to punish Armenia through trade blockades. As Eileen and I have served here with Armenia Relief Mission, we have met a number of women whose husbands left the country to work in Russia.

Some of these men send home financial support on a regular basis; others have completely disappeared, leaving their families in desperate situations.

Economically, conditions are slowly improving since our first mission trip to Armenia in 2006, but there is still widespread unemployment and poverty in this predominantly mountainous country. (I included a photo of Mt. Ararat, but you’ll have to really zoom in if you want to see Noah and his family.)

So this year we focused our teaching on encouragement from the Scriptures. Eileen taught the women the entire book of Galatians.

 

 

I, by the people’s request, talked about spiritual gifts, and ministry to the Millennial generation. Sunday I preached on “the heart of a servant” from the story of Mary and Martha. I particularly attempted to debunk the lie of the prosperity gospel, which unfortunately has been exported to Armenia by American preachers.

Armenians, like everybody else, need a solid Biblical theology

of suffering. We need to know what I reminded our international gathering Sunday morning: “The Lord is my portion.”

Eileen and I are so grateful to serve a church that is thoroughly committed to the Great Commission. Lord willing, I’ll see you Sunday if not before. Grace ’til then.

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Love-All

I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this reality, but Janice Foster is with the Lord. Don’t get me wrong: my heart is thrilled by the thought of Janice meeting Jesus face-to-face; it’s just that I can’t imagine not reading another of her prayer updates, or seeing her smiling face in one of the hallways here at First Baptist Paducah.

Since I will be on the mission field on the other side of the globe Saturday, and unable to preach Janice’s funeral sermon, I wanted to devote my blog space today to honoring this amazing lady and devoted servant of Christ. As I write, I am both brokenhearted and overjoyed at the same time. I was not ready to say goodbye. It was way, way too soon for me. Perhaps you know exactly how I feel.

A strong and godly woman is not created by a formula or by a prescription, but by a mighty working of the Holy Spirit! Such was Janice. Janice reminded me of Deborah, the godly judge of Israel (see Judges 4 and 5). Both women were strategic leaders with stellar judgment. Deborah not only prophesied God’s Word, and performed the functions of her office according to God’s Word, but she even sang God’s Word. The Bible seems to be making a point: Deborah was a conduit of God’s blessing, wherever and however she served because Deborah belonged to God.

Quite beautifully similarly, Janice belonged to God. Every member of her family knew it. Her fellow teachers, and her former students, knew it. Our entire community knew it. For Janice, her commitment to the gospel was her life. She was who she was, and who she was was in Christ.

Much like Deborah, Janice was regal, valiant, and wise. Have you ever seen anyone face such serious health challenges with as much courageous optimism? Have you ever known anyone more capable of convincing you that the glass was half-full, instead of half-empty? Have you ever been more routinely blessed by the enduring friendship of anyone more faithful than Janice?

And here’s another amazing observation about our one-of-a-kind Janice: if you wanted a truthful answer to your question, Janice was your go-to comrade. There would be no spin or fanfare, but you would get the truth. I don’t have to tell you that truth is a priceless commodity these days, and I can’t begin to verbalize to you how much I’m going to miss that breath of fresh air.

Not only that, but Janice expressed the truth in love. She was as bighearted as she was brave-hearted. I will never forget Janice and Lynn waiting and praying with me while Eileen underwent a major surgery. Whether she was arranging flowers with artistry, serving a lonely neighbor in need, or orchestrating a large-scale event with excellence, Janice loved people. In that sense, Janice not only resembled Deborah, but she resembled Christ (John 1:14). Whether Janice was on or off the tennis court, the beauty and grace of her uncommon life preached a single message: LOVE-ALL.

Janice is now with Jesus. And, like our Savior, Janice is alive and well. We will see her again soon. For the treasured gift to us that was our dear sister, Janice Housman Foster, we give God thanks and praise. Into Your trustworthy hands, O Lord, we commit her spirit.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Bleeding in Ten Thousand Ways

Nobody likes to talk about this, but here goes. Mental illness. Few churches are prepared to deal with it. Even worse, many pastors won’t even mention it. That’s a shame, actually, since it only contributes to the culture of stigma and silence surrounding this subject.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness. Let that statistic sink in for a moment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s pain in every pew. When it comes to conditions like significant depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, rates are highest among those living below the poverty line. One in 15 American adults experiences social anxiety disorder – a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. And 21.4 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lifetime.

Heartbreaking as those stats are, friends, we must not run from mental health challenges. Remember: we’ve been called by Christ to nurture body, soul, and mind. Mental health and spiritual health are interwoven, whether we like it or not. God cares about suffering, and He has called us to minister to the suffering.

Please hear me out on this: sometimes psychiatric symptoms are exacerbated by sin, but many times psychiatric symptoms are not the result of personal sin. Please read that sentence again. All illness is ultimately linked to the problem of sin, of course, but we need to make every effort to destigmatize mental illness so that we can love our neighbors as we have been loved.

All of us walk through valleys of depressed feelings or occasional anxieties, but some of our sisters and brothers are struggling daily with mental health issues of an intense and crippling nature. The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892), said it like this: “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Even as I write this blog posting, I feel the weight of Spurgeon’s words. They were true then, and they are true now. They have always been true.

In the wake of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson – a bright, up-and-coming, evangelical pastor known for his outspoken passion for Christ followers struggling with depression – how can we “be there” for each other for such a time as this?

We can help everyone build a network of friends. This is one of the goals of our new philosophy for Life Groups, because discipleship is so much more than simply disseminating Biblical information. It is the life of Christ shared person-to-person. We’re in it together, and we need to make sure that everybody’s in.

We can show each other patience. We’re all going to test each other’s nerves from time to time. And people who are seriously struggling with life can demand an inordinate amount of attention. We’ll have to go back again and again to that deep well of Christ’s Spirit, trusting our Lord to restore our own soul – so that we’ll have something of eternal value to give away (when we would otherwise just be frustrated).

We can listen attentively. That is real love, and that is real friendship. That is the climate for real life transformation, which usually begins with the simple acknowledgment that “something isn’t right, and I need help.”

We can love our neighbor. As I asked Sunday: “Who is my neighbor?” And as I answered Sunday: “Anybody who needs me.” I’m so glad that Jesus made this point abundantly clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We’re all going to be up, and we’re all going to be down. When we’re up, the privilege is ours to do everything we can to lift up others.

We can assist people in finding appropriate medical and professional help. That goes a long way toward the needed destigmatization. That goes a long way toward undoing erroneous views of sin. That goes a long way toward being the hands and feet of Christ in this hurting world – and among this hurting generation.

We can identify with the sufferings of Christ. People who suffer mentally sometimes experience the heart of Jesus in ways unknown to those who do not. All human suffering can be fertile ground for resilient Christian character, and for unexplainable Christian hope.

We can celebrate the gospel! He who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead is still in the business of transforming tragedies into triumphs! Even in our darkest trials, WE ARE NOT ALONE! No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

Friends, if you need help, please call on me. If I can’t help, I will make every effort to get you the resources that you need. There is no shame in seeking help. We are all human, and we are all susceptible to the ailments which plague this fallen planet. Our desire is for First Baptist Paducah to be the No-Shame Zone.

We, like the Apostle Paul, may have to wrestle with a thorn in our side which does not abate. Perhaps this will come in the form of mental illness, in our life – or in the life of someone we dearly love. Regardless, Beloved of God, our comfort from Christ remains unwavering: “My grace is sufficient.”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts