Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State, Joe Paterno and Doing the Right Thing

Finally, the trustees at Penn State knew what needed to be done and finally, someone with the Nittany Lions got something right.

Those who follow the news in the sporting world are well aware that Penn State’s most beloved head football coach Joe Paterno was fired late yesterday. Apologies to the victims came in so many ways, but none louder than the trustees showing the legendary football coach the door. Prayers must continue for those who should have been protected above a football program that protected itself instead.

Those innocent young boys deserved to be put in front of recruiting, fundraising, and a coach's winning legacy.

And speaking of JoePa’s legacy, writer Jason Chatraw wrote, “Joe Paterno may have won a lot of football games, but his failure to protect the innocent doesn’t taint his legacy – it is his legacy.”

It’s kind of difficult to understand how anyone is defending “JoePa’s” actions or, in this case, inactions. The emotions are complicated I know; but this is not a complicated situation. He in no way did the “right” thing, he only did what was legally obligated to do. He failed miserably to do the moral thing.

Of course Paterno made a public plea for his job on Wednesday morning. He announced he'd retire at the end of the season. He promised fresh prayers for the same victims he should have been praying for in 2002, right after he'd made a call to police telling them that his old defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, had apparently sexually assaulted, i.e., raped a young boy in the football showers. (Sandusky has of course now been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years with more of the abuses taking place at the Penn State football complex) Paterno knew of the allegations in 2002 and told his supervisor, but he didn't do enough to stop his old friend.

Dear friends, let us not waste this opportunity to remember that choosing to do the right thing in every situation is the right thing.

Defend the poor and fatherless: Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

Also check out this excellent article by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written a sobering but necessary article in light of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. His words are insightful and prophetic and hold many lessons for churches, elders, ministers, Bible school teachers, ministry leaders, children's homes, camp counselors, etc.

Robert Prater


The Tragic Lessons of Penn State — A Call to Action, Al Mohler
--What would prevent this scandal at your school or church?

No one thought it would end this way. Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach at Penn State University heard of his firing by the school’s board of trustees by phone last night. Just two weeks after achieving the most wins of any NCAA Division One football coach in history, Paterno was fired. His firing — a necessary action by the Penn State board of trustees — holds lessons for us all.

Almost a decade ago, a graduate assistant told Coach Paterno that an assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, had been observed forcing a young boy into a sexual act in the school’s football locker room showers. Sandusky was himself a big name in Penn State football, and he was considered a likely successor to Paterno if the head coach had retired. Sandusky also ran a non-profit organization for boys, and he brought the boys onto the Penn State campus. He continued to do so even after his own retirement from Penn State’s coaching staff.

After hearing the report, Paterno informed university officials of the accusation. At that point, little or nothing seems to have happened. The scandal broke into public view last Saturday, when Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 felony counts of sexual abuse involving young boys. Penn State had been harboring a serial child sex abuser. Also arrested were the university’s athletic director and its senior vice president of business and finance. Both were charged with failure to report the abuse and with perjury.

What about Paterno and the university’s president, Graham B. Spanier? The Pennsylvania grand jury said that both men had knowledge of the 2002 first-hand report of abuse, and neither contacted the police. Furthermore, Sandusky was allowed some use of university facilities even long after this report. Paterno went back to coaching football. Spanier went back to raising money and building the school’s reputation. Jerry Sandusky had every opportunity to keep on sexually abusing young boys.

When the facts became known, the firings of both Paterno and Spanier were inevitable and necessary. Both men had credible knowledge that young boys were being sexually abused, and neither did anything effective to stop it. Most crucially, neither man did what they should have done within minutes of hearing the first report — contact law enforcement immediately.

Every single coach, athletic director, and college or university president awoke this morning to a changed world. Nothing will ever be the same again. The firing of Joe Paterno will send shock waves through the entire world of higher education. A man who a day before had announced under pressure that he would retire at the end of the season was told by phone that he would never coach another game. Penn State University will forever be associated with a scandal the likes of which college athletics has, thankfully, never seen before.

But the world has not only changed for college athletics. The detonation of the Penn State scandal must shake the entire nation into a new moral awareness. Any failure to report and to stop the sexual abuse of children must be made inconceivable. The moral irresponsibility that Penn State officials demonstrated in this tragedy may well be criminal. There can be no doubt that all of these officials bear responsibility for allowing a sexual predator to continue his attacks.

What about churches, Christian institutions, and Christian schools? The Penn State disaster must serve as a warning to us as well, for we bear an even higher moral responsibility.

The moral and legal responsibility of every Christian — and especially every Christian leader and minister — must be to report any suspicion of the abuse of a child to law enforcement authorities. Christians are sometimes reluctant to do this, but this reluctance is both deadly and wrong.

Sometimes Christians are reluctant to report suspected sexual abuse because they do not feel that they know enough about the situation. They are afraid of making a false accusation. This is the wrong instinct. We do not have the ability to conduct the kind of investigation that is needed, nor is this assigned to the church. This is the function of government as instituted by God (Romans 13). Waiting for further information allows a predator to continue and puts children at risk. This is itself an immoral act that needs to be seen for what it is.

A Christian hearing a report of sexual abuse within a church, Christian organization, or Christian school, needs to act in exactly the same manner called for if the abuse is reported in any other context. The church and Christian organizations must not become safe places for abusers. These must be safe places for children, and for all. Any report of sexual abuse must lead immediately to action. That action cannot fall short of contacting law enforcement authorities. A clear lesson of the Penn State scandal is this: Internal reporting is simply not enough.

After law enforcement authorities have been notified, the church must conduct its own work of pastoral ministry, care, and church discipline. This is the church’s responsibility and charge. But these essential Christian ministries and responsibilities are not substitutes for the proper function of law enforcement authorities and the legal system. As Christians, we respect those authorities because we are commanded to do so.

There may well be further arrests in connection with the Penn State scandal. One can only imagine the lawsuits that will consume the university’s time and treasury in years ahead. Christian institutions and churches looking at this scandal had better act immediately to ensure that all operate under adequate policies and guidelines. What would prevent this scandal at your school or church?

Church leaders and pastors must decide now — not later — that we will respond to any report of sexual abuse with immediate action and an immediate call to law enforcement officials. We must decide in advance what we will do, and not allow ourselves to think that we can handle such a challenge on our own. Every church and Christian institution needs a full set of policies, procedures, and accountability structures. As leaders, we must develop the right instincts for right action.

The leaders of Penn State University must have acted, or failed to have acted, out of many motivations. One may well have been to protect the image and reputation of the university. Well, we now see where that leads. A scandal reported and ended in 2002 would be horrible enough. A scandal that began there, was known by officials, and explodes almost a decade later is too horrible to contemplate.

We all need an immediate reality check. I discovered yesterday that the policy handbook of the institution I am proud to lead calls for any employee receiving a report of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, to contact his or her supervisor with that report. That changes today. The new policy statement will direct employees receiving such a report to contact law enforcement authorities without delay. Then, after acting in the interests of the child, they should contact their supervisor.

In a real sense, the whole world changed today. We all know more than we knew before, and we are all responsible for that knowledge. The costs of acting wrongly in such a situation, or acting inadequately, are written across today’s headlines and the moral conscience of the nation. The tragedy at Penn State is teaching the entire nation a lesson it dare not fail to learn.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WTC Memorial: The Offense of the Cross

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the dark and horrid day that was 9/11. Most of us remembers as Alan Jackson so beautifully sung “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning that September day.” One of the iconic images to emerge from among the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks was two ton section of cross beams that looked like a rugged cross. (picture above) This cross became a beacon of hope of Christian rescue workers and mourners. In 2006 the cross was temporarily moved from ground zero to nearby St. Peter’s Church and a plaque was placed on it that read:

Now the group, American Atheists, claiming a violation of church and state, saying its inclusion "constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land.” They have sued in an effort to block the cross from being included at the World trade Center Memorial and Museum.

These atheists further claim: “the mere existence of the cross has brought on headaches, indigestion, even mental pain.”

If you’re an atheist how does ”A cross formed by two intersecting steel beams that survived the Twin Towers collapse on 9-11″ cause you such pain and suffering that it can’t be displayed in a museum with other artifacts taken from the site.

I can understand going to the museum and seeing the artifacts bringing up feelings of pain. But if you are an atheist the cross shouldn't’t bring up any more pain than anything else. You don’t believe, right?

Unless there is more spiritually going on than “meets the eye.”

Check out below this article I recently ran across that is worthy of much consideration especially in light of this protest over a cross shaped beams. It’s written by Ryan Halliday and appeared as a web-only piece at Christianity Today under the title 9/11 Cross Should Offend. Why the 9/11 Cross Should Offend All of Us

Why the 9/11 Cross Should Offend All of Us

In a recent debate surrounding a cross displayed at the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial site, both sides agree on at least one point: the complaints by atheist litigants that the presence of the cross has caused them to suffer “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish” are less than credible. Even the commentators who have argued against the inclusion of the cross in the 9/11 memorial have nevertheless ridiculed these purported symptoms, assuming they are nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at establishing legal standing.

But Christians should recognize that these seem to be the sort of symptoms many sane and thoughtful persons experience upon encountering an unwanted vision of the cross. Far from being silly, these four atheists seem to take the cross more seriously than many believers do.

Because the cross tells the world’s strangest story in an image, it has always provoked a variety of responses, most of which have been negative. In the first century, the idea that the crucified Jesus was God-in-the-flesh was considered, depending on one’s background, either a scandal or a joke. (As the Jewish-turned Christian theologian St. Paul put it, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”) A weak, suffering deity held little appeal and would have been easily dismissed, were it not for the early Christians’ insistence that the death of Christ was everyone’s problem.

Jesus’ first followers did not only assert that God came to earth and died, but also that culpability for his death was universal. “This Jesus, whom you crucified,” were the words chosen by St. Peter to conclude the first Christian sermon, directed to an ethnically diverse crowd, most of whom were not even present in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ death.

For the two millennia since Jesus’ resurrection, Christian orthodoxy has been consistent in repeating this same message: the whole world stands equally guilty of committing history’s greatest atrocity, an atrocity in light of which the events of 9/11 pale in comparison. God came to earth, and we killed him.

The Book of Acts records that upon hearing this indictment for the first time, many of Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart.” Understandably so—the charge is enough to turn the stomach, darken the mind, and plunge the heart into despair. Or, in other words, Peter’s words were enough to cause “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.” The atheist litigants have called the 9/11 cross “an ugly piece of wreckage,” arguing that it speaks of “horror and death.” On the basis of the New Testament, these statements are difficult to contradict.

But if the image of the cross represents humanity’s greatest collective failure, why would a nation cling to it as a sign of hope in the days after 9/11? The exchange that follows Peter’s sermon sheds some further light.

When asked to suggest a course of action, Peter advised his hearers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”—advice which makes little sense unless one assumes certain premises. These premises, implicit in the Christian religion from day one, were intricately explored over the next several decades in the writings of St. Paul, who advanced what would become the best-known but least-understood tenet of Christian theology: that somehow the death of the perfectly sinless Christ was itself the event which atoned for all the wrongdoing of the sinful human race.

If true, this turns the cross into a profound paradox. The same event that condemns humanity also justifies it, standing at once as damning evidence of guilt and a doorway to forgiveness and innocence. What’s more, the very episode that shows humanity at its worst shows God at his best, as he transforms an act of wickedness into a display of mercy and love. It is difficult to imagine themes more relevant to the attacks of September 11.

Suppose God himself has suffered and died at the hands of evil men. Suppose God himself has shown the capacity for taking what was intended for harm and using it for good. Might this affect the way we ourselves face evil and suffering? Might this be a source of strength to someone who is waist-deep in ash and rubble, trying to loosen bodies from steel and concrete?

For the person who accepts this narrative, the cross is the only thing that makes sense in the face of a senseless tragedy. But for the person who rejects it, the cross serves as a reminder of an offensive and seemingly absurd accusation, adding insult to injury. The trouble with the cross is that it refuses to be the universal symbol of beauty that some would make it out to be—it speaks life to those who believe, but death to those who do not.

No wonder people disagree about where it should be displayed.

Ryan Holladay is pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church, which meets two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Friends, there is also something to keep in mind as our nation will observe the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yes, it is right, much like we do with Pearl Harbor, that we, on September 11, remember and honor those who died on that day. We continue to ask God for His continued blessings upon our nation and for those who help keep our nation safe at home and abroad.

Now it just so happens that the 10th anniversary falls on a Sunday. And as meaningful and important as the day is being the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the day is far more meaningful as the Lord’s Day. As much as the honoring of those who died is, the honoring of the Savior who died for us is more importantem>.

God bless
Robert Prater

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Presbyterian Church and Homosexaulity

Maybe you saw in the news recently about how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the latest in a string of Protestant denominations to vote to accept homosexuals into its clergy. They join Episcopals, Lutherans, and the United Church of Christ. Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and other mainline denominations are receiving both external and internal pressure to follow suit.

I read one article online about their decision which identified a few of the reasons for this new policy. One of the reasons was "the change in broader American society toward accepting same-sex relationships." In other words, they changed to accommodate and please the culture.

What this means, of course, is that the god they are really serving is the world. No matter how much people insist that they are worshiping and serving the God of the Bible, when they shape their values by the world's moral standards rather than the Word of God, they are worshiping and serving the world. For those who seek to serve God, He tells them, "do not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). I like how JB Philips translates this verse: "don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold." And that is precisely what is happening in denominations like the Presbyterian Church USA—they are letting the world squeeze them into its mold.

Now, from the beginning, God made it clear about sexual relations and intimate companionship. He made a woman for the man (Gen. 2:18-23). He did not make another man for Adam. He also said the man is to leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, not his husband (Gen. 2:24).

Jesus addressed this issue when he brought the standards of marriage and sexuality back to the Creation (Matt. 19:4, 5). At creation, Jesus claimed that God made “male and female.” And that because of this creation of human beings “a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife.” By limiting the marriage relationship to men and women, Jesus did speak against homosexual practice (and much of our common divorce and remarriage practices as well).

Jesus also uses in Matthew 19:9 the Greek word “porneia” which condemns “unlawful sexual relationships.” God intends sex to be between a man and woman are married to each other. Any sex outside of marriage is sinful and wrong. Period. This would include homosexuality. In fact, it was commonly understood that “porneia” in first century Jewish circles represented a sort of short-hand reference to all of the sexual behaviors forbidden in Leviticus 18, including once again, homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18:22).

The apostle Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit deals with sexual immorality when he writes: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10; see also Romans 1:18-32; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7) Now it is not that homosexuality is the only sin condemned, but it is a sin and must be forsaken.

So clearly in the realm of human sexuality–heterosexual immorality and homosexual activity–both are impulses and activities which must be brought under control. Once again, all sexual expression outside heterosexual monogamous marriage falls under the wrath of God. The Hebrew writer says: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Heb. 13:4)

The good news is that Paul says some who engaged in sexual sex were changed and forgiven. “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11) Adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals can be forgiven of their sins, just like an idolaters, thieves and drunkards can A person who has lived these kinds of lives, but has repented and stopped living in them, can be saved.

Please observe that this passage makes no distinction of the degree that each of the listed behaviors is abhorrent to God. It lumps alcoholism with fornication, and homosexuality with covetousness. If God didn’t bother separating one sin out from that list, why do we? Especially when it comes to homosexuality??

One possible reason that believers call this one sin out of the list for special derision is that many of us, at least in 21st-Century America, can identify with most of the items on that list. We can understand how easy it is to fall into the sins of drunkenness or fornication, because we remember ourselves how it was when we were young. But most of us can’t say the same for homosexuality, so we make a distinction.

However, in this passage, God makes no such distinction. The listed sins seem to be all the same to Him. I believe this is what Paul means when he says “such were some of you.” He’s reminding the Christians in Corinth (as well as you and me) that we all have a past consisting of things displeasing to God. The fact that the Holy Spirit pulled some of us out of the mire means our role is to help others come out of similar (if not the same) sin, so that we all may enjoy a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that being hateful toward any person does not help them come out of anything.

Let me give you a practical application of this. Do you have a co-worker or neighbor who is living with someone to whom they are not married? Are you friendly with them? Would you be as friendly if their live-in lover were of the same sex? This is really what it boils down to. Both types of sexual sin in this example are equally displeasing to God.

If it is commonly known at your workplace that you are a Christian, the fact that you are nicer to the straight co-worker who is living in sin than the gay one will be perceived by the gay person as typical of Christians, further driving them away from believers, and reducing the chance of their ever being receptive to the good news of the Gospel

Friends, we cannot settle for truth without love nor love without truth. Homosexuality is a sin and like any other sin, it needs to be dealt with in the only way possible. It needs to be laid at the cross and repented of. As Christians, we should pray for the salvation of the homosexual the same they would any other person in sin. We should treat homosexuals with the same dignity as they would anyone else because, they are made in the image of God.

We need to also keep in mind that many homosexuals have some serious hurts based on events in their past. When I say "many," I mean a much higher percentage than in the general population.These hurts have come as a result of events that happened to them that they did not bring upon themselves. They need healing as much as any cancer patient, as much as any of the lame or blind people that Jesus took the time to heal. How can we have any attitude toward them but compassion? This is why God says to speak with wisdom, grace and love. (Col. 4:5-6)

Friends, we reject the sin, but we love the sinner, because we are all sinners. We teach and preach the Word of God, the Bible, without compromising it. We teach and preach the Word of God whether it is popular or not, whether it is politically correct or not, even when it doesn’t conform to the latest moral trends. And when we teach and preach the Word of God, we always do so in love. We don’t belittle and call people names. We aren’t arrogant and self-righteous. We always remember that we are all sinners saved by the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (1 Tim. 1:15)

God bless,

Robert Prater

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on Osama Bin Laden's Death

Surely by now most on planet Earth have heard about the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s death. Few would argue that the world is not a better place for his absence.

That being said, however, and whatever your stance on capital punishment is, it is still a strange and somewhat unsettling thing to be cheering the death of another human being. I think we should have a healthy respect for death - to acknowledge that it comes for everyone in time, and that we should in general take no more pleasure in someone else’s death than we would want someone to take in our own.

I’ve also seen several quotations making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook since the announcement last night of bin Laden’s death, though it’s been misattributed to Mark Twain and misquoted to boot: the real quotation, by famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, is (with the line before it that improves it) “All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike someone they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”

That really sums it up nicely: You don’t have to think that someone deserved to die to be pleased at their passing. Truthfully, my first reactions were to “rejoice” for bin Laden’s death. Not because a human being is dead but because a man who in my mind was far more evil than good, and who was responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent people, will never be able to hurt anyone ever again. And that is surely a good thing.

Now, I also have no doubt that in this military killing the United States' government exercised its divinely ordained task, wielding the sword to administer justice and constrain evil. I believe this to be so largely because I am one of those Christians for whom the question of the proper task and character of government cannot be answered without reference to Romans 13:4 "if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4)

Yet, I still think Bin Laden’s death serves as a challenge for us as Christians to evaluate our reactions, not only to his death, but to the reactions we have when those who have harmed us stumble or suffer. It should remind us that God takes no pleasure Himself in the death of the wicked. He would rather that they repent. (cf. Ezek. 18:32; 33:11)

Therefore I believe that God’s heart is grieved about Osama bin Laden – his life AND his death. We should honor God with our reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden.

So, instead of taking to the streets and rejoicing gleefully with the American flag, I’m think the better Christian response is to pray for the families who were impacted by the tragedy of September 11, 2001 – the families who lost loved ones, the First Responders who gave their all, our troops, and our leaders. Let us pray for our world and pray that this will mean that peace and security will come, and soon.

And, let us pray for those who desire to kill, to persecute, and to engage in these terrorist activities. Let us pray that they may see the errors in their ways, find forgiveness, seek the face of God, and be restored into the image of God through glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Robert Prater

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Resurrection of Christ

Easter has its fair share of chocolate bunnies, big bonnets and baked ham dinners with the family. It’s a special time fun time for children. Of course, the Easter “holiday” also has a spiritual significance for hundreds of millions of “believers” who remember that first “Resurrection Sunday.”

Knowing that I am a preacher, I am often asked by people this time of the year, “How does your church plan to celebrate Easter?” You can imagine I’m sure from similar responses you have no doubt experienced when people are very surprised to hear when I tell them that we don’t have any special elaborate Easter programs. Rather I say every single Sunday is to be revered as the day of resurrection. The New Testament makes no specific reference to the apostles or early church celebrating “Easter” or Christmas on specific days. Instead, the resurrection of Christ was always emphasized on the Lord’s Day and in the weekly remembrance of the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week. (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-24; 16:1-2)

Having said that, let me be very clear: Now, we don’t want to ever come across as ones who do not believe that Christ's sacrifice and resurrection are important. The Bible teaches that the resurrection of Christ is the central fact of New Testament Christianity. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4) If Jesus were not raised from the dead, then nothing in the scriptures--or for that matter, outside the scriptures--is of eternal value. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19 NIV) Christianity without the resurrection of Christ is no Christianity. It would be absolutely meaningless.

One final thought to keep in mind. I am always thankful when people anytime are thinking about Jesus and His life, death, burial and resurrection. Therefore I have always believed that these occasions provide us wonderful opportunities to invite and look for visitors. This could be our only opportunity to connect with some people who may be searching for a purpose to their life. Take the opportunity to especially invite someone this week to Bible class and worship with you.

God bless,
Robert Prater

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The End of the Miraculous Age

In recent Sunday evening sermons at Central I focused our attention on the "gift of the Holy Spirit" as discussed in Acts 2:38. I pointed out how there is a difference between the ordinary indwelling (non-miraculous) gift of the Holy Spirit people receive after they have repented and have been baptized into Christ (cf. Acts 2:38; 5:32; Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19) and the supernatural miraculous gift(s) of the Holy. It must always be remembered that miracles had very specific purposes in the first century. Miracles performed by Jesus were performed and designed to be the proof that Jesus was the Divine Son of God (John 20:30-31; cf. Acts 2:22). As the apostles went about teaching the message of Jesus, the fact that they were messengers from God was established by the miracles they performed (2 Cor. 12:12).

Miracles were not performed to satisfy people’s curiosity (Matt. 12:38ff; 13:58; John 6:30ff; 1 Cor. 1:22). True faith is not produced by witnessing a miracle (Luke 16:30-31; John 12:37ff; Acts 4:16-17); rather faith is developed by absorbing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Miracles were intended to confirm the word of God. It was (and is) the confirmed word of God, not the miracles themselves, that produced faith.

The ability to perform miracles was transmitted by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, giving them the ability to perform miracles (Luke 9:1-2; 10:19-20; Acts 1:8). They were given this ability to demonstrate to the hearers that their message was true (Acts 4:29-30; Heb. 2:1-4; John 15:26). These miracles were given “first” (1 Cor. 12:28) so that the foundation of the church would be established by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). The Apostles had the power to transfer miraculous power to other believers (Acts 8:18; 14:3; 2 Tim. 1:6). Miraculous powers (the miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit) were only obtained by the laying on of an Apostle’s hand (Acts 8:14-24).

The only exception to this is found in the case of Cornelius who received a baptism of the Holy Spirit directly from heaven before he became a Christian in order to prove to the Jews that the Gentiles too had a right to hear the gospel and become a part of Christ’ kingdom. (cf. Acts 10:45-47; 11:17-18) Others (besides the Apostles) that had miraculous abilities were unable to pass this gift on to others. Philip could perform miracles himself (Acts 8:6), but he was unable to give this ability to others (Acts 8:18-19). With the death of the Apostles and those who had miraculous ability, miracles through human agency rapidly ceased.

A key in understanding the end of the miraculous age is Paul’s use of “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13. The inspired apostle states that there would be an end to miracles. He wrote to the Corinthian brethren, " Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away" (1 Cor 13:8-10). This passage explicitly says that there would be a time when miraculous gifts would be "done away" and would "cease." The question, however, is when would this occur? Again, the text is clear; this would happen when "the perfect" comes. But to what does "the perfect" refer?

We must investigate what the original Greek text says and how its terminology is used in this passage and in others using the same term. In the original text, the phrase is "to teleion." The word is from "telios" which means "to bring to an end, finish" or it can mean "full-grown, adult, of full-age, mature." To properly understand what Paul means by using this word in this passage, it proves helpful to examine his usage of the same terminology in a very similar passage in another of his letters.

The same word is used once in the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians deals with the nature of the Lord's church. In the discussion of the development and growth of the church, Paul lists the various roles of service and leadership that existed as the church developed (4:11). The purpose of these various roles was to "equip the saints" for the work of the ministry. The work of these leaders were crucial in helping an infintile church grow into adulthood (4:13). Having only a portion of God's message revealed, the church would easily be "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (4:14). God's message was given progressively over the decades from time of the church's establishment.

Eventually, the complete message would be completely given (around A.D. 96 with the completion of the last book of the New Testament). Thus, there was no longer any need for the miraculous confirmation of oral teaching (a major purpose of miracles as we previously noted, cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:2-4).

The complete record was finished and the church had matured and was complete (until some would begin falling away from the faith once delivered for all--see 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff; Jude 3). When "the perfect" mature church developed with a complete message from God, the "partial" of miraculous gifts ceased.

Keep in mind also that once a message is confirmed as true, there is no longer any need for further confirmation. God’s word was revealed in “bits and pieces” through various prophets and inspired teachers (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29-33). Once the complete message of God was revealed and the church was no longer in its infancy (Eph. 4:11-16), there was no longer a need for the confirming purpose of miracles. he “partial” of miracles gave way to the “completeness” of God’s revealed will (1 Cor. 13:8-13; Eph. 4:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Surely, if one has the same power that the apostles had, then that one can do the same things that the apostles did. If not, why not? The fact that none can do what the apostles did in the first century speaks loud and clear. It simply says that mankind today does not possess the power that the apostles had.

This is not to say that God no longer works in powerfully in the lives of His people. (cf. Eph. 3:20-21) This applies especially to God’s healing of sickness in answer to prayer. Through prayer we can call upon our Heavenly Father in times of sickness and need, with the assurance that He will answer providentially the prayer that is offered in faith and in harmony with His revealed will. (cf. James 1:6-8; 5:13-16; 1 John 5:14-15)

We must not “deny the power” of God when we pray by limiting what He will and will not do (2 Tim. 3:5) God’s ways are indescribable and amazing. (Rom. 11:33-36)! Do you believe it?

God bless,
Robert Prater

Monday, February 7, 2011

Can You Sleep When the Wind Blows?

Years ago a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received nothing but refusals. Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. "Are you a good farm hand?" the farmer asked him. "Well, I can sleep when the wind blows," answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work. Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, "Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!"

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, "No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows." Enraged by the old man's response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, and he returned to bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you are prepared, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm. We secure ourselves against the storms of life by “receiving Christ Jesus as Lord” (Col. 2:6; cf. Acts 2:36-38) and by grounding ourselves firmly in the Word of God. (cf. Col. 2:7; Matt. 7:24-27)

Yes, as the hymn says, “the Lord's our rock, in him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm.” We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold His hand to have peace in the middle of storms. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Heb. 6:19 NIV)
(Adapted from a story by Arthur Maxwell)

In Christ,

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Prodigal Son

I loved the video above. It will put tears in your eyes! It was filmed by Alex Meinert

Of course Luke 15:11-32 and the story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most beloved stories and teaching ever given by Jesus.

We remember the father of the prodigal son never stopped looking for the son, and he prayed for him and even though that young man had squandered away his inheritance, lived a scandalous life, and ended up living with the pigs.

Fortunately, the story didn’t end with the son’s leaving. Times of rejoicing were yet to be written when he fully returned. Our Heavenly Father longingly is watching for the return of his wandering children.

Here's why favorite part of the story.

"And he ran and embraced his son, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20)

Here we see the Father of the prodigal son running down the road to find his estranged son. When this story was told by Jesus to first century hearers they would have been shocked by this statement; a patriarch (or respectable father of a community) does not gird himself, pulling up his garments, and run. But this is what the father did when he left his place of honor to go to his shameful son. The father became worthless to bestow honor on his son that was deserving of little just as Jesus became poor to make those who are poor very rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

Our Father is willing to leave His lofty place of honor and run to us in your weakness. He runs full speed to show mercy when our heart is seemingly filled with lust, anger, greed, and hate?. He is willing to crucify His reputation to give dignity to us.

The God of the Bible runs undignified to give value to the broken prodigals and wayward children who aren’t deserving. Lift up your eyes, He is running to you now.

God bless,
Robert Prater

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Check out the video above which features Trey Canard. Trey and his mother and young brother are members of the Central Church of Christ congregation where I preach.

Trey is a professional motocross champion. But more importantly, Trey is using his talents and skills and opportunities before thousands of people each weekend as he rides to share God’s Word. Despite ridicule, Trey continues to put God first in his life and on the podium. He and his family are a wonderful blessing to our Central church family.

Also check out this link

This is a great article and interview that Bobby Ross and the Christian Chronicle have on him in the February 2011 issue. Trey talks more about his faith and how he considers motocross his ministry to reach others for Christ. He also talks about some of the challenges and obstacles he had faced including the tragic death of his father

Trey is active in leading singing and reading scripture and helping with our teens. As a matter of fact, he is probably going to be the guest preacher when Central hosts the AWTG next year on April 6, 2011.

Robert Prater

'This is what the Lord made me for' — motocross champion Trey Canard
By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle
January 7, 2011


SHAWNEE, Okla. - Out of his racing uniform, Trey Canard seems an unassuming presence, especially for someone known for performing high-speed, bone-jarring exploits in front of 30,000 to 60,000 fans.

However, the toughness and quiet confidence of the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Canard shine through as he reflects on his motorcycle racing career and the long list of injuries he has overcome.

“Yeah, I’ve broken my wrists four times,” said the 20-year-old professional motocross racer, the reigning national champion in the sport’s 250 class of smaller cycles. “I’ve broken my collarbone twice. I’ve broken my femur.”

That’s not to mention nagging little injuries involving fingers and toes, ankle sprains and “stuff of that sort.”

Given all the painful spills, what keeps him climbing back on the bike?

Must be the thrills, right?

Yeah, that’s part of it.

But for Canard, the passion to race goes deeper than that.

“I believe this is what the Lord made me for,” he told The Christian Chronicle. “This is my talent. This is my ministry, I believe, so that gives me hope. And I just really enjoy it. The good stuff outweighs the bad stuff for me.”

When Canard achieved his most superb feat on wheels last fall, fellow members of the Central Church of Christ — many of whom have fallen in love with the Speed channel — cheered at the top of their lungs.

“Amazingly, Trey won five of the final seven races of the season to overcome a 57-point deficit to win his first career motocross championship,” said Robert Prater, pulpit minister of the Central church, a 250-member congregation about 35 miles east of Oklahoma City.

“But more than being a great rider, Trey always gives glory to God and has such a strong faith,” Prater added. “He is a great role model for young people from all around the world.”

Apparently, he’s a role model for older people, too.

“I get these older women — 70 and 80 years old — and they’re telling me that they’re watching me ride a motorcycle,” said Canard, who leads singing, reads Scriptures and helps with the youth group at the Central church. “It’s kind of funny.”

As a new season of indoor and outdoor racing begins, Canard will again spend about 30 Saturdays on the road from January through September.

This year, he’s moving up to a bigger class of bikes. He’ll ride a Honda CRF450.

Raised in western Oklahoma, he started racing at age 3 when his late father, Roy Canard, built him a tiny, single-speed cycle that topped out at 20 mph.

By age 9, Trey signed his first racing contract.

“Then it kind of got a little more serious,” he said with a laugh. “It’s funny how quickly we kind of have to become professionals.”

For the first 18 years of his life, Canard and his family lived in Elk City, Okla., where they attended the Second and Adams Church of Christ. “That will always kind of be my home congregation,” he said.

Roy Canard, a motocross fanatic, died in a tragic accident when Trey was 12. Trey’s father was using a front-end loader to clear rocks from a small track where Trey and his older brother Aaron, now 24, practiced. The family doesn’t know exactly what happened, but Trey’s mother, Kari Canard, found the tractor upside down on her husband.

“My dad was a huge part of my racing. He got me riding,” Trey said. “It was his passion, and he kind of passed it on to myself and my brother.

“He was just a great man, a strong Christian man, and really my inspiration to be a strong character for Christ. … It’s unfortunate that I lost him when I was a young kid. … When I feel down or sad about that, I’ve just got to remember that God knows what he’s doing.”

Focus. Heart. Effort. Fun. Dedication. Put them all together and they equal this: Success.

That’s the message on a whiteboard in a large metal building on the rural property near Shawnee where Canard lives with his mother and younger brother, Jaxon, 9.

At the end of a gravel road but just a few miles from Interstate 40, this is where Canard hangs out in the offseason. Here, trophies and motorcycles, including the tiny one that his father made him, mix with weight equipment that the motocross champion uses to keep in shape.

Two years ago, Canard used his own cash to buy this property, which includes a house and an outdoor practice track.

“I’m making a decent living,” he said. “I’m thankful for that, and I know that’s a blessing. I try to give back any way that I can.”

Said Prater, the Central minister: “Kari and Trey are very generous givers and always are willing to help out those in need.”

The Canards didn’t want to leave Elk City, but it was a two-hour drive to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

Since he flies nearly every week, Canard wanted to be closer. Shawnee, a city of about 30,000, is roughly 45 minutes from the airport.

What he didn’t know when he moved to Shawnee, Canard said, was what a terrific congregation he’d stumble upon.

He didn’t go out of his way to tell Central members about his profession, but word spread.

“I normally don’t like to talk about it too much at the congregation. I kind of like to stay to my worship, you know, the reason we’re there,” he said. “But people ask me what’s my job and am I in school, and it kind of came up like that.

“So it’s just a neat thing, and I feel like it’s been a blessing in my life, and it’s brought me really close to a lot of great people in our congregation. I think everyone’s enjoyed it, so it’s been fun.”

The church also has embraced Trey’s mother and brother Jaxon, who’s active in the Leadership Training for Christ program.

“We’re not anything special, I don’t think,” Kari Canard said. “It’s funny because no matter where we seem to live, people young and old get pretty excited about motocross.

“I’ve signed up so many people for the Speed channel that I should be getting a kickback on it,” she joked.

Scriptural references on his crossbar pad help Canard maintain his Christian focus.

Verses such as Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) provide inspiration and motivation.

In his podium speeches, Canard — whose cycle is No. 41, like his dad’s — always gives God the credit for his success.

“A lot of people think of motocross and motorcycle riders, and they’re associated with tattoos and drinking and partying and all that stuff,” Canard said. “So I think anything I can do … is hopefully well-accepted and good.

“Christianity, especially in the Church of Christ, gets a label of being kind of boring or not cool, just all these rules. I just hope my story kind of shows teens and people in general that … you can use your talents to glorify God.”

Given the hard knocks of a sport where age 35 is considered ancient, the Oklahoma church member knows his racing career won’t last forever.

When he stops revving his motor, though, he has an inkling what he’d like to do.

“I’d like to be a youth minister or just work in a church,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the youth ministers I’ve had and people who were really crucial to my Christian walk. And I feel like I could be an asset someday in the church."