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