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That’s Paul-ine (not as in the female name Pauline), reminiscent of the Apostle Paul.

By resisting California’s local and state government, the Revd John MacArthur is walking into St Paul’s territory.

When I last wrote about the travails of Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, he was still in battle with Los Angeles County. That was in mid-August.

His and his church’s fortunes have not improved since then.

Before going into Grace Community Church’s struggle in detail, an unfortunate situation has resulted from the coronavirus. This is universal and separate, going on throughout Western countries.

It might have happened by accident or by design, through lockdown.

However, the unchurched or the formerly-churched who wished to find comfort and succour in a church community because of a pandemic were unable to do so because of lockdown.

Some Christians often say, ‘Church is everywhere you look or what you make of it personally. If you don’t, it’s your own fault’.

Those from a Calvinist tradition strongly maintain that church is not a building. The Church of Scotland holds to that tenet. Their attitude is: ‘Lockdown? So what?’ Someone from the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) lambasted John MacArthur here a few weeks ago.

For the rest of us, however, that belief does not hold true. In fact, not being able to worship in person in community, particularly at a difficult time, can be deeply unsettling at a time when people feel the desire for a spiritual — and physical — connection more than ever.

RedState, much improved since the departure of Erick Erickson, posted an article by Kira Davis: ‘The Church Has Spectacularly Failed the COVID Test … and the Faithful’.

Ms Davis met up with a friend of hers in California. Her friend was clearly upset about not being able to go to church during lockdown. She said she thought perhaps she was having a crisis of faith.

Ms Davis diagnosed her friend’s problem differently (emphases mine below):

Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.

The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.

Davis rightly chose to put the blame where it properly lies — with our clergy. I don’t live in the United States, but even those of us in other Western countries have experienced limitations on our fellowship. In England, at least, we need to sign in to attend a religious service, wear face coverings, observe social distancing, bring our own liturgical printouts/Bibles, realise we mustn’t sing and remember to greet from a two-metre distance.

At least we can worship indoors.

In California, the state mandates outside worship, more on which later:

Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.

Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at.

Too right!

During normal times — the rest of our lives, bar 2020 — priests and pastors have been telling us that we must attend church for the state of our souls:

Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.

Yep. Except when there’s a pandemic.

During this crisis, those same clergy — men and women– have scurried from sight, just when so many of us need them:

There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentmentall of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.

With John MacArthur in mind, Davis then zeroes in on the current conflict between Church and State. She nails it perfectly:

Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.

She concludes:

The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.

California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.

Nope.

Fortunately, at the age of 81, with a full life of ministry dating back to the late 1960s, John MacArthur has decided to don St Paul’s mantle.

No doubt, he and his godly wife Patricia have prayed together over this issue since July.

On September 16, MacArthur told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that he and his church were still under threat of fines or imprisonment. He said, ‘Bring it on’:

That day, RedState‘s Alex Parker compared him to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in The Enforcer: ‘Pastor John MacArthur Backs Down Not an Inch: If California Wants to Jail Him, “Bring It On”‘. Citations follow below.

It’s hard not to cheer along with the congregation at this announcement of his from August 9, because the only legitimate way to assemble en masse these days is through ‘peaceful protest’:

Returning to his interview with Laura Ingraham, he expressed his deep admiration for Paul the Apostle:

We received a letter with a threat that we could be fined or I could go to jail for a maximum of six months. Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the apostle Paul, and when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like, he asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was gonna spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic if they want to tuck me in a jail.

He also reminded Ingraham and her audience of the COVID-19 figures and the absurdity of prohibiting state-wide public worship:

We believe that the governor, the county, the city, and the health department are going against the Constitution,” MacArthur said in the Tuesday night appearance on Fox News. “And just to remove one obvious question, the rate of COVID in California is 1/100 of 1%. So 1/100 of 1% of 40 million people have COVID and that eliminates freedom to worship from the entire state.

He told Ingraham that President Trump is also on his side. Excellent news, even if MacArthur is self-avowedly apolitical:

I am so thankful that President Trump has told me personally that he supports the church as essential and the churches need to stay open. So, with the Constitution on our side and the president’s backing, we’re open.

A few days earlier, on Sunday, September 13, MacArthur appeared at the pulpit to resounding, if not deafening, applause and cheers. If you had heard only the audio, you would have thought that President Trump were standing there.

MacArthur had a long list of demands from the State of California to read to his congregation:

He thanked them and said, by way of compliment:

You people are out of control. Thank you, thank you.

The requirements follow.

Keep in mind that thousands of worshippers attend Grace Community Church each Sunday:

– No indoor meetings;

– Registration of every person on church property;

– Screening and temperature checks upon entry;

– Six feet of social distancing mandated, including in the car park and in restrooms;

– Every other parking space must be left vacant;

– Everyone must be masked;

– Restrooms must have monitors;

– Floors must have tape markings;

– Restrooms to be used during the service, rather than afterwards to prevent queues;

– Hymnbooks, Holy Communion and Bibles are forbidden;

– No one can shake hands;

– Mandatory seat covers must be in place;

– Services must be shortened (congregation laughs);

– Worship must take place in a tent with a maximum of 350 people;

Anyone who comes in contact with someone outside of their family afterwards for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.

A lot of those sound like what we have in England.

MacArthur concluded:

Obviously, this is not constitutional but, more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the Church.

On Thursday, September 24, Ryan Helfenbein of the Falkirk Center interiewed John MacArthur at length (26 minutes). This is the second of a two-part series on COVID-19 and the Church:

Ryan Hefelbein asks him about his critics decrying his reopening of Grace Community Church.

MacArthur says that Scripture says that the members of the Church are called out to meet together. There is no such thing as an ungathered church.

The notion that the church is scattered is an un-scriptural belief:

That is a foolish statement to make.

MacArthur and his legal counsel had appeared in court that day — September 24 — and presented the enduring infinitesimally low statistic of contracting, let alone dying from, coronavirus, especially between the ages of 30 and 60:

On the basis of statistics alone, this [lockdown] is completely arbitrary.

He says that, even though he is cautious, he believes that whether we live or die depends upon the:

purposes of God.

MacArthur says that his mission in life is to make sure that as many people as possible hear the word of God.

He said that there was only one person, a physician, who had COVID-19. The doctor recovered.

As such, word got around the congregation. MacArthur said that many wondered if the alarm surrounding the pandemic was justified. Through nothing of his own doing, people began to return to church. That would have been in July. Prior to that, he and his assistants had been doing online worship broadcasts in several different languages.

He said:

The Church should never close its doors.

He spoke about the irony of our clergy lauding the heroes of the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Knox), yet they will never run that risk of being in danger — especially surrounding a virus. He pulled a face, disapprovingly.

He took exception to the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris comparing COVID-19 to the Second World War:

Last I knew, no one was bombing LA.

Nice one!

MacArthur said that more and more people have been attending his church’s services every week. That’s probably because there is nowhere else for them to worship normally.

He dismissed ‘conspiracy theorists’ but posited an ongoing ‘conspiracy’ in California and elsewhere in the West — pre-COVID — undoing the tenets of the Gospel as expressed in the Book of Romans:

This culture has done a massive work on destroying the law of God in the heart.

He said that the only remaining bulwark is the Church, but, that, too, has been restrained, not only this year but over the past few decades:

What the hell is going to keep this culture from going to Hell at warp speed?

He said that the only solution is to:

keep preaching, living godly lives, confronting these things

Ryan Helfenbein asked if the coronavirus had changed him.

He replied that, no, it hadn’t. The word of God and his ministry had not changed. Yet, the culture has certainly changed.

Incredibly, he ventured into politics, which is somewhat of an unknown frontier for him, because in past sermons he says he was not interested in the subject. Yet, today, he says that the parties have divided along moral lines (19 minutes in):

For a Christian, a real Christian, I do not believe they can vote Democratic …

Not only do Christians have to uphold righteousness, they must take the side of those that uphold religious righteousness … God wants you to take the stand for righteousness’s sake …

He reiterated not to vote for a platform — the Democrats’ — which goes against God’s will as expressed in the Bible:

Certainly not to vote for that, otherwise you have complicityMurder and perversion is not an option for a Christian on any level. I think it’s come down to that.

He says that the Republican platform — not necessarily the personal lives of their candidates — is on the side of biblical morality.

True to form, MacArthur has a can of Fresca by his side on the desk. He loves Fresca. So did my late maternal grandmother.

Fresca has a weird taste, but if you grew up with it, as I did, it brings back fond memories.

Returning to a serious note, MacArthur reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and the Ruler of the world. MacArthur warns us about the different forms of wrath that can be wrought against a culture.

In Romans 1:24-26 and 28, he says, that God will deliver persistent sinners unto their own devices: serious sin, including sexual immorality. Essentially, God gave them over to a ‘reprobate mind’ i.e, insanity.

He believes that, by and large, we are now ‘in a reprobate mind’ — not all of us, but too many — and that God has unleashed judgement. However, MacArthur says the judgement is temporary, provided that we, as a people, repent.

MacArthur ended by saying:

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

Last week, I ran a series on the Revd John MacArthur and the court battle involving his Grace Community Church regarding indoor worship in Los Angeles County.

It seems as if John MacArthur is an outlier, with no support from clergy from other churches.

Last week ended on an optimistic note: ‘A court win for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church’.

One of my readers, H E, sent in the following comment concerning religious and other restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some time ago, H E gave me permission to repost his comments, and I am happy to do so now. This is excellent (emphases mine below):

Thank you for your series of articles about Pastor John MacArthur and his court fight to permit his church to hold indoor services.

I concur with John Cheshire that it is disappointing that mainstream church bodies generally have not supported Pastor MacArthur’s efforts.

I live in the US. In elementary school, I was taught that the rights enumerated in the US Constitution (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc) are inalienable, natural rights given by God (teachers could say ‘God’ in those days) which pre-exist and supersede civil law.

What troubles me is that governors and mayors in the US issued dictates that forbade a citizen from exercising his God-given rights, despite the fact that, at their inauguration, these officials swore to uphold the Constitution which guarantees free exercise of such rights. I live in the state of New Jersey. Our governor, Philip Murphy, stated on television that he had not considered the effect of his restrictive executive orders on the Bill of Rights. In that interview he stated “the Bill of Rights is above my pay grade.”

(As a sidebar, there have been no calls for the removal of Governor Murphy on the basis that either he lied when he swore to uphold the Constitution or he is incompetent. On the contrary, his approval rating is about 70%).

Policemen are sworn to uphold the law. Implicit in this oath is the understanding that a policeman should not enforce an illegal law. Nonetheless, policemen in New Jersey, acting on an executive order from the Governor, walked into a Jewish religious service, arrested the Rabbi, put him in handcuffs, and hauled him off to jail because he had the temerity to hold a religious service that violated the Governor’s dictates.

For the police to disrupt a religious service and arrest the person leading the service is appalling to me and unheard of in the US, in my personal experience. This is something I would expect to see in China. The legal system in the US is normally reluctant to interfere with religious activities and arrest religious leaders. (I understand that this is a reaction to the shameful way the courts and the police treated Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s). In fact, all one needs to do is to call himself ‘Reverend’ and establish a ‘church’ and he pretty much can do what he wishes. As an example, see Al Sharpton who for decades has been a political rabble rouser, but somehow is untouchable by the courts and the police.

It’s good that the court ruled in Pastor MacArthur’s favor. But what if it hadn’t? Would this mean that Pastor MacArthur’s inalienable right to assemble and worship God is void? How can this be? How can the exercise of one’s God-given, inalienable rights be dependent upon a decision of a local court judge, whose normal job duty is to adjudicate parking tickets?

In my opinion, the issue here is that there should never have been orders by local officials to close church services. They simply don’t have the legal authority to do this. And policemen should never have obeyed orders to enforce such unlawful directives.

The problem we face is that our society has devolved to the point where God-given, inalienable rights have been reduced to the level of municipal ordinances, subject to the whims of petty public officials.

How do we get our rights restored? Through the courts? I don’t see this as likely since the courts are an arm of the state and work to uphold the interests of the state against the citizens. Elect new representatives? We elected Donald Trump as President and the Deep State has blocked nearly every action he has tried to take. I don’t know what the answer is.

I replied:

I don’t have an answer, either …

I am not surprised, though, that other churches aren’t openly supporting John MacArthur, although, no doubt, they’ll gladly take any benefits accruing from a court decision in Grace Community Church’s favour.

First, most pastors in established denoms are left-wing. Secondly, the last thing they want to do is stick their heads above the parapet. A lot of those denominations have hierarchies, too, therefore, individual pastors cannot take those sorts of decisions independently.

The independent Evangelical pastors probably want a quiet life but will gladly let MacArthur do the heavy lifting and then reap the rewards any wins bring.

Today, by chance, I came across an article at LifeNews.com:

‘Judge Fines Church $3,000 for Holding Worship Service, But Abortion Clinics Can Kill Babies’ chronicles the stories of two other California churches that have fallen foul of the law recently. One is in Ventura County. The other is in Santa Clara County:

California Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks appeared before Judge Vincent O’Neill in Superior Court of Ventura County on Friday, August 21 and was held in contempt of court.  Godspeak Calvary Chapel was fined $500 per three services, for two Sundays, or a total of $3,000.

Pastor McCoy received an order from a Ventura state judge on Friday, August 7, banning the church’s in-person services. Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco issued a temporary restraining order to Pastor Rob McCoy, the Church, and Does 1-1000, along with anyone “acting in concert with them” who might attend worship in the future. Governor Gavin Newsom ordered no singing or chanting, and then ordered no worship, even in private homes with anyone who does not live in the home.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel (Church) held three worship services on Sunday, August 9 and August 16. An evidentiary hearing is set for Aug. 31.

North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California was also fined $5,000 for singing in each of the two worship services yesterday, although social distancing was practiced. The four-page letter posted on the front door of the church said, “North Valley Baptist is failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist’s services from singing. This activity is unlawful. The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship. However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly. The county demands that North Valley Baptist immediately cease the activities listed above and fully comply with the Risk Reduction Order, the Gatherings Directive, the State July 13 Order and the State guidance. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”

Santa Clara County had North Valley Baptist Church under surveillance:

Santa Clara County acknowledged in its cease and desist letter they had been sending agents into the church to spy on the congregation during worship services.

In his defence, the church’s pastor pointed to the Bible:

Pastor Jack Trieber said, “You can’t have any law against assembling in God’s house. None. I know we have a Constitutional right to worship, but we have a Higher Power that we answer to. I have a biblical mandate. We have obeyed authority in this church. We’ve always obeyed authority. But when local authority begins to disregard this authority, we go with this book right here,” he said pointing at the Bible.

This is the crazy situation that Newsom has created during the coronavirus outbreak. You can meet in church for anything except worship:

Gov. Newsom’s orders allow the church to feed, shelter, and provide social services, but the same people in the same building cannot worship. In order words, non-religious services are acceptable but religious services are banned. People can receive food, but not take communion. People can be housed overnight, but cannot hold a short worship service, Bible study, or meet for prayer. People can receive counseling to find work but cannot be counseled on finding eternal life.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The same governor who encourages mass protests, bans all worship and is now fining churches for their right to assemble and worship. The same governor who says the church can meet for secular services, bans the church from having religious worship. This unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end.”

Absolutely. I could not agree more.

Thank you, H E, for another excellent comment. The quotes from LifeNews.com reinforce your salient and important points on this topic.

It is cruel that, during a time when church becomes even more important during a life and death health situation, California’s governor forbids his residents from seeking communal solace in God and in Jesus Christ.

This week, I have been writing about the Revd John MacArthur‘s — and Grace Community Church‘s — battle with Los Angeles County over holding indoor church services during the coronavirus restrictions.

On Wednesday, August 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked the county court to hold both MacArthur and his church in contempt of court for having held indoor worship on Sunday, August 16. The Thomas More Society issued a press release that day stating (emphases in bold mine):

Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society, responded to the attack by the county:

The LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. They are now asking the court to hold the church in contempt for simply being open for worship last Sunday. Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical board, which is clearly defying the constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty.”

MacArthur and Grace Community Church are suing the county – and the state of California – for attempting to shut down their worship under COVID-related orders that violate the state’s constitution. The lawsuit was filed after MacArthur received a cease and desist letter prohibiting indoor worship and threatening him with fines and imprisonment should Grace Community continue to worship in their church building.

After a California Superior Court judge denied the county’s request for a temporary restraining order against MacArthur and his congregation, the church held weekend worship services. Following that, the County of Los Angeles asked the court to hold the pastor and church in contempt.

The Revd Dale Matson, an Anglican priest serving the Diocese of San Joaquin in California, sent me a positive update from the Thomas More Society, which is representing Grace Community Church. I am most grateful to him for sending me the news during a time when I have been busy offline.

The Thomas More Society’s press release dated Thursday, August 20, reads in part:

The Los Angeles County Superior Court announced on August 20, 2020, that there is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services. The renowned minister and his Sun Valley, California, congregation are being targeted by the County of Los Angeles, which has made repeated attempts to shut down the non-denominational, evangelical megachurch. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri are representing the church, defending the religious freedom of the pastor and congregants against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.

Ellis responded to the judicial finding:

We are pleased with the outcome today. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff correctly found there is no court order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. LA County continues to harass and target Pastor MacArthur. Having failed to get a court order to shut down the church they have sought three times, theyre going to try again by hauling us back into court. Ironically, LA County said in its application for contempt that, Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions dont go its way, yet thats precisely what LA County is now doing themselves. We will simply continue to defend our clients constitutionally protected rights because church is essential.

What unprofessional, if not vulgar, language for the county to use, especially with regard to a church.

That aside, this is excellent news not only for John MacArthur, his church and the congregation but possibly also for other churches in Los Angeles County, if not California as a whole.

Well done to Jenna Ellis, Charles LiMandri and Judge Beckloff.

I share Fr Dale’s sentiments regarding this ongoing legal battle:

I think a lot of churches will be looking to see the results. God bless this pastor and church.

I hope that the clergy and congregation of Grace Community Church enjoy a lovely Sunday together in air-conditioned comfort.

In late July 2020, the Revd John MacArthur resumed weekly services at his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

The church is located in Los Angeles County.

At first, few people came, because California is still under lockdown.

As the weeks passed, more and more people began attending Sunday services.

A full hearing about the church’s indoor services will take place on September 4.

At the moment, Los Angeles County could fine the church and have prison sentences imposed. The Washington Times reports:

The county issued a cease-and-desist order July 29 warning that the church would be subject to fines up to $1,000 and 90 days in prison for each indoor service.

In Los Angeles County, all religious services must be held outdoors, with masks and social distancing:

Under the county order, churches may conduct outdoor religious services, and participants “must wear cloth face coverings and maintain six feet of distance from each other unless they live in the same household.”

Grace Community Church objects to the lax attitude of Governor Gavin Newsom towards the summer protests, a stark contrast to his stance on indoor church services:

The Supreme Court has ruled twice in favor of state authority to issue emergency orders in lawsuits by churches challenging coronavirus health restrictions, but the Grace lawsuit argued that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had discriminated against churches with his lax enforcement of public-health mandates on protests.

With regard to the congregation not wearing masks at the service on Sunday, August 16, MacArthur offered this explanation:

“They were going to be asking us to do two things, social distance and wear masks,” said Mr. MacArthur. “We agreed, [saying] look, we’ll comply for a few weeks. They asked that for three weeks. We’re not wanting to be defiant. We will do what is reasonable. That was not enough for the city. They went to the appellate court Saturday late, and had that order removed.”

The California Court of Appeal issued a stay of the judge’s order, ruling that the dangers of COVID-19 outweigh the right to hold services at the popular church, where Sunday attendance has in pre-pandemic years topped 8,000.

Grace Community Church has hired a lawyer from the Thomas More Society, which handles religious freedom lawsuits.

Jenna Ellis is representing Grace. She is also a Senior Legal Adviser to President Trump’s campaign team and one of his personal lawyers.

Charles LiMandri is also representing the church.

PJ Media has more on both lawyers:

MacArthur and his church have hired Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri. Ellis is the senior legal adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, private counsel to President Donald Trump, and served on his legal team for the impeachment trial. She also serves as a senior fellow at the Falkirk Center for Faith & Liberty and is the author of The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution. LiMandri began the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund in 2012 and has litigated high-profile cases in California for decades, including the ACLU’s effort to remove the Mount Soledad Cross and San Diego’s effort to force firefighters to participate in a gay pride parade against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Breitbart quoted the judge who found in favour of the church on Friday (the stay came on Saturday):

On Friday, Judge James Chalfant of the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, upheld the right of MacArthur and the church to remain open and hold indoor worship.

Attorney Paul Jonna of the firm LiMandri & Jonna LLP, which litigates civil rights issues, tweeted some quotes from Chalfant’s ruling against Los Angeles County, which apparently argued that churches are being treated no differently than other “businesses.”

“The Governor can’t just issue policies without a rational basis to do so,” the judge said. “To my knowledge he never has developed a rational basis to distinguish between businesses. This is all sort of shooting from the hip, which is understandable at the beginning of an emergency and less understandable as time goes on.”

Chalfant continued that “although the moving paper purports to treat churches the same as other businesses, that is constitutionally wrong.”

“They’re entitled to heightened protection, not to be treated like a hair salon,” he said, adding that he agreed that Newsom and Los Angeles County “have not treated churches differently than any other business, and they have to. They absolutely have to.”

The PJ Media article summarises how Grace Community Church got in the crosshairs of the state and the county:

After Newsom ordered churches to shut on July 13, Grace Community Church released a statement on July 24 explaining that Grace Community Church would remain open. “Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles,” the church said. “Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gathers. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”

On July 29, the City of Los Angeles sent a cease-and-desist letter, threatening Grace Community Church and MacArthur with a daily fine of $1,000 or arrest. The letter gave him one day to respond. On Sunday, August 2, health officials came to the church, asking to inspect the premises. The church declined to let them in without a warrant and told them to speak with the church’s counsel. At that, they left.

The statement is on the church’s website. I will go into it in more detail tomorrow.

For now, here is the addendum, added on August 6. It gives the history of this year’s lockdown and the church’s initial compliance (emphases mine below):

The elders of Grace Church considered and independently consented to the original government order, not because we believed the state has a right to tell churches when, whether, or how to worship. To be clear, we believe that the original orders were just as much an illegitimate intrusion of state authority into ecclesiastical matters as we believe it is now. However, because we could not possibly have known the true severity of the virus, and because we care about people as our Lord did, we believe guarding public health against serious contagions is a rightful function of Christians as well as civil government. Therefore, we voluntarily followed the initial recommendations of our government. It is, of course, legitimate for Christians to abstain from the assembly of saints temporarily in the face of illness or an imminent threat to public health.

When the devastating lockdown began, it was supposed to be a short-term stopgap measure, with the goal to “flatten the curve”—meaning they wanted to slow the rate of infection to ensure that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. And there were horrific projections of death. In light of those factors, our pastors supported the measures by observing the guidelines that were issued for churches.

But we did not yield our spiritual authority to the secular government. We said from the very start that our voluntary compliance was subject to change if the restrictions dragged on beyond the stated goal, or politicians unduly intruded into church affairs, or if health officials added restrictions that would attempt to undermine the church’s mission. We made every decision with our own burden of responsibility in mind. We simply took the early opportunity to support the concerns of health officials and accommodate the same concerns among our church members, out of a desire to act in an abundance of care and reasonableness (Philippians 4:5).

But we are now more than twenty weeks into the unrelieved restrictions. It is apparent that those original projections of death were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared. Still, roughly forty percent of the year has passed with our church essentially unable to gather in a normal way. Pastors’ ability to shepherd their flocks has been severely curtailed. The unity and influence of the church has been threatened. Opportunities for believers to serve and minister to one another have been missed. And the suffering of Christians who are troubled, fearful, distressed, infirm, or otherwise in urgent need of fellowship and encouragement has been magnified beyond anything that could reasonably be considered just or necessary. Major public events that were planned for 2021 are already being canceled, signaling that officials are preparing to keep restrictions in place into next year and beyond. That forces churches to choose between the clear command of our Lord and the government officials. Therefore, following the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, we gladly choose to obey Him.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the church’s statement and how it complies with Romans 13:1-7.

Since the end of July 2020, the Revd John MacArthur has resumed holding indoor services at Grace Community Church in the face of a ban on indoor worship by the State of California.

I will have more on how the legal battle unfolded between July and the present day.

For now, MacArthur decided to continue with indoor services on Sunday, August 16:

The Daily Wire reported (emphases mine):

Grace Community Church and its senior pastor John MacArthur continued indoor services Sunday even after the California Court of Appeal struck down a lower court ruling that would have allowed the church to gather indoors with masks and social distancing.

As The Daily Wire reported, a Los Angeles County judge denied the county’s request Friday for a temporary restraining order against Grace Community Church and MacArthur after they did not comply with Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to shutter their house of worship because of the coronavirus. The church nevertheless agreed to abide by mask and social distancing protocols at least until the full hearing in September.

According to a Saturday night press release from the Los Angeles County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, “The California Court of Appeal today set aside a lower court order that would have allowed indoor services to take place at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The Court of Appeal’s decision temporarily upholds the County’s Health Officer Orders prohibiting indoor worship services in order to protect congregants and the community as a whole from transmission of the highly contagious and potentially fatal COVID-19 virus.”

This is what happened at Grace Community Church on Sunday morning:

“We’re having church,” MacArthur told his cheering congregation on Sunday morning. Explaining that he is unsure exactly what the city intends to do, he said that the church is not trying to be rebellious, but rather simply trying to do what they believe God has commanded them.

He continued:

We’re meeting because our Lord has commanded us to come together and to worship him. There was a court order that granted this church, and this church alone, the right to meet indoors. And the powers of the city were not happy about that. They were going to be asking us to do two things: social distance and wear masks. That was until yesterday, when the city — we agreed, look, we’ll comply for a few weeks, they asked that for three weeks. We’re not wanting to be defiant. We will do what is reasonable. That was not enough for the city, so they went to the Appellate Court at the last minute on Saturday late and had that order removed.

So the good news is, you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks. And it’s also good news that you’re not outside because it’s very hot out there. So the Lord knew that we needed to be inside and unmasked. So he did us that gracious favor. They don’t want us to meet, that’s obvious. They’re not willing to work with us. They just want to shut us down. But we’re here to bring honor to the Lord. They’re not our enemy, we understand that. The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders, for their salvation. We need to be faithful to do that.

This is a large congregation, in the thousands. Those people will attend nearly every Sunday. Grace Community Church also has Spanish services, so it is a broad community of Christians choosing to worship at one of three services every Sunday.

Interestingly, I wrote about Romans 13:1-7 only a week ago. John MacArthur has strong thoughts on respecting civil authorities, which I cited in my post. Therefore, for him to go against what he has been preaching for decades is highly significant.

However, he sees this particular battle as a constitutional issue regarding freedom of worship.

More to follow tomorrow.

On June 24, 2020, John MacArthur posted a sermon, ‘Act Like Men’, with the key phrase from the Bible, ‘be strong and courageous’:

It is one hour and six minutes long and, as you would expect, every minute is well spent watching and listening.

Without saying it explicitly, MacArthur disparages the welfare state which has caused millions of men to relinquish their family responsibilities.

Those of us who have had responsible fathers will greatly appreciate what the founder of Grace To You and Master’s Seminary has to say to men in the modern world.

In order to place this into context, you might wish to read my post from June 29, ‘John MacArthur videos about the protests’, which offers excellent advice about what to do in our journey as Christians.

Excerpts from the ‘Act Like Men’ transcript follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur begins by saying that, in the wake of the protests across the United States and the rest of Western world, he called a meeting of men from his congregation and Master’s Seminary — particularly men of colour — to enlighten him further. He asked them to give him five working points for a Christian agenda moving forward:

These are young Black men that gave up a chunk of their time to sit with me and talk through some of these issues. Thanks to Carl Hargrove for kind of leading that discussion which was powerfully fruitful for me

So I said to these men after about two hours plus of talking together, and it was a very gracious and loving communication. I said, “So give me five things that we need to do as believers in Jesus Christ to reach across racial lines and bring the gospel to these people and have it received.” So I said, “You get five shots, and I’ll have this as the introduction to my sermon.” So here we go. This is what they said to me.

Number One: “Tell people that racism is a sin.” Racism is a sin, isn’t it. Any kind of hate is a sin, and racism is an utterly irrational hate. Racism is what causes genocide, what caused the Holocaust, what causes ethnic battles all across the planet as long as there’s been human history. But then men in their natural state hate God, and the Bible says they hate each other. The first crime was a murder based upon anger, based upon hate, when Cain killed his brother.

Any kind of hate is a sin. Any kind of racial hate is an irrational expanded form of hate coming from any human heart; it is reflective of the fallenness of that heart. And we also know in our society that there are some people who have received more of that than others. We need to make it very clear that to hate anyone on any basis or any group of people is a sin against God of monumental proportions.

Secondly: “We need to show compassion, compassion to those who’ve experienced this.” And lots of people have. We need to open our hearts and weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Jesus looked at the multitudes and had compassion. Even when He went to the grave of Lazarus, He wept; and He knew He was going to raise him from the dead, and He still wept. That’s the heart of Jesus.

Life is hard, and it has been especially hard for some groups of people; and that certainly speaks to the issue of the history of Black people in America. For those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, they don’t want to hear the statistics, but they would love to know you have compassion for them.

Thirdly, we talked about the fact that, “We need to listen.” And that’s pretty much a basic principle, isn’t it: slow to speak and quick to hear. We may have all the theological answers, we may have all the statistical answers, but can we keep our mouths closed long enough to hear the heart of someone else? Engaging someone with the gospel is so much more effective if that comes in the context of having heard their heart.

Number Four they said: “Use these days as an opportunity to show the love of Christ.” This was really rich advice for me. Say racism is a sin, and it is. Any kind of hate coming from anybody in any direction and you can see that it is tearing this culture to shreds.

Show compassion, listen, and use these opportunities as an occasion to show love. That’s four; got one more. And the final one was this: “The only thing that’s going to break the cycle of our problems in this country is godly fathers. Help us develop godly fathers.” Now you might say that was a providence of God that it happened the week of Father’s Day. Sure set me up for this morning because I want to talk about fathers.

Here are the current American statistics on fatherhood. These involve the main demographics, by the way. The statistics are probably similar, proportionally, throughout the Western world. Please read these and note them well:

Here’s the current reality. Twenty-five million children in our country live without a biological father – one out of three. Grades 1 to 12, forty percent of children live without a biological father in the home. Over fifty percent currently of children are born outside marriage. Eighty-five percent of prisoners grew up in a fatherless home. Eighty-five percent of children with behavioral disorders came from fatherless homes. Ninety percent of youth who run away and become homeless come from fatherless homes. Children from fatherless homes are three hundred percent more likely to deal drugs and carry weapons.

This is a holocaust. And it’s not limited to any group of ethnic people, it is a national holocaust. The statistics I gave you are across the board for our country. Just that one statistic, eighty-five percent of prisoners grew up in a fatherless home, is a terrifying reality.

I used to hear when I was a kid that if you had a good mother you could have any ol’ schtick for a dad. That’s not true. I used to hear when I was a kid preachers say, “You men, it’s important how you live, you Christian men, because your children will get their view of God from you.” That’s ridiculous. They don’t get their view of God from me, they get their view of God from the Bible. That’s an insult to God. What they do get from me is their view of a man. Children will get their view of a man and what a man is from the father.

There, I must disagree, at least in part. I have posted a few entries on fathers and clergy who have not fulfilled their respective responsibilities, either in the family or in the Church:

Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church

Consistent churchgoing habits important for children

The Methodist Church advocates man-centredness — survey (2010)

Which is more deplorable, the gun culture or the fatherless culture?

What kind of father doesn’t protect his family? (concerns bishops)

But I digress.

Back to John MacArthur:

Sexual immorality, relentless assault of feminism, overexposure to perversion, complete collapse of homes has just produced generations of bad fathers. And the reality is nothing is more devastating to a society than that, nothing. And on the other hand, the only hope for stability and the only hope for sanity, the only hope for peace in a society is masculine, virtuous men.

Some will find that hard to absorb. However, think of the rise of the welfare state over the past half-century. That might begin to put this into context. A virtuous life is not about absentee fathers or Big Government acting as a husband or father. If you sire a child, you need to be there as part of a family unit.

Even if one disagrees with that, it is hard to disagree that, during the past 50 years or so, the further we slip into moral laxity, the more we see evil. In fact, we’re seeing unimaginable evil. We thought we would be nice and allow people to do what they please. Now we see the results of that ill-advised experiment:

Evil abounds absolutely everywhere. How men respond to its presence determines the survival and well-being of a society. Let me say that again: “Evil abounds everywhere. How men respond to its presence determines the survival and well-being of that society.” One psychologist said, “Masculinity is taking responsibility to reduce evil and produce good.”

No culture will ever rise above the character of its men: fathers. The feminist lie has been that patriarchy is bad. It is tyrannical. It is toxic. It needs to be destroyed. And they’ve been doing it for decades. To destroy masculinity, to destroy strong male leadership and character leads to the current disaster: irresponsible men running loose in the streets terrorizing a society. Weak men have given us this legacy. Weak men produce the death of society. And men are in a crisis today, they are being continually told to try to get in touch with their feminine side, so they have become defensive about their masculinity.

Women rise higher and higher and higher and more frequently into positions of leadership, as men feel overwhelmed and overpowered and unable to fight against the trend. Oh, there are lots of men at the gym, pretty buff, have some muscles, but they’re doing virtually nothing to stop the tide of evil in the world. And by the way, in case women haven’t begun to realize it: weak, immoral men abuse women, and they produce more weak, immoral sons. No, children don’t get their view of God from their father, but they do get their view of what a man is. And we are in some serious trouble because the current crop of men are infecting the children.

There are two views in the Bible on generational sin. If one repents of a generational sin, one has wiped his slate clean. See Ezekiel 18:19-20:

19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

Yet, where there is no repentance from generation to generation, the sin endures as a punishable act:

Listen to the Word of God, Exodus chapter 20 and verse 5: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” Listen to Exodus 34:7, “God will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” God says it again in Deuteronomy 5:9 and 10, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Repeatedly, God says corrupt fathers create in society a legacy of corruption that is generational. He’s not saying that a son would be punished for a father’s sin; clearly that is not the case. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone will be put to death for his own sin.” We’re not talking about an individual suffering punishment for another person’s sin. What we are saying is fathers – plural – who are corrupt leave a legacy that will not be overturned in three or four generations. And if the next generation is corrupt, it pushes that out another three or four, and the next generation another three or four, and it becomes an impossible cycle.

In the words of the prophet Zechariah as he begins his prophecy, “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying, ‘The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Return to Me,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I may return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers.”’” Something has to break the cycle.

This is what happens without repentance:

Clearly, a generation dominated by sinful fathers will bear the crushing consequence of their sinful progenitors. Their children will suffer. Their grandchildren will suffer. Their great-grandchildren will suffer. No generation exists in isolation or as an island. A wicked society defined as wicked by the behavior of the men won’t be rooted out for multiple generations. So it isn’t that people get their view of God from a father, but they do get their view of what a father is, and if it’s the wrong view, it’s just purposely repeated again and again and again.

So, as Christians, what do we do? First, we need to acknowledge that we are all prone to sin. When we give in to sin, we give in to all sorts of carnality. On the other hand, when we are alive in Christ, God’s infinite grace enables us to resist temptation through faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

The default position of every man is corruption, right? It’s the most natural thing they do is sin. The most accessible affect of that sin is on the women in their lives, and then on the children in their lives, and then it extends to everybody else.

The problem is, “There’s none righteous, no, not one. They’re all evil,” as we read in Romans 3. They don’t seek after God. They hate God, they hate others, and they’re influencing their children while they’re harming their wives. I understand why there’s a women’s movement. And even though it’s wrong and totally devastates a society, pushes women into places they were never intended to be and men out of the places they were intended to be, I understand it because of the corruption of men.

So where do we begin? We have to begin as believers who have new natures, right? We are new creations in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit, and we start by breaking the cycle. It’s not going to be broken, it’s still around, right? What you’re seeing today in the chaos of this culture, what you see in the weakness and foolishness of people in high places, what you see is just the reality that corrupt fathers destroy society.

MacArthur then begins discussing one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: fortitude. As we are in the season of Pentecost — please do ignore the term ‘Ordinary Time’ — it is important that we take some lessons from the weeks from Pentecost until the end of the Church year, just before December.

Fortitude is no casual word. It is not restricted to men alone, however, it is in scarce supply these days among some of today’s men, enough to make a difference in Western society:

Fortitude. What is fortitude? It’s a great word. Firmness, strength of soul that faces danger with courage and bears loss and pain without complaint. Fortitude: “Firmness and strength of soul that faces danger with courage and bears loss and pain without complaint.” That’s not a theological definition, that’s just a definition of the word.

When you say a man has fortitude, you’re talking about someone who doesn’t compromise even when there’s danger, even when that danger escalates to fear and pain. Fortitude is a combination of conviction, courage, and endurance – conviction, courage, and endurance. It is the willingness – it is not just the willingness, I would say it’s even the desire to risk, to literally create challenges if they’re not already there, to attack difficulty, to challenge difficulty head on, to bear suffering with courage. This is what makes a man a man, and this is the kind of man in whom a woman finds her security, finds her protection; and in that kind of relationship, the woman’s femininity flourishes.

Men are those who should be the protectors, the purifiers, who secure their wives, who secure their children, who accomplish all that needs to be done to reduce evil in a society and produce good; and yet this society for years and decades has had men busy producing evil, and diminishing good. True manliness is bound up in the word “courage.” That is the virtue that marks a real man. Truth, conviction, courage.

Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 16, 1 Corinthians chapter 16. At the end of this wonderful letter, near the end, is tucked a very important verse, actually two verses: verses 13 and 14. Listen to what the apostle Paul says: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” “Be on the alert,” – danger is everywhere – “stand firm in the faith,” – don’t waiver in your belief and convictions – “act like men,” – What does that mean? Fortitude, uncompromising courage – “be strong.” The New King James actually says, “Be brave, be strong.” “Act like men” essentially means to conduct one’s self in a courageous way, to conduct one’s self in a courageous way.

Courage is the stock-in-trade of a man: courage in the face of danger, courage in the face of temptation, courage in the face of loss, courage in the face of suffering. This strength of verse 13, essentially four statements saying, one way or another, “Be strong.” Is then balanced in verse 14 by, “Let all that you do be done in love.” And how important is it to add that. There’s nothing more manly than a man with consummate conviction, courage, and endurance, who is marked by love. That’s a man – not weak, not vacillating, not fearful; and loving.

Real men face life with this kind of fortitude. They’re watchful of the dangers around them. They’re alert. They’re protectors of their wives and children, and of their friends and all the people over whom they have influence. They have convictions about what is true. They have courage to live out those convictions and the strength to be unwavering when those convictions will cost them everything. Your convictions, they’re only real convictions if they hold up under the most intense pressure.

MacArthur then goes into the many Bible verses with the words ‘be strong and courageous’:

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses is passing the mantle on to Joshua, and in verse 6, Deuteronomy 31, he says this: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them,” – meaning your enemies – “for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” “Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” That’s the greatest transitional leadership speech ever.

Look at … 2 Samuel chapter 10 and verse 12. This is Joab to the Israelites who were facing opposition, strong opposition, tremendously strong opposition. Back in verse 6, it lays out the forces that were coming against them. But in verse 12, Joab says to the Israelites, “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”

First Kings chapter 2. In 1 Kings chapter 2, David addresses Solomon his son. “David’s time to die drew near. He charged Solomon his son, saying, ‘I’m going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, so that the Lord may carry out His promise which He spoke.’” Moses to Joshua, Joab to the Israelites, David to Solomon.

For another view of David’s speech to his son Solomon, look at 1 Chronicles chapter 22. I’m showing you these because I want you to see how common this is. First Chronicles 22, David calls for his son to build the house of God, and we can pick it up in verse 11: “Now, my son, the Lord be with you that you may be successful, and build the house of the Lord your God just as He has spoken concerning you. Only the Lord give you discretion and understanding, and give you charge over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will prosper, if you’re careful to observe the statues and ordinances which the Lord commanded Moses concerning Israel. Be strong and courageous, do not fear nor be dismayed.” All of these declarations assume that your devotion to God is going to be tested, and you’re going to have to be strong. It’s going to be tested, no way around it.

David says again, 1 Chronicles 28:20, to his son Solomon, he gives this speech another time: “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” Just a couple more.

Toward the end of 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah is speaking to men in positions of leadership. Hezekiah, chapter 32 of 2 Chronicles, the first verse: “After these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib king of Assyria came, invaded Judah, besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself. Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come invading Judah and he intended to make war on Jerusalem; he decided with his officers and warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs” – this was a siege – “which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and streams which flowed through the region, saying, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?’ And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, built another outside wall, strengthened the Millo in the city of David, made weapons and shields in great number, appointed military officers over the people and gathered them in the square of the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them, and this is what he said: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’” That’s a great pep talk, isn’t it, for an army. Psalm 27:14 says, “Be strong and let your heart take courage.”

Men don’t give in to fear. Men don’t give in to pressure. Men don’t give in to intimidation, and they don’t give in to temptation. They don’t seek the easy way. They will take the pain, they will invite the risk, they will confront the challenge, and they will not bow to the pressure to compromise the commandments of God. Strength of a man is that he lives on principle, that he lives on conviction, that he has the courage of those convictions, stands strong against everything that comes at those convictions, bravely faces the challenges in a fortified way. Manly fortitude means contending with difficulty, facing every enemy, meeting the enemy head on, bearing the pain, maintaining self-discipline, upholding truth, pressing on to the goal. That’s what defines a man.

MacArthur cites more examples. God spoke the same words to Joshua in the presence of Moses:

I want to show you another passage back in Joshua, right at the beginning of Joshua. Moses gives this speech again as he passes the baton, as it were, to Joshua. He says to him in chapter 1 of Joshua, verse 5, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.” This is God now speaking, God is the one speaking. “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.”

So here it comes not from Moses to Joshua, but from God to Joshua in the presence of Moses. And here’s what God says to Joshua, verse 6: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”

And here comes the key to that. How do you live like that? How do you live with that strength and courage? How do you live without ever compromising? Verse 8: “This book of the law” – the Word of God – “shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It’s an incredible speech from God.

“Be strong” – verse 5 – “because God will be with you,” – “because you’re fulfilling a divine cause, a promise from God.” Verses 7 and 8, “The only way you can do this is to submit to the Word of God so that it constantly is in your mind and you live out its truths.” You will be able to be obedient if you’re saturated by the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God.

Can you see why this speech is repeated so many, many times? This is the mark of a man. It takes a father like that to raise a son like that. Spiritual men are courageous, strong, principled, uncompromising, and bold. This is God’s role for men to play in a society, but it is also God’s role for the men to play who are the leaders of His people Israel. And this is God’s standard for the men who lead His church.

This is what we should expect from our clergy:

When we come into the New Testament and we are introduced to the kind of men that the Lord commands to lead His church. This is how He describes them in 1 Timothy 3: “This man must be above reproach, a one-woman man, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (if a man doesn’t know how to manage his own children, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” High standards for a pastor, an elder.

To Titus, Paul says similarly, “Appoint elders. If a man is above reproach, one-woman man, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion; for the overseer” – or the shepherd, pastor, bishop – “must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he’ll be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.” This is the kind of men who lead the church.

Why is the standard so high for the leaders of the church? Because the leaders of the church have the responsibility to set the pattern for what manliness looks like in a godly environment. It’s not that they alone should be like this, it is that they should be like this so the others can see what a man should be. It isn’t that the Lord wants to pick up all the pastors and elders and take them to another level of spirituality which no one could attain, it is rather that this is what God expects from every man. But it’s got to be modeled. Men like that and men, as Ephesians 5 said, who love their wives like Christ loved the church, and who are protectors of their wives and who literally are the saviors of their wives, are the kind of men who become a haven for the wife, who make her feel secure and protected, nourished, cherished. And when children grow up in a home where the man secures the woman and the children, there’s peace.

So, how have we gone so far astray?

This culture has turned on God, eliminated His Word. The bible and the gospel is an enemy.

One wonders what John MacArthur thinks of President Trump. To my knowledge, he has not been invited to the White House. I wish that President Trump would invite him. That would make for an interesting transcript.

But I digress. MacArthur says:

The leaders of this nation have no interest in God or in His Word, and they are basically running this country right into hell as fast as they can. The only thing that’s going to stop this is not a group of feminized men who thinks God just wants to give them what they want so they can be happy. What this world needs is not sensitive men, it needs strong men. We live in a world of compromise, more than compromise. You could barely call it compromise because there’s nothing left of that which is good, so what are they compromising with.

That said, it is clear that MacArthur, a Californian, disapproves of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s views. Newsom is a self-proclaimed Catholic. Here’s a 2008 video of the two of them on the old Larry King Show on CNN when Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco and married to his second wife at the time:

Now on to the word ‘integrity’:

To add another word to your thoughts about this, I would say that people who have no price have integrity, integrity. So we talk about fortitude, let me talk about integrity. “People who have no price have integrity.”

What is integrity? It is essentially unbreakable fortitude. Integrity is defined as steadfast adherence to a moral code. It comes from “integer,” which means “whole” or “complete.” Its synonyms are “honesty,” “sincerity,” “simplicity,” “incorruptibility.” It’s antonym is “duplicity” or “hypocrisy.” A person who lacks integrity is a hypocrite. Integrity means that you live by your convictions: you say what you believe, you hold to what you believe, you’re immoveable. That’s wholeness. That’s integrity: you are one. It was said long ago of a preacher that he preached very well, but he lived better. The world is a seducer, and Satan is a seducing deceiver, pushing us into compromise, and therefore into hypocrisy.

When our Lord indicted the scribes and Pharisees who were the frequent objects of His blistering attacks. Inevitably it was on their integrity that He assaulted them. For example, in Matthew 23:3, He said, “They say things and do not do them.”

MacArthur, who is truly blessed, has a number of additional observations. As such, I would invite you to read or watch his sermon in full.

In short, manliness does not involve belonging to a street gang.

Each man, at some point, will have to rely upon his own wits, determination and fortitude to resolve his own trials, whether they be his own or those of his family.

We need to recover the biblical ideal of manliness, which has kept Western society protected for centuries. It hasn’t always succeeded, but we are fallen people, susceptible to temptation and sin.

Men have been beaten into the ground for decades. This must be remedied:

We need a generation of men who are alert to danger, who stand firm in the faith, who are courageous with the Word of God, uncompromising and strong.

And, listen, everything about this that I’ve said indicates they will be tested. Manliness will be tested. Conviction will be tested. Courage will be tested. Strength will be tested. The pressure will come, it’ll come in unexpected ways, but it’ll come. You may get away with your statement of conviction for years, but there will come a test, and many men will shock the people who knew them by selling out, compromising, abandoning their integrity, playing the hypocrite out of cowardice. This falls into a translation of Romans 12:2. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.

Stay strong. Stand firm in the faith, as Saint Paul did.

The world needs real men now more than ever, especially to stand by principled women.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomI went to the early morning Easter Communion service today at my neighbourhood Anglican parish church.

The early morning Easter service is always a wonderful reminder of the passing from darkness into light. As our vicar reminded us, traditional churches remain dark from the end of the Maundy Thursday service through to Easter morning, whether that be at a daybreak or early morning service.

The light returns via the Paschal candle, which is lit following a prayer. The acolyte then lights the other candles from the flame of the Paschal candle.

John’s Gospel has a recurring theme of darkness and light. The risen Christ is, indeed, that Light.

Our vicar gave a moving sermon, encouraging us to think of the Resurrection as a living reality, whereby not only our souls but also our mortal bodies will once again be reunited in glorious perfection one day.

He pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that offers life after death. This is what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter.

The vicar’s sermon was a moving one, as he is a convert from another world faith. He implored us not to turn the Resurrection into an intellectual or historical exercise, because it will be a very real experience when the time comes. He also exhorted us not to view Jesus as a mere historical good example of a life well lived, but as our Saviour and Redeemer.

I thought about the vicar’s sermon for most of the day whilst occupied with gentle pursuits: caring for God’s creation in the garden and preparing a suitable, satisfying Easter dinner of roast lamb.

Our vicar’s sermon made me wish that Easter were more than just one day. Whilst we are now in Easter Week, there are no modern readings by which to remember our Lord’s resurrection for the next six days.

As each year passes, I long for a more fulsome celebration and remembrance of the Resurrection. We sing the beautiful and joyous Easter hymns only one day a year.

For some of us, our recollection of the Resurrection ends up being a fleeting one.

However, it does not need to be this way.

An Evangelical pastor in California, the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries in Fallbrook, has written a beautiful series of sermons on the meaning of the Resurrection and its impact. I hope that you will read the following posts in the coming week and reflect upon his considered, thought-provoking messages about what he terms Resurrection theology:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor has also reflected similarly upon the Resurrection in the context of people’s anger with the Church. This, too, is guaranteed to get us thinking about our sin and the purpose of the Crucifixion as well as our Lord’s rising from the dead in eternal glory — for us:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope that you will join me in contemplating Resurrection Theology, even when it is not stated in those terms.

Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Once again, readers, happy Easter.

May the blessings of the risen Christ be with us today and always. Amen.

Recent investigative reporting by the Houston Chronicle has revealed long-standing abuses of women belonging to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches.

The Chronicle says that, in 2007, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of SBC church leaders requested that a database be created with names of any current or former church leaders who had been convicted of this type of crime or had been credibly accused of same.

The database was never created. In 2018, advocates for the victims made an appeal for such a registry. Houston Chronicle reporters began their own investigation, combing news archives, websites and databases (emphases mine):

We found complaints made against hundreds of pastors, church officials and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches nationwide.

We focused our search on the 10 years preceding the victims’ first call for a registry and on the 10-plus years since. And we concentrated on individuals who had a documented connection to a church listed in an SBC directory published by a state or national association.

We verified details in hundreds of accounts of abuse by examining federal and state court databases, prison records and official documents from more than 20 states and by searching sex offender registries nationwide. In Texas, we visited more than a dozen county courthouses. We interviewed district attorneys and police in more than 40 Texas counties. We filed dozens of public records requests in Texas and nationwide.

Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers.

We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals and sent letters to all of them soliciting their responses to summaries we compiled. We received written responses from more than 30 and interviewed three in Texas prisons. Of the 220, more than 90 remain in prison and another 100 are still registered sex offenders.

Find our records that relate to those convicted or forced to register as sex offenders at HoustonChronicle.com/AbuseofFaith.

Some of the registered sex offenders are still allowed to preach:

Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.

Most of the abused were teenagers at the time. However, adults seeking pastoral guidance were also victims.

The Chronicle‘s expose is in three parts:

Part 1: Abuse of Faith

Part 2: Southern Baptist churches hired ministers accused of past sex offenses

Part 3: All too often, Southern Baptist youth pastors take advantage of children

A few excerpts follow from the first instalment.

The sections about children were particularly revolting, considering that Southern Baptists in positions of authority portray themselves as being very holy:

Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.

Here is one girl’s story:

Heather Schneider was 14 when she was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, according to criminal and civil court records. Her mother, Gwen Casados, said church leaders waited months to fire the attacker, who later pleaded no contest. In response to her lawsuit, church leaders also denied responsibility.

Schneider slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casados said. She survived, but she died 14 years later from a drug overdose that her mother blames on the trauma.

“I never got her back,” Casados said.

Here is one man’s story of his molestation as a boy:

David Pittman was 12, he says, when a youth minister from his Georgia church first molested him in 1981. Two other former members of the man’s churches said in interviews that they also were abused by him. But by the time Pittman spoke out in 2006, it was too late to press criminal charges.

The minister still works at an SBC church.

Pittman won’t soon forgive those who have offered prayers but taken no action. He only recently stopped hating God.

“That is the greatest tragedy of all,” he said. “So many people’s faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators.”

The Chronicle says that the reason for rampant sexual abuse is the fact that SBC churches are largely autonomous:

At the core of Southern Baptist doctrine is local church autonomy, the idea that each church is independent and self-governing. It’s one of the main reasons that [August “Augie”] Boto [interim president of the SBC’s Executive Committee] said most of the proposals a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the executive committee because the committee doesn’t have the authority to force churches to report sexual abuse to a central registry …

SBC churches and organizations share resources and materials, and together they fund missionary trips and seminaries. Most pastors are ordained locally after they’ve convinced a small group of church elders that they’ve been called to service by God. There is no central database that tracks ordinations, or sexual abuse convictions or allegations.

I’m not a Southern Baptist, but if the SBC allows sharing of funding, resources, trips and seminaries, surely, it can allow central records to be kept.

A Catholic priest, the Revd Thomas Doyle, thinks so, too.

Doyle was one of the earliest whistleblowers on similar abuse in the Catholic Church, a hierarchical church. He is also a retired lawyer. He contacted SBC leaders in 2007, urging them to act:

“I saw the same type of behavior going on with the Southern Baptists,” he said.

The responses were predictable, Doyle said. In one, Frank Page, then the SBC president, wrote that they were “taking this issue seriously” but that local church autonomy presented “serious limitations.” In March, Page resigned as president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee for “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past,” according to the executive committee.

Details have not been disclosed, but SBC officials said they had “no reason to suspect any legal impropriety.” Page declined to be interviewed.

Wade Burleson, a former president of Oklahoma’s Southern Baptist convention, requested in 2007 and again in 2018, that the SBC take action on this issue, but to no avail:

Leaders pushed back both times, he said. Some cited local church autonomy; others feared lawsuits if the reforms didn’t prevent abuse.

Burleson couldn’t help but wonder if there have been “ulterior motives” at play.

“There’s a known problem, but it’s too messy to deal with,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s not that we can’t do it as much as we don’t want to do it. … To me, that’s a problem. You must want to do it, to do it.”

Doyle, the Catholic priest, agrees:

“I understand the fear, because it’s going to make the leadership look bad,” he said. “Well, they are bad, and they should look bad. Because they have ignored this issue. They have demonized the victims.”

Similar abuses have also taken place in Evangelical churches and institutions, which are also independent.

I saw this tweet the other day:

Linda Kay Klein grew up in Evangelical churches and wrote the book Pure, about the toxicity surrounding women’s purity culture.

In an article she wrote for NBC News, ‘Southern Baptist Convention report on sex abuse shines a light on evangelical culture’, she says:

As an adult, I went on to spend more than a decade researching sexuality and the evangelical church and heard story after story of minimized and unreported abuse. To be sure, sexual violence extends well beyond the church, yet I have found that religious authoritarianism and purity culture — hallmarks of both Catholicism and evangelicalism, among other groups — can enable it.

Purity culture teaches that there are two types of people: those who are sexually “pure,” and those who are “impure.” Some teach one can lose their purity by having sexual thoughts or feelings or making sexual choices outside of a heterosexual marriage. Some even teach you can lose it by inspiring sexual expression in others.

Include purity in an authoritarian local church structure and a fear of secular reaction to scandal and it makes for one unholy trinity of toxicity:

Many parishioners see their pastor as the conduit to a higher power and will go to great lengths to protect them even if it means ignoring, blaming and ultimately hurting survivors.

In America, a contributing factor is a strong culture of collective victimhood in the evangelical community. My interviewees and I were taught growing up that evangelicals were the real victims — that the world hated us so much they’d do anything to make us look bad. So, it was our job to represent our community in the best light possible for more people to join us and enter into heaven. The underlying message was clear: a good Christian keeps their mouth shut.

She describes how this works in practice:

Women and girls, in particular, can be silenced in hierarchic churches that teach “complementarianism” — the belief that God ordains male authority especially in the church and the home. Having been conditioned not to question men, some women struggle to stand up to male misconduct when they see it, and when they do are often dismissed. For example, when my youth pastor was applying for the position, he was given a kind of audition: lead a youth retreat. Our head pastor asked us to report back on his performance. I did. As did at least one other girl. Each of us told the head pastor that the man applying for the position made us uncomfortable. Soon afterward, it was announced that he was our new youth pastor.

Meanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture — which focuses largely on them — can be used against them. Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage — the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault.

Klein’s opinion piece has a video recently broadcast on NBC’s Today show about women who were sexually abused as children in an Evangelical organisation, New Tribes Mission (now Ethnos360).

There is also another Today show article which summarises the video of the New Tribes Mission survivors: ‘Ungodly abuse: The lasting torment of the New Tribes missionary kids’.

The girls’ parents were missionaries at the time, and each mission had a boarding school for the children of New Tribes employees. These missions were in foreign countries, in the back of the beyond. Each dormitory had a ‘dorm dad’ and a ‘dorm mom’. It was not unknown for dorm dads to molest little girls.

In 2009, Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian — one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, who is a law professor and a former prosecutor on sexual abuse cases — began investigating sexual abuse cases at the behest of New Tribes Mission (as was). He told NBC News:

“I feel that in so many ways justice has failed,” said Boz Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor who leads Grace (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), the organization that investigated the New Tribes school in Senegal and that focuses on rooting out abuse in Christian organizations.

“You have individuals who physically and sexually abused children who have gone on to live quote-unquote ‘normal lives.’ You have an organization that had to deal with some press and people talking about it but in large part has moved on and continues to do their work around the world.”

“And then,” added Tchividjian, who is a grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham, “you’ve got the scores and scores of missionary kids. So many of them are struggling to get by in life, struggling to comprehend, why is this man who sexually abused me not in jail, not in prison? Why is this man serving in church, living what appears to be a normal life?

The article recaps the experiences of the victims who appeared on Today. This is one woman’s story. Her dorm dad was David Brooks, the most prolific perpetrator, and an occasional preacher in the Georgia town where he currently lives:

Bonnie Cheshire was just 2 when she arrived in Senegal with her parents, both New Tribes missionaries, in 1981. She grew up in a river village surrounded by forest and miles away from a major city.

“It was an amazing life. It was absolute freedom,” Cheshire said. “Outside all day, in trees all day.”

By age 6, she was living with other children of New Tribes missionaries at the Fanda school where boys and girls were split into separate rooms. There was a “big girls” room and a “little girls” room, each one accommodating about six to eight girls.

Like all of the New Tribe boarding schools, American missionaries who were not sent out in the field were assigned to take care of the children and lead them in Bible study and prayer.

Brooks and his wife held the role of Fanda dorm parents in the mid-1980s, according to the Grace report.

Cheshire said Brooks would sometimes play the “seashell game” when he was alone with the children outside, hiding a shell in his bathing suit and urging the girls to find it.

Soon he was also showing up in her room late at night, Cheshire said. “You need to find a way to relax to go to sleep,” she recalls him telling her.

Brooks would then start touching her, Cheshire said, noting that she was 7 when the abuse started. It seemed innocent at first, she said, but became anything but.

“I knew that it was not right,” Cheshire said.

One woman was abused by her own father when she was a little girl — in the girls’ dorm! He also abused her roommates at the Aritao school in the Philippines:

Escaping the abuse was nearly impossible for Kelly Emory. Les Emory is her father.

Kelly says her dad raped and molested her for three years starting at age 6. She says she was also forced to endure the horror of being in the same room as her father sexually abused her roommates inside the Aritao dorm.

“I had to pretend I was sleeping,” Kelly said. “It was a hell I still live with.”

Kelly said nothing about her father’s attacks until she was 15. In March 1993, with Kelly struggling in school and wrestling with thoughts of suicide, she says she told her dorm mother.

The woman reported the allegations, Kelly said, and days later three New Tribes field leaders showed up at the school to question her.

“They asked me to describe what had happened, and I told them,” Kelly said. “And they told me to not say anything. It was my duty to protect my family, to protect my dad, and if I did say anything, if I did tell anybody anything, my dad would be thrown in a Filipino jail.”

Within a week, Kelly said, her family was shipped out of the Philippines and flown to Missouri to attend therapy sessions with a mission counselor.

“After two weeks we were pronounced healed and whole,” Kelly said. “Those were their words.”

Emory was ordered to leave the mission, Kelly said, but the real reason for the family’s sudden relocation was kept secret from all but a few in the organization.

“You try to do the right thing,” Kelly said. “We got shushed and rushed out of the country. They made us all stay quiet. They silenced us.

In 2009, Bonnie Cheshire and Kari Mikitson, another New Tribes abuse survivor launched a website, New Tribes Mission Abuse. (They have an active forum and an inactive blog.)

Before long, the site attracted a lot of views and New Tribes Mission invited Mikitson to speak with them at their Florida headquarters. It was after that when the mission asked “Boz” Tchividjian’s GRACE organisation to launch an investigation.

GRACE’s investigation took a year, and uncovered widespread sexual abuse of youngsters in the missions. New Tribes Mission then hired another independent organisation, IHART, to continue the work. IHART appears to have done very little.

Today tracked down David Brooks, who refused to speak to camera, and Les Emory who gave a telephone interview.

Emory admitted to what he did and said that he should have been ‘decapitated’.

New Tribes changed its name to Ethnos 360 in May 2017.

In closing, imagine that what actually makes the news in terms of church-related sexual abuse is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I hope that more will be revealed, for the victims’ sakes as well as for the future health of the Church as a whole.

Finally, all churches — Catholic and Protestant — must take resolute action to ensure these abuses are stopped once and for all.

John F MacArthurThose who have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts will know that I have been citing one of John MacArthur’s sermons in my posts on Acts 23.

John MacArthur wrote ‘Providential Protection’ in 1974, and it is about Acts 23:12-35.

Throughout, the Lord divinely intervened on Paul’s behalf — via unbelievers — to bring the Apostle where He wanted him to be: first class in the governor Felix’s palace, formerly Herod’s. Although Paul was a prisoner and recovering from a heavy physical beating from the people of Jerusalem, he was able to rest for a few days and share the Good News with the upper strata of Roman society in well deserved comfort.

I cited MacArthur’s sermon most recently in my post on Acts 23:31-35 and would now like to share the ending with you. This pertains to all of us and it might surprise some readers in that God does not want us to be miserable. He provides as and when we need it. Emphases mine below:

People always think God wants everybody to be poor, destitute, and barely scrape by. No. God knows when you need first class. I remember coming home from a meeting one time, to give you a really silly illustration. I was so tired; I had never been as sick as I was. I got sick during the entire meeting. In fact, the church wouldn’t let me come home and come back to preach. I was flying from Chicago to Portland, and I was at the end of my tether. I had stayed all week in Chicago in a place that was un- air conditioned. It was 100 every day and about 95% humidity, and I had the flu, and I had to speak two or three times a day in an auditorium without air conditioning. And by the time the week was over, I was wiped out.

And I’ll never forget; I just didn’t think I could hack it. I knew I was going to get on that airplane and get squished in that preachers’ economy section, next to a guy with a black cigar, you know? I mean, I had it all figured out. I got on there and the girl says to me, “I’m sorry, sir, there are no more seats left. We’ll have to put you in first class.” And I said, “Lord, You know. You know,” and I went in there and they started feeding me, and they fed me from Chicago to Portland.

The Lord knows those things. It is His delight. “Fear not, little flock.” First Samuel 30, verse 6, “And David was greatly distressed, but David encouraged his heart in the Lord his God.” Amen. Let’s pray.

We thank You, Father, for what You have accomplished in the life of Paul through Your providence, as well as through miracles. We thank You for what we see in our own lives as the providence that You design guides us to the accomplishment of Your will.

Thank You for the time we’ve shared together today. Teach us to trust You, to remember that You care. For remember the words of Peter, “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you,” and to fear not, to be anxious for nothing; to know that it’s Your delight to give us all that the Kingdom involves. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Excellent points.

Of course, the Lord also gives us trials — another subject — but everything He does is for a greater purpose in accomplishing His will.

Returning to ‘first class’, the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. He is all-loving and all-merciful. May we always remember that.

In April 2017, I wrote about the plight of the Reverend Andrew Brunson in Turkey. At that time, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to secure his release.

Nearly a year later, in March 2018, Fox News reported that Brunson could be imprisoned for 35 years:

An American pastor has been charged in Turkey with engaging in espionage and having links to terror groups, crimes that carry a potential sentence of up to 35 years in prison, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Tuesday.

An indictment accuses Andrew Brunson of working with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, to stir chaos in Turkey and divide the country, Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday.

The news agency said the pastor faces 15 years for crimes committed in the name of Gulen’s group and the PKK and another 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes.

Brunson is originally from North Carolina, but has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. He was arrested during the mass detentions and firings soon after a failed July 2016 coup attempt. He denies any wrongdoing.

The United States has demanded his release.

In April, President Trump was still on the case:

In May:

In July, Trump tweeted:

In August, Trump used tariffs as leverage against Turkey. On August 15, CBS News reported that Turkey responded in kind:

Turkey announced Wednesday that it is increasing tariffs on imports of certain U.S. products as a local court denied an American pastor’s appeal to be released from house arrest — both moves which could escalate a feud with the United States that has helped trigger a currency crisis. In a decision announced in the Official Gazette, Ankara said it will impose extra tariffs on imports of products including rice, vehicles, alcohol, coal and cosmetics.

Tariffs on American cars were doubled to 120 percent while the tariff on alcoholic drinks rose to 140 percent. Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that the tariffs on certain products were increased “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the deliberate economic attacks by the United States.”

A local court in Izmir, meanwhile, rejected the appeal by Pastor Andrew Brunson to be released from house arrest pending his trial on espionage and terrorism-related charges … 

The Trump administration imposed its own financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on the country earlier this month as President Donald Trump tries to secure the Brunson’s release.

The Turkish lira has dropped to record lows in recent weeks, having fallen some 42 percent so far this year …

On October 11, there was light at the end of the tunnel for the imprisoned pastor:

On October 12, Brunson was on his way home via Germany in a US military plane:

The US ambassador to Germany was on hand to greet the pastor and his wife:

President Trump spoke from a rally that day:

Fox News reported:

Brunson was arrested and detained for 18 months before finally being charged by the Turkish government with a connection to the coup attempt.

U.S. officials also refuted the accusations against Brunson, and amid mounting pressure from American politicians, Brunson was moved from prison to house arrest in July.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., hailed the verdict Friday, calling it “long overdue news” and adding that “the Turkish government should put Pastor Brunson on the next flight home.”

The Trump administration advocated persistently for Brunson’s release, leading to an intense economic showdown between the two NATO allies. In August, the U.S. slapped sanctions on an array of Turkish officials and on some goods, sending Turkish currency into freefall.

Brunson was not the only American behind bars in Turkey on questionable charges. Several Turkish-American citizens — including NASA scientist Serkan Golge and several workers from the United States Embassy in Ankara — are languishing in prison alleged to have a connection to Gulen’s group.

Trump has put much emphasis on not paying ransom money for the pastor’s release:

Trump’s efforts in arranging hostage and prisoner releases overseas have been historic:

Brunson’s release brought much gratitude, not only from the Brunsons but also the Evangelical community.

Breitbart reported that Brunson issued a statement:

“We are grateful for the President’s commitment and efforts in securing my release,” Brunson said in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to secure his release. “My entire family thanks the president, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support.”

“This is the day our family has been praying for – I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States,” Brunson said. “It’s been an extremely difficult time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day.”

“I am thankful for the representation of the American Center for Law & Justice – especially ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow and ACLJ Senior Counsel CeCe Heil – as well as the many others who worked so hard to obtain my freedom,” Brunson said.

“I look forward to returning home and being reunited with my family,” Brunson said.

The Breitbart report has a comment from the ACLJ which says what many of us assumed; this was not about spying, it was about evangelising for the Christian faith (emphases mine):

The ACLJ said Brunson was targeted because of his Christian faith. Brunson has been leading a Christian congregation and mission in Turkey for two decades.

Pastor Brunson was on trial for the crime of ‘Christianization,’” the ACLJ statement said. “The ACLJ, which has been working in this country and abroad to secure his freedom, said President Trump, as well as members of Congress, continued to push for Pastor Brunson’s release and Turkish officials finally agreed.

“President Trump and his team have been tenacious in seeking the release of Pastor Brunson,” Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ said.“We’re grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson.”

Politico reported on the enthusiasm of Evangelical pastors for Trump at the news of Brunson’s release:

When a Turkish court released American Andrew Brunson after two years of confinement, it was a profound moment for Christian evangelicals, who had made the pastor a symbol of religious persecution worldwide.

In Brunson’s case and others, they had prayed for deliverance. And President Donald Trump, they said, delivered …

Again and again, evangelical activists say, the administration has made good on promises made to the faith voters who lifted Trump into office — a group he will sorely need to turn out again for his 2020 re-election bid.

“He wouldn’t be our Sunday School teacher necessarily, but he’s doing a great job of leadership,” said televangelist and Trump adviser James Robison. “I love him so much I can hardly explain it.”

The Hand of God is at work. God is using President Trump as one of His many instruments.

Sarah Sanders’s father, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, acknowledged the Trump administration’s efforts and wondered how the media would cover this joyous event:

At least one journalist understood:

On Saturday, August 13, the excitement was building.

Trump graciously acknowledged Turkish president Erdogan:

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) spoke to the press:

As scheduled, that afternoon, the Brunsons met with President Trump in the Oval Office:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also present …

… as were other members of the administration who worked long and hard to secure Brunson’s release:

Pastor Brunson then prayed over the president, asking the Holy Spirit to descend upon him, granting him wisdom and discernment:

CBN had more on the White House meeting:

Brunson prayed for the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office saying, “I ask that you give him strength. I ask you to protect him.. make him a great blessing to this country and fill him with your wisdom and strength.”

“We pray for you often as a family, my wife and I pray for you,” the pastor told the president …

“We are so grateful to so many people in Congress who stood with us, prayed with us and fought with us,” Brunson said.

President Trump said the US did not give up anything in return for the evangelical minister’s release and pushed back on reports he agreed to lift sanctions.

“Right now the whole world is a fan of yours, the whole world is a fan,” Trump said. “It’s a great honor to have you back home.”

You can see the full event below:

Trump was as energised about this as the Brunsons were:

My prayer is for Pastor Brunson not to return to Turkey, not that he is thinking of doing so now, but he might do so in future.

I hope that he and his family enjoy a happy reunion period at home in North Carolina. May he find a divine calling there.

In closing, may the Trump administration be successful in releasing the other innocent Americans being held in Turkey.

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