A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

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

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

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

Here’s the sad part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

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

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

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

Eventually they moved on to politics.

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

All the while the real problem was neglected.

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

The church needs to repent.

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

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

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

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

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

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

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Missing The Point

It’s like we’re in a race. But this race is different. At this finish line, everyone loses.

The race happens every year at this time. It’s the race to see which church can have the most spectacular Easter celebration. It started out innocently. There’s going to be an egg hunt at First Baptist Church.

But that wasn’t enough.

Now First Assembly was advertising the largest Easter egg hunt in the county. And the folks at the new church across town certainly weren’t going to sit back and watch this race. They wanted to be in it. So they decided to have the largest Easter egg hunt in the world. And then the next year they would have a helicopter dropping eggs. Hunting for eggs on the ground is so 1980s. Helicopters is how you win the kids these days.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

So now, in an effort to get back in the race, the folks at First Baptist will have an Easter Bunny skydiving out of an airplane. No one can top that. Well, except for the even newer church that is already planning next year’s event where they will use a tomahawk missile to deliver a few hundred Easter eggs to eager kids. It promises to be a hit.

There’s a rationale behind this.

We have to get people in the doors, they tell us. And at this time of year, nothing does that quite like a few million Easter eggs. But when did the resurrection of Jesus from the grave become about seeing who could draw the biggest crowd? When did churches stop being churches and start acting more like car dealerships that promise you a great deal on a brand new Lexus only to tell you that the last one was just sold right before you showed up? Oh, but can I interest you in a slightly older and more expensive model?

Hunting Easter eggs isn’t the problem. Just like Christmas trees aren’t the problem. Both are fine traditions. But they make terrible replacements for the good news that Jesus came to earth to save his people, died and rose again. In an effort to be relevant, we have moved away from that message, fearing that it won’t make sense to the average non-Christian. But somehow we think that skydiving Easter bunnies will.

On the day that Jesus rose from the grave, Mary Magdalene and her friend Mary had come to care for his burial site. But there was a problem. No one was buried there anymore. The tomb was empty. The guards were out cold and the stone was rolled away with an angel sitting on top of it. That angel had a simple message.

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” Matthew 28:7 (ESV)

No gimmicks.

No bait and switch.

No concern with drawing a crowd.

Just a simple message.

Jesus is alive.

On their way, the Marys were interrupted by the risen Lord. When they saw him, the two ladies fell before his feet and worshiped him (Matthew 28:9).

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost this. The fact that our God has conquered death and that through him death does not have the last say over us is no longer enough. We need helicopters and a few million more eggs.

And instead of worshiping Jesus like the two Marys did, we need a gimmick to get us going.

We’ve come a long way in two thousand years.

I’m just not sure that it’s in the right direction.

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Unholy Alliance: The Grand Old Party and the Southern Baptist Convention

A few years from now, in the thick of some really important election, someone will spend a lot of money conducting a survey to see who evangelical Christians will be supporting in that really important election. I could save that guy a lot of time, money and trouble. I already know who evangelical Christians will be supporting in the next really important election. And the one after that. And the next one. And so on. Here it is.

The Republican.

But, some may wonder, what if the Republican isn’t all that great? Suppose his policies don’t make much sense. Or what if he’s just a really foul individual whose entire life contradicts traditional biblical teaching?

The Republican.

For as long as I can remember, so called evangelical Christians, and more specifically Southern Baptists, have been connected at the hip with the Grand Old Party. Most won’t confess that but it’s no less true. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than one man for the proof.

Russell Moore.

Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. For now. There are several influential churches and pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who would like to see him go. Some of those influential pastors have promised to withdraw their regular funds to the SBC because of Moore. The Louisiana Baptist Convention is even working to see Moore silenced, defunded or let go.

But why? What did Russell Moore do to find himself on the hot seat?

During the last presidential election, Moore did the unthinkable. He did the unforgivable. He went public in his opposition to Donald Trump. Gasp! In that opposition to Trump, Moore didn’t then throw his weight behind Hillary Clinton. But that didn’t matter. Simply not blindly following the Republican nominee and eventual president was enough to earn Moore the scorn of the convention he has devoted his life to.

Influential leaders were worried that Moore’s vocal opposition to Trump would cost them a seat at the table. They were not, however, worried about losing their seat at the table a few years ago when, as Dwight McKissic notes, Richard Land, Moore’s predecessor said that a black males is, “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” For many in the SBC, it appears to be more important to have a seat at a table in the White House than it does to have a seat at your black neighbor’s house.

Here’s the sad reality that many SBC power players just can’t seem to learn. They are a joke. A punchline. A necessary evil. That’s how the elites in Washington, yes even the Republicans, view them. And that’s the best case scenario.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of George W. Bush’s devotion to God. I’m no supporter but I believe Mr. Bush to be genuine in his faith. And yet, even in his White House, influential leaders were referred to as, “nuts.” Behind closed doors, of course. That’s how Washington works. Democrats need the poor. Republicans need religious conservatives. Both parties are trying to get the same thing: power. Both groups, the poor and the religious, are left worse off than before as they sell their souls for a supposed seat at the table.

Many Trump supporters have fallen into the same trap that Obama supporters did eight years ago. Back then, if you questioned the president, you were a racist, flat-earther, and a bigot. Today, if you dare question President Trump, you are an elitist who is funded by George Soros. And no proof is needed to support such claims. That was only in the old days when truth mattered. If you want to know what idol someone worships, watch how they react when that idol faces the least bit of criticism. Sadly, many in the SBC worship a giant golden statue of an elephant with the phrase Grand Old Party carefully and lovingly carved on the side.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I currently serve as the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I say currently because who knows what will happen to me once the Louisiana Baptist Convention gets a hold of this. Anyway, I’ve got the SBC in my blood. When I was growing up, Jerry Falwell was Moses leading us into the Moral Majority Promised Land. Madonna was the devil because of her immorality and crude language. But I’ve learned something over the past year. If Madonna ever wanted to change her reputation among my kind, it appears that all she had to do was run for president as a Republican. She could’ve gotten away with whatever she wanted. Man, she’d even be compared to King David if she said the right things about the Supreme Court.

Thank God for President Trump. He’s exposed a lot. In just a short time, he’s shown us that much of the so-called conservative media wasn’t as much concerned with conservative principles as they are with getting their man in the White House. And he did the same to the church. As one friend put it, President Trump has revealed that whatever unity the SBC enjoys is not centered around Christ and his kingdom but rather being white and Republican.

Jesus didn’t die for the Republican or Democratic party. And he doesn’t need us having a seat at some table in Washington. He’d much rather us represent him before the people he has put next door to us. And get this. Some of the people who God, in his sovereignty, has put down the street from us are in this country illegally. Now, we can debate how to fix that. There is no doubt that reform is needed. But it is even more clear that we are called to love our neighbors, even the ones who, “don’t belong here.” Good luck trying to do that while getting your marching orders from the GOP rather than the King of kings.

The Southern Baptist Convention needs Russell Moore. But they want someone who will tickle their itching ears. They want a man who is much like many of the pastors in their churches – a hireling. And it appears that many within the convention are willing to go to extreme measures to get that man.

Keep in mind, Moore never criticized people for voting for Trump. On national TV he said that he understood the lesser of two evils approach but that he did not agree with it. Joe Sixpack (non-alcoholic for you SBC readers) was never in Moore’s crosshairs. An immoral candidate and institutions that bent over backwards to excuse that immorality as if God could only work through one political party were. And now one of those institutions is firing back.

I am a proponent of a very limited federal government. I can pretty much guarantee you that I’m more conservative than you are. I can say with certainty that I’m more conservative than the president is. So save the liberal tag for someone else. Our government has grown larger and more corrupt every year of my life. But I’m doing just fine. That’s because my identity is found in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, not some silly donkey or elephant in Washington D.C.

I just wish that more people in the Southern Baptist Convention could say the same.

Lessons For Your Church From The Civil War

It was said to be impenetrable. If history has taught us anything, it’s that things that are said to be impenetrable are usually going down. Good and hard. This was no exception.

Fort Pulaski is located just off of the Georgia coast. It was built in response to the War of 1812, just in case any other countries had any wild and crazy ideas. As the times changed, the fort would be used as a defense from the Union army.

It’s easy to see why someone would think that Fort Pulaski was indestructible. In a way, it looks more like a castle than a fort. It even has a moat around it, as if the Atlantic Ocean weren’t enough of a barrier.

If you don’t know anything about history and you take a tour of Fort Pulaski, you’d think that they were really starting to let the place go. At one point, when you turn a corner and look at one of the massive walls, you see that it’s covered with holes. Big holes. If you look close enough, there’s still a cannonball lodged in one of those holes. It was put there courtesy of the Union army.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. There was no cannon powerful enough to reach the walls of Fort Pulaski. Or so it was thought. But the Union had developed a rifling system that allowed cannons to travel much further than was previously possible. You can imagine the shock when the men inside Fort Pulaski saw their walls begin to tremble.

There was another problem. As the walls started to give way to the constant pounding of Union fire, the residents of Fort Pulaski noticed something. Once the wall finally fell, the next wall to be hit would be the one where all of their gunpowder was stored. If something didn’t happen soon, Fort Pulaski would be the first manned spacecraft to the moon.

So something happened.

Confederate soldiers surrendered Fort Pulaski to the Union army.

Fort Pulaski fell for two reasons: poor planning inside the walls and a mixture of arrogance and ignorance as to what was going on outside of the walls.

Churches work the same way.

Rather than concerning themselves with training up disciples and taking the gospel outside of their walls, many churches are content to merely hide behind those walls. If they were forced to write out an honest mission statement, it would say something like, “We exist to stay out of debt and keep the doors open.”

No one ever asks what the point is of keeping the doors opened and the budget balanced if disciples aren’t being made. Hint: if disciples aren’t being made, there is no purpose in keeping the doors opened and the budget balanced.

I’ve heard people say that a church is a generation away from closing the doors. I disagree. Every church is one Sunday morning away from collapse. All it takes is one week of abandoning the mission and message of Jesus Christ.

When the church allows sin, consumerism or indifference to knock them off of their mission, rather than raising up members who are eager to make more disciples, they settle for making sure that the stockholders (read: tithers) are all happy. Rather than training students to defend their faith, they entertain those students and keep them busy and then wonder why those students can’t seem to navigate their way through the godlessness on their college campuses.

In the 1960s, Fort Pulaski made the full transition from a military base to a park. By the 80s, it had a museum. Instead of defending the coast of Georgia, it sold t-shirts.

Your church can have the same fate. Rather than being a disciple-making factory, it can very quickly turn into a museum where people walk through and talk about the good old days.

All it takes is a little negligence about what’s going on inside the church’s walls and a little apathy about what’s going on outside those walls.

All it takes is one Sunday.

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Sorry We’re Closed

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend this Christmas and it has nothing to do with people saying Happy Holidays or what the lady at Starbucks does or does not write on your cup. The culprit here isn’t the world. It’s the church.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the past month or so if the church that I pastor will be having services on Christmas day. Christmas day, in case you’re unaware, falls on a Sunday this year. The nerve!

Our church will still be meeting on Sunday, December 25th but a lot of churches will not be and I can’t figure out why.

To help explain my confusion, let’s consider another date on the calendar.

Sunday, February 5, 2017.

That’s the date of the Super Bowl. It’s basically a national holiday. So imagine if the NFL decided to cancel the game in order for families to be able to celebrate this national holiday together. “But that wouldn’t make any sense,” all of America would scream. And, in a rare occasion, all of America would be right.

The party and the festivities and the holiday like atmosphere all exist because of the game. Take away the game and you take away any legitimate reason to celebrate. On top of that, on the one day that the NFL is able to reach a significant number of people who otherwise might not watch a game, they take it away.

Such is the case with many local churches this year.

Look, I understand calling off services that night. If the church is big, it makes sense to have one combined service. And when Christmas falls on a Wednesday, I get taking a break from regularly scheduled programming. There are times when it makes sense to not have a service, rearrange other service times and scale back a bit.

But this doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps part of the reasoning behind cancelling this years Sunday morning Christmas services has something to do with the fact that many of us feel like we cannot “have church,” if I may use that phrase, if it’s not going to be a full on, Hollywood worthy production. When the Pastor of Pyrotechnics and the Pastor of Make-Up are both out of town, it can be hard to put on a top notch production. So why bother? We all know that Jesus wouldn’t want us having a service where people are not blown away by our slick production skills.

Would he?

Yes. He would.

Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that there is a difference between excellence and mere performance. We should do our jobs with excellence but that excellence must be for the Audience of One, not the audience in the seats and online. So what if attendance is down on Christmas day. Jesus was born in a manger but many church leaders can’t fathom the horror of having to preach to a half-empty room.

Another reason behind the cancelling of services on Christmas Sunday could be that many, even many who lead churches, have forgotten what Christmas is about. In an effort to show that Christmas is not about presents, many have been convinced that Christmas is about family.

It’s not. Well, at least not in the sense that they’re thinking.

Jesus didn’t come to earth so that we could have the day off and watch football with our family. Don’t get me wrong. I love having the day off and watching football with my family. But if that’s all we’re doing on December the 25th, we’re missing the point.

Christmas is about family in the sense that Christ came to earth to transform his enemies into his family. So if you are a believer and you really want to, “be with family” on Christmas day, you’ll grab the family that lives in your house and take them with you to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child with your other family. The family of God.

For decades, Christian leaders have quietly made fun of what has been referred to as Christmas and Easter Christians. That’s the people who claim to be Christians but only show up to church on Christmas and Easter. Or when there’s going to be food afterwards. Or when there’s going to be an intense business meeting. You get the point.

But that’s part of the beauty of Christmas and it falling on a Sunday this year. The people who don’t show up the other 50 or so weeks out of the year are very likely to crawl out of bed on Christmas morning and go to church to hear the story of God lovingly sending his only Son to rescue his people from sin and death.

It’s just too bad that many of those people on Sunday morning will be greeted by a locked door and a sign that reads, “Sorry we’re closed.”

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Jesus Didn’t Die For A Christian School

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When I first became a pastor, there was a problem that I had to address. It wasn’t a new problem. For years, ministry leaders have been fighting against the idea that simply joining a church will make you right with God. But recently, I’ve noticed another issue rising up from the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the idea that the church isn’t really all that important.

There are people who have replaced any involvement in the local church with charity work. They reason that they can do plenty of good work on their own without being tied down by a local church and its drama.

Others use Christian schools as their alternative. Why would someone need to go to church on a Sunday when they spend all week studying the Bible at school? This argument can be heard from pre-kindergarten all the way through seminary.

The people making these arguments don’t claim to be against God. They aren’t atheists. They just don’t care for the church.

While their reasoning may seem sincere enough, it goes directly against what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a wedding ceremony. The groom repeated his vows to his bride. It was a beautiful moment. Tears filled his eyes as he expressed his love and commitment to his soon to be wife. But when the bride’s turn came, she went rogue. Rather than repeating what the minister said, she made up her own vows.

“I love your head. I love the way that your eyes look when you smile. I love your hair. I love the way your mind works. I will follow your head wherever it goes and I will love it forever. But it’s a different story for your disgusting and completely useless body. I have issues with it that I’d rather not deal with at the moment.”

How romantic!

This would never be accepted at a wedding ceremony but, somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s okay in our relationship with Christ and his body.

Jesus is the head of the church and the church is his body.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

When we claim to be devoted to Christ but completely disregard his church, we are claiming the impossible. Either you love someone as they are or you don’t. You can’t just love the head of your spouse and you can’t just love the head of the church. It’s a package deal. If you really love Jesus, you’ll love what he loved enough to die for.

Jesus didn’t die for your Christian school and he didn’t die for your favorite charity.

Jesus died for the church. His church. His body.

I love Christian schools. I have spent a significant portion of my life associated with them and I hope for that to continue. But I cringe when I hear a parent excuse their lack of commitment to the church because they send their kids to a Christian school, as if walking with Christ is about nothing more than raising kids with a good Christian education. One sure way for parents to raise kids with a lukewarm faith is for their own faith to be lukewarm. And lukewarm faith is about as good as you can expect from yourself when you’re not committed to a local church.

The New Testament was not written to non-profits or Christian schools. Most of it was written to specific local churches. Philippians, for example, was written to a church in Philippi. That means that when Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always and to put away anxiety (Philippians 4:4-7), he’s telling us that in the context of the local church. There are a significant amount of New Testament commands that are impossible for an individual to obey apart from the local church.

A while back I was talking to a group of ten or so Christian school students. It was a pretty casual conversation covering everything from music to history to, you guessed it, church. I asked them if they went to church every week.

One kid said yes. One out of more than ten students.

So I asked how many go once a month.

No one.

Every six months?

Crickets chirped.

Once a year.

Tumbleweed blew through the room.

It’s been said that if you want to find a really large collection of lost people all you have to do is look on a church’s membership roll. I agree but I think that we can add the Christian school to the mix as well. If you work at a Christian school, you’re in a bigger mission field than you think you are.

Yes, we can do good deeds through a charity instead of the church.

And yes, we can learn about the Bible at a Christian school and remove the church from the equation.

But there’s one thing that we can’t do apart from commitment to a local church.

Follow Jesus.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

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A Prayer For The American Church

Heavenly Father,

We are so prone to wander. In many cases, we have replaced worshiping You with apologizing for You and making You more consumer friendly. We have remained silent while those around us have suffered. Like the German churches that sang their hymns louder so that they wouldn’t hear the screams of Jewish prisoners from the passing trains, we have neglected the hurting. Our nation deserves Your wrath, not Your blessings. Father, send us revival instead. And send it through Your church.

Father, forgive us for idolizing our political leaders. We throw our coats on the ground before them and wave our palm branches at them every four years only to suffer the pain that comes shortly after the election when we realize that even the best leaders are not You. Not even close. Forgive us for living under the red or blue glow of a political party rather than shining the light of Christ like we’re supposed to.

Forgive our hypocrisy. We talk so much about caring for the unborn. And we should. Help us to do even more to defend the cause of the babies who are murdered in this country before they are even born. But we pat ourselves on the back, convinced that this is enough. We talk a big game about respecting life but when we hear about a kid in Chicago who just lost his, we turn it into a political talking point. Lord, help us to care just as much for the 18-year-old kid on the other side of the tracks as we do for the child who has yet to be born.

Father, help us. Help the people who are tired of being labeled uneducated simply because they didn’t go to college to relate to the people who are tired of being called thugs just because they wear a hoodie. Help us to grieve with those who grieve. And if it’s Your will, give us the strength to do something to stop the grief. Even if it’s a grief we may not be able to fully relate to.

Father, help us to not settle for being divided into groups that aren’t supposed to get along. Help Your church to lead the way in breaking down the terrible walls that keep us apart. Lord, we do not want to abandon Your truth. Protect us from doing that. But Lord, help us to remember that it’s okay for us to abandon our cultural labels and the marching orders of those who turn a profit off of keeping us at odds with one another. Help us to remember that Your truth is not merely an American truth or a white truth. It is Your truth. And that is enough.

Help us to be committed to Your word. Forgive us for obeying the parts we’re okay with while ignoring the difficult parts. Father, Your word is truth. All of it. But help us not to be content with keeping Your truth to ourselves. Help it to impact the way that we work on our marriages, the way we raise our kids, the way we resist evil and the way we love the evildoer.

God, save us from fear. The Anxiety Industrial Complex rules the day. Business is booming in the fear industry. Everyone is worried and afraid. Help us not to be. Instead, help us to worship you, not just on a Sunday morning in a church building but on a Thursday morning on the way to work when we hear about yet another terror threat. Help us not to ultimately look to man for peace from anxiety. Give us a picture of the promise You gave us through Paul when You said that the peace of God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Help us to know the presence of Christ at the doors of our frightened minds and hearts.

Father, You are good. You have delivered us. Because of Your great grace, the work of Your Son and Your Holy Spirit, we are Your children. Help us to look for our identity no where else. And help our hearts to ache for those who are not Your children.

Lord, there will come a time when America will be no more. But Your kingdom cannot be shaken. It can be ridiculed. It can be mocked. It can be rejected. But it cannot be shaken. It is an eternal kingdom. Help us, your people, not to forget where our citizenship is.

Thank You for the mercy and patience You have shown to us.

Awaken us.

Expand Your kingdom as You see fit.

In Jesus Christ’s name,

Amen.

 

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I Don’t Belong Here

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I don’t feel at home here. More and more, I’m feeling like an alien. Or the uninvited guest who brought the bad potato salad to the picnic. I just don’t belong.

When I watched the debate on Wednesday night where Hillary Clinton justified the violent murder of a full-grown baby, I kept thinking about how I don’t belong here.

The following morning I saw political experts on major news channels support her serial-killer like description of partial birth abortion as if it were nothing more than a trip to the dentist’s office. It made me feel out of place in my own home.

When I realized that out of all of the people who could have been standing opposite of Mrs. Clinton to defend the cause of life, we are left with a reality TV star who just a few years ago voiced his support for partial birth abortion and just a few months ago praised Planned Parenthood, the very organization behind most of the abortions in this country, I really felt out of place.

Over the past year, I’ve looked to the church as a whole for relief. Sadly, when I see many of her leaders justifying the evil of one candidate because it is somehow lesser than the evil of another candidate, I really feel like an alien. Big name Christian leaders who I once admired for standing against the current have contorted scripture simply to see their candidate get into office.

I’ve never felt more out of place.

Minutes before Wednesday night’s debate, my son asked me a question. He wanted to know why the culture was getting so bad so quickly. He had just seen a commercial on TV that sort of put it right before his eyes. I don’t remember what I told him. I hope it was good. But I’ll never forget his question. It’s one I ask myself quite often.

I think often about how quickly our world has changed and how out of place I feel in it. And in a way, I hope that both of my sons feel the same way. As parents, we do all that we can to make sure that our kids fit in. In reality, we should be training them to do the exact opposite.

Some find their identity in a political party. When I look in that direction, I see groups of people who care nothing about me or the God I serve. All they want is to stay in power.

When I look to the church, more and more, I’m seeing a body that has lost its way. Relevance and pragmatism have taken the place of salt and light.

The more I read my Bible and look at the world, the less at home I feel.

I think that’s sort of the point.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV) 

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A Political Warning For The Church

Silver Islet, Sleeping Giant / Sibley Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

There are a few people in my church who will be voting for Hillary Clinton. There are more who will vote for Donald Trump. And then there’s me. I’ll find someone else to vote for because I don’t like either candidate.

But I love the people in my church, regardless of who they’re voting for.

We really need to be careful. This election year has been more intense than any I have ever seen. The country is divided. It’s been divided for a while but the divisions are becoming more and more obvious. And if we don’t watch out, those divisions will find their way into our churches.

Two emotions seem to rule our political age. They are anger and worry. People are angry with the way that politicians are representing them. And for good reason. But inevitably, that anger toward a broken system usually redirects itself toward other people. We’re not just angry at Washington D.C. We’re angry with one another.

And we’re afraid. Some are afraid of what might happen if Hillary is elected and rules the country with her progressive agenda. Others fear the chaos of a nation led by President Trump.

With that in mind, the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church two thousand years ago seem like they were written this morning.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 (ESV)

Some issue had divided these two Christian women. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t simply tell them to figure out how to get along. And he doesn’t tell them to find some common interest that they can agree on. If he were writing it today, Paul wouldn’t tell these women to vote for the same person. Instead, he tells them to agree, “in the Lord.”

Everyone in our churches won’t vote the same. There will be people who have different opinions on education, state politics and who the next president should be. And not everyone will agree with the pastor’s political views. We shouldn’t want that. An assembly where everyone shares the same views on every single cultural issue is more like a cult than a unified body.

So the source of our unity will not be our politics. For the church, Christ is what binds us together. At the appropriate times, we can have discussions on school choice and Hillary and Donald. And we can agree to disagree. But we must always find agreement in the reality that Jesus Christ is the crucified and living God who died for the sins of his people and is coming again.

There’s another “in the Lord” phrase in this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

The answer to your fear of Hillary is not found in Donald Trump. Your worries over a Trump presidency will not ultimately be relieved by a Clinton presidency. Yep, you guessed it. The remedy to our fears are found, “in the Lord.”

When we place our identity in a political party or candidate, consuming fear is a natural result. But when we realize that as believers our identity is found in Christ, we really start to respond to scary situations differently.

Instead of doubting God’s sovereign control, we worship him (Philippians 4:4).

Instead of lashing out at others, we treat them with grace and love, knowing that the Lord is always near (Philippians 4:5).

And rather than allowing ourselves to become consumed with fear, we take our concerns to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).

That’s when we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

In just under a month, we will elect a new president. That new president will have a lot of power. But the next president of the United States will not have the power to heal fractured relationships. And that president will not have the power to bring genuine peace to our hearts and minds.

So, no matter our political differences, let’s remember to love each other. And let’s not believe those who profit from preaching a gospel of fear. Let’s not look to Hillary or Donald to give us what can only be found in the Lord.

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Your Church Might Not Be As Relevant As You Think It Is

When the new church came to the small town, there was a lot of promise. The building looked nice. The new church had the financial backing of a main campus in a larger city. The staff was well-trained. The music was trendy.

Within a matter of months, that building that was once full of so much promise was sitting empty on Sunday mornings with a For Sale sign out front.

What happened?

For a lot of churches, relevance means nothing more than gimmicks backed by a large budget. It’s marketing with a Jesus stamp on it. And the gimmicks that work in one area aren’t necessarily going to work in another one.

But there is one guaranteed way for a church to be relevant to its surrounding culture. No smoke machines are required. It’s much easier than that. Well, I should say that it’s much easier said. The doing part can be quite difficult. If a church really cares about being relevant, that church needs one single focus.

Love.

A truly relevant church will have an unyielding love for God. Everything that church does will be an act of love for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather than seeking their own prominence in the community, this church will pray and live, “Hallowed be your name.”

The genuinely relevant church will have a bold love for each other. In this church, love, not personal preference, will rule the day. So rather than fighting over musical styles and carpet color and the best way to educate kids, this church will devote itself to fighting for the good of each other. Rather than gossiping about the tenth grader who got his girlfriend pregnant, this church will see that he is corrected and restored in love. And they’ll walk with him through the difficult days ahead.

But the love won’t be contained within the walls of this church. It will spill out into the streets. So the people in the community who vote differently and look differently than most of the members of this church will still feel the love of this church. When disaster strikes, this church will not get its marching orders from the politicians or pundits on TV. They’ll just keep right on doing what they’ve been doing all along. They’ll love people.

The relevant church will have a prophetic voice in the community. No, they won’t hold up signs on the town square telling people who God hates. But they won’t endorse sin for the sake of “reaching” people. They’ll make a bold stand against sin but not just the sins of others. They’ll be even bolder as they fight against their own sin. But through it all, they’ll lean on a gracious God who hates sin but loves forgiving sinners.

I fear for the church.

Yes, I know that in the end, the church wins. But there are a lot of local manifestations of the church that have me concerned. These are the churches where authentic relevance was abandoned decades ago in favor of a marketing scheme meant for nothing more than larger crowds and more money in the offering plate.

I fear for the churches that cannot possibly love their communities because they’re too busy hating each other.

I fear for the churches that only stand against the sins of others while turning a blind eye to their own.

I fear for those churches that no longer have a prophetic voice because they lost it screaming for the things that don’t really matter.

I fear for the churches that have been compromised by politics, believing the lie that ultimate salvation is found in a political figure rather than Jesus Christ.

Your church might have a smoke machine and a worship pastor in skinny jeans who has won a couple of Grammys. Or your church’s worship service might be led by a guy in a bad suit with a cassette tape. It doesn’t matter.

Trends come and go but truth and love are forever.

Truth and love are always relevant.

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