Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The other day I was privileged to do a wedding.   I chose for my comments two texts, one from Mark 10 and one from Hebrews 13.   Though I have often quoted from Mark 10:9 at the end of the wedding ceremony, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder!"  I have not really thought about the impact of that statement in regard to what really makes a man or woman married.  I always simply took it as a warning that we should not seek to commit adultery, nor seek to divorce, which is certainly in the context of the passage.

    In the Hebrews passage I noticed that 13:4 tells us that "marriage should be held in honor among all..."   And so from thinking about these two commands in Scripture I come to some conclusions, and maybe they raise other questions.

   The marriage of (any and all) heterosexual partners is something God establishes.  The passage in Mark certainly makes a positive statement that marriage is between a man and a woman, as there were no other options in the garden, and this was obviously by God's design.  The fact that the marriage ceremony has varied over the millenia, being something between families, within a village or community, being celebrated with feast, gifts, and ceremony, given "official" status by the church, and then by the state doesn't take away from a theological understanding of every marriage.  It is God ordained, and that ordination is active in the institution generally and in each marital relationship severally. God does the joining, and it is consummated in the two becoming one through the sexual act of intercourse, and they are no longer two but one.  This act of becoming one cannot happen between homosexuals and therefore there is no marriage there, certainly not one ordained or joined by God, no matter what any earthly authority might say.

    Marriage is not simply the sex act, it is a covenant primarily between the two individuals involved, consummated and celebrated in the physical union, and is to be steadfastly protected and honored by everyone.  Marriage is not something simply to be honored by immediate family, or local community, but by anyone and everyone in the whole world when they meet and interact with a married couple.  The Egyptian Pharaoh doesn't have a right to take Abraham's wife, even if he thinks she is Abraham's sister, and even if Sarah is not from Egypt and was not married according to Egyptian rules, whatever they may have been.

    It is not wrong for the church and the state to license, celebrate,and regulate marriage, as long as it doesn't make it more or less than God has declared.  Children, property, inheritance, and health all are involved in the proper recognition and regulation of marriage relationships. It is proper for the community to celebrate weddings, not simply to provide historic photographs, but for those of us who attend the event to witness this covenant making and to begin to honor this new marriage relationship and support it.  We support each marriage not simply as a love for an individual couple, but as an act of support for all couples.

   Each marriage has its own struggles, trials, and temptations.  We make mention of that reality in the vows we use in the ceremony.  Some of this struggle comes from the common weakness of the individuals involved, some struggles will arise from the circumstances couples will variously face as they go through life, and some struggles will come from the interference of others.  If we are to honor marriage we must protect it, for all of us, and for each of us. 

   So the question arises, what about those marriages that should not have happened?  Suppose a Christian marries a non-Christian; once married is that marriage joined by God?   We know that when Jesus comes into a person's life, and that person is already married to someone who doesn't want Jesus, the person not loving Jesus is free to leave the Christian.  The Christian however is not free to leave the non-christian.  If the believer purposefully marries a non-christian we don't think they then have an option to leave when they realize what they have done and want out.

     I am not asking here about those who feel they made a mistake due to a growing awareness of incompatibility.   That could be the "get out of jail card" for a lot of couples at various moments of their married life.  Marriage is considered by most Christians to be so radical a commitment that even those marriages that "should not have been" have to be protected, and are considered under the command of Jesus not to be interfered with.  I am not speaking here of incestuous or child bondage brides or any that are against the law, in and under the proper regulation of the state.

    My comments here are not addressed to the boundaries of what might be called a 'Biblical divorce."  That is another discussion.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Where is your jar to draw with,
A promised flow of water
To never thirst again?

This dry soul's not pretty
My life is as I wear it
Filthy rags
Mark not my pity
But my shame.

One among a brood of vipers
What I made and did not make
Whence, and from whom, I'm come;
Criminals die upon the rack
So justice ends the game.

As a slug dissolves in salt
So ants will come to feast,
Tease me not with deals for mercy
Or bribes for God
That hold no succor 
From Law's campaign.

God's fury my future,
A payment for my past.
Sir, give me this water
Springing up or falling down
Like everlasting rain!

No papal indulgences
This Reformation Day
No clerics script
To cover existential guilt
No hair cloth on skin
Appeases God for sin,
Masochistic self-flagellation
A waste of  pain.

"If you asked of me," you said
That gives life to the dead,
The penitent's proper sacrament
A simple faith to ask.
I need the belt of Truth to grasp
A righteousness not my own
Which is all there ever could be, for sinners such as me.
The Lamb's propitious pain suffices for my gain.

Randy Nabors,
Oct. 31, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


   Our present mental health policies and practice are both complicated, confusing, and too often tragically consequential. For those who have suffered with mental illness and those who must take medication to keep it under some kind of control, and retain stability, there are many challenges.  For those who live with a family member who is mentally ill there are other kind of challenges.  For those in law enforcement, those in emergency medicine, and those in mental health clinics and hospitals there are still more challenges.

    This is at one and the same time a very personal issue, a family issue, a church issue, a community issue, and a political one.  It becomes political because dealing with those who have mental problems costs money, and the decisions about where that money will come from, and how it will best be spent require diligence and sacrifice from the community.  Not only that, the wisdom, or lack of it, in how that money is applied will make an impact on the entire community.  It is complicated because the very science of helping those with mental illness often begs the desired end of being healed as therapies, drugs, and regimens are too often hit or miss and unsettled.

    The idea that if no one you personally know has a mental problem then this doesn't concern you is a fantasy.  It might affect one you some day soon by a homeless person who accosts you on a street corner, it might affect you by someone deciding to fixate on you, obsess over you, and decide he or she needs to kill you.  It might affect you by having one of your own family members be diagnosed as Bi-polar or schizophrenic, or a neighbor, or a church member, or by one of your children's classmates deciding he or she needs to start shooting at your son or daughter.

   Once those things happen you will begin wondering how come we haven't spent more money on this problem, how come we don't have better solutions, how come the police seem to have such few options, how come the prison system has become our largerst mental health care facility?  You will wonder, and  you will ask questions, but most likely unless you start a national movement nothing will change, and you will be one more sad story in a contiuing line of tragedy.

    This is not to suggest that the millions of people with mental problems are all potential murderers.  Thank God that is not the case.  Millions of people suffer, take medicine, live with supporting families or in group homes, take part in community services where their behavior in monitored, attend churches, schools, and social activites like the rest of us, and are loved.   

    However, the reality is that those with very aggressive tendencies, those who isolate themselves in paranoia and fantasy, those who sometimes create grievance out of thin air, and those who stop taking prescribed medication because no one has the authority to monitor and insure that they take it, can be suddenly explosive; if not a constant sense of dread and threat to those they have decided to harrass.

    Not everyone who is mentally ill has been diagnosed, not everyone who has been diagnosed had medicine to take, or takes the right kind or right amount.  Not everyone who has decided on their own to stop taking what has given them some state of normality is observed until things get out of hand.  Not everyone who is conscientious about taking their medicine can predict what will happen if they have other medical conditions that force them to stop taking what had heretofor controlled their thinking, moods, or behavior.

    I hurt for families who have tried to love family members but have seen their own children or siblings become a threat to them. I hurt for those families who have been forced to have family members become homeless because they could no longer contain or constrain them.  I hurt for those who have made call after call to get help for someone only to be told there is nothing that can be done, except maybe for a 72 hour mental health observation period, if they are a threat to themselves or others.  Of course, sometimes, this just makes someone really mad once they get out.

    I hurt for those who feel they have to arm themselves and get ready for what seems to be a showdown as their lives and families have been threatened.  I hurt for police officers who risk their lives as they have to sometimes confront and subdue such individuals who normally would never have disrespected authority or sought to hurt anyone.  I hurt for those in such despair over their behavior they seek to end their own lives.

    I am a Christian, and I believe in showing compassion.  I am a Christian and I believe Christians need to pray for healing.  I am a Christian and I believe churches have to have more ministries and training in how to help and serve the mentally ill.  I am also a brother who was raised with a mentally ill sister who was a constant physical threat to me and my family.  I have been a pastor and seen people I dearly loved, and who once loved me, become a terror to the church and their own families.

    I am an American, and I am sometimes ashamed that we seem to have given our best mental health care to those with "cadillac" insurance policies, while warehousing a lot of others in the prison system, and leaving thousands of families and communities to their fate in not knowing how to adequately deal with someone they would love to see healed, but now fear.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Proverbs 18: An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends...  That's the NIV, and the ESV says...."Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."  I don't think this is a condemnation of people who think of themselves as introverts, only those who use their introversion as an excuse to be selfish.  Extroverts who are selfish are selfish in extroverted ways.

    When I was a teen-ager one of the Elders in my church gave me a small part time job in his retail men's clothing store.  One day they even allowed me to serve on the floor and wait on customers.  Now, I had met mean people before, had some street smarts from living in Newark, NJ, and had been in enough fights to have a certain wariness.  I had never been mistreated, that I remember, by people I was trying to help.  I sympathize with people in retail, because on that particular day my ignorance in being able to respond accurately and quickly to a customer got me cussed out royally, by the customer.

    All of my senses told me to get ready to fight, but I am sure the customer thought it his right to verbally abuse me.  I was supposed to be there to serve him and I wasn't doing it well because I just didn't know the answers to all of his questions.  I still didn't like it, and it is obvious I still remember it.

    As a pastor most people are nice to me, at least once they find out I am a pastor, and then of course once my identity is revealed I have to be nice to them too.  We both know they have to be nice to me or else they will be struck by lightning.  Well, not really, but sometimes I like to think that would or should be the case.

   God has spent years training me about my selfishness, and the Holy Spirit has worked many hours, days, and years on my tendency toward resentment, bitterness, and desire for revenge.  Sometimes my unfriendliness is a symptom of my moodiness, as in, I am in a bad mood and therefore justified in being brusk, officious, silent, and giving off an aura of latent hostility.  Mess with me at your peril!

    Evidently God feels free to mess with me, he never seems to get intimidated by my surliness, and actually seems to take pleasure in humiliating me in just those moments.  At the moment of my impending violence, the moments of my revenge fantasies playing out in my mind are often complicated by an inept ability to walk, talk, think, drive, eat, put on clothes, fix mechanical objects, use tools, or remember where I put my keys and wallet, et cetera.  People are more forgiving of a clutz who is friendly than one who seems threatening, for him there is only mocking laughter and disdain.

    Unfriendliness is related to being selfish.  I am too busy for you, don't take up my time, don't interrupt me, don't delay me, and please don't need me.  I hate it when people need me, I only want them to be consistently available when I need them, and I expect them to be able to actually do something about my need, not just sympathize.  I don't really empathize with other people, I have to work hard at faking sympathy, but God made me a pastor so what else can I do?

   He must have done this because He knows how selfish I am.  It is apparent that He thought marriage would expose a lot of my selfishness, and having children really smacked the truth of my selfishness in my face.  No one really told me I would have to share things with my kids.  Is it wrong to eat ice cream in the pantry so they won't see it, since there isn't enough for everyone?  My wife thought so, who is the evil exposer of much of my selfishness.

    Upon joining a gym I found out that some people use gyms because they don't really like people, but sort of pretend they are sociable by working out in proximity to others.  Some men walk around butt naked in the locker room without a trace of vulnerabilty.  These are the kind of guys who, when you say, "good morning!"  They say, "what's good about it?"  Guys who when you try to start a conversation look right through you as if you were something they just rubbed off their shoe.

    "Man," I think, "he is pretty unfriendly and selfish."   One day when riding an exercise bike beside one particular man who was probably one of the sourest people I have ever been around just blurted out how he wished he were dead.  I realized how deep the saddness went inside a man that seemed a hollow shell and I realized my own self-protectiveness prevented me from seeing his pain.

   Hard exteriors and crusty shells, unfriendly and selfish attitudes, often hide a moaning heart.  Sinful yes, as my selfishness has been.  Crafted by pride, mortared by spite, sustained by defensiveness, and explained and justified to ourselves by our fears.  We break out against all sound judgment.

    Friendliness in itself is not holiness, it is sometimes a mask for hidden agendas and a palliative for a conscience that hides other iniquities.  "I may be a monster, but at least I am nice to strangers and puppies," the hedonist and serial killer might say.  However, in the kingdom of Christ selfishness is not allowed, it is a sin.  Unfriendliness as an expression of that selfishness is anti-Christ, it is a putting off of people not a welcome to them.  It is a symptom of a wretched and nasty heart.  It is an embarrassing thing to realize that if Jesus treated us as we treat others, at times, he would never have heard our desperate cry for mercy, for forgiveness, for love.  He has always listened, always stops on his way to somewhere else to heal the blind, the deaf, the cripple, and the broken when they cry.  As he listens now, for those of us who cry to be rescued from our selfish and unfriendly hearts and ways.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


  Why do we have to have a choice between reconciliation and justice?  Actually, in my opinion, you can't have reconciliation in its truest sense without justice.  

   There can be different levels of justice, and thus different levels of reconciliation.  Starting with the lowest and worse would simply be silence and acquiescence.  This would be when the victims accept their plight, and for the sake of "peace," or the sake of survival, simply keep quiet and refuse to confront the abuser or oppressor.  To the oppressor this may feel like "peace" or reconciliation, since the act or system that defines the oppression is not threatened, nor the oppressor made to feel guilty.  The victim may or may not harbor bitterness, hatred, or feelings of shame, but the objective reality is that their acquiescence is not in fact justice.

    By contrast there can be the very spiritual and amazing act of forgiveness without any reason to give it except love, or grace, and this is most magnificently demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus.  This is where one suffers injustice, does not mentally or morally acquiesce to it, but instead carries the suffering while knowing full well its evil, but forgives the tormentor.  To some who witness such love it may seem no different than the silent sufferer, but in fact it is completely opposite.  It is a brave and courageous act, and so sublime as to seem a miracle. 

   The forgiveness to an unrepentant oppressor is an act of justice because the victim decides to bear the evil.  This is what forgiveness is when there has been no confession, repentance, or recompense.  Forgiveness is the kind of justice that knows full well how evil the oppression has been, but refuses to let it define itself as victim, suffers the wounds and chooses not to strike back. 

    This does not excuse the oppressor before God or morality.  Ultimate justice will still be played and distributed, at least according to the Bible.  "Justice is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Temporarily however, the oppressor is saved from retribution.  What the oppressor is not saved from is his bondage to his own evil, racism, brutality, arrogance, and self-deception.  He is not saved from his alienation towards those he has oppressed.  This is to some degree justice delayed by the choice of the oppressed, but it is not reconciliation.

    Then there is a partial justice, which can be admission of fault, admission of historical oppression or recent injustice, and a willingness to tell and own the truth.  For many oppressors and victims of injustice this is a liberating moment.  Finally, for the afflicted to hear the oppressor tell the truth, to stop denying and hiding, to begin to bear some of the shame and pain of the past for themselves can be the beginning of a road to healing for both sides.

    Even here those who were oppressed may choose to carry the results of oppression and forgive the oppressor.  In this there is possible some reconciliation, some peace based on truth.  It still requires the price be paid by the victim, and if they choose to do so, then to some degree justice has been requited.   Again, forgiveness is miraculous, and healing.   For those who were at one time oppressors to truly receive such forgiveness, and to understand its price, is devastatingly humbling. 

    If the oppressed choose not to forgive, then there is no reconciliation, though the oppressor may feel emotionally relieved of their burden.  In many ways this makes the victim twice the victim.  Hurt is now coupled with bitterness and hate.  Though an outside prison may have been opened it is replaced with one on the inside of the soul.

    When truth is told by abusers and oppressors, and they pursue acts of restitution and recompense, they put flesh on words and bring proof of repentance; it cannot change the past, but it can change the course of the present toward an equitable future. This also can bring great liberation in the souls of both oppressor and oppressed.  It can bring about meaningful reconciliation as not just emotional healing takes place but social, legal, and economic restoration take shape. 

    Unfortunately there are some victims who cannot recover, or who will not.  Their bitterness has become their identity, it has become the way they navigate life, and they seem to have no tools by which to disconnect it from their souls.  This is the continual tragedy of injustice, but the repentant former oppressor no longer fully owns it because there is nothing they can do about it except to keep loving.  It now lies solely in the heart of those who cannot give up the pain to find a way out, and this we believe Jesus offers them through his power. In this world some things seem impossible to forgive, except by the grace and power of God.

    The pursuit of justice should never simply be acquiescence.  It may sometimes have to be forgiveness in the face of an abuser's refusal to admit, tell, or seek the truth.  We recognize peacemaking then to be one sided, and not fully realized, and quite apt to erupt in more oppression.  Truth in that case must continually and courageously be told to power, and for the Christian pursued always with a heart ready to forgive and reconcile.  Truth may not be kind, but believers must be.

    Forgiveness does not mean leaving the helpless undefended, and the refusal to call power to the acknowledgement of truth and justice is an abandonment of the very ones God calls us to champion.  Oppression hides behind self-justification, excuses, rules, systems, etc.  Truth must dismantle everything that allows unjust outcomes and love must bridge the breach to justice.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


    I am using a very unpopular, dated, and disturbing word to describe why Christians and Christianity need to think of taking over the world.  Let me hasten to say I am not using it in the poltical/military sense.  I am not speaking of Papal armies or of explorers come with guns and priests.  I am not speaking of cultural deracination from Western missionaries.  I am not speaking of colonization but I am very much speaking in terms of Christianization, and by that I mean the evangelzing of the world and the discipleship of nations under the Word of God.

    I have no doubt the cultural anthropological purists will still hate the idea, there will be those who compare this idea to "jihad" and radical Islam.  If someone hasn't figured out the difference of a competition for hearts and minds versus that from the forced changing of one's faith from the threat of the sword they haven't been paying attention.  Biblical Christianity is not conversion at the point of the gun.  Yes, we admit there has been history of  horrific manipulaton of Christianity so as to coerce and dominate others from nuns to boarding school teachers, from "statesmen" to slave owners.  Nevertheless, Biblical Christianity is not a religion of rules, nor meanness, nor guilt, nor the despising of one's ethnic and cultural roots or gender.

    Biblical Christianity is a religion of faith, of a willing change of heart, of love, of an obedience and joyful following of the Son of God.   It is best when it is most like Jesus, and it is not Christianity at all if He isn't in it.  So how can an imperial Christianity be a good thing?  Because anything this good has to take over, and the world remains a poor and hard place as long as Jesus is not in control of our hearts, our minds, our culture, and our behavior.  "This good," you say, yes I maintain that Biblcial Christianity is the best thing for the world, for everybody, and the world will suffer until it acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord in all things.

    I also submit this is not arrogance, nor is it unkind, nor is it intolerant.  If it had anything to do with force than it would be intolerable, and not of Christ.  It has nothing to do with a sense of superiority over others, simply because Biblical Christiainity is a teaching of a complete equality of people in their sinfulness, the mercy and grace of a loving God for all nations, and a humble bowing of the knee not to a religion of men but that revealed by the only true God.  Of course, if He is not the only true God people can do whatever they want, but if there is one holy and living God then the only thing that makes sense, and the only thing that is safe, is for the world that He created to obey Him.

    My concern here is not to give an apologetic for Biblical Christianity but rather an exhortation to Christians.  The idea of evangelism, or missions, or spreading the faith, or of discipling the nations is not a new idea and certainly not original with me.  It is the idea of God, and the call of Christ, and the duty of the saints.  My call is not for Christians to seek to do this by mere material means, though we do it of course in human material.  We seek to do this by spiritual means as through the work of the Holy Spirit, as He works through the Bible He has written in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls.  My call is that we need to spread the Gospel, and we need to teach those who come to faith all that which Christ has commanded, and we do that in churches we plant and build and through the doing of that we create cultural institutions which help to disciple our nation.

    Cultural Christianity has struggled for centuries in figuring out how to combine government, culture, and religion.  Some have created "Holy, Roman, Empires," which I learned in school was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.  Some have attempted Ceasaro-Papism, or a state church.  We suggest none of those things, but we do stress the urgency and necessity of infiltrating the world with Truth, goodness, love, mercy, and justice.

    I am not suggesting more marketplace manipulaton of folks to get them to agree to a short creedal statement, I am not suggesting "decisional regeneration," though I believe we need to call people to decision.  I am suggesting that the Church of Jesus Christ, the true Church, needs to get mobilized against a wave of darkness that seeks to overwhelm everything in its path.  Our churches, our institutions, our families, and our people need to realize we have spiritual weapons and it is time to use them.  These are powerful to pull down every fortified postion of the enemy, and here I speak of spiritual enemies and not certain individuals, institutions, or nations.  Though each of these may be dominated by spiritual darkness, and each may actively attempt to discredit or attack our Lord and His Word, we seek to overthrow ways of thinking and living that are anti-God and destructive to people.  Our weapons are love and truth; manfested in showing compassion and in Godly thinking.

    I call on churches and Christian institutions to stop thinking their organizational mission is actually missional.  If you simply maintain what you have, seek to insure its programs and property, and don't realize a sense of dramatic urgency to our present cultural crisis then you will be swallowed up.  We must march, we must preach, we must go, we must persuade, we must confront because anything else is going to end in great loss.  Of course I know God will win, how lazy and disobedient to hide behind our hope.  Search the Scriptures and see if God ever allows his ultimate victory to be an excuse not to disciple the nations.  We must not simply add to our selves, but multiply.

      How wicked and simply stupid it is to think we can protect our family, our congregation, our educational institutions and raise our Christian children to be elite and superior and not think the world and worldliness will not have the power to reach them.  Our mission is not protection but advancement.  If you have something worth having then give it away, to the masses of people who don't yet know Christ, but whose dangerous development of false religions, philosophy, and culture will not hesitate to infect our own hearts and minds.  We are in a spiritual war and only the imperial rule of Christ will suffice to end it.


Thursday, September 4, 2014


    One of the frustrating realities of inter-racial and political discussion is the propensity for some folks to believe myths, and to ignore facts.  There are reasons for this, and though I don't know them all I am pretty sure some of them are built around emotional response; anger, guilt, defensiveness, etc.  I sense some of the responses come from a political or ideological framework, and this in turn leads to reaction; vigorous agreement or vehement denial.

    The scathing, mocking, and belittling of those whose arguments with which we disagree only seem to add fuel to our allies and often bitter incomprehension to opponents.  It is kind of disgusting to feel like one is standing near a mob cheering on a bloody and brutal fist fight when things could be worked out differently.  It is as if the Wide World of Wrestling has invaded what should be intelligent discussion.  

 It is not just that we disagree about our conclusions drawn from the same set of facts, but that we often disagree as to what are facts, let alone what the facts are.  Then there are the phrases that beg our sympathy but give us no real argument, except that for us to keep saying something with which you disagree makes you extremely exhausted, such as, "I am so tired of hearing..."  

     Some of this is fueled of course by those who make money from over the top rhetoric or bellicose argument, or by those who simply seek to make a name for themselves by articulating the most negative and slanted position.  Our culture seems to have mistaken vehemence for substance, mockery for intelligent critique, sarcasm for valid conclusions.  I am not picking a side here, but our entertainment culture has counterfeited explosion for power. It might be wise for all of us to be a bit skeptical of showmen.

    Somewhere in the midst of it we forgot to listen to each other, to attempt to walk in another person's shoes, to see it from another's perspective, to patiently wait to ascertain what is actually known rather than what is immediately assumed.  If we don't rush to judgment there is not going to be anything in the media, today, or right now, which of course is the only thing that is important.

    Along the way we have lost friends, a sense of unity, a common moral understanding, and a shared sense of justice.  We have lost respect for each other, and lost kindness for anyone other than those who shout, yell, and curse alongside ourselves.  I do confess to a frequent emotional reaction to much of our social discourse, and that is a sense of shame.