Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Ice Walker

This post is from the trail out west. We are in the process of relocating during this time that seems to have become my sabbatical. And it has been an adventure to say the least. We intended to leave a day in front of the winter storm that hit the Midwest. Instead, we ended up driving in the middle of it. We made it only do Dallas by the middle of the night the first night. (Because it was officially Friday, 12.15 am, when we checked in, I could not get the weekday rate.) Then the next morning, Friday still, we head off to Abilene, and even perhaps Las Cruces. It's only an 10 hour drive. We made it to Weatherford. It took us all day. Weatherford LaQuinta is 100 miles from the Dallas LaQuinta from where we started.

God is good. He protected us during our journey. He also gave me a wife who looked out for my needs on the road. She was driving our suburban behind. When I needed to make a change, she created the buffer space I needed in my rig. 

I also learned to appreciate what I've read in those westerns I like so much. When the story tells how taxing a buckboard is to the body, I can fully appreciate it, now. I tried as much as I could, but it was a continual shake on the rig. At the end of the day, my knees were screaming, my wrists and ankles were all swollen to twice their size. It was a good 2 day layover for recovery.

Another appreciation that I developed was during the ice. We were in the hotel and I couldn't get the vehicle open. We couldn't afford to eat out given that our budget is limited. The suburban was iced into the parking spot, but thankfully Walmart was across the street as I recalled from when I slid the moving van into its spot below the hotel. 

I would take this trek to Walmart. I had my hiking/snow boots that were already padding my feet as I drove. Everyone else was wearing lite treads. The ice was 4+ inches thick. The family couldn't help. So off I went. And what I thought was just across the street was more like a half mile away from the hotel. The hotel was at the top of a hill on a side road that was off the side road that was off the main road where Walmart was located, which was at the bottom of the hill.

This was tricky. I remember from my college days at Ozark, that walking downhill on ice is dangerous. Walking uphill isn't much easier. As I looked for the best, most gentle incline that I could take, I saw them. Steps of another traveler whose tracks were laid in the snow before they iced over. Now this is a testimony of grace. The steps were at the same stride that I would walk while walking on ice. Not only were they the same stride, the prints were nearly the same tread pattern that I wear, and they were size 13, a perfect fit. I was able to walk to Walmart, safely. (Unfortunately the tracks disappeared in the parking lot.)

But here is what struck me as I discovered these wondrous tracks. At that moment, Hebrews 11 and 12.1 came to mind. This is the passage that is called the Hall of Faith, those who lived before us and what marked their faith in the Lord. Now in this passage, we see people who seem to have their lives together. And yet, were they?

Not in the least! These people are normal people, like you and I, sinful, broken. One man had the habit of sending his children away to protect a favored child, something that would become a family trait. Another saw a storm that wiped out all he knew that he turned to the bottle to cope. One betrayed his best friend, and cheated on his wife. One lost his wealth, another his life. Of course, you need to look back into the first half of the Bible to read their stories, which include others who suffered mental health, manic depression, prostitution, cheats and thieves. 

People whose secrets aren't too different from our own. These are those who God used. People who've walked ahead of us, leaving us a trail to follow.  Praise God that just as I had a person to follow to and from Walmart, I have the Scripture that shows me that no matter how bad my life may look, what mistakes I've made and will make, God still loves and has use for me. I still have worth.

You know what? This same God, our Heavenly Father, loves you, too. Why? Because in Christ, you are declared righteous. (Romans 5.19) It means that not only are your sins forgiven, but that because God sees you through His Son, Jesus, it's as if you've never sinned. Isn't that great news? So next time you are in a storm, or just seem lost in life, look for the ice walker.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Shrewd as Serpents, Gentle as Doves

The following blog WILL BE quite offensive to many of my fellow brothers and sisters in the Faith. I am going to take the side opposite of what main Christian media is taking. But I ask that you read the thought with an open mind and listen to my argument.

In Matthew 10, around verse 26, Jesus is sending out his disciples to preach in the surrounding communities, perhaps the nation. He gave them the advice that they should be as shrewd as serpents, but as gentle as doves. It means that they should be serving, not self seeking.

That verse popped into my mind when I heard of a photographer was being sued because she would not shoot a same-gender wedding. It then spread to a bakery over a cake for another same-gender wedding. It seems that both businesses have lost this fight. And perhaps, rightly so.

Yes, you read that correctly. I believe that they were wrong to NOT make the cake or take the pictures. There is a better way to make your opinion known without being labeled hateful in the process. This is where Matthew 10.26 comes into the real world.

As a teen, I remember going to California. One of my cousins was getting married. At that time, I had a hobby. I loved photography. But I didn't pursue it because I had other commitments that kept my schedule too full for anything more serious. I mean, all I owned was a point and shoot. I had just bought it, too. My first Polaroid™ 35mm. And I took it to the wedding.

I also had 4 rolls of film. I wanted to catch all the shots that I could. After the wedding and reception were done, I let my aunt develop my pictures. All I asked for were the duplicates in return. She could even keep the negatives, which she did. She sent me a gift for what I had done, and with the words I shall never forget, for my simple point and shoot. All the important shots “were better than the professional photographer's!”

So what does that have to do with the lawsuit? As a business owner, the idea of having sign at the door that says, “We refuse the right to serve you” is rather misleading. Under the last administration, a suit clearly pointed out that restaurants could not turn a person away if they had the means to pay, unless the person's hygiene posed a threat to public health statutes.

For the Christian business owner, he must remember that he is first a Christian. Second, once he hangs that “open” for business sign in his shop, he can't really turn anyone away. Why would he want to? By standing for his rights, he missed the opportunity to share the gospel with a non-Christian, or the chance to turn an erring sister from her sin. He missed the opportunity to be God's instrument of Grace.

What would have happened with Lydia and the church in Philippi had Paul immediately said as they arrested him, “Hands off! I am a Roman citizen!”? Sure it was wrong for the officials to flog him, much less lay hands on him. He could have done that. That was his right.

But we'd have missed one of the greatest churches of the early world. We'd miss the best letter of encouragement in the New Testament. No, Paul didn't cling to his right because he saw an opportunity to share God's love and grace with a non-Christian, the jailer and his family.

So how would the photographer have better witnessed? “I will shoot your wedding, but I must tell you that I am a Christian. I believe that what you are doing is morally wrong. Given that, shooting your wedding with my beliefs, I may not get the 'magical' shots you are hoping to see. You should consider another photographer.” To my knowledge, this was not tried. She refused outright, as was her “right” to do so.

It's like the man who drives his European sport car into a mechanic's shop for some engine repair. Now the mechanic's forte is domestics. There's not even a single Toyota or Nissan in the area, just the big 3. Would the mechanic flat out refuse to work on the sport car? No. He would tell the driver that he's only good at working on domestics, and he would probably give the driver the directions to the nearest garage that could be of service to him.

Perhaps the Church of America has been too polluted with our rights that we have forgotten to seek first His kingdom. As a nation, we fought to have our freedoms that now freedoms have become a new idol in our sea of idols. It has infested the Church, poisoning her.

Christians expect to see Christian behavior from non-Christians. But Paul tells us that we are not to judge those who don't know Christ. Christians expect Christian behavior from corporate America. But Jesus didn't come to save Home Depot™. Christ came to save you and me from our sins and the Hell we deserve. He calls us to become Children of God, brothers and sisters to Christ. He didn't call Dr. Pepper. He didn't call the Denver Broncos. You and me.

And this doesn't even begin to address the flip side of the argument. I will ask, how many ceremonies were shot of non-Christians, man and wife? How many cakes fed non-Christian couples? Let us be smart with how we deal with our neighbor.

Now I know that these lawsuits have been old news. What prompted this? A discussion on a minister's forum that I belong posted an article about churches revamping by-laws and articles of incorporation to protect themselves from potential lawsuits of same-gender weddings. The mainstream media says that the churches doing this are being alarmist when there is no threat, nor likely to be one.

Again, let us remember that we are to be as smart as snakes, but as harmless as doves. Let us start thinking about this outside the box. Fact is 13 states along with DC, according to the article, allow for same-gender marriages. I don't agree with it, but man has been redefining marriage since the time of the Patriarchs of the Bible. There will be a time that a couple will come to your church and inquire about either the preacher performing the ceremony or the rental of the property. How should you respond?

It is wise to rethink the wedding ceremony. As beautiful as it can be, it is now corrupted. It could be prudent for the church to no longer allow ceremonies outside the congregation. Rent it for anything but weddings. Or perhaps, don't rent it at all. Allow people to schedule use of the facility, except weddings. Except any and all weddings.

For the couple who are part of the congregation, make their ceremony a justice of the peace, or county judge for the State requirement, and then as part of the “worship meeting”, have the ceremony that is before God. Many ceremonies have been separated from the general meetings. Even the baptisms are usually held at the end of the service, more most likely after the service is over. I prefer to celebrate milestones in my brothers' and sisters' lives.

How else can we become as smart as snake, while remaining as harmless as doves? Remember, look for the opportunities to advance and to seek His kingdom first.

Thanks for thinking with me!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Little Fort - Where I am

The Little Fort (When a Ministry Comes to an End)

This is a story that I am sharing with you, my reader, with permission of the author.  It echoes his sentiment. It echoes mine. His situation is not too far removed from my own. Seasons of transition, change, and ending are never easy for the minister or for the church. But even in this, "I do know that God will work this to the good of those who love Him and are called by His name."  

The following post IS NOT written by me. Here is today's guest post, "The Little Fort":

I find myself covered in dust as I glance over the small group our Lord has placed me to lead. They are a ragtag bunch, some bold, some timid, some cultured, some country but all of them are experienced veterans of the war. All of them have been in the war longer than I have been alive. These soldiers have been holding this position for fifty years. The battlements are burned and scarred from the assaults by the enemy. 

Once a proud bastion of light and wisdom, the little fort has become nearly forgotten in the war. Reinforcements and supplies have stopped. We have just enough supplies and warriors to last mere weeks or months at best.

A wave of melancholy washes over me as I look down at the orders in my hand. I look back at the veterans and back to the new orders. They read “You are needed north.”

My troops trust me and they want me to remain with them. For several years I have raised my shield with theirs and withstood the blows of the enemy. We have gathered in victory feasts and praised our king and shared our joy. We have mourned as we watched the enemy carry off some of our own. And we shared the mixed feelings of pride and sorrow as the King transferred our forces to new posts, leaving us behind.

What's wrong friend?” my sergeant asks me. A soft faced old man of eighty winters, whose gentle demeanor hides his true spiritual power and resolve to hold his position no matter what.

I hand him the orders. He reads it in silence, his merry smile faltering into grim determination. He looks up with tears in his eyes. “So you are leaving the fort?”

It seems so,” I say. “but I don't know when or where.”

He nods and gestures to the others who are still beyond earshot. “You know you are probably our last captain. This is probably the end of the fort.” I watch the history of the fort play over his face. I can see him recalling the fact his father and mother were soldiers and helped build this fort, carving it from the wilderness and defending the those who were lost and wandering from the wolves and beasts of the forest and field. I know he was remembering the day his own children were made the King's soldiers in the very hall of honor that stood behind me. But mostly I could see his pain at the loss of his wife who was the equal warrior to him in every regard. That had been transferred to the King's castle last year leaving the old soldier with an empty tent.

A dryness not cotton filled my throat. “I can only say the Lord knows what he is doing.”

Yes he does,” the old veteran replied and walked back to the others. 

I crumpled the orders in my hand. Turning away from them I looked up toward the skies and whispered “Why does it hurt so bad for things to change? Why do these forts rise and fall? What's the point of fighting for a hundred years to just watch it crumble and die because it just withers?”

“Captain,” An ancient voice cracked behind me. I turned to find the oldest of our veterans, a woman so old neither she nor any of the other soldiers knew how old she actually was. Her helmet was so battered and bent it was hard to tell what the original shape had been. This old warrior had fought some terrible battles. “I just wanted you to know I think his little fort is gonna grow. I think the Lord is gonna bring us some new recruits and help us to fix these old walls. I know because you are here.”

It was like a knife had slipped into my guts. “Oh sweet lady,” I said. “The Lord has his own plans for us.” I handed her the crumpled orders.

She read them. “Well I don't want you to go. I like you as our captain and I know this fort will grow so you just forget those orders.”

I want to cry. This little fort and it's soldiers mean much to my heart. But my orders are in my hand. I hear the screech of the messenger hawk. I can see the new orders coming on the wings of the Lord's hawk. I don't know to be happy or to cry. Why does change have to hurt so bad?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jonah's Talent Matthew 25.16-30 - (Sermon)

I heard that not too long ago in Trinidad, CO, a soap maker decided to close her shop so that she can sell her products at the local farmers' market. Her first day was phenomenal. It was so good that the long time soap maker filed a complaint with the board and had her banned. The market was only big enough for one, and he was there first.

I coached soccer when I could. I loved teaching one of my favorite sports to my sons and other children. I just had one problem. I was told to follow the rules set by the American Youth Soccer Organization. I was not to have a tended goal, nor was I to keep track of the scores or winners and losers. The theory behind that was in making sure everyone was a winner. The AYSO wanted everyone to learn a great sport as well as lessons that can help the kids down the road in life, such as team work.

Last week on facebook, I saw a poster. It was about the road to success in life. It had two panels, side by side. Perhaps you've seen it. It says, “Many people assume that the road to success is a matter of choosing the right road. In reality, the road to success is full of failures along the way.”

Now the question is what do these illustrations have to do with one another? They are some of the examples of how the world measures success. The first one, success happens when you have the monopoly of market. The second actually fails to prepare kids for failure. The third isn't really a road map to success as it is a motivation for how to deal with failure in life, because they happen, to everyone.

The world so easily gives us its view, its purpose, its value of things in our lives. It's willing to tell us what life looks like for the successful person. But what does success look like for the Christian? How does God define success? This is what we will look at this morning in Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents.

Now I want to quickly define the word talent. In the monetary sense, this is a large sum of money. Let's say that Jonah receiving his one talent, he has received a year's salary. At least this was true for the day of Christ. But then all the English Bibles have left this term the same, talent. And I can appreciate that. Not all of us are blessed financially. I know one man who works as the handyman of his church because he just doesn't have an income that he could give of anything and still make ends meet. So he uses his talent in keeping the grounds and building. This in turn saves the church those expenses. He does this as his service to God, using his own strength to serve. Another person is quite the talented musically that not only does he serve his church with his music, but then in turn takes to nursing homes to bless the residents there with music. You get the idea. If you are blessed financially, that is a talent that can be used for God's kingdom, or not. If you have talents in other areas, you can use them for furthering the Kingdom, or not. But because talent can be loaned to either, I like the word.

Now for the question that you are asking, what does Jonah have to do with this parable? Until recently, I've always named the unnamed characters to make them more relatable. Usually, I use Bob. In the Desert Southwest, Bob is a safe name. Now, not so much. So as to not draw any bad press to any of the Bobs in the audience, Jonah becomes my negative character. It is his example, his reaction that shapes the outline this morning. The first two, all we know is that during the unspecified time, each man took his sum and doubled it. We do not know how bumpy that road was. We don't know what risks were taken. All we do know is that they doubled what was entrusted to them. They put the money to work for their master. Like Paul told the Church of Corinth, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. The easy application is to say that if you put what God has entrusted to work for His glory, then you will reap a bountiful harvest. You can even say that there is no failure when you work for God's glory. But that's the easy application, so I want to look at Jonah and what he has to teach us this morning.

He dug a hole and buried his blessings. Did he fear his master? More times than we care to admit, fear of God's wrath holds us back. We fear because we know we are sinners. Maybe it's not that we fear God, but what would people think if they knew this was in my past? But that is the freeing power of the cross of Christ. All that is in the past is behind us. Paul said to the Romans that he constantly struggles with sin, finding himself doing that which is wrong. But to the Philippians, he says, “This I know, forgetting what is behind me, I press on to the prize before me.” If you have repented of the sins in your life, if you lay your burdens at the cross, then lay also the feelings of guilt and shame. Unbury the gift.

As I contemplated further on Jonah, another thought crossed my mind. Since Jesus' parables have real spiritual application, let me look at Jonah's and suggest that Jonah wasn't so much a believer as he was religious. His faith in the master came down to doing nothing more than what was expected, he went through the rituals but never trusted. Perhaps he believed the lies of those around him, those who were not beholden to the Master. “You reap where you did not sow. You harvest where you didn't plant.”

To the religious or the nonbeliever, that is a warped, but accurate way of seeing God. God expects His followers to make other converts, in essence, reaping what was not sown. These are the lies.

First, understand that when God created man, created us, our pure purpose was to be in daily fellowship with our Creator. This is why God called man's creation the best, the crowning point, the grand masterpiece. But sin separated and destroyed that fellowship, so God paid the price through His Son to restore that fellowship, and this while we were still God's enemies. By accepting the gift of Christ, God declares you in good standing, sin-free. So how shall we respond to such an awesome gift?

Suppose you come upon Sanders and there is a man going from pump to pump inserting his card to pay for your fuel. You ask him if you can get your other car. He says yes. He then adds, feel free to tell your neighbors. Now do you? Who wouldn't call all he knows and tells them of the free fuel, but only at Sanders? Now the generous man can claim he helped out hundreds. Did he reap where he didn't sow? He after all didn't market his gift. But as poor an illustration, it goes to point that we should be as eager to share our faith with others.

In closing, which person are you? Are you like the first two freely sharing your gift, your blessings, your talent, or have you like Jonah buried it? If you are the first, great. Encourage the Jonahs. Not all intend to be like him, but are because of fear. For those who fear, know that God has forgiven you. Unbury your talent and use it, share it with others who need to know this same hope. For those who buried the talent because you are religious, let me encourage you that God is wanting a relationship with you right now. Stop going through the motions and come to live a life of freedom through Christ. Let us encourage one another to using our talent to further our Father's kingdom in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Raising the Bar - Matthew 5.3-12 (Sermon)

It has been a bur under my saddle for a while now. Times are changing and it seems now the we seek affirmation wherever we go, whatever we do. One example is the difference between scouting today and when I was in scouting. When I was a scout, there were not a whole lot of patches. Sure, there were the council patches, rank patches and lodge patch if you earned the right to be in the Order of the Arrow. There were a few patches that were participation patch, such as Jamborees and Camporees. There were even patches for the scout's favorite summer camp. And of course there were special milestones, such as the Diamond Jubilee of Scouting. But that was it. Today, my kids were able to get patches for everything that isn't rank related. Attend a scout day, there's a patch. Wear your uniform on Scout Sunday, there's a patch. Race your derby car, get a patch. Help your son build his derby car, there's again a patch. But unlike when I was a scout, we make a big deal of it today. We make the “awarding of patches” part of the awards ceremony, to celebrate not only advancements in rank, but also the achievement of showing up.

But that's just one example. Another is that of Soccer. As a coach to little kids, it was emphasized to me to not keep score, and to not assign a goalie to tend the goal. The reasoning is the the AYSO wants kids to learn a great, healthy sport without risking their feelings should they lose, or should they miss blocking a goal. There are many other examples where we strive to help people feel better rather than raising the bar, challenging them to do better. Yet, the world seems content with simplifying.

And as we simplify our daily lives, it spills into our spiritual lives as well. We don't read as much. We take what others say, or rationalize our actions. We redefine what is sinful and say that it's natural. We say that God's Word is an authority, but Love, an unquantifiable entity, trumps even God's Standard. "But we love each other." And then we ask for God's blessings on our lives. Is it any wonder why we don't see His blessings?

But we should be the opposite. We should strive to live holier lives and rest in the grace for when we fail. Peter, in his letter, calls us a peculiar people, a royal priesthood. We are the children of God according to John's letter. So the question now becomes, how shall we raise the bar? How shall we rise to the challenge? Let me tell you why. Following Jesus isn't as easy as people tend to make it out to be. We tend to gloss over what Jesus expects of us, and perhaps this is to our detriment.

This morning, as we raise the bar, we begin with perhaps the toughest of Jesus' teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. It stars in Matthew 5 with the first section referred to as the Beatitudes. Some teachers say that this is the attitude to be, therefore, beatitudes. But the whole of the sermon, all three chapters deal with our attitude, not just these first 10 verses. As we begin looking at the difficult teachings of Jesus, we will see that the sermon often deals with our attitudes, our motives and our actions. It will challenge how we deal with people we love as well as with those we can't stand. It will deal with how we approach our Heavenly Father and how we see ourselves.

Now remember about creation. God spoke everything into existence except man. Man He formed by hand. Woman as well. We were created for fellowship with Him, and for each other, a husband and his wife. God said that everything He created was good, but of mankind, He said we were very good. This is the assumption that I keep as I read the Scriptures.

So let's begin by looking at ourselves in the light of what happened next. Adam and Eve worked the Garden. They had a simple, single command. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you disobey, you will surely die. And they did. They were then driven from the Garden so that they would not continue to eat from the Tree of Life.

The poor in spirit are blessed for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed for they will be comforted. (5.3,4)

Paul tells us in the Roman letter that we are all sinful people, broken people. When we come to God, we really offer Him nothing. We cannot bribe Him, we cannot plead with Him. And this is how He wants us to come. I have no value before God, and I know how broken a man that I am. It shames me.

But here is the good news: When we are clothed into Christ, we are declared righteous. Back in the Garden, God gave a promise that one day, Satan will think he's gotten the upper hand, but the reality is that as he thinks his poison is killing the Son of Man, the Son of Man will actually be crushing his head, giving the real death blow. And Jesus, according to Paul, did this while we were still enemies with God. And that as long as we confess our shortcomings to Him, He is faithful to forgive us and see us as righteous. Isn't this a comfort?

The gentle are blessed because they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed for they will be filled. (5.5,6)

This is therefore our response to the gift God, our Heavenly Father, has given freely to us. Because He's taken my brokenness and has given me a new spirit, shouldn't I want to live for Him? His grace motivates me to want to be better. Now I can't do this on my own. I know that. That is why I love the promise that we have when we are clothed into Christ. When we are baptized, we are baptized not only for the forgiveness of sins, but also to receive the Holy Spirit who is given to guide and strengthen us.

Now living righteously isn't a one-time commitment. It is a decision that we must make not only daily, but several times a day. And when we mess up, for each of us will, then we press onward, forgetting what has passed, but strive forward to the prize before us. This is the comfort of the Holy Spirit, helping us when we are weak, if we but listen while praying, while reading, while around fellow believers.

The merciful are blessed because they will shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed for they will be called sons of God. (5.7-9)

This set of verses is how we deal with other people. The first set was how we come to our Father. The next, how we commit ourselves. Once we are motivated to live for Christ, then it spills over into our interaction with others. We will want other broken people to know the hope that we have. By doing so out of love for our neighbor, we are making peace between our neighbor and our Father in Heaven. How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news.

Now the final part of our passage this morning is the warning. This is where we need to see the costs and decide whether or not we want to pay them.

Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (5.10-12)

Mind you, Jesus is already at the beginning of his ministry promising that following Him will be hard. They world will hate you. But also know that even then, there is a better place waiting. Again, Paul said that as long as he lived here in this world, his aim was to live for Christ. Should he die, he would gain much. He also said that as such, he is torn between the two.

Following Jesus is seldom easy. It isn't easy because it requires us to look inward before looking upward so that we can look outward. Raising the bar will require us to change our hearts and way of thinking in every facet of our lives. But you can rise to the challenge. God has given you three tools. He's given you His Word to read and study. He's given you His Spirit to help guide and direct us. And He's given you me, and to me you, and to one another, each other. Can you, will you rise to the bar of the Faith? In Christ, all things are possible.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My BSA Response

 I removed my boys from the BSA last week. There are two events left in June that I promised the boys would attend, the Rain Gutter Regatta and for my eldest, an awards ceremony to mark all that he has achieved. It is a good closure to this chapter in our lives.

This wasn't an easy decision for us, either. Ever since the BSA mentioned the change back in February, my wife and I have spent time praying about it and talking bout it. Of course, then in April, the BSA announced a “compromise” by staying with the ban on homosexual leaders, but they would allow openly gay scouts in the program. Was this enough? Again, my wife and I continued to pray and talk about what this means. No, it was not enough.

Making this decision public was knee-jerk in the way that I handled it. I should have called my son's troop master, who is of the same mind that I am, as well as my boys' cub master BEFORE I made the announcement on facebook. I apologized to them for not telling them personally first. I have no hard feelings with them, and they have assured me the same friendship.

But with this announcement on my part, I have had several objections raised to me, as well as a couple of accusations. So I will address each one, word for word quote, and in the hopes of addressing each objection and accusation, I will then answer to everyone's satisfaction why we left the BSA. I ask that you read my reasons with an open mind.

1. “You don't want your son to learn that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity?”
Here is assumption being made by the person who asked this question. If it was meant as humorous, since this question is something that supporters of the lifting of the ban ask, then the humor was lost on me. Now for those who have stumbled across this blog, I am a preacher of a conservative, independent church. This question assumes that I do not teach that we should treat all people with dignity and respect because I am a preacher, or perhaps because I follow the Bible.

The Bible teaches that we are to respect those around us. We should even go the extra step when ministering to someone who is apart from the Gospel. So yes, I make sure that I teach my children to respect everyone. I try to make sure that I do not disparage anyone even as my peeves are tested as I drive down the road so that my boys will always be considerate and respectful to others.

The BSA does teach this, yes. But in the accepting of the homosexual boys, they are also teaching a lifestyle that I teach as being wrong. But then the Bible teaches that this lifestyle is wrong. I do not wish to have my children associated with any organization that would countermand my teachings, which I strive to base on the Word of God, the Bible. (This is also why we've chosen to homeschool our children.)

Of course this also brings the question, does your church teach respect and dignity of others? If you are in a church that is NOT teaching these manners, then you need to change the church you belong. But by the same token, though I am accepting of those who choose to live their lives differently, that God accepts them just as they are, when they are clothed in Christ, God starts changing them. He takes us where and as we are, and then makes us what we are meant to become.

2. “Are you afraid that your boys associating with gays will make them gay?”
Not at all. I have gay friends. My wife has gay friends. We do not agree with their life choices, but we do respect them. Again, this goes back to being part of an institution that would countermand my instructions. It isn't about who they are associating with. It is about what the organization will teach them.

3. “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”
OK, this is one really misapplied verse here. The whole sermon on the mount, where this quote comes from, is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7. This quote is from Matthew 7, verse 1. The whole sermon deals with the attitude that followers of Jesus should have. There should be no snobbery with a believer. Second application here is that we have no business deciding where another's eternal destination is. That is God's job.

However, we still make judgments. We see a person and decide whether or not to strike up a conversation with him or her. We may be open minded enough to see that after a brief conversation, that person would not make a good friend. But we don't hear anything about that, do we? Be honest here. There are some political people and some church leaders out there that I would not be friends with, just as there are those in your circles that you would not be friends with.
Now to something else here. There is a time that as a Christian, I am to judge. The Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5.9-12) that though we are not to judge outsiders (non-believers of Jesus), we are to hold one another to account. Here Paul was addressing an issue of a man in a physical relationship with his father's wife. The very first verse of chapter 5 states that not even non-believers do this sin, and the church was PROUD?!

The BSA once did claim to train boys in Christian living and morals. Back when the BSA was first incorporated 100 years ago, when someone mentioned God, it was widely assumed and accepted as being God, the Father of Jesus. There is a whole time line that I will share if you email me and it is based on several different websites, many are in direct opposition to my view, so it's a fair time line. Suffice it to say, it's in 1978 that the National Council declared that as long as you believe that there is a “higher power”, then you are welcomed into the BSA. But the BSA has not disavowed “Christian heritage” nor their “faith-based” tax exemption standing.

4. “You just don't like gays because their sin is different than yours!”
Of course, there is the axiom, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Another way of looking at this is again taking a verse from Matthew chapter 7. “Make sure you pull the plank out of your own eye before trying to remove the speck of dust in your neighbor's eye.” (Matthew 7.5)

My answer dovetails with the previous answer. I do not object to how someone lives apart from a relationship with God in Christ Jesus. My objections are with those who know better. Yet let me return to point. Yes, I am not a perfect person. I have my sins. We all have our sins. But I am not happy with my sins, and I've repented of my sinful living. Sins I've committed in the past are put away now. I am forgiven. I am not repeating those sins. I strive to live for Christ. I strive to live as holy, and as humbly as I can. I will still screw up and fall flat on my face, but I still try.

That said, Jesus forgives us all sin when we turn to him. The only sin not forgivable in the Bible is that which is called, “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”, which in short, means not living for Jesus. You die apart from Christ, you are, we all are unforgiven. That is the grace of God. If we but accept His gift to forgive us, to restore our fellowship with Him, then all is forgiven.

5. “What a person does in his bedroom shouldn't matter.”
Back in the beginning of the pornography industry, this was a common battle cry for acceptance by the mainstream. Years later, Dr. James Dobson in the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan's direction, made it his mission to show us how damaging the pornography is to not only a person, but also to the person's family and even to society. Someone addicted to porn starts objectifying women. There are countless studies to this end. Even today, “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” international speaker, Mark Gungor, often cites on his daily while what people do behind closed doors in THIS area of life does affect in ever facet of life.

Let's consider another angle. In 20 years of ministry, I have also noted that when a person comes to me with depression issues, I am able to help them out by prescribing to them a period of “feel goods” such as old Gilligan's Island shows, 3 Stooges, something that is wholesome but funny. I prescribe comfort foods that appeal to the person I am talking with. Some have found ice cream to be that comfort food, where as another has found it in left-over pizza. Have at it. And I especially stress the importance of reading the Psalms and Proverbs. When followed to the letter, I have seen depression cycles break within 48 hours at the latest. (Now mind you, I am not advising against medical care for those who are dealing with chemical imbalances. If you are under the care of a doctor for clinical depression, then stay your course. But also add levity as I've described above, to your daily routine.)

I have seen myself almost immediately implement advice I've read in preaching books. As a parent, I've seen how certain influence change my children. I have seen them become surly because of certain shows, such as Annoying Orange. I've seen them become disrespectful because of Spongebob Squarepants. (Yes, seems the only cartoons that pass our test are Phineas & Ferb as well as some superhero shows.) I've seen their demeanor slip listening to either the pop or country stations (so they listen to Christian radio.)

My point is that we are all easily influenced by what we expose ourselves to, whether we like it or not. So though on the surface one might think that what a person does in the privacy of his home should not matter, the truth is that it does. Besides, one of the attributes of morality is not how one acts when around others, but it is how one acts when no one is watching. This applies to any area, any and every action.

6. “It doesn't really matter what the National Council says. I would not pull them because local is more important than some national policy.”
When I worked for the State, a new policy was put into place with regards to children who chose to be gay. We workers therefore had to have workshops to learn how to be inclusive and accepting kids as such, and even parents for that matter. These workshops were not just for the social workers. There were workshops for those who would be foster parents, and for those who would be foster siblings.

I cannot imagine that the change in national policy of the BSA would not therefore trickle down to the local level. Already the beginning of the special pack meetings, I hear the words, “please prepare yourselves in the manner you are accustomed to for prayer” followed by a pretty generic, non-offensive prayer. Yes I do expect more to come from National than what we are lead to believe here. They will accomplish this through classes and perhaps even their magazine, Boy's Life.

Also there is what I have seen from the LGBT community since Thursday's announcement from the BSA. “This is a great victory, but it is only the beginning.” So we have a battle brewing. The simple volley and ground gained is not enough? There are more important matters than this battle. This is a battle that I do not have the heart, nor the stomach, to continue. I do not believe that my boys need to be part of it either.

8. “What alternatives are there to the BSA that will help you raise your boys into the men you hope they become?”
There has been quick talk of a new program to launch this fall called “Faith Based Boys”. I understand that this is only a preliminary title, and that the official title will come soon. As this is new, I hope that perhaps I shall also be part of its shaping and planning.

But even if there were no alternatives, it is short sighted to believe that there is no way that the boys could grow to be godly men who follow Jesus. They have their parents, my wife and myself. They have their Church and the Word of God. They also have their homeschool network. There are plenty of godly adults who didn't grow up in scouting. I do not believe that my boys shall be at a loss for it.

Here's the bottom line: The BSA is ever changing and “evolving”. It was once something I was proud to belong to, but in that, they have taken too many wrong turns. I do not see that this can be brought back to an acceptable place where I could trust that my sons will be taught to embrace the same core values that I hold. As for loving and learning of God's creation, the great outdoors, I know enough to even teach them to respect is as much as they do strangers and even each other.

This is a choice that my wife and I have made. It was not an easy one, and we did not consult our sons about it. We did keep them informed that this may happen, and they are real troopers in accepting this outcome. I am proud to be their papa.

But for other parents of scouts? Do I think you should follow suit? How you respond to the changes from National is entirely between yourselves as a family, and your faith in Christ. I cannot, nor will not answer this question for you. If you disagree with me and keep your son(s) in the BSA, I will respect your decision, as I hope you respect mine.

Now for some shout-outs that I promised:
John Henson: You are a great pack leader. I love how the boys look up to you as you lead them. Again, my apologies for not calling you before I posted my response on Thursday.

Karen Bagley & Ray Vestor: My eldest has enjoyed your taking the time to teach him the skills he's acquired while in scouting. I truly appreciate sacrifices you both have made to help make Troop 90 thrive.

Pastor Glenn Larsen and the Brethren at Emanuel Lutheran Church: Thank you for sponsoring Clan ap Harvey into Pack 90 and then into Troop 90. I pray with you as you consider the response to the news. May our Father guide your actions.

Pastor David Bush and the Brethren at First United Methodist Church of Stuttgart: My deepest gratitude to you for the uniforms that my boys have so enjoyed wearing each Sunday afternoon. I, as well, have enjoyed watching them grow and learn and wear with pride those uniforms.

Both churches have touched our lives and we love you all.

Reader: This has been my longest blog post, with three standard pages full at a Calibri 10 pt font. Thank you for the time YOU have invested reading this. I hope that I have answered your questions and concerns regarding our departure from the BSA. Again, ONLY the announcement on Thursday was knee-jerk. The decision has been some time coming.

May the Father in Heaven richly bless you in Christ Jesus, our Savior, Brother, and Friend.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why the Romeikes Should Lose Asylum

Several days ago, I asked my facebook friends if the Romeikes should lose their asylum status, and further prodded that the family should indeed lose asylum. Kudos to Attorney General Holder for this bold move. I applaud you, sir. Now for everyone else, DO NOT TUNE me out. KEEP READING, please. You will see why I have taken my stand as it is.

To save time, let me give you the timeline. The Romeikes are Christians from Germany. In 2006, they withdrew their children from the public school system because the German culture, along with most of Europe, is sans Christianity. The family wanted to have an education for their children that harmonized with their strong faith, not battling against it.
Now mind you, it is illegal to homeschool children in Germany. Seems that was a gift from Adolf Hitler, and one of the few laws not revoked by the government when the Third Riche fell. And because the Romeikes withdrew their children, they had been harassed and threatened by the authorities, so in 2008, the Romeikes left their beloved Germany and came to the United States in hopes of a truly free start in our great nation.
They applied for political asylum based upon their homeschool desires as well as their religious freedoms, or lack thereof. In 2011, a federal immigration judge in Tennessee granted the Romeikes the sought and prayed for asylum. There was much rejoicing, until Eric Holder, Attorney General, along with the weight of the Obama Administration sued for the revocation and immediate deportation of the Romeikes.  The case continues today in the court system.
Now that you are caught up to speed on the Romeikes, let me give you three reasons that the Romeikes should lose their asylum status and go back to Germany. Please be open and give me fair hearing as I shall gladly give fair hearing to your comments at the end of the article.
Reason One: The Romeikes came here under the legal procedure of the Immigration Laws. They sought to immigrate here with altruistic motives. Since they did this legally, and did not steal into our country through cracks and holes along the border, their motives are automatically altruistic. Since this method has met with great success, initially at least, one must ask, “How many more legal immigrants will find their way to our fair shores?” There are no political benefits to the administration for legal immigrants. History shows they tend to be less frivolous.  So the family must lose their case and return immediately. This is a leak in the dam that needs to be plugged immediately.
Reason Two: The key to this appeal by the Administration is that the family has “no FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT to homeschool their children” (emphasis mine), and since our courts are looking for precedent set by European courts for our rulings, then NO PARENTS, immigrant or free-born US Citizen has the fundamental right to homeschool. By having the court address this point in particular, then the administration can turn around and go after other homeschool families such as my family.
My family would be prime targets since my eldest still has 8 more years of school and there are 4 siblings in tow. Because of this, I can see myself being arrested for my views. No offense to my friends who are educators in the public system, but I will NEVER trust any school official who is higher than a school principal, and even they are on a case by case. I know there are a good many good educators, but your top brass are to blame fully for the qualities of both education and teacher pay.
Now for Reason Three: The Romeikes have the right to asylum on two counts: First, they desire to instill an education that dovetails with their faith, not fights their faith. And their faith in Christ Jesus is the second count to their right of asylum. Because of the second count, Holder must battle the Romeikes because by allowing them to stay, we are in essence acting the part of a Christian nation, something that this present administration claims proudly that we have moved beyond and away. No longer do we see ourselves as Christian. We must prove it by denying a family asylum.
So there you have it. These were my three reasons that the Romeikes must return to Germany: One, the administration needs to protect the status quo of a tyrannical regime by preventing the lawful immigration of others. Two, to further their totalitarian control of the people by removing the rights of American parents. Three, by denying a Christian appeal, the administration is able to further sear the moral conscience of this nation. And a fourth came to mind: By denying them asylum, the administration is telling the family that they cannot stand up to their tyrants. Because if they stand up to Germany and also to the administration by winning their case, then they might become a contagion. Their example might spread to others who would then stand up to Obama’s tyranny.
And yes, I truly believe that President Obama is a totalitarian tyrant.  The moves he is being allowed to make is changing our nation quicker than we ever have seen. The Romeikes are just a small stone in the pond whose ripples will continue to affect all Americans who agree, but stay silent. There is an axiom that for evil to prevail, good people need do nothing.
It is time to express our opinion. But in doing so, remember that we are also ambassadors for a greater kingdom than Obama will ever rule. Let us also see the opportunity to offer hope of Jesus to those who are not yet prepared for the changes taking place.
Hey, thanks for listening! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Should Christians Use the Bible in Public Debate?

As I was looking through facebook, I saw this link: 

This article inspired today's Question of Provocation, though I did mis-label it on facebook. I asked the question a little differently than did Brother Russell. My question was a wee less political. I was enjoying seeing the different responses I received, and then another friend seemed to have happened by the same link that inspired my question. He then posted the link, kinda letting the air out of my balloon, so to speak. 

If you haven't read the article yet, take time to read it. What inspired his article was something that Bill O'Reilly said on Fox News channel. (Really, regardless of the label, we need to be careful what we digest and accept as truthful, be it conservative, mainstream, and especially Christian media.) I am also coming from listening to the words of one world leader saying how great it is to have a Christian faith, but when we enter the public sector, we need to leave the faith at home. (Personally a person can no more separate himself from his faith than a scuba diver would dive without his airtank. It's not possible, or the person is not truly a Christian. But more on this for another time.)

From this article, as well as some personal reflections during the days prior to this article, I've come to the conclusion that I need to bring up the Bible a bit more, not just in discussions with people whom I come into contact, but also with other preachers as well. I think perhaps we tend to assume that the other person has some or a great deal of Bible knowledge, and we may assume even that the person we are talking to, be we know of his faith or no, knows that we are coming from the point of view of God's Word. I say 'we' but I definitely mean me. 

I know that there are ways in which we need to do this, to be clear on our approach. Sometimes we need to be blatant. I don't mean to be hateful and ugly, but when someone says that "same gender marriage is good because we've evolved", then I will stand up and say no. The mere usage of the word 'evolve' assumes there is no God. We become no better than animals. We lose purpose, we lose hope. (Oh, and no! There is no compromise on this point. God and evolution cannot exist together. You have the One, reject the other.)

But I am fair. I cannot prove Genesis 1.1. But the person who brings up this silly argument must also be fair. Neither can he prove that we have 'evolved'. Once he broaches that subject, I am able to stand on the Word plainly, overtly.

There are times, however, that we must be wary of waving the Bible. Some people do not like to hear from the Bible. They instantly put up walls and close their ears, even if what is in the Word speaks perfectly to their situation. For example, I used to work for Child Protective Services for Arizona. Being that it's the State government, I had to mark my words. Then at one counseling session where one parent had a substance abuse problem and the other parent was having trouble coping with the addicted spouse, I told the worrying spouse that "there is an old saying about worrying. Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough problems of its own. Today {your spouse} is sober. Celebrate it. Focus on this victory. Then by focusing on today, then perhaps tomorrow will continue to remain tomorrow." That was my advice. I gave it, and still stand by it. It's great advice! After all, who can argue with Jesus? But I never cited the quote. I was being innocent in my quote.

I was feeling good at my desk later that afternoon, giving the Word of God in a covert way. Then my supervisor called me in. He asked me where the advice I gave came from. I asked him if it was bad advice? He focused on the source instead of answering me. I told him and gave him the direct context of the reason for quoting the Scripture in a "state meeting" that was held at the privately owned counseling center. I told him and then he told me I can't even do that much. He apologized but he had to give me a written reprimand and then I would have to apologize to the people in the meeting the next day, a meeting that was specially called for my apology.

Now mind you, I was upset. I was ticked. Only 5 people knew what I said. Of those 5, 2 (just TWO) knew where my quote was from. One of those wasn't even in the meeting. Because I told (this person) too soon before the supervisor called me in (this person) wasn't on my list of suspects. But both people are what they confess to as being "solid Christians". So why do I have to apologize for using the word?

Sorry, didn't mean to vent on you. But it still irked me that I could be so easily turned in for my indiscretion. But here is Romans 8.28 comes into play: The day of the meeting, I stated that the reason they were all called to the meeting was because "I had used the Bible to give solid advice and that I must apologize for it. So for quoting Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, I apologize." I don't regret stating that statement. From there, the addict and the counselor, who loved quoting Buddha and the Native American icons, both gave me opportunities to share the Bible and God's love with them.

My point is that we need to be more intentional using the Word in the public realm. (Let me encourage you to further rely upon it with your family members who "believe but not quite the same as you".) There will be times we need to make it clear that it's our faith in the Word that shapes our views. But then that all comes back to being as "innocent as doves but as shrewd as serpents." 

Thanks for thinking with me. I appreciate your feedback, your comments. --smh

Saturday, March 30, 2013

30 Seconds From Eagle

Hello, my name is Steve Harvey, and I am a Life Scout. I was so close to earning my Eagle Scout rank. Dad told me that earning the rank would open many financial doors for me, that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. For whatever stupid reason I could say, it comes down to it that not earning my rank was a protest against my parents, a choice against my dad. I rationalized that he wanted it more than I did. Of course he wanted me to complete it, but not for himself, but because like many parents, he wanted the best opportunities for his son, me.  Of course, I am writing this blog not too far removed from the age he was when we had our arguments about this topic. So hindsight is indeed 20/20. My sincerest apologies for all the times I thought you weren’t so sure of yourself, Dad.
How close was I to Eagle? Our host church, Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church approved my project. Our Council approved my service project. My troop had completed it. I had earned all but one requirement for a single merit badge, Lifesaving. That requirement was earning the Swimming merit badge. I had all but one requirement for that merit badge as well. That requirement was to float on my back for 30 seconds. So there you have it. I was 30 seconds from Eagle. I instantly regretted that decision at 12.00.01 am on March 16, 1988, and even to this day.
When I first chose dad’s alma mater, the University of Arizona, funds weren’t so important to me. Yes, I saw a few scholarships for Eagles. But when I went to Bible College, Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO, to be precise, I became acutely aware of how much I needed help. I was given a book to borrow from the financial aid office listing all sorts of scholarships and grant available. What I didn’t realize was that there were a LOT of scholarships for Eagles going into the ministry. There was nothing for Life Scouts, or for those who’ve aged out of Scouting. I was both. {Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph.} The book contained dozens of different scholarships, at the time, for Eagles. Many were only partials, or short terms. Several though, were full ride, even for a private school such as Ozark.
Yet there were no exceptions. I had to have earned the Rank of Eagle Scout in order to be considered, or even apply for that matter, including a letter from my last (or current) Scout Master. I wished I could have found one, but there was no loop hole to be taken. My choice, not my dad’s, not my Scout Master, not even my fellow scouts (all of whom could not fathom why I’d stop so close to the finish line), made this choice for me. And because of this choice, my options for financial aid that was available to others, was not available to me. Was it fair? Even as I was reading from the book, I knew it was. This was a direct consequence from a choice I made. I have to own it. I do own it.
So why do I share this with you? As a culture, we are backwards. We have the freedom to do anything. But we also need to realize that there are privileges or consequences to the choices that we make. Paul puts it this way when he wrote to the Christians of Corinth, he stated that though everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial. He stated this twice in one letter, once with regard to being pure in life, and then with regard to selfish desires and ambitions (1 Corinthians 6.12 and 10.23).
Just as I was not able to apply and enjoy the scholarships reserved for Eagles, even though I spent my entire youth in Scouting, so some choices that are made lack, and rightly so, certain privileges and benefits. Just as today, though we are free to make certain choices, some of those choices will forfeit certain privileges.
Some of the choices we make may not just forfeit certain privileges, but even become dire to our own wellbeing. Some choices we make bring life into the world. Some choices we make could end a life. Some choices can further a career, while others can stymie it. (Once I worked out at the Circle K on 95 at Ave 9E, graveyard shift. After several months, I thought being out there, miles away from town surrounded by farmland for as far the eye could see, I would ever only be graveyard shift, so I changed jobs and worked for Texaco next to the Police Station. When I saw my former boss, Andrew, a week after leaving Circle K, he told me had I talked to him first, he had already put my name in for an assistant mangers position at the Circle K store on AZ Ave and 24th, less than a mile away from where I was living.)
My point is that most of what we go through in life, the joys and the hardships come from us making choices before we consider the ramifications.  Sometimes we will be blessed by the choices we make. (Looking back, it was my time with Circle K that had more positive influences on my walk with Christ than any other secular job I’ve had since. Fascinating...) Sometimes the choices will lead us where we may not want to be. 
Ah, but then that is the rub. Rather than taking ownership of our choices, we demand of others to make the end right, even if it is wrong.  And though likely we, the nation, will legislate morality here, it still comes down to a choice. Do you own that choice and all the ramifications, the blessings and privileges as well as the consequences thereof? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making the Most of the Peace Acts 9.31 (Sermon)

                Wasn’t sure how to start this message. Making the most of an opportunity seems to be full of great examples, though my brain couldn’t find the more positive. For example, The Mayans & 12.21 taught us that if you don’t finish something, then it’s not the end of the world.
                Of course then there is the whole idea that on the heels of a national tragedy, legislation and executive privilege are being thrown around like a football. Truth seems to be hidden for favor of agendas. I don’t know why, but I’ve never really appreciate when a person or group turns a profit (of any sort) from pain.
                But of opportunities, and making the most, I think the best example comes from Paul’s words to the church in Colossi.  Col 4.5-6 state: “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders, make the most of every opportunity, letting your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
                Making the most of the time seems to be a theme that we can see in the book of Acts. Rather than seeing idol worship, Paul saw in Athens religious thirst. Next week we will consider the next section of Acts 9 as we see Peter making the most of his time as he travels and preaches.
                This morning we see the church seems to be making the most of the time of peace that they are enjoying. And it is no small thing to say. Remember, for a time, Christianity was illegal. Its persecution was state sanctioned. Saul was a warrior for God stamping out the church where he could. And then he just stopped.
                It wasn’t that he grew tired, but that he was converted. His energies, his zeal for God, was refocused, honed. He was now a preacher of the Savior. I don’t know if the pressures were instantly noticeable, or if someone, while reflecting, realized that there was no longer this season of hostility. After all, 3 years has passed to this point that Paul had left to arrest Christians. The prisoners never came. Paul didn’t come back pressing the church. He did, eventually return, but to join the brethren of Jerusalem instead.
                I wonder if perhaps such a revelation, that the Church is in a time of peace, was something that Barnabas pointed out. He would be the one to take Paul, giving him a second chance, presenting him to the Apostles. Yes, the church was now at peace. Of course, this peace didn’t mean that there were not detractors Paul had to flee town after a while because the Jews who rejected Jesus also rejected him. They wanted to kill him. But that is not the same as state sanctioned hostility.
                So now there is our text: And the church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers.(HCSB)
                Though this was a physical as well as spiritual peace, Luke lays out a recipe by which we can also be making the most of the peace that we have today, or at least what is left of it. I do believe that the Church of America is in a time of peace. I mean, our government hasn’t yet declared outright that Christianity is illegal. We are not having people rounded up and arrested for their faith as the Church in Iran is suffering, or even now Egypt. We are still in a time of peace, and though we are in the twilight of that peace, we can still make the most of the peace.             To determine if we are making the most of the opportunity of peace, there are 3 questions we should ask:
Are we proclaiming Christ? This is something that we see Paul doing as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. Sure the church shied away from him, not knowing who they were dealing with. We do it all the time ourselves, don’t we? Take for example, the bull snake looks like a diamondback sans the rattle. Now when you see that critter coiled in the cool of the shade, you freeze, and then you take a step back. Once you realize that it’s not rattling you, then you know you can approach it.
But we are not to shy from people. They need to know the good news. They need to know that as messed up as their lives are, be it divorce, broken relationships, unemployment, addictions, that God can help them, offers grace and hope. The storms in our lives, though they rage, we are quieted. As bad as today looks, there is a day coming, a day promised that all of this will not matter. There is something better for us, for you. It’s in Christ Jesus. That is the message that we are to share.
Do we fear the Lord? Now this one is a bit harder to ask. Do I fear the Lord? So often we look at “fear the Lord” as meaning that we are to revere the Lord. We are to see God as holy. But that is not fear of itself. There is more to this fear. Consider, for example, sovereigns like Esther and King Xerxes. There is a protocol with sovereigns. One, you did not touch casually the king. You waited to approach. Even the queen could lose her life for being cavalier. And you knew that whatever you did, you were accountable to the King. Haman learned that lesson.  Fearing the Lord means that not only do we revere our Lord, the God Almighty, but that we also do what He says.
He said that we are to be a salt, season this world for Heaven, creating a heavenly thirst. If we aren’t, then what good are we? Today, sociologists say that we are in a post modern world. It is a post Christian world. No longer do the vast majority see that worshipping together is as important as it once was. One of the biggest reasons that we are in the shape that we are today is that we decided that we really didn’t need to be that light, declaring what is wrong. We feared the world’s views of us rather than what God thinks of us. Which is better, “George is one of the best neighbors I can have,” or “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And that is the difference really. We are a culture that doesn’t really understand yet what total sovereignty means. It doesn’t mean that God dictates our every step. He does lay out a plan. If we follow, that is up to us. But we must remember that a day is coming that all our thoughts and actions will be laid bare before Him. Will Jesus be His filter as He gazes on our actions and deeds?
Sometimes, I’ll admit, we can find it difficult to stand for life when our personal lives are mired with contrary actions.  It is hard for us to say we have too much welfare when we are on welfare. It is too hard to stand on sexual purity when the church is full of immorality. It is hard to stand on financial feasibility when our lives are upside down in mortgages and loans and credit cards. It is hard to proclaim love and grace when we shun our brother. It is hard to be the light when we are either under the bowl, or clinging to darkness. Do we fear the Lord? A time is coming when He will answer that for us if we don’t answer it now.
Are we encouraged by the Holy Spirit? This last question is actually the key to being able to answer the previous two questions. Let’s look at this word, encourage. There are two parts, courage, or boldness. En comes along side. So putting it back together, do we let the Holy Spirit come along side us and give us boldness or courage?
The Holy Spirit isn’t here, isn’t given to us so that we can feel better. He is with us so that we can choose better, become better. Paul told the Corinthians that everything is permissible but that not everything is beneficial. How do we know the difference? That is where the Holy Spirit comes and guides us. He helps us to make the better choice. Sometimes we are not presented with choices between good and evil. We are given choices between good and better. What is the better choice?
In a few chapters, Paul will live out such a choice for us. He is a Roman Citizen by birth. He was rare, for by the time the parents can both afford citizenship, children are grown. When he preaches in Philippi, they take to flog him. That is a huge NO for a Roman citizen. He had a choice of stopping them before they began by stating, “Whoa! I am a Roman. How dare you strike me!” But he made a better choice. From that choice, a church that became the dearest to Paul was founded. A family, the jailer, came to Christ directly from that choice Paul made. Now he couldn’t have made that selfless choice if he wasn’t relying on the Holy Spirit.
The choices that we make may mean that we might as citizens lay aside our rights for the message of Jesus to progress. It’s not an easy choice and left to ourselves, we will always choose what benefits us most directly. But in Christ, for me, it’s not about me. For you, it’s not about you. It is about the lost meeting Jesus.
Answering these three questions, we can indeed be making the most of the peace. And then there is that promise. God increased the church. We don’t worry about building programs. That’s God’s job. Our job is to trust, to fear, to proclaim. It’s easier to do now because we are still yet at a time of peace. Are you, are we, making the most of it?