Despite the Supreme Court recently deciding in favor of the Colorado baker, religious freedom in the US seems to be increasingly fragile. Glance to the north; Canada is often a bellwether of what could come .
Sprawling across 157 acres of British Columbia, is a liberal arts university connected with the Evangelical Free Church of Canada. By secular officials’ own estimation, Trinity Western University stands as one of Canada’s premier educational institutions, home to 4000 students. Despite being the largest privately funded liberal arts school in all of Canada, it is now officially forbidden to train lawyers. Canada’s Supreme Court just decided 7-2 that because the school covenant prohibits students from engaging in sexual relations outside of a 1-man, 1-woman marriage, TWU is not allowed to start a law school.
Yesterday as we discussed a growing exit by some evangelical leaders from the historic Christian conviction about homosexual behavior, I suggested “It’s a Bible problem, not a homosexual problem.” In other words, the problem behind the problem is that some have a diminishing confidence that all of the Bible is God’s revelation–or that such ancient words are meant for these times. We’re also watching the effect of such uncertainty in declining beliefs about other biblical teaching such as an eternal judgment and the faith in Christ alone as the unique way God has designed for people to be reconciled to Him.
Parents, start them young if you want your children to grow up as Jesus followers who understand the gospel, and believe the Bible. Here’s a great advice piece on bringing the whole Bible to life for your children–including the Old Testament!
She said, “Maybe someone could come and do a pastor’s conference”. On the annual evaluation a year ago I asked a missionary who works with tiny churches in Nevada and California, how we might be able to help her. A conference was her answer. I twisted Pastor Charlie’s arm and next thing we landed in Las Vegas. Nevada is an arguably foreign land made up of desert, mining claims, rugged individuals (most of whom are armed says Sheriff Duane), tiny churches, and endless opportunities for ministry in communities plagued by broken homes, drug abuse, and teen pregnancies.
Larisa picked us up at the airport and headed north to Beatty. We skated across more than a hundred miles of desolate landscape–barely inhabited, but more stunning than bleak. As night fell, I wondered what happens when your car breaks down out here? That night and the next morning, we met with local church leaders to listen to them, pray for, and encourage them. One pastor’s wife
said, “You came from Pennsylvania just to pray for us!” Over the next few days, that would be our itinerary: travel one or two hundred miles, meet with a pastor or other church leader–or maybe help with a kids’ club, then move on.
The scenery was breathtaking. Combine the desert vistas and the mountains that bracketed them, with drifting tumbleweeds, burros braying in the streets, wild mustangs silhouetted against the horizon, and honest-to-goodness mining claims, it checked off almost every one of my wild west stereotypes. Then there was the day we lunched in Death Valley, when coyotes walked within 8′ looking for handouts at about the same time an F-18 streaked overhead. Not a typical lunch.
Barren desert separates towns by a hundred miles or more. Not only is the nearest Wal-Mart a couple of hours’ drive, but medical care may be a flight away with transport costing tens of thousands of dollars. The town of Tonopah recently lost its paid ambulance service–after the only local doctor fleeced the town and fled with the clinic’s money. This town of 2500 now has no doctor, no clinic, and although there is still an ambulance, it depends on volunteers who have other full-time jobs.
In Larisa’s field most pastors also have fulltime jobs outside of the church because churches are too small to pay their salaries. So Larisa helps local churches impact their communities–essentially as an unpaid staff person, by reaching out to area children and teens. She travels hundreds of miles across two states every week to lead kids’ Bible clubs or youth groups. Over Christmas she organizes countless Birthday parties for Jesus. In the summer, she does 7 weeks of VBS, running 5 different sites each day. Then, there’s a week of youth camp.
The pastors we resourced on Friday drove 100-300 miles from their tiny churches where 10-35 people may gather to worship on a Sunday–the largest, 75. They seemed a bit wary, unsure if they could trust these two dudes from the east. We taught on preparing sermons, leading a church with an elder team, and finding your identity in Christ, and gave each man 3 books.
Saturday was the men’s conference where Charlie taught more on identity (surprise, surprise :)), and I taught on meeting alone with God. The pastors from the day before had also returned, and it seemed by now that they did trust us. It was confirmed later when we learned they asked Larisa if we could return next year.
Can you guess what “The Shady Lady” or “Angel’s Ladies” are? Brothels are legal in Nevada but the ones we saw were eyesores. I thought where such an enterprise was endorsed and regulated, that the premises would look elegant and inviting. Not so. And maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Satan’s lame attempts to in some way imitate God’s good gift, not only falls short–but looks bad doing so. Larisa told us a tragic story of what life is like for girls at these places.
On Sunday we traveled 120 miles from Larisa’s home in Big Pine, CA to a silver mining town in Nevada where Keith to preached. After lunch with Pastor Jim and several others from the church, we headed south for Las Vegas. Tomorrow we’d go home.
On Monday morning before our flight Larisa drove us down the Vegas strip where we saw the Mandalay Bay hotel where sniper Stephen Paddock holed up to gun down over 600 people at a concert in October. Interestingly enough, in the aftermath Las Vegas leaders quietly decided that for now they’re going to shelve the 14 year-old Vegas marketing catch phrase (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas). Such libertine sentiments don’t seem compatible with a chilling event that either ended or dra
stically altered the lives of so many.
Nevada is a magnet to people looking for wide-open spaces, and for play that’s forbidden elsewhere (gambling and prostitution). But it’s also just “home” to a lot of ordinary people who are sinners like us and need Jesus like we do. And where someone like Larisa Craig and her collection of little churches are ministering in hard places. I was humbled by her and people like Pastor Jim (no, another Jim!) who is probably going to sell his home in Tahoe so he and his wife can keep ministering in their remote community despite maybe only seeing $20 in the offering next Sunday.
Small towns, small churches, but big people taking on big challenges. I love them, their faithfulness, their faith. I did not come back quite the same. Thank you Larisa.
As the congregation watched him walk past the casket and reach for the microphone the pastor held out, nobody was prepared for what came next.
“Well, what can I say? The guy was a jerk! In school he made fun of people who weren’t popular. Adulthood didn’t change him much and if anyone ever opposed him, he’d end up in a fight. You couldn’t count on
him; if he said he’d help, it was just to get you off his back because he almost never came through. If he borrowed money, you might as well kiss it goodbye. He was all about Jim, all the time. His family–yes, those of you in the front two rows today, I know you washed your hands of him years ago because he was so mean. And he couldn’t keep a job for any length of time. Frankly, he was so lazy that he only seemed happy whenhe was out of work. Except for his six-packs, he had no pasttimes, passions, or plans. He was a waste of oxygen and we’re probably all better off that he’s gone!”
Ok, that didn’t happen. It never does.
No matter how much of a scoundrel is being buried, funeral tributes are usually so glowing that people wonder if the deceased is up for sainthood. Then again, sometimes the honorifics aren’t inflated. He/she so wanted to please the Lord that it was hard to miss how keenly mindful he/she was of the next life. Recently at a friend’s birthday party, friends and adult family members gave high praise to the birthday girl. She was embarrassed, but I know her well enough to know that what they said was true. Nobody pretends she’s perfect, but she lives this life keenly aware that the next one is imminent.
Discussing his brain tumor, Senator John McCain recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Every life has to end one way or another.” Whether it ends prematurely or late in life, John’s right: sooner or later everyone stops breathing. In Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit #2 is, Begin with the End in Mind. He urges readers to imagine hearing the kind things people say about you at your funeral. The motive seems to be “live so that people will admire you when you die”. Begin with the end in mind.
God also wrote about keeping the end in mind in His Book but His “why” differs radically from Covey’s. It’s not to gain people’s applause when we depart, but to gain God’s when we arrive …each person is destined to die once, and after that comes judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Admittedly, some reading this think, “I’d better be good so that if I die, God will let me into heaven”. But it’s not a person’s goodness that God judges, but our response to His goodness–to the gospel of Christ’s atoning death that He’s offered (Acts 20:21). Then again, because the person who has repented of sin and put faith in Christ for forgiveness has the Spirit, he/she lives life in ways that show he/she is mindful of the end.
It’s beneficial not just to live knowing life will end at some point, but that it could be as early as tonight. Some think it morbid to ponder death and its repercussions, but again and again the Bible urges people to do just that. In fact, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says we’re better off attending funerals than parties (7:2). It reminds us of our imminent face-to-face with God, that we are not of this world, to store up treasures for the next world instead of this one, and that what seems to really matter today, won’t when our casket closes and is lowered into the ground.
Bishop J. C. Ryle said, Let us watch against pride in every shape – pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride. So long as we think we are something, we shall never be saved.
When 2 groups with very different ideologies faced off against each other last Saturday in Virginia, it should have surprised no one that things would not go well–permit or no permit. Based on videos and pics I’ve seen, President Trump may very well be correct that both sides share blame–for some of the tussling and beatings that took place before James Fields’ ever put his Challenger in gear.
But by his initial lukewarm remarks about the Charlottesville horror, the president missed a golden opportunity to dismiss frequently-leveled claims that he’s a bigot whose sympathies mostly lie with “white” America. But, that’s a political observation.
Since I am a follower of Jesus first–an American second, I’m most interested in what the Church has to say on issues sparking heated quarrels in the public square, at least when the Bible has something to say on those issues. When through their logos, signs and chants, white supremacists–even vaguely appeal to Christianity, Jesus’ followers must stand up and object, “that’s not Christian”. When anyone brags that this/her race is superior to another, it’s a “shape” of pride that is antiChristian. And, a lie. Even the Declaration of Independence–well ahead of its time and the men who crafted it, insisted that all men are created equal. And we all are. Equally noble in that we are all made in God’s image. But also, equally awful since we’re all sinners.
So let’s be clear: To claim superiority or supremacy because I’m of one race and he/she’s of another, is sin. Racism is sin. Period. No “but’s” can follow. Tim Keller’s right to insist we put a full stop after “racism is sin”. When we white Christians follow such statements with “but”, is it any wonder it tells nonwhites that we are trying to self-justify/blameshift instead of taking the sin of racism seriously?
I have never been a missionary. But I have been impassioned for the work for decades. If you’re a Christian, what you’re about to read you need–just like I do. Those of us who stay behind are much needed partners. But the truth is, we’re not always good partners. This may help.
Nearly 50 years after the Stonewall riots, last Sunday parades around the nation celebrated the gay community’s massive advances in America–complete with judicial sanction to marry no matter what state laws said. As they accumulated more and more supporters in education, media, business and government, gay activists raised their demands from “tolerate us” to “affirm us!” Now the US government is doing their heavy lifting by forcing vendors with religious convictions against gay relationships, to participate in gay weddings anyway by making cakes, providing flowers and booking venues.
In 48 years activists have watched nearly ever change they desired, come to pass. But in their own circles, there is a change they will not entertain, discuss, or accept. It is the person who claims to be “ex-gay”. In fact, legislation is once again being considered in congress that would ban any sort of “ex-gay” therapy. The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act would use the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the ban in federal court.
As a follower of Jesus, I would urge someone with SSA to trust in Jesus and be celibate, rather than try to help them redirect their sexual longings. But some gay people do end up with a satisfying heterosexual relationship in marriage–stories that gay people dismiss as impossible since all truly gay people are born that way. It seems that to them if their belief is correct, it doesn’t–it can’t leave room for a change in sexual attraction. That would be like trying to get a puppy to pretend he’s a anteater.
Whether the premise (born gay) is true or not, it is a fact that some formerly gay people are living a heterosexual life and claim that their longings have changed through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Here’s Ken Williams story as recounted on Kris Vallotton’s blog. http://krisvallotton.com/a-once-gay-persons-thoughts-on-gay-pride/