Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Am Barack Obama and I Approve This Prayer - Oh No!

From Al Mohler.

Is the Obama White House vetting prayers? Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News and World Report reports that this represents a "new tradition" established by the administration of President Barack Obama. As Gilgoff revealed, "In a departure from previous presidents, his public rallies are opening with invocations that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House."

The issue of public prayer is increasingly controversial in an age of religious diversity and increasing secularization. Yet, prayers at government ceremonies and events have been common since the nation's founding and, until recently, few prayers related to White House events have been controversial. Radical church/state separationists consider these prayers to be improper and perhaps unconstitutional, but this is a hard case to make given the nation's historic practice.

On the other hand, sign me up as an opponent of any prayer that is vetted by any government official or agency. For reasons having less to do with the Constitution and more to do with the nature of prayer, I cannot imagine that a Christian minister could in good conscience allow the government to edit or approve a prayer.

Gilgoff's report contains some shocking details:

During Obama's recent visit to Fort Myers, Fla., to promote his economic stimulus plan, a black Baptist preacher delivered a prayer that carefully avoided mentioning Jesus, lest he offend anyone in the audience. And at Obama's appearance last week near Phoenix to unveil his mortgage bailout plan, an administrator for the Tohono O'odham Nation delivered the prayer, taking the unusual step of writing it down so he could E-mail it to the White House for vetting. American Indian prayers are typically improvised.

Though invocations have long been commonplace at presidential inaugurations and certain events like graduations or religious services at which presidents are guests, the practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for presidential rallies is unprecedented in modern history, according to religion and politics experts.

Consider what is at stake here. When the White House requires a prayer to be submitted in advance, it takes on an editorial role. This editorial role means that the White House is explicitly approving certain prayers for delivery. The prayer delivered in this context should bear a label that clearly identifies it as approved by the White House -- government-approved prayer.

Gilgoff relates the experience of Ryan Culp in Elkhart, Indiana:

The day before the president arrived in Elkhart, Culp spent an hour and a half crafting his prayer, roughly a minute and 20 seconds long, before calling an aide from the White House Office of Public Liaison to recite it for vetting, as the administration requested. "She said that it was beautiful and that there shouldn't be a problem with it but that she would call in the morning if there was," Culp recalls.

The White House had no revisions for the prayer, which opened with the line: "Dear Heavenly Father, we come to you this day thanking you for who you are—a God that cares about each of our needs, our desires, and our fears." Culp delivered it the following day at Obama's town hall meeting, landing a handshake from the president and mentions in several local papers.
There is much here that can only be characterized as ominous and troubling. The White House official reported back to Mr. Culp that it "had no revisions for the prayer" after reviewing its content for several hours. But there is no rationale for this process unless the White House would, if dissatisfied with the proposed prayer, order some revision.

Gilgoff also reported the case of Pastor James Bing of Ft. Meyers, Florida. Earlier in his report, Gilgoff described the pastor as delivering "a prayer that carefully avoided mentioning Jesus, lest he offend anyone in the audience." The pastor self-censored his prayer, explaining: "For some strange reason, the word Jesus is like pouring gasoline on fire for some people in this country . . . . You learn how to work around that."

You learn how to work around that? How can any Christian pastor justify "working around" the name of Jesus out of fear of offending anyone? If the Christian cannot pray in the name of Jesus, let someone else deliver the prayer.

Interestingly, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki commented that the practice of vetting prayers had "been standard since the campaign." This revelation raises a host of other questions. What about the prayers offered at President Obama's inauguration? Did the administration approve or edit the prayers offered by pastors Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery?
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, offered a most interesting response to the revelation that the Obama White House is vetting prayers: "The only thing worse than having these prayers in the first place is to have them vetted, because it entangles the White House in core theological matters."

An ardent and radical Church/State separationist, Barry Lynn has argued that no prayers at government-sponsored events or ceremonies should be delivered, citing both constitutional and theological reservations. I rarely find myself in agreement with Barry Lynn, but I am with him on this issue -- at least with respect to his argument that this practice "entangles the White House in core theological matters."

Of course it does. When a White House approves or edits prayers, it has entered theological territory and takes on a theological function. The President of the United States is our Commander in Chief, not our Theologian in Chief.

The examples cited by Dan Gilgoff should be sufficiently troubling to evangelical Christians. Whether by self-censorship or censorship by the government, the integrity of prayer is subverted and prayer becomes an extension of government policy.

Tellingly, the administration is also timing the prayers so that they are heard by those present at the events, but not by the far larger audience watching via the media. As Gilgoff explains, "The Obama administration may have skirted controversy by scheduling the invocations to be delivered before the president arrives at the events—and before national cable network cameras start rolling."

All this points to something the Obama administration -- and anyone asked by the administration to offer a prayer -- had better learn fast. The government has no authority and no proper role in the vetting of prayer. No Christian should allow any prayer to bear the label, "This prayer approved by the White House."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pilgrim's Progress!

On this day (February 18th) in 1678 Pilgrim's Progress was first published in England. If you have never read this great book, or listened to John Piper's biographical sketch of author John Bunyan's life, then I would highly commend them to you.
(From my son)

I, too, would highly recommend your reading of Pilgrim's Progress. It is a Christian classic that will amaze, teach, and move you. GREAT STORY. One of my all time favorite books.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Almost Morning

Several weeks ago I began preaching a series entitled "The Second Coming and the End of the Age." As I introduced the series, I stated that one reason why this topic must be preached is because it brings great hope.

Little did I know that within two weeks hope is what many families in our church would need. An unusual number of families in our church have faced tragedy and death in the past week. Several families have lost loved ones who were young in age.

I was reminded of our need for hope when I read this account of Dr. W.A. Criswell today. Dr. Criswell has gone home to be with the Lord but was at one time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas.

On one occasion on an airplane flight Dr. Criswell found himself seated beside a well-known theologian. He desperately wanted to start a conversation and they did get to talk. The man told Dr. Criswell about how he had recently lost his little boy through death.

Dr. Criswell listened as he told his story: He said he had come home from school with a fever and we thought it was just one of those childhood things, but it was a very virulent form of meningitis. The doctor said we cannot save your little boy. He’ll die. And so this seminary professor, loving his son as he did, sat by the bedside to watch this death vigil.

It was the middle of the day and the little boy whose strength was going from him and whose vision and brain was getting clouded said, "Daddy, it’s getting dark isn’t it?" The professor said to his son, "Yes son it is getting dark, very dark." Of course it was very dark for him. He said, "Daddy, I guess it’s time for me to go to sleep isn’t it?" He said, "Yes, son, it’s time for you to go to sleep."

The professor said the little fellow had a way of fixing his pillow just so, and putting his head on his hands when he slept and he fixed his pillow like that and laid his head on his hands and said, "Good night Daddy. I will see you in the morning." He then closed his eyes in death and stepped over into heaven.

Dr. Criswell said the professor didn’t say anymore after that. He just looked out the window of that airplane for a long time. Then he turned back and he looked at Dr Criswell with the scalding tears coming down his cheeks and he said, "Dr. Criswell, I can hardly wait till the morning."

1 Thes. 4:13-18 "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Facebooking has become a phenomenon. Millions are now using facebook as a way of finding, communicating, and keeping up with old and current friends alike.
I have found facebook to be an effective way of keeping up with what's going on in the lives of some of my church members who are on facebook. We have recently formed a "Foley First Baptist Church" group on facebook.
With facebook becoming so popular, even among many in our church, young and old alike, I thought it would be good to share some comments I came across from Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (who, by the way, is on facebook). He had some great thoughts and warnings for the Christian who uses facebook.

Facebook marked its fifth anniversary on February 5, setting a milestone for social networking as a cultural phenomenon. Just five years ago Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg launched the site and service. Just as Facebook celebrated its fifth anniversary, it passed rival MySpace in registrations.

Together, MySpace and Facebook report over 280,000,000 registered users. Those services, first popular among high school and college students, are now joined by Twitter, a micro-blogging service. Together, these represent nothing less than a major social movement.

Social networking differs from other Internet services by creating a virtual community of linked users, whose updates, photographs, and postings allow for communication anytime and anywhere.

Today's student generation, the "Digital Natives," know of no existence before cell phones, the Internet, e-mail, and text messaging. Social networking perfectly fits their lifestyle and worldview. They assume 24/7 social contact -- or at least access to this contact just a few clicks away.

Social networking is like any new technology. It must be evaluated on the basis of its moral impact as well as its technological utility. Social networking sites offer unprecedented opportunities for communication and contact -- and that is both the promise and the peril of the technology.

Here are a few suggestions for safeguarding the social networking experience:

1. Never allow social networking to replace or rival personal contact and communication. God made us to be social creatures that crave community. We cannot permit ourselves to substitute social networking for the harder work of building and maintaining personal relationships that are face to face.

2. Set clear parameters for the time devoted to social networking. These services can be seductive and time consuming. Social networking (and the Internet in general) can become obsessive and destructive of other relationships and higher priorities for the Christian.

3. Never write or post anything on a social networking site that you would not want the world to see, or anything that would compromise your Christian witness. There are plenty of young people (perhaps older persons now, too) who are ruining future job prospects and opportunities by social networking misbehavior. The cost to Christian witness is often far greater.

4. Never allow children and teenagers to have independent social networking access (or Internet access, for that matter). Parents should monitor, manage, supervise, and control the Internet access of their children and teens. Watch what your child posts and what their friends post.

5. Do not allow children and teens to accept any "friend" unknown to you. The social networking
world can be a dangerous place, and parental protection here is vital.

6. Encourage older friends and relatives to sign up and use the technology. Grandparents can enjoy keeping up with grandchildren and with friends and loved ones separated by distance or mobility.

7. Use the social networking technology to bear witness to the Gospel, but never think that this can replace the centrality of face-to-face evangelism, witness, and discipleship.

8. Do all things to the glory of God, and do not allow social networking to become an idol or a display of narcissism.

The fifth anniversary of Facebook is a milestone in American culture -- and a good time for a reality check. We were made by our Creator to be social creatures, but made for far more than mere social media.

Luther's Nine Virtues for Good Preaching

A good preacher should . . .

1. Preach systematically.
2. Have ready wit.
3. Be eloquent.
4. Have a good voice.
5. Have a good memory.
6. Know how to make a beginning, and when to make an end.
7. Be sure of his doctrine.
8. Venture and engage body and blood, wealth and honor in the Word. (passionate)
9. Suffer himself to be mocked and jeered.

John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ray Boltz Exalts His Feelings Over the Word of God

This is from my son's blog. It is very well said.

Ray Boltz Exalts His Feelings Over the Word of God

... and sometimes I do too.

Ray Boltz, the former contermporary Christian music staple turned homosexual activist, does it this way in his new single, "Don't Tell Me Who To Love":

Don’t tell me who to love, don’t tell me who to kiss
Don’t tell me that there’s something wrong because I feel like this
I know what’s in my heart, that should be enough
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me no, don’t tell me who to love

Each line is telling. As Christians, we believe that God does have the right to tell us who to love (in this case speaking of marital love). We are not autonomous, independent beings, but the work of a divine Creator who has the sovereign right to establish laws over our lives. He is good and knows what is best for us, and if He tells us who we ought or ought not to marry, we are both foolish and wicked to disobey.

Yet what struck me mainly was the second and third lines, where Boltz establishes his own feelings as his high authority. Its as if he's saying, "Since I feel this way, it must be right." Yet you and I could think of a thousand ways in which that sentence is untrue. Many of us have felt things in our lives - sometimes felt them very strongly - that we know were not right. Our feelings are as much affected by the Fall as our minds and every other part of us. This is why it is God's Word, not our feelings, that is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

I'm not trying to bash Boltz. I can't, because I've seen the same tendency in my own life. There are times when things are in my heart that are opposed to God, His will, and His Word. And each and every time I sin, I exalt my own desires - my own feelings - over His trustworthy Word.

The cure for this, of course is Jesus Christ. He brings us forgiveness through the cross and grants us His Spirit, who begins to transform our desires and feelings so that they gradually begin to conform to God's will. With this comes the all-important grace of humility, which is sorely lacking in Boltz's song. The truth is, as long as Boltz sings lines like, "I know what's in my heart, that should be enough", he is far from the kingdom of God. We should sing instead lines like, "I know what's in my heart, and that's why I need Christ." The moment we exalt our feelings as trustworthy guides for our lives, we blindly ignore the fact that we are broken, wicked, and in need of God's grace, healing, and redirection. May God bring these things to Ray Boltz; may He bring them to you and me.

(Justin Nale, posted on "Thoughts of a North Carolina Baptist" Friday, Feb 6)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Our Happiness is Not God's Chief Aim

2 Cor. 12:7-10 "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

"It's not always God's will that you be healed. It's not always the Father's plan to relieve the pressure. Our happiness is not God's chief aim. He doesn't have a wonderful (meaning "comfortable") plan for everybody's life-not from a human perspective. Often His plan is nowhere near wonderful. As with Saul, His answer is not what we prayed and hoped for. But, remembering that He is forming us more and more into the image of His Son, it helps us understand His answer is based on His long-range plan, not our immediate relief."

(Chuck Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Making a Difference for Christ

I want to do a shout out to the great volunteers of First Baptist Church who work in our Christian Community Center. This ministry helps many families who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and are in need of physical, financial, and spiritual help. Our volunteers do a great job in meeting the needs of those who pass through the doors of the Christian Community Center.

More than 25 volunteers work three mornings a week to insure that those who come to us for help, get the help they need.

I also want to say how proud I am of the membership of First Baptist Church. This past Sunday was our "Souper-Bowl" Sunday. 377 cans of soup were brought to supply our Christian Community Center.

Matthew 25:34-36 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"