Our Happy Place

Leigh MarieAnn Klett of the Christian Post just reported some sobering words spoken Tuesday by Pastor Ed Litton, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Litton described the current state of our denomination as plagued by “tribal hostility, ungraciousness, and suspicion,” and he described his own heart – after only four months in his new role – as “heavy.” Pastor Litton went on to observe: “The mood of our times is to attack, demonize, make allegations, and threaten. We are seldom slow to speak and slow to anger.”

Wow. Just wow.

I don’t have to tell you that tribalism has no place in the church. The Bible describes us as brothers and sisters. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. It seems that, whenever we get away from that fundamental sense of our identity, all hell breaks loose. And yet, we’re seeing more and more disunity in churches across our nation. It’s as if we’re refusing to learn from the past, including the examples of all of the church schisms recorded in Scripture, and running headlong into another season of disunity – and this time it’s a disunity so profound that it threatens to completely derail the public evangelical witness for Christ in America. Remember: because of the power of social media, the unbelieving and already suspicious world is able to monitor the church’s every move (and tweet).

Lord, help us!

This climate of suspicion is not new, but it seems to be mounting in intensity. When we survey the New Testament, we find multiple tensions among people who claimed to be God’s people: Samaritans vs. Jews, Pharisees vs. Sadducees, Jews vs. Romans, Jews vs. Greeks, Greek Jews vs. Hebrew Jews, Clean Jews vs. Unclean Jews, Sinful Jews vs. Pure Jews, Rich vs. Poor, and Men vs. Women. I’m sure you get my point. The infighting isn’t new, but the fact that in 2021 the church is operating more and more like the world is more than alarming.

I’ll remind you that Jesus was a tribe-buster. He purposefully went after the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). In that case, we might call Him a double-tribe-buster. With extreme intentionality, Christ showed anyone with eyes to see that all of our prejudices are rooted in sin and self. They’re all anti-gospel.

Tribalism destroys peace because it’s anti-relational. It cuts off dialogue. It refuses genuine conversation. It sees every issue under the sun as black or white – “my way or the highway!” Spiritual maturity allows for some gray in life. Tribalism sees every hill as a hill to die on; it’s inherently ungracious, whereas you and I are called to embody self-sacrificing love.

Cliques within the church are a subtle form of tribalism. Church cliques inflict a lot of damage on the body, leaving people feeling deeply excluded – and leaving them questioning God because of the hurtful ways in which they’ve felt personally rejected by the church family. In stark contrast, Christ calls every local assembly of believers to be welcoming both without and within.

The Hall of Fame coach at UCLA, John Wooden, was the gold standard in collegiate basketball coaching for twenty years. Wooden often claimed that a successful team requires three realities: proper conditioning, a clear understanding of the fundamentals, and a willingness to play together as a team. That formula translated into ten national championships in twelve years. And, when you really think about it, that formula fits the church like a hand in a glove. If we’re unprepared to face the real-world challenges of the Christian life, or if we’re uncertain about the new identity to which we’ve been called – and how to live that out – or if we’re unwilling to pursue vital church unity at all costs, then we’ve been set up for a losing season.

Living in a culture that is increasingly angry and polarizing can make us numb to the dangers of disunity. When we get numb, we don’t recognize the dangers of gossip in the church, and – next thing you know – we’re part of the problem. Perhaps unintentionally, our voice becomes part of the cacophony of chaos. Don’t let that happen, friends! Stay vigilant, and do your part to stop church fires while they’re still sparks. Unity sanctifies and strengthens. Since church unity translates into church strength, we can understand why Satan works overtime to divide us.

And here’s something else that I want you to think about: if you and I are going to change the trajectory of our little corner of the church, then you and I have to recover the art of majoring in the majors. That means that we also choose to minor in the minors. Please let that sink in. This change of mindset will not be easy, because we have strayed so far from the ideal. But it’s our high calling in Christ, and by God’s grace, we can do it.

Imagine an army on the move. But, instead of marching together as one unit, the soldiers have allowed unresolved issues among them to drive them apart. They’re so focused on getting their own way that they’re no longer listening to the appropriate voices of authority, but they’re all trying to achieve what they want – so each soldier moves in their own self-guided direction. What do you think of such an army? They are sitting ducks. They will be easily routed and scattered by enemy troops. They are a disaster waiting to happen. They’re not even a legitimate army.

By His blood and for His glory, Christ has called us to live as ONE. But we don’t have to become one. We’re already one. We just have to start acting like it. Strange as it may sound: we’re the army of peace.

Ray Ortlund says it like this: “The gospel being what it is and always will be – ‘the message of reconciliation’ – our churches should be the most reconciling, peaceable, relaxed, happy places in town … so meek in the face of insults and injuries, so forgiving toward the undeserving. If we do make people angry, let this be the reason: we refuse to join in their selfish battles. We’re following a higher call. We are the peacemakers, the true children of God.” I like that thought. I really like that.

Defy the trends. Defy the odds. Defy the devil.

Happy it up, y’all!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

When Rigmarole Meets Reality

It’s hard to imagine the state we’re in. It takes the honesty of Piers Morgan to uncover the bankruptcy of the convoluted ideology in which we’ve been drowning.

Here’s what happened Friday night in Miami. Celine Provost, a 32-year-old female fighter with over ten years of experience in the MMA, lost her match to Alana McLaughlin. Provost lost in a chokehold. McLaughlin is a 38-year-old trans-identified MMA fighter, and also a military veteran who served six years as a male in the U.S. Army.

The English journalist Morgan reported in the Daily Mail that viewing the match made him “sick.” He wrote that Provost “couldn’t compete with the overwhelming physical strength of her opponent … Provost’s punches bounced off McLaughlin like a baby lion’s off its father, and when she was pinned to the ground, she couldn’t move and quickly tapped out.”

So we have a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces – a biological male – beating up a biological female for the pleasure of the viewing public. I’ll quote directly from ESPN: McLaughlin “used a rear-naked choke to get the finish at 3 minutes, 32 seconds of the second round … In the first round, Provost rocked McLaughlin with punches several times and looked to be on the verge of a finish. But in the second, McLaughlin took Provost down, got her back and clinched in the choke.”

Did you ever imagine that such things would happen with the approval of the popular culture? But that’s where we are. And, after his victory, McLaughlin made it very clear that he was fighting in the name of transgender “progress.”

Friends, this is not a “liberal” vs. “conservative” issue – not even close. This is a women’s rights issue. Our culture is allowing gender politics and transgender activism to erase women’s sports. And that’s only the beginning of the intended erasure. Piers Morgan, who is certainly no card-carrying conservative, pointed out in his piece that “Celine Provost could have been killed as so-called ‘progressive feminists’ around the world welcomed and celebrated the event that could have caused it.”

Friday’s travesty was not progress for anybody. Far, far from it.

So how do you and I “put on love” in this environment? After all, that’s our job (Colossians 3:14). We’re not called to put on judgment. We’re called to put on love. Love for everybody involved in this widespread state of confusion. I’ll offer four simple suggestions here, and I welcome your input.

  1. We can acknowledge gender confusion, which is a byproduct of our fallen world whether physiological or psychological in nature (and it may well be both), while seeking to guard against the redefinition of God’s creation of humanity. Making the case today for “male and female in God’s image” as the Creator’s original design may be a tall order, but it’s still a hopeful and stabilizing message. And it’s still true.
  1. We can minister to people who are struggling with gender identity, without celebrating the embrace of every “gender variant” which makes its way to prominence in the culture. There seems to be no end to the labels, and there still exists a widespread lack of consensus among even the leading experts regarding causation, diagnosis, and treatment of the related distress. Let’s love anyway.
  1. We can help parents who are trying to love and guide their children through the tumultuous years of adolescence, by reminding them that changing social situations and changing bodies often create the perfect storm for confusion of every stripe. There are times when “this too shall pass” can be the greatest of comforts for a mom or dad in an unstable season of their child’s life. Drastic measures – medical or otherwise – are sometimes not nearly as powerful as a listening ear and a gracious response.
  1. We can seek to love people through their trauma, whatever the source, while honestly recognizing the brokenness of our own identities. (Isn’t every believer still “under construction” in the “in-Christ identity” department?) So let’s humble ourselves and offer others the same hope in Christ to which we’re clinging! I’ve said it before: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. This is fundamentally central, I believe, to the church’s central mission amidst the widespread confusion – what I often refer to as the “truth crisis” – of 2021.

You and I are called to help people – that includes everybody – find their hope in God. There are lots of things about the human condition and experience which we’re still trying to figure out, but I think that Francis Bacon nailed it half a millennium ago: “A little science estranges a man from God; a lot of science brings him back.”

It’s easy to get angry when we see things like Friday night’s Florida fight, and perhaps some of that anger could be righteous disgust. But it’s always best for us to keep asking the Lord to show us how to be love and light – in action – instead of allowing ourselves to stay angry on the sidelines of life. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Matthew 9:36, where our Lord Jesus is so marvelously described: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

That one verse drastically changes the way I see Friday night. In fact, it changes the way I see forever.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Solemnity and Joy

I’m writing this in the last few hours of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

In Leviticus 23, the Lord establishes the Day of Trumpets, also known as the Feast of Trumpets. (See also Numbers 29.) This holy convocation was the foundation for what we now know as Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the trumpets was something like the sound of “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve in the English-speaking world. The trumpets bid farewell to the past and rang in the year to come!

Rosh Hashanah was meant to be an important memorial day, and it always falls on the seventh new moon of the Jewish year. The appropriate observance and significance were sidelined for multiple generations, as we discover in Nehemiah. Thankfully, God’s people rediscovered the significance of the holiday, and two key features – sorrow for past wrongs and joy at the prospect of reconciliation – have permeated the holiday ever since. I am glad.

The heart of the Feast of Trumpets is the blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – and ultimately 100 blasts are heard. For the Jewish people, the sound of the shofar is a sacred sound. It calls them – and us – back to Mount Sinai, where the sound poured forth from a thick cloud and the people shook with fear. The sound evokes many emotions: despair, penitence, and profound hope. Rosh Hashanah is a sanctified reminder of God’s creative authority in our world, and in our lives. For Christ-followers, it reminds us of the Day of the Lord and our soon-coming King, Yeshua.

It is a day of solemnity and joy. Let that sink in for a moment. A day of solemnity and joy.

I just read from a reliable source that, within the last 24 hours, one in 3000 Americans was diagnosed with COVID. Of course, other people piled on to dispute that calculation (doesn’t every number get disputed these days?), but – whether or not the statistic is accurate to the penny – we can all agree that our nation is experiencing a wave of disease like we never thought we would personally witness. It’s everywhere, friends, and it’s deadly serious at this point.

For us, this ought to be a season of solemnity. That goes without saying, I suppose. But I think that it should also be a season of great joy! And I’m encouraging both the solemnity and the joy not so much because of the pandemic – as pervasive as that can feel at times – but simply because God has told us what will happen in the future. We don’t know all of the details, of course, but we know as much as God thinks we need to know for now. Thus, the solemnity: the only rightful Judge of all the earth is on His way! But, also, the joy! For the exact same reason you and I ought to be joyful: we ought to be joyful because God has told us what to expect: Jesus is coming soon!

The Bible promises: every tear wiped away … death entirely banished … Christ with us forever! But getting from here to there will require a walk of faith and a life of no-matter-what-happens worship. Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “We should shout as exultingly as those do who triumph in war, and as solemnly as those whose utterance is a psalm. It is not always easy to unite enthusiasm with reverence, and it is a frequent fault to destroy one of these qualities while straining after the other.” I could never say it any better than the other Charles, so I won’t even try.

This is a time to cry, but it is also a time to clap. That might sound like a strange combination, and I get that, but you and I are the ones who know the rest of the story.

The Garden, ransacked. The New Earth, restored!

Mount Sinai, terrifying. Mount Zion, electrifying!

My sin, grotesque. My redemption, gorgeous!

The cross, so bloody. The empty tomb, so glorious!

With solemnity and joy, the brilliant C.S. Lewis abandoned his steadfast commitment to atheism and wholeheartedly embraced Biblical Christianity. Said Lewis: “All joy reminds. It is never a possession, but always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be … joy is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer.” The Other and Outer is coming, friends! He’s coming with the clouds! The ultimate trumpet sound will soon be heard! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

I’ll close with this prayer from the rich liturgy of our priceless Jewish roots: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast kept us in life, and hast preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

Wishing you great solemnity, and great joy,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Choose Life

Mark Twain quipped that “the most striking difference between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only nine lives.” You’re going to hear a lot of lies coming from the pro-abortion movement in the next few days. Don’t fall for them. Most are recycled nonsense …

“The Supreme Court is hiding in the shadows of silence.” No, the Supreme Court is doing what the Supreme Court does.

“Texas is un-American.” I’m not sure who gets to make that determination, but it’s hard to take this seriously when today’s headline from USA Today was “George Orwell, Meet Greg Abbott.”

“Pro-lifers are America’s Taliban.” That’s the one I find the most dishonest and despicable, but it’s making the rounds as we speak.

Here’s what’s happened in the Lone Star State: Governor Abbott has signed into law a measure that bans all abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy – once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The law also permits private citizens to sue abortion providers. Said another way, Roe v. Wade has been functionally overturned in Texas, and that has caused national alarm among those who seek to prop up the abortion industry. The rancor surrounding the Texas law has grown especially loud because of a Mississippi abortion case which has already made its way to the nation’s high court. In that case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi law in question banned abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy.

What does all of this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the United States Supreme Court will soon hear what will no doubt become a landmark case, and the case has the bombshell potential to undo a key component of Roe, and that is its pre-viability rule. (The court in Roe held that states can ban abortions only after the point at which a fetus could survive outside the mother.) Simply put, Dobbs has the potential to decimate what is now the legally sanctioned killing of children who are still in their mother’s womb.

Now I don’t have to tell you why Texas has caused such a nationwide panic. Abortion has become perhaps the single most divisive issue in America. Birthed out of the eugenics movement and its desire to rid society of the “undesirables,” Planned Parenthood has roughly doubled both its net assets and government funding since 2006, and funding from private sources has tripled. The abortion giant brings in well over one billion dollars every year (yes, that’s “billion” with a “b”). Abortion is a dark curse on our land. I speak not to the political implications – those are for you to decide – but I speak to the moral implications surrounding the tragedy of elective abortion.

There are a lot of directions in which I could take this conversation today (don’t you like the way that I imagine that you’re in this with me?), but I’ll focus on the two starting points that really matter. When it comes to the rightness or wrongness of abortion, I think that there are two key questions which we must all answer: 1) Is a fetus human? And 2) Is it permissible to kill a human? Once you answer those questions honestly, the rest of the “abortion debate” tends to fall into place from the perspective of a moral framework. I ask each of you to take the time to answer those two questions for yourselves, in light of what God has revealed to us in Scripture. Then you’ll have a solid moral and theological framework from which to build. Without such a framework, I’m not sure how anyone can survive the relentless and heated onslaughts of our current information overload.

Friends, it does us little good to get angry or upset without the ability to reasonably articulate our understanding of right and wrong. Because there’s one thing I can tell you about raging secularism, which is all around us: it never ceases to create more than its share of public fallacies. It has to, in order to survive the light of reasonable inquiry. Lucky for the secularists, most people today don’t want to bother with digging deeply enough to discover the truth on any subject.

But here’s why I’m at least a little bit hopeful today: you and I have the opportunity to bless an unstable and angry culture with a steady and gracious influence. We can live out what we believe, and live it out with conviction, and pray that our Christ-centered convictions stand out like a sore thumb! Some will despise our convictions – no doubt – but others who feel like they’ve been drowning in a sea of slippery subjectivism just may see our gospel – the good news of Jesus – as a life raft.

Life matters. It always matters. A culture of life is worth giving our all to make it happen. The new Texas law may or may not prevail, but our hope should be that “we the people” are moving in the direction of the sanctity of human life. Justice and love demand that we do everything in our power to protect the most innocent and defenseless class of people among us, and that we advocate for public policy that saves lives. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Choose life.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Connecting the Dots

This week I’ve stumbled across a couple of alarming statistics from the national landscape. Both hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and upon further review, I’ve decided that the two statistics might be related. I’ll let you decide.

Statistic #1: 60% of Americans who self-identify as “born again Christian” do not believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Statistic #2: 25% of American teenagers are struggling with gender identity.

I’ll just let you think on that for a moment.

There is no doubt in my mind that a clear affirmation of “Jesus is the only way to God” is the most offensive claim that we can make within our present culture. So why would we ever say such a thing? Because Jesus said it! It’s that simple. And it’s not just in John 14:6 that Jesus makes that claim, but He says it in all kinds of other texts and in all kinds of other ways. It’s something that our Lord knows that we must understand if we’re going to survive in this world. It’s something that we must understand if we’re going to survive spiritually. The absolute exclusivity of Christ is foundational to the doctrine of every Christian and foundational to the doctrine of every church. Is it any wonder, then, that such a bedrock claim would fall on such hard times in our contemporary culture? Not really. You and I are living in anti-truth days.

Jesus is the only one who could ever satisfy the demands of a holy God on our behalf. But Christ’s being the only way of salvation will be hard for many of our friends to swallow. Let’s face it: at times we too find it hard to swallow. Can’t we just fit in with everybody else and crack open the possibility for other “ways” to God? It sounds so humble and polite. Problem is: it makes God a liar. If in our “progressive” thinking Mohammed and Buddha and good works are also legitimate routes to God, then – despite how much we may feel that our beliefs are enlightened or self-satisfying – the Bible would conclude that we have wandered into an embrace of the spirit of antiChrist. And I don’t have to tell you that that’s never a good place to be!

But here we are. Most people have caved on this critical truth, even in the church. So the church has grown weak and stale. Tired and feeble. Conforming instead of transforming. Many are wondering who turned out the lights. We did. And, let’s face it: doctrinal error never exists in a vacuum. Wherever we find the erosion of one key doctrine, we can rest assured that other doctrines have been assaulted too. The church is in a mess.

And that mess makes all the difference because we’ve been commissioned by Jesus as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” So the salt shaker is clogged, and the light switch is operationally hit or miss. And here’s what I’ve been thinking: the church bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for the rampant confusion in the culture. We have, unfortunately and by our neglect, paved the way for a morally confused society. Are we willing to repent?

I’m connecting the dots, friends. So perhaps it’s no surprise that one of the Bible’s first and most foundational claims (Genesis 1:27) would lie at the center of our current cultural meltdown: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. This is no accidental point of conflict or dispute, but this is a frontal assault on the nature of humankind and the nature of our Creator.

And here’s the deal: only an awakened, revived, and steadfast church can steer us forward! The world has no answer for these present woes, nor is it willing to look in the right place for those answers. So followers of Christ can either join in on the lapse of reason, and that will be the easy way, or we can shine the way that we were designed to reflect the hope of Christ, and that will be the difficult way – but it will be the only way to life.

Your neighbors are hurting. I don’t even know your neighbors, but I know that they’re hurting. And it’s likely that they’re confused and scared. They are at least passively aware that something profound is unraveling around them, but it’s very likely that they do not understand the core of the trouble. That’s where you come in! You know the Way. You know the Truth. You know the Life.

That makes the church the perfect place for young people to question their gender identity. We can wrestle with ourselves in the church. In fact, that’s what every saved sinner does every day. So it’s all the more reason why you and I must do everything within our power to create in the church an atmosphere of open arms. Bring your questions! Bring your doubts! Bring your shame! And we will be for each other a family of faith, living under the banner of love, and spurring each other on to brighter days. And we will explore together – as long as we have breath – what it means to be “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We will delight in each other’s perfect design, and in the fact that our good God makes no mistakes. By God’s grace and for His glory, we’ll connect everybody to Jesus.

We ought to be asking the Lord to forgive our carelessness with the gospel treasure that we’ve been given. I believe that He stands ready to put us back on the right path and fast. That’s just who He is: full of grace and truth.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Deliver Us From Evil

I want to plead with you today to pray for the Afghan church. We’re talking about roughly 2000 people, and all of them are Muslim converts. You might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of them are under 40 years of age. The meetings have been what we would consider to be “house churches,” and the numbers have doubled over the last 20 years. Two thousand people might seem like a small number, but not when you consider the critical importance of a gospel witness within the spiritual darkness that is Afghanistan. When you understand how important the light is, you realize how much the enemy would love to snuff it out.

As the Taliban takes over the nation, all of these sisters and brothers are in harm’s way. Sharia Law is a horrific reality, and many of the house church leaders have already received threatening electronic communications. We know that these threats are not idle, as some members of the Afghan military have already been shot and beheaded. The days are brutal and the stakes are high. We’re talking about the body of Christ facing intense persecution in short order.

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, they tortured and killed the country’s former president and hanged his body for all to see. Unaccompanied women in public could be beaten. One Afghan woman, a helpless mother, was forced to kneel between the goalposts of a stadium, where she was savagely executed. I could go on and on about what women and girls in Afghanistan are now facing, including their being forbidden to be educated and their being cut off from even basic healthcare. These past realities under Taliban rule have been documented by the U.S. Department of State. And I haven’t even mentioned the tragic realities of sex slavery, which are alive and well wherever chaos controls.

We must remember that the Taliban are driven by a version of Islamic doctrine which excludes all study and tradition not directly related to their understanding of the Qur’an. They claim that the “purity” of the Qur’an marked by the practices of Muhammad is the highest and greatest goal for which every society should strive. So their ultimate aim is to create a culture that precisely mirrors the world of the seventh century in which Islam was born. Thus, we always find where they’re in control a disparaging view of women, as well as a bitter hatred for non-Muslims (the “infidels”) and any Muslims who disagree with their exact theological interpretations (the “apostates”). National Geographic points out that Afghanistan is landlocked and surrounded by mountains, deserts, and competing empires. That makes it a perfect place for the Taliban to flourish. We see that in history, and we see that right now.

Twenty years of progress in women’s rights specifically, and in human rights generally, are poised to erode overnight. Here’s what we as Westerners have to wrap our heads around: these Taliban fighters sincerely believe that they’re engaged in a holy war for purity that’s been being waged for a millennium. They’re entirely devoted to the “restoration” of all Islamic lands stretching from Iraq to Spain. In case you’re wondering – yes – that connects Afghanistan to Palestine. These are sobering times, friends. And we can be certain that terror cells around the world will be emboldened by the present fall of Afghanistan. Lord, have mercy.

We ought to imagine ourselves trying desperately to get our small children to the airport in Kabul, only to realize that we won’t make it and that we must “shelter in place” while the Taliban assumes all power in the country. Feeling the gut-wrenching weight of that scenario might help us pray more passionately and fervently for the Afghan church, and for all Afghans. Every Afghan is God’s unique image-bearer.

And I want to remind you that what sets us apart – you and I who bear the name of Christ – is that we “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” (Matthew 5:44). That’s a tall order, but it’s ours today. We don’t just pray for the Christ-followers in Afghanistan, but we pray for those who are blinded by the darkness of Islam, and we pray for the leaders of the Taliban. You and I serve a God of miracles, and this is a great day for us to plead with Him to change the hearts of those whom we believed were beyond all possibility of change (Matthew 19:26). We must never forget that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

All people long for freedom, but Islam – like every other false religion and every irreligious humanistic ideology – enslaves. I’ll get into trouble for saying this, but I’m saying it anyway: Islam, if actually practiced, is incompatible with human rights, democracy, and human flourishing. We can’t expect freedom to prevail without the genuine convictions which are established and upheld by the only belief system on Planet Earth which tells the truth about who God is, and the truth about who we are. And that is the gospel of Jesus (John 14:6). So, while we’re at it, we ought to pray for America too.

You are loved. Deeply, deeply loved.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Taking Space

It’s quite the story! A real heart-warmer, just when we needed one.

Allyson Felix surpassed Carl Lewis for the highest number of U.S. Olympic track and field medals. Her Olympic journey began at the 2004 Games in Athens when Allyson was 18. And here’s the deal: no woman has ever run faster at an older age.

I’ll quote from Allyson’s post on Instagram: “It might sound cliché, but getting to that starting line is an incredible victory for me. I’ve experienced the hardest years of my life in this journey and by God’s grace I’m here. With a heart full of gratitude I’m taking space to remember all it took to get here. So when you see me on the track I hope you understand my fight. As an athlete who was told I was too old, as a woman who was told to know my place, as a mother who wasn’t sure I would live to raise my daughter. I hope you see that, for me, it’s about so much more than what the clock says.”

So. Much. More.

The most decorated track star in U.S. history chose to carry and deliver her daughter (now age 2) despite intense pressure to abort her. It was a high-risk pregnancy, and her corporate sponsor Nike cut Felix’s pay by 70% out of fear that the athlete would underperform. To her credit, Felix brought attention to the unfairness of that decision, and Nike has since worked to undo the gender double standard.

Felix has walked with Christ since she was a little girl. As the daughter of a seminary professor and a mom who also loved the Lord, Allyson’s faith has been shaped and strengthened through adversity, but her spirit seems to be marked indelibly by a glass-half-full perspective if ever there were one. I’ll share just a short segment from a 2012 interview: “In the season of life that I am in now, I feel so blessed that God has given me the talent of running. My running is an amazing gift from God and I want to use it to the best of my ability to glorify Him. You have to have this passion and you have to have a reason for doing what you’re doing. And there really has to be a purpose there, I think that’s what drives success. I know my talent is from God. And that’s my purpose: to run to glorify Him. I’m thankful that I have been given this platform so that I can share my faith with the world!”

When we think about glorifying God by the lives we’ve been given, we should remember the Old Testament passage where God put His glory on display for Moses (Exodus 33:18 – 34:8). What we discover there should be highly instructive for us, and worth rehearsing from time to time. What Moses most encounters there is the character of God Himself. I’ll offer a few suggestions stemming from that text …

  1. We glorify God by telling the truth, particularly the truth about us. Nothing is as powerful as true confession.
  2. We glorify God by extending forgiveness to others. Yes, especially the undeserved kind.
  3. We glorify God by stepping out in faith. I know you don’t know all the details yet, but at least you know who does.
  4. We glorify God by bearing spiritual fruit. He wants to use us for good purposes, right here and right now.
  5. We glorify God by giving thanks. It’s the best natural antidepressant I’ve ever experienced.
  6. We glorify God by praying without ceasing. Walking closely with God transforms our uncertainties into adventures.
  7. We glorify God by doing whatever we’ve been put here to do. Maybe for you it’s not running – but know that your calling and platform are just as eternally important as those of the woman I’m honoring here today.

At a time when sports, entertainment, academia, and the media are heavily dominated by a worldview that devalues the life of the unborn – and that’s really the tip of the iceberg in this latest round of an anti-life popular culture – I’m so grateful that Allyson Felix stands out like the shining star she is.

Our God is a faithful God, friends. You and I, like Allyson, ought to be “taking space to remember all it took to get here.”

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

To Laugh, Divine

Did Jesus laugh?

Of course, Jesus laughed. Let me tell you why I can answer that question so unequivocally. Jesus was fully human. Expounding on the nature of Christ, Christian theologians often speak of the “hypostatic union,” a term that refers to Christ’s human nature being inseparably united forever with His divine nature. Christ’s two natures are distinct, yet Christ is “fully God and fully man.” It’s that “fully man” part which assures me that Jesus laughed.

In fact, the Bible is full of humor. While I have a huge plank stuck in my head, I’m still proud (and dumb) enough to think that I can help you remove the tiny speck from your eyeball. If we don’t laugh at that, we didn’t really get it. Even Solomon affirmed: “There is a time to laugh.” If we’re not careful, we can fall into the mistaken notion that people who are serious about the gospel have to be deadly serious about everything, but nothing could be further from the truth. We were made to laugh. We need to laugh. We ought to laugh. Laughter is good for our souls, and healing for our bodies.

To laugh in 2021 is not to deny some very tough realities which are all around us. Despair is everywhere, friends. Substance abuse is on the rise, as are suicidal thoughts and behaviors. These indicators have soared over the last decade, especially among those under 18 (skyrocketing 287% between 2009 and 2018). Between 2015 and 2017, life expectancy fell in the U.S., and that was the longest sustained decline since 1918. And I haven’t even mentioned the gasoline that’s been poured on this fire by the pandemic.

Only a person who is full of faith in Christ can laugh in the face of future unknowns. I’ve heard it said like this: “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.” That’s some good stuff.

In order for that kind of faith to flourish in and through us, you and I must be driven by a higher perspective of the world, and of our lives. This is central to our spiritual flourishing. Martin Luther penned these words on Christmas morning in 1522: “If you possess faith, your heart cannot do otherwise than laugh for joy in God, and grow free, confident, and courageous. For how can the heart remain sorrowful and dejected when it entertains no doubt of God’s kindness to it, and of His attitude as a good friend with whom it may unreservedly and freely enjoy all things?”

Paul in Ephesians 2:4-5 perhaps captures best our desperate need for a higher perspective, and the whole truth hangs on two short words: “But God.” In the verses preceding, the apostle has already described the downside of the universal human condition: “dead in trespasses and sins” … “following the course of this world” … “sons of disobedience” … “living in the passions of our flesh” … “by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Not a pretty picture, to say the least. “But God.”

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved!

I’m so grateful for those two words: “But God.”

But God refused to let me remain in lies and darkness.

But God refused to let me destroy myself in my pride and rebellion.

But God refused to let me stay on the wide and wrong road.

But God refused to let me be defined by my past mistakes.

But God refused to let me wallow in self-pity.

But God refused to let me get what I deserve.

But God refused to let me go!

But God. I’m inviting you to join me in the passionate pursuit of this higher perspective. God’s higher perspective. We need it now, and it is ours for the asking and seeking.

And I want to add that I believe that you and I will laugh in the world to come. C.S. Lewis wrote that “joy is the serious business of heaven.” It’s difficult to read about the wedding feast in Revelation 19, where God and His people are likened to a bride and groom who are caught up in the merriment of eternal victory, without imagining a great deal of laughter around the table. It’s a Biblical snapshot of nothing less than an absolutely joyful celebration! We ought to smile just thinking about it.

I don’t know all your struggles, and you don’t know all of mine, but I can tell you that you and I need a good belly laugh today. GOD’S GOT THIS. Let it out! Let it happen! Let it flow!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Simone Says

Today’s blog posting may feel more like a rant. I hope not, but I guess it is what it is. I’m feeling very protective toward someone I don’t even know.

The facts are that 24-year-old Simone Biles has withdrawn from the all-around final at Tokyo 2020, citing concerns for her own mental health. The situation is unfolding daily, but my greatest concern is the piling on of critical public opinions regarding a life we know little about. Simone may be the world’s greatest gymnast, but the spotlight of the Olympics is very limited in its ability to show us the person herself. And that’s what Simone is: just a person.

As unsuspecting kids who knew no better, many of us were taught: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Dumbest. Line. Ever. And totally unbiblical. The Bible is replete with warnings against the careless misuse of the tongue, and of the irreparable damage which can be unleashed by an unbridled tongue. Today, of course, the tongue includes the keyboard.

Here’s what Simone says. I’ll employ her exact words here: “Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health or well-being. It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.” According to news media, the young woman broke down in tears as she explained her decision. Personally, I choose to take Simone at her word.

I understand that we as Americans have grown accustomed to not just winning but dominating in gymnastics. For nearly a decade this has been our story. Silver feels like a loss. I get it. But we must be really careful not to join in the pile-on of commentary when it comes to issues where we have no business rushing to judgment.

Social media can be incredibly cruel. As Christ-followers, you and I must never forget that, on the other side of our judgmental words, is a person. Not just an Olympian, or a potential winner, or a celebrity, or (worst of all) an object for my entertainment. Simone is a person created in the image of God.

We ought never join in on the shame game. Shaming another is always unfitting for resurrection people. We are the new creations! We are the edifiers! We are the eternally hopeful!

We ought never board the train that leaves from condemnation station. Even when the whole world seems to be getting on board, we must not. That’s not who we are, because we are in Christ.

We ought never hold onto a stone of critique after Jesus has told us to put it down. That’s right. Our first thought toward Simone ought to include vivid memories of all the times when we have “cracked” under pressure.

When it comes to my haughtiness and my mouth, Psalm 19:14 always fits the situation: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. O God, may it come to pass among us, even in 2021.

Dial it down a notch, America! We’ve got bigger fish to fry than judging Simone Biles. In fact, we ought to be praying for Simone. She is obviously enduring a very tough season of life.

I don’t know Simone Biles. Not at all. But I do know that she is young, and that she is under more pressure than most of us will ever even begin to fathom. I also know that we’re experiencing a mental health crisis in our nation, and in the church. Methinks this is the time for humble and gracious respect toward a young lady who has represented us well.

A person is a person. (Dr. Seuss was right.) We are not gods. Maybe if we get that straight, we’ll have some room left over for the one who is God.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Rhubarb Shrubarb

The Norse religion focused on a three-part, pre-Earth world: a land of fire, a great void, and a land of ice. I’m not making this up: a behemothic cow licked the god Bor and his wife into being. And from the dead body of the giant Ymir emerged all of creation. The rest is history.

According to Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia, everything including human life sprouted from a rhubarb plant.

According to the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, the four-eyed and four-eared Marduk created the world from the dead body of a goddess whom he had killed and then created humans to do the drudge work that the gods refused to do. (Too many stimulus payments?)

Egyptian myths started with the swirling waters of the Nu, where the genderless and all-seeing Atum – who had willed himself into being – spat out a son and then vomited up a daughter.

The Aztecs of Mexico looked to the earth mother and her skirt of snakes. Her 400 sons became the stars of the southern sky, and the stories went on from there.

In China, a cosmic egg floated within the timeless world, containing the opposing forces of yin and yang – until the first being Pan-gu emerged after eons of incubation.

Japan’s gods created two divine siblings, the brother Izanagi and the sister Izanami, who stood upon a floating bridge above the primordial ocean. Utilizing the jeweled spear of the gods, they churned up the first island, Onogoro. Izanagi and Izanami married, and produced offspring who were malformed. The gods blamed the whole mess upon a breach of protocol, and I’ll stop the story there for the sake of your time (and your stomach).

The Hindus look back to a gigantic being named Purusha. Purusha had 1000 heads, 1000 eyes, and 1000 feet. (A trip to Foot Locker must have been cost-prohibitive.) When Purusha was sacrificed by the gods, his body produced clarified butter, from which came all the animals and birds. His different body parts served different roles in creating the world’s elements and in birthing the four castes of Hindu society. That was all pre-Brahma, but I’m running out of time so we’ll leave it there, except to say that the current cycle of Hinduism has a couple billion years left.

The earliest Greek poets had a few colorful stories of their own, the best-preserved being Hesiod’s Theogony. Mother Earth was Gaia, and there was a bizarre menagerie of monsters … and Cyclopes … and giants … and thunderbolts hurled by Zeus … along with a plethora of gods. Uranus despised his monstrous children and imprisoned them in the bowels of the earth. And I’ll just leave that right there.

Our Josh has just informed us that he’s learning (at MSU) how Genesis compares to the creation and flood myths from Mesopotamia (Iraq). They’re talking about the Eridu Genesis, the Atrahasis Epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Enuma Elish (which I mentioned earlier in this blog posting). I get it. I really do. In some respects, these texts look similar to Genesis. But I wanted to say to you today that, in a multitude of very critical ways, they are very different! The Mesopotamian accounts portray a beginningless primordial soup of chaos where the gods can’t stop fighting each other except to procreate, but then somehow it all manages to transform itself into an ordered universe. Hmmm. And that’s only the beginning of the critical distinctions.

In those ancient myths, humans are formed out of a mixture of clay and the blood and spittle of the gods, in order to relieve the workload of the overworked lesser gods – who are having to serve the greater gods. The gods send a flood to deal with overpopulation (or some version of too much noise), but one man (Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, or Ziusudra) is warned in advance and survives the seven-day flood in an ark with his family and animals.

But perhaps the most important distinction is that the Bible portrays THE ONE TRUE GOD, who speaks the entire universe into being out of nothing. Yahweh then fashions Adam and Eve – in His own image – and breathes His own life into them. And then this personal God bestows upon our first parents and their progeny – in fact, the entire human race – the sacred responsibility to rule over His creation on His behalf. Hallelujah!

We know from Acts 7:22 that Moses was exceptionally well-educated when it came to the culture of his Egyptian upbringing, yet God inspired what Moses wrote to oppose every godless worldview. We can rest assured that any apparent similarities between our Book of Genesis and any ancient myth are an example of God’s purposeful inclusion in the Scriptures of evidence against that myth. Genesis reveals to us – God’s people – the true nature of God and His sovereignty over all of human history. Written as historical narrative, plain and simple, Genesis purposefully undermines the false ideologies and idolatries of every culture where He is not worshipped and glorified.

Let’s be clear. Genesis describes no war among the gods. Quite to the contrary, in perfect harmony, the three members of the Godhead set in motion what later become for us our first inklings of the Covenant of Grace – by which our Lord Jesus will overcome Adam’s failure. What good news will be the empty tomb! God is the hero of the Bible and the hero of the gospel. The earliest chapters of Genesis regard every force of nature as entirely inanimate, and absolutely under the absolute control of the one true Creator God. He doesn’t need 1000 eyes. He doesn’t need a Home Depot. He doesn’t need magic or trickery. He doesn’t even need a rhubarb ruse. He is, simply, God.

Friends, most of the supposed “pagan parallels” aren’t nearly as parallel as the liberal critics claim. Upon close scrutiny, the myths have little in common with the Bible. And, even when a parallel is apparent, that in no way minimizes the historical veracity of the Scriptures. What it does is highlight for us the common longings of the human heart. In every culture, people want to know the story of how we got here, why we’re here, and why it matters. Even in cultures that are entirely hostile to the God of the Bible, and that’s our mission field, there are God-given yearnings for meaning and purpose. God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Those who are not trusting Christ by faith will always twist that knowledge, as well as those yearnings, into stories which only vaguely resemble the truth.

“In the beginning, God …” I’m sticking with that. What say you?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts