A Preacher’s Perspective on the President

Much criticism has been leveled at Mr. Obama over his apparent continual conflict with the U.S. Constitution (shouldn’t he be the last person at odds with that document?). Others can articulate valid concerns about our current government’s shortcomings and failures. My perspective is that of a man who stands every Sunday in front of a congregation of the church of Christ to present sermons which, first and foremost, must be in harmony with the Bible. On that basis, I offer these words. Mr. President, in a way, you actually make my job harder. Hypocrisy is never helpful in converting souls to the gospel, and, when it comes to being a Christian, your claim does not square with your conduct. You stand in favor of so many things I am duty bound, based on the Bible, to oppose. Thanks to you, and voices like yours, I have to spend time in the pulpit dealing with matters like homosexuality and abortion. You have done all in your power to bring such morally repugnant themes to the forefront of society in an effort to force their acceptance and protection. Thus, my children, and other young people, must grow up hearing lessons about what’s wrong with “gay marriage,” or the wanton killing of unborn babies, or why two women having sex is sinful. Other subjects would be more pleasant, but you help make unavoidable the vilest of topics. Your moral confusion is inexcusable in light of the clarity with which God’s word addresses the issues. At one time, you tried to make a point that people have not been reading their Bibles. Have you looked in the mirror? Increasingly, thanks to you and your allies, I must preach a message more and more at odds with a culture adrift from any objective standard of behavior. Mr. President, it seems the right to freely practice biblical teaching is not as dear to you as it is to others. That is plain from your effort to force people to fund what goes against their religious convictions, all in the name of “health care” (e.g. contraceptives, abortifacients). Surely, this fosters a growing disrespect for the office you hold and the laws of our land, making honest citizens feel like they–by no bad behavior of theirs–may still be made into criminals for refusing to violate their own conscience. You may think the pulpit needs to stay out of politics, but in fact, Mr. President, when you venture into moral issues addressed in the Bible, you have strayed from politics onto my turf. We were both born in the 1960′s, but who could have imagined we would see our country entertaining debate on whether men should marry men, and whether the unborn should have a right not to be killed? Even were I to agree with you on every other policy, I could not support you, based solely on moral grounds. I regret we are so opposed, and will pray your influence is minimal. You are my president, but greater allegiance I owe to my King.

Jesus’ Words

KJV Bible

Image by knowhimonline via Flickr

It is humbling to ponder the excruciating suffering Jesus endured before and on the cross. As Scripture says, he tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). But it is not enough to be impressed by his death. We must live by the message he preached. Jesus said it himself: his words will judge us all in the end (John 12:48). We invite you to visit the Sherman Drive church of Christ and investigate a group of people still trying their best to live under the direction of the New Testament of God’s Son. We preach the same gospel Jesus and his apostles preached. We worship as the first Christians worshiped. We try to do Bible things in Bible ways. We call Bible things by Bible names. We believe the facts of the gospel, obey its commands, and trust God’s promises. We live in the shadow of a fast approaching eternity, realizing that life on earth is all about preparing for death and beyond. Jesus’ death on the cross was for you, but so are his words: “Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!” (John 3:5). “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Lost souls were Jesus’ passion. Is he yours?

Is Any Request Too Small?

Mental prayer is the most effective means of a...

Image via Wikipedia

“You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2, ESV). James penned those words to some of the earliest Christians; yet, they likely apply to most of us today.

Is it possible we miss out on prayer’s blessings because we misunderstand prayer’s scope? We hear public prayers full of big, spiritual topics such as sin, forgiveness, the church, evangelism, the Bible, the cross, Christ, mercy, etc. And we pray about big concerns such as the sick, our troops, our country, our politicians, or victims of the latest natural disaster.

Perhaps focusing on these legitimate items has helped foster the idea that prayer is for big requests—not small ones. Or, similarly, that prayer should be reserved for spiritual requests—not ones that seem more mundane. But, is that true? Is any request too small to bring to God in prayer? Consider three points that might increase our appreciation of prayer, our use of prayer, and our trust in God.

First, Jesus taught prayer as a necessary tool for getting through the day. Prayer should be used to ask: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Any given meal may not seem either spiritually significant or terribly important, but Jesus said what will be on the dinner table later merits making a request to God. Why? Because it emphasizes our dependence on God, acknowledges God as the giver, and recognizes the food as a gift (cf. Jas. 1:17). Bread should never be sliced so thin that God is squeezed out.

Second, our cares are God’s concern. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). “Anxieties” translates the Greek merimna, which describes our cares, our distractions, our concerns, our being pulled simultaneously in different directions. If we take those things to God in prayer, we put their burden on him so that we need not carry the load. God has broad shoulders and there is no care too heavy for him. But, on the other end of the spectrum, neither is any care of ours too little for him. Why? Because God cares for us. A loving parent does not callously dismiss a sincere request from his child concerning something weighing on the child’s mind. The child’s concern may not be causing the parent anxiety, but the parent willingly takes on the concern because he loves the child. Just so with God.

Thankfully, Peter did not qualify his words by saying, “only cast your most important cares on God,” or “don’t bother God with small concerns.” We must never trivialize prayer, turn it into a venue for silly wishes, or approach it with selfish motives. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3). And, not every request will be God’s will (Jas. 4:15). But, if a thing is big enough to be a real concern in my life, then it is big enough to pray about—not because it’s big to God, but because it’s big to me.

Third, prayer is the vehicle by which we are to express unceasing thanks to God. As Paul wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). If our thanks in prayer is limited to weighty subjects (e.g. salvation, the church, Jesus’ blood), then we lose sight that God also deserves thanks for the sandwich eaten at lunch (as well as the safe drive, the unexpected refund check, the new shoes found on sale, the dependable automobile, the rain, the air conditioning, and a thousand other items). If we fail to thank God for the little things, then we rob him of glory and live as though we are more self-sufficient than is true. But that leads to this conclusion: If I have the duty to thank God for small blessings after they come, then I also have the right to ask God for small blessings before they arrive! To end where we began, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

Witchcraft

From May 1692 through March 1693, twenty-four died after being accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. One was pressed to death with large stones; four expired in prison; nineteen were hanged. The accusations were wild. The evidence was thin. The people seemed swept into hysteria. And, most likely, the whole tragedy was a great miscarriage of justice. To this day, the term “witch hunt” carries a very negative connotation. But—there is no denying—the townsfolk of Salem Village took their witchcraft seriously.

Flash forward from the 17th to the 21st century, where the latest Harry Potter book, on its release, will sell more than a quarter of a million copies per hour in the United States alone. The premise of the whole Harry Potter series is witchcraft, and the books have made their author, J. K. Rowling, the most successful writer in all of publishing history. As interest in witchcraft rises, other books come out to capitalize on the craze, including books teaching kids how to cast spells. Wicca, a popular form of pagan sorcery, is officially sanctioned by the military and has its own congregation (numbering several hundred) at the army’s Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Known as the “Fort Hood Open Circle,” this group of modern occultists has even been assigned their own chaplain. No doubt about it, we Americans take our witchcraft seriously.

Where does the Bible weigh in, and what is a Christian to think? On one hand, we’re not out to convict and hang alleged witches. On the other hand, we ought not to popularize any practice (witchcraft included) which violates God’s word. This writer does not take the position that it is sinful to read a Harry Potter book or watch one of his movies. However, we need to have a biblically informed perspective on the matter. And parents, especially, need to guard their children from being unduly influenced by things contrary to Scripture.

In Galatians chapter five Paul gives a brief catalog of sins that will keep a person out of heaven. Among them is “sorcery” (v. 20). “Sorcery” is the English translation of the Greek word pharmakia. Though originally this term had to do with using medicine (our word “pharmacy” is derived from it), pharmakia came to include drugs used in magic rituals. By the time the New Testament was written, pharmakia also included magic and sorcery in general, even to the extent that it is translated in our English Bibles as “sorcery.” So, “sorcery,” as used in the Bible, is a broad term that would include recreational drugs, witchcraft, voodoo, palm reading, tarot cards, Oija boards, astrology, fortune telling, horoscopes, séances, and the like.

God has forever frowned on sorcery. The Law of Moses specifically forbade anyone from practicing divination, telling fortunes, interpreting omens, and from being a sorcerer, charmer, medium, wizard or necromancer (Deut. 18:10-12). In fact, God took it so seriously that he said, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Ex. 22:18). In the New Testament, Ephesus was a city devoted, perhaps more than any other, to witchcraft. When the gospel began to make inroads in people’s hearts, many former witches in Ephesus brought their magic books and burned them in what must have been a huge bonfire (Acts 19:18-19). Sort of like the Harry Potter phenomenon in reverse. Getting rid of what God condemned was the natural response of a people newly impressed with gospel truth.

Contrary to popular thought, there is no such thing in the Bible as a good witch. There is no distinction between magic that is white or black. There is no wise wizard, no friendly fairy, no good witch from the East to offset a wicked witch of the West. All sorcery is portrayed as evil. Will we get our concepts from God’s word, or will we get them from another source? What concepts of witchcraft are our children learning when they read of good wizards doing battle against evil? Parents who let their children read such literature are obligated to make sure the children are taught and actually adopt God’s perspective on witchcraft (and all other subjects).

But, this is not Salem in 1692 and, after all, we are an enlightened people, aren’t we? So, what’s the big deal about witchcraft? First, witchcraft trusts in a power other than God. In fact, since it is opposed to Christianity, its true origin is with Satan (cf. John 8:44). Ultimately, to be involved with sorcery is to shake hands with the devil. Second, witchcraft is condemned in the most obvious terms in both Old and New Testaments. This, in itself, should suffice to cause right thinking people to keep their distance from it. What wisdom is there in playing around with what God views as an abomination? Third, just who really knows the extent of the devil’s power to work through a person who voluntarily tries to associate with other-worldly, ungodly forces? In other words, the world of sorcery may take a willing practitioner to a place darker than he ever imagined. At the very least, it will take a person far from God, and that, in itself, is spiritual suicide. According to the Bible, Christians are in a war against “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Some things are not to be toyed with, and witchcraft is surely among them. In fact, in the very closing verses of the Bible, as though we needed one last reminder, God said it again—that those who will be left outside of heaven’s gate will include, along with murderers, liars and idol worshipers, the sorcerers (Rev. 22:15).

Is it time to rethink our view on witchcraft? The devil takes it seriously. Modern Wiccans take it seriously. God takes it seriously. Whatever may be said about it, witchcraft will never be harmless. Remember that the next time you see little girls and boys dressed as witches and wizards as they stand in line to buy the latest book. What would new Christians from first-century Ephesus think if they saw such a sight?