Hacking “Ashley Madison” – A Pastoral Perspective

Upon returning to Birmingham from a refreshing study sabbatical I was greeted with a news flash, a warning and a probing question. The news flash informed me that there was a website devoted to providing a network for married people to pursue adultery – euphemistically identified today as an “affair.” This website predictably was not only easily accessed but also promised privacy to its 38+ million subscribers while attracting them with the catchy motto – “Life is short. Have an affair.” Furthermore the website had been hacked and the hackers had warned they were going to make public the names of its participants. The website’s name is Ashley Madison – then came the warning.

The website had a large number of well-known, well-situated and prominent subscribers. But even more ominously I was warned the list included professing Christians and leaders from Evangelical churches and organizations – then came the probing question(s).

Pastor how are you going to handle this? What are you going to do about the list? Are you going to search it? And more pointedly what will you do if there are church members on the list? These questions were not only probing but rightly demanded pastoral answers. So here is a brief distillation of my pastoral response.

My heart and hopefully yours is deeply grieved. This website’s existence, popularity and purpose reveals a desperate emptiness in our narcissistic culture providing one more cesspool of death and despair camouflaged as a fulfilling well of life. Beyond that, this website represents millions of empty lives about to be destroyed along with their marriages and families including untold numbers of devastated children in the wake of inevitable relational carnage. My grief was geometrically extrapolated as I then contemplated the number of professing Christians and ministry leaders numbered among the subscribers and the devastation soon to be visited upon their ministries, churches and families when the names became public.

But as evil as this website is in its intent and its impact, the fact is, it is also legal – though immoral. And because it is legal it is private property. By the way, when will the public realize social media is never private no matter what is promised? Therefore, whoever hacked into the website is a thief and what they obtained (including the subscribers list) is stolen property.

Because it is stolen property I will not be searching the published lists of subscribers that are now being made available. Personally, and as a Pastor, I will not participate in pursuing stolen property.

Let me illustrate. I really need a new pair of golf shoes. I would certainly enjoy a new pair. What if someone told me about a man who had a truck full of new, name brand golf shoes that he was selling for much less than retail pricing? My next questions would probably be, “Where did he get them?” “How is he able to sell them so cheap?” The answer – Pastor you don’t want to know where or how the seller got the golf shoes. My response? – I would not buy them. If I did, I would be complicit and supportive of his thievery. Although rationalizations to buy them would be numerous and inventive, the fact is, I would be participating and supporting larceny by receiving stolen property. Likewise, the Ashley Madison list is stolen property so I will not pursue it no matter the rationalizations offered to do so. The end does not justify the means.

But what if someone else reads the list and comes to me? Good question-keep reading.

If someone came to me and said, “Pastor I know someone who is a professing believer/Christian leader on the list. What should I do?” This one is easy. I would take them to Matthew 18:15-20 and explain their first and possibly next three steps.

First, I would tell them to go to your brother/sister personally with two intentions – to clarify the accuracy of the information and to “win” them to Gospel motivated and directed repentance. Because there will be cases of false information and stolen identity/credit cards, clarification and verification is crucial. Remember, more importantly, you are trying to win them. You are not trying to punish them, unnecessarily expose them or “catch” them. If they repent and confess their sin then affirm their forgiveness in Christ and guide them to the next steps of “deeds appropriate to repentance.” In a word, shepherd them to restoration, restitution and reconciliation. If they are in positions of leadership, admonish them and hold them accountable to go to those who are in authority over them to confess and step aside from leadership in order to address the non-negotiable issues of Gospel sanctification essential to being a leader “above reproach.”

But what if they don’t confess yet the information seems accurate? Matthew 18 anticipates such a situation.

Secondly take “one or two witnesses with you.” Galatians 6:1-5 directs us in such ministries of reconciliation to make sure that these “witnesses” are spiritually mature. Remember you are still trying to win your brother/sister. But what if they still refuse to respond?

In the case of those who do not respond to the first two steps, Matthew 18 directs us to “tell it to the church.” Now, this does not mean to stand up and announce it to the church at a Lord’s Day worship service; nor does it mean to publish it on the prayer list and circulate it to the members of the church. That, of course, is gossip even if accompanied by the Christian postscript – “bless his heart.” To “tell it to the church” means to bring the information to the elders who then have clear Biblically delineated steps as shepherds of the flock concerning the right way to redemptively pursue “wandering sheep” including elder repetition of Matthew 18.

Ashley Madison is just another example of our intricate and exotic efforts to pursue sin now through technological inventions. In so doing, it affirms two facts. One – God’s Word is sufficient to direct us in how to love the lost under the bondage of sin and how to love one another when caught in the deceit of sin. The second is that men and women in rebellion against God, relentlessly pursuing every form of idolatry to exalt self, will do so even though the pursuit always brings death. “The wages of sin is death”- physical, relational, spiritual and ultimately (for the lost) eternal death. Therefore, the real problem is the “heart” – not the tempting website. “The heart of the problem is the problem with the heart.”

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.Jas.1:14, 15

The death of ministries, marriages, hopes and dreams now become nightmares. But in the midst of this “death march” we have good news. There is a Savior who, on the Cross, has won the victory over sin and removed the sting of death. By His amazing and transforming grace He can make roses of majesty out of the ash heap of sin.

Ashley Madison? Ashley Madison is one more reason and one more opportunity to tell lost sinners and remind wandering saints that there is a Redeemer. His name is Jesus Christ.

Reflections on SCOTUS Obergefell Opinion #1

WHAT ABOUT OUTRAGE?

OUTRAGE: an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock or indignation.

On June 26th, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a legal fabrication affirmed the charade of same-sex marriage as a “foundational right to those who have chosen to use their personal liberty to self-identify as a homosexual” as articulated by Justice Anthony Kennedy. The absence of any legal support for this obviously politically motivated opinion was embarrassing but not prohibitive for the pre-determined agenda of the 5 judges providing a one justice margin to defeat the 4 opposing justices and unravel a God-given foundational institution which has stood the test of time for thousands of years. Since this is now being trumpeted as the “law of the land”, how should individual Christians and Christ’s church respond? This blog is the first of a series written primarily for the dear church I pastor and then others who might be interested.

While following the posts of many in the wake of this opinion whom I admire and respect, I have been both instructed and encouraged by their exhortations and insights. But I confess there are two admonitions repeated consistently which I am unable to embrace or affirm.

One admonition is that Christians must not respond to with “outrage” and the other is that the way evangelical churches do ministry should not be affected as we move forward in the lengthening shadow of this judicial opinion. Two blogs pointedly declared that the church should simply respond by staying the course and keep doing what we were doing prior the ruling. In a word, we should simply keep doing “business as usual.” So what is the response to these recommendations as to how we should or should not respond? This is mine.

Recently a member of the church I am privileged to serve sent me a Resolution written in response to the SCOTUS opinion with a question as to why I had not signed it. What they did not know was not only had I read it and deeply desired to sign it but could not for one reason.

The resolution overall was well done but it contained one admonition that I could not in good conscience support. The admonition was specific. “Outrage” was deemed to be inconsistent with confidence “in the promises of a reigning Christ.” To sign the resolution and be out of accord with what was clearly a crucial concern and confident assertion would have been both dishonest and dishonoring to the originator of the resolution and the signatories. In a word I found myself in a dilemma. I wanted to sign it for multiple reasons. It contains much that is extraordinarily helpful and insightful. Furthermore the author is a true Christian statesman whom I personally admire and the list of supporters is filled with the names of many whom I know and respect. Beyond that I firmly believe such a statement needs to be made. So why not sign? While the resolution clearly stated that Christians “confident in the promises of a reigning Christ” should not respond with “outrage,” I was and I continue to be “outraged.” So either I am not “confident in the promises of a reigning Christ” or the resolution is to some degree incorrect concerning whether or not Christians can be or even should be “outraged.”

I actually think it is right to be outraged. In addition I actually think Christians at times ought to be outraged, not ashamed of being outraged, nor assume that outrage is inconsistent with the work of God’s grace in our life. As an example I recently listened to a Planned Parenthood video in which a leader calmly over lunch and sipping wine discussed how to kill a baby in the womb in a manner that allowed the abortionist to salvage body parts for sale. I was and I am outraged and believe I should be. Likewise I am also outraged by the SCOTUS opinion and the Kennedy “considered opinion.”

Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked who forsake your law. Psalm 119:53

But having proposed that there is a place and even a necessity for Christian outrage in response to this ruling, I would also affirm the need for the concern and care expressed in the Biblical warnings against sinful outrage. There is a reason the Scripture calls us to be “slow to anger,” “not to let the sun go down upon your anger” and “be angry yet do not sin,” etc. Obviously there is a sinful outrage that must be shunned because of its faulty origin and/or its resulting sinful behavior. Therefore authentic Christian outrage will be and must be rightly directed. Outrage birthed from self-righteousness and arrogance inevitably leads to the destructive effects of the sinful “anger of man” and must be avoided at all costs. But there is an outrage affirmed in Scripture which rightly burns within the hearts of God’s people even as imperfect followers of Christ. When the God of glory and all that He holds dear is mocked with impunity and that which He has called holy is desecrated, the God-given emotion of outrage rightly directed is appropriate. So where would authentic Christian outrage lead?

God-honoring and God-given outrage inevitably leads us first to grief and lament and then ultimately to repentance. I am fully aware that God needs neither me nor my outrage to secure His glory and honor. Furthermore I am also aware that Supreme Court decisions will not thwart God’s purposes nor ultimately diminish His glory and that in the final analysis this judicial travesty will be used in God’s sovereign purposes for His glory and our good. So….

I am not outraged because God needs me to be but because I need to be. It is increasingly obvious what this opinion reveals about our culture and even more what it reveals about the impotency of the contemporary evangelical church in this culture. It is equally obvious where this decision will lead unless God’s people repent and the God of grace sends a heaven-sent revival to His church in this nation and from that revived church another Gospel awakening.

I am outraged that a nation claiming to be “under God” now legally, institutionally as well as culturally mocks the God of glory. Therefore, I lament that this ruling not only positions this nation under God’s judgment but reveals that we are already under the judgment of God.

Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die they not only do them they give approval to those who practice them. Therefore God gave them over.

I am outraged that the sanctities of God’s creation ordinances, crucial to human flourishing are being mocked. The sanctity of life legally and culturally disregarded for decades is now accelerated by mocking the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of sexuality is being mocked with the illusion of same-sex marriage. We now have a SCOTUS opinion which has nothing to do with marriage equality but everything to do with marriage redefinition in order to affirm as natural and normal the unnatural and abnormal acts of homosexuality. Therefore, I lament the cultural loss of a God designed blessing affirming a monogamous, heterosexual, conjugal, life-long covenant of marriage – God’s gift in creation and common grace foundational to the well-being of humanity. But even more importantly the prostitution of the Covenant of marriage distorts that which was designed by God to reveal the unbreakable love secured by redeeming grace which Christ enjoys with His covenant people having left his Father to cleave to His Bride, the Church. I lament what this unsustainable view of marriage will inevitably produce in the cultural carnage of marital anarchy as inevitably the Divinely-designed foundation block for society – the family — is destroyed. I lament the disastrous effects upon children raised in fatherless or motherless homes embracing as normal sexual anarchy.

For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother to cleave to his wife. Consequently they are no longer two but one.

I am outraged at the mocking of the sanctity of sexuality – designed to affirm and bless the sacred covenant of marriage. This God-designed and God-delivered gift is now legally and culturally mocked not only by heterosexual promiscuity – the sinful practice of natural sex – but now also by the legal affirmation of homosexual perversion – the sinful practice of unnatural sex. Therefore, I lament we have distorted marriage to affirm distorted sexuality.

Let the marriage bed be held in honor by all. Fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

I am outraged by the undeniable fact that today’s self-absorbed church having succumbed to doctrinal deviancy, pastor celebrity-ism, church growth pragmatism compounded by the preaching of a muted gospel of dwarfed grace has trivialized the past blessings of Gospel Awakenings visited upon this country by the sovereign grace of God. I lament the response of isolation by some churches (we will simply do marriage right in the church thus making a creation ordinance a church ordinance to facilitate a retreat from the public square and loving their neighbor); and I lament accommodation by other churches (thinking that being silent about truth is the way you love people in the bondage of sin and it is permissible to treat as irrelevant the public, social and legal mocking of God and His creation ordinances). I lament this cultural and ecclesiastical apostasy has occurred during my watch as a Gospel minister.

This is how one should regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Finally, I am outraged that there exists a legal judicial opinion affirming the cultural nonsense that men and women have the freedom and ability to create their own identity in life and that choices of sexual anarchy are valid declarations of life identity. Let’s be clear no Supreme Court ruling, academic myopia, philosophical pandering, or cosmetic surgery can ever remove the guilt and shame of denying who we are by virtue of creation even as we culturally sophisticate ourselves into imbecility to suppress the knowledge of God. Thus, I lament that moral relativism and unchallenged Darwinian evolution has so pervaded this culture that men and women no longer hear the truth proclaimed from pulpits that they are created in the image of God – imago Dei – with dignity. Furthermore I lament that the contemporary Church has not only been complicit by its silence but also by its accommodation of cultural idolatry which destroys human dignity. Even worse has been its proclamation of a one-dimensional Gospel, a therapeutic Gospel or the American made blasphemous prosperity gospel, instead of the robust multi-dimensional Gospel. A Gospel proclaiming to sinners come to Christ and be saved from sin’s guilt and power and find your identity in Him. It is this Christ-exalting, sinner-saving Gospel which by the power of the Holy Spirit steadily makes His church a life boat for sinners and a death trap for sin as one “grows in the grace and knowledge of Christ” that must be heard from the pulpits and in the streets again.

But, not only must outrage lead to lament, it must also lead to repentance. There is no way we can respond to this moment by doing what we have been doing – “business as usual.” We must repent. It must begin with me. Yes, it is true and accurate that our God-given message, God-given means and God-given mission and ministry is unchanged and must not be compromised nor edited in response to the issues of the day. But there is no way we can continue to do “business as usual.” This cultural death spiral which is inevitable when Gospel rivers of redeeming grace and common grace no longer flow from Christ’s church into the culture is the result of the way which we are or are not “doing business.” The “salt” has lost its “saltiness” and the “light” is “shrouded.” Therefore we no longer speak “truth in love.”

Christian outrage is crucial and right but must lead to lament and lament must lead to repentance. May the God of Glory and Grace be pleased to give Christ’s church a heaven-sent revival leading to a Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, Bible-shaped, prayer-saturated Gospel Awakening flooding every corner of this nation again but like never before. O Lord again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

SOME THOUGHTS ON THIS FATHER’S DAY

My last conversation with Dad over the phone ended the way they usually did; “Thanks Dad, I love you”. I often prayed that I could be with my Dad when the Lord called him home, but God in His wisdom Providentially decreed otherwise.  He took him home quickly from a golf course as he approached the 18th green.  I cannot think of a more appropriate place unless it had been with his family.  But if I had been with him after saying “I love you, Dad and thanks” I would have mentioned many other things I was thankful for… here are a few of them…

Thanks Dad for…

being my best friend,

being my Father and I never wanted another,

being my coach not only in sports but in life,

Thanks Dad for…

making me so proud of you,

always calling me Son,

giving me Mom and three great Sisters,

Thanks Dad for…

teaching me how to hit a baseball,

how to shoot a basketball and block out for a rebound,

to make a wrap up tackle in football,

and sharing the joy of a round of golf on a summer afternoon with my best friend – you.

Thanks Dad for…

teaching me the joy of reading,

the excitement of history,

the magic of stories and storytelling.

Thanks Dad for…

showing me how to love, honor and respect my parents, by the way you loved yours,

taking me into your everyday life,

sharing with me the places you grew up and the stories of your life in those same places.

Thanks Dad for….

showing me the importance of family,

and how to be a Dad,

and how to both work hard and play hard.

Thanks Dad for….

not sending me to church but taking me,

giving me wisdom about how to live life and to enjoy life,

explaining how I could have eternal life in Christ,

reminding me that God’s grace is greater than my sin,

returning to the Lord, finishing strong and seeking to bring others across the finish line with you.

Thanks Dad for…

being my Daddy,

giving me your name to both bear and wear for life

loving me and,

for not only being my Dad but also for being my hero.

And thank you Lord for…

giving me not just any Dad but one who became my best friend and Hero.

 

Mammy, that 8 year old grandson, who read the Bible for you after school every day because you couldn’t read and then prayed with you as you interceded for everyone in the Reeder family; he is now with you, along with all nine of your children and many other grandchildren.  Thanks for praying Mammy. And thanks O Lord for answering so graciously and tenaciously Lord.  So now Mammy, one more is home Mammy and more are coming.

Not one day goes by that I don’t miss you (and Mom). Would love to one more time “play catch” or “tee it up” or a “Golden Gloves Friday night” or another late afternoon at Sunset Beach, just hear another Reeder family story. While that will not be happening on this side, I’ll see you and Mom soon Dad and because of our Lord’s faithfulness, Vicki, Amy and Beth and all of our families are coming home too. Tell Mom we won’t be late our Savior will see to it…     

A forever grateful Son

A MEMORIAL – DR. TOM CHEELY

At the Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly this past week I experienced an event that was an unbelievably bittersweet moment for me as a man, a Gospel minister and the Pastor of a church I love, Briarwood. The moment was when I had the privilege to read a Memorial that was received and adopted by the PCA Denomination to honor the life, legacy and ministry of Dr. Tom Cheely who served Briarwood for 31 years as perhaps the most faithful and effective Missions Pastor any church could ever hope to have. What Tom did to propel Briarwood forward in fulfilling the Great Commission as a local church and what he did for our denomination as well as for the Kingdom as he served so many wonderful parachurch missionary agencies is almost staggering. Many have asked to see the Memorial so, with permission of our leadership; I have included it in this blog. I think you will enjoy reading it and I invite you to spend some time as you walk through it and meet, at least to some degree, a man of God, by the grace of God, who served effectively for the glory of God.

 

Whereas, on May 7, 2014 after he had “served the purpose of God in his own generation,” our Creator and Author of the destiny of all men, in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to call from our midst Teaching Elder, R. Thomas Cheely into His glorious presence, and;

Whereas, in1969 Tom Cheely was ordained to preach the Gospel and has faithfully kept his ordination vows through continually affirming his belief that the Scriptures did not “become the Word of God” or “contain the word of God” but the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, are the inerrant Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and;

Whereas,  during his forty five years of serving the Lord he pastored several churches before accepting the call in 1983 to minister at Briarwood Presbyterian Church as its first Missions Pastor, and;

Whereas,  for thirty one years as Missions Pastor, he faithfully served the Lord at Briarwood Presbyterian Church by undertaking each and every responsibility with diligence, grace, and focus always seeking to honor Christ through leadership to reach the world for Christ through “tenacious and tender” leadership, and;

Whereas, his leadership was blessed by the Lord through ministering to and supporting 500 foreign missionaries in 70 countries around the world through his visiting missionaries in all continents through personal encouragement and participation in the ministry work, and;

Whereas, he also lead the Briarwood Ministry initiatives to plant and revitalize churches as well as send missionaries to evangelize and disciple locally, in Birmingham, regionally, in Alabama and nationally, throughout North America with extraordinary vision and effectiveness, and:

Whereas,  he faithfully provided leadership to Evangel Presbytery and the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in America and was widely recognized for his denominational leadership and participation on numerous General Assembly and Evangel Presbytery committees, and;

Whereas, he also faithfully and effectively provided visionary as well as strategic leadership for various para-church mission agencies, projects and endeavors, and;

Whereas, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, it’s membership, fellowship, and leadership will miss greatly his presence yet knowing that the Lord “does all things well” and is grateful that Teaching Elder R. Thomas Cheely in his thirty one years of serving the Lord as Missions Pastor, the cause of Christ was advanced through Briarwood’s commitment to “equip Christians to worship God to reach Birmingham to reach the world for Christ.”, now:

Therefore Be It Resolved, that Evangel Presbytery does note the death of our brother in the Lord, with a deep sense of loss and sorrow by acknowledging that a “prince in Israel” has fallen yet because of the Gospel a “prince in Israel” has been promoted, we offer the prayer of thanksgiving for the life of Teaching Elder, Reverend, Doctor R. Thomas Cheely as he lived among us and served the Lord so faithfully.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”  Evangel Presbytery rejoices in the full and certain assurance that our brother is in the presence of God to worship Him throughout eternity.  To God be the glory, honor and power, both now and forevermore, Amen, and;

Further Be It Resolved, that this Resolution be approved as a Memorial by Evangel Presbytery and that Evangel Presbytery likewise forwarded this memorial to the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and;

Further Be It Resolved, that this Resolution be spread upon the minutes of the Evangel Presbytery and that a copy be furnished to his wife, Kathy, as an expression of Evangel Presbytery’s deep appreciation for the life, testimony, and forty-five years of ministry by Teaching Elder R. Thomas Cheely to the Kingdom of God.

I do hope and pray this Memorial has been an encouragement. Now I would ask that you join me in prayer asking that our Lord might raise up, for the sake of the Kingdom, more Gospel servants who, like Tom, are unalterably committed to the Great Commission, the exaltation of Christ and the expansion of the Kingdom of God through the Gospel of the Kingdom for the Glory of the King.

 

For Christ, the Gospel and His Kingdom,

Harry

ISIS and The USA in Review

The ISIS phenomena, Islamic terrorist attacks have occasioned an interesting response pattern from the administration of President Obama and even from him personally. There are doubtless multiple reasons as to why there is a hesitancy to identify the contemporary Jihadist movement as Islamic in both ideology and motivation. But whatever the reasons are, the fact is – our national leadership will, with both tortured rationalizations and inconsistencies, avoid labeling it as “Islamic” seemingly at all costs.

ISIS (Islamic State In al-Shama) is arguably the 7th Caliphate of Islam, an Islamic brand of theocracy that is determined to impress Sharia law upon the entire world. This movement is now spawning a Jihadist, terrorist, genocidal initiative against non-compliant Muslims, non-Muslims and other religions but, in particular, Jews and Christians.  The focus upon Jews and Christians has been painfully obvious in recent attacks. But equally obvious was the resolute Administration’s commitment to avoid identifying those targeted (Jews and Christians) or the terrorists (Islamic). In contrast the assailants publicly identified both themselves and the victims.

Recently in Paris a Jewish, kosher delicatessen was attacked. Four Jews were killed, and the perpetrator called a journalist to celebrate “killing some Jews.” Yet, the President insisted on a veiled and incomplete assessment of the event as a “random act of despicable terror by an irrational religious death cult.” While it was certainly “irrational” and “despicable” and it was the work of a “religious death cult,” it was neither “random” nor was it just any “death cult.” It, by the terrorists own affirmation, targeted Jews and was fundamentally rooted in a consistent and cleric-approved interpretation of the Quran by Muslim adherents of Islam.

More recently, ISIS Jihadists marched 21 Egyptian Christians, were in Libya to find work, onto a sandy Mediterranean beach. After verbally berating their captives and their Christianity, they ritually decapitated them because of their faith in Christ. Again, our President condemned the action by describing it as an “unspeakable act of barbarism upon Egyptian citizens.” This, at best, is an incomplete assessment, not only ignoring the explanatory words of the Islamic Jihadists but also insinuating that these men were killed because they were “citizens of Egypt.” Never mind the fact that all of these victims happened to be Christians on their knees calling upon Jesus to deliver them while being beheaded by self-identified Islamic Jihadists. Even still, our leaders would have us believe they were killed because they were Egyptian citizens at the hands of deranged cultists. These men were not only murdered because they were Christians. They were executed because they refused to recant their salvation, even though it might have saved them. Such disingenuous commentary upon their death dishonors them and makes the labeling of Maj. Nidal Hasan’s killing spree in the name of Allah that produced 13 causalities at Fort Hood as “work place violence” almost plausible. So why is our President doing this?

Honestly, I don’t know for sure. I can only surmise five possibilities.

  1. He personally senses or feels a need to protect the Islamic religion from being identified with the contemporary Islamic Jihadist Caliphate because of either its influence on him personally or perhaps family loyalty since he was raised in a family of professing Muslims. In other words, because of his personal connection in the formative years of his live he has a desire to defend the religion he knew from being identified with embarrassing elements now identified with the religion.
  2. He is concerned that he will offend (what we are told are the majority of Muslims) who reject this Caliphate Jihadist movement or at least its strategy and tactics.
  3. He is concerned that Americans will be unable to discern between Jihadist Muslims and those Muslims who have rejected the current Caliphate or Holy War.
  4. He, like the vast majority of Washington and the cultural elite, cannot believe that the Islamic religion could actually be the motivating and defining factor of those who are engaged in this genocidal Jihad. It is inconceivable to them that any religion could possibly matter that much to anyone. The fact is, those culturally committed to secular humanism find it unfathomable that religion could ever be a life and death issue to anyone.
  5. My inclination is #4 but it could be none or some combination of any or all of them.

SOME UNSOLICITED ADVICE

Mr. President, my unsolicited advice is this: If you either sympathize or personally desire to honor the Muslim religion of your family, then simply tell us. But by the way, your recent apologetic on behalf of Islam to distance it from the self-identified Islamic Caliphate by illegitimately and inaccurately comparing it to the Crusades, may have been a brief but helpful insight as to your perspective on both Islam and Christianity. Or…

If you are concerned that an intellectually honest assessment of the ISIS-affirmed Islamic Caliphate will offend “peace loving Muslims” – then say so. As you do, you can call upon all “peace loving Muslims” to theologically, organizationally and politically police themselves and their religion. Throughout your Presidency you have displayed no hesitancy in telling Americans and/or Christians our perceived faults and how we need to correct ourselves relationally and socially for which, when accurate, we thank you. And it is distinctly possible that as you provide similar admonitions for the Muslim community perhaps they will also be grateful. Or…

If you are concerned that Americans will overreact and engage in wholesale persecution of all Muslims, then again say so and challenge us not to do so. Personally, given all that has happened since 9/11, I think you should be encouraged by the restraint of Americans and their overall consistently demonstrated desire to avoid overreaction and instead treat our Muslim neighbors with respect while affirming their First Amendment rights.

Finally, Mr. President, first, as a Christian and second, as a grateful American, my unsolicited advice and appeal is simple. I don’t expect you to be an apologist for Islam. I am fully aware the Muslim religion has had an influential role in your life and you are adequately informed of its tenets and objectives. But you were not elected to evaluate whether a self-confessed Islamic Jihadist Caliphate is an authentic expression of their religion. You were elected to defend this country and its citizens “from all enemies foreign and domestic.” By the way, I do not expect you to be an apologist for Christianity either. You were not elected to be a Pastor or Imam but simply, yet profoundly, you were elected to be President of the United States and to fulfill your oath to protect us from avowed enemies. You need not evaluate the authenticity of the ideology or religion motivating those enemies – in this case whether their interpretation of Islam is valid or not. Simply protect the citizens of this nation – Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists – who have been targeted in this state supported and religiously declared Holy War.

AN OVERVIEW

So exactly what is America facing? ISIS is the latest contemporary Muslim movement designed to impose Sharia Law through a world-wide Theocratic Fascist Islamic Caliphate. America is not faced with a “war on terror.” Terror is a tactic of an unjust war not an enemy to defeat with war. Therefore this war is not against terror but Islamic terrorists. Our President is correct when he says we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with an Islamic Fascist Theocratic Caliphate affirmed by Muslim clerics who believe the Quran which teaches that those who do not convert and submit to Sharia Law in the name of Allah can be executed in a Holy War. In the Quran this doctrine is called “Takfir.” But the result is whether we desire to acknowledge it or not they have embraced the practice of “takfiri” thereby declaring war on us.

It is a Caliphate. Al-Qaeda was not. It desired a Caliphate but could not declare one. ISIS can since a Caliphate requires both clerical authorization and a true state with boundaries to be authentic. ISIS has both. In fact, it occupies a land mass larger than the nation of Great Britain.

It is a Fascist movement. Fascism is a governmental system marked by centralization of authority employing governmental power to control and implement policies of suppression and marginalization of any opposition by coercion with economic, legal and if necessary, lethal power to achieve its objectives. Islam with its governmental enforcement of Sharia is Fascist.

It is a Theocratic religious movement defined by a historically consistent Islamic interpretation of the Quran, with an objective of a world-wide Islamic Caliphate or Apocalypse.

A FINAL WORD

Finally, to my Christian brothers and sisters in America – It is both righteous and faithful to God’s Word for the President of the United States to use the power of the sword to protect us. Therefore, it is righteous and appropriate for our sons and daughters to give themselves to bear the sword of the State in a just defense of the country’s citizens. In fact, the government’s most important role, as defined by Scripture, is to serve as a minister of God to protect the lives of its citizens from any and all lethal aggression. The same text calls for us to both pray for our leaders and display respect for those who rule over us by God’s sovereign hand (Rom. 13:1-7).

Furthermore, it is also right for us, as our Lord’s church, to send our sons and daughters with the Sword of the Spirit and the Gospel to encourage His people and to reach His enemies. While remembering we too, were enemies of Christ when the Gospel came to us through His people proclaiming Jesus who will redeem His enemies and bring them into His family by delivering us from sin’s deception and power as well as its guilt and shame. All of this is made possible because of His atoning death upon the Cross and His triumph over the grave.

So, Mr. President, respectfully we are praying for you. And our sons and daughters are ready to protect and serve the citizens of this country with the Sword of the State in a just war.

And, to our enemies, we are also sending our sons and daughters with the “Weapons of the Spirit” protected by the “Armor of Christ” as “sheep to be slaughtered.” They come with the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of Truth – so that you may be set free from sin and fear. We long for you to hear the Spirit of God say “Come,” and the Bride of Christ – His Church – say “Come.” As we heard Christ, we pray you will also. We go to you so that you might hear the Gospel, His glorious message of salvation by grace and “come to Christ” – the King who died and is risen so that we who were His enemies – helpless and hopeless – might have life forevermore – “Come.”

A SING-ALONG SONG – A FRACTURED FRATERNITY AND A CONCERNED GRANDFATHER

It was both jarring and disheartening. I am referring to the surreptitious video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers singing a “song of hate” filled with pejorative racist language as well as degrading epithets and threating statements referencing horrid acts of the past century designed to intimidate African-Americans. It was absolutely deflating and I confess that even though I have watched it three times, I have not been able to view it in its entirety.

Before attempting to give some observations from a Biblical perspective I need to confess that my inability to process this with some level of objectivity is at least partially due to the fact that I am blessed to have 8 grandchildren and 3 are African-American. I cannot tell you how grateful I was that that none of my grandchildren were in the room when this video popped up on a news channel as a “tease” of what was coming up after the commercial.  Therefore, I was given an opportunity to prepare them as to how, as believers, they need to view this (for what it is) and respond to it with the clarity of God’s Word, the fruit of the Spirit and the triumph of Christ.

A brief overview…

How could something like this exist in our country given what seems to be the significant “racial progress” over the last fifty years? The sing-along song displaying unvarnished racial animus was sung by supposedly accomplished college students during the same week that the moving and emotional events memorializing the extraordinary courage of the participants of the Selma march 50 years ago were being observed and experienced. Not to mention the still raw emotions swirling around the challenging events of the past year as our nation attempts to navigate the relational and legal dynamics of local police departments and the African-American community.

A few observations…

1. Progress – I am grateful that the overwhelming response throughout our country is one of horror, incredulity and disciplinary action. One of the reasons for this reaction of gratification is because it was not many years ago this video would have had a mixed response of anger by some and callous amusement by others.

2. Law – I am also grateful for the right use of good law for establishing beneficial public policy relating to the protection of the Constitutional rights of each and every citizen. While not all civil rights legislation has been good and/or necessary, it is undeniable that some laws were necessary to protect the unalienable rights of African-Americans and restrain those who would attempt to deny (i.e. alienate) their rights because they are African-Americans. The response to this event by the University of Oklahoma, in particular, and the culture in general, is a testimony to the blessing of good laws which not only protect and restrain but also, by their existence, declare the ideals and values of a country. Laws designed to protect the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution and restrain those who would deny them are absolutely right, appropriate and necessary. But legal initiatives restraining the objectives of racism in the culture and also displaying the values and ideals of a culture are incapable of changing the hearts of racists and therefore incapable of eradicating racism. The heart of the problem with all sin (including racism) is the problem with the heart. Laws in a society protect people, establish cherished ideals in the culture of the society and restrain evil doers. But laws cannot remove sin because they cannot change hearts. The revulsion that this video has produced and the rapid responses reveal the benefits of good law. But, the song in content and the universal, frivolous participation of those who sang it tells us that while racism has been shamed in the public arena by good laws it has not (and cannot) erase it from the heart. Therefore, while such racist sing-alongs are no longer in the public square, racist hearts will still be revealed by what comes out of the heart and will seek new venues to revel in sinful and sophisticated stupidity – even in a frat party sing along.

3. Biblically faithful theology and a Bible-shaped world view are crucial. The present theological battle in the church to maintain the Biblical doctrine of creation and the historicity of Adam and Eve is important for multiple reasons. One reason is they provide an effective and God honoring foundation to confront racism by rejecting the Darwinian mythology of multiple races. A Biblical world view, when embraced in a “renewed mind,” will agree with the Scripture in general and the Apostle Paul in particular. In Acts 17, Paul is defending the faith in the intellectual capital of the world – Athens – and in the heart of its worship center – the Areopagus.

“That God who made the world and everything in it….. and He made from one man (Adam) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” Acts 17: 24 ff.

In one distillation and declaration of Biblical truth he affirms the God-established presence of the nations of the world as well as the reality that all humanity, while found in multiple cultures and nations, is actually one race – the human race – with one father (Adam) – the historical Adam and Eve. Racism is not only sinful but is also an act of stupidity because…

  • There is only one race. Therefore to be a racist is at best an act of sinful ignorance and at worst, an act of willing sinful ignorance.
  • A racist must embrace the multiple lies of Darwinian evolutionary claims concerning origins, which is both bad science and by definition non-science.
  • Affirming the importance of intentionally developing a Bible-shaped world and life view through a “renewed mind” leading to a “transformed life,” instead of a life “conformed to this world is absolutely crucial.”

4. The Gospel – The Gospel alone – the “message of reconciliation” delivered by a “ministry of reconciliation” – is the only answer to heart-sins.  Law restrains, declares values and reveals how helpless we are apart from the Gospel of Grace in Christ to save us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. Remember the heart of the problem is the problem with the heart and the Gospel alone has the power to change the hearts of men and women thereby eradicating the heart of the problem. The sins of bigotry can be forgiven and the heart of bigotry can by God’s grace be transformed.  Exhibit one – the Apostle Paul. Not only was Paul, once the killer of Christians, forgiven, he also was transformed and became one of the greatest evangelists whom the Lord used to multiply Christians. He was a persecutor of the church but was forgiven and became the greatest church planter in the history of the church. He was a relentless Gentile hater as a Jewish Pharisee but became the Apostle to the Gentiles, taking a Gentile name and embracing Timothy, a Gentile from a Gentile father as his “adopted son” in the Lord.

5. Leadership works – Good leadership produces good results and bad leadership produces bad results. If you look closely at the video you will see “a leader” and the followers. This observation does not absolve those who were led into participating but simply affirms that leadership matters. Interestingly, some who participated have already stepped out to apologize and confess. What if another leader had stepped up at that moment to challenge the song, its content and intent? Perhaps, those who were on the edge but ended up “going along” would have been moved in the direction of what is good, right, excellent and virtuous. So, the question to my brothers and sisters but most of all to me is – Would I have been “strong and courageous” by God’s grace, for God’s glory and displayed as well as persuaded others to pursue “a more excellent way?”

6. Character – Finally, while realizing many are debating the legal issues of the President of the University of Oklahoma, I personally believe standards of conduct must be maintained even in a state university. But there remains a question that must be asked of the SAE fraternity and the University – including the President, Board and Administration. I know to enter into the University and/or the fraternity you must have means (money) and you must have displayed academic competency and achievement. But what about character? Lest you think I am out of touch with reality, I challenge you to go and research the entrance requirements to Colleges and fraternities just 75 years ago. See the depth and penetrating nature of the questions concerning character and demonstrated habits of life which saturated the entrance examination process.  This is a character issue as well as a heart issue – not just a violation of politically correct speech.

 Summation…

We thank the Lord that in His Providence we have seen (since the mid-19th century) laws that confront the racism and prejudice that attempts to deny the “unalienable rights” of all citizens in general and the confrontation of systemic racism against African-Americans in particular. And while thanking the Lord for laws that set virtuous cultural ideals which protect the equality of each and every citizen we also know these Laws cannot change hearts. But the Gospel does.

But hearts are only changed through Gospel evangelism and discipleship focused upon a Christ-centered and Bible-shaped Life-view, leading to a Christ-centered and Bible-shaped Life-style, motivated by a Christ-centered and Bible-informed Life-love -the love of Christ compels us.

This Gospel of Grace gloriously liberates us from the penalty of our sins (including bigotry and racism); it definitively liberates us from the power of our sins (including bigotry and racism); it increasingly liberates us from the practice of our sins (including bigotry and racism). And it must be displayed in the covenant community of the King, our Lord and Savior – His Church.

This is what I long for my three African-American grandchildren to see and hear. More than that this is what I long for the world to see and hear – from us who know Christ as Lord and Savior – most importantly from me.

EMBERS TO A FLAME CHURCH REVITALIZATION CONFERENCE

EMBERS BIRMINGHAM 2015 (2)_Page_2

Join us for the Embers to a Flame Conference on Church Revitalization following the Biblical roadmap and ten strategies to church health and vitality.

To see a video and for more specific information regarding the conference to be held at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in January 2015 go to http://www.emberstoaflame.org