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THE CHURCH AND SOCIETY

BY STEVE DUNN
Tomorrow is the 4th of July -Independence Day for America.  A secular holiday observed in this nation but one with important religious implications.  We but need to turn to the Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776.
In pursuit of their freedom from the rule of England and the tyranny of King George III, our Founding Fathers staked their right to that freedom on the gift of a sovereign God.  The secularization of America has attempted to push such a belief from the public square.  In so doing we forget the admonishment of our first President, George Washington in his Farewell Address.
Very little time will be spent on any kind of serious reflection on the Fourth.  In some concert somewhere they will sing “God bless America,” but sadly more out of sentimental tradition than earnest prayer.  Baseball, picnics and barbecues,, trips to the beach and the pool, fireworks and NASCAR, ice cream and other sweets, and no small amount of drunkenness will take precedence over prayer and any acknowledgement of the deeper spiritual truth that national and political freedom will always will always be dependent on guns and vigilance, human sacrifice and resolve.  But like all other realities of humanity–these can pass away all too quickly by regime change, political greed, or terrorist onslaught.
There is only one freedom which can endure and it is not dependent upon a human liberator, but a divine one.  The apostle Paul tells us of it:
 This Fourth we should indeed give thanks for the men and women whose sacrifice has helped us be free as a nation and whose vigilance protects that freedom.  But ultimately, the only freedom that can endure is that which is grounded in the Spirit of the Lord and obedience to His leadership and dependent upon His power.
BY STEVE DUNN
What I am about to say will cause some to pronounce me to be intolerant, a religious bigot. That would be untrue, but I feel I must speak a truth, nonetheless.
The National Cathedral in Washington last Friday was the site of an event that betrays its Christian purpose and identity. It sends a deeply confusing message that is already confused about anything “holy.”

Let me note this report from the Associated Press:

Reverend Franklin Graham, son of world renowned evangelist Billy Graham, said the Muslim prayer service on Friday at the Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal church established under a charter granted by Congress more than 100 years ago, is “sad to see”  because the church should only open its door for  worship of “the One True God of the Bible.”

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Nov. 13, Rev. Franklin Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said, “Tomorrow, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. — one of the most prominent Episcopal churches in America — will host a Muslim prayer service to Allah.”

graham

Facebook post by Rev. Franklin Graham, Nov. 13, 2014.

“It’s sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the One True God of the Bible who sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to save us from our sins,” said Graham.  “Jesus was clear when He said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6).”

Muslim prayer carpets will be laid out inside the cathedral facing east, towards Mecca,  for the prayer service. They will also be “to the side of the sanctuary,” reported Voice of America, so that worshippers will not see the crosses or Christian icons, because “Muslims are not supposed to pray in view of sacred symbols alien to their faith.”

According to Pew Research, Muslims represent about 0.6% of the U.S. adult population.

I cannot agree with Mr. Graham more.  Although it is a church that received a charter from Congress, it is still an Episcopal Church–and the last time I looked Episcopalians were still proudly proclaiming that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  The “rearrangement” of the sanctuary dedicated to the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to make it inoffensive to Muslim worshippers dishonors the One True God that Christians worship.

I cannot imagine a Grand Mosque in any city in the world allowing a pastor or a priest to celebrate the Lord’s Supper within its walls, nonetheless proclaim “Jesus as our Savior and Lord.”

There. Now I’ve said it.

fruits-of-the-spiritBY STEVE DUNN

” But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

This is an open letter to my fellow Christians:

You and I are on mission with Jesus. It is not a political crusade or a culture war. We share with Jesus the responsibility to proclaim the message that he brought into the world when he entered time and space 2000 years ago, “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.”

There are a lot of people who claim to speak for Jesus; including people who do not follow Jesus but want to use their interpretation of the historical Jesus to make him an ordinary guru of goodness instead of the Liberating King and the Leader of our Lives.

And it’s hard for the world to know who to believe.

Jesus gave us a clear set of instructions on how to help them. “You are my disciples if you obey my commands.” There are really just two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

He did not tell us to be reproductions of the Old Testament prophets. In fact, we are told that we must read that book through New Testament eyes; i.e., the lens of Jesus’ life and words. He called us to be salt and light – to add seasoning to the world and to truth to the world. But that is intended to be through lives that demonstrate that God is already at work within us.

Paul gives that a particular focus when he reminds us of the “fruit of the Spirit”, the DNA of Jesus that shapes us and defines our actions. Read those words again at the top of this post.

Peter, who was martyred on a cross, because of his willingness to be Jesus’ disciple added even more pointed counsel. I Peter 3:8-15 tells us:

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

Every time I hear you demand your rights, I wonder how that matches Jesus’ command to humble ourselves and serve, or Paul’s reminder that our rights are to be set aside for the sake of the Message.

Every time I hear you defend the NRA passionately, I wonder what that says to the world who were told by Isaiah that Jesus would be the “prince of peace.”

Every time I hear you say hateful things about people who have chosen the homosexual and lesbian lifestyle, I wonder what John is thinking about the Word, “God came not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

Every time I hear Christians seeking to accepted by being politically correct and attacking the simple faith of sports athletes and belittling those who believe the Jesus is the only way to a relationship with the Father, I wonder if you have not changed the eternal destiny of someone who needs to meet the Truth Who sets us free.

Are people who use their rights to destroy the moral fabric of a community to be honored? No. Are people who want to pick and choose what “rights” are politically correct? No. Are people who chose alternate lifestyles right? No. Are people who want to turn Christianity into a water-downed religion instead of a genuine relationship with their Savior to be ignored? No.

But as we deal with these things we must do them with the words and actions of Jesus. The ends do not justify the means. And in the end, what does it profit us to win a culture war but forfeit the souls of the people in that culture because we have no redemptive relationship with them?

Please prayerfully think about that.

© 2013 by STEPHEN L DUNN

fruit-of-the-spirit-jesus-christ.jpg.crop_display

121216051430-02-newtown-reax-1216-horizontal-galleryTIME TO REFRAME THE DISCUSSION

BY STEPHEN DUNN

Like many people, my attention has focused this past week on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown CN and the need to address the escalating violence in the American society. In LIFE MATTERS and through my Facebook ® page I have shared several posts from others and made my own comments. I also entered into a thread of debate stemming from comments by another pastor friend that took a strong stand against the NRA and those whose love of their Second Amendment rights appear to be thwarting any significant attempts to deal with this gun violence. The results were to be drawn deeper and deeper into the vortex of individual rights to own guns, debates over whether our gun laws are really the problems, nit-picking over the details about guns, and then the darker issues of the extreme left’s hatred of the right, and the right wing’s deep suspicion and fear over President Obama and his political agenda for America. I found some helpful insights regarding how we deal with mentally ill persons in this country, but those things were often drowned out by more comments by what I can only term as “gun worship.”

I have spent this last week with my daughter and son-in-law and 4 ½ year old grandson. And you need to know that many, many parents—many of whom sit in the political center of this nation—are fearful for the threat to their children, and absolutely frustrated by the fanaticism and intransigence that seems to define both the debate and any attempt at a meaningful solution of the simple problem of gun violence perpetrated on children and innocents both in schools and public places by mentally imbalanced persons who have easy access to whole arsenals of weapons and ammunition. And they are deeply concerned of the impact of this violent culture upon the well-being (physical, emotional and spiritual) of their children.

So hear me plainly … this is not a time for fanaticism or intransigence. Whether it comes from the left or the right, this is not the time.

It is time to reframe the discussion.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, my concern is that we address this issue with a clear perspective of the heart of this matter. And the heart of this matter is, how will we protect the innocent—our children, the weak, the defenseless—in this nation from this escalating spiral of violence.

In the Old Testament we hear clearly about God’s perspective towards children and others who are innocent and vulnerable. “ A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5) In Isaiah 1 we are told that God’s judgment against Judah comes in particular because she has not protected the children, the widows, the defenseless. This was equated with idolatry.

After the massive outrage perpetrated by Herod, commonly called, “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Matthew records, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

And then we have the words of Jesus himself, in Matthew 18:14 – “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

These innocents should not be the collateral damage to a political debate or a culture war. As a Christian, this is precisely the oppression and injustice for which the Prophets condemned Israel and was at the heart of Christ’s judgment against those who claim to belong to Him when they appear before the King in Matthew 25.

Clearly we must approach the whole issue of how we deal with persons with mental illness in this country. Our pushing them into the streets or leaving them entirely to parents who are often older and overwhelmed is not acceptable.

This means that our healthcare system must stop trying to negate benefits for such treatment and care, and governments must also help provide programs and treatment for such persons.

This means that we must stop making weapons with such firepower so easily accessible to people that such persons can have almost unfettered access to those weapons. Background checks and waiting periods clearly have proven insufficient.

This means we must protect our schools. I am not proposing arming teachers nor do I believe that encouraging our citizenry to be self-appointed law enforcement because they are armed is a solution. Only persons properly trained (including how to be in these settings with impressionable children) and authorized by the government (who scripturally I believe to be the persons responsible to restrain the lawbreakers, e.g. Romans 13) should be given these jobs.

But this is just dealing with this at one level. Since our frontier days we have been a “wild west” people for whom guns are a right and an obsession. When the Founding Fathers adopted the Second Amendment, the “arms” they protected were single-shot guns and not all that accurate. None of them could have envisioned what our human ingenuity or perversity would manufacture. Our culture’s worship of the gun is legendary across this planet. It is not a healthy legacy.

We need to address the proliferation of violent games and entertainment. We must address the excesses of violence in our sports culture.

Many of my biblically conservative friends correctly say that laws do not change people, a change of heart is what changes them. Our world will never be “right” until its inhabitants are right with God. But too often this is simply used as one more slogan in a political campaign or culture war instead of being translated into serving as God’s agents of reconciliation in this fallen world. And some of my more darkly conservative friends have come to believe that they are called to possess the guns themselves so they can be agents of God’s justice in an immoral society. I found no such justification in God’s Word.

And too many people on the other side of these issues, mock or thwart any attempt to let the values of the ultimate peacemaker, the Prince of Peace have a seat at the table or a place in the schools or an unfettered hearing in the public arena. The violence in our culture is a deeply spiritual matter and will never be solved by increasingly secularizing our society or making religion so inoffensive as to be unprophetic and unauthoritative.

The time has come to change the debate from rights and political philosophies to what has violence done to our society and what are we going to do to combat its effects—especially on the innocent.

In the mean time we must take steps, albeit small and sometimes difficult to protect the innocents. Our children, who are our future, absolutely need it.

It is time to reframe the debate.

© 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

BY STEVE DUNN

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

2012 is a presidential election year.

As the year proceeds, politics will increasingly dominate the attention and the passions of the nation. This year’s election antagonisms are being intensified by a strong thread of religious rhetoric. Many conservative Christians see Mr. Obama as an enemy of the highest order – one, because his positions seem to be closely aligned with the Christian left and by the persistent notion that he is a Moslem hiding in the clothing of the very liberal United Church of Christ. And thirdly, because his political actions seem to intent of promoting the largely often Christian-despising secular left. And those on the Christian left that unfortunately seem to dominate the clergy of Mainline Churches often espouse positions that a sense that cultural priorities trump biblical values. They attack conservative Christian candidates with an intensity equal to the conservative’s attacks on the President.

A little while ago I was having lunch with some pastoral colleagues who were passionately discussing the co-opting of a major Christian university by those who are pursuing the homosexual “agenda.” (Please note that I believe there is a homosexual agenda. More about that another time.)

Sitting at lunch with us was a young man who comes from a church that espouses biblical values.

For those of you who only pay attention to religious political rhetoric, biblical values are neither conservative nor liberal. Christians trying to live authentic biblical lifestyles think that Christ and His purposes are more important than any human philosophy and are repulsed by the claims of both the Christian Right and Christian Left that theirs is the authentic Christian faith. Both the Right and the Left are not careful about letting their culture values trump their biblical values. Authentic biblical Christians, I have found are conservative on moral issues – like human sexuality, homosexuality, abortion vs “choice.” They are “liberal” on social issues like justice, poverty, the environment.

This young man asks what drives the whole homosexuality debate. “Fear” was the answer (with which I concur). “What are they afraid of? was his response. The debate discussed that issue more and then returned to the dissection of the original political issue.

The young man said to me quietly. “I need to tell you that I was genuinely excited by the outcome of the last election. Not because I agreed with all the positions of the candidate, but thrilled that my children now lived in a nation where a black man could be elected president. My fear is that my children will grow up in a world dominated by secular values where there is no place for God.”

We continued our discussion and talked about how ill-equipped the church was to be in this debate because politics seem to have become more important than making disciples. (If you have forgotten, that’s why Jesus says we exist – to make disciples.) Instead “we have simply become the haters in the culture.”

It is a position we have earned–sadly.

In letting fighting culture wars pre-empt the proclamation of the gospel we have made expressions of religion in public life something unwelcome. (Scott McKnight has an excellent discussion on this issue. Please read.)
The Pew Trust, a highly responsible group that measures religious values, notes that more and more Americans are expressing the position that politicians should tone down the religious rhetoric and focus on answering the pressing issues facing the nation. Read …

My counsel to all Christians is to be a part of the politic process behaving like Christians and expressing your Christian values, but not erode the evangelistic mission of the church to fight every cultural like just one more political action group.

And perhaps we need to reflect on these words of CS Lewis, amply supported by the Word of God.

“A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat “Do as you would be done by” till I am black in the fact, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward – driven on from social matters to religious matters.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I will never forget September 11, 2001.  I had just begun a new life and a new ministry at my church in Landisville, Pennsylvania.  Just two days before had been my first official Sunday as its pastor and my days were fresh with the excitement of new beginnings and comfortable September days.  I was living in the home of my council president, Dr Jerry Albright and his wife Val, and had walked early that morning the two blocks to the church.  Just a few minutes after my arrival at the office, a new friend Doug Sutton called and invited me to experience a Lancaster County treat, the Tuesday market at Roots.  Thinking it was too early in the job to blow off a morning to do some sight-seeing, I declined.

Within a few minutes the phone began to ring. Patty Baker, my Administrative Assistant, was speaking to her husband. Something terrible was going on in Manhattan.  “A plane has just hit the World Trade Center!” she announced, noting that rumors were already spreading. I quickly returned to the house, turning on the television just in time to see the second plane slam into the WTC.  It was horrifying, surreal – like watching a science fiction movie – and yet it was not fiction. Then came the word that Islamic terrorists had hijacked planes in Boston and elsewhere and were carrying on suicide attacks in New York and Washington. The Pentagon was hit! A  plane had crashed in western Pennsylvania when the passengers battled the terrorists for control of the aircraft–another plane destined for the nation’s capital.

Returning to the office, I found my phone ringing as shocked and frightened parishioners began to call seeking to find comfort or some sense in the senseless.  We were glued to our sets, drawn by the unimagined horror of it all, watching ugly clouds of smoke billowing across the Manhattan skyline and then seeing desperate people leap from buildings.  One mother, homeschooling her children, called. “What do I do? My children are seeing these horrible things on tv. They are frightened and confused.” “Turn off the set,” I said. Later that day I would meet more than 75 of my people (many for the first time) in the sanctuary of the church as we gathered for prayer.

September 11, 2001 was the day America lost its innocence.  The War on Terror had arrived on our shores in an undeniable and life-altering way. No longer were we the happy, carefree citizens consuming, crowding the malls, playing, working, studying, raising families, rooting for our favorite teams, traveling wherever we desired when we desired.  Places of public gathering took on the stench of death.  Air travel became a dangerous risk. Strangers became enemies, especially if they were of Middle Eastern descent.  The bombings and everyday fears that defined life in so many other places in the world became a real possibility for people on this side of the Atlantic.

Stories of incredible sacrifice and heroism began to fill our front pages and nightly news reports. Having experienced a brutal sneak attack by persons bent on destroying our way of life, we saw the finest of spirits arise in everyday people. The decent side of our common humanity asserted itself and we pulled together working, praying, and caring.  Determination to meet this challenge and visit justice upon the evil doers united Americans of many walks of life and political persuasions.  The simple faith of our newly elected President, George W. Bush, was seen as a sign of hope.

For a time there was a reawakening of the spiritual hunger of our nation.  As is often the case in times of great crisis, Americans drew close to God and filled its houses of worship.  People seem unashamed to call upon
the Almighty for solace and for strength.  But as many a pastor

can tell you, that was only for a season.  Soon we were looking again to human strength and human solutions, at best seeking God’s blessings on the plans we had made and intended to follow. Persons went about their daily business as if they didn’t need God. The crisis was over. He was on the shelf until the next crisis that seemed beyond our control.  A nation at war seemed to push God once again out of sight and out of mind – except those persons in harm’s way in places like Iraq and Afghanistan who continued to seek God’s protection and strength. They knew daily as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death how fragile their lives were and how dependent those lives were upon God’s providence.

Now, nine years later, I wonder what lessons we have learned as Americans.  I wonder how much our plans and pretensions have accomplished.  In particular I honor those men and women of the armed forces who have had their lives unalterably changed by going into battle to protect the freedom we so cherish and to push back against those who threaten us. But I wonder, as we use our freedom in America in ways so unchastened by events like September 11th, if those men and women are laboring in vain.  The threats within from the shallow self-serving and narcissistic culture we persist in perpetuating may not threaten us with same violence as Al Quaida or the Taliban, but can as surely destroy a healthy, wholesome, God-honoring way of life as those enemies from without.

“Do not use your freedom for license,” the apostle Paul declared in a time long before America’s founding. Will we ever learn that lesson?

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This is an update of a video we showed you earlier this year. It is provided by the Missional Outreach Network.