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Good Mourning, Lord.

“They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.”

In Luke 8, we read the story of Jesus raising a dead girl to life. Because she was dead, her home was surrounded by mourners – professional mourners, doing their culturally-dictated job of weeping and wailing in a public fashion to give a corporate voice to the community’s sadness.

But their hypocrisy was uncovered when Jesus said, “She is not dead, but asleep.” How quickly these veneer-thick mourners went from lament to laughter.Their mourning, perhaps conceived with good intentions, was pretense, not pity.

imageYesterday, a shooting rampage in a gay Florida night club left over 50 people dead … in the name of the attackers’ version of their Islamic faith. For the past 24 hours, I have watched and read the litany of mournful statements and posts. We are all incredibly sad that such a thing could happen right here, on American soil. I know the sorrow is very real for some (though I suspect that some of the “mourning” has been a veiled attempt at theo-political correctness – some pretense rather than pity).

But, it got me to thinking. In Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Greek”. As a follower of Jesus, I am an alien and stranger here on earth. I know many from the U.S. will balk at this, but I’m convinced that I should be WAY more committed to the Kingdom of God than the country of my geography and ethnicity. And my heart should bleed as much for the nations as for any isolated locale. I don’t at all begrudge people for mourning the Orlando shootings. But I don’t think Jesus is sadder about our national tragedy than He is about similar things happening all over the world. If we truly have a heart like the Savior’s … then why don’t we mourn for the nations?

iraqIt got me to thinking, which got me to doing a bit of searching … and I’m afraid I ran into some extraordinarily depressing news. Do you realize how many tragedies like the Orlando shooting have happened in 2016 alone? Over 130! … I’ve made a list of terrorist acts with double-digit death counts (there are more than twice as many of these where less than 10 were killed). I’ve posted them below … and I offer these thoughts:

  1. I think the Homeland Security leadership has done an admirable job in this country – that we don’t show up on this list until June 11. This is especially true considering how much we are loathed by the most violent of terrorist groups.
  2. Do we look at the numbers next to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and figure that, well, that’s just part and parcel of the situation, and is to be expected? Or do we mourn for those losses as well?
  3. Why do we pray so little? These attacks show no sign of stopping. I think we all know that prayer matters, makes a difference, etc. In light of the incredibly awful situation we find ourselves in these days, how can we ever get through a day without crying out to God for His mercy?(My biggest question.)
  4. How do we mourn for all of these people? So much unspeakable tragedy … so much anguish. Is it easier to just rent a movie and numb our minds to these realities? Or do we believe Jesus enough to emotionally and prayerfully enter into the brokenness, and help carry these international burdens?

 

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Eccl. 7:2). Lord, teach us to love our neighbors, and mourn with those who mourn. Really.

– EO

3-Jan Iraq 15
7-Jan Libya 60
1-Jan Iraq 12
11-Jan Iraq 20
11-Jan Iraq 100
12-Jan Turkey 12
13-Jan Pakistan 15
13-Jan Cameroon 12
15-Jan Somalia 63
16-Jan Burkina Faso 30
16-Jan Syria 300
17-Jan Afghanistan 14
17-Jan Yemen 10
19-Jan Pakistan 10
20-Jan Pakistan 20
22-Jan Somalia 20
25-Jan Scameroon 28
25-Jan Syria 23
26-Jan Syria 29
26-Jan Afghanistan 10
27-Jan Iraq 55
30-Jan Nigeria 86
1-Feb Afghanistan 20
3-Feb Syria 15
8-Feb Iraq 300
9-Feb Nigeria 60
13-Feb Nigeria 22
17-Feb Yemen 13
17-Feb Turkey 28
19-Feb Cameroon 24
21-Feb Syria 57
21-Feb Syria 134
22-Feb Afghanistan 14
25-Feb Iraq 15
26-Feb Somalia 14
27-Feb Afghanistan 13
28-Feb Iraq 78
28-Feb Somaila 30
29-Feb Iraq 40
29-Feb DRC 13
2-Mar Syria 18
4-Mar Yemen 15
6-Mar Iraq 61
6-Mar Syria 14
7-Mar Pakistan 10
7-Mar Tunisia 17
13-Mar Ivory Coast 19
13-Mar Turkey 37
16-Mar Pakistan 15
16-Mar Nigeria 22
18-Mar Syria 11
19-Mar Egypt 13
20-Mar Iraq 24
22-Mar Belgium 32
25-Mar Iraq 41
25-Mar Yemen 26
26-Mar Iraq 18
27-Mar Pakistan 72
4-Apr Iraq 14
7-Apr Syria 23
8-Apr Syria 175
9-Apr Yemen 17
9-Apr Philippines 18
11-Apr Afghanistan 12
19-Apr Afghanistan 64
21-Apr Iraq 250
23-Apr Iraq 45
24-Apr Nigeria 30
25-Apr Syria 16
29-Apr Iraq 14
30-Apr Iraq 38
1-May Somaila 22
1-May Iraq 33
2-May Iraq 18
2-May Iraq 17
3-May DRC 38
4-May Syria 15
5-May Syria 12
5-May Iraq 25
9-May Iraq 16
10-May Afghanistan 11
11-May Iraq 17
11-May Iraq 64
11-May Iraq 13
11-May Yemen 13
11-May Syria 45
12-May Yemen 15
12-May Syria 49
13-May Iraq 16
13-May Iraq 11
14-May Syria 20
15-May Iraq 14
15-May Iraq 15
15-May Yemen 47
16-May Iraq 21
17-May Iraq 101
18-May Iraq 25
20-May Afghanistan 11
22-May Syria 12
23-May Yemen 45
23-May Syria 184
25-May Afghanistan 11
29-May Iraq 25
29-May Iraq 12
31-May Afghanistan 17
1-Jun Somalia 16
1-Jun Iraq 13
3-Jun Yemen 18
3-Jun Iraq 18
4-Jun Syria 40
4-Jun Nigeria 32
6-Jun Kazakhstan 10
5-Jun Syria 38
5-Jun Iraq 13
5-Jun Iraq 400
6-Jun Iraq 11
7-Jun Iraq 65
7-Jun Turkey 11
7-Jun Iraq 10
7-Jun Syria 20
8-Jun Afghanistan 16
9-Jun Iraq 12
9-Jun Iraq 12
9-Jun Iraq 19
9-Jun Syria 54
10-Jun Libya 32
10-Jun Iraq 30
11-Jun Iraq 10
11-Jun Afghanistan 14
11-Jun Syria 20
11-Jun Syria 49
12-Jun USA 50
 

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Wrestling with Fred: “Ministers”

Frederick Beuchner is one of my favorite authors. His insights into the spiritual life, with Christ at its center, have been very formative to me. I recently signed up for a daily Buechner quote – great!

Wrestling with today’s quote from Fred …

“Ministers have their heads in the clouds, which is just where you should have your head when your mind is on higher things … Ministers are as anachronistic as alchemists or chimney sweeps … The perspective of ministers is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.”

Hmmm…

1 Corinthians 2:13-15 comes to mind. Here, Paul says This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 

So, to the world, we believers are perceived as “hopelessly distorted and biased” fools. It should come as no shock that people without the Spirit will not listen. Because the cannot listen. In Jesus’ terms, they don’t have “ears to hear”.

The simple, Biblical truth is that Spirit must precede the embrace of truth. We can’t make Spirit happen – only God can. But, we are promised that “the gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel -> Spirit -> Truth. Any alteration or deletion from this process will prove impotent.

GospelSpiritTruthI’ve been a minister for decades. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I’m some kind of  divinely appointed DA for the Lord, guiding testimonies in the court of public opinion. If I do my job right, I’ll be able to lead the “jury” to my appointed conclusions. That’s why I’ve been lured into my share of (what I have found to be counter-productive) social media rants, thinking that my clear delineation of spiritual realities through Spirit-taught (Biblical) words will win the day.

Oops. Fred reminds me to embrace the spiritual, Spirit-taught realities: Don’t be surprised or angry when (not if) the Biblical truth you share is misunderstood and rejected. It will be – it’s written in stone.

Before we all resign our pulpits, let’s remember Paul’s other words in the same chapter: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). To this end we preach … head fixed in the clouds, rejoicing with the faithful, and experiencing the collective sanctification that will shape us into a community that first lives and then proclaims the gospel … through which the number of anachronistic fools will swell. 

– EO

 

 

 

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The Day the Republican Party Lost Me

MarqueeI was bemoaning U.S. politics with some old friends, one of whom has been a pastor and mentor in my life for years. He made the comment that, perhaps, the current political environment may prompt Evangelical Christians in the United States to finally disassociate themselves with party politics, and assume our Biblical posture as “aliens and strangers” in this land (1 Pet. 2:11). His idea sounded pure, freeing, liberating.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve made the leap.

I have been a registered republican for decades, with varying levels of loyalty. The main reason I identify with Republicans has been the issue of abortion. I continue to believe that our culture’s practice of removing vital fetuses is a colossal holocaust. I don’t think anyone, including a mother, should be granted the choice to terminate their innocent, vulnerable lives. I will always vote for pro-life legislation.

I also have always championed bigger freedoms, and smaller government. I want federal and state government to make as few decisions about my personal life as possible. I get tense when values are inflicted on me by politicians, especially in a land that claims to applaud individual liberties. Less legislation, less manipulation.politicsI’ve voted Republican for a long time. The primary

But something has always attracted me to the Democrats. It seems that they really want to make life better for people. I seldom think they’re answers are good ones — but I appreciate the heart. The Bernie Sanders campaign is a good example: Sanders wants to see problems fixed, and wants to take our collective wealth and redistribute it for a broader common good. Again, I like the heart … but the policy?

Republicans seldom have policy-related answers to the struggles of our American human condition – because they are committed to have as few policy-related initiatives as possible. Democrats scream, “where are your answers, Republicans?” Republicans just don’t like the assumption behind the question – that government needs to answer questions. Their primary policy MO is no policy. Freedom … the free market, the free will of the benevolent, the free thinking of people free of unnecessary tax burdens … free Cronkitepeople will choose to advance economics, care for their neighbors, and, in general, live well.

But, I just don’t believe this anymore. As a Christian, I have always believed that man is broken. Our inclination isn’t good, but rather “the wickedness of man [is] great in the earth …every intention of the thoughts of his heart [is] only evil continually” (Gen. 6:6). Man, left to himself, murders his brother, builds the Tower of Babel, breaks the laws of God, and crucifies Jesus. For our race to bank on freedom as our panacea for all of our problems … well, let’s just say it is Biblically unwise.

LoweryOur country is also less God-informed than ever. Faith in God, whether is has been genuine or just legalistic ethicism, had provided a moral center for our culture in decades past. But that is clearly eroding. The freedom we practice now is increasingly godless  … on both sides of the aisle.

So … a profoundly secular, progressive Democratic party wants to “fix” things on the basis of its own, collective, godless wisdom. I don’t like those Babel-like prospects. But an increasingly worldly Republican party  (including masses of poorly-discipled church attenders who have cashed in a robust Christian theology for two-dimensional talk-radio tweets) appears to me to be cloaking its selfishness in flags and eagles. I never hear a Republican clamoring for lower taxes so that we can give more to the poor. No, it’s about me – my freedom, my money, my guns, my health care, my license.

As God has always said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Democrats say “we know the way we should all live.” I don’t share their confidence. Republicans say, “left alone, we’ll choose good.” I don’t believe that for a second.

1902345-Godless-America-0Issue by issue? Sometimes I think we need government intervention. At other times, I think the best thing is for government to get out of the way. But, regarding the great issue facing our country, I’m afraid it cannot be answered by either party. It’s our godlessness. Though more than two thirds of our population believe in god, (s)he has become a side dish, no longer central to the ways we think or live.

Then, bring in the current election phenomena. Any party that could possibly let Hillary Clinton be its nominee? I wouldn’t go there. Any party that could possibly let Donald Trump secure its nomination? I couldn’t go there.

I will still care about politics. I will still vote. But labels … well, they haven’t fit for a long time, but current circumstances have disqualified them all. I guess that makes me “an independent.” A pro-life, small government, bleeding heart independent, praying that my country will somehow miraculously find its way back into the blessing of God in the years ahead.

– EO

 

 

 

 

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God’s Stump Speech? (Ps. 147)

10341948_1136209249753147_2020847579845022647_n.jpgI saw this picture posted on Facebook today. At first blush, I felt awkward about it.

I am a believer in God. I would say that the following labels apply to me, for the most part: Evangelical. Conservative. Bible-believing. And there are many, many people in the United States that share these convictions. But sometimes the ways people communicate these convictions embarrasses me.

Take the picture. “America” – I’m guessing you mean North America, and specifically the United States of America? “Great” – what is greatness, Biblically speaking? An incredibly strong economy that has us aggressively accumulating a disproportionate share of the worlds goods? A massive military that can exert influence on others countries, whether they want our influence or not? Freedom that has, especially in the media, proven to breed licentiousness and immorality?

Some people who say they want to make America great also think that they, themselves, are pretty great. If that’s greatness, I’ve got to say … I don’t want that kind of “greatness” for America.

So, to say God can make us great, we need a refined vision of greatness.

My Bible reading today has me in Psalm 147. I don’t want this to sound sacrilegious, but it almost reads like God’s “stump speech.” It’s pretty great.

Urban development: The Lord builds up [the city] … He blesses your people within you.

Social Services: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds … He sustains the humble.

Homeland Security: He casts the wicked to the ground. He strengthens the bars of your gates.

Immigration: He gathers the exiles. 

Foreign Policy: He grants peace to your borders.

Climate and Environment: He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call … He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes … He stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

Economy: He satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

Priority of the Military: His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior.

Religion: He has revealed his word … the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

God. At times He seems like what we might call a bleeding-heart liberal. At others, a hawkish, economically motivated conservative. I doubt if He could secure the nomination of either party.

But, I do believe, life under His rule would be great. If that is what the marquee sign is promoting, I’m all in.

Oh … and by the way … it will be great. That rule is coming. Probably not in November. But maybe before! And soon.

– EO

   

 

 

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Love Ya, But You’re Not Family

The common religious “logic” these days is that all religions are different versions of the same thing – and attempt to be right with the one God. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever else, we’re called to “coexist” with an understanding that none of these expressions are wrong, and that they are intrinsically the same.coexistI spent some time reading the Koran tonight. Just chapter 9. I admit to not being well-versed in this text … I had just heard that chapter 9 would be an interesting read. And, I’ve been encouraged to consider this book as a set of sacred texts that are just another version of the eclectic enterprise that is human religion.

But is it?

9.5 – “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.”

9.14 – “Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them.”

9.29 – “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah.”

9.30 – “Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!”

9.31 – “They have taken as lords beside Allah …the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God.”

9.33 – “He … sent His messenger … that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse.”img14

9.36 – “Wage war on all of the idolaters.”

 

9.41 – “Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed.”

9.73 – “Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell.”

9.80 – “Ask forgiveness for them (O Muhammad), or ask not forgiveness for them; though thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times Allah will not forgive them.”

9.111 – “Lo! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain … Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.”

9.113 – “It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin (to them) after it hath become clear that they are people of hell-fire.”

9.122 – “And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk.”

9.123 – “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).

These texts are a far cry from the Biblical call to love my neighbor. To turn the other cheek. To not live (or die) by the sword. To pray for and extend forgiveness. To be the servant of all. To sacrifice.

With all due respect … we are not family. The God depicted in these texts is not the God that was revealed in Jesus the Christ. It is ignorance of both sets of texts to tell me they should be compatible.

(These texts are also obvious examples of how violence and terrorism can be extrapolated easily from the Islamic texts. I know many Muslims claim that their faith is peaceful. But you have to be theologically creative to purge the obvious violence from these teachings.)

The practical, relevant difference between this text and the Bible should not be missed: As Christians, we are to serve, love, and pray for those who don’t believe as we do. Our hope is that we “might win some” (1 Cor. 9:22). So, yes, Christians are the ones, the unique ones, who are called, and even equipped by the Holy Spirit, to COEXIST with all peoples. We don’t believe in universal salvation … but social cohesion, mutual honoring, and a peaceful society?

My family is all in.

– EO

 

 

 

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Are We Crying Out to God Enough?

What is the appropriate response for believers to the chaos that is escalating all around us?

  • Turn off the news and isolate from the bad news
  • Lobby for a political candidate who will fix things
  • Complain about the situation on social media
  • Distract ourselves with entertainment
  • Move to Costa Rica

The prophet Jeremiah points us to the one thing needful (Lamentations 2:16-19):

  • (16) “All your enemies open their mouths against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth, they cry: ‘We have devoured her! Ah, this is the day we longed for; at last we have seen it.'” This feels like our day. Every time we experience an “uncivilized” attack against the West, it is accompanied by maddening, vitriolic claims to victory.
  • (17)”The Lord has done what He purposed, He has carried out His threat; as He ordained long ago, He has demolished without pity; He has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes.” This is happening under God’s control? Not only that, but by God’s initiative! “He has made” them gloat, and has “exalted the might” of their tactics? He is behind it all. Startling? But this means He can, and only He can, change its course.
  • (18-19) “Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tearkneeling-man-bears-witness1s stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children.”  When facing times of inordinate calamity, the call of God to His people is to pray. But this is so much more than saying a quick prayer before the evening meal, or listing “world peace” as you go down your prayer list. Jeremiah describes a brand of prayer that rends ones mind, heart and body to the Lord. Hands lifted, hearts poured out, from the rising of the sun to the late hours of the night. “Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite.”

Hope for our world rests in the sovereign God, Who is at the helm of all of our circumstances, pouring out His mercy and grace on the nations. He answers to prayers of His people. So, we know that this is the one thing most needful in our day.

The world doesn’t know, believe or understand this … and will therefore never ask it of us. But they desperately need those who believe in the Most High God to pray, and to pray hard. We’re the ones who know the way out of our tragic international condition. Do we love the nations, our country, our families, and even ourselves enough to hit our knees?

May Lamentations 2:18-19 be a description of the church’s collective prayer life. And may God pour out fresh mercies on us, and on the nations.

– EO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I’m not praying like this. I need to.
  • And what if the Lord answers this type of collective wailing with an outpouring of His mercy and grace?
  • so commit themselves to intercessory prayer that they are physically spent –
 

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Anglicans and Lutherans

Anglican_LutheranAn interesting article about two of my favorite “families” in Christianity.

Confessional Lutherans & Anglicans Draw Closer Together

As I have sought out denominational families to which I could be tethered in a wholehearted and fulfilling way, these have been the two that emerge.

– EO

 

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