Joe Kennedy isn’t Allowed To Pray

Joe Kennedy is the most well-known assistant high school football coach in America.  He’d rather that not be the case.

For the past 9 years Coach Joe, a Marine combat veteran and follower of Jesus Christ, has been praying at the 50 yard line at the conclusion of every football game.  Win or lose, Joe would bend his knee to thank God.  Often his own players as well as players from opposing teams would join him in that prayer.  Their voluntary participation was not coerced or required.  Joe was inspired to lead these post-game prayers by the movie “Facing the Giants.”

Earlier this year, someone complemented a Bremerton High School principal on the players peacefully gathering at the 50 yard line with Coach Joe to pray.  In a stunning display of the hyper-litigious, politically correct environment in which we live, that seemingly innocuous compliment led the principal to question if the school was in compliance with laws because of Coach Joe’s prayer.  This inquiry then led to a Sept. 17 letter to Joe Kennedy from the School Board.  Even though Joe had not asked young men to pray with him, he was not free to express his own faith on the job.  For some weeks, Joe complied with their mandate.

On Friday, October 16, while the students sang the fight song to the audience, Joe quietly knelt at midfield and bowed his head in prayer alone.  Even though students weren’t involved, the school board felt compelled to press their point on Kennedy.  In a October 23 letter, Superintendent Aaron Level wrote, “Any further violations will be grounds for discipline, up to and including discharge from District employment.”  Joe was forbidden to pray, even alone, in any way that was “readily observable to (if not intended to be observed by) students and the attending public.”

There you have it.  Public school employees are not allowed to have their own faith.

The school board in Bremerton, Washington, says employees can have faith – they just can’t have any public demonstration of that faith.  The ignorance of such a statement is mind-numbing.  What is a person to do if their faith, like the Christian faith, demands a public display?  Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  Faithful Christians are expected to declare the Gospel in public to a lost and dying world (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Our faith demands public expression.

The Bremerton School Board has followed along with the absurdity of modern thinking.  We have been trained to think that the highest virtue is tolerance.  It seems, however, that society responds very intolerantly towards Christians.  This sad episode can be demonstrated over and over again.  Everything from manger scenes to valedictorian speeches to holiday greetings in retail stores has been swept free of any Christian expression.  I’m not saying that speeches or manger scenes or greetings are themselves Christian; I’m simply noting that many of the people who engage in these things are Christians.  In a world where we are told that all viewpoints matter, the Christian viewpoint seems to be increasingly marginalized.

The truth of the matter is that the secular world only fights this battle when things are going well.  On the Support Joe Kennedy FaceBook page, Rosemary Norris Agee said it better than I ever could:

Mr. (Superintendent) Leavell, I am a resident of the sate of Oregon.  I live a few miles from UCC where we had the recent shooting of students.  Without prayer our community would not be able to heal.  As a concerned citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ, I pray that you will lead from the hip and allow the coach to continue to pray with the players on the field.”

Prayer becomes a crucial part of our society – not just for the religious – when tragedy strikes.  If you don’t believe me, ask the folks in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Saturday was Homecoming, the high point of any football season.  A horrible accident at the Homecoming Parade that killed 4 people including a 2 year-old boy caused the PC no-prayer rule to be thrown out the window.  Photo after photo testify to the prayerfulness of the both the team and the crowds in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State prayer

Last October I found myself in a small rural town in Louisiana.  I was there to preach at a dear friend’s ordination ceremony.  In the pregame warmups, one of the cheerleaders for the opposing team had a very serious accident that required her to be taken to a hospital by helicopter.  The scene was surreal.  Hundreds of people were in the stands, but you could have heard a pin drop.  Everyone knew the situation was grave.  Then the announcer came on over the PA system and respectfully asked people to pray with him for the injured cheerleader.  I was already praying.  I was glad for the company.  Not a soul objected.  They seldom do when life hangs in the balance.

Please understand my position.  I am not arguing for the return of pre-1950s in-school teacher-led prayer.  Surprising to most, I am against that idea for biblical reasons I would be glad to enumerate for you.  However, I do think all people – teachers and students – have a right to exercise their faith.  Including Coach Joe Kennedy.

To Coach Joe Kennedy, should he ever read this:

I found myself in the midst of a football/religion news circus in 2009. A dear friend of mine wound up leaving his coaching job over the incident.  He is a man of deep character and, like you, Christian conviction.  I would tell you what I told him:  Some things are worth being fired over.  Joe, I so admire your spirit.  You have not tried to inflame the situation needlessly.  You have sought out legal counsel in a situation that, sadly, will be decided in the court system.  Whether you win or lose the case (and I’m praying you win!!!!), I believe you have won where it matters most.  God always smiles when His children are faithful.  My prayers are with you!

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A Pastor’s Perspective on Pastor Appreciation Month

Pastor's Appreciation MonthOctober is generally recognized as Pastor Appreciation Month.  At least, that’s the impression I got while visiting the local Christian book store.  They seemed to be capitalizing on a lot of “I love my pastor” junk marked at premium prices. (Smart shoppers will stock up in November for next year!) Don’t misunderstand me.  Pastors love that kind of thing.  A pecan pie left on his desk or a new coffee mug filled with candies will always remind your minister that you are thinking of him.  However, I want to suggest three oft-overlooked ways you can and should encourage your pastor in October and beyond.

Allow your pastor to be real. Give your pastor the gift of allowing him to be himself.  Your pastor does not live some mystically charmed life without challenges and temptations.  He struggles with doubts and stress and finances and relationships – just like you do.  Only he lives with these struggles and the burden of being all things to everyone in the congregation. One group wants him to lighten up and be more approachable. Another group wants him to grow up and be more serious. Both groups can’t have it their way.

Consider allowing your shepherd to be who he is – who God made him to be. Enjoy him for his own idiosyncrasies. If his humor is quirky, laugh and stop rolling your eyes. If his style is more bookish, buy him an Amazon gift card and appreciate the intellect God has given him. Whether your pastor is extroverted or introverted, educated or earthy, organized or scattered, he is your pastor. God sovereignly placed that man in your life and in your church to aid in the process of your sanctification. Create a culture of love where your pastor is accepted as God made him. The next time you hear someone say, “I wish our pastor was more ______ (you fill in the blank),” tell them that you are personally glad that your pastor is who he is.

By the way, if you do create a culture where your pastor is allowed to step off the pedestal and be a real person, you will discover some wonderful byproducts.  You may actually get to have a real relationship with him. I’m talking about a relationship beyond the cordialities of Sunday worship. I frequently sit at ball games with folks from my congregation. They let me yell at referees and shout obnoxiously loud encouragements at the players. And we have the best time in the world doing it together! 

Another surprising benefit of allowing your pastor to be real is that you free him up to empathize with you. Only when pastors feel the freedom to walk in transparency can they share with you how your struggle has also been a chapter in their journey. Common struggles bond us together, and, in a misery-loves-company sort of way, powerfully encourage us. Your pastor will never be transparent with you if he feels threatened or insecure.

Show up. We live in an era where faithful church members may attend church 60% of the time. More than ever before, alternate Sunday activities overcrowd a family’s calendar. Recreational activities, youth sports, and work obligations limit church participation. Despite the impact this has on your own personal spiritual journey, limited church participation affects pastors.

Pastors don’t write sermons or design worship services in a bubble; our relationships with our congregation impact how we think and plan. I can remember numerous occasions where I have written sermons that I knew would help a church member deal with an issue in their life only to notice their spot empty on Sunday. Imagine making a gourmet meal for someone you love. You carefully plan, sparing no expense. Only when it is time to serve the meal, they are unexpectedly absent. How would that make you feel?

Your pastor, if he is a good one, does what he does for God’s glory. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t gratified when he sees God working in your heart. Your faithful attendance and participation in church life gives him increased opportunities to observe God’s grace in you. Few things will encourage your pastor more than observing your sanctification!

Do ministry with him. Pastoring can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet. This fact is especially true in churches without a plurality of elders. In churches where pastors operate solo, they usually are tasked with doing more than is humanly possible. In my own church – a healthy church with biblical eldership and shared ministry – I never leave work with everything crossed off my To-Do list. Pastors in more toxic environments are often so overwhelmed that they don’t even bother to make a list!

Nothing will invigorate your pastor more than seeing you coming alongside him and doing ministry with him or in his stead. Ask what hospital visits you can make for the church. (And if someone besides your pastor comes to see you in the hospital, accept it as loving ministry from your church. Don’t selfishly complain that your pastor didn’t come.) Volunteer to check on absentee members. If you see facility issues, address them – without brining them before your already over-worked pastor.

Churches that create a shared ministry will almost always have a more vibrant pulpit ministry. When you share the load of ministry, you create hours in the week that your pastor can use to study and pray. Trust me here – nothing will make your church come to life more than regular Gospel-saturated, prayed-over, Holy Spirit-inspired preaching! Most pastors are not trying to deliver bad sermons. They are simply doing the best they can to meet the demands of ministry and sermon preparation is shunted to the side.

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month.  Your pastor needs to be appreciated.  Buy him the coffee mug or the restaurant gift certificate. Those things are deeply appreciated. But go further this year. Consider creating a culture in your church where your pastor can be himself, show up faithfully for church, and do ministry with your pastor. I guarantee that these three things will hit the mark of encouraging your pastor!

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Banned: why Christian organizations are being expelled from college



It happened last year at Vanderbilt University.  Bowdoin College followed suit this summer.  And now Cal State University and its 23 campuses have de-recognized Christian organizations.

Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students, has shunned InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters in the United States.  At Vanderbilt, more than a dozen religious groups, including evangelicals and Catholics alike, lost their official standing with the university.   Small Bowdoin College (located in Maine) has de-recognized its lone Christian organization.

The consequences for evangelical groups that lose their official standing with a university vary by institution.  Students are still allowed to meet informally on campus.  However, in most cases they lose access to free or low-cost university space for official meetings and, more importantly, they are denied access to standard on-campus recruiting tools like activities fairs and bulletin boards.  Their non-student leaders lose security access to the campus and the organizations can no longer use the universities’ names in any way.  In some ways, losing official standing on campus is like a death sentence.

These three universities only represent the tip of the iceberg so far as this issue is concerned.  At the heart of the matter is the tension between religious expression and anti-discrimination laws.  Mike Uhlencamp, director of public affairs for the California State University system said, “For an organization to be recognized, they must sign a general nondiscrimination policy.  We have engaged with (InterVarsity) for the better part of a year and informed them they would have to sign a general nondiscrimination statement.  They have not.”

While signing a general nondiscrimination policy may sound like a great idea, it ultimately unravels the fabric of what it means to be a Christian organization.  Christianity, at its core, is a creedal belief system.  Even conservative Christians who reject the Creeds of the early church would recognize the Bible as their creed.  Simply put, Christianity is a belief system.  That belief system is built upon shared convictions.  Those convictions must, on at least a basic level, be articulated to be shared.  What colleges and universities are asking Christian organizations to do is to sign a statement allowing anyone, including those who deny their core beliefs, to be eligible for both participants and leadership.

From the perspective of the Christian organizations’ standpoint, the issue doesn’t so much revolve around the idea of divergent beliefs among participants.  As the New York Times reported, “The evangelical groups say they . . . welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths.  But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith – in most cases an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.”  Zackary Shur, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College and the former leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship makes the point clearly when he says, “It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard.”

Can you feel the tension between religious expression and the anti-discrimination spirit of the age?  Essentially, those in decision-making positions have deemed that, in order for a Christian organization to be both compliant with anti-discrimination laws and in good standing with the university, it must cease to uphold the convictions that make it a Christian organization.  The only way for Christian organizations to have a future is to cease to be Christian organizations.  Wow.

Alec Hill, president of InterVaristy has responded well:  “It’s absurd.  The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Tish Harrison Warren was the head of InterVarsity at Vanderbilt University.  She was shocked to find that her organization was placed on probation last year.  She met privately with campus administrators seeking an amicable solution.  Her fantastic article, The Wrong Kind of Christian which ran on August 27, 2014 in Christianity Today is eye-opening.  She writes,

The word discrimination began to be used – a lot – specifically in regard to creedal requirements.  It was lobbed like a grenade to end all argument.  Administrators compared Christian students to 1960s segregationists.  I once mustered courage to ask them if they truly thought it was fair to equate racial prejudice with asking Bible study leaders to affirm the Resurrection.  The vice chancellor replied, “Creedal discrimination is still discrimination.”

Universities have been thought of as places of free thought, where students come to compare ideas and to seek out truth.  Colleges are supposed to be places where young people discover learning and open themselves up to new ideas.  All ideas are welcome.  Except Christianity.



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Lillian Skinner, Homecoming Queen

Lillian Skinner, Homecoming QueenI’ve never really been a big fan of the whole pageantry that surrounds Homecoming.  I like football and all of the brouhaha of Homecoming just lengthens halftime and delays the game action.  Furthermore, I’ve never been much of a fan of the popularity contest that is Homecoming.  The whole thing just smacks of superficiality to me.  In general, I find our culture’s concept of beauty to be very ugly.

But maybe I’m changing.

Last week at a local high school football game, I got sucked in.  The young ladies looked elegant.  Their escorts were dapper.  Maybe it’s me mellowing in old age.  Maybe it’s the fact that I knew some of the kids and thought they were beautiful outside and inside.  Whatever the reasons may be, I found the festivities pleasant.

Then I caught a feature on the Today Show on Monday about a Homecoming festivity in Texas.  Let’s just say that I am solidly in the “Pro-Homecoming” crowd now.

At Grand Prairie High School in north Texas, 17-year-old Lillian Skinner was elated to learn that she had been nominated for the Homecoming court.  Only she wasn’t.  Some mean classmates had cooked up a cruel practical joke at Lillian’s expense.  Just to see how Lillian would respond, they told her she had been selected for the Homecoming Court.

Thankfully, the world isn’t full of only cruel people.

Anahi Alvarez and Naomi Martinez were legitimately nominated to the Homecoming Court.  These girls had befriended Lillian.  And when they heard about the cruel joke others had played at Lillian’s expense, they made a pact to do something about it.  The two girls vowed that if either of them won, they would give the crown to Skinner.

As Providence would have it, Alvarez was named Homecoming Queen.  In front of a football stadium packed with thousands of classmates and parents, Alvarez immediately passed her crown to Skinner.

“Seeing the look on her face and the way she reacted toward it, it was priceless,” Martinez told a Dallas TV station.  “I knew it was the right decision.”

This whole episode transported me back in my mind to high school.  I’m not the kind of guy who remembers things vividly, but I will never forget the day when Ashley Johnson (Ashley Daigle now) stood up to some bullies on behalf of a girl named Bonita.  Ashley was the pretty cheerleader.  Bonita was the awkward, often-unkempt new girl.  And the bullies were a group of my friends.  Most of them weren’t mean-spirited kids.  They were just thoughtless, stupid 16 year olds.  I’ve walked a few miles in those shoes, so I can personally testify to what idiots 16 year old boys can be.

Since that day at Mary Montgomery high school some 20+ years ago, I have learned some valuable life lessons.  Like, you can’t hide your ugly heart with a good wardrobe.  Sooner or later, your ugliness will show.  Try having a clean heart instead.  You’ll be surprised what great things that does for you when you lie down to sleep at night.  Also, true beauty is found within.  Our world has warped the concept of beauty.  Girls have image issues because we idolize 90 lb. runway models.  When I was a teenager, a six-pack was how you bought your Cokes.  Now, kids are obsessed with their abs.  I wonder, if we spent a fraction of the time perfecting our character that we do primping what would the world look like?  Finally, anyone can be beautiful.  External beauty is fleeting.  At some point we all lose to gravity.  But inner beauty can grow with age if we are mindful of it.  Scripture warns us, “For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Simply put, beautiful people act it.

So congratulations, Lillian Skinner.  Wear your crown with pride.  And thanks to you and your friends for inspiring us to remember what true beauty is.

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Ray Rice, Domestic Violence, and Christianity

Ray Rice Domestic Violence and Christianity

After a torturous 7 month off-season, the NFL finally returned this weekend.  I absolutely love football!  College football will always be my first love, but, thanks exclusively to my obsession with fantasy football, I now follow the NFL with a keen eye.

Sadly, after an amazing opening weekend of NFL action, nobody is really talking about the games.  Today, released bone-chiling video footage of Ray Rice, now-terminated Baltimore Ravens running back, hitting his then-fiancee with a vicious left cross in an Atlantic City casino elevator.  The devastating blow knocked Rice’s fiancee unconscious.

Rice’s domestic violence case isn’t really news.  Rice assaulted Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice) on February 15.  Initially, both Rice and Palmer were charged with simple assault.  The charge against Palmer was later dropped.  In March, Rice was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of third-degree assault, a significantly more serious charge.  Rice entered a program for first-time offenders in May.  The program will clear his record of the criminal charges if he meets certain conditions, including participating in counseling.

Ironically, after Rice’s conviction, he and Janay married.  The couple held a joint press conference in May where Rice apologized and Janay said the incident was partly her fault.  As you might suspect, domestic abuse counselors responded strongly to her statements, saying that physical abuse is never warranted.

From there, a comedy of errors ensued by the NFL front office.  On July 24, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pronounced a two-game suspension for Rice.  In the aftermath of that announcement, Goodell came under significant fire for not issuing a more significant penalty.  In response to the criticism, the NFL introduced new standardized penalties for domestic violence on August 28.  Those penalties include a six-game suspension for a first offense of domestic violence and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second offense.  In fact, Goodell issued a public apology, admitting, “I didn’t get it right.”

The entire situation, which seemed to have died down from a public relations standpoint, exploded again today with the revelation from  They acquired and released the video footage from within the casino elevator when the sickening assault happened.

[WARNING:  the video below is graphic and disturbing.]

As of this moment, the Baltimore Ravens, who have stood by Rice throughout this situation, have terminated his 5 year/$35,000,000 contract.  Rice was scheduled to earn over $8 million this year.  He will be hard-pressed to find another team that will take a chance on him.  Sadly, this may have more to do with his diminishing skills than his lack of ethics.

Rice hasn’t only lost his job, but he’s lost the respect and support of many other NFL players.  Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “This video makes me sick to my stomach.”  Former all-pro NFL center, LeCharles Bentley tweeted, “He could’ve killed that girl.  They need to sports science the force of that punch.  NFL players are STRONG… Like very strong.”  Many other tweets went out.  Few of them were ones I would quote because of the use of expletives.  They almost unanimously denounce Rice and his behavior.

Sadly, domestic violence doesn’t just happen in casino elevators with professional athletes.  One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.  Domestic violence accounts for 21% of all violent crime. Up to 20% of all children in the United States see abuse of a parent or caregiver every year.  As a result, these children are more likely to experience neglect or abuse, less likely to succeed at school, have poor problem-solving skills, subject to higher incidence of emotional and behavioral problems, and more likely to tolerate violence in their adult relationships.  Over 1.75 million workdays are lost each year due to domestic violence.  Coupling the lost employment time with increased health and safety costs, domestic violence costs our country $3 to $5 billion annually.  To our shame, domestic violence is a plague upon our society.

In Old Testament times, the prophet Jeremiah warned the religious leaders of his day who were minimizing abuse and oppression:

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.  Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?  No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush.  Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:11-12).

Modern Christians do well to consider Jeremiah’s warning.  We cannot stand idly by, pretending things are peaceful, when the reality is one of abuse.  We cannot forget how to blush in the face of domestic violence.  Christians must remind a fallen world of God’s standards – especially concerning issues like domestic violence.

Christians acknowledge that God has established the home.  In the home, the man is to be the head, or authority, of his household (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 3:1).  Husbands are commanded to love their wives and to treat them gently (Colossians 3:19).  A faithful husband will love his wife even as he loves his own body (Ephesians 5:29).  Fathers should lovingly discipline their children, but always being careful not to exasperate them (Colossians 3:21).  God’s standard for the home is so important that churches should only consider men for leaders who have led their families well (1 Timothy 3:4).  This picture is an overview of what God expects in the Christian home.

When God’s standard breaks down and abuse erupts in the home, the church must move definitively to protect the weak.  If a woman is being abused, the church should seek to protect her.  By God’s grace, He may bring repentance and restoration into the brokenness of an abusive home.  Until that time comes, the church has the responsibility to embody Psalm 9:9:  “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

I can still vividly remember a moment over a decade ago where I was called to a home where chaos and abuse were rumored.  I was called there by a friend of a the lady (who had been visiting our church).  I arrived only moments after the local authorities.  The situation was complicated by the abusive husband’s job: he was police officer.  I tried to help the distraught woman and her children as the authorities stood at a distance, whispering among themselves.  I gather clothing that had been scattered across the yard, tried to comfort a small child, and prayed earnestly that God would give me wisdom.  Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed by the situation.  I didn’t have the right words to  say.  I didn’t even know where to begin.  Through the help of a sister in Christ, we were able to remove the woman from the situation.  It wasn’t long until I relocated from that community.  I don’t know how that situation turned out.  I doubt it went very well.

I have often wondered what more I could have done for that distraught lady.  I know I didn’t say the right things.  I doubt I appeared very brave.  The best I can say is that I showed up.  And maybe that is worth something.  For too long the church has stuck its head in the sand while domestic violence happens right under our nose.

The notoriety of Ray Rice’s case probably won’t die down anytime soon.  The video is simply too sickening to go away quickly or quietly.  Hopefully, it will bring domestic violence into the light.  There will be calls for government agencies, pleas for more funding, and legislative attempts for stricter laws.  All of these may be part of the solution.  But my prayer is that the church will be on the forefront of this battle line, defending God’s model for family and rescuing victims who are physically and emotionally battered.  No other organization has the Words of Life that the hurting and abused desperately need.  It’s time for the church to show up and speak up and love well.  The church is always at her best when she is loving like Christ loves.


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Dumping Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Dumping Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

If you are like me, you probably can’t log on to social media without seeing someone take the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Everyone from J-Lo to George W has jumped on the frigid bandwagon.  What can only be described as the ultimate social media marketing success, the #IceBucketChallenge has done a great deal to raise funds and awareness for the ALS Association.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is an awful disease.  It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to death.  Patients in the latter stages of this disease may become totally paralyzed.  More than 5,600 Americans are diagnosed with ALS every year.  It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans have this horrible disease at any given time.  Sadly, there is yet no cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Reading up on this disease has moved me with compassion towards those who suffer from ALS and their loved ones who can only watch as ALS runs its course.

The ALS Association is one of the frontrunners in raising both awareness and funds that aid in research of this disease.  They bill themselves as “the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front.”  According to their website, the ALS Association has raised $79.7 million through Ice Bucket Challenge Donations.  That’s a lot of money that can be used fund research and provide care for those suffering from ALS.

But it is also a lot of money that funds embryonic stem-cell research.

Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life.  The process of harvesting the stem cells kill the embryos.

As a Christian, this creates a moral dilemma.  While we are called to be compassionate towards those who are suffering (ALS victims certainly would qualify), we cannot compromise on the value of human life.  We believe that life is a gift from God meant to be valued.  Any research methodology that would destroy human life as a means towards curing a disease is a research method that goes too far.

In response to criticism from the American Life League, ALSA has stated that they are currently funding only one study using embryonic stem cells.  That study is funded by one private donor.  However, they also state, “The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.”

So what should Christians do?

Most Christians are unaware of the embryonic stem cell research philosophy employed by ALSA.  Those same Christians value life – even the life of the unborn.  Those same Christians are also some of the most generous people you could ever want to meet.  Moved with compassion and caught up in the spirit of fun the Ice Bucket Challenge creates, they dump cold buckets of water on their head, oblivious to the murky ethical issues surrounding ALS research.

In an attempt to make their congregations aware of these ethical issues, leadership in several local Catholic dioceses have spoken out.  In Cincinnati, the diocese stated, “We certainly appreciate the compassion that has caused people all over the country, certainly including many Catholics, to be interacting and engaging in a fun way to support ALS research, but it’s a well-established moral principle that not only the ends be good, but the means must be good too.”  As such, they asked students at local catholic high schools to abstain from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission offered this advice:

With the proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity.  Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical word view at odds with Christian ethics.  The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful.  Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.

The SBC ERLC contacted Christian bioethicist David Prentice to see if there were organizations that he might recommend.  Prentice suggested the following options for ALS research that used only adult stem cells:

Before you engage in the Ice Bucket Challenge, consider where the funds go.  Don’t compromise your convictions on the sanctity of human life.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t compassionately and generously support organizations that will seek a cure to this horrible disease without compromising our convictions.  May the body of Christ lead the way in defending life, demonstrating compassion on the victims of ALS, and generously supporting those who seek to eradicate this disease.

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Five Inescapable Truths that Missions Teach Us (Part Three)

If you are just chiming in on this series of blog posts, you can read the first blog post and the second blog post in the series here.

When it comes to the truth of God’s people in the world, there are two ditches we can fall into.  The first ditch is one of self-pity and defeat.  I’ve met those who feel so alone in their spiritual journey.  They are an island unto themselves.  They feel like they are the lone voice crying in the wilderness, the only one standing for God in a godless environment.  Most people respond to this perception with despair and depression.  Nobody likes to be utterly alone.  The other ditch is one of pride and arrogance.  These people seem to think, “Hey everybody!  Look at me!  I’m standing alone for the Lord!  Nobody else is doing it.  Just me!  Wonderful old me!”  Obviously, this perspective is just as dangerous as the first.  Where the first perspective is destroyed by depression, the second perspective is destroyed by pride.

The solution to both of these woefully inadequate perspectives on the people of God is to realize that, no matter when or where you are, God has his people.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is about the prophet Elijah who wins an amazing spiritual battle against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  After such a great victory, Elijah runs away like an emotionally-drained mad man.  He basically sulks for a while, wondering why God has put him in a position to stand for Him alone.  Elijah wishes that he didn’t have to be the only one who loved God and stood for him.  God corrects Elijah, snatching him out of his pity party.  He tells the prophet that God has seven thousand men of God in Israel, all who have not bowed their knee to Baal.  Elijah felt alone, but God had his people.  God always has his people.

Doing missions helps us see that truth lived out before our eyes.  It looks like pastors who live on $40 a week.  It looks like parents who sacrifice to send their kids to a Christian school.  It is people who give and sacrifice to see their church expand.  It takes many shapes and sizes, but each depiction reminds us of the same truth:  God has his people.

This year we had the privilege of playing a part in two special services.  Both were firsts for me.  We got to return to areas where we had previously worked and dedicate two new church buildings.  On previous mission trips, I had led teams to serve in Ventinilla and in Linao.  Both areas were new outreach points – places where little or no evangelical ministry was ongoing.  In both places, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel and seeing many people make decisions for the Lord.  As time passed, those new believers were discipled by diligent pastors who conserved the fruit of the harvest.  They taught bible studies, baptized new converts, and helped people navigate the land mines of a new life in Christ.  People learned spiritual disciplines like prayer and bible study.  They learned how to share their faith with their loved ones.  New converts were made.  And the process would repeat itself all over.  Now, after time had passed, these places were blessed to have actual houses of worship.

In Ventinilla, Pastor Manny was elated to tell us of the work that had been done there.  Last July, a small group of people determined to form a church held a Bible study under a mango tree.  On July 26 they held a 24 hour fast for a building, trusting that God would supply their needs through His grace.  A few short days later, on August 1, construction began on a simple chapel that would soon be their home.  Within about a month, they had their first worship services in the new building of Ventinilla Baptist Church.  Just a few days ago on January 21, they baptized 9 new converts!  Today, they are proud of the new work that God has done there.  They are still praying for some basic needs.  They borrow chairs every week from their neighbors so that they will have a place to sit.  They also don’t have quality musical instruments or a sound system.  Most interesting to me, they are praying that God will provide doors for their church!  They have a make-shift barrier that they put up during the week to keep out thieves and critters, but on Sunday, the church stands open, welcoming people, dogs, and chickens – all of which often wander through the sanctuary!

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

The people worked hard to prepare the new chapel at Ventinilla Baptist Church

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building.  The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

This picture is taken at the front of the room and captures the size of the building. The people are appropriately proud of what the Lord provided.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I preached on 2 Timothy 2:2 at the church dedication.

I was in Linao for the first time in 2013.  We had met Pastor Ferdie for the first time on that trip.  He is from a fundamentalist Baptist Church where they sing in choir robes and preach from the KJV – a little different than I’m used to to say the least.  But we became quick friends as his love for Jesus shone through everything he did.  I was deeply impressed by his commitment to the Gospel and to the mission of our Lord.  When we did a clinic and a crusade in Linao, a barangay just a few miles from his home in Pura, we saw more than a hundred people saved.  Since that crusade, Pastor Ferdie and his son Jeiel have worked diligently in that community to disciple the fruit from that crusade.  I believed so much in what they were doing that I led my church to put up the money for a new building there.  We sent them money last summer.  A construction project ensued that was monumental.  Their men dug footers and stretched those dollars a long way.  The result awaited us on February 9.

When we arrived, the building was packed.  They let us look around for a few minutes before they cleared the building, asking everyone to go outside for the ribbon cutting.  After cutting the ribbon, we went inside to dedicate the building.  Unlike Ventinilla, this was the very first Sunday this building was in use.  They had been working on it up until the 11th hour.  As I stood and preaching from Psalm 127 (“unless the Lord build the house…”), God began to do an unusual work in that place.  When I was done, Pastor Ferdie came up behind me and asked me to preach some more.  Strangely, that has never happened to me in America!  He told me that there were many lost people there at that moment that they thought would be there later for the crusade, and that I should shift gears and preach another evangelistic message.  Never one to shy away from preaching, I ramped up again.  The end result was God miraculously saving a number of people that afternoon!  What a great start for a first day in the building at Linao Baptist Church.

I’ve been in contact with Pastor Ferdie since returning home.  I wanted to know how his first day preaching on his own in Linao went.  Check out the exchange below…

Great news from Pastor Ferdie!I wonder if that would happen in your church?  Members stand during the worship so that guests could have their seat?  I hope it would.  After all, it’s when the Body of Christ acts this way that we all see the truth – God has his people!

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