Fear And Great Joy: A Resurrection Meditation

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8 (ESV)

It’s a strange mixture. We don’t usually hear about people being afraid and joyful at the same time. It’s always one or the other. Either someone is afraid or they are happy. It never seems to be both.

But this was different. This was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing like it had ever happened before. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The women who had followed Jesus were afraid because this was all new to them. They had seen God’s power before but never like this. This was more than feeding the five thousand and turning water into wine. This was the defeat of death, once and for all. When you come face to face with whatever it is that’s scary enough to beat something as scary as death itself, fear seems to be the natural emotion.

But it wasn’t the only emotion.

There was joy as well. There was joy because separation was gone. There was joy because the cross was not the end. There was good news to tell and these women were overjoyed because they were the ones chosen by God to deliver it. The angel of the Lord could have gone straight to Peter and John and the boys. Instead, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman who had once been possessed by seven demons, and another lady who Matthew affectionately refers to as, “the other Mary.” None of that mattered. The body that they had come to visit was not there. It had not been stolen. It got up under it’s own power.

That’s a scary thing.

But it’s also a joyous thing.

That strange combination of fear and joy is still with us today. We often find ourselves afraid because things are not as they should be. We live under the curse of Adam’s sin.

That’s a scary thing.

But Jesus came to undo the curse, take it from us and put it on himself. When we consider our sins in relation to the holiness of God, things definitely are not as they should be.

That’s a joyous thing.

 

From the perspective of the religious elites of the day, the cross should have been the end of our faith. Instead, it is the source of our hope.

If you were hearing this story for the first time, you would think that some of Jesus’ last words would be, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead, just a few days later, the women who heard him utter that frightening sentence would hear him say, “Do not be afraid.”

In this world, there are a million reasons to be afraid. When you think about it, there is only one reason not to be.

Jesus is alive.

That is enough.

That is our great joy.

Gospel Malpractice And A Picture Of Cross-Carrying

5079427012_167d4babf8_o

Thurston is a hard worker. Maybe one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. And Thurston is a real man. A while back, when his daughter was going through a difficult time, Thurston stepped up to the challenge like few men would. I’ve never known a Thurston before. Well, unless you want to count Thurston Howell III. I’m glad that I got to know the real Thurston a few days ago.

When Thurston found out that I was a pastor, our conversation quickly turned to church. He’s a church man too. His dad devoted his entire life to leading churches. Now Thurston plays music for the church. When Thurston asked me about the city where I pastor, I told him. He had been to my city before to visit another baptist church.

When he showed up to that other baptist church, everything started out like a normal visit to a new church. At some point during the morning, Thurston and his wife got separated from one another. When they finally met up again in that old baptist church building, Thurston’s wife had tears in her eyes. Like any husband, especially one in a new place, Thurston was concerned and asked his wife what was wrong.

She told him that one of the leaders in the church told her that she and her husband needed to find another church to go to. Their kind wasn’t welcomed at this church.

You see, Thurston and his wife had committed the sin of being black and visiting a white church. This would all be bad enough if it had happened in 1942. This particular instance of gospel malpractice happened just a few years ago.

Thurston told me that these kind of comments never really bothered him. He said that they always bother his wife. I’m white. I don’t know what it’s like to be told that my “kind” isn’t welcomed somewhere. I can’t relate to the pain that Thurston’s wife felt that morning. Even still, I’m with her. Those words really bother me. And they bother Jesus too.

I know that race gets hyped up sometimes. Stories about racism get a lot of views and clicks and attention, whether they’re true or not. But we must not let this blind us to the reality that racism really does exist. Thurston told me about a time when he first started selling cars and he took a few guys out on a test drive. They took him out into the middle of the country, dropped him off and drove off with the new car. This was the days before cell phones so Thurston’s only hope was knocking on doors and asking to borrow a phone to get a ride back to work.

At the first house he went to, Thurston had a gun pulled on him just for walking on the property. And, in his words, he, “wasn’t even dressed up like a thug.” He had on a shirt and tie. But that wasn’t enough to atone for the color of his skin. The next time you’re tempted to think that racism is nothing more than media hype to sell more advertising, I wish that you could ask Thurston about his experiences.

As he drew closer and closer to his death, Jesus devoted more time to teaching his disciples about the significance and meaning of the cross. Those are lessons that we would do well to learn from today.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV)

Not, “Repeat this prayer after me.”

Not, “Raise your hand, walk the aisle, hug the pastor’s neck, sniff snot and sign a card.”

Just, self-denial and cross carrying wherever Jesus leads.

If we have truly denied ourselves, we will not cling to our color tribes. We won’t find our identity in the color of our skin or our politics. Rather, we will obey Jesus. Even when it’s hard. And if we’re carrying our cross, in a small way, we’ll be doing what Jesus did. We’ll be moving toward people who are different from us. We’ll be moving toward them in sacrificial love.

I’ve often wondered why race is such a problem in the church. Why are youth ministers yelled at for bringing in black kids? Why are black families wishing to worship Jesus told to take it somewhere else? Part of me thinks that the answers are far too complex for any of us to ever understand. But another part of me thinks it’s pretty simple.

We have abandoned the cross.

So rather than denying ourselves, we deny others. Rather than taking up our cross, we settle for hanging it up on a wall. And instead of actually following Jesus, we admire him from afar because after all, he might lead us some place we don’t want to go. For many in the church, the cross has become like the American flag. We respect it. We don’t want to see it dishonored. We have certain days devoted to it. But it has nothing to do with what we’re doing, saying or thinking on a Tuesday afternoon.

If we truly are a cross-centered people and not just the kind of people who like to add it to our decorations, we will be a different people. We will remember that, without the cross, we’re all outsiders as far as God’s concerned. But because of the cross, through faith and repentance, we are welcomed in.

Thurston finally got a ride home that day when he was left out in the middle of nowhere by those car thieves. An old white lady drove up and asked him if he needed any help. He explained to her what happened and told her that he didn’t have any weapons or ill intentions. She wasn’t hearing any of it. She just told him to get in the car. Thurston obeyed. He walked around back and opened the door. Again, she wasn’t having it.

She told him to sit up front.

That old lady in her car gives us a good picture of self-denying, cross-carrying discipleship.

There are Jews, Gentiles, whites and blacks who are following Jesus.

But there is no backseat.

image credit

 

Scars In Heaven

414850522_b199fef38c_o

Christians have a lot to look forward to. No matter how bad it gets on this earth, we know that things won’t stay this way. Pain and heartache will not last. Death does not get the final say.

That’s not to say that life isn’t hard for Christians. It is. And it doesn’t mean that we look forward to the day of our death with some creepy fascination. We just know that hardships are no match for the eternal joy that will be ours with Christ. We know that death, though painful, does not get the final say.

Of all people, Christians have the greatest reason for hope.

As our bodies age, hurt and betray us, we know that we have the promise of a new and imperishable body that will be beyond description and equipped with everything that we need to fully enjoy and obey God (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

In the new heavens and new earth, there will be no cancer hospitals, no AIDS, no jails, no political corruption, no divorce, no broken hearts and no sin.

But there will be scars in heaven.

Those scars won’t be ours. That weird mark just above your eyebrow from the time when you thought that the sliding glass door was opened will be long gone in heaven. Your new body will not carry the marks of your kidney surgery or that old football injury.

The only scars in heaven will belong to Jesus.

In talking about our new bodies, Paul tells the Corinthians that we will bear the image of the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49). After Jesus rose from the grave, he was not the bloody mess that he was while the Romans beat him. He didn’t walk around with the fatigue he had on the cross. But he still the scars.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24-28 (ESV)

In his resurrected body, Jesus walked with people and carried on conversations with them (Luke 24:13-35). He walked through walls (John 20:26) but he was no ghost. In his resurrected body, Jesus even prepared and ate breakfast with his disciples (John 21:1-14).

But why? Jesus had the power to conquer death. Couldn’t he also get rid of the scars that the crucifixion left on his body? Of course he could. But there’s a reason why he didn’t.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

Jesus did not die simply to redeem our souls. His death redeemed us as whole persons. That includes our bodies.

When we finally get to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth with our scar free bodies we will look to Jesus and be constantly reminded of how it all came to be. Scars have a way of reminding us of things.

Every scar has a story just beneath it.

Several years ago I was playing with my dog in the backyard. I named him Hines after Hines Ward, the great Georgia Bulldog football star. My dog was big and looked mean but he was really friendly. Sometimes he was too friendly. I have a scar on my hand from one of Hines’ friendly moments. Whenever I look at that scar, I think about Hines.

And so it will be for us in eternity. The scars that remain on our Lord will remind us of what really matters. They will help us to remember that our new bodies are only possible because of Christ’s broken body.

I can’t wait for the day when all diseases are gone. I’m looking forward to finding out what it will be like to have a body that is not broken by sin. But, as nice as that will be, none of it is the ultimate point.

Christ is.

And for all eternity, his scars will remind us of that.

image credit

The Myth Of White Privilege

4500971419_da6502f327_o

We need to have an honest conversation about white privilege. The current one just isn’t working.

Yes, there is such a thing as white privilege. It’s quite common for a white thief to get away with simply paying back his victims while a black person who does the same thing get 3 to 5 years in prison and ten years of probation.

But the myth is that privilege is somehow confined to one particular race.

There’s just something funny about the Black Lives Matter activist drinking a $12 cup of coffee while typing away on his $2000 laptop about the horrors of white privilege. The white kid in Boone County, West Virginia where they are about to close one third of their elementary schools might wonder where his white privilege has run off to. He might even have something to say about Activist Privilege.

I did my graduate work at an evangelical seminary. During my time there, I got to know guys who were certifiable geniuses. While I was writing papers just do get them out of the way, the papers these guys wrote were destined to one day become books. It was interesting to hear what these guys were going to do next. Many of them planned on continuing their education and getting doctoral degrees. They dreamed of getting accepted to Yale or Harvard or some other prestigious east coast school.

Most of them didn’t get in. But why? It wasn’t because they weren’t smart enough or didn’t work hard enough. Their rejection was due to the fact that those prestigious schools had a quota of how many evangelicals they would accept into their school of theology. My genius, evangelical friends suffered from Liberal Theology Privilege.

That’s one reason why our current conversation about white privilege needs to change. It acts as though no one else is or can be privileged.

The current remedy to white privilege is guilt. Beat yourself up for being white and avoid commenting on any social issues for a while and maybe, just maybe, you can appease the political correctness gods before it’s too late.

The Bible gives us a better remedy.

 

Contentment.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

Contentment is the enemy of greed and the opposite of guilt. When I am content, I rejoice with my neighbor when he works hard and saves wisely to pay cash for an automobile that I can’t afford. Contentment prevents me from looking down on him and from thinking that I’m somehow better than he is simply for having less.

But we aren’t content. We don’t know how to live when we are brought low. We think that everyone else needs to be brought low with us and that if they don’t they are evil. And we don’t know how to abound. We place our identity in what we have and we always want more. Without contentment, whether you’re poor or rich, white or black, male or female, you will always be greedy. Always.

There is a secret to successfully navigating our way through failure, success, privilege and greed.

Christ.

Doing all things through Christ’s strength wasn’t written to help football teams win state championships. It was written for entitled people who think that they deserve more and who are tempted to hate others who have more. It was written for you and me.

In one way or another, we are all privileged. And we’ll do anything we can to both deny our privilege and keep it.

Jesus took a different approach with his privilege.

He gave it up. He didn’t give up being God. He didn’t give up his personhood or the essence of who he is. He just gave up his privilege.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:4-8 (ESV)

Maybe if we followed that example, instead of living in a perpetual state of guilt or self-righteousness, we would all start getting along a little better. All of this guilt and self-righteousenss is preventing us from loving one another. It’s a breeding ground for hate. But if we live with the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:4), we can begin to love our neighbor and pursue his good. Otherwise, when injustices happen to him, we’ll just think that he got what he deserved.

If you want to play the I’m Bigger, Badder, Richer and More Important Than You game, you’ll never win. There is always someone with a little more. Even Donald Trump can’t win that game. The same is true of the other game, the one called, I’m More Abused, Harassed, Rejected and Poor Than You Are. There is always someone with a little less. You’re not going to win.

So instead of basking in your privilege or seething at the privilege of others, be content with who you are and where God has you. Come to grips with the fact that, no matter your color, you are privileged. But instead of comparing your privilege to others, follow the example of Christ.

Put it to the side.

And move toward others in love.

image credit

Nine Things That Will Never Happen To You

You could get cancer.

You could get Ebola.

You could get into a car wreck tomorrow afternoon.

A representative from ISIS could remove your head from your body.

Happy Thursday!

There are a few ways to respond to such possibilities. One is the Happy Thursday Approach. This is the favored approach of many television preachers. They like to tell us that we can claim away bad things. One such preacher told my mother that her sickness didn’t leave her after he tried to make it go away because, “She didn’t have enough faith.” A five-year-old can easily determine that these types of preachers are more concerned with financial gain and popularity than they are truth and compassion.

The other approach is fear and worry. Deep down inside, we all know that we could get sick. We know that terrible things could happen to us or the ones we love. So we let fear consume us. Instead of living life while we still can, we wash our hands hundreds of times a day, we obsess over the news, we worry that maybe that sharp pain in our ankle is actually the beginning stages of some horrific new disease that will eventually be the end of us.

There’s another response. A more biblical one. It helps us to turn our attention away from what could possibly maybe perhaps happen to what can never happen because of what has already happened. How’s that for a wordy sentence? Here’s another way to put it.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians can face troubled times with hope, confidence and even joy because we know that whatever may happen to us, there are some things, worse things, that will never happen to us.

1. Christian, you will never be condemned by God.

It might seem like everyone is against you. Maybe they really are. Maybe you know opposition like few people do. Perhaps you’ve endured the wrath of an angry boss, a cunning enemy or even the federal government. God never said that you would’t experience those things. But he did promise this much. You will never experience the wrath of God. Jesus took your place on that one.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (ESV)

2. Christian, death will never get the best of you.

Eat all the organic lettuce your stomach can hold. Just know this. One day your body will stop functioning. But that won’t really be the end of life for you, only the end of suffering. Life will just be getting started.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

3. Christian, you will never be orphaned.

A few times a year we hear stories about babies being abandoned at dumpsters, emergency rooms and fire stations. If you believe that a true follow of Christ can somehow become a non-follow of Christ, you are forced to admit that God essentially does the same thing to his children. He doesn’t. The God who sovereignly adopted you is the same God who eternally keeps you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:12-17 (ESV)

4. Christian, you will never be hopeless.

Your life might resemble a George Jones song. Your marriage is in shambles. Your truck won’t crank. Your job is no good and your dog died. Through it all, there is a hope that will not perish or fade away. Your retirement plan can go down the drain. Your eternal inheritance cannot.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)

5. Christian, you will never be ignored.

All of my life I’ve heard people critiquing prayers. Some criticize the way that a person says, “Dear Lord” too many times during the prayer. Others don’t like the way that a person asks Jesus to “be with” someone. All of the critiques can leave us a bit intimidated with prayer, especially prayer in public. But here’s the good news. No one, even the most educated among us, really knows how to pray. And that’s okay. The Holy Spirit picks up our slack. Our slack is great. He is greater.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

6. Christian, you will never be beyond God’s good plan.

We have to be careful when trying to explain why some tragic event happened. The fact is that usually we don’t have a clue. We would be wise to remain silent and only speak on what we do know. Here’s what we do know. God, in his own way and time, takes bad things and uses them for his glory and the good of his people.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

7. Christian, you will never know what it’s like to be in hell.

You are a Christian, not because of your denominational affiliation, family background or award winning smile but because God chose you. The theological term for that is predestination. Another word for it is grace. And God’s grace always runs its course through until the end. The called will be saved. The saved will be glorified. That means that you will enjoy eternal life with a new body in an new heaven and earth with Jesus. Wherever life takes you, Christian, God won’t allow hell to be a stop on your journey.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)

8. Christian, God will never be against you.

The rest of the world might be against you. Sometimes you will be tempted to think that God is too. You have to be careful to never mistake God’s wrath for his discipline (Hebrews 12:3-17). God’s wrath is reserved for his enemies. His discipline, like any loving father, is for the ultimate good of his children. Christian, you will never again know God as your enemy, only as your Father.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:31-34 (ESV)

9. You will never be separated from God’s love.

God loves you.

Nothing will ever change that.

You really don’t have anything to worry about.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)

The Cross, The Couch And That Old Georgia Pine

559113_681518999226_2135568170_n

Meet in the middle.

Beneath that old Georgia pine.

Those two lines made the country music band Diamond Rio a lot of money in the 90s. The song was about a man and a woman both pulling their share of the weight in their relationship. The part about the Georgia pine was added because there’s a federal law stating that all country music songs must say something about Georgia.

Meeting in the middle might make for a pretty good song but it’s a terrible approach to marriage.

People get bent all out of shape when the Bible says things about men being the leaders in the home (Ephesians 5:22-27; Colossians 3:18). They conjure up images of lazy, even violent men laying on the couch and guzzling beer while their wives quietly bring them another plate of fish sticks and tater tots.

Nothing could be further from the Bible’s picture of a husband’s leadership. A husband who loves and leads like Jesus will be more interested in serving than being served. He won’t be content with doing his half and waiting in the middle while his wife pulls her fair share.

He’ll be a lot like another man who I used to see sitting on the couch a lot.

He wasn’t sitting there alone. His wife was next to him. He was alert and engaged. She usually seemed disinterested. He was well-dressed. Her clothes were sloppy and stained. And at the end of each day’s visit, the man would get up from that couch and go back to his home. Alone. The woman would stay at the nursing home.

That man waved goodbye to meeting in the middle a long time ago.

And the man who loves his wife enough to lead her will follow that example.

He’ll get out of bed to check on the screaming baby, even though it’s not his turn.

He’ll pray for God’s wisdom to guide him through each day’s tough decisions, especially the ones that he wishes he didn’t have to make.

He’ll embrace those decisions with confidence, rather than leaving all of the heavy lifting to his wife.

And he’ll accept responsibility when his plan turned out to not be the right one.

In the same passage that tells wives to submit to their husbands, men are told to love their wives, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Christ did not demonstrate his love for the church by doing his part and waiting on us to do ours. Instead, “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8) he went all of the way. Way beyond meeting in the middle. He gave himself. Even to the point of death. Death on a cross.

And the man who loves his wife enough to lead her will follow that example.

Husbands, maybe our marriages would start to look a little better if we stopped impatiently waiting in the middle, beneath that old Georgia pine, for our wives to finally do their half. What if we started to actually follow the example of Jesus?

We would do well to follow the example of a man who hung on a cross in the place of his bride to take on the full wrath of God.

And the example of a man sitting on a couch in a nursing home.

Next Month’s Crucifixion

photo-34

A lot has changed in 2000 years. Man, a lot has changed in 2 years. Watch a movie that’s just a few years old. If it’s set in New York and you can still see the World Trade Center in the skyline or if one of the characters uses a flip phone, the movie may as well be in black and white.

A lot has changed. And fast.

During the month of April, I plan on preaching through specific events leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ. Part of the trick for me is to not read the gospels, are any part of the Bible, through my white, American eyes. But I can’t help it. Something inside of me has to wonder what it would be like if Jesus was born 30 years ago in the United States and was now just a few weeks away from his crucifixion.

A lot has changed in 2000 years.

Or has it?

People would still be mad at Jesus.

Conservatives and libertarians would probably like him at first. But then we would take notice of some of the people who followed him and start to have our doubts. Prostitutes? Really? The deal closer for us would be the time when one of us walked into a restaurant and noticed Jesus sitting with a high ranking IRS official. That, coupled with his hesitancy to do anything to overthrow oppressive government officials, would be all we would need.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17 (ESV)

Those with more of a liberal slant would love Jesus’ work with the poor. His Sermon on the Mount would get tons of shares and likes on social media. Of course, the part where he talks about marriage and adultery would have to be overlooked. Who is he to keep people apart who really love each other? And what’s with his followers? Some of them carry swords! There are even rumors that Jesus told them to do such a thing. That seems more and more like the work of an extremist than a man who will bring about peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27 (ESV)

The health nuts would really have a fit. I mean, have you seen some of the things he eats? Isn’t he aware of the mercury in the fish or the gluten in the bread? To top it all off, his disciples don’t even wash their hands before they eat. Barbarians!

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Mark 7:15 (ESV)

The church folks wouldn’t like the way he stirs up controversy in houses of worship. Those were expensive tables he turned over. The anti-religion zealots would ridicule his frequent talk of God and the government would view him as a puppet to be used for their own wicked purposes only to be discarded when those purposes are met.

It’s been said that nothing brings unity like a common enemy. If Jesus was wrapping up his earthly ministry next month in the United States, he would be the common enemy. He would be the one person who got the libertarians, the liberals, the high-ranking government officials, the food Nazis, the church crowd and the skeptics to all sing the same song.

“Crucify!”

It’s been 2000 years since Jesus’ earthly ministry. The World Trade Centers have come and gone. Phones have gotten smarter.

But things haven’t really changed all that much.

The human heart still has a bent towards grace when it is the recipient but away from grace when it’s another heart doing the receiving.

Thankfully, God hasn’t changed either. 2000 years ago, Jesus didn’t come looking for people who would agree with him. He came looking for sinners. He found them. He confronted them. He forgave them. He loves them.

He found a tax-collecting traitor named Levi. He found an extremist named Simon who wanted to see that government overthrown. He forgave them both. He loved them. And he gave them both a spot around the same table. His table.

We all have our differences. And that’s good. But none of us have exclusive rights to Jesus. We all have our shortcomings. If the crucifixion took place a few Fridays from now, we would all find our own ways to drive nails, run away in terror, mock or yell, “Crucify.”

All of us.

But that doesn’t mean that we should abandon truth in some sort of near-sighted hope that doing so would lead to unity. It won’t. It never does.

Instead, we should cling to truth. The Truth.

It’s only then that we come to grips with just how dire our condition is.

But it’s also there where we see just how deep the Savior’s love is.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34 (ESV)

A Practical Guide for Undercover Racists

So you’re a racist but you don’t want to admit it. And you certainly don’t want anyone to find out. Here are a few steps to help you continue with your racism while still looking like an all-accepting, all-loving member of society.

1. Make a point to let everyone know that you’re not a racist. 

This disclaimer pretty much gives you a free pass to say whatever joke or social commentary you want.

Joke: “I’m not racist but have you heard the joke about the (insert despised race here) guy that went for a job interview?”

Social Commentary: “I’m not racist but did that family really have to move in on this street?”

2. Along with announcing the fact that you are not a racist, be sure to list all of the colors of the people you do accept.

Here’s how it works.

Step One: List a bunch of colors. It doesn’t even matter if most of those colors do not make an appearance in the human race.

“You can be green, red, purple or orange…”

Step Two: Announce your acceptance.

“…I don’t care…”

Step Three: Finish off with the fine print.

“…just as long as you speak (insert your language) and don’t listen to (insert the type of music most often associated with your most hated race).”

Here’s an example.

“You can be green, red, purple or orange, I don’t care, just as long as you talk like an American and don’t listen to rap.”

And here’s the translation.

“I don’t guess I really care what color you are just as long as you act like me.”

3. Inform everyone within hearing distance that some of your closest friends happen to be members of the race that you hate the most.

Maybe you said something that sort of sounded racist. Maybe it was full blown racist. Fear not. Just saying that you have “tons of black friends” or that “you love being around white people” should make it all go away and have you back to looking respectable in no time.

Here’s a list of just a few of the people from a variety of races who you can call your “friends.” Take your pick, don’t be afraid to be creative and remember that you don’t have to actually know someone to consider them your friend.

– That nice lady that works at the bank. I think her name is Shelia.

– The mailman.

– Joel Osteen.

– Will Smith.

– Salma Hayek.

4. Assume that everyone who disagrees with you is doing so because they are a racist.

This should go a long way in taking attention away from the fact that you are, well, a racist. Here’s how it works.

Guy 1: “Lebron James is the greatest of all-time.”

Guy 2: “I think Michael Jordan was better because he made the people around him better instead of just jumping ship and joining up with two guys who were already all-stars. Plus, Jordan didn’t disappear in the fourth quarter of meaningful games.”

Guy 1: “You racist.”

Brilliant!

Dealing with your own issues can get messy and who’s got time for that when you can just cover them up?

But there is another option.

The gospel.

The gospel frees us from covering up our sins, no matter how horrific those sins may be.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:12-15 (ESV)

Instead of naively hoping for a day when we can all “look past the color of one another’s skin” or “be color blind”, the gospel helps us to live this life in preparation for the next life where God’s ransomed people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will sing the praises of Jesus (Revelation 5:9).

There is no government program that can fix the racial divide in this country. Apart from the cross all of our best efforts are just attempts to keep our hidden prejudices undercover.

Only the cross can bring the healing that we need.

It is at the cross where we see Jesus demonstrating his love for people who are very different from him.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)

And it is at the cross where we find the motivation to follow Christ’s example in loving those who are very different from us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:32-5:2 (ESV)

Trampoline Grace

We bought a trampoline. And now, every moment outdoors has been spent on it. Once we save up enough money, my wife and I might get one for the kids.

I’m not the type of parent that buys a lot of things for my kids. My favorite word is no. My second favorite word is not now. That’s two words but you get the picture. But it does make me happy to give things to my kids. Things that they enjoy. They spend hours every day enjoying that trampoline. And they enjoy it so much that they feel like they have to do their part to earn what was given to them.

Last Sunday afternoon, my son came up to me with his hands behind his back. He had a grin on his face and he said that he had something for me. He pulled his hands out from behind his back. They were both together, making one fist. When his tiny fingers opened up there was money laying on the palms of his hand. One dollar and fifty cents.

“Dad, thank you for buying us that trampoline. Here’s something to help pay for it.”

A smile came to my face as I lovingly explained to him that this was nowhere near enough money to pay for that trampoline. But we set up a payment plan and, with the 30% interest that I added, he should be in the clear by his 35th birthday.

There’s something inside of all of us that wants to make things even. It’s the reason why you say, “No, I got it!” when your friend offers to pay for lunch even though you really want him to pay. And it’s the reason why Peter wanted to go back to keeping Jewish dietary laws (Galatians 2:11-16) even after God had told him not to (Acts 10:9-16). We just have to feel like we’ve done something to earn God’s favor. We have to have some form of effort on which to hang our spiritual hats.

But grace doesn’t work that way.

In his grace, God gives life to dead men (Ephesians 2:1,4). In his grace, God makes his natural enemies his children (Ephesians 2:2-7). In his grace, God saves us through faith. And even that faith is not our own doing. It too is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).

You would think that there’s no problem with that. As if we could just say thank you and go on with obeying our new Master. But our natural desires are at odds with grace. We prefer a paycheck from God instead of grace from God because we want something to boast about. But grace takes away any reason for boasting. Grace gives us something better instead (Ephesians 2:9).

I told my son thank you for his money. And then I told him to keep it. After that I explained that sometimes you do things for people without expecting something in return. You even do things for people that you know could never pay you back. And you do it because you love them.

The next day, my sons spent the morning bouncing on their trampoline. A trampoline that they didn’t earn. And with each bounce there was a bigger smile on their faces.

A smile because they were enjoying a gift.

A gift from someone who loves them.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

Magnifying Grace

When my firstborn son grows up he’s going to own a car title pawn shop. You know, the kind that give you a little cash for your car title and then make you pay it back at 300% interest or they’ll keep your car. He’ll either work there or for the IRS.  But really, is there a difference?

It all started with a magnifying glass. My oldest son got one in his Sunday School class. My youngest son didn’t. If you ever wonder if mankind is naturally good or naturally evil and the evening news hasn’t convinced you yet, find two kids and give them one magnifying glass. Our trip home from church was a lesson in total depravity.

The boys spent the rest of the afternoon arguing over that magnifying glass. Eventually, the fighting stopped. It’s good when the fighting stops. Until you find out why it stopped.

My youngest son came to me with a solemn look.

“Dad, I had to take four dollars out of my bank.”

“Why?”

“He made me give it to him so that I could have more time to play with his magnifying glass.”

The he being referred to was my firstborn son, the future Federal Reserve chairman.

When I called his name, my little businessman knew that his empire was about to come crumbling down. As he was walking towards me he sort of looked like Bernie Madoff.

I explained to him that it’s wrong to rent his toys to his brother.

I told him that sometimes you just give things to people, even when they have nothing to give you in return or no rights to what you have.

And you do it because you love them.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)