The Summer Of Rage And The Trembling Of Satan

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

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

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

It didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The talking heads will always talk.

The social media activists will always ramble on.

And things will always be the same.

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

That’s when people come together.

That’s when Satan trembles.

And that’s when Jesus Christ is glorified.

photo taken by Casey Harpe

My Church Is Having A Cookout This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The police.

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

We want to follow Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might not know where to start.

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

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

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Pastor, Do The World A Favor This Sunday

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Pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

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

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

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

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

The gospel is big enough.

Use it.

But don’t hide behind it.

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

So preach the gospel this Sunday.

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

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

So pastor, do the world a favor this Sunday.

Preach the gospel.

And do the world a favor on Monday too.

Live the gospel.

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Church, Stop Saying All Lives Matter

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

Take for example the phrase All Lives Matter.

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

Here’s a good example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Ruin Your Independence Day

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I’m a cynical person by nature. Whenever I hear someone say, “Happy Independence Day,” I think to myself, “Yeah, unless you happen to be a Christian baker.”

This isn’t healthy and it’s not consistent with the Bible’s command for believers to be thankful for God’s blessings.

America has a lot of problems. Typically that phrase is followed by something like, “But we’re still the greatest country on the planet.” I don’t know enough about global politics to know if that’s true. But I do know that, for whatever reason, God has blessed us.

Several months ago I started a garden. I do this every year but this time things were different. Travel kept me away from it during the most important time. Just when most of my vegetables and fruits were ready to be picked, I was on the road. I wasn’t around to keep bugs off and keep plants watered. When I got back home and walked out back to take a look, I was nervous. Would all of my work be dried up by the hot Georgia sun?

It wasn’t.

I picked zucchini and squash that looked like they belonged in the state fair. I have more cucumbers than I know what to do with. And the tomatoes are just getting started. As I was carrying all of this food inside, a thought occurred to me. I have more food spread out on my kitchen counter than some people could find in the entire village in which they live. That has nothing to do with my superior farming abilities. I was out of town, remember? I’m blessed to live in a land where half a year’s worth of food can pop up out of my backyard. A lot of people in our world don’t know that blessing.

I’ve spent several days this summer at the beach. Some of those days were spent teaching teenagers from my church about holiness and some of those days were spent snorkeling with my own kids. None of those days were spent with a  man from ISIS holding a sword to my Jesus-following neck. That is a blessing from God that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do not know.

Our forefathers were brilliant. Sure, they all weren’t the orthodox Christ followers that some would have us to believe. Even still, they knew what they were doing. The documents they wrote, signed and fought for are still having a positive impact on us today. A few weeks ago I spoke to a law enforcement official who told me about refusing requests for search warrants if there wasn’t enough evidence. That’s a benefit that we enjoy that can be traced back directly to flawed but brilliant men like Jefferson, Franklin and Henry. And it’s a blessing that people in Libya do not enjoy.

Yes, our country has it’s problems. Corruption is king. Chaos seems to rule the streets. Evil is condoned by those who are supposed to be society’s moral gatekeepers. Babies are murdered. Races can’t get along. Injustices are ignored.

And still, God blesses us in many ways.

I grew up in a spiritual climate where it was implied that America was God’s chosen nation 2.0 and the Republican party had taken the place of apostles. God Bless the U.S.A. was sung in church every Independence Day weekend. I even heard a pastor say that Independence Day was a more important holiday than Christmas and Easter. A lot of people said Amen to that.

As a result, many in my generation who grew up in similar environments have shunned anything close to gratitude for the country that we live in. Now it’s implied that cheering for the United States to beat Ghana in soccer at the Olympics is the new paganism.

There is a proper balance between the America worship of my childhood and the cynicism of today. It’s called gratitude. Gratitude is thankful for the gift, all the while remembering that it gives us just a glimpse inside the heart of the Giver. Gratitude is a very important ingredient in worship. We must be careful not to worship our country or our vision of how it used to be or should be. But we must also remember that proper Biblical worship is impossible when gratitude is replaced by cynicism.

I hope that you grill out today. I hope you eat watermelons, light firecrackers and do something else American like eat chicken wings in the Wal-Mart parking lot or help your brother work on his Camaro. Whatever you do, do it with a grateful heart. Sure, America is far from perfect. And sure, it could all fall apart tomorrow. But, if you’re like me, God has given you several decades of free speech, freedom of religion, fertile soil, white sandy beaches and the smell of barbecue chicken on the grill.

 

So while you’re sitting around the table with friends and family talking about how corrupt the political system is and how things just aren’t how they used to be, don’t forget to give thanks to God that things are far, far better than we all deserve them to be.

You could ruin your Independence Day long before Obama or Hillary or Donald or ISIS ever could. All you have to do is allow cynicism to take the place of thankfulness.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 (ESV)

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The Children Of God Myth

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Sometimes, in an effort to be comforting, Christians can say the dumbest things.

A mother gives birth to a baby three months early. The baby spends the next two months in the hospital, separated from his mother. When the mother is finally able to go to church with her baby, she’s met with, “I just don’t think I could be away from my baby that long.”

As if the mother had a choice.

A man loses his wife in an automobile accident. He stands next to her casket while friends and relatives wait in line to share their support and love. The hugs and tears of others bring him the most comfort. The comment that, “God just needed another flower in his heavenly garden” did not.

It just made him mad.

We would do well to follow the example of what not to do from Job’s friends. They were okay when all they did was sit and mourn with their suffering brother. It’s when they started speaking for God that they got themselves into trouble. That’s not to say that we should never use theology to bring comfort. We must. But when we do, it’s important to make sure that the theology is correct.

After the terror attack in Orlando, many Christians went to social media to remind us that we are all God’s children. And by all, they meant all. As in every human being on the planet. While this may bring comfort to some, it simply isn’t true. It’s dangerously unbiblical. It’s sort of like convincing the skydiver that the big thing strapped to his back will only weigh him down.

The idea that we are all God’s children is only partially true. According to the Bible, apart from Christ, we are all children. Children of wrath fighting against God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Here’s a quick experiment. Go to Walmart. I’ll wait for you to get back.

You saw a kid having a fit, didn’t you? I knew it. He was all upset because his mother wouldn’t let him drink his Red Bull before they got to the car. She was threatening him with a hairbrush she found in the cosmetics section. I know. I know. It’s almost like I was there with you.

And I bet I know how you responded to that screaming kid. You kept on walking. You got as far away from him as you could. And you came back home and hugged your own kids a little tighter. Or you gave thanks for not having any kids. The screaming kid wasn’t yours so you just carried on with your visit.

That’s because there is a difference between a child of wrath and a child of God.

A child of wrath is not a part of the family. A child of God is.

But before we start getting the big head, we must remember that the Christian’s status of child of God is not due to any quality of that individual over others. It is solely a result of God’s grace. It is a product of faith, not accomplishments or achievements. Even that faith is a gift from God.

One more experiment. If you have a kid, think back to a time when you heard him cry. You couldn’t see him. Maybe he was in the backyard while you were inside. But still, you heard that cry. You know that cry. Above all other noises on the planet, you know that cry. And when you heard it, you didn’t carry on with your day. You responded. It was not just any cry. It was your child’s cry.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:6-7 (ESV)

In one way or another, everyone cries. But not everyone has a heavenly Father to cry to. Only Christians enjoy such a privilege. So, my fellow Christians, the next time something terrible happens, be careful what you say. Weep and mourn with those who weep and mourn before you get theological.

When that time finally comes, point your brothers and sisters in Christ to their heavenly Father who rules over all things and cares for them immeasurably. And point those who do not have that same hope to all that could be theirs in Christ through faith and repentance.

Speak hope.

But be extra careful to speak it in the right way.

Steven Anderson, Grace And Orlando

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Religious people are often accused of hate. On many occasions, those accusations are unfounded. People just don’t like being disagreed with these days and their natural impulse is to categorize any opposition as hate. But there are times when religious people are rightfully accused of hate.

Like when an Islamic terrorist kills people in the name of his religion.

Or when a pastor who calls himself a Christian delights in the carnage.

Steven Anderson is the pastor who made a name for himself through YouTube videos where he ranted on the proper way for men to use the restroom and who he thought God should kill. If he happens to be your pastor, repent, leave his cult and find a legitimate church.

Just a short time after the Islamic radical killed dozens of people in Orlando, Steven Anderson posted a video sharing his thoughts on the massacre. I won’t post the video here but here’s an excerpt of Anderson’s comments.

“So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle. I’m not sad about it, I’m not gonna cry about it. Because these 50 people in a gay bar that got shot up, they were gonna die of AIDS, and syphilis, and whatever else. They were all gonna die early, anyway, because homosexuals have a 20-year shorter life-span than normal people, anyway.”

In his short commentary on the homosexuals getting what they deserved, Steven Anderson conveniently left something out. By not being murdered that night, Steven Anderson did not get what he deserved. Neither did Jay Sanders. Neither did you.

Tragedies aren’t knew. In some form or another, they’ve been around since Adam and Eve’s sin. They were around in Jesus’ day too. On one occasion, a government ruler named Pilate ordered his soldiers to murder a group of Galileans during a worship ceremony. The public response to this tragedy wasn’t any different than it is today. People wanted answers. Some of them took their questions to Jesus.

His answer likely wasn’t what they expected.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? Luke 13:2 (ESV)

Jesus was addressing a popular belief that still exists today, some two thousand years later. People have a tendency to believe that if something bad happens, it is automatically God’s punishment. Sometimes this is the case. God does punish sin and he is always just in doing so. But Jesus’ answer cuts to the heart and exposes the self-righteousness we all carry from one degree or another.

The Galileans who were murdered were no worse sinners than those who got to live that day. And the homosexuals who were murdered early Sunday morning by an ISIS devotee were no worse sinners than Steven Anderson. Or Jay Sanders. Or you.

The Bible is clear. Homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But the Bible is also clear that pride (1 John 2:16) is a sin. And lust. Yes, even good old heterosexual lust (Matthew 5:27-30). And whatever socially, religiously acceptable sins you and I are prone to.

Which leads to the rest of Jesus’ answer.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3 (ESV)

It’s not just the first century Galileans who fail to measure up to God’s perfect standard. And it’s not just today’s LGBTQ community either. It’s all of us. We all deserve death. Even the straightest and most moral among us.

Whenever something bad happens, it’s like there’s an alarm that goes off somewhere that makes so-called Christian leaders tell us who God was punishing through the tragedy.

“God sent Katrina to wash away the homosexuality from New Orleans!” they told us gleefully.

We would be foolish to say that God would never use a natural disaster or national tragedy to bring about punishment for sin (Psalm 46). But we would be arrogant and self-righteous to say that God would only punish the sin of those other guys. We should wake up every morning thanking God for his mercy in not sending Katrina or ISIS to our front door.

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

All.

Not just the Galileans.

Not just the homosexuals at a club.

All means the self-righteous church leader who privately pays for his daughter’s abortion because he worries about what a very public unplanned pregnancy could do to his career advancement plans.

All means the hypocritical progressive who is so full of love that he absolutely hates anyone who doesn’t agree with his definition of love.

All means you.

And all means me.

Christ’s call to repentance wasn’t some empty chatter like the guy on the side of the busy street yelling about hell and the end. It was a warning. But it was also an invitation to his grace.

Some time after Jesus spoke the surprising words, the same Pilate who massacred the Galileans would put Jesus on a cross. But it is in that great tragedy that we can find hope. By God’s grace and through faith, we can be set free from the death sentence that we all deserve.

It is very important for Christians to address sin. This is no call to tone down the gospel. But when we address sin, we must remember that the personal sins we accept are just as disgusting to God as the public sins committed by others. And we must also remember grace.

Grace is not God turning a blind eye to our sin. It is God turning his wrath that we deserve onto his Son and giving us his Son’s perfect righteousness in exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21). And what a great exchange it is.

It’s an exchange that is available to the homosexual.

And the self-righteous religious person.

And to Steven Anderson.

And to me and you.

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The Link Between Us And Them

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I don’t believe in air conditioners in automobiles. I’ve always been a window man. So when my sons spent their first few weeks of summer driving around with me, we did so with the windows down. You can’t really experience summer through air conditioning. It’s best experienced with the windows down. Otherwise, you miss out on the joy of the wind blowing in your face. And you miss out on the smells that come with summertime in Georgia.

From the backseat, my sons gave me their commentary on those Georgia summertime smells. When they noticed an appealing aroma, they let me know. I think that was their way of telling me to pull over and buy them some food. And when something smelled rancid, they let me know that too. That was their way of telling me to roll up the windows and turn the air conditioner on. I never gave in.

On one short stretch of road, we got both extremes of odor. When the smell of deep fried chicken worked its way into my automobile, my boys voiced their approval. Just a few minutes later, they let me know that the dead animal we had just driven by did not smell good. Should I be concerned that the roadkill was so close to the restaurant? Don’t answer that.

Although the smells could not have been more different, there was one thing that they had in common.

Both smells came from dead animals.

One dead animal was socially acceptable. Its odor was pleasing to the nose. Its flavor is pleasing to our sense of taste. But the other animal died of natural causes. And, judging from the odor, that death took place several days ago. No one in his right mind eats that animal.

We are a lot like those animals. Some of us are socially acceptable. Others of us are not. Some are appealing. Others are sickening. But, in our natural state, we are all dead. Only through Christ do we find life.

Our nation is divided. People who have spent seven decades on this planet tell me that we are more divided than we ever have been. We’re divided by race. We’re divided by political ideologies. And pretty much everyone is angry about it.

This is where the Church really needs to be different. We must resist the temptation to jump in on the divisiveness. We must be above it. We must remember that, apart from Christ, we are just as dead as everyone else. And we need not forget that grace is not a right. The only thing that God owes us is eternal wrath. Anything less than that is a gift.

You really aren’t that different from guy in the orange vest on the side of the road finishing out his community service hours.

You’re not as different as you think you are from the mother of four from four different men.

Really, the only difference is that you never got caught. Or you were too scared to act out on the evil intentions in your heart.

Whether it’s the promiscuous mother or the drunk working off his community service hours, there is a link between them and you.

That link is death.

You may doctor it up a little better and you may be more socially acceptable but, apart from the grace of God, you’re still dead.

Thankfully, Jesus came to save dead people. Not dead white people. Not dead religious people. Not dead Republicans or dead Democrats. Just dead people. His dead people.

So don’t be so quick to jump down on another person for the odor of their sin. Yes, confront them in love. Yes, address the sin. Yes, walk with them through it. But as you do, remember that to some degree, you carry the same odor.

And only grace can make it go away.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5 (ESV)

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Urban Legends, Marriage And The Hypocrisy Of The Church

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

It was the summer of 1972. A woman pulls into a gas station late one evening on her way home from work. As she walks in to pay, she passes by a large truck parked at the next pump. She doesn’t give the vehicle a second thought. And she pays it no attention as she walks by it on her way back to her car. It’s not until she pulls back onto the highway that she starts to pay real attention to the giant truck and the man behind the wheel.

Almost as quickly as she pulls out, the truck does the same. For the next ten miles the man behind the wheel follows her closely, even nudging her back bumper a few times. At other times he flashes his brights and blows his horn at her. She speeds up to lose the truck. And her plan works. As she navigated her way around a hairpin curve she saw through her rearview mirror that the driver of the truck wasn’t so lucky. He lost control and landed in a ditch.

But as she continued to look in her rearview mirror. She noticed something. Another man. But this man wasn’t outside of her car. He was inside, hiding in the backseat waiting for his opportunity to attack her. The man in the truck wasn’t trying to hurt her. He was trying to warn her. The real threat to the woman wasn’t in another automobile. It was much closer than she ever imagined.

That’s how hypocrisy works. It’s easy to spot it when we see it in other people but, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s much closer to us than we think it is. It’s inside of our own hearts.

The world likes to pretend that hypocrisy is a problem only for church people. How quickly they forget about their talk of tolerance for all points of view (except for those points of view that they disagree with or that expose the foolishness of their own ideas). But hypocrisy is a problem for the church too. We would be foolish to believe otherwise. Nowhere is our hypocrisy more evident than it is in regards to marriage.

Biblical marriage is under attack in our country. There’s no doubt about that. In some professions, simply voicing your support for biblical marriage can cost you your job. Other people have lost everything for simply standing by their convictions regarding marriage. Make no mistake. There is a war going on. And the sidelines are getting smaller and smaller. At some point, everyone will have to pick a side.

Many Christians already have. They use voting booths and social media accounts to, in varying degrees of wisdom and insight, voice their support for biblical marriage and rejection of so-called gay marriage. And that’s a good thing. Christians must speak up. But we also must be careful that our words match our actions. Sadly, in many cases, that seems to be too much to ask.

Preachers speak very loudly against the nameless gay guy on the news waiving a rainbow flag but fail to say anything against the big money tither who trades in his wives like leased cars. Preaching to the choir is easy. Preaching against the choir could get you fired.

Evangelical voters come out in masses to oppose candidates who promote same sex marriage but, on the very same ballot, will think nothing about voting for a presidential candidate who has spent his entire adult life making a mockery of traditional marriage.

A man rambles on and on at the barber shop about how gay marriage is destroying our great nation only to go home and talk to his wife as if she should’ve gone out with last week’s trash.

If we really want to stop gay marriage, we need pastors and church leaders who use the Bible to lovingly speak against all perversions of marriage, even the socially acceptable ones.

We need voters who refuse to buy in to that tired old lesser of two evils argument and instead stand on biblical principles. Even if it means passing on the two most popular options.

And we need men who realize that one of the best things they can do in support of biblical marriage is to go home and love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

 

The Church has settled for hypocrisy. As a result, we have lost our influence. And we wonder why the rest of the world looks at biblical marriage as nothing more than an urban legend.

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Christian Singer Comes Out Of The Closet

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Earlier this week Trey Pearson, lead singer of the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday, let the world know that he is gay. And the world celebrated. The celebration looked and sounded like it usually does. Trey was praised for being brave. The Church was mocked for being bigoted and on the wrong side of history.

I guess this isn’t the acceptable thing for a pastor in 2016 to say in regards to such news but here goes. Trey Pearson’s announcement disgusted me.

It disgusted me because I couldn’t help but think about his wife and kids. Writing about his lifelong struggle with homosexuality, Trey says, “I’ve tried my whole life to be straight. I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids. My daughter, Liv, is six and my son, Beckham, is two.” Trey says of his decision to leave his wife and kids and come out that, “There is a weight that has been lifted, and I have never felt so free. I cannot even believe the joy and lightness I feel from being able to accept myself, and love myself, for who I truly am.”

I grew up in a single parent family. Divorce hit me hard at a very early age. Much of my professional career has been devoted to counseling families and children that have been ravaged by divorce. I can tell you with full assurance that the weight that has been lifted off of Trey, leaving him feeling so free, has been brutally placed on the backs of his wife and kids.

Trey talks about growing up in a conservative church where he was taught that being gay is a choice. He says that he later realized that his attraction to other men was not something that he chose. It was something he was born with.

Let’s assume for a moment that Trey’s assessment is true.

Think with me then of how many husbands and fathers have been born with a bad temper or a strong craving for intoxicants or a seemingly uncontrollable desire to have sex with multiple women every weekend. Should we then celebrate those dads for “being true to themselves” the next time they blow up on one of their kids, or score some meth or have sex with a few of the girls they met at the bowling alley one night?

The difference, you might say, is love. Trey made his decision based on love. His biggest crime is loving another man. The dads in my hypothetical weren’t loving. They were destroying.

Ask Trey’s kids whether they feel loved or destroyed.

The reality is that our world has completely distorted the word love. They think that it is one and the same with sexual pleasure. It is not. Love is the man who has had a temper his whole life but takes the time to work on it for the good of the family he committed to. Love is the alcoholic who fights hard against his natural desire because he knows that just because something is natural does not make it good. Love is the man who is tempted to sleep with his coworker but takes drastic measures to flee the temptation because of the commitment he made before God to his wife.

Love and sex are not the same.

For some reason, the sin of homosexuality has been canonized in our society. It’s the new 90-foot statue that we must all bow before whenever we hear the music of the culture droning on and on about love and expression and self-identifying. And those who claim to be Christians are all too quick to join in on the fun. We should not be surprised when the world acts like the world. It’s when the Church starts acting like the world that we should be alarmed. Much of the confusion in the Church is due to the fact that, because of a lack of emphasis on biblical preaching and discipleship, people claiming to be Christians have bought into the lie that Jesus never had anything to say about homosexuality.

And that’s true, if you’re the type to pick and choose what you want Jesus to say. If however you actually take Jesus at his words, all of them, you’ll see that he had plenty to say about homosexuality. He condemned sexual immorality as a condition of a sinful heart (Matthew 15:18-20). He spoke frankly about lust and we would be foolish to assume that it was only straight lust that he was condemning (Matthew 5:27-30). And he condemned the god of no fault divorce that our culture has so easily embraced (Matthew 5:31-32). To say that homosexuality is okay because Jesus never spoke against it is the same as saying that it’s okay to vandalize my neighbor’s Mercedes because Jesus never mentioned anything about spray paint or luxury sedans.

But still, Trey mingles talk of God with his decision to embrace sin at the expense of his wife and kids. And as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but imagine what Trey’s reasoning would look like if the sin of homosexuality were replaced with another sin clearly condemned in the Bible but not yet fully embraced by the world. What follows is my altered version of Trey’s words.

“I have progressed so much in my faith over these last several years. I think I needed to be able to affirm other thieves before I could ever accept it for myself. Likewise, I couldn’t expect others to accept me as a thief until I could come to terms with it first.

I know I have a long way to go. But if this honesty with myself about being a thief, and how I was made by God to be a thief, doesn’t constitute as the peace that passes all understanding, then I don’t know what does. It is like this weight I have been carrying my whole life has been lifted from me, and I have never felt such freedom.”

I do not celebrate Trey Pearson’s decision. No true Christian should. Our failure to celebrate will be classified as bigoted by the world and offensive by some who call themselves Christians. But we must remember how Christ responded when it was brought to his attention that his words could have offended the spiritually misguided Pharisees.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 15:12-14 (ESV)

Trey Pearson is being led by blind guides straight into a pit.

But there’s good news. Homosexuality and divorce are not unpardonable sins. God’s grace is big enough to handle them. Jesus’ shoulders are strong enough to carry the burdens that come with them. Everyone of us, gay or straight, is a sinner by nature. We were born that way. But God, in his grace, sent his Son so that his people would not die that way.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

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