Monday, April 27, 2015

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO THE BALTIMORE PROTESTS

  AFP-Baltimore 
I just finished reading an excellent book called Moral Dilemmas by the late Kerby Anderson.  The last chapter dealt with the topic of civil disobedience as it applies to the believer.  As I read through that chapter, I saw much wisdom in Mr. Anderson's handling of the topic.  Upon finishing the book Sunday morning, I discovered that there had been a riot in Baltimore MD the previous night.  I began to ponder the situations and tensions that led to Saturday night's disturbance in the light of the Word of God. 

The riot Saturday night in Baltimore was undoubtedly fed by racial tension and strife.   Black protesters erupted into violence and mayhem, with much of the angst directed toward the police.  One reporter detailed how a group of young, angry black men surrounded a car occupied by a white family and began pounding on the car and screaming at the occupants.  As the driver of the car attempted to flee, the car was driven, in reverse, into a one way alley and trapped.  At this point, the car doors were pulled open and the attackers began reaching into the vehicle, to the abject terror of it's occupants.  The way this event was reported, there was no doubt that the journalist, who was an eyewitness to the event, believed it was racially motivated.  

The death of Freddie Gray, last Sunday, which while Gray was in police custody, sparked a protest that quickly escalated into to violence.  Police cars and private businesses were destroyed and one protester threw a garbage can full of fire at Police officers who had been dispatched to quell the uprising.

Though time and space, in this forum, would not allow for an in depth analysis into the root cause of this violent outbreak, (that topic could fill volumes of academic tomes) what is evident is social, economic and spiritual conditions in the inner city are deplorable and the blame for those conditions  can be spread around in numerous directions.  Bad social policy which has eroded the family structure in the poorest demographics, spineless politicians who have discovered a way to ensure reelection by creating fear and distrust, and community leaders who are more interested in power and wealth than actually lifting people of poverty and setting them on a path towards success.  Worst of all is the church's failure to integrate and welcome those who look differently into fellowship.  It has been estimated that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.  This is by choice.  People choose to worship with those who look the same and have the same socio-economic situation.  If the rich worship with the rich, it allows the rich to continue to look at the poor as unworthy.  We have an unofficial caste system in the American church where we view some as "untouchable".  Likewise, if the poor separate into their own congregations, it reinforces stereotypes such as "1 percenters" which leads to distrust and resentment.  

Clearly, social engineering has led to the marginalization of certain segments of society, that this social engineering is the direct result of liberal policies that are emotion driven, rather than fact based.  In fact, listening to NPR this week, I heard about a university study in California that is attempting to change voters minds on Gay Marriage.   When the canvassers realized that dealing with fact and logic had little or no effect in changing the minds of voters, they resorted to emotional appeals, even using the word "manipulation" in the report.  Emotions are powerful and can easily cloud good sense and judgment.  As a society, we have been conditioned to "follow your heart" and "do what you feel is right."  The only problem with this tactic is that the Bible tells us that the "heart is desperately wicked above all things" and that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to destruction".  Obviously, our hearts and emotions cannot be trusted, however,  a reliance on God and the truth of scripture must dictate our thoughts and behavior.

Can the church make a difference, and is social disobedience ever the answer?  Obviously, rioting, such as occurred in Baltimore this weekend, is never acceptable.  Is there a time and place for demonstrations, for protests and for disobeying the law?  God's word clearly tells us to obey the government authority that is over us, as it is ultimately established by God Himself, for our good.  The Bible also demonstrates that when the law of man directly violates God's Law, the Law of God is to be obeyed, as evidenced in the story of Daniel and the lions den, for instance. 

There needs to be clear guidelines and establishment of pure motives when engaging in civil disobedience.  Scenes like the one that took place in Baltimore escalated out of control because the objective of justice and change was overcome by repressed anger and resentment and a desire to destroy and steal.  There is no train of logic on earth that could possibly justify the destruction of a privately owned business in a protest against police procedures.  When arson and looting enter the equation, the goal is no longer one of affecting social change, it is simply a matter of taking advantage of a situation to satisfy base human desires.  How can stealing a television lead to better relations between the police and the private citizenry?  This behavior cannot be tolerated nor excused, however,  understanding the conditions that lead to this behavior is necessary to bring real change.

The first thing we must understand is that man is fallen.  People do not naturally behave well.   If man were basically good, we would have no need of a justice system as everyone would mostly behave properly and treat each other well.  This is certainly not the case. The role of the church to shine the light of God on people, one life at at time, so each person can see for themselves how fallen they are.  We cannot legislate morality, but we have an obligation to make laws that protect people from the sin of others.  We also have an obligation to share the truth with people that they may have the opportunity to repent and embrace Christ.

It is not the obligation or job of the local church to evangelize the lost or meet the needs of a desperate society, it is the obligation and job of each member of the church to exercise his or her God given gift, that the work of evangelism, discipleship and provision is not neglected.  Not all of us are called to the inner city, not all of us are gifted or equipped for evangelism, not all of us are called to give over and above what is outlined in scripture, but some of us are.  If each of us is operating in our gifting, we function properly and the work is done.  When the giver does not give, the missionary cannot go, when the administrator does not administrate, the organization fails to manifest and work is ineffectual or non existent.  Each of us has a specific role to fulfill and a specific place in the body of Christ, each of us relies on the other to do it's part.  It is time we stop worrying about our personal wants and comforts and focus on what God has for us to do.  

The problems that led to Baltimore and did not manifest overnight, nor can they be fixed in a day, but the focus of the believer in Christ must be on fulfilling his role in the church and in society so change can begin and that change must begin today.  NPR demonstrated that facts and logic will lead people to a more conservative and godly view of issues, we have that as a great advantage.  We know that the Spirit of God transforms lives through the blood of Christ and we know that people without hope behave desperately.  We have fact, logic and hope to offer.  We have the hope of Christ and the truth of His word.  Find your place in the Body, turn off your TV, put down your video game controller, get rid of the sin that hinders your relationship with God and get busy.  I promise you will find fulfillment and peace like you never have before.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

CALLED TO MAKE DISCIPLES

  A few months ago, I have embarked on a new endeavor.   I am in the final stages of producing a discipleship study guide based on the J. Oswald Sanders Commitment to Spiritual Growth book series.  You can read the Genesis of this program by clicking here .  
As the study is progressing, myself and three other men have committed to studying through a series of books and study guide.  I am aware that this is not the discipleship program of discipleship programs, but it is, nevertheless a program designed to strengthen believers in their faith and spur them on to spiritual reproduction.

Jesus told us to "go and make disciples..."  and often times we simply send people to church and leave them to figure it out for themselves.  By looking at the shape of the Western church, it is painfully obvious that this method is not working.  

My prayer is to develop a discipleship ministry that provides a variety of programs to local churches and individuals for group study.  These programs will be designed as long term(6 months or more)studies and meant to develop leadership from within each group, to spawn other groups which should multiply, rather than add, new believers to the kingdom of God.  

I feel that I have been called to this avenue of ministry and plan on dedicating the rest of my life to developing disciple makers.  
I,  also plan on spending the next year developing a variety of discipleship programs.  I am hoping to assemble a team of committed believers to partner with me in developing programs for men, women, youth and marriage. 

The point of all this is the importance of obeying Christ and serving in the capacity to which you are called.  I encourage anyone who happens to read this to pray diligently and seek God's plan for your life.   If you are a newer believer or have been a believer for a while but feel stagnant in your walk with the Lord, get with a more mature believer or join a discipleship group. Study through Romans 12 and see where you fit into God's plan and then develop your gift.  

If you are a seasoned believer, you need to be sharing, not only your faith, but your life with others.  Undoubtedly, you know someone who is struggling in their walk, or a new believer that needs guidance.  We are all called to make disciples and we are all called to model our faith that others may see the hope we have.

People will learn far more by watching you live before God than they will from great sermons in church or books on christian living.  Share your life, share your faith, share your resources and watch God transform the world around you!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

SOLEMN WITNESS - CONCERT REVIEW

I just had the extreme pleasure of seeing the Christian rock band Solemn Witness debut their new CD Christian Strong.  If you get a chance to see Solemn Witness, DO NOT miss them.  Right now, they are exclusively in East Tennessee, but I believe this is only a temporary geographical restriction.  

    Keyboardist Terry Vargo would give Ray Manzarek a run for his money. Vargo's mastery of the keys is nothing short of phenomenal.  Guitarist Jonathan Vargo is a young virtuoso playing with a distinct Southern Rock sound with a sprinkling of Allman Brothers. Young Vargo's interaction with the audience was a welcome surprise.   Drummer Marshall Sherles sounded as if he had four arms, not to mention his song writing skills demonstrated on  Never Surrender, which reached number 1 on Righteous Rock Radio.  Bassist Cary Clark, with his fret-less bass held the rhythm section flawlessly.  Clark's laid back style gave the illusion of effortlessness, when in fact, his playing was pure craftsmanship.  Front man John Silva's power vocals complimented the superb musicianship  displayed by the band.  Silva's vocal range is impressive and will undoubtedly be a  force to be reckoned with in years to come.  Silva owned the stage in a refreshingly humble manner as he connected with his audience through inspirational stories and anecdotes between songs.  

Also debuted was the bands first music video for title track Christian Strong.  Though an indy production, Solemn Witness' first music video is a winner.  It is not yet available on YouTube, but once it is, I will provide a link in this post.  

Make sure you check out the band on their website click here for Solemn Witness  

Aside from masterful musicianship, the Christ centered message emanating from each original song was inspiring and uplifting.  Placed neatly in the middle of their performance, Solemn Witness added worship stand by's that helped set the tone for adoration of the Savior.  Overall, a perfect mix of well crafted and finely executed music with a message of hope and love all bringing glory to Jesus Christ.  The new CD will be in my rotation for sure and I will be looking forward to seeing much more of Solemn Witness.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

THE BIBLE IS INSPIRED BY GOD - WHO INSPIRES OUR ENTERTAINMENT?

   If you are a believer in Christ, there is no doubt that you believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God.  You understand that the Bible was written by men as they were moved by the Spirit of God and the result is the infallible Word of God.  The Bible tells us that Satan is the god of this world, and we agree, but do we ever stop to imagine the ramifications of that statement?  What exactly does it mean that Satan is the god of this world?  How far does such an idea reach?  What power or influence does Satan have if such a thing is true?

     As stated above, we believe and accept that the men who wrote the Bible were inspired by a force outside themselves.  These men were empowered by God Himself to write a book meant to influence His people to live in honor of Him.  If godly men were influenced by God to write His word, why would it be a stretch to believe that unregenerate men would be inspired by a force outside themselves to create something that influences people to live in opposition to God?  After all, did not Jesus, Himself, say, "if you are not for me, you are against me."?  Is it possible that the bulk of our entertainment, movies, music, video games, books and so on, are inspired by an evil force bent on the destruction of society?  

Most movies and television shows depict and promote sinful behavior.  People living together, people sleeping together, homosexual relationships, drunkenness, drug use, lying, cheating stealing, murder, revenge, the list goes on and on.  Popular music is no better, with most themes dealing with elicit sex.  A constant barrage of entertainment depicting behavior that the Bible calls sin will undoubtedly influence society into believing that sin is normal behavior.  God's word specifically directs us to avoid the very behavior we are consistently exposed to, day in and day out. 
 1Peter 4:3  For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 

It would be very difficult to name a sitcom, television drama, or movie that does not normalize a sin named in the list above.  It would be next to impossible to buy a top 40 music CD that does not make at least one of the sins listed in the above verse seem trivial or normal.   

Are we to believe that every script and song writer is purposely out to corrupt society?  This would be very foolish thinking, indeed, but one cannot deny that almost all of our entertainment contains sinful influences.  Because such behavior is so pervasive in our entertainment culture, to speak out against sins like promiscuity or drunkenness invites derision and accusations of intolerance.  The only logical conclusion is that the god of this world is inspiring his people to write according to his will, in order to influence society.  

As a believer, you have the Spirit of God and are able to discern the spirits, if you are willing to submit to God's will in your life.  It will not take long to identify the evil messages that saturate all levels of our entertainment.  When we talk about evil, we think of dark conjurings of demonic spirits or maybe a black mass.  This is part of the great deception brought about by the Satanic inspiration of popular culture. Sins like those listed above are evil and practicing those sins is evil behavior.  This is a very unpopular message, after all, how could an expression of love between to consenting adults be considered evil just because they are not married, right?  Wrong, dead wrong.  God is the definer of evil, not society and certainly not Satan.  

Romans 1:29-32  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,   slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,  foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.    This passage in Romans is clear that evil takes many forms and those who practice them deserve spiritual death.  One of Satan's number one goals is, arguably, to destroy mankind.  For this reason, Satan will continue to inspire entertainment writers, because these are the scribes of societies influence.  

The next time you turn on the radio and hear a singer tout an extramarital affair or explicit encounter, the next time you turn on your favorite sitcom or television show and see a couple, not married, engaged in sexual activity, the next time you go to the theater and watch a movie that blatantly normalizes that which the Bible calls sin and evil, consider who inspired the creation of such entertainment.  

Entertainment is the number one influencing factor of modern society.  What is our entertainment influencing us towards?  We cannot deny the corrupting nature of modern pop culture, what we can deny is the opportunity for pop culture to influence the church by recognizing that the sinfulness of pop culture is inspired by Satan himself.  We are called to a more excellent way.  

Philippians_4:8  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. We cannot think about these things if we are immersed in the evil inspirations of Satan.  

As believers, we need to be choosy when it comes to our entertainment and what we allow to influence us.  When does entertainment become sin?  When it dishonors God and influences our thoughts and behaviors away from God.  To be in the world and not of the world is a difficult charge to follow, but it is a charge that is meant to protect us from the destructive forces of sin.