The Heartbeat
"But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." – Isaiah 66:2b

Six weeks from now you who are members of Burning Hearts Community Church are going to be asked to vote not only on the budget and list of officers for 2022 but also on whether or not Justin Kabakjian should become the next Senior Pastor. (In addition you may also be asked to vote on a proposed revised Statement of Faith but the elders have yet to make a decision about that).

I want to be very clear about this: The elders and I are in full support of Justin taking on this role. Will Justin preach the same way that I (Pastor Doug) have preached? No. Will he approach a text in the exact same way? No. Will his mannerisms, use of humor, stories, or emphases be the same? No. What we believe will be the same is that Justin will handle the word of God with respect not only for God and His word but for His people as well.

When in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Chapel we can be quite certain he had no idea what kind of Pandora's box he was opening. His "protest" led to the eventual founding of literally thousands of non-Roman church denominations. The Roman Catholic Church may be able to speak, via its pope, with one voice, and the Orthodox Church the same to a lesser degree, but Protestantism has no single voice. So whatever you may WANT to hear, you can likely find a Protestant church that will satisfy you.

This raises the question "What should one look for in a church?" Whatever you want you can find, so what should you want…what should you look for?

1) Look for a church that is doctrinally sound. Charles Spurgeon, the great English 19th century preacher, once wrote, "There is no such thing as good novel (meaning new) theology." If you find a church that is teaching things you have never heard before, it is likely they are teaching things that are not good. The greater church of Jesus Christ has had two thousand years to refine its understanding of the teaching of scripture and some very erudite minds have dedicated themselves to that task. Stick with a church that is founded on the Bible and the clear teaching of the Bible as it has been taught through the centuries.

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." – Lamentations 3:22-23

As many of you know, I am one of those who had a reaction to receiving a coronavirus vaccination shot. I received the first of my two Pfizer shots on March 27 of this year. By the next day I felt greatly fatigued and not "right." This continued into May when Burning Hearts' Men's Discipleship Group does their annual 5k runs. During both runs I felt as though I could not get my breath. I wrote it off to just getting older, but I couldn't understand why there should have been such a marked difference between this year and last year. Finally, a few weeks later I went to see the doctor. He immediately spoke to me about my heart being out of rhythm. I told him about how all of my fatigue and shortness of breath began the day after my first coronavirus shot. Although I have had some heart issues since around 2004 or 2005, these past issues were always easily corrected by a small pill. But with this, the arrhythmia had become chronic and no pills, sleep or rest would seem to change it. The doctor's opinion was that the COVID vaccination shot had "triggered" (his words) atrial fibrillation in my heart. And so, he sent me to a cardiologist.

I have, in the past, addressed at length the topic of Christian atheism. This is the sort of atheism that we see in western society today. It is a respectful atheism: recognizing the rights of others, caring for the oppressed and seeking to be moral – all themes of Christianity and not of a consistent atheism. A purely materialistic view of life (consistent atheism) promotes "survival of the fittest" in a fierce competition against all others to be at the top. We can be thankful that the atheism we are seeing is so inconsistent, having been bred and surviving within a greater Christian milieu.

This article is not about this inconsistent Christian atheism, but about its counterpart: atheistic Christianity. Atheistic Christianity is the sort of Christianity that is seen all too often in the church. Here are its marks…

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." – Romans 8:28

In so many ways, these seem to be very troubling times…

  • The Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan
  • The coronavirus mutating so as to form a more aggressive Delta variant
  • Children being required to wear masks to attend public school
  • A national debt that is astronomical and growing rapidly
  • Unrest in many major cities
  • Hundreds of thousands of people entering the country illegally
  • Yet another earthquake in Haiti

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." – Ecclesiastes 3:1

Last Sunday was a big Sunday in that I was able to announce, on behalf of the board of elders, that we are prepared to recommend Justin Kabakjian to the congregation as the next Senior Pastor at Burning Hearts. You all will have the opportunity to vote on that recommendation at the October 31 congregational business meeting. If approved, Justin will take over my place on January 1, 2023. We are excited about this.

What we had not expected to have to announce was the report (that we ourselves just recently learned) that the building in which we are meeting is being sold. Eurofins has had its eyes on this building for years and now it appears that due to an offer that the owner felt he could not refuse the building will likely change hands before the end of this year. Our lease (good until the end of 2024) will remain intact. We cannot be forced out. So, on the one hand, we have almost 3.5 years to enjoy this building that we have put so much time, labor and money into. On the other hand, that 3.5 years may feel like it is flying by.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?…neither the sexually immoral…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9

It was 39 years ago next month that Ruth and I moved from Germantown, PA to Lancaster County. Prior to moving here we had come out to Lancaster many times before – mainly for auctions. Even now, while walking through our house, I can point out item after item that we bought in those first few years of marriage at an auction held somewhere here in Lancaster County.

Anyway, when we moved here we moved into the house in which we are still located. So, 39 years in the same house! (That's not a record but it is a rarity.) The house worked out great for our growing family, but once the kids began moving out we began thinking of how we might make the house pay for itself. And so now, for many years, we have had two apartments: a first-floor rear apartment and a second-floor apartment. Both are very private with private entrances.

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." – Philippians 3:20

Back when I was attending Westminster Theological Seminary, I spent a summer working as a youth pastor at a small Baptist Church near Pontiac, Michigan. Actually my job was two-fold: youth pastor AND church custodian. (Those were two jobs that worked in opposition to each other!)

As I was the custodian, I had some say in how things were set up, how they looked, etc. One thing that I didn't like was that at the front of the auditorium was a large U.S. flag on an upright flagpole. And so one day I moved the flag to a back room.

That was over 40 years ago so I don't recall all the particulars exactly, but in my mind, not more than a day or two went by before I was called in by the pastor. Why had I moved the flag?

"Who has believed what he has heard from us…?" – Isaiah 53:1

For some time now I have been making my way through the book of Isaiah as part of my devotional time. Recently I again read Isaiah 53. As a Christian, try as hard as I can, I simply cannot understand that chapter as anything other than a prophetic passage about Jesus. I know that unbelieving Jews have suggested it is speaking of Israel as a nation, but it sure sounds a lot more like a prophecy about Jesus. Indeed, the fact that a reading of Isaiah 53 is skipped over in synagogues today implies that even most Jewish leaders are troubled by it (thinking that, yes, it sure does sound a lot like Jesus).

So here is my question: why don't modern Jews just accept that that is what Isaiah 53 is about? Why don't…why won't…modern Jews accept Jesus as the promised Messiah?

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Everyone wants to be accepted. The irony of this entire issue of transgenderism is that the kind of acceptance that our society has expressed towards the transgender is rooted in what has historically been seen as Christian love and an understanding of God's grace. In church life we are all quite quick to confess that "we are all sinners, saved by grace." That notion of grace is what is behind our western society's acceptance of all "sinners."

There is a problem with this, however, and Alexander Pope (1699-1744) summarized it well in a short poem:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mean
As to be hated; needs but to be seen
Yet seen too oft – familiar with her face
We first endure, then pity, then embrace

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Following years of captivity, first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, Jews were returning to their ancient homeland of Israel in the 5th century before Christ. Prophets of God like Ezra and Nehemiah chronicled this return, challenging the people to (finally) be done with idolatry, and to live holy lives pleasing to God so that they should never again need to go through such a time of purging.

One of the occurrences during this period of "captivity" was that many Jewish men had married non-Jewish foreign women. The marrying of a woman outside of Jewish ancestry was never considered a sin. The judge Samson did this as well as did Boaz, an ancestor of King David (and ultimately of Christ). But many of these non-Jewish wives were themselves pagan idolaters, an influence for unrighteousness. To the husbands of such women Ezra said, "Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives" (Ezra 10:11). The end of the book of Ezra recounts how the Jewish men took Ezra's challenge to heart and separated themselves from these women.

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

There is, of course, an entirely different way to view all of this. That is to say, instead of trying to understand St. Paul within his historic context, and by means of that suggested understanding do away with the sexual obligations placed upon us, we regard Paul's application of Mosaic Law as reflecting not merely God's intent for a certain nation for a certain period of time, but as God's intent for all of mankind forever. Indeed, this has been the church's take on Paul for the bulk of the past 2,000 years.

Certainly the case can be made (and has been made) that the church's understanding of what is required of us, sexually, can be gleaned from the Old Testament scriptures: that incest, adultery, homosexual practice, dressing so as to look like one of the opposite sex, and bestiality are all wrong. And why are they wrong? Because God has said they are wrong, even to the point of calling some of these an "abomination." That has been the approach of the church for nearly 2,000 years and for nearly 2,000 years that belief held sway in nearly all of western civilization.

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Having established that the scriptures call us both to a confession of Jesus as Lord (with an accompanying repentance from sin and baptism in his name) as well as to a holy life, the New Testament's presentation of a holy life appears to be deeply rooted in Old Covenant Law, the Law of Moses. Indeed Paul's continual call to a holy life seems inextricably tied to Mosaic Law.

2) The Old Covenant Law of Moses was quite explicit in addressing issues of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and even gender identity. In order to move this along let's look at just one passage that is pertinent to today's subject…

"A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God." – Deuteronomy 22:5

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

We are dealing with the topic of transgenderism or what is called gender dysphoria. As Christians we believe that our salvation is rooted in Christ's work. We are saved by grace, through faith. But apart from some very simple basics of belief, the Bible also addresses issues of our behavior. That is to say, one gets the clear impression from the New Testament scriptures that it is not enough to "simply believe." HOW we live is seemingly just about as important as WHAT we confess.

So here is where things get muddy: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul tells his readers in Corinth (a congregation of both Jews and Gentiles),

"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b

Every generation deals with issues affecting a part of the population. Out of the struggles over these issues have come laws pertaining to income taxes, the draft, child labor, civil rights, equal rights, minimum hourly salaries, abortion, homosexuality, those with disabilities and a myriad of other "social" issues. And now, of late, is the topic of transgenderism or gender dysphoria (formerly identified as gender identity disorder). This affects a fairly small part of the American public (roughly 0.002 to 0.015 percent according to the American Psychiatric Association; some surveys have suggested it is far more prevalent than this), but what is decided about it has ramifications for nearly all of us.

"…without hope, without God, in the world." – Ephesians 2:12c

The material man is the man who believes that all that can be seen is all that there is. To this man there is no immaterial world; there is no world of spirits, or gods, angels or fairies. Psychology may be the study of the soul but there really is no soul. The material man may use the language of love or hate, of hope or despair, but at those times he is borrowing the language of a world in which he does not believe. For the world of the strict materialist is a world that is bleak: void of color, art, or dreams.

G.K. Chesterton, the quite brilliant English Roman Catholic writer of the early 20th century, in a book worth reading (Orthodoxy) writes,

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have not pleasure in them.'" – Ecclesiastes 12:1 (ESV)

A number of years ago I visited an unnamed older man whom I will here call "Jim." Jim was living at Brethren Village and was, by that point, in great need of care. He had been a school teacher who, in earlier years, had taken great delight in teaching by means of the Socratic method (asking questions). At church, while teaching, he enjoyed few things more than playing the devil's advocate so as to try and make his students THINK. But now, due to a stroke, he was unable to walk and unable to get around without assistance. Life was difficult and he often felt he had little support. And so it was that while visiting him I asked him, "If you could have one thing, what would you like?" It was to that question that Jim said, after a long pause, "A vanilla milkshake!" And so I said, "Then that's what you're going to get!"

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." – 2 Corinthians 4:16

In last week's Heartbeat I addressed the issue of "these bodies," speaking of our human bodies. This week I would like to go a bit deeper.

Since the time of my first COVID vaccination shot I have been fatigued. The timing of that first shot was such that I almost immediately was on a plane to Arizona. The Arizona trip was followed by a Nevada trip, and that by a Pittsburgh trip and then a New York City trip. Between these various trips happened to be plenty of projects both around the church building as well as around the house, plus counseling, writing, visiting, special meetings, board meetings, interviewing fellows interested in pastoring at Burning Hearts, etc. The bottom line is that I just couldn't seem to get caught up in terms of rest. The end result of this fatigue has been exhaustion coupled with some mental lapses (like forgetting to put grape juice in the cups on a communion Sunday!!!) This, in turn, has resulted in some good conversations with Ruth about life. Here is the upshot of those conversations:

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." – James 4:14b

My dad is now 93 years of age. At 5' 8 ½" I used to look him pretty much in the eye. But not any longer. He has shrunk…a lot. It has been my take on him for many years now that I have been blessed with the fact that he is nearly exactly 25 years older than I. So if I want to see what life is going to look like for me in 25 years, I simply look at my dad.

My dad was doing quite well up until about age 85. He was, for his age, quite strong and very mobile: able to walk briskly, play tennis, and do yard work. But then he had the first of his T.I.A.s – transient ischemic attacks – mini-strokes. My sisters and I happened to be with him when the first one came, on a Sunday morning. We could sense he wasn't right, we could hear the blurred speech, we felt uneasy with him driving his truck (with us all in it) to church. It was not a good day. I think of these TIA mini-strokes as small attacks upon a person's health, sort of a chipping away at who they once were. A little bit here, a little bit there. But over time that person who was once the essence of health appears as a mere shadow of their former self. That's the situation with my dad. And in 25 years…well, we'll have to wait and see what my lot shall be.

"For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

Although I have addressed this issue many times before, allow me to speak to it one more time: the issue of how the church should view those involved in the LGBTQ+ lifestyle and manner of thinking.

Burning Hearts, like every Biblically-based church, must be welcoming towards all. Regardless of what a person may think, believe, act like or how they may appear (within reason. "Come as you are" has some limits) the church repeats the words of Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28: "Come." So if anyone should ask, "Is your church welcoming towards gays?" or "Would a transgender person feel welcomed at Burning Hearts?" my hope is that you could honestly say, "Yes." For all are welcome to come: to sing, pray, and open the scriptures with us.

"I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity." – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

These words, written by Solomon, were prophetic. He may have not realized it when he wrote these words, but they were an outline of what was to follow him. For upon his death, his son, Rehoboam, became king over Israel. If Solomon was known for his wisdom, Rehoboam became known as a fool. By his own foolish decisions, the kingdom split in two. What had once been a glorious kingdom and even a world-class power (for 80 years or so) was decimated into two struggling entities. Yes, all is vanity.

Upcoming Events

Fall Skill Share
25 Sep 2021 - 09:00AM
Young Adults Sunday School
26 Sep 2021 - 09:00AM
Older Adults Sunday School
26 Sep 2021 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
26 Sep 2021 - 10:30AM
Young Adults Sunday School
03 Oct 2021 - 09:00AM