Thursday, December 15, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2016 (Pt. 3) (Dec. 15, 2016)

          Most all believers know that an atheist claims to not believe in God’s existence, but beyond knowing that, few have really worked through and wrestled with their arguments.  Most believers are taught the atheist is wrong – end of story.  But it is fruitful to hear, and try to understand, their arguments.  They are much simpler to refute by the average believer than one might think.  In The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw: Exposing Conflicting Beliefs, Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy present atheistic beliefs in the atheist’s own words.  Geisler and McCoy do not spin or even do that much critique but instead quote many leading atheists extensively and expose conflicts between their, frequently contradictory claims.  Those claiming to be “atheist” are on the rise, therefore the average believer needs to become more familiar with this position in an effort to defend the Word of God.  Another great apologetics work I read this year was The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.  The book is an outline of Christian belief and answers the major objections that are frequently leveled against Christianity. 

          Cultural engagement is not an option for Christians.  We are not only losing the culture war in America, but we are losing, bit by bit, our religious freedom and it will only get worse.   The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has begun publishing a series of simple, straight-forward books to address the biggest issues of the day.  I read the newly published The Gospel & Religious Liberty by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker.  We must fight for religious liberty or we will wake up one day and realize we no longer have it as the luxury we once knew.  The culture is finding new, and often creative ways, to try and silence the church.  The church in America is under ever increasing attack.  How should we respond?  Moore and Walker’s book is a great tool to help believers answer that all-important question.  I also read The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation from the same series by Moore and Walker.  It is insightful and helpful when it comes to understanding the problems we face in the area of race relations and offers Scripture-based solutions.  Race-relations have become a big issue in recent years and Christians need to know how to address it with biblical truth and grace.

          Country music fans will enjoy Country Faith: 56 Reflections from Today’s Leading Country Music Stars compiled by Deborah Evans Price.  The format of this book is, singers share their favorite verse and what it means to them; particularly how it has helped and encouraged them along the way.  There are many heart-felt insights that are highly applicable to every-day life.  We enjoyed reading through this book during our family devotion time in the evenings.

          Whether we like it or not, homosexuality is an issue that is not going anywhere.  Believers have struggled to respond to a rapidly changing culture.  Some are sadly compromising on the issue in ways that the Bible does not support, while others are rigid and dogmatic and even unloving toward persons struggling with this particular sin.  Where is the right balance?  Glenn T. Stanton’s book Loving My LGBT Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace & Truth helps us understand how we can build healthy friendships with members of the LGBT community for the purpose of winning them to Christ.  The book does not compromise on biblical truth concerning issues of sexuality, but it does offer a slightly different approach than other books on the subject of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism.  I believe this is a much needed book for most believers.

          Over the past few years I have found commentary survey books very helpful.  This year I enjoyed reading through Old Testament Commentary Survey: Fifth Edition by Tremper Longman III.  I had read an earlier edition and have also read the New Testament equivalent by D. A. Carson.  When you prepare to study a book of the Bible, there is no shortage of commentaries available and it is overly optimistic to assume they are all good.  These summary books give a very brief critique of available commentaries on the various books of the Bible.  These are must-haves for all pastor’s libraries, but laymen also may find them helpful.

          In 1958 John Stott’s book Basic Christianity was first published.  Since then more than 2.5 million copies have been sold.  The book is a true classic.  The book covers such basic topics as “Who is Christ?”  “The character of Christ,” “The resurrection of Christ,” “The death of Christ,” “Salvation in Christ,” “Becoming a Christian,” “Being a Christian,” and much more.  The book is simple and basic, in one sense, just as the title indicates; however it is actually quite thought provoking and challenging.  It first challenges the non-Christian with the explicit reality of lostness in which they are living, then moves to the claims of Christ which are substantial and then to certain realities that should always be present in the lives of believers.  It is this latter part that especially gets challenging for Christians.  This is a book all believers should read.  Further, it is a very good choice of a book to place in the hands of a non-Christian or to place in the hands of a new believer.

          There are several short books, mainly by popular authors, that examine the Christmas story.  I have read many of these through the years.  One of the latest, which only came out this fall, is Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller.  Keller’s approach is a little different than most of these type books.  It is actually quite pointed and challenging along the way.  It certainly caused me to think deeper than I have while reading other books on this similar subject.  Reading this book will likely help you to better understand Christmas.  I think Keller is one of the best contemporary authors and would recommend your reading anything of his you come across.


I hope you find this year’s recommendations helpful and enjoyable!  Merry Christmas to each of you!  Thank you for reading my weblogs these past 9 ½ years, and for your positive feedback.  You are greatly appreciated!


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Monday, December 12, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading from 2016 (Pt. 2) (Dec. 12, 2016)

There are a multitude of books available on prayer and all have some value if read and applied.  However, few books on the subject really get to the heart of the matter.  Timothy Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God is perhaps the best book I have read to date on the subject of prayer.  It is easy to read, yet highly profound.  He draws heavily on the writers of the past such as Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Muller, and many more, while using contemporary illustrations and applications.  Prayer is not an act/work we perform, but rather a way of living.  As we live in close fellowship with God, we work hard to grow closer to Him and Keller covers many ways by which this may be accomplished.

          One of the saddest realities of parenting for many Christians, is to see their children act, in varying degrees, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable.  Many parents, and grandparents, weep because one they love, and one who knows better, has succumbed to the allure of the world and its ways.  Many well-meaning parents and grandparents are saying and doing the wrong things as they work to try and remedy the problem.  Sadly, in many cases they are pushing their loved one further away and making the situation worse.  In his very helpful book Reaching Your Prodigal: What Did I Do Wrong?  What Do I Do Now?, author Phil Waldrep explores the pattern in the Lord’s parable and what we can learn and apply to our situation as we long for that day the prodigal returns home.

          Churches are struggling these days when compared with their former glory.  Efforts by some to try and reinvent church have largely failed.  Scripture teaches us to “return to the old paths.”  Further, what seems new is not really so new anyway, after all the wisdom of Solomon taught there is nothing new under the sun.  That is why the church of the Lord Jesus needs to wake up and experience true revival or renewal.  Charles Swindoll’s book Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal was challenging and enjoyable.  He writes to the church as a whole, as well as to pastors admonishing all to awake and get back to the basic tasks of believers such as exposition of the Word of God, church members being willing to be taught, sharing of our faith, discipleship, ministry, prayer, etc.  We have been seriously adrift for some time and we need to wake up!

          I enjoyed reading Thom Rainer’s latest book Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church.  This is a quick read with some good insight.  There is not a lot of new information in addition to what you would find in other books on the subject by Rainer, but it was helpful and, at points, entertaining.  I also re-read and taught through his book I Will: 9 Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian. It also, is well worth your time to read.

          John Piper has been one of my favorite authors for many years.  His depth helps me understand many subjects with more clarity.  His book Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power: Making the Most of Three Dangerous Opportunities shows the dangers of how these three alluring areas tend to trap us.  We have fallen for many lies and we have learned ways to rationalize our sins.  Satan distorts God’s gifts.  He cheapens them and makes them dirty and tells us we are not satisfied with the limits God has prescribed.  Piper helps the reader see, from the Scripture the goodness of God in these areas in a fresh way, as well as helping the reader face areas in his/her life that are not as pure as one might think.

          American education has undergone many major and minor changes over time.  But one thing is very clear.  God was once the centerpiece and now is out entirely.  Up until around the year 1900, The New England Primer was widely used to help teach children to read and understand the basics.  One will be amazed at, not only the saturation with references to God, but also the significantly more rigorous academic expectations of children and their learning.  This inexpensive book should be obtained and read by everyone, as we need to see how far we have drifted.

          This past spring I taught through the Book of Esther on Sunday evenings.  It was my third time to do so in the course of my years in ministry.  Among the commentaries and related books I used, which I would recommend, are The Message of Esther by J. A. Motyer from “The Bible Speaks Today Commentary Series.” Charles Swindoll’s book Esther: A Woman of Strength & Dignity from his “Great Lives from God’s Word” series, was also a great help.  The Queen and I: Studies in Esther by Ray Stedman shed a lot of light on the book for me.  The one however I would say do not miss when studying the book is Inconspicuous Providence: The Gospel According to Esther by Bryan R. Gregory.  This thoughtful and well-written book gives a tremendous background, and great insight throughout concerning God’s master plan.

          I greatly enjoyed preaching through the Book of Jonah during the summer of 2016.  This is the second time I have preached through the book in my ministry, but the first time I did not go into a lot of depth.  However, this time I took my time and spent 9 weeks.  Truly this book is a treasure trove that sheds a lot of light on several different truths such as God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness, God’s long-suffering nature, God’s determination to use certain people for his glory, God’s sovereignty, and God’s enormous love.  Additionally, we understand more about such negatives as rebellion against God’s will, and consequences for our actions from this book.  Also we gain a better understanding of hell and separation from God by studying chapter 2; also, Jesus’ comparison of Himself and Jonah and being in the belly of the fish/earth.  I read through 8 commentaries that were helpful in varying degrees but the two books I would recommend most for laymen are The Remarkable Journey of Jonah: A Scholarly, Conservative Study of His Amazing Record by Henry M. Morris; also Jonah: A Study in Compassion by O. Palmer Robertson.  Both bring home the teaching of the book in a straightforward, user-friendly way.  James Montgomery Boice has a couple of volumes which cover all of the Minor Prophets.  His section on Jonah was very good and extremely helpful in my study.  Also, I would give honorable mention to Billy K. Smith and Frank S. Page for their volume on Jonah in the New American Commentary Series (NAC).


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Allen Raynor Weblog: Recommended Reading From 2016 (Pt. 1) (Dec. 8, 2016)

          It has now been nearly ten years that I have been doing an annual “recommended reading” list comprised of books I have read over the previous year that I found the most helpful and most worthwhile.  I have been asked many times if every book I read makes my list.  The answer is that usually about half make the list and about half do not.  Some books are mediocre and some just do not appeal to a very wide audience.  Most of my readers are laymen, so I try to keep that in mind when recommending books.  If a book is more geared toward pastors, I try and point that out.  From the outset, my weblogs have been for the purpose of encouraging believers to think a little deeper about biblical truth and contemporary issues, and that place where the two meet.  My recommended reading list tries to maintain that same philosophy.  With that being said, here is part 1 of my recommended reading list comprised of the best books I have read in 2016.


          Billy Graham’s books have always been good tools to use to introduce persons to Christ both from an apologetics standpoint and also when it comes to some of the basics new believers need to know.  His name recognition and longevity in the public eye give him a lot of credibility with many people.  His book Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond goes through the books of the Bible, starting with Genesis and  continuing through Revelation discussing what each book has to say about Heaven, eternity, and our life beyond our earthly existence.  It is encouraging, uplifting, and a great book to put into the hands of another person; particularly a non-believer or skeptic. It is not particularly deep, but does help the reader to focus on Heaven throughout.

         Every believer needs to have, at least a basic understanding of the Protestant Reformation; most of all the key names associated with it and the main issues at hand.  The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves is a well-written, concise, and enjoyable overview of the Reformation.  The book helps the reader get inside the thinking of the major figures and grasp their positions.  2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is recognized as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  We all need to understand it better.

            This year Michael Reeves became one of my favorite authors.  Do not miss his simple little book Enjoy Your Prayer Life.  It offers great encouragement where prayer is concerned and learning to better enjoy the communion we have with the Father, as Jesus also did.

          Many wonder what happened to the Apostles of our Lord after the biblical account ends.  There are many myths and legends surrounding what each may have done, how he died, where he traveled, etc.  After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin is a great resource to help you separate fact from fiction.  The author does not try and sway the reader to his opinions on matters, but instead merely presents evidence for and against various claims.  Then, at the end of each chapter gives a “report card” and assigns a grade to the likelihood of each claim based on evidence.  I found the book to be extremely enjoyable, helpful, and enlightening.

          Often believers, and even pastors, who have a very high view of Scripture still misinterpret key passages.  There are many places where misinterpretations have grown into “urban legends.”  Author, David A. Croteau, has written a very helpful book titled Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Misconceptions.  Each of the 40 short chapters of the book deal with another “urban legend.”  Examples of the issues he covers include “Did Jesus really sweat drops of blood?” “Was the ‘eye of the needle’ a gate in Jerusalem?”  “Are we not supposed to judge others?”  “Should the words found in John 3:16, and following, appear in red in our Bibles?”  “Does the Bible teach that women should not wear jewelry?”  The layout of the book is very easy to follow, reader-friendly, and helpful.

          Sorrow, sadness, and depression are not pleasant topics, but they are problems real people have to deal with on a regular basis.  How do we handle these things?  I was encouraged by reading Zack Eswine’s book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression.  The “Prince of Preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon suffered from several malady’s including bouts of depression.  The book is an intertwining of Spurgeon's insights into his own depression, depression in general, and Scriptural clarity on the whole issue.  I believe this book is worth your time to read.

          In years past, Christians did not talk about or worry too much about how we got our Bible.  They trusted the Word and believed it simply came from God and was to be revered, honored, and obeyed.  In an increasingly skeptical culture it has now become important that believers know more about the origins of their faith.  In particular, believers need to know about the origins of God’s Word so they can defend false claims leveled against it.  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Timothy Paul Jones, recognizing the need to equip laymen, has put together a concise 6-part study series called How We Got the Bible.  In addition to the DVD sessions, there is a book which is very good and certainly worthwhile to read.  The book contains many charts that help the reader see in clear terms some of the realities in how the Bible came to be.  The DVD sessions and the book chapter titles are identical.  These include “What’s So Special about the Bible?” “How We Got the Old Testament,” How We Got the New Testament,” “How the Books of the New Testament Were Chosen,”  “How the New Testament Was Copied,” and “How We Got the Bible in English.”

          Earlier this year I was privileged to preach through the joyful New Testament Book of Philippians on Sunday mornings.  D. A. Carson’s book Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians was helpful and easy to follow.  Another simple, yet doctrinally sound commentary that was also helpful was Philippians by Geoffery Wilson.  John MacArthur’s volume on Philippians in his New Testament Commentary Series was also solid and useful. For pastors and anyone really wanting to study the book deeply, do not miss Peter T. O’Brien’s The Epistle to the Philippians in the NIGTC series. 


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Closing of Minds, and Loudening of Voices (Nov. 17, 2016)

          Not everyone is happy with the results of the 2016 Presidential election.  Every 4 years there is approximately 50 percent of the country that wishes the result had gone the other way, but some take it better than do others.  In recent days we have seen wide-spread rioting in the streets of major cities and a variety of protests taking place on college campuses around the country.  Perhaps strangest of all is that professors and administrators have actually given students time off from class, postponed exams, and grief counselors have been brought in to help students work through their trauma!  Yes this has really happened! We have seen several celebrity rants on Facebook, talk shows, and in other forums with disenchanted people acting in every manner from vulgar to childish.

          The roots of the issue we see are much deeper than sorrow over an electoral loss.  They stem from years of grooming by several compliant parties including parents, teachers, Hollywood, and the media.  At the heart of the issue is the fact there has arisen a generation that does not appreciate the concept of “free speech” like others who have come before.

          Liberals, of every stripe, have been allowed and even welcomed to speak on college campuses but conservative voices have been silenced by protests and demonstrations; consequently invitations have been revoked.  This is a generation that has not been taught to listen to all sides and evaluate the merits of various arguments.  Instead, they have largely been brain-washed, and manipulated into believing certain things because the alternative was either neglected or rejected by those dispatched with the responsibility of teaching.

          The overwhelming number of state universities have very non-diversified faculty.  Statistics have shown that 75, 85, even 95 percent of some universities’ faculty are comprised of professors identifying themselves as Democrats or liberal with only 25, 15, or perhaps 5 percent identifying as Republican or Conservative.  This ideological in-balance is also true among the mainstream media.  Persons identifying as liberal saturate news organizations while conservatives are often edged out or not hired in the first place.  Therefore, when it comes to hearing and evaluating arguments, young people often lack the tools by which to do so, because they have only been taught one viewpoint/worldview.

          Kids growing up in conservative homes may be heavily influenced by parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. toward conservative ways of thinking . They are not however, immune from liberal ideology because of their exposure to Hollywood, the main-steam news media, and universities, if and when, they attend.

          Even beyond differences in ideology, it is the particular behaviors of some in the wake of Trump’s victory that have left many scratching their heads.  It is all the crying, and whining, and acting like spoiled brats that is hard to process.  Many conservatives were devastated in 2012, 2008, 1996, and 1992 but we saw nothing of this sort of behavior.  Where are they learning that these types of displays are good, healthy, or reasonable?

          In her 2008 book The Death of the Grown Up; How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization, author Diana West explores how that childhood is being extended longer and longer.  One of the reasons is because kids are not forced to become adults like they once were.  Generations ago those in their late teens were getting married, going off to war, farming, having and raising children, and starting the pattern of adult life that would carry them for the remainder of their lives.  Now many, well into their 20s and beyond, are still acting like children, shirking responsibility, living for the moment, undecided about the future, unable to maturely assess situations, and properly rationalize and analyze.

          One of the hallmarks of maturity is being willing to take a little more than your share of the blame and a little less than your share of the credit.  Another mark is to accept that which you do not like and do so with dignity, grace, and poise.  The election protesters on college campuses are angry because they have largely been taught to be angry.  In many cases, the professors that have taught them to be angry about their government and perceived injustices are then letting them postpone their exams and applauding their walk-outs.  These professors have effectually become enablers and promoters of the tearing of the fabric of society.  All that would have ever needed to be done was to present both sides and let students make up their minds with all facts on the table, but that has strangely become rare.

          One of the central issues in this debate is, first of all “What is truth?” and secondly “What place does truth hold in your worldview?”  The truth is never afraid to be examined, scrutinized, or viewed under the brightest of lights.  Truth will always stand the test.  If one is to have the confidence of “truth” on their side, they need to understand where others are coming from and not be wooed by propaganda hand-fed by political parties or agenda driven media.  And yes, not even by tenured faculty at major universities.  Lies/falsehoods are the opposite of truth.  Lies demand tolerance.  Lies fear exposure.  Lies beg to be left alone.  Lies love to be shouted but hate being examined.  If university faculty, and their students believe that what they believe is the truth, why not let others with alternate, conservative viewpoints come in and make speeches and presentations and they pick apart their arguments.  The fact that they are largely unwilling to do this gives strong indication they are afraid.  They are, in essence, closing their minds as a form of self-defense. 

          The overall delusion we are witnessing in our country is unnerving and will not lead to a good place.  Countries in Europe have been ahead of us in seeing these things play out to their natural conclusion and it is not a pretty picture.  Just take a look at what has happened in Greece.  God gave us minds to think with and to evaluate ideas, viewpoints, and the world in general.  College should be a time that students learn diversity, tolerance, and about worldviews different than their own.  Sadly without even realizing it, they are being indoctrinated into a strange, closed world that is not easy to vacate.

          Many educators, politicians, parents, news media, etc. have let this generation down.  I am so thankful for parents, teachers, and others who taught me how to think and evaluate claims without merely indoctrinating me into a particular viewpoint.  That is education.  That is what America has always been about.  Slowly, the American mind is being closed.  It is ironic that liberalism is alive almost everywhere except when it comes to freedom of thought and speech.  If you say the wrong thing you will be punished.  This is not the America most have known, but it is the America we are sadly becoming.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Friday, November 11, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Race and Now What? (Nov. 11, 2016)

        The 2016 Presidential campaign, and election itself, is one for the record books.  Not much was predictable and not much followed any type of normal pattern.  Donald Trump, to the surprise of many, was elected the 45th President of the United States defeating Hillary Clinton.  The bitterness of the campaign was unprecedented.  Many expressed their shame for the state of our country because of things being said, the immorality and dishonesty of the candidates, the underhandedness of supporters and the political parties, and their surrogates.  Well, it is all over now; so is it time to rest?  Is it time to relax?  No; it is now time for believers to get serious about prayer for our new leaders, the ones who lost, and for our country as a whole.
          There are many things we must keep in perspective.  Donald Trump may have been a better alternative than Hillary Clinton, but he is a deeply flawed individual with a sin nature that expresses itself in many different ways.  Many of the things he has said and done are deeply concerning to many Americans.  He, like all the rest of us, has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  He will be tempted and tested by foreign governments, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, his advisors, problems that are foreseen and problems that are unforeseen.  It is unimaginable that any human being would enter the Presidency without being committed to daily prayer for guidance.  We as the church of the Lord Jesus need to pray for Donald Trump and for his entire family who will be under vehement attack from now on.  Pray he nominates conservative Supreme Court Justices, works to protect the rights of the unborn, and represents conservative American values, but especially biblical values.  Pray that if he does not truly have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that he gives his whole life to Him.
          We need to pray for those who will serve in the next administration.  Pray for Cabinet leaders, advisers, and support staffs that are vitally important to the President’s success and the overall success of our country.  We need to pray for a smooth transition leading up to the next administration.
          We need to lift up Hillary Clinton in prayer.  I am sure she is devastated in her defeat.  Let us not forget she is a human being.  I say that because, so many of my fellow Americans and fellow believers have been utterly cruel to her since losing the race last Tuesday.  While she may be a political enemy to many, she is still a human being created in the image of God and in need of either developing a personal relationship with Christ or very serious revival.  She has a serial problem with lying and hunger for fulfillment through gaining of power.  Instead of hating her for those things, why not pray for her.  She has already begun to fade from the national spotlight and soon, she will resume life as a private citizen, but her needs remain.  I would ask my fellow Christians if they can really justify not praying for her?  I went through many stages of emotion where Hillary was concerned, including dislike, fear, disbelief, almost hatred, but finally sorrow.  In the weeks leading up to the election, I had made peace in my heart that she was probably going to win, however I began feeling sorrow for her as I thought about what a high premium she put on an earthly office or political position but showed almost no evidence of care or concern for the most important thing of all – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
          We need to pray for our country.  It is deeply divided, perhaps more than at any other time since the Civil War.  Americans are totally embittered against other Americans.  The divisions have been precipitated by two deeply flawed candidates running against one another with such high negative ratings and unlikability.  More than perhaps in any other Presidential election Americans went into the voting booths and voted “against” someone rather than “for” someone.  Since Trump’s victory, there have been protests on college campuses and in the streets of major cities with marchers chanting vile things like “f**k Donald Trump” even though he won a decisive victory in the Electoral College.  Clinton, evidently won a majority of the popular vote, which is concerning in itself, when you consider her overall character and the things the WikiLeaks email releases revealed about her and her attempts to subvert the law, and yet still a majority of Americans cast their vote with her to be President.  It is astounding in a deeply disturbing way.  It strongly supports the supposition that America has lost its moral compass.  Our nation needs prayers!
          I have a very big caution for all those who voted for Trump and are now breathing a sigh of relief.  Now is not the time to relax, nor is it time to start believing that our country is going to get back on the right track.  No matter whether we have had Republican Presidents or Democratic Presidents, our country has been moving in the wrong direction for a long time.  Those we disagree with as conservatives, which is at least half the nation, are not going to suddenly fall in line, any more than conservatives fell in line when we were moving by leaps and bounds toward a socialistic state.  Christ is still going to return at His appointed hour and the end of time will come.  No matter what political party controls The White House or Congress.  Jesus told his followers that His Kingdom was not of this world.  Christians need to keep that in perspective as we move into the days ahead.

In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hillary, Donald, and Abimelech (Oct. 27, 2016)

It is hard to know where to even begin describing the 2016 Presidential campaign.  However, one thing is rather clear; the race and candidates are reflective of the current state of America.  Neither candidate got to be their respective party’s nominees without the help of the majority of voters.  It is further hard to imagine that either candidate could have ever secured their party’s nomination in any previous U. S. election cycle in history.
          Everything about these candidates has been chaotic from the start.  Trump has said more “off the wall” and “damaging” things than any candidate in history.  Additionally, his character issues and vulgarity would have sunk any other candidate.  Clinton’s level of dishonesty and corruption is without precedent as a party nominee.  The worst examples of corruption from American Presidential history hardly hold a candle to what we have learned, and are learning, via the drip, drip, drip, of WikiLeaks
          Beyond the abysmal character of the candidates, many are far more concerned with what this “race to the bottom” says about America.  Once a solidly Christian nation, founded upon an unmistakable reliance on God, this nation has drifted to the point it is hard to recognize when viewed alongside its former visage.  Our founding documents, along with many other writings of our founding fathers, demonstrate that God was inseparable from the process of forming our government.  Further, the founders understood that America would only succeed if it continued the trajectory of honoring God from the courthouse, to the state house, to the White House.  They believed there would always arise persons who were selfish and power-hungry, but the one caveat of protection was that in a democratic republic the majority of the people would always have the final say.  They hardly envisioned a scenario where the majority of Americans would be accepting and condoning of mass-scale sin, corruption, egotism, narcissism, habitual and chronic lying, vulgarity, evil, and much, much more.
          How did Trump get to be the Republican Party Nominee and Clinton get to be the Democratic Party nominee?  Both worked very hard to secure the nomination.  Clinton, it has been joked, has been running for President all her life.  Her aspirations for power are traceable for decades passed.  Trump appears to be looking for a new challenge, perhaps a new world to conquer.  The U.S. Presidency would be a jewel in the crown of this multi-billionaire.  Some believe that his real motive is to start a movement to make America great again, but he has revealed that if he loses, this whole effort “Will have been a colossal waste of time and money.”  Generally what we have seen in American history is that the parties weed out weaker and more baggage-laden candidates through the primary process.  Weak candidates have always ran, but informed and discerning voters have historically weighed the options and looked for the most appealing candidate who could actually win.  While the things we are witnessing may be new to the American political scene, they are far from new in history.
          The Bible teaches us in Judges 9 about Gideon’s son Abimelech born by way of his concubine in Shechem.  Gideon had several wives and 70 sons.  Each stood in line to inherit anything which was their fathers.  Abimelech, however knew nothing was going to naturally come his way so he went to the men of Shechem and began trying to convince them that there was a need for a king.  Then, perhaps in an even easier sell, he suggested why not the king come from Shechem?  And, even further still why not make him king.  He played upon their fears, their pride, their ignorance, and their gullibility. The men of Shechem actually assisted him in murdering the 70 sons of Gideon, minus one.  Jotham, the youngest, lived and prophetically pronounced a curse on Abimelech for the evil he had done.  Further, on the Shechemites for being complicit in the evil and foolishly making Abimelech ruler over them.  So, it was not merely Abimelech, but also those who put him in power that received the curse.
          God ultimately intervened and sent a spirit of derision between Abimelech and the men of Shechem (9:23), but the damage had already been done.  Abimelech finally met his ugly fate when a woman dropped a millstone from above and crushed his skull, but not before Abimelech had killed a vast number of Shechemites by burning them to death.  Those killed and those whose lives were ruined by Abimelech can be laid not only at his charge, but the easily manipulated people of Shechem who gave him power.
          The scary part about Abimelech is that he really had no agenda other than to possess power.  He did not want to make the nation great again, or lead them forward to the future.  He wanted power; however, if he was willing to slaughter so many people to gain power and keep power, it is safe to say he would also have said absolutely anything it took to convince people to place him in power or keep him in power.  He was totally devoid of scruples, character, and honor.
          In 2016 the candidates seem more like Abimelech than any who have ever come before.  Many Christians are perplexed and facing a dilemma as to how to handle their vote.  Is it best not to vote at all?  Should they vote for a 3rd party candidate that has no legitimate chance of winning?  Should they vote for Trump because he is the lesser of two evils?  Further confusion comes with some evangelical leaders endorsing him, and other evangelical leaders saying that a vote for him is a compromise and that there is more at stake in supporting him than merely a loss in the 2016 election.  It is a confusing time.  It is a time much like in the days of the Hebrew Judges. 
          Judges is a historical account of Israel that shows the depravity of the nation in two pronounced ways.  1) That the nation loved sin, and particularly idolizing objects, practices, and people with whom God told them not to associate.  2) That God was really not there, in the minds of most of the people, for any other reason than as a last resort to rescue them in case they got in trouble and could not get themselves out.  Otherwise, during this lengthy period “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25)
          Is anyone at all, much less the 2016 candidates themselves, talking about wisdom or “Godly” wisdom?  What about virtue?  What about reverence and holiness?  Mostly they are talking bad about the other person, much like the nefarious character Haman in the Book of Esther took every opportunity to undermine and spew hatred toward his arch-enemy Mordecai.  Or there are clear echoes of the self-righteous Pharisees who would strain out a gnat, yet swallow a camel.  Or who made pretenses of being righteous, while on the inside were full of “dead men’s bones.”
          I lament with great sorrow the state of politics in America.  I lament that we hardly have a choice in this election cycle.  I have spent many hours in gut-wrenching thought trying to consider and see all angles so as how to fulfill all my responsibilities and be God-honoring.  While, at the same time, not do something that brought dishonor to the name of my Lord.  Gone are the days that we could go to the voting booth and vote with a clear conscience for a candidate who unashamedly and unapologetically stood for Christian principles and lived a life that reflected Christian virtue.  Sadly, those days may never return.  Maybe only now we are starting to see how blessed we were during segments of the past.  Perhaps, America will return one day to its former glory where once again “Righteousness exalts the nation” and where it is once again understood the “Sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34)  There are strong and compelling arguments to be made for any of about 3 or 4 possibilities when voting in this election cycle, but most of all we need to submit ourselves to God.  In other words, can you vote with a clear conscience believing that what you are doing is honoring God to the best of your ability, given the circumstances at hand.  If you do that, then you will be able to have peace in your heart about your part in this election.  Most of all, our nation needs prayers for the intervention of God in a way we have not seen in our lifetimes.  Whether our nation is aware of its need or not, we desperately need God.

In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Great Importance of the Lord’s Table (Oct. 6, 2016)

          There is little reverence and respect in our culture for most things once held sacred.  This is reflected in the way people talk, the way they dress, and by the way they prioritize or neglect various things in their lives.

          We serve a God who is not autocratic or demanding to His people.  However, He is a God that is abundantly worthy of our full respect and worship.  It is grace that allows us to come boldly and confidently before His throne without fear of negative consequences.  But, it is also true that we serve a God that deserves the best we have to offer.  God’s desire is not to coerce us into praising Him, but He wants His people to recognize, on their own, His wonders.

          Every Sunday churches gather for the stated purpose of worship.  Some worship does take place, however not everyone in attendance is actually engaging in worship.  Some are daydreaming, some are critiquing the service and comparing what is done and said with what they want to be done and said, while some are just simply disengaged or merely going through the motions and doing it devoid of heart.

          Unfortunately, these bad practices and states of mind carry into the most sacred ceremony of the church – The Lord’s Supper.  Some churches celebrate it weekly, some monthly, and some quarterly.  The Bible does not say how often we are to have it, but it does clearly teach us the purpose for the supper and it also clearly teaches the manner in which we are to partake.

          Early in my ministry I began to realize how important this time was for the church.  I strived to make sure people knew when it was going to take place and made a special effort to encourage believers to be present with the body of Christ for the ceremony.  Sadly, I have not detected much special effort being made to be present, beyond that of a normal Sunday.

          When you think about the situation on the night Jesus instituted the supper, you realize it was the most solemn of hours.  He was about to be arrested, go through a mock trial, be severely beaten, sentenced to death, atone for the sins of human beings through His shed blood, be buried in a tomb, and on the third day rise again.  The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the Eve of the most important events in all of human history.  The New Testament church was born out of what happened at that time.  Therefore, partaking in the Lord’s Supper is sort of like making a pilgrimage back to the house you grew up in or driving by your old elementary school and smiling with nostalgia. Our roots mean something to us, no matter our stage in life.  For believers, our “Christian” roots run deep.  The practice of celebrating the Lord’s Table is, and should be for everyone, a pilgrimage back to the basics of what it means to be a child of God.

          There are a number of ways we can dishonor the Lord’s Table and Paul warns us about some of those in 1 Corinthians 11 where he addressed the troublesome church at Corinth.  He says if a person participates in an unworthy manner he shall “be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”  Some may say, in light of all the warnings, maybe it is better to stay home and not participate.  Taking this approach is looking for a safe middle ground that does not really exist.  It is saying, in effect, I do not really want to give everything over to God and get right with Him, but neither do I want to distance myself  so as to give up the benefits of being a Christian, such as Heaven or other perceived perks in this life.

          For all believers there are dangers we are cautioned against.   A person can approach the Lord’s Table, for instance, ritualistically.  It is easy to focus on the ceremony itself, the solemnity, and overall manner without focusing on the Savior.  In other words, we can participate with our bodies and not our minds and hearts.  We can go through the “motions” without experiencing the “emotions,” that heart-felt participation should naturally bring.  A person can further come with harbored sin in their heart.  This is an area of their life where they know they are not being pleasing to God, but just simply will not deal with it or relinquish over to Him.  Another widespread problem in the church is seen when people have ill feelings toward others in the church body.  I never imagined the full scope of this problem until I actually became a pastor.  The destruction I have personally witnessed  caused from harbored ill feelings toward fellow brothers and sisters in Christ over, often the most petty/trivial things, is truly amazing.  Almost daily I observe the consequences brought about by unresolved conflict among those who are a part of the body of Christ. Coming to the Lord’s Table without getting those things straightened out is a sin, and we are not to come with unconfessed sin in our lives.  To do so is dangerous to us spiritually.

          God may not strike a person dead if he/she partakes unworthily, but it is almost certain He will not bless your life in the way He would otherwise.  Nothing else we do within the body by way of service or work compensates for our disobedience when it comes to failing to practice and model forgiveness.  Coming to the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner conveys that a person really does trust the Lord and that His power is greater than human weakness.  To come unworthily conveys that human weakness is somehow greater than God’s power, which is simply untrue.

          Participation in the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do in the future.  In fact, by partaking of the supper, believers are said to be “proclaiming the Lord’s death” until He comes again.  The greater the number of sincere believers who gather to partake, the louder the proclamation tends to be to the on-looking world.  But if the proclamation is soft and weak, it is still every bit as true, but it tends to not get the world’s attention in the way that it is really supposed to do.  It may seem strange, but even something as seemingly simple as partaking of the Lord’s Supper and doing so in a worthy manner is a bold witness to the world for Christ.

          In this day, we need to unashamedly proclaim our trust in the Lord.  The culture has crumbled all around us and all believers need to be in a state of readiness, knowing this is the battle of righteousness vs. darkness.  We are on the winning side, but you would not always know it by how softly we whisper our proclamations.  Partaking worthily of the Lord’s Supper in this dark day in human history is highly important and also comforting.  It is an important part of our witness to the Lord and His saving power, and will be so until He comes again!


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Friday, September 30, 2016

Change: Causes and Effects (Sept. 29, 2016)

          Life is always full of change; however those alive today have seen perhaps much more than their fair share.  Those who lived up to a certain point in time really did not see many significant changes in their world from birth until death.  It is especially true when they are compared to those who lived from the beginning of the 20th Century forward.  My grandparents, for instance, (all born between 1904 and 1913) saw the advent of automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, cable, air conditioning, chain restaurants, skyscrapers, the interstate system, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, washing machines and dryers, lawnmowers, tractors and combines, the calculator, microwave ovens, computers, the internet, cell phones, and much, much more.  Imagine something as common to our lives today as pizza.  My mom tells the story of the first time her parents saw pizza and made fun of her saying, they could not believe anyone would eat anything that looked like that.  Just 50 years ago, pizza was a brand new introduction to most parts of the United States.

          We all agree that many of the changes brought about by advances in medicine, technology, and other areas have made life better overall.  However we have lost something along the way.  Modern advances have given mankind a sort of pride in himself that reminds us of the Scriptural account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  The sin in view there was mankind trying to go forward and make a mark on the world, or a name for himself, all-the-while leaving God out of the equation.  This type of thinking continues in this modern “Babylon” that The Book of Revelation foreshadows being destroyed.

          People were once very in touch with their roots and the realities of everyday life.  They were reminded almost constantly that life was short, often hard, and relying solely on themselves was unwise.  They instead leaned on family, neighbors, and prayed to God. 

          A century ago, the population of America was scattered throughout in small towns, mid-size towns, communities, farms, and comparatively speaking, not that many people lived their lives in the protective bubbles of the few major cities of the time, such as New York or Chicago.  People were very much in touch with their agricultural heritage.  Even those who worked in cities as bankers, lawyers, factory workers, dock workers, or various business owners, more likely than not, had roots on the farm from childhood or through other family ties.  An agriculturally oriented life meant understanding very well the process that went from preparing ground, all the way to the harvest and eating of the food on the supper table.  It meant praying for rain, or for the rain to stop.  It meant very hard work done in primitive ways by today’s standards.  It often meant very lean times financially. 

          For most everyone in times past there was complete understanding of the process of getting milk from a dairy cow to their table; or for getting steaks on the table by way of the beef cattle grazing on the range.  But now, there is such a strong disassociation between rural life and city life that those living in cities often only understand lettuce, eggs, pork chops, watermelons, and potatoes in terms of their purchasing it in their grocery store.  Never in their lives have they been a part of growing those things or understand the process, labor, and prayers involved.

          Many of our politicians now have never had the grounding of such basic things as farm or ranch life to help them see that life is more grassroots than concrete, steal, and philosophical theories.  So it is no wonder the massive divide grows in our nation.

          When I was a boy, people everywhere laughed at the same things and cried at the same things.  They had a much more shared sense of values and morality.  It is illustrated by the types of television programing then and now.  When I was growing up, no matter whether you watched the ABC, NBC, or CBS affiliate the shows were not much different from one another.  They all offered game shows, soap operas, variety shows, sitcoms, dramas, local news, network news, etc.  But now look at the massive differences.  At any given hour I can choose between watching a raunchy reality show on VH1 or a show about agriculture on RFDTV.  I can watch a documentary about the Amazon Rain forest on The National Geographic Network or 24 hour news coverage and commentary on either Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.  It is, in part, a testimony to our wealth.  Our ancestors would not have had time to watch television, even if there were such a thing.  They would have had too much work to do.

          I am not condemning us for having the things we now have.  Most everything can be used for the glory of God in some way, if we choose to do so.  However, there are enormous dangers lurking for those who are prone to being distracted from what is important, such as God, His Word, His church, faith, family, community, love, marriage, parenting, learning, hard work, etc.  These are the things that have made America great.  These are also the same things that the Bible champions.  We need to move back toward reliance on God and all the values that stem from having a personal relationship with Him like those who came before us. No matter who is running for office in this election year, if they do not get these things, they are living in a bubble and are out of touch with biblical reality.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Central Importance of Remembrance (Sept. 15, 2016)

          There has been a lot of emphasis recently on “remembering” in light of the fifteen year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when Americans watched in real time the downing of the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center in New York City, massive damage at The Pentagon, and a downed airliner in Pennsylvania headed for Washington D.C.  It was an attack that could only be compared to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Many, as they reflect today, still are in disbelief that something like this could have really happened right here on our own soil.
          Many inspirational stories developed out of this tragedy including the heroism of countless individuals helping their brothers and sisters to safety, firefighters and police officers sacrificing their lives for the sake of others, people standing in line to donate blood, people wearing patriotic ribbons, communities quickly organizing local memorial services, churches spiking in attendance, Congressmen of both parties standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of the U.S. Capitol singing “God Bless America,” and much, much more.
          All the partisan bickering that goes on in our nation was laid aside, and the deepest convictions were quickly formed to bring justice to those responsible for this national nightmare.  Only a few short days later, we began bombing terrorist training camps in Afghanistan where the Al-Qaida terrorists were groomed to destroy lives and wage jihad against what they believe was “The Great Satan,” the United States.
          Many believed this was the wake-up call, albeit tragic beyond description, that America needed to get back to its spiritual roots.  Our nation had drifted slowly but surely to where it was unrecognizable by the founding fathers and all early Americans.  But in the subsequent years following this tragic day the divide in the nation is bigger than it has ever been and few would deny the fact our nation has become much more secular and humanistic than it has ever been.
          If we do not work at “remembering” something we tend to forget.  This is why we have lists, photos, scrapbooks, journals, diaries, and other meticulous records.  Dementia and Alzheimer’s are fearful things because we are frightened at the prospect of forgetting things we want to remember.  We all grieve when a loved one forgets the things they once knew.  It is tragic when a nation forgets what it once knew, as well.  We now suffer from a condition I would term “Spiritual/Historical Alzheimer’s,” meaning we are moving through stages of spiritual deterioration and lack historical remembrance that will ultimately lead to death if left on its current trajectory.
          Whether we realize it or not no one younger than their early 20s has any memory at all of the events of 9/11.  And no one younger than their late 20s has any clear memories.  There are now people graduating from college, are voters, and otherwise adults that do not remember what happened first-hand.  Those who did not see it unfold first-hand cannot remember, but many who did, are choosing not to remember.  These events, like all others before it will eventually just be a few pages in a history textbook.
          God heavily emphasized the necessity of remembrance throughout his Word.  The events of Israel’s history were chronicled for future generations to discover and know.  Several feasts were recognized to commemorate the great things God had done.  At these feasts, scrolls were read publicly so as to remind everyone the purpose for the day.  God commissioned many of the most notable people in the Old Testament to build altars and/or erect stones at various places so they would never forget.
          Sadly, our nation seems to forget more and more with each passing year.  No one could have imagined in the days following 9/11 that on the fifteen year anniversary that churches would be more empty than they were before it all happened.  No one could have imagined that NFL players would set or kneel during the playing of the National Anthem somehow opposing what they perceive as systemic racism built into police departments who supposedly target people of color.  No one could have envisioned political rhetoric being as poisonous and bitter as it has become.  No one could have envisioned a match-up between the two major party candidates and the gutter sniping that we see going on, not to mention the flagrant and overwhelming corruption of one of the candidates in particular.  Perhaps the one thing that is the most utterly shocking of all is that after all that our nation went through, all the pain, destruction, and death on 9/11 and then in the years of war which have followed, to have a President of the United States repeatedly express sympathy for the same radical terrorists who hate us, while repeatedly expressing vigorous contempt for many of his own fellow countrymen.  The truth is often stranger than fiction.  Our country now is nothing else, if not “Orwellian.”
          The period of the Old Testament Judges was an ugly and, almost unexplainable at times, period in the history of Israel.  There was a cycle that played out over and over after the nation entered the Promised Land and the generation who saw first-hand the mighty works of God began to die off, their children made such peace with the land, and its deeply imbedded sinfulness, that they began to join in Baal worship and gave their daughters to be married to the Canaanites and allowed their sons to marry Canaanite women.  They even encouraged the practice.  God would raise up another nation to take them captive to teach them a lesson.  They would suffer under the oppression then call out to God for help; God would hear and would raise up a judge/deliverer to free them, then there would be peace for a time.  Then repeat cycle.  It began with Othniel, the first judge, and it continued the nearly exact pattern through the days of Samson with several major and minor judges in between.  What we take away from Judges in its totality is that God takes sin seriously, God will not allow sin to go unpunished, judgment is certain, God’s requirements for His people are certain, as long as God’s people do not follow God’s ways then all will be chaotic, and God will not allow the cycle to continue forever.  The beginning indictment, at the top of every cycle in Judges, is that God’s people “failed” to remember, they forgot, they lost sight of, they got busy with other things, they trusted other things, enjoyed other things, put other things in place of God, took God for granted, etc.
          It is easy to forget, no matter who we are.  It takes effort to remember.  We live in a land of amusements.  We have countless ways to occupy our time and bury our minds.  But no excuse holds any credibility with God.  September 11, 2001 will always be remembered, at least as a historical reality, but it must be remembered in a deeper way than mere factuality.  It must be remembered in our hearts, thereby leading our nation back to the Holy God that our founders wrote about, prayed to, spoke of, and relied on as they set forth to build the framework of, what in time would become, the greatest nation on earth.

In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor