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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Antifa, The Alt-Right, And The Gates Of Hell

Remember the good old days when a military conflict or a natural disaster seemed to bring us all together, even if it was only for a few days? One would think that if anything was going to make us all join hands and buy the world a Coke it would be white supremacists radicalizing a car and using it to plow over their fellow Americans. Or maybe a crazed leftist trying to assassinate an elected official would make us take a second look and put aside our differences. Neither one did. Instead, they only highlighted the giant wall separating this country.

We are more divided than ever.

And, for some reason, many in the church feel the need to pick a side.

 

 

There should be no, “Yeah, but what about that time when they…” after attempted murder at a softball game. There should be no, “Well, the other side…” after what we just saw in Charlottesville.

But that’s what we’ve got. And many of those excuses are coming from the church. After last weekend’s violent riots in Virginia there are still those who want to remind us of something that was done by someone on the left rather than simply weeping with those who weep and doing the necessary self-evaluations to see how we got to this point. It’s easier to look down your nose than it is to look in the mirror. Even for good church folks.

We would do well to heed the advice of Gamaliel.

I don’t usually hold Gamaliel up as a model for us to follow. He was a religious leader who, two thousand years ago, helped oppose the early church. But in his opposition, the esteemed religious leader showed us the difference between a movement of man and the body of Christ.

Peter and the apostles were agitating. Their gospel proclamation and good works were stirring up the establishment. So they were detained and told to stop. Key leaders wanted them dead. That’s when Gamaliel spoke up.

He reminded the other leaders of a man named Theudas. Theudas was the leader of an uprising. But Theudas was overthrown and his movement came to nothing.

After him came Judas the Galilean. He too tried to start a revolution but lost his life in the process. His movement came to nothing.

And then Gamaliel dropped this nugget of wisdom about what to do with Peter and his friends.

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” Acts 5:39 (ESV)

Antifa is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The alt-right is of man. It will fail and come to nothing.

The Democratic and Republican parties are both of man and they will both fail and come to nothing.

So why, as these movements are in the process of driving off into the ditch, must Christians pick which side they want to crash on? Why must we explain one side as not being as bad as the other? Why must we place our identity in them?

The church is supposed to be different. It will last forever. This is liberating for Christians. It means that we have the freedom to say to Antifa and the white supremacists, Democrats and Republicans, “A plague on both your houses.” It frees us to call evil what it is without fear of upsetting the base, whatever that means. And it helps us to preach and live the gospel, no matter how unpopular it may be.

It’s time for our local churches to do some self-evaluation. Are we content with being the body of Christ or would we rather be a movement of man? If we choose to be the body of Christ, we may not be liked but we’ll be known for our love. If we settle for being a movement, we’ll just be known as the people who still haven’t gotten over the Broncos cutting Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick not standing up during the national anthem. And we will come to nothing.

While the world is busy trying to fight one brand of hate with another one, the church must remember that it was Christ who died for us, not a Civil War general or a flag. It means that we’d rather live in harmony with our neighbor than win a debate against him by using crime statistics we found somewhere on the Internet. It means that we love like Christ rather than arguing like a talk radio host.

Antifa’s days are numbered.

The alt-right’s days are numbered.

And the same is true for churches that settle for being movements of man rather than the body of Christ.

But not so for the true church. A few years before Peter was called to stand before Gamaliel, he stood before a much greater leader named Jesus. And Jesus told Peter an even greater word about the church that we need to hear today as we consider transferring our membership to a political party or racial identity.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

The gates have opened and Hell has poured out into our streets.

But it is no match for the body of Christ.

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The Carjacking of the American Church

She just wasn’t having it. It might happen to someone else, somewhere else. But not here and not now.

Surveillance footage showed two carjackers running to a car where a woman was pumping gas. Somehow, that woman was able to jump in her car and lock herself in. Score one for the good guys.

The bad guys weren’t done. They just moved to the next available car at the Hialeah, Florida gas station. But as soon as one of them jumped into the driver’s seat, the female owner of the car pulled him out and tore off his mask. Although the two men were armed, they were no match for the mother of the one-year-old and the seven-year-old who were in the backseat.

Carjackers are lurking around the American church. In many cases, they have already taken control of the wheel and made it back to the chop shop. But such is not the case for every church. It is with the same ferocity of that young mother that we must fight off those wishing to take control of the body of Christ for their own evil purposes.

Hucksters, politicians, racists, and sometimes combinations of all three wrapped up in one have tried to carjack the church over the years. We can’t let it happen.

But that requires some sacrifices.

We have to denounce white supremacy when it rears its ugly head, whether it be at a Virginia rally or out in the church parking lot.

No longer can we prostitute ourselves out to whatever politician will tell us what we want to hear.

We have to take the time to actually know the gospel so that we can know the fake gospels when they come running up on us. For example, when we hear a white supremacist like Thomas Robb tell us that the Great Commandment just meant that you’re supposed to love your own kind, not those of another race, we should be so familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan that we can chase off such evil like that mother who just wasn’t having it that day.

And we must remember what it means to love God and love our neighbor. If we’re honest, we don’t love like we’re supposed to. We cry for justice when a black person fails to meet our standards but we turn our nose up at the Philando Castilles of the world. We talk a mighty fine game about our Second Amendment rights but not so much when it comes to our neighbor and his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights.

The conservative church in America is much like the church in Ephesus. For the most part, we hold to the truth. We resist false teaching. We do good works.

But we’ve forgotten how to love.

Jesus’ indictment of the Ephesus church two thousand years ago could just as easily apply today to the First Baptist Church of Bible Belt County. 

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Revelation 2:3-4 (ESV)

We have learned how to build great cathedrals and programs. We know how to draw a crowd. We can fight against the Progressives with the best of them.

But we have forgotten how to love.

If you showed up to your church next Sunday and the air conditioner was broken, your church would manage. If your building burned down in the early hours of Sunday morning and you showed up to a pile of ashes, your church would still be just fine. But if you remove the love from the church, you no longer have the body of Christ but rather a slightly more moral version of the Church of Satan.

Paul told his young understudy, Timothy, that, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV) I’m afraid that the same cannot be said for many American churches. They have been carjacked and control has been handed over to talk radio hosts, political pundits, and angry social media ranters who tithe well.

And we wonder why we’ve lost our influence.

Maybe it’s not all the fault of the godless and radical left. Maybe some of it has to do with the godless church folks who love the morality and sentimentalism of Christianity more than they do the Man from whom the movement originates. And as a result, we riot over the removal of a statue and we let the band play on at the news of another black life lost.

Thankfully, it’s not all like this. In my small town and small church, I know dozens of people who are fighting off the carjackers. They are having necessary conversations, inviting people into their homes, and crossing borders to share the love of Jesus.

Carl Zogby, speaking on behalf of the Hialeah Police Department about the mom who fought off those carjackers was straight to the point.

“She was a mom, and what that bad guy didn’t know, in the backseat of that car were two kids. She wasn’t gonna let them be taken, so she fought, she dragged the guy out of the car, and they both ran away like cowards.”

Cowards.

There’s a fine line between cowardice and courage. The coward often starts out boldly but withers away when the fight gets tough. And many times the courageous person is consumed with fear but does what needs to be done anyway.

The American church is at a bit of a crossroads. Will we hand our keys over to the cowards and hope for the best for those under our care? Or will we stand and fight against both the evil trying to get in and the evil that already is in our hearts?

Time will tell.

And we can be sure that Jesus is watching.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 (ESV)

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Unintentional Lessons On Grace From Coach Roach

I can only remember two sentences that Coach Roach ever spoke to me.

Coach Roach was his real, given name. Well, Roach was. Coach was just a title. I guess when you have a last name like Roach, you just have to go all in and find a career that gives you a rhyming title. That way, thirty years later, people will still remember you and at least two sentences you said to them.

Coach Roach was my seventh grade football coach. I played for the Adamson Indians. We were terrible. More specifically, I was terrible. But we had nice uniforms. Mine was especially nice.

One day, on our way down to the field from the locker room, I asked Coach Roach how my uniform looked. I have no idea why I did this. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first and only time I ever asked a grown man to evaluate my looks. On top of that, Coach Roach was legally blind. No, I’m not making that up.

I still remember what he told me in his thick accent that I thought sounded like something straight out of Brooklyn.

“Ya look like a million bucks, son.”

Man, I was so proud. Coach Roach thought I looked like a million bucks! But my pride faded by the time the game was over and I was walking back up to our locker room. I still looked like a million bucks. There were no blood or grass stains on my pants. My jersey had no rips in it. The other team’s helmet paint wasn’t smattered across my helmet.

I looked like a million bucks.

It’s just too bad that I didn’t play that way. Come to think of it, I barely played at all.

I think that I still remember those words because they give a perfect assessment of today’s church. Many people who claim to be Christians look the part. They listen to radio stations with words like Fish and Love in the title. They live by a strong moral code. They are good boys and girls.

They look like a million bucks.

But they aren’t in the game. In many cases, they aren’t even on the team.

The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable from Luke 18 was this way. He was good. And in case God forgot, he was willing to let him know.

“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:12 (ESV)

But there was another man in Jesus’ story. He barely felt worthy to put on the uniform, much less to ask Coach Roach how he looked. When he prayed, rather than running through his stellar spiritual résumé, he asked God for his mercy.

And Jesus gave a stunning assessment of the two men.

The sinner who asked for mercy was made right with God, not the man who looked like a million bucks.

For all of his shortcomings, the sinner in Jesus’ story understood something that the Pharisee and many of us do not. Being right with God has nothing to do with our performance or how well we look while performing.

That brings me to the second sentence I remember Coach Roach saying to me.

“Sandaz, ya gonna get crooooooooo-suh-fied!”

That’s what Coach Roach would say to me during tackling drills. I was too small and too scared to do well at those drills so usually I ended up looking more like a frightened ballerina than an actual football player. But hey, at least I made my coach think about Jesus. That’s got to count for something.

No matter how good you think you are, your sin was so great that it took the death of Jesus to make you right with God. Only through faith and repentance, not fasting and tithing, can you be made right with God.

My football career came to an end after that season with Coach Roach. But I’m thankful for him, if for nothing else, because of those two sentences that he spoke to me. I didn’t know it at the time but I was learning something about grace.

I wasn’t able to fake my way into a right relationship with God.

God did not accept me because I looked the part.

I am right with God because the crucified and risen Lord had mercy on me.

A sinner.

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We Have A Food Problem

Have you eaten your kale today? If so, congratulations! You’re going to live to be 119 years old. If not, it’s been nice knowing you but your number’s probably getting called later this week.

You can tell a lot about a society by how they view food. Our society has a lot of explaining to do.

Imagine what it would be like if Moses were standing before the burning bush today and God was promising to use him to lead the people of Israel into a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses had his hesitations when this originally happened. I’m convinced that he would have a whole new set of concerns today.

“Explain this milk, Lord. Was it sourced from grass-fed, free-range cows? And about that honey, sorry, but I’ll have to pass. I just watched a Netflix documentary on how anything that tastes sweet will make your kidneys swell and your eyes sink in. Would you happen to have available a land flowing with kale and emu oil?”

As crazy as that sounds, it’s not too far off from the way it actually went down. The people of Israel were living under harsh conditions as slaves in Egypt. When God rescued them and sent them on their way to a home of their own, he made food rain down from the sky for them.

But it just wasn’t good enough.

Today, for most of us in the United States at least, God has blessed us with more food than our ancestors could imagine.

And still, it’s just not good enough.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Each week there seems to be a new Netflix documentary about food. And whenever I hear a friend talking about it, they say basically the same thing.

“I’m never eating again.”

That’s because the basic point of most of these documentaries is that Cobra Commander has laced our food supply with poison and if we want to live to see tomorrow, we had better cut back to a diet consisting mainly of organic, free-range, fair-trade hummingbird spit.

Look, I get it. We’ve had a food problem for a long time. People have become too dependent on McDonald’s and frozen “meat” burgers. Side note: never eat any food out of a box with the word meat in scare quotes. But you get my point. Our society has an eating disorder. More specifically, we eat too much and that’s not good.

But recently there has been a shift. Because of the Netflix documentaries and Nutrition Nazis and Food Pharisees we follow on social media, with each bite we take, we take on more guilt. Or fear. Or shame. Or all of the above.

“I can’t believe I just ate a piece of my kid’s birthday cake.”

“Where was the tomato in my salad harvested from and what type of pesticide was used on it?”

“What kind of damage will that ice cream cone do to next week’s Instagram pool selfie?”

Instead of scaring ourselves and our kids to death with another food documentary, we need to cook with them and model the right way to enjoy food. We need to demonstrate self-control and gratitude. We need to stop stressing over every calorie we consume.

We need to relax.

For those who tend to eat too much food, we must relax in the sufficiency of Christ. We must remember that no matter how much we eat, we will be hungry again. And if we don’t keep that hunger in check, our appetite will strangle us. Instead, we must, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Only then will we find satisfaction. Only in the righteousness of Christ do continual desire and continual satisfaction live in harmony.

For those of us who are slowly working themselves down to a diet of nothing, we must relax in the sovereignty of Christ. Otherwise, we will make ourselves crazy worrying about the cow that our milk came from and the grass that the cow ate and the water that the farmer gave to the cow and the mental health history of the farmer who cared for the cow. It never ends. Each bite we take must be done with gratitude to Christ while trusting that, “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Yes, all things. Even the molecular structure of your quinoa.

God gave us one body and a lot of food. We need to figure out how to be good stewards of both. The answer is not found in full on gluttony nor is it found in documentary fueled deprivation. Both reveal disorders that run much deeper than the amount of food on our plate. The one who gravitates toward gluttony must humbly and Scripturally address his heart’s idolatry of food. The one who lives in fear, guilt and shame with each bite must examine his heart’s idolatry of perfect health and long life.

There is no doubt that too much fried chicken is bad for your heart. But in a completely different sense, too many unnecessary food restrictions can be a sign of a bad heart, that is, a heart that cherishes the gift of live over the Giver of life.

I am what you might call a health nut. I can’t remember the last time that I ate at McDonald’s. I stay away from white sugar. We have a lot of organic food in our pantry. There are two things that I have notice about our lifestyle. First, there’s always someone more nutty about their health. Two, there are no guarantees that I’ll live any longer than the guy who eats McDonald’s every day. My body will just biodegrade faster than his.

Unless we’re still alive when Jesus returns, none of us is getting out of here alive. No amount of carrot juice can alter that reality. Bu that doesn’t have to be a sad reality. For the believer in Christ, death does not get the final say. Rather, it is just the beginning of an eternity with no crazy food documentaries, no weird diseases and no food allergies.

In eternity, it will be Jesus, his people, a new heaven and earth and a giant supper where no one will ever be over-served and no one will have to request the gluten-free rolls.

But I’m still not sure if there’s going to be any kale there.

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Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

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A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

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