Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sermon Video: You are God's Temple - 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

What value do the people of God have in the sight of God?  In addition to our value as those created in his image, an inherent value we share with all of humanity, the people of God are also valued as the metaphorical temple of God.  From the creation of the Tabernacle until the Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 586 B.C., the glory of God dwelt above the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  The prophet Ezekiel saw that glory leave the temple prior to its destruction, but it did not return when the temple was rebuilt by Ezra, instead, God sent his Spirit to dwell within his people after Pentecost.  The glory of God began to dwell within his people instead of within a physical temple.
The implications of this blessing include a heightened sense of the purpose of God's people as his servants, and an increase in the seriousness of any who might harm or even destroy this temple of God by attacking individual Christians and/or the Church.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Not a dime for politics, not ever.

There is talk in the air of changing or eliminating the 1954 Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code which bars non-profits (including churches) from engaging in partisan political activity, either for or against a candidate or party.  Although rarely enforced, the code calls for the 501(c)3 status of the charity to be revoked if they violate it.  In other words, if a non-profit wanted to engage in politics, it need only give up its tax-exempt status.  Some of those proposing to change or eliminate the amendment are saying that they are doing so in the name of religious freedom, that their action will "unshackle" churches and allow them a voice in the political arena.  The reality, however, could not  be further from the truth.
If the Johnson Amendment is eliminated, some churches/denominations will be tempted to use their funds to support or denounce political candidates/parties, they will in essence become just another PAC through whom money is funneled.  If the amendment is modified to allow such activity, while retaining the ability of those making donations to do so as a tax-deductible "charitable" gift, it will be an unmitigated disaster.  How would the average church or pastor avoid the corrupting influence of money and power if millions of dollars suddenly appear in the collection plate earmarked for politics?  How successful will the average church or pastor be at remaining true to the calling to preach the Word of God, without modification, if millions of dollars are suddenly at stake as the message of the politicians is supposed to be echoed in order to fulfill the obligation that always comes with the flow of power and money?  Does anyone really expect that the churches will be an independent voice, free of the horse trading and principle compromises of politics?
My calling, and that of my church, is to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ and train disciples to follow him.  In addition, we are to be a beacon of hope to the poor and oppressed, in imitation of the actions of Jesus.  I will not allow one dime of the funds given to this church to be diverted to any other cause, and I will not accept any donation, no matter how large, that is not intended solely for the purpose of fulfilling the mission that God has given us.  We are not a PAC, and we will never be one.
If the Johnson Amendment is repealed or modified to allow churches to become political actors, it will be the most hostile thing done to the Church in America in many years.  This proposed action is being sold as a way to "free" churches, it will end up laying a chain of money and power on them, and it will destroy the Gospel witness of many.
Do we really need to be reminded of the words of Lord Acton?  "Power corrupts, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Character and Tactics matter

It has become common in some circles of those claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ to excuse questions of character and moral tactics in the realms of politics, war (terrorism), and even the debates and controversies within the Church.  There are two primary justifications for this attitude: (1) The stakes are high, therefore any way of "winning" is permissible, and/or (2) the other side uses such tactics, therefore we must too.  For those who try to justify the use of lies, character assassination, cheating, and even when push comes to shove, blowing our enemies to bits, it is necessary for us to remember that the Word of God has weighed in on this issue, repeatedly, and not on the side of those advocating a "win at all costs" mentality.
In Romans 3:8, Paul, while writing on a different matter, nevertheless illuminates this discussion with these words: "Why not say - as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say - 'Let us do evil that good may result'?  Their condemnation is deserved."  For Paul, it was slanderous to think that you could accomplish good by embracing evil.  How could God reward those who violate his Law in their efforts to serve him?  Likewise, when scolding the church at Corinth for sexual immorality, Paul warned them of the way in which sin grows and spreads, "Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" (1 Corinthians 5:6)  If we countenance the use of immoral means to pursue moral ends, we open ourselves up to the corrupting influence of sin, even if we "win" by achieving our goal, we will lose when we stand before God to answer for not only our actions, but our motivations and methods as well.
The United States has been down this road before, and with disastrous results.  Facing the trial of WWII, racism was allowed to manifest itself in the internment of Japanese citizens, and expediency was allowed to prevail over morality when the cities of Germany and Japan were firebombed after it was determined that bombing strictly military targets had been unsuccessful. That the Nazis did far worse (and of course they did) is no excuse.  Nation after nation throughout history could be cited for choosing power over morality, that such Machiavellian thinking is common, does not excuse it before God.
The Church has been down this road before, and with disastrous results.  The Spanish Inquisition had as its goal the conversion of non-believers to the faith and the salvation of their souls, but who will stand up and celebrate the use of torture and forced-conversion at the point of a sword as the means to this end?  Example after example could be given of the Church's fateful compromises with power and money, choices that brought corruption and besmirched the message of the Gospel.
We face difficult times and difficult circumstances, and so did our ancestors, there is nothing new under the sun.  If you care more about achieving the goal that you long for than about how that goal is achieved, you aren't walking in the footsteps of Christ.  Every time we compromise morality for the sake of expediency, we not only weaken the witness of the Gospel, but we invite upon ourselves the judgment of God who will not hold us blameless for choosing wickedness over righteousness, power over purity, to "win" in this life at the expense of the next is the very definition of a fool's bargain.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sermon Video: The Church's One Foundation - 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

In speaking about Christian unity, Paul expresses the fundamental truth that all who belong to the Church, i.e. everyone who is a Christian, must be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ which the apostles shared to found the Church, and therefore anyone who builds upon any other foundation is building something that is NOT part of the Church.
Once the unity of Christians upon the foundation of Christ has been established, the question shifts from where we build to what and how we build.  God has entrusted his people with building his kingdom here on earth, and it is our responsibility to build with both wisdom and diligence.  If we build well, we will receive our reward from God, if we build foolishly or selfishly, our work will fail, thanks to the mercy of God salvation will not be lost, but such a person can hardly expect a reward.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sermon Video: Quarreling in the Church: A sign of stunted growth - 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Where there are jealousies and quarrels within a church, there you will find the immaturity of stunted growth.  Paul warned the church at Corinth that they had failed to mature as they ought to have done, a diagnosis he was confident of because he had heard reports of the fights among them, and something they needed to grow beyond.  Every Christian must begin with the basics, whether they are young or old when they first believe, but if we are to mature into useful servants of the kingdom of God, we must adopt the humble attitude of a servant that Jesus modeled by putting away our pride and ambition.  In the end, we as a Church must be of one purpose, united in our effort to share the Gospel and make disciples.

To watch the video, click on the link below: