Category Archives: Current Events

These messages are about topics in the news or issues facing the church in our day, preached in the Summer of 2012.

Reflections on Billy Graham

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:43

I was taken aback when I heard of the passing of Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was an icon on the American religious landscape, since his ministry started in 1947. He was arguably the most influential Christian in the last 100 years.

Billy Graham preached his crusades throughout the world from the 1950’s through the early 2000’s. His last American crusade was in New York City in 2005. All in all, he preached in 185 countries and to over 215 million people. Dr. Graham authored over 30 books (www.msn.com). He cofounded the seminary from which Dr. Drake and Andrea Williams and I graduated, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

What made Dr. Graham so effective was his loyalty to Scripture and his willingness to reach people from a variety of backgrounds. Most of all, Dr. Graham loved Jesus Christ and His gospel. A touching tribute from his daughter Anne is found at http://www.annegrahamlotz.org/2018/02/21/daddy-is-at-home/.

Two things stand out to me from his long and effective ministry. For one, he was a man of integrity. He refused to compromise his values and lived an upright life. Secondly, he is quoted as saying: “If I knew that Jesus was coming back in three years, I would study for two of them.”

Both of those things inspire me as a minister. I must live uprightly and continue to diligently study God’s word, in order to serve in His kingdom effectively.

“Membership Has Its… Obligations”

The following message is based on Luke 14:1-27, and covers the topic of racism and immigration, to some degree.  It was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on August 12, 2012

One week ago today, we heard of Wade Michael Page a forty-year-old white male who walked into a Milwaukee-area Sikh temple and opened fire, killing six before turning the gun on himself.  One news website stated that “Page was a white supremacist and leader of a band that spewed hateful lyrics… . Wade Michael Page was a man who harbored contemptible racist beliefs. He wore a tattoo that referred to white supremacy. He played in a skinhead heavy metal band. He once reportedly possessed an application to join the Ku Klux Klan. Some have said that he was confused; that he actually mistook Sikhs for Muslims.

It is sad, to hear of these situations, in a country that prides itself on welcoming all kinds within our borders- regardless of skin color or creed.  Such news stories remind us that hatred is alive and well.  A 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice estimated there are about 191,000 hate crimes incidents per year. The death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin reopened painful wounds. It stands as the opposite to the life of love and tolerance that the gospel calls us to.

And there was Martin Luther King, Jr. who experienced repeated death threats he received.  His strength to persevere under trial is inspirational.  This need exists in a culture which can be hostile or apathetic to the Christian message.  Many of us have not experienced racism.  We might even struggle to define the term.  Webster’s defines racism as: “… a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

We want to assume that we are welcoming people, that America is a welcoming place.  But how do we look at foreigners?  Can we appreciate different cultures?  Can we share our privileges with others?  Or better yet, how should we look at our lives?  Are we grateful?  What is the church supposed to look like?  Being a follower of Jesus Christ includes renouncing of your place of privilege, as a white, as a Schwenkfelder, as a male, and the list goes on.

THE GOSPEL CHALLENGES US TO LOOK AT OURSELVES AND OTHERS FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF EQUALITY.

Luke 14 challenges us on a couple of different levels.  It speaks to us of how we look at ourselves and how we look at others.  The scene is where Jesus is called to eat at the house of one of the Pharisees.  It is the Sabbath.  They were all suspicious of Him and what He would do.  The NKJV says they were “watching Him closely.”  At the meal, Jesus is confronted with a man with dropsy.  He had a fluid problem; where large pockets would gather at different places along his body.  It was a humbling condition.  Jesus heals him; not to break the Sabbath, but to show mercy.  Acts of mercy were allowed on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees were predisposed against mercy.

He then spends time speaking on the subject of humility and how we ought to relate to others.  Jesus then embarks into the Parable of the Great Supper.  The man invited many to the supper, but there were those that gave different excuses.  All excuses were legitimate to a degree.  All had to be done.  No one buys a field or oxen without inspecting them.  Marriage is an obligation, which freed a man from military service for up to a year (Deuteronomy 24:5).  But notice that these obligations did not have a time constraint on them.  They had to do with priority.  So the servant went to the streets and lanes of the city and brought in those that would have been considered nonpreferred to the Pharisees: the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.  One commentator noted that such represent the despised Jews who were not able to observe the traditional laws of ritual purity.  Then those outside the city, in the “highways and hedges,” would no doubt be the Gentiles.

The point is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone who will listen; who will forsake those things which he loves to love God and His Son Jesus Christ more.  This is why Jesus states later in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  It is not that Jesus wants us to hate our kin, spouses, children or selves.  He just wants us to put everything in its proper perspective.  Jesus must be our first love.  Even our own race, must not come before our love for God and our love for others.  Self-abasement is key to being a follower of Christ.   One scholar noted: “Discipleship means love the Master so much that all other loves are hatred by comparison.”

I was raised in a setting that was in some ways, void of diversity, but not void of racism.  I grew up in a small town in Southwest Missouri.  Out of the 9,736 people in Nevada, Missouri, there very few minorities.  I did not realize how privileged I was to be born into a white, middle class family.  I am educated.  My name speaks of privilege.  My skin color stands for privilege.  I have no “cards” stacked against me.  I am not wrestling with stereotypes, for the most part.  The question is what do I do with that sense of privilege?  Do I use it to leverage against those that are different than me?  Or do I use it to bless others?

It was not until I went to college that my perspective changed.  In 1991, I became good friends with James Fields, an African American man from Memphis, Tennessee.  That same year, I met my wife, whose mother came to this country from Korea.  When in seminary near Boston, my best friend was Juan, a Puerto Rican man from Camden, New Jersey.  Since coming to Central, I have become friends with Revs. Ed Winslow and Alfred Duncan of the Schwenkfelder Missionary Church.  Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing these men.  In our time together, I’d like to draw from that experience.

One of the things that they pointed out was that an excessive amount of segregation contributes to racism, because you never get to know someone who is different than yourself.  Human beings are relational.  When you are not around a group, by default, you tend to be slanted in your opinion of that group.  Racism is really a matter of the heart and must be dealt with via the spirit.  It is important to get outside of our setting to dispel feelings of bigotry.

Another interesting point is that a low self esteem can contribute to a racist mentality.  If you do not believe that you’re worth much, you may transfer those feelings or feel resentment towards others who are better off than you or different than you.

Systemic racism is found in unsuspecting places.  Alfred has a family member who is a motivational speaker for inner city youth.  He knows of many a job application that got pushed aside because of an African name, or because of a persona presented. Preconceptions of who people are.  None of us have had to deal with changing our name in order to find a job.

Both men said that thoughts affect attitudes; and attitudes lead to actions.  The goal is education.  We cannot be afraid to teach the next generation how to treat others.  In MLK’s Strength to Love, there’s the story of a black basketball team whose bus accident left many injured.  Three young men needed immediate attention.  The ambulance came and said that they did not serve blacks.  Then when an alternate driver was found, the first hospital rejected them because their policy stated that it did not serve blacks.  Then by the time they reached the second hospital, all three young men had died. [1] With proper medical treatment in a timely fashion, all three would have lived.  You and I have never been subjected to such things.

Another friend of mine told me of his Irish relatives who came to this country after the potato famine in the 1850’s.  When they were scratching to survive, looking for work at the loading docks of Philadelphia, they would encounter the signs that read, “Irish Need Not Apply.”

One story is when my mother-in-law was working at a manufacturing job in Kansas City.  She was a divorced woman, raising her two daughters alone.  She spoke broken English.  It was a challenge to live in an English-speaking country.  Her coworkers once drew a cartoon character with squinty eyes and insulting captions. She recently told me that no matter how hard it got, she would not go back to Korea.

Very few of us know what it is like to have to survive in a strange place.  Here in America, we are accepted, welcomed, entitled. What are we proud of?  What do we have that we’ve not been given?

Other examples of racism around us are like those found in the movie, “The Help.”  Where young black women in the 1950’s cleaned homes for a living.  They had to use outdoor restrooms rather than those in the home.  This is an example of systemic racism.  Then there are examples of personal racism, when those who are of minority status are called slang terms, just because they are of a particular race. That leads us to another question…

WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO RACISM?

There is a Biblical response to racism.  From the Old Testament in Genesis 1:26, we know that man is created in the image of God; every human life is worth more than we can imagine, regardless of outward appearance.  God made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “…in you all the families of the earth would be blessed.”  The good news of Jesus is for all, regardless of their skin color or background.

Or Ephesians 2:14 where Paul tells this racially divided congregation that

God has broken down the wall of separation and hatred between Jew and Gentile.  Or in Galatians 3:28 that those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.  Therefore, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this means that we are to love others regardless of their race, their socio-economic class, their home/family situation.  The gospel is good news to all.  And membership has its obligations!

Christianity is a faith that brings all peoples of the world together.  Revelation 5:9 gives the song that will be sung in heaven: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”With that in mind what is your view of minorities?  How do you look at people who come to make their home here in the USA?

Jesus calls us to be the light of the world.  Racism is part of the spiritual darkness around us.  It starts with a thought, then an attitude, which leads to a behavior.  Margaret Mitchell, President & CEO, YWCA Greater Cleveland, offers ten practical ways to stop racism.  Consider each of these:

  • Learn about other people and their culture but go beyond foods and festivals.
  • Explore the unfamiliar. Put yourself in situations where you are in the visible minority.
  • Be a proactive parent. Talk to your children candidly about race.
  • Don’t tell or laugh at stereotypical jokes.
  • Think before you speak. Words can hurt whether you mean them to or not.
  • Be a role model and help educate others regarding your own experiences.
  • Don’t make assumptions because they are usually wrong and stereotypes are destructive.
  • Consider how race and racism impact your life and those around you.
  • Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
  • Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.

If you happen to be of a race that is privileged, use your privilege to bless others.  Realize that you and I have nothing that we have not been given.  We who are blessed need to be a blessing to others.  What would it be like to be a Middle Easterner living next door to you?  What would the experience be if I were from Iran or Iraq and living in your block?  Schwenkfelders, of all people, should appreciate those suffering displacement for the sake of emotional or physical well being.  This country was founded on such things.  Would you use your blessings to bless others?  Would you see yourself as a missionary to whoever comes your way?

Maybe you have heard of the statement: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem did not receive much recognition and was quite forgotten after the auction.[2]  It wasn’t until her death that it became synonymous with the Statue of Liberty.

What is Marriage?

The following message is based upon Genesis 2:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-17 and deals with the subject of marriage, gay marriage and how the church should respond.  It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on May 20, 2012

Today marks the beginning of a new sermon series on current events.  It was Karl Barth who said that that a mark of a good preacher is to have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  A topic that has come to the forefront of the news, especially over the last two weeks is on the subject of marriage.  All one has to do is look at the latest cover of Newsweek magazine to notice that the question of who should get married; marriage rights, and related issues are in the news.

Normally, I would not venture into these waters so as to avoid appearing to promote a political agenda.  As always, there is a risk of being misunderstood on such things when a minister wants to be relevant on social issues, whether it be gay marriage, abortion, etc.  So is there a Christian response to these recent happenings in the news?  I think so.  The following is my response.  I’d like to first ask…

WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

God designed humankind as male and female, as we read in the first couple of chapters of the book of Genesis.  And when He designed our first parents, they were created in His image with a special ability to cohabitate and procreate.  Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  More specifically, before He brought the woman to the man, he looked upon the man and saw that he had a need.  Genesis 2:18 records: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”  And when he received his mate, perfectly matched for all of his needs, emotional, physical and spiritual, he said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”   This naming action implied a special covenant relationship that is foundational to our understanding of marriage; one man, one woman, helping, caring for and loving each other for the peace and propagation of society.

Then, as if we needed to be given the purpose for this covenant, verse 24 states: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”  It is not to say that everyone is supposed to experience marriage, but that is the environment in which romantic love flourishes, commitment is established, perseverance is practiced and children are to be born.  There is a synergy involved; a mixture, a bringing together of two complimentary parts to form a perfect union; such was the case with our first parents.  Any other arrangement for romantic love taints the original design that God gave us; whether it is heterosexual immorality, an adulterous affair, homosexuality, polygamy, incest or anything else.  All of these are unnatural.  God’s design of marriage between one man and one woman is the natural choice.    Deviating from God’s design and provision for romantic love invites all sorts of unnecessary pain and heartache.  With this is our backdrop, we must also ask…

WHAT IS HOMOSEXUALITY?

For the record, I have gay friends.  I have friends who have gay children and I have friends who have gay siblings. And you do, too.  I think for one, to be reminded that the Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is something of which God does not approve, from such places as Leviticus 18:22: “‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  Such sin is coupled with other sexual sins that God finds detestable.

In the New Testament, homosexuality is part of a broader issue of sexual immorality that is to be abandoned by the Christian, alongside of adultery and heterosexual promiscuous behavior.  For instance, Ephesians 5 tells us that immorality must not be named among Christians. Paul writes: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”  Or in Colossians 3:5 tells us that we must lay aside these sins. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”

As I said before, homosexuality is one example of sexual immorality.  It is a sin, just as heterosexual sex outside of marriage is; just as adultery is, just as pedophilia is, etc.  Paul goes on to express in 1 Corinthians 6:9 states that those who practice shall not inherit God’s kingdom.  The English Standard Version reads: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Homosexuality was something practiced widely in the first century Greco-Roman world. Fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors practiced homosexuality.  For instance, when Nero was emperor, He had taken a boy called Sporus and had him castrated.  He then married him with a full marriage ceremony and took him home in procession to his palace and lived with him.  When Nero was eliminated and Otho came to the throne, one of the first things he did was take possession of Sporus.

I visited Corinth in 2010 and saw the bathhouse where male and female prostitutes would designate themselves with a shaved head and a greased body, advertising their availability to the next client/worshipper. But then notice that he says: “…and such were some of you.”    Paul taught that repentance was possible then; it is today as well.  To say that this isn’t possible is to tell those struggling with same-sex attraction that they might as well give up.  So many want to see their sexuality as their identity.  But should any of us be identified by merely our sexuality?  Isn’t that seeing ourselves as so one dimensional?  I am not defined by my heterosexuality.  Rather, I’m defined by who I am in Christ; and I’ve been blessed to be a male, a husband, a father, a son, a pastor,etc.

In today’s rhetoric on the subject, not many talk about the health risks of the gay lifestyle.  Many want to point out that their gay friends have been together for years of monogamous love.  According to a Madison and McWater study, Homosexuals have an 83% infidelity rate.  Another study by Dr. John Diggs, M.D., stated that monogamy was extremely rare for gay couples. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said as recently as 2010:

“The data indicate that rates of HIV infection among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are more than 44 times higher than rates among heterosexual men and more than 40 times higher than women. Rates of syphilis, an STD that can facilitate HIV infection and, if left untreated, may lead to sight loss and severe damage to the nervous system, are reported to be more than 46 times higher among gay men and other MSM than among heterosexual men and more than 71 times higher than among women.[1]

Is this a part of God’s plan?  With God’s revealed word, confirmed with the stated risk factors, I think the answer is plain.  Some want to say: “Are not homosexuals born with that predisposition?  Officially, to date, there are no biological factors, contributing to same-sex attraction; possibly environmental factors, but no biological factors are known to date.

So what are we to make of gay marriage? While I believe that one ought to have the opportunity to visit whoever they would like in the hospital; or leave their assets to whom they want.  But to call it marriage is unnatural and runs contrary to God’s design.  To put it as Pastor Kevin DeYoung does: “In our age of hyper-tolerance we try to avoid stigmas, but stigmas can be an expression of common grace.  Who knows how many stupid sinful things I’ve been kept from doing because I knew my peers and my community would deem it shameful.  Our cultural elites may never consider homosexuality shameful, but amendments that define marriage as one man and one woman serve a noble end by defining what is as what ought to be.  We do not help each other in the fight for holiness when we allow for righteousness to look increasingly strange and sin to look increasingly normal.”[2]  Gay marriage is innovative.  By allowing same sex couples to marry, are we not creating a new brand of human relationships?  Should we be creating new forms of human relationships recognized by law?  Is this not heading down a slippery slope?  What about polygamy?  What about incest?  What about bestiality?  As heinous as these are, do they not also deviate from the form which God has given us?

WHAT DOES OUR CULTURE SAY CONCERNING HOMOSEXUALITY?

You would have to be asleep to not notice that we are living in a culture that is constantly changing.  Our sense of morality is eroding and there is a loosening of self restraint.  Our changing culture is moving in a different direction.  Never before have traditional views on sexuality been challenged.  Cohabitation is commonplace.  Marriage for life is a rarity.  What is acceptable to one generation and setting is unacceptable to another.  Starting in 2003, with the case of Lawrence vs. Texas, overturning sodomy laws, followed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court making gay marriage legal, there has been a gradual acceptance of the gay lifestyle.  What would have been unheard of 25 years ago; now several states in the United States have laws allowing for gay marriage.  As of 2012, same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but the bill was vetoed by the governor. In contrast, just two weeks ago, North Carolina became the 30th state in our union to amend their constitution with a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

What influenced this change in society?  Princeton Sociologist Kwame Appiah suggests: “If you ask the social scientist what has produced this change, they will… give you a historical account that concludes with a sort of perspectival shift.  The increasing presence of “openly gay” people in social life and in the media has changed our habits.  Over the last thirty or so years, instead of thinking about the private activity of gay sex, many Americans started thinking about the public category of gay people.”[3]  The challenge for the Christian is to adapt, rather than conform to a culture that is moving away from Judeo-Christian values.

This is not only an American political issue.  It is something that is challenging the church of Christ in other parts of the world.  Just this week, I met with a missionary who serves street people in a major European city.  Among them are the transvestites who live sexually confused lives.  He told me that such men: “…are not happy.  They feel trapped and oppressed; caged with no way of escape.  He told me that gays are in bondage to a lie.  God has given us powerful feelings, emotions and desires.  We try to fill them with other things.  We’ve been duped into believing Satan’s lies.”  Jesus called him the deceiver, “…the father of all lies, a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44).”  He recycles his ideas, always asking: “Did God really say that?” as he did in the Garden of Eden to Eve and in the wilderness to Jesus.  What a disservice we do to those struggling with such issues if we stay silent.  Woe to the church that allows those struggling to go the way of destruction without saying something!

I was ordained by a Christian conference that made the following statement: “Neither individual Christians, nor ministers of the Word of God, nor congregations of the Lord Jesus Christ, may take away from or lessen God’s prohibition of and warnings against the practice of homosexuality.”[4]

In addition, the Church of England Evangelical Council, which is a conservative arm of the Church of England, states: “Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is authorized to re-define it.  A relationship between two men or two women cannot therefore be a marriage and neither the state nor the Church should describe it as such.”[5]  The Christian stance on the issue is over 2,000 years old and spans the world- it is not confined to the 2012 presidential election.  For the record, Central’s marriage policy states, among other things: “Believing marriage to be the sacred union of one male and one female, under no circumstances, will a same-sex ceremony take place at Central Schwenkfelder Church.”[6]

HOW ARE WE TO MINISTER TO HOMOSEXUALS?

That is a good question.  I believe I can love someone, without agreeing with their lifestyle.  I can treat a person with dignity, regardless of their identity or sexual orientation.  We must love them with the love of Christ.  But part of that love is being honest about what Scripture has to say concerning homosexual behavior.  Allowing someone to fall off a cliff without telling them that the bridge is out, is not loving, is it?  Thus, we would never want to approve of any promiscuous lifestyle, whether it is homosexuality, adultery or heterosexual promiscuity, which leads to unnecessary pain and heartache.  But in our conversations on the issue, we can be loving, honest, willing to listen, civil and prayerful.

How can we minister to gay people, without being for gay marriage?”  For one, we must draw a difference between same sex attraction and same sex behavior.  Maybe you’re struggling with same sex attraction.  Don’t believe the lie that you were made for this.  God can give you the strength to overcome these urges, as you put your trust in Christ Jesus.  Or if you know of someone who struggles with same sex attraction, you can come and talk with me; we can pray, I will give you resources that might help you in your concern.  Secondly, to recognize that mistreatment of someone just because they are different than you, is not Christian, nor does it represent the gospel.  Rather, we must show love and dignity to all.

I conclude with something that Pastor Bill said last week in his sermon on Deborah, the Old Testament prophetess from the book of Judges.  Deborah was one who was immersed in life, a mother and a wife.  And she spoke God’s truth.  She was God’s representative for a strategic time.  Her life was a testimony that God intervenes when we honor His authority and obey His commands.  I encourage you to do that as you think not only about gay marriage, but about any social matter.  The purpose of your life is to glorify God.  You and I glorify Him by honoring His authority and obeying His commands.  Let us have the mind of Christ on these issues.  May He give us the grace to do so.  Amen.


[2] Kevin DeYoung, “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage,” found at http://www.christianpost.com.

[3] Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 77.

[4] Statement of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, “Homosexuals and the Christian Fellowship,” found at http://jswat.net/cccc/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/PPLH_-_Homosexuals_and_the_Fellowship.pdf.

[6] “Wedding Policy for Central Schwenkfelder Church,” approved by Church Council on March 16, 2009.