Happy Thanksgiving From President Lincoln

We trace the history of Thanksgiving in the United States of America to 1621, when the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New world.  It was a three-day feast attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. 

It was celebrated by our nation on-and-off from 1789, when President Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving.  President Jefferson chose not to celebrate it, and its celebration was intermittent and celebrated on different dates in different states until the time of President Abraham Lincoln. 

In 1863, in the midst of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national observance of a day of Thanksgiving. His proclamation is a beautiful statement of how to be both thankful and prayerful in the midst of tough times.

 I encourage you to read the following proclomation prayerfully and carefully.  It is a significant and Godly statement of a man who was grateful to God for the blessings of life while maintaining a humble, repentant, and prayerful heart.  

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

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Respect at the World Series

I’ve sung this song before, but it needs to be repeated.  RESPECT—in American culture—is sorely lacking.

The latest issue that led to this blog is the booing of the President at a World Series game and the crowd chants of “lock him up” that occurred in Washington D.C. on Sunday, October 27. That is a complete lack of respect for the President.

I’ve heard all of the excuses, explanations, and rationalizations.  I don’t buy them, but here they are.  You will hear them:

  • It’s democracy in action.  Every American has a right to share their opinion.  I agree that every American has a right to speak their mind.  You disagree with the president?  You have a right to say so.  Blog. Tweet. Debate. Post. Vote. Speak up. Write letters. Find a crowd and speak. Run for office. But do it all respectfully.
  • He started it at his rallies with cries like “Lock her upand other disrespectful remarks.  One person’s disrespect is never an excuse for mine—or ours.  We are all responsible for our own actions.  “He started it” sounds like something I expect to hear in a preschool class, not from adults.
  • We have a right to stand up to what we perceive as wrong.  Of course we do.  And if we see anyone doing wrong—a president, a senator, a governor, a mayor, a pastor, or a police officer—we have the right to speak up and take appropriate action.  Petty and disrespectful chants in a baseball stadium are neither appropriate nor respectful.

Our nation is strongest when we can learn to stand up for our beliefs respectfully. 

Am I defending the President? 

No.  I am neither defending him nor accusing him.  It’s not about Donald Trump the man. 

What I am saying is that the office of the President demands a level of respect whether we agree with him or not.  If you know me, you know that I apply this to other leaders as well. I apply it to this president and the previous one. It applies to senators, congressmen, judges, governors, mayors, teachers, police officers, referees, and pastors.   

As the Bible says (in 1 Peter 2:17, NIV), “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

That verse is often quoted, but we need to do more than quote it. We need to live it.

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Freedom of Religion

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Those are the opening words of the very first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America’s in the portion known as the Bill of Rights.  If you know your United States history, then you probably know that our constitution would not have been ratified without the Bill of Rights.  Citizens—especially the members of churches—insisted that freedom of religion be included before they would ratify the new constitution.  The constitution called for a much stronger government than the previously existing Articles of Confederation, and citizens did not want a document guaranteeing a stronger government unless certain rights were guaranteed in that document, starting with the freedom of religion.

Our citizens showed great wisdom, for now—232 years later—a constitution guaranteeing the freedom of religion is needed more than ever.

Those of you who know me know that as a pastor, I do not endorse a political party or a candidate for office.  But that does not prohibit me from calling out leaders or candidates when they are Biblically or morally wrong.  So I believe it is necessary for me to say that one candidate for president, Beto O’Rourke, was dead wrong when he said that we should remove the tax-exempt status of churches (and colleges and charities) who aren’t pro-gay marriage.

In order for that to happen, congress would have to pass a law that would call some religions “correct” and therefore tax-exempt and some other religions “incorrect” and therefore ineligible for the tax-exempt status.  That law would immediately be declared unconstitutional by any honest judge who has read the Bill of Rights.  (Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that all of our Supreme Court Justices—both conservative and liberal, anti-gay marriage and pro-gay marriage—would be honest enough to align together on this issue and unanimously declare it unconstitutional.) 

When Congress, or the President, or the courts, begin to decide which religions are valid and which are not, then we no longer have freedom of religion.

There are some strange (in my opinion) beliefs in the world of religion.  And I am well aware that there are some people who believe that I have some strange opinions.  In our Bill of Rights, however, we are given the right and the freedom to hold to our opinions.  And our government cannot tell us that one religious opinion is more valid than another.

So what should happen now that this issue has been brought out into the open?

  • Candidate O’Rourke should acknowledge his mistake and reaffirm his belief in our Bill of Rights.
  • Other presidential candidates should tell us where they stand on this crucial issue.  (To his credit, openly gay candidate Pete Buttigieg has already publicly disagreed with O’Rourke’s statement.)
  • The Democratic Party (it was, after all, a Democrat who made this shocking statement) should let us know where they stand as a party on this important issue. 
  • And churches, pastors, believers, and even non-believers should loudly remind our officers, candidates, judges, and politicians that freedom of religion is a cherished and guaranteed right that cannot and should not be tampered with.

All Americans, apparently, would benefit from a rereading and a renewed understanding of our constitution.  It’s not a perfect document, but it gives us some incredibly important freedoms that cannot be taken away by our government. 

And no candidate for our highest office should even hint that these freedoms could be taken away.  They are too important to us to be trifled with.

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The Good Samaritan Retold

Most people have heard the story of the Good Samaritan.  It may be the most widely known of all of Jesus’ parables. What you may not know is that the story was particularly and even purposely offensive to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  The “experts in the law,” the “priests,” and the “Levites” that Jesus referred to in the text would have understood that Jesus had picked on them intentionally. And they would have been even more deeply offended by his choice of a Samaritan as the hero of the story, for the Samaritans were among the “most despised” people of their day. 

So as Jesus told the story, the religious leaders must have squirmed and flinched as their anger grew.

It’s worth another reading—before we retell it in terms that might make us squirm today.  Here is Luke 10:25-37 in the NIV:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

That is the familiar story of Jesus’ day, but since most of us do not identify as priests or Levites, nor do we understand their hatred of Samaritans, it doesn’t make us squirm today as it did them. To get the same response as the original, I offer this simple retelling.  If it makes you squirm—or if it makes you mad—then you can understand the intent of the original more clearly:

An expert in theology and ethics asked Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what does it mean to be a Christian?”

“Haven’t you read the Bible?” he replied. “What does it say?”

He answered, “The heart of the Bible’s teaching is found in ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“That is correct,” Jesus replied. “Do these things if you want to follow me.”

But the expert wanted to feel good about himself, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was traveling from Washington D.C. to Baltimore, when he was attacked by robbers. They stole his car and his wallet, beat him horribly, shot him, and left him on the side of the road, near death.

A conservative evangelical leader happened to be on the same highway and saw the man.  He stopped, but with no wallet, he could not verify the man’s citizenship, so he left him there on the side of the road and went on his way.

So too, a progressive leader of a mainline denomination came to the place.  He stopped, saw the man, tweeted a passionate cry for gun control, and went on his way, leaving the man on the side of the road.

But an Arab on a student visa saw the man and stopped.  He took pity on him.  He used his belt for a tourniquet and his shirt for a bandage to stop the bleeding, put him in his car, and drove him to the nearest emergency room.  With no wallet, the hospital could not verify the man’s identity or insurance status, so the Arab paid $500 of his own money and asked to be called later that day with more details.

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “Obviously, the last of the three—the one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “You have your answer.  Go and do likewise if you want to be my follower.”

Jesus’ teaching was incredibly simple even if it was offensive.  We are called to love people—all people.  It doesn’t matter where their citizenship lies.  It doesn’t matter what political party they belong to.  It doesn’t matter what skin color they possess or what language they speak or where they are from.  It doesn’t even matter if they share my faith.

All men are my neighbors.

Jesus made that clear. And he was perfectly willing to upset some people in order to make it abundantly clear.

“Loving my neighbor as myself” means loving all people.

That’s what Jesus taught. I hope I made that as abundantly clear as Jesus did.

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Honor The Emperor

We’re doing it wrong.

Christians are fond of quoting 1 Peter 2:17, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”  We have no emperor (or king, as in some translations) so we correctly apply the verse to mean that we are to respect and honor the President.

But we’re doing it wrong.  What I’m seeing is that our partisanship has overridden our belief in the Bible.  Republican Christians are fond of insisting that we apply that verse to the current President.  Democratic Christians were fond of insisting that we apply it to the previous President.

It’s wrong to limit the verse only to presidents that we approve of.  Remember that the Christians of the first century didn’t approve of their Emperor—but they were commanded to honor and respect him anyway.   The same is true today. Our faith and obedience to the Bible must be far more important to us than our political affiliation.  So the command is to honor and respect all presidents.

But honor and respect don’t stop with the President. 

In order to make my point, a little lesson in American Constitutional Government is in order.  We don’t have an emperor.  In our system, the responsibilities of an emperor are divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.  If that verse applies to believers today—and it does—then we are to respect the leaders of all three branches of government.  It’s not just presidents.  It includes senators, representatives and judges as well.

So let me be clear. 

If you only apply the command to those in your party, you are disobeying the Bible.  If you show respect to this President but not to the last one, you are disobeying the Bible.  If you show respect to the President but you feel free to disrespect the Speaker of the House, you are disobeying the Bible.  If you show respect to the President but you feel free to disrespect the Supreme Court Justices, you are disobeying the Bible.  If you show respect to the senators and representatives of your own party but feel free to put down the senators and representatives of the other party, you are disobeying the Bible.

Believers need to obey the Bible when it is easy and when it is not. 

So respect this President and the last one.  Respect senators, representatives, and judges.  And do so whether you agree with them or not. 

Honor the Emperor.

And if I can make a literary allusion, honor him even when he’s wearing no clothes.

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An Open Letter To Congress

With copies to Senator Martha McSally, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Congressman Paul Gosar, and Congressman Raul Grijalva.

I’m a pastor, not a politician.

I usually focus on theological, moral, church leadership, religious, and family issues, rather than political issues. But I love my country and I take a deep interest in our history and our future. And since the United States Constitution gives me the right to write and speak openly, I am publishing this open letter to Congress as a whole. 

Since I mentioned the constitution, let me start by reminding our senators and congressmen of your place in our constitution. The legislative branch of the United States is described in “Article 1.” A description of your work follows immediately after the short preamble (“We the people . . .) that we love so deeply. Your job is described before the work of either our executive or judicial branches. That prime constitutional position means that your work is highly important and highly necessary. 

So my message to you is short, simple and straightforward.

Do your job. Our nation is in immediate need of strong legislation to deal with the issues we face. And as you do your job, I will do my job and lead my church to do the same. Biblically and morally, our job is pray for you, to respect you, and to work with you as we can.

I can see how it might be more fun to hold hearings in front of the cameras, especially if it leads to the embarrassment of the other party. I can also see how it might be exciting to conduct investigations in the hope that it will help your party in the next election. I know that it is controversial (and therefore attention-getting) to subpoena cabinet members and call for documents.

I know that those things are part of your job, but they are secondary. Your primary job is to legislate. It’s your job to propose, debate, modify, and then pass bills that are needed. I am well aware that the President can veto the bills you pass and send them back to you. That’s his job. However, fear of a veto shouldn’t stop you from doing your job. America has some issues that cannot be solved by either the President or the courts. 

Currently Democrats complain that President Trump has made too many executive decisions. Republicans voiced the same complaint about President Obama. And, of course, some of these actions have been modified, delayed, or nullified by the courts. But I won’t criticize either the Presidents or the courts too harshly, for some of their actions were necessary because of the inaction of Congress to address the issue.

It’s your job to legislate. We have many issues that are crying out for responsible legislation. Here are a few of them:

  • We need a responsible budget. Our national debt is more than our entire national gross domestic product. (This hasn’t occurred since the end of World War 2.) Kicking the can down the road a few months at a time is highly irresponsible. We need a reasonable budget that will give us the government we need and still reduce our debt. It won’t be easy to do but it’s your job.
  • We need a solution to Social Security. It is unsustainable in its current form. The longer changes are put off, the more drastic (in the form of higher taxes or reduced benefits) the solutions will have to be. I know that any proposed fix will anger some people, but it’s your job to fix it—soon.
  • We need an immigration solution. I know that this is a highly contentious issue, but we need immediate solutions. We can argue all day about whether we face “an emergency,” a “crisis,” or a “problem.” No matter what you call it, nearly all Americans agree that our immigration policy needs your attention. The current flood of asylum seekers is crying out for your attention. And while you’re at it, we also need a long-term fix for a weak border, overwhelmed ports of entry, a solution to the ease of bringing in drugs and weapons, and an answer to “Dreamers.” Of course, any laws you propose will be heavily criticized for our country is divided on what is best, but it’s your job to deal with the hard issues and then defend your legislation.
  • We need improved infrastructure. National roads are in bad shape. Bridges are collapsing. National Parks are in disrepair. Airports and ports are overcrowded. And fixing all of this will cost money that is hard to come by. There is not an easy solution to fixing our infrastructure, but it’s your job to find a way to do the hard jobs.
  • We need improved healthcare and insurance. We have incredible doctors and technology in America, but the costs are quickly getting out-of-hand for most of us. Again, this is a highly challenging issue, but we’ve elected you to deal with the tough issues.
  • We need an answer on climate and the environment. Like every other issue I’ve mentioned, there is much disagreement on the problem and the solution, but we need a legislative branch that will look for long-term solutions. At the very least, most Americans see the need for clean air, cost-affordable clean energy, reduced CO2 emissions, and cooperation with other nations. It’s your job to do something about it. 

You get my point. I could bring up dozens—even hundreds—of issues to work on. But from my far-from-Washington-point-of-view, most of you seem to be more focused on investigations, hearings, and running for re-election than you are on legislation.

I understand the need for some of these secondary issues. But I’ve always told my children in school that the extra-curricular activities and after-hour items are fun, but don’t forget your real job.  If you’re a student, your real job is to go to class and learn.  If you’re in Congress, your real job is to legislate.

So please do your job.

I do want you to know that the church will do our job. We will pray for you. And, of course, because we won’t always agree with you, we will voice our opinions, but we will do so respectfully. But we will challenge you to do your job and work on the issues that are crying out for solutions.

In a divided Congress, that means that you can’t continue just to vote with your party on every issue. Congress is simply too divided for that model to work. And since you will need to work across the aisle, you should probably avoid the frequent verbal potshots many of you seem to enjoy. You may need to offend your own political base in order to compromise and actually pass meaningful legislation. And you might even have to be willing to sacrifice your political future in order to get things done.  

Proposing, debating, and passing meaningful legislation is your job.

It’s time you did it.

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Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day. It isn’t normally considered a Christian holiday.  But I think it should be.

earthUnfortunately, I have some Christian friends who consider Earth Day as an anti-Christian holiday, because they lump anything from the environmental movement into the “anti-god and almost atheistic” category.  I have many Republican friends who ignore environmental issues altogether because they are normally thought of as a Democratic party issue, and they don’t want to be aligned with the “other party.”  And I have some Christian friends who are so “heavenly-minded” that they believe they can ignore earthly issues altogether.  After all, as one friend told me, “It’s all going to burn anyway.”

I recognize that there are those in the environmental movement who deny the existence of a Creator.  And I have no doubt that there are many politicians who promote environmental issues that I do not want to be affiliated with.  And I believe strongly in heaven and have dedicated my life to preaching Jesus, so I understand the thoughts of the “heavenly minded.”

But I don’t allow the extremists who deny God or who have different political or theological views to alter my own personal beliefs.  I see taking care of our environment—planet Earth—as a Biblical issue.

I believe strongly in the Creator and the Bible He has inspired.  The very first verse of the Bible proclaims, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  I see His Creation as one of His crowning achievements.

The more I study and read (and look at the pictures) the more obvious it is that our universe is an awesome reflection of an awesome God.  And though I’ve seen only a tiny portion of Earth (mostly limited to the western United States), I recognize that it is incredibly beautiful.  I’m amazed at the loveliness and the diversity of the land, the waters, and the creatures that inhabit Earth, and I want to see more.

Unfortunately, however, we’re doing an excellent job of trashing the land, polluting the air and the oceans, and wasting our resources.  As Christians, we need to do more to take care of what God has created.

And so my reason for recognizing Earth Day is simple.  If God created the Earth—and He did—then we are under an obligation to take care of it. We are, to use a Biblical world, “stewards” or managers of God’s creation.  We are to keep it clean.  We are to use our resources as wisely as possible.  We are to clean up our own messes.  We are to keep it as unpolluted as possible.  And we are to protect the land, the air, the waters, and the animals that inhabit it.

Earth Day, then, is a great day to recognize and celebrate God’s creation!

I’m not a global or even national decision maker, so I have a limited ability to make a huge impact.  But I can do small things.  And if others join me, it can make a big impact.

Here are some small things and some practical steps that I am undertaking to help manage God’s creation well:

  •  I will stop using drive-throughs. Cars pollute more at idle speeds than at operating speeds.  By going in, I save gas, reduce pollution, and get to walk instead of sit.  I’ve also found that lines are usually shorter inside than outside, so I often save time.
  • I will reduce my own plastic use. I’ve stopped purchasing disposable plastic water bottles.  Instead, I use refillable bottles with a filter.  I get good water and I don’t pollute.  And over the long-term, I save money.  When I have no choice but to use a disposable cup, I don’t use a lid or a straw.
  • I will compost instead of throwing away food and yard waste, saving land-fill space.
  • I will drive less and walk more to limit the use of gasoline. In public buildings, I will use stairs instead of elevators.  (It’s better for my health and it reduces electricity usage.)
  • I will watch my energy usage more closely by using programmable thermostats and LED lighting—and making sure I turn things off when not in use.
  • This one may be hard, because I like meat, but I will find ways to reduce my intake of meat.  Experts say the production of meat uses an abundance of resources and energy compared to other food sources.
  • When I’m hiking (which I like to do), I will stay on trails and I will pick up trash that others have left behind.
  • I will plant trees, for nothing reduces carbon in the atmosphere better than trees. And since I live in a desert, I will choose drought-resistant trees that don’t waste water.
  • And I will consider a politician’s stance on the environment as one of many issues I want to know before I vote.

Will my small changes make a huge impact?  No.  But if all of us make small changes, the impact will be huge.  Each one of us can do our part.

God created our entire universe and our planet.  It is beautiful. It is His handiwork.  God is the Creator, the designer, and the one that brought it all into existence. And it is incredible.

If you want to call me an environmentalist, that’s okay with me.  But please understand me.  I don’t worship creation.  I’m not going to chain myself to trees and you most likely won’t see me marching in environmental rallies. Bud since I worship the Creator, I will take care of his creation.

I like to think of myself as a Biblical environmentalist.  And there should be more of us.

Happy Earth Day!

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Love Your Wife After You’re Gone

I love my wife.

I met Dawn when I was 14.  By age 16, I was, to use a word from the old movie Bambi, hopelessly twitterpated.  We dated for 4 years, and we have now been married for over 40 years.

I love her, and I would do anything for her.

And I want to do some things for her now that will show my love for her after I’m dead.

I don’t know the future, of course, but there is a good chance that I will die before she does.  About 80% of married men will die before their wives.  Sadly, I’ve ministered to and helped many widows who were completely unprepared for life after their husband died, especially if he took care of the family finances.

Some of the men, frankly, had done a horrible job of preparing for their wives after their death.  They had structured their finances in such a way that much of the family income died when they died.  Or they had spent so much of their retirement while they were alive that there was little left when they were gone.  Or they had left their finances in such poor shape that even an accountant would have had a hard time putting together a plan.

Other men had done a good job with their finances, but a poor job of communicating details to their wives, so many widows had no clue about their basic financial issues.  How much was still owed (if anything) on the house?  Was there any life insurance, and, if so, how much?  Where did he keep the copies of paperwork such as wills, life insurance paperwork, and paid–and unpaid–bills?  How much money was in checking, savings, investments, and retirement accounts?  How were those accounts accessed?  How were the pensions set-up to deal with death?

One man I knew was relatively organized, and he kept all of his financial dealings on his computer . . . but no one knew his password.

I don’t want Dawn to have to deal with the tough issues I’ve seen other widows deal with.  I’ve planned my finances so that there should be adequate money after I’m gone.  I’ve taught my children that the most important thing to do after I’m gone is to take care of their mom.   And I have put together a notebook with all pertinent information that she will need to know.  She knows where it is, and copies of it are given each year to my two oldest daughters.  (My kids laughingly call it the “Dad’s Dead Notebook.”)  In the notebook, she will find these things, which I update at least once per year:

  • A “net worth” statement.  This shows the value of all of our assets (accounts, our home, our cars, our retirement accounts, etc.) and our liabilities (loans, credit cards, etc.)  A glance (it’s not that complicated since we have no debts other than our mortgage) and she knows our overall financial situation.

  • A list of all our accounts of all types.  This list gives all pertinent information.  For bank accounts, I give the type of account, name of the bank, account numbers, and how I access it–including passwords if I use it online.  I include all utility accounts, with a list of how each utility is paid and when auto-payments come out of our accounts.  I even include my social media accounts, so she can access and close them out.

  • A summary of wills, insurance, and retirements accounts.  My wife is, of course, the primary beneficiary of all that I own, so I want her to know who to call and what to do if I die.  The list also gives the location of the original paperwork.

  • A statement of my funeral wishes.  She won’t have to wonder what I want, who to talk to, what songs to sing.  She knows, for example, that I don’t want a viewing and that I do want to be cremated.  It’s flexible enough that she can still make decisions, but it’s specific enough that she knows that I don’t want any extra money spent.

  • A final love note.

 I love my wife.  And I want her to know that.

Even after I’m gone.

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The Christian and Civil Disobedience

Twice in my recent sermon series (Basic Christian Growth, based on the Book of Acts) and once in my Christmas series (when we got to the Magi), I made a comment that raised some eyebrows.  I said, “If there is a conflict between the law of the land and the command of God, we must choose to obey God.”   I based this on the clear teaching of the Bible.  The Apostles chose to disobey the Sanhedrin in Israel and the Magi chose to obey God instead of reporting back to King Herod as they had been instructed.

Apparently, many people started thinking about these things and asking me questions.  “When is it appropriate to disobey the law of your nation?”  “How do you justify it to yourself and others if you do so?”  “Is what is typically called ‘civil disobedience’ in American life appropriate for the Christian?  And, several made it personal, “Would you—Pastor Jack—ever commit an act of civil disobedience?”

It is a touchy subject for Americans, for we like to see ourselves as a Christian Nation and we have therefore equated obeying the law with obeying God.  And there is strong Biblical justification for doing so, for there are many passages such as this one from the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  Peter said something very similar in 1 Peter 2:13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

Clearly, the default position for believers is to obey the law of the land.  This is what God wants for us, and He has promised that He will bring judgment on those who disobey.

Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of civil disobedience in the Bible.  And there are enough of them for us to take notice and modify our thinking about obeying the law of the land:

  • The Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 (Shiphrah and Puah) refused to kill baby boys as they had been instructed by the Pharaoh.

  • Rahab refused to obey the King of Jericho and turn in the Hebrew spies; instead she hid them and helped them escape. (Joshua 2)

  • A prophet named Obadiah hid 100 of the Lord’s prophets from Jezebel, in direct disobedience to the Queen. (I Kings 18)

  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar and bow down before a false God. (Daniel 3)

  • Daniel was told he couldn’t pray to God; he did so. (Daniel 6)

  • Jesus, of course, was crucified because He defied Roman and Jewish law.

  • And the entire New Testament was, at least in part, a declaration of the believer’s right to obey God rather than man and to preach Jesus even if it led to imprisonment, beatings, or death. (See Acts 4:18-20 and Acts 5:29, in which Peter declared, “We must obey God rather than human beings.”

The “default” position of the believer is to obey the law of the land, but there is a clear exception to that position.  When there is a conflict between God’s law and man’s law, we must choose to obey God’s law rather than man’s law.  It may bring penalties and even death and we willingly take that risk, but our ultimate allegiance is to God.

That exception, however, is not to be taken lightly.  We cannot claim—apart from clear Biblical support—that God led us to disobey a law of the land.  We cannot take verses out of context to support our right to disobey a law of the land we do not like.  It is not enough to claim some vague spiritual sense of direction from God that is not supported by Scripture.  If we are going to choose to disobey a law of the land, we need clear and overwhelming Biblical support to do so.

Martin Luther King, Jr., thought deeply about this issue.  In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, he described civil disobedience in terms of “unjust laws.” He says that there are both “just” laws and “unjust laws.”  An unjust law “is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” of God.  We are obligated both morally and legally to obey just laws, but we have a moral responsibility to resist and even disobey unjust laws when they violate God’s law.

That’s why Shiphrah, Puah, Rahab, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, Obadiah, the Magi, Jesus, Paul, Peter, and hundreds of believers could disobey the law of their land.  They chose to obey higher and more important laws—God’s laws.

That’s why William Tyndale could honor God by translating the Bible into English at great personal risk in defiance of the King.  That’s why Harriett Tubman could defy the law of the land and lead slaves to freedom.  That’s why Corrie Ten Boom could choose to hide Jews during the holocaust.  That’s why Rosa Parks could choose to sit in front of the bus.  And that’s why millions of believers meet to worship Jesus in countries where it is illegal to do so.

We are called to obey the law of the land.  But when there is a clear conflict between the law of the land and God’s law, our greatest responsibility and ultimate allegiance is to God’s law.

Why is this important?

It’s important for us to know because we are not a perfect “Christian nation.”  Our laws will not always be in line with God’s laws.  And, to tell the truth, our laws have never been perfectly in line with God’s laws.  We’ve had laws that allowed slavery.  We’ve had laws that protected and promoted racism even after slavery was abolished.  We’ve had laws that discriminate unfairly against women.  We have laws that protect the right to abortion.  And we’ve had otherwise “just” laws that were enforced “unjustly” against minorities or to protect the rich.

We’re now beginning to see laws (or court decisions) that limit religious freedom in various ways, and our fear is that our right to evangelize and promote our faith may be curtailed, just as it was in the days of the Apostles.  We will resist these laws, and even break them if necessary.

I’m not a crusader.  You’re not likely to see me marching in the streets or bringing signs to rallies.  Though I’ve been tempted, I’m not likely to run for public office to change the laws.  God’s called me to be a pastor, not (at least not yet) a politician.

But I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  My first allegiance will be to God and His laws.  So I will worship Him.  And I will accept His call to love people—all people.  I will stand up for the unborn, help the homeless, care for the aliens in our land, visit the criminals, and seek justice for those who have had it denied.  I will preach Jesus and follow Him.  I will take a stand against sin, but I will love the sinner and err—if I must err—on the side of grace

At the same time, I will love the USA and I gladly pledge allegiance to our country.  I will obey her laws, respect her leaders, pay my taxes, vote faithfully, and pray for my country.

But my first allegiance is to Jesus. If I have to commit an act of “civil disobedience” in order to follow Him, I will do so and accept whatever penalty comes my way.

I love our country, and I will follow our laws in every respect—except when they violate God’s laws.

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My Response to Sex Abuse in the Church

The Houston Chronicle published an investigative report last week detailing reports of sex abuse in Southern Baptist Churches.  It was an honest article detailing the awful trauma that comes with sex abuse, especially when it occurs in the church.  It was a horrible reminder that sex abuse is not just a Roman Catholic issue.  It is an issue that every church and every denomination must understand, deal with effectively, and take immediate and effective action to make sure that it doesn’t happen in their church.  No one can honestly say “it won’t happen here” but we must all say “we will do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen here.”

Before sharing what we do to make sure it won’t happen in our church, let me offer a few words to those who have been hurt by sex abuse.  It is a horrible crime with tragic results, and we will do everything we can to listen to you honestly, help you, love you, offer healing, and put behind bars those who have committed a crime.  We promise not to ignore your cries for help or to put the reputation of our church ahead of what has happened to you.

And if it happens in our church—or if we hear an accusation of sex abuse—we have already decided to immediately call in the proper authorities.  Quite simply, we are not trained to do investigations, so our response is to immediately report the accusation to our local police department.  Too many times, well-meaning but improperly-trained church leaders have tried to find out the truth and have failed.  In other cases, well-meaning church leaders have been unable to overcome their built-in bias.  And in a few tragic cases, less-than-well-meaning church leaders have made the decision that protecting the reputation of their church is more important than dealing appropriately with the abuse.

Our decision—made ahead of time—is that we will get outside help from trained investigators and cooperate fully with them if we hear of any illegal activity.

More importantly, though, we are doing everything we can to make sure that sex abuse does not happen in our church.  As a result, we have taken these steps:

  • We hold a training session every year for all of our workers who work with children.

  • We run a background check on every staff member in our church and every volunteer that works in our nursery, preschool, children, and teen ministries. No one is allowed to work with children in any capacity until they have passed a background check.

  • We insist that two approved and unrelated workers are always present when working with children. No one ever has the chance to supervise children when they are the only worker present.

  • We have windows in all of our classrooms so that parents can observe everything that is happening.

  • We do not allow private texting or social media messaging between any of our workers and a child or teen. We use only group messages that include another approved worker.

  • When we are counseling adults, we try to arrange it so that men counsel men and women counsel women. When this is not possible, we always counsel with the door open and another staff member in the vicinity.

  • We do not allow staff members of the opposite sex to travel or ride together unless there are at least three people in the vehicle. And we do not tolerate any sexual or flirtatious talk between our staff members.

The bottom line is that we want our church to be what it should be—a safe place for everyone.  We don’t want our children hurt in any way.  We don’t want our members to feel put-down or pressured.  We don’t want the reputation of our church—or of God’s work—to be tarnished in any way.

Sometimes, our guidelines hinder us or slow us down, but that’s okay.  Sometimes our guidelines mean we need additional workers, but that’s okay.  Sometimes, our guidelines mean that we don’t have enough workers to conduct a ministry that we want to do, and that’s okay also.

The safety and well-being of our members, guests, and their families are of great importance to us.  And we pray—and have adopted guidelines accordingly—so that no abuse will ever occur in our ministry.

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