“So what are we supposed to do?”

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For the first time in their lives, there are many Christians who have no idea what to do when it comes time to vote for the president in November. They’re used to stepping into the booth and voting for their guy without a second thought. Those days are over. The lies, corruption, arrogance, injustice and disregard for human life displayed by both major candidates is simply too much to ignore. And it’s certainly too much to condone.

So what are we supposed to do? I get asked that question a lot. It is not the purpose of this blog post to tell you what name to write-in or what third party to go with. But I can tell you what Christians need to do.

We need to pray very hard for God to help us to love and obey him more. When we blow it, we need to ask God to forgive us rather than comparing ourselves to those who we think are worse sinners than we are. We need to ask God to help us to love the hurting, the forgotten and the hard to love. We need to make the effort to know God as he is presented in his word.

Husbands, you need to love your wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). Wives, respect your husbands. Pray that they would lead your family, not as tyrants, but as servants of Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work in both of  you in such a way that you find more delight in sacrificing for the good of the other than you do in your own personal comfort.

Parents, pour into your kids. Use their victories and their failures in sports and academics to teach them what it means to be men and women. But teach them also that there is more to life than their victories and failures in sports and academics. Take on the challenge of teaching them about the Trinity. It’s worth it. Kick soccer balls, play Legos and play on the rope swing in your backyard. Don’t let the panic industry bleed into your family.

Pastors, ask God to help you to be like Ezra, who, “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10, ESV). By God’s grace, use your position to teach people, in word and in deed, biblical concepts like discernment, holiness, sacrifice, faithfulness, repentance and cross-carrying. Don’t settle for appeasing the congregation. Stand for truth and holiness, even if it means being called self-righteous. This is going to get harder as the days move on. The pressure to sit down and shut up until someone needs you to preach a wedding or funeral will be even more real than it already is. Don’t believe those who tell you to, “Stick to the word,” whenever you have the nerve to actually say what the word teaches about some new sin the church in on the verge of embracing. Stay strong. You are not alone.

Listen to music. Laugh. Cry. Rest. Stand. Learn. Repent. Often.

If you’re not voting for either of the two main presidential candidates, there are those who will tell you that you’re wasting your vote. You’re not. The system doesn’t work that way. But it is possible for you to waste your opportunity to stand while others bow and shine while others blend in. Don’t waste that.

I still don’t know whose name I’ll be writing in on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. I do know that on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, Jesus will still be God. His command for his people to love him and to be a voice for the voiceless will still be binding. His protection from evil will still be sufficient. His plan for how we should lead those he has put under our care will still be relevant. A body of believers remembering those truths and living them out is far more powerful than any president.

Church, remember that our Savior is not elected. In his grace, he has elected us (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 2:1-10). And we are his body (Colossians 1:18), not an extension of the Democratic or Republican parties.

And church, remember that 0ur identity is found on a bloody cross on Skull Hill, not in a white mansion on Capitol Hill.

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Four Things That Every Christian Has Been Given

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Peter knew suffering. And he knew suffering people. But that didn’t crush his hope. In fact, it strengthened it. Here’s what Peter, the man who would later know what it’s like to be crucified for his faith, wrote to a community of fellow believers who were all too familiar with persecution.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)

That’s a short verse but it’s loaded with encouragement for believers. You may not be facing death for your faith. Perhaps you haven’t lost a parent to persecution. But, no doubt, there have been times when you have felt like all hope was lost. Well, if you’re a Christian, it wasn’t. And it never will be.

Usually when people talk about hope, we roll our eyes. Hope seems like one of those nice things we like to talk about but never actually realize. That’s a fair assessment of the world’s hope. But Christian hope is different. It is rooted in an actual person – Jesus Christ. It’s traced back to an actual event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And it is directed toward a specific people – those who have been set free from sin by Jesus Christ.

When you became Christian, God gave you so much more than a Get Out Of Hell Free card. He has given us more than we could possibly ever imagine. Focusing on these four gifts from God will help us to see that, no matter how hot the fires burn against us, we are never without hope.

Christian, God has given you a Savior. 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Our.

Our!

Because of the grace of God the Father and the sacrifice of God the Son, we have belonging in the family of God. Because of your Savior, Jesus Christ, you have a Father who is in heaven. You have been adopted out of the slums of hopelessness and into the family of God. There is One who hears your cry. There is One who calls you his own.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Christian, God has given you mercy. 

This isn’t NFL Draft Day where the elite shine and all of the teams fight for the player they need the most. We have nothing to offer God. God was doing just fine without us. He does not need us. He never was lonely without us. But he has still chosen us when he had every right to crush us. That’s called mercy. It’s God not giving you what you deserve. The last thing you want from God is what you deserve.

David realized that after his great sin with Bathsheba.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions. Psalm 51:1 (ESV)

God does not wash away our sins according to our goodness. God’s washing away of our sins is solely the result of his goodness and mercy.

Christian, God has given you new life. 

Born again is a phrase that those of us who have grown up in the church have heard a lot but often forget what it means. We think that it was invented by a presidential candidate or some gospel singer. It goes back long before that.

One night, Jesus talked to a Pharisee named Nicodemus and told him that he must be born again. Nicodemus was blown away. He was thinking of a physical rebirth. But Jesus cleared things up.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (ESV)

Being born again gives us more than just a new status in this life. It gives us a new dwelling in the next life. Since you have been born again, you have a place for all eternity in the kingdom of God. And as Peter goes on to tell his readers, nothing can take that place away from you.

Christian, you have real hope. 

There are millions of gods in our world but the one thing that sets our God apart from the rest is the empty tomb. Muhammad died. The Buddha died. And Jesus died. But Jesus didn’t stay that way. He has no final resting place, at least in the sense that we use the term. And because of that, your final resting place will be in a new heaven and a new earth. Finally and forever, you will rest from sin and death and temptation and worry and hopelessness.

So Christian, stop allowing your fears, your adversaries and the scary world you live in to defeat you. You come from a long line of suffering saints who didn’t give up. Rather, they looked back to an empty tomb and they looked ahead to eternal joy. That is to say, they looked to Jesus.

In him, you have victory.

Guaranteed.

And that’s real hope.

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Be Careful What You Fear

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Fear can make you do some crazy things. It can physically shut your body down. It can convince you to make decisions that you’ll later regret. It can convince you to buy some products and get rid of others. As followers of Christ, we have to be very careful of what we fear.

None of us are taught how to fear. At varying degrees, we just enter the world that way. And to make it all better, our parents lie to us. They tell us, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” As we get older, we realize that they were lying to us. There’s plenty to be afraid of. It might not be under our bed but it’s certainly outside our door. If not, we tell ourselves, why do we have security systems on our cars and homes? But then we get even older and we tell the same lie to our kids. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Go back to sleep.”

Jesus doesn’t work this way.

Consider the story of Ananias. Ananias doesn’t get much attention. I don’t know of any VBS themes devoted to him. But if you’re a Christian, it’s very likely that the story of your salvation could be traced back to Ananias. All by God’s grace, of course.

God came to Ananias in a vision one day. Ananias responded like any good follower of Christ. “Here I am, Lord.”

By the time Ananias found out what God was requesting, perhaps Ananias was wishing that he wouldn’t have answered so quickly.

There was a man named Saul. He was well known among Christians for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to kill them. And God wanted Ananias to meet Saul.

Ananias was afraid. So afraid that he felt compelled to talk the Sovereign God of the universe out of his plan.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

As if God would say, “Oh. Good point. I didn’t think about that. Scratch that. My bad.”

When I read this, I picture God laughing when a frightened Ananias talks about the “authority from the chief priests.” Do you remember one of the last things that Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection? In Matthew 28 he told them that, “All authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him. All authority. Ananias had either forgotten that or hadn’t learned it yet. And the same seems to be true of us.

In this age of fear over elections and Supreme Court appointments and terror strikes it is important for us to remember who the authority really belongs to.

It’s not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

It’s not ISIS.

It’s not the Supreme Court.

It’s Jesus. And any authority anyone on this earth has ultimately rests under his authority. He gives it. He takes it away. All for the good of his Church.

When the Lord responded to Ananias, he didn’t say what parents usually say. He didn’t say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And he didn’t even promise that Ananias would be safe. He just said, in so many words, “Go, because I’ve got a plan for Saul and you play a part in the beginning of it.”

So Ananias went. He wasn’t given the assurance that his going would be free of difficulty or danger. But he wasn’t going alone. He was going with the presence of his Lord. And he was going in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is different from the fear of man. The fear of man sees man as ultimate and leads to paralysis. The fear of God sees God as ultimate and leads to worship and obedience and joy.

It’s a scary world that we live in. There is plenty to be afraid of but we must be careful what we fear. It is impossible to simultaneously live our lives in fear of man and obedience to God. Our only hope is to fear God.

If we allow the fear of man to consume us we will eventually embrace evil. Our fears will convince us that evil is our only option. But if we fear God, that is, stand before him in reverential awe and obedience, we will see the world in a whole new way.

Yes, the world will still be a frightening place when we fear God.

But the terrors of this world will have no control over us.

That’s because our eyes will be fixed on the Authority that is over this world.

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I Really Need You To Pray For This Woman That I Know

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I usually don’t devote this space to prayer requests but this is an urgent matter. I really need you to pray for this woman that I know.

I’ve known her my entire life. Although she’s a good bit older than me, she’s still beautiful. But right now she’s hurting.

She’s in a strong marriage but it’s like she keeps forgetting her vows. She repeatedly forsakes her husband in favor of lesser men. Men who do not care for her. Men who only wish to use her for their own pleasure and advancement. Repeatedly, they abandon her once they are done. Each time, I think she’s learned her lesson. Each time, I’m wrong. She keeps going back to what she knows is destroying her.

It wasn’t always this way. Early on, she lived her life with purpose. She helped others. She loved others. Part of what drew so many people to her was the way that she refused to blend in. She was so different. But that’s changing. Now, she’s becoming like everyone else. And I’m afraid of what it’s doing to her.

Have you ever seen mug shots of a meth addict? Usually in the first arrest picture, the person looks normal, healthy and even attractive. After ten or twenty arrests, it’s like you’re looking at a completely different person. Teeth that were once white are now gone. Strong facial features are now covered with blotches and bruises. It’s really sad to see. Well, that’s sort of like my friend. I don’t have any mug shots to prove it to you and she’s not on meth but she’s changed. You might say that the years haven’t been kind to her.

The lady who once spoke up for those who have no voice now shouts them down.

The lady who built her reputation on moving toward the hurting now seems to do everything she can to shelter herself from them.

There was a time when this lady was ridiculed by the world for being so different. Her holiness was seen as offensive to a dark world. Now even that same dark world blushes at her embrace of evil.

She used to love the truth. She loved to hear it. She loved to make it known. Now she questions the very concept. She has traded in what is right for what works. Or even worse, for what is popular.

Now, just like the people in those mug shots, you can’t hardly recognize her anymore.

And it’s breaking my heart. I hate to see her like this. She never was perfect but there was a time when she was much better than this. I’m really worried. So that’s why I’m using this space to ask you to pray. It’s all I know to do.

There have been interventions, bold confrontations, threats, close calls and all of that. None of it seems to work for more than a short time.

So I’ve decided to do a better job of praying for her and I would really appreciate it if you would join with me. In the end, I know that she’ll make it through okay. Sometimes that’s hard to believe but I still believe it. But along the way, I worry about the ones who will be led astray by her. The very ones she was supposed to be helping. That really bothers me.

So if you get a chance today, pray for my friend.

My hurting, misguided, nearly unrecognizable friend.

By now, I’m sure you’d like to know what name to call her as you lift her up in prayer.

The Church.

Please pray for the Church.

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 (ESV)

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Beating Hillary And The Judgment Of God

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On Wednesday night I got to do something with my sons that I haven’t done in quite some time. I made them sit down and watch a man give a speech. I wanted them to see it because it was history in the making. By the time it was over, I was using the speech as an example of what it looks like when a man with a conscience stands for what he believes in, regardless of the consequences.

Ted Cruz was not my first choice for president. There are many issues where he and I disagree with one another. And Ted Cruz is no savior. No politician is. Our country needs another Great Awakening more than we need a great president. But with that being said, I was thankful that my sons got to see some integrity on display, at great cost, during the presidential election.

I know. I know. Ted Cruz committed to endorse the Republican nominee, whoever it may be. And for his failure to sing the praises of Donald Trump last night, a man who ridiculed Cruz’s wife and accused Cruz’s father of playing a part in the Kennedy assassination, there are some who are attacking Ted Cruz’s integrity.

I cannot speak for all Trump supporters so I’ll just speak for some of the ones who I have spoken to personally. They’ve spent the past year very well aware of Donald Trump’s morality issues. They know about his adultery. They know about his lying. They know about his support for killing the unborn, even in the late stages of the pregnancy. But when confronted on this, they say the same thing. “I’m not looking for a pastor in chief. I’m looking for a commander in chief.” Or, in other words, integrity doesn’t matter. Well, until Ted Cruz didn’t give the speech they were looking for on Wednesday night.

Again, Ted Cruz isn’t my savior. But if the worst thing you can tell me about him is that he didn’t keep his word to throw his support behind a tyrant in waiting, I’ll take it. Space and time would not permit me to list the transgressions of Donald Trump. And if I did, I’d be accused of judging Mr. Trump, otherwise known as King David. And who am I, a self-righteous Baptist preacher, to judge Mr. Trump’s heart? For many, it’s okay to judge the actions of another politician, just as long as it’s not their politician.

On Wednesday night, Ted Cruz, like him or not, stood by his convictions. That’s something that cannot be said of most other national politicians. Remember Bernie Sanders? It amused me on Wednesday night when all of the booing started. Perhaps you noticed what got the biggest reaction out of the crowd of Trump supporters. It was the part when Cruz told Americans to vote their conscience and when he said God bless America. At least for the crowd in attendance last night, talk of God and conscience can be quite convicting.

Pastors are supposed to be silent on these kind of issues. “Stick to the Bible,” they tell us. Well, I am. In the Bible, I don’t find talk of trade deals or the military industrial complex. But I do learn about the value of human life, something that Donald Trump has never supported right up until the time when he decided to become a Republican and run for president. I speak up because it troubles me that many believers will abandon the cause of the unborn simply to beat Hillary. And it troubles me that many believers will endorse a man who draws attention to the menstrual cycle of women who do not play nicely with him, mocks disabled reporters who are doing their job, and hates having blacks count his money because, “laziness is a trait in blacks.” All because they want to beat Hillary.

But Ted Cruz is the man with the integrity problem because he showed up to the pep rally without wearing the Trump jersey.

I am very concerned about what Donald Trump will do to the Church. I’m not talking about his policies but rather our reputation. How are we to take a stand for the life of the unborn with a straight face when it is revealed that we supported a man who was okay with pulling a six pound baby halfway out of the mother and ending the baby’s life? How will we be able to honestly minister to the non-whites in our community when it is revealed that we threw our support behind a man who calls them all lazy? How will our church leaders sincerely preach against the sins condemned in the Bible when those same church leaders condoned those same sins with their vote? How can we honestly obey Jesus and pray, “Deliver us from evil” when we embrace evil in the voting booth. All just to beat Hillary.

I get that every candidate, and every voter, myself included, has a problem with evil. We’re all evil to some degree. But some of us recognize our need for forgiveness. Others don’t. Instead, they celebrate their evil.

For all of our problems, God has given us a unique privilege in the United States. We get to vote for our leaders. I believe that this is a gift that requires wise stewardship. It is a gift for which we will all be held accountable (2 Corinthians 5:10). It bothers me that many in the Church seem okay with standing before a holy God with the excuse of, “Well, we had to beat Hillary.”

I tremble at our holy God’s response.

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

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Stopping The Cycle Of Self-Righteousness

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It’s called passing the blame. We all do it. We do it because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It gives us a sense of righteousness. But it’s a false sense of righteousness and Jesus doesn’t care for it.

Person A does something terrible and he gets caught. Red handed. There’s no getting out of it. He could repent but that would require a measure of humility, a lacking quality in the character of Person A. So Person A does what seems most logical. He takes a look at Person B and finds that Person B has done the exact same thing. Or, even better for Person A, something much worse. Problem solved. At the very least, Person A is no worse than anyone else on the planet. But most likely, as he sees it and in spite of his wrong doing, he’s actually much better than everyone else.

The problem here is that we are not called to meet the standard of Person B. We are called to meet the standard of a holy God. And we all fail miserably. So when we carry on about how much better we are than the other fellow we sound an awful lot like the out of shape man in his 30s who can’t quit talking about how good his high school football team was. No one cares. It doesn’t matter.

Jesus told a story to get across just how much he hates this type of self-righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).

A well-respected religious man went to the temple to pray. He would have been better off staying at home. Rather that pleading with and worshiping God, this man used his time of prayer to show God what a great guy he is.

“God, thank you for making me so awesome. I am so much better than all of the sinners out there, especially that heathen on the other side of the room. Oh, and I also wanted to remind you that I make the effort to tithe even more than I’m supposed to. I’ll bet you don’t come across very many people like me. You’re welcome.”

On the other side of the room, another prayer was being spoken. But this one was different. It was much more simple. And much more humble.

“God, I deserve death but I ask for your mercy. I am a sinner.”

The man who prayed the first prayer was a member of the religious establishment. He was well-respected and well-taught. The crowd listening to Jesus’ story was most likely expecting Jesus to commend this man, simply because he belonged to the right group.

But instead of commending him, Jesus condemned him.

It was the second man, a hated tax-collector, who Jesus said went home justified. His humble cry for mercy was heard and the transition was made from sinner to justified.

Pay attention the next time a politician or one of the toddlers living in your home does something foolish. You won’t have to wait long and, chances are, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between the toddler and the politician. Notice the response when they get caught. More than likely, the response is something closer to self-righteousness than genuine humility.

“But he did it too!”

Now pay attention to your own tendency to respond in the same way when you are convicted or exposed in some particular sin. Remember, that you are not called to measure your sin against the sins of another. No matter how much better than the other guy you convince yourself that you are, you still fall short of God’s standard.

And that leaves you with only one logical prayer.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Sin will always be your master until you come to grips with your need for the Master’s mercy.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14 (ESV)

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The Summer Of Rage And The Trembling Of Satan

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Three more police officers had been murdered. Details were still coming in. I turned off the television and loaded my family up in my truck. As we drove, I thought about all of the violence that we have seen in our country this summer. That violence was the reason why I was driving with my family.

Last week our church decided to do something about the division in our country. We knew that we needed to pray but we didn’t want prayer to be the crutch that kept us from actually engaging the community. And we didn’t want to fall into the trap of writing angry Facebook posts in ALL CAPS and then patting ourselves on the back for “telling it like it is” or for not being politically correct as if that’s all the world needs.

So we decided to have a cookout. I know. What a shock. Baptists planning something involving food. Don’t judge. We had our cookout in a community that is mostly black and we invited the police. I was afraid when all of this was being planned. I was afraid that people wouldn’t show up. On the way over, I was afraid that the latest shooting in Baton Rouge would keep people away.

It didn’t.

I don’t know how many people came to our cookout. I do know that we prepared for 400 people and there weren’t a whole lot of leftovers when it was all over. And, when it was all over, I knew that I had just experienced one of the highlights of my pastoral career.

There were old white men who listen to Willie Nelson talking and eating and laughing with old black men who like to listen to Al Green.

There were white police officers throwing footballs and racing with little black kids.

There were high ranking members of my community’s police force making themselves available to answer tough questions.

Never once did I hear the phrases Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. No one said anything about Sean Hannity or Al Sharpton. People just ate. And laughed. And talked.

 

You know, the stuff we used to do a lot before we started getting our tribal marching orders from Fox News and CNN and our favorite talk radio host or blogger.

The world is an angry place. Tensions are high. Blood is spilling. And people are looking for someone to lead. The words used to describe Israel in the final verse of the book of Judges could very easily apply to America today.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25 (ESV)

Some people’s eyes tell them that killing police officers is the right thing. For others, it’s more angry, divisive rants, sometimes in the name of Jesus.

If ever there was a time for the Church to be what Jesus called us to be, it’s now. If all we ever do is pick sides in a divisive culture, all we’ll ever bring the culture is sugar and more darkness. Jesus calls us to be salt and light. When we are obeying his command, we care less about proving a point or electing our guy than we do loving our neighbor. And if you really want to love your neighbor, you have to go to your neighbor. I think that the Church forgets that sometimes.

But when the Church remembers that, I believe that Satan trembles. I know that in our highly advanced day and age, talk of the devil is seen as silly. I’ll tell you what’s silly. Watching people who don’t believe in the devil, or even evil for that matter, trying to look smart while failing to come up with an explanation for all of the bloodshed during this summer of rage is what’s really silly.

When the Church forgets that we wrestle not against flesh and blood or budget plans or house bills or political opponents but against “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12) it’s no wonder that we fail to have any influence in the world. Forget about losing the culture wars, we often lose the spiritual wars because we don’t even know that we’re in one.

Church, you must remember that your primary enemy is not the Black Lives Matter protestor or the police officer. Your opponent is the Thief who aims to steal and kill and destroy. And lately, business has been pretty good for him.

It doesn’t have to be that way. But that means that we have to step away from our tribe, away from our keyboard activism and across the street or over the railroad tracks to our neighbor’s house. It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. Well, the journey of gospel-centered peacemaking begins the same way. People who live next door to each other but who in reality are a thousand miles apart from one another can come together when the Church takes the first step.

It may be a step with a Bible in hand or it may be a step that’s made while carrying hamburgers. But it’s a step that needs to be made.

There are people who are profiting off of the divisiveness in this country. Their book sales and Facebook likes and poll numbers reach new heights while we burn one another down. It’s up to the Church to put a stop to this. The Church should be the first to say to those who profit off of divisiveness that their business is not welcome in our communities.

Yesterday afternoon, while police officers in bulletproof vests raced barefoot kids, I got to see what happens when the Church takes the first step. It was a beautiful sight and I pray that there are many more steps to follow.

As we were cleaning up yesterday, I had several people come up to me and say that we need to do this kind of thing more often. I agree. Our communities need it.

The talking heads will always talk.

The social media activists will always ramble on.

And things will always be the same.

But when the Church acts like the Church, that’s when we begin to see things change.

That’s when people come together.

That’s when Satan trembles.

And that’s when Jesus Christ is glorified.

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My Church Is Having A Cookout This Weekend

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My church is having a cookout this weekend. More on that later.

A lot of people like to say that they’re following Jesus. What they really mean is that they like following Jesus just so long as he’s going somewhere that’s okay with them. But if you’re really following Jesus, you’ll always be on your way to hurting people. And, more often than not, you’ll always be moving away from your tribe.

Our tribes are killing us. Instead of simply obeying Jesus’ command to love one another, we get our marching orders from Limbaugh or Sharpton or Trump or Bernie. Our ears are itching and we have accumulated quite the team of pundits and politicians who will tell us what we want to hear. As a result, we can’t seem to get along with the people who we actually live with.

In Matthew 14, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. If he had wanted to, he could have very easily set up an earthly throne for himself and his disciples. Instead, he went to the other side of the sea. The other side of the sea is where the unclean people lived, at least as the Jewish people saw it. On the other side of the sea, people ate pigs without washing their hands.

Shortly after showing up there, Jesus healed and likely taught another large crowd. Like the mostly religious crowd on the other side of the sea, this crowd got hungry. And Jesus refused to ignore their hunger. He had compassion on them.

Again, with just a few fish and some loaves of bread, Jesus fed thousands of people. He could have simply had the food fall from the sky. That’s happened before, you know. But instead he brings in a third party. His disciples. Their job was to take the food that Jesus had just created and pass it on to the ceremonially unclean hands in the Gentile crowd.

The Church needs to follow Jesus’ example of bringing people together. Food is usually a good way to do that.

Jews and Gentiles didn’t spend a lot of time together in Jesus’ day. They were supposed to be enemies. But that day next to the Sea of Galilee, they came together with needs that only Jesus could meet. For all of their differences, that’s one thing they had in common.

More on that cookout that my church is having. We’re not doing it in my backyard or even on our church property. We’re doing it at the Jackson Housing Authority. Most of the people who live at the Jackson Housing Authority are black. But this isn’t one of those deals where the white church tries to step in and save the black community. We’re not having a cookout to feed the folks at the Jackson Housing Authority. We’re having a cookout to eat with the people at the Jackson Housing Authority.

Oh, and there’s another group of people who are invited to our cookout.

The police.

The relationship between the police and the people in the community where I live is very good. But we want it to stay that way and we don’t want to sit back and wait for something terrible to happen before we decide to act. We don’t want to sit back and wait for our tribe to tell us what to think or do. We don’t want to allow the media to reinforce whatever stereotypes we may have.

We want to follow Jesus.

And when we follow Jesus, we will always be walking toward hurting people.

Some of those hurting people will be white police officers and some of them will be black citizens. Both need Jesus, just like the rest of us. And, by God’s grace, the Church will be used in arranging the meeting.

When we have our cookout this weekend, I don’t expect us to miraculously feed the whole community with five hot dogs and two hamburgers. But I am expecting the miraculous. I’m expecting whites and blacks to come together, share a burger and get along in Jesus name. If you’ve been watching the news lately, such a thing seems more and more miraculous.

But this will never happen if all the Church cares about is winning an argument on Facebook or getting the last, loudest word in an argument. It helps when we humble ourselves, repent and bring our deficiencies to Jesus. For far too long, the Church has stood waiting for the world to repent, all the while failing to repent of, or even recognize, its own sins.

Shortly after Jesus fed the thousands of Gentiles, he had an encounter with folks from his home side. The religious side. He was met by two other groups that usually did not get along but had come together. Rather than coming together around Jesus, the Pharisees and Saducees were coming together against Jesus. In a bipartisan effort, they wanted Jesus Christ dead. Unity apart from Christ never works. It always ends in death.

In recent months, the Church has sought unity with some nefarious tribes, all the while still claiming to follow Jesus. This cannot be. If we are truly following Jesus, we’ll be walking toward hurting people. Hurting people who think differently than we do. Hurting people who don’t look like us. Hurting people who don’t vote like us. But hurting people who need the gospel just as much as we do.

And as we march behind Jesus, we will often find ourselves marching away from our tribe.

Your church might not be in Baton Rouge or Dallas. Perhaps it’s in a  small community like mine. Either way, the people there, whether they wear a badge or civilian clothes, need the gospel. And it’s the Church’s job to take it to them.

You might not know where to start.

That’s okay. Just follow the example of Jesus and give them all something to eat.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 (ESV)

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Pastor, Do The World A Favor This Sunday

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Pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

The world is crumbling. People are hurting. Many are scared. And the last thing any of us needs to hear is part three of your four part sermon series entitled American Christian Warrior: Climbing the Salmon Ladder of Success. Or yet another plea to give more money for some building project. People need to hear the gospel.

I can remember when President Obama was elected. People told us that it was the end of racism in this country. By all accounts, race relations have gotten worse. Not all of that is the president’s fault. But the past eight years have reminded us that his proposed solutions to the problem are insufficient. More government isn’t the answer. In a lot of ways, it makes the problem worse.

Pastor, please don’t be ashamed to preach the gospel this Sunday. And I don’t mean during the final few minutes of your sermon when you try to get people to raise a hand and walk an aisle. Find a passage from the Bible. Pray over it. And explain it to your people. They need to hear it. It will do them much more good than you simply regurgitating what you heard on Fox News earlier in the week.

Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to bring change, hope, healing and salvation. The gospel is big enough. It’s big enough for the exceptional police officer who is scared to death to go to work the next morning. It’s big enough for the black man who’s a little more nervous about getting pulled over.

The gospel is big enough.

Use it.

But don’t hide behind it.

It’s common for Christians to tritely say things like, “We have a heart problem and our greatest need is the gospel.” That is a true statement but many of us use it to free us from taking any sort of action. Every week I counsel people in my office. The guy who can’t stop watching porn has a heart problem and his greatest need is the gospel. But that doesn’t keep me from telling him to cancel his movie channel subscription. The gospel does not relieve us of our responsibility to take action, it inspires us.

So preach the gospel this Sunday.

And live the gospel this Monday. Find a way to be an encouragement to the police officers in your community. Make a move across the railroad tracks and have a meal with the people whose skin is a different color than yours. Better yet, invite the police to that meal. Don’t just sit around watching the news and mumbling about how bad things are getting. Do something about it.

The gospel is a message of reconciliation. It is the story of God sending his only Son to save his enemies. What a shame it would be if now, of all times, we failed to proclaim that message because we were too busy picking sides. Or building our own kingdoms.

So pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

And do the world a favor on Monday too.

Live the gospel.

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Church, Stop Saying All Lives Matter

statue of Themis outside the law courts

There are several words and phrases in our language that need to be retired. Some are overused. Some are misleading. Some are ignorant. And a few are all of those things wrapped up in one.

Take for example the phrase All Lives Matter.

All lives really do matter. From the womb to the deathbed, every life matters because every life carries the image of God. But when we splash the All Lives Matter phrase all over the Internet, we do more harm than good. It’s best to deal in specifics.

Here’s a good example.

Philando Castile’s life matters. Well, it mattered that is, until he was gunned down by police Wednesday during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to Castile’s girlfriend, who live streamed the moments immediately following the shooting, Castile informed officers that he was carrying a licensed, concealed weapon. He was shot for obeying an officer’s command to produce his license.

The response of social media users has and will be predictable as this case plays out. Some news organization or website will produce a picture of Castile from a few years back where he’s wearing a hoodie or a bandana or something else not deemed socially acceptable in order to prove that he was a thug who had it coming. Others, under the banner of All Lives Matter, will pledge their undying support for all law enforcement, Philando Castile be damned.

If you are a Christian who cares about loving God and your neighbor, it is very important that you do not fall into these traps. We would do well to take a deep breath and evaluate ourselves for our hypocrisy.

Christian churches, at least the ones that have not yet sold themselves out in order to fit in with the culture, do a lot of work to stop abortion in this country. And that’s a good thing. But if we do not care just as much for the 30-year-old black man as we do for the black baby in the first trimester, we’re only kidding ourselves. Sure, all lives matter but I’m afraid that some of us like to use the word all just to keep us from dealing with the individual. Philando Castile’s life mattered. We can get away with simply talking about the baby but we have to figure out a way to actually live with and love the adult.

There is a big debate going on in our country right now over gun rights. Some want every gun confiscated. Others, like myself, strongly support the second amendment. But unless we come to grips with he fact that the second amendment applies just as much to my right to target practice with an AR-15 as it does to Philando Castile’s right to carry while in his car without the threat of losing his life at the hands of law enforcement, again, we kid ourselves. Philando Castile’s second amendment right mattered because Philando Castile’s life mattered.

I’m blessed to live where I do. The law enforcement in my community is very good. I do not know every officer but every officer I know in my community sincerely cares about life and justice. Sadly, that’s not the case in every community. So when we speak as though no police officer could ever be in the wrong, we spit in the faces of those who suffer under corrupt leaders.

Earlier this week, when the FBI announced that it would not be going after Hillary Clinton, even after announcing all of the things that she did wrong, many of us were outraged. We cried for justice. But if we cry for justice in D.C. and ignore injustice in St. Paul, yet again, we kid ourselves. In order for justice to be legitimate, it must be total.

I am a pastor but you’ll never hear me say that we need to support all pastors because, after all, “they have a tough job.” No. Some pastors need to be loved and appreciated and listened to and others need to be in jail. Police officers are no different. Blind support and all out rage are never the answers. If we really are a people of love and justice, we will be a people who care to look at issues on an individual basis.

But we must remember that two people can look at the same thing and reach a different conclusion. Like it or not, there are two Americas. There is the black America and the white America. When I was a kid, running around town doing pranks, I got pulled over by the police. I knew I was caught. I could already picture me and all my friends calling our parents from jail. But the officer let us off. “Y’all get on home and drive safe. We’re looking for a bunch of black kids.” White privilege is another phrase that gets overused and misused but it was alive and kicking that night in my friend’s Honda.

Meanwhile there are black fathers who have to have conversations with their kids that I likely never will. “Son, keep your concealed carry license and ID wrapped around your neck. Don’t ever put them in your console. Don’t ever go reaching for something when you get pulled over.”

There are two Americas and I don’t have all of the answers for how that can be fixed. But I do know that there are not two gospels. There are not two bodies of Christ. That means that those of us who feel a million miles away from the pain that Philando Castile’s girlfriend experienced on Wednesday need to do better than Facebook rants and tired, worn out phrases.

If all lives really do matter, then Philando Castile’s life mattered.

And the fact that Philando Castile’s life didn’t mater enough during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday should really bother us.

If all lives really do matter, then the burden of Philando Castile’s family and friends must be our burden too.

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