You need these verses

Sometimes I have difficulty getting into the skin of what verses in the Bible are trying to say. So, I go into my fancy Logos Bible program – or jump to Bible Hub or Blueletter Bible on my phone – and took up the word-for-word translation. After some study, and stealing from other translations, I attempt to write my own paraphrase.

Here is my Simplified Cooley Version of 2 Corinthians 4:4-9.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (SCV) The storehouse of God’s power is inside me. I’m fragile but his power is great. That’s why I’m troubled but not crushed, perplexed but not giving up, spiritually terrorized but never abandoned by God, hurled down but unbroken.

Good News.

You, Me, and Vaccine Mandates

Chances are, if you aren’t being required to be vaccinated for work, you know someone who is. Even if you, like me, have been vaccinated, we should care for those who are being required to do something in violation of their conscience. This is something that is a special concern to me as a pastor. When asked, should I write a “religious exemption?” If so, why? If not, why?

I wrote a blog for AncorPoint Church last week to help answer these questions, called Vaccine Mandates: What You Need to Know About Vaccinations, Religious Exemptions, and My Personal Bias.

I put that blog below, in the hope that it may help some know as believers how to navigate through these difficult times, and maybe even help a pastor or two make wise decisions as well.

Here it is.

I’ve been taking a totally unscientific poll, and AnchorPoint is a real mix of vaccinated and not. About a year ago I had a pastor ask me if AP had people on the extreme (I’ll let you guess which side) side of the COVID debate. I said yes. He said he didn’t want folks like that in his church.

I do.

Here’s why. I believe Satan enjoyed Jonah’s utter disdain of the Ninevites, James and John wanting to nuke the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-55), and Peter being too good to eat with the gentiles (Galatians 2:11-21). I don’t want to make Satan smile.

Pick your side. I want you here. Vaccinated or not. In fact, I think having different opinions and still being able to worship together is a sign of health.

Paul put it this way Eph 4:1 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV2011)  

One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism. Many politics.

This is an unprecedented time of opportunity. I believe it could be a direct answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Jn 17:20 My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22  …Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV2011)  

But now, just as the election and mask disagreements begin to fade, COVID-19 vaccine mandates are increasing. This gets even more complicated due to the legal issues surrounding religious exemptions.

Here is one illustration of the dilemma from WORLD Magazine:

“One Christian with concerns is Whitney Buck, and OB-GYN in Michigan. When her employer mandated the COVID-19 vaccine, she and her husband, Taylor, a physician at the same hospital system, sought a religious exemption. ‘As believers, we trust the leading of the Holy Spirit and decided it was medically not indicated or necessary for us.’ They are young, healthy, and low-risk for morbidity or morality if infected. She said they didn’t want to take on the risk of side effects, no matter how infrequently they are reported. She also said the push for mandates by the media and politicians gives them pause.

Both Whitney and Taylor received an automated email response from their employer denying the exemption. The Bucks are praying about what to do next. ‘I felt from a very young age that the Lord prepared me and equipped me to be a physician,’ she said. ‘I do not want it to be my pride that costs me my vocation.’”

This is a nationwide struggle, as we Christians decide how best to keep our families and community safe and at the same time respect the decisions of others. Reinaldo has been sending me articles from Christianity Today and other sources about religious exemptions for the last six months or so. In this blog, I have stolen from Christianity Today, WORLD Magazine, Carey Nieuwhof, DesiringGod.org (John Piper) and other sources. I’m no attorney, but I thought it was time we gave you some help to start thinking through this issue.

But know this: I believe God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated. If struggling with the decision brings you closer to Him, great! And it is great regardless of your final decision.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but we don’t all have to agree when it comes to “Hearing God.” As always, we start with God’s Word and prayer. Some things are clearly black-and-white. When it comes to committing murder, adultery, gossip, God has told us His will. But there is a lot that God left up to us. In 1 Corinthians 8, some folks felt guilty if they ate meat that could have been sacrificed to idols. Others like Paul had no problem with it. Paul’s answer to the division?

Rather than argue, Paul extended a lot of love and grace. He didn’t try to convince those who felt guilty eating idol meat to eat it. Instead, Paul said if it bothered them, that he wouldn’t eat meat either. He joined them! It wasn’t a sin to eat the meat, but getting them to eat in violation of their conscience, that would be sin.

In other words, everything that is a sin for me may not be a sin for you.

More on “Hearing God” in next week’s blog.

About Vaccines

If you are thinking about getting vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”

If you believe you should not get vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”

In other words, make your decision from the best medical advice you can get, and from a clear conscience having spent time wrestling with God on the issue.

Before God we are free to get a vaccination and free not to be vaccinated. We fear God, not man. We obey God when man tells us to do what God has forbidden us to do. The mandates of God are supreme. But there are no Biblical mandates about vaccines any more than there is about what movie is OK to watch or what meat is OK to eat. There are principles (think about what is pure and right, honor God, protect life) but no direct commands. God wants us to wrestle with this issue, and with Him.

Not with each other.

Let’s extend one another a lot of love and grace. 1Pe 5:5 (NIV2011) All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Remember: God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated.

As different media outlets swarm around us, all telling us that they know what is right, know this. Your time with God is right. Wrestling with the decision and with your Savior is right. Honoring family is right. Making a biblically informed decision out of love is right—no matter which way you decide. God does not lead each of us to identical behavior (1 Corinthians 8). He leads us each of us to the identical Savior.

2: About Religious Exemptions

You probably know that on Sept. 9 the President signed an order mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for executive branch federal workers. He also announced the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates for the private sector requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to get the vaccine or submit to regular testing.

As of my writing, the OSHA rule has not gone into effect yet, but many employers have already started mandating the vaccine on their own. The question is, “If I don’t want to get the vaccine, can I use the ‘Religious Exemption’ to get out of it?” The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Currently defined, a “religion” is a “sincerely held belief.” As I understand it, this means your “religion” doesn’t have to be about God or the church, but it does have to be a system of beliefs that you can demonstrate you have held even before COVID.

IF you decide not to get the vaccine, and your employer is requiring the vaccine, here are some questions to answer:

  1. Would getting the vaccine be a violation of a belief system I have sincerely held in my heart for some time? If the answer for you is, “Yes,” I believe you should stand by your convictions unless God leads you to do otherwise. However, your employer may want to determine if you are telling the truth. You may need to demonstrate that this isn’t a new position you have taken for political reasons. A note from a pastor or church should not be required, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be, or that it would not help.
    1. Example 1: You have not taken any vaccines for a long time and can prove it.
    2. Example 2: You refuse to take any medications that have used down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development. However, this could get messy, as they have been used in many medications, cosmetics, even spices. Plus, the two mRNA vaccines technically didn’t use down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development, but in post-development testing only. You can read that old blog here.
  2. Will the courts help me? You will have to roll the dice on this one. In the 20s when vaccines were mandated and objections came up, they were not religious objections but more “my body my choice” objections before that was a saying. The objectors lost; the vaccines won. In the 80s, religious exemptions got more teeth, and the state needed a “compelling state interest” to deny any religious exemption. But, in the 90s a Native American church wanted to use peyote and went to court for a religious exemption. They lost. Now? Well, it doesn’t look good.

The US Supreme Court just ruled on Oct 29, 2021 against a religious exemption to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. You can read about that here. I wish we had a “Conscientious Objector” option as we have at wartime. My dad was saved at 16, then went into WWII at 18. Before God, he had no idea if he should carry a gun or not. He ended up being a conscientious objector and became a medic instead. Unfortunately, that option isn’t available right now with this issue. Now if you would just elect me dictator…

  1. Is the “reasonable accommodation” an accommodation I can live with? Unlike government employees (state, local, federal), private employers must give you a reasonable accommodation so that you can avoid taking the vaccine if they determine that you are honest in your religious objection. That could be anything from working at home to mandating regular testing, etc. Employers who refuse to give an accommodation will likely be taken to court. Most of what I have read has suggested that they will lose—that the courts will expect employers to make individual exceptions for each person. But will it be reasonable enough for you to want to keep your job? Only you can answer that one.
  2. Will my pastor sign my Religious Exemption? If I am asked as a pastor to sign a note stating that taking the vaccine is against a person’s belief system, I would need to know that it is indeed against that person’s belief system. I can’t violate my conscience either. If you don’t believe in taking vaccines, then your life should demonstrate that belief. If you don’t believe in taking medications derived from down-line fetal cells, then your life should demonstrate that belief as well. So those I can sign. But…

If you don’t like the idea of taking the vaccine because you think it was developed too quickly and it may have unknown issues, like that Hummer you purchased in 2002, I can certainly understand that. It makes sense, but it isn’t a religious exemption. I can’t help you. If you think the vaccine is a type of The Mark of the Beast due to it being forced on us, then I can help with what I think is a better understanding of Revelation 13. But, even if you don’t agree with me I doubt your view would qualify as a religious exemption. If you object on political grounds and feel that the government is being too aggressive and you want to push back, I get that. Still, that is a political not a religious reason. I can’t help.

3: About My Bias

Bias #1: My wife JoLynn works at Rust Hospital. As a result, JoLynn has access to more information than I would normally get. This is information I trust. Over 70% of NM has had at least one dose of vaccination, and yet for most of this year, over 90% of the hospital patients with COVID have not been vaccinated. Those numbers are starting to change, so this may not hold. And, yes, I know this is a tiny sample. Yes, I know it is not scientific. But it is also a statistic I know is true.

I also know our hospitals are dangerously full due to a backlog of patients and other illnesses besides COVID. The last I looked right at 300 NM Hospital beds were filled with COVID patients. That number doesn’t sound high until you realize that our ICUs remain at 100% with only 11 beds available as of Oct 18, 2021. We are in what is called a Crisis Standard of Care, which means we need every bed we can get.

So, I get the concern, and I’ve been vaccinated. But, I still believe it is wrong to force someone to do something against their conscience. This new mandate is forcing employers of over 100 people to enforce the mandate, including churches. It’s a bit of a mess. You can follow the legal battle about churches here.

Bias #2 Funeral service: I recently did a funeral service for a previously healthy man in his mid-thirties who died of COVID. He left behind a grieving wife and four children without a father. He was unvaccinated. Yes, I know–vaccinated people die also. But, when the vast majority of hospital COVID patients are unvaccinated, it makes sense that the majority of deaths are of the unvaccinated (98% by one AP account). I know—you may not trust the numbers, and you may be right. And I know—this funeral is just one case, and it emotionally affected me, and it may have clouded my judgment.

That’s fair. Right again.

But I did call this “My Bias.” It’s not scientific. It’s just my story.

I hope we can keep extending each other a lot of love and grace. I love you guys and am thrilled that we don’t have a church that is all white or black, all gentile or Jewish, all republican or democrat, all pro-vaccination or anti-vax. Then again, if I could convince you to all be 70s-music-listening, Jeep-driving, dark-chocolate-eating, Jesus lovers, well, I might go for that.

Hope to see you Sunday, and if you would like to see if I can sign a religious exemption for you, please contact me at dan@anchorpoint.life.

Dan

3 Ways to Attend Church

  1. In-person inside (please bring a mask) or outside (please bring a chair)
  2. On Facebook Livestream
  3. On YouTube Livestream

Haiti TODAY, Oct 27, 2011

Not long after I wrote the blog below this one (What Can YOU Do For Haiti?), Sue, a friend from our ministry in Haiti, wrote me, giving a fascinating “HAITI TODAY” update she said I could share.

I’ll divide her correspondence into two sections. 1) Haiti for me. 2) Haiti for everyone. Her writing, (some of which comes from a friend) will be in italics. My comments are in normal type.

Haiti For Me:

Hey Dan – Things are deteriorating countrywide. I’ll add – my spirit is still calm in the midst of everything, even though it shouldn’t be. Thank you God! Then she wrote some about trying to make life as normal as possible for the orphans in her care. She goes on…

Monday morning my alarm was gunshots at 5:30am and then again at 6:30am. Not my favorite time of day or way to be woken up!!! Also – it’s day 12 for the 17 people who were kidnapped… Please pray for them. I’m also a little wigged out that cell & internet service could go down. Being able to communicate with the outside world helps tremendously! I can’t, and hope I don’t find out, what’s it’s like to be that isolated. Please let everyone know I’m safe and doing well BUT to keep praying it stays that way!!! Also for wisdom for me to know whether I should stay or leave. My passport is in my purse. I can leave with my passport, credit card & phone if I need to.

I know it is easy to think, “Why don’t they just leave?” However our missionaries have been working there for years, some of them since 2005. Could you leave a child you had been raising for three months? Three years? 13 years or more? Their support staff, the kids they have raised, all those they work with–they are family.

Haiti For Everyone:

Fuel distribution has essentially stopped because the tanker drivers are on strike until they stop getting robbed, kidnapped, or killed trying to do their jobs (a valid request).

Gas/diesel can only be found sold on the street (with the chance it’s been mixed with something to increase the volume). When you can find any, you can expect to pay around $20 a gallon. Here we don’t understand the need for diesel. Port-au-Prince is the largest city in the world with no running water or sewer. I would say on the average year I have been there, we have had electricity for a few hours a week. On a good year, a couple of hours a day. It takes electricity to run our well. If you have no diesel, then the majority of the time with no generator you also have no water–and no fans, no lights, no fridge or freezer, etc. Of course, you can’t drink even the well water around PaP, but it is nice to wash once in a while.

Food prices that have been steadily rising for some time took a steep hike this past week since roadblocks/fuel crisis/gang-controlled roads are interrupting distribution.

Cell/internet service is becoming unreliable as generator-powered cell towers are shutting down.

Streets are empty due to no fuel to run cars, buses are charging double in some areas if they are still running, and people spent a good deal of last week setting up roadblocks in protest. Streets are also empty because the entire population doesn’t want to get kidnapped, robbed, or killed either. And there’s not a lot of places to go as schools, stores, businesses, and transportation are most likely going to be closed if you try.

— Strike: This week several worker unions from various sectors announced a strike until security in the country improves, and threats of “Operasyon Peyi Femen”, a threat to close the country down, (literally “Operation Country Closed”) has been made. And if the burning tires, roadblocks, and gunfire that started early this morning are any indication, they are trying to be good on their word.

–Safety: People who have the luxury of having a home are staying close to it today, and taking each day (hour) at a time as this round of trouble plays out.

Continued support (especially financial) to your people and organizations you love who are living on these front lines are appreciated and needed. (But don’t even think about bringing it in yourself. Your physical presence just increases everyone’s risk.)

Please see the blog below for organizations you can trust to give to, and for ways to pray for Haiti.

Thanks for reading.

Dan

What Can YOU Do For Haiti?

Having traveled to Haiti most every year since 2007, several folks have been asking me how they can help. I’m no Haitian expert, but we do have a lot of friends and contacts there. Here’s what I know, followed with some safe ways to help.

The church our mission supports, Maranatha Children’s Ministries in Port-au-Prince continues to run both the school and the children’s home, in spite of the danger. The leaders, Byron and Shelley are currently in the States taking care of Shelley’s dad as he prepares for his transition to heaven. Meanwhile Byron and Shelley are using email and phone calls to stay in touch with the staff there, and Sue one of our dear friends just made it back to PaP.

As Shelley recently wrote, “Things in Haiti are UGLY.”

For over 200 years Haiti has been struggling, but outside of Christian relief efforts, few seemed to notice until the earthquake in 2010 that killed somewhere between 200,000 to over 300,000 people. Previously, the last major earthquake to hit Haiti was in 1842. It’s not like they were living in earthquake proof houses. Then we forgot about Haiti again.

Until now.

Then this year President Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated leaving a leadership vacuum. (The one who should have taken his place died of Covid. Not even the interim president has a constitutional right to assume power). Then another earthquake came killing over 1900 people. Then came Tropical Storm Matthew.

What’s next? And the great Haitian question, “Why God?”

BYW, when you see disasters and want to help, be careful. I put some links at the end of this blog. You can trust them; you can’t trust everyone. One example: In 2015 the NPR and ProPublica wrote an article, “How the Red Cross Raised half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes.” The title says it all. According to American journalist Jonathan M. Katz the global response after the earthquake totaled pledges of $16.3 billion US. But of the money raised, little made it to Haiti. Katz was in Haiti when the earthquake hit. He claims only about two percent of the money Canada raised ($657 million) every made it to Haiti. The US wasn’t much better.

Amazing.

When I see all this, I wonder, “Is God about to do great things in Haiti?” The US, the UN, and the global community when riding in to help have often made things worse. Reading the Old Testament, it seems the darkest days often came before God stepped in, when the people were ready to repent and respond. You may think my application of this passage to be incorrect, but I believe that 1 Chronicles 7:14, although written specifically for the people of Israel can also apply to the USA, and to Haiti as well.

2Ch 7:14 (NIV2011)  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. There is a timeless principle here. If we expect the help of God, moral change must precede political change. Maybe one reason that both the Trump and Biden administrations have been reluctant to back into Haiti is that they both realized that politics and power don’t permanently change a culture. Afghanistan is still Afghanistan. Only God can change a heart.

Today, the greatest hope on the Island comes from followers of Christ. Here is one paragraph from a Christianity Today article from just after this last 2021 earthquake

“World Vision noted it was working with the local government and police to protect families from being robbed and looted in the aftermath of the earthquake. While the Christian humanitarian organization had immediate supplies for 6,000 people, it—and other groups such as Operation Blessing and the Seventh-day Adventist’s ADRA International—were in the process of mobilizing staff and supplies to Les Cayes, where the quake originated. Samaritan’s Purse deployed its DC-8 aircraft on Sunday carrying 31 tons of relief while also staging a Level 2 mobile trauma unit. On Tuesday they announced that opened a 36-bed field hospital.”

That’s great news!

And so, Satan fights back.

This recent kidnapping of 17 Christian Aid Missionaries, including five children is unpresented, at least in my memory. According to the Center of Analysis and Research of Human Rights this abduction is one of at least 119 kidnappings recorded in Haiti for the first half of October alone! We forget that it is more dangerous in Haiti for Haitians than Americans. They know that to kidnap a visitor brings unwanted attention. It’s easier to get money by kidnapping a wealthy Haitian. That won’t make the news.

When I first started going in 2007, kidnappings were something you had to be aware of—can I say like car theft in Albuquerque? There have always been parts of the city where you needed to keep your car doors locked when driving. After the 2010 earthquake, things were temporarily better. There were so many international groups in Haiti, you could walk around PaP in daytime relative safety. In recent years, it has become progressively more dangerous. The last couple of visits we needed to stay on the radio to know what parts of the city to avoid when traveling. Burning tires, riots are areas to avoid. We could no longer safely walk around the neighborhood, even in daytime.

Haitians are wonderful people. They are demonstrating to “Free the Americans.” How can we help?

Here Is What You Can Do

  1. Keep our mission Maranatha Children’s Ministries and our missionaries in prayer. Of course, you can support them financially too. The school and orphanage are only about 20 minutes from the airport, when traffic and riots are clear. OK, it’s about 45 minutes from the airport. In the past it was a fairly safe area for Port-au-Prince.

Not anymore.

  • Give to and pray for true ministries in Haiti. I have met the leaders of Compassion International in Haiti and gone to a couple of their schools. They are doing amazing work. We have met pilots with MAF at church, living in PaP with their families. But now just traveling to church is dangerous. I have heard that even Route National #2, the main road that connects the southern part of the country to the north is impassable due to gangs. I read last week that the MAF is looking at creating an “air bridge” to get aid to other parts of the country. Another group I am familiar with is Clean Water for Haiti. An attendee at our church who is on their board. It isn’t a Christian organization, but you can trust it. The Mennonites, Nazarenes, World Vision, Operation Blessing, Samaritans Purse (and you thought Christmas Boxes were only for Christmas?) lots of Christians are serving in Haiti. They need our prayers and support. Obviously Christian Aid and Maranatha Children’s Home are great places to give as well. I wouldn’t send money anywhere else assuming it will help. It may never get there.
  • Encourage the family members of the hostages. This from the Christian Aid website

Day after day, families of those held hostage face uncertainty. They long for the return of their loved ones. While we are unable to disclose the personal information of family members, we would like to create a channel through which people can bless them.

Following are some ways you may wish to encourage them:

  • Words of encouragement and Bible verses to lift them up during this difficult time. “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (I Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Written prayers we can share with the families. In this time of distress and tension, they find comfort in prayers written by others. We strongly believe prayers lifted to God’s throne in the name of Jesus are powerful. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Personal stories of God’s faithfulness to you in times of great difficulty. This would no doubt be a great encouragement to the families of the hostages.

You may send your messages for the families to prayers@christianaidministries.org. Encouraging words and uplifting prayers will be forwarded to the families. It would be of interest to the families to know the state or country of the person writing.

  • Pray for… (also from the Christian Aid website)
  • Pray for the hostages—for their release, that they could endure faithfully, and that they would display Christlike love. Jesus, when nailed to the cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
  • Pray for the kidnappers—that they would experience the love of Jesus and turn to Him. We see that as their ultimate need.
  • Pray for government leaders and authorities—as they relate to the case and work toward the release of the hostages. We appreciate the ongoing work and assistance of those knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with kidnapping cases.

Mostly, pray for a moral change in the country that will lead to political change. It’s a belief in Christ alone, fully devoted to Him as Savior and Lord, that saves individuals. And that saves countries.

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on The Church; By Pharaoh

We are currently in a study in the life of Moses at church. It occurred to me that Pharaoh would have had a unique view of what is happening here. I wrote this for the church, but thought others might enjoy it.

Exodus 8:1 (NIV2011)  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.

America is giving up on the corporate worship. I was Pharaoh in 1500BC, and I tried to stop worship. It didn’t work out so well. (Exodus 5-12)

When Gallup first measured church attendance in 1937, 73% of Americans went to church. That held steady for sixty years. Then the decline began. 2020 was the first year church membership dropped below 50%.

Then came COVID.

Depending on the survey, somewhere between 33 and 50 percent of regular church goers quit going during COVID. That means they quit both online and in person attendance.

The majority of Americans seem to be done with organized religion.

You don’t have any idea how dangerous this is.

Your God wants worship. Heaven is worship. If you will read the end of your Book, it is all about worship with people “from every tribe and language and people and nation ”. Rev 5:9-10. Heaven is all about community, fellowship, love. Hell, and I should know, is all about the individual. It is silent, alone, and empty.

When Moses came to see me, (Exodus 5-7), he said that The LORD wanted His people (my slaves) to go worship Him. Now, they could have done that in their homes. I couldn’t stop that. I didn’t really care if they did, I just wanted free labor. But Moses wanted them to worship together. As a body – something you now call The Church. That I could stop.

So I did.

And I paid for it.

My country was destroyed through 9 plagues. The crops were devastated. Our livestock dead. Our gods worthless. Except for one god.

Me.

The last plague Moses threatened if I didn’t let them go worship The LORD was “The Death of the Firstborn.” Moses even said my own son would die. This was a direct threat against me, against my claim to divinity, against the divinity of the House of Pharaoh. I had to say, “No, they cannot go worship.”

But your God is a jealous God.

They still got to leave. They plundered us and still left on time. As they went, they destroyed my army and drowned me in the Red Sea. Later they got instructions on how to worship from The LORD on Mt Sinai, and built a place to worship called The Tabernacle. Later they built a Temple. One wall still stands. It was all about worship.

They left and my son still died.

When God wants worship, it’s best not to get in His way.

Maybe you think institutional church isn’t even biblical. Well, your God has been insistent on group worship for at least 3500 years. Maybe you think organized religion isn’t biblical. Right. Have you read that other book Moses wrote called Leviticus? That’s a lot of organization. Really boring. And the New Testament, that has more writing about the work of Jesus through His church than it does about the work of Jesus through Jesus. Evidently church is biblical.

The thing I can’t wrap my head around is that I believe I was much more organized as King of Egypt than your God is in organizing His church. I had more control, more consistency, more power over my subjects even. And yet, my Egypt was destroyed by a bunch of slaves and their God—and your church remains and grows.

What is that word—inconceivable?

I would even say my Egypt was more perfect than your church. We created great cities and influenced the world. We were consistently cruel and self-promoting, progressive and successful. Your church across the world is a hodgepodge of inconsistent knuckleheads. “Hypocrites in transition” I believe your lead pastor has called the church—and himself. If there is any proof that a divine hand wants your worship, it is His use of ordinary imperfect churches like your own to bring it about. That God would use you is totally amazing. Surely, he had better options.

But He wants you. Go figure.

The main thing I see, while looking out from my personal Hell, is how like Egypt American Christianity can be. I was happy for the slaves to worship in their homes if they got their weekly work done. You are happy to worship in front of your TV, on your schedule, choosing the best speakers and band, while eating chocolate Pop Tarts and giving a tip online if you feel blessed. I would have been fine with that. Your LORD wasn’t.

God told Moses He wanted the people gathered. They understood that fellowship, community isn’t optional. Your God was willing to kill my livestock, my livelihood, my army, my son to make that happen. There must be something unique about the power of corporate worship.

When the New Testament started, your God gave you a description of what the new church was like in Acts 2:42-47. It included
Devotion to the apostles’ teaching
⦁ Fellowship
⦁ Breaking of bread –
which needed others
Prayers
⦁ Miracles through the Apostles
– which needed others
Radical selling and giving to help others
⦁ Daily worship
(before going to work? Or after?) at the temple and in homes
Your new “largest digital bible study resource in the world,” paid for by AnchorPoint Sign up by clicking here can probably be a huge help in learning more about the apostles’ teaching. It can help you with child raising and family devotions, financial management and bible study methods. But it isn’t corporate worship. Somehow listening to a podcast, as helpful as that is to gain information, isn’t equivalent to the worship that The LORD wanted from my slaves, or the early church.

It probably isn’t sufficient in and of itself for you either.

Is your church messed up? Sure. They all are. The members are messed up. The leadership is messed up. Masks, no masks, different political views, a band out of tune, a pastor that goes on so long you wonder if he knows how to land the plane. But God calls messed up people to worship Him together. He will kill for it. He knows you need each other. Probably now that you so often disagree with each other, you need each other more than ever.

Don’t follow my example. There’s hell to pay.

Pharaoh

This Sunday—the final plague, the Death of the Firstborn. AND, the Ministry Fair with food. I hope you can join us,

Dan

3 Ways to Attend Church

  1. In person inside (please bring a mask) or outside (please bring a chair) – also on 101.5 FM in the parking lot. Lord willing this week the weather will be better.
  2. Facebook Livestream
  3. YouTube Livestream

Why You Should Hate

Hate gets a bad rap.

God hates.

Recently, I read that “you will never turn from a sin you don’t hate.”

Have you ever had one of those sins that just stayed with you? You wanted to end it, but it just hung around like the puppy we bought last year. It’s familiar. It’s tenacious. It drools. It’s even a bit, dare I say it, likeable?

You’ll never turn from a sin you don’t hate. Here are some sins God hates.

Proverbs 6:16 There are six things that the LORD hates, even seven that are disgusting to him: 17 arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill innocent people, 18 a mind devising wicked plans, feet that are quick to do wrong, 19 a dishonest witness spitting out lies, and a person who spreads conflict among relatives. (GW)

Does God really hate? I looked up the Hebrew word translated “hate” in Proverbs 6:16. It means… hate. The word translated “disgusting” means “detestable, an abomination.” God really hates sin.

We should too.

Sanctification is a fancy word meaning “to become holy or set apart.” Positionally, that happens in an instant. When we come to God in belief, we are freed from our sin, set apart by God and sealed by Him. Ephesians 1.

But practically, sanctification isn’t so sudden. Author Jen Wilkin calls the process “a slog.” Sin can be so annoyingly likeable.

Back in my Youth Director days, I had a 4-step chart to help put signposts on our slog toward sanctification. Progress, when you see it, can be encouraging. See if this helps.

We begin our spiritual journey after salvation living a life of unconscious disobedience. Once the Holy Spirit brings an issue to us, we become consciously disobedient. Rather than change immediately, we tend to stay there a while. Sin can be so annoyingly likeable.

Over time as we yield to the Spirit, we begin to hate the behavior. Now the real work begins. Conscious obedience is the difficult step. It is so easy to slide back. Here is when we need to pray to hate the sin as God hates the sin. Developing a hatred of what God hates will decimate a temptation.

Finally, we wake up one morning and realize it has been months since that sin really tempted us. A new lifestyle is developing. We are living in the Spirit in a state of unconscious obedience. And then…

Then the Spirit shows us something else we like, something else He hates. And there we go again.

And over time we become more and more like Christ. Hating what He hates, loving what He loves.

CS Lewis put it this way,

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

By the way, our church is giving away subscriptions to the largest digital bible study resource in the world, with a great kids section. Sign up here! Don’t thank me. Thank AnchorPoint.

Dan

 

 

The Incomprehensible Mystery of Evil

There has been a lot written and said on this 20th anniversary of 9/11. I would like to share a blog written by our Executive Pastor, an immigrant from Cuba. His words, and those of Billy Graham below speak God’s truth better than I ever could. I hope you enjoy the read. The words below belong to Reinaldo, not to me.

Dan

“They say you don’t forget the days when fateful events takes place. Works for me. I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade when shortly after lunch on Friday, November 22, 1963, our teacher, a nun, was called out of the classroom and then returned with a grim look on her face. It was then that she informed us in her heavily Italian accent that “President-e Kennedy has-a been-a shot!” I suppose that the fact that John Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic U.S. President was of particular significance to her and her fellow sisters. She had us all stand and recite the rosary. I was only 13 then, but I knew enough to comprehend that this was an act of evil the likes of which seldom occur. But that’s not the only fateful day which stuck with me; there were others, such as the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. But there’s one more which has impacted me the most over the years …

9-11-nasa-image-picture-for-2nd-paragraphI’ll never forget driving to JB’s for a breakfast meeting with Hope and some others twenty years ago on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when I heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in Manhattan. At first, I assumed it was a tragic accident. But as I continued driving, I heard on the radio some 15 minutes later that the other tower was also hit, and I knew then that this was no accident but an act of horrendous evil. And about an hour after I arrived at our meeting—we were too sad and dumbfounded to discuss what we had planned—we learned that the Pentagon was hit as well. And later we learned that a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania with no survivors.

Evil days have a way of taking up residence in our heads—and never checking out.

The numbers alone are staggering: 2,997 people were killed, mostly civilians in Manhattan, including 344 firefighters, 71 police officers, and 55 military personnel. And then there were the injured, 6,000+, many of whom experience health problems to this day from the dust and fumes they inhaled that day.

I do not personally know any one of the nearly 3,000 souls who died that day. And I’m sure that I would be writing a much better, heartfelt blog if I did. And so, rather than expressing my own feelings about the events of that day I will quote from someone who lost a loved one on 9-11. I recently read on The Dispatch about Kimberly Rex whose dad, Vincent Litto, perished on 9-11 in one of the Twin Towers (Ms. Rex is a freelance writer for CNN, The Washington Post, and other publications). She wrote,

vincent-litto--kimberly-rexLosing someone on 9/11 was like watching them disappear. They were there, and then they weren’t. On Sept. 10, 2001, I ate dinner beside my father in our Staten Island home. I was 19 and sat at his left, as usual. I watched him shake spoonfuls of grated cheese onto his soup. He was right next to me: flesh and bones, salt-and-pepper hair and a sharp nose. The next day, the plane hit. Fire raged and smoke billowed. Then the floor where he stood, the walls, the ceilings and the windows crumbled away into dust. And the people inside disappeared.As if I could forget how small my mother looked in their bed that night, drugged into sleep after hours of agony, curled up like a tiny fetus, lost in the vast bed he’d slept in just the night before. As if I don’t remember the moment I finally knew that my father was never coming home. Or I don’t remember the sound of my sister’s cries down the hall when that moment came for her. Or the day we told my grandparents that there was no one left to be rescued, that their son was somewhere in that pile of rubble and yet he wasn’t there at all. The terrible sound of my grandfather’s voice as he sobbed, ‘My baby. My baby’ about his 52-year-old son. The wordless wails my grandmother made as she lay on my sister’s shoulder.” The Washington Post and CNN, September 5, 2021

They were there, and then they weren’t.” It’s even harder to forget when evil pays a visit to a close family member. Even after 20 years, the memories of the lost loved ones persist.

I drove to work later that morning, but within a few hours UNM closed all its campuses for the remainder of the day. And so, I drove home to be with Hope and the kids. My family needed me, and I needed them. Classes resumed the next day, but I took the day off on Friday of that week. I wanted to watch the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. scheduled for that day. And I wanted my family to watch it with me. And so, we did.

Several prominent politicians and clergy spoke on Friday September 14, 2001, but no one expressed our collective sentiments of loss with truth and persuasive eloquence as did the Rev. Billy Graham. Here’s a link to a video of his 11½-minute message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VptxoWl0pxI&t=6s

You can read the entire text of his message here: https://billygraham.org/story/a-day-to-remember-a-day-of-victory/

He began his message with these words,

We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that He is ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’ …God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.’

He then turned his thoughts to the lessons that we can learn from the tragedy that just happened,

billy-graham-9-11First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I have been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the Author of evil; it speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah said, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can understand it?’

The first passage he made mention of is actually from 2 Thessalonians 2.7. The context is that of a future “man of lawlessness,” aka, “son of destruction” (v. 3). And then in the first part of v. 7 we read, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” Regardless of whether you believe that the worst is yet to come or that the best is yet to come, what we can all agree on is that a spirit of lawlessness has been operating on humanity since the Fall in the Garden. And we can also all agree that, as Jeremiah said, evil is endemic in our hearts even as it remains a mystery to us. For why would something which is so destructive, which causes so much pain and suffering, and which is contrary all that is good and that we long for in life be so prevalent? Jeremiah didn’t understand it. Who am I to think I get it?

But even though we can’t fully comprehend the mystery of evil we can know that in the midst of much evil there is even greater love, goodness, and hope from God. Billy Graham went on to say,

national-cathedral-crossHere in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us the symbol of the cross. For the Christian, the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for He took them upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you. The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil and death and hell. Yes, there is hope. I’ve become an old man now, and I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago.

His closing words that day continue to be a great source of comfort and encouragement to me.

My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and that as we trust in Him we will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us. We know also that God will give wisdom and courage and strength to the President and those around him. And this will be a day that we will remember as a Day of Victory.

Wow! How I wish I could preach like that! Such wisdom! Such love! It’s as close to hearing God Himself speak as we can get!

I have one closing thought for us. As we remember the horrendous and evil events of that day and especially how 3,000 innocent men, women, and children died senselessly, it is easy for us to hate the 19 hijackers and those who masterminded and abetted the attack. Their religion allows for hatred of their enemies—real and imagined—and vengeance. But ours does not. Jesus taught us to love and pray for our enemies and persecutors. Paul summarized this principle with these words,

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 8.19-21

He says, “never avenge yourselves,” and “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” And then he concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Failure to obey Christ when it comes to forgiving others—absolutely, unilaterally, and unconditionally—is tantamount to watering and fertilizing the evil which resides in our hearts. But to forgive our enemies and to pray and do good to those who persecute us is to yank out the evil in our hearts by the roots. There is no other way to overcome evil than by doing good—to everyone!

This coming Sunday we will hear again from my good friend Pastor Tom Lambelet who will be concluding his message on Jude. The title of his message for this Sunday is, “When Someone Doubts”; he describes his message as follows:

The Christian journey includes times of wrestling with questions, uncertainties and disappointments that can push our faith to the edge. From the book of Jude we will explore how we can process our doubt and how to help one another grow a deeper and more authentic faith.

Sounds to me like a great message! I hope you will join us, live or livestream.

Grace to you!

Pastor Reinaldo

To be a Minister of Reconciliation

A great article from an old Youth Pastor and friend.

Lead Freely

“Forgiveness is not a decision, it is a process”
(DR. CHARLOTTE VANOYEN-WITVLIET)

The summer of 2021 has been interesting for all of us. Not quite like 2020 when we were trying to get used to living in a global pandemic, we are now trying to accept when and how it should end. We are all in a different place as we grapple, and the wrestling match could go on for some time, as our humanity shows more and more. There is a pandemic which brings out the best and worst of everyone, but then there are so many other things that impact our outlook going forward…

…As I write this, the Taliban is once again setting up rule in Afghanistan, almost the minute after Western military forces leave the country.

…Haiti just experienced another devastating earthquake.

…Throughout this summer the outcry of the First Nations people is heard. It took…

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The Value of Consistency

Our Dark Horses series at church this summer has covered a lot of exciting people. Early on we talked about Gideon the wimp who won a war outnumbered 400-to-one. Last week we heard about a little one-handed assassin who escaped through a latrine and brought about 80-years of peace. With stories like these, it’s easy to think we aren’t accomplishing much.

But there are other stories. There are stories of those who had even greater success through consistency. In some ways these are boring heroes. In many ways they are encouraging.

Culture can make us feel like we are inadequate. If culture can make us feel unsuccessful, then they can produce a video and a book about how to become more successful, more happy, more epic—whatever that means.

Then the author becomes epically happy.

Some time ago I read a blog with the title “The Value of Sameness.” It featured Mister Rogers. I couldn’t find the old blog, but it came back to my mind because it fit our Dark Horse Hero so well this week. This week we have a boring hero—not the sermon, the guy! Anyway this same guy, when he died, left the entire country in mourning.

Like Mister Rogers, he did nothing epic. But, he was consistent and his impact was so immense the whole country mourned his passing.

I don’t know if any rumors went around after our Dark Horse Hero died, but plenty went around after Mister Rogers died. One was that he had been a navy seal who covered his twenty-five confirmed kills with commemorative arm tattoos. That’s why he wore long sleeve sweaters, you know. He wanted to cover his tattoos from the kids.

Why did these rumors circulate? I think on e reason is because we want to be exciting, and we want our heroes to be exciting too. We want to find out our parents are undercover Israeli agents with superpowers. We want Mister Rogers to be epic!

The truth is Fred Rogers never went into the military and never had a tattoo. His mother Nancy knitted his famous cardigans for him. He wore them in memory of her.

He wasn’t exciting. He was consistent.

What Fred Rogers did do was to graduate from Rollins College in Florida with a degree in music. Later he created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and hosted all 895 episodes. He composed over 200 songs for the show and imagined all of it’s fourteen characters into being.

He personally responded to every piece of man mail he received.

He weighed 143 pounds when he was 20, and 40, and 60 and forever and ever amen. A truly boring hero, he said he did this for his wife, as “I” has one letter, “love” has four letters, and “you” has three letters.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood started the same way from beginning to end.

He was a vegetarian who didn’t smoke or drink. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

He was married to Sara Joann from 1952 until his death in 2003. They had two sons James and John.

He got up each morning to swim laps, pray, and to “read the Bible and prepare himself for the day.”

He did do one exciting thing. He moved to Canada in the 60s. It was the CBC that talked him into putting his puppets down for a time and talking directly to viewers as Mister Rogers. Good things come from Canada.

During his mostly (Canada aside) non-epic life, he received 40 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Fred Rogers often spoke at commencement ceremonies where he would ask for a time of silence to remember the people who invested in our lives. When he received his  Lifetime Achievement Emmy, he did it again. If you watch the above link, you will see what is truly epic about the man. He really seems to put into practice, “they will know you are Christians by your love.”

He wasn’t exciting. He was consistent. And for me, that is encouraging.

Our dark horse hero this week?

From age 30 to age 90 1Samuel 7:15 (NIV2011)  Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16  From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 17  But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.

At 90…

1Samuel 28:3 (NIV2011)  Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah.

Dan

We’re Dust

vvwa4Do you remember How the Grinch Stole Christmas? In the original book and movie, one thing he hates is the NOISE! I can so relate.

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know all the Who girls and boys
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush for their toys!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

That is what my mid-week devotional for our church was about. It’s kinda like a VLOG. I’m tired of the media noise, the mask/no mask noise, the riot noise, the new restrictions/restrictions lifted noise. God knows we don’t need more noise. He knows we are but dust. If it doesn’t show up in your browser below, you can check it out here.