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I’ve tried to leave this post just as it was originally written because it was a heartfelt response after a very traumatic experience.  But I’m sometimes clumsy with words and even when I think I am writing clearly, there is always the reader who doesn’t know my heart or doesn’t hear the words the way they were intended.

I feel as though a few people have taken what I said and twisted it. When I wrote my post on Friday, I had a grand total of eleven blog  followers. Yes, eleven. I generally post on facebook and have had a loyal little group of readers that numbered thirty or so. That is who I generally write for.  People who know me  know that I dislike talking on the telephone. I’d pretty much rather clean a toilet than spend time on the phone. I am not a speaker. After the shooting,  friends and family began calling. I knew I had to let people know what happened and that we were safe.  Since I also really wanted to respond to the people that were blaming God for this tragedy,  I wrote the blog post and put it up on facebook. I never in a million years would have anticipated the readers to skyrocket past a million , including strangers from all over the world. Only God could do that.

I realize that the vast majority of readers are complete strangers; they know nothing about my heart or my faith. Those who do, know  I would never, ever imply that God chose to keep me alive instead of another individual or that I think I am more worthy of being alive than any of the victims. I am grateful to be alive but still there are struggles with being a survivor when so many others lost their lives.  What I did mean to say, and what I do believe is that as His child in Christ,  my life has a specific purpose to draw others to Him, and that is how I can use the gift of life.  I believe that He can take something as horrific as the tragic, unfair and senseless deaths of twelve innocent people and create some good things from it.  Their deaths were NOT the good thing, their deaths were NOT God’s heart but the result of a man bent on evil.  God is a redeemer. He takes ugly, ugly situations and can bring something good out of it.

Original Post

(Maybe, just maybe God spared my life because He loves YOU and wants you to hear this..He wants you to believe that He loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son that if you would believe in Him you would have eternal life.)

So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.

Yes.

Yes, I do indeed.

Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.

In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.

Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark Night Rises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of our own home…where I can use subtitles and get a foot rub. I don’t like action movies. And I don’t like midnight showings.  But, as I wrote in my last post, parents sometimes make sacrifices for their kiddos and I decided I would take my fourteen year old and sixteen year old daughters who were chomping at the bit to see this eagerly anticipated third movie in the Batman Trilogy. Twice I had the opportunity to back out and twice I was quite tempted. But something in me said just go with your girls. I did.

So I was there with them, fidgeting in my seat, some forty or  fifty feet away from the man with the gun. It’s still a bit surreal, but I do know that when the seemingly endless shooting started, as my girls were struggling from whatever gas or chemical had been released, and we figured out what was happening, we hit the floor. I threw myself on top of my fourteen year old who was on the end of the row, straight up the aisle from the shooter.  In that moment, as the rapid-fire shots continued, I truly thought I was going to die. And I realized that I was ready. I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of my soul, and there wasn’t the slightest doubt that I would be received into heaven, not because of any good thing that I have done but because of His merciful nature and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, as I lay over my daughter, I began praying out loud. I don’t even remember what I prayed, but I don’t imagine it really matters. I’m sure it was for protection and peace. It drew me closer into the presence of God. When there was a pause in the shooting, people began to clamor for the exits. The girls and I jumped up and joined the masses. We had to step over a lifeless body,people were screaming and pushing, not knowing where the shooter was. We raced to our car and I dumped my purse, frantically searching for keys, looking all around, prepared to hit the ground. I yelled at Michelle to call Matthew and find out if he had made it out of the theater next door. She did. He did. We booked on out of there.

Why would you think such a tragedy would make me question the goodness of God? If anything, both of my girls said it made Him a much more real presence to them; the youngest shared this verse: Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being caught. Proverbs 3:25-26

He is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil.  It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act.  Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.

We have not yet slept, so the girls and I are overtired and a bit emotional.  But overall, we are praising God and resting in His Goodness.   I love this word of wisdom and encouragement from a former pastor of mine:

Up to this point I haven’t had words to say that would matter. Of course we are all glad that you and the family are safe. Of course we would all state the obvious that this is horrific and senseless. But those words still don’t carry weight that remain in the midst of the questions. Then it hit me… Do you know what the difference was between Job and his wife in their response to the tragedy of losing everything… Job 1:20 Job was the only one that worshiped in the midst of it. Marie, I know your heart and I’ve seen your worship lived out before your family. Before the weight of this becomes unbearable… worship. Your profile pic was not coincidence, not by accident that you changed it on July 15th, but a beautiful foreshadowing of your need to hear the cry of your heart and give Him praise.  

Though we don’t have all the answers, we do indeed listen to the cry of our hearts: When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What  can mere man  do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

God is always good.

Man is not.

Don’t get the two confused.

We will continue to praise and worship our mighty God, anticipating that He will bring beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

If you want to know how to pray for us: first and foremost, we need sleep. Somehow our bodies seem too wired. We also want the life that God has graciously allowed us to continue to live to not be a gift given in vain, we want our lives to draw others closer to Him. We do not want fear to dominate, for God has not given us a spirit of fear. We want His joy to be seen and experienced in all that we do.

Pray for the families who lost loved ones, and for young people who witnessed such horror. Pray for this to be an opportunity for God to manifest Himself in mighty ways.

As for you…we will pray that YOU might know His goodness.

Still grateful for this wonderful life,

Marie

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. . . all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. –Psalm 42:7

Every seasoned saint who walks deeply with God, I am coming to believe, has been through a very distinct experience. 

 
I could call the experience ‘adversity’ or ‘suffering’ and that would be true but unhelpful. I have in mind something more specific, more penetrating. 
 
I have in mind the experience of God’s children when they walk through the deep valley of a single instance of adversity or suffering so great that it cannot be handled in the same way as the various disappointments and frustrations of life. This particular adversity passes a threshold that the garden variety trials do not reach. 
An Over-the-Head Wave

The picture in my mind at the moment is swimming in the ocean of Laguna Beach in southern California many times years ago. Wading out into the water I would immediately feel the waves beginning to come against me. First my ankles, then my knees, and so on. As I continued, though, inevitably a wave would come that could not be outjumped. It washed over me. I’d get completely submerged and there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
 
That total-submersion wave is what I have in mind. I’m not thinking of bad grades, failed dating relationships, rejected applications for school or jobs, the flu, resentment over being sinned against. These are forms of adversity. But they are waves that hit us in the knees. We lose our balance, but quickly get it back. We keep moving on, weathering the trial but essentially unchanged. We aren’t forced to change. Such trials wash into all of our lives with some regularity.
 
But those who live into their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and are quietly walking with the Lord from a posture of fundamental trust have weathered something deeper. At some point in their lives a wave has washed over them that could not be outjumped. And somehow they survived emotionally. They softened rather than hardened.

Finally Believing What We Say We Believe

 
Someone who has become a Christian and truly believes what he or she confesses to believe comes to a point in life where they must suddenly, for the first time, bank all that they are on that professed belief. Their true trust must be proven.

It is not as though they didn’t believe before. They did, with sincerity. But their belief had only to that point been tested by the gently lapping waist-high waves of adversity.

To switch metaphors: it’s the difference between saying you believe a parachute will float you safely to the ground in a skydiving class and actually jumping out of the plane.

At that moment of life meltdown we are forced into one of two positions: either cynicism and coldness of heart, or true depth with God. A spouse betrays. A habitual sin, left unchecked, blows up in our face. We are publicly shamed in some way that will haunt us as long as we live. We lose utterly that one thing we always counted on—physical health, financial stability, etc. Our good name is stolen. We hear words from the lips of a son or daughter that had only been the stuff of nightmares. A malignant, inoperable tumor. Abuse of a loved one, the kind of abuse that makes us physically nauseous to hear of. Sustained depression. Profound disillusionment in some way.

A Universal Experience

When I consider the saints I know who exhale that depth of trust that makes them almost otherworldly, there has always been a time of weathering a wave of adversity that went over their head. 
 
Abraham is told to slit the throat of his only son. Jacob wrestles with God and is crippled the rest of his life at just the moment when he needed God most, about to meet Esau. Moses kills a man and loses everything the world holds dear. David ruins his life through an afternoon’s indulgence. Job reaps the nightmare of all nightmares.
 
When that moment comes looking for us, sent by the hand of a tender Father, we will either believe that what we said we believe has just been disproven, or we will believe that what we said we believe can sustain us. The two lines of professed-belief and heart-belief, to this point parallel, are suddenly forced either to overlap completely or to move further apart. We cannot go on as before.

Let us not be simplistic or formulaic. Many such over-the-head waves may wash over us in life. Or we may experience such a crushing trial in our 20s–then another in our 40s that makes the trial 20 years before seem only waist-high–and so on. But I remain struck at how often it seems to have been one defining, devastating affliction when a senior saint reflects back on life.

The Tragedy of Shallowness

I know Christians in the latter half of life who are not deep people. They are dear people. But they are shallow. If they will take off the mask and be truly honest, they will acknowledge that what they are after in life is comfort, nice vacations, a good tan, and being liked. Nothing wrong with any of these things. But these now have their heart’s deepest loyalty rather than Christ. As a result they are not compelling, not attractive, people. They are wispy, not solid.
 
Could it be that a wave came suddenly crashing over their head and they believed that their faith had just been disproven? That God had failed them? Could it be that the very moment which they now look back on and view as the moment when God failed them was the Father inviting them further up and further in? Might it not be that the Lord stands as ready as ever to welcome them into depth, into a communion with him they never dreamed of, and that it is only on the other side of giving in and banking everything on him?
He Went through the Wave

Recognition of the strange ways of the Father should not drive into a fearful, darting-eyes existence. Recognition of this pattern should sober us, encouraging us to go on as we have been and not to throw in the towel when the nightmare becomes reality.

He is in it. He is over it. He loves us too much to let us remain the shallow, twaddling people we all are and will remain as long as the waves only reach our waist.

But above all else remember when life implodes that he went through the greatest nightmare himself, in our place. The tidal wave of separation from the Father washed over Another so that it need never wash over us. Dane Ortlund

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In September, 2010, a core group joined Jason and Kelly Stockdale, Ruthe and me, to launch The Orchard Fellowship. We met for a year and one half at a rented Episcopal elementary school. St George’s served us well for those first 20 months. After investigating over 20 possible locations, we  recently moved to Briarcrest, a Christian high school.

We began with worship services, serving teams, community groups, and ministry projects. This fall, we hope to add Equipping Groups. One of the dangers we want to avoid is overprogramming – and it is a challenging task. It means saying “no” in order that we might say “yes.” This is hard – due to my nature and personality. It is also difficult because we are inundated constantly with opportunities and good ideas. Everytime we say “no,” we probably offend someone. We possibly lose people. 

So why do we limit the programming of our church? 

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well. No church plant can do everything well. We have to walk before we run. 

2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness. 

3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community. We are like a shotgun blast – loud, effective close-up, but unfocused. 

4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers. We want families to have the time to actually meet and love and influence their neighbors, devote to child-rearing and marriage-building, and strengthen relationships to other believers. 

5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness. Let me explain. It can overextend leaders, increase administration, tax the time of church members, and sap financial and material resources from churches.

6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body. Pervasive segmentation is not good for church unity or spiritual growth.

7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers. If a church looks like it’s doing lots of things, we tend to think it’s doing great things for God. In reality, it may simply be providing lots of religious goods and services. The more we are engaged within the four walls of the church, whether those walls are literal or metaphorical, the less we are engaged in being salt and light. Over-programming reduces the access to and opportunities with my neighbors.

8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members. It’s a fast track to burnout for both volunteers and attendees.

9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church. Here’s a good test, I think: take a look at a typical over-programmed church’s calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen in the New Testament.

10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead. Always ask “Should we?” before you ask “Can we?” Always ask “Will this please God?” before you ask “Will this please our people?” Always ask “Will this meet a need?” before you ask “Will this meet a demand?”

Based on an article by Jared Wilson

 
 

 

Francis Schaeffer:

Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic. It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe. Our plane, one of those old DC4′s with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic.

Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped. I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go down into the ocean, I’d better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, “There’s something wrong with the engines.” She was a bit snappy and said, “You people always think there’s something wrong with the engines.” So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat.

I had no sooner sat down, than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out. “We’re in trouble,” he said. “Hurry and put on your life jackets.”

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed.

Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: “There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic.” My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down.

Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander.

When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened. “Well,” he said, “it’s a strange thing, something we can’t explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they don’t start again. We don’t understand it.”

So I turned to him and I said, “I can explain it.”

He looked at me: “How?”

And I said, “My Father in heaven started it because I was praying.”

That man had the strangest look on his face and he turned away.

Schaeffer draws a big-picture application:

What one must realize is that seeing the world as a Christian does not mean just saying, “I am a Christian. I believe in the supernatural world,” and then stopping. It is possible to be saved through faith in Christ and then spend much of our lives in [unbelief]. We can say we believe in a supernatural world, and yet live as though there were no supernatural in the universe at all. It is not enough merely to say, “I believe in a supernatural world.”

Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, “I believe the food exists; I believe it is real,” and yet never eating it.

It is not enough merely to say, “I am a Christian,” and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange.

Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice—once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act as though they were sitting in the materialist’s chair.

—Francis Schaeffer, “The Universe and Two Chairs

 

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I began to reflect on the lessons I learned from my father, Sam Shaw Sr. Just as I received his name, I hope to receive these character qualities as well.  

1. Integrity. 

When I was in high school, I interviewed dad’s supervisor for a class assignment. After the interview, his boss told me, “As you know, many of the leaders of this company were caught in an FBI sting operation – and are in prison. Every one in this company was under scrutiny. I want you to know – your dad has the cleanest name of any man in this town.” 

Imagine how it felt to hear that. I was proud that he was my dad. I had never really thought about my dad’s character. It was a very important lesson for me. 

2. Authority

 Some parents feel that the number one goal of parenting is for their child to like them. It’s not. The goal is to lovingly parent them. Liking has little to do with it. In fact, there is much that goes with loving parenting they will not like.

I remember dad telling me that I would not permitted to drive a car full of teenagers from Oklahoma to Washington on a mission trip. I did not understand his reasoning, and I was hurt and angry. Later, my mother told me that she had surprised dad while he was praying. She overheard him saying,  “I never want to hurt that boy.” 

Dad never forgot that parenting isn’t meant to be a popularity contest. He understood the purpose of his God-given authority in our family. 

 3. Grace. 

 My Dad and Mom recently moved from their long-time home in Oklahoma to an assisted living facility in this area. That is a huge change for an 87 year old man. He is not able to drive anymore. He spends most of his days looking after my mother. 

He is managing it with poise and grace and humor.

We talked last week about when he became a Christ-follower. His testimony was clear, simple, decisive – and assuring. His hope is the grace of the Lord Jesus.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

 

 

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The “Roman roads” of today are the Internet, the smartphone and social media. The famed Roman Roads of the Ancient Empire were among the foremost technological advances that helped Christianity spread so rapidly. Their construction was strategically well-timed to the Incarnation of Christ and the subsequent missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. The building of these continent-connecting arteries started in 500 B.C. and ultimately spanned over 250,000 miles. They not only enabled the Roman Empire to grow, but also propelled the Gospel forward. The new roads are having a similar effect.

Some Christians, churches and Bible agencies have caught on to the fact that someone else has already paid for these new roads to be built. These electronic avenues are open and ready for a million journeys of faith and witness. One group of techno-evangelists have caught one and already made remarkable advances is the team behind the “Bible App” (aka YouVersion.com) and their founder, Bobby Gruenewald.

The Bible App and YouVersion sites make numerous forms of the Bible available to the reader and Bible student for free. While reading various electronic versions the user of the Bible App can also track their journey through a variety of reading plans and keep an online journal of their reflections and prayers. Users may also embed videos and article links they either may want to come back to personally or offer public access and interaction. This month the “Bible App” reached a mile marker of 50 million downloads, a rare accomplishment in the App World.

While the Old Roman Roads connected major towns and cities; the new ones are connecting homes and individuals. Not only is there an information component to online Bibles that is changing our use of Scripture, there is a social one, as well. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman recently said, “The world is no longer just connected; it is now hyper-connected.” There are currently an estimated 400 million smartphones across the globe and growing. Mark Brown, the creator of Facebook-the Bible Page (8.4 million users and frequently the “most engaged” site on FB), says “more and more people are doing everything on their smartphones.” He estimates that in the next few years the numbers will rise to a full billion smart phones.

I recently interviewed Gruenewald for an article in Christianity Today called “The Social Network Gospel” (June 2012 issue). As it turns out, the Bible App idea came to Gruenewald while in an airport. Four years ago while checking in his luggage it suddenly occurred to him that because of technology everyone has a virtual “printing press” in their home. This posed incredible possibilities for new forms of interaction with and around the Bible. Immediately he went online and reserved the URL http://www.youversion.com. Soon thereafter he began to assemble what has come to be known as the YV “Digerati” Team, the technological brains behind the project.

A finance major at a Nazarene School, Gruenewald did well during the Internet financial bubble; he started (and sold) two tech companies in 1999. Craig Groeschel, Lead Pastor of LifeChurch.tv and best-selling Christian writer (i.e., Soul Detox), took note of his business savvy and asked him to join his pastoral team. Initially Gruenewald thought his entrepreneurial spirit would be under-challenged in a church environment. On the contrary, he became the “Innovation Pastor” at LifeChurch and has been much of the creative genius behind the rapid online development of YouVersion and LifeChurch.tv (a congregation of some 30,000 located on 14 campuses and online).

On the heels of Gruenewald’s early experimentation with the YouVersion site, he found out about Apple’s plan to launch an App Store in July 2008. His team was fortunate enough to secure the simple name “Bible App.” When the app first launched, Gruenewald’s goal was 80,000 users by the end of the year. Instead, they gained 83,000 in the first 3 days. At that point, he knew he was on to something. The church decided to pull out the stops and invest much into the site which is currently gaining more than 3 million new users every month.

The immediacy of technology has changed the game of Bible reading. Printed Bibles have to be duplicated, bound, packaged, shipped, displayed, sold, taken home and then opened and read. Digital Bibles, however, begin as electronic bytes on a server and can become a thousand or a million (or more) copies on the faces of smartphones in just a matter of seconds. That’s a game changer. Several Bible publishers and license holders, however, have allowed sites such as YouVersion and BibleGateway to publish their versions digitally since they have found it has not hindered print sales, but has actually increased them and provided broad network of promotion.

Gruenewald says, “I believe that this generation could become the most biblically engaged one in history.” Five hundred years ago the prime technologies of Bible advancement were not Gruenewald, but Gutenberg, the developer of the earliest European printing press. For Martin Luther, this new technology was something truly glorious. He praised its timeliness and encouraged its potential. Luther had recognized a new “road.” Now, another one has arrived.

Robert Crosby

 
 
 

The following statistics represent some of the challenges facing the church in the unfinished task of world evangelism:

  • As of April 2012, there were approximately 7 billion people on Earth.
  • Approximately 750 million (or about 11 percent) of those are willing to claim Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.
  • About 2.6 billion people (or 38 percent of the world’s population) have heard the gospel but have not accepted Christ yet.
  • At present, just over 50 percent of the world’s population (or 3.5 billion people) have not heard the gospel and most of them do not have a realistic opportunity to hear the gospel.
  • Here’s another way to look at the challenge of world evangelism: Of the 11,646 distinct people groups on the planet, 6,734 people groups (roughly 60 percent) contain between zero and two percent evangelical Christians. Many of these 6,734 people groups have no churches, no Bibles, no Christian literature, and no mission agencies who are seeking to share the gospel with them.


It is not the church’s job to make the gospel “relevant” in the superficial sense of making its teachings fit with what our culture thinks. Our task is to show the Bible’s relevance in the substantial sense of being a timeless Word with things to say to every changing time and place.

I must admit there was a time in my ministry when I worried that the Bible seemed out of date and so irrelevant. I worried away, seeking “connection points” and “cultural signals” that could show my audience—whether live or in print—that Jesus is as relevant as MTV. Those who have read any of my recent works will know that I have not actually abandoned the “Areopagean” task of showing how the Risen Judge speaks to contemporary culture. But something changed in my ministry about ten years ago. Something dawned on me—or, more likely, was pointed out to me—that dispelled the worry.

Cultures are constantly changing, in some respects improving, in some respects getting worse, but always in flux. And yet the people of every particular culture think their special perspective is the high point. In this sense we are products of our time and place.

If the Bible affirmed what every passing culture believed, that would surely reveal that it was not a body of wisdom for every culture through all time. Imagine, however, that there was a book containing eternal wisdom for all cultures. What should we expect to find? We would discover that it was always at odds with every culture at some point, for cultures are always in flux, sometimes coinciding with the Truth, sometimes departing from it.

The true relevance of the gospel is found in its studied irrelevance to any particular culture, whether ancient Corinthian or modern New Yorker. We do not need another message that affirms what we already think in all our foibles and cultural particularities. We surely need one that is free to challenge, rebuke, frighten, and enlighten us, as well as comfort and affirm us when appropriate. That message is the gospel. It is precisely because the gospel was not crafted to endorse ancient Athenians or modern Americans that it is wonderfully relevant to both.

In this post-Christian age, exposing the myths of progress and relevance will allow our hearers to contemplate the possibility that something as old as the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most “modern” men and women with the truth they did not know they were looking for.

John Dickson

As a Chaplain, Must I Always Publicly Pray in Jesus’ Name?

— MONDAY, MAY 21ST, 2012 —

Questions and Ethics

Dear Dr. Moore,

I’m a committed evangelical Christian, and also a chaplain with responsibility for people from all sorts of religious backgrounds. I am called on to pray at many functions, with mixed audiences. Some over me are pressuring me not to end my prayers “in Jesus’ name” but to instead pray more inclusively to God, generally. I can pray “in Your name” and that seems to solve the problem. I mean Jesus, of course, but it wouldn’t be as patently offensive and it would enable me to minister here longer and more effectively. Is that ethical?

A Confused Chaplain

Dear Chaplain,

You’re assuming this quandary is about language. It’s not. Praying in Jesus’ name isn’t simply a cultural addendum at the end of a request, something evangelicals do in the same way we repeat phrases like “just” and “lead, guide, and direct us.” We pray in Jesus’ name because Jesus commanded us to do so (Jn. 14:13). We pray in Jesus’ name because we believe that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Thus, we have no access to God apart from our being hidden in Christ.

When you pray publicly, you are not there to proselytize or to do apologetic battle against other religions. But that’s not what praying in Jesus’ name is. If you are asked to pray, you can only pray as a Christian. In so doing, you are actually, ironically enough, protecting the rights of other religions and their chaplains. I frankly don’t want a Muslim chaplain forced by the government to pray like a Episcopalian.

As for the old “in Your name” wink and nod, I would counsel you against that. Our ancient Christian forebears, under persecution in Rome, could have pinched the incense and proclaimed “Caesar is lord” while assuring themselves privately that they meant the “eternal Caesar” of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, wouldn’t they be of more service to Jesus alive and preaching than thrown to the lions? And what is a momentary acknowledgement of a civic faith, especially when one can be as specific as one wants in private?

Well, behind all those rationalizations hung a warning: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

Christian chaplains have been ordained by their churches, and offered to the military, to be Christian chaplains. For them to pray as a civil-religion cleric is for them to enlist their services in another faith. You wear the Cross, and must speak it and not put it under the bushel of a more inclusive language of civil faith.

Chaplains don’t serve chiefly a civic function. They are there, first of all, to guarantee the First Amendment liberties of military and other personnel to the free exercise of religion. If the government decides that the only chaplains who can serve are those willing to pray like Unitarians in public, one wonders what would remain of the purpose of chaplaincy at all.

From the government’s point of view, it might not be that much to ask a chaplain to pray a sensitive prayer to a generic God. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem too much to ask a Catholic soldier to serve himself and his Protestant friends Mass since “bread is bread,” and a Muslim chaplain to lead people in the Rosary because “it’s just a prayer.”

But it is too much to ask. A Muslim who would speak of Mary as the Mother of God rejects the Koran, and he’s just not a Muslim anymore. A Catholic Mass without a priest is just not a Catholic Mass. And a prayer to a “God” who is not clearly the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a Christian prayer.

When Caesar asks for service and for taxes and for honor, we should render such things gladly. Prayers don’t belong to Caesar, though, and they shouldn’t be brought before him for editorial submission. We owe Caesar submission and loyalty in almost everything (Rom. 13), almost.

But when Caesar objects to the mention of Jesus in a Christian’s prayers, we must have the conviction to say, “Sir, I wasn’t talking to you, sir.”

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These 21 rules, says Gregg Harris, cover just about every situation common to young children and teens. They were developed over 30 years ago to help my wife and me be more consistent in what we required of our children as members of our household. It is so easy to allow our own moods to change the boundaries of what we will tolerate from one day to the next.

In far too many homes the only real rule is to stay out of Mom or Dad’s way when they are in a bad mood. Otherwise, when they are in agood mood, the kids can get away with almost anything.

The goal in the use of the 21 Rules is to clarify what is pleasing and displeasing to parents, regardless of their moods, and to administer discipline without anger, and then only in response to willful defiance of what the child knows to be right.

The 21 Rules Of This House
by Gregg Harris

1. We obey God.
2. We love, honor and pray for one another.
3. We tell the truth.
4. We consider one another’s interests ahead of our own.
5. We speak quietly and respectfully with one another.
6. We do not hurt one another with unkind words or deeds.
7. When someone needs correction, we correct him in love.
8. When someone is sorry, we forgive him.
9. When someone is sad, we comfort him.
10. When someone is happy, we rejoice with him.
11. When we have something nice to share, we share it.
12. When we have work to do, we do it without complaining.
13. We take good care of everything that God has given us.
14. We do not create unnecessary work for others.
15. When we open something, we close it.
16. When we take something out, we put it away.
17. When we turn something on, we turn it off.
18. When we make a mess, we clean it up.
19. When we do not know what to do, we ask.
20. When we go out, we act just as if we were in this house.
21. When we disobey or forget any of the 21 Rules of This House, we accept the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Instructions: Post the list on your refrigerator door or other prominent location in your home. When misbehavior occurs, draw attention to which House Rule has been violated and repeat the rule a few timesand explain what it means. Once the meaning becomes clear, discipline your child for any expressions of willful defiance. Over time, the rules will be internalized by each child as a general statement of the behavioral boundaries. Remember that these rules follow you and your child wherever they go. Discipline should only be administered in private, in love for the child, never in anger or in any way that would ever do harm. The challenge is to be consistent so that such discipline is eventually no longer needed.

1. God is near me to help me.

Philippians 4:5-6: “The Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

2. God cares for me.

1 Peter 5:7: “. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

3. My Father in heaven knows all my needs and will supply all my needs.

Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

4. God values me more than birds and grass, which he richly provides for and adorns; how much more will he provide for all my needs!

Matthew 6:26-30: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

5. The worst someone can do to me is to kill me and take things from me!

Matthew 6:25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [I.e., you still have eternal life even if you have no food; you will still have a resurrection body even if you are physically deprived.]

Luke 12:4: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”

Luke 21:16, 18: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Romans 8:31-32, 35, 38-39: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.”

Justin Taylor

Perhaps you’ve seen the front page story in The New York Times titled “Old Church Becomes Mosque in Altered and Uneasy Britain,” which told of a former Christian church in Clitheroe, England, that was to become a mosque.

A second article on the same day, a bit more buried but still prominent in length, was titled “After Two Years of Work, An Updated Tabernacle,” revealing how the Salt Lake Tabernacle, completed in 1867 by Mormon faithful and home to the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, was nearing the completion of its two-year renovation. I took note of these two articles as they are indicative of the current rise in spirituality, but not necessarily to the benefit of Christianity.

My concern turned out to be even more prescient than I had feared.

The 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership (RCMS) Study, a study conducted once every ten years, was released this week. The headline is simple, but profound: “mainline Protestants and Catholics who dominated the 20th century are literally ground to the rapid rise of Mormons and, increasingly, Muslims.”

Mormonism, for example, is “moving into more parts of the county than any other religious group, making it the fastest-growing faith in more than half of U.S. states.”

Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest, is indicative: Mormons grew there by 55%, while Catholics shrank by 7%.

Overall, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) “reported 2 million new adherents and new congregations in 296 counties where they didn’t exist a decade ago, making them the fastest-growing group in the U.S.”

So much for the tabernacle.

Now for the Mosque.

In terms of overall growth, Muslims came in second to the Mormons, “with growth of 1 million adherents in 197 new counties, to a total of about 2.6 million.” According to Dale Jones, a researcher who worked on the study as part of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, “Mosques have multiplied at a growth rate of about 50 percent.”

Consider the area in and around Orlando’s Orange County where, according to the RCMS study, growth exploded by a staggering 473%. Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, thinks the growth is actually double the amounts reported by the study.

Several explanations for the rapid rise of Muslims were suggested by the study, including “growth in the suburbs, an increased willingness by U.S. Muslims to stand and be counted, and more mosques being built to serve more worshippers.” Musri suggests the growth has been fueled by a wave of post-9/11 converts, American-born children of immigrants having kids of their own, and jobs in the booming medical industry.

So here is where we stand:

Mainline Protestant denominations and Catholics are in decline.

Even the largest evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, are also exhibiting a steady, multi-year decline.

But the Mosque and the Tabernacle? Muslims are likely to outnumber Christians in Britain in just a few decades, and the Mormon church now claims over 14 million members, including 6 million in the United States.

As I wrote in Christ Among the Dragons, the reason we are losing ground so dramatically is two-fold:

First, passivity; we do not seem to feel it is urgent to reach people for Christ.

The second reason is hostility. Many Christians are intensely adversarial and view those outside of the faith as needing to go to hell.

Neither will make you particularly prone to outreach.

The irony is that neither Mormons or Muslims have such barriers. They are only too willing to reach out with urgency, and acceptance.

Which is precisely why they are the largest and fastest-growing.

James Emery White

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My friend and fellow church-planter and mentor, Steve Gallimore, from Tennessee Valley Community Church, Paris, TN,  asks the question in his blog. Here is what he says… 

Too many hearts have become rich gardens for the fruit of sin rather than pathways of righteousness.  Some of you will quit reading at this point because you’re thinking, “Bless his heart…here he goes again.”  And that is certainly your right.  

My question is this:  Is God real?  Really, really, real?  Or has He become a convenient figment of our imagination that soothes our souls in times of turmoil but has no place in our day-to-day living?

I’m burdened because our actions betray our theology.  Our daydreams are deplorable and our decisions are damnable.  We argue the true authority of Scripture by trying to decide what is possible based upon what is popular.  We’ve allowed culture to define Christianity rather than the Word of God defining both culture as well as true Christianity.  Then we go so far as to debate one another concerning how close we can get to the edge (guardrail) without going over.  How close can I get to sin without it being sin?

Case in point:  Today, there was an article describing the number one issue on the docket at a major denomination’s upcoming conference: Homosexuality and whether or not they will now ordain homosexual ministers and endorse gay marriage.  Yet the conference theme is Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World.  How can we do that if we refuse the Word of God as the authority of God in our personal or denominational or whatever life we live?

We need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking to go forward with the mandate of Jesus: Make disciples.  We need to pray that those who would seek to derail the mandate with the man-date (sorry), would repent and truly believe the Word as the only authority anyone who names the name of Christ has as rule and guide.  Just because we love everyone and desire to see all people come to know Christ, that does not superintend the Authority of Scripture.