Thanks, Louie

If somebody tells you a story about a kid and a phone, there is a greater than 90% chance that it’s going to be bad news. I’ve got a story about my eight-year-old son and a phone but it’s the best news I’ve heard in a while.

A couple of nights a week my sons have soccer practice. These practices aren’t at the same time which means that our family is on a soccer field for most of the night. While my eight-year-old practices, I get to spend time with my oldest son. We read books, talk and play around. While my oldest son is practicing, my eight-year-old wants one thing.

My phone.

He doesn’t care about calling anyone. He doesn’t have a social media account. He just wants to see videos. I think that he walks around with a playlist in his head of about eight videos he wants to watch the next time he gets some downtime with me and my phone. This is the part where I always feel like a bad dad. I usually suggest that we watch ridiculous news clips on YouTube. You know, the one about the whistle tips or the one about the Leprechaun in Alabama. He always quickly declines. There’s only one man who he wants to see.

Louie Giglio.

So we watch Louie talking about space. And Louie talking about the wonders of the human body. If you’ve ever seen these videos, you know that Louie is talking about more than just science. That’s just a platform for him to display the sovereignty of God. When Louie talks about space, he’s trying to get across how small we are and how big God is. When he talks about laminin, the cell adhesion molecule, he’s explaining that Jesus really does hold all things together. My son eats it up. I think he has these sermon clips memorized. I couldn’t be happier. No offense to the Alabama Leprechaun. The last thing I need in my life is him coming after me.

My son has a friend at school who is not a Christian. They are great friends. They always play together and talk about, you guessed it, science. Earlier this week, my son’s friend had a very unusual question for him.

“What makes the human body stay together?”

My son’s answer was quick.

“Laminin. It’s the cell adhesion molecule.”

When my son told me that, I was really glad that we didn’t spend our downtime on the soccer fields watching news clips about Alabama leprechauns. I’d like to say that my son’s friend repented right there on the spot when he got a picture of Jesus holding all things together. That hasn’t happened. Yet. But I am glad to say that my son is doing his best to see it happen.

He doesn’t know what cell adhesion molecule means.

Don’t tell anyone but neither do I.

What my son does know is that we are all being held together by a really big God and that his friend desperately needs to be made right with that really big God.

Thanks, Louie!

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The Most Important Missions Trip

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I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by the house. It’s a nice house. And it’s located in a nice part of the community. Homes there aren’t known so much for the cars parked out front as they are the airplanes kept in fancy hangars in the back. This was not the kind of neighborhood where the police make routine visits to carry people away or collect evidence from some gruesome crime.

All of that changed on Monday.

Friends of the family were concerned. The man and woman had not shown up for work. When police arrived for a welfare check they found opened doors that should be closed and unlocked doors that one might expect to find bolted shut. After walking in, police discovered a man, a woman and a child. All three were dead.

As I write this, details are still coming in. Stories like this one have a way of changing between the initial news reports and the setting in of reality. What we do know is that a nearby school was not placed on lockdown. Police also stated that they were not searching for a suspect. That’s likely because this was no home invasion or robbery gone wrong. By all accounts, it was a murder suicide.

When I got the news, my mind went back to a small classroom in Louisville, Kentucky. We had spent months discussing how churches could do better at reaching out to hurting people. Most of our time was spent examining a church in Florida that had spent years successfully providing food, jobs and a fresh start for poor people.

Near the end of our time together, I had a question. So I asked our professor, Dr. T. Vaughn Walker.

“What about Peachtree City?”

Geographically, Peachtree City is very close to Atlanta, Georgia. In reality, it’s a million miles away. People in Peachtree City drive golf carts to go shopping at high end stores. The schools are good. The athletic opportunities for kids are endless. The lawns are manicured. The houses are beautiful. Which led to my question.

“What about Peachtree City? How are churches in areas like that supposed to minister to hurting people when, by all accounts, no one is hurting?”

With his usual wisdom and kindness, Dr. Walker corrected me.

“Don’t assume that just because the house looks nice on the outside that there are no problems on the inside. People in nice houses aren’t immune to cancer and divorce.”

And murder suicides.

The Church puts a big emphasis on helping hurting people. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should be. But as we do this, we must remember that not all hurts are equally broadcasted.

Poverty is pretty easy to spot.

A broken marriage isn’t.

Poverty, at least to a certain degree, can be addressed from afar. Money can be sent. Trips can be taken. New structures can be set up.

But there is no check or summer missions trip that can adequately speak the gospel into a family that has been ravaged by adultery or cancer.

If we really care about helping hurting people, we must not forget about the crowded villages in Haiti. But we also need to remember the spacious house next door with a 3.5 car garage and an airplane parked out back.

Pain, suffering and evil pay no attention to zoning laws or tax brackets. They make their presence felt in all types of homes. And if we really want to help hurting people, we will do the same.

This summer, it could be that the most important missions trip your church could ever be a part of is the one that begins with you walking up the hill, knocking on your neighbor’s fancy door and inviting the whole family over for a meal.

Chances are, you have no idea what’s on the other side of that fancy door.

And you have no idea what an impact your presence can make.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

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Outward Basketball

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There’s a new sports program that some churches are using to impact their communities with the gospel. Surprisingly, this new program won’t cost your church a dime. And you don’t even need the money to build a gym or the space to put in a baseball or soccer field.

All you need is families who love Jesus.

Here’s how it works.

Go to your local recreation department. Sign your kid up for your sport of choice. Go with him to his practices and games. While there, develop relationships with the other families. During those long practices, try to make a point to put your phone away for a few minutes and talk to the other parents. Pray for God to give you opportunities to both share and demonstrate the gospel with these families.

If you’re able and if there is an opportunity, coach one of the teams. Perhaps you don’t feel qualified to be a coach because you don’t know enough about the game. Relax. Georgia Tech routinely hires coaches who know nothing about the game. But seriously, take the time to learn the sport. Not only is it a great opportunity for you to get involved with your kid but it’s also a great chance for you to show Christ to other kids. Do you realize how many children never hear an adult tell them that they are proud of them? Hearing it from you could be the one event that God uses to begin to open their eyes to the gospel.

If you’re not coaching, walk up to the coach after practice. Tell him that you appreciate what he is doing. Take some time to talk to him about him and not why your kid isn’t getting enough playing time and why said kid will almost certainly go pro one day if that coach would just do a little better job. Find out where your kid’s coach is doubting, worrying or hurting. Look for ways that you can serve him. Pray for him and tell him that you are.

This really isn’t a new sports program. It’s the same program that was used in the church’s early days, long before basketball was invented. It’s simply a matter of being intentional about engaging others as you go out into the world.

So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:17 (ESV)

A sure sign of a healthy church is when that church regularly hears the truth of the gospel and can’t help but take it outside of the church building. Sometimes that passion leads people to war zones in the Middle East. Sometimes it leads them to the local recreation department.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that many churches have done well using Upward to reach out to the community. That’s a good thing. But it’s not the only thing.

I’m not writing a hit piece on Upward. If that’s your church’s approach, good. Instead, I’m writing an encouragement piece for churches who don’t have the space, personnel or finances to do that sort of thing. I’ve spoken to people who have a Maybe One Day Attitude. “Maybe one day, we can build a gym and start letting the community come in so we can reach them.”

You don’t have to wait until one day gets here. I don’t care how small your church is, if you are committed to the gospel, one day is now. Instead of waiting for the community to come to you, just go to them. And there’s no better place to go to them than at the recreation department.

You’ll see it all there.

You’ll see parents who wake up in the morning thinking of new and creative ways to curse at coaches, referees, opposing players and even their own children.

You’ll see kids who are trying to live under the pressure of a parent with expectations that no one can reach.

You’ll see the false god named College Scholarship worshiped and sacrificed to on a routine basis.

You’ll see it all.

But they all need to see Jesus. They need to see him as he is presented in the Bible. They need to see his words lived out.

And there’s a good chance that they’re not going to come to your church for that. Not yet at least.

So it’s your job to take it to them.

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To Become My Brother

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I started praying for him before he was even born. Every night when I put him to bed, I prayed the same prayer. I asked God to save him.

God did.

It had been a long day. The kids were finally in bed and it was time for me to do the same. But just a few minutes after I closed the door to their room, I heard the voice.

“Dad!”

The word dad was really drawn out.

“Daaaaaaaaaad.”

And loud.

“Daaaaaaaaaad!!”

This isn’t what I wanted to hear. Like any good pastor, I got up and walked to my son’s room with a holy look on my face while thinking evil thoughts to myself.

“Why can’t he just go to sleep?”

“Doesn’t he know that he’s cutting in on my time?”

Thankfully, before any of that ever came out of my mouth, my son spoke. He told me that he had some questions.

“Questions about what?” I asked.

That’s when he lost it. Tears filled his eyes and his sobbing made it hard for me to understand him.

“I want to know how to become a Christian.”

Now I really felt bad. The day I had been praying for had finally come and I was complaining about it because it was cutting in on my personal time. I was really glad that the evil thoughts that were in my heart were never verbalized.

I got my son out of bed and grabbed a Bible.

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)

We read that verse and then we talked about sin, forgiveness and Jesus being the boss. And then we prayed.

When my wife found out that she was pregnant with my son several years ago, we were excited. Financially speaking, it probably wasn’t the best time for us to be having a baby but we didn’t care. Besides, on paper, is it ever really the best time to have a baby?

On her first visit to the doctor after finding out that she was carrying our son, my wife was told that something was wrong. She had lost the baby.

We were devastated.

But then the doctors told us that they had made a mistake. My wife really was carrying our baby. We were excited again. And a bit apprehensive about our doctor’s methods.

Everything came as a shock to me. The pregnancy shocked me. The false diagnosis about a lost child shocked me. The correct diagnosis shocked me. And my son’s salvation shocked me. Even though I had been praying for it for all of these years. None of it, however, came as a surprise to God.

Long before I found out, God ordained that I would have a son.

And long before that night when my evening routine was interrupted by God’s grace, God chose to save my son.

All along, God had a plan for my son to become my brother.

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The Stranger And The Little Girl

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I had never seen the guy before. He was an older man and he was at my church with a young girl who appeared to be his granddaughter. He was the talkative type. She was not. When I reached out to shake her hand she buried her head in her arms.

The same scenario played out with other members of our church who introduced themselves to the two strangers. Finally, someone asked him why he came.

A few years back a group from our church started leading a ministry at a trailer park in our community. The group led backyard Bible clubs, had cookouts, delivered school supplies for the community and helped people with medical expenses.

A bond was formed.

While all of that happened, the old man was watching. He didn’t live in that trailer park community but his granddaughter did. He said that he was thinking about moving in to it.

“When I saw what the church was doing in that neighborhood I didn’t want to miss out on it.”

And on Wednesday night the stranger and the little girl came to church.

Just because they didn’t want to miss out.

When I was growing up, the popular method of getting people to come to your church was knocking on their doors. I don’t think that’s the best way. If you really want to reach people, give them something that they don’t want to miss.

Just give them Jesus.

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Something To Consider Before You Start Counting How Many People Were At Your Church Last Sunday

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He was a traitor.

And a thief.

Jesus could have told him anything. What Jesus chose to say to him shocked most everyone there. It was just two simple words.

“Follow me.”

That comes from Matthew 9:9. The following verse, however, is not in the Bible.

Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax booth and he said to him, “Take up your tax booth and follow me.”

Grace doesn’t work that way. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not affirm us in them. The world, and even some claiming to be Christians, would have us to believe that real love looks beyond the sin and accepts the person as is. That’s not what Jesus does. He told Matthew to leave it all behind. God, in his grace, meets you where you are. Grace never asks you to get your act together first. Grace never waits for you to make the first attempt at change. But when your life is invaded by grace, you will change.

Matthew was no exception.

When he heard the words of Jesus, Matthew obeyed but not by going on a short term missions trip. He didn’t find the nearest orphanage and get to work with the soup distribution. He did probably the last thing you would expect a new follower of Christ to do.

He threw a party.

There was quite the crowd at this party. Other traitors and thieves were there. There were even people who just wore that general old label of sinner. The Bible doesn’t jump out and say why so many sinners showed up to the party Matthew threw for Jesus but if you look closely, you can see it.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 (ESV)

I’ve been in churches my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of gimmicks used to get people in the doors. When I was a kid, Newt Gingrich showed up to my church on friend Sunday. We also had pack a pew Sundays. Other churches give out free gas cards to the first 50 people in the door or have raffles for iPads. Numerically speaking, these schemes usually work.

And all the Christians walk away from the church service that day talking about the big crowd as evidence for how God worked.

Only God didn’t work.

The gas card and the iPad did.

Sinners weren’t coming to Matthew’s house because of some gimmick. We can’t know all of their reasons but, simply put, they came to Matthew’s house because Jesus was there. The church could learn a lot from Matthew.

There’s more to following Jesus than getting a crowd. Any organization can draw a crowd with free iPads and $200 gas cards. Here’s a cutting edge, relevant idea for you. Perhaps it is the presence of Jesus, not the presence of gadgets and gimmicks, that really impacts sinners.

For years, the church has used the world’s methods to draw a crowd. The church has even tried to act like the world in order to make the world feel more at home at church. And it has worked brilliantly at drawing crowds. Just no so much at making disciples.

Your church may have 5,000 people in it or it may have 5. Either one is fine. But there is something more important to consider before you start thinking about who all was at your church services last weekend.

Was Jesus there?

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What To Remember The Next Time You’re Too Afraid To Follow Through With Obeying Jesus

You’re not alone.

To one degree or another, we’ve all been afraid to do what Jesus says, even when we know he’s right. It can be hard to direct a conversation toward the gospel without committing the classic Jesus Juke or just seeming insincere. It’s even harder to live out your faith in Christ when such a lifestyle is deemed intolerant or on the wrong side of history.

Many before you have experienced the same anxiety. But they obeyed anyway. We would all do well to follow their examples.

Ananias is a good man to start with.

God appeared to him in a vision and said just one word.

“Ananias.”

The man’s response was a classic biblical one. It sort of reminds you of Isaiah (Isaiah 6).

“Here I am, Lord.”

Before knowing what the Lord wanted to say, Ananias made his availability known. “I’m yours Lord. Right here. Whatever you say.”

You can’t help but wonder if Ananias questioned his initial response after considering the danger involved in obeying God’s command.

And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:11-12 (ESV)

Ananias’ response was another classic biblical one. Only this one was more like Jonah.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

To put all of this into perspective, imagine God coming to you and telling you to go meet and pray over the terrorist a few blocks away who wanted you thrown into jail for worshiping Jesus. Suddenly, Jonah doesn’t look like such a bad guy.

Ananias’ fear came as no surprise to God. Nothing ever does. But God doesn’t respond the way that we would if we were trying to convince someone to carry out a dangerous order.

He never said, “Nothing bad will ever happen to you. You’re a King’s kid!”

In fact, the Lord’s words don’t seem very comforting at all.

Basically he says, “Go anyway” (Acts 9:15-16).

At first glance, one might think that God is being cruel or indifferent. But some of Christ’s last words before leaving earth help us to see that the opposite is true.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

Do  you remember Ananias’ initial complaint in verse 14?

“God, I can’t do that. This guy has authority to throw me into jail.”

In his Great Commission, Jesus reminds us who really has the authority. It’s not any set of chief priests. It’s not The Supreme Court, President Obama or Mitch McConnell. It’s not your boss. It’s not you and it’s not the person you fear most.

All authority has been given to Jesus. That means that any authority man has on earth is on loan from God. And just as surely as Jesus gives it to man, he can take it away.

Ananias obeyed Jesus, went to see Paul and prayed over him. But he did not pray over him as an enemy. No, Ananias prayed over him as a brother (9:17). Only the gospel, under the authority of Jesus Christ, can turn enemies into brothers. And typically, God uses small situations and seemingly obscure servants to do great things. Ananias didn’t get the amount of coverage in the Bible that Paul did. He wasn’t the Billy Graham of his time. But he was faithful. And that is enough.

Living for Jesus can be hard. The intimidation from others can be overwhelming. We can even be tempted to think that our little efforts aren’t making a difference. Watering down our faith or shutting down until Jesus returns can seem like the only reasonable options. That’s when it is important to remember something else.

Jesus is in charge.

Obeying him is often costly.

But there is no better place to be in life than in complete surrender to his perfect authority.

So just go anyway.

Santa And The Man Behind The Table

At first I was really mad when the man behind the table talked to my son.

It was supposed to be a conversation between adults. But then the man behind the table turned his attention to my son. From that moment on, everything about our conversation changed.

If you drive through my town on a Friday afternoon, the chances are high that you will see a  table set up on the courthouse lawn. There will be two people behind it and pamphlets and books all over it. The sign next to the table asks a question in large print.

What does the Bible really say?

A while back this caught my attention so I stopped to find out what the Bible really said. My youngest son was with me. He stood patiently while I talked to the two Jehovah’s Witnesses behind the table about the deity of Christ and the Trinity. As is typically the case, I walked away feeling like I just finished explaining Jesus to a tree. It seemed like nothing was accomplished. But I trusted God with the results.

Weeks later I found myself on that same courthouse lawn. Standing next to the same table. Having pretty much the same conversation. But this time my oldest son was with me. He too stood patiently and quietly. That is, until one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke to him.

In a weird way, I felt like this was a spiritual attack on my son. Maybe it was. All I know is that I didn’t like it. The questions pounded in my head with each beat of my heart.

Why is this guy bringing my little boy into this?

Why doesn’t he talk to me?

But before those angry questions could find their way from my head and heart to my mouth, it was already too late. The man behind the table had already asked his question to my son. And my son had already given his answer.

“Son, do you believe in Santa Claus?”

I knew where he was going with this question. I had been trying to prove that Jesus is eternally God. He disagreed and decided to use my son to prove a point.

Your daddy is lying to you about Santa and he’s lying to you about Jesus too.

That’s why I sort of felt like this was a spiritual attack.

But the boy was ready to answer the question about whether or not he believed in Santa Clause.

“No.”

The man behind the table was shocked. He was building his whole argument on this one question and it fell apart before it ever really got started. He was floored. There was a nervous grin on his face as he asked his next question. One he never thought he would have to ask.

“Well why not?”

“Because Santa Claus is fake.”

Up until that answer the proudest moment in my life as a dad was the time when we drove by the campus of Georgia Tech and both of my sons started booing and sticking out their tongues. The Georgia Tech incident is now in a distant second place on my list of proud fatherly moments.

From my son’s answer, I took control of the conversation to tell the man behind the table about the real Saint Nicholas. I told them how he was a generous pastor who reportedly attended the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) to defend the deity of Jesus Christ against Arius, the grandfather of the Jehovah’s Witness heresy.

When our conversation was over, it didn’t really feel like anything had changed. More talking to trees. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were still Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I trusted God with the results. And then he reminded me of one of his results. It was standing next to me the whole time.

My son is listening. What I teach him matters. It shapes him. In our house, we don’t treat Santa like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. We’re not afraid of a man in a costume warping our kids minds. Someone gave us a stuffed Santa ornament. It’s hanging on our tree right now. So we’re not anti-Santa Nazis. But we are committed to the truth. Before our kids were born we decided that it might be confusing for them to find out that we were lying about the nice invisible man from the North Pole but not the nice invisible man from Heaven.

That day on the courthouse lawn my son’s worldview was put to the test. And it will be thousands of times again.

Do you really believe all of the Bible?

If your Jesus is so good, why does so much bad stuff happen?

Why don’t you just play along and bow to the 90 foot statue with all of the rest of us?

It’s my job to prepare my boys for those questions. Sometimes the questions will come from a man behind a table. Sometimes they will rise up from their own mind. Either way, the questions will come. But if they are to have any hope of carefully and faithfully handling those questions, they have to have a solid foundation. A foundation built on truth.

One of the things that makes ministry difficult is the results. At the end of the day there’s no structure or pile of boxes that wasn’t there before you started your work. It’s easy to wonder if you’re really accomplishing anything.

But every so often God lets you see some of the fruit of your labor. He’s never allowed me to play a part in a Jehovah’s Witness abandoning that age old heresy to embrace Jesus Christ as the eternal God. But one Friday afternoon, just before Thanksgiving, he did let me see the results of nearly a decade of pouring truth into a young life.

At first, I was really mad when the man behind the table talked to my son.

But that all changed.

Although it wasn’t his intention, the man behind the table reminded me that truth matters.

Even to a seven-year-old.

Get Your Back Up Off The Wall: How To Finish The Mission When Things Get Hard

That’s it, fellow Christians. We’re done. We had a good run there for a few thousand years but it’s over now.

Just look at the news.

Gay marriage is gaining more and more acceptance. Pretty soon it will just be called marriage.

Christian military chaplains are being told to tone down the chaplain part of their duty.

Our own government is forcing some of us out of business if we refuse to fund our employee’s abortions.

The Braves are leaving Atlanta.

Tim Tebow doesn’t have a team to play for anymore.

When we focus too heavily on the situations around us, it’s easy to forget certain things that are important to our faith. Namely, God’s rule over all things and his faithfulness in piecing those things together for the good of his people.

The facts are clear. Christian influence in American culture is diminishing. Our backs are against the wall.

But that’s not all of the facts.

Even a quick survey of the history of Christianity reveals that opposition to the gospel always leads to greater opportunities. Paul is a good example. He was kicked out of Thessalonica so he took his message to Berea. When trouble caught up to him there he moved on to Athens to share his hope with pagan philosophers.

But eventually he got caught. This had to seem like the end for many of the young believers who had only recently repented and believed in Christ. Their earthly leader was on trial for his life. What would this mean for their new found faith? As usual, Paul serves as an example to believers (Philippians 3:17), then and today, who struggle with obeying God’s command to take the gospel to the world when the world seems to want nothing to do with that message. Or those of us who carry it.

It all starts with a command. And a promise.

Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations. He promises us that he will be with us during the process (Matthew 28:19-20).

For Paul, the command and the promise was a bit more specific.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so yo must testify also in Rome.” Acts 23:11 (ESV)

Essentially, the message from Jesus is the same for us as it was to Paul.

Things will be difficult. People will oppose you. But I have a job for you. And I am with you. So be brave.

And that’s just what Paul did as he endured opposition from angry mobs and corrupt leaders. We would do well to imitate Paul’s faithfulness as his back was against the wall. Here are five reminders for us as we try to finish our mission when it gets hard.

1. Remember that you live in a corrupt world (Acts 25:1-12).

Festus was overseeing this portion of Paul’s trial. He knew that he had nothing on Paul but he let things go on as a favor to the Jews who brought serious charges against Paul, “that they could not prove” (25:7).

Mob rule has not gone out of style yet. Neither have corrupt government officials. And we are not immune from the consequences of such evils.

2. Remember that your true identity is not in this world (Acts 25:13-27).

By this time Agrippa and Bernice have come to hear Paul’s defense. They are corrupt leaders and proud about it. The Bible says that they show up with “great pomp” (25:23). Think Super Bowl halftime show.

And then there’s Paul.

Chained. Bruised. But 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 4:12-13 (ESV)

Great pomp usually exists to mask the lack of substance. Again, think Super Bowl halftime show. But contentment is the result of being ever aware of our standing in Christ. Even if our bodies carry the marks of abuse from a world that opposes us.

3. Remember who you used to be (Acts 26:1-11).

Paul never tried to hide his former life. Here he goes into great detail describing who he was before Christ rescued him. The words and phrases he uses are very important.

“Pharisee.”

“Opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”

“Locked up many of the saints.”

“Punished them often.”

“Tried to make them blaspheme.”

“Persecuted them even to foreign cities.”

These were all things that were being done to Paul. It’s as if he was saying to his accusers, “I was just like you. Apart from Christ, we are no different.”

We must look at our world the same way. The sins we see, we were either once guilty of ourselves or we would be guilty of were it not for Christ. Apart from Christ, we are no different than those who oppose us.

4. Remember your mission (Acts 26:16-23).

Sometimes I think that the world would be a much better place if we had smaller government. That just might be true but the aim in such thought is too low. While Christians absolutely must be involved in improving this world, we kid ourselves if we ignore the next world.

Jesus’ assignment to Paul was clear.

“To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Acts 26:18 (ESV)

Great politicians and well mannered, politically informed masses still go to hell without Jesus. While addressing the temporary we must never forget the eternal.

5. Check your passions (26:24-32).

It’s one of the most compelling scenes in the New Testament. King Agrippa seems to be responding favorably to Paul’s message. He even asks Paul if he is trying to persuade him to become a Christian (28).

Paul’s response is a memorable one.

And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.” Acts 26:29 (ESV)

When Paul looked across the room at King Agrippa, he didn’t see an enemy who deserved eternal punishment. He saw a human being, blinded by Satan from grasping the beauty of the gospel, who deserved eternal punishment. And Paul wanted desperately to see the king’s eyes opened. Just like his were years before.

Our heart must beat the same as Paul’s. How can we expect anything to change in the heart’s of those who oppose our Lord if we don’t love them enough to want to see them enjoying the same hope that we have?

The world really is a dark place. But sometimes darkness is the best place for light to shine.

When we understand that we just might begin to see opposition to the gospel as an opportunity for it to spread.

She’s Just Being Miley

You can say this about Miley Cyrus. At least she was being herself on Sunday night.

That’s what the world tells us to do, right? Just be yourself. Sunday night, at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Miley took advantage of her platform to show anyone who didn’t already know that she was no longer Hannah Montana.

To say that her performance was sexually suggestive would be inaccurate. It was pretty much just sex. There was nothing suggestive about it.

And, for some reason, we’re all shocked. Even those who don’t have a problem with that sort of thing had a problem with Miley just being Miley.

But what did we expect? Did we really expect her to keep being Hannah Montana? It never works that way. Remember when Britney Spears was a seemingly innocent Disney girl? Remember when Justin Bieber was just another kid who had a good voice and a mom that knew how to promote her son? And in both cases we were told that this kid was different. This kid was well-grounded. Now, several marriages and meltdowns later, nobody knows what has happened to Britney. And Justin has a pet monkey and is in the middle of a very public and very ugly meltdown. It never ends well for child stars. Miley Cyrus is just one more example.

That’s part of why what happened Sunday night should not shock us. But there’s another reason why we shouldn’t be surprised. This kind of thing would happen to anyone, including you and me, who gets huge amounts of success and popularity at an early age and grows up in a generation whose motto is, Just be yourself. Nothing helps you to be yourself like truckloads of money and fame at an early age. But the thing is that the you you really are, the yourself that everyone keeps telling you to be, usually isn’t very pretty. It’s called original sin.

What should really surprise us, or more specifically, what should surprise Christians, is our response to Miley Cyrus.

I saw the first few seconds of Miley’s performance before I turned away and started making jokes about her. When I came back, I saw the crowd treating Kanye West like a god and I instantly thought of ten other rappers who are better than he is. Later, I saw the heroes of the civil rights movement degraded as their struggle was equated to that of the gay marriage lobby. Through it all, I was bothered but not for the right reasons.

I longed for the days when music was better. When people didn’t lip sync. When there were guitar solos. When the weirdest thing that happened at the VMAs was the guy from Rage Against the Machine climbing up on a stack of speakers. But never once was my spirit provoked because Miley, Kanye and a significant number of their fans were likely on a path to a very real hell.

2000 years ago Paul was in Athens with nothing to do. His plans were to just wait for Silas and Timothy to join him (Acts 17:15). But as he looked around and “saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16) he spoke up. Not because he hadn’t met his evangelism quota for the month. Not because he felt guilty. And not because there’s no such thing as hell and we all end up in the same spiritual amusement park in the end anyway. He spoke because his spirit was provoked. The lostness all around him didn’t sit well with his spirit. He didn’t like the idea of people going to hell.

Paul was a follower of Christ. He had been rescued from a life devoted to empty religion. Now he had a new identity in Christ. Speaking up in love just seemed natural. In Acts 17, Paul was just being Paul.

And on Sunday night, Miley was just being Miley. She doesn’t know Jesus. She’s famous. She wants to sell records. She has a platform. What did you expect? None of that makes what she did right. It just helps to explain why she did it. And why, without Christ, you and I would have done something similar in her situation.

Sunday night’s VMAs had a lot in common with what Paul saw in Athens. The MTV awards show was a worship service “To the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). An unknown god who, in this case, has something to do with sex.

Hopefully the commonalities won’t end there. Hopefully those of us who follow Jesus will have the same response to this idolatry that Paul had all of those years ago.

A provoked spirit.

Provoked because of all of the people who worship a 20-year-old girl instead of the Living God.

Provoked because that 20-year-old girl has settled for the temporary pleasures of fame instead of the eternal joy of knowing Jesus.

Provoked because, no matter how outrageous they may be, Miley, Kanye and Gaga are real people. They have real souls. And they will one day have to give an account before their Creator.

Provoked because so many people, both the famous idolaters as well as the more normal ones that would never dream of twerking with men dressed as stuffed animals, are rejecting God’s command to repent despite quickly moving towards his righteous judgment (Acts 17:30-31).

When Miley did her thing on Sunday night, she was just being Miley. I think that the true nature of her heart was on display.

But when Christians sit by, apathetic to the idolatry that surrounds us and unprovoked in our spirits, we are the ones who are putting on the show. If we are in Christ, it is in our nature to be provoked by lostness. And it is only when our provoked spirit leads us to share the good news that we are being who we really are.