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I’m loving the warm up here in SD – even wore a short sleeve shirt to the services today. Perhaps it was a little premature. It’s 37 right now but that still means the snow is melting. I was reading this afternoon how globally, January was the coldest on record in ten years. And, that many scientists believe that this winter’s weather could point to a future cooling trend. You can read it yourself:

Marc Morano is the resident authority on global warming with the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works minority staff. He says according to records kept by the United Nations, global average temperatures peaked during the El Nino year of 1998 — and that since 2001, the temperature trend has declined slightly. According to Morano, despite the continued pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere, the southern hemisphere has also experienced a cooling trend; and in the northern hemisphere, January 2008, by some estimates, was the coldest month in more than a decade. “Solar scientists are worried about the lows,” he says. “They’re calling it the ‘disturbingly quiet solar cycle.’ And we’re faced with again just a lack of years … of temperatures just sort of ‘plateau-ing out’ to the point where the head of the U.N. IPCC [Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change] has recently called for an investigation as to why temperatures were not continuing to rise as predicted.” Morano also notes that between 1940 and 1975, the earth’s temperature cooled even though CO2 levels rose. And global warming alarmists, he notes, have failed to explain the lack of a correlation between rising CO2 and rising temperatures, a theory that Al Gore promotes in his movie An Inconvenient Truth.

In other earth-friendly related news, many congregations in America went green for their Palm Sunday services paying double for palms that were specially grown and harvested so as to not contribute to deforestation. Check it out. In case you are wondering, Church at the Gate didn’t go green today, not because we have no regard for the Scriptural mandates to be good stewards of creation. Frankly it had more to do with the fact that we were thinking about welcoming the King more than we were about his creation. My bad.

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Once again we can thank God for stirring Hollywood to drop another LIFE gem into the mainstream of American culture. Those with prophetic ears and eyes will certainly see what Hollywood surely had no idea they were showing us. That’s because God can even speak through a donkey. Let’s pray adults nationwide see what a theatre full of children have no trouble seeing – the value of life no matter how small.

Stephen Schwartz in his book “The Moral Question of Abortion” lists four differences between the born and the unborn, none of which make either less of a person.

1. Using the acroymn SLED, the first difference between the born and the unborn is SIZE. The unborn is smaller than a newborn. But Gary Coleman is smaller than Shaquille O’Neal and it would be absurd to say Gary has less moral value than Shaq.

2. Second is the LEVEL OF DEVELOPMENT. An adolescent is more developed physically than an infant but that doesn’t give it a greater right to life. A person is no less a homo sapien in its earlier stages than in it’s latter stages of development.

3. ENVIRONMENT is the third difference between the born and the unborn but it too is irrelevant to personhood. Where one is is irrelevant to who one is. A newborn in her mothers arms is no more a person than one still in its mothers womb.

4. Fourth is the DEGREE OF DEPENDANCY. If dependancy is a factor in determining one’s intrinsic value than it would follow that people in nursing homes somehow lose their humanity when they lose their ability to live on their own.

What we have in Horton Hears a Who is a prophetic parable or a timely allegory for America. He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying to this nation.

Hate to admit it, but fourteen years ago I moved to this city to start this church intentionally planning to NOT bring up things like the Cross and the Blood of Jesus. It was the seeker-friendly “model” to go out and create neutral, non-religious atmospheres where the unchurched wouldn’t be “offended” by our symbolism or perplexed by our weird language. That phase lasted about two years. Today, the Cross and the Blood are big deals at Church at the Gate. In fact, they are our only hope. A year ago January, the Lord spoke to me on this again – that I should offer communion every Sunday because lifting high the chalice of the Blood of the Lord Jesus will usher our people into a greater freedom. We’ve been offering communion (at least on a self-serve basis) every weekend since. There is power in the blood!

On my 12-city state tour a couple weeks ago, my friend Matt Lockett (Exec. Dir. of Bound4LIfe) told me God told him to not take his eyes off the blood this year. So, Matt has himself in an intense study of the blood of Christ. I invite him to add his two cents to this post. Matt said he’s asking pastors all over America this question… “You went to seminary didn’t you? (Yes.) Well, I went to art school so maybe you can help me with this… why did Jesus have to shed his blood?” Matt reports the majority bumble a response but have no real answer to this question.

A bit nervous now that it was my turn to answer his question, I gave just a few sentences and a few scriptures and asked if I passed the test. He said yes. So, here in post two of this mini-series the Ugly Side of Easter I turn your attention to:

WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO SHED HIS BLOOD?

The Bible says “the life is in the blood” and that “the wages of sin is death.” Scripture also says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin.” Therefore, to pay the penalty for sin somebody’s life would be required. Jesus, in our stead, gave his life and shed his blood on the cross so we could live. His shed blood speaks a better word than the shed blood of Abel, of any other man, or the blood of bulls and goats. In the Old Testament, high priests would enter the most holy place and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the atonement cover (mercy seat) of the altar. There was no access to this place of God’s presence without a blood sacrifice. The blood provided the only adequate covering (atonement) for human sin. Jesus’ blood was the ultimate sacrifice. Full forgiveness for sin, and full access to God is available only through his shed blood. If there were another way or multiple ways for people to enter into a right relationship with God besides Jesus dying on the cross, God would not have let his Son go through the agony. That’s a hard word for people who want to believe all religions will lead to God, but nothing but the Blood of Jesus washes away sin.

There is a great download on the Bound4Life website of the old hymn – What Can Wash Away My Sin? The story behind the hymn is that it’s been around for years but these past 3 1/2 years it’s been sung every day in front of the Supreme Court by intercessors praying for the ending of abortion. They plead a better blood than the shed blood of 50 million unborn babies. They are pleading to a higher court. After taking communion they sing this hymn. I’ve been there with them… God is all over this. The hymn originally was set in a major key but they shifted the old hymn to “a minor key because the minor key opens a different door than the major key has in the past.” I believe that door is contrition and true repentance. Hope this song and these thoughts really help you focus on the Blood of Jesus this week and next.

We’re all busy, right? There are times I find myself in the middle of something asking “why am I doing this and is it really that important?” I don’t have time anything non-strategic. Especially now. Unnecessary trips, meetings, conferences, whatever… they get cut quickly.

So why am I in Atlanta right now? I come here several times a year to assess potential candidates for church planting. It is our goal in the Association for Related Churches to plant 2000 churches immediately. Here’s why planting more churches is essential…

Each year (between 2000-2005), 3,707 churches in America closed. And, 4009 new churches were planted each year during that time frame. For those of you not so good at math, that is a net gain of 303 churches per year. Before you smile and start feeling good about that… consider this – 3,205 new churches are needed a year just to keep up with the population growth.

That’s how many are needed JUST TO KEEP UP with the population growth rate. We need many, many more to begin to gain ground and take this nation for Christ. For those of you with kids, these numbers ought to be frightening. In twenty years, America will be a far different place for our kids, unless the church starts reproducing.

More on this later, but my friend (and father in church planting) Dave Olson, just wrote a very important book about the state of the church in America. The numbers are far worse than George Barna has been telling us. He’s said that 45% of Americans go to church. Dave recently completed the largest study ever done on the America Church and figured out the numbers are not even half that!!!

So again, it would take 3,205 new churches a year in America just to KEEP UP with the pathetic numbers presently in the Body of Christ. And, again, right now we are only at 303 in terms of a net gain. 

Did Moses inhale? A “scholar” at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem claims Moses was high on drugs when he went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.

Professor Benny Shanon claims Moses got high on a drink called ayahuasca, made out of potent plants that grow in southern Israel. He said: “They constitute the key ingredients of one of the most powerful psychedelic substances in existence.” Speaking about his article on Israeli public radio, he added: “As far as Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either. Or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics.” The professor’s theory came after he tried the drink, which is still used in religious rituals by the Amazon people, and had similar visions. He claims five events in Moses’ life were inspired by the drug, including the Ten Commandments and the Burning Bush miracle.

I love that last part – the theory came after the professor tried the drink. So much for good scholarship – hey, smoke this and things will make more sense.

These are the people who think we are crazy. Recently I preached a message called “Greater Works Than Jesus” and spoke of how the signs and wonders at the end of the age will rock the scholarly and scientific community. We are moving into days when God is coming against the arrogance of man in modern universities with marvels beyond what we’ve seen to date.

Professor Benny will be among the many mind-fried 60’s-era “intellectuals” who are blown away by the wonders God releases on the earth. I’m thinking it’ll be the quenticential bad trip. Dude.

Most contemporary Protestant churches today skip Lent altogether and jump in for the Easter celebration. This is fine as there is nothing written that says you have to reinact this all every spring – preachers should really be preaching the cross twelve months a year. I want to devote a few posts these next few weeks to the ugly side of Easter – the betrayal, the blood, etc. Buckle up.

Some good stuff for those who’ve known betrayal…

Here we are in Easter season and I had the thought to watch the Passion of the Christ again last night. Instead I just decided to read it right out of the Bible. Judas popped off the page at me and the whole pain of betrayal thing. Probably because I had read this earlier in the day:

Embedded somewhere, in each act of betrayal, is the purpose of God waiting to be discovered.” Garris Elkins

My two sons (17, 15) are excited to follow my steps into ministry for which I’m grateful, but recently my daughter (13) announced she wanted nothing to do with it. Not that she wants nothing to do with God, far from it. Her comment was in specifically in reference to ministry – and hearing her explain why made me want to send a couple of “thank you” cards to a few people who’ve “kissed” me as Judas did Jesus. I don’t know how to explain or justify to her how it is people you try to bless and help so viciously turn on you and even orchestrate an aggressive and unbridled but Scripturally-forbidden slander campaign with the hope of ruining you. It’s nothing short of evil. Every Christian leader deals with it, though those on the front lines more than the rest.

The danger for the betrayed is to succumb to the spirit of vengeance and seek your own vindication. Again to quote Elkins, “the spirit of vengeance wants to attach itself to betrayal and lure you into the betrayer’s dark place. It’s the strong desire to see the betrayer punished. Hell wants to help you tailor a plan to punish your betrayer. Darkness wants to lure you into the hardness of heart where an unwillingness to forgive exists. You don’t have to go there.”

Twice the Apostle Paul mentioned how he had to “turn [someone] back over to Satan.” Wow. I’ve never been able to do that. But I have prayed, “Lord, I’m hurting too much to deal with this in a Godly way, I release them to you. If you want to show them mercy – praise be your Name. If you decide to discipline and deal with them harshly, I can certainly understand.”

My secret over the years is to stay in a place of prayer and pray Psalm 64. There have been seasons where Kristen and I have done this daily for months on end.

Elkins has this to say to the betrayer, “know the sin of betrayal plans to take you somewhere. For Judas, John 13:30 tells us that betrayal took him “out into the night.” Betrayal repositions you into a dark place. The only way back into a lighted place is through confession and repentance.”

The politicians are now standing in pulpits preaching. Those who know me well know I perk right up when somebody mentions the Sermon on the Mount. My two decade long fascination with it has resulted in quite a collection of books and commentary on it. Here’s the latest addition to my collection. This comes from presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama who was speaking Sunday at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio.

I will tell you that I don’t believe in gay marriage, but I do think that people who are gay and lesbian should be treated with dignity and respect and that the state should not discriminate against them… So, I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other. I don’t think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans. That’s my view.  

I suppose he’s referring to the “don’t judge” verses or maybe the Golden Rule. We do need to love people of all varieties and flavors, even enemies. But I wonder if Sen. Obama is aware that before you get to either of those passages you first come to one that does directly apply to marriage. Of course I’m referring to Jesus upholding the sacred union between one man and one woman for one life saying nothing should undermine it or tear it apart. Jesus says anything outside that sacred union is adultery.

Also interesting to me, just before that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus upheld the Old Testament law saying even the little “obscure passages” – the “smallest letter and least stroke of a pen” are not to be discarded. Frankly, this is the first time I’ve heard anyone ever refer to anything in Romans as “obscure.” Romans is widely regarded as the foundational theological letter of the New Testament. Even so, Islam is the faith that interprets some Scripture as more authoritative than others (The Koran’s “peaceful” earlier passages are less authoritative than the Koran’s “violent” older passages). In Christianity, all passages are equally God-breathed (inspired) and useful for faith, doctrine and conduct.

This isn’t the first time Obama has sung the praises of the Sermon on the Mount.  In 2006, he had this to say:

Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.  

I love it… “let’s read our Bibles!” I think a national Bible Study on the Sermon on the Mount would be a great idea – then let’s get the book back in the schools and back on the college campuses and ultimately judge everything by it.

According to David Barton, 94% of all the quotations in the writings of the Founding Fathers of the nation were quotations from the Bible. Wouldn’t it be something if we started electing people again based on how closely their “platform” paralleled that of the Sermon on the Mount? America would be a better place if political stump speeches were basically Sermon on the Mount sermons. God’s Kingdom would surely come then on earth as it is in heaven.

Here’s a little Sermon on the Mount trivia for you: Reagan was driven by the Sermon on the Mount’s “city on a hill” metaphor and Bush #41, at his inauguration, asked for the Bible he placed his hand on to be opened to Matthew 5.

The Urgency Tour last week was a big success.  I was able to connect with 175 pastors total, that number does not include any of our team.  Also, in nearly every city, key area pastors took materials and told me they would personally go connect with a few others who weren’t able to be present. The Church in South Dakota is awake. This will soon be the safest state in the nation for the unborn.

While all that was great fun, additional fun was had en-route as we talked in the car. The most fun though came in the evening at the hotel as we got out our laptops and tried to one-up each other by showing our favorite youtube clips.Here are a couple that made me laugh.

Do any of you body language experts know what blinking means? Cheney’s face is hilarious to me – what do you suppose he’s thinking?

Still on a political theme – this too made us laugh – be sure to watch all the way to the end…

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