Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Suffering of the Innocent

"The suffering of the innocent is less of a problem to me very often than that of the wicked. it sounds absurd: but I've met so many innocent sufferers who seem to be gladly offering their pain to Christ as part of the Atonement, so patient, so meek, even so at peace, and so unselfish that we can hardly doubt they are being, as St. Paul says, 'made perfect by suffering.' On the other hand, I meet selfish egoists in whom suffering seems to produce only resentment, hate, blasphemy, and more egoism. They are the real problem." -C.S. Lewis

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy Talking Points

God made a perfect world. Sin and evil are not God's will. People have chosen to rebel and live their own way. Some even believe there is no right or wrong. We need to pray for the healing of our broken world.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Prayer of Thanksgiving

O My God, You fairest, greatest, first of all objects, My heart admires, adores, loves You, For my little vessel is as full as it can be, And I would pour out all that fullness before You in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with You Ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, Ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, Ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, Crowding into every moment of happiness. I bless You for the soul You have created, For adorning it, for sanctifying it, Though it is fixed in barren soil; For the body You have given me, For preserving its strength and vigor, For providing senses to enjoy delights, For the ease and freedom of limbs, For hands, eyes, ears that do Your bidding; For Your royal bounty providing my daily support, For a full table and overflowing cup, For appetite, taste, sweetness, For social joys of relatives and friends, For ability to serve others, For a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, For a mind to care for my fellow-men, For opportunities of spreading happiness around, For loved ones in the joys of heaven, For my own expectation of seeing You clearly. I love You above the powers of language to express, For what You are to Your creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity. -from The Valley of Vision

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hello, my name is DRUGS...

I destroy homes and tear families apart; I live all around you; down the street and maybe next door. If you try me, you may never break free. I’m eager to give you a life-sentence; I’ll own your soul. When I have you, you’ll steal and lie, you’ll do whatever it take to get high. You’ll forget the values you were taught because I’ll now be your conscience and guide; I’ll teach you my ways. I’ll take you from your parents, your friends, I’ll even take you from God; in fact, I will replace God in your life. When you see the tears of your parents you won’t even feel sad--you’ll justify your actions and act like a victim. I’ll take away your looks and pride, your purpose, and especially your future. You’ll lose everything—your family, your career, your money—and then you’ll be all alone. I’ll ravish your body, destroy your health, control your mind…I’ll own you completely. I’ll have nightmares waiting for you in bed, and sweats, shakes, visions of damnation. You’ll regret that you tried me, but you came to me, not I to you. You knew this would happen, you could’ve walked away. I can bring you more misery that words can express. Come take my hand and let me lead you to Hell.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Political considerations, by Kevin DeYoung

Imagine your life were an open book. Every conversation recorded. Every errant word written down. Every gaffe broadcast before all. What if everything you ever did was fair game? What if every action and every decision were held up to the severest scrutiny? What if all your last minute apologies failed to satisfy? How would you feel to realize someone knew everything about your past? And someone was chronicling everything about your present? How would you like to face a barrage of questions for every inconsistency in your life? What a fearful proposition: anything you ever say or ever do can, and often will, be held against you. If an adversary so desired, he could paint an ugly picture of any of us. And without resorting to lies. It’s a scary thought to think that your whole life could be an open book. With defenses that do not hold, and sorry’s that do not stick, and excuses which only make things worse. That’s politics. And that’s the day of judgment without the blood of Christ.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Church History

In seminary my favorite subject was Church History, for two reasons: it was fascinating, and totally new to me. I didn't know a thing about what had happened in the Church since the Book of Acts. I wasn't alone in my ignorance; most Protestants know little about the heroes of church history. If you're Lutheran, you likely know about Luther; if you're Presbyterian, you've likely heard of John Calvin; if you're Baptist, Spurgeon's name should sound familiar. But for the most part, I've found that church people don't know church history. Our Catholic friends have the saints, which gives them an awareness of what's gone on...but since we don't venerate people, we've neglected to talk about them. I've tried to correct this by having books on church history here in my church library, and to occasionally preach a biographical sermon on a significant figure in church history. And I don't limit the list to Congregationalists. Over the 13 years that I've been here I've given bio sermons on: George Whitfield, John Knox, David Livingstone, Eric Liddle, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin, C.S. Lewis, John Calvin, William Bradford, St Francis, St Patrick, St Augustine, St Nicholas, Martin Luther, Adonirum Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, J.S. Bach, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, John Bunyan, Suzanna Wesley, D.L. Moody, Jonathan Edwards, and the Four Chaplains of the Dorchester...and I hope to do more in the months & years to come. The lives of these anointed individuals are inspiring and instructive.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ask for Tolerance

By Gregory Koukl... If you’re placed in a situation where you suspect your convictions will be labeled intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental, turn the tables. When someone asks for your personal views about a moral issue—homosexuality, for example—preface your remarks with a question. You say: “You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking, and I’d be glad to answer. But before I do, I want to know if you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person. Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse ideas, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from yours?” Let them answer. If they say they’re tolerant (which they probably will), then when you give your point of view it’s going to be very difficult for them to call you intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty, too. This response capitalizes on the fact that there’s no morally neutral ground. Everybody has a point of view they think is right and everybody judges at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeon-holed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging, too. It’s an inescapable consequence of believing in any kind of morality.

Our greatest need

"If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If He perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our spiritual death; and He sent us a Savior." –D.A. Carson

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I'm reading a biography of evangelist Dwight L. Moody in which he is quoted as saying that he doesn't take credit for his successes nor responsibility for his failures. He is not referring to sin in speaking of failings, but things he has attempted to do for God. It seems that the popular Christian attitude is to give God credit for all the good we've done, and to blame ourselves when things don't work out. Maybe we should treat our failures as God's way of saying that everything doesn't always work the way we'd like. We need to stop the blame game and stop feeling guilty. This doesn't mean we stop trying, or become apathetic, but it does mean we stop the self-flagellation. We trust our sovereign God for what we can't understand.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bible Study

I've been teaching a Bible study at the Saugus Senior for over ten years. An average of 20 people come each Thursday from various churches in town, very ecumenical group. And we go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. I've devoted some of the summer to preparing my lessons by reading commentaries and focusing on how to teach (far diffent than sermon preparation) by asking questions of the text and inserting those questions in my lesson plan. I do not lecture; my goal is to bring out a lively discussion and together discover the truth of Scripture and how it relates to today. As I prepare I can't help think how the average believer would benefit from the kind of study I do. Commentaries aren't just for ministers; in fact, there is a whole category of devotional commentaries designed for laity...and which many pastors consult to help them relate deep truth to the average person. In a broken world it is a comfort to get my focus directed to higher principles from the authority of God's revelation. When the world distracts us it is important to re-focus on what is eternal.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


One of my summer projects is to prepare my lessons for the fall and the resumption of my Bible study at the Saugus Senior Center. When I started this study I was 49, and now I’m eligible to join the Center; in fact, I have a membership card. While working on my lessons for II Corinthians, in one of my commentaries the author spoke about how Christians are counter-cultural. As members of God’s Kingdom, we stand apart from the values of our fallen, broken world. What the world deems important, we see as fleeting; what the world sees as good, we often see otherwise. For instance, money. It is good to know how to use it, but we can easily make it an idol. When money becomes the measure of success, and when it takes on an importance above all else, we have surrendered to one of the world’s most seductive and transient values. When I was in high school I was in a production of the old Broadway play “You Can’t Take it With You.” In all the funerals I’ve done, I’ve never seen a U-Haul attached to the hearse. Money can be a good friend but a terrible Master. Wesley put it best: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” When we refuse to let money rule us, we’re being counter-cultural. We’re seeking first God’s Kingdom, and relying on Him to provide our security in this life, and in the life to come.

Friday, July 6, 2012


"Statism" is the worldview that believes human redemption can come from a political collective and lead to a desired utopia...which can never be achieved by fallen humankind but only by the return of Christ. Christians should participate in government, but with our eyes open. Salvation will never come from any form of government, nor any political party. We live in a broken world in need of redemption, something no party can provide. Our citizenship is in Heaven.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

10 things Christians might consider in this political season

By Daniel Darling So now the primaries are officially over and we have a contest between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Presidency of the United States. Inevitably, American Christians will fall on one side or the other in what will likely be a long, divisive, tough campaign to the end. So, how should we as followers of Christ act during election season? This isn't the last word and it isn't an exhaustive list, but here are a few things we might consider: 1) Remember to be grateful for the election. As Americans, we live in a representative republic, so we have the rare opportunity to shape our government. Partisanship and politics can be wearying and noisy and half-crazy at times, but at least we have the freedom to express ourselves and to vote. This isn't happening in most countries around the world. So just at the point when you're tired of looking at political signs and a bit weary of the sloganeering, remember those dissidents who sit in jail cells around the world, merely for having an opposing thought. We have a stewardship to vote, granted by God, and we should use it responsibly. 2) Don't put your trust in chariots. Be grateful for the opportunity to elect the president you feel will best lead our country. But don't fall into the trap that everything in history and in your life depends on one rainy Tuesday in November. Don't be a practical atheist, white-knuckling election night, sweating every ebb and flow of the season, and acting as if you need to build a fortified bunker if "the wrong guy wins." Advocate and work for your guy, but put your trust in the Lord. God holds history in the palm of his hand and is not at all worried sick about which party controls the levers of power in America. 3) Ignore most of the political appeals you hear from both sides. To win in modern American politics, you have to paint the other guy as something a combination of an axe murder, a village idiot, and a helpless puppet. You have to dig for an scent of scandal, blow it up in an ominous, black-and white ad, and convince people that if this guy wins you might as well move to Canada. Both sides will do this. But the truth is somewhere in between. It is a good idea to periodically tune out the election news during election season, toss those pesky mailers, and hang up your phone when you hear the gravel-voiced narrator begin his robo-calls of doom. 4) Advocate issues, avoid the petty stuff. It's amazing how easily campaigns delve into petty stuff like how many vacations the President takes, the color of the First Lady's dress, and the habits of the candidates while in high school. Vote for a guy because he holds positions closest to yours. Advocate issues of importance and weight. Resist being drug into the gutter and arguing for or against issues that have little or no consequence. 5) Avoid the "ends-justifies-the-means" of politics. When President Bush was in office the left smeared him unfairly, comparing him to Hitler and tarring him as a war criminal. This was unfair. So now that President Obama is in office, many on the Right feel what was good for one side is good for the other. "All is fair in love and war," we say. This is true ... unless you happen to be a follower of Christ and you're commanded, repeatedly, to measure your words, to be kind, to love, to speak truth. Remember that even in politics, you are to act and talk like a Christian. 6) Don't let your political differences ruin friendships. It is easy to allow political differences to drive a wedge in important friendships. But we must prize our love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord and our friendships with those outside the faith, above the strong opinions we hold. That doesn't mean we back down, it means we find a way to get along with people with whom we disagree. Friendships within and without the church are vital for gospel ministry. Don't let the temporal of politics get in the way of the eternal. 7) Don't fall for conspiracy theories. Don't forward emails that are less than true or haven't been verified by reputable sources. Its easy to want to believe the worst about our political enemies, but God calls us to believe the truth (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 4:8). Don't post on Facebook or Twitter questionable stories or theories. As Christians we should be about truth. 8) Don't allow politics to convince you to hate those whom Jesus has called you to love. Politics likes to divide things up nicely into good guys and bad guys, to see the "other side" as the enemy. If you read enough political blogs and listen to talk radio and watch enough cable news, you will soon develop a mentality that sees only those who agree with you as good people and the rest as enemies. Furthermore, it clouds the real battle. We're told in Scripture that people are not the enemy, Satan is. And our fight is never against mere mortals, but part of a larger, worldwide spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:2). Plus, if you convince yourself to hate certain segments, how then can you lovingly reach them with the good news of the gospel? 9) Avoid the "out there" mentality. The weakness of political engagement is that it lends itself away from self-reflection. The partisan mind constantly thinks all the worst problems in the world are "out there." The gospel, however, forces us into sober self-reflection. It reminds us that the real problem is inside, in our own depraved hearts. The Apostle Paul, who lived under the oppression of a wicked and tyrannical government, said "I am the chief of sinners." He didn't point to Nero. He said, "No, I'm the biggest problem." It's easy to blame Hollywood, Wall Street, and the media for all of our woes, but if we were honest and allowed the gospel to penetrate our hearts, we'd realize that we are our own worst enemies. 10) Look for a better city. Politics is driven by a God-given longing for utopia, a desire for perfection, by the dawning reality that life on this earth is not how it should be. Politicians come along and promise to fix things, to build that utopian dream we all desire. The problem is that politicians are flawed. They are not saviors. And this world is cursed by sin. So like Abraham, we must look for another city, whose "builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:1). One day Christ will return as reigning King and will set up the ultimate, perfect Kingdom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Find a quiet place where you can think without distractions, and ask yourself the following... -What do I need to hear from God? -How can I better yield myself to God? -What does God want me to do? -What do I fear? -Is there something I'm holding back in my walk with God? -Is there someone I need to reach out to? -Can I think of someone I need to forgive? -How can I increase my faith? -Who might I share my faith with? -What about God brings me comfort? -Is there something about the Christian life that makes me uneasy? -What is my greatest joy?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ready for Heaven?

There's been a lot of buzz about evangelical writers who question whether there is a Hell, and I understand that it is an unpleasant prospect...but what I find really discouraging is the number of Christians who act like there's no Heaven. What we agree on is that Heaven is where we will be with God, worship, and serve Him, yet how many people are interested enough to get ready for this existence? If going to church is such a burden, they're going to hate Heaven. They can talk all they want about "getting out of the habit", but it's really a matter of priorities--they prefer doing other stuff, instead of benefitting from worship, instruction, fellowship, and service, which is what the church offers. If going to church is as unpleasant as a visit to the dentist, people should rethink whether they've truly given their hearts to the Lord. Pastors do all they can to make worship a pleasant and encouraging experience, and to ground their congregations in truth, which is a response to the lies we hear in our secular culture. Let's be grateful for one of the few places where we'll find acceptance and opportunities for spiritual growth, and preparation for our eternal Home.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Backslide in 9 Easy Steps

(from 1) Stop meditating on the gospel. “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.” 2) Neglect your devotions and stop battling sin. “Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.” 3) Isolate yourself from Christian fellowship. “Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.” 4) Stop going to church. “After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.” 5)Determine that Christians are hypocrites because they continue to sin. “They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.” 6) Trade Christian community for distinctly unChristian company. “Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.” 7) Pursue rebellious conversation and fellowship. “Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.” 8) Allow yourself to enjoy some small, sinful pleasures. “After this they begin to play with little sins openly.” 9) Admit what you are and prepare yourself for everlasting torment. “And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Welcoming and Affirming?

We welcome everyone at our church...but that doesn't mean we affirm everyone's behavior.

Welcome......................Not Welcome






Gang Members...................Violence


People who swear...............Profanity


Tolerance means we put up with people we think are wrong...and we hope tolerance will remain a two-way street. We may have to agree to disagree, without demonizing one another.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Civil Religion

Bob Dylan sings, "We live in a political world," and it's getting more and more polarizing. What troubles me is the zealous interest in politics that divides people. Differences can lead popl to demonize the opposition in a culture that thrives on conflict. But I find that with some people, political interest is replacing religious faith. "In politics we trust" seems to be crowding out reliance on God. Politics is a false religion, rooted in a fallen world. While we ought to understand the issues and be good, voting citizens, we cannot hope to find answers to life in our political views. We worship the Messiah--no substitutes need apply. No candidate, no party, no system of government, no idelogy can bring us salvation. The only perfect government will be realized when Christ returns and "the government will be upon His shoulders" in His Kingdom-reign. Our true citizenship is in Heaven. Let's put our political views into perspective.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Secret Service mess

In today's world, to say something might be "immoral" will get you in trouble. It may well be seen as a violation of church and state, a separation not in the Constitution but in a letter Jefferson wrote (kind of like adding a book to the canon of Scripture). So it comes as no surprise that no one is saying that our Secret Service acted immorally by hiring prostitutes. The only concern was possible compromise in security matters. In other words, fornication is perfectly legit (and in Columbia legal), but don't violate security protocal. I agree (as one who had a security clearance) that this is important, but I am discouraged by our country's reluctance to talk about the "right & wrong" morality of sex outside of marriage. We are headed toward becoming an amoral nation, or as Judge Bork put it, "slouching toward Gomorrah."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A big fat lie of Satan

by Stephen Altrogge

One of the most devious, destructive lies that Satan wants us to believe is that we are the products of forces outside ourselves. He wants you to believe that because your dad was an angry, vicious man, you too will always be an angry, vicious man. He wants you to believe that because you were mocked in school you will always care too much about what other people think about you. He wants you to believe that because of your biological wiring you will always be a slave to sexual sin.

He wants you to believe that you will never change.

That you are stuck.

That there is no hope for you to overcome.

You are the victim of your family and your history and your biology. That’s just the way it is, some thing will never change (see Bruce Hornsby).

Today God wants you and me to quit believing that demon spawn lie. We are not the sum total of forces outside of ourselves. The Bible makes it clear that we are the products of the Holy Spirit at work within us. In Galatians 5:16 Paul says:

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."

My family history, life experience, and biology will certainly give shape to my temptations. For many years I have dealt with periods of intense physical anxiety, which can then lead to me being tempted by the sin of worry. But the Holy Spirit is at work within me, which means that my life is not defined by my physical anxiety. I may experience the symptoms anxiety for the rest of my life but I will not always struggle with the sin of worry like I do now. I am not the product of my biology I am the product of the Holy Spirit. He is working within me and WILL change me.

In 1 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

You are a new creation in Jesus Christ. That is your fundamental identity. Your dad may have been an angry man but that doesn’t mean that you will also be ruled by anger. You are in Christ. You are a new creation and the Holy Spirit is within you, conforming you to the image of Christ. You can be absolutely sure that you will change.

So quit dishonoring God by believing that you won’t change. Quit dishonoring the Holy Spirit by believing that He isn’t strong enough to overcome your biology. God is for you and in you! He delights in you and is committed to changing you! You a new creation in Christ. You’re not stuck and you’re not doomed.

Sin may be powerful but the Spirit is more powerful.

How to ruin your life

Table of contents for Steve Farrar's book, How to Ruin Your Life by Age 30...

•Ignore the law of cause & effect (choices have consequences)
•Refuse to take responsibility for your actions (victim-mentality)
•Neglect your gifts & strengths
•Disregard what the Bible says about sex & marriage
•Stop learning
•Isolate yourself
•Reject wisdom

Pretty sound advice, and the rest is likely worth reading; he also has one for age 40.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Anatomy of Holiness- Kevin DeYoung

What exactly does it mean to be holy? What does it look like?

Here’s one to think about it: consider growth in godliness as the sanctification of your body...

•The mind is filled with the knowledge of God and fixed on what is good.
•The eyes turn away from sensuality and shudder at the sight of evil.
•The mouth tells the truth and refuses to gossip, slander, or speak what is coarse or obscene.
•The spirit is earnest, steadfast, and gentle.
•The soul rests and rejoices in Jesus.
•The muscles toil and strive after Christlike virtue.
•The heart is full of joy instead of hopelessness, patience instead of irritability, kindness instead of anger, and humility instead of pride, thankfulness instead of envy.
•The sexual organs are pure, being reserved for the privacy of marriage between one man and one woman.
•The feet move toward the lowly and away from senseless conflict, divisions, and wild parties.
•The hands are quick to help those in need and ready to fold in prayer.

When I lose track of what holiness is actually about, I try to scan down the body from head to toe and remember what God desires from me. And just as importantly, I need to remember who Christ is and is making me to become.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cries from the Cross

Because Jesus was filled with horror and cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” we are filled with wonder and cry, “My God, my God, why have you accepted me?”

Because Jesus cried, “Father, forgive!” the taunts we hurled at Him at the cross are transformed into praise for His generous mercy.

Because Jesus said, “I thirst,” we can drink from the fountain of living water and never thirst again.

Because Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son” and felt the pain of separation from His earthly family, we can experience the blessing of being united with a heavenly family.

Because Jesus forgave the repentant thief, we can forgive others.

Because Jesus cried, “It is finished!” our new life can begin.

Because Jesus committed His spirit into the Father’s hands, God commits His Spirit into our hearts.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Jeff Foxworthy has a funny list of things that, if true, "you might be a redneck." Here's another list, and if enough are true, the group you're concerned about may well be a cult. It seems easier to describe than define what a cult is, so here's a checklist...

1. A strong, dynamic leader, upon whom the group was founded, or who has taken up the mantle of leadership; often one who claims divinity, or who claims to be closer to God than his/her followers, with special authority and anointing.

2. New, original, extra-Biblical revelation, exclusive to the group, teachings hidden from the rest of Christianity (often written by the cult-founder).

3. Elitism, exclusivity, superiority, a “we’re the one true church” position, with “all the answers.” They are selling a particular brand of faith, and they regard other brands as the opposition. All other groups are wrong and their leaders are false teachers. The group seems too perfect.

4. Teaches against unity (ecumenism/pluralism), or is all-inclusive to the point of universalism (“all roads lead to God”).

5. A “last days” obsession--a disproportionate emphasis on eschatology (prophecy) along with some unique interpretations and predictions about the “end times”.

6. Extra-zealous, coercive and questionable recruiting/salesmanship tactics…and they rarely begin their sales-pitch with their unique beliefs. Deceit may also be used to win converts.

7. Legalism and/or asceticism--strict conformity in dress, social restrictions, rigid rules of behavior--as a means of gaining or retaining God’s favor.

8. Total commitment and childlike submission to group authority expected of members, along with unquestioning acceptance of the group’s doctrines, policies, and leadership. The group encourages followers to put their activities ahead of all other commitments.

9. Intensive indoctrination, demanding exclusive/excessive amount of time from members; authoritarian, oppressive leadership.

10. Persecution complex/paranoia.

11. Salvation by works (deeds), as opposed to the Christian doctrine of justification by grace.

12. Defective Christology--denies the deity and/or humanity of Christ.

13. Defective teaching on the Atonement, i.e. the blood sacrifice of Christ as the basis for forgiveness.

14. Communal living (Utopian Socialism), along with the loss of personal rights and possessions.

15. Conditioning, brainwashing, grooming, peer pressure, manipulation.

16. Individualism discouraged / suppressed--the loss of personal autonomy, dignity, and freedom.

17. Pressure to sever family ties; suspicion of family contact. Followers are unable to place phone calls, receive letters, visit with old friends, or to discuss their thoughts with people outside of the group. Such contact is viewed as a threat to the group.

18. Secrecy and isolation, often coupled with survivalist mentality / practices.

19. Personality and behavioral changes in members, often including name changes.

20. Subjectivity--truth is based on experience, feelings, and circumstantial events.

21. Lack of historic perspective--they ignore the last 2,000 years of church history, claiming they alone are the one-and-only true Church, and all previous groups are in spiritual darkness.

22. Combative, militant opposition toward anyone outside of the group.

23. Financial exploitation of members, often requiring the turnover of members’ assets (especially prevalent in commune situations).

24. Requires or prescribes changes in diet/nutrition to influence members (part of total control).

25. Sleep deprivation--fatigue in order to break down resistance to indoctrination, making converts malleable.

26. Chanting ritual, constant repetition of teachings, in order to block rational thought process, keeping recruits from appraising the teachings of the group.

27. Isolation of recruits, who are not permitted to leave the group compound--a greenhouse scenario, effectively shaping the environment, blocking contact with the real world.

28. Conformity of dress--a uniform, habit, or strict dress code, which makes members easily recognizable and set them apart.

29. Unique rites and rituals, often conducted secretly or privately.

30. Ex-members are ostracized, shunned, condemned, or even persecuted (sometimes even murdered).

31. Few external, hierarchical controls, resulting in a lack of accountability.

32. Unique interpretations of Scripture, teachings that set the group apart from the mainstream and general consensus of religious thought.

33. Non-Trinitarian doctrine, denying that God is a Tri-unity / Three-in One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…co-equal, co-existent, co-eternal.

34. Requires unquestioning acceptance of their beliefs. Doubts and disagreements are not welcomed; they’re a sign of weakness. Such groups also make claims they can’t fulfill.

35. Any group that promotes itself and its founder/leaders more than it promotes God. They may talk about God and claim to promote faith in God, but when forced to decide between their organization and a God Who is bigger than their group, they will side with their group.

How to respond

There's so much anger & hatred in the world...over the killing of an innocent boy in Florida, hatred from the Middle East gloating over the death of an Coptic religious leader, and presidential candidates fuming over personal attacks.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, "Hatred cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Love keeps inner fury in check, and keeps us from doing what we might prefer to do. Love helps us to be Christlike when we believe life is unfair. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Morning

I may regret this posting, but Monday mornings for ministers are a real struggle. We look back on the previous day with a lot of "glass half empty" thoughts. Not who came to worship, but who didn't, and why (we can only guess). Why aren't we (as a church) growing? What am I doing wrong? Would someone else make a better pastor? And then we grab our stack of commentaries and slog on, preparing another sermon that we hope may make a difference, and schedule our visits to folks in need, all the while hoping that God will help us be effective and somehow encourage us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The New Religion

The latest issue of Time Magazine (11 March 2012) has an article about living single, a growing trend in America. What I found troubling is the following highlighted statement:

"Living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values--individual freedom, personal control and self realization" (p. 62).

There are two matters that concern me in this statement:

1. Have we redefined what is sacred? Is this the "new sacred," replacing the "old" values? And what are these "sacred modern values" based on? I would say personal, arbitrary preferences.

2. In looking at the 3 items that are now "sacred", we see that they are all about self...self gratification, self-direction, self-idolatry. The new deity is self.

This is a sad commentary on where we are as a nation. What's next? Will we change our currency to read "One nation under self"?

Let's return to the old values; let's return to the God of the Bible.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Not surprised

A well known scientist has written about how he's convinced there is no God, which hardly comes as a shock, as the scientific community tends to deny what can't be seen. It has come out that this same scientist has been repeatedly seen at a strip club. My point is not to demonize the guy, but to simply point out the logic of his position. If there is no God, then there's no accountability, and one is free to act any way one pleases. Live for self-gratification, after all, there's no final judgment. This is the ugly truth of atheism. While there are moral atheists, I suspect that living by society's rules is simply their personal preference. But if they decided to be anarchists, they would be living the logical outcome of a worldview that excludes God. This is, I suspect, the nasty reason why a non-God position is so popular to some skeptics. The alternative position is the biblical worldview that says God exists, and it matters how we live. Not that perfect compliance will save us; we're saved by grace, in spite of our faults, a gift given to those who are willing to receive it, who admit there is something Higher than themselves.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Don't demonize religious beliefs

Belief in the sanctity of life (among other hot topics) is not a political view among evangelical Christians, despite political implications. It is first and foremost a religious conviction based on an embrace of biblical truth. And while interpretations differ, those who derive from Scripture a pro-life view are not trying to be political. They are trying to convey an ethical position that has implications for individual behavior.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Muzzling Chaplains

The Catholic Archbishop to the Armed Forces has issued a letter to be read in chapel services by every Catholic military chaplain regarding the government's intrusion into how Catholic hospitals operate, which would force them to provide for abortion and birth control against their religious convictions. This is not a political matter, but a spiritual one. We need to stand with our Catholic friends on this. The Pentagon is at fault. As a Chaplaincy Ecclesiastical Endorser, I can state that should CCCC chaplains fail to live up to our standards, their endorsements would be withdrawn and they would be separated from military service. The Pentagon knows this, yet they are usurping their authority knowing chaplains serve a higher authority. Catholic chaplains may read the required letter anyhow and face official reprimand, or resign in protest...and if the military persists, they could lose all their priests over this matter. Chaplains swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution; I wish they were covered by it. Let's go over everyone's head and pray about this.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Your eulogy

I do a lot of funerals for non-church going people, which is a way of giving both comfort in time of need and of holding out hope, by preaching the Good News. In other words, it is a subtle form of evar of evangelism, which I take seriously.

At many of these funerals, people get up and give eulogies that are often bittersweet. The saddest ones make no mention of God, faith, or church. It appears that God simply hadn't been a factor in that person's long life; or if faith was a part, it didn't seem to be important enough to mention.

I wonder at your funeral, will your faith in God be mentioned at all when you're eulogized? Or will your friends and family just talk about your job, hobbies, vacations, and folksy stories, without a single mention of faith-matters? What might that indicate regarding your commitment to Christ?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Road Ahead

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself;
and the fact that I think I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the
right road though I may now nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always, though I may seem
to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will
never leave me to face my perils alone.
-Thomas Merton