The Decision Maker

President Donald Trump is unlike any other president this country has ever had. Every day of the week, even the usually slow news days of the weekend, gives us a new earth-shattering story about him. The kind of stories that once broke only three or four times during a presidency now come at us with each new day. Depending on your source for information, the news can be favorable or condemning of the president.

How should we respond to this?

The answer is easier than you might imagine. And, in what has become all too rare for these days, it’s an answer that conservatives and progressives can come to an agreement on.

Here it is.

We need to stop thinking about the president so much.

For some on the right, President Trump lives in their hearts as their functional god. Nothing he says can be questioned. Every transgression he has committed is simply the result of media bias. For some on the left, President Trump lives in their heads, like an opponent who has masterfully used his trash-talking skills to gain control of their minds and keep them out of the game. So every tweet has to be examined by a team of psychologists and equated to something Hitler said.

Each day, the president has a countless amount of decisions before him. These are important decisions that will impact the lives of many and even the direction of our country. But the president is by no means the most important decision maker in your life. It’s not even close.

When a father tells his young daughter to clean her room and she fails to obey, he has a decision to make. He can respond in anger and crush her, he can respond with apathy and fail her, or he can respond in love and correct her. In the moments like that in your life, what President Trump tweets doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you respond.

Decisions have been made and will continue to be made about immigration in this country. But what happens when those immigrants move into your neighborhood? You have a choice to make. You can either respond by submitting to the talking points of your favorite political hack or you can obey Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. In the economy of heaven, the decision you make in that moment will matter much more to you than whatever decision the president makes.

When someone disagrees with you, you have a choice to make. You can follow the trends of the day and resort to name-calling, shunning, and victimhood. Getting blocked by someone on social media can become one of your sacraments. Or you can learn how to love the other guy, even if you fail to come to an agreement and even if they don’t love you back. You won’t have to give an account for the words that the president spoke or tweeted. You have enough of your own words and tweets to worry about. Consider the words of Jesus.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)

There are people on the right who are so busy defending the indefensible decisions of the president that they no longer have the time, energy, or credibility to make the really important decisions in their lives. And there are people on the left whose rambling on and on about “speaking truth to power” really boils down to their resentment that their person isn’t in power. So in response to the president’s careless words, bigotry, and corruption, they give Hillary Clinton an open mic at the Grammy’s as if she didn’t build her political career by referring to black youths as “super-predators” or shaming the victims of her husband’s unwanted sexual advances. An inordinate focus on presidential power will turn us into deadbeats and hypocrites.

None of this is to say that we should be unengaged and never speak out against or in favor of something a government official does. Rather, we are to keep things in their proper perspective. The office of the president is a very powerful decision but it’s not as powerful as you think. Just because Hannity or Madow aren’t talking about the way you did or did not interact with your kids over the weekend doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant.

We would all be much better off if we devoted less of our energy to the decision maker in Washington D.C. and more of our energy to the the decision-maker in the mirror. The one in D.C. changes every four to eight years. You have to live with the one in the mirror for the rest of your life.

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Jerry Falwell And Rachael Denhollander: A Tale of Two Gospels

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is quite popular. For years I’ve heard progressives proclaim that virtually any form of sexual activity is okay because, well, Jesus did say somewhere in the Bible about judge not lest ye be judged. But it’s not just folks on the left who use Jesus’ words for their own personal gain. People on the right do it too. Some of them even lead Christian colleges.

Earlier this week, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, was interviewed on CNN about his continued support of Donald Trump. As we have grown accustomed to, Falwell defended the president’s character by pointing out that the sexual immorality was years ago and that President Trump said that he was sorry for some of it. Falwell then gave us this gem of theological malpractice.

“Jesus said that if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery.”

Except for Jesus never said that. Here’s what he did say.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)

We mishandle these verses when we view them, as Falwell does on behalf of President Trump, as a get out of hell free passage. “Well,” some say, “all sin is bad so who are we to judge?” But this is not at all what Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words. Rather, he was dismantling the idea that it was good enough to look religious on the outside and remain sinful on the inside. He was addressing the root of human sin – the heart.

Falwell went on to throw in America’s favorite Bible verse, Matthew 7:1. The Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged Verse. And, like those on the opposite side of the culture war who mishandle this verse, Falwell failed to use it in its proper context. In the verses that follow, Jesus tells his audience that they should judge others but only after they take a good look at themselves.

In the interview, Falwell reminded us that he’s no pastor. He was a lawyer and a real estate man before becoming the president of Liberty University. As if we shouldn’t really expect non-pastors to know how to handle the word of God.

Except that we should.

I give you Exhibit A – Rachael Denhollander.

She too gave a speech earlier this week on TV but hers was much different. Hers came from a place of indescribable pain. Hers required great courage. And hers was rooted in the gospel – the true gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of American politics where the ends justify the means.

Rachael was sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar over several years. She was the first woman to publicly accuse the doctor but she wasn’t the only victim. There were over a hundred other girls who were preyed on by Nassar.

In the courtroom, just feet away from her abuser, Rachael bravely shared her story. She told how Nassar tricked her and concealed the abuse from her mother. She went into detail about how powerful American institutions did nothing to stop the abuse once they became aware of it. She shared how she was the victim of verbal abuse for speaking up. And she shared the gospel. Maybe shared isn’t the best word. She did more than just share the gospel. She demonstrated it.

 

“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.”

 

And then Rachael Denhollander forgave Larry Nassar.

Sin, regardless of what Jerry Falwell Jr. would have us to believe, is not absolved over time. People are always saying, “Well, that was ten years ago,” as if time heals all transgressions. It doesn’t. If it did, Jesus wouldn’t have to had to come to die. Let’s not forget, some of Larry Nassar’s gross sins were several years ago. Should we give him a free pass? Certainly not!

My concern is not with who you voted for in this last presidential election. But I am gravely concerned at what many Evangelical leaders are willing to do in order to excuse the sins of a Republican president. We are supposed to speak truth to power, like Rachael did and like the prophets Jeremiah and Amos did long before her, not prostitute ourselves out for it, like so many Evangelical leaders are doing.

I grew up in a context where man people looked up to Jerry Falwell Sr. It was as if he was God’s man, sent with his Moral Majority, to protect the church from those on the outside wishing to do us harm. . Now that I’ve grown older and am a pastor myself, I can see that the greatest threat that the church faces is not from the wolves on the outside but rather the wolves in sheep clothing on the inside.

Jerry Falwell Jr., was right about one thing in his interview when he spoke of Jesus’ opposition to “establishment elites.”

“Those were the ones he said were a generation of vipers, hypocrites and they were the ones he came down hardest on. The religious elite of his day.” 

And our day too.

 

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Stop Taking God’s Name In Vain

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (ESV)

Most likely, you’ve done it before. You hit your thumb with a hammer, almost got into a wreck, actually got into a wreck, watched your favorite team blow a huge lead in the Super Bowl or witnessed your middle child spilling grape juice on the new carpet. And then you said it. You used the name of the Creator of the universe as a curse word.

Why do we do this? When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we don’t say, “Oh, Hitler!” Or when we try to check out at the grocery store and only one out of 13 lines is open, we don’t say, “Charles Manson!” Yet, for some reason, it comes naturally for us to use the name of God in that way.

But that’s not the only way that we break the third commandment. There is a more subtle way to use God’s name in the wrong way. If you pay attention, you’ll see it all the time. All you have to do is watch the way that people in this country talk about politics.

Judging simply by my Twitter feed over the weekend, it looked like the world, or at least America, had come to an end. People were losing their minds because of a tax cut that had been passed. Of course, there were the usual suspects who love paying enormous taxes who were not happy at all about this. But there was another group of protestors in the mix. They were the religious left. That’s right, the folks who can’t so much as mention the name of Jesus during a Sunday morning, ahem, sermon, started invoking his name to criticize this tax plan.

Their basic point was clear: if you support tax cuts, God’s going to get you for neglecting the poor.

This foolishness isn’t confined to the left side of the political spectrum. That’s right, even members of the religious right, you know, the ones who claim to revere Jesus, are guilty of using his name in vain. This happens when they declare that the hurricane that just wiped out a city was most definitely God judging the folks of that city for living a lifestyle that does not fit the GOP platform. It also happens when they constantly remind us that a certain politician is, “God’s man” even though the only qualifying attribute in that politician is that he happens to be a Republican. Republicans, some evangelicals would have us to believe, are God’s favorite political party. That’s why it’s okay for a grown man to have inappropriate relationships with  fourteen-year-old girls and it’s why it’s okay for another man to live his entire adult life as an adulterer, even going so far as to be caught on tape joking about his motives that, were he an average citizen would be called for what they are – sexual assault. But this is God’s man, they tell us. After all, they reason, the man did just give a great speech where he mentioned Mary and Joseph and said Merry Christmas. It was the greatest moment in church history since Johnny beat the devil in that fiddle contest!

The church should be ashamed. And, just a short time from now when we have lost any moral ground to stand upon as the sexual revolution continues to spiral out of control, we should not be surprised that no one wants to listen to what the crowd who supported two of the biggest partakers in the foolishness has to say on behalf of God.

For once, the left and the right have one thing in common. They both routinely break the third commandment because they have broken the first commandment.

“You shall have no other God’s before me.” Exodus 20:3 (ESV)

The god of the left is a bloated, angry and hateful beast who wears a disguise of compassion. The god of the right preaches a gospel of family values and the good old days but deep down he only cares about the same thing that the god of the left cares about. Power. That’s because the god of the left and the god of the right are the same. His name is Government.

Government is a gift from God (Romans 13:1-14). We need government. If you don’t believe me, visit a country where there’s a new military coupe every fifteen minutes or so. But here’s the thing about government. It makes a terrible god. Yet, for some reason, folks on the left and the right keep worshiping it. And when their god leaves them unfulfilled, rather than taking a second look at the object of their worship, they just cry for more of him while yelling louder at the folks on the other side. It’s like an addiction.

The early church sold their possessions and belongings and distributed, “the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). They somehow managed to do this without being coerced by the government, as some on the left would have us to believe. And their compassion was not limited to one group of allegedly deserving people (Acts 6:1-7), as some on the right like to model. Rather, they gave because of their devotion to the one true God. He had worked in their heart in such a way that they couldn’t help but live generously with their own money rather than ignoring the needs of others or simply relying on some bureaucracy to be compassionate for them.

Jesus Christ reigns supreme over all political parties and government institutions. He doesn’t need hucksters who pretend to follow him in order for his kingdom to advance, just as he doesn’t need the selectively outraged who only care about the poor online and when cameras are around.

He doesn’t need anything.

But we need him.

It’s time we cry his name out in repentance rather than using it to advance our favorite political cause.

Otherwise, when he says our name, it might just be to pronounce a curse on both of our houses.

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A Haunted Thanksgiving

Relax.

This isn’t one of those posts where you’ll be reminded of how many kids will die of starvation while you get a second helping of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving.

It’s just a reminder to step away from the culture war and the talking points to remember why there aren’t a whole lot of other countries that have a day on their calendar like Thanksgiving.

I’ve talked to kids in the United States who have told me their dreams for the future. They talk about wanting to get into good schools and become engineers or speech pathologists. For the most part, I expect them to get their wishes.

A few weeks ago I was in Haiti. I spent a significant part of my time there building and remodeling desks for a school. Some of the students helped me. They were some of the nicest, hardest working people I’ve ever been around. And they have dreams too. They want to get into good schools. They want to be engineers. But my expectations aren’t as high for them.

Haiti is a complicated country. When people talk about how bad things are there, they always go back to the earthquake of 2010. It’s hard not too. But the problems started before then. Long before then. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone is smart enough to trace the problems back to one particular issue. Certainly not an American like me who spent all of seven days there. Haiti is suffering from a toxic mix of poverty, corruption, and good intentions gone bad.

One day when I was painting a desk, one of the students helping me told me his dreams for the future. I should say dream. His was a simple one.

“I want to go to America,” he said with a glimmer in his eye.

I spent a second thinking about how America would respond to this young man’s wish.

Some would say, “Don’t bother.” They’d tell him about all of the hatred and violence, about the president’s crazy tweets, and about our own brand of poverty and corruption.

Others would say, “Don’t bother,” for different reasons. They would proceed to tell him about how overcrowded we are, convincing themselves that he wouldn’t do a good job of assimilating.

We do have our problems here in America. And yes, there are those who abuse our system of immigration. But when I looked at that young man, I couldn’t blame him for his wish. Sure, coming to America wouldn’t fix all of his problems but it sure would open up some pretty good opportunities for him. If I were in his shoes, I’d want to come to America too.

I’ve been thinking about the look on that kid’s face when he told me about wanting to come to America. It was one half determination and one half desperation. I don’t see that in my country. The only people who want to leave the U.S. like that kid wanted to leave his country are angry political activists vowing to move to Canada and folks running from the law looking to hide out in Mexico or Europe.

This week I found out about the Trump administration’s plans to send back several thousand Haitians who have been living in the States under special status since the 2010 earthquake. I don’t know all of the details behind this. I’m no policy expert. All I know is that if I had been living here for nearly a decade, I wouldn’t want to go back to a country that isn’t prepared to receive me, even if it meant staying in one that doesn’t want me.

Immigration is a complicated issue. Carelessness on the part of our government is a clear path to losing our freedoms. Apathy on the part of our citizens is just as clear a path to losing our souls. Behind the tweets, talking points, and statistics, there are faces. Faces with a glimmer in their eye. Faces that belong to hard working bodies. Not all of those faces need to be in the United States. Some of them do. Knowing the difference requires more discernment and less pandering to the base.

I don’t have all of the answers to our country’s immigration problem and I certainly don’t know what steps need to be taken to fix what’s wrong with Haiti.

All I know is that kid’s face.

It haunts me.

It haunts me because I want him to be okay, whatever that means for him.

And it haunts me because if a kid wants to come to where I live that bad, I must really have a lot to be thankful for.

But it’s really hard for me to give thanks for where I live without remembering the faces from where I’ve visited.

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The Weinstein Predicament

In recent months, a few high powered celebrities have been exposed as sexual predators. Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein is the most recent assailant to be accused. Before him, it was a few of the boys at Fox News. As you might expect, rather than condemning the evil for what it is, we’ve politicized it. It’s what Americans do.

If our reactions to these disturbing stories were a script, here’s what it would look like.

Republican: “Our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Leans away from the keyboard and smugly folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Democrat: “No, our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Lowers megaphone and folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Evangelical: “We have determined that the Republican sexual predator is the lesser of two evils so we have decided to throw our full, unquestioning support behind him.” Takes his seat at the table, folds arms, and silently wonders why no one listens to his stance for truth.

Regardless of popular opinion, Christians do not have to speak out on every issue. In fact, it’s probably best if we stay silent on some things, especially those things that we do not fully understand. Complex issues are usually made worse when we try to solve them in 140 characters.

Of course, there are times when Christians do need to speak up, namely in response to evil. But it is of utmost importance that our responses are consistent. If we have condoned evil from a group that we identify with only to condemn the exact same evil when it is committed by the folks on the other side, we forfeit our right to be heard. Sure, our blind partisan support may earn us a seat at the table but it will leave us with nothing to say and no one foolish enough to listen. What does it profit a man to gain a seat at the table and lose his soul?

It’s time to call off our affair with political parties. Actually, that time came long ago but now will do. Otherwise, rather than being salt and light in a decaying and dark world, we will be clanging cymbals in a band that is already way off key. Rather than being peacemakers, we will be side takers. Rather than serving the Lord we will be slaves to earthly overlords.

Evil, regardless of who does it, is still evil. It is not bound by political party or confined to that group on the other side. It doesn’t only take up residence with them. It can be found in us. It can be found in me. All of us need the gospel.

It has been said that those who knew about the actions of these sexual predators but did nothing to stop them are complicit in their evil. I’ll leave it to people smarter than me to figure that one out. But I can tell you that when the Church sends out inconsistent messages regarding evil for fear of losing political clout, it ceases to be the Church and instead settles for being an arm of a political party. This happens on the right and on the left and it must stop.

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. I’m afraid that some who call themselves Christians have put down the cross and picked up their favorite political personality’s dirty laundry and followed him instead.

Jesus will have none of this.

And neither should we.

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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We Chose The Clowns

A lady who worked for CBS said online that she had a hard time sympathizing with the victims of the Las Vegas shooting because most of them probably were against gun control.

Pat Robertson, a televangelist who has made a career out of saying things that are unbiblical, linked the massacre to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

These statements were made by people with completely different worldviews but the root of their words are the same. Both statements are grounded in self-righteousness.

Jesus addressed this mentality during his ministry on earth. For everything that has changed in 2,000 years, not a lot has changed. We still like to think of ourselves being better than we really are.

A tyrannical government official had used his power to conduct his own massacre. While a group of people were worshiping, he had them killed. In response, people came to Jesus with the same basic mentality as the girl from CBS who had no sympathy for the victims and the televangelist who had no biblical clarity.

Self-righteousness is nothing new.

The thinking in Jesus’ day was that if anything bad happened to you it was because you had it coming and God was punishing you. So the group that was not massacred was somehow better than the group that was. That was the way that many people saw it, at least.

But it wasn’t the way that Jesus saw it.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:2-3 (ESV)

In her own way, the media executive was putting herself above the victims because of her progressive views on gun control. And the televangelist was elevating himself because he has done such a stellar job of respecting the president.

Jesus’ words, as usual, give us cause for self-reflection. Rather than asking why a loving God would allow the massacre in Las Vegas to happen, we need to ask a different question. But it is a question that we’ll never ask in our self-righteousness. This question requires humility.

I don’t love God like I should. I certainly don’t always love my neighbor as myself. And yet, I woke up this morning and got out of bed without the assistance of anything other than my alarm clock. I had a great breakfast with my wife and sons. I arrived safely at a men’s Bible study where I taught without fear of persecution. So here’s the better question.

Why would a just God allow someone like me who routinely breaks the Great Commandment to carry on as I do?

We are no better than the Galilean victims, the victims of the tower in Siloam that fell (Luke 13:4) or the victims in Las Vegas. We deserve much worse than what they endured. The fact that we haven’t received our just rewards is a testimony, not to our complete moral purity but to the grace of God.

Grace.

That’s something that we can always count on when tragedy hits.

Whenever disaster strikes, grace strikes with it. Always. You just have to be humble enough to slow down and take a look.

In the case of the murdered Galileans, grace was seen in Jesus’ compassionate call. There is, he was saying, a way to be rescued from perishing. But it comes through repentance. It requires laying aside our self-righteousness and taking on the perfect righteousness of Christ. No amount of political progressivism or religious babble can save us from our impending doom. We aren’t righteous enough. Jesus is. That’s what Jesus was telling his misguided inquisitors. And his message is just as true for us today.

In our world where everything is offensive, being told to repent or you will perish isn’t exactly the best way to win over a crowd. People are drowning in a sea of self-righteousness and they’re too comfortable in their despair to even consider the drastic changes that are necessary and the hope that can be found in Christ.

All of my life I’ve been told that Christians are self-righteous. I can’t disagree with that. We are. But it doesn’t stop with us. There are those who seek to atone for themselves through political action, violent action, or no action. There are those who claim to be compassionate and loving and are willing to prove it to you by demonstrating how cold and hateful than can be to people on the other side.

We all need to repent.

We all need Jesus.

Otherwise, we will all perish.

Jimmy Kimmel, we are now told, is America’s conscience. That should tell you how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction. When a nation abandons God and absolute truth, it looks to a comedian for direction. TV critic Hank Stuever writes, “Lacking leaders, we look to class clowns to guide us.”

It’s like we’re living in the Upsided Down of Judges, the book that begins with people asking, “Who will lead us?” and ends tragically with, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Our eyes are telling us that our righteousness is enough.

Our words and actions are proving our eyes wrong.

We don’t need more politicians, money grabbing TV preachers or calloused crusaders hiding under a thin veil of faux compassion. At some point in the future, when an honest account is given as to what went wrong with our society, two simple sentences will suffice.

We needed a Savior.

But we chose the clowns.

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What We’ve Always Done, Only Louder

I don’t know if tragedy changes us as much as it reveals who we really are. Sure, the changes come over time. We miss things. We stop doing what we once thought was normal. We pick up new habits. But these things take time. They develop over weeks, months, and years.

In the hours and days following a disaster, we tend to do what we’ve always done, only louder.

Seemingly before all of the bullets hit the ground and the casualties were recorded, political pundits were doing what they always do, namely blaming the folks on the other side. That should tell you how far we’ve fallen as a culture. We can’t even come to an agreement to grieve together after nearly 60 people are killed in a matter of minutes. So the folks on the right ramble on about Chicago crime statistics, as if what happened in Las Vegas wasn’t all that bad and the folks on the left preach about what the government needs to take away, as if a bigger government will somehow choke out evil.

Politicians are always campaigning. They certainly won’t stop after this week’s massacre. Have you watched any of the press conferences from Nevada? Each one is ten percent information and 90 percent elected officials basking in the glow of the media’s spotlight. Politicians are among the many false gods that we worship in our society. We run to them when things go wrong and condemn them when salvation doesn’t come fast enough. And yet, when the next disaster strikes, we do it all over again.

And then there’s the folks on the Internet. Within minutes of news of the Las Vegas massacre breaking, there were those on the Internet passing around fake reports. Some were trying to convince their followers that the whole thing was staged. And there were those who allegedly had the whole thing figured out because, after all, they did consume an entire season of NCIS over the weekend.

Pundits share their opinions, no matter how off base or untimely they may be.

Politicians never miss an opportunity to get a few extra votes.

Conspiracy theorists are always trying to convince us that things are never as they seem.

This is nothing new. It’s always been that way. It’s just that it all gets a little more bombastic in the wake of a tragedy.

The Christian faith comes under attack after horrific events like the one we saw in Las Vegas. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, “Where was your all-loving and all-powerful God on Sunday night?” Sure that happens but a new cynicism has developed over the years. We see it in Internet memes, commentary from pundits and even stump speeches from politicians. It goes something like this. “Thoughts and prayers aren’t helping us. We need action.”

The implication is clear. Prayer doesn’t work. Government and low grade political activism do.

In spite of the cynical attacks, Christians must resist the temptation to join in on the noise. Rather, we must do what we’ve always done.

If we wait until the unthinkable to do what is commanded of us, we’re missing the point. We shouldn’t just pray for the victims and their families and those who lead us. We should already be praying for our neighbors and their families and those who lead us. We shouldn’t go find our loved ones and give them a hug and tell them we love them. We should be demonstrating love to them already. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for Christians to start acting like Christians.

If we are to be salt and light, we must be salt and light on a regular Tuesday afternoon, not just after a tragedy. If we are to be peacemakers in an increasingly noisy and violent age, we must be pursing peace in our little worlds during those mundane days when the pundits, politicians and Internet prognosticators forget that regular people exist and have nothing better to talk about than what one of the Kardashians tweeted the other day.

Pundits will always talk.

Politicians will always campaign.

It’s who they are and what they do. But may the same be said of the body of Christ. May it be said that we always love, not in the ethereal way that our culture prefers but in the way that we see demonstrated on the cross where Christ laid down his life for his people. May we always love God with our total being. May we continually love others as we love ourselves.

Disaster has a unique way of revealing what’s in our hearts.

Christian, the next time trouble comes, may the first and most noticeable thing that the world around you sees not be your punditry, politicizing or theorizing.

May they instead see that you love God and you love them like you’ve always been doing.

Only maybe a little louder.

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Thinking Out Loud About Lecrae’s New Album

Walk up to a random person on the street and ask them to name a Christian musician and you’re likely to hear Lecrae’s name. The people in charge of handing out Grammy awards love Lecrae. A while back, I heard the DJ on V-103 say how much she loves Lecrae. Everyone, it seems, loves Lecrae.

Why is it that so many people in the church don’t?

That’s a complex question that can most easily be broken down into two answers. There’s the reason that everyone gives and then there’s the real reason.

The reason that everyone in the church gives for not liking Lecrae is that he has abandoned the gospel. The real reason is that a few years ago, Lecrae stopped making music that mainly appeals to white, reformed pastors in their mid 40s who quit listening to rap when Nelly retired.

Just listen to how Lecrae “abandoned the gospel” on his latest album, All Things Worth Together.

From the song Facts:

My Messiah died for the world, not just USA
They say, “Jesus was Conservative”
Tell ’em, “That’s a lie”
No, He not a Liberal either if you think I’ll choose a side

And I love God
I love Jesus, the one out of Nazareth
Not the European with the ultra perm and them soft eyes and them thin lips

From the song Hammer Time:

You know God my standard, He the answer
I ain’t perfect, I’m just purchased

From the song 8:28:

I just call on Jesus name
Praying daily, can you take away this pain?
Take the thorn away
Still, it remains…
Satan would love to see me give up and throw up my hands
He say I’m guilty but You say I’m clean

Lecrae has not abandoned the gospel. He’s just abandoned making concept albums based on Jonathan Edwards sermons.

Oh, and there’s one other thing. Lecrae is addressing social issues through his music. He’s talking about education, the breakdown of the family, drug abuse, suicide and tensions between the police and the black community. You know, all of the issues that we are repeatedly told, “are not gospel issues.”

Here’s something you can count on. The priest and the Levite from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan walked by on the other side, ignoring the wounded man precisely because he, “was not a gospel issue.”

For followers of Christ, in a very real way, everything is a gospel issue. No, that does not mean that caring for the poor or looking out for the least of these should ever take the place of preaching the gospel. It just means that if we really believe the gospel that we preach, we won’t call the murder of an unborn black child a moral issue and the murder of a thirteen-year-old black child a non-gospel issue.

Lecrae isn’t a pastor. If he were and his songs were sermons, I’d be the first in line to critique him for preaching about his car or current events. Lecrae is an artist and good Christian artists don’t need to put a tiny little cross or fish symbols on everything they create. They just need to create well for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor. Lecrae has done that yet again on his new album. If our head and hearts are truly consumed by the gospel, we won’t select when we will apply the gospel with our hands.

I really like Lecrae’s new album.

There aren’t any songs about the Council of Nicaea on it.

But there is plenty of gospel.

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Would Jesus Stand or Kneel?

Pick a side.

It has to be one or the other.

That’s what we’re always told. It has to be Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Chevy, Republican or Democrat, stand or kneel. There are no other options. To choose a third option is to condone the most evil of the only two real choices. And we call this freedom.

Even Jesus was told to pick a side. He had the wonderful privilege of choosing between the lifeless Saducees and the graceless Pharisees. He had the wisdom to denounce both groups. He rejected the Pharisees with his welcoming call to, “all who are weary and heavy laden.” He rejected the Saducees with his resurrection from the grave. Neither party, in their purest form, exists today.

Jesus is doing just fine.

We made it through the first two weeks of the NFL season without much controversy over people kneeling during the national anthem. Sure, some were still doing it and ESPN was still reporting on it but it was rapidly becoming a non-issue.

And then the President of the United States decided to share his opinion. The one who so many evangelical leaders have told us is, “God’s chosen man” called NFL players a name that I will not repeat here because of their refusal to stand during the national anthem. He did not, by the way, use such strong language toward the tiki torch mob in Charlottesville. Some of those were good people, remember? And then, the man who has told us that he has never needed to ask for forgiveness, lashed out at an outspoken Christian for refusing to visit the White House with his NBA championship team.

And, just like that, guess what dominated NFL coverage on Sunday. Can we just watch a game without the government getting involved? The president’s answer over the weekend was a resounding “No.”

For reasons that I’ll likely never understand, some Christians are okay with the president, “telling it like it is” and cursing people who take a knee during the national anthem. The same group that stages silly protests against the IRS on Pulpit Freedom Sunday has no problem with that same government condemning protestors who land on a different end of the political spectrum than they do. The same group that rightly has a problem with President Obama’s tyrannical reach into the consciences of bakers has no problem whatsoever with President Trump’s tyrannical reach into the consciences of professional athletes.

I do not agree with kneeling during the anthem. I always stand and take my hat off and I teach my sons how and why they should do the same. I also teach them that those who refuse to stand have a right to do so and, whether we end up agreeing with them or not, if we’re ever going to get over our divisions, we would do well to listen to them rather than obey the marching orders handed down to us by the president and his talk radio spokespeople.

Jesus did not die for us so that we could pick a side in some ridiculous culture war. He rules over such things and his followers represent him best when they are motivated by the command to love God and love neighbor rather than the desire to tell it like it is and stick it to the folks on the other side.

It can be so much fun to tell it like it is and stick it to the folks on the other side.

It’s just too bad that so few people, including the president, see how it is destroying the fabric of our nation and the credibility of the Christian witness.

The voices on both sides are loud.

Coke or Pepsi.

Ford or Chevy.

Republican or Democrat.

Stand or kneel.

Yet over all of them there is the still small voice that spoke creation into existence, sent Satan away in the wilderness, calmed the winds and the waves and will one day strike down the nations and rule them with an iron rod.

We would be wise to listen to that voice.

Because one day soon there will be no Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Chevy, Republicans or Democrats, and standing or kneeling during the national anthem.

There will still be Jesus however and he’ll still be doing just fine.

 

So you do have a choice.

But there are more than two options.

Choose wisely.

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Regarding Eclipses, Hurricanes, and the End of the World

A month ago we had an eclipse. Last week, a terrible hurricane hit Texas. Now, an even bigger one is headed for Florida. And there are more to come.

If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.

It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.

My fellow Christians, please stop listening to these people. They aren’t cute. They aren’t interesting. They aren’t harmless. They are liars and false prophets who stand directly opposed to God.

In speaking of his own second coming, Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (English Standard Version). I think a lot of Christians have a different translation of that verse. It says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows except the guy on the Internet who produces scary videos and makes wild speculations about constellations, hurricanes, and Israel. Go ahead and listen to him” (Gullible American Version).

I don’t know if a man could possibly reach a higher level of arrogance than to postulate that of all the people who have ever lived, he’s the one who knows what only God knows. Yes, with the help of his trusty star chart and sketchy mathematical equations, he has figured out what the Apostles Paul and John could not. Such a level of hubris makes Kim Kardashian-West look like Elisabeth Elliot. And yet, for some reason, Christians keep on listening to these hucksters.

Last month, some one who had been doing tons of research told me that the return of Christ would be on the day of the eclipse. When I reminded this person of how Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour, the basic response I got back was, “Well, he didn’t say we couldn’t know the day before.” So there you have it. Jesus is coming back during the eclipse.

Spoiler alert: He didn’t.

Now, every time Kim Jong-un wakes up in a bad mood, or we hear about a new weather catastrophe, another preacher comes out to give us a date for the return of Christ. And his theory always involves talk of blood moons, constellations, beasts, and other scary stuff that sounds like it could perhaps maybe be in the Bible but actually is not. At least not in the way that he presents it.

What people forget is that we have always had eclipses and hurricanes and earthquakes and crazy world leaders. But we have not always had Facebook and YouTube, the new black lagoons from which Creatures of False Prophecy seem to crawl on a weekly basis. And the only reason they keep crawling out is because Christians keep listening to them.

Jesus really is coming back. I don’t know when, neither do you and neither does your Facebook friend who is constantly posting about blood moons and North Korea. But Jesus is coming back.

Until he does, his will for us is clear and it doesn’t involve trying to figure out who the Antichrist is or what day in September of 2017 the world will come to an end. Rather, we are to be busy loving God and loving our neighbor. We are to defend the cause of those who suffer from injustice. We are to train up disciples.

And we are to watch out for con-men who attempt to deceive the body of Christ with their latest theory on who the Antichrist is and what exact day Jesus will return. In the irony of all ironies, it is these endless speculators who themselves are the spirit of the antichrist.

Watch out for them.

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