RADIO INTERVIEW ABOUT ORLANDO TRAGEDY

My Conversation with Frank Reed of KLTY Dallas-Fort Worth Concerning the Mass Shooting

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God wastes nothing.

He continues to surprise in the way He redeems my nearly three year journey through suffering and loss.

The latest evidence of that came with a text from long-time friend and radio personality, Frank Reed. He asked if he could interview me about the Pulse nightclub massacre for his morning show.

I consented hoping and praying by God’s grace to make the most of the opportunity  for the gospel.

It aired this morning.

You can listen to the audio on the Orlando Grace Church website.

The God of Encouragement in the Fight for Life

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I admitted up front in last Sunday’s sermon, “What To Do About Things Like Abortion and Racism,” that every year I struggle more with this particular message than any other. The challenge of speaking from the Bible to complicated subjects like abortion and racism for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday surpasses any other preaching assignment I know of in terms of degree of difficulty. I never feel adequate for the task, but press ahead nonetheless given the stakes.

However, my heart soared after the service when approached by a newcomer to OGC. She wanted to thank me for the message. She told me she had driven by the building often and considered visiting but felt especially drawn to our service yesterday. The story she told me made the “why” plain.

A single mom, she shared with me with tears in her eyes that just six years ago she visited the abortion clinic up the street where we and folks from other churches engage in sidewalk counseling to offer people like her alternatives to abortion at crisis pregnancy centers. She intended to abort her child. The counselors on sight called out to her and she responded. She turned around that day, spared her baby’s life, and has been raising her child ever since.

I say to every one of us with a burden for the unborn and the dear people so conflicted and bound by idols of the heart that they can somehow justify child-killing that every effort made to intercede and intervene counts. Do not give up. Persevere. Your efforts matter. You never know what God will do. Fight the good fight. Even just one precious life rescued is worth the price.

Shalom-Seeking on Steroids

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Last Sunday for OGC’s 22nd anniversary I preached a message on Jeremiah 29:1-14 called Our City, Our Mission. You can listen to the audio here.

In verse seven of that passage the prophet tells the exiles from Judah living in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city to which Yahweh has sent them. The word for welfare is the Hebrew word shalom. It often gets translated by the English word peace. The word flourishing captures well the comprehensive nature of the term.

In his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller shares an example of a radical form of shalom-seeking that illustrates a serious commitment to this ethic within a community. It’s a bit long but worth the read.

An intriguing real life example of an entire community doing justice and seeking shalom is laid out in Yale professor Nora Ellen Croce’s book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language.  In the 1980’s Croce was researching hereditary deafness on Martha’s Vineyard.  In the seventeenth century the original European settlers were all from a region in Kent, England, called “the Weald” where there was a high incidence of hereditary deafness.  Because of their geographical isolation and intermarriage the percentage of deaf people increased across the whole island.  By the nineteenth century one out of twenty-five people in the town of Chilmark was deaf and in another small settlement almost a quarter of the people could not hear. (Today, because of the mobility of the population and marriage with off-islanders, hereditary deafness has vanished.  The last deaf person born on the Vineyard died in 1952.)

In most societies, physically handicapped people are forced to adapt to the life patterns of the nonhandicapped, but that is not what happened on the Vineyard.  One day Croce was interviewing an older island resident and she asked him what the hearing people thought of the deaf people.  “We didn’t think anything about them, they were just like everyone else,” he replied.  Croce responded that it must have been necessary for everyone to write things down on paper in order to communicate with them.  The man responded in surprise, “No, you see everyone here spoke sign language.”  The interviewer asked if he meant the deaf people’s families.  No, he answered, “Everybody in town–I used to speak it, my mother did, everybody.”  Another interviewee said, “Those people weren’t handicapped.  They were just deaf.”  One other remembered, “They [the deaf] were like anybody else.  I wouldn’t be overly kind because they, they’d be sensitive to that.  I’d just treat them the way I treated anybody.”
Generous JusticeIndeed, what had happened was that an entire community had disadvantaged itself en masse for the sake of a minority. Instead of making the nonhearing minority learn to read lips, the whole hearing majority learned signing.  All the hearing became bilingual, so deaf people were able to enter into full social participation.  As a result of “doing justice” (disadvantaging themselves) the majority “experienced shalom”–it included people in the social fabric who in other places would have fallen through it.  “When they had socials or anything up in Chilmark, why, everybody would go and they [the deaf] enjoyed it, just as much as anybody did.  They used to have fun–we all did….They were part of the crowd, they were accepted.  They were fishermen and farmers and everything else….Sometimes, if there were more deaf people than hearing there, everyone would speak sign language–just to be polite, you know.”  Deafness as a “handicap” largely disappeared.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Croce’s research was the revelation of how hearing people had their own communication abilities enhanced.  They found many uses for signing besides communication with the deaf.  Children signed to one another during sermons in church or behind a teacher’s back at school.  Neighbors could sign to one another over distances in a field or even through a spyglass telescope.  One woman remembers how her father would be able to stand on a windy cliff and sign his intentions to fishermen below.  Another remembers how sick people who could not speak were able to sign to make their needs known.
In other words, the “disadvantage” that the hearing Vineyarders assumed–the effort and trouble to learn another language–turned out to be for their benefit after all.  Their new abilities made life easier and more productive.  They changed their culture in order to include an otherwise disadvantaged minority but in the process made themselves and their society richer.
Martha’s Vineyard was a unique situation.  However, in every time and culture, the principle holds.  The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.
This sounds a great deal to me like 2 Corinthians 8:9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. The Mega-strong disadvantaged Himself in the ultimate way for the mega-weak that we might become mega-rich in spiritual blessings. I know of no other motivation that will suffice for seeking the welfare of one’s city whether on steroids or any other degree of disadvantaging.

A Person’s a Person

By Jon and David Wooten (with apologies to Dr. Seuss and to the regulative principle)

Note: this poem was delivered as an announcement on Sunday morning to promote the TLC Walk for Life.

A person’s a person, no matter how small.
No matter how short and no matter how tall.
True Life Choice cares for women, you see,
Who find themselves now in a pregnancy.
They love and they care and they pray with these people,
Many of whom have never been under a steeple.
They give women resources and tell them their options:
To give life to their child, and to parent or choose adoption.
Some women who come to True Life are abortion-minded,
So I’m here this morning that we might be reminded:

There are certain people, so I’ve been told
Who get no recognition
And these people, if I’m so bold,
Are in quite a tight position.
They can’t say a word, not even a tittle.
They can’t fight for themselves because they’re so little.
They’re unborn babies, and they need your assistance.
They’re up against a bad, mean resistance.
They’re under attack because they’re unborn and labeled a burden.
Some don’t see they’re special, and like them, a person.
We all need to realize God created them all
For a person’s a person, no matter how small.

OGC works with True Life in a wonderful tradition.
On March 24th we’ll take a grand expedition.
Around Lake Eola we will Walk for Life,
And walk we will with all of our might.
You can sponsor a walker or come walk yourself.
Lace up those sneakers sitting up on that shelf.
Bring the whole family: mom, dad, brothers, sisters.
We’ll all walk for life: kids, ladies and misters.
Parents can walk while toddlers toddle.
Strollers can stroll while we strut, jog and waddle.

For the church who gets the most walkers, you see,
There’s a prize! Oh, a prize with a great legacy.
The Sneaker of Silver could be our award!
A treasure so grand, no church could afford.

Now I urge you, my friend, to stand up to the task.
If you want to know more, then come find me and ask.
Sign up at the table as you leave here today.
My announcement is done. Now I’ll just go away,
But not without saying once more to you all
That a person’s a person, no matter how small.

Stand4Life

Somebody handed me a postcard last Sunday with this picture on it.

Needless to say, that got my attention.

The flip side contained this information:

It’s time to leave our beautiful churches and stand in the streets and cry out with wisdom.  We CAN change public opinion about abortion in our region! As we pray for our government to uphold life, we have a responsibility in our own region to be a witness.  After all, abortions are not happening in the Supreme Court building, they happen in our neighborhoods!  The church is required to be the conscience of America.  Let’s start in our own backyards. This is a call to action!  On May 7, thousands will gather in silent prayer from 10am-12pm, covering every abortion center in Florida.  We will lay aside our denominational differences and preferences to be the demonstration of justice for those who have no voice.  We will come as a silent force with one message: LIFE.

I checked out the website and found this video:

Turns out the All Women’s Health Center at 431 Maitland Ave, Altamonte Springs, just north of our meeting location, is one of the targeted abortion clinics.

Why not consider participating?

Bin Laden's Death in a Different Light

As one might expect, the blogosphere is alive and well about someone who isn’t. I refer, of course, to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The flurry of activity on this score, some of it excellent (see Justin Taylor for example), gave me pause about piling on to the discussion.

Obviously, I gave in. Blame it in part on yesterday’s message in John 12:34-36, The Parting Plea of the Public Christ.

Two billion inhabitants of the planet earth have never heard the blessed gospel of the glorious God, the good news of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, come to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death on behalf of undeserving sinners, so that they might know forgiveness, have credited to their spiritual account the 100% righteousness of Christ, and receive the gift of eternal life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Osama bin Laden was one of them. More than likely he never even had a chance to walk in the light that the darkness might not overtake him, as it most surely did given the acts of evil he perpetrated.

Oh how grateful I am, who except for the grace of God may well have gone the way of bin Laden, for the mercies of God which opened my eyes to my rebellious heart, and brought me out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). If He hadn’t shown me such mercy, how easily the same darkness, to one degree or another, could have overtaken me.

Can we see this poor, evil, got-what-we-all-deserve man in this light? Have we in the west, with so much greater access to the gospel of Jesus, heard His plea to walk in the light while we have the light? Spurgeon warned:

I put before you this serious consideration, that you are at present favored with the Light of God, but you are only favored with it for a certain term. Do not reckon upon always having it, for the Light may be removed from you. My dear Hearer, the day may come when you will have to go away from this country and be found far off in the bush of Australia, or the backwoods of America. Or you may even, in this country, be located where you will not be able to hear the Gospel, for what you will hear will not be the Gospel, and you will be obliged to confess that it is not! Therefore, while you have the Light of God, remember that it is a favorable season for your decision for Christ. The day may come, as I said before, when the voice that has thrilled you, again and again, and that wakes the echoes of your soul’s most secret chambers, shall be silent in death. The time may come when, although your minister and you, yourself, are still left in the same place, yet, so far as you are concerned, the Holy Spirit will be gone, and so the Light will have departed from you. Take heed, I beseech you, lest it really be so, and use the Light while you have it.

Can we who by virtue of our union with Christ gained the privileged and responsible identity of sons of light see this man’s death in yet another light? Does it not call us to double and triple our efforts to shine like stars (Philippians 2:14-16) in bringing the good news to those near and far with gospel works and words?

Lord, shine your light in our hearts regarding this state of affairs and more that we might look beyond the obvious, the superficial, the carnal, the political, that we might see with the spiritually discerning eyes of the gospel.

TLC Walk for Life

Will you join us?

Tomorrow, March 27, at 9 AM at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, people from all over the city will gather for the annual “Walk for Life” hosted by True Life Choice, a crisis pregnancy ministry.

Their mission statement reads like this:

True Life Choice is a mission in active obedience to Jesus Christ that saves unborn babies and their families from the consequences of abortion by: Equipping people involved in crisis pregnancies to make life-affirming choices; Healing people suffering from post-abortion stress to find healing; Encouraging unmarried people to embrace sexual purity; and communicating the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

OGC has long supported this strategic ministry and participates every year in the walk, their principal fund raising event of the year.

Come and join us on a walk just like this one.

You’ll enjoy a complementary breakfast, get some exercise, and meet some great people. Make a pledge on behalf of one of the walkers from OGC or give a donation of your own.

Also, the offering in our joint Good Friday service with Faith Baptist Church will go entirely to the support of this fine organization.

I hope to see you at Lake Eola first thing tomorrow morning!

Missing the Boat at SeaWorld

What are we to make of the tragedy at a local theme park this week?

A seasoned trainer of killer whales got dragged under water by her ponytale by a male Orca known for a history of living up to its name.

The debate in the news remains alarmingly this-worldly in terms of animal rights, conservation, ad nauseum.

As always, the Scripture speaks profoundly on an altogether different level.

In response to Job’s complaints in the face of unspeakable suffering far exceeding that of the family of Dawn Brancheau who dared tether Tilikum to her less-than-containable leash, the God of the universe said this:

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3 Will he make many pleas to you?
Will he speak to you soft words?
4 Will he make a covenant with you
to take him for your servant forever?
5 Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on a leash for your girls?
6 Will traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill his skin with harpoons
or his head with fishing spears?
8 Lay your hands on him;
remember the battle—you will not do it again!
9  Behold, the hope of a man is false;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
10 No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

Leviathan is the English translator’s best guess for a difficult-to-translate Hebrew word often rendered as a large sea animal. Orcas fit the bill. They are among the hugest of the dolphin species weighing up to six tons and measuring up to the length of a school bus. Males are particularly large and aggressive. Tilikum serves the SeaWorld community for his stud services and large-splash-making capabilities  – a crowd favorite indeed.

Until this week when he took a 40 year old handler so very easily to her watery grave.

If you seek to see the world through heavenly-minded eyes, the lesson seems plain. Who dares to trifle with a killer whale? No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Ms. Brancheau, I am certain, dared not in the slightest to stir up the mighty beast floating in the pool before her. Even so, her proximity to creation’s majesty cost her nothing less than her very life. Word to the wise.

Word to the wiser still. Who then is he/she who can stand before God? Let the question sink in. Who then is he/she who can stand before God? None. I say it again, none. If dear Dawn (and my heart goes out to her grieving family and friends) could not stand poolside by Leviathan and escape with her life, who among us can pretend to put God, who owns the whole of heaven, including Orcas, great white sharks, lumbering hippos, and the rest of His wondrous and fearsome creation, in the dock and claim some legitimate argument with His sovereign administrations in their life for which we might better respond, He gives and takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).

May we not miss the boat along with the masses debating the pros and cons of killer whales consigned to captivity as if the only things we should consider lie along an animal rights plane and no other. Far more can and should result from this tragedy than that. Let nature and its grandeur speak to us internally rebuking our sinful pride. Let it speak to us vertically recalibrating our hearing and seeing such that we hear and see Him and thus, along with Job, despise ourselves and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6).