Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Centrality of Preaching the Word (Aug. 25, 2016)

          No matter whom the pastor, he is going to be imperfect.  He will both say and do the wrong things from time to time.  That is just reality.  He forgives many of much and mature believers should also be willing to exercise biblical forgiveness in return.

          There is one area through where pastors should be held to a very high standard and that is in the pulpit.  All the other things modern ministry now involves have come much later.  Preaching has been central from the beginning.  Some may naturally deliver messages better than others, but all should prepare with equal fervor and intensity to the best of their ability.  We live in a day where sermon manuscripts and outlines can be found in books and even on the internet.  While some hearers may still receive something positive by hearing such a message, the reality is that it reflects laziness and apathy on the part of the preacher.

          One thing that struck me several years ago, as my own kids got a little bigger was that, I am their pastor too.  On one hand it is obvious, but I am not so sure the reality resonates with all preachers.  The unmistakable truth hit home to me in this form: I am not just preparing messages for this congregation, some of whom I barely know, but I am feeding my kids the Word as well.  If I starved in my preparation to preach, I would be starving my congregation, and I would also be significantly short-changing, my own kids!  When a Christian family is looking for a church home, they look for a place where they and their kids will be fed the spiritual truths of Scripture.  If I am the pastor, then I am the one who determines what they hear by way of my own preparation and sensitivity to God’s direction.

          I have heard stories of pastors preaching, word for word, sermons they got from someone else; sometimes on a regular basis.  This is tragic because they are the one that bares the responsibility of inspiring others.  If they are borrowing or stealing messages then they are falling down on the job.  Books and resource materials abound to help a pastor understand the Word and prepare a message, but there are no short-cuts.  It simply takes work!

          About ten years ago, while attending the Southern Baptist Convention, the widow of the late Adrien Rogers was there and spoke to the Pastor’s Conference about her husband’s death.  She also talked of how much he loved the convention, pastors, and speaking the truth in love.  But, as she went on to say, his earthy ministry was done.  The baton was now being passed.  Each pastor that night, received an actual baton, to commemorate the occasion, similar to what would be used by a relay team in a track meet.  What was really being passed on?  The manuscripts of his thousands of sermons?  Some inspiring/gripping quotes?  His incomparable ability to preach?  No, to all of these things.  Being passed on that evening, symbolically, was the force that drove Adrien Rogers.  He was committed to unfolding and unpacking the Word of God to the hearts and minds of individuals; to inspire them, to motivate them, to help them come face to face with the living God.  What was being passed on that night was “responsibility” and “faithfulness.”  Many in this generation of pastors have dropped the baton and they are sadly in no hurry to pick it up again.  In contrast through, The Apostle Paul admonished young Timothy “Preach the Word!”

          Whether it be my own kids, the kids of others, people with kids, or adults who were once kids – all need the Word of God which is “Living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12)  People do not need more worldly wisdom, a few quips or quotes, or funny lines. They do not need pastors hurriedly printing out a manuscript from the internet, or blowing the dust off an old message, or throwing together a few clever ideas at the last minute.  They need the truth.  Country music has jokingly been called “3 chords and the truth.”  Should not our sermons be, at a minimum, “3 points and the truth?”

          Pastors are human beings and they fail sometimes in many different areas, but that is no excuse to keep on failing.  There are too many spiritual lives at stake to treat responsibility lightly.  Pastor’s, perhaps your own kids or grandkids are listening to you preach.  In this day and time, we need the Word of God preached boldly and passionately like never before.  People should choose churches based on the Word.  Search committees should choose pastoral candidates based on the Word.  All preachers’ ministries should be based upon the Word.  When the Word is not in the center, everything else is literally off balance.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seismic Moral Shift and Presidential Politics (Aug. 3, 2016)

          Words cannot begin to describe how tragic the 2016 Presidential election cycle has become and we have not yet even entered the fall campaign!  It is tragic for a number of reasons but no reason is as shocking as the fact that voters, and when I say voters I mean the American people, have created their own reality.  The candidates did not get to the place where they now stand without enormous help from average Americans.  These Americans have, for the most part, learned to overlook what previous generations were not able to see past.

          It is shocking, yet somehow completely believable, that America has sunk to the level in which it has sunk.  But is it really that surprising that people entertained by reality television night after night year after year would be inclined to not really have a moral conflict when it comes to the Presidential race of 2016?  The race is highly reflective of life in America in the middle portion of this decade.

          In 1974 as the Watergate Scandal escalated Richard Nixon was finally abandoned by members of his own Republican Party.  They had largely supported/defended him, but there came a point where he was shown to be lying and even his most staunch allies began to withdraw their support.  Even Gerald Ford, who made speeches around the country supporting his boss reached a point where his honesty and integrity would not allow him to speak on his behalf any longer.  It took moral courage, but Ford took the high road; the way of integrity.

          In 1980 Ted Kennedy was presenting a formidable challenge to incumbent President Jimmy Carter, but in an interview with CBS News’ Roger Mudd, Kennedy fumbled with a question about his moral character and shady activity at Chappaquiddick one night a decade earlier where a young woman mysteriously died.  Many people already suspicious of Kennedy’s moral character withdrew their support at that point.

          In 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate Gary Hart had to withdraw from the race after a sex scandal involving Donna Rice with whom he had been having an ongoing affair.  That same year another candidate, former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt had to drop out when it was discovered he had been plagiarizing speeches. 

          In 1992, allegations of Bill Clinton’s infidelity dogged his campaign as there seemed to be endless questions about his moral character.  In the late 1990s, mid-way through his second term, a huge sex-scandal erupted and Clinton ended up being impeached for lying under oath in the Paula Jones deposition.  But the most damning thing for him politically was his parsing of verbs and laughing about doing so – “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  Also when he looked stone –cold into the camera lens and pointed his finger and sternly said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”  It turned out to be a bald faced-lie.  He clearly felt it was a “he said, she said” kind of situation until the infamous blue dress turned up.  When he learned of its existence he immediately admitted that he “did indeed have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was inappropriate, and was wrong.”

          There have been plenty of other Presidential scandals some major and some minor, but they were always weathered with a certain measure of fall-out.  The Iran-Contra affair that came to light in late 1986 placed a blemish on the Reagan administration, but did not hurt his lasting legacy.  But other scandals have been far worse and ultimately fatal to presidential aspirations such as in the case of John Edwards.  People, as they vetted candidates and those already serving, did so with a working standard of moral character in mind.  Most people had an elevated view of moral character that was greater and personally more important than any one candidate, party, or election cycle.

          Over the last 40 or 50 years those wrapped in the moral fabric of America have showed deep concern about candidate’s character, faith, and honesty.  They have not been historically tolerant when it came to such things as lying, adultery, and immorality in general.  Remember when some were concerned about voting for Ronald Reagan because he had been divorced or for John F. Kennedy because he was Catholic or even Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon?  Seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away in a much simpler time.

          What I truly believe has happened is that, in Presidential politics, just as in America at large we have become comfortable with sin to the point, that while it still may be “a” factor, it is not the major factor.  Our culture can now, for instance look past serial lying, or commission of federal crimes, that is if the liar shares the person’s overall worldview, or if they will keep abortion legal, or stand for gay rights, or promise to help a certain race or class.  Both outrage and support are for sale and are marketed to would-be buyers like marketeers at a trade show.

          Individual Americans have become the standard by which we measure all things.  What I mean by that is that, the standard is no longer outside ourselves (biblical values, a fixed standard of morality) it is now what I judge to be ok or not ok.  Or, it is also true that many will look past gross immorality, shady dealings, vulgarity, etc. as long as the overall tone strikes a chord that is desirable and expresses the anger they feel over, any number of issues.  

          One of the things I enjoy most about being a Christian is that in a world changing so rapidly that I cannot keep up, I serve a God that does not change (Heb. 13:8).  If sin was wrong in 1990, or 1900, or 1900 B.C. then, according to God’s measurement it is still sin. 

          Consider the change that has taken place this way – In election cycles of the past, people might have been appalled that a candidate had broken 1 or 2 of The Ten Commandments in a gross or forth-right sort of way.  But, when we fast-forward to the present, we see many justifying their support of a candidate by saying my candidate has only broken 9 of the commandments compared to the other person who has broken all ten!  It is faulty, and extremely disturbing reasoning and does not make much of a positive case.

          This is not for the purpose of giving advice on voting in 2016.  That is potentially best covered in another weblog, but the point I seek to make here is to draw attention to the moral slide we are on.  It is virtually beyond belief.  There is a delusion in America today that can only be understood in eschatological terms.  The way people think and reason and act and how quickly this change has occurred is seismic, and our country is shaking uncontrollably.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

The Real (and only) Answer to Racial Tensions (July 14, 2016)

          Americans have stood in disbelief at how racially divided the country has become of late.  Unless one is at least fifty-five or sixty years old they probably do not remember first-hand the civil rights struggles that raged in the 1960s.  Through education and appeals to better judgment we came reasonably close to putting serious racism behind us (understanding racism will never be totally eradicated).  There will always be the ignorant who seek to divide rather than unite.
          The most disturbing thing to happen, in a culture where disturbing things happen all the time, is for 5 police officers to be shot and killed in the streets of Dallas by a man who was specifically targeting white offices with a view to kill.  The hatred in this man’s heart is far beyond my feeble understanding.  I have known several law enforcement officers, spanning several cities, and a few states and I have never heard a hint of racial bias from any of these individuals.  This is in spite of the fact that statistics clearly show that certain races disproportionately commit violent crimes.  In fact, I have often been impressed with how unbiased many remain in spite of these statistics.  CNN reports that thus far in 2016 there have been 512 Americans killed by police.  238 were white, 123 were black, 80 were Hispanic, 23 were classified as “other,” and 48 were of an unknown race. Why, in light of the facts, is there so much unrest? 
          Case after case, in city after city, in state after state shows the same pattern.  We can probably safely conclude there is something going on that is more than coincidental.  Some key leaders among certain minority communities have largely brain-washed many people who were made in the image of God into thinking that they must wrestle with flesh and blood and not the principalities and powers.  This is the exact opposite of what Paul taught in Ephesians 6:12.  They are being fed a false hope that somehow there can be true social justice, in accordance with their understanding of the phrase, in a world filled with those referred to collectively as the “all” who have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
          When a person comes to Christ, we understand that they must admit they are a sinner undeserving of the grace of God and let Jesus Christ take control of their life.  Yet, some leaders within minority communities who even bare the moniker of “reverend” are strangely silent, at least in the public square, on the most basic premise of biblical Christianity, that being, the “Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ and His power to transform a life.  The basics of “coming to Christ” include admitting “you” are the one in need of a change.  To quote an old song “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”  Instead of the most basic of biblical truths we hear relentless political rhetoric, accusations, anger, and even vulgarities, exaggerations, and lies coming from some of their mouths in speeches and interviews.  These are people who are pastors in minority communities, others who call themselves Christian, and even the President who calls himself a Christian.  The whole concept of the “Black Lives Matter” movement stands in sharp contrast to Jesus Christ who shed his blood on the cross to atone for the sins of not merely people of a certain race, but Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, men and women, rich and poor.  Maybe none of these people ever sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Sunday School growing up, or maybe they did not even attend Sunday School.
          There are few problems in society that cannot be traced back to a break-down of the family and family values.  It would be interesting to know the stats on how many of these causing problems grew up in homes without a father present and involved in their lives.  Often those who do not find approval and acceptance from their father find it in other places like gangs.  There are not many good role models among the black community today and the ones that are tend to be marginalized and even demonized by those in the “grievance” industry who rush to conflict like lawyers chase ambulances.  Many have mastered the art of oppression by employing pseudo-sympathy.
          The answers are obvious to those who know the basics of Scripture.  Jesus is the answer.  The family structure God designed is the answer.  Brotherly love is the answer.  Treating others as you desire to be treated is the answer.  The answers are as plentiful as there are copies of the Bible. But, to quote Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”  People are like lost sheep wandering around without a Shepherd, just as Jesus said they were.  Many wolves in sheep’s clothing have infiltrated the flock and are devouring them and feasting on their ignorance.
          Evil is pervasive in this broken world.  When Cain killed Abel, God sadly knew that on July 14, 2016 a truck would mow down nearly 80 people gathered in celebration of Bastille Day in Nice, France.  He knew that there would be school shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, rape, assassinations, and terrorist bombings galore each violently attacking the stamp, or imago dei (image), that God placed on all human beings made in His similitude/likeness.  Like Able (Gen. 4:10), the voice of the blood of all these slain cries out to the Lord from the ground.  All lives matter to the one who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life.  The very premise that only some lives matter is faulty to its core.  Sadly, many Americans have been groomed to believe the lie that only some lives matter because they have become so cozy with the catastrophic practice of abortion in the name of convenience and choice.
          I wonder how much more effective a march or protest, or even a movement,  might be if people of all colors and races linked arms together and walked the streets of St. Louis, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, etc. singing “Jesus is the answer for the world today; above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the Way.” 

In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor