My Prayer for President Trump

As Donald Trump begins his Presidency I offer this prayer.

Our Father, I bow before you who holds every human leader in the palm of your hand.  You are the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. There is nothing too hard for you.

I pray for President Trump. I pray that he would humble himself under your mighty hand, repent of his sins and follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

I pray he will pursue policies that will allow your people to live quiet, peaceable, godly and dignified lives. I pray he will pursue policies that allow religious liberty to flourish for all people and faiths.

I pray you would surround him with men and women of good character and sound judgment who will offer good counsel that he will listen to.

I pray he will pursue policies that will prosper all people, provide justice for the poor and provide dignity and respect for human beings of all races, all ages, born and unborn.

I pray you would give him wisdom to heal the great divisions that pervade our land.

I pray you would protect him and his family from any and all who would seek to harm them.

I pray he would listen to good counsel as he seeks to build relationships with the leaders of other countries.

I pray you would give him wisdom and courage to deal with radical Islamic extremists which is a plague on our planet.

I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus! Amen

 

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Things I Admired About President Obama

On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will become the 45th Resident of the United States. For most liberals this is a frightening prospect-even more frightening than the Obama Presidency that began 8 years ago was for conservatives.  Love him or hate him Donald Trump is going to be a different kind of President. Time will tell whether or not he will be a good President.

In light of this peaceful transition of power, I thought I would share a few positive thoughts about President Obama. I am aware that in the minds of many saying something positive about President Obama is an oxymoron at best and impossible at worst. Others will ask why don’t you say something critical about him-I’ve been doing that for 8 years. There are some things I like about the President and since this is his last day in office I thought it was time to say it.

The first thing I admire about President Obama is the example he set for men as a husband and father.  In a country with far too many children growing up without a father he has been a breath of fresh air. The negative social, economic, and family consequences from an absent father is felt across all racial and economic strata. Barring one of the greatest coverups in the history of the Presidency (and that would be saying something) he has taken responsibility as a man, husband, and father seriously and I can only say may his number increase!

The second thing I admire about President Obama is that he was upfront about his beliefs and never wavered from them. I don’t think I was surprised one time during his Presidency. I rarely agreed with him, but he is a liberal, he espoused liberal views and pursued liberal policies. A few conservatives could learn this lesson from him.

A third quality I admire about President Obama I learned from Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars. Woodward describes numerous meetings of the top security people in the President’s administration. The President would listen to all of his options, sometimes in painstaking detail, before making a decision. He comes across as someone who was deliberate in the decision-making process, yet committed when it was time to act.  The killing of OBL is one example of this process.

Sadly, in the one area that I believe will be regarded as his biggest domestic failure, the Affordable Care Act, he did not entertain conflicting points of view, covered up the truth about its costs and effects (keeping your doc and your plan), and many are suffering because of it.

Finally, I appreciated his public candor about faith. In a 2008 interview with Christianity Today Magazine, he clearly stated, “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  In fact, he was speaking about faith and public life before he became President. My favorite Obama speech is his 2006 Call to Renewal address. My favorite quote from that speech, one that I wish he would have remembered and repeated as President said,

But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Politically, I am not sorry to see President Obama go, but I do wish him and his family the best and will watch with great interest to see what kind of former President he will be.

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Lessons Learned from Praying For President Obama

When Barack Obama became our 44th President 8 years ago I committed, in obedience to 1 Timothy 2:1-5, to pray for him and by the grace of God I have prayed for him regularly.  I must admit that I did this because I was afraid. I thought he would be a disaster as President. While I believe things would have been better had he not be elected he has not been a disaster and for that I am grateful. Two things helped me not only overcome this difficulty but learn to enjoy praying for President Obama.

First, I was aware a Christian could be a political liberal. Had my father been alive in 2008 there is no doubt in my mind he would have supported and voted for President Obama. After all, we are talking about a man who did not support Robert Byrd in his early years as a senator from WV and did not support JFK for President because he considered both men too conservative!  My dad loved Christ and big government! My dad advocated for a single payer healthcare program for the entire country. My dad believed in a basic minimum wage for all Americans, employed and unemployed, paid for by the government in addition to the wages earned through their job. My dad was talking about this in the 70’s. So I never had the struggle that some have to understand how you could be a Christian and be a liberal.

Second, I got reacquainted with the concept of “common grace.”  Common grace, simply put, is God goodness to all human beings.  Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:43–46).

As demonstrated in the life of Christ, in the law, and in prophecy, God desires the sick to be well, the poor to get justice and all human beings to be treated with dignity and respect. President Obama and I may disagree as to which public policies would best accomplish these goals, but I could pray God would give him wisdom to accomplish those goals.

One of the lessons I learned from praying for the President was politics played too big a role in my life.  Politics is important, but not ultimate. I have an opportunity to have a conference with the KING every day. Letters and emails to my elected officials pale in comparison. Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods points out two signs of making politics an idol and both were true of me. The first is “fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life.” We certainly have seen conservatives demonstrate this for 8 years and liberals are demonstrating it now.  By praying regularly for the President fear has become less and less a motivating factor in my view of the world.

The second sign of political idolatry is “that our opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but to be evil.”  Again, for eight years this was a mantra of many on the right and now it is the turn of the left to label Donald Trump the same.

An idol can be anything. The most subtle of idols are good things that we have turned into ultimate things.  Prayer reminds us of true ultimate things because we are conversing
with the Ultimate One. Prayer reminds us what is most important to God and, therefore, what must be most important to us.

I would encourage all of my fellow believers to pray for our new President. I would encourage you to pray for all elected officials at every level of government. Your local city council needs it as much as the President! It will help you keep a proper love of them as your neighbor and maintain a healthy faith in God in whom we live and move and have our being.

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My Favorite Books of 2016

The end of every year brings a variety of lists on all media platforms. It varies from those who have died to 2016 to those who got married in 2016.  One of my favorites are lists of books for 2016. I love to see how many of those books I’ve read or plan to read.  So here is my ten favorite books of 2016. A few caveats:

  • These are books I read in 2016 not published in 2016. In fact, I am pretty sure that most of these books were not published in 2016, in fact, one of them was written in 19th century.
  • I define favorite books as: 1) books that challenge me to think; 2) books that provoke me to greater obedience; 3) books that I will read again.
  • These books are listed thematically.

Three books on communicating the gospel with an unbelieving world:

  • Tim Keller, Making Sense of God. Tim Keller is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and this book is outstanding in how to talk about things all humans have in common: identity, morality, security, justice, and point people to Christ
  • Os Guinness, Fools Talk. Os Guinness has been a favorite author for many years. In fact, I purchase every book he writes.  The subtitle says it all: “Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.” In many ways this book combines the best of his previous works.
  • Luke Cawley, The Myth of the Non Christian. This book intrigues me, but has a lot of great practical ideas and examples. Will be reading it again soon.

Biography/Testimony

  • Rosario Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Could be my favorite this year.  It is the story of a gay professor or women’s studies journey to a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.  Warning, regardless of where you are spiritually it will make you uncomfortable. It reminded me of how the gospel will upset our lives as we come to Christ.

The Bible

  • Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word. Short but thorough volume on the sufficiency of Scripture. Clearly answers the question: Is the Bible enough?

Theology

  • Kevin Vanhoozer, Charles Anderson, Michael Sleasman, editors, Everyday Theology. How to read cultural trends and texts from a Biblical point of view. Chapter 6 is one of my favorites subtitled “Visions of Hope in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator”
  • Paul Little, Know What You Believe. If you are looking for an introduction to basic doctrine it is hard to beat this volume. This is an oldie, but goodie. My third time to read it.

Old Testament

  • J. Daniel Hays, The Temple and the Tabernacle. Far and away the best treatment I’ve read of these two structures that play such a prominent role in the worship of Israel and form the background to so much of the New Testament.

God and Government

  • Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide. I told you he was one of my favorites (Actually read three of his in 2016). This book compares and contrasts modern notions of freedom with the view of freedom held by our founding fathers and taught in Scripture.

Prayer

  • R. A. Torrey, Prayer. R. A. Torrey was a contemporary of Dwight Moody the great evangelist of the 19th century. I love reading books of an earlier generation and this one is outstanding. Thrilling to read stories of great moves of God from the past.

Would you like to read more?

One complaint I often hear is “I wish I had more time to read.”  I will answer, “Can you block out 20 uninterrupted minutes a day?”  Most of us can do one block of 20 minutes per day.  What difference would that make? What follows is a synopsis from a chapter in John Piper’s book, Brothers We Are Not Professionals.

If you read slowly, say about 250 words per minute, you can read about 5000 words in 20 minutes.  An average book has 400 words per page. In 20 minutes you can read 12.5 pages. If you read a certain author or topic 20 minutes a day, six days a week, for one year, then you would read about 3900 pages in a year. Since the average book is 250 pages long, you could read 15 books like that in one year.

Will you set aside 20 uninterrupted minutes a day?  I would also add one other practical insight-turn off all electronic devices to have uninterrupted time to read. If you want to read books digitally then no surfing while reading.

Books I’ve listened to in 2016

I hate to drive so when I make trips I listen to audio books. Here are 4 I loved.

David McCullough, The Wright Brothers.  An absolutely wonderful biography of a great American family the last paragraph will send a shiver up your spine.  Think you know this story, well think again!

Jeffrey Toobin, American Heiress.  This is the story of the Patty Hearst kidnapping which happened while I was in high school.  Better yet this is the story of the 1970s which holds a few lesson for us today.  Reminds us of a time when violence was a tool of the left.

Eric Schlosser, Command and Control. Want a history of the development of nuclear weapons? Want to know how close we came to a nuclear explosion in Arkansas in the 1980’s?  Want to know how many other close calls we’ve had with nuclear weapons since the 1940s?  This book is for you.

Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy. Great biography of a man I’ve heard so much about, but knew so little about.  This is a great story of a unique man in American politics.

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President Elect Trump-Now What?

Donald Trump is our new President Elect.  Honestly, I did not think I would type these words. Most polls were trending for Trump the last 2 weeks, but did not think he would gather enough votes to win.  Even more surprising is that he won Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  I thought he might win one or two of those states but certainly not all of them.  However the people have spoken and have given him a solid Electoral College victory.

How should Christians, many of whom did not support him and others who voted for him half heartedly, respond to this new political reality?

First of all, we must obey the words of Scripture and pray for him and the rest of our elected officials including those at the state and local level (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We have forgotten that a failure to pray or our leaders is an offense against God. We forget that a school board or city council election as well as ballot initiatives have as great an impact on our personal lives as Presidential elections.  Recreational use of marijuana initiatives passed in three our of five states. Others approved laws concerning medicinal use. Colorado passed an assisted suicide bill.  We must pray regardless of what we think of the leaders themselves.

Second, we need to remember that God’s mission for His people is to make disciples of all the nations. The Great Commission is not about winning elections. The church is to be salt and light (Mt. 5:13-16) in all cultures where it is present. We must not sacrifice spiritual influence of political power and many think we have. Because of the unique history of the US in its relation to the gospel, we have been guilty of thinking that if something is Christian it is American and vice versa. Since the 80’s many think that if it is conservative it is Christian and vice versa. The gospel confronts and well as comforts those who encounter it. Let the church do the one and only thing it alone can do on earth-make disciples by going, teaching all that Christ has taught and baptizing those who believe.

Third, this country is sharply divided. As of this writing Ms. Clinton is leading the popular vote by around 200k. More importantly the church is divided. Many solid Bible believing men and women were opposed to President Elect Trump. While anecdotal I don’t know of anyone who was enthusiastic in their vote for Mr. Trump. Most of those I know who voted for Trump were really voting against Ms. Clinton. I don’t know anyone who didn’t agonize in prayer for wisdom in how to vote. I received two phone calls on the morning of election day asking me for prayer and wisdom before they went to the polls to vote. In the weeks leading up to the election I was in contact with dozens of believers who were complaining of insults and the questioning of their salvation because of who they were considering voting for. I’m 59 years old. I’ve been preaching since I was 19, pastoring since I was 26. I’ve never experienced this in any election.

A few weeks ago I said in a sermon and tweeted to the public I would never let politics come between me and a brother and sister in Christ. We must remember that Christ is supreme in the life of a believer, not politics. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by whom we vote for. There are a lot of godly people who are deeply disturbed by Trump’s victory and they deserve our respect and love. The words of Paul apply here: “Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.” (Romans 14:4, GW)

Finally, we simply have to stop making an idol out of politics. Tim Keller’s book on idolatry  provides two marks of political idolatry. The first is abject fear. When our particular candidate loses we are not disappointed, we are devastated. The sky is falling. Life as we know it will be over.  I understand why politicians paint the picture this way. Christians, who supposedly are waiting for “the blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” should not buy into this but we do. One of the reasons we are often disappointed in our political class is because they over promise and under deliver. However, if they don’t over promise we don’t vote for them!

The second mark is naming our political opponents as evil instead of mistaken. Whatever happened to the concept of “loyal opposition?” Why can’t we say, “You’re wrong,” instead of “you’re wicked.” We complain of gridlock in DC. Why? One reason is because we consider our opponents as morally bankrupt. Well, after this election there is enough moral bankruptcy to go around.  Our system of government was designed to be inefficient. It was designed for debate. Let the debate begin! But let’s remember most political opponents want our country to be successful, they just have a different vision as to what success looks like. This makes them our opponents it doesn’t make them evil. Again, I understand why politicians work this way. Why do Christians who believe “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” do this? Are we giving lip service God’s providence? Isn’t our real trust revealed in our words?

Presidential elections are opportunities for political reset.  It is also an opportunity for self-examination. The body of Christ needs to take a hard look in the mirror of Scripture over the next few years concerning our attitude toward politics, especially Presidential elections, so we don’t repeat our mistakes.

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This is a Time to Mourn

I love Sundays. Sundays are a time for worship. It is a time to reflect on my life in response to God’s undeniable and unrelenting love. It is a time to make sure my moral compass is properly oriented to true north. It is a time to connect with my family, my fellow pilgrims who are traveling on the narrow way.

This past Sunday, June 12th, was different from the beginning when my iPhone’s newsfeed announced that 23 (later updated to 50 and now 49) people had been murdered in a gay bar in Orlando. I was speechless. I searched for words to share with our congregation (who were meeting in four locations connected by the internet on this particular Sunday). I searched for words to express my varied emotions as I led our congregation in prayer. Frankly, I am still searching for words.

This was an unspeakable evil. 49 men and women were targeted because they were gay. 49 men and women who were killed by a man apparently inspired by Islamic extremists. 49 Americans killed by a fellow citizen.

This is a time to mourn. There will be a time to respond. Opinions will be numerous and diverse.  This is a time to mourn. It is a time to weep with those who weep. If we still used sackcloth and ashes it would be time to put them on.

I am afraid like many of my fellow citizens I am not good at mourning. I am not comfortable being around those who are inconsolable after a loss. I feel as though I need to say something. Time and experience has taught me to just be there and be silent. As I have gotten older I no longer expect people to “get over it.” As a pastor of soldiers well acquainted with PTSD I have learned that PTSD is a normal human response to traumatic events.

This is a time to mourn. This is a time to weep. 49 of our fellow citizens have been murdered. 49 families have been shattered. A great American City is in shock. 49 funerals have to be planned. A City full of my fellow pastors will attempt to make sense of it all this Sunday. 49 human beings made in God’s image have had their lives taken. 49 people for whom Christ died will no longer laugh, cry, work, or dance.

This is a time to mourn. If you find it difficult to mourn over this unspeakable evil, then consider mourning over the fact we don’t find mass killings shocking, unspeakable and perhaps not evil any more.

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God’s Pesky Commands Are Good

The Bible says that God’s commands are not only true, but good (Romans 7:12, Titus 3:8). Over the last few years I’ve learned obedience demands I acknowledge both the  truthfulness and goodness of God’s commands. As a single man I’m commanded to be celibate. All who have endeavored to obey this command have found it to be difficult to obey because it goes against our natural desires.  Also, it doesn’t help that voices abound calling into question the goodness of this command. I’ve found that the battle to obey is not so much in affirming the truth of this command, but the goodness of it. I must believe celibacy is a good thing.

What makes God’s commands good? One reason is that God commands reflect His character, God is good, therefore, His commands are good. In this post I would like to explore another basis for the goodness of God’s commands. His commands are good because they reflect God’s order and purposes in creation.

Let’s start with an “easy” one for an example.  Leviticus 18:23 forbids  sexual relations with an animal. While there are some who have violated this command thankfully most still find this an abhorrent act.  Why is this good?

The text is a familiar one-Genesis 2:18-25

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found as his complement. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”

The text begins with a declaration, “it is not good for a man to be alone.” Next, God gives Himself a task, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” The rest of the text describes how God went about His work.

Before God created Eve and presented Him to Adam He paraded the animals He had made before Adam so Adam could name them. Verse 20 gives us a second reason for this parade,  “but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.”  Adam was to name the animals, but not mate with them. Why? Because that is not why animals were created and Adam discovered this as he named them. What makes sex with animals bad?  It does not reflect God’s purposes in His creation.

Thankfully the voices promoting sex with animals are few and far between-at least for now. They represent a fringe of society at best.  However, there are voices in our culture that question the goodness of other prohibitions in Leviticus 18 including sexual relations with close relatives and sexual relations with those of the same gender. We must not shy away from proclaiming the goodness of these commands

As believers we are called to live for the glory of God which means we are to live in a way that reflects God’s order and purposes in creation. We are not to live in ways that are “unsuitable.” All of God’s commands reflect His goodness and His purposes in creation including those “pesky” commands that run afoul of many of our neighbor’s opinions.  We must not only affirm the fact of God’s creation, but declare its goodness.  To declare the goodness of creation we must live within the boundaries God set for us. This is not only true, but beautiful and good.

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