The Most Dangerous Kind Of Racism

All racism is dangerous. But there is one particular strain that is even more deadly than the rest. It does more damage than the Klansman in a white hooded sheet could ever dream of. It’s deadlier than the rich, young college student fighting over a statue.

The most dangerous kind of racist is the one who has convinced himself that he is not a racist. After all, he doesn’t like the Klan. He’s never showed up to a white supremacist rally. She loves that black running back on her favorite football team. She even likes a few Outkast songs.

But deep down in her heart, there is hatred. And it feels perfectly normal. As a result, her kids grow up never really being taught what it means to love their neighbor. In word and in deed, they are taught to look the other way when an entire race of people suffers. Even worse, they’re taught to blame that entire race of people for the suffering they endure. So the racist jokes told in the church parking lot aren’t really all that bad. It’s just humor. And the segregation of the last century is most certainly condemned but it’s replaced with a much more acceptable variety of segregation.

And it all feels perfectly normal.

I’m 42 years old. To put it another way, I’ve been sinning for over four decades. Sure, I’ve been a Christian for most of those years but that doesn’t change the fact that I desperately need the gospel. Without it, my heart is bent toward selfishness, pride, envy, lust, murder, and yes, even racism.

Not one person on the earth can truly say, “God, I thank you that I am not like that racist over there” (Luke 18:11).

Rather, we must prayerfully and honestly address our sin and repent. The answer is not found in self-righteousness or life-long, low-grade guilt.

Only when we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” will we truly know what it’s like to be reconciled to God and one another (Luke 18:13-14).

In the book of Acts, we are given two examples to help us as we try to live this out in our day to day lives. The first example shows us the importance of repentance and the second the importance of discernment or critical thinking.

The early church was growing by the thousands. And they did it without giving out free iPads to the first 100 people to show up or by mailing out risqué flyers about how the next sermon series is going to be on sex. Imagine that! Their growth was the result of God’s work but everything wasn’t perfect.

Church leaders had to care for hundreds of widows without any assistance from a government welfare program, the Internet or even phones. They failed. But they didn’t just fail. They failed in a way that looked like racism.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of the complaint that was made by the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews.

“Hey, Peter and John. I know it’s hard to feed everyone but why is it that our people are always the ones getting left out?”

The response of Peter and John and the rest of the church leaders is one that we would do well to follow today.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)

Notice what they did not say. They didn’t say, “Oh, you don’t understand, we have plenty of friends who are Hellenists.” And they didn’t tell the Hellenist widows to, “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Instead, they changed their system. For them, loving others was more important than saving face or doing it the way they’ve always done it. I pray that the same could be said of today’s church. May we be a people who are quicker to repent than we are to defend an old human system that hurts others.

This requires critical thinking. It means that the thoughtful Christian will not jump on every bandwagon just so he can be, “on the right side of history.” We need more discernment and less Group Think. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.

Paul had just been kicked out of Thessalonica for preaching the gospel and he found himself in Berea. The biblical description of these people is noteworthy.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

God used Paul to write a majority of what would later come to be known as the New Testament. But when he preached to the Bereans, they still wanted to measure everything he said against the Scriptures.

Such wisdom and discernment isn’t only unusual these days, it’s not allowed.

Some on the right would have us to believe that daring to question a Republican president when he is wrong means that you are a “snowflake” who hates America.

And some progressives would have us to believe that if we question Colin Kaepernick’s affinity for Fidel Castro, we are somehow blind to the injustices of the world.

Both assessments are wrong and are the result of misplaced worship and a lack of critical thinking. Many Christian leaders have soiled their garments because they worship the idea of having a seat at President Trump’s table. They have forgotten that it’s more important to have a seat at the table of their neighbor who has a different skin tone than they do. Many Progressives care more about Colin Kaepernick’s next job after he walked away from millions from his former employer than they do their neighbor’s next job after he was laid off with nothing more than best wishes.

Navigating our way through these complexities requires less group think and more of the wisdom of Christ. It requires more repentance and less self-righteousness.

Before I see that they are the problem, I must see how I am the problem.

Before I condemn their hatred, I must carefully examine my heart for my hatred.

Otherwise, I’m much more dangerous than I think I am.

image credit

A Simple Beauty

There is a lot of beauty to be found in simple things. Sometimes it takes a kid to help us to look through all of the clutter and see that beauty in a fresh way.

I became a Christian when I was very young. The church I grew up in put a lot of emphasis on the sinner’s prayer, the walking of aisles and the raising of hands. As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not my faith was legitimate. Did I say the prayer right? Was I thinking the right thing when I walked down and stood in front of the church? What if I left something out?

The other night, standing under the cold dark sky in my driveway, it was like I was having a conversation with my younger self. Like me, my son became a Christian at a young age. Unlike me, he doesn’t know much about altar calls and raising hands and repeating public prayers after revival preachers. But he still has his doubts.

He was worried that maybe he got his prayer wrong all of those years ago when he asked God to forgive him for his sins. Like his father did before him, he feared that a misplaced prepositional phrase in a prayer could mean the difference between heaven and hell. To comfort him, I walked him through the Bible. I went to some of the same Bible passages people carried me through when I was younger. We talked about salvation being more about the cry of the sinner’s heart than the repeating of a sinner’s prayer. We talked about things like belief and Lordship and resurrection.

I asked him if he understood what I was saying. Before I had kids, I never did that. I never understood why people would end their sentences with phrases like, “You know what I mean?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” Now that I’m a dad, I do it all the time. I guess that I just want to be sure.

He told me that he understood. But his face told a different story. It was the canvas for an uncommon mixture of comfort and confusion.

“I get it but it all just seems so simple,” he said in a prophetic tone you can only hear from a child.

That’s when I knew that he really got it.

My son is a worker. A hard worker. A few months ago, he set a really high goal for reading books in one of his classes. About midway through the semester, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. So he got to work. My son read more words in the last few weeks of 2016 than I did in twelve years of grade school.

He met his goal.

I think that’s why the simplicity of the gospel had my son confused the other night in our driveway. When you meet a reading goal, you get to sit back and delight in the work that you did. You can say, “I did that.”

Not so with the gospel. Before Christ, we were all “children of wrath” fighting against God (Ephesians 2:3). We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead rebels don’t usually have a lot to bring to the table. Just their faith.

And, just in case we might begin to think that our faith is somehow a product of our own doing, Paul reminds us otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

The Christian life is not simple. Temptation can be very difficult. It’s hard to love enemies. It’s hard to fight against sin. Like Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

But thanks to things like grace and love and the cross, it’s not hard to come to God. That’s because he’s the one who does all of the work. And he does that work on behalf of the small sons of a preacher as well as seasoned drug addicts. He pours out the riches of his grace, mercy and love, “on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

It really is that simple.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful things.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)

image credit

Benevolent Dictators, The Gospel And Georgia’s Burqa Ban

Update: Jason Spencer has decided to withdraw House Bill 3.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You might have a hard time believing this but there’s a really bad bill scheduled to come before the Georgia Legislature. This one has nothing to do with raising taxes or making grits the official breakfast food of Georgia. House Bill 3, if passed as written, would prohibit the wearing of any device that would hide a person’s face while taking a photo for a driver’s license, driving a car or, get this, while on, “any public way or public property.” 

To be clear, the bill’s sponsor, Jason Spencer, isn’t trying to crack down on young suburbanite women at the Mall of Georgia who wear their scarfs too high up on their face. This is a ban on burqas.

I can understand the problems of a concealed face during a driver’s license photo but using the power of the sate to prohibit the wearing of a burqa while driving a car or “on public property” is very problematic.

It matters how Christians respond to this.

We must be firm in our theological disagreement with our fellow Americans who are Muslims. No man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) and it is clear that the God of Christianity and the god of Islam are not the same. However, we must be just as firm in defending the rights of our Muslim neighbors. Believe it or not, this can be done without compromising the faith.

There’s something very troubling about so-called conservative evangelicals. As I’ve always understood it, conservatism referred to limited government. Recent history reveals that conservatism really means government that’s just as big as the kind that progressives prefer, only with conservatives instead of liberals reaching into our lives. Simply put, many conservatives have abandoned the concept of liberty in favor of a benevolent dictatorship.

And make no mistake, a government that can tell people what they can and cannot wear on “public property” is a dictatorship. I guess it depends on who you ask as to whether or not it’s benevolent. And a government that can tell Muslim women that they have to put their faith in the backseat while driving or in the public square can just as easily tell Christian families that they can’t homeschool their children and tell Christian churches that they can’t refuse someone for baptism or membership.

This bill is rooted in fear. Spencer reasons, “This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns of the rise of Islamic terrorism, and we in the State of Georgia do not want our laws used against us.”

But we must remember that fear is the enemy of liberty. When we allow ourselves to be ruled by fear, we can be sure that there will be scores of benevolent dictators eager to fix the problem. And we can be just as sure that the fix will be worse than the problem.

A while back I was driving my family to a soccer tournament that my son would be playing in. It was a trip like most others but this time we had an extra passenger. My son’s teammate came along for the ride because his parents had to work. My son’s teammate was Muslim.

Now, we could have performed our own stop and frisk on this young boy before letting him into our car. We wouldn’t want him setting off a bomb in the back seat of our Camry, now would we? Call me a bad parent, but we didn’t screen this young man. And somehow, no bomb went off.

But something else happened.

For the entire hour of our drive, I played the music of Lecrae. He’s a rapper who frequently references the gospel. And while Lecrae’s music was playing, I was praying. I was praying that the light of Christ would shine through our family as we interacted with one another and through Lecrae’s lyrics as they blew through our speakers.

When we got to the soccer fields, my son’s friend didn’t get out of the car and pray to make Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior. He did something very different from that.

He threw up.

Now, I don’t know what that has to say about me and my family but I think that it was an answer to prayer. While I was cleaning up vomit, my wife was comforting this young Muslim boy as if he was her own. The light of Christ shone through her that afternoon. And I’m still praying that it penetrates the heart of that young man.

Muslim’s suffer. Sometimes their suffering comes from being car sick. Sometimes it comes from ridiculous laws. Either way, it is the job of followers of Christ to be there for them, with love and truth, when that suffering comes.

It’s the sacrificial love and truth of God and his people that removes burqas.

Not ridiculous laws from benevolent dictators.

image credit

We Need Pastors Who Bleed The Gospel

4740917751_a911d6a887_o

We need pastors who bleed the gospel. We don’t need pastors who are pawns of some political party. We don’t need pastors who get their marching orders from their favorite political websites and TV stations. We don’t need pastors who are too afraid of getting fired.

We need pastors who, when beaten and bruised by their opponents, bleed the gospel.

That means that we need pastors who are more interested in following the examples of the Old Testament prophets than they are in turning a profit at next week’s offering. These are the pastors who will say the hard things, the things that were once obvious but no longer are.

A funny thing happened after Sunday night’s presidential debate. The people at Fox News and the Drudge Report were telling me that Trump won. Meanwhile, the folks at CNN and MSNBC were saying that Hillary won. That’s the thing about our current political climate. Love it or hate it, it does have a way of exposing allegiances. Sadly, on both sides of the aisle, there are those churches and pastors who have been exposed for being more aligned to a presidential candidate than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as a result, those pastors who are supposed to be speaking against evil end up swimming against the stream of scripture and common sense in order to keep their presidential hopeful propped up.

We don’t need pastors who act like pimps prostituting out their churches in order to give Hillary Clinton another campaign stop.

We don’t need pastors who consider it their duty to defend Donald Trump no matter what because, after all, his sins aren’t as bad as Hillary’s.

No, we need pastors who bleed the gospel.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton was your church secretary and she deleted a few thousand e-mails a week or so before being questioned by the police about some shady Internet dealings she’d been involved in. Most likely, she would be fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such actions do not disqualify her from being the president of the United States.

Imagine if your wife or daughter worked for Donald Trump. Imagine if she was the one he was talking to Billy Bush about assaulting all of those years ago. Would you still call it “locker room banter”? Would you still say it was just words? Not likely. What is more likely is that you would try to have him fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such conduct doesn’t disqualify him from being our next president. We’re not hiring a pastor-in-chief, they tell us.

One of the most disturbing things I have seen in my 41 years on this earth is the degree to which some church leaders will distort or even ignore scripture just to see their candidate elected.

For some, the fact that Hillary is a woman gives her the right to sanction the murder of babies under the banner of a woman’s right to choose.

For others, the fact that Donald isn’t Hillary gives him a free pass to do or say whatever he wants under the banner of making America great again.

Pastors, we have to be above this. We can’t scream, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” when one candidate blows it and call down fire from heaven to punish the sins of the candidate with whom we don’t agree. We must remain true to the scriptures. We must be consistent. But that’s hard to do when the blood of a political party runs through our veins.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel.

People won’t like it when you refuse to jump on one candidates bandwagon. I’ve been told that I’m what’s wrong with America. I’ve been told to stick to the Bible. It’s likely that we’ll hear worse. Don’t let that get you down. Never forget that preaching the word isn’t just done one day a week behind a pulpit.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel. Every day of the week.

That means that we need pastors who love the Trump supporters and the Clinton supporters while simultaneously opposing the godless policies and actions of both candidates. That’s easier said than done. Refusing to just play along and wave the flag of a political party or candidate might get you run out of town. It might lose you a few church members. Offerings may go down.

But that’s okay. Jesus called you to be a shepherd, not a hireling. A shepherd risks everything to protect the sheep. A hireling only looks out for his own interests and takes off running when the heat gets too thick.

Pastor, one day you will stand before Jesus to give an account for your life and ministry. You will not be questioned about whether or not your were liked? You will not be questioned about how appreciated you felt. You will not be questioned about what you did to swing the balance of the Supreme Court.

In so may words, you will get a question sort of like this one.

Did you bleed the gospel?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 (ESV)

image credit

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

 

Four Things That Every Christian Has Been Given

306677434_37142ffeb4_o

Peter knew suffering. And he knew suffering people. But that didn’t crush his hope. In fact, it strengthened it. Here’s what Peter, the man who would later know what it’s like to be crucified for his faith, wrote to a community of fellow believers who were all too familiar with persecution.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)

That’s a short verse but it’s loaded with encouragement for believers. You may not be facing death for your faith. Perhaps you haven’t lost a parent to persecution. But, no doubt, there have been times when you have felt like all hope was lost. Well, if you’re a Christian, it wasn’t. And it never will be.

Usually when people talk about hope, we roll our eyes. Hope seems like one of those nice things we like to talk about but never actually realize. That’s a fair assessment of the world’s hope. But Christian hope is different. It is rooted in an actual person – Jesus Christ. It’s traced back to an actual event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And it is directed toward a specific people – those who have been set free from sin by Jesus Christ.

When you became Christian, God gave you so much more than a Get Out Of Hell Free card. He has given us more than we could possibly ever imagine. Focusing on these four gifts from God will help us to see that, no matter how hot the fires burn against us, we are never without hope.

Christian, God has given you a Savior. 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Our.

Our!

Because of the grace of God the Father and the sacrifice of God the Son, we have belonging in the family of God. Because of your Savior, Jesus Christ, you have a Father who is in heaven. You have been adopted out of the slums of hopelessness and into the family of God. There is One who hears your cry. There is One who calls you his own.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 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 4:4-7 (ESV)

Christian, God has given you mercy. 

This isn’t NFL Draft Day where the elite shine and all of the teams fight for the player they need the most. We have nothing to offer God. God was doing just fine without us. He does not need us. He never was lonely without us. But he has still chosen us when he had every right to crush us. That’s called mercy. It’s God not giving you what you deserve. The last thing you want from God is what you deserve.

David realized that after his great sin with Bathsheba.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions. Psalm 51:1 (ESV)

God does not wash away our sins according to our goodness. God’s washing away of our sins is solely the result of his goodness and mercy.

Christian, God has given you new life. 

Born again is a phrase that those of us who have grown up in the church have heard a lot but often forget what it means. We think that it was invented by a presidential candidate or some gospel singer. It goes back long before that.

One night, Jesus talked to a Pharisee named Nicodemus and told him that he must be born again. Nicodemus was blown away. He was thinking of a physical rebirth. But Jesus cleared things up.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (ESV)

Being born again gives us more than just a new status in this life. It gives us a new dwelling in the next life. Since you have been born again, you have a place for all eternity in the kingdom of God. And as Peter goes on to tell his readers, nothing can take that place away from you.

Christian, you have real hope. 

There are millions of gods in our world but the one thing that sets our God apart from the rest is the empty tomb. Muhammad died. The Buddha died. And Jesus died. But Jesus didn’t stay that way. He has no final resting place, at least in the sense that we use the term. And because of that, your final resting place will be in a new heaven and a new earth. Finally and forever, you will rest from sin and death and temptation and worry and hopelessness.

So Christian, stop allowing your fears, your adversaries and the scary world you live in to defeat you. You come from a long line of suffering saints who didn’t give up. Rather, they looked back to an empty tomb and they looked ahead to eternal joy. That is to say, they looked to Jesus.

In him, you have victory.

Guaranteed.

And that’s real hope.

image credit

The Most Important Missions Trip

2501994750_3da9723712_o

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)

image credit

A Reminder For Pastors

7965817778_98f5878e80_o

You may know a lot of things. Maybe you can diagram Greek sentences with your eyes closed. Perhaps you’ve even memorized entire books of the Bible. I’m sure that all of that knowledge helps you when you stand before your congregation to preach. But here’s something that you don’t know.

You don’t know what’s going on in the pew.

You don’t know that they guy who slipped in at the last minute was himself a minister before he picked up an addiction to alcohol.

You don’t know that the couple that started going to your church 30 years before you came to town will go home and work out the final details of their divorce.

You’re very familiar with the husband and wife who are coming to grips with losing both a son and a grandson in the span of three years. But what you don’t know is that they have very serious questions about the goodness of God in the face of their suffering.

There is a broken heart on every pew in your church. Regardless of how they may look or how fine they tell you they are doing, there are people who are being crushed under the weight of cancer, divorce and doubt. They need hope.

And if all you give them on Sunday morning is part six in a sermon series called 50 Shades of Grace, they’re not going to get it. Not at your church at least.

The Church is powerful. It is the living body of Christ. At it’s best, it is a vehicle of hope to the hurting and a deliverer of good news to the lost. It really is that simple. But at it’s worst, the local church is a factory full of gimmicks where leaders who are too smart and culturally savvy for their own good obscure the gospel with yesterday’s trends and hot topics.

The last thing that a man who is being tempted to abandon his wife and kids for the woman at work needs to hear on a Sunday morning is a message on how to kick your sex life up a notch with a couple of Bible verses sprinkled in.

The last thing a woman who just lost her granddaughter needs to be reminded of is how relevant her pastor is.

The last thing a kid who’s contemplating suicide needs to hear is a sermon about how Easter reminds us that we can rise up to the next level of financial blessings.

But, for some reason, that’s what many churches keep offering.

For far too long, far too many churches have built their foundations on the sinking sand of gimmicks rather than the solid rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So they manipulate messages and numbers and people to reach ridiculous man-made baptism goals for Easter weekend. Out of fear of sounding too much like some old school preacher, their pastor abandons sermons dealing with sin, death and punishment for generic conversations about living life at the next level.

I’ve spent almost two decades in ministry. In that time I’ve seen too many young kids who have grown up in the church eventually walk away from whatever faith they had. Much of that is due to the fact that their church was nothing more than a giant entertainment center and their faith was an invisible rabbit’s foot that was given to them by a pastor who cared much more about being hip than being a disciple maker. We are feeding our kids a diet of Nickelodeon and we wonder why they have no answers for the CSPAN questions that come their way in adulthood.

Ultimately, we know that the Church wins. But the same can’t be said of every local church. Some of them will lose because they’re too busy fighting with one another to fight against the devil. Others will fail because they’ve worked so hard at being like the culture that, whether they know it or not, they have replaced their salt and light with Kool-Aid and cookies. And not even the good cookies. Sugar cookies.

Pastors do themselves and their churches a favor when they remember that it’s not their style or cutting edge approach to ministry that changes lives. Only God can do that. And his primary instrument of doing it in the church is a man with the boldness to preach what God says rather than speculate about what he thinks the culture would like for him to say.

I’ve preached a lot of sermons. A lot of them have been bad. Real bad. I hardly ever preach a sermon without walking away thinking what I could have done better. It’s different after a really bad sermon. I usually walk away from those thinking about how I should have just stayed in bed. Inevitably, someone will come to me and say how much my bad sermon helped them to understand the gospel better as they go through some difficulty. I think to myself, “That! How?” And then God reminds me. He doesn’t need pastors to be his marketers, public relations gurus or style coaches. Rather, he chooses to use us simply as his instruments. Broken, imperfect instruments carrying a powerful message and serving a perfect God.

 

When a pastor sets his sights on the gospel, God works in the lives and through the pain that no one knows anything about. When a pastor sets its sights on relevance, it’s just him that’s working. And, for the church at least, nothing could be more irrelevant.

image credit

Georgia Is Being Governed By Demetrius The Silversmith

Football America

You’ve probably never heard of Demetrius the Silversmith. No, he’s not a rapper. He was a businessman who lived a long time ago. But, in some ways, it’s like he’s still with us today, using his influence to get things done in the state of Georgia.

Demetrius lived in a place called Ephesus. Ephesus was a large, wealthy city that was home to some 250,000 people. It was what we might today call a progressive city because of all of it’s art, industry and educational opportunities. Above all of that, Ephesus was known for it’s gigantic temple which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This temple was devoted to the worship of a goddess named Artemis.

In Ephesus, worshiping Artemis was big business. It’s the reason why over 20,000 people kept coming back to fill that giant temple. And the reason why people like Demetrius made a good living. He sold little silver gods for people to keep in their homes.

But then some guy named Paul came to town and messed everything up.

And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Acts 19:17-20 (ESV)

A lot of people in Ephesus who used to partake in the national pastime of worshiping Artemis heard the gospel that Paul preached and responded by repenting of their sins. They became new people. The old was gone. Included in that old was all of their Artemis worshiping products. But they didn’t just quit using them. They burned them. The value of what was destroyed was somewhere around $6 million dollars.

That was bad news for our friend Demetrius the Silversmith. He was losing his customers. His reaction shows us that the god he really worshiped was not Artemis. It was money.

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” Acts 19:23-27 (ESV)

Allow me to translate Demetrius for you.

“Hey, these Christians are coming in here and preaching this gospel and it’s cutting into our profits. We can’t just sit back and let them stop our cash flow. And what about our giant temple? If this keeps up, it’ll just sit empty. On top of all of that, this Paul had the nerve to say that our god wasn’t really a god since it was made with hands. What’s with the hate speech? Someone has to put a stop to this.”

All of this kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We still pretty much have the same players – the Christians, the agitated business leader and the angry mob.

When Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the religious liberty bill earlier this week, he didn’t do it because he cares about diversity or the LGBT community. He did it because he didn’t want his state’s brand new temple to be sitting empty on Super Bowl Sunday.

And when Coke and Disney and Hollywood threatened to leave the state if the governor didn’t veto the bill, it’s not because they care so much about LGBT rights. They care about profit. And in this case, just like in Ephesus 2,000 years ago, profit and the Christian message simply could not coexist, if I may borrow a term from the progressive crowd.

The true gospel can never fully coexist with the culture. At some point the two come to odds with one another. When that happens, there are only three options. Either the culture can repent, the gospel crowd can abandon their message or the culture can start a riot and throw the gospel crowd out of town. Or veto them. Whichever is more politically appropriate at the moment.

This week, we found out that the people of the state of Georgia do not have the voice that they thought they had. Even our elected officials don’t have quite as much power as we would like to believe.

The functional leaders of our state, we learned on Monday, are the NFL, Hollywood and Disney. To put it another way, in Georgia, we are being governed by Demetrius the Silversmith.

Earlier in Acts 19 we read an interesting account of seven men who were absolutely humiliated by a demon (19:16). We have no record of a riot breaking out because the people were mad at the demons filling their city. There is no record of mass protests due to the fact that Artemis could do nothing to stop the evil that lingered over the city. The only riot is the one we read about that broke out when all of the gospel conversions started to cut into the false god industry. It was Paul, not the demon, that got under the skin of the Ephesian Chamber of Commerce.

 

One way of knowing that you belong to a corrupt society is when blatant evil is accepted simply because it’s good for a few politicians and the businessmen behind them.

image credit

Sent

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 3.16.30 PM

He was a powerful leader. And, for the most part, he was loved by the people he led. After all, he was a national hero.

But there was a dark side.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you know about David and Bathsheba. David was the king of Israel who stayed at home when he should have been on a battlefield with most of the rest of his people. During his staycation, he noticed a beautiful woman nearby and he had sex with her and got her pregnant. They probably didn’t put it like that when you learned about David in Vacation Bible School.

From there, the political corruption in David’s life really gets thick. It might even make some of today’s presidential candidates blush. Or maybe not.

David pulled Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, off of the battlefield in hopes that a weekend pass of sorts might give him the opportunity to have sex with his wife and thus take the credit for the pregnancy off of him. But it didn’t work. You see, Uriah just didn’t feel right enjoying the privileges of home while his brothers were at battle. If only David had been so noble. So instead of going home, Uriah slept at David’s door.

What was David to do? Nothing, not even getting Uriah drunk, was working. So David decided to do what any rational, level-headed, God-fearing leader would do.

He had Uriah killed.

The plan was for Uriah to die as a hero on the battlefield. Instead, Uriah died with a few other soldiers as victims not only of the enemy’s weapons but of their own king’s corruption. Joab, the leader of David’s army, was devastated. He feared the consequences of the deaths.

But David wasn’t angry. He was delighted. Finally, his problem was gone.

David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.” 2 Samuel 11:25 (ESV)

“Don’t worry about the men who died. It’s a war. It happens. You’ll do better next time. Now pass the chips and turn the game on,” David essentially replied.

That wasn’t the end of the story. While David managed to hide his sin from everyone, to a certain degree even himself, there was one who knew all about it.

And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. 2 Samuel 11:27 (ESV)

God knew. And he wasn’t happy. David would be forgiven (2 Samuel 12; Psalm 51) but the consequences of his affair were brutal and long-lasting.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. If you read through 2 Samuel 11, you might notice one word that continually pops up.

Sent.

Each time it appears in the chapter, it highlights David’s abuse of power.

He sent his people to battle but he did not go (11:1).

He sent messengers to find out about the beautiful Bathsheba (11:3).

He sent messengers again to bring Bathsheba to him (11:4).

He sent word to have Uriah brought home (11:6).

He sent orders to have Uriah killed (11:14).

And finally, David sent to have Bathsheba brought to live in his house (11:27).

When you see the word sent in this chapter, you are seeing David being evil. He sent for his own personal gains, pleasures and well-being. Contrast that to another king.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 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 4:4-7 (ESV)

When David sent, people died. God sent his Son to die so that his people would have eternal life.

When David sent, he wrecked a family and harmed a nation. But God sent his only Son so that we could be in his family and enjoy life in his perfect kingdom.

Most of us like to identify with David. We think of ourselves as the boy with the slingshot, ready to slay whatever the proverbial giant is before us. This is not a good way to interpret the Bible. If you really want to see your connection to David, just read 2 Samuel 11. Given the time and resources, you would do something similar to what David did.

Or maybe you already have and you’ve somehow managed to keep it hidden for all of these years.

Someone knows and he is not pleased.

But the story doesn’t have to stop there.

Christians aren’t perfect. We all know that. But what does separate us is the covering over our sins. Rather than the veneer of our deceit, we rely on the blood of Jesus to cover our sins.

And it would not be possible if God had not sent his son.