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)

 

image credit

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.

image credit

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.

image credit

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.

image credit

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.

image credit

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.

image credit

Why Harvey?

If God is good, why is there a flood in Texas?

That’s the question my eight-year-old had for me this week when I picked him up from school. It made me proud. I wasn’t exactly expecting it but it made me proud.

I want to make sure that the faith of my kids is their own faith, not just some hand-me-down faith from their pastoral father. Questions like this one lead me to believe that their faith is their own. Kids just looking for a Get Out of Hell Free Card tend not to ask questions like that.

So I talked to my son about sin and all of its ugly consequences. And I told him about the drastic actions God took to undo those consequences and the living hope all believers have for a new heaven and new earth, one without hurricanes. I kept my answer general.

It’s not my place to say specifically why God allowed Hurricane Harvey to happen. Preachers and pundits like to do that sort of thing but it amounts to nothing more than taking God’s name in vain. They say things like, “God was punishing the gulf for their (fill in the blank with whatever pet sin they hate more than all of the others at that particular moment).” God most certainly can and does punish sin in a variety of ways. But rather than causing us to make reckless assertions about Houston, it should cause us to get our own house in order.

When I finished talking, I asked my son if he understood.

He said yes and went on to thinking about the Cheetos that he was going to eat when we got home.

But I didn’t quit thinking about that question. Isn’t it interesting how kids have a way of saying things that stay in your head and heart days later?

Our country is divided. Everyone is fighting. And it’s all over the news. In fact, I think that the news kind of likes the fighting. You can see the excitement in some of the reporter’s eyes. With each new riot, it’s like they can see their Pulitzer getting closer.

Bloodshed is good for business.

Last week that excitement shifted from the riots to the hurricane in the gulf. As Harvey increased in categories, they could see their ratings increase.

Bloodshed is good for business.

But something strange happened on the way to the Emmy Awards show.

People got unified. Well, people on the gulf coast of Texas did at least. There were still rioters on the other coasts but not as many people were paying attention to them. And the talking heads on the news were still blaming one another’s political persuasion for the hurricane. But not as many people were listening.

Most people were too busy watching Americans save other Americans. Of course, there were first responders doing what first responders do. But, by no fault of their own, they were overwhelmed. There’s no way to really have the man power for a storm of this magnitude.

So neighbors started saving neighbors. Guys with huge trucks rescued total strangers from their flooded homes. A black man carried a white man and his confederate flag from the rising waters. Pastors went door to door in bass boats, looking for people in need of help. And when they found their targets, they comforted them with a hug and words from Scripture. Even Chick-fil-a got in on the helping. That shouldn’t surprise us.

Everything is political these days. You can’t even sell a chicken sandwich anymore without having to jump through certain hoops and appease those who pride themselves on being on the right side of history. But, for a while at least, all of that stopped. There were no Antifa or white supremacists boats. When rescuers assisted women and children, no one said anything about gender being a social construct.

Don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that this storm has fixed America.

The national debt hasn’t gone away.

There are still racists out there doing what racists do.

Politicians are still blaming each other for pretty much everything.

But not on the coast of Texas. No, on the coast of Texas, people are loving their neighbor in the realest possible sense of the phrase. And, in a lot of ways, that’s been going on long before Hurricane Harvey was a thing.

It’s just a shame that it took the storm of the century to get reporters live on the scene.

Self-sacrifie for the good of another, it turns out, isn’t so good for business.

Earlier this week I was talking to my son about the new heavens and the new earth. He wanted to know what it would be like when Jesus comes back. He wasn’t interested in what 666 meant or who the AntiChrist was. He cared more about the main point. I wish we were all more like that. Before I finished talking he cut me off.

“I wish Jesus would come back right now.”

I couldn’t disagree with him.

But watching the people in Texas help each other made this broken world a little more bearable while we wait for Jesus to come back and fix it.

image credit

The Most Dangerous Kind Of Racism

All racism is dangerous. But there is one particular strain that is even more deadly than the rest. It does more damage than the Klansman in a white hooded sheet could ever dream of. It’s deadlier than the rich, young college student fighting over a statue.

The most dangerous kind of racist is the one who has convinced himself that he is not a racist. After all, he doesn’t like the Klan. He’s never showed up to a white supremacist rally. She loves that black running back on her favorite football team. She even likes a few Outkast songs.

But deep down in her heart, there is hatred. And it feels perfectly normal. As a result, her kids grow up never really being taught what it means to love their neighbor. In word and in deed, they are taught to look the other way when an entire race of people suffers. Even worse, they’re taught to blame that entire race of people for the suffering they endure. So the racist jokes told in the church parking lot aren’t really all that bad. It’s just humor. And the segregation of the last century is most certainly condemned but it’s replaced with a much more acceptable variety of segregation.

And it all feels perfectly normal.

I’m 42 years old. To put it another way, I’ve been sinning for over four decades. Sure, I’ve been a Christian for most of those years but that doesn’t change the fact that I desperately need the gospel. Without it, my heart is bent toward selfishness, pride, envy, lust, murder, and yes, even racism.

Not one person on the earth can truly say, “God, I thank you that I am not like that racist over there” (Luke 18:11).

Rather, we must prayerfully and honestly address our sin and repent. The answer is not found in self-righteousness or life-long, low-grade guilt.

Only when we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” will we truly know what it’s like to be reconciled to God and one another (Luke 18:13-14).

In the book of Acts, we are given two examples to help us as we try to live this out in our day to day lives. The first example shows us the importance of repentance and the second the importance of discernment or critical thinking.

The early church was growing by the thousands. And they did it without giving out free iPads to the first 100 people to show up or by mailing out risqué flyers about how the next sermon series is going to be on sex. Imagine that! Their growth was the result of God’s work but everything wasn’t perfect.

Church leaders had to care for hundreds of widows without any assistance from a government welfare program, the Internet or even phones. They failed. But they didn’t just fail. They failed in a way that looked like racism.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of the complaint that was made by the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews.

“Hey, Peter and John. I know it’s hard to feed everyone but why is it that our people are always the ones getting left out?”

The response of Peter and John and the rest of the church leaders is one that we would do well to follow today.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)

Notice what they did not say. They didn’t say, “Oh, you don’t understand, we have plenty of friends who are Hellenists.” And they didn’t tell the Hellenist widows to, “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Instead, they changed their system. For them, loving others was more important than saving face or doing it the way they’ve always done it. I pray that the same could be said of today’s church. May we be a people who are quicker to repent than we are to defend an old human system that hurts others.

This requires critical thinking. It means that the thoughtful Christian will not jump on every bandwagon just so he can be, “on the right side of history.” We need more discernment and less Group Think. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.

Paul had just been kicked out of Thessalonica for preaching the gospel and he found himself in Berea. The biblical description of these people is noteworthy.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

God used Paul to write a majority of what would later come to be known as the New Testament. But when he preached to the Bereans, they still wanted to measure everything he said against the Scriptures.

Such wisdom and discernment isn’t only unusual these days, it’s not allowed.

Some on the right would have us to believe that daring to question a Republican president when he is wrong means that you are a “snowflake” who hates America.

And some progressives would have us to believe that if we question Colin Kaepernick’s affinity for Fidel Castro, we are somehow blind to the injustices of the world.

Both assessments are wrong and are the result of misplaced worship and a lack of critical thinking. Many Christian leaders have soiled their garments because they worship the idea of having a seat at President Trump’s table. They have forgotten that it’s more important to have a seat at the table of their neighbor who has a different skin tone than they do. Many Progressives care more about Colin Kaepernick’s next job after he walked away from millions from his former employer than they do their neighbor’s next job after he was laid off with nothing more than best wishes.

Navigating our way through these complexities requires less group think and more of the wisdom of Christ. It requires more repentance and less self-righteousness.

Before I see that they are the problem, I must see how I am the problem.

Before I condemn their hatred, I must carefully examine my heart for my hatred.

Otherwise, I’m much more dangerous than I think I am.

image credit

The Carjacking of the American Church

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

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

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

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

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

But that requires some sacrifices.

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

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

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

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

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

But we’ve forgotten how to love.

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

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

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

But we have forgotten how to love.

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

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

And we wonder why we’ve lost our influence.

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

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

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

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

Cowards.

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

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

Time will tell.

And we can be sure that Jesus is watching.

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

image credit

 

 

Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

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

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

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

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate it for how dirty it is.

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

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

Any other label would just be hysterical.

image credit