Back On the Rez

June 27, 2015

For these next several days I will be on mission on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina.  I have come to love our work in Cherokee, and I always look forward both to opportunities to get back to the mountainous reservation adjacent to the Great Smokies and to opportunities to renew friendships and make new ones.

I also enjoy sharing why we do what we do.

Some have wondered: “Why Cherokee?” The answer is part of a bigger question: “Why Native American Mission?” After all, I supposed some assume, it is not like they are a pagan people, unexposed to the gospel.

While it is certainly true that Native Americans have had interaction with Christians for years, I find people are stunned when they hear how few are followers of Jesus Christ. I know I was. Overall only about 3% of Native Americans profess to believe the gospel. To be considered an Unreached People Group a People must be less than 2.5% evangelized. So it is obvious that despite having the “advantage” of regular interaction with American Christianity, Native Americans almost qualify as an Unreached People. When I think of this, and then consider that, at least by my observations among the Cherokee, the vast majority of those in church on any given week are very, very old, it will not be long until Native Americans revert back into Unreached Peoples – unless they are reached now.

Perhaps the thing that first struck me, and continues to fuel my commitment to Native American Mission, was an ad I saw a number of years ago in some Christian magazine. I do not recall either the publication or mission agency that had placed the ad, (perhaps First Tribes,) but the caption read:

“Why should America’s First People, be the last to hear?”

The unjust irony struck a nerve; and the opportunity to serve struck a chord. So now, I am laboring as part of the mission staff a few weeks each Summer, and a couple other times each year, to be part of the answer.

To give you a good introduction to the work we are doing, and why we are doing it, please watch the video above.

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After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage yesterday, a diverse coalition of Evangelical leaders, gathered by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, drafted and released the following statement.  Had I been asked – and if I am asked – I would gladly add my name.  ~ WDG

***

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage.

The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman.

From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift.

Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness.

As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Romans 13.1-7);
  • teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty.

In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry.

Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

***

To read the original post, and to find the names of the signatories, click: Here We Stand

Star Gazing

With a landmark decision, and a monumental example of judicial overreach, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning announced their decision regarding same-sex-Marriage. By the awesome power vested in just five people, marriage has been redefined in our land.  This decision will continue to shake our cultural landscape for years to come, with the aftershocks of both unintended consequences (by some) and intentional-but-hidden agendas (of others).

While some who know me, or who read this blog, may assume my chagrin is in the validation of same-sex-marriage, it is actually far greater regarding the other implications related to this decision.  I am opposed to same-sex-marriage, on the grounds that it is clearly not in line with the design and decree of the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  So I am disappointed, though not surprised, by this decision.  But if this is the law of the land where I live, I can live with it being the law – as long as I am not compelled to comply. It is no greater difficulty than the first century apostles, and other Christians, faced in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and other ancient pagan territories.  What concerns me more is that I now live in a land where we officially believe that “Rights” are not endowed by our Creator, but rather bestowed by the government.  This is a very treacherous problem – especially in this case where it was not even by a democratic process; and where there is no court of appeal.

Think about it for a moment.  In Nazi Germany the government decided that those who were Jewish had no rights, and that the government had the right to exterminate them simply because they were Jews.  In the Antebellum South, those of African decent had no rights – with relative few exceptions – and were thus allowed to be held enslaved.  Some may argue that this example, especially the latter one, illustrates why the court decision this morning is a corrective, granting freedom to a group of people to marry who were previously denied that “right”.  But look at the root. Both illustrations are similar to the court ruling, all assuming that “rights” are bestowed by the government.  Yet if this is correct, that rights do come from the government, then why would one argue that the institution of slavery was so reprehensible?  Was it not the law of the land? Government dictating who had rights an who did not?  If one argues that the government has the inherent authority to determine rights, then what makes it appropriate to decry the decisions they make about who has rights and who has not?  If a government has the authority to determine who has rights and who does not, then what makes it morally wrong for a government to decide to eradicate some group it determines undesirable?

No, I have no sympathy for the institution of slavery, nor do I support any practice of genocide.  My point is not that the government should not be the protector of rights, but rather that it is not government that is the originator of any rights.  All good governments must protect the rights of all its citizens!  But what a “right” is is not ultimately determined by the government.  As Jefferson (with help from Franklin) wisely assessed and asserted, “rights are endowed by the Creator”, not by the throne of government.

In April, Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to grasp the weightiness:

“This definition [of marriage] has been with us for millennia, and it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Well, we know better’”.

In the end Kennedy must not have found it all that difficult.  By siding with the majority, Kennedy essentially declares: “Well, we do know better.”

In response to the decision, in his published dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts writes:

If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

While there is a sense that I appreciate these words, it still leaves me  – and others like me – with a practical dilemma: How should those of us who disagree with this decision – whether on its own merits, or because of the ripple effects that it will engender in days ahead, or both – how should we respond?  Especially as a Christian, how ought I respond?  Roberts’ words are merely philosophical and political.  They offer nothing practical to the question: So What Now?

My sincere hope is that I will, now and eventually, act faithfully to God, and lovingly to my neighbors (whether I am in agreement with them or not). In short, I hope in time to gain both perspective and wisdom – and wise perspective.  One thing I keep reminding myself is that God is still in control.  And while I mull over the realities of the day, I am also finding some food for thought in the counsel of some others:

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Toleration

Seems apropos in light of the apparent redefinitions of words like “tolerate” and “phobic” that are making intelligent discussion of legitimate differences much more difficult.

Kenywood

My friend, Jay Mitlo, has written An Open Letter to Kennywood, to thank the workers at a Pittsburgh area amusement park for the simple kindnesses that meant much more than most realize. The post was so well received, and so re-posted, that it effectively broke Facebook – Facebook flagged it, shut it down, until they were able to confirm it was not a virus laden spam.

In his post, Jay writes:

I write this letter to you on the eve or your opening for the season so that you may share it with your wonderful staff. Working at an amusement park cannot be an easy job. The hours are long and the people not always so nice. However, in the midst of the line cutters and helicopter moms who insist that their child is in fact tall enough to ride a given ride, a warrior angel may be in their midst. Each one of your staff had a hand in giving a kid with terminal cancer (and his family) a day of rest, a day of joy, a day of memories (which are all we have of him now) that will last many a lifetime.

What you need to know, if you do not know Jay (which most of you do not), is that Jay was writing only months after the passing of his young son, who had suffered for four years with a neuroblastoma cancer.

Jay concludes:

So when your staff is down, tired, and bitter, when they measure their desire to work on their paycheck alone, please remind them that another warrior angel may be the next one in line.

Take a moment to read Jay’s letter.  You might want to get some tissues.  And then pass it on to someone who may need some encouragement. I share it because it deserves to be read.  I share it because it is a reminder that how we do our jobs, and live our lives, makes a difference whether we are aware or not. I share it because your work matters, whatever you do.

Tool Chest

Here’s an astute observation from Os Guinness:

“Christians simply haven’t developed Christian tools of analysis to examine culture properly. Or rather, the tools the church once had have grown rusty or been mislaid. What often happens is that Christians wake up to some incident or issue and suddenly realize they need to analyze what’s going on. Then, having no tools of their own, they lean across and borrow the tools nearest them.

They don’t realize that, in their haste, they are borrowing not an isolated tool but a whole philosophical toolbox laden with tools which have their own particular bias to every problem (a Trojan horse in the toolbox, if you like). The toolbox may be Freudian, Hindu or Marxist. Occasionally, the toolbox is right-wing; more often today it is liberal or left-wing (the former mainly in North America, the latter mainly in Europe). Rarely – and this is all that matters to us – is it consistently or coherently Christian.

When Christians use tools for analysis (or bandy certain terms of description) which have non-Christian assumptions embedded within them, these tools (and terms) eventually act back on them like wearing someone else’s glasses or walking in someone else’s shoes. The tools shape the user. Their recent failure to think critically about culture has made Christians uniquely susceptible to this.”

Jesus Outside the Lines

March 31, 2015

This afternoon I started reading Scott Sauls‘ refreshing new book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. It seems timely – at least for me.

I for one am growing weary of a culture in which increasingly polemic debates seem never ending.  And while I was at first skeptical of the phrase, considering it a bit exaggerated and overblown, I am more-and-more inclined to agree that the United States is appropriately labeled a “post-truth society” – where what matters are not the facts, but rather striking a blow for your political side. That’s what it seems to me, as I read and watch the news regarding the Riots of Ferguson, Missouri, the RFRA in Indiana, among other items.

There is truth. There is wisdom. And what’s more, there are effective ways of finding the wisdom without sacrificing truth.That’s what I long for.  I want to engage in intelligent discussion, both with those with whom I agree and with those with whom I do not agree.  I want to understand, so I can process things from perspectives I may not presently possess. I want to be heard, without being demonized as either a bigot or a half-hearted traitor.  I want to align myself to truth and wisdom, and I want to see truth and wisdom win the day.  I get that most things are more complex than we may want to make them.  I get that we can act wrongly even in those times when we are in the right.  But call me naive, or utopian, but that is what I want.

That is what Scott Sauls advocates in these pages.  Having not yet finished the book, I cannot say that everything Sauls writes will be as music to my ears.  But I can say is, having read a couple of related interviews, what Sauls endeavors to do resonates with my sensibilities.

It is not compromise I desire, but something transcendent: I want to remember that God is truth, for his truth to reign. I want for God’s people to be the champions for the good of all humanity – which is, after all, created after God’s image.  And I want these truths and values brought wisely, winsomely, and effectively into the Public Square.  The fact that some – maybe many – don’t want these ideas in the Public Square is no reason to stop taking them there.  And the fact that some seem to despise these ideas is no excuse for Christians to act in a manner unworthy of the Gospel, as we engage those who oppose and even hate us.

So far, Scott Sauls is not disappointing.

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