Thursday, September 28, 2017

The NFL, the Media, and Selective Outrage-Sept. 28, 2017

The biggest story of the past few days has to do with the National Football League and a number of players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, or in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the whole team minus one, staying in the locker room until after it was over.

          I was struck last Sunday that this made such huge headlines, especially when other things of a far more disturbing nature were going on in this country, such as a shooting at a church in Tennessee by a Sudanese immigrant. Melanie Smith, 39 was shot and killed in her own church parking lot by a gunman.  It is unthinkable that such a safe place became so violent.  But the disproportional coverage by the media is nothing new.  Former CBS Newsman Bernard Goldberg and author of several books about media bias has been fond of saying for years “We live in the United States of Entertainment” and his words have been proven many times over and were proven yet again this past weekend.

          The big story; the real scandal in the NFL for serious journalists, should be the selective enforcement of rules by the league.  But, that is not what is being reported.  The NFL has strict and detailed policies regarding player conduct and demeanor during the playing of the National Anthem.  Those rules have been violated in recent seasons by a few players, but blatantly, and in mass, on Sunday by more than 200 players.  Mike Tomlin, Head Coach of the Steelers, heavily pressured his whole team to stay in the locker room and even made it clear in a press conference afterwards that he was disappointed with offensive tackle, former army ranger, and Bronze Star recipient Alejandro Villanueva for going out of the players tunnel and standing with hand over heart for the playing of the national anthem.  So, there is a price to be paid for freedom of expression.  Taking a stand has often proven costly; however what we have seen for many years is that it consistently cuts only one way.  Liberal causes, can and should, be championed even if they violate the rules or the law, but conservative causes cannot and should not be championed even if they are within the bounds of the rules and the law.

          NFL players got in trouble for wearing items and slogans on their uniforms in commemoration of 9/11 and the reasoning given by the NFL was that it was not a place to make political statements, especially those that some might deem offensive.  Quarterback Tim Tebow faced a media firestorm and tremendous backlash for taking a knee in respect for God and giving thanks. Editorials lambasted him for bringing his “religion” and/or “personal beliefs” to football.  Football, they said was a job, a sport, a pastime; anything but a place to express any personal views.

          Ratings are down for the NFL by significant margins.  Providers such as Direct TV are offering partial refunds to subscribers of their NFL package.  When the NFL goes to negotiate contracts with cable and satellite providers for next season they will be in a weak position and stand to lose millions of dollars.  People are vowing to not watch the rest of the season, not purchase NFL merchandise and, in some cases, are burning their hats and jerseys of their favorite teams.  Fans are outraged that these overpaid athletes and coaches are ruining a game they love by politicizing it.

          Many people who work for meager wages come home from work and watch football. They also spend part of their weekend watching just so they do not have to watch nauseating political talk on one of the 24/7 news channels.  These people love their country, their Lord, and are thankful for what they have because of the opportunities provided by this great country.  Allowing a place for politics in the NFL, in and of itself, is enough to infuriate great numbers, but when the particular political expression takes the form of not respecting the flag it touches a nerve with vast numbers of Americans.  Historically, even when people vigorously disagreed they would both stand side by side and salute the flag of America.  Now, that is changing in a very disturbing, high profile sort of way.

          Frankly, many have made a conscious choice to reduce or eliminate following national news because it is so depressing and upsetting.  Sports have been one of the favorite escapes, but now that world has not only been invaded, it has been stormed with no apology.  The NFL Commissioner has never really demonstrated a conscious in any of the controversial matters of recent years involving the league, and is not really showing one here.  He seems to be pulled in the direction of the most politically correct way of thinking. 

          One positive in all this is that many Americans are being forced to re-evaluate their priorities in life.  Many are already stating on social media that they can live without football and that compared to the freedom of living in America it is a small price to pay to turn off their televisions or watch something else. 

          There is nothing that is immune from the creep of political correctness.  It has been attacking institutions and individuals for years and will continue to do so.  Now you are seeing pressure in areas you thought were immune, but nothing is really immune. The fact that the church shooting in Tennessee got so little coverage and the NFL controversy got so much is quite telling.  Christians and conservative Americans will face more and more pressure to conform and if they do not do so there will be a severe price to be paid.  It is time to stick to what you believe and be ready and willing to back it up with facts and truth.  It is not a time for weak patriotism, weak Christians, or weak minds.  It is a time for strength, courage, and resolve.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Remembering to Pray for and Support Our ‘Other’ Pastors - Sept. 12, 2017

          From the very beginning of my journey in pastoral ministry very sweet and sincere people have told me they were praying for me.  It did not take very long into that journey for me to realize that I needed a lot of prayers.  Pastoral ministry presents many unique challenges.  One pastor friend of mine is fond of comparing pastoring to herding cats!  It is a pretty fair analogy!  Pastors grieve over the lostness of the world and their communities often in agonizing prayer that no one sees.  Many sleepless nights are all-too-familiar to pastors as friends leave the church, as messages fail to be visibly impactful, and people in the church cannot seem to get along with one another.  The enemy of our souls throws everything, including the kitchen sink, at us trying to get us to stumble, and, better yet, fall and hurt as many people as possible on our way down.  Pastors face all the temptations and difficulties that any other human being faces, plus several others besides.  All of this is widely known and discussed.  There have been many books and articles written to encourage pastors who are experiencing discouragement.  Retreats, and even entire retreat centers, have been established for healing and restoration after pastoral burn-out and the accompanying mental and emotional exhaustion.  Even posts on social media remind Christians to pray regularly for their pastors, which is much needed, and much appreciated.

          In the early years of my ministry I believed that I had one of the hardest, maybe the hardest job/task in the world.  While it is consuming in every way, I have come to believe there are some things that are far more difficult due to the spirit of our age, the self-centeredness of our world (including vast numbers of church members), and Satan’s highly successful ability to hoodwink people and get them to place their focus on almost everything except God, His Word, His true expectations for us, and baring witness to the lost world in which we live.

          I have come to realize and appreciate the utterly brutal reality of being a youth minister in these dark and difficult days before the Lord’s return.  As hard as it is to be a pastor to people at times, youth ministers are faced with unimaginable challenges of which no one could have dreamed such a short time ago.  Every youth pastor comes face to face with kids struggling to find their own identities, often through a process of acting out and experimentation with anything and everything from drugs and alcohol, sex, to many other forms of reckless behavior.  We are long past the days where the biggest issues were abstaining from listening to rock music, not attending R-rated movies, and not dating anyone who was a potential candidate for marriage.  Now the issues are so much more serious and potentially disastrous – even deadly.

          Another big change is that if you looked at youth groups of past decades you would find the bulk comprised of active church member’s kids; even pastor’s and deacon’s kids.  But now you look at many youth groups and see kids from homes that parents rarely come at best and at worst are, in no way, connected with any church, much less the one their kids occasionally attend!  Youth ministers lack the core support they once had from parents, because there are often no parents to be found.  It is not uncommon for kids to report of total dysfunction in their home life involving all sorts of things that were nearly unheard of 1 or 2 generations ago.  Added to the youth minister having to carry the burden of these things he is often criticized by those who frequently remind him of the good old days when they (the criticizer) were in youth and just how it was and their simplistic solution is to just do things like they were done back then and highly committed, well-behaved, smiling youth would break down the doors to get in!  With my heart and soul I wish it were just that simple.  We grieve that it is not the way it once was and will never be again.

          In time past, new babies were brought to the nursery on their first Sunday and grew slowly through the church’s Sunday School program advancing all the way to adulthood.  Many of those became Sunday School teachers, deacons, pastors, and other leaders and other constants of the church.  But now, Sunday School is an empty basement or wing of the church and the youth minister is implicitly or explicitly expected to be a miracle worker who overcomes 12-18 years of neglect.  Some pastors have even resigned themselves to preaching on a level of a children’s Sunday School class simply because their congregants no longer have a foundation on which to build and there is little choice but work hard to lay such a foundation.

          Youth ministers desperately need our prayers, emotional support, physical support, and spiritual support as they are being tasked with the impossible while many hurl insults and throw rotten tomatoes from the balcony and sidelines.  Dedicated youth ministers have big hearts, great love for the Lord, and love for young people, and it is discouraging and hurtful to often not see the fruits of their labors  However, God sees their work and labors of love and will reward them for working to do what few others in this entire world are willing to do.  Please pray for our youth ministers!

          Music ministry was once a very popular vocational pursuit on Christian college campuses and in seminaries, but those days are past.  When churches are in need of music ministers they are scarce.  I have been told by more than one denominational leader that “Music ministers are as rare as hen’s teeth.”  Why has there been such a decline in the number of music ministers?  Professors, denominational leaders, pastors, and even former and current music ministers themselves will all tell you the predominant reason is that church music has become perhaps the biggest hot-button issue of the last 25 years.  James Dobson on his Focus on the Family Radio broadcast once did a few shows devoted to music and it generated the most aggressive responses of any topic he ever did, according to his own report.  Some wrote or called in totally adamant that hymns only should be sung, while others were equally adamant that newer music was essential to reaching a younger generation and also to keep our worship fresh and lively.

          Professors at our Christian colleges and seminaries report that aspiring music ministers are frequently discouraged from pursing vocational music ministry by their parents and even their pastors because of the enormity of controversy they are unknowingly seeking to enter.  No parent wants to see one they love face opposition, rejection, and the level of scorn that is known to be directed at those who do not meet their expectations and cater to their preferences. 

          The immaturity of the modern church is expressed in a number of ways such as biblical illiteracy, lack of prayer, lack of attendance, immoral practices, and selfishness.  This has showed up as church members have left churches because of their disdain for the music (both changes and lack of changes).  Further, many others have made the decision to attend a church, mainly or exclusively, on the basis of the music.  For every one instance of someone telling me they have concern about a doctrinal matter, there are easily 20 expressions of concern about music.  Rarely is there a question of doctrinal soundness, but almost always it is an issue of preference.  One thing all seem to agree on is that there will be no music controversies in Heaven.  The reason all tend to give for why they believe this to be the case is that it is because everyone will see the light and will then do it “their” way.  Everyone, I have ever talked to who held a strong opinion on music types believed God was on their side and strongly opposed those with whom they disagreed.

          Music ministers are a gift from God to help lead in worship.  As is true with all gifts, they need to be received with thankfulness and glory and praise to God.  Further, they need to be given our full support through prayer, encouragement, and love.  When we leave our homes, which God has provided with all their accompanying luxuries which God has provided, and take our cars which God has also provided to arrive at our church which God has also provided, and be led in worship by the music minister whom God has also provided, and our pastor whom God has also provided, it is absolutely not the time to focus on our selfish preferences about anything. Satan is the one who has given the provision of “selfishness.”  When we come to a worship service and focus on anything but the triune God and how our sin disappoints our Lord and Savior, we have formed and molded an idol of our own making which supplants our worship and gives Satan great satisfaction. Scripture teaches he comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  He will do that with our worship in a heartbeat, but only if we allow it to happen.   Please pray for our music ministers!

          These are dark, dark days in which we are living.  God’s people desperately, more than ever need to huddle as the body of Christ together to draw strength from God and one another to try and endure until the end which is coming quickly.  How foolish to snipe at one another over miniscule matters of total insignificance.  We must grow up in the Lord.  We must relinquish our idols, and give it all to Jesus.  Forget the notion that “my” way is best, and focus on the beauty of the Lord, the worthiness of the Lord, the greatness of your salvation, and the sacrifice that He made on the cross and be thankful for the gifts he has given in people. In particular, thank Him for those who sacrifice of themselves enormously to serve as youth ministers and as music ministers.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor