Nelson Mandela

My friend, Donna Pinazzo, recently asked me a very deep, penetrating question, “How much good did Nelson Mandela do?” My response to her was, “The only way to “rightly” assess and answer that question is through the lens of Scripture. We are to filter all our perceptions through the Bible and judge all things accordingly.” So if the Bible, God’s Word, is the standard by which all things are judged good or evil, we can be confident that God will give us the answer.

I think the answer can be found in the word emancipation, or more appropriately, the concept. The word emancipation is often used solely as a political term, and far less often in a biblical context. However, the idea is pretty broad and comprehensive, in content and application; and it is certainly biblical at its very core. Here is one of several definitions: The state of being thus set free; liberation; used of slaves, minors, of a person from prejudices, of the mind from superstition, of a nation from tyranny or subjection.

In Biblical parlance, emancipation means to be set free from the slavery of sin; to be set free from the inevitable torture of hell; to be set free from the trappings of this world, and set free to honor and bring glory to God. That is a whole lot more freedom offered to mankind than a mere ephemeral freedom from tyranny. That is precisely why Nelson Mandel’s brand of freedom is an epic fail, and only a temporary reprieve from the horrific consequences of Tyrants. This is all the more reason to reach people with the Gospel message. It is of utter importance to a true, lasting, and eternal emancipation. Had Nelson Mandela concentrated on the needs of the eternal soul, instead of the needs of the flesh, I would not hesitate to call him a hero, that aside: he never, to my knowledge, anyway, took the true torch of freedom (the Gospel message) to the world-at-large, and more specifically, to the neediest of all men: his own kinsmen.

Mandela’s sickness is in a much broader realm, though. He didn’t merely have a light dalliance with abortion, pornography, or homosexuality, but set in motion, by passing laws that would fix a nations eternal destiny. Those very symbols and actions of evil would grip a nation and cause lawlessness to garner a very strong foothold. Any leader has a profound effect upon the morality of a nation; and President Mandela was no exception. His  approach was identical to the approach Erasmus took in confronting Martin Luther. Erasmus wanted Nelson Mandelapeace at any cost, while Luther wanted a peace according to the strict mandates and sound guidance of Scripture.

His life’s work was of NO eternal consequence, whatsoever. All the things he may have accomplished during his lifetime, were an epic fail. He only managed to alleviate a very small fraction of human suffering, and possibly, according to various sources and reports, did equal in damage to blacks and whites along the way.

Here was a president, who had a chance to create his own little microcosm, and to pass laws for the moral benefit and good of a great nation of people, and instead he chose to create a nation of baby killers, and give his full blessings to it. Few people are given the chance to directly affect the moral outcome of a nation, but Nelson Mandela left an indelible mark upon a country already torn by hatred, and it was not for the better. Make no mistake about that.

What says emancipation more succinctly than the Gospel message? Any other attempt to alleviate the sufferings of mankind, devoid of God’s Word is simply self-aggrandizement.

Lastly, I believe this poem by C.T Studd has the final word.
“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

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“Now you may join the Elks, my friend,
And some may join the Shriners.
And other men may carry cards
As members of the Diners.
Still others wear a golden key
Or small Greek letter pin.
But I have learned there’s one great club
That all of us are in…”.

–J. Pierrepont Finch, from the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”

The following (as I hope won’t be too obvious) is my first foray—faithful yet faintly faltering– into the wonderful world of Web-logging.

My theme for this initial effort (settled on after a couple of recent false starts) is a personal take on relating, both online and off, to society at large. Or, as Frank Loesser’s lyric puts it (albeit somewhat cynically):  “the Brotherhood of Man.”

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I do take comfort (especially since joining Facebook—whose merits or lack thereof are a whole other topic) in a general sense that “we’re all in this together.”

In cyberspace social networking and in “real life,” I appreciate company and companionship and – as 12-step recovery programs call it—sharing of “experience, strength and hope.” A remark at the office or at the gym or in a diner or a class or even a bus stop can lead to a conversation in which there is great value—sometimes just in communication itself, which surely is a gift from God. Through Facebook (and before it, LiveJournal, mainly via tributes to a deceased, deeply missed friend), I have “met”—or become reacquainted with—many sincere, caring, intelligent and insightful people.

The “human experience” is something that this curmudgeon  (I sometimes think my picture is in the dictionary under “antisocial”) all too often takes for granted.

And I’m sure it’s with something deeper than mere sentimentality that we can marvel at achievements and experiences that bring out the “best” in people—the teamwork that builds cities, reconstructs after horrors manmade and natural, feeds the poor, comforts the afflicted and, sometimes, simply exchanges sincere but needed pleasantries. (Can you imagine amoebas and lizards and monkeys—from which secular humanists would have us believe we evolved—ever doing that? Or even wanting to?)

An infinite number of things that—when I contrast them to my own self-centered ways — put me to shame.

Online we can poke and like and comment and share truths and perspectives. Offline we can smile and welcome and have cups of coffee and help.

Philosophically and sentimentally, we can interlock arms and do this:

(Though—um, I’d rather not, literally. Not in 1985 and not now. Nice tune, though.)

Often, as in the charity cause for which this song was written, the appeal to “brotherhood” is genuine. Sometimes it is mere sentimentality and sometimes (as in the case of the fictional Mr. Finch—the window washer following directions from a book on corporate ladder-climbing—it used to influence people as means toward personal gain.)

(But then again, Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” makes a valid point that influencing people must be rooted in real—not feigned—interest in them.)

At a certain level, of course, it’s nice to feel part of something. For instance, in my dim and distant youth, 1,000 years before the Internet, I used to love reading the letters pages in comic books (and even contributed to them once or twice.) Comics “fandom” was then (and still was, the last time I checked) a close-knit, virtual society united in fellowship by a common interest. (In this case,  bodybuilders in garish long underwear, flying around with capes. But you may have a different interest or hobby. You get the point.)

In a secular sense—this “brotherhood”—the theme of all sorts of political and social sloganeering –is in part very real and admirable, on a human level (there is notable human “good” in, say, helping other people  in times of suffering: all sorts of charities, agencies and volunteer efforts by groups and even individuals rise to immense challenges to help other people over come poverty, pain, illness and all sorts of disaster aftermaths.) It’s not all just a feel-good fantasy that motivates altruistic “togetherness.” We all have feelings and wants and needs. We’re all created with consciences, and we can all relate –and often connect and/or help– when a fellow human laughs or cries or sighs. Charities and causes do good works—very good, as far as the world defines “good.”

But we Christians know that “one great club which all of us are in” is a category with an unpopular name—sinners.

We know from Scripture that humanity has two basic categories: the church (us) and everybody else. But all are in the larger category of sinners. By no means should we ever presume or pretend to be BETTER than the unbelievers. Under the Great Commission, we are to be preachers by example. Not judges or jurors, not prosecutors—but witnesses.  Within our little spheres (Google Circles may be a better example, in this regard, than Facebook groups, ) we can influence those around us by example—and by speech—so that God, if it be his will, might bring them to salvation.

“Brotherhood” without Christ goes only so deep. It is not eternal.

Of course we must show charity, compassion and love to all of our fellow humans as part of witnessing and just being Christians. But there must be no compromise of doctrine. The Bible must always be our guide.

As a “wacko fundamentalist,” as my brother once jokingly (I hope) labeled me, I find it tough to convey—without sounding judgmental and stonehearted—that the popular “all religions are equal” notion (you’ve all seen those posters that include the cross alongside other familiar icons in a sort of smorgasbord.)—doesn’t cut it. Others, light-years more learned and eloquent than I, have made that point repeatedly and explained the reason. (It won’t take a PhD to note, reading this—and sincere thanks if you’re still doing so—that I’m neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Just, as we say, a sinner saved by grace. The circumstances by which God brought this about, will, I hope, be material for another post.)

It’s always best to let Scripture speak for itself.

A Google search for “fellowship of believers” and related concepts turned up verses including these. (KJV):

First, the well-known truth imparted in John 15:19:

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

And 1 Corinthians 12:

25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

And Hebrews 13:16:

But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

And Hebrews 3:13:

 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Lest we forget (yeah, right–as if!!) The teachings of our Lord didn’t exactly fit the lets-hold-hands-and-call it all-good mode. Like most of Scripture to those “that perish,” some of these quotes seem preposterous:

For a start, there’s Matthew 10:34-36:

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

Jesus goes on to say, in verses 37-39:
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Hardly the stuff of 1960s soft-drink commercials.

So, in short—cliques and clubs, societies and sewing circles, all make up a tapestry with which God has covered this planet. And these little niches can serve as vehicles whereby we can influence our fellows to the salvation message. We witness in our daily “real-world” lives –in the circles in which we move—and now on the Internet that affords us a wider audience.

Maybe I’ve done more blabbing than blogging.

It could be (as I sometimes wish in my crankier moments) this new fangled Internet is just a passing fad that will fizzle out any day now.

But the realms described in the Word of God certainly aren’t.

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Self Love or Selfless Love

Self-Love or Selfless Love

How important is it to have our own feelings and desires met? Is it not better, rather, to give ourselves and our time to God and to the service of other people?

When we spurn the idea of worshipping God and helping others, we naturally default to our own needs, desires and wants — to get a lasting sense of self-fulfillment and satisfaction. After all, our feelings and desires live in that big, overly expansive room, in our thinking, that takes up so much space we have no room for thoughts of other people’s needs. The greater the ego, the more we banish the thoughts of spending our time with God, or on the poor, the downtrodden, the elderly, the homeless, the sick and the widows.

Gratification of our own needs, pleasures and desires builds our sole habitat; a very lonely place to dwell. Left to our own selfish devices, we actually inhabit and move with our feelings and dreams of self- fulfillment, in idle, egotistical daydreams– never meant by God to be any kind of virtual reality. True reality exists on an objective plane, and true reality becomes perverted only when the individual, autonomous ego takes over and raises itself to self-aggrandizement and unbelief by denying the existence of a Supreme Being and an objective truth.

We have to remember: true, agape love always has an object and an objective: to love and care and assist our fellow human beings. And agape love for God enjoins worshipful adoration and active obedience as a cornerstone to a real, lively faith.

Self-love (and I am referring to total absorption, here, not a reasonable regard for our own needs and Christian attributes, in proper perspective) is the antithesis of loving God first and foremost. When our feelings and desires become our sole focus, we always supplant the needs of others and do not honor God as supreme Lord. We cannot serve two masters.

And this goes back to what we, as human beings, were created for. We are finite beings (death pretty much takes away any objections to the contrary) and we were designed to worship an infinite being of great worth, truth, majesty and holiness. Any other worship, especially of self, is idolatry. We need to get this through our thick heads—God/Jesus Christ is the epicenter of *HIS* Universe, and we ain’t. But, oh, how this offends so many people’s egos and sensibilities.

Having said all that, here is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Not to US, O LORD, not to US, But to YOUR NAME give glory. Because of Your loving kindness, because of Your truth (Psa 115:1).”

Mary Elizabeth Palshan

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The Reformation Lives On

After Darkness… Light (Video from Geneva)

byJohn Piper|October 31, 2012Category:
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Dear Friends,

Today is Reformation Day. Martin Luther posted his explosive 95 theses October 31, 1517. In the wake of Luther’s life, an army of Reformers soon emerged. Foremost among them was John Calvin. Together they recovered for the church the supreme authority and clarity of the Scriptures. Grace-erasing tradition had buried the glory of the gospel. But now light was breaking out. So the Reformers took up a Latin phrase to describe the wonder: “Post Tenebras Lux”—“After Darkness… Light.”

In honor of Calvin’s ministry and, even more, in celebration of the God who restored the gospel to his church, we are making this video available today. My prayer is that it would stir in your heart a fresh passion for the majesty of the word of God.

In spite of his flaws, the essential meaning of Calvin’s life and preaching is that he recovered and embodied a passion for the majesty of God and his word. The labor of exposition through preaching was the supreme work of his life.

I am no John Calvin. But I do stand with him as a fellow preacher of the majesty of God’s word. Preaching has been the central labor of my life. I pray that God will give me a mind and voice that enables me to preach this word as long as I live. What a gift and privilege that would be.

Transition from Bethlehem

As I prepare to transition from my role at Bethlehem, it seems to me that the Lord is saying, “You have led Bethlehem to this point; it is time to hand off the internal leadership labors to another; I have a few other things yet for you to do.” Yes. Writing, preaching, teaching.  There is an increasing pull on my life to be involved in ministry in the wider church through Desiring God. The plan is for these next years of my life, as God gives me strength, to be devoted to that mission. I just read the story of Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. I paused to pray, Lord, could I have a double portion of your Spirit for the last chapter of my life?

Prayer for Desiring God

Along with my transition, these next two months of November and December are important for ministries like ours. We will provide more communication in the coming weeks, but for now, we would be greatly honored if you would pray about how you might be involved in supporting our missionas this year comes to a close. We give most of what we have away freely. This is possible because lots of thankful people help us make that happen.

For Christ and his kingdom,

John Piper with Josh Etter, Director of Communications

The link below is an amazing video by John Piper concerning John Calvin.



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Martin Luther Revisited

Martin Luther was one of the most polarizing figures in all of Reformation history; and a man full of complexities (I often refer to him as the “ever mercurial” Luther). But the more you read this theologian’s thoughts (which were very avant-garde for the hostile times in which he lived), and also the impressions and opinions of his detractors, a full orbed view of this larger than life person starts to materialize. One thing is for sure: one would never find Martin Luther commonplace. Although, I suspect, that is where he found himself best suited.

A free biography of Martin Luther is available at:

Mary Elizabeth Palshan

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Shall we sit idly down and say,
“The night hath come,
it is no longer day?”
The night hath not yet come,
We are not quite cut off from
labor by the failing light:
Something remains for us to do or dare—
Even the oldest trees,
some fruit may bear
For age is opportunity no less than
youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
the sky is filled with stars
invisible by day.

Those that be planted in the house
of the LORD shall flourish
in the courts of our God.
They shall still bring
forth fruit in old age.
—Psalm 92:13-14

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