Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

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Be Careful How You Use The Word Uneducated

The word uneducated has been thrown around a lot over the past couple of days. It’s one of those words that can’t really be used in a nice way. We don’t say that children are uneducated. We just say that they’re in the process of getting their education. Usually, when we use the word uneducated, we’re trying to find a nice way to call people dumb. The only problem is that it’s not too nice. And it’s, well, an uneducated thing to say.

A while back I was driving my 1990-something automobile down a busy road at night when smoke suddenly started coming out from under the hood. I jumped out at a red light and tried to correct the issue. About a mile down the road, my 1990-something automobile reminded me that I don’t know anything about cars. The smoke got worse but I managed to guide the dying automobile into a church parking lot.

I got out and said a prayer.

And then I made a phone call.

The guys who came to help me don’t carry any initials after their names. They’ve never been asked to write a book about anything. They’ll probably never give a commencement address. I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of years in school. When I finish my current degree I will have spent almost as much time in school after high school graduation as I did before.

But standing next to that dead car of mine, guess who the uneducated one was.

Some of the most brilliant people I know have never been to college. Have you ever watched a carpenter work? A good one is one half Michelangelo and one half Mike Rowe. He’s an artist with dirt under his fingernails and blisters on his hands and drive in his heart. And he’s far from uneducated.

There are many times in my life when I don’t know what my next step should be. When I find myself in that situation, I don’t go looking for the guy with the most degrees. I go looking for the guy with the most wisdom. The two are not the same. Typically, the guy with the most wisdom has more gray hairs and wrinkles than he does degrees.

A while back someone asked me if it was a requirement for a pastor to go to seminary. For me, it was. I needed the discipline and rigor. But that’s not the case for all ministry leaders. Some of the best ones I know have educated themselves through interaction with other wise leaders and reading a lot. On the other hand, there are those pastors who can’t keep track of all of their degrees but who also couldn’t recognize the Holy Spirit from a graduation robe.

This is not to say that degrees and higher education do not matter. They do. If you’re getting surgery, you want the guy holding the scalpel to have tons and tons of initials after his name. A good, formal education is a necessity for some. But not for all.

We have to remember that we’re all different. We have different roles. And those different roles don’t make some better than others. Society needs doctors and carpenters. The best example for us is the Trinity where we see one God made up of three distinct yet equal persons. The Holy Spirit is no more or less God because he’s not the one who died on the cross.

No matter who came out on top in the election, I knew I wouldn’t be happy about the winner. I can’t remember the last time that I was happy with the outcome of an election. Maybe one day I will be. But I’ve never called in sick to work or asked for the day off from classes because I needed to cope with the bad news. There are a lot of highly educated people who did just that this week. I know a mechanic, a guy who some in our media would refer to as uneducated, who wasn’t too thrilled with this week’s election results either. But he went to work the next day.

It goes to show, there’s a difference between being uneducated and miseducated.

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When They Cry

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On Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of picking up my sons from school. When they climbed into my truck, something wasn’t right. One son was his normal self. The other one was not. My parenting instincts kicked in. I asked if something was wrong. He said that there wasn’t. His answer did nothing to ease those nagging parenting instincts so I asked again. This time he said that he wanted to wait until we got home to tell me what was wrong. In private.

By this point, I really knew that something was wrong.

When we got home, I took him to the private place that he seemed to be longing for. When he sat in my lap, the tears poured out of him. And they came out loud.

He explained to me that another kid at school was mean to him earlier that morning. I could barely make out his words between the wailing. I thought about whoever the guy was who made up the saying about sticks and stones and words that never hurt. That guy  obviously never had anyone say anything mean to him. The words spoken to my son earlier that morning had broken his bones.

I let him cry and held him tight. When he got a little quieter, I told him to cry some more. “Get it all out, son. It’s okay,” I told him. And so he did.

When all of the tears were gone, we had a good talk. All of it, the mean words that morning, the tears that afternoon and our private conversation, were an answer to prayer.

Minutes before I picked up my kids that afternoon, I said a prayer. Sitting in my truck in the car line, I asked God to help me to be patient. I asked him to give me the right words to say to my sons. I asked for words of grace. God rarely answers our prayers the way that we expect him to.

Sitting there in that room with my sobbing son on my lap and my shirt wet from his tears, God gave me what I asked for. He gave me not only the words to say but the opportunity to tell my son what he needed to hear.

I told my son that looking like everyone else is a dead end game. I reminded him about his true identity in Christ. I let him know that part of being a man who leads and does significant things means that people will take shots at you for no good reason. I reminded him how much his family loves him and how much more Jesus loves him. It was good to see him smile at the end our our talk and cry session.

On his way out of the room, I thought about my own childhood.

I thought about wrestling magazines.

I used to get bullied a lot. Once, after a nasty encounter with one of the neighborhood bad guys, I ran into my room and looked at wrestling magazines while crying. I grew up in a single-parent family. My mom had to work. I had to spend a lot of time alone. As I looked at those magazines, I wished that Ric Flair could somehow jump out of the pages and give me a few pointers on how to put the figure four leg lock on that bully. It sounds crazy I know. But it’s not uncommon.

A lot of kids today are growing up without a father around. Or if their father is around, all he has to offer them is tough talk on getting over it and a plea to shut up with the crying. I do a lot of counseling for my job. There are a lot of young men who have sat across the table from me who had dads like that. Dads who gave them nothing when the world was giving them its worst.

Dads, there is a difference between whining and crying. Our kids need to know the difference. And so do we. Whining is what kids do when they don’t get their way. When kids whine, they need to be corrected in love and told to stop. Crying is what kids do when their world caves in on them. When they cry, they need to be held and told that it’s okay to cry. Keeping pain bottled up isn’t manly. It’s foolish and dangerous.

I’m glad that God answered my prayer the way he did that day. I hope that through his tears, my son could see what his father had looked for and not found in a wrestling magazine.

I hope that he learned that the world can be a mean place.

I hope that he remembers that sometimes it’s okay to cry, no matter how old or how manly you are.

And I hope that our conversation the other afternoon gave him a vivid reminder that when the tears do come, he is still being held by his Father.

For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

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Is God Really In Control?

A while back I was having a theological conversation with someone. They were taking issue with my belief in the sovereignty of God, that is, the belief that God is in control of all things at all times. The person’s main concern was that if all Christians believed that God was in control of all things, none of them would do missions.

I thought about that on Wednesday night while I sat and heard a woman telling a story of the sovereignty of God. She and her husband and their five children packed up everything and left behind the comforts of Georgia for the challenges of Romania. For eleven years now the family has been working to break down barriers or racism, rescue women who are or otherwise might be caught in the sex trafficking industry, pulling children out of orphanages and giving them a better home, providing an education and yes, evangelizing the lost.

This family’s belief in the sovereignty of God didn’t keep them from the mission God had for them. It fueled their mission.

Christians like to say that God is in control but I wonder how many of us really believe that. Sure, we can say that he is in control on a random Tuesday morning. But what about on a Wednesday morning when a tornado hits? Or when there’s a bad phone call from your brother? Or when it feels like you can’t possibly go any further? Is God still in control then?

The Bible answers that question with a resounding yes.

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

This would be quite scary were it not for God’s goodness. Hitler had a pretty good measure of control over Germany. An abusive husband can control his wife. But neither Hitler or the abusive husband are good.

It does us no good to speak of the sovereignty of God if we do not also speak of the goodness of God.

 

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

So the sovereignty of God is not intended to free us from the mandate to make disciples of all nations or from any other more specific mission God may have for us. But there are a few things that the sovereignty of God, when understood in union with the goodness of God, will free us from.

Things like fear and anxiety.

It’s interesting to hear how people talk about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. Here’s a basic summary of one point I hear frequently.

“Well, neither one of the candidates are any good but we need to vote for ______________ because at least God can work through that one.”

But God can’t work through the other one? Read the Bible. It’s one big, long story of God working through tyrants to accomplish his perfect will for the good of his imperfect people. Or, to put it another way, the Bible is an account of God’s complete control over all things. That doesn’t mean that we have to support tyranny or some supposed lighter version of it. It just means that we don’t need to be afraid when it comes knocking on our door.

God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness work together to free us from the constant hand wringing that so many have given in to.

God was good and he was in control when he created the heavens and the earth.

God was good and he was in control when Jesus was crucified.

God was good and he was in control on the day that I was saved.

God was good and he was in control on the day that my parents divorced and on the day that my mother got sick and on the day that she died.

When we have our presidential election, God will still be good and he will still be in control, no matter who wins.

And, whether God calls you to Romania or to stay in the states to make disciples, he will still be good and he will still be in control.

Because God is both good and sovereign, we can trust that when bad things happen, God will eventually, some way and some how, work them for our good. We don’t need to know all of the details. When tragedy strikes, the world is better off without us trying to excuse God, speak where he has not spoken or explain away his sovereignty.

We say something much more powerful when we simply trust God and worship him.

He really is in control.

He really is good.

And that frees us to obey him boldly and worship him gladly.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (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.

How Jennifer Garner’s Baby Bump Can Remind Us Of God’s Love

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I don’t know much about Jennifer Garner. I have no idea what she believes about Jesus. I don’t know what teams she cheers for. I don’t know how or if she votes. What I do know about her is that she’s an actress who was married to Ben Affleck.

Oh, and one other thing. She has a baby bump.

And she always will.

Why people allow themselves to get so worked up over the private lives of celebrities is beyond me. A few years ago, everyone was excited over rumors that Jennifer Garner was pregnant so Garner went on The Ellen Show to discuss the rumors.

“So I asked around and apparently I have a baby bump and I am here to tell you that I do.”

That’s the part where the studio audience erupted like they just found out that Oprah had put keys to a new BMW under each one of their seats. But Garner quieted them down.

“I am not pregnant. But I have had three kids and there is a bump. From now on ladies, I will have a bump and it will be my baby bump.”

This is refreshing in a world where the emphasis on appearance can cause many people, especially women, to struggle to live under the unrealistic expectations set before them by starving, airbrushed models on the cover of some magazine.

Garner’s honesty gives a much needed gospel reminder.

Do not let your adoring be the external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adoring be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4 (ESV)

This passage is not a call for women to burn their jewelry and start wearing plain clothes and bland hairstyles. Rather, it is a reminder that there is something that matters more than a person’s outward appearance – the hidden person of the heart.

Teenage boys and older boys who are in their 40s like to get themselves all worked up over a woman’s physical beauty as if that is all that matters. But God is more concerned with that heart of the woman he has created. When that heart beats in time with his, he finds it precious. Ladies, don’t trade in the temporary pleasures of the approval of boys for the eternal satisfaction of being found precious in God’s eyes. No amount of make-up or even Bible reading can give this to you. Through repentance of sins and faith in Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the righteousness of his perfect Son. And to him, that is precious.

Your identity isn’t found in the weight you can’t lose, the teeth you can’t fix or the clothes you can’t fit into. If you are a Christian, your identity is found in Christ.

Ladies, are you okay with just being found precious in God’s eyes, even if it means that the world sees you as just another face in the crowd?

Husbands, are you helping your wife and encouraging her in both her physical and spiritual beauty or, are you more like the teenage boys gawking at magazines because you can’t move beyond the wrapping paper around the heart that God finds so precious?

We all have our imperfections. Some of those imperfections are easier to cover up than others. Physical imperfections, for example, can be concealed by make up, creative fashion or photoshop. Imperfections of the heart are much harder to conceal from others and they are impossible to keep hidden from God.

Whether you’re Jennifer Garner with a baby bump or just some guy trying to bulk up for the summer, one thing is true for you. God is looking at you. And as he does, he sees beyond the six pack abs and the baby bump. He sees your heart.

And that leads to a very important question.

When God looks at your heart, does he see something precious?

If you belong to Jesus, the answer is always yes.

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When Disaster Strikes

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Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not the type to blame Hurricane Katrina on the sins of any particular group of people. I don’t go speaking for God whenever there is some calamity. “This is God’s punishment for…” You get the picture.

If some hurricane in some far away city is God’s punishment for sin, then we better be ready in our own cities.

That’s the reason why I’m writing this.

Not every tragedy is God’s punishment for something. But sometimes it is. And if we’ve ever done anything in this country to deserve God’s punishment, it is the killing of babies. I don’t know if disaster will strike us anytime soon. I haven’t received a special word from the Lord. All I know is that if God does decide to punish this country, he has every right to do so.

When something bad happens, skeptics like to use it as ammo against Christians.

Where was your good and loving and all powerful God when that daycare caught on fire and all of those kids died?

Where was your holy God when that hurricane wiped out the lower half of Mississippi?

So is your God weak or did he just not care enough to stop that terrorist attack?

Be ready for questions like those when disaster strikes. Be ready to ask a few questions of your own.

Where was your sense of justice for small children when Planned Parenthood was delivering them alive and pulling out their brains?

Were you just too busy or did you just not care that millions of babies were put to death in this country while our leaders threw compliments and money at Planned Parenthood?

I pray for God to have mercy on us. But at the same time, I know that he is a just God. He is not apathetic or passive to the murder of people he created in his image. He has punished nations, even his own chosen nation, for sins before. We would be naive to believe that ours will be any different.

God destroyed Sodom and Gommorrah for their sins (Genesis 19:23-29).

It was the sins of God’s own people that caused them to lose the land that he had given to them and to live instead as slaves in a foreign land (Daniel 1:1-7).

Much later, God allowed Jerusalem, the holy city, to fall again.

God didn’t do these things because he has a short temper or because he is evil. He did them because he hates sin. And, contrary to public opinion, hatred of evil and love for what is good do go together. If you don’t believe me, watch how a loving mother acts when she sees an adult assault her small child. Are you prepared to call her unloving for pouring out her wrath on the man who is hurting her child?

The next time disaster strikes, there will be many who use it as an opportunity to chip away at God’s love, power and goodness. In reality, it could be that the disaster is simply his display of all three things, namely his love for the people he created in his image, his power over evil and his goodness to those who obey and love him.

The real disaster has already struck. For some 50 years now in this country, we have sanctioned the sacrifice of children to the gods of sex, comfort, money and power. That’s the disaster. If God chooses to shower our cities with sulfur and fire, he will be just in doing so.

Maybe he will do it while you read this.

Or maybe his mercy and patience will last even longer than it already has.

But we must be careful. While God’s holiness, goodness and love are limitless, his mercy and his patience are not. They do run out. And before they do, we must pay attention to the words of Jesus.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Repent.

Or perish.

Those are our options.

I pray that, before the next disaster strikes, our leaders would follow the example of the King of Nineveh.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9 (ESV)

Who knows?

God may have mercy on us so that we do not perish.

Or he may just send disaster our way.

If he does, and you are tempted to wonder why, look no further than the remains of the babies we have sacrificed to our false gods.

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How Your Church Can Avoid Persecution: Three Easy Steps

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Christians being persecuted. In our own country, followers of Christ are being sued for standing by their beliefs. In other countries, they are being thrown in prison and killed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way for you  to avoid the persecution that has been so common throughout the history of Christianity.

Of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, the church in Sardis is unique. It’s one of the few churches where persecution was not mentioned. In the six short verses devoted to Sardis, there is no mention of believers losing their homes, health or lives because of devotion to Christ. Most of the other churches are enduring trials. They are losing members to tyrannical governments bent on shutting down the church. But not Sardis. They managed to avoid the hardships that have been common for so many followers of Christ. And so can you if you just follow the Sardis example. Here’s how.

1. Look the part. 

Jesus told Sardis that they had, “the reputation of being alive” (Revelation 3:1). So focus a lot on your reputation. Build huge buildings that make people think that God is really working at your church. Use social media and mail outs to remind people of how “exciting,” “relevant” and “vibrant” you are because of your upcoming sermon series on sex or the fact that you’ll be having the county’s largest egg hunt. Your church might not really be doing all that great but so what. In a world where appearance is king, reputation always trumps reality. Always.

2. Know who to please.

Jesus told the Sardis church that their works were not complete in the sight of God (3:2). If it’s persecution that you want to avoid, you should do the same. Make sure that your works are complete in the sight of man. Bow to the same idols that everyone else in your culture bows to. In your sermons, Bible studies and doctrinal statements, say essentially the same thing that your local public school would say but sprinkle in a few Christian buzz words here and there. Just don’t go overboard. You wouldn’t want to be seen as salt in a decaying world or light in the darkness. That might offend people. And if you want to avoid persecution, you’ll do everything you can to avoid offending people. Even if it kills them. But hey, as long as it doesn’t kill you, right?

3. Stay the course.

Sure you’ve made mistakes. We all have. But keep at it. You never see politicians apologizing and changing for some action they did and look at how well it works out for them. Do the same thing. Repentance is messy. When people see you repent, they remember that you aren’t as good as you would like them to think that you are. Also, repentance tends to be contagious. If one person genuinely repents, others might do the same. And then the whole church changes into something that resembles, well, an actual church. Remember, you’re trying not to get persecuted here so you don’t want to look anything like a church. That means just say no when it comes to repentance.

Follow these three simple steps and you’re sure to navigate your way through a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to the faith that you claim to hold so dear. But, in full disclosure, you will have something worse on your hands. The Author of that faith you claim to hold so dear will be opposed to you.

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Revelation 3:3 (ESV)

Jesus is never opposed to his church (Romans 8:1). So why would he say that he will be opposed to the unrepentant members of the church in Sardis? Because it is possible to look the part and not actually be a part of the body of Christ. Those who truly belong to him will obey him. Even if it means persecution. And they will remember that the temporary opposition of men and governments is worth it all compared to eternal communion with Christ.

“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6 (ESV)

Allahu Akbar is not the worst thing that a Christian can hear just before enduring some form of persecution.

The worst thing that a professing Christian could hear is that he is no different than anyone else.

Christmas Rejected

It was supposed to be a big deal. At least according to the experts. Someone said that it would do to the car what the car did to the horse and buggy. Others said that it would end up being more important than the Internet and more common than the PC.

The experts turned out to be wrong.

In the end, American consumers saw past the hype and rejected the Segway scooter. Well, everyone except for Paul Blart.

For a while, the arrival of Jesus must have seemed like it was suffering an early version of the same fate.

The strange man and young pregnant mother hardly looked like the means by which a mighty warrior would come to save his people. That’s why rejection was such a big part of Jesus’ life, even before he was born. You might find a way to make some room in your inn for a king but not for a pregnant lady and her husband.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7 (ESV)

As the child grew, rejection became more common. Even from the most unlikely of sources.

And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21 (ESV)

It’s one thing for a hotel manager to reject you before you’re even born. It’s quite another to be rejected by your own family.

It would get worse.

People would kick him out of their region because he had the audacity to cast demons out of the town lunatic (Mark 5:17). Religious leaders would say that he was the one with the demons (John 8:48-49). During the most difficult stretch of his life, one of his own followers would sell him out (John 18:1-11) while another would pretend to never even know him (John 18:15-18).

So much for the good news about a Savior who would bring deliverance to his people.

At the time of his death, Jesus looked nothing like a savior. He was alone. But the loneliness he experienced was unlike any his people would ever know. He wasn’t just being rejected by family, friends and religious leaders. He was being rejected by his Heavenly Father.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46 (ESV)

And that’s when we finally start to grasp the powerful story behind this Savior. He didn’t come to be accepted. Rejection was his mission. Rejection from strangers. Rejection from family. Rejection from friends. Finally and more importantly, he would experience a Divine rejection so that his people never would.

A few years ago, the owner of the company that makes Segway scooters died. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff after he drove his Segway over it. It was a tragic end to a story that never quite lived up to the hype.

Two thousand years later, we do not speak of Jesus as a man who never quite lived up to the hype of angel choirs announcing his birth. Instead, we speak of a man who conquered the grave on behalf of his people. We speak of a man who humbled himself and was obedient, even to the point of death.

You may know what it’s like to be rejected by a church, a friend and even a parent or spouse. But Christian, you will never know God’s rejection. All because Jesus came to be rejected for you.

Thank you Jesus, for being rejected.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 53:1-3 (ESV)

Merry Christmas!