Divine appointments and discerning the leading of God

to do listSome days do not go as I plan. Nowhere on my calendar did a call with my Coptic friend appear. Nor had I scheduled time with an Assyrian American Christian seeking to provide aid for Iraqi Christians now living in refugee camps in foreign lands. Praying with a Pakistani Christian about the bombing of churches there was not on my agenda.  Nor was time with a Arab church planter committed to God’s calling to build a church in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.  My calendar reflected none of these appointments – but each and all of them had been set by God who is sovereign over all time and all things.

What does a life structured to accommodate the divine appointments of the Lord look like? It is a life that expects always the unexpected, anticipates miracles and knows that God will provide all the time and resources necessary for the accomplishing of His will today. Now, that does not mean that everything on “my” list always gets done. But the priority remains discerning and responding to the Lord’s agenda, not obsessing about my own stuff.

Had I only taken the calls scheduled I would have never spoken to Nader. Had I only answered the emails on my agenda I would have never helped Juliana. Had I blocked all calls from unknown numbers I would have never prayed with the representative from the United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan who feels bereft of hope in the face of continual persecution of Christian minorities in that country. Had I stuck to my plan for the day I would have missed the opportunity to hear about the growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel in Iran; the challenges of planting a church in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem with the goal of winning Muslims to Christ; the invitation to assist my Christian brothers and sisters who have nothing and no home to return to as ISIL continues its scourge of Iraq and the Levant.

I didn’t get my taxes filed. I didn’t get my nails done. I didn’t pick up my dry cleaning. I didn’t get to the grocery.  But I didn’t miss any of the divine appointments God set for the day.

I’m a list maker and I like to check things off the list. So today as I peruse the list which now contains several carry-over items from yesterday, I pray. “Lord, use me for your purposes and make me anxious for nothing other than your perfect plans.”

There is enough time to do all that God has planned. May your day be populated with the divine appointments He has set and may you find joy in keeping each one – fully present in the moment as an agent of God’s grace in the world that He so loves.

 

Join Christ Church and the Dalton, Georgia community to hear from Carmen Fowler LaBerge at the 10:30 Worship Service on:

“Resurrected Living: ‘There He is again!’”

CCP

 

Date: April 12, 2015
Time: 10:30 AM
Event: Sermon at Christ Church Presbyterian Dalton, GA
Topic: "Resurrected Living: 'There He is again!'"
Venue: Christ Church Presbyterian
706-529-2911
Location: 510 South Tibbs Road
Dalton, GA 30720
Public: Public

Presbyterians and the evolving definition of marriage

ERLC Carmen

Note: the following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for our friends at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The entire article can be found here, along with many helpful resources on a wide range of issues Christians are facing today.


The headlines since March 17 have been crystal clear: Presbyterians approve same-sex marriage. By a majority vote of its presbyteries (regional bodies), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) ratified an amendment to its constitution sent down last summer by its General Assembly that allows ministers to perform and churches to be used for same-sex weddings. In immediate response, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirmed its support for traditional marriage in hopes of avoiding the kind of confusion that often results when people hear the word “Presbyterian.”

Which Presbyterians did what?

The Presbyterian Church USA, based in Louisville, Ky., considers itself the “true” church when it comes to Presbyterians. They see all other Presbyterians as imposters and wannabes. If it sounds arrogant, it is. It is the PCUSA that boasts seminaries in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Atlanta (Columbia), Louisville, San Francisco, Austin and Dubuque. Candidates who attend seminaries like Reformed (RTS) are often barred from ordination in the PCUSA until they do at least a year at an “official” seminary.

It is the PCUSA that boasts a multi-billion dollar endowment, the income from which funds much of its social witness agenda at the United Nations, in Washington DC and at the World and National Council of Churches. It is the PCUSA that is often in the news for its left-leading political advocacy. It is the PCUSA that considers the ordination of women an essential, allows for the ordination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, and now allows for same-sex marriages by its pastors and in its churches.

Parsing out the Presbyterians from one another is a little bit like parsing out Baptists. There are no longer “Southern” Presbyterians (although some remember the PCUS) but in addition to the PCUSA there are the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterians (RP), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP), Cumberland Presbyterians. The list goes on and on. Each follows a Presbyterian (elder based) form of government, and each claims to follow Reformed theology. But that’s where the dividing lines are drawn.

The vast majority of Presbyterian denominations worldwide use The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their primary confessional document. The WCF helps define the doctrine of “Reformed” theology.

The PCUSA, however, has a catalogue called The Book of Confessions—eleven different confessional documents that will be supplemented this year by a twelfth, Belhar. With so many confessions it’s hard to know what to believe, which is precisely the point. When the PCUSA adopted a catalogue of confessions, it did away with a mutually agreed upon list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. So, whatever an individual embraces as essential is essential for them. That is the standard of theology for ordination in the PCUSA.

“Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God” has morphed into “reformed and always reforming.” Reformed theology as an identifiable corpus of doctrine becomes a self-determined evolution of thought and practice that is subject to every wind of doctrine, people’s trickery and their deceitful scheming.

Always reforming

Reformation of thought and deed according to the Word of God has yielded to a spirit of reforming the church to conformity with the felt needs and desires of people. A perverted theology of “justice” and “love” literally out-voted the call to holiness, righteousness, submission and obedience to the revealed will of God.

The passage of the amendment also creates a clear conflict between the way marriage is consistently defined throughout the Confessions (“one man and one woman”) and the other part of the denomination’s constitution called The Book of Order (“two people”). The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, has noted the tension and said that “the tension will exist until it doesn’t.” People in the PCUSA are just going to have to learn to live with the shades of grey now present in their constitution.

So what?

The decision to repudiate the Word of God will have percussive effects for the PCUSA.

Click HERE to read the entire article at ERLC.com.

 

Doing the opposite of what’s right

spur

Anyone who has been touched by suicide knows the depths of despair and suffering which surround the taking of a life.  We have also heard and read accounts of those who stopped short of suicide because of the intervention of just one person who took notice, offered hope, and valued life.

The story from Shropshire, England in the UK will break your heart and lead you to wonder what kind of world we’re now living in.  A clearly distressed man stood atop a tall building, planning to take his own life. The police gathered to talk him down but they were drowned out by others who chanted “Jump, jump” from the street below. They poised their phones to record the man’s final moments and their bloodlust was satisfied when he succumbed to their taunts.

Nothing could be further from the Biblical mandate to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

We are called to encourage, not discourage, one another.

We are called to assist, not cripple, those who are distressed.

We are to bear light, not darkness, to those who are depressed.

We are to cover people with compassion, not insults.

The man who was teetering atop the building was a child of God and he is precious in God’s sight. Christ died for that man. The minions on the street served not as ambassadors of Christ – the good shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. No, they served as agents of the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Today, as you walk in the world, seek out the lonely person, walk with one who struggles, open a door, carry a load, be present and kind and listen. Do not miss the opportunity today to spurn another person on to love and good deeds.

What we call fellowship others call felonious

I walk into the coffee shop on the corner of Main Street and there is almost always someone reading a Bible, devotional or the latest Christian best-selling book. This week its the Benham brothers, next week I’m betting it will be Chelsen Vicari. The point is that we talk about religion freely, openly, and honestly because we live in a nation where freedom of religion is real and realized. We pray over meals in public, we attend our churches without fear of being arrested, we invite others to join us in studying the Bible and we share our faith freely.

But what we call fellowship others in the world call felonious.

The stories coming out of Iran and other despotic regimes should drive us to our knees in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. The “offenses” with which they are charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned (for up to six years) include:

  • attending a house church
  • spreading Christianity
  • having contact with foreign ministries
  • propaganda against the regime and
  • disrupting national security.

Consider that list.

These are not people who are proselytizing in the streets or forcing their religious convictions upon others. These are people gathering in homes. Accepting the gifts of tracks and CDs and MP3′s that well-meaning Western ministries send to them.

Christians who fellowship with one another and communicate with other Christians outside of Iran are considered threats to national security and they are sent away as felons to do hard time.

At issue is what we casually refer to as the freedom of religion or religious liberty. It is precious and it is serious under threat.

In America, we have a model of religious liberty that takes a positive view of public and private religious practice. That means that we not only protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion in private settings – like home and church – but also to live out their religion in public, engaging their faith with the world.

Because we are like fish who have been living in the water of this kind of religious liberty for so long that we can’t even imagine what life is like in another environment, Americans often fail to appreciate just how unique a brand of religious liberty we enjoy.

In just one month (February 2015) The Heritage Foundation “Religion and Civil Society” page identified a litany of religious liberty related stories:

This is both the tip of the iceberg and the tip of the spear.  These stories rise to the level of public awareness but simmering just beneath the surface of our desire driven secularism are a mountain of threats to the everyday religious expression of countless Americans. Those are the stories we don’t read but they are being lived out everyday in classrooms and cubicles and court rooms – places where people of convictional faith are told to shut up and keep their religion to themselves. And then the very Constitution that guarantees the right of free speech to both the bully and the bullied is used to browbeat the religious person into the closet because of the mis-application of the so-called “separation of church and state.”

This is a fight for which every person of convictional faith must be equipped lest we find our own fellowship felonized in the future.

 

The Year of the Sheep?

Shepherd and Sheep
Is it the year of the sheep or the goat? That is the question.

Well, it’s not really a question that those celebrating Chinese New Year are asking but it seems to be a question that many Westerners are stymied by.

““I’ve never thought about that question before,” Chen Xufeng, an office clerk in Beijing, told Xinhua. “Do we have to tell them apart? I’ve seen more goats in zodiac images, but I prefer to buy a sheep mascot, as sheep are more fluffy and lovely.”

So, yesterday marked the end of the year of the horse in the traditional Chinese zodiac that dates back some 3000 years. But whether or not “this” year is the year of the goat or the year of the sheep remains a matter of interpretation.

The similarity and distinction of sheep and goats may be of more interest to Westerners than to those in China because of the lingering shadows the Christian Scriptures caste generations after the faith is actually practiced.

Even if your neighbor is not a practicing Christian, they may well know that when it comes to the final judgment, when Christ returns, the sheep and the goats will be separated. The sheep to eternal life and the goats, well, its not a happy ending for the goats.

So, to Mr Xufeng’s question, “Do we have to tell them apart?” maybe not, but there is One who stands outside of manmade calendars who makes a distinction.

What is clear from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 is that the sorting is not up to us. God will sort out the sheep from the goats in the End. What matters is not that we know the sheep from the goats but that we know, and live in relationship to, the Shepherd.

Whether you are a sheep or a goat, this is the year of the Shepherd. He is the reference point for all of human history. Even the Chinese zodiac keys it count to the birth of Christ. It may be the year of the sheep or the goat but it remains 2015 Anno Domini – the year of the Lord.

Moral Universalism

Carmen Logo

Sunday lunch continues to be an extraordinary opportunity for the intersection of unrushed conversation and table fellowship where Christ is made known in the breaking of bread. This past Sunday was no exception. Having launched into and been thoroughly engaged by a new class on the cultivation of a Christian worldview, we invited our teacher to lunch. The table conversation was the kind I imagine people had centuries ago when time was plentiful, relationships matters and distractions were few.

We talked about many things but one of the subjects was the prevalence of moral universalism in American leadership. Moral universalism is the idea that there are certain moral categories which exist throughout the world and which provide an adequate moral code but which have no basis in a personal God. A person with a moral universalistic worldview might say, “Well everyone knows that’s wrong.” The fact that they are unable to articulate any basis for right and wrong is irrelevant to them. Their epistemology does not require that “knowing” be based in anything, or anyone, beyond their own awareness.

Moral universalism is writ large in such documents as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also happens to be the compass of our current President.

In his Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, he said:

“And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain President Obamauniversal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.”

What are the narratives that need to be rejected? Might any and all narratives that are “exclusive” or exclusionary be considered extremist? What if a narrative includes the convictional belief that if you do not believe and follow the particular individual at the center of the story then you will be cut off from real life now and eternal life forevermore? Must that narrative be rejected? You see where I fear this is headed.

A system of thought, a plan for global peace, a moral code constructed on the kinds of “universal precepts” espoused by the President is on shaky ground. The only firm foundation for an integrated worldview that leads to governance based on the rule of law (and not a tyrannical ruler or elitist class) is the Logos, the Word: eternal, unchanging, all sufficient, living, active, knowable, personal, objective, True.

The attempt to derive law without a Lawgiver is futile because in the end, each human act is personal. In a world run amok where God is rejected and the accumulation of matter is all that matters, then Darwin’s observations hold: the strongest, meanest, most selfish individuals and systems prevail.

Of equal hubris is the attempt to reconcile warring sinful people without a change of heart and mind that leads to a consistent pattern of peace governed not by external law or force but by the inward presence of the peace that passes all understanding which flows from the One whom alone is the Prince of Peace.

Divest from America?

The College Fix was first to report that the board of the University of California Student Association approved a resolution that calls on the UC system to divest itself financially from the United States.

The UC system has investments totally some $91 Billion and are already subject to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing. But the Student Association does not see the UN going far enough alleging the U.S. commits violations of human rights through its allegedly racist criminal justice system, deportation of those in the country illegally and the use of drones to combat terrorism around the globe.

According to The College Fix, in addition to calling on the Board of Regents to divest all UC holdings from U.S. treasuries, the resolution also called fund managers “‘to withdraw investments in securities, endowments, mutual funds, and other monetary instruments with holdings’ from the governments of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka and Mexico, as well as the U.S.”

Mainline Christians have grown accustom to calls for divestment from companies the end use of whose products are used for “non peaceable pursuits” in the Occupied territories eternally argued over by Israel and the non-Israeli residents of the West Bank and Gaza.  More recently divestment calls have also been heard related to companies who own the rights to fossil fuels still in the ground. But the call to divest from America is a new twist.

What would that practically mean?  Is the Student Association saying that the UC system should not accept Federal money for programs, research or student grants or loans?  As citizens in a state that functions by utilizing hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal funding for welfare, education, transportation, eldercare, healthcare, etc., are these California students really ready to live without access to clean water, electric power from the national grid, access to airline travel, and the removal of all Federal agents from California’s southern border and coastlines currently curtailing drug and human trafficking?  Are the students ready to give up all access to the more than 11 million acres of California that are governed and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management?

Maybe the UC system needs to re-evaluate admissions criteria and certify that students in their system have a basic understanding of how the world actually works and verify completion of a basic course in civics. When the Board of Regents meets and the resolution from the Student Association is presented, maybe someone should educate those present that the predator drone is a product of a California company that pays taxes – including taxes that support the UC system. Uh-oh.  Maybe the resolution should be expanded. Maybe the UC system should not accept money from the State of California that is tainted by the nature of the products produced and sold in California.

Should the UC system also forgo benefiting from taxes paid by:

It seems to me that the students need to do their homework, and some coursework in how capitalism works and the benefits of it.

Is the U.S. system perfect? No, certainly not. But there’s reason that the U.N. headquarters is in New York and there’s a reason that many more millions of people are trying to immigrate TO the U.S. than those seeking to leave it.

On the other hand, it does occur to me that the resolution proposed by the Student Association would have the effect of bankrupting the UC system over time. And maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing if these students are any indication of what the system is producing.

 

Did you catch what the President did not say?

 

Like you, I’ve heard what the President said at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday. But did you hear what he didn’t say?

Yes, speaking about the barbaric hideous murderous violence that man perpetrates against man, the President said:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Was this a jab at Christians? Maybe, but maybe not.  The President did not say that “Christians” had committed terrible deeds nor justified slavery. He said that terrible deeds and slavery had been justified “in the name of Christ.”  The President’s words are carefully chosen and his speeches carefully crafted and he would not have delivered those barbs without forethought.

So, parsing out what he said from what he didn’t say–what’s the difference?

The President consistently rejects that terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko-Haram are Muslim. He continually seeks to segregate them from what he perceives to be the majority Muslim faith. If you understand that, you can easily connect the dots to what he was trying to communicate at the Prayer Breakfast.

Were the Crusades and the Inquisition “Christian” or were they “done in the name of Christ” while perverting the Way of Christ?

Are ISIS and Boko-Haram “Muslim” or are they doing what they are doing “in the name of Allah” while perverting the way of Islam?

Serious debate surrounds the answer to that question but you can see the parallel that the President was seeking to draw. Maybe he could have said it better, but let us not say that he said something he didn’t say. Remember, words matter.

Now, to read an excellent assessment of why the President should not have said what he chose to say, read this from Front Page.