There is a Good Kind of Discrimination!

Oh, the agony of our nation as we contort ourselves into knots trying to get to the bottom of the sexual orientation “rights” issue.

The latest fight has to do with new laws being pushed to protect those who, “on religious grounds,” refuse to do business with the homosexual community.  The proponents of these laws argue that what is at stake is the freedom of religion:  a matter not only of having an opportunity to worship the god of choice, but, fundamentally, the ability to freely live out and practice one’s religion – and not be forced to go against it.  The opponents of these laws are furious because they view these laws as allowing discrimination against the gay/lesbian community.  To them it is an issue of “civil rights” and “equality”.

So what is the answer to all this mess?  What we really need in this country are people who can discriminate!   To be discriminating has more than one meaning.  The negative meaning of discrimination is the treating of certain people groups unfairly on the basis of prejudice.  But “discriminate” also (positively) means to make fine distinctions and judgments.  We all need to take a breath and focus for just a moment.

The important distinction that needs to be clear (the one that is not being made by anyone in the mainstream media that I have heard) is that this really has nothing (or should have nothing) to do with gay people, but everything to do with the services and products being provided.  As a Christian photographer, for instance, I have no problem serving a homosexual person.  If a gay individual comes to me for a portrait session, I will be so very happy to oblige.  Why would I not?  However, if a gay couple asked me to photograph their wedding, I certainly would appreciate having permission to say “No thank you.” without being sued and taken to court.  When I shoot a wedding I am definitely taking part in the celebrations.  My photographs are going to be plastered everywhere and my name will definitely be associated with something I believe is not according to the will of God.  This is my religion.  I am not a homophobe to say that I do not desire to provide my services for something against my religion.  It is not that I am evil and mean hearted.

To prove the point that the problem is not about doing business with gay people, let us say that a heterosexual mother came in and wanted to sign the contract with me to shoot her gay son’s wedding.  Of course I would still turn the job down – even though she is heterosexual.  It isn’t the “doing business with gays” that is the issue… The issue is providing services that are against one’s religion – no matter who is asking for them.  As a fellow blogger has pointed out:  “Jesus would definitely bake a cake for a gay man’s wedding – to a woman!”

The politics and direction all of this is taking in our nation is quite alarming.  For Christians it really is critical that we communicate these things clearly and winsomely in our every day lives as well in the arenas of power.  If individuals and businesses lose their right to practice their religion (by the dictates of the government), we really will be living in a tyranny, and we can well imagine that the church will not be far behind.

Prejudicial discrimination against anyone will only reward us with hatred and dysfunction in our human family.  But there is the most blessed reward of the good kind of discrimination.  If we can just stop our recriminations, take a breath, and understand this properly, there is just a sliver of hope that some reasonable understanding of each other might come about, some prospect of a happy consensus on this issue.  We could at least try!

Respect for Human Life

This morning I was privileged to attend the annual Respect for Human Life Prayer Breakfast held here in Scranton. I have attended this (mostly Catholic) event previously, but not in a few years. A week or so ago I got a call from one of the organizers and asked if I might be willing to be the event photographer. I was very happy to have an excuse to attend since, in the end, I didn’t get to the March for Life in Washington DC this year. It was a lot of fun to be shooting my camera off, but I was much more thankful for the powerful speakers and the fellowship of like minded folks. My big regret was that I didn’t bring anyone else with me.

A few reflections and learnings:

+ David Madeira (radio show host) spoke about the Devil and how he (the Devil) hates babies. Yes. Hates them. Hadn’t thought about that before. But what else can the Devil do? Can he love anything? Can he do anything but hate those who are created in the image of GOD? And how it GRIEVES the Father in Heaven when the Devil convinces a mother to turn against her own baby and snuff it’s precious life out!

+ The keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Levatino, a doctor from Arizona, who recounted his life story and how he came to be an ardent defender of the unborn. It was quite the account. As a doctor he spent years performing hundreds and hundreds of abortions (and he explained in graphic details the horror that an abortion really is.) He recounted how he and his wife, as a young couple, struggled to have a baby. He shared how he sent her to all the best fertility doctors and spent thousands of dollars trying to adopt a child… all the while, day after day, he was literally ripping limbs off of living babies and crushing their sculls. Ultimately it actually worked out that instead of performing an abortion on one of his patients, he convinced her to carry the infant to term and he and his wife adopted it. And then a month after their adoption was final, his wife became pregnant! But even at this point, he did not stop performing abortions altogether. What finally made him come to his senses was when his precious six year old daughter ran into the street outside his house and was hit and killed by a car. Life is so precious. Children are gifts from God. This is the undeniable truth.

Dr. Levantino had a powerful message and he challenged every one of the 550 in attendance to understand the evil that abortion really is. What impressed me was the courage that this man had to disavow and admit his sin after killing so many infants by his own hand! Who are we when we can stand aside and not be strong and courageous in pleading for those who have no voice? He spoke that old but true line: “How many of you believe that with God’s help we can accomplish anything? Well… then we need to start acting like we believe it!”

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you… (Jeremiah 1:5)

A Churchless Christianity?

The other day the area circuit pastors gathered for our monthly meeting. We were all honored to have present with us the President of our Eastern District, Rev. Chris Wicher. Of course the continual topic of the shape of our church life comes up – and we again rehashed the concern that “things are different” these days and even though there are seemingly plenty of people in our congregations who confess Jesus Christ, they don’t know any compulsion to take part in the worshipping community. And so the question comes up: Can “The Church” exist without “the church”? Now, we all know that a church building is not necessary for the Christian life. But we are asking: Is the “congregation of the saints” in worship a necessary element of the existence of “The [True] Church”? Is it necessary for the Christian life? We tossed around the idea that we maybe should just be happy with the fact that people still believe in Christ – even if they don’t participate in the worshipping community.

So… can we be happy and satisfied with a churchless Christianity? In my estimation: No. As a general rule, the worshipping community is most definitely an essential part and measure of the Christian life. Now, obviously, if you are stuck on a deserted island you can still be a Christian without having a congregation to worship with. And yes, there are many good reasons that any one of us might not be able to worship on any particular Sunday. And it is most definitely true that we love the fact that there are no “good works” (including “going to church”) that we need to do in order to be saved. But the general reality is obvious: No matter the “different age” that we live in, there really must be a congregation that worships and makes manifest the Word and Power of God in their locality.

Why is it necessary? Let me count just a few of the reasons that are quite obvious to me!!!!!

1) Christians follow Christ… and we might notice where was Jesus was on a regular basis. He was in the synogogue gathered with God’s people! “Don’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus said to his earthly parents!

2) The public confession and profession of our Lord is a necessary outcome of our faith.

“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” Psa. 22:22

3) Blessed are the two or three people on this earth who are disciplined in the reading of scripture enough to not need the regular refreshment of the preaching and study of the Word of God. The rest of us just are not “there”. The Word of God is sweeter than honey and is to to be zealously consumed. It is the lifeblood of the Christian. It points to the hope and glory that Christ has won for us on the cross. We dare never loose sight of it!

4) The celebration of the Sacraments are also included with the Word of God as essential elements in the life of faith… They are the astounding blessing of God for the forgiveness of sins and Life everlasting. The washing of rebirth in Baptism. Joy! And then the Lord of the universe literally invites His people to commune with Him in a sacred and holy way. Is there anyone who can stand, look him in His eyes, and refuse his invitation? Lord have mercy on us (and He DOES!)

5) The reality is that the persistent lacking of our participation in the congregation has absolutely tragic consequences for the generations to follow. It is simply astounding that there is no realization that if we have the beautiful prayer that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have a church to be baptized in, learn “Jesus Loves Me”, and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they might be saved from eternal death – it very much depends on what we do today and what our priorities in life are!

6) And further, not counting our own grandchildren and great grandchildren, we certainly cannot forget that God calls us to proclaim His name to ALL people – that they might come to saving faith. The congregation is that place where people can be invited to be a part of the communion of saints in heaven and on earth, to live a new life and work for God’s glory. It is the locus of God’s grace in our communities. It is a powerful witness that cannot be substituted for.

Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name: there I am with them.” (Mat. 18:20) And so it is that I will always, as your pastor, exhort you to know that your zealous participation, prayers and support are essential not only to your life as a Christian, but to the salvation of MANY.

Yes, the age is different… but yet, what does the Lord say to us?

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom. 12:2

I will see you in worship! May we be blessed forever!

Christmas in the Times Tribune

Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor,

Examining the Times-Tribune around the Christmas holiday it seems that, once again (it keeps happening every year), some kind of distortion field must have descended on the paper offices during that time. I wouldn’t know what could have caused it. Maybe it was the case that you had all your reporters out trying to track down Santa and his reindeer. Or something. I am sure it was important. But the reality that you missed completely on Christmas Eve and Christmas day – that might have at least been worthy of a small peep or back page whisper – is this: Thousands and thousands of our city’s population (from all walks of life) really did come out in the snow and cold, filled an awful lot of our beautifully decorated churches, prayed, sang beautiful and meaningful carols and hymns, all in worship of the real historical person named Jesus. They were celebrating His birth at Bethlehem. These strange people, referred to as Christians, actually believe that Jesus was the Lord of the universe who became enfleshed in His own creation – out of love for His children. St. Luke records the angels telling the shepherds that this Jesus was to be the Savior. Christians believe he was the only person born purposely into this world to die, and that because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, their sins are forgiven and their relationship with God is restored.

I am assuming you would not want to willingly admit that the American media is biased against Christianity, so I wonder why it seems your coverage of the Christian faith at Christmas – even as simply a news item – is almost always non-existent?

Why Is Sunday School Important?

Rally Day is coming up and I am just stumped again with how to communicate the importance of Sunday School. Usually we have a great start to Sunday School, but by the end of the year almost every ounce of energy is sapped from the kids and the teachers, and we breathe a big sigh of relief when it is over and we don’t have to feel bad about five kids showing up.

So why IS it important? Why WOULD parents get up pretty early on Sunday to herd their kids to Sunday School? Is there a Bible verse that says they should? Is it really going to make a difference in their kid’s life?

Of course there is no “law” about going to Sunday School. Sunday School was an invention of the 19th Century English church as a way of educating the children of the industrial revolution who worked all week in the factories and couldn’t go to school. The church saw that children were not learning how to read and write and so they established “Sunday Schools” where children would go and learn to read – in this case – the Bible! Even after the government made school compulsory for children during the week, the tradition of teaching the Bible on Sundays continued.

So… if it is not in the Bible and the church survived and grew for almost 1800 years without it, why do we think it is important today?

Consider these thoughts:

Biblical Illiteracy. People who call themselves Christians today are knowing less and less about the Bible. They simply have never read it – either as a child or as an adult. The reality is that the Christian faith is based on the revealed will and truth of God in the Scriptures. If we do not have exposure to it – our faith is in jeopardy.

Speaking the Faith. Sunday School is an important place where we learn not only about the Scripture, but how to speak the faith. To say that precious name of “Jesus” (apart from cursing), to sing songs to His name, to say the word “Trinity”, “Sin”, “Repent”, “Grace”, “Forgiveness”, and discuss what it all means for us – these are incredibly important to internalizing the faith and applying it to our lives. We need all the practice we can get so that we might not only know it better for ourselves, but also be able to share that Word of God with others.

Imitating the Faith. The Bible clearly states that mentoring is an important ingredient to growing in the Christian faith. Where ARE the Christian role models of Grace and forgives and upright living that our children know? They are getting to be fewer and fewer in their everyday life – if there are any at all. It is in Sunday School that our children can have a chance to see that there are beautiful and upright Christians whose lives are blessed. It is at Sunday School (a lot more than if the child simply attended worship and sat quietly) that a child can have the opportunity to imitate the life and faith of their teacher.

Knowing other Christians. Closely related to the above statement, it is just so important these days for children (and adults) to have Christian friends. It is simply a fact of life that without the encouragement and fellowship of the saints, our faith is so easily twisted and maligned in our hearts and minds. Without Christian friends our children will grow and never know that God’s church is their true family, a place of refuge and grace, a communion made holy by the blood of Christ.

We all know plenty of adults who went to Sunday School and who have fallen away from the faith. We might even know faithful Christians today who never went to Sunday School as a kid. Regular attendance at Sunday School does not guarantee that your child will always hold to the Faith (there are many other important elements to growing in the faith – most important is the Christian example, teaching and testimony of a child’s parents – that means YOU.) But if you ever did talk with an adult Christian whose parents did not bring them to Sunday School, they will most often express their deepest regrets.

Ultimately, Sunday School attendance is just like anything else in the church – a matter of the devoted heart. If you have been touched by the love Jesus, if your sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven opened for you, if He is your Savior – you will want to be where He is spoken of, where His people are, where His Word of Grace and love abound. You will know that Sunday School has eternal benefits. You will want it all for yourself – and your children.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:4-5, ESV)

What will it Mean for the Church if Gay Marriage is Legalized?

Lots of folks have tried to predict what will happen to our nation, our families, and our society as a whole if the Supreme Court comes down with a decision this week that will effectively eliminate any government restrictions on gay marriage. It is very difficult to predict precisely and I don’t think that ALL the fears and trepidations of Christians who are scripturally bound are valid. Not much will change overnight. And it could be said that even the lives of those gay couples who do get married won’t even change that much – as so many of them live as married currently. Any change on our lives will likely be gradual and not very noticeable (just the way the Devil wants it)

But what will this mean for the CHURCH? Will such a ruling by the Supreme Court have any affect on it?

I don’t think that there will be any discernible short term affect on the church. We have been dealing with this issue for quite a few years. Lines have been drawn and people have lined up for their “team” already. I don’t think anyone is thinking that a church opposed to gay marriage is going to have to change anything by law in its teachings or practices (in the short term that is.)

But what about the future? The real cause for concern is the future. I don’t think anyone would dispute that this issue of marriage is going to put a lot of pressure on the Christians in the years ahead. In another 10 or 20 years is ANYONE going to be brave enough to stand the ridicule of the whole society around us? Who will follow Jesus? Who will be faithful?

It is astounding that in just a VERY few years the general consensus of this nation on the issue of same sex marriage has been almost completely reversed. What we are finding is that people today have been completely stripped of any capacity to think critically with our eyes fixed on Jesus and His Word. Our whole sense of realty has been warped beyond recognition.

If you are a Christian today – it is most definitely time to don that full armor of God!

The Amazing Future that I am not Looking Forward to.

More and more in the news we are reading about these revolutionary new devices called “3D Printers” which are sci-fi machines that can literally “print” anything you want (well, obviously, with some limitations!) NASA is trying out machines that will even “print” food that is made from a “recipe” of powdered materials that can be stored indefinitely on long distance space flights! This morning I am also reading about a new material being developed that is ONE MOLECULE thick but is so incredibly strong that it will not break even if you sat an elephant on the eraser end of a pencil and balanced the pencil point on a sheet of it.

As a huge fan of science and technology I find developments like this to be so very fascinating and amazing. But as fascinating as the science really is, the repercussions might not be so amazing for the health of our human race in general. It could be argued that up until recently, technology as done much to advance the (overall) quality of our lives. No one really is so sad they didn’t live 100 years ago. However, the prospect (that is even now beginning to envelope us) is a society and world in which our lives are so automated that there is literally no work for vast segments of the population. In the past decade we have seen the middle class in our country shrink dramatically while the great divide between the rich and poor grows even wider. Factory jobs are being displaced by robots. Secretaries are being replaced by iPhones. Yesterday I stopped at a large, new convenience store with four automated checkouts! There was ONE attendant who stood there at the counter with a spray bottle making sure it was clean.

Just think a few years down the road when you get your new-fangled 3D printer… if you need a ping pong ball to play a game, or a flower pot for the front porch, or a nice little toy for your nephew’s birthday – you won’t need to go to the store. You can just download a data file, press “Print” and a few minutes later it will be presented to you – exactly the way you wanted it! First we said good bye to the neighborhood hardware store. Next we will say good bye to Walmart! We lost a lot of livelihoods in the first round. How many more in the second round? And if you think that is bad, just imagine the potential social unrest that will develop in China when a billion people don’t have even their low end factory jobs filling Walmart shelves?

And so what does this mean for our church and ministry? What does it mean for Christians in general?

I think mostly it means that there will be an incredible amount of people who are going to be without any hope and meaning for their lives. They will be everywhere. As our economy evolves (or devolves), those who are not skilled or gifted with intelligence appropriate for our advanced workplaces, are going to continue to be marginalized, beaten down, and unable to find meaningful employment. It means that many Christians are going to have to learn how to be blessed in their poverty. It means that Christians who are blessed with resources are going to have to learn to be humble and discover that it really is a blessing to share. It means that the church has to learn how to speak EFFECTIVELY to the marginalized and those without hope. And finally it means that the church has the chance to define and share what it means to have a true and beautiful hope in the Lord Jesus – a hope that is not of this world… a hope that just does NOT come out of a 3D printer!

Let’s put on that Armor of God and take up that Sword of His Word, girding ourselves with the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, and the helmet of salvation. We will need it because we are in for an incredible ride!