Monday, June 20, 2011

A Gospel of Hatred

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If the word "Gospel" means "Good News," then what's the word for "Bad News?"

I have no idea, but just such a word is surely what is needed for the message that the folks from Westboro Baptist Church (in Kansas) are seeking to propagate. Their fundamental message: "God Hates You." And if that's unclear, they have other similar signs they wave: God Hates Fags, God Hates Your Feelings, God Hates America, etc. Evidently God is a big hater, according to them.

These folks (in what they said was their 44,000th picket ... hard to believe, but that has to be some sort of Guinness World Record if true) graced the Northwest with their presence on Sunday morning, appearing for a very brief window of time (I guess their calendar must be very full) in front of Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church plant in Federal Way, at Christian Faith Center in Federal Way, and at the SlutWalk event in Seattle.

I visited Mars Hill in support of this wonderful church and some friends I have who attend there. Joining me were five members of the young adults ministry my wife and I pastor, known as "Pulse." We intended to pray, and four of the five also wanted to follow the protesters up to Seattle so they could bear witness to the Truth there.

The five protestors held about three or four large signs each, not including tee-shirt slogans. You can see the odd variety of messages in the photo above. We snapped a few quick shots as we entered the church grounds, which were separated from the actual protestors by several hundred feet, numerous trees, and several police cars. When we first pulled up, I was amused to see that two of the guys from the church carried a table full of coffee and donuts the distance out to the protesters. Their strategy was to make them feel welcome, I guess.

But apparently it backfired. The protesters seemed bored and almost embarrassed. They left, halfway through their scheduled half-hour of picketing. I felt bad because, after getting permission to take my group of young adults out to pray for the protesters, we arrived to find they had already departed early.

Several of the venues they were scheduled to show up at, later in the day, they didn't even show up at. One they did was the Slutwalk event. This sounds worse than what it actually is — a group of people protesting how rape victims have been characterized by a recent portrayal by a police official as "sluts." Unfortunately, the WBC folks were there to tell them "You ARE sluts ... and God hates you. Rape is a punishment for your sin, sent from Him."

The young people from Pulse offered up a different message, which can be seen on the sign held by Leslie in the photo at right.

I love it when choices are as clear as this one is. Are we supposed to be about expressing hatred for people who are hurting ... or expressing God's love to them? Some things aren't so black and white as this.

Jesus said, "The world will know you are My disciples by your love." I am so proud of our young adults, who had the courage to express God's love to a hurting world, even under difficult and risky circumstances.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No Koolaid ... Yet

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News item: Tomorrow the nutcases from Westboro Baptist Church are doing their picketing thing at a few of our local churches. If we can do so in a way that doesn't draw further media attention to their cause, a few of us are planning on attending, not to counterpicket or anything like that, but to show support for these churches and to pray against this attack of Satan against the cause of Christ.

In case you haven't heard (and if so you must never watch the news), these are the folks (a smallish extended family of lawyers and their friends, mostly) who've made their money by angering people so badly they get sued, then argue and win their cases on the basis of the First Amendment right which protects their stupidity. Their theological argument is that God hates everyone except a small group of elect (which they're in, of course), and that tragedies such as the deaths of our soldiers should be mocked as God's judgment on America, seemingly for its tolerance of homosexuality.

Basically they are a cult, just no koolaid yet. You have to be smoking or drinking something very bad for you to walk away from the Bible holding a view like that.

Anyway, I loved the response of Mark Driscoll, the local pastor whose church will be picketed tomorrow, as written in his blog and reported by CNN:

"This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Whore House for God's Grace and Free Donuts."

His strategy: Since God loves (even) them, let's be nice to them. I hate it when someone thinks with such biblical clarity.

So, I am planning on going, and saying hello, and not picketing, and trying to be nice. However, I did write up a little one-sheet flyer of my own, targeted to Christians, in case anyone is willing to read it. I will present it here, and you are welcomed to comment:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hunker Down ... or Take a Risk?

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I recently read a very interesting article in the Washington Post on the fear that causes us to "hunker down," which in itself adds to the negative aspects of the economic cycle which afflicts us.

Because of a pessimistic sense of where our economy will be in the future, for instance, people might put off making a significant purchase such as a new car or home. Instead of sending their children to an expensive academic institution, they might opt for a less expensive public college or even delay education altogether and ask their child to flip burgers at MacDonald's until the economy lightens up a bit.

Each of these things, of course, actually contributes to the negative cycle and makes it worse. Hunkering down has the opposite effect (corporately speaking) as the one we are hoping for.

This article made me think about my faith, and about how many of the same dynamics hold true. If I am feeling somewhat pessimistic about my life, my church, and my faith, I might have a tendency to "hunker down." Rather than stretching myself in faith, to serve others, to take risks, to share Christ with my neighbor, to give more generously of my time and money, I have a tendency to clam up, to become more stingy, to focus my time and effort on things I think will benefit me personally, rather than others.

In faith, as in the economy, this may create a vicious cycle. People I fellowship with are more withdrawn and self-centered, so I might conclude "They don't really care about me; they are just a bunch of hypocrites," not realizing, of course, I myself am doing the very thing I accuse them of, and contributing to a vicious cycle of faithlessness.

I think the answer for us as Christians, in breaking this cycle, is the same as the answer for our economy. We must be willing to stretch, to have faith, to express our confidence through taking risks. We must open up, be vulnerable, reach out, share God's love with others. It only takes a small group of faithful risk-takers (spiritually speaking) to get the steamroller rolling and to help create an environment of "spiritual recovery," with God's help.

So, I probably won't go out anytime soon and buy a car, or a new house. (I don't need one, anyway!) But I would ask you to pray for me as I seek to take some spiritual risks, to "give my life away" in ever larger ways, for the sake of a spiritual recovery in God's Kingdom!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

How To Get Closer To God

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About two years ago I began a voluntary involvement with a very rewarding ministry, Global Media Outreach (GMO), which is an online program of Campus Crusade for Christ that seeks to provide millions of seekers everywhere with multiple opportunities to discover the Good News online.

They do this by maintaining a number of topic-oriented websites, and by driving traffic to these sites through search, widgets, email and a variety of online means. When people are curious or seeking information or struggling in some area, GMO tries to provide a website which will suggest a relationship with Christ as the answer to their questions. For instance, type "Who is Jesus?" into Google and the first listing that comes up is for a GMO website, Who Is Jesus -- Really?.

Millions each year are reading these websites and responding with a request for more information or indicating that they are placing their faith in Christ. GMO then connects these requests immediately with volunteer "online missionaries" like me. I reach out to the person, seeking to establish a relationship where I can pray for them, answer their questions, and help them grow toward or in Christ. Basically all it requires of me is an investment of my time, first in training, and then in responding to several emails each day.

Through this effort I have been able (so far) to help more than 850 individuals in their quest to get closer to God, and it's been a real blessing to me knowing that I can share my faith with others in a meaningful, authentic and relevant way, using my own gifts and skills.

One of the questions I receive very frequently is, "How can I get closer to God?" I love this question because it shows clearly that God is working in that person's life. God wants us to pursue Him, to get closer to Him, and this truth is echoed on practically every page of the Bible.

I thought I'd share with you a general outline of the response which I've developed to this question, because the truths it contains really work for me in a practical way in my life.

Interestingly, many of these requests are from individuals in Africa. They seem (to me) more interested in truly developing a relationship with the living God than people in many other places. Today's question was from a young man in Nigeria. I'm changing his name to protect his privacy. Jimmy asked, "How best to come closer to the Son of God?"


Dear Jimmy,

I'm thankful for the message that you have recommitted your life to Jesus! My name is Larry and I'd like to help you know Him better. Go to www.looktoJesus.mobi for your next steps.

You asked what I think is one of life's greatest questions: "How best to come closer to the Son of God?" Please be encouraged that, from a biblical perspective, God delights in our desire to get closer to Him. Jesus said: "All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37).

Deut. 4:29 also says: "But if ... you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul."

So the answer is — come to Christ! Seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. To me that means: Pray daily and ask Him in faith to reveal Himself to you, to fill you with His Holy Spirit and to be the Lord of your life. Spend as much time with Him as you can, seeking to understand the heart of God. Read the Bible faithfully, discuss it with other believers, and pray that God will open its truths to your heart.

I also think a huge part of the answer is to pray (daily) for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This sounds simple, but Jesus admonished us to do it. He said: "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

How can I pray for you? Do you have any other questions? Let's talk.

- Larry

Friday, June 03, 2011

Church Vs. School

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U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in Manhattan
In yesterday's New York Times, yet another news item appeared which demonstrates the true depth of ignorance of government bureaucrats and liberal judges alike regarding the exact nature of the Church.

Tempting as it may be to associate "the Church" with a specific physical location, the Bible teaches (and true Christians have held throughout the centuries) that the Church has nothing at all to do with a building, a spot on the map, or even the concept of a gathering place.

Rather, the Church is people — the Bride of Christ — specifically, people who have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, motivating them to gather together into local assemblies to facilitate the practice of all the scriptural "one-anothers" such as prayer, worship and praise, teaching, and the exercise of all sorts of spiritual gifts. While such things necessarily happen in a place, the place itself doesn't really matter. Personally, I have "done church" with dozens of other like-minded believers in places as diverse as gothic stone centuries-old cathedrals in Great Britain, and in the bowels of the L.A. county jail facility (the latter constituting, coincidentally, an even more meaningful time of worship than the former). The place really doesn't matter all that much. And do we change the nature of the place when we meet there? Hogwash.

In light of this, a Manhattan federal appeals court's pronouncement that "New York City may again block religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for 'religious worship services,'" on the basis that "When worship services are performed in a place, the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity" shows how misinformed our government's understanding of what happens when Christians get together truly is. Church does not "change the nature of the site." Church changes the nature of the people who gather together. The dynamic of the people who become one in their submission to the Lordship of Christ is what "church" is all about.

So, what the judges are really saying is, "Christians cannot use public facilities to do things Christians want to do," even if their access to those facilities is on the same paying basis (which, by the way, is very good for cash-strapped school systems) as any other group of people, such as atheists, Wiccans, political clubs, gays and lesbians, bridge clubs, or whoever. Because the people who desire to use the building are believers in God, they are somehow to be singled out (i.e., discriminated against).

Liberal judges are constantly seeking ways to "rein in" the church. Here in Washington state, where large churches are unusual, they create building ordinances specifically designed to discourage the construction and use of facilities to accommodate larger church gatherings. In California, where larger churches are more common, they do the opposite, seeking to interpret zoning laws to prevent Christians from meeting together in small groups in each others' homes, saying things like, "Your house is not zoned to be a church."

When Christians seek to create legal associations and organizations designed to do specific good tasks (like feeding starving people), they then seek to interfere with the necessary and successful operation of those organizations by trying to create rules that say things like, "Hey, you cannot discriminate in hiring practices on the basis of religion — you have to hire unbelievers" (which, obviously, would defeat the entire point of believers banding together to create an organization to achieve a specific worthy goal).

My question is, if the Church is so irrelevant, as they claim, why not just leave it alone? Why try to rein it in all the time? Why be so threatened by it? If they're willing to pay the same price as an atheists' club to rent a school facility to use during weekend hours when it is simply lying dormant, and clean it up when they are done as well as the next person, where's the harm in that, exactly?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"Atheists Vs. Christians" Survey Responses

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Well, only a small number of individuals tackled my "Atheists Vs. Christians" survey — but they were eloquent! So I am happy to present the responses I've received, below.

(Perhaps next time I'll tackle a lighter subject, like, "Do you think New York Democrat Anthony Weiner really posed shirtless? Or was that just a PhotoShop job, as he claims?")

Okay, then, here are my five questions, and the four respondents' answers:

The respondent who selected other wrote that they were an "agnostic atheist."


The person who selected moderately wrote: "I was atheist until I realised it was an irrational position."
There were three text responses in follow-up to this question. In order received:

"The liberal media elite blacklists Christians and assumes we're stupid because of our beliefs. In many nations Christians are seriously discriminated against, tortured, or killed because of their faith."

"It is irrational to preach the non-existence of God. We can't know if God exists or not. Our science is incomplete and one day God could possibly be proved to exist. I don't want to risk a 'flat-earther' legacy!"

"I notice some reservations about me and my wife at the institution of higher education at which we work as adjuncts and believe that it is due, at least for the most part, to our faith in Christ."

Two text responses were received in response to this question. In order received:

"Discussions can be bruising and ultimately pointless. I prefer avoiding the issue or just saying I am a humanist who respects others' beliefs."

"Well, I do think we are an overly sensitive culture, and react too strongly forceful communications in dialogue and argument."

Finally, I asked, "What thoughts or ideas do you have about how believers and nonbelievers should be communicating better, treating one another better, or cooperating?" Three people responded, in order received:

"We should be seeking dialogue and collaborating/cooperating on mutually beneficial endeavors, just as Rich Stearns and Peter Singer have been speaking out together on behalf of the poor."

"Review your own beliefs from time to time, nurse those beliefs that have always helped you get by, defend them calmly if challenged as your opinion (not truth) & avoid militant fundamentalists (including militant atheists)."

"I believe that honesty about our experiences and how they share our respective worldviews is a good place to start. In particular, I have found that the issue of moral issues to be fundamental in how other questions about God and Faith are answered. I do believe that some reflection on meta-epistemology — foundational issues of the nature of knowledge, religious or not — is crucial."

I really appreciate these great responses and the thought-provoking dialogue!