Friday, May 19, 2017

Unrighteous Judgment

Recently, Ben Hopkins, one of the members of the band “PWR BTTM”, was accused by an anonymous source on Facebook of sexual assault. The response was swift and devastating. The anonymous post went viral and the accused was trashed by thousands on all the social networks. Sponsors dropped the band like a hot potato. Stations stopped airing their music. Concerts were cancelled. You get the picture.

Oh, did I mention that PWR BTTM is billed as a “queer punk” band. It’s certainly easy to see why so many jumped on the “Condemnation Express”. They’re all a bunch of sicko’s, right? They’re all the same, right?

But what is lacking in this case is any actual evidence. There’s no police report, no corroboration, no victim with a name… just an anonymous accusation on a social network. That’s all it took for a career to be ruined, and millions of dollars lost. Many people are cursing Ben Hopkin, calling him names, and condemning him to hell or worse.

But where is the evidence? So far there has been none presented. One has to wonder whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Has that been written out of our moral and ethical code? Whatever happened to the right to face your accuser and have a day in court? What have we become as a culture when we immediately believe the worst about people who are somehow different than us… and when we consistently assume the place of judge, jury, and executioner?

Some of you are feeling indignant right now, but while we’re on the topic, would it not appear that the same thing has been happening to President Trump and his family… and even to unrelated people who are merely “supporters”? Hate abounds and calls for retribution have reached even the sophisticated newsrooms of the nation. Many recent newscasts, with their twenty four hour cycle of trumpet calls from on high, sound as if they could easily end with, “Get a rope!” But when they get down to it, there has been little to no actual evidence… just innuendo, accusations, and dirt dished out by anonymous sources. Sound familiar?

Ben Hopkins and Donald Trump are worlds apart and do indeed make a strange pair, but right now they have something in common -- millions have made up their minds about them based on anonymous accusations, and because of our preconceived ideas and biases. We’ve made our judgment… on them and any other "degenerates" or "deplorables" who might be so foolish as to disagree with us. Civility has left the room. Name calling and slanderous labeling have taken the place of any factual debate. Hopkins and Trump have been tried in our arrogant, prideful courts of disdain, and sentenced to the pits of hell. Some would hope for even worse than that. We circle our prey like sharks, seeking any hint of blood in the water.

Many of us who feel so religiously and morally superior, have taken our high chairs of judgment, and we are daily pronouncing curses and damnation….. and Jesus weeps... not because Trump and Hopkins are good people... but because we think we're better than them. Scripture tells us there is no one righteous, that all have fallen short of God's glory. Jesus weeps because in this nation where so many call themselves by His name, we are failing to love others as He loves us, and so few are speaking the truth in love. Lord have mercy. -- Friar Tuck  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ask Not

(2 Corinthians 8:1-5 NIV)  "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. {2} Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. {3} For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, {4} they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. {5} And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will."

In the early 1960’s President John F. Kennedy uttered the famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country”. His poignant words have been erased from the memory of today’s culture of entitlement. Very few political leaders talk like this anymore. They have learned that you win elections and become powerful by promising to take care of people’s needs… not by admonishing them to do something for others.

Unfortunately, many churches today have followed suit. We have become like the promising politicians. We have become virtual feeding troughs for what singer Amy Grant once called “Fat Babies”. 

As the shepherd of a local church, I tend to get a bit testy when people call on the phone, and the first question out of their mouths is, “What do offer at your church?” It’s my personal theory that the question is a sure fire indicator that you have a church hopper on the other end of the line. For some reason, they think the church is like the government. They think the church exists to offer them something.

A second question is usually, “What do you guys believe?” But we don’t usually get that far, because when they ask, “What do you offer”, I turn the question around and ask them, “What have you got to offer Jesus and the church?” This is usually followed by a long silence and many times a click.

Could we make it official that the church does not exist to attract church shoppers who are looking for a better holy huddle that offers more perks? Too many Christians today, shop for churches like they shop for merchandise. They listen to the advertising and try to discern who’s offering the best deal at the lowest cost this month.

But not once did Jesus say, “Ask my Bride what she can do for you.” Instead, He maintained that it is our calling to ask what we can do for His Bride and His Kingdom. Christ’s disciples are called to give more than they take… to offer more than they receive… to love, even when they are not loved.  

The church doesn’t exist for our personal pleasure. It can certainly help us in life, but the church exists to glorify God, and in this sin filled world, that happens best when we serve the world like Jesus did -- when we lay down our lives for others and for the gospel.   

The consumer mentality that has invaded Christianity has hordes of “customers” looking for the best deal, the coolest children’s ministry, the most published pastor, the most anointed music, and the flashiest program. Churches and pastors end up competing with one another like salesmen. They scramble to offer bigger and better productions. They do all they can not to offend anyone and lose a “sale”.  There is something wrong with this picture.  

The kingdom of God does not exist to serve us -- we exist to serve the kingdom. This is why God wants us to grow up in our faith -- so we can move beyond moaning and onto ministry -- so we can get past seeking pleasure and start serving people.  

How do we do that? Two words: sacrifice and commitment. We sacrifice our lives for the gospel. We commit our hearts to following Jesus. We commit to the word and prayer. We sacrifice by leaving the stuff, the people, the places, and the situations that continually compete with Christ. We commit to serve somewhere in our local church, and we commit to serve somehow in the world. We sacrifice and we commit!   

One of the great truths of life is that we become what we are committed to. It’s as simple as that. We become what we are committed to. What you are right now is what you committed yourself to, weeks, months, and years ago. If we will commit ourselves to Jesus and growing in his word, and if we will forsake the things that hold us back and keep us small, we can become the servants that God intends for us to be.

Get it done! Stop playing around with the faith and just get it done. Salvation is more than just a ticket to heaven. It’s a covenant, a contract, that calls us to follow Jesus and become His servant. Faith that doesn’t commit, and find a way to serve, is phony faith.

Ask not what your church can do for you!  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Great Fish and Slimy Pits

May 13

(Jonah 2:3-10 NIV)  "You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. {4} I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.' {5} The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. {6} To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. {7} "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

(Psalm 30:5 NIV) "For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."

(Psalm 40:1-5 NIV)  "I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.  Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare."

Vance Havner once said: "Sometimes our medicine bottle from God has written on it, "Shake well before using."" 

Jonah was being shaken here. Some of us know what that’s like. We’ve been “shaken” by God too. The Bible says it’s a part of life. Get used to it. Deal with it.

But in our “shaking” -- in our trials – God’s desire is always to deliver us to where we should be. When Jonah was reaping the typhoon of his disobedience, God was there and brought his life up from the pit. When his life was ebbing away, God remembered him and heard his prayer.  

Our God is a God of deliverance. Moses was delivered from Pharaoh. David was delivered from Goliath. Daniel was delivered from the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered in the fiery furnace. Jonah was delivered from the great fish’s belly. We could go on and on.

God specializes in lifting lives up out of the “slimy pit”. That pit may be the belly of a great fish, a boatload of disobedience, the chains of an addiction, the excruciating pain of betrayal, the grief of a devastating loss, the diagnosis of a disease, or the despair of depression.   

It doesn't matter what our slimy pit is, nor does it matter how we got there. When we cry out to God, and surrender our lives into his care, we will be heard. The Lord is our Deliverer.

Great fish are sometimes sent by God to deliver us from drowning in the slimy pit of our sin. They are sent to deliver us from ourselves. But great fish are also sometimes sent to deliver us to a destination of God’s choosing. They are sent to wherever we have foolishly tried to hide from God, in order to take us to where we were meant to be… where God wants us to be. 

If it feels like your life is ebbing away, remember, God knows where you are. Your times are in his hands. If you’re in the slimy pit or in the belly of a great fish, cry out to him. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust. The things he has planned for us are indeed, too many to declare.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

April 23

(Matthew 18:23-35 NIV) "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. {25} Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. {26} "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' {27} The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. {28} "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. {29} "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' {30} "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. {31} When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. {32} "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. {33} Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' {34} In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. {35} "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.""

“I've been tryin' to get down to the heart of the matter. But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it's about forgiveness, forgiveness, Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.”   Don Henley in “Heart of the Matter”

Today Jesus speaks to one of the chief sins of the church: un-forgiveness. 

We look at the unforgiving debtor in this parable and think, “He’s getting just what he deserved. He should have been more grateful and more compassionate.”

Then it soaks in. If we are a Christian, we are that forgiven debtor. Just like him, we have been shown great mercy by God. On the cross, all our debt was forgiven by our Master, Jesus Christ. When we are unwilling to forgive others who owe us, we become the unforgiving servant in this parable.   

One of two things is true about Christians who will not forgive. Either we have not truly experienced and accepted the forgiveness of God, or we have received that forgiveness, but have decided to live in disobedience to the will of God. 

There are no loopholes in this parable. What anyone else owes me is paltry compared to the debt that was forgiven on my behalf. My sin alone was enough to nail Jesus to the cross. And so was yours.

Forgiveness seems unnatural and unfair and unjust, but it is at the heart of Christianity. Our mind rebels at the idea of “bad people getting off the hook”, but that’s what happened when we cried out to God for mercy. It’s called grace and we are commanded to pass it on.

Forgiveness may be hard on us... but un-forgiveness is even harder. Un-forgiveness turns our hearts bitter and that bitterness will eat us up from the inside out. It’s like battery acid in a wooden box. Eventually the box will be devoured.

Un-forgiveness is a poison that will destroy us and harm those around us. Many of the physical, mental, social, and emotional problems we face today are the direct result of un-forgiveness.

It is also a relationship killer. That’s why unforgiving people often end up alone in this world. The only antidote is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard on us, but un-forgiveness is even harder. That’s why with Jesus, it’s the heart of the matter.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

He Showed Them His Hands

April 20

(Luke 24:36-40, 45-48 NIV)  "While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." {37} They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. {38} He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? {39} Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." {40} When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. … {45} Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. {46} He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, {47} and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. {48} You are witnesses of these things."

(John 20:19-20, 24-29 NIV)  "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {20} After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord… {24} "Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. {25} So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." {26} A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {27} Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." {28} Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" {29} Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the disciples were fearful and in disarray. Then came the resurrection. Almost immediately we see the risen Jesus moving to help his disciples regain their courage and faith. He came and stood among them and did several things.

First, he showed them his hands and feet. They saw the holes caused by the spikes driven through his hands and feet into the cross. The wound from the soldier’s spear was still in his side. It was definitely an eye opener for them and it verified that this was indeed their Jesus… literally back from the dead.  

Second, he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures. He breathed the Holy Spirit into them. Before this time the simplest parable seemed to stump the disciples. After this, they became teachers and evangelists.

Before Jesus opened their minds the disciples could not figure out why the Messiah would have to die. After this time they understood the gospel and became preachers for the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Third, he changed their hearts. Wavering hearts became committed hearts. Despairing hearts became joyful hearts. Doubting hearts became believing hearts. Frightened disciples soon became fearless apostles. Expressions of fear became statements of faith: "We have seen the Lord!"  General faith in God became personal faith in Jesus Christ. Thomas proclaims: "MY Lord and MY God."

Fourth, Jesus called them to be witnesses. He hadn’t suffered the cross and risen from the dead so he could be the only spokesman for the Gospel. He called the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Fifth, he called them to deeper faith. He told Thomas, “Change your heart. Stop doubting and believe.” At that point, Thomas had a choice to make, and so do we.

Jesus Christ is risen! We too are called to a deeper faith and to be His witnesses. Stand up and step out for Jesus in the weeks and months to come. He rose so you could shine.