Red Ferrari

I don’t know anything about cars but I know a nice one when I see it. This was a nice one. It was a red Ferrari. When I looked at it, I saw a little bit of myself. Now before you bail out on me for comparing myself to a Ferrari, just hang on.

I don’t see cars like this where I live. It seemed to appear from nowhere just outside of my driver’s side window while I was stopped at a red light. When I pointed the car out to my sons, the questions started flowing. And they were questions that I didn’t have the answers to. But that’s never stopped me before.

“Dad, is that a fast car?”

“Oh you bet. It’s got twin dual cam headers.”

The three of us sat and gazed at that red sports car. It was almost like we felt honored to have such a fine vehicle visit our common town and to be so kind to share the same road with our humble Chevrolet. When the light turned green, a little piece of us died. The Ferrari would soon be out of our sight and out of our lives forever. I thought about racing, just to prolong the experience. Cooler heads prevailed.

I was going straight and the car was turning left. Well, the car wasn’t exactly turning left. It was being taken to the left. That beautiful red Ferrari was tied down to the back of a flat bed truck. And this wasn’t one of those trucks that carries rich people’s expensive cars across the country. This was the type of truck that some dude named Big Ed uses when he comes to pick up your gently used Toyota Tercel after you drive it off into a ditch.

That’s when I saw a little bit of myself and my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in that Ferrari.

By God’s grace and through faith and repentance, we have been given much. God has given us eternal life. But he has also given us the resources we need to glorify and enjoy him in this life.

In Christ, we have power over evil, both the kind in our hearts and the kind in the world (Ephesians 6:10-20).

In Christ, we have joy (John 17:13).

In Christ, we have access to our Creator (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Christ, we have peace and love and self-control and so much more (Galatians 5:22-24).

But we don’t use those gifts. Instead, we settle for getting through life on the back of some spiritual tow truck.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God is going to bless you with a beautiful new Ferrari. And I’m not saying that Christians never have hard times or that we never deal with issues like depression or anxiety.  What I am saying is that our identity is not found in those things.

Too many Christians put a heavy emphasis on their sin while ignoring the righteousness that is theirs in Christ. An emphasis on personal sin is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing if you care to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. But it’s incomplete if it does not lead us to see our new identity in Christ.

Yes, Christian, you were a wretch. You were an enemy of God.

And yes, your struggle against sin is still very real.

But please do not forget that great exchange that took place by God’s grace. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfect Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You are no longer an orphan.

You are no longer an enemy of God.

You have been given eternal life.

You have been given hope and joy in this life.

And here’s the thing about God’s gifts. They are meant to be used. So ditch the flat bed truck and take your gift for a spin.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (ESV)

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Milwaukee Foolishness Or Why We Need The Police

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The absolute worst answer to the problem of racism in our country is more racism.

The most foolish remedy to a corrupt government is no government at all.

And yet, we’re seeing both of those things in Milwaukee right now. Yes, I realize that the rioters on YouTube and cable news don’t represent everyone in Milwaukee but it would be foolish to ignore them.

While we were all busy watching Bolt and Phelps dominate the Olympics, they were cursing at police officers, lighting gas stations on fire and just praying for a member of law enforcement to lose his cool. They were saying how they refused to live with white people. They were threatening to slice open the heads of police officers. They were mocking black police officers. They were calling on people to stop burning down the city and take the violence to the suburbs instead. How noble.

Martin Luther King went to jail. Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat. Rioters in Milwaukee are busting the windows out of police cars. Something has changed.

In much of the footage I saw from the weekend in Milwaukee, protesters were chanting the title of that old N.W.A. song. I’ll spare you the title. Just know that it’s a colorful way of expressing hatred of the police. As the crowd kept chanting, the line of police officers kept backing up. They stood arm in arm, absorbing the verbal assaults of the mob. At the command of their leader, the police fell back a few feet. And later, a few feet more. Finally, they climbed in their vans and left.

The crowd cheered.

They had finally gotten their way.

But is that really what they want?

True, none of us wants the local law enforcement setting up shop in our home. But neither do we want them packing up and moving out. It might make for a catchy song but it’s no way to live.

Here’s the reality that few people fail to recognize. There is no such thing as anarchy. There will always be government. It might be organized or it might be chaotic. It might be civil or it might be corrupt. But it will always be.

So the angry masses will never get their way. Sure, they might get their local police to leave the neighborhood. But those law men will only be replaced by lawless men who will demand the same authority as those before them only without any system of accountability. In Rwanda in the mid-1990s, the Hutus and the Tutsis couldn’t put their hostilities with one another to rest. As a result, the government collapsed. What followed wasn’t a group of people who promised to be nice to each other until things got back in order at the capital building. The result was genocide at the hands of local warlords. There is no such thing as anarchy.

There are others who would like to see the federal government become more involved in local police matters. If you think your city’s police department has problems, just wait until they have to start taking orders from Washington D.C.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to take things on a case by case basis in this country. When one black kid does something foolish, we want to blame his entire race. When one cop does something evil, rather than addressing that specific incident, we’d rather burn the whole system down. The race problems in the country require a surgeon’s precision. We have settled for a rioter’s brick. The folks at CNN, by the way, prefer the rioters brick. It does wonders for their ratings until the next plane disappears.

A free society depends on a responsible people. When a member of the police department steps out of line, the citizens can and should speak up. But they must speak carefully. They must, as the Bible says, be angry without sin (Ephesians 4:26). Perhaps that’s too much to ask for a society that has long since abandoned God. At the very least, they must realize that a properly functioning government is a gift (Romans 13:1-7). There are plenty of good police officers. And your neighborhood needs them.

So the next time you feel inclined to join in singing the lyrics to that N.W.A. song about the police, or worse, acting them out, think twice.

You just might get what you want.

And that’s really the last thing you want.

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The Most Important Missions Trip

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

All of that changed on Monday.

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

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

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

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

“What about Peachtree City?”

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

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

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

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

And murder suicides.

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

Poverty is pretty easy to spot.

A broken marriage isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We All Get Along With Each Other Just Fine

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I eat a Thanksgiving meal two times a year. The more traditional one is with my family on Thanksgiving Day. We eat all of the usual foods and watch the Detroit Lions find creative new ways to embarrass themselves on national television.

The other meal takes place the Sunday before Thanksgiving. People from my church make a bunch of food and we take it to the Jackson Housing Authority. We don’t just serve food to our friends over there. We eat it with them. It’s one of my favorite meals of the year.

Most of the people at the housing authority are black. Most of the folks at my church are white. But, despite the best efforts of the professional agitators in our culture, we all get along with each other just fine.

In that small community room and the garage connected to it, people are just eating. There’s really nothing complex about it. It’s not a summit on race relations. No one stands up and apologizes for something terrible that happened 200 years ago. I don’t even preach a sermon. Yet somehow, we all get along with each other just fine.

There are no safe zones in the room where we eat together. There are no debates. There is a lot of laughter. And eating. There’s something about sharing food from the same pot that makes you put aside your differences. It’s hard to hate each other when you both have potato salad on your chin. During this meal, a lot of us have potato salad on our chins and we all get along with each other just fine.

Our Thanksgiving meals probably won’t do much to fix the racial chaos that is happening in our country. It won’t do anything to stop whatever racial slurs may have been said at some college campus. It won’t keep rich kids from going on hunger strikes. But while we’re eating that meal in Jackson, Georgia, we’re all getting along with each other just fine.

For one night at least, the racial turmoil we see on the news is exposed for the foolishness that it really is while we all laugh and eat together. And during that time, we’re all reminded that racial healing will never come through hashtag activism, guilt trips, racial superiority or government programs.

And during that one night, there is no Black Lives Matter, no KKK and no news media.

And we all get along with each other just fine.

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Jesus And The Black Lives Matter Movement

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If I was a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, and I actually cared about peace, I’d start thinking seriously about a name change. We wouldn’t be able to go with All Lives Matter because we’ve already been informed that such a name is racist. And we couldn’t use Life Matters because it might offend the folks over at Planned Parenthood. I’ll keep thinking about a new name and get back to you.

There comes a time when every movement finds itself at a crossroads. For Black Lives Matter, the options are many at this point.

a.) They can carry on with their mission and persevere through times of trouble, danger and even obscurity.

b.) They can sell themselves out to the very people who are a part of the initial problem.

c.) They can allow the troublemakers to take over.

The people at Black Lives Matter have chosen options b and c. That’s why you see people burning down cities in the name of justice. And it’s why you see members of the Black Lives Matters movement delighting in the execution of a Texas police officer.

I know that there are bad police. Just like there are bad pastors, bloggers, teachers and lawyers. History has shown us that it’s best to address such injustices on a case by case basis. Many in the Black Lives Matter movement have decided that it would be better to just blow up the whole system.

This is a critical time for the Church. Thankfully, we’ve been here before and managed quite well.

It was shortly after Jesus had risen from the grave. More and more people were deciding to live their lives for Jesus. Thousands, to be exact. And the 12 men who had spent the previous three years following Jesus had quite a challenge. With no Internet, phones, or automobiles, how were they supposed to take care of everyone? How were they supposed to make sure that everyone was fed?

The short answer is this. They didn’t. And their neglect 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)

The Aramaic-speaking Jewish widows were being fed but the Greek-speaking ones were not. What gives? And there you have your first legitimate church fight.

The 12 men leading the church chose to address the problem. Their decision, under God’s plan of course, is a big reason why the Church is still around today. They didn’t blow anything up. They didn’t assassinate anyone.

No, to fix this problem, they started acting like the Church.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect unbelievers to act like the Church. There will always be unbelievers burning things down and saying stupid stuff. The problem comes in when the Church starts falling in line with that. We would do well to follow the early church’s countercultural approach.

My fear is that we won’t. I’m afraid that he constant news coverage of another execution, another crowd blocking traffic or interrupting brunch and another group of marchers spewing hate in the name of justice will cause the Church to retreat.

Christian, if you care anything about God and his gospel, you cannot let this happen. At least not in your church. Pastors and church leaders, before you punt the football and focus all of your energies on budget meetings, you need to consider the example of the early church’s response to a racial dispute.

You need to know your Bible and teach it.

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)

For some reason, a lot of Christians who care about doing good in the community do so at the expense of the Bible. It’s as if they believe that you can’t do both. You can. In fact, you can’t do just one. A cup of soup for the belly and a jar of air for the soul is not what the world needs. The early church knew this. In their effort to meet physical needs and heal racial wounds, they did not neglect the teaching of the word.

But it doesn’t stop with the Bible. You need to serve too.

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. Acts 6:3 (ESV)

The church selected seven men who would oversee the serving of others. But these weren’t just any men. These were men who were wise, filled with the Holy Spirit and who apparently cared about people. Even in the face of a major and potentially lethal dispute, the early church did not forget its mission. What about your church? Is your church more concerned with the numbers on the budget sheet than the pain down the street? Your new building, while important, is not likely to change your community. Your presence in the schools and over at the Housing Authority will.

So Christian, do not retreat. Do not hand over your responsibility of promoting peace (Matthew 5:9) to those who want the exact opposite. Keep doing the backyard Bible clubs. Don’t stop the bus ministry. If you’re not doing anything, start. Sitting in front of the television and worrying about when the race war is going to start is not your mission. Loving in the name of Jesus is. Get to work.

Finally, the early church prayed.

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4 (ESV)

Anyone can complain. Anyone can worry. But true followers of Jesus Christ will pray. And when true followers of Jesus Christ pray, things happen (Romans 8:26; James 5:13-16).

Pray for peace in your community.

Pray for your local law enforcement leaders to do their job in full submission to the authority of Jesus Christ.

Pray that God would raise up people in your church, on the police force and in city hall who are, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”

Pray for the kind of racial peace that only Jesus can bring.

Forget what I said about changing the name of Black Lives Matter. If I was in that group and I really wanted change, I think that I’d let them keep their name. I’d let them keep their name and I’d leave to join another group.

One that actually cares about peace.

One that has a track record of reconciliation.

I’m happy to already be a part of that group.

It’s called the Church.

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Daddy Issues

You may not like him. You might not even know him. But you can be sure of this. You’re just like him.

You can see it in the way you smile or tell a joke. The way your eyebrows bunch up when you’re about to cry are another dead give away. Try all you want but it’s hard to cover up who you belong to.

You are a lot like your father.

We have phrases in our language that demonstrate this. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Chip off the old block. My wife uses a different one.

When my son takes his shirt off and does some inappropriate dance at some inappropriate time, she says, “That is your son.” Did I mention that my son is 25? I’m kidding. He’s 24.

Our lives demonstrate who we belong to. It’s seen in everything from our sense of humor and the way we deal with hardships to our baldness and eye color. We are all chips off the old block.

Jesus spoke to that near the beginning of his most famous sermon.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 (ESV)

To put it another way, God is pleased with you when you pursue peace because you are acting like him when you do.

The Bible gives us a lot of descriptions of God. Peacemaker is one of the most common. He brought us peace through the birth of his Son (Luke 2:14). Through his gift of faith, we have peace with him (Romans 5:1). The cross was his gift of peace to his people (Colossians 1:20). By his grace, he brought peace to us, his enemies (Ephesians 2:1-7).

God the Father is a peacemaker. We do not pursue peace with others so that maybe one day we might get to be a part of God’s family. We pursue peace with others because God has already made us a part of his family. He is our Father. Peace isn’t always easy and we don’t always pursue it like we should but peace is what you do when your Father is The Peacemaker.

This means that we will work to have homes where peace is evident, even when sometimes it feels more natural to yell, blame and resent. It’s the hard work that chips off the old block do.

We will also avoid the temptation to gossip about other people because we know that such talk is the enemy of peace. Instead, we will speak words of love. We will speak words of truth. We will speak words of correction. But never words of gossip. It’s just not consistent with who we belong to.

But what about the churches where there has been no peace for decades? You know the type. The ones where the people don’t know what to do with themselves if there’s not something to fuss about. You know, the ones that have had 12 pastors in the past 10 years and are still busy searching for the right one but not busy with the personal reflection that could lead them to the conclusion that they, not their old pastors, are the problem.

Or what of the people who always seem to be in the middle of a controversy? You know, the ones who continually spread rumors, tear others down and every few days launch one or two full on military assaults with their words, actions and attitudes.

Surely these people aren’t acting like their father too, are they?

They are.

Jesus’ words to a band of angry religious types who wanted him dead two thousand years ago are just as relevant for us today.

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.'” John 8:42-44 (ESV)

The Creator and Sustainer of the universe goes to drastic measures to pursue peace. Satan, his enemy, has been a murderer from the beginning and speaks only lies.

Your pursuit of peace, even at great cost, isn’t a result of you being a really swell person. Your love of conflict, gossip and turmoil is more than a character flaw. These attitudes, words and actions are more like the results of a spiritual DNA test revealing who your real father is.

You may not like it. You might not even know it. But you can be sure of this. You act just like him. Your father.

That’s not in dispute. The only question is, who is your father?

Can We Please Stop Talking About Race?

Can we please stop talking about race? Probably not. But I think that we’d be better off if we did.

No, I’m not saying that we need to start ignoring the racism that obviously still exists in our culture. And I’m not telling victims of racism to get over it. I’m just saying that maybe it’s time for a new approach.

For years we’ve been told that we need to have a national conversation about race. So that’s what we’ve done. But the results have been less than stellar. Instead of harmony, this long conversation has left us confused, scared and even more angry than before.

Earlier this week I read an article that was a part of our long national conversation on race. The article was basically saying that everything from your choice of cupcakes at the bakery  to the names you give to your offspring can reveal your level of racism. Pardon my confusion, but how exactly does such a conversation help the fact that we just simply can’t get along in this country? Do we need a National Summit on Cupcake Buying?

Ironically, this so-called conversation has ruined our ability to talk. Shortly after the terror attacks in Paris I was watching a live television news report of the aftermath where two talking heads were giving play-by-play of what was happening on the screen. At one point, a black man stepped into the camera’s view. Here’s how it was described.

Talking Head #1: “The building in question is the one that the African American gentleman just walked out of.”

Talking Head #2: “We don’t know if he’s African. Or American. This is Paris, remember?”

Reports are still coming in but I believe that the man drove an African American car and had a Caucasian American tablecloth in his kitchen.

The end result of our constant conversing about race is that it’s all turned into a joke. Everything is racist. The Academy Awards are racist. The Grammy’s are racist. The guy who wasn’t a big fan of Selma is a racist. The girl who really does believe that Beyoncé’s album was better than Beck’s is a racist.

Everything is racist.

Well, except for the stuff that actually is.

But no one is talking about that. Who has the time with all of the Oscar and Grammy buzz along with that African American fellow in Paris who has probably never set foot in African or America?

If you really want to do something about racism in this country, stop listening to and participating in the conversation. Start examining your own heart. If you look hard enough, you’ll find some racism. And then repent. But remember, repentance doesn’t mean just saying that you’re sorry or feeling guilty.

Anyone can apologize for the racist actions of his forefathers hundreds of years ago.

Only the truly repentant can apologize for his own racist actions last Tuesday.

But it doesn’t stop there. True repentance will carry over into another conversation. A different one. One that is more sincere. One that does not involve Academy Awards, Al Sharpton or Beck. It’s one that just involves you. And the guy across the street with the different color skin. And maybe your kitchen table and a good home cooked meal.

Racism will never be stopped by some federal summit, confusing newspaper articles or guilt tripping national conversations. Before the return of Christ, racism will always be with us. But that doesn’t mean that we have to get used to it, learn to accept it or participate in it ourselves.

It just means that we need to come to grips with the fact that our long national conversation isn’t working.

What we really need is a long look into our own hearts.

And then a long meal, cup of coffee or talk at your kid’s practice with that guy down the street who looks different from you.

When you actually get to know that guy, he suddenly stops being, “the African American gentleman” or “the white guy in the big truck” and he starts being another human being created in the image of God and in need of a Savior. In other words, he’s just like you.

So can we please stop talking about race?

Instead, maybe we could just start talking to people of another race?

This kind of conversation may not get a lot of media attention.

But it’s likely to change our hearts.

And that just might change the world.

If You Really Want To Support Israel

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Two very angry groups of people are fighting.

Their fight seems to have something to do with land, buildings and ancient, unresolved prejudices.

Religion is somehow involved too.

Ask the casual observer to give a summary of the dispute between Israel and Hamas and this is the response you’re likely to get.

Ask the casual observer to give a summary of the dispute at your church, and you’re likely to get the same response.

There were all kinds of church splits in the New Testament. Some split because greedy liars were exposed for theirs sins (Acts 5:1-11). Some split because impostors were seeking to pull people away with false teachings (1 John 2:19). These are good reasons for a church to split up.

Unlike what we see in the New Testament, most of the church splits that I hear about these days have nothing directly to do with theology. Most of the disputes, to a casual observer like me, center around things like land, buildings and ancient unresolved prejudices.

Sort of like that conflict between Israel and Hamas that you keep hearing about. In the Middle East, the fight involves groups of people fighting over what they both believe to be rightfully theirs.

Many churches are no different.

This is my pew.

This is my classroom.

This is my ministry.

And, most destructive of all, this is my church.

Man, I wish that I was making that up. I wish that someone could legitimately call me out for going overboard in my description of some church conflicts. But it’s hard to argue against reality.

Each my that we fight for in the church comes with an arsenal of verbal, spiritual and sometimes even physical firepower to support our long-held positions.

This is my pew and here’s a verbal roadside bombing to prove my point.

This is my classroom and I’ve got plenty of missiles of bitterness and mean-spiritedness to keep it that way.

This is my ministry and I’ll fight to keep it the way that I want it until the day I die.

This is my church and I’ll stop at nothing to hold on to it, even if it means the death of my church.

Sadly, that’s usually what ends up happening. That church dies.

To the casual observer of what’s happening around the globe, the Middle East has always been the way that it is and it always will be that way. Why bother trying to fix it or even paying attention to it? Next story please.

To the casual observer of what’s happening in your church, church people always fight about stupid things. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it always will be. Why bother trying to fix it or even paying attention to it. Meanwhile, the folks at the bar or in the hunting club never fight. Next story please.

I don’t know that anyone will ever win the constant fighting in the Middle East. Someone may quit before the other one does but both sides will suffer more than their share of casualties. There is no real victor is disputes like these.

The same is true with your church. Sure, some group of people may eventually leave while another stays behind to claim their victory but without repentance and forgiveness, both sides lose. There is no real victor in disputes like these.

Well, I guess that there is one victor.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

Satan loves using Christians as his weapons when he attacks other Christians. Double the destruction. It’s what he does.

Many Christians feel as though it is their God-given mandate to support Israel in any and everything that happens around the world. But isn’t it ironic how many of those same Christians will pledge their unyielding support to a nation while systematically destroying their church with their own verbal and spiritual missiles?

If Christians really understood what it meant to support Israel, they’d stop the fighting in their own churches. The local church after all is closer to the New Testament picture of Israel than any geographical location in the Middle East.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Romans 9:6-8 (ESV)

If you’re a Christian, you are, spiritually speaking at least, Israel.

So if you really want to support Israel, love and support your church.

Stop lobbing your missiles.

Let go of your pew.

Let go of your classroom.

Let go of your ministry.

Let go of your church.

And surrender it all to your pastor – Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18).

Anything short of that, and the casual observers in your community will just keep on seeing the same old thing at your church.

Two very angry groups of people fighting.

The fight seems to have something to do with land, buildings and ancient, unresolved prejudices.

Religion is somehow involved too.

Next story please.

What If Your Fear Won’t Go Away?

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I was laying in the middle of the floor. Facedown. Scared to death. I was praying for God to take away my fear.

He said no.

And I’m glad.

I’ve got this thing about crowds. I’m not real comfortable in large crowds. Being a pastor, that’s sort of a problem. Well, unless you happen to be the pastor of Crazy Eddie and the Apostle Will’s Full Deliverance Fellowship and Snake Handling Emporium. In that case, you’ve got things other than crowds to worry about.

I get really nervous before I get up to preach on Sundays. And by before, I mean sometime around Monday afternoon. By Saturday, the worry gets pretty thick. On Sunday mornings it’s almost unbearable. So I’ve spent a lot of Sunday mornings, hours before anyone arrives, praying in our sanctuary. Facedown. Scared to death. Begging God to take away my fear.

It wasn’t an audible voice that told me no. It was the written word. God’s written word.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (ESV)

The fear that I was experiencing was a grace. It was a grace that was pointing me to the power of Christ.

I’m a pastor that’s not real comfortable in a crowd. It’s sort of like the tightrope walker who is afraid of heights. At first glance, it may seem like a mistake was made somewhere along the line. A deeper look reveals that God often puts his people in uncomfortable situations. Situations where we are forced to come face to face with our weaknesses. Situations where making it out alive on the other side can leave us with nothing to acknowledge but the all-sufficient grace of Jesus.

I know a lot of godly men and women. Most of them have one thing in common. Pressure. They aren’t the types who would say that their most stressful day was the time that they had to decide which major university to accept a full scholarship from. They are the types that had to see their mother laid out on a cold metal table because she had just tried to kill herself. They are the types who had to walk through cancer with their daughter. They are the types who are all too familiar with their weaknesses. And even more familiar with God’s grace and power.

Men and women of God grow out of the soil of discomfort.

A while back I overheard two guys talking. They were talking about fear. One of them finally reached a conclusion that, for some reason, changed their conversation to a whisper. Maybe they knew that I was listening. The man said something along these lines.

“I know that the Bible says that we shouldn’t fear. But I’ve got a job to do. A hard job. And fear just seems natural. It’s something that I can’t get rid of.”

I could relate. But I wanted to interrupt this man and tell him that God has done something better for me than taking away my fear. He is using it to remind me of this grace. A grace that is much stronger than the source of my fear.

“Fear not.” God says that a lot in the Bible. For a long time, I thought that he just meant that we needed to try harder to not fear. But that’s sort of like trying harder to not try so hard. It seems counterproductive.

It’s interesting what usually follows God’s command to fear not.

“I am with you.” Not, “I will take it away immediately.” Not, “I wouldn’t let anything difficult happen to you.”

Just, “I am with you.”

And that’s enough.

Fear can lead us to two things. It can cause us to dwell on what might happen and therefore control us, leaving us curled up in some corner afraid to take the next step. Or it can remind us of our shortcomings and the all-sufficient power of the God who is with us, leading us to a greater reliance upon him.

On Sunday mornings, I still show up several hours before anyone else so that I can pray. I still lay in the middle of the floor. Facedown. But I’ve stopped asking God to take away my fear. Instead I ask him to use that fear to point me to his strength and to remind me that he is with me.

And through the promises of his word, he always says yes.

Haunted By His Presence

Nothing will warm your heart like opening your eyes in the middle of the night to find a smiling four-year-old standing next to your bed. Unless, of course, you live alone. In that case you should probably move or ask the doctor to lower your dosage.

Fortunately, a four-year-old lives in my house. So when I wake up at 3 a.m. with him standing next to my bed it’s no big deal.

His room is on the other side of our house. That means that when he wakes up in the middle of the night he has to walk all the way across a dark, quiet house just to speak one short sentence.

“Dad, I’m scared.”

Usually, after being woken up like this, I am too. So I sit on the side of the bed, let my heart rate settle down, put the gun back in the drawer and walk my four-year-old back to his room where I pray over him and tell him goodnight. On the way back I step on every Lego he somehow missed during his journey through darkness.

But here’s the weird thing.

At 5:00 in the afternoon, when the house is completely lit and everyone is awake and active, I’ll sometimes ask my four-year-old to do a job. Put a ball back into his closet. Put a towel back in a cabinet. Turn the bathroom light off.

He never wants to do it.

Not because he’s lazy or rebellious.

He’s scared.

This baffles me. How can the kid who has no problem walking in the middle of the night through a dark room littered with Lego land mines suddenly be too scared to go into his own room by himself in the full light of day?

And then I remember.

It’s what’s on the other end.

At 3 in the morning, my kid can walk through a dark, quiet house all alone because he knows that there is someone waiting for him on the other end of his journey. Someone who will listen. Someone who cares.

But in the afternoon, when he has to walk into his closet, he knows that there is no one there waiting for him. At least he hopes that there is no one there waiting for him. On the other end of this mission, it’s just him. Alone. Scared.

Presence makes all of the difference.

I can’t always be there for him. It would hurt him if I was. But I can do something better.

So I teach him about the One who waits for him on the other end of his journey.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:1-3 (ESV)

And I teach him the difference between his earthly father and his heavenly One. Like I said, I can’t be with him all the time. But his heavenly Father is.

And presence makes all of the difference.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (ESV)