Antifa, The Alt-Right, And The Gates Of Hell

Remember the good old days when a military conflict or a natural disaster seemed to bring us all together, even if it was only for a few days? One would think that if anything was going to make us all join hands and buy the world a Coke it would be white supremacists radicalizing a car and using it to plow over their fellow Americans. Or maybe a crazed leftist trying to assassinate an elected official would make us take a second look and put aside our differences. Neither one did. Instead, they only highlighted the giant wall separating this country.

We are more divided than ever.

And, for some reason, many in the church feel the need to pick a side.

 

 

There should be no, “Yeah, but what about that time when they…” after attempted murder at a softball game. There should be no, “Well, the other side…” after what we just saw in Charlottesville.

But that’s what we’ve got. And many of those excuses are coming from the church. After last weekend’s violent riots in Virginia there are still those who want to remind us of something that was done by someone on the left rather than simply weeping with those who weep and doing the necessary self-evaluations to see how we got to this point. It’s easier to look down your nose than it is to look in the mirror. Even for good church folks.

We would do well to heed the advice of Gamaliel.

I don’t usually hold Gamaliel up as a model for us to follow. He was a religious leader who, two thousand years ago, helped oppose the early church. But in his opposition, the esteemed religious leader showed us the difference between a movement of man and the body of Christ.

Peter and the apostles were agitating. Their gospel proclamation and good works were stirring up the establishment. So they were detained and told to stop. Key leaders wanted them dead. That’s when Gamaliel spoke up.

He reminded the other leaders of a man named Theudas. Theudas was the leader of an uprising. But Theudas was overthrown and his movement came to nothing.

After him came Judas the Galilean. He too tried to start a revolution but lost his life in the process. His movement came to nothing.

And then Gamaliel dropped this nugget of wisdom about what to do with Peter and his friends.

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:39 (ESV)

Antifa is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The alt-right is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The Democratic and Republican parties are both of man and they will both fail and come to nothing.

So why, as these movements are in the process of driving off into the ditch, must Christians pick which side they want to crash on? Why must we explain one side as not being as bad as the other? Why must we place our identity in them?

The church is supposed to be different. It will last forever. This is liberating for Christians. It means that we have the freedom to say to Antifa and the white supremacists, Democrats and Republicans, “A plague on both your houses.” It frees us to call evil what it is without fear of upsetting the base, whatever that means. And it helps us to preach and live the gospel, no matter how unpopular it may be.

It’s time for our local churches to do some self-evaluation. Are we content with being the body of Christ or would we rather be a movement of man? If we choose to be the body of Christ, we may not be liked but we’ll be known for our love. If we settle for being a movement, we’ll just be known as the people who still haven’t gotten over the Broncos cutting Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick not standing up during the national anthem. And we will come to nothing.

While the world is busy trying to fight one brand of hate with another one, the church must remember that it was Christ who died for us, not a Civil War general or a flag. It means that we’d rather live in harmony with our neighbor than win a debate against him by using crime statistics we found somewhere on the Internet. It means that we love like Christ rather than arguing like a talk radio host.

Antifa’s days are numbered.

The alt-right’s days are numbered.

And the same is true for churches that settle for being movements of man rather than the body of Christ.

But not so for the true church. A few years before Peter was called to stand before Gamaliel, he stood before a much greater leader named Jesus. And Jesus told Peter an even greater word about the church that we need to hear today as we consider transferring our membership to a political party or racial identity.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

The gates have opened and Hell has poured out into our streets.

But it is no match for the body of Christ.

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The Carjacking of the American Church

She just wasn’t having it. It might happen to someone else, somewhere else. But not here and not now.

Surveillance footage showed two carjackers running to a car where a woman was pumping gas. Somehow, that woman was able to jump in her car and lock herself in. Score one for the good guys.

The bad guys weren’t done. They just moved to the next available car at the Hialeah, Florida gas station. But as soon as one of them jumped into the driver’s seat, the female owner of the car pulled him out and tore off his mask. Although the two men were armed, they were no match for the mother of the one-year-old and the seven-year-old who were in the backseat.

Carjackers are lurking around the American church. In many cases, they have already taken control of the wheel and made it back to the chop shop. But such is not the case for every church. It is with the same ferocity of that young mother that we must fight off those wishing to take control of the body of Christ for their own evil purposes.

Hucksters, politicians, racists, and sometimes combinations of all three wrapped up in one have tried to carjack the church over the years. We can’t let it happen.

But that requires some sacrifices.

We have to denounce white supremacy when it rears its ugly head, whether it be at a Virginia rally or out in the church parking lot.

No longer can we prostitute ourselves out to whatever politician will tell us what we want to hear.

We have to take the time to actually know the gospel so that we can know the fake gospels when they come running up on us. For example, when we hear a white supremacist like Thomas Robb tell us that the Great Commandment just meant that you’re supposed to love your own kind, not those of another race, we should be so familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan that we can chase off such evil like that mother who just wasn’t having it that day.

And we must remember what it means to love God and love our neighbor. If we’re honest, we don’t love like we’re supposed to. We cry for justice when a black person fails to meet our standards but we turn our nose up at the Philando Castilles of the world. We talk a mighty fine game about our Second Amendment rights but not so much when it comes to our neighbor and his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights.

The conservative church in America is much like the church in Ephesus. For the most part, we hold to the truth. We resist false teaching. We do good works.

But we’ve forgotten how to love.

Jesus’ indictment of the Ephesus church two thousand years ago could just as easily apply today to the First Baptist Church of Bible Belt County. 

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Revelation 2:3-4 (ESV)

We have learned how to build great cathedrals and programs. We know how to draw a crowd. We can fight against the Progressives with the best of them.

But we have forgotten how to love.

If you showed up to your church next Sunday and the air conditioner was broken, your church would manage. If your building burned down in the early hours of Sunday morning and you showed up to a pile of ashes, your church would still be just fine. But if you remove the love from the church, you no longer have the body of Christ but rather a slightly more moral version of the Church of Satan.

Paul told his young understudy, Timothy, that, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV) I’m afraid that the same cannot be said for many American churches. They have been carjacked and control has been handed over to talk radio hosts, political pundits, and angry social media ranters who tithe well.

And we wonder why we’ve lost our influence.

Maybe it’s not all the fault of the godless and radical left. Maybe some of it has to do with the godless church folks who love the morality and sentimentalism of Christianity more than they do the Man from whom the movement originates. And as a result, we riot over the removal of a statue and we let the band play on at the news of another black life lost.

Thankfully, it’s not all like this. In my small town and small church, I know dozens of people who are fighting off the carjackers. They are having necessary conversations, inviting people into their homes, and crossing borders to share the love of Jesus.

Carl Zogby, speaking on behalf of the Hialeah Police Department about the mom who fought off those carjackers was straight to the point.

“She was a mom, and what that bad guy didn’t know, in the backseat of that car were two kids. She wasn’t gonna let them be taken, so she fought, she dragged the guy out of the car, and they both ran away like cowards.”

Cowards.

There’s a fine line between cowardice and courage. The coward often starts out boldly but withers away when the fight gets tough. And many times the courageous person is consumed with fear but does what needs to be done anyway.

The American church is at a bit of a crossroads. Will we hand our keys over to the cowards and hope for the best for those under our care? Or will we stand and fight against both the evil trying to get in and the evil that already is in our hearts?

Time will tell.

And we can be sure that Jesus is watching.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 (ESV)

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Unintentional Lessons On Grace From Coach Roach

I can only remember two sentences that Coach Roach ever spoke to me.

Coach Roach was his real, given name. Well, Roach was. Coach was just a title. I guess when you have a last name like Roach, you just have to go all in and find a career that gives you a rhyming title. That way, thirty years later, people will still remember you and at least two sentences you said to them.

Coach Roach was my seventh grade football coach. I played for the Adamson Indians. We were terrible. More specifically, I was terrible. But we had nice uniforms. Mine was especially nice.

One day, on our way down to the field from the locker room, I asked Coach Roach how my uniform looked. I have no idea why I did this. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first and only time I ever asked a grown man to evaluate my looks. On top of that, Coach Roach was legally blind. No, I’m not making that up.

I still remember what he told me in his thick accent that I thought sounded like something straight out of Brooklyn.

“Ya look like a million bucks, son.”

Man, I was so proud. Coach Roach thought I looked like a million bucks! But my pride faded by the time the game was over and I was walking back up to our locker room. I still looked like a million bucks. There were no blood or grass stains on my pants. My jersey had no rips in it. The other team’s helmet paint wasn’t smattered across my helmet.

I looked like a million bucks.

It’s just too bad that I didn’t play that way. Come to think of it, I barely played at all.

I think that I still remember those words because they give a perfect assessment of today’s church. Many people who claim to be Christians look the part. They listen to radio stations with words like Fish and Love in the title. They live by a strong moral code. They are good boys and girls.

They look like a million bucks.

But they aren’t in the game. In many cases, they aren’t even on the team.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18 was this way. He was good. And in case God forgot, he was willing to let him know.

“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:12 (ESV)

But there was another man in Jesus’ story. He barely felt worthy to put on the uniform, much less to ask Coach Roach how he looked. When he prayed, rather than running through his stellar spiritual résumé, he asked God for his mercy.

And Jesus gave a stunning assessment of the two men.

The sinner who asked for mercy was made right with God, not the man who looked like a million bucks.

For all of his shortcomings, the sinner in Jesus’ story understood something that the Pharisee and many of us do not. Being right with God has nothing to do with our performance or how well we look while performing.

That brings me to the second sentence I remember Coach Roach saying to me.

“Sandaz, ya gonna get crooooooooo-suh-fied!”

That’s what Coach Roach would say to me during tackling drills. I was too small and too scared to do well at those drills so usually I ended up looking more like a frightened ballerina than an actual football player. But hey, at least I made my coach think about Jesus. That’s got to count for something.

No matter how good you think you are, your sin was so great that it took the death of Jesus to make you right with God. Only through faith and repentance, not fasting and tithing, can you be made right with God.

My football career came to an end after that season with Coach Roach. But I’m thankful for him, if for nothing else, because of those two sentences that he spoke to me. I didn’t know it at the time but I was learning something about grace.

I wasn’t able to fake my way into a right relationship with God.

God did not accept me because I looked the part.

I am right with God because the crucified and risen Lord had mercy on me.

A sinner.

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We Have A Food Problem

Have you eaten your kale today? If so, congratulations! You’re going to live to be 119 years old. If not, it’s been nice knowing you but your number’s probably getting called later this week.

You can tell a lot about a society by how they view food. Our society has a lot of explaining to do.

Imagine what it would be like if Moses were standing before the burning bush today and God was promising to use him to lead the people of Israel into a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses had his hesitations when this originally happened. I’m convinced that he would have a whole new set of concerns today.

“Explain this milk, Lord. Was it sourced from grass-fed, free-range cows? And about that honey, sorry, but I’ll have to pass. I just watched a Netflix documentary on how anything that tastes sweet will make your kidneys swell and your eyes sink in. Would you happen to have available a land flowing with kale and emu oil?”

As crazy as that sounds, it’s not too far off from the way it actually went down. The people of Israel were living under harsh conditions as slaves in Egypt. When God rescued them and sent them on their way to a home of their own, he made food rain down from the sky for them.

But it just wasn’t good enough.

Today, for most of us in the United States at least, God has blessed us with more food than our ancestors could imagine.

And still, it’s just not good enough.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Each week there seems to be a new Netflix documentary about food. And whenever I hear a friend talking about it, they say basically the same thing.

“I’m never eating again.”

That’s because the basic point of most of these documentaries is that Cobra Commander has laced our food supply with poison and if we want to live to see tomorrow, we had better cut back to a diet consisting mainly of organic, free-range, fair-trade hummingbird spit.

Look, I get it. We’ve had a food problem for a long time. People have become too dependent on McDonald’s and frozen “meat” burgers. Side note: never eat any food out of a box with the word meat in scare quotes. But you get my point. Our society has an eating disorder. More specifically, we eat too much and that’s not good.

But recently there has been a shift. Because of the Netflix documentaries and Nutrition Nazis and Food Pharisees we follow on social media, with each bite we take, we take on more guilt. Or fear. Or shame. Or all of the above.

“I can’t believe I just ate a piece of my kid’s birthday cake.”

“Where was the tomato in my salad harvested from and what type of pesticide was used on it?”

“What kind of damage will that ice cream cone do to next week’s Instagram pool selfie?”

Instead of scaring ourselves and our kids to death with another food documentary, we need to cook with them and model the right way to enjoy food. We need to demonstrate self-control and gratitude. We need to stop stressing over every calorie we consume.

We need to relax.

For those who tend to eat too much food, we must relax in the sufficiency of Christ. We must remember that no matter how much we eat, we will be hungry again. And if we don’t keep that hunger in check, our appetite will strangle us. Instead, we must, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Only then will we find satisfaction. Only in the righteousness of Christ do continual desire and continual satisfaction live in harmony.

For those of us who are slowly working themselves down to a diet of nothing, we must relax in the sovereignty of Christ. Otherwise, we will make ourselves crazy worrying about the cow that our milk came from and the grass that the cow ate and the water that the farmer gave to the cow and the mental health history of the farmer who cared for the cow. It never ends. Each bite we take must be done with gratitude to Christ while trusting that, “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Yes, all things. Even the molecular structure of your quinoa.

God gave us one body and a lot of food. We need to figure out how to be good stewards of both. The answer is not found in full on gluttony nor is it found in documentary fueled deprivation. Both reveal disorders that run much deeper than the amount of food on our plate. The one who gravitates toward gluttony must humbly and Scripturally address his heart’s idolatry of food. The one who lives in fear, guilt and shame with each bite must examine his heart’s idolatry of perfect health and long life.

There is no doubt that too much fried chicken is bad for your heart. But in a completely different sense, too many unnecessary food restrictions can be a sign of a bad heart, that is, a heart that cherishes the gift of live over the Giver of life.

I am what you might call a health nut. I can’t remember the last time that I ate at McDonald’s. I stay away from white sugar. We have a lot of organic food in our pantry. There are two things that I have notice about our lifestyle. First, there’s always someone more nutty about their health. Two, there are no guarantees that I’ll live any longer than the guy who eats McDonald’s every day. My body will just biodegrade faster than his.

Unless we’re still alive when Jesus returns, none of us is getting out of here alive. No amount of carrot juice can alter that reality. Bu that doesn’t have to be a sad reality. For the believer in Christ, death does not get the final say. Rather, it is just the beginning of an eternity with no crazy food documentaries, no weird diseases and no food allergies.

In eternity, it will be Jesus, his people, a new heaven and earth and a giant supper where no one will ever be over-served and no one will have to request the gluten-free rolls.

But I’m still not sure if there’s going to be any kale there.

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Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

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Chick-fil-a, A Love Story

When I walk into a Chick-fil-a, I feel like I’m with my people. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my people would never step into a McDonald’s. Man, my people have been thrown out of McDonald’s before. I won’t tell you which of my people.

It’s just that when I walk into a Chick-fil-a I feel like I’m back with some of the folks who helped to shape me. I worked at the Chick-fil-a in Southlake Mall, just south of Atlanta, Georgia for a few years during high school and college. David ran the place. You were just as likely to see him emptying a trash can as you were to find him in his office. He showed me that no one at Chick-fil-a, even the really important people, were too important to take out the trash. Renae and his brother Brent were assistant managers. If they saw us standing around not doing anything, they would always yell, “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.” I hated hearing that. But now, a couple of decades later, I’m sure glad that I did. Sam was there too. We spent a lot of time together busting up boxes and unloading trucks out back while singing old country music songs off key.

People told me that once I started working at Chick-fil-a I would get sick of the food and not want to eat it anymore.

They were wrong.

But now that I’m older I’ve had to cut back on the number of chicken sandwiches I eat. In my diet, waffle fries have been replaced with organic, free range unicorn fur. But last week I was on vacation so I put the unicorn fur to the side and took my family to the Chick-fil-a in Panama City Beach, Florida. As soon as I walked into that store, I knew that I was with my people. As crazy as it sounds, I looked behind the counter for David, Renae, Brent and Sam.

They weren’t there.

But in a way, they were.

The guy who took my order was wearing a tie. That meant that he’s pretty important on the Chick-fil-a chain of command. But he wasn’t too important to stop what he was doing, take my order and tell me, “Go Dawgs” when he saw my Georgia hat. I learned that he was from Henry County, just below the Chick-fil-a where I worked and just above the place where I live now. I asked him why he moved out of Henry County.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

“I had to get away from the traffic.”

He made a good move.

There was another lady behind the counter. She too was wearing important clothing. But she was working on filling up cups with sweet tea like her life depended on it. I’m sure that whatever managerial training she had in the past didn’t focus too much on the proper way to fill a cup with ice and tea. But you wouldn’t know it from watching her. She had obviously learned the lesson well that I had learned from David all of those years ago. No one is too important for the job that needs to be done.

While I was eating, I noticed another worker. This girl was wearing the standard issue uniform and she was sweeping nugget crumbs out from under the booth behind us and piling it up next to her. I’ll bet ten people walked through that pile and spread it back out all over the floor. She never said a word. She just swept it back up each time. One day she’ll probably run a Chick-fil-a of her own and get to wear important people clothes. But she’ll still sweep the floor.

Eventually, we walked out of that Chick-fil-a and back into the rest of our vacation.  A few days later, my in-laws stopped in and volunteered to watch the kids so that my wife and I could go out on a date. I don’t take these opportunities for granted so I did my research. I stopped at every beach side restaurant I could find and asked for a menu. Pretty much every one of them said something like this.

Chicken Flëur de la Crępe Scallops 

A one ounce portion of lightly grilled chicken fused with two sprinkles of scallops with a side of Flëur de la Crępe shipped in from a tiny fishing village in Germany.

$72.50

So for our date night, my wife and I went back to that Chick-fil-a in Panama City Beach, Florida.

It was all her idea.

I promise.

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A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

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Red Ferrari

I don’t know anything about cars but I know a nice one when I see it. This was a nice one. It was a red Ferrari. When I looked at it, I saw a little bit of myself. Now before you bail out on me for comparing myself to a Ferrari, just hang on.

I don’t see cars like this where I live. It seemed to appear from nowhere just outside of my driver’s side window while I was stopped at a red light. When I pointed the car out to my sons, the questions started flowing. And they were questions that I didn’t have the answers to. But that’s never stopped me before.

“Dad, is that a fast car?”

“Oh you bet. It’s got twin dual cam headers.”

The three of us sat and gazed at that red sports car. It was almost like we felt honored to have such a fine vehicle visit our common town and to be so kind to share the same road with our humble Chevrolet. When the light turned green, a little piece of us died. The Ferrari would soon be out of our sight and out of our lives forever. I thought about racing, just to prolong the experience. Cooler heads prevailed.

I was going straight and the car was turning left. Well, the car wasn’t exactly turning left. It was being taken to the left. That beautiful red Ferrari was tied down to the back of a flat bed truck. And this wasn’t one of those trucks that carries rich people’s expensive cars across the country. This was the type of truck that some dude named Big Ed uses when he comes to pick up your gently used Toyota Tercel after you drive it off into a ditch.

That’s when I saw a little bit of myself and my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in that Ferrari.

By God’s grace and through faith and repentance, we have been given much. God has given us eternal life. But he has also given us the resources we need to glorify and enjoy him in this life.

In Christ, we have power over evil, both the kind in our hearts and the kind in the world (Ephesians 6:10-20).

In Christ, we have joy (John 17:13).

In Christ, we have access to our Creator (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Christ, we have peace and love and self-control and so much more (Galatians 5:22-24).

But we don’t use those gifts. Instead, we settle for getting through life on the back of some spiritual tow truck.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God is going to bless you with a beautiful new Ferrari. And I’m not saying that Christians never have hard times or that we never deal with issues like depression or anxiety.  What I am saying is that our identity is not found in those things.

Too many Christians put a heavy emphasis on their sin while ignoring the righteousness that is theirs in Christ. An emphasis on personal sin is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing if you care to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. But it’s incomplete if it does not lead us to see our new identity in Christ.

Yes, Christian, you were a wretch. You were an enemy of God.

And yes, your struggle against sin is still very real.

But please do not forget that great exchange that took place by God’s grace. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfect Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You are no longer an orphan.

You are no longer an enemy of God.

You have been given eternal life.

You have been given hope and joy in this life.

And here’s the thing about God’s gifts. They are meant to be used. So ditch the flat bed truck and take your gift for a spin.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (ESV)

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Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

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The Deadly Mistake Of Minding Your Own Business

He was the rock. He was a foundational leader of the church. But he wasn’t above being called out when he was wrong.

 

Peter was eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). At first, that doesn’t seem like much to me because, well, I’m a Gentile. But Peter had spent his entire life living by the strict dietary restrictions we find in the Old Testament. Things changed in Acts 10 when God gave Peter a vision of several unclean animals in a sheet and said every hunter’s favorite Bible verse, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13). My friend calls this the first pig in a blanket.

So a little while later Peter finds himself doing the unthinkable. Eating with Gentiles. And I’m sure that he loved the taste of those pulled pork sandwiches and catfish. Something like that. You get the picture.

But then some of the Jewish elites showed up. And when they did, Peter was caught. Should he stay at the Gentile table at that proverbial New Testament high school cafeteria or should he go back to sit with his old friends. Peter went back to his old friends. But it was more than just nostalgia that pulled Peter away from the Gentile table. It was fear.

The message was clear from Peter. “Gentiles, I’m with you and this new covenant until my people show up and then it’s back to the old way. It’s been real.”

Thankfully, Paul was there and his message to Peter was even clearer. He opposed Peter publicly.

[14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, llive like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of what Paul said. “Peter, why do you hold the Gentiles to standards that you can’t even keep?”

This was a pivotal time for the church. Peter was influential and his hypocrisy could have led the young movement back into the self-righteousness that they had been delivered from. Paul’s open confrontation could have caused a major split between he and Peter and, by extension, the church as a whole.

But it didn’t. And for that, we have Peter to thank.

Paul doesn’t tell us how Peter responded to being held accountable by the former murderer turned missionary to the Gentiles. Did he storm out of the room? Did he post a vague Facebook status in all caps about people needing to, “Mind their own business?”

One of Peter’s letters, written years after this incident gives us a good clue.

[15]  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

Peter refers to Paul, the one who rebuked him years earlier, as, “Our beloved brother” and speaks of him having God-given wisdom. He acknowledges that Paul’s words can be hard to understand and easy to to distort but he finishes with a very important assessment of Paul’s letters. They are part of the Scriptures. That is, they carry the authority of God’s word.

We need Paul’s in our life. We need people who care enough about us and the gospel to lovingly correct us when we are wrong. The very worst thing that could happen to the church or to you as an individual is for everyone around you to, “Mind their own business.”

And when those people do step in to lovingly hold you accountable, it does no good unless you respond like Peter and accept their authority and wisdom. Use their words as an opportunity to examine your life.

My growth in my walk with Christ has little to nothing to do with my own individual perseverance. It has much more to do with God putting people in my life who love me too much to, “Mind their own business.” I pray that he does the same for you.

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