“Do You Hear What I Hear” has never been one of my favorite Christmas songs. But as I’ve grown older and matured in my Christian faith its words have found a resonance in my heart that wasn’t there before. In my youth I wanted passion and vigor! I still want those things but now, as a husband and father, Pastor and disciple maker, I long for depth and meaning to accompany them. I don’t want passivity but neither do I want meaningless action.
This 2016 year has shown me the worst I’ve ever seen in my fellow man. Racism, sexism, cop killing, Trump v Hillary rhetoric ad nauseam. More senseless violence and name calling everywhere. “Safe places” for college students that don’t like what they’re hearing instead of learning to face our fears and find common ground.
That’s what broke this camel’s back. I’ve kind of tried to ignore it, sadly. I’ve tried to relegate it to “over there” so I don’t have to think about it over here. But I can’t. I won’t ignore it anymore.
Today, my wife showed me a picture of dead children and babies in the savaged Syrian rubble. It took my breath away for a second. I mumbled a that’s terrible and shook my head. But inside I wanted to cry. There but for the grace of God that could have been my children. I didn’t ask to be born in America. Or to be white. I live in a nice house, drive a nice truck. I eat everyday. Correction: I over eat everyday. I wear different clean clothes everyday. I shower everyday (you’re welcome.) Privilege? Of course it is. I have no idea what it’s like to live in a war-torn country. I live in a warm, safe palace.
But tonight, as I almost cussed my computer out for not connecting to my bluetooth speaker so I could stream a movie on Netflix, it hit me… more children are going to die tonight in Aleppo. And I stopped caring about my movie. I, instead, wanted to come write this. A confession of sorts, but also a plea. Don’t be like me.
Don’t push those images from your mind because they’re too painful to deal with. Don’t just turn the channel because you have NO IDEA what you can do about it. I have determined that I can do two things right here and right now: I can pray, and I can use my blessings to help those who have nothing.
I’m not rich, by American standards. Not by a long shot. I have the single income of a minister to support a family of five. But I have help. I have those who bless me and my family with their generosity and kindness. How sad would I be not to pass on those blessings? You see, I may not be rich in America but to about 85% of the world I am stinking rich. See the paragraph about the nice house, etc.
I do have the means to help. I can, and will, pray because I don’t think prayer is some waste of time last resort. I think it is a humbling of oneself to intercede on behalf of another. It’s turning to the only One who can truly change a circumstance and laying my will at His feet.
But I can also give. Clothes, toys, money. Something. I can support the efforts to help in these areas through World Vision or Compassion International. I support a child each month that doesn’t live in Syria but there’s nothing stopping me from making a donation to help specifically in that region.
And I will. I may get to live in my warm palace, but I find new meaning in these words this Christmas:
“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
do you know what I know
In your palace warm, mighty king,
do you know what I know
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring Him silver and gold
Let us bring Him silver and gold
Said the king to the people everywhere,
listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people everywhere!
listen to what I say
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light”
So don’t tune out because it’s hard to watch. Love doesn’t zone out, it hones in. Let’s love each other here in America, but let’s also love those far away suffering tonight. Jesus does.
Right off the bat, I want to post a link to a sermon I preached on this a few months ago. It goes into much greater detail than I plan on doing with this blog. If you’re interested here it is: http://www.websterbaptist.net/podcast/go-and-sin-no-more (copy and paste if hyperlink doesn’t work).
This blog is going to address an issue that I have come to believe is the major defining and dividing factor among churches in America today. I have witnessed many people over the years in ministry and, often, in the pews who have metamorphosed into “Christians” who no longer hold to scripture as authoritative, no longer feel the urgency to lovingly confront sin with the Gospel, and redefine many theological practices through a much more culturally “sensitive” lens. What happened? Many would call it enlightenment or maturity, but I disagree.
Scripture warns of this type of occurrence throughout its entirety but especially in the New Testament. Hebrews warns “even the elect” of believing heretical teachings while both 2Peter and Jude warns of godless men “slipping in among you” and leading astray. The Apostle Paul warned many times of those in the church who were seemingly plants of satan there to destroy from within. Were they willingly and purposefully doing that or was this simply the fruit of their ungodly thinking? Our churches are not immune to the dark influences of fallen minds.
In light of our current political situation I have noticed a large number of professing Christians arguing for or against certain candidates, largely based on some moral premise e.g. abortion, degradation of women, lying, and basic corruption. But many who shout the loudest are not standing on the Word of God as final authority but on philosophies, pragmatism, emotion, and “science.” I put science in quotations because so often it’s used simply as a trump card to end any moral appeal in a discussion. Like when people use the phrase, “well science says…” as if Science had a conversation and these are its thoughts. I believe in the scientific method and use of hard factual evidence as much as anyone but hiding behind “facts” or “science” without any desire to hear any opposing evidences is narrow minded and dangerous. I think that God gave us the capacity to study, analyze, and interpret data because He loves us and all truth is God’s truth. Science and God are completely compatible, when put in proper perspective.
But that’s the issue here, really. Proper perspective. Who am I to say what’s proper or not? I’m nobody. But God’s Word is either true, or it is not. I believe it is. And I’d like to show why that matters in every situation. Ever.
Jesus, and the Gospel of Salvation, has two pillars on which the church (Body of Christ) is built. It can be summed up in two simple phrases: Come as you are AND Go and sin no more. The tension between these two truths can be further summed up with one word: holiness. Giving too much weight to either pillar will inevitably result in the loss or obstruction of holiness. Why? Because Jesus welcomes everyone to the cross. EVERYONE. Regardless of sins committed, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religious background everyone is called to the Cross of Christ. God loves ALL people and wants a relationship with ANY who would answer that call. This MUST be the first pillar or the Gospel just isn’t Good News.
But the second is just as important. When Jesus forgave the woman “caught in adultery” he didn’t say, “Now go and know you’re a Christian that can do or say whatever you want because of my grace!” He clearly warned her, “You have been forgiven, now go and Sin No More.”
So what does that mean? It means that you come to the cross just as you are but you can not leave the same way. Jesus saves us and changes our hearts. He makes us NEW. If we die at that cross, as Galatians clearly says, then we can no longer cling to the “old” us. All of our sins, propensities, orientations, and preconceived notions are nailed to the cross and we must take up our new lives with Christ. And we must learn what He counts as Sin so we can go and do it no more.
Does Scripture refer to something as a sin? Then there is no excuse, rationalization, or explanation that makes it not sin. We can not use grace and forgiveness as a license for immorality. This is contrary to the Gospel and is the most destructive force against faith today. Do you hate people? 1John says that if we say we love God but hate people we are liars. That’s pretty straight forward.
Regardless of what you were, when you come to know Jesus you are no longer bound by or permitted to indulge in that identity anymore. Everything about you should be hidden in Christ because you no longer live, but Christ lives in you.
This goes two ways. You are to go and sin no more but you are also to invite and lovingly show others that all are welcome at the Cross just as they are.
You see, Christians often err on one pillar or the other. They are either so open to all coming that they no longer emphasize the new life Christ calls us to, or they are so bent on sin that they forget how loving and inviting our God truly is. Both mar holiness. Both drive people straight into hell. Coming to the cross but not dying to sin is not salvation. And using your salvation as a way to judge everyone away from the Cross is making salvation seem unattractive and unattainable.
In short, if you are truly in Christ then you should not be so quick to gloss over sin or downplay what Scripture says. This isn’t the characteristic of a holy life. Nor should you be so judgmental and harsh that others can’t see the grace of Christ calling to them. This isn’t the characteristic of a holy life either. In the end, we who profess Christ should heed the words of the Apostle Peter who told the church to be holy, because Christ is holy. This isn’t an act, it’s a new lifestyle.
Come as you are. Then receive the love and forgiveness of Christ and go and sin no more. The world desperately needs believers who live this out daily. It could change the world.
Yep, it’s that time of year again. In a season that is supposed to celebrate cheer, hope, and goodwill to all I find it sadly ironic that there is such a hostility inherent to the greetings some choose to offer/accept. For the record, I am a follower of Christ, or Christian, if you will. I say “Merry Christmas” to people because I am celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, my Savior. I don’t utter this phrase as a weapon to subtly evangelize the pagan world but as a celebration of the hope I have as a believer.
However, if you are not a Christian this should not make you angry or defensive. Here’s why: if a practicing Jew were to wish me a Happy Hanukkah the last thing I would say is, “That offends me as I am NOT a Jew!” That’s dumb. I would most likely just smile and say it back to them, thankful they had taken the time to share their belief system’s holiday with me. Same with “Happy Kwanzaa” or “Happy Holidays.” I am only sharing my personal cheer with you in my celebration of Christmas so you can feel free to say “merry Christmas” back to me or pull an audible and switch to a “happy Holidays.” It’s all good.
Now, let me talk to my Christian brothers and sisters for a second. I know this world can get a little hostile towards faith at times and we often feel our Christian rights are being stripped away (and the media doesn’t help any of that). But let’s be honest, is it gonna help the cause of Christ one iota if we get so upset about the Christmas greeting? Let’s try not to perpetuate any “war on Christmas” this year by advertising our insistence that “Merry Christmas” is the only acceptable greeting this time of year. That’s kind of counter-productive to the Gospel I think.
Here’s the truth, neither Hannukah nor Kwanzaa have anything to do with Christmas. They are separate holidays that celebrate completely different things that just happen to fall in line with the Christmas season. Blame Hallmark for the competition.
In short, whatever you celebrate, or don’t celebrate for the atheists and unconvinced out there, don’t be a jerk. Let’s use these phrases with the joy and cheer they were intended to share. Who knows? Maybe true Christmas cheer can be spread this year by me and my fellow Christ followers 🙂
Merry Christmas to all!
Click Bait. It’s a well used ploy of bloggers and social media hounds everywhere. It was once known as the ole “bait and switch.” Simply put, it’s a slightly misleading title that gets your attention to click on the page or article only to have it say something different than it led you to believe it would. Admittedly, I am a little guilty of it here.
I bet most of you thought I was going to say Christmas. Nope.
Though I am a big advocate in celebrating my Lord’s birth as well as His resurrection, I’m not going to soapbox about that here. So what am I keeping Christ in? I’ll get to that.
First I need to explain something from my perspective. As I scroll on my Facebook or Twitter feed I am astounded more and more each day at the clear polarization of political ideology. People hold dogmatically to their political opinions, often to the detriment of kindness or any remnant of open-mindedness. But, in the last few years, I have been struck with a much more puzzling polarization.
It seems that the vast chasm between Christian camps is ever widening. This is usually masked in socio-political rhetoric but it covers a broad array of topics and there is a similar dogma that permeates these emotionally charged opinions. I’m not choosing sides and I am not judging you or trying to mock you if you fit into one of these camps but for the sake of my point I will paint the stereotypical picture of these extremes for you here:
There are those who believe we should kill all our enemies, both literally and metaphorically, to protect us and ours. They call for the closed border, want military action for the retaliation of all national or international offense, fight the “war” on this or that, justify racial prejudices, even demand the boycott of Starbucks over a red cup all in the name of Jesus. This saddens me.
But then there are the other siders. Often the guilt trippy ones who use social justice as a means to shame and denigrate other “so called” Christians who don’t share their sentiments. Kind of the “hippies” of christendom, if you will. These are often the ones who love using Jesus as the poster boy for open borders, any LGBTQ issue, racial prejudice on the other side of the coin, or any moral liberalism in the name of tolerance. This also saddens me.
Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. I have a hope. I’ve been accused of being on both sides by both sides and I know the sting of frustration when you think your Christian family is off base, but I do have a hope.
In a battle field where scripture is wielded on both sides to defend arguments, I have this hope that people who sincerely love Jesus might unite under at least one thing Jesus said. I know we won’t all agree on everything here on Earth, and that’s ok. It won’t be that way in Heaven, though. We’ll be one big family then. No more fundamentals or liberals. No more republicans and democrats. No more right wingers or left wingers. Not in Heaven. No, the one scripture I wish we would all take to heart here on Earth would be this: “And the world will know you are my followers by your love for one another.” John 13:35
I can be so guilty of forgetting this. When another believer insults me, maligns my character, slams my beliefs, belittles my opinions or demonizes my convictions I have a very hard time loving them in that moment. I want to defend my position and defend myself. But this is the clear indicator to the unbelieving world that God is real and that He can actually make a difference in your life. I need to show you that by my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Why else would you want to join that family?
So, brothers and sisters. While our world is heating up with political agendas and polarizing beliefs let’s keep one thing at the forefront of our minds: do they see our love for each other? It’s easy to get worked up because we love what we’re fighting for but do we throw other Christians under the bus if they don’t line up with us? This shouldn’t be the case. Ever. We can’t just use scripture to tear down. “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and encouraging with all authority.” 2 Timothy 3:16.
I’m not so worried about fighting to keep Christ in Christmas this year.
No. Let’s try to keep Christ in Christian.
So I was walking this morning after my workout. I have been lifting at 6:30 but shifted back to 6:00 so I could walk afterwards each day. This is my new effort to ease back into jogging eventually. I’ve known for some time this was a necessary step for my health but I’ve allowed several reasons, excuses and justifications to keep me from this endeavor.
I shared that random and personal glimpse of my health journey as a segue into the over arching theme that walk brought into my life. Here’s the thing: what I’m about to share is what God taught/is teaching me this morning. You can probably very well apply this to your life and situations (which is my hope) but you might also decide that I’m full of it. That’s certainly your prerogative.
But I truly hope that you might approach what I’m about to share with the humility that I received it in. It is simple but very profound. Deep but understandable. I find it obvious now that it has been pointed out to me, but it was almost counterintuitive before.
Here’s the rub. There are only three things that ANY of us needs to succeed. In life. Marriage. Work. Ministry. Health. ANYthing. We only need three. simple. things.
Desire – Ability – Discipline. Or DAD for short.
Try it out in your head for a sec. Apply this to any situation. Do you have the desire to do it? Do you have the ability to do it? And Finally, do you have the discipline to do it? If any of these is a “no” the likelihood of you doing it greatly diminishes. That has been my achilles heel for years. I WANTed to get in shape but i was injured so I lacked the ability. Then when I had the ability I lacked the discipline. Sometimes I feel the NEED to be more organized or disciplined in an area but don’t really WANT to. Desire has to be there first then ability and finally discipline to stick with it.
But you know the real kicker in this simple truth is for me? All three of these are actually a gift from God. God places the desires and passions in our hearts that He wants us to accomplish. When we abide in Christ we gain the ability to do whatever He wants us to do. But, like Paul, to this end we labor and toil with all His energy which so powerfully works in us. His desire, His ability, His discipline. As John 15 clearly states, “apart from Christ you can do nothing.” More specifically, we can do nothing that God wants us to do apart from Him.
That’s so simple and yet I find myself making excuses and getting so frustrated when I am not being fruitful or faithful. But if I, instead, hold my actions and thoughts up to the DAD test I will be able to quickly identify where I am lacking. Am I attempting to do something God has not given me desire and passion for? Do I lack the ability and need education or training? Or am I being undisciplined and noncommittal?
But honestly I feel the one that is most often lacking in my life is discipline. I want to serve/know God. I have the ability to do what He has called me to. I simply lack the discipline to see it through. And you know what? Laziness is nothing more than cleverly disguised rebellion. I need Jesus to break my lazy, rebellious heart and have victory in me. I desperately need His strength to undergird my struggle. This can be so daunting at times.
So where are you in all this? Are you constantly feeling like you are worthless and useless to God because of your failures to accomplish great things for Him? Well, the real fun thing about this was when God used a little pun to drive this home for me. He reminded me that sometimes we just need to ask our ABBA Father (DAD) for help. He loves us with the Father’s heart. There is no condemnation for those in Christ. So hard to accept yet so true.
So get out there and evaluate life with your DAD! No more excuses. We can accomplish what He sets before us in His strength! Cause He really does love you.