ftd-lonwolf-620x330To many people’s surprise, we do not live in the 1950s Walt Disney fantasy, and, sadly, all the stereotypes about the concepts of “wilderness” and the “balance of nature” are largely rhetorical and mostly theatrical and literary fantasies, perpetrated by the desire for some meaningful order and even some element of kindness and generosity in our vision for the natural world.  Order, predictability, and the notion of an overriding virtue are attractive ideas and my have certain validity in a truly natural state, and perhaps me be validated statistically over thousands of years, but definitely not decades or even hundreds – and definitely not in the world in which we live today.  The wolf does not cut the sickness from the bone, but merely kills the thing in front of him – good, bad or indifferent.  In fact, it has been well established that wolves kill injured or infirm animals in about the same percentage as they occur within the population in general.  In other words, if one in ten animals in a herd is compromised, about one in ten kills will involve these individuals.  In large part, Mother Nature is simply not a nice lady.  She holds little regard for logic, and conservation, and defiantly not for compassion.  That which is “natural” needn’t be presumed to be somehow righteous or confused with distinctly human concepts of good or bad.  There is extraordinary order in the natural world – that order is often achieved by way of a paradox that can be profoundly chaotic. Nature, although exquisite, magnificent, and somehow ultimately elegant, is likely – perhaps even predisposed – to be messy.

Joe Hutto, Touching the Wild: Living With the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch

 

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Read it here.

An exhortation from the clergy of St. Andrew’s Church, Mount Pleasant; Park Circle, North Charleston; Goose Creek; and City Church, Charleston – preached on all campuses this morning: 

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16.33)

On Sept 15, 1963 a bomb was detonated inside an Alabama church killing four little girls. One bystander was reported to have cried out, “My God, you’re not even safe in church!” And though the words were uttered over fifty years ago, the anguished cry of that particular bystander could have, and very likely was uttered in the hearts of many a man, woman, and child as we collectively came to terms with the terror done in downtown Charleston. “My God,” you might have said, “you’re not even safe in church.” And you’re right. Terrible, senseless evil can happen even in church. But dear friends, we must admit, some churches are less safe than others.

A church was bombed in Birmingham on Sept 15, 1963. But it wasn’t just any church that was bombed. It was a black church that was bombed. Segregated churches seem like something that should be a legacy of the past but sadly they are not. Here in North America Christian people of all races have failed to fully realize the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Ephesian Christians:

Christ himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God through the cross thereby killing the hostility.

Through some spiritual defect, and deep indwelling sin, our sad racial divisions are every bit as evident this Sunday morning as they were five decades ago. Because we have failed to come together, we cannot simply say a Christian church was terrorized last Wednesday night, but a black Christian church. And this is surely cause for prayer, confession, and repentance before God our and neighbor.

There is something else we must bring up, if we are to be honest before God and before our neighbor. Fifty years ago – within the living memory of many of us gathered this morning – black people were terrorized throughout this country. This was particularly true in the South. Many of us would like to believe that such bigoted violence is some relic of the past, but surely the events of the past year have shown this not to be the case. And in case anyone remains unconvinced, it wasn’t five decades ago, but five days ago, that a young white man wandered into a black church because, and I quote, he “wanted to shoot black people.”

Of the victims of the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. simply said: “They died between the sacred walls of the church of God. And they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.” Surely we could say the same of our neighbors who were murdered last Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church. And we could say the same of us, that we are here between the sacred walls of the church of God, discussing the eternal meaning of love.

And yet there is at least one difference. We are alive. Not only are we alive, but as a predominantly white church, we have (most likely) never known the terror of predominantly black churches such as Johnson Grove Baptist TN, or Mt. Zion AME SC, or Little Mt. Zion Church in AL, or Cypress Grove Baptist Church in LA, or St. Paul CME in MS, and countless other predominantly black churches which were victims of violent, racist attacks within the past fifteen years. “My God,” you might say, “you’re not even safe in church.” And you’re right. Terrible, senseless evil can happen even in church. But friends, some churches are less safe than others.

Here we are, discussing as King so eloquently put it the “eternal meaning of love,” and we must ask: What does love require of us? Or to put it more pointedly, what debt of love do we owe to our blood bought brothers and sisters in Christ and neighbors made in God’s own image who are vulnerable and still subject to much violence and systemic oppression? What do we owe our “less safe” brothers and sisters? To put it quite simply, friends, what will you and I do about this? I would ask each and every member of St. Andrew’s, in Goose Creek, North Charleston, City Church, and Mount Pleasant to bring this very question before the Lord.

And while we wait for His guidance there are nevertheless things that may be done.

We will pray.

We will certainly do this. We will pray today for our city, for our churches, and especially for those of us most vulnerable. And I would ask you to be mindful of opportunities to pray with the broader Christian community in Charleston – and I respectfully ask for your humble and reverent participation in prayer vigils as they are announced and shared on social media.

We will repent.

Surely each of us has things that we must repent of in regards to such matters. Some must repent of racism. Some must repent of cowardice. Some must repent of ambivalence, but each of us must repent. And I humbly ask each of you to come before the Lord and do business with Him that you may receive grace and healing.

We will help.

We will begin helping today by giving. The immediate request before the Charleston community is for financial assistance for the families of those killed. Our cash offering this morning will be donated in full to the Mother Emmanuel Hope fund, a fund established to offer support to the families victimized by this tragic evil. If you were not prepared this morning to give we will accept your offerings through the week and we will pass them on to the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund.

Beyond this, we will seek the guidance of our African American brothers and sisters in our own congregations, as well as African American church leadership in our community. We will seek their guidance on how they believe we may best stand with them in the coming days in response to this evil. And I believe it is important that we learn to stand with this community on other issues where African Americans are unfairly made vulnerable and victimized by unjust structures. I humbly ask for your prayers, your wisdom, your ideas, and your support as we seek to understand how best to do this and when the time comes, I humbly ask for your support and action.

Finally, and most importantly, we will lift up Him who died for us, Jesus Christ the Son of God. The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is only the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. We will continue to clearly present the Gospel in our churches, setting forth the power of God that delivers human beings from the bondage of sin, hate and hostility and reconciles them back to God and their neighbors. This Gospel, the power of God, has been at work not only changing the eternal fabric of heaven but also the temporal fabric of earth.

Unthinkable progress has been made towards racial reconciliation in the past half century done in no small part to the power of the Gospel at work in the Christian church. The national media reporting on the citizens of Charleston’s response reflect the fruit of the Gospel on display in our city’s life. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial entitled, “A Bow to Charleston.” A Philadelphia paper’s headline simply read, “The Grace Card.” We have come far and we have made progress. Last Wednesday is surely a devastating setback. But setbacks, even devastating ones, ought not deter God’s people. As Dr. King also said:

There is something at the very center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums.

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, I ask you to take heart, to have faith, to muster up your courage, to preach the Gospel, to lend a hand, and do not be discouraged. In this world, we will certainly have tribulation. But Christ has overcome the world. And with this hope, we boldly prepare to serve Him in these days in which He has called us.

Amen

 

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Dear Family and Friends,

Surely you have watched with me through the night and into the day the violent and evil act committed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last night. And, I’m sure that your heart is rent for the families – and church family – of the victims. For some of you this will be one more disconnected and sad event played out on your television screens and internet. For many others it will be personal as it is your friends who are personally affected.

It is right that you feel sickened and angry. It is right that you struggle to know what to do. We all do. Scripture tells us that in the diminishment or suffering of one, the whole church suffers. We are enjoined to weep with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn. Today, we mourn and we weep with our brothers and sisters at Mother Emanuel and all of Charleston.

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of African American church leaders and individuals and in particular Bishops Al Gadsden and William White, fellow ACNA bishops in the Reformed Episcopal Church. Their pain was palpable and multiplied as they must also to minister to an REC priest whose wife was killed in the shooting. In a separate heart-rending conversation, one elderly African American man told me he felt like the clock had been turned back 50 years. It is difficult for me to process the pain and sadness of those who have lost loved ones in such a violent manner.

Many priests, lay persons and friends from across the area and the country have contacted me wondering how to respond in a meaningful way. Some will have gathered at Morris Brown AME Church for the prayer vigil this afternoon. Others will be gathering at The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul for prayer. We, St. Andrew’s and the Diocese of the Carolinas, will seek God’s face for wisdom and discernment as we seek to respond and act as agents of hope and reconciliation.

In these times one may ask, where is God? And the reply is, on the cross. For there he demonstrated once and for all his love for this sinful and broken world and he has promised us that he has not – nor will he – abandon His world.

Please join me in prayer as we remember

  • The families of those killed
  • The members of Mother Emanuel AME
  • The members of our law enforcement and first responders community
  • The members of the Charleston community

And pray that

  • That there would be no further acts of violence
  • There would be peace in our city
  • That unity may overcome estrangement
  • That joy might conquer despair

Lastly, I commend the following prayer to you and to our congregations across the Diocese of the Carolinas. Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina has sent the same prayer to the Diocese of South Carolina. Let us, in brotherly affection join our voices as we pray:

“O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples and races of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and those who are near: Grant to those who have lost love ones your hope, comfort and peace; grant to those members of Emmanuel AME Church a sense of your presence; look with compassion on the whole human family here in Charleston and across our nation; show us how to respond to one another’s hurt and suffering; shed abroad your Spirit on those who have lost faith, hope and trust in You and one another; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time all peoples and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Yours in Christ,

+Steve

Gimmicks and God

June 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

From Timothy George over at First Things:

Ed_Young_41Perhaps there is a more excellent way between the do-nothing and the do-anything approach to evangelization. The Christian church has always existed in tension between the poles of identity and adaptability. It can go to seed by swinging too far in one direction or the other. When the church becomes so self-referential, it loses any sense of mission. But when it becomes so assimilated to the culture, it loses the Gospel. In speaking of the fading fortunes of the mainline, historian George Marsden has said, “Liberals have learned that it is difficult for the church to survive, if there is nothing that makes the church distinct from culture.”

But this principle is not limited to one religious tradition. The recent Pew Research Center’s report on the surprising decline among Catholics in America indicates that this is not solely a Protestant problem. And, while evangelical and Pentecostal churches fared better in the Pew study, the danger signs are there for them as well. Accommodation is a two-way street. The Gospel can be lost whenever Christianity becomes too casual and worship is reduced to entertainment, no less than when it follows the siren lure of secularism. Many megachurches have a mini-Gospel where the emphasis is more on attracting people than retaining them for discipleship and service. Mark Noll was once asked whether he thought a campus revival he had witnessed was genuine. He said: “Come back and ask me that question in ten years.”

Two recent books shed light on this theme. In Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, Mack Stiles defines evangelism simply as “teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade.” The focus should not be on programs or events. Biblical evangelism happens, Stiles argues, not when crowds are attracted to a church for some spectacular experience but rather when the members of the church are sent out into the world to bear witness to Christ.

Brian H. Cosby is a bright young Presbyterian pastor who has thought deeply about these matters, especially about how the church should reach out to the rising generation. In his book Giving Us Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Church, Cosby offers some counter-cultural advice for everyone called to the ministry of the church:

I maintain that the ‘How to’ of being faithful to God in worship and ministry is demonstrated through the ordinary, historic, and apostolic means of grace, particularly, ministry of the Word, prayer, and sacraments.

If God has already provided the ordinary means of growing in grace as we find in His Word, why do we think that we have the right or the greater wisdom to invent new ways through entertainment-driven, success-oriented worship and ministry?

I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying treasure that He is and strive to faithfully feed His sheep through the means of grace that God has already provided His Church.

A church based on gimmicks is not likely to develop deep-soil disciples who demonstrate “a long obedience in the same direction.” The question for every evangelist and every church ought to be: “Is the method we are using worthy of the Gospel we are proclaiming?”

Read it all.

Around-the-Horn[1]

Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?
From Sam Storms (our New Wine 2016 speaker): People often answer “yes” to this question because suicide leaves no room for repentance; a person enters eternity with unconfessed and therefore unforgiven sin. But . . .

What’s at Stake?  The Gospel is at Stake
From Tim Challies: There is always one truth or another that is being disputed. There is always some doctrine or another that is under attack. And speaking personally, I find it hard to keep up.

Breaking: 2 Billion Christians Believe in Traditional Marriage
From Mark Galli at Christianity Today: It’s not at all certain that the rapid cultural shift in America on gay marriage will be mirrored in the Christian church. North American and European Christians who believe in gay marriage are a small minority in these regions, and churches that ascribe to a more liberal sexual ethic continue to wither. Meanwhile, poll Christians in Africa, Asia, and practically anywhere in the world, and you’ll hear a resounding “no” to gay marriage. Scan the history of the church for 2,000 years and you’ll have a hard time turning up any Christian who would support same-sex marriage. The church has been and remains overwhelmingly united. It’s undergoing stress, certainly. But the evidence doesn’t support a narrative of division and collapse.

Does Camille Paglia Have Any Hope for Our Modern Society?
From Reason.com: “I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion.”

Martin Luther: Driven to Defiance
A nice video from PBS.

The Redeemer Report
From Tim Keller: The Bible and same-sex relationships.

Bob Costas is Right. ESPN’s Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner is Absurd
From Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist: What’s most interesting about it, perhaps, is the willful way in which the mainstream media participated in this propaganda campaign.

The Suicide of Britain
From Ross Douthat at the NYT: I’m a Yankee; this not my argument to make. But if our cousins can’t find leaders who can make it, there won’t be a Great Britain anymore.

Will You Forgive Me?
These are 12 words that can change, strengthen, and renew any relationship. These 12 words are:

A Self-Pity Refresher
Self-pity: a self-absorbed, feeling sorry for oneself fueled by a high view of self, a low view of God, and an attitude of entitlement.

 

 

From Christianity Today:

As the nation’s largest Protestant group prepares to meet in Columbus next week, it reported its largest annual decline in more than 130 years—a loss of 236,467 members.

With just under 15.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) remains the largest Protestant group in the United States. But it has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million.

This past year, however, the number of SBC churches grew by 1 percent to 46,449. That’s in part due to church planting efforts, aimed at starting new churches. Southern Baptists started 985 new churches in 2014, up 5 percent from the previous year.

Still, challenges remain.

A new major survey from the Pew Research Center shows a similar decline for the SBC. In 2007, Pew found that about 6.7 percent of Americans claimed to be Southern Baptists. In 2014, 5.3 percent of Americans were Southern Baptists.

Pew also found that Southern Baptists are aging, with the median age rising from 49 in 2007 to 54 in 2014. That makes them older than Nazarenes, “nones,” and nondenominational Christians, but younger than Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists.

Other news from the recent Annual Church Profile (ACP) report released by LifeWay Christian Resources, which compiles SBC stats:

Read it all.

CHARLESTON, SC – June 16, 2015 – The Winkler Group today released the full results of Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy. 

The total amount contributed to religious organizations reached its highest inflation – adjusted value ever: $114.9 billion — just above 2013’s $113.92 total. 

The report shows that giving to religion increased 2.5 percent in current dollars. 

Giving to religious organizations still tops all other subsectors.  However, giving to religion (as a percentage of total giving) continues its 30-year decline.  In 1985, it comprised 56 percent of total giving; last year, comprised only 33 percent.

Key considerations from Giving USA 2015:

  • Americans gave a total of $358.38 billion in 2014, the highest total in Giving USA‘s 60-year history.
  • Giving is up for the fifth straight year. 
  • Giving to all sectors except international affairs increased.
  • Giving from individuals, corporations, foundations, and bequests all increased.
  • Corporate giving, including grants from corporate foundations, was estimated to be only 0.7 percent of 2014 pre-tax corporate profits.  This is the lowest percentage in the last 40 years. 

Jennifer Richard, Winkler Group COO, and Jessica Browning, Vice President of Communications, served as contributing editors for the report.  You can read more of their analysis here: Winkler Group Analysis