September 30, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
Here are the mp3s for the first three sermons in my new series from Colossians, a study of how Paul taught believers to distinguish between truth and falsehood. I throw in a fourth mp3 on the Black Robe Regiment absolutely free!
September 30, 2010 § 7 Comments
by Matthew Raley
Five years ago this morning I awoke to a new reality. I had slept at my parents’ home, with my then 5-year-old son Dylan in a trundle bed below, and my infant son Malcolm across the hall. My 35-year-old wife Bridget was in ICU unable to see, walk, or even sit up. She was on morphine to control pain that had left her hyperventilating the night before.
I learned that afternoon what we had suspected the previous day: Bridget had had a stroke. It had occurred in her brain-stem, which technicians had not bothered to scan at first. I was told that someone who has a stroke there usually isn’t alive to need a scan.
So, five years ago today, I was wondering what sort of a life God had blessed us with. Maybe the dreams Bridget and I had treasured for life and ministry would not be realized. Maybe the scale of life would shrink radically.
My immediate concern was for Dylan. He had seen his mom collapse while getting him ready for school, and had watched her crawl to the telephone. I couldn’t give him any assurance that she would get better.
Lacking any other approach, I simply told Dylan what her condition was and asked him what specific thing we should ask the Lord to do first. Dylan asked for her sight. The next morning, Bridget could see. Then Dylan asked for her relief from pain. The next day, she was given relief and the morphine dosage was lowered, soon to be eliminated entirely. Then Dylan prayed that she could walk.
The next day, she got up with the aid of walker and took new steps. I was there. It was one of the toughest moments for me, because it was clear progress in a brutal reality. So much had to improve for her to take those steps at all. But Bridget’s command of her legs had been broken. She was holding herself with her arms to walk like a ninety-year-old.
I can’t say whether any of these answers to prayer were miracles, or just God’s normal providence through bodies he designed to heal, and the skill with which he has endowed human beings. I can say that all of these blessings were hard.
Over the next weeks, we were confronted with enormous bills that inadequate insurance had dropped in our laps, all of which were paid by the Enloe Foundation. During Bridget’s hospitalization and physical therapy, many people came forward to help care for Malcolm while I was at work. We received meals, help cleaning the house, and ongoing aid while Bridget regained her balance and strength at home.
All of this blessing came little by little, one day after another. Now, after years of difficulty, Bridget is free from medications, though not totally free from stroke-related pain. She has all of her abilities, but not all of her old energy. Dylan has a tremendous faith, which he is building on from these experiences. Both boys have their mother.
I call these things to mind today because the difficulties of ministry are crushing. Though we are crushed, we are not destroyed. Though the blessings are hard, our hope is greater. And this hope in Jesus Christ does not leave me disappointed.
September 29, 2010 § 3 Comments
Dear Evangelical Black Robe Members,
You captured my attention through Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally, and you’ve attracted a devoted following. In an effort to understand what you’re doing and why, I’ve been looking at your website, and I have a number of questions.
Here is the first sentence on your home page:
The Black Robe Regiment is a resource and networking entity where church leaders and laypeople can network and educate themselves as to our biblical responsibility to stand up for our Lord and Savior and to protect the freedoms and liberties granted to a moral people in the divinely inspired US Constitution [my italics].
The last clause raised many issues for me.
1. Upon what do you base your claim that America was ever “a moral people?” By moral, I assume you mean ethically good. How do you propose to demonstrate that morals in 1776 were good by God’s standards for behavior, equity, and love? Quotations from the founders about the importance of morality will not suffice, since goodness is not in the professing but in the doing.
2. Do you believe that God gave us liberty because we were moral?
I ask because, since you are evangelicals and believe that no form of God’s grace is merited by us, then you must know how suspect that teaching would be.
3. Do you actually believe that the U. S. Constitution is “divinely inspired?” You must be aware that this is Mormon doctrine, and has never been part of the Protestant tradition, founded as it is upon sola scriptura. Why are you, as evangelicals, promoting Mormon mythology?
As a corollary, if you don’t believe the Constitution is divinely inspired, why did you permit the claim in the first sentence of your home page? Who wrote that sentence, and what is his/her theological tradition?
4. Elsewhere, you assert, “The Constitution (Part 1–the Declaration of Independence, and part 2), was and is a covenant between the people of America and their Heavenly Father.”
Let’s leave aside the enormity of asserting that the Declaration is part of the U. S. Constitution. Just answer this: on what possible basis in the Bible do you make the claim that God made a national covenant with Americans?
And again, why are you evangelicals signing on to Mormon myths?
5. In the same paragraph, you also claim,
A people who were honed by thousands of years before Christ walked the Earth by way of the Israelites who had been scattered and dispersed many times in their history. These folks who now inhabited this New Jerusalem (this New Eden that Christopher Columbus saw), were living out what they saw as a life and a country that was fashioned entirely by their Creator.
Are you agreeing with the Mormon tale that native Americans are Israelites?
6. On the same page, you say that “Liberty and Freedom has [sic] been graciously bestowed by our Heavenly Father to each of us. It [sic] has been freely offered, freely sacrificed for by Christ Jesus, and it is the duty of each of us to acknowledge that precious gift and to not give it away lightly.”
Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us political liberty? As evangelicals, surely you must believe that it is liberty from sin and death that Christ purchased. If you want to say that the liberty was also political, you will have to point to some biblical text that not only uses the words liberty and freedom but teaches that these words signify political rights.
7. Why is there no doctrinal statement on your website? How do you propose to advance spiritual revival without stating clearly what the spiritual principles of that revival are, and upon what scriptures those principles are founded?
8. Why is your “networking entity” by invitation only? You say that your site “is an invitation only closed social network for church leaders to freely communicate in a safe environment. We will vet all prospective members to ensure that they are in fact an active church leader.”
It may be that this site does not represent your views of the Gospel or of the Black Robe Regiment. If so, then I invite any evangelical member of the Regiment to disavow the site. State clearly that you do not believe that our Constitution is inspired by God, that it is a covenant with God, or that Americans are a “moral” people descended from the Israelites, but that all Americans are sinners, unable to govern themselves, deserving no favor from God, and who are only freed from their sins by the blood of Christ.
Without straight talk of this kind, I have to conclude that members of the Regiment are fighting to establish a civic deity for Americans — which is to say, an idol.
September 23, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
I would normally post an essay today, but I am taking more time. I’m looking into Glenn Beck’s troop of pastors, and I want the piece to be, as they say, fair and balanced. Look for it next week, and thanks for your patience.
September 15, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
We are individually designed to express God’s glory, and we are also designed to link with other believers to show a larger picture of his grace. In my first sermon back after a summer sabbatical, I discuss God’s call to ministry upon each one of us from Ephesians 2.1-10.
September 10, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
I’ll be speaking about my book, The Diversity Culture, tomorrow, September 11th in Cottonwood. The conference takes place from 9 AM to 1 PM at 1st Baptist Church, 3320 Brush Street. You can reach the church for more information at (530) 347-3691. Here is a map to the church.
I am very grateful to Pastor John Roland for organizing this conference. I look forward to seeing you there!
September 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
The generic Congressional polls now predict a Republican thumper in November, recalling the sweep of 1994. When the Republicans took the House and Senate that year, the spread in similar polls had reached 5 points. Today, the RCP average shows a Republican lead of 6.7 points. Last week, the Gallup poll found a record 10-point spread.
Even granting the prudent equivocations — that two months is a long time in an election cycle, that Republicans have not articulated a clear policy agenda, that the public still does not like them — it is hard to see how Democrats avoid disaster. Conservative ambitions for radical action are about to balloon.
So I blew the dust off the 40th anniversary issue of National Review, published December 11, 1995, a year into the Republican Congress. Has reality matched conservatives’ raised expectations from that time?
What I first noticed thumbing its pages was who had died since publication. William F. Buckley, still going strong then, and Ronald Reagan, who had announced his Alzheimer’s disease only a year before. Jack Kemp had not yet been nominated for vice president.
Even long careers are strangely short.
Then I noticed how many debates are still raging: health care, global warming, the federal debt. Next, how drastically media have changed: in one article, Neal Freeman wrote that “Young Media” were talk radio, cable television, and newsletters.
Then, I recalled the subject that had seized conservatives’ ambition in the flush of victory: reversing cultural decline.
David Gelernter wrote an essay called, “After Liberalism,” the very title of which captures what conservatives dreamed, namely that they were on the verge of delivering a fatal blow to the opposing ideology. But Gelernter was not triumphalist. He ended his essay describing the deteriorating lives of middle class children. Then he observed:
When it comes to family values, Republicans talk a good game and check their children at the door. Values Republicans are eager to show that they are Female-Friendly. Growth Republicans understand clearly that economic disaster would be the consequence were American mothers to walk off the job. We’d all be poorer. Standards of living would drop to what they were in (perhaps) 1965. And so the idea that rearing children and not generating wealth might conceivably be society’s first responsibility is orphaned, without a friend anywhere on the mainstream political spectrum.
In another essay, Digby Anderson wrote of recovering the moral strength of Victorian society, a goal that became a preoccupation of many conservatives in the 1990s. Anderson wrote,
In the mid nineteenth century [the Victorians] inherited a society with significant crime, illegitimacy, and low moral standards. By the end of the century they had substantially reduced crime, halved illegitimacy, and produced a complex, powerful, and sophisticated moral order. . . . Virtue and been lost. Virtue was recovered.
This narrative, backed up by historical and social scientific research from thinkers like Gertrude Himmelfarb and Charles Murray, and amplified among evangelicals by Chuck Colson and others, drove such policies as welfare reform, enacted with Bill Clinton’s triangulating signature in 1996. Grabbing congressional majorities fueled a sense that conservatives could restore virtue to the culture by handing power back to ordinary Americans.
Problematic group, those ordinary Americans.
On the one hand, Richard Brookhiser wrote about promising trends among baby-boomers. There was a “revival of religious enthusiasm, amounting to a Fourth Awakening.” There was an increase in those who “teach their children around the kitchen table out of McGuffey’s Readers.” There was also a new interest in virtue itself, signaled by the success of Bill Bennett’s The Book of Virtues. Those were indeed striking trends then.
But by the end of the 1990s, pornography and gambling had been culturally mainstreamed, household debt was spiraling, rates of divorce had not significantly changed, and cohabitation outside of marriage was increasing. In 2006, Republican domination of Congress came to an end amid scandals that featured every kind of financial corruption and sexual perversion.
A thumping Republican victory this November will be a significant event. But politicians and their hangers-on are always too quick to believe their press. Political change does not so much alter as reflect culture. The 1994 victory reflected American culture quite accurately, in all its grim corruption.
I turn a page in this old National Review issue and see an ad for Newt Gingrich’s book, To Renew America. A fellow pastor loaned me a copy of it in 1997, telling me how much he admired Gingrich’s stands, how crucial it was for the moral stamina of the nation to follow his prescriptions. A few weeks later, that pastor was in prison for molesting a minor.
Political power is not enough to renew America. Not even close.
September 1, 2010 § 3 Comments
by Matthew Raley
Last Saturday’s headline at the New York Times pretty much said it all: “At Lincoln Memorial, a Call for Religious Rebirth.”
Glenn Beck aims to unite evangelicals and Mormons spiritually using generalized pietistic language to make America more religious. According to the Times: “’Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck told the crowd, in what was part religious revival and part history lecture. ‘America today begins to turn back to God.’”
Several features of that statement strike me.
For starters, Beck does not say what is happening that is “beyond man.” Indeed, his second statement undermines that portentous claim: The nation’s repentance begins “today,” with Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, powered by high celebrity wattage and stimulated by plenty of free media. The event, whatever it was, came entirely “from man,” and was not in any sense “beyond man.”
Further, Beck’s use of the idea of repentance is safely generalized. “America,” Beck says, the nation corporately, turns back to God. The populist implications are clear: we who already follow “God” have gathered, and those other people who do not follow “God” would do well to pay attention.
Even further, the repentance is vague because the “God” to whom “America” is turning is a squishy sort of being. Beck appeals to us to pray to this God on our knees in front of our children. This God drops giant sandbags on Beck’s head, apparently. But does this God forgive sinners? Did he give his Son in an atoning death to save them? Is it this God’s sole purpose to build an eternal kingdom for His Son that is categorically greater than America? Is this, in other words, the God who revealed himself to all in the Bible?
Or is this the God who invites us to be initiated into one secret teaching after another under the strict guidance of a prophet in Utah, whose revelations continue to add to the good but insufficient work of Jesus Christ? Is he the God of the gnostics?
Those devoted to mere religiosity won’t care. But those devoted to the Gospel should.
Ross Douthat in the Times nailed what went on at the rally with his usual perceptiveness.
Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life. This spirit of self-affirmation was at work in evangelicals’ enduring support for Bush, in the enthusiasm for the Dean campaign among the young, secular and tech-savvy, and now in the devotion that Palin inspires among socially conservative women. The Obama campaign raised it to an art form, convincing voters that by merely supporting his candidacy, they were proving themselves cosmopolitan and young-at-heart, multicultural and hip.
Beck’s Mormonism blends in well with the lifestyle of religiosity that the rally sought to affirm, and the evangelicals he woos always seem to be desperate for someone to affirm them. The courtship has been ongoing and shrewd.
David Gibson at Politics Daily reported earlier in the summer on Beck’s commencement speech at Liberty University.
“I want you to know that the invitation to speak today is not meant as an endorsement of my faith,” he said, absolving Falwell — son of the late Jerry Falwell Sr., icon of the religious right and founder of Liberty, which he envisioned as a Baptist Notre Dame. “But I also want you to understand that my agreeing to speak here today is an endorsement of your faith.”
Big applause, understandably, and then a good follow-up, as Beck told his listeners that this was no time for division on the right over things like doctrine and dogma. “We may have differences, but we need to find those things that unite us.”
It’s possible, even likely, that the courtship is a two-way street. I can readily understand some evangelical leaders making the most of an opportunity to influence Beck toward a true understanding of the Gospel.
But why are they promoting his bid for national spiritual leadership? Having a man who has not professed faith in Christ alone be a commencement speaker to Christian graduates, to say the least, is a novel form of outreach. And forming a “black-robe regiment” of evangelical pastors to amplify populist pieties under Mormon generalship is not going to advance the Bible’s Gospel. Such efforts will blur it.
That does indeed sound like something “beyond man,” but not from the direction of heaven.