Sunday Morning Rewind: Taming the Wild Beast in Your Mouth.

zipper“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  James 1:26

Bridle your tongue.  Have you ever tried to bridle (or we could say, bite your tongue) when someone really pushes your buttons?  When they say that one thing that really puts you over the edge?  It’s hard isn’t?  I dare say, almost impossible.  Actually, maybe it is impossible.  In chapter 3, James says as much: “…every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Aha! A loophole!  See, Scripture, itself, gives us a pass and an excuse for not holding our tongue when that huh-huh-huh had it coming! Ah, not so fast, cowboy.  This may give us a reason as to why we don’t hold our tongue, but it doesn’t give us an excuse.

Wait a minute, though.  No human being can tame the tongue.  That’s what it says.  So, if no human being can control the tongue, how are we held responsible when we don’t?

This is where spiritual maturity comes in.  It’s why James said not many should become teachers in verse 1 of chapter 3, because there must be spiritual maturity.

Look at it this way:
Unless we bridle our tongue, we are deceiving ourselves and our religion is worthless.  Now, James says no human CAN control the tongue?  The spiritually mature one understands this, but further understands that, though no HUMAN BEING can control the tongue, God can!  So, through submission to the Holy Spirit of God, our tongue comes under control and HE makes us into doers of the Word through our speech.  At that point, our speech becomes a good indicator of the Holy Spirit’s control over our lives.  If He is not in control (demonstrated by out of control speech), then our outward expressions of our belief system (“religion”) are worthless.  In other words, it isn’t real.

Here are a couple of things to consider as you fight the battle of taming the tongue:

 1.  Understand you can’t control your own tongue, so submit to the work of the Holy Spirit ( this, of course, assumes you really have a relationship with Him.  If not, start there!)
2.  Through His strength, take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5)
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ
3.  Quote James 1:19-20 in your mind before you say a word and then RESPOND (rather than reacting) with a goal of honoring Christ.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James 1:19-20

 

Holy Rebellion: Making the Determination to Stand

lighthouseI refuse to be defeated.

That statement sounds a bit absurd, if you think about it. I mean, if I’m standing in a boxing ring in front of a 230lb well-tuned fighting machine, I’m not sure that my attitude matters very much. I don’t think he cares what I refuse to do. He’s going to feed my rotting flesh to the dogs. I’m toast. Done. Kaput.

How can anyone simply refuse to be defeated?

The only way anyone can ever refuse to be defeated is if he has overwhelming power, knows how to use it, and uses it.

Having said that, I refuse to be defeated.

That’s just something I live by. I will not be defeated by any of the things that life throws my way. I will not be defeated by trials and difficulties. I will not be defeated by hurt or despair. I’m not being arrogant. I have nothing to be arrogant about. I’m not practicing the power of positive thinking, either, and I’m not delusional or naive. I simply believe. Believing I will not be defeated is something I have to remind myself of when things are going well, because when things get tough, sometimes it’s hard to remember that I don’t have to be defeated. Sometimes, I need people to help me remember that I must not be defeated…I don’t have to be.

James, the brother of Jesus, said this:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Earlier he said that we should embrace all the various kinds of trials because they make us stronger. How can things that defeat you make you stronger? Unless they don’t…defeat you, that is.

If you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, giving us instruction on how to live life, the purpose of it and who gave it, then you have to believe that what we are told to do, we can do. Now, some of you may not believe these things. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can offer you. My hope is that you can come to experience the grace that God has provided, but beyond that, the promises of hope in Scripture simply don’t apply to you. Unfortunately, promises of judgement do.

In Romans 8:28, Paul said, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The simple truth here is that, contrary to popular belief, “It’ll all work out” is a false statement. That’s delusional.

If you don’t love God (Jesus said to love God is to do what He says) and are called according to His purpose (i.e. coming to God on HIS terms and obeying) this promise isn’t for you. You can’t necessarily refuse to be defeated. I say this not out of a sense of superiority or pride in order to rub it in your face, but to encourage you to consider that maybe this hope and certainty can be for you, too, if you trust in Christ and repent of self-idolatry (ie calling your own shots, living according to your own standards and generally rebelling against God) as we all have to.

OK, enough of that for now. I’m not here to preach at you, but to tell you how and why I refuse to be defeated.

See, I have this shoulder problem (just by way of example). I’ve had it for well over a year and it has, at times, been nearly debilitating. It hurts…it always hurts, even though I’ve experienced some relief from time to time. They say that dealing with chronic pain over time can wear you down, leading to all sorts of mental and emotional issues to go along with the physical issues.

I may have to have surgery. Surgery might help. It might not. That doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because regardless of the pain, I have hope and comfort to know that shoulder issues or any other issues DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEAT ME. In places like Philippians 4:13, I’m told that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I’m told in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Then in verse 13, I’m told to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. In Romans 8, I’m reminded that, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9, I’m reminded of what God told Paul when he suffered pain, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Finally, Jesus, Himself, said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So, if Scripture is true (and for years I’ve seen evidence in my life and others that it is), then Christ in me is the hope of glory. This means that in me is a power that is overwhelming, at my disposal that I can use. I DO NOT HAVE TO BE DEFEATED.

I won’t be.

Whatever you are going through, if you are in Christ (having trusted Him to save you and forgive your rebellion), you do not have to be…you MUST NOT BE defeated.

So, take a rebellious stand. Determine that through the power of Christ in you, you will not be overcome by anything this world throws at you. You may grow weak and struggle. You may weep and mourn. You will probably need the support of others. But when all is said and done, you will stand.

When Life Gets Tough

troubleLife is tough.  Everybody knows that.  There is no way for us to get away from the troubles and difficulties that we all have to face.  Sometimes, it’s little more than the inconveniences of traffic, dealing with an overbearing boss, or misplacing a wallet.  Other times, it’s infinitely worse.  Those are events in life that seem to define our lives from that point on:  financial ruin, discovery of a malignant tumor or the sudden death of a loved one.

How do we deal with these life-altering challenges in life?

Well, put simply, we can despair.  We can assume all is lost and crawl into the fetal position and give up…or we can hope.  We can find out what God says about the subject in His Word and determine to trust Him.  Obviously, some won’t and they will pursue their own coping techniques and they may experience some level of comfort, but for me, I trust in the God who is there; the God who brings life out of death. The God who I have seen give grace and strength in some of the most desperate of times.

Jesus’ half brother, James, who initially was not a believer in Christ but later became totally sold out to Him after He saw Jesus resurrected and eventually led the Church in Jerusalem, has some challenging instruction in the first chapter of his letter:

 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

First of all, he’s talking about joy, not happiness.  Happiness is circumstantial whereas joy is not.  I can maintain joy, for example, at the death of a loved one who has trusted in Christ and gets to experience life beyond death, though I am not happy about their absence from my life.

So, James is basically saying (according to the new, international Price version!), “Look, if you have trusted in Christ, keep the big picture in mind here.  All sorts of difficulties are coming your way because of sin in the world.  You can’t get around it.  Yet, because of what my brother and Lord, Jesus, did on the cross, even the bad stuff is making you stronger and complete.  You don’t have to like it, but embrace the glorious truth and grow through it!”

That, I can embrace.  I can hold onto the truth that WHEN (not if) trials come.  I may weep.  I may struggle with the challenges.  I may need people to hold me and to comfort me.  However, I can know that God is good and He is in control.  I can know that He will provide grace and strength through it.  In short, I can stand!

What are some ways you have experienced God working through challenges to bring about good in your life?

Related passages: Romans 8:28, Joshua 1:9, 1 Peter 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3-7, Ephesians 6:10-11, Romans 5:1-11

If you would like to watch the related message from our current series, FaithWorks: Living the Letter of James, you can visit the video archive of The Gathering, Chattanooga.  Also, check to see if the video has been posted on this blog.

 

 

Looking for God in the Whirlwind

OKTornadoI have been following the reports about the Oklahoma tornado since it happened yesterday. The more I watch, the sadder I get.

As I’ve seen the images, my mind has involuntarily weaved together scenarios of the lives that have been decimated. I’ve pictured the lives of those little children who woke up yesterday morning, got dressed similar to the way mine did, headed off to school, ate lunch, passed notes in class, played at recess, then headed into the hallways when they heard the tornado alarms. For so many, that was it. They’ve yet to be removed from the rubble at this point. It’s really hard to wrap my mind around it.

It’s always in times like these that the theological questions arise: How could God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God stop this? Where was He?

I understand the questions. Typing this right now, I am overwhelmed by the pain that is left in the wake of something like this. Couldn’t God have stopped this? Couldn’t He have answered so many prayers for protection over these people? Did it have to happen this way?

Answers aren’t easy and for some, certainly won’t be sufficient. It seems to me that the answers are yes, He could have stopped it. He is all-powerful. He could have answered those prayers for protection. He could have prevented death in the midst of destruction. So, why didn’t He?

I don’t know.

That leaves the final question: Did it have to happen this way?  The only thing I can come up with is that I suppose it did only because it is, in fact, what happened.  I’ll try and explain what I mean.  I believe that God is sovereign and, therefore, in control over every aspect of creation. I believe that nothing happens outside either the prescriptive will of God (meaning that He causes something to happen) or the permissive will of God (He allows something to happen; doesn’t stop it).  I also believe that God is not capricious, so because He allowed it, there was a reason for it to happen as it did, though you and I may never know why.

Someone on the radio this morning was trying to answer the “Where was God?” question. The response was something like this: “God was there in the people who responded. He was there in the love that was shown by those who survived and came in and helped with the recovery.”

While I agree with that, in part, I’m not satisfied. It makes it sound as if God was absent during the storm. Those are the moments we don’t know about. Maybe it would be more understandable if God had been away on His lunch break and just missed it, otherwise He would have stopped it. That’s not the case, though. We have to acknowledge a hard fact: God was there during the storm and He allowed it to happen. You just have to accept that or reject Him outright, which plenty are doing (Frankly, I would be more concerned to think that God would “check out” for a while).

Why would He allow this?

Specifically, I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know the motives of God in what He does. He doesn’t ask me (or you) for counsel or permission, nor does He give an explanation for Himself to us.  I just know that He is good. I also know that even though He could stop the storm, we aren’t in any position to blame Him or get mad at Him. Instead, we should run to Him.

The storm is our fault.

That’s right, our fault. Please read on before you tune me out.  Scripture is clear that it is the rebellion of man from God that has caused all form of destruction in this world, including storms and earthquakes and other forms of natural and man-made disasters.

Ironically, I preached from Hosea 7 and 8 this past Sunday. I talked about “The Calamity of Sowing the Wind”. The verse from which that title was taken was 8:7: “…they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” In this passage, the whirlwind that God is talking about is metaphorical. However, the principal applies to all forms of judgement: If we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

OK, stop right there.

I am NOT going “Pat Robertson” on this situation and saying that this tornado is judgement on the people of Moore, Oklahoma.

As I already said, I have no idea of God’s purpose for allowing this or any other storm. My point, instead, is that storms are the result of sin, in general. When Adam sinned in Genesis 3, the affects were felt throughout creation. The earth was cursed, making it difficult for him to grow food. This is a very different picture than the one we get when God created the earth, declaring it to be “good.” Post-Genesis 3, we don’t get a picture of “good.” We get a picture of chaos, a result of the sin of Man.

Does this mean that innocent people must suffer? No, only because there are no innocent people in the world. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), so no one is immune from the natural or man-made disasters in this world, whether a child of God or not. My sin in Tennessee is as much to blame for tornadoes in Oklahoma than anybody who had to endure it. That is humbling.

So, what do we do about it?

If we embrace this explanation, what should our response be? I can only say that it leads me to repent*. I am drawn into a place of confessing my failure before God, begging for mercy, realizing that my sin has contributed to this broken world we live in.

It’s also led me to a place of worship. In the midst of this tragedy and the realization that it is the sin of man that has caused it, I am thankful that the work of Christ on the cross has led to mercy so that, though we have to deal with a broken world now, those who trust in Christ don’t have to dread a broken eternity.

If you’re going through the tragedy on the ground, I’m sure it can feel hopeless…at least until the storm is over and you can see that God was there throughout. You hear testimonies of people who feel the strength and hope and peace arise where there should be none. That is God. He is there. He was there during this storm and through the tragic shooting in Connecticut and through every other disaster that has ever occured throughout history.

Honestly, I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around the level of devastation I am seeing in Oklahoma, but I am not struggling with my belief in a faithful, loving God. When I understand the nature of sin, I understand how God could allow it and I look forward to the day that He culminates His redemptive work in a restored heaven and earth, where sin has been abolished.

So, in the end, all I can say is don’t run from Him. He is good and He really is in control, even in the whirlwind.

Run to Him.

 

————–

* Repentance is not just about feeling sorry, but about actually being remorseful for our sin and turning away from it (as in a military call to “about face!”). If we’re serious about repentance, we don’t want to continue in it, we ask God to forgive us and to give us strength to forsake it.

Sermon Video: The Calamity of Sowing the Wind

I’m always a little taken aback when I stop long enough to think of how easy it is to engage in trivial pursuits in life.  Hosea calls it “sowing the wind.”

Do you ever find yourself engaged in trivial pursuits?  Trying to attain things that ultimately don’t matter and can’t bring lasting satisfaction  Does your life demonstrate meaning and purpose?  Do you have a dynamic relationship with God that leads to meaningful pursuits or are you doing little more than chasing your tail, so that if you get it, you only find the pain involved with being wrapped up in yourself and your own destructive idolatry?

This week, I talked about the Calamity of Sowing the Wind.  Here is the video from that message:

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-19-13 Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Video: The Calling of Parenthood

Sunday, I dealt with very touchy issues related to parenting at The Gathering. These included the challenges of parenting and the pain that comes from the inability to have children, along with the dangers of engaging in extraordinary means of impregnation, such as IVF.

My goal was to deal with these issues from a biblical, rather than an emotional perspective. Below is the video of that message. The length of the video is because we included child dedication and special prayer for various groups within the sermon time. I hope it’s a blessing and encouragement to you. Feel free to leave feedback or questions.

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-12-13 – Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Children and Salvation: Is It Ever Too Early?

20130516-084844.jpgMy six-year old was saved Monday.

Well, at least that’s what he told me when he came home from school. As it turns out, a children’s ministry from a local church holds a voluntary Bible club with the kids after school every so often and so, during that time, the salvation bracelet was given to the kids and the Gospel was shared.

I must be quick to say, I am grateful for such a ministry! That a sister church would have such a ministry to our children is both commendable and appreciated. However, my wife and I were more than a bit troubled when Andrew came in declaring, “I’m saved!”

As it turns out, the children were not only explained the Gospel, they were led through a “Sinner’s Prayer” to ask Jesus into their heart. That’s the prayer that is found in, uh…is it John?…Matthew? Hmm…now that I think about it, not sure I’ve ever actually read it***. Anyway , my son is one of those who prayed the prayer.

My concern is in knowing how easy it is to get kids to say the words you want them to say whether or not they understand it or believe it. Because of this fact, my wife and I have been very intentional in talking with our children about the Gospel, praying over them, and leading them down a path that would provide them with ample opportunity to be exposed to Truth and, hopefully, real transformation. Ah, transformation. There’s that word that is often missing in many people’s idea of salvation. Too often, it’s all about having a minimal understanding of the truth…enough to get you to say those words and you’re in. Often, though, you’re not.

An encounter with Christ is about transformation, is it not? For someone who believes that regeneration must proceed confession (Ephesians 2), getting a child to say mere words is troubling, if not terrifying. Now, my son potentially has grounds for actually ignoring a real, inner Gospel call because he’s already “prayed the prayer”. He’s already rubbed the lamp and said the magic words. He’s in.

Is he?

Maybe he is. We will watch and see, talk with him and pray over him. If so, I will celebrate like nobody’s business. If he’s not, things may have gotten more complicated than they need have.

A better alternative?

I think there is one. I believe a better approach would have been for the minister to share the Gospel and then, if there are children who are curious or express interest, stop there and contact the parents. Let them know their child is interested in knowing more about the saving work of Jesus. Then go from there. This is a voluntary club, so the kids are there because the parents want their kids there.  Perhaps the parents want the minister to help them in talking with their child. Perhaps, like us, while appreciating this children’s ministry, they would prefer to wait a little longer on asking for some decision. Instead, they plowed right through and I got a call Tuesday letting me know what happened the day before. A little late.

Frankly, discerning the spiritual condition of a child is difficult. That’s the key, though…discerning. It takes time to watch and listen to the child in order to discern whether there is a legitimate working of the Holy Spirit of God rather than a desire to have a cool bracelet and get dunked in the pool. Some will disagree with me. There was a time in my life I probably would have, too. Belief in a Sovereign God, however, leads me away from pushing my children through the door of salvation. It’s the only thing that gives me peace now as we watch and wait, patient to let the Holy Spirit do His work, realizing that work is not mine.

I came across a helpful article this week about this very thing entitled, How do we discern the spiritual conversion of children. It offers some advice for parents and ministers in helping children rightly understand the things of God. Hope it helps.

***Scripture is clear that we are to repent. Certainly, that involves prayer, but there is nothing that I have found in Scripture where we are to “ask Jesus into our hearts.” Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21 say we are to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Though often cited as grounds for that particular brand of the Sinner’s Prayer, I don’t believe that’s ample grounds for establishing that as  a step to salvation. I call on His name in repentance.  Splitting hairs? I don’t think so. The biblical mandate for salvation is simply “repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15, Romans 3:20, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 17:30, 26:20). We find nothing beyond this actually in Scripture.  Is it necessary to add a non-biblical step to what Scripture has commanded? Belief involves trust. Trust and repentance are followed by actions. (Jesus even warned that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom, but He who DOES the will of the Father. John 10:10). That should be enough. Anything more is fertile ground for providing a false sense of security (“I asked Jesus into my heart. Regardless of what I do, I’m secure.”) When the answer to that question is the basis upon which we determine the security of a person, we’re walking on shaky ground.

Come and See

wpid-Photo-May-7-2013-958-AM.jpgAs someone who has studied apologetics extensively, I know and have used all of the logical arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ and the reality of miracles. I have talked with people about the rationality for believing in the reliability of Scripture and the resurrection of Jesus. As a natural skeptic, I tested my inherited faith against reality until it became a proven faith to me. I began to have a confidence in what I always thought was true as I scrutinized it and it began to make sense beyond the “blind faith” responses we often hear to questions about how we know it’s true or why we believe.

I was reading in John 1 yesterday and was reminded of how people initially came to Christ during His time on earth. Take a look at this passage:

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.[h] 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus[i] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Look at how that played out. When Andrew and the other follower of John asked Jesus about where He was staying, Jesus didn’t convince them to follow Him based on His trustworthiness or He deity. He simply said, “Come and you will see.” Whatever the rest of that day held, it was enough to convince Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah. So what did he do? He told his brother, Simon, which apparently roused Simon’s curiosity that resulted in Peter going to check it out for himself. Something tells me there was something that Simon saw in the way his brother had become so quickly convinced that set things in motion.

My favorite, though, is Philip with Nathanael. This guy is no push-over. He has questions. He’s not into “easy believe-ism”, even doubting that it can be possible that this is the Messiah because of where Jesus is from. Now, I would be tempted at that point to dive right into the apologetics and give the reasons as to why God could, in fact, bring the Messiah from Nazareth or anywhere else He chose since He is, as it were, you know…God.

Philip let’s me down, though. Not a word of defense. He doesn’t argue the historicity of Christ’s having actually been born in Bethlehem which lines up perfectly with the Old Testament prophecies or anything. He doesn’t engage in any arguments at all. Doesn’t he know that God needs these arguments? Please!

What he does say is awesome!

I love what Philip actually said: Come and see. It’s like, “Dude, I don’t know…see for yourself.”  That is incredibly powerful and how often I forget that part!

If Christ is real and alive and well, there is no need to try and argue someone to Christ. Just point them in the right direction and let Jesus do the rest.  Am I swearing off apologetics because of this? No. There is a place for helping people understand the reasonable nature of Christianity, but in my opinion, it’s not the strongest apologetic. You know what is?

A life well-lived.

That’s it. It’s like the apologetics of life. If I live my life according to the power given me through the Holy Spirit of God, my life will be the greatest apologetic there is. Joy in all circumstances. Hope. Purpose. Power. Love. Kindness. Grace. Man, if my life bleeds these things and they’re on display for all to see, then all I have to do is say to people, “Jesus is the power source for a life lived well. Come and see for yourself.”

I still struggle to get my mind around that…that “come and see” was all that these guys said, but think about what they did: they left the rest up to Jesus. They really trusted that Jesus would take care of revealing who He is Himself. Actually, I think there is more faith in that than the attitude we often take that it’s up to us to convince people of God’s existence. It’s almost as if we don’t really believe this stuff, so we have to make a really good argument so they realize this is a bargain they can’t refuse.  That’s not the heart of apologetics, but it can be our own attitude.  If it is, we have to ask whether or not we really believe in the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God to draw to Himself anybody He chooses.

What does a “come and see” approach look like now?

Well, when Jesus was here on earth, it was possible to literally take them into his physical presence. Obviously, He’s not here anymore. Now, what?

Now, we are His physical presence. His transformational work within us is evidence of His presence so we can essentially say, “Watch what He’s doing in me and if you like what you see, follow Him. Believe in Him. Swear off following your own path and doing your own thing and watch what He does in you, too.” This is about living authentically, loving people genuinely, and not being afraid to give a reason for the hope that is in me. (1 Peter 3:15)

That last part is important, so make sure you hear what I’m NOT saying.

I’m not encouraging you to live according to that old saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” I think words are most always necessary. Without words, our hope and joy can be attributed to anything: exercise, good fortune, positive thinking or Tums.  Paul certainly used an abundance of words in his reasoning for the faith.  Look at his life, though, and you can see why his words were so powerful.  They backed up a Spirit-fueled life.  If my life isn’t “preaching the Gospel” first, my words are probably weak.  That’s when we look hypocritical.  On the flip side, if my life is already communicating the results of faith in Christ in how I am living, my words will carry a tremendous amount of weight.

Yeah, I’m still big on apologetics. I still believe that reasoning with others about the legitimate claims of Scripture is important. I believe it is imperative that we know Scripture that points to Christ. I also believe, though, that a lack of knowledge in the area of apologetics keeps many people from feeling confident in sharing their faith and answering questions they have about God, but a life well-lived coupled with accrediting the One who empowers it is the strongest apologetic there is. In that, I don’t have to know all of the answers. Philip certainly didn’t know whether or not anything good could come from Nazareth and didn’t feel compelled to try. He just said what anybody can say: “Come and see for yourself.”

“Taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” ~Psalm 34:8

Culture Warrior

boycottStarbucks

I hate that term. I hate the concept, too. “Culture Wars.” Who came up with that anyway? I mean, I understand the thinking: “Our Country is going to hell and it’s our responsibility as Christians to stand up and prevent it!” I think that’s what bothers me the most. Is that really our calling? Is it even within our ability to do so?

I’m not saying it’s not our responsibility to stand up, and I’m not saying it’s not our responsibility to stand against sin in our world. The greater question to me is how are we supposed to do it and what is our ultimate goal?

For so many (which, I admit, included me at one time), the idea of “fighting sin” was more along the lines of boycotting and writing senators and picketing and the like. While I readily admit there may be instances where people are genuinely called to take a similar stand as was the case with Francis Schaeffer, who at times picketed abortion clinics, I think that sort of action usually has limited results, often at the expense of the spreading of the Gospel. More importantly, I think the motivation must be checked before anything is done.

I have found that the usual motivation for taking a stand has less to do with wanting to see people come to know Christ and more to do with protecting our own way of life. While I understand the fear, I don’t share it.

Look at Jesus. When he ministered on earth, the Jews were under the rule of the Romans. Many who hailed the coming of Christ understood Him to be a great military and political deliverer. They were hoping for another Maccabean revolt, only this time with better results. They had no concept of the kind of Messiah He turned out to be.

In our day, Jesus would be expected to march on the Capitol, rebuke senators and call the president out to be the antichrist he surely is. However, Jesus didn’t do that in His own day, and I’m not sure He would do it in ours. He seemed to have a different agenda. It was a Kingdom of God agenda, which was more focused on spreading the good news that this, regardless of how good or bad it got, was not your best life now. There was much more to life than current experience. So, he didn’t overthrow the Roman rule (which was the vehicle God used to carry out His death). He essentially overthrew the Pharisee rule (which was the vehicle God used to bring about His death). He had more to say about the problems within the current religious establishment than the governmental one.

That is not to say that there are not plenty of problems with the governmental rule we are under here in the United States. There are a plethora of problems and we should stand against those that run contrary to Scripture. The issue I raise is how we go about it.

We will never be able to legislate morality and, because of that, we’ll not be able to win on all of the cultural battlefields that exist in our world today. These include everything from gay marriage to abortion to general corruption in government. It won’t happen. The only thing that WILL happen is that the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to be marginalized as just another right-wing, special interest group of the Republican Party (much the same way that the liberal churches are of the Democratic Party). When this happens, we lose our voice as The Church: The voice of God called out to speak to all of culture from a biblical perspective, NOT from a political one.

So, what are our options? As I see it, we have two very powerful ones:

1. Preach the Gospel. In Romans 1:16, Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”. This is an important point we must not miss. The gospel of Christ is the power we possess and through it, change occurs. We cannot legislate morality, but if, through the gospel, men and women are saved bringing about transformation in their lives, culture will change. Now, let me say something to clarify: I do not believe that everyone is going to be saved, nor do I believe that all the problems in this world are going away this side of Christ’s return. We’re told they won’t. Our goal is not to establish Utopia on earth. However, the goal of the Church is to be used of God to establish His Kingdom, not any earthly one. Preaching the Gospel addresses the issues we face, but does so in such a way that the Church maintains both her integrity before The Lord and also a humble, grace-filled reputation before the world. I rarely see “political Christians” with either.

2. Pray. Sounds like an over-simplified Sunday School answer, I know. Be that as it may, it is a powerful weapon against the evil in our world. Look at what God said to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14:

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

The healing of the land does not come through cultural warfare, but spiritual warfare. The problem is we are a people of action who want to see immediate results and if we’re not standing against those godless people in our world, we’re losing ground. The reality is that that view is short-sighted Christianity. It demonstrates we don’t have a clear understanding of either the warfare or the enemy. Paul was clear to point out who the enemy is:

…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against lthe cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

If we understand this, our culture war will be replaced with the spiritual one, we’ll do battle through prayer against satanic forces and, unless Scripture is wrong, we may actually see the tides turn. We may actually see people coming to Christ, having their minds renewed, lifestyles altered and hearts softened, rather than the hardened attitude towards the things of God because of the actions of the people of God.

You may very well be called to take a particular action in the face of atrocities like abortion. That’s great with one condition: You have spent long, intensive amounts of time in prayer and are motivated from the grace of God to see people’s hearts change so that they will be internally motivated to cease the support of such atrocities. Then, and only then, do I think the glory of God will be revealed through His people in such a way that the battles will actually be won.

Reflections on a Boston Massacre

BostonI have been heart-broken to see the images and hear the stories coming out of one of my favorite adoptive towns. Boston is a city that I spent a lot of time in during my eight years in Massachusetts and a city that Karen and I came to love immensely.

Yesterday was just the latest reminder that we are vulnerable; that there is truly no way to protect everyone at all times.  It is a reminder of the terror that can be inflicted on whole cultures and the changes in life that come as a result: heightened anxiety, tightened security and fear of the most insignicant items, like backpacks and garbage cans.

At any point and any place, explosions can happen or shots can ring out and mayhem ensue.  What do we do?  Well, I suppose the answer depends on your worldview; your source of hope or ideas of the future.  For me, I hope in Christ.  I hope in the God who created, who secures, who cares…who is there.  In all of the situations, both good and bad, the God who is there.  I understand that He doesn’t always prevent.  He doesn’t always stop it.  Sometimes He probably does but we probably wouldn’t know, because it didn’t happen, but in some form or another, He always shows up.  He’s always there…in hope during recovery, in comfort during grief.  

Often, God allows the result of sin and rebellion to run it’s course in this world.  He doesn’t owe us deliverance in this life, though He often provides it.  That doesn’t mean He doesn’t care and it doesn’t mean He’s absent.  I trust that.  I hope in that.

So, I respond by praying for His presence and comfort in the lives of those who need it…right now.  In the pain. In the loss.  

I hope for a better day.  I’m not talking about utopia in this life.  That will never come.  I hope, meaning I wait for with great anticipation, for the day that Christ comes back (and He is coming back) and He puts an end to all of this garbage.  Honestly, it’s days like yesterday that make me long for it more and more.  

Maybe that’s part of God showing up.  Maybe it’s part of the process of allowing sin to strike in order to draw us in to that place where we realize we need a savior.  Maybe it’s to remind those of us who have trusted Him not to hold on too tightly to this life because it really is just a vapor, isn’t it?  Instead, I start to think less of my hopes and dreams right now and long for the dream and hope I have for a day that makes this broken world seem so insignificant.

Even so, I’m still here.  Right now.  I live.  I breathe.  I act.  I respond.  I think.  I grow…and I love.

The most heart-breaking story I’ve heard so far is of the little 8 year-old boy who was eating ice cream, enjoying cheering on the finishers one moment, then killed only moments later from the blast.  In the blink of an eye, a family is literally torn apart.

Life is but a breath and it’s gone. 

So, I determine to love well.  I hug my wife and my kids and thank God for them, hoping He gives me years and years with them, but so thankful for today.  Time is fleeting, my friends.  Last month I wrote a post about that in the Saving Daylight Series.  You can read it here, if you’d like.  

I hate death.  I really do.  As a pastor, I have such a love-hate relationship with funerals because, on the one hand, I get to celebrate the escape and deliverance from this world of those who have made it home. That’s such a good thing.  But I have to go through the agony of separation and absence with those who remain.  God, I long for the day when you bring that to an end! 

Where is your hope?  Where are you spending your time?  How do you respond when tragedy strikes?  Don’t let tragedies go to waste without reflecting on YOU.  What happens if the next one lands in your backyard; affects your family or friends and rocks your world?  

Life happens…but hope remains.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But ktake heart; I have overcome the world.” ~Jesus  (John 16:33)

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