Engaging the Culture in an Informed Way

A really bad thing happened last weekend. It was an evil thing. I suppose you could even call it a demonic thing. The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, (with a population of just over 43,000 people) had seen several small racist rallies in past months by radical groups from both the extreme right and the far left. On Saturday morning, hundreds of neoNazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other “white nationalists” began gathering in anticipation of a noon rally to be held by “Unite the Right” for the purpose of protesting the pending removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (The park was formerly known as Lee Park.)

But as thousands of demonstrators arrived, the event was projected by authorities to become the largest and most dangerous in decades. State police and members of the Virginia National Guard, therefore, surrounded the park after Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, saying he was “disgusted by the hatred, bigotry, and violence” and blaming “mostly out-of-state protesters.” The city of Charlottesville declared the “alt-right” protest an unlawful assembly — effectively cancelling the demonstration before its planned start time. Some 500 of those gathered headed for home.

But within minutes, thousands of those remaining were met by equal numbers of “counter-protesters,” including Black Lives Matter activists and a radical Princeton professor. Clashes broke out, mainly between the white nationalists and anti-fascist groups, as crowds moved toward the park where the Lee statue was located. At one point, dozens of people used wooden poles from their flags and banners as weapons. Others threw trash, bottles, and urine-filled balloons into the opposing ranks of protesters as the crowds swelled. Many also brought their own pepper spray. Numerous protesters came prepared, wearing helmets and flak jackets and charging into crowds holding plastic riot shields. Protesters on one side of a square held up anti-fascist signs and Black Lives Matter banners, while groups on the other displayed Confederate flags and iron cross banners.

At one point, a 32-year-old woman died and at least 19 people were injured when a car sped down a congested street and intentionally crashed into a crowd of peaceful protesters leaving the rally. The 20-year-old driver was quickly arrested. Three hours later, a Virginia State Police observation helicopter crashed seven miles southwest of Charlottesville, killing two state troopers. It was a terrible day.

Saturday’s violence followed a spontaneous march the previous night by hundreds of torch-wielding white nationalist protesters on the University of Virginia campus that was broken up by police as an unlawful assembly after scuffles broke out and pepper spray filled the air. Some saw this image as a call to action.

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Now, why have I taken so much space and time to share so many details of this story? For one thing, both sides of this violence claimed to be representing Jesus Christ, using Bible quotes in support of their actions. Both sides also had pastors involved. That’s a problem. How can both points of view represent the gospel? In fact, does either side truly reflect the principles of God and Christ? Where should the Church come down on a situation like this? I’ve heard of a lot of pastors who have already made very strong pronouncements even before all of the facts are known.

I probably had more time this week to sift through the research than you do in a normal week, and I still don’t believe I have a grasp on everything that happened. So, how can you be expected to be accurate and comprehensive as you talk about your church and its place in this culture? How do your people get the truth? The answer I stumbled upon many years ago is something I call “a social concern committee.” A social concern committee can be of great assistance to any pastor for understanding and addressing cultural issues.

In my first years as a pastor, I believed that openly opposing societal ills would create problems for me from people who felt uncomfortable with their pastor talking about “news” subjects. And I was right. I was hammered from all sides, and I became reluctant to speak my conscience. However, I eventually worked myself out of that corner and again started to take stands on public policy. Had I not done so, I would have felt less than honest.

There were also many occasions when I felt lonely and exposed because it was difficult for me to know where I stood with those who mattered most to me — my congregants. Then it dawned on me that I should not stand alone, nor take the abuse for my well-intentioned convictions. That was the genesis of a social concern committee.

Every congregation has a nucleus of people who care deeply about the signs of the times. They are concerned when society begins to move in a direction that could be detrimental to the institution of the family, the church, and our children. Call them together around a cause and you will have the simple beginnings of a social concern committee.

A social concern committee can also be used as a research and information source for the whole church body. Committee members can attend meetings of the city council, school board, library board, and so on. They can gather pertinent information related to social issues. They can meet each month to discuss whether or not an issue is worthy of further action. They can make telephone calls and visits to the significant players in the community who influence policy matters. They can compile lists of names and telephone numbers of those who need to be contacted and whose opinions can be influenced by the public. They can write letters.

Further, they can provide pertinent material with issue-related information for those in the church body who need to become better informed. In short, the social concern committee is like Nehemiah on the wall — a watchman on behalf of the church and the community it serves.

You yourself can’t be everywhere in the community and do everything in the church. So you need concerned individuals to act as your eyes and ears, collecting information for you, informing your congregation, being a liaison with the community, praying for you. It’s a wonderful way to get appropriately gifted individuals involved and is a great help to any pastor.

Are you hesitant to form yet another committee in your church? Do you think you already have too many? Here are a few final thoughts about how a social concern committee can make your job easier.

First: It can provide you with a group of people to run point for you on issues about which you might be uncertain or incomplete in your knowledge.

Second: It can give you a point of reference or serve as a resource reservoir. Members can do research on your behalf, in order to provide information that is accurate and not skewed by the liberal press. They can go to the source and ask hard questions. They can also stimulate interest within your congregation, which might be difficult for you to do.

Third: When you grow weary, they can hold your arms up and, when you are discouraged, they can be a Gideon’s army — not many, but very dedicated. In addition, they can prove to be a source of great prayer support.

Contrary to what many might say, I do not believe that everyone can be an activist. Nor do all in your church family have the gift of evangelism. But I do believe that everyone in your church can have a witness, just as I believe all in your church can have an opinion and a vote on social issues. You needn’t stand alone when, in front of you every week, there can be a small remnant of people exercising their passion for the cause of Christ in the interest of righteousness and godliness.

Think about it, and consider forming a social concern committee.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Having the Courage of Elijah

“Elijah Confronts Ahab and Jezebel in Naboth’s Vineyard” by Sir Francis Dicksee in 1875
(colorized from black & white original)

I don’t think I would have been comfortable being King Ahab. The Bible says in 1 Kings, chapter 16, that the king “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those [kings] before him” (v. 30). It also says King Ahab “did more to provoke the LORD … to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (v. 33). He must have really been something.

Now, just imagine that you were Elijah, the prophet, and that you had been chosen to confront this evil person with a word from the Lord that would naturally displease the king very much. That assignment would not be a walk in the park, would it?

As you know, Elijah was up to the task. He obediently did confront Ahab, contested the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, was threatened by Queen Jezebel (which filled him with fear), was ministered to by the Lord under the broom bush, and eventually continued to stand firm for the Lord until Ahab was finally killed in battle.

Well, my friend, the assignment that Elijah accepted is similar to the task that our Lord has for you. You, as a kind of Elijah, have been consigned by our Lord to defend righteousness and confront evil. As the servant of God, it is your assignment to take a stand.

Taking a stand for the Lord is not always easy or safe. When a contemporary of Elijah, the prophet Micaiah, son of Imlah, was called upon to confer with Ahab, he was urged by the messenger who summoned him to prophesy in agreement with the 400 prophets of the king instead of with the true word of God. But Micaiah courageously said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me” (1 Kings 22:14). Micaiah ended up in prison, but the prophecy he delivered came true and, because Ahab ignored it, he was wounded in battle and died.

Every day presents us with challenges — things we can take a stand for or against, issues that might not be too popular with some in the community, topics that might even stir up our congregants. Will you take a stand, even if your words and actions displease people? Will you have the courage of Elijah to speak truth even if you become a target for people’s hostility?

As pastors, we have to do what’s right rather than what’s popular!
I pray that God will give you the courage — both to be and to speak that for which He has called you.

I came across a novel several years ago by best-selling author Francine Rivers called And the Shofar Blew. It tells the story of a gifted young man who becomes a pastor. He is charismatic and a skilled orator, and he is used by God to build a great church. But he lets down his defenses, and drifts into a self-centered scenario, preaching only what people want to hear, that which is profitable. As a result, he nearly loses everything. It’s a story that has become far too familiar to me in real life.

I dealt with members of the clergy nearly every day in the past who, for one reason or another, gave their ministries away. Sometimes, it was for “30 pieces of silver.” Other times, it was for a fleeting moment of pleasure. There were even those times when “power needs” overtook them and they felt they could operate by another set of guidelines. In other words, they did whatever they felt like doing. Most often, the result was a betrayal of the trust our Lord had placed in them.

Satan and the forces of evil stand before you with an offer you must refuse. “The wages of sin” can cast a shadow that covers your whole ministerial history. We must be willing to count the cost of our words and deeds. When we are tempted, our defense is always the whole armor of God, so that we can “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). We cannot risk our ministries with a weak defense. We cannot exasperate or provoke Him through our fears or apathy.

These days are challenging for our world, our nation, and the church. The battles we face are turbulent and demanding, but you who lead the church are standing in the gap for righteousness. Whatever you do, please do not give up. Pray more, study more, read more — gird yourself in the whole armor of God and stand firm.

“In everything, set them an example by doing what is [right] good” (Titus 2:7).

“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16).

Being Fundamentally Sound

I have noticed that a lot of churches have already held their vacation Bible school programs this summer, while others are doing so this week or will be doing so in the near future. I think this is great! A good VBS program can begin to tackle one of my most serious concerns about the church today — biblical literacy. How familiar is your congregation, your family, or even you with the facts surrounding the characters, stories, and writings in the Bible?

My colleague, I often wonder how fundamentally sound we are in the North American church? We constantly try to simplify the Lord’s message, often without including the nitty-gritty background details that make it so relevant. How about those of us (you) who are leaders in the North American church? Are we fundamentally sound?

I find it hard to imagine that any church or any believer could be considered fundamentally sound without an ever-deepening knowledge of God’s Word. How can anyone fully relate to a biblically sound sermon or lesson without knowing the facts of the biblical story, the context of a scriptural quote, the historical background in which that part of the Bible came into existence, the names and accounts of those characters whose faith, exploits, adventures, and misadventures were used by God in His book to reveal His important teachings.

And yet, that’s what I see more and more often. I see those who cannot identify in which book the story of creation is recorded, the distinct chapters in the rich life of Joseph, the unnatural courage demonstrated by Daniel, the risks taken by Esther, the tension surrounding Jeremiah, the apathy faced by Jesus, the anger encountered by Paul, or the political world in which Epaenetus became the first Christian convert in Asia (Romans 16).

Pastor, your people need to know the Bible and its content. They need to be proficient at Biblical quizzes. They need to know which major world empires and forces existed as God was working with His chosen people at the various stages and eras of their development. They need to know what prevailing philosophical and theological concepts the people of God faced as they moved forward in their maturity. Of course, people won’t completely grasp much of this information as they begin their journeys of faith, but you must be sure they are continuing to grow in their biblical literacy each year until they do. Only then can they fully appreciate how amazing God’s presence has been throughout the history of mankind, and the enormous power He brings to bear on our futures.

Paul advised Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). In an earlier letter, he told Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity … devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:12-13). Paul was referring to the basic gospel that “Jesus is Lord,” but as one who had learned every detail of the Scriptures as a Jewish student and theologian, he certainly hoped that the characters, stories, and content of the Word would eventually become equally as familiar to those in the churches he led.

Paul also admonished his protégé to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul regularly referred to these and other fundamental contents of God’s Word as he explained their applications for his readers. Fundamentals! You can’t maintain a high level of ministry without good fundamentals.

What do you think? What do you perceive to be a fundamentally sound church and/or Christian leader? Please take some time to consider the fundamentals and whether your church needs a course correction.

“They must keep hold of the deep truths [stories and concepts] of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9).

Keep Your Marriage Strong

I sincerely hope you had a great Mother’s Day this past Sunday with your own family and with your congregation. If your mother is still living, I hope you were able to reach out to her with your love and words of appreciation. If you have children, I hope their mother felt special and honored by you and the kids.

If you are married, I hope that Sunday provided you and your spouse with an opportunity to give undistracted attention to one another. I also hope you both regularly experience tangible moments that keep the bond between you growing and burning with passion. Cultivating a satisfying marriage is an important part of emotional and spiritual wholeness. A commitment to marriage development is pleasing to God, fulfilling to both partners, crucial in the eyes of children, and healthy for the church.

Marriage offers joy, meaning, and pleasure. The intense demands of ministry, which many consider harmful to marriage, can be used to cultivate closeness that grows out of sharing thoughts and experiencing service together. Every marriage can be better, and happily married pastors are more effective pastors. My colleagues, it’s time to demonstrate in our own marriages all we preach to others about commitment, integrity, accountability, and virtue.

Think for a moment about the topics you cover in your counseling sessions with potential brides and grooms — issues like open communication, personal finances, spiritual oneness, common interests, time alone, emotional support, marital fidelity, and expressions of love for one another. Successful marriages demand time, dedication, and work. And that’s true even in the parsonage.

Do you routinely take time to work on your marriage? Do you practice the principles you recommend to the couples you counsel? Make a concentrated, deliberate choice to strengthen your marriage by just talking to one another about ways each of you could improve the union. Take some time to get out the wedding pictures and reminisce. Play the video of your wedding. Renew your vows. Have a date night for the specific purpose of talking about your marriage and family. Gifts would not be inappropriate either. But, for sure, take a moment away from the hectic pace you’re keeping just to say to the one God has given you, “I love you!”

If your problems are more serious, find a Christian counselor who can help you work on your relationship. As the pastor, you must keep your marriage strong.

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). “In everything, set them an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2: 7).

The Effects of Easter

“Golgotha” by Charles E. Barre

Fresh out of the tomb, Jesus began to comfort those who loved Him most. He saw Mary crying at the entrance to His grave and comforted her. “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18), she told the disciples. In one of my favorite biblical narratives, Jesus walked with two of His followers on the Emmaus Road. When they recognized Him, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). He ate with His disciples and showed them the scars in His hands and feet. He comforted Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Thomas was overwhelmed.

Then, there was that marvelous moment on the beach when Jesus fixed their breakfast while Peter and his comrades were out fishing. In that life-changing moment, He reinstated the one who had denied Him three times. In simple words, He commissioned Peter to “follow me.” The fisherman never looked back.

In the time before the Lord ascended into heaven, He encountered hundreds and hundreds of people. The reality of the resurrection would in time take over the world.

It’s amazing what can happen in just a few days — from loneliness to exceeding great joy, from emptiness to fulfilled!

Well, Easter has come and may be gone by the time you read this. We know the story. We have been confronted with resurrection power. Now what? The church is in many ways impotent, but the power that amazed Jesus’ disciples the week following Easter is just as powerful today as it was then. Will we recognize it? Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). How about you? The aftermath of Easter is more powerful than ever! Are you ready for it?

I always thought that one of the more enjoyable characteristics of living in Colorado Springs was that the weather could change dramatically from one day to the next (or one moment to the next). We were blessed by a sight we sometimes took for granted — Pikes Peak. It stands majestically along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When you look to the west, it is nearly always visible. But there are days when the clouds hang low and the 14,000-foot peak is hidden.

It seemed strange when you couldn’t see “The Peak,” but I am reminded of a truth I heard from an old pastor years ago. He said, “Remember, son, even when the clouds hide the beauty of the mountains, the mountains are still there, and that is what makes the difference.”

What a comforting thought for folks like you and me as we pass through the Easter season. Sometimes trouble, distress, setbacks, or sickness overwhelms us to the point where we feel separated from God. During those times — behind the clouds of despair, beyond the fog of doubt — we know God is there, and that is what makes the difference. That is what we call faith.

In writing her little daily devotional book, Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young “listened to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” Her devotionals, therefore, reflect what Jesus might say to us in first person. Open your ears of faith as you read one of her entries:


 J a n u a r y  28

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen. People respond to My continual Presence in various ways. Most Christians accept this teaching as truth but ignore it in their daily living. Some ill-taught or wounded believers fear (and may even resent) My awareness of all they do, say, and think. A few people center their lives around this glorious promise and find themselves blessed beyond all expectations.

When My Presence is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. As you gaze at Me through the eyes of your heart, you can see the world around you from My perspective. The fact that I am with you makes every moment of your life meaningful.

MATTHEW 28:20;  PSALM 139:1-4


“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

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