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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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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Stopping The Cycle Of Self-Righteousness

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It’s called passing the blame. We all do it. We do it because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It gives us a sense of righteousness. But it’s a false sense of righteousness and Jesus doesn’t care for it.

Person A does something terrible and he gets caught. Red handed. There’s no getting out of it. He could repent but that would require a measure of humility, a lacking quality in the character of Person A. So Person A does what seems most logical. He takes a look at Person B and finds that Person B has done the exact same thing. Or, even better for Person A, something much worse. Problem solved. At the very least, Person A is no worse than anyone else on the planet. But most likely, as he sees it and in spite of his wrong doing, he’s actually much better than everyone else.

The problem here is that we are not called to meet the standard of Person B. We are called to meet the standard of a holy God. And we all fail miserably. So when we carry on about how much better we are than the other fellow we sound an awful lot like the out of shape man in his 30s who can’t quit talking about how good his high school football team was. No one cares. It doesn’t matter.

Jesus told a story to get across just how much he hates this type of self-righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).

A well-respected religious man went to the temple to pray. He would have been better off staying at home. Rather that pleading with and worshiping God, this man used his time of prayer to show God what a great guy he is.

“God, thank you for making me so awesome. I am so much better than all of the sinners out there, especially that heathen on the other side of the room. Oh, and I also wanted to remind you that I make the effort to tithe even more than I’m supposed to. I’ll bet you don’t come across very many people like me. You’re welcome.”

On the other side of the room, another prayer was being spoken. But this one was different. It was much more simple. And much more humble.

“God, I deserve death but I ask for your mercy. I am a sinner.”

The man who prayed the first prayer was a member of the religious establishment. He was well-respected and well-taught. The crowd listening to Jesus’ story was most likely expecting Jesus to commend this man, simply because he belonged to the right group.

But instead of commending him, Jesus condemned him.

It was the second man, a hated tax-collector, who Jesus said went home justified. His humble cry for mercy was heard and the transition was made from sinner to justified.

Pay attention the next time a politician or one of the toddlers living in your home does something foolish. You won’t have to wait long and, chances are, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between the toddler and the politician. Notice the response when they get caught. More than likely, the response is something closer to self-righteousness than genuine humility.

“But he did it too!”

Now pay attention to your own tendency to respond in the same way when you are convicted or exposed in some particular sin. Remember, that you are not called to measure your sin against the sins of another. No matter how much better than the other guy you convince yourself that you are, you still fall short of God’s standard.

And that leaves you with only one logical prayer.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Sin will always be your master until you come to grips with your need for the Master’s mercy.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14 (ESV)

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Broken Or Caught?

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There is a difference between a broken man and a caught man. A caught man will try to cover-up his sins. A broken man will ask Jesus to do that for him.

A caught man will recognize his need to get out of trouble and he’ll do pretty much anything to get out of it. A broken man will realize that his sin has left him in a position where he has a need that only God can meet.

“Have mercy on me, O God.”

A caught man will rely on his qualifications. He’ll tell himself that he deserves grace, mercy and forgiveness. That’s another way of saying that he doesn’t understand grace, mercy and forgiveness. A broken man recognizes that he has no good to offer. He sees that there just isn’t enough good in him to make the bad go away. And so rather than lean on his own qualifications, he relies on God’s goodness.

“According to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy.”

A caught man plays the blame game. As he sees it, his sin isn’t really his sin. It’s his father’s fault for not sticking around. It’s his mother’s fault for being too overbearing. It’s society’s fault for not being fair enough. So his sin isn’t really his sin since he had no other choice but to sin. To put it bluntly, he may be the one who got caught but he’s nothing more than the victim. The blame belongs to someone else. Anyone else but him. The broken man takes ownership for his sin. He takes the blame. He says with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

“Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin!” 

Every man has a sin problem. It’s one thing that we all have in common. But the question is this. What will we do with that problem? Will we act like we have been caught or will we be broken. True joy and freedom is found in the brokenness, never in the cover-up because it’s only in our brokenness that we really begin to know the love of Christ.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity; and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2 (ESV)

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

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

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

And she always will.

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

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

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

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

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

Garner’s honesty gives a much needed gospel reminder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that leads to a very important question.

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

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

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A Prayer For Racial Peace

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Heavenly Father,

We are in a mess and we need your help. The blame can’t be cast on any one person, group, political stance or television show. None of us are smart enough to think our way out of this mess. None of us are strong enough to fight our way out of it. In fact, it seems as though sometimes the more we think and fight, the worse it gets.

Father, we need peace. Not the peace we hear about in songs. We don’t want anything to do with the token talks of peace we see on television and hear from some politicians. We need to be changed and that can only come from Your peace. I confess that change isn’t just something that other people need. It’s not just something that the guy down the street or the person on the news needs. I need to be changed too. Every day I, along with the rest of your Church, need your peace-producing change.

Father, I don’t expect the world to stop acting like the world. At least not until you return. I expect turmoil, corruption, violence, oppression and hate. It’s what the world does. But as the world does what it does, please protect your Church. I do not ask that you just protect us from the world but also that you protect us from acting like the world.

There seems to be some very powerful people who would love nothing more than a full-blown race war in this country. Protect us, both white and black, from being a part of that in our speech and social media presence. Protect us from trying to one up the other guy at all costs. Instead, help us to return truth where lies are spread and love where hate is prevailing. Equip us to show the world that in you, despite all of our differences, white and black Christians share a common hope and that in him, though unique, one race or person is not better than the other.

Shake us from our slumber. The world is on fire. The culture of death is growing. But Father, death was defeated when your Son, Jesus Christ, rose from the grave. We still live with the sting of death but it has no final say over us. Help us to live that out. Help us to promote your kingdom culture in the face of the culture of death we are living in.

Father, please help us to see people as you made them. Help us to take the time to get to know people who are different from us. Help us to establish friendships that go beyond what seems natural to us. Father, whether the other guy is a small baby that could fit in the palm of my hand or just someone from a different race, help us to see him for who he really is – a human being who You created in your image for Your glory. Help us to remember that life matters, not because it’s trendy to say so but because all human life comes from you and will one day return to you.

Father, help us to laugh. I do not ask for the laughter of foolish men who occupy themselves with nonsense while destruction awaits. Instead, give us the laughter of a people who find their joy in you even when things are far from perfect. Father, may the world look at us and not see a people who are immune from the world’s pain but a people who are immune from the world’s hopelessness.

Father, we all want our voice to be heard. We want the final say. We want our way. Please forgive us for this. In repentance, help us to seek your voice, to submit to your authority and to follow your way, even when it’s time for us to speak up about something. Help us to remember that, throughout history, things have gone so much better when you spoke through people instead of people trying to speak for you. Help us to put your authority over our own.

Father, the world is a mess. In a lot of ways, so is Your Church. But that’s nothing new. Father, no one creates beauty from messes like you. Clean us, Father. Clean us and use us.

In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ and for his glory,

Amen.

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Some Viewers May Find This Content Disturbing

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It’s hard to say what is most disturbing about the undercover videos exposing the practices of Planned Parenthood.

It’s disturbing to watch people eating lunch while discussing all of the babies they have killed and sold.

The sight of a baby’s arm in a dish with the rest of his remains is disturbing.

Lab technicians laughing about the bag full of babies they have from that day’s killings is disturbing.

And it’s disturbing to hear senators defend these practices because they are afraid that in a world without Planned Parenthood, people might not be able to find out if they have chlamydia.

But there is something else disturbing. It is much more subtle but equally disturbing as the evils that I have just mentioned. It’s the sentence that has appeared in every video that has been released so far.

Some viewers may find this content disturbing.

I wish that sentence could honestly say, Everyone will find this content disturbing.

But everyone won’t find the content disturbing.

Our president won’t find it disturbing because he thinks that it’s okay to partially deliver and child and then kill it.

Some of our nation’s senators won’t find it disturbing because they won’t even bother to watch it. Doing so would force them to come to grips with the evil they have pushed on us all.

Others won’t find it disturbing because their consciences are so seared that taking the life of a baby seems okay as long as it means not having to deal with that horrific inconvenience of carrying, delivering and raising, Gasp!, twins.

When our country is finally judged for this evil, and believe me, it will be, the millions of dead babies, some unborn and others who were born, will stand as evidence against Planned Parenthood’s thirst for blood (and fetal tissue).

But the so-called doctors at Planned Parenthood and the politicians in D.C. won’t be the only ones with blood on their hands. You see, for a tyrant to operate, he needs some help. And the American people have been more than willing to help. All they’ve had to do is nothing.

The apathy of the people is fuel for tyrants.

Unless the people at Planned Parenthood and the politicians who fund them repent, they will all stand before God as murderers.

And unless the people of this nation repent for doing nothing, they will stand before God, just as guilty.

The crime of Planned Parenthood is their disturbing actions toward children.

The crime of many Americans is the simple fact that they never were disturbed.

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Psalm 51, Updated Edition

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Jesus was wrong. But just sometimes. Specifically when it comes to gay marriage. That’s what Brandon Ambrosino informed us of on Wednesday.

Who knew? The Church, and apparently Jesus, has gotten it wrong for all of these years. Thankfully, we have the Internet to help us.

Jesus never was wrong (John 14:6). Quite frequently, people are (see: Internet). And they’ll go to great lengths to make their wrongness feel right (see also: Internet, evening news, Washington D.C.). Even if it means rewriting the Bible or making their own little image of a god that is more approving of their lifestyle.

We’ve come a long way since David. You remember him, right? He sinned. He committed adultery, he abused his power and he killed a man in order to cover it all up. But rather than trying to build his identity around these sins or take his eraser and red pen to the Bible in an effort to feel better about his sin, David did something really countercultural.

He confessed his sin.

And he repented of it.

Followers of Jesus are different from everyone else. That difference doesn’t exist because we don’t sin and they do. No, what separates Christians from everyone else is what we do with our sin. Unbelievers, even the deeply religious ones, tend to build their house on their sin. It becomes the flag that they wave and the badge that they carry. Everyone else, including God, must deal accordingly.

Believers are different because they ask Jesus to tear down their house of sin. Daily. Our identity in Christ supersedes our sexual, racial or societal identity.

After being confronted with his sin, David didn’t sue Nathan the Prophet for daring to not mind his own business. No, David’s eyes were suddenly opened to the depth of his depravity.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:3-6 (ESV)

Sadly, today’s Psalmists sing a different song.

For I have no transgression, and my sin does not exist. God, since you are not concerned with justice and truth, you have no right to judge me. I was brought forth in iniquity. So that makes my so-called problem my parent’s fault. Or biology’s fault. Or yours. Anyone’s but mine. I delight in ignoring my inner being and I rely on the faulty wisdom of my own heart.

When David was made aware of the dangerous construction job going on in his heart, he asked God to destroy it.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:10-12 (ESV)

But why bother with a new heart when the old one feels oh so right?

My heart is pure, O God, and my spirit is strong, wild and free. Cast me not away from my passions and take not ecstasy from me. Accept my conditions for salvation, and affirm me in my sin. 

All men are created in the image of God. But Brandon Ambrosino has created a god in his own image. A god who, as he puts it, “Might someday find himself being asked to create wine at a gay wedding.”

The Bible presents a very different picture of Jesus. And it’s not a Jesus who shows up to gay weddings to turn their water into wine. Instead, it is a Jesus who condemns homosexuality and any other sin with the wine of his wrath.

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:9-11 (ESV)

It’s a dangerous business, changing the Bible and the God who wrote it in order to fit your desires. And it comes with eternal consequences.

 

 

You Are Going To Sin Today

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There’s no question about it. You are going to sin today.

Here’s the real question.

What are you going to do about it?

My son asked me a good question the other day. His soccer game was about to start and we were talking strategy.

“But dad, what do we do if the other team comes up with something that messes our plan up?”

That’s when I explained to him that any good strategy always takes into consideration what should happen if that strategy falls apart.

You should always have a strategy to avoid sin. You should have a plan for what to stay away from and how to do it. But Satan is pretty good at messing up that plan. Even if Satan left us all alone, we would still find a way to mess things up all by ourselves. One way or another, weaknesses in both your strategy and your flesh will be exposed. You will sin. What then?

You can cover it up by comparing yourself to others who you figure are much worse off than you are. You can say along with the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men. I’m not gay. I’m not an adulterer. I don’t do drugs. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” And you’ll start to feel pretty good about yourself. Maybe even real good. Good enough even to forget that you have a sin problem.

When you forget that you have a sin problem, you also forget about the One who came to remedy that problem. Sure, you’ll talk about Jesus a lot. You may even pray to him and sing about him. But he’ll always just be your buddy and never your Savior. Only sinners need a Savior, remember?

That’s the problem with self-righteousness. It’s always based on your standard of righteousness and your standard always has something to do with how much better you are than someone else. But no matter how much better you are than the rest of the world, you’re still not good enough to meet God’s standard. Jesus told us what that standard is.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 6:48 (ESV)

If you feel like you’ve somehow met that standard on your own, please stop reading now and go ask God to have mercy on your soul.

Self-righteousness isn’t the only way to react to the sin that will inevitably come your way. You can embrace your sin. You can even build an identity around it. And all the while you’ll tell yourself that you’re just being real. So when you stay up all night looking at pornography, you don’t really have a lust problem. You’re just being authentic. And in your own self-righteous way, you’ll thank God that you are not like other men who are, well, self-righteous.

While you’re busy being so authentic, you’ll forget something. Sin is never authentic. At it’s core, sin is always built on a lie. We saw it in the first sin where Satan convinced Eve to question God’s command (Genesis 3:1). And you see it today when a man believes the lie that there is somehow more fulfillment in having sex with his secretary than with his wife. It is impossible to live an authentic life that is at the same time devoted to sin.

Real authenticity means that you come to grips with your sin. You acknowledge it. But instead of building your own little kingdom around it or covering it up, you confess it to Jesus and ask him to help you to make war against it.

Following Christ is an act of spiritual violence. It involves continually putting to death the sin that you would rather cover up or embrace.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. Colossians 3:5-7 (ESV)

A strategy is important. But it is only as good as its reaction when things start to unravel.

Before one of his fights, reporters were asking Mike Tyson about his opponent. They wanted to know how Mike would respond to the other fighter’s speed. They wanted to know Mike’s plan for winning the fight. That’s when Mike Tyson rattled off this gem.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

You will get punched in the mouth today.

Please don’t pretend that you’re not getting hit.

And please don’t build your identity around the fact that you get hit a lot.

By the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, fight back.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:12-13 (ESV)

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How Your Church Can Avoid Persecution: Three Easy Steps

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

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

1. Look the part. 

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

2. Know who to please.

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

3. Stay the course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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