Wednesday, June 24, 2015

One God. One Race.

Dear Friends,

Charles Darwin is lauded as one of the greatest investigative scientists of his day and is considered to be one of the most influential men of all time. His 1859 book ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES presented his theories on evolution that were quickly accepted as “science.” Darwin then wrote THE DESCENT OF MAN; AND SELECTION IN RELATIONSHIP TO SEX in which he examined how humans evolved from apes.  Darwin was a celebrity in the field of science and that book also was considered to be scientific fact. Charles Darwin is known as the “Father of Evolution.” I think of him as the “Father of Racism.”

Darwin begins THE DESCENT OF MAN.. by theorizing that the laws governing the evolution of man must coincide with the “laws” governing the evolution of the “lower animals.” He writes that “at some future period..the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate the savage races throughout the world.” Darwin was convinced that the white “civilized races” would exterminate the less evolved and more “ape-like” Negroes. He believed that the Negro and (native) Australian were closer in appearance to the gorilla, (p.521) and the Negro was a “sub-species” somewhere in the evolutionary lineage between the Caucasian and the ape. In addition to these “scientific” race theories, Darwin also wrote that “The average of mental power in man must be above that of woman and man has ultimately become superior to woman.”

Darwin’s closest student, biologist Thomas Huxley, helped to expand Darwin’s theories by writing, “It may be quite true that some Negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.” Huxley advanced Darwin’s theory that the Negro had mental faculties closer to the ape than to the more evolved superior Caucasian. He wrote, “..the highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins.” As Darwin’s student and a fellow scientist, Huxley’s expansion of Darwin’s ideas were also recognized as “scientific facts.”

According to these “brilliant” scientists, Darwin’s theory of evolution “proved” that some groups of humans are superior to other groups. (That’s what happens when God’s Creation is explained by atheist scientists instead of by theologians.)

There is one human race that God created. He created male and female in His image. Genesis 1:27 All of humanity was created from Adam and Eve and as we bear their image, we bear the image of our Heavenly Father. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 In God’s Kingdom there is no distinction between people groups. Romans 10:12-13 In Christ, even the minor distinctions between us as individuals fade away. Galatians 3:27-29 

The Bible does refer to people groups who have different shades of skin and hair color but it was not until the 1700's that society assigned race labels to people according to their skin color. The Bible refers to different families, tribes, nations and the languages they speak, but God sees all people as one people that the Bible calls “man.”

Our DNA shows that God created all humans to be 99.9% alike and the .1% difference is caused by natural genetic variation. Society likes to use skin color as the separator of “races,” but the skin color of European Caucasians range from pale white to a very dark brown. Darwin’s conclusions about skin color being a marker of how far we’ve evolved from apes are unscientific and nonsensical. 

The bottom line is that there is only one race – the human race. God gives life and breath to all and He has made “from one blood” every person who has ever dwelled on this earth. Acts 17:25-26 The sin of racial hatred didn’t start with Darwin but his evil theory of white “superiority” over other “races” needs to end. Our churches need to teach this.

Last week, 21 year old Dylaan Roof murdered nine people during a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. We were then stunned to hear that Roof is a committed Christian. His Lutheran pastor described Roof as a good church-going boy who regularly attended youth camps and worship services. The theory of white supremacy is anathema to the ELCA Lutherans and yet, Roof killed these African-American Christians believing that they were of a race inferior to his. Did he not know that the blood he shed that day was the exact same that runs through his own veins? We will never fully understand the circumstances that caused this young man’s horrific actions that day. But protests, political rhetoric and gun laws do not address the sin of racism in America. That has to start in the church. Amen?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Worship is an Action Word

Dear Friends,

She sits quietly, listening to the relaxing smooth sounds of her favorite worship music. Eyes closed, head nodding in time with the rhythm, a sweet smile on her face. The resplendence of the music is bringing warm, pleasant thoughts and feelings of love for her Holy Father and she weeps. She is feeling connected with God. The music has taken her into the holy of holies. She sits reverently in the Presence of God. Is she worshiping?
The pastor stands on the stage partially hidden by the drum-set as he scans the mega-congregation during worship. His praise and worship band just released their third album and every Sunday the church is packed with a young and excited crowd. Only a few of them are singing. All are drawn to the charismatic lead singer and the band’s rock sound – the guitar riffs and the drum solos. They love their professional praise and worship band. It's like going to a Christian concert every Sunday! Is this church worshiping?

Across the street at the cathedral-sized church, the congregation reverently listens as the 100 member choir flawlessly sings sacred music from the 12th century. In church jargon these are known as "performance choirs." The music is ethereal, elegant and exquisite. Is this church worshiping?

A congregation opens their service by singing two "contemporary" praise songs from the 70's. Some people are quietly singing while others are greeting each other and talking. A woman turns to the back of the bulletin to find something to read. Some older people are shifting restlessly in the pews -- they only sing the hymns. Some younger people are playing video games on their phone. Is this church worshiping?

We can self-define worship to be whatever we want it to be, but if we are relying on our Bible to define authentic worship and allow scripture to provide the framework for a worship service, then the answer to the above scenarios may surprise you.

It might help to separate what is "worshipful" from what is "Biblical worship." “WORSHIPFUL” is a feeling of reverence and adoration. Listening to worship music may engage your senses and take you into a worshipful place in your spirit. So may reading scripture, burning incense, lighting candles, walking into an old California Mission or seeing a spectacular sunrise.

Biblical “WORSHIP” is something entirely different. In the Bible, worship is always participative. It is never passive. It’s not a performance or a programming element in a church service. It's not singing a couple of songs to warm people up for the service that follows. Worship is not seeking a feeling or experience but authentic, heart-felt worship will always take you into the presence of God.

In the Bible, “worship” is an action verb. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “Shachah” translated as “worship” is used over one hundred times. In the New Testament, the Greek word “Proskuneo” translated as “worship” is used fifty-nine times. Both words mean the same thing: to bow down, kneel or prostrate oneself before a Superior Being. To engage in biblical worship, you must actually be doing something. Remember, by definition, worship is always participative. Read the four scenarios again and ask yourself, "Is this person/church worshiping?"

Worship is not our good thoughts, warm feelings or groovin’ to a guitar riff. It’s using our voice and our posture to express the worthiness of our triune God. "Make a joyful shout to the Lord..Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise!" Psalm 100:1-5 is not an instruction to the priests but to the people. Singing out loud, verbally praising Him, bowing, kneeling, shouting, standing with hands raised– that’s worship! And when we worship, the glory of the Lord will fill the house of God!
“..the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets -- 13 indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: "For He is good, For His mercy endures forever," that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:12-14
Some traditions teach that proper worship can only take place in a priest-led liturgical church service with other believers. But we can't hire a professional priest, pastor or praise band to do the worship for us. God created YOU for worship. “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:21  You were created to worship God and declare His praise in church, out of church, in your home, your car, in your backyard and walking on the beach.

What happens when we praise God and worship Him? St. Bernard wrote that “through desire we already possess the object of our longing.” How much this rings true for us when we express our heart’s desire for the Lord in our worship. We long for Him and reach out and touch Him as we speak forth His worthiness to Him. And in that moment of intimate worship, as we possess the gift of His love, He reaches out and possesses us. We are owned by Him. We belong to Him. We are His.  Amen?

Note: This AMEN Corner is an edited, revised and expanded version of an earlier post.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Got Stress? Need God?

Dear Friends,

Surveys show that Americans are more stressed than ever these days. Even with good, steady jobs we can feel overworked, undervalued, underpaid, unappreciated and go home at night stressed and exhausted. And there’s still the shopping, cleaning, paying bills, medical problems, pets, people, noisy neighbors, church responsibilities, phone calls, television, internet, laundry, children and grandchildren. Even the enjoyable things in life can seem overwhelming at times.

And we search for relief from life. We know there’s someOne who can help. But where is He? Where is God when we need Him most? And we can find ourselves searching for more God when we already have more of God than we know.

We only search for what we have already experienced. We only search for that which is missing and it is impossible to miss something that never existed for us. And that means that in our fervent search for God’s presence in our life, we may be searching for something that we already have.

Augustine was a bishop, a Christian theologian and one of the early Church Fathers of our faith. He wrote about God, “You were within me but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for You. Created things kept me from You.”

God is already within us. 1 Cor 3:16 (NLT) Jesus Christ lives within every believer and the Holy Spirit gives us life. Romans 8:10-11 (NLT) The Apostle Peter said if you repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, then you will receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 And Augustine reminds that, while God is within each one of us, there are things that we do which reveal His presence and things we do that distract us and quench His presence. Life happens and we can become so distracted with the created things, that we can no longer see the Creator within. 

That’s when we start our search – our quest – for more God. And looking on our outside, we find things that we think may be helpful. A new book, a new religious television show, a new church, a new way to pray, a new devotional practice. But if God is already within us, maybe it’s not what we add to our life that reveals His presence, but what we need to take away.

A few years ago, I worked a high-stress, nine hour per day job that kept me so busy I was either working or thinking about work. Now in retirement, I’m just as busy doing all the church and religious things and I’m again missing the presence of God. I need to go to the sanctuary.

Saint Andrew’s Abbey is a monastery in Valyermo and I used to think of it as the place where I could always go to meet God – as if God was sequestered at the monastery and I could find Him there. Then the Holy Spirit showed me something that gave me a different understanding of His presence. 

When I step on to those old monastery grounds at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, I’m stepping off the hamster wheel of life. When I sit, still and quiet beside the lake, and breathe the sagebrush scented air, the clutter of created things falls away. When I open my Bible to read, I come into His presence. But I see now that God is not waiting for me to come and join Him in the sanctuary of the monastery. I brought Him with me in the sanctuary of my heart. He’s been there within me all along but I’d buried Him under the clutter of my life. And in that quiet and holy place at the monastery, all the “created things” that had been keeping me from Him were stripped away.

Where is your holy place? That sacred space where the clutter of your life falls away to reveal the Heavenly Father within. Where you come into His presence and just rest awhile. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Are you searching for the One who has already found you? Just stop what you’re doing for a moment. Take a deep breath and set everything aside. When all the created things have been stripped away, you’ll find Him. Waiting for you. In the sanctuary of your heart.  Amen?

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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