Sunday, February 25, 2024

Sermon Video: Ending Romans with a loud, "Amen!" - Romans 16:25-27

In the benediction to his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers of God's marvelous Gospel, of the grace given in this generation through the coming of Jesus Christ who brought salvation to all the people of the world by faith.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Venango County businesses were harassed based on social media rumors; again - We need to be better than this.


It is happening again.  For the second time in the last six months {see links at the bottom for my posts on the first incident}, local businesses have been harassed by hundreds of aggressive phone calls because of what people read on social media.  Don't misunderstand me, Venango County (and Franklin in particular) is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family.  I'm blessed that we were called here in 2012 so that I could become the pastor of First Baptist, and blessed that this is where my daughter is growing up.  This is the community that helped us create and support Mustard Seed Missions and Emmaus Haven.  I'm proud of what we've accomplished here on behalf of those in need.  That being said, we have still have issues here because this town and county has plenty of flawed people, I know this because all human beings are flawed, myself included.  The thing is, all human beings are also made in the image of God (imago dei in Latin), which means they all have value, inherent value, that doesn't depend at all upon the circumstances of their lives.  Everyone who has ever lived was a person for whom Christ was willing to die so that he might redeem them if they'd repent and believe; every single person.

Which brings us to the harassment of the owners and employees of the Quality Inn in Franklin and the Holiday Inn in Cranberry, both co-owned by George and Sunny Singh.  Why were the phones ringing off the hook at these two hotels?  Because someone(s) started the rumor that the hotels were housing illegal immigrants, and then other people shared these posts and fed the flames.

The world is beset with issues about the flow of both migrants and refugees.  It is a global problem, and one that isn't going to ebb anytime soon.  Governments around the world have struggled, to put it mildly, to come up with solutions that value the lives of those involved, ours included.  Let's be honest, we're not going to solve the questions of immigration, legal or illegal, by what we say and do here in Venango County, but we need to be better than this.  We need to treat each other better here and now if we are to have any hope of honoring God with our behavior should the day come when our community has to actually participate in a small slice of this fraught issue.  If the response of many of us to a mere rumor is to harass fellow members of our community based on the possibility of the presence of immigrants amongst us, what hope have we that we would respond in a morally acceptable fashion should an actual need exist?

One of the reasons why this insanity keeps happening is that too many people don't take what happens on social media seriously.  They don't feel sufficient moral culpability for what they consume and what they like, comment, and share in cyberspace.  And yet, these actions have consequences, as we have just seen in our own community, that can ripple far beyond Facebook, X, Snapchat, and the rest.

We all know this to be true, and the thing is, God condemned this behavior thousands of years ago...

Proverbs 6:16-19

16 There are six things the Lord hates,

    seven that are detestable to him:

17         haughty eyes,

        a lying tongue,

        hands that shed innocent blood,

18         a heart that devises wicked schemes,

        feet that are quick to rush into evil,

19         a false witness who pours out lies

        and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

By my count, today's article in the paper recounts examples of 4 or 5 of the 7.

We need to be better than this.  

To George, Sunny, and all of your family and employees: Our community failed you.

For that I am sorry, I hope and pray that moving forward you will be treated with the dignity that you deserve as a person made in the image of God.  I hope and pray that everyone who comes to this county will be viewed as a child of God, whoever they may be, and wherever they came from.

A final thought, why are you an American citizen, a person blessed with rights and one of the highest standards of living in human history?  It isn't because you were special, it is all the grace of God that has you living here in this time and place.

As John Bradford said while watching criminals being led to the gallows in England a few hundred years ago, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Below are the posts I wrote after the last social media inspired deluge of harassing calls to a local business in October of 2023:

What the furor over the Witch Walk in Franklin can teach us about Christian cultural engagement

An observation about social media comment sections in light of the Witch Walk furor

Light vs Darkness and the reason why Christians should be perpetual optimists

How Franklin moves forward, together: the Law of Love, Romans 13:10

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Sermon Video: Keep away from those who teach a false gospel - Romans 16:17-20

The Apostle Paul takes a brief tangent from his closing greetings to warn the church at Rome about the likelihood that divisive false teachers will tempt them with a gospel contrary to that which they had received.  Throughout Church History we have seen those who proclaim a gospel that differs from that which is proclaimed in God's Word, Paul's advice to the Roman Church of his day and to the Church today is the same: keep away from them.

This is not, however, a message of anxiety or fear from Paul, on the contrary his next sentence proclaims both his faith in the church and in God's impending victory.  This then gives us context as we guard against false teaching, we must do so with confident hope in the outcome, for God's message of salvation will never fail.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Sermon Video: The team of servants every church needs, Romans 16,1-16,21-23

The Apostle Paul shares the large team, highlighting the crucial role of numerous women, that helped him accomplish the task that the Lord had assigned to him of founding local churches and building them up in the image of Christ.  It is also encouraging to see how much affection that Paul feels toward these co-workers, for him they truly are friends.

The Church today can learn powerful lessons from Paul's experience, lessons about teamwork, mutual respect and affection, and friendship within the Christian community.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Sermon Video: Sharing spiritual and material blessings, Romans 15:25-33

To the church at Rome the Apostle Paul explains why he is on his way to Jerusalem with a gift designed to help relieve the poverty of the Jewish Christian in Judea that he had collected from the Gentile Christians of the churches he had founded.  Why did this matter so much to him?  Paul had hopes that he could keep the Church united around its shared Lord and squelch the divisions of ethnicity and culture.  Why were they willing to give?  Gratitude.  They knew how great the spiritual blessings they have received from God, given through the Jewish Christian community, really was, and these first generation Gentile Christians were glad to be able to give a material blessing in return.