Of Course Your Prayers Are Useless

I was sitting in the airport in Haiti when I found out about the Texas church shooting. The man across from me was reading a book while his girlfriend looked at her phone. When the news alert went off on her phone she told her boyfriend. His frustration over the news was evident. His basic response was this: “Don’t tell me anymore. I need to process it.”

If only everyone in our country could react that way.

But instead, we have to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of how insensitive or wrong it may be. It’s our new pastime. We argue about gun control. We wonder which ethnicity or political party the shooter belonged to. We fight each other.

This is most evident in the way that skeptics and progressives mocked the idea of prayer in the wake of the Texas church shooting. It’s common for Christians, and even non-Christians, to offer prayers for the survivors of such a horrific event. Now, it’s just as common for non-believers to ridicule those prayers. One celebrity tweeted, “If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Another said, “The thoughts and prayers were literally shot out of them.” Their point was clear. Prayer doesn’t work.

In a sense, they’re right.

Those unfamiliar with what the Bible teaches who still like to pontificate about what the Bible teaches tend to view prayer as a trip to a cosmic ATM. You ask for what you need and wait for it to come. As they see it, the ATM never works. Something better is needed. In this case, that better something is government action. Never mind the fact that it was the government dropping the ball that helped to make this tragedy possible.

Prayer doesn’t work the way that the world thinks it does. In reality, none of us knows how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). But for those who are in Christ, the Spirit makes up for those shortcomings while the Son prays on their behalf (Romans 8:34). James 5:16 goes further in saying that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. This verse requires a closer look.

It is not the prayer of a well-meaning person or a passionate person or a religious person but a righteous person that is powerful. No man, regardless of how sincere, is righteous on his own. Human righteousness comes only through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This points us to another way to understand the effective, powerful prayer of a righteous man. Ultimately, Christ is that Righteous Man. He prays on behalf of his people. So in a very real sense, without Christ prayer really is useless.

Without Christ we pray for selfish reasons (James 4:3). Regardless of popular opinion, we are not all God’s children. Without Christ, we are his enemies (Ephesians 2:1-4). Only those who have put their trust in the risen Christ as their Forgiver, Lord, and Savior are children of God. God can answer any prayer he wants to but like the father in a store filled with screaming toddlers, he tends to fix his response on the cries of his own children.

Tragedies have a way of revealing the object of our worship. And make no mistake, we all worship something. Whatever you put your hope in is the place where you run to when the unthinkable happens. The reason why so many run immediately to political causes and Twitter rants is because that is their god. It is their only hope. And it is a terribly inadequate hope.

Frank Pomeroy runs to a different place. He’s the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the site of Sunday’s shooting. He wasn’t there when the unthinkable happened but his 14-year-old daughter was and she was among the casualties. Frank doesn’t have all the answers but he trusts that God does. He told the bank of microphones before him at Monday’s press conference to, “lean into the Lord” and later, “everything is in Christ.”

 

Government action has it’s place and I guess there’s a time for angry tweets but neither offer any hope. I can assure you that the victim’s of Sunday’s tragedy found no comfort in the angry tweets of Will Wheaton and Keith Olberman. True hope can only be found in knowing that God is in complete control of all things, that he loves you and that you have access to him through prayer.

But this hope is impossible to realize apart from Christ.

Frank Pomeroy is right.

Everything is in Christ.

Because without Christ, our prayers are as useless as a celebrity’s angry tweet.

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The Weinstein Predicament

In recent months, a few high powered celebrities have been exposed as sexual predators. Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein is the most recent assailant to be accused. Before him, it was a few of the boys at Fox News. As you might expect, rather than condemning the evil for what it is, we’ve politicized it. It’s what Americans do.

If our reactions to these disturbing stories were a script, here’s what it would look like.

Republican: “Our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Leans away from the keyboard and smugly folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Democrat: “No, our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Lowers megaphone and folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Evangelical: “We have determined that the Republican sexual predator is the lesser of two evils so we have decided to throw our full, unquestioning support behind him.” Takes his seat at the table, folds arms, and silently wonders why no one listens to his stance for truth.

Regardless of popular opinion, Christians do not have to speak out on every issue. In fact, it’s probably best if we stay silent on some things, especially those things that we do not fully understand. Complex issues are usually made worse when we try to solve them in 140 characters.

Of course, there are times when Christians do need to speak up, namely in response to evil. But it is of utmost importance that our responses are consistent. If we have condoned evil from a group that we identify with only to condemn the exact same evil when it is committed by the folks on the other side, we forfeit our right to be heard. Sure, our blind partisan support may earn us a seat at the table but it will leave us with nothing to say and no one foolish enough to listen. What does it profit a man to gain a seat at the table and lose his soul?

It’s time to call off our affair with political parties. Actually, that time came long ago but now will do. Otherwise, rather than being salt and light in a decaying and dark world, we will be clanging cymbals in a band that is already way off key. Rather than being peacemakers, we will be side takers. Rather than serving the Lord we will be slaves to earthly overlords.

Evil, regardless of who does it, is still evil. It is not bound by political party or confined to that group on the other side. It doesn’t only take up residence with them. It can be found in us. It can be found in me. All of us need the gospel.

It has been said that those who knew about the actions of these sexual predators but did nothing to stop them are complicit in their evil. I’ll leave it to people smarter than me to figure that one out. But I can tell you that when the Church sends out inconsistent messages regarding evil for fear of losing political clout, it ceases to be the Church and instead settles for being an arm of a political party. This happens on the right and on the left and it must stop.

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. I’m afraid that some who call themselves Christians have put down the cross and picked up their favorite political personality’s dirty laundry and followed him instead.

Jesus will have none of this.

And neither should we.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

 

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We Chose The Clowns

A lady who worked for CBS said online that she had a hard time sympathizing with the victims of the Las Vegas shooting because most of them probably were against gun control.

Pat Robertson, a televangelist who has made a career out of saying things that are unbiblical, linked the massacre to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

These statements were made by people with completely different worldviews but the root of their words are the same. Both statements are grounded in self-righteousness.

Jesus addressed this mentality during his ministry on earth. For everything that has changed in 2,000 years, not a lot has changed. We still like to think of ourselves being better than we really are.

A tyrannical government official had used his power to conduct his own massacre. While a group of people were worshiping, he had them killed. In response, people came to Jesus with the same basic mentality as the girl from CBS who had no sympathy for the victims and the televangelist who had no biblical clarity.

Self-righteousness is nothing new.

The thinking in Jesus’ day was that if anything bad happened to you it was because you had it coming and God was punishing you. So the group that was not massacred was somehow better than the group that was. That was the way that many people saw it, at least.

But it wasn’t the way that Jesus saw it.

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.” Luke 13:2-3 (ESV)

In her own way, the media executive was putting herself above the victims because of her progressive views on gun control. And the televangelist was elevating himself because he has done such a stellar job of respecting the president.

Jesus’ words, as usual, give us cause for self-reflection. Rather than asking why a loving God would allow the massacre in Las Vegas to happen, we need to ask a different question. But it is a question that we’ll never ask in our self-righteousness. This question requires humility.

I don’t love God like I should. I certainly don’t always love my neighbor as myself. And yet, I woke up this morning and got out of bed without the assistance of anything other than my alarm clock. I had a great breakfast with my wife and sons. I arrived safely at a men’s Bible study where I taught without fear of persecution. So here’s the better question.

Why would a just God allow someone like me who routinely breaks the Great Commandment to carry on as I do?

We are no better than the Galilean victims, the victims of the tower in Siloam that fell (Luke 13:4) or the victims in Las Vegas. We deserve much worse than what they endured. The fact that we haven’t received our just rewards is a testimony, not to our complete moral purity but to the grace of God.

Grace.

That’s something that we can always count on when tragedy hits.

Whenever disaster strikes, grace strikes with it. Always. You just have to be humble enough to slow down and take a look.

In the case of the murdered Galileans, grace was seen in Jesus’ compassionate call. There is, he was saying, a way to be rescued from perishing. But it comes through repentance. It requires laying aside our self-righteousness and taking on the perfect righteousness of Christ. No amount of political progressivism or religious babble can save us from our impending doom. We aren’t righteous enough. Jesus is. That’s what Jesus was telling his misguided inquisitors. And his message is just as true for us today.

In our world where everything is offensive, being told to repent or you will perish isn’t exactly the best way to win over a crowd. People are drowning in a sea of self-righteousness and they’re too comfortable in their despair to even consider the drastic changes that are necessary and the hope that can be found in Christ.

All of my life I’ve been told that Christians are self-righteous. I can’t disagree with that. We are. But it doesn’t stop with us. There are those who seek to atone for themselves through political action, violent action, or no action. There are those who claim to be compassionate and loving and are willing to prove it to you by demonstrating how cold and hateful than can be to people on the other side.

We all need to repent.

We all need Jesus.

Otherwise, we will all perish.

Jimmy Kimmel, we are now told, is America’s conscience. That should tell you how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction. When a nation abandons God and absolute truth, it looks to a comedian for direction. TV critic Hank Stuever writes, “Lacking leaders, we look to class clowns to guide us.”

It’s like we’re living in the Upsided Down of Judges, the book that begins with people asking, “Who will lead us?” and ends tragically with, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Our eyes are telling us that our righteousness is enough.

Our words and actions are proving our eyes wrong.

We don’t need more politicians, money grabbing TV preachers or calloused crusaders hiding under a thin veil of faux compassion. At some point in the future, when an honest account is given as to what went wrong with our society, two simple sentences will suffice.

We needed a Savior.

But we chose the clowns.

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What We’ve Always Done, Only Louder

I don’t know if tragedy changes us as much as it reveals who we really are. Sure, the changes come over time. We miss things. We stop doing what we once thought was normal. We pick up new habits. But these things take time. They develop over weeks, months, and years.

In the hours and days following a disaster, we tend to do what we’ve always done, only louder.

Seemingly before all of the bullets hit the ground and the casualties were recorded, political pundits were doing what they always do, namely blaming the folks on the other side. That should tell you how far we’ve fallen as a culture. We can’t even come to an agreement to grieve together after nearly 60 people are killed in a matter of minutes. So the folks on the right ramble on about Chicago crime statistics, as if what happened in Las Vegas wasn’t all that bad and the folks on the left preach about what the government needs to take away, as if a bigger government will somehow choke out evil.

Politicians are always campaigning. They certainly won’t stop after this week’s massacre. Have you watched any of the press conferences from Nevada? Each one is ten percent information and 90 percent elected officials basking in the glow of the media’s spotlight. Politicians are among the many false gods that we worship in our society. We run to them when things go wrong and condemn them when salvation doesn’t come fast enough. And yet, when the next disaster strikes, we do it all over again.

And then there’s the folks on the Internet. Within minutes of news of the Las Vegas massacre breaking, there were those on the Internet passing around fake reports. Some were trying to convince their followers that the whole thing was staged. And there were those who allegedly had the whole thing figured out because, after all, they did consume an entire season of NCIS over the weekend.

Pundits share their opinions, no matter how off base or untimely they may be.

Politicians never miss an opportunity to get a few extra votes.

Conspiracy theorists are always trying to convince us that things are never as they seem.

This is nothing new. It’s always been that way. It’s just that it all gets a little more bombastic in the wake of a tragedy.

The Christian faith comes under attack after horrific events like the one we saw in Las Vegas. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, “Where was your all-loving and all-powerful God on Sunday night?” Sure that happens but a new cynicism has developed over the years. We see it in Internet memes, commentary from pundits and even stump speeches from politicians. It goes something like this. “Thoughts and prayers aren’t helping us. We need action.”

The implication is clear. Prayer doesn’t work. Government and low grade political activism do.

In spite of the cynical attacks, Christians must resist the temptation to join in on the noise. Rather, we must do what we’ve always done.

If we wait until the unthinkable to do what is commanded of us, we’re missing the point. We shouldn’t just pray for the victims and their families and those who lead us. We should already be praying for our neighbors and their families and those who lead us. We shouldn’t go find our loved ones and give them a hug and tell them we love them. We should be demonstrating love to them already. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for Christians to start acting like Christians.

If we are to be salt and light, we must be salt and light on a regular Tuesday afternoon, not just after a tragedy. If we are to be peacemakers in an increasingly noisy and violent age, we must be pursing peace in our little worlds during those mundane days when the pundits, politicians and Internet prognosticators forget that regular people exist and have nothing better to talk about than what one of the Kardashians tweeted the other day.

Pundits will always talk.

Politicians will always campaign.

It’s who they are and what they do. But may the same be said of the body of Christ. May it be said that we always love, not in the ethereal way that our culture prefers but in the way that we see demonstrated on the cross where Christ laid down his life for his people. May we always love God with our total being. May we continually love others as we love ourselves.

Disaster has a unique way of revealing what’s in our hearts.

Christian, the next time trouble comes, may the first and most noticeable thing that the world around you sees not be your punditry, politicizing or theorizing.

May they instead see that you love God and you love them like you’ve always been doing.

Only maybe a little louder.

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Thinking Out Loud About Lecrae’s New Album

Walk up to a random person on the street and ask them to name a Christian musician and you’re likely to hear Lecrae’s name. The people in charge of handing out Grammy awards love Lecrae. A while back, I heard the DJ on V-103 say how much she loves Lecrae. Everyone, it seems, loves Lecrae.

Why is it that so many people in the church don’t?

That’s a complex question that can most easily be broken down into two answers. There’s the reason that everyone gives and then there’s the real reason.

The reason that everyone in the church gives for not liking Lecrae is that he has abandoned the gospel. The real reason is that a few years ago, Lecrae stopped making music that mainly appeals to white, reformed pastors in their mid 40s who quit listening to rap when Nelly retired.

Just listen to how Lecrae “abandoned the gospel” on his latest album, All Things Worth Together.

From the song Facts:

My Messiah died for the world, not just USA
They say, “Jesus was Conservative”
Tell ’em, “That’s a lie”
No, He not a Liberal either if you think I’ll choose a side

And I love God
I love Jesus, the one out of Nazareth
Not the European with the ultra perm and them soft eyes and them thin lips

From the song Hammer Time:

You know God my standard, He the answer
I ain’t perfect, I’m just purchased

From the song 8:28:

I just call on Jesus name
Praying daily, can you take away this pain?
Take the thorn away
Still, it remains…
Satan would love to see me give up and throw up my hands
He say I’m guilty but You say I’m clean

Lecrae has not abandoned the gospel. He’s just abandoned making concept albums based on Jonathan Edwards sermons.

Oh, and there’s one other thing. Lecrae is addressing social issues through his music. He’s talking about education, the breakdown of the family, drug abuse, suicide and tensions between the police and the black community. You know, all of the issues that we are repeatedly told, “are not gospel issues.”

Here’s something you can count on. The priest and the Levite from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan walked by on the other side, ignoring the wounded man precisely because he, “was not a gospel issue.”

For followers of Christ, in a very real way, everything is a gospel issue. No, that does not mean that caring for the poor or looking out for the least of these should ever take the place of preaching the gospel. It just means that if we really believe the gospel that we preach, we won’t call the murder of an unborn black child a moral issue and the murder of a thirteen-year-old black child a non-gospel issue.

Lecrae isn’t a pastor. If he were and his songs were sermons, I’d be the first in line to critique him for preaching about his car or current events. Lecrae is an artist and good Christian artists don’t need to put a tiny little cross or fish symbols on everything they create. They just need to create well for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor. Lecrae has done that yet again on his new album. If our head and hearts are truly consumed by the gospel, we won’t select when we will apply the gospel with our hands.

I really like Lecrae’s new album.

There aren’t any songs about the Council of Nicaea on it.

But there is plenty of gospel.

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Would Jesus Stand or Kneel?

Pick a side.

It has to be one or the other.

That’s what we’re always told. It has to be Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Chevy, Republican or Democrat, stand or kneel. There are no other options. To choose a third option is to condone the most evil of the only two real choices. And we call this freedom.

Even Jesus was told to pick a side. He had the wonderful privilege of choosing between the lifeless Saducees and the graceless Pharisees. He had the wisdom to denounce both groups. He rejected the Pharisees with his welcoming call to, “all who are weary and heavy laden.” He rejected the Saducees with his resurrection from the grave. Neither party, in their purest form, exists today.

Jesus is doing just fine.

We made it through the first two weeks of the NFL season without much controversy over people kneeling during the national anthem. Sure, some were still doing it and ESPN was still reporting on it but it was rapidly becoming a non-issue.

And then the President of the United States decided to share his opinion. The one who so many evangelical leaders have told us is, “God’s chosen man” called NFL players a name that I will not repeat here because of their refusal to stand during the national anthem. He did not, by the way, use such strong language toward the tiki torch mob in Charlottesville. Some of those were good people, remember? And then, the man who has told us that he has never needed to ask for forgiveness, lashed out at an outspoken Christian for refusing to visit the White House with his NBA championship team.

And, just like that, guess what dominated NFL coverage on Sunday. Can we just watch a game without the government getting involved? The president’s answer over the weekend was a resounding “No.”

For reasons that I’ll likely never understand, some Christians are okay with the president, “telling it like it is” and cursing people who take a knee during the national anthem. The same group that stages silly protests against the IRS on Pulpit Freedom Sunday has no problem with that same government condemning protestors who land on a different end of the political spectrum than they do. The same group that rightly has a problem with President Obama’s tyrannical reach into the consciences of bakers has no problem whatsoever with President Trump’s tyrannical reach into the consciences of professional athletes.

I do not agree with kneeling during the anthem. I always stand and take my hat off and I teach my sons how and why they should do the same. I also teach them that those who refuse to stand have a right to do so and, whether we end up agreeing with them or not, if we’re ever going to get over our divisions, we would do well to listen to them rather than obey the marching orders handed down to us by the president and his talk radio spokespeople.

Jesus did not die for us so that we could pick a side in some ridiculous culture war. He rules over such things and his followers represent him best when they are motivated by the command to love God and love neighbor rather than the desire to tell it like it is and stick it to the folks on the other side.

It can be so much fun to tell it like it is and stick it to the folks on the other side.

It’s just too bad that so few people, including the president, see how it is destroying the fabric of our nation and the credibility of the Christian witness.

The voices on both sides are loud.

Coke or Pepsi.

Ford or Chevy.

Republican or Democrat.

Stand or kneel.

Yet over all of them there is the still small voice that spoke creation into existence, sent Satan away in the wilderness, calmed the winds and the waves and will one day strike down the nations and rule them with an iron rod.

We would be wise to listen to that voice.

Because one day soon there will be no Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Chevy, Republicans or Democrats, and standing or kneeling during the national anthem.

There will still be Jesus however and he’ll still be doing just fine.

 

So you do have a choice.

But there are more than two options.

Choose wisely.

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Regarding Eclipses, Hurricanes, and the End of the World

A month ago we had an eclipse. Last week, a terrible hurricane hit Texas. Now, an even bigger one is headed for Florida. And there are more to come.

If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.

It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.

My fellow Christians, please stop listening to these people. They aren’t cute. They aren’t interesting. They aren’t harmless. They are liars and false prophets who stand directly opposed to God.

In speaking of his own second coming, Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (English Standard Version). I think a lot of Christians have a different translation of that verse. It says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows except the guy on the Internet who produces scary videos and makes wild speculations about constellations, hurricanes, and Israel. Go ahead and listen to him” (Gullible American Version).

I don’t know if a man could possibly reach a higher level of arrogance than to postulate that of all the people who have ever lived, he’s the one who knows what only God knows. Yes, with the help of his trusty star chart and sketchy mathematical equations, he has figured out what the Apostles Paul and John could not. Such a level of hubris makes Kim Kardashian-West look like Elisabeth Elliot. And yet, for some reason, Christians keep on listening to these hucksters.

Last month, some one who had been doing tons of research told me that the return of Christ would be on the day of the eclipse. When I reminded this person of how Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour, the basic response I got back was, “Well, he didn’t say we couldn’t know the day before.” So there you have it. Jesus is coming back during the eclipse.

Spoiler alert: He didn’t.

Now, every time Kim Jong-un wakes up in a bad mood, or we hear about a new weather catastrophe, another preacher comes out to give us a date for the return of Christ. And his theory always involves talk of blood moons, constellations, beasts, and other scary stuff that sounds like it could perhaps maybe be in the Bible but actually is not. At least not in the way that he presents it.

What people forget is that we have always had eclipses and hurricanes and earthquakes and crazy world leaders. But we have not always had Facebook and YouTube, the new black lagoons from which Creatures of False Prophecy seem to crawl on a weekly basis. And the only reason they keep crawling out is because Christians keep listening to them.

Jesus really is coming back. I don’t know when, neither do you and neither does your Facebook friend who is constantly posting about blood moons and North Korea. But Jesus is coming back.

Until he does, his will for us is clear and it doesn’t involve trying to figure out who the Antichrist is or what day in September of 2017 the world will come to an end. Rather, we are to be busy loving God and loving our neighbor. We are to defend the cause of those who suffer from injustice. We are to train up disciples.

And we are to watch out for con-men who attempt to deceive the body of Christ with their latest theory on who the Antichrist is and what exact day Jesus will return. In the irony of all ironies, it is these endless speculators who themselves are the spirit of the antichrist.

Watch out for them.

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Why Harvey?

If God is good, why is there a flood in Texas?

That’s the question my eight-year-old had for me this week when I picked him up from school. It made me proud. I wasn’t exactly expecting it but it made me proud.

I want to make sure that the faith of my kids is their own faith, not just some hand-me-down faith from their pastoral father. Questions like this one lead me to believe that their faith is their own. Kids just looking for a Get Out of Hell Free Card tend not to ask questions like that.

So I talked to my son about sin and all of its ugly consequences. And I told him about the drastic actions God took to undo those consequences and the living hope all believers have for a new heaven and new earth, one without hurricanes. I kept my answer general.

It’s not my place to say specifically why God allowed Hurricane Harvey to happen. Preachers and pundits like to do that sort of thing but it amounts to nothing more than taking God’s name in vain. They say things like, “God was punishing the gulf for their (fill in the blank with whatever pet sin they hate more than all of the others at that particular moment).” God most certainly can and does punish sin in a variety of ways. But rather than causing us to make reckless assertions about Houston, it should cause us to get our own house in order.

When I finished talking, I asked my son if he understood.

He said yes and went on to thinking about the Cheetos that he was going to eat when we got home.

But I didn’t quit thinking about that question. Isn’t it interesting how kids have a way of saying things that stay in your head and heart days later?

Our country is divided. Everyone is fighting. And it’s all over the news. In fact, I think that the news kind of likes the fighting. You can see the excitement in some of the reporter’s eyes. With each new riot, it’s like they can see their Pulitzer getting closer.

Bloodshed is good for business.

Last week that excitement shifted from the riots to the hurricane in the gulf. As Harvey increased in categories, they could see their ratings increase.

Bloodshed is good for business.

But something strange happened on the way to the Emmy Awards show.

People got unified. Well, people on the gulf coast of Texas did at least. There were still rioters on the other coasts but not as many people were paying attention to them. And the talking heads on the news were still blaming one another’s political persuasion for the hurricane. But not as many people were listening.

Most people were too busy watching Americans save other Americans. Of course, there were first responders doing what first responders do. But, by no fault of their own, they were overwhelmed. There’s no way to really have the man power for a storm of this magnitude.

So neighbors started saving neighbors. Guys with huge trucks rescued total strangers from their flooded homes. A black man carried a white man and his confederate flag from the rising waters. Pastors went door to door in bass boats, looking for people in need of help. And when they found their targets, they comforted them with a hug and words from Scripture. Even Chick-fil-a got in on the helping. That shouldn’t surprise us.

Everything is political these days. You can’t even sell a chicken sandwich anymore without having to jump through certain hoops and appease those who pride themselves on being on the right side of history. But, for a while at least, all of that stopped. There were no Antifa or white supremacists boats. When rescuers assisted women and children, no one said anything about gender being a social construct.

Don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that this storm has fixed America.

The national debt hasn’t gone away.

There are still racists out there doing what racists do.

Politicians are still blaming each other for pretty much everything.

But not on the coast of Texas. No, on the coast of Texas, people are loving their neighbor in the realest possible sense of the phrase. And, in a lot of ways, that’s been going on long before Hurricane Harvey was a thing.

It’s just a shame that it took the storm of the century to get reporters live on the scene.

Self-sacrifie for the good of another, it turns out, isn’t so good for business.

Earlier this week I was talking to my son about the new heavens and the new earth. He wanted to know what it would be like when Jesus comes back. He wasn’t interested in what 666 meant or who the AntiChrist was. He cared more about the main point. I wish we were all more like that. Before I finished talking he cut me off.

“I wish Jesus would come back right now.”

I couldn’t disagree with him.

But watching the people in Texas help each other made this broken world a little more bearable while we wait for Jesus to come back and fix it.

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What Christians Should Do About The Man In The White House

Nero was a liar and a murderer. And, in his time, he also happened to be perhaps the most powerful man in the world. That’s a dangerous combination that often leads to suffering. In this case, it was Christians who suffered.

Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians for it. As a result, many followers of Christ paid the punishment for a crime they did not commit.

In light of all of that, Paul gave a strange command to the church in Ephesus.

Pray for Nero.

How often we forget to do that these days. It’s easy to criticize our leaders, especially when we do so in front of a crowd of people who agree with us. It’s much harder to pray for our leaders. All you need in order to criticize the president is a platform and some degree of anger. To pray for him requires humility and submission to God’s will.

And a little consistency.

Many conservatives talk about respecting the president. So tell a crowded church to pray for President Trump and you’ll likely get a lot of Amens and maybe even a few salutes in return. But many of the folks who today are telling us to respect the president are the same ones who not even a year ago were passing around memes comparing the Obamas to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

It’s no better on the left. The folks who today are praising professional athletes for condemning the president and refusing to visit the White House with their championship teams are the same ones who accused other athletes of being bigoted for doing the same thing a year or two ago.

Why is this?

It’s because we would rather identify with our earthly rulers than commune with our real Ruler. Depending on whether we like him or not, we tend to view the president as an all-powerful benevolent dictator worthy of our worship or all-powerful tyrant who leaves us no other option but obsessive and paralyzing fear.

I like Paul’s option much better.

Pray.

In both the bullying of the Obama administration and the chaos of the Trump administration, I’ve heard a lot of believers asking what we’re supposed to do.

The answer couldn’t be more clear.

We need to pray so, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2, ESV).

Paul goes on to say that, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3, ESV).

This is not to say that we should never question the president or any other government ruler. There are times when condemnation is necessary. But there is never a time when prayer is not needed.

Some churches are known for worshiping the man in the White House, as if he were God.

Other churches are known for fearing the man in the White House, as if he were the AntiChrist.

The church that pleases God will be known for praying for the man in the White House, as if they’ve known all along Who’s really in charge.

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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.

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