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