Category Archives: ThisChristianLife

The Pilgrims were Refugees…

This weekend in churches across America, especially in New England, the Pilgrim’s journey to the new world will be discussed. We’ll hear things like “they were coming to simply escape persecution.. To be able to live free from the horror of families being split apart by a world turned against them. Fathers ripped away from families.” We’ll hear about the very real persecution faced by many as they first escaped to Holland and then to the new world. Looking for freedom, peace and security. You’ll hear words like Providence and a conversation about a sovereign God preparing a way. You’ll hear of the peaceful Thanksgiving dinner with some of the indigenous population (though they also were met with weaponry by others still). We’ll hear about the plights, hopes and challenges facing these people who were  forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.  (quick note… that’s the definition of a refugee from Google there in italics)…

Yes. So in many churches my fellow Christians will be speaking of God’s providence, the hopes and thankfulness of refugees who settled a land, formed a nation and received what they sought after fighting an uphill battle to get it..

Psalm 107 and Cognitive Dissonance

In many of these churches, Psalm 107 might be discussed, quoted or preached from. Some call this the “Pilgrim’s Psalm.” I suppose you could call it the refugee’s Psalm also.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.

He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;
they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
Psalm 107 33-42 (ESV)

Catch that! Yes. The Psalm is here referring to the happenings of His people, Israel – but there are a few key takeaways elsewhere in the Bible and here that should make us think. Should make us ponder and consider:

1.) Common Grace – throughout the Bible, the concept that grace exists to the benefit of all the inhabitants of this land, is not foreign. That doesn’t mean I’m a mushy humanist first or foremost. The chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are all rotten sinners who cannot do that apart from Grace. People are brought to salvation by God first so they can give Him the glory due to Him. The glory due to his name. So Christ can receive the rewards of his suffering – converted souls. But there is much benefit for us. And the fact that we all have any breath at all after sinning just once is grace. The hospitals, orphanages, charities and shelters started by believers is grace. The end should never be just common grace or social justice – it should be to honor God by caring for those created in His image – but the point remains… Common grace should drive us to ask the hard questions and care for people in the hard ways.

2.) See that bolded part? When the hard thing is done, when God’s people pull up their sleeves and let Christ show hope through them? The upright see it and are glad, and wickedness shuts its mouth.. That verse alone makes me want to weep for how we’ve missed this.

Where’s the cognitive dissonance?

This weekend fellow believers will be in church this weekend listening to messages speaking about how amazing God is. How much we have to be thankful for. They’ll hear or even give messages talking about the plight of a group of refugees who came to a land inhabited by others to try and get the space and peace and safety they needed to live freely. There will be Amens. There will be nodding heads. There will even be some pulpits slapped by the fists of men of God rightly proclaiming God’s sovereignty over everything and the security that comes from that.

Yet… Across much of  in name only “Christendom” and actual Christendom in America – by Sunday afternoon, eyes will be glued to the TV, the websites, the anger will boil and rise. And shouts against refugees looking for what the Pilgrims were looking for 400 years ago will crescendo and echo throughout the airwaves, houses and status updates.

Maybe those will be outright shouts. Maybe they’ll be what I’ve caught myself doing with fence sitting comments like “yes. we should help some, but…”

This morning sitting in a great message for Thanksgiving I wrote a lot of notes. I fully agreed with all the words of my Pastor – but I wrote some quotes he shared and questions I found myself wondering about when he was talking. His message was about the Puritans we call Pilgrims, but I kept going to the refugees. The thoughts below are thoughts I had about the cognitive dissonance:

“Is He Sovereign Or not?” – If he is? We should care about security and not be foolish – a sovereign God doesn’t mean we should jump off Everest. But it means that we can be rational and ask rational questions – and when they are answered and we learn the risks aren’t what we think they are – we should be willing to relent and not just say “fine.. let them come” but we should actually strive to be the body of Christ we are called to be! All the way. If he is sovereign – we should be willing to do the uncomfortable thing and the thing with a slight slight slight  risk of fearful outcome if it means doing what His clear and revealed will is in caring for others..

“Pilgrims – it was providence.. Refugees Today? GO AWAY!” – That seems to be what I see and hear a lot.

This quote – My pastor shared in the context of what the Pilgrims were trying to do. He attributed it to Swiss Psychiatrist Paul Tournier “…we long for a place to belong, a place to be home all our lives, and we are restless until we find it.” – Hear that? It’s a good quote. That’s what many of these refugees are looking for. They had that, by the way. But it was ripped from them.

The Mission Field Is Coming To Us – We often get excited about putting the money and prayer and time into sending missionaries. But right now? A mission field wants to come to us. And we are screaming and shouting at them and telling them to go back to the ruins they are fleeing… You could call these folks “the least of these” and if you did, then Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40 should haunt you. I got at this in my talk speaking about the Problem with The American Church in a post a year or two ago. Let’s take care of the mission field coming to us.

Closing Thoughts

No. We shouldn’t just open the borders and not enforce security. But we need to understand that the refugee process is perhaps the vector least likely to be used by terrorists. The vetting process is crazy there. Meanwhile visa waivers, overstayed student visas, an unsecure border, etc are far more threatening.

Many of my conservative friends hate it, just like I do, when the refrain of “DO SOMETHING!” comes up about guns after an incident and irrational legislation starts. We get uncomfortable with the statements that start with “if just one life can be saved”  yet we use the same here. If we were serious? Then we’d want to use that logic to stop a lot of other causes of terrorism that some of the liberal policies speak to. We can’t use the logic we hate being used against things we care about. It’s dishonest of us.

This year I’ve come back to this verse in Isaiah a lot. And it works here also. Are we going to do Christianity? Or are we going to do Politics Infused Christianity? It’s a choice we have to make. Let’s wake up and look at the suffering in front of us. Let’s look at the extras we have. Try and imagine ourselves in their shoes. Even just for a second. What will we do?

Isaiah 1:17 says “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” –  Oppressed? Check. Fatherless? Often. Widows? Often. Their cause? To survive and maybe provide a chance for their family to thrive..

They may look different. Many of them may even believe differently and worship a false God. Many are confused. Many don’t speak our language. And a couple bad apples could be mixed into the throngs of scared and hurting families.  But this verse doesn’t talk about these things. It just says learn to do good, seek justice and correct their oppression. So what are we going to do? Obey? Or yell and push away?

 

Philippians Contentment Radical? Not at all.

Time zone changes + naps during the day + steroids mean I wake up at odd times. This is a quick wake up after 6 hours of sleep and I hope that when I’m done typing, I’ll be tired again and finish my night’s rest.. Two days ago, I posted about my really recent MS diagnosis. It was a rambling post. I started reading Philippians yesterday, too (go figure 😉 ) and I really feel like God is showing me a lot about myself and about life just in these first few days of unpacking and reflecting on what this means for me…. 

I want to get to a few main thoughts running around in my head. But I want to make a point of saying, that one of them isn’t attention, or extra measure of sympathy or pity. 🙂 This is a thing, a thing with some unknowns, but most of the time, a ton more good than bad. There are many people suffering from many worse things  (like actually suffering.. I’m not really even suffering at all – except for a minor frustrating bout of double vision and some wobbly-headedness when closing my eyes and leaning backwards). Enough by way of introduction. Today I’m going to try and get the first of the thoughts out. It’s about contentment. It’s about maturity. It’s about a vision of myself. It’s about a tenderness from God. It’s about Paul in his Prison cell.

Paul Was In The Right Place

I went to bed with Phiippians on the mind. I went to bed with some conversations with friends about the MS on my mind. I went to bed with my family on my mind. When I woke up at 3AM – it was with a thought and smile “Paul was exactly where he needed to be when he wrote that letter.”

Look at some evidence from his letter:

 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  Philippians 1:12-14 (ESV)

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 18-26 (ESV)

See that? Paul’s letter goes on with some admonitions and advice for living the Christian life. But his occasion of writing makes those lessons that much more powerful. He was in a prison cell. He didn’t know what would come next. Maybe he had guesses. Maybe he had ideas. But he knew the actual answer actually didn’t matter. He was confident and assured of his deliverance in vs 19 either way. Whether it be an open cell or a cruel death.

In verse 20 he adds to that thought. His desire is to see Christ honored through whatever happened next. Whether it be a courageous life in prison, living boldly after release or facing death with honor.

Paul Was Content.

(and that period in my heading was on purpose 😉 . He was – Content – period) Paul had been through the ringer a lot. He never had to be either. He was a persecutor of Christians. He was – as he said – a Jew of Jews. A Pharisee of Pharisees. He could have ascended to the halls of power in his day continuing his fight against the Christians. But he was converted. He was knocked down and turned towards Christ by sovereign grace. So he knew the high life. He knew comfort. He probably thought he knew contentment before. Maybe a few years before – he would have said it was having three cloaks to chose from when going on the prowl for believing Christians.. Having a pass from temple sacrifice and duty because he was on “official business”, having folks helping him out and maybe attending to some of his needs. If you were to ask me what contentment meant over the years my answer would change. Every so often, something happens where I feel like my definition gets more sparse. I think through this, it’s getting more basic again. But in Philippians 4? Paul gets to the heart of this himself:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:10-13

I’ve blogged a lot here about how we have too much stuff. We have too many distractions. We have too many things that end up being substituted as contentment or fools as Provision. In some ways – I may say in some round about way that being a relatively healthy, middle class or higher American Christian is harder sometimes than being one someplace else. We don’t worry about survival. We don’t worry about comfort – pretty much ever, and when we do you could call it “first world problems”. But those things. Those comforts.. They distract us from true contentment. I’ll get back to this below when I close but hold it in your head if you can until then..

Paul – he got it. This is saying “Hey.. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for being worried about me. Stop it now. I’m good. Wherever I am? That’s where God has me. Whatever I find myself in? That’s what God has me in. I am content because I am His. I can be brought to the lowest places in our minds yet I will abound because of Him who strengthens me.

Paul was where he was supposed to be. Paul was content. Because I’m an American Christian – I keep wanting to say he was “radically content” – (Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed and was moved to change by the book Radical. I’m okay with adjectives. Anyone who knows me knows that). I don’t need to add that, though. Paul was content. Just content. It’s not radical. It’s not unusual. It’s natural for the believer. But I think it’s hard to see it through the comfort and false contentment.

It’s not until you are brought low that you realize just how much Christ is Christ. It’s not until you are sitting in your prison that you can fully taste grace, maybe. I don’t know – maybe that’s just me.

Closing Thoughts – About Me

So I just got done talking about the example of Paul. I risk ruining an already too long post with talking about me. I want to preface this again by disclaiming with – I’m good. I really am. And there are so many worse conditions to have. And so many people who have MS who are just living and having great lives and not blogging about what it meant to be diagnosed because the medicines and help are that good.

Yesterday a good friend with MS saw me at a SQL event, gave me a big hug and asked “How are you?!” and I knew what he meant. My answer was “I can’t explain it. I’m not excited at all to have a condition that has some really expensive drugs, some weird unknowns and a prognosis that has a small risk of changing like the wind.. But right now excited almost comes to mind.. Content. At peace” and I tried to explain but it ‘s hard to explain. Here’s what I mean though…

Like I blogged about yesterday – I can be better in many areas of life. I have maturity to gain. I have battles to give to God. I have time to allocate more properly. I have so many things that are distractions and I let them distract me. I let my Bibles collect more dust than they ought. I give my kids more superficial time than actually giving them myself. I give my wife my needs and concerns and don’t take hers like I should. I louse around too much. Now don’t get me wrong. I could be a lot worse. But I could be a lot not worse. This is not a death sentence diagnosis. But it’s a stop and refocus moment.

No clock has been set up for me to count down to a bad moment in my life. But. There are unknowns. It’s not a cold sore, it’s not bronchitis – I’m living with the knowledge that things can change. That what I am able to do today, I may not be able to do in 20 years. Or 30. Or 10. Or even 5. Everyone is affected differently. The drugs help everyone different. It really is a strange disease and it could do nothing different than the dizziness and double vision and some of the tinglings and issues I’ve noticed before. Or it could put me into a wheel chair at 55.

And what that does? What that’s doing? It’s making me understand more fully what Paul was getting at here. I’m shuffling the list of “contentment factors” in my mind this week and as I pour things onto the screens to filter out whats critical from what’s not – I’m left with the image of boulders, rocks and sands.. The sand goes out easily. The rocks easier. But the boulders are hard to move. And the boulders are actually small in number..

God. Family. Friends.  That’s it. I say “what about providing for my family?” And the answer is God. Now that doesn’t mean I stop working – but it means if I focus right, if we spend right – God provides a way.

Instead of searching for the next device. The next fun experience. The next pleasure. What a world of contentment I’m surrounded in with just those boulders. Job lost sand, rocks and boulders, All he was left with was his wife who wasn’t so helpful 😉

This MS thing? I think I am in the right place. Sure, I’d give it up (at least right now) if given the opportunity.. Actually I don’t know.. Now that I type that – I’ve known I ought to find a more humble sense of contentment. I know what I’ve ought to have made first. But I’ve often found distraction easier. Maybe I wouldn’t give it up, if God continues to show these things to me about myself. If he continues to bring me along to the kind of contentment Paul shares. If he brings me low to let me see the beauty of his grace best. If it makes me mature more. If it makes me run to Christ more. If it makes me abandon myself and my selfishness for more of Him.

Because? That’s what this life is about first and foremost. It’s about our relationship with Christ, it’s about preparation for eternity with Him. It’s about our horizontal relationships here. It’s about preparation. And what prepares you for realizing that all you need is Christ than circumstances showing you how important He is?

That’s what I mean when I say excited. And I have to be careful using that word. In my genes is a slight desire to be the center of attention. A desire to have crisis surround me. I won’t get into where it comes from – but it’s there. So I don’t mean it like that at all here. That’s why it’s not the right word. I do worry about what burdens my family could have, but I’m confident that we’ll all learn and grow through this. And I’m confident that a dad who is being pushed along towards contentment in God alone (pushed along because I’m not there yet.. It’s a journey. I can tell you that through the adoption. Through this. I’m closer to it than I was 5 years ago.. but still so far away) is a good thing for that family to have – even if I wake up one morning and I have a temporary relapse where the whole family has to drag me out of bed and down the stairs 😉

I want to type so much more. And so many hymns come to mind to quote here. The one that keeps singing in the back of my head while I get nearer the end of this post is “It is well” but I don’t want to quote that one. I want to quote Rock of Ages instead. A great verse from the song that always punches me. But it punches me sweetly right now.

Before I post it – just a question for you.. What about you? Are you content? Have you thought about what it means? Are you distracted? Run to Him if you are his and ask him to show you where to focus your time and energy. Get back into the word if you’ve fallen out of it as it is so easy to do. Right now? In health, wealth, comfort? It feels like the lyrics below are only true “in a way” but in reality? They are fully true. And we’re all only a car accident, disaster, financial crisis, or diagnosis away form understanding the lyrics more. Work on gaining that understanding now instead 🙂

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

We’re Kind of Like The Minions Looking for a Purpose

In the latest Minions movie ‘ Minions’ –  we see a glimpse of the created purpose of the Minions. Or in the evolutionary framework the movie creators went for – the purpose they evolved towards desiring. Either way… The theme of the movie is their quest to fulfill their purpose – to serve an evil master.

Minions and theology?
Throughout the film’s beginnings you see them trying with various masters to quick or delayed ends with bad results. They missed the mark. They eventually found themselves in a remote ice village. They made comfortable homes for themselves. They had a comfortable existence – but they were torn up inside. They were listless and purposeless. So finally one left their home to go search out for an evil master to rule over them… The rest is the main point of the movie.

That movie and a conversation at an evening service at church got me thinking of a parallel between those minions, living their daily lives – plodding along not really joyfully, sometimes sadly missing a component of their purpose and the human being set apart from Christ… It’s a strange analogy perhaps. If you’ve seen the movie with your kids (Christian Liberty, right? 😉 ), you can picture that longing I described above… I think it sums up the human experience apart from Christ. (That doesn’t mean there can’t be happiness, success, etc. Common grace exists and the world benefits from it, but it is fleeting – temporary. Vanity as we’ll see in Ecclesiastes at the end)

We Aren’t So Different Than Those Listless Minions

I subscribe to the Second London Confession – but the Baptist Catechism that often accompanies that is lacking two questions found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I think..

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

This isn’t just the word of men from the 1600s. This is scriptural truth – written by God Himself through human hands.

We were created to glorify God. Romans 11:33-36 is one of many places in scripture where this purpose is spelled out (bolding is from me, scripture is from ESV):

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

See that? All that is – is created under his will (from him), at his hand (through him) and for his glory (to him). We are, as scripture says elsewhere – clay vessels – and he is the potter. This doesn’t mean we are automatons – we are given a free agency and allowed to will and to act. But we are all created in His image. It is our duty to give him worship and adoration. It is our purpose to do these things. Not because he is a selfish God looking for a stroke of his ego – but because he is that he is. He is the almighty creator king over this world. And this glory is due to him. It’s the tune we were created to and sound the best at, too.

Our hearts and our bodies and our minds. They were made to fellowship and commune with him and to bring him glory.

What is life like without God? What is a life that doesn’t glorify God?

It can be a fine life from human standards. There can be wealth. Health. Wonderful memories. Family fun. Tasty food. Great music. Moments of selflessness with wonderful acts of service to others. There can be sad times but even the sad times can be buttressed around happy memories of the loved on you mourn, or the catharsis from letting all that sad out. If you ask the psychologists of the western world – if you ask the wealth managers of the world – a life apart from God can certainly match the “Life is Good” slogan you see everywhere.

Except. it isn’t.

Apart from a right relationship with our creator, we have a hole that Pascal described as:

There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.

Or Lewis hinted at in Mere Christianity with:

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

You see. It’s there. This vacuum. This sense of otherworldness.  We may deny its existence. We may fill the gap with stuff, activities, accumulations, etc. We may deny the power of this feeling – but we all feel it.

We were made for another world we were made for a world in which our relationship with God was complete and our communion with him unbroken. One where our work was a gift from him and a way to return glory to him.

We lost our way though. In the garden, sin seeped in. Adam, acting as our representative as our federal head, allowed sin to touch this world and our hearts. Our natures have been corrupt ever since. Our work tarnished with sweat, agony and toil. Our efforts focused on ourselves. Our selfishness and pride a chief end of most when we think about it. We know something isn’t right so we try and do what seems natural to us – we try and make the scales tip more to the “good” side than the “bad” side. But it’s all for not apart from Christ. The end of this life is the same every time. We’ve gone astray and we are under sin. We can’t not sin, and our punishment is just, our end is deserved. It’s Grace to the believer that isn’t fair – that is undeserved or unearned.

Ecclesiastes 6 really gets into the pointlessness of life “under the sun” instead of under God. Some highlights from that chapter:

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-4 ESV)

This is the discontent life. It would have been better off to not have that life in the first place – it is wasted. It is vain. Striving for the wind as it says later in the same chapter.  Without God – Sartre, Kierkegaard or their contemporaries in existentialism nailed it –  life is absurd, irrational even – but here we are stuck in it. Might as well make the most of it for our short existence in it.. Pointless beyond whatever meaning we individually give it – then we cease to exist. Rinse and repeat.. That’s life under the sun instead of under God.

Just Minions – looking to find some purpose in our lives instead of a evil master. But look at what Paul says in Romans 1 or 2 – or what the Psalmists say. Our hearts are given an ability to take in grandeur – to know right from wrong, to look at the vastness of the created universe and desire to explore it. These desires – these things we know innately – these aren’t some impulses from some evolutionary framework or some primitive survival instinct. The ability to get lost in a sunset, enjoy a cool fall day under a tree shedding its leaves. This isn’t some chemical reaction refined over millenia. It’s our soul crying out to do what it was created to do. It’s a desire to glorify the creator. To stand in awe at his creation. To fill that vacuum in Pascal’s equation above.

I’m not writing this to try and sway you to Christianity. I believe this isn’t a faith you can be talked into, only made alive to by a sovereign act of God. I’m not writing this to emotionally manipulate you into saying some prayer that you may or may not mean. I am saying this to ask you – do you feel that heartbeat longing for more inside? Do you sense that maybe you are made for another world? Do you think there is more to your existence than existing?  Maybe that’s God beginning a work in you! Cry out to God if so. Don’t fall down and worship the animals or the plants – cry out to the creator God and ask Him to reveal himself to you. Ask him to grant you eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to receive. Check out that short video from John Piper I have here on my site. Don’t stifle that feeling. Don’t stifle that sense, maybe that is God beginning a work of conviction in your heart, chase after Him and see if it is.

“But God” What a Concept!

Today in a parking lot, I stumbled upon this license plate and asked the driver if I could take a picture of it and if it was okay if I shared it publicly. He said “Sure”.

But God - Awesome, Terrifying and Hopeful

But God – Awesome, Terrifying and Hopeful

I love this license plate. I never really ever dwelt on the phrase or “Holy Conjunction” before but it is in the Bible a lot. In one search of the ESV on Biblegateway I find the words together 48 times. But wow. What a phrase!

His plate gave me a sense of comfort as a believer straight away. Then it got me thinking about the phrase. Think of the time your faith has been tried by circumstances that knocked you off your feet. It is those moments that “but God” means everything to you. Richard Wurmbrandt, who wrote tortured for Christ, only had “but God” to keep Him going in his darkest hours. You know what, though, “but God” is all he needed. To this believer, the phrase invokes the same feeling that this verse from Rock of Ages invokes:

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling…

I’m a sinner. A reprobate with a wicked heart and mind. I have secret sins. I have selfish motives. Left to my corrupt nature I would perish in my angry, sinful state and spit in the face of the God who made me.. I had no hope on my own. No power to render myself clean. But God…  No ability to even desire repentance on my own. But God…

It is a phrase that is comforting to the elect, yes. But to those who aren’t secure in the capable and solid arms of Christ – it should be a phrase or concept of terror, of awesome fright. Sadly to many it isn’t though, it’s a phrase or concept worth cracking a joke at.

Romans 2 says:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus Romans 2:14-16 (ESV – emphasis added)

We may do good. We may help that little old lady across the street. We may be kind to puppies, as Hitler could have said. We may love our mothers as most cruel tyrants can say. We may pour all of our heart, time and money into the lives of others. But God.. God sees our inward heart. He sees through our fog machines, even when we’ve fogged over the internal view. He judges us. For our complete record, even our secrets. By us – I mostly mean me, but the Bible tells me it’s not just true of me.

I love this license plate – because this is such an important conjunction for all times – though it seems especially poignant to us today in This America at This Time as I blogged about earlier. But God works in our present age as he has in all the ages past and will in the ones to come.

for example on abortion… 

Just today, somewhere around 1,000 lives were extinguished in America inside the safest place for them to be – their mother’s womb.. But God is victorious over death and He makes His elect victorious as well:

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our  Lord Jesus Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 15:53-5 7 (ESV)

This month or week even a person will be murdered somewhere and the criminal justice system will not reckon with the murderer while they are alive, But God rights all wrongs and exacts his perfect justice in His time and in His way. The unjust will not escape His wrath. 

Today nations make their own plans and put God out of their planning and out of thought, out of sightBut God is sovereign over the nations and works all things together in the end. And all humanity will stand in judgment.

So many hurt. So many have needs But God is there with his missionaries being his hands and feet. God is mourning with those who mourn, God offers a living water which quenches the deepest longing and thirsts of the heart, the Bread of Life which heals corrupt natures from their sin sick states.(though the church could and should do so much more.. We’ll be called to account for this life of complacency the Church in America is found in) But God…

Just some of the places where “But God” is found in the Bible are below. I encourage you to study the phrase and its occurrence more. Words don’t have special meaning, there’s no code to the Bible. But explore some of the verses and their context. Look at the truths Scripture reveals to us.

I’ll start with my favorite set of verses and share a few other random verses to get you started. What do you think? What does “But God” mean to you? What hope do you find there? (all verses are ESV)

But God… saves sinners

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

But God… shows His strength through working through weaker vessels. He counfounds the wise through the mouths of the foolish – by the world’s standards.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 1 Corinthians 1:27

He gives us much freedom and love and grace and compassion But God... has standards..

but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Genesis 3:3

He judges. He deals with sins and is righteous and shows his righteous anger. But God shows mercy and tenderness to we who don’t deserve either:

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. Genesis 8:1 (besides Romans 5:6 – I believe this is one of the sweetest, and most indescribably wonderful “But God” occurrences in the Bible)

But God.. can turn ash into diamonds

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20 (Joseph speaking to his brothers, who effectively left him for dead in a ditch someplace)

But God… sees through our selfish foolishness and is still willing to teach us through our stubbornness 

ButGod said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” Jonah 4:9 

I could keep going. But you can explore the Bible yourself. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know why you are reading this post. But God knows you. But God knows your heart. But God knows your secrets and your thoughts. If you are a brother or sister secure in Christ already – I pray that you find hope in thinking about the “Buts” God has put into our circumstances and this world. The Bible tells us that if we are His – we already overcomers. We’ve already triumphed over the worst that the Prince of lies has to throw at us. We ought to use that victory, that freedom, for His Kingdom. We ought to use this grace to throw bombs of grace at those around us. We ought to live like we were bought from our bondage to sin. I’m speaking to me as much as I’m speaking to you. Let’s not waste all of these But God moments.We can rejoice in God and what he has done for us in spite of us even in our deepest pits.

If you aren’t His – I pray that you will search your heart. That you will be open to God’s call on your life if He is calling you. I pray that you will realize that your sins are many – maybe not as many as mine – but even one is more than God can look upon without judgment. I pray that you will realize that the most powerful But God.. concept is Grace. We are sinners. We are selfish. We violate God’s principles, But God was pleased to punish Christ and put our iniquity on Him – as Isaiah 53 tells us. But God remembered Noah – and He will not let His elect perish. I pray that you will see your sins and see your need for a Savior and that God would be pleased to call you unto Himself.

On America Today – Psalm 12 Works

Psalm 12 is right for today. Not June 26, 2015 today. Not “SCOTUS has spoken about institutionalizing marriage” today. But “this time we find ourselves in” which includes June 26th. Which includes SCOTUS, which includes the shouts of “Bigot!” if you dare differ on an issue. Which includes so much more..

This time we find ourselves in is comprised of all sorts of “things”. Things like:

  • Pressure to not speak out a certain way
    • Born from a pressure to not think a certain way
      • Born from a desire to suppress a certain thought or set of thoughts.
    • Full throated endorsement of relativistic thoughts.
      • In morals
      • In ethics
      • In integrity
      • It’s all situational. It’s all relative. There is no right or wrong.
        • This isn’t just in liberal progressive, atheistic circles..
          • It’s in churches who say “no way man.. it’s love. That’s all there is.. stop hating.. love”
          • It’s in the GOP
          • It’s in Liberalism (obviously)
        • These things are not taught in universities… They are indoctrinated and demanded.
        • We are made to care about everything:
          • It is not safe to say “I don’t believe in it and I oppose it but whatever you want is fine”. This is evidenced by:
            • Bakers being shut down and then decimated in Court
            • Same bakers losing funding from a fundraising site
            • CEO of Mozilla losing his job for expressing a view in his past
            • An Atlanta Fire Chief being fired for writing a book in his own time that dared make a (tolerant, but firm) stand on an issue
            • Lynch mob interviews like the Pizza Parlor who was asked the worst hypothetical question ever and then gave an honest answer and paid the ultimate price
          • Outrage and Impassioned Overreaction Rule the Day:
            • On a college campus you just need to say “I was raped” and the media, elected officials and the blogosphere are on your side. Instantly. With no questions
            • The Rolling Stone can publish a cover photo of a terrorist who bombed in one issue. In the other they publish a totally false story about a rape that never happened to push a narrative – and nothing happens.
            • Brian Williams can do an unapology tour and be given a role behind the newsdesk at a cable network (granted it’s MSNBC.. Where well..)
            • The Dukes of Hazard can become a symbol of racism and oppression because of a flag from Dixie.
            • Common sense calls to take down a flag at a public building with near unanimous support has turned into Apple removing historical games because of inclusion of a flag, talk from a NY Post film critic of retiring Gone With The Wind to the museum and anyone who says anything good about the character of the men and women who died fighting for their states in the Civil War is an instant racist now
          • Tolerance has been rebranded from “I don’t agree, but man I support your right to ____ and I am not going to attack you personally for thinking ______” to “You will think like I think or we will call you a bigot, shame you and destroy your career, life and fortunes”
          • We are at about a 50/50 ratio of abortion/attempt to carry to term. Maybe more like 60/40 when you look deep enough (60% live or miscarry unintentionally).. That’s about 1 million babies a year in this nation alone.
          • In record time we went from “no marriage for two of the same couple” to “law of the land” and rainbow flag decorated celebrations.. Regardless of where one stands on the question – the reactionary time and time to impact was impressively short. Just 7 years ago President Obama was against it publicly. Just 12 years ago the Clintons were.
          • Church organizations are under attack for daring to proclaim the Bible
          • Recent polls show majorities of Democrats and almost majorities of Conservatives in favor of hate speech legislation.
          • In Europe and Canada there have been civil and criminal offenses for simply stating what the Bible says about something.

 

I could keep going. There are categories of “shaming” now to whip folks who dare talk about health, modesty, abstinence, moderation, paying attention to school, athletics, etc. Anytime something sounds like “harsh words” it gets a “____ shaming” meme and category on social media.. Feminism has been rebranded so many times that it actually looks nothing like what pioneers of woman’s rights fought for back in the days of suffrage or fair labor laws.

I could keep going. I won’t. These aren’t scary things to the believer. We owe our obedience to the God who has told us such things as “They meant it for evil, I worked it for Good”, “Then there will be a new heaven, and a new earth”, “Come to me all who are weary and rest….My yoke is easy, my burden is light”.. We serve a God who is good, patient and kind and one who will make all things right. One who turns ashes into beauty. One who wrote the end of the story and it ends as it is supposed to. As Christians, we find ourselves in His clutches – in spite of our weakness, our insecurities, our sins and our total lack of deserve and redeeming quality. I don’t share these thoughts to say woe is us then! I share them with the underpinning trust, faith and hope I have through Christ in me. The same Christ who turned this dead sinner’s heart into an alive to love and alive to obedience heart. A heart that still messes up – but one that understands what He means when tells me that nothing can separate me from the love of His father. So it is with a peculiar mixture of faith, hope, love, excitement that I serve God who rises above all of these things and a mixture of head shaking at just how far we’ve gone and how fast the pace is quickening on our decline that I share all of these thoughts – wherever they end up.

That’s today. A world that very much looks different than our founding. A world that looks very different from how it should look if we are His people. The church in America isn’t off the hook here either! Yes – the culture outside of the church is broken more. It’s crack is splitting faster. But let’s not make any mistakes here.. The foundations are shaken inside of the body of believers in this nation. I could give as many examples as above about how and where I’ve personally fallen and fall or will fall tomorrow or the next day. Where I’ve personally failed and fail to keep His commands or where I disobey His will for my life – willingly far too often. Where I’ve committed a sin for selfish reasons. Where I’ve not loved as I should. Where I’ve failed in compassion. Where I’ve celebrated in the downfall of someone who stands against what I stand for.

I could make a list equally large with where the church has let its role and guard down. Things like:

  • We’ve allowed racism to circle and swirl around in many of our churches and our actions – overtly sometimes.. Covertly at other times. But we know it is there and we’ve ignored it.
  • We’re allowing a generation of orphans to remain orphans (again)
  • We’re cold and judgmental – judging is not proscribed in the Bible.. but judgmental pharisaical hearts and holier than thou actions and words is dealt with quite often.
  • Our wallets are too tight to the needs around us.
  • We’ve largely allowed idiots to define us. Political idiots. Fox news idiots. Instead of thinking for ourselves – we’ve let them be our spokespeople and either endorsed their message loudly – or endorsed it through silence
  • We’ve tried to wear the tight jeans, cool glasses and sport the hipster beards trying to look like the world – but in the process we’ve left the full weight of the Gospel on the shelf for fear of offending those people looking to come to a place where they can be “seekers” and we can be “sensitive” to their seeking heart…
  • We’ve let doctrine take a backseat and been overreactive and overemphatic of one or two of God’s natures instead of balance how we talk about his balanced natures. We’ve forgotten that “Wrath” and “Love” peacefully and properly coexist in God without any contradiction, discomfort or confusion – and we’ve tried to explain it away for fear of sounding like the bigots we get accused of being.
  • We’ve gotten selfish individually. We’ve gotten selfish Corporately.
  • While rushing to build something that is appealing and feels homey to all – we’ve built a big empty bounce house void of meaning or truth and folks are running from it realizing a great big gust of wind will send it cartwheeling through the air.
  • We sin no differently than those outside the church.
  • We look the other way and make excuses when one of our own fails – but we allow ourselves to fall into the celebratory party when one of theirs fails.
  • We’ve bottled up our beliefs to not make folks feel uncomfortable
  • We’ve fought the political end of all the big fights the culture is winning on. But we’ve not actively done our part on the spiritual side of the battles.
  • We’re hypocrites and we make labels..

I could go on here also. We do some of the same overreaction and outrage politics. We get known only for what we are against sometimes. We spit and shout without listening and reading. We have our channels and our “spokespeople”.

The point is we find ourselves in sinful times. That isn’t any different than what Nahum could have said when he was writing. Or John when he was. Or Paul when he was. Or the early church fathers. Or Calvin. Or when Billy Graham started preaching. Or when Christ walked on earth. Or when Moses was dealing with his murmuring flock. Sin is sin. Rebellion is rebellion and our hearts are corrupt, wicked and set on themselves. This is not new and will be happening as long as free will and humans are allowed to coexist.

But. These times are interesting all the same. They are interesting for America. They are interesting for His church in America. This nation had a special sense about its founding. We had a concept of liberty and a hardiness against offense. We had a gritty and pragmatic, sort of libertarian approach. We largely obeyed and worshiped God – we differed in denomination and degree, but we didn’t try and wholesale hack him out of our culture and our worlds. We didn’t try and ostracize believers and tear down all God stands for. We didn’t care so much if someone else thought different or worshipped differently. Sure we cared personally and cared because we cared for their soul, but we didn’t let that interfere with how we handled them. We didn’t start screaming names at them. We didn’t start screaming BIGOT!!! So it’s with that backdrop that Psalm 12 speaks to me about this time we find ourselves in:

 

 

Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man. (Psalm 12 (ESV) )

 

 

See that?

 

1 Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.

 

The faithful are vanishing. At least from public view.. Some by choice and self-censorship for fear of offending others. Some for fear of losing a job. Some because they are too busy trying to make a buck or scratch whatever their itch is.

 

2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

 

I don’t know if any commentary is required here. If this doesn’t call out “times like this” – then I am surprised you read this far. We are flatterers. Flattery is “easier”. Flattery is “safer”. Flattery avoids offending. It avoids being a “____ shamer” it avoids telling anyone anything that harms their status quo..

But it is lies! It is double hearted for the Christian to say “God loves you.. He wants you to be happy and whatever makes you happy makes him happy” It’s a lamentable, woeful message to give to someone and it tears me up just hearing it. Not anger. Not some pride because “I have it all figured out and am above it “ – but a sorrow. A deep sorrow for other sin sick souls. I know their plight – because I’ve tasted grace and understand how sick sin sick is.

The Bible doesn’t tell me I’m better than anyone. It tells me I’m a sinner and deserve Hell apart from Grace – and grace alone – nothing from me. I know how I was. I know how I am. I know what I’ve earned and stored up for myself if it weren’t for grace. I’m humbled and blown away by God’s election and redemption – even now where I still fail daily. And it makes me sad – more than sad really – to think of the lie behind “Just be happy.. God’s on your side”.  That’s poison. And it isn’t love at all. So we lie to our neighbors by and large in this church body. We’re making them comfortable on their way to hell…

 

 

3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,4 those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

 

May He indeed. That’s hard to type. But this nation is storing up wrath for herself. The culture is going to go downhill over time, we should expect that. We shouldn’t be shocked that the same court who said you have a right to kill a separate living human being growing inside of the home created to grow that life has also gotten something like marriage wrong. We shouldn’t be surprised that God’s word is confusing to the world. We shouldn’t be surprised that the cross is an offensive stumbling block! These things are expected. But we should be disgusted when we lie and flatter in the church to fit in. We should be ashamed that the speed of the decline and institutionalization of sin quickens.

 

Verse 4 talks about an open rebellion. A common attitude you see emerge is “sure.. maybe God is real.. forget him and what he says… Who is he to say what I can do with ____” This rebellion isn’t new. I mean this Psalm wasn’t written in 1995. It’s always been there since pride existed. Since Satan fell. Since they tasted the fruit in the garden hoping to be like God themselves. But we should look to the things listed above as forms of rebellion. That deranged young man who killed 9 in a church was in rebellion. He rebelled against God in many ways. This quest for the institutionalization of same-sex marriage and the demonization of those who dare think differently than the culture is rebellion against God. The fight for using medical science to double down on delusions about one’s body is rebellion.. These things are clearly rebellion. But it is also rebellion to have grace and not share it. It’s rebellion to lie to preserve comfort and condemn our fellow image bearers to hell because we want to be “good” neighbors.

 

5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” 6The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

 

The poor are plundered. We are letting them be. While we blindly shout whatever party platform “our party” tells us to shout. We store up treasure while we say “get a job you bum” without even considering the deeper dynamics or humanity of our fellow humans. We let others in this generation we live in suffer while we live in a period and nation of unprecedented excess. We’ve labeled anything that fights oppression or justice as “social justice” and shot it down because it didn’t focus first on a Biblical message in our specific formula. We shout about the sins of others and the sins of the culture – who God tells us will sin and will disobey – while perhaps secretly hoping our shouts are loud enough to cover up our own failings.. Our own secret sins.

 

God’s “I will now arise” is a heart stopping answer, when you think about it. This is a horrible image and one not very Biblical: But I see this as the 1950s image of “dad” closing the legs of his recliner with a belt in his hand saying “That’s it.. I’m getting up”. It’s not that. It’s purer than that. It’s deeper than that. But God still judges nations today. And while all the nations and all the people in all the nations owe Him obedience and glory and honor – he expects more out of us in the church. He judged Sodom and Gomorrah because the church there couldn’t even produce and ever dwindling number of faithful.

 

7 You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. 8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

 

 

The NASB translates verse 8 this way – “The wicked strut about on every side
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.”

 

In times like these we see celebration – intense celebration of evil. We see strutting while vileness is exalted among the sons of men. The party has begun. The celebration has begun and it will be loud. It will be proud. It will be complete. And that celebration may have parts about a misguided and broken form of love. It may be thought to be about “identity” but it’s a broken and sinful identity. But it will happen. And vileness is exalted among the sons of men in the process. We’ve exchanged the truth for a lie.

This post isn’t resignation. This isn’t murmuring. I actually have mixed emotions in a sense about the court ruling specifically today. Let the people do what the people will do is how I look at it. If we want it – we can have it.

But I think the celebration. The desire to get what we got – all these things come from rebellious and sin sickened hearts. I know because I have that same heart by nature. It’s been purified in spite of myself. It’s been made whole in spite of my will and rebellion. So I don’t share this to gloat about having something. Because what I have I didn’t deserve and what I deserve I won’t get. I share this out of a position of humility and love. And with a truly broken heart for my land. I have a hope for revival. I have confidence and faith that God has the story written and the end written already. So this isn’t a woeful lament. It’s not a teeth chattering fear. My marriage isn’t impacted. I care about a great many true friends who are celebrating today. But this is an observation about how far we’ve gone. How far we’re going. It’s an observation about the lie of sin. The lie of the devil and the rebellion in our land. It’s sad. It’s not hopeless. God wins in the end. Every knee will bend or be bent. But it’s a lament and plea for my nation. It’s a cry for those who are deceived and deceiving and exchanging God’s great truth for lies.

 

Maranatha.

Kalief Browder – We Failed Him. We Disobeyed God.

About a year ago I read an article in the NY Post about a teen who spent far too long(*) in jail awaiting trial for trumped up charges he was probably innocent of. I was incensed when I read the story. I was furious at this peek into the system that would put him there for this. It wasn’t a fear induced anger – I wasn’t afraid of this happening to me or my children. It isn’t a problem that would face us.. Perhaps that’s why I became so angry. I was mad at the injustice shown to a human being who lives on the same sphere I live on. Who was made in the same image I was made in.

To me this case summed up a lot of injustice that still exists in the Criminal Justice system in this nation. Call it race. Call it socio-economic status. Call it both. But this story peeled back the veneer I’ve seen over our justice system. The veneer that says “nah.. it’s not really that bad.. if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” I’m not saying I disagree with personal accountability after reading of his story. I’m just saying that things are not always as they appear to be. By all accounts and by the integrity and courage and decisions this young man (well he was a boy when he entered jail waiting 3 years for his trial.. he was a man when he was finally left when the state dropped their charges…) was innocent of the charges lobbed at him.  I don’t fear this happening to me because he lacked four things I possess:

  • The ability to afford – or easily find a way to afford bail
  • The ability to afford – or easily find a way to afford a lawyer
  • White skin (as much as I wish this wasn’t a factor, I can’t say that and feel like I’m telling the truth)
  • I don’t live in the inner city

(* – Actually it is even more than far too long. 1 minute in jail for trumped up charges from a confused witness who changed his story a couple times to the cops and has zero other proof just “yeah that looks like the guy” with no other evidence whatsoever is far too long.. And I.. And most of the folks who read my technical blog wouldn’t even spend a second in a police cruiser or a second in handcuffs here.)

What Happened?

Really simply? This young man had one incident with police (cleared off of his record) that was a dumb thing his friends did and he was there and went along as a teen. That’s it though.  This time – he and a friend were walking. A cop came up to them and accused them of stealing. He told the cop “check my pockets I don’t have anything!” cop said “no a backpack” and then the cop said it was a week or so ago but the victim said he identified them on the street and knew it was them.. That’s it. No videos, no evidence, no proof, no nothing. And he got arrested, processed, bail was set (too high for his struggling adoptive mom – he was the 8th she adopted) and he went to Rikers island. Once there he had a tough time and ended up in solitary confinement for a lot of his stay.. While he waited for trial. For three years. THREE YEARS.. THREE.YEARS. The system is busy. And most folks end up waiting and waiting and then the prosecutors and judges offer a pretty good plea deal and they take it out of a desire to leave Rikers. He never took a deal. Even at the end when the deal was plead down to a misdemeanor, no big deal on the record, and get out on time served. He refused. He was tortured in his heart about it but he said he was innocent and he wasn’t going to do that. Instead he’d risk trial and risk 15 years in prison if found guilty… Ultimately.. The state dropped the charges when the “victim” went back to Mexico – and there was no other evidence, just a statement of one victim..

So I was pretty mad – and broken up about this case. Well today – I stumbled on a story about Kalief. The adopted son. The brother. The friend. The kid trying in school and getting C’s. The kid who didn’t want to just waste his life and had plans and dreams.

He’s dead. (Link to NY Post article about that)

This past weekend, his adoptive mother who was there for him for every single one of the court hearings (where the prosecutor asked for a continuance and then he went back to Rikers waiting again for his right to a speedy trial…), who raised him and loved him and helped instill integrity in him – found him hanged. She found his limp body hanging out of a window in their home. He never escaped the torture he suffered in Rikers. The solitary confinement during his growing and building years. The beatings. The starvation from angry COs. The humiliation. The destruction of his pride. He may have been free from Rikers physically, but it never left him mentally.

The system killed that young man. The attorneys and judges and policy makers and COs and Prison officials didn’t push him out that window. But they systematically sucked his life from him. They destroyed his will, his identity and his desire to live. They turned him from a vibrant youth with potential into a meek,quiet, broken young man who lost three years of education. Who lost three critical development years as a teenager.

The story about his death is here in the NY Post – from the same reporter who first told us about his plight in the earlier link.

This story has crushed my heart in more ways than I can count. The knowledge that he is most assuredly not the only person suffering like this wrecks me.

There were no kickstarter campaigns for his bail money. There were for my football team the New England Patriots and their star Quarterback Tom Brady when the NFL fined them. The system failed him. The media failed him. Our attention was diverted to many false shouts of “Racist!!” over on MSNBC or defense of said racism over on Fox News or 6 way video chats about missing airplanes on CNN.. But his story never got the time of day. It got a little after he was out – but not much.

We disobeyed God, Too

Yes. We disobey him in a lot of ways. We kill our unborn children. We tighten our wallets and close our clean hands inside and outside the church to real suffering. We have our quiet sins, too.

But we let this young man suffer. And we are letting others like him suffer. His mother was obedient. Obedient to care for the orphans and give this boy a second chance on life and a home. His adoptive father was obedient in a sense – even while separated he supported the children and was there for them.

Here’s the deal – Kalief’s problem is our problem. We are called to minister to the world. We are called to love justice and seek to end oppression. We are called to help. I harped on this in an earlier blog post about a problem in the church here.

As we stay silent and ignore the plight of this young man and let the media that tries to tell us what our religion says or the “Christian” politicians who try to tell us “everything is fine.. it’s just those bad sinners and criminals we have to fix then we’ll be all good” we become complicit in these crimes.

This isn’t as obvious as the Selma moment in our history; it isn’t outright and obvious, in your face oppression of basic rights like voting and public beatings for daring to try. This is just as important, though, and we cannot call our justice system just if there are men and women in the same predicament as him today in jails throughout America. If no one is held accountable for indirectly causing this young man’s death – or at the very least destroying his civil rights and inhumanely treating him.

His death must be transformative – if it isn’t then the atrocious waste of a life is made worse. His death must become a pivot point where we wake up and care. Where we seek to at least try and understand the plight of others. Where we stop ourselves from justifying this as “well.. just a bunch of thugs.. that’s what happens” like the commentators who try and tell Christians how to think say. If the nation doesn’t rise up and shout ENOUGH! then there will continue to be more Kaliefs out there. They may not kill themselves. They may not even be fully innocent of the original crime they were accused of. But the message this treatment sends is “that’s all you are. It’s all your kind are… Abandon all hope and be broken” – This treatment, this unjust justice system will continue perpetuating the problem. More lives will be ruined. More destructive recidivism cycles will be put into action by the flywheel of injustice. And we’ll continue spending our time arguing and talking about unimportant items while nothing changes. We’ll eat our cake and fight about the issues the politicians and media want us to fight about – and pain and suffering and loss will continue…  It’s time to snap out of this slumber we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled into.

Life is better for a factory raised chicken than what he endured at Rikers.

Isaiah 1:17 says:

 learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

 

Micah 6:8 says:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
    and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Jesus told us about the Good Samaritan to tell us that we are not to be passive inhabitants of this world ignoring the problems that “others” have. But to be an active participant in being an instrument of His grace unto the world.  James’ reiterates that a lot in his epistle.

The system failed here. But the church failed here as well when we let injustice and oppression reign and ignore it. It’s the same as when we ignore the oppression of abortion that happens down the road from our churches.  It’s the same as when we ignore the hungry and hurting in our world or in our midst.

We all fail when we see injustice and our first instinct is to reply to that injustice with “well.. they probably deserve it.. Maybe if they just listened.. Maybe… What if” – sometimes those are the correct assumptions. And we do no good jumping to conclusions. But it really feels like a lot of the visible church (especially the REALLY VISIBLE church and the intersection that I call FoxNewsianity and Republiianity) has a default of ignoring these things as someone else’s problems.. And focusing on ours.  I spent some of my time recently arguing with Amazon about my kids birthday present not shipping when they said it would (in two days because of Prime).. That was my hassle.. There are people in jail cells waiting years for trial in NY because they can’t afford a lawyer who isn’t overburdened with legal aid cases or bail.. Or because they are black. Or because they come from the wrong neighborhood.

And I’m not saying that all who break the law do so because we make them. I think fatherless children is a real problem out there. I think multi generational welfare is a real problem. I think gangs are too appealing. But I have to say there is something to this quote from the Prince Caspian movie:

You get treated like a dumb animal long enough, that’s what you become. You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.

 

What a shame. I pray that he knew Christ. I pray that his mom and dad and family are receiving the help they need. I pray for justice. I mourn and weep with his family.

(Note – I am sharing this because I can’t do anything else to help. I do a search and there are a scant 200 news articles containing Kalief.. While there are already over 2,000 containing the term McKinney and 2,000 containing the term Jenner… Let this be one more link about a young man the system, the country and his fellow citizens and fellow image bearers forgot about and basically let perish a few years before his suicide.)

Lot Wasn’t Perfect… And I’m Not Any Better…

This weekend at church, we had a visiting seminary student preach. It was a good message in a lot of ways. It also really caused me to reflect on Lot’s life, God’s Election and some of the topics I’ve been recently posting about here.

I want to explore something that I often hear folks say about Christians. It may sound different but the premise is the same. It goes something like this:

You all think you are perfect and better than everyone else. You think you can be the moral police of the world and you judge the world by your standards. But you aren’t any better. Stop being so high and mighty. Stop being so holier than thou.

Lot was saved. He was saved out of a corrupt and wicked city. The sin wasn’t just the “much talked about sin” evidenced by the men wanting to beat down Lot’s door to “know” the messengers sent to visit the city. The sin was to the point where even Lot was willing to give up his own virgin daughters to appease the men. It was to the point where selfishness, greed, and everyone doing what was right in their own eyes was the common thing. It was a city where not even ten righteous men could be found…

But it was also a city where not even one could be found, really. You see Lot didn’t participate in every sin of the city. He seemed to rise above the well known sin of the city. He kept himself pure perhaps on the outside. He appeared good – by the yardstick of man. When measuring among the folks he lived with, he seemed “alright”. So the quote above could be said of him. Someone could call him “Little Goody Two Shoes”.

I don’t know what Lot felt of himself. I don’t know what his own assessment of himself was. I’ve heard him talked about in good terms by others, though. He escaped. He didn’t do “that bad stuff” and he got away from the city and tried to protect the angels and he even gave them hospitality for their visit.

I imagine that we sometimes engage in thinking like this. Actually let me rephrase that – I know that I fall into this trap. The trap of thinking, “Well….  I do this, I do that, I go to church, I don’t engage in this, I don’t engage in that.” I start looking horizontally and think a bit higher of myself than I ought to. It’s often said that you can always find someone worse than yourself. So I find the easy targets and look at myself on the outside – in how I stack up.

There are two things related to this line of thought here in Lot’s story though. One a warning/reminder for the Christian who finds him or herself thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to (and I’m talking mostly to me here). The other is a reminder for those who just assume that that’s the default position a Christian has. It shouldn’t be – and that’s a shame.

Look at Lot’s Departure!

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand,the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.17 And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.”Geneis 19:15-17 ESV (Emphasis Added)

See that? Lot wasn’t packed and ready to leave. In fact in Genesis 19 you can see a few things Lot got wrong. But here in these verses? His sons-in-law didn’t respect him or take him seriously. That says something. It says he was comfortable and so were they. But then his exit from the destruction that did reign wasn’t even something he effected. He was “seized” by these messengers of God and dragged outside of the city. Later in life Lot couldn’t look back and say “Yup.. I was good enough, and I saved myself from that mess.” Instead he had to look back, mourn the loss of his wife and say, perhaps with embarrassment, “I didn’t even have the sense to leave the mess.. I had to be seized and brought out of the city…I was willing to give up my own daughters. I lived among filth and didn’t separate myself from it, I didn’t lead my family in a God honoring way.. I wanted to stay!” And these verses didn’t say “Lot earned his spot outside of the city safe and sound”, it says that his being carried away was an example of “T\the Lord being merciful to him.”

These lyrics in Lecrae’s Lucky Ones come to mind here:

Under the sun, I found we were left to drown
Evil abounds, weight is pullin’ us down
No sight or sound, impaired to His care
Chasing after the wind, running after the air
Deserving of desertion, servants of destruction
And everyday we taste of a grace that we’re unconcerned with
My sin I should be burned with, I’m guilty, filthy, and stained
But He became a curse, drank my cup and took my pain
And for that he reigns, through faith I’m changed
And I don’t have a reason why he loosened up my chains

I don’t believe in luck; I believe in Grace
But they say we’re lucky cause we seen His face
And we heard Him call us, and He heard our answer
And He gives us second chances when we throw our hands up
So weary and broken, hopin’ His arms will be open
Unconditional love has got us locked into His focus
(I guess we the luck ones, huh?)

The only thing different between me and someone who is outside of Christ – is that I’m receiving mercy. Unmerited favor. Jesus paid for my sins – and my sins are many.  There is even less difference between Lot and I, though. I had to be carried away from the punishment of my sins. I love my sin and myself. I love being comfortable.

Christian – when we see ourselves as better than those who aren’t Christ’s – we miss the truth about our sin sickened hearts. We miss just how rotten we are. Because we are looking at the situation horizontally. “Less bad than the men beating down the door” isn’t perfect. It isn’t anything to brag about. Let us boast in Christ for what He did to us. Let us remember that we were pulled from the wreckage of our lives by God, we didn’t walk out of the mess and then he found us.. He pulled us away. In spite of our complete and total lack of deserve. We are sinners. We are totally depraved and unable to save ourselves. We aren’t His because there was some spark of something good or worthy in us! We are looking back, hesitant to leave.. 

Friend who isn’t a Christian – Don’t assume that because I am Christ’s I think myself any better than you. I’m not. I’m no different in any respect except for the fact that my sins have been paid for by Christ. Paul called himself the chief of sinners – and the model of his words should apply to me. When I say something like “Your sins are keeping you from Christ” I don’t mean that in any other way than – “I know this is true, because I’m just like you. I screw up still. There isn’t an hour that goes by that I am awake that I don’t do, think or act out some sort of sin. I deserve Hell – more than you perhaps. I’m His. I’m declared righteous in God’s sight and have His power changing my nature every day. I want you to have that too. Not because I get points, not because it gives me a feeling of superiority – but because I love you and care about you and know all about your state, we have more in common than not.”

Let’s look to Lot the next time we think more highly of ourselves. Let’s look to Lot the next time we think we brought anything to our salvation other than the sin that needed forgiving. 

I’m not Afraid of Fundamentalist Christians.. I’m Afraid of Becoming One…

People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction. – Umberto Eco 

 

There are many quotes like the one above out there. The premise from the atheist philosophers who share the quotes like them is that becoming a fundamentalist (we’ll get to that definition in a minute) or “radical” adherent to a faith system – any faith system – is a bad thing. It’s an evil thing and it is bad for society, bad for the world and bad for the adherent who has become such.

Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens and others in what has sometimes been called the “new atheist” movement have furthered that view and gone as far as to suppose that teaching these principles to ones children was an act of evil, even bordering on abusive or dangerous behavior.

They lump all faiths in together and leave it at that. They dig up news stories, they dig up history, they seem to (for the most part) ignore the context and teachings and end up with the thought that being a radical is bad. Now I may agree with them in some respects – but I am concerned mostly with Christianity here. I can’t truly say what it means to be a fundamental or radical member of any other faith. But I am qualified, I think, to talk about what the Bible seems to offer about what it is to be so as a Christian.

And I’ll be honest with you and tell you a secret about myself… At the exact same time I am both desiring to be closer to being such a Christian…. And terrified, in my flesh, of becoming closer to being such a Christian…

I’ll try to explain why…

First Some Definitions

Now perhaps I am being unfair and these folks really mean something different by the terms they use.

But I basically define Fundamental as “Get’s down to the most important, and core principles of something”. Webster has more and for the most part agrees.

I basically define Radical the same way. Webster here seems to agree with me – but also disagree. One of the definitions is “Very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary” – and with that definition? I’d agree – being a Radical Christian is a bad thing. But I’m sticking with the first few definitions from Webster here. 

Why am I Afraid of Being Radical or Fundamental in the Expression of my Beliefs?

How about why not first…

  • I’m not afraid of being like, say, Fred Phelps – The Bible doesn’t proclaim anywhere to preach “I hate you. God hates you.” <raspberry sound>. Yes there are some tough messages there for sure, but the tough messages are borne out of love.  Verses abound here but this is a proper one “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Jude 1:23 (ESV)
  • I’m not afraid of strapping a bomb on myself and blowing up an abortion clinic… I don’t need to explain this one – the Bible doesn’t condone this, and the verse above even makes this clear. Yes I should love people enough to be willing to tell them “God has a standard, you are falling short of that. I’ve been there. Here’s what the Bible says, you should repent and seek God”
  • I’m not afraid of turning my children into horrible monsters – When I get to the why, I think you’ll see that if my children came out acting like radical Christians they’d not be looked upon as horrible monsters at all..

So Why Be Afraid?

I have a condition of my heart and mind. I’m a sinner. I like myself. Sometimes too much – usually too much. I like taking care of myself first – I’m selfish. My normal state is to think of myself and my comfort. I don’t even like the idea of moving when my wife ever talks about it – mostly because I can imagine all the packing – I’m lazy too. My natural state before Christ grabbed a hold of my life and shook me towards Himself was even worse. Since then? It’s been a journey. Each year more of Him and less of me. He’s been working through my life in amazing ways and I’m getting to the point now where it is exciting to see where He will take me next.. But even still – I am, at once Justified (I’m going to Heaven. I’m His, my old nature has been defeated, I’m in God’s hands and I can’t do anything to screw that up) and at the same time still a sinner (that bondage of the old nature still lurks, and some days it is more enticing to me in fleeting moments of idiocy…

Take that as a back drop to some verses on what Christ wants for the life of those He ransomed –

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Luke 9:23 (ESV)

This right here is enough to be afraid of all by itself. The other verses are just icing on the cake. The cross isn’t meant to be a picture of something small – like climbing a hill on a bicycle – the cross was the place where Christ received the full weight and agony of my sin. I’m supposed to take up my own cross daily and follow Christ. Christ didn’t go into fun places. He didn’t stay clean and sit back and order folks around. He went to where the hurting were and he helped them directly. He went to where the sinners were and ministered to them directly while being unstained by their sin and remaining pure. If I am to be a fundamentalist or a radical – I need to be willing to go wherever Jesus would have me go. WHEREVER… 

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ – John 15:18-25

I’m a people pleasing people person. I like being liked and I like having friends. If I live like Jesus wants me to live and like He directs me to live – I will sometimes be hated, scorned, spit on and mocked – like He was. My flesh? It doesn’t like the sound of that.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48

I’m supposed to then love those folks who would scorn me, spit at me and persecute me? Jesus did. He prayed asking for forgiveness for the very soldiers who mocked Him and hung Him on a cross. I need to be like Steven in Acts who prayed for those who were stoning him to death. Is this the kind of radical or fundamental Christian they are afraid of?! The one who will truly believe that those who are persecuting them are to be loved and prayed for? Not spitefully, but genuinely and lovingly? 

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. -Mark 12:28-31

OUCH! One could say that Christian living boils down to these two commandments. IF they did they’d be agreeing with Jesus.. Love God.. (Sounds easy, right? I do love Him) but.. With ALL my heart, ALL my soul, ALL my mind, ALL my strength… ALL? That’s a lot – and that’s all the time. I don’t do that. I could focus on this one command forever and still not be nearer to Christ’s perfect example after a full life.. But Jesus adds to it – I have to love my neighbor as myself… He explains who the neighbor is in Luke.. It’s the person that your heart, mind and soul would most despise.. Picture whoever that is. Maybe Osama Bin Laden if he were alive still. The point is – my neighbor is everyone. I’m to love them like I love myself.. And I just got done telling you I love myself a lot. My neighbor is also those people dying halfway around the world. My neighbor is those bearing the sword against Christians in Mosul, Iraq right now.

 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:22-27

A verse to wrap it up with. In case it isn’t clear – I’m to not just listen to these commands, if I am to be a fundamental Christian, I’m to live them out each day. I’m to practice my faith and show evidence of my faith through bearing fruit and living this life out.

Some examples that come to mind quickly of folks who have done this before me or who are doing it now:

  • The Doctor who just contracted Ebola in the course of a medical mission – leaving the comforts of America to minister to those dying of Ebola and help an overwhelmed system.
  • The missionary who died in an island of lepers because he had to go there and love them and knew the risk and hugged those lepers and taught them anyway.
  • The young Moravian men who literally sold themselves into slavery so they could proclaim the gospel to slaves where no missionary was able to visit.
  • The men killed by the Auca Indians or their wives who still ministered to them afterwards.

The story doesn’t even have to end in tragedy in earthly terms. It can just be being bold and sharing faith where led, even if it means to a land where proselytizing could mean death. It could be being faithful in the little things..

In summary… Christ wants Radical or Fundamental Christians. Not necessarily all to join the mission field, not necessarily all to become full time evangelists. But all to do what it is in the body of Christ God ultimately wants us to do. And do so willingly, lovingly and totally surrendered to Him. Loving all we encounter, and proclaiming the truth – not as a mace to strike someone on the head and say “HA!” about – but because we want the lamb who was slain to receive the glory due to His name.. Because we want His elect to hear His words and repent and turn to God. And if they don’t? Well the Bible says we love them anyway… 

That’s radical or fundamental Christianity. And those selfish parts of me? They are terrified of that prospect…