by Steve Strang
About a month ago, I wrote a blog endorsing Sen. Rick Santorum who is, I believe, the truest conservative and someone I consider "squeaky clean." I was interviewed on the PBS program Religion & Ethics and they wanted to know why I didn't endorse the other candidates.
For Mitt Romney I'm concerned about how he's flip-flopped. And I'm wary of the fact that he's Mormon (although that doesn't prevent me from voting for him—it only makes it more difficult). And with Newt Gingrich I'm concerned his many moral failures (which he says he has repented of and I don't doubt that's true) shows a deep character flaw. But Rick Santorum has a good record, projects the image of a leader and has strong Christian values.
My endorsement was widely circulated and the PBS program has a large following, but I doubt my support did much good. Santorum came in third in Florida. To me, I was mainly making a point that I wanted to back someone my friend Florida representative Scott Plakon says is as clean as a "Boy Scout."
What a difference a month makes in politics. Since then Santorum has won several primaries and is now ahead in the polls. And at NRB it seemed everyone I talked to is supporting him. It's as if a lot of people feel as I do—we want a leader with conservative values, voting records and strong moral values. The biggest difference is that people are beginning to believe he can win!
As part of the January-February issue on social transformation of Ministry Today, Guest Editor Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. interviewed Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel; and Kevin Theriot, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, who discussed why pastors should not stay away from political issues—despite scrutiny from the IRS and groups threatening lawsuits.
Staver, the dean of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., also wrote an informative article on what churches can do politically without losing their tax-exempt status. Staver notes that every election year, with 2012 being one, thousands of pastors receive threatening letters claiming their churches will lose their tax-exempts status if they engage in any political activity. He encourages pastors not to believe the hype.
To download for free the What Pastors Can and Cannot Do Politically DVD, go to ministrytodaymag.com/images/stories/videos/staver_political.flv.
Do you stay away from political issues from the pulpit? Give us your feedback.
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by Jamie Buckingham
A quiet pebble beach is located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is under the shadow of the Golan Heights, not far from the ancient village of Bethsaida.
It was here, early one morning, that Jesus stood and shouted across the water to His friends in a fishing boat. "Catch anything?"
Peter recognized His voice, jumped overboard and swam to shore. It had been several weeks since Jesus had risen from the grave. He kept appearing and disappearing. By the time the other fishermen got to shore, Jesus and Peter had a fire going and breakfast was almost ready.
What followed was one of the most personal and poignant encounters in the Bible. Pulling Peter aside, Jesus predicted the kind of death he was going to die: "When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18, NIV).
It was a disturbing prediction. Peter was going to be crucified. Peter's reaction was similar to the way many of us react when we get a glimpse into the future of unpleasant things—we divert attention away from ourselves to someone else.
Pointing at John, Peter asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus' response was instant. "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22).
Like all of us, Peter was hoping for a guarantee of long life. He didn't like the possibility of early death—especially if it included suffering. He wanted to hold to all the healing verses of the Bible but omit the verses about Christians having to suffer if they follow Jesus.
I understand that feeling. Last summer, I emerged from my healing experience with cancer feeling invincible. Almost immortal. The doctors had told me I was going to die, but God intervened.
I not only survived—I was healed. But I didn't get what I really wanted: a guarantee the cancer would never return. That is the heart of Jesus' response to Peter: "God allows no guarantees. He does not want you to walk by knowledge—but by faith. "I alone control the length of a man's days,"
Jesus told Peter. "How long John lives is none of your business. You must follow Me." Following Jesus means risky living. God, however, is far more interested in what we become than whether we reach the goal.
In fact, the goal is really found in the following—not the arriving. That, sadly, goes cross-grain to the American concept of success. But God is more interested in building our faith than providing mental security.
by Jamie Buckingham
One of the modern Greek playwrights wrote of the novice who went to stay on an island with an elderly priest.
One afternoon the young cleric, eager to learn, walked with the venerable man along the craggy shore. As their robes swirled in the wind, he finally asked his big question. "Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?"
"No, my son," the elderly man answered, stroking his white beard.
"I have grown old, and the devil has grown old with me. He does not bother me as before. Now I wrestle with God,"
"Wrestle with God? Do you hope to win?" The wrinkled old man looked his young consort in the eye.
"Oh no! I hope to lose."
Unfortunately, most of us seldom get to that place in life. We spend our years battling with Satan. The devil, however, is not man's real adversary—God is.
God's ways are not our ways. His kingdom is not of this world. His commands run counter to our concepts. Until we are defeated by God, we shall always be miserable.
Last summer, following the diagnosis of cancer in my kidney, I found myself in what I thought was mortal combat with the devil. His voice, so logical and factual, echoed through my mind at night after the house was quiet, striking fear and panic.
He would remind me of the doctors' prognosis...chide me for not having bought grave plots. ..show me the agonized faces of my children and grandchildren peering into my casket...list, one by one, the sins of my past—and present.
Then I discovered that even minor resistance in the name of Jesus causes him to flee. Of course, he returns—and he did, in the form of another cancer.
Now I am back in the wrestling match. Only this time I am not battling Satan, for I know he is already defeated. Instead, like the old priest, I find myself wrestling with God.
As the radiation treatment gradually shrank the tumor, I had time—a lot of time—to spend on the mat. Our conversations, while gentle, were always pointed.
One quiet afternoon, sitting in the home of my physician in St. Petersburg, Fla., I found myself battling with Jesus' words from Luke 9: "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (v. 24. NKJV).
Did this mean I should not take measures to save my life from the cancer? Surely not, for God had told me to resist evil. No, it meant I was not to save my life for my sake—but so I could be at God's disposal, delighting to do His will.
by Jamie Buckingham
Several years after my father's death, I had the heart-wrenching task of moving my mother, Elvira, into a Baptist retirement center in Florida. My father had donated the property to the center before he died, planning for the both of them to live there later.
Dad never got to live there, but Mom stuck to the plan. She moved only a few things with her, urging us children to divide up the rest. After the big pieces of furniture had been shipped out, my two brothers, my sister and I wandered through the old house.
Every keepsake had a memory attached—different to each of us. We decided to take turns choosing, I wanted only one thing: the tattered "prayer book" that my parents had used every morning for years. Actually, it was an oversized photo album with seven pages—one for each day of the week.
Each page contained the pictures of those they prayed for that day. My dad had made a little stand so that the album could stay open on the breakfast table, and each morning before eating their meager breakfast, they prayed for their friends. I took the old book and sat on the back steps, looking at each page.
Monday, they prayed for their local Gideon chapter—an organization dedicated to the distribution of Bibles. Tuesday, they prayed for the Billy Graham organization—and for Billy's crusades. Wednesday, they prayed for Tom and Betsy Smoak, then missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Colombia, South America.
I recall sitting at breakfast with them, listening as my mother's voice broke with emotion as she prayed for the six Smoak children by name. Thursday, they prayed for two elderly women who had given their lives as missionaries to mountain people in Appalachia. Friday, they prayed for old friends. Saturday, a family picture helped them remember all their children and grandchildren.
Sunday, even after they were too feeble to attend, they prayed for their local church, and for the staff and residents at the retirement center. Now mother was in that same center. The book had been left behind. I took it home. It remains in my study, closed. The stand, however, is on our breakfast table. It holds my prayer book—complete with pictures.