Feeling Strong

1917-08-09-Life-Norman-Rockwell-cover-You-Can-Trust-Me-Dad-400Feeling Strong

Have you ever felt strong? I mean truly strong, like an invincibility that can’t be stopped. Have you ever felt weak? I mean worthless, like the world would really be a better place without you. It’s funny isn’t it how sometimes we can feel so mighty and then in just a moment we can be so defeated. What happens? How does it happen so fast? It is good to feel strong, it is good to be encouraged we need those times in life. We need to be reminded that we are blessed, that we have been given talents and gifts, and that our lives have purpose. But when we are strong we must always be reminded that strength comes from the Lord for he alone is strong. It is also good to feel weak, to be broken we need those times in our life. We need to be reminded that we are dependent, that everything we have comes from God, and that one day we will die. So also when we are weak we must always be reminded that strength comes from the Lord, for he alone is strong.

Not long ago I went to go see a friend of mine in the hospital. He was facing some serious surgery. A surgery that carried with it a fare chance of death. This is a man who has been strong, a man who has done great things, a man who many people have depended on; but that day he lay in pain on a hospital bed completely dependent on the surgeon’s hand…weak. It is good to go to hospitals, it is good to go to funerals, it is good to feel sad sometimes. We need to be reminded that we live in a death world and ultimately everything in this world will die. We need to be reminded that there is only one hope, there is only one life, there is only one truth, and that is Jesus the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus is the strong one, and he is strong no matter how we feel. The apostle Paul had many strong and weak moments in his life but God always reminded him of this truth. Once in one of Paul’s weaker moments the Lord said to him, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Picks of The Week

I am often asked what I read, or what kinds of media I find interesting. To this end I thought it would be helpful to begin sharing some of the things that I find particularly interesting in the week and give a little commentary from a biblical worldview perspective. Hopefully this will help us all to Think Through It.

The Gondolier – RadioLabGondo

What is the end of Gender Confusion in the world? This story is a wonderful example of the confusing end of humanism. We all struggle with identity whether it is with our work, success, image, or relationships, but of course the gospel sets us free from all of this. The gospel calls us to be a new man or woman, identified by who we are in Jesus as sons and daughters of God. For more of my thoughts on this see this 2015 Sermon.

How St. Augustine Invented Sex – The New Yorker
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It’s amazing how much influence Freud has had on the modern understanding of human drive and this article is definitely written from this modern perspective. How should Augustine actually be defined? I would encourage you to consider his own words through this easy to read translation of his Confessions.

Les Misérables (2012)
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Paige and I spent a few nights this week chipping away at Les Misérables after we put the kids to bed (we are too old and tired to watch a movie in one sitting these days). It has long been one of my favorite musicals, a story of redemption, order, hope, struggle, and love. Obviously Les Mis falls short of a robust biblical theology but it does do 2 things really well. First, it really helps the viewer think about the human experience and to ask some of the foundational questions of what it means to be human. Second, the concluding thesis of Les Mis (which is, “to love another person is to see the face of God”) is certainly getting at what is true in this life. The how, why, and what of that statement is where the gospel comes in and makes so much sense of everything. It is an almost five year old movie and the Hollywood vocalists certainly don’t match their Broadway peers but it is well made, well acted, and worth a first or a second watch.

I won’t be able to post next week but let me know if this is a helpful experiment and I will be back in a few weeks with more picks of the week encouraging you and hopefully helping you to think through it.

Three Thanksgiving Proverbs

rockwell-freedom-from-want-2fl28wnThanksgiving Day was not designed to be a day aimed at “general gratitude,” it is a holiday designed for the people of the United States to give thanks to God for His care, and for His provision. If you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving, you must realize that there is a God who in His divine providence has decided to bless you, and you must thank Him. Thanksgiving is a day of worship. But this year more than just thanking God with our words, my hope is that we can honor God with our lives. So to help us with this I want to consider three Proverbs from scripture, three wise words for Thanksgiving.

The first wise saying is Proverbs 15:17 – Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. There is a certain coming together at Thanksgiving. We join together with family and friends and yet so often as we all know there can be what I like to call “Thanksgiving tension.” Remember, Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. One of the great bits of advice that I have gotten in my life is that love is a choice, you choose whether or not you are going to love someone. I want to encourage you this year to choose to love your family members, every one of them. You know those family members that you haven’t been that friendly to in the past couple of years, this is the year to love them. Talk to them about whatever it is that they like to talk about. Put yourself aside for one day and choose to be a lover. Just before His arrest, and just after Jesus, the Son of God, had washed his disciples feet He said to them in John 13:34-35, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t wait around until you feel affinity toward one another. I have loved you, and because you have been loved by me, you go Love.”

The second wise saying is Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. So much of the Thanksgiving holiday is centered around relationships, and relationships are all about communication. You will have a lot of opportunities to stir up anger this thanksgiving with family members and friends, so watch your words, and be gentle with your words. One of the great bits of advice I can give any relationship is this: Do not respond to sin, with sin. If you remember those seven little words they will keep you out of a lot of trouble. When someone sins against us it is very natural to respond with sin, but the wise man of God is able to respond with grace and righteousness. James 1:20 reminds us, The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. A soft answer is not always easy, but it turns away wrath.

The third and final wise saying is Proverbs 21:13, Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. We are a blessed people, but there are many in the world who are not so fortunate. Proverbs 21:13 actually serves us more of as an observation than as a warning. You know the people at my church that give the most both in terms Time, Energy, and Finances to the church, and to the Kingdom? It is not the people that have the most, it is the people who are the most grateful for what they have. I bet that is true of your church too. You see gratitude produces generosity, if you are grateful you will give, and the more grateful you, are the more you give. Remember, gratitude leads to generosity. I want to challenge you and your family to do something this year to help somebody that can’t give you anything in return, then you will know that you are truly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, I pray these simple Proverbs would help all of us to worship God today not only with our words, but also with our actions.

On Friendship

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“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”[1] –C.S. Lewis

Thanksgiving week is a wonderful time to think about what it means to be a friend. If the gospel is true, and in Christ Christians are called to eternal relationships with one another in a never ending Kingdom, then friendship is without a doubt one of the most important things we could and should be thinking about. At the same time it can be hard to imagine what our relationships will be like in the fullness of the New Heavens and New Earth. What would life be like if you could completely trust everyone? What if you never got jealous? What if you always approached other people with more concern for their well being than you have for your own? Again these realities that are sure to one day come when Jesus is fully reigning are hard to even imagine today. If we want to rightly frame what our friendships should be like here and now the Kingdom is where our thinking should begin. After all, if we do not understand the Kingdom, and if we are not longing for the Kingdom, then how can we ever pray for the Kingdom to come?

There are many places in scripture that instruct us on the nature of friendship, but for this Thanksgiving season allow me to lead you to just a few passages from the book of Proverbs that give us great insight on what it means to be a Christian Friend.

The Resiliency of Friendship

Proverbs 18:24

24    A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 17:17

17    A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

The chief motivator in most human decisions is the self. Most people only have a marketplace understanding of any human relationship. We are inclined to think, “If this relationship serves me and improves my well being, then it is a good relationship.” In this way people aren’t making good friends as much as they are making good deals. A relationship however is tested when the relationship becomes inconvenient. A friend is proven in adversity. A successful person will of course have many companions because people have a lot to gain from him or her. That individual’s “stock” is valuable and everyone wants to make a good deal, but when that man or woman comes to ruin, that is when a friendship is proven. As the Proverb says, “a brother is born for adversity.” Who comes running in when everyone else is running away? And where do you run when your “friends” have nothing left to give you?

The natural man of course is inclined to run away, which is what makes the gospel so unnatural; that Jesus, when we were sinners, when we had nothing to give him, came running in after us. And in the gospel Jesus doesn’t just come to be a friend in the time of trouble he comes to become our trouble and to take all of our troubles away. The bible says, “that for our sake God made Jesus to become our sin, so that in Jesus we may become the very righteousness of God,”[2] and therefore, by implication, to be fully reconciled to God and to one another.

The Great Benefit of Friendship

Proverbs 27:17

17    Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:5-6

   Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

The best kinds of friendships, or maybe the only kind of true friendships are with those people who care about your character. Whenever my wife and I do pre-marriage counseling we always encourage couples that one of the great benefits of marriage is mutual-sanctification, which is our way of encouraging the would be bride and groom to desire correction and instruction in the marriage. The same should be true of our friendships. A true friend is someone who is willing to tell you the difficult things that you do not want to hear. An open rebuke is a good thing, as Proverbs 12:1 tells us, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” If there is no one in your life who is willing to challenge you, push you, and even correct you, then according to scripture you really don’t have any friends. Conversely, if you are not willing to have these kinds of conversations with the people that you are closest with then maybe you aren’t the friend that you that should be.

Again the gospel helps us in this. When Jesus meets us, he confronts us with who we really are, and he helps us to see our sin before a Holy God. This is the repentance side of salvation. To repent means to have your eyes opened to the brokenness of your ways. But of course Jesus doesn’t just call us to repent and then abandon us, he calls us to repent and to believe in him, to follow him, and to walk with him, and Jesus graciously and patiently meets us wherever we are. In John 21, after Peter had denied Jesus three times in his hour of greatest need, Jesus met Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with a simple question, “do you love me?” Now, its hard to make out in the English, but in the Greek, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me (agapas me)?” To which Peter replied, “Yes Lord you know that I love you (philo se).” A second time Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me (agapas me)?,” to which Peter relied, “yes Lord you know that I love you (philo se).” Do you see what is happening? Jesus came to Peter with the stronger or deeper expression of love in the Greek (agape), but all the love that Peter could muster in that moment was (philo). So in this beautiful and gracious way, the third time Jesus asks Peter, he says, “Peter, do you love me (phileis me)?” To which of course Peter replies, “yes.” It was as if Jesus says, “Ok Peter, if (philo) is all you can give then that is exactly where I will meet you now.” Jesus makes us aware of our sins, and fears, and weaknesses, but he never abandons us there, he meets us there and walks with us. As the old song says, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.”

The Result of Friendship

Proverbs 12:2626 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.

Its good to remember at Thanksgiving, that in so many ways we are the sum of the people that we associate with. The people that you are building your life around are the people who will most influence your character. As the Proverb says, “your friends and neighbors are your guides.” In the same way, you are a guide to everyone in your sphere of influence, and you will either serve as a light of righteousness or as a pathway of destruction.

The idea of influence can be daunting, but again the gospel proves helpful. Jesus sends us out to make disciples and to influence the world for his glory, but he promises us that he will be with us, he promises us to lead us and to guide us. As people follow us, Jesus invites us to follow him. Your family and friends will be looking to you this holiday season, and they will be looking for a safe and secure path to go down especially in a world of very few moral signposts and of great confusion. Make sure as your friends follow you that you are following the greatest friend, Jesus the son of God, who is always leading us down paths of righteousness of his names sake.

May God give us good friends, and may he help us to be good friends for the sake us his Kingdom and for the glory of his name.

Happy Thanksgiving.

[1] Lewis, C. S. (1971-09-29). The Four Loves (Harvest Book) (p. 65). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21

Red State Blue State: Political Division and the Bond of Peace

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-12-53-44-pmSatan is clearly doing a masterful job of dividing the church over something as small as a presidential election. The truth is, there were prayerful and thoughtful Christians that voted for Hillary Clinton, there were prayerful and thoughtful Christians who voted for Donald Trump, and there were prayerful and thoughtful Christians that voted third party or wrote in a candidate. As it has been said throughout this election there was no good choice, yet American Christians were still called to think and pray and leverage the stewardship that God gave us, called voting, in the best possible way. If the candidate that you voted for won, you shouldn’t be too happy, and if the candidate that you voted for lost you shouldn’t be too sad. We remain a country in need of repentance and faith, we remain a church with a beautiful and glorious hope in Christ. I think a good passage for Christians to meditate on today and maybe tomorrow is Ephesians 4:1-6:

1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I understand that it can be fun to belittle people and take shots at people on social media, I understand that it feels good to praise our own moral high groundedness, but does it unite the body of Christ? Today is not a day for condemnation, or for making your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ guilty for the decision they made on Tuesday. Today is not a day for gloating or blaming. Today is a day, like every day, to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 

VOTE: A Guide for Christians in The Strange Place a Post Christian American Election Cycle

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The most surprising thing to me about content of the “Trump Tapes” that were released on Friday is that anyone is surprised by the content of those tapes. Here is a man that has publically belittled women his whole life, who publically and regularly uses vulgarity, who has had numerous affairs and has publically bragged about them, and who has publically made much of his money in the casino industry (a business notoriously tied to prostitution) and we are surprised that he would crudely belittle women in what he thought was a private conversation? Why are we just now concerned with this man’s character and judgment? Why is it just now wrong for evangelicals to support him?

People have long looked for a messiah among political leaders. This was true of Obama in 2008, and it is certainly true among Trump supporters today. “Trump,” they say, “is going to save us from the oppression of the politically correct left.”[1] The problem with this type of thinking on both sides of the political aisle is that it tends to deify the political leader that you may be for, and to demonize the political leader that you may be against. If there is anything that I am grateful in this particular election cycle is that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have made it very difficult for anyone to deify either of them. What Christians and especially evangelicals must realize is that no political leader can save them or the country. Sadly, many evangelicals have been held captive by political leaders (particularly from the GOP) for the past 35 years. Remember no party line holds up against the Kingdom of Christ, and no leader can stand in his way. Jesus is the only true messiah and he is the only true king.

But as Christians in American what we have been left with is a responsibility to help elect political leaders and that is a great responsibility and an amazing privilege. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters through the history of the Christian faith would be amazed at the kind of voice and the kind of freedom that our country allows us to have. Considering this responsibility that God in his good providence has given to American Christians we really have three choices in this presidential election cycle: vote for Donald Trump, vote for Hillary Clinton, or abstain (I am including a vote for a third party candidate, or a write in vote, in absentia as at this point in the election cycle it is clearly only a two candidate race). I have talked to Christians that have carelessly chosen one or another of these three options, but I have also talked to many different Christians who deeply love the Lord and love his word who have prayerfully and thoughtfully decided to vote for Clinton, Trump, or to abstain (write in another candidate). While I am not excited about any of the particular options of the 2016 presidential election, I am glad that we have an election cycle where thoughtful Christians can agree on the bible and disagree on their political choices. I think that speaks to the beauty of the American experiment, and maybe even to the beauty of the American church.

The easiest thing to do in this election as a Christian is to abstain. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have less than “Christ-like” records. I can understand why a Christian would not want to attach his or her name to either of them or to their platforms, but is abstaining, or writing in a name, or voting for a nonviable third party candidate the right thing for a Christian to do? You may say that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is fit for the White House and that may be true, but “fitness” for the White House is your idea as an American and is not a biblical idea. Now, clearly neither of them are fit to be elders or deacons in a church (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), but the bible doesn’t speak to who or who isn’t “fit” for a particular political office. Actually when you consider the New Testament (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25, Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13-17) both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may very well fit the biblical idea of a political leader as we are told in scripture to honor the emperor even if the emperor is Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, or Nero (all men who were far more evil than Hillary or Donald). Abstaining may be easiest, but is it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, unless something totally unexpected or unprecedented occurs, on Friday January 20th, 2017 either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be taking the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States and God has given you and me as citizens of the United States a stewardship to be a part of making that decision.

So in deciding between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump I think it is important to keep in mind the job of the presidency, what does the president do? Now obviously the president does many things, but as you consider your vote consider these seven roles that our constitution gives to the president of the United States and honestly ask yourself who would do a better job at each other these roles:

  1. The president is to be the chief citizen, in other words he or she is to be a model citizen for every other citizen.
  2. The president is to be the chief of state, which means that he or she is the leader of the country. In many ways the president is the chief teacher of the country, and in many ways he or she sets the pace or the morale of the country, and he or she has the enormous potential to either unify or divide our country.
  3. The president is the chief diplomat of the United States. He or she is our global representative and most of the world will view our country through the lens of our president.
  4. The president is the commander in chief. He or she has the responsibility to oversee the military in keeping our country’s citizens safe, but the president also has the almost incalculable responsibility of commanding the strongest military force in the history of the world.
  5. The president is the chief executive. When you elect a president you don’t just hire one man or woman, you hire 10,000 people that will move to Washington to make up the executive branch of government.
  6. The president is the chief legislator. He or she works with both houses of congress to pass new laws for the citizens of America that can drastically change our culture and day-to-day lives.
  7. The president has great influence over the chief justice as he or she appoints the men and women that make up the judicial branch of the federal government. This of course includes justices for the Supreme Court, of which there could easily be 3 appointments during either a Clinton or Trump presidency, and all other Federal judge appointments.

In considering all of these seven responsibilities, honestly and prayerfully ask yourself who is the better choice?

There is so much at stake in this election and in God’s good plan he has given you this wonderful responsibility, the vote. It is easy to talk about this election, but it is much harder to own this responsibility that God has given you and make a decision that will have lasting consequences. My hope is that the Christians of this country would be thoughtful, biblical, and humble as they make the hard decision that is before us. I am praying for myself, for my family and friends, and for my fellow Christian citizens of the United States that this wouldn’t be a time of panic or discouragement, but that in this time God would grant his church great wisdom, grace, and gratitude as we take hold of the weight that He has placed in our hands and vote.

[1] For an excellent summary of this see Bryant Wright’s introduction to Political Correctness vs Biblical Truth October 2, 2016. http://rightfromtheheart.org/sermon-series/hot-topics/?id=10845

More Perfect – Justice and Injustice in America

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Once again I find myself confused, angry, and broken hearted over the racial injustice in our country. Three days ago countless Americans gathered together to celebrate the liberty and justice for all that America has enjoyed for 240 years, only to be reminded in these past two days that that liberty and justice is only for some. There is no “for all” in America. I find myself in the privileged class: the educated, the majority, and the wealthy. I grew up in the 1980s with a golden view of my country. We were the people that saved the world from the evils of fascism and communism. We were the people who believed everyone had a chance. Everyone could wish upon a star, it made no difference who you were. We were the people that had pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and had done what is truly great. That is a powerful narrative, and to some degree there is a lot of truth in it. But in my safe suburban neighborhood no one was telling me the other side of the American story. This other story I have had to discover on my own through conversations, news outlets, and, yes, even through social media. It is a confusing time in our country; the narratives are not so neat anymore but I am hopeful that in this season of pain and confusion that the Lord will move. I am reminded that my only hope in ever finding true justice and liberty for all has already been secured for me in the Kingdom of Christ. But I am also reminded that for now God has placed me here as an ambassador to that Kingdom, to show this lost and dying world the hope and peace that is only found in Christ. More than being an ambassador to a future land, in Christ we are called to bring that Kingdom to earth now. And in his providence God has placed me in this land at this time to bring wholeness, obedience, love, patience, joy, and peace to this nation, the United States.

 

I understand the need to express and lament over these two seemingly senseless shootings, much of that is what I have just done. But let me offer some ways forward, a few pathways we can pursue together to actually bring about change and a more perfect union.

 

  1. Have more private conversations than public conversations – Remember that I speak as a white guy who grew up in suburbia, and even though it is not as high as it once was my perception of the police, the justice system, and the political system is still pretty high. And whenever I see something that looks like injustice or brutality there is still something in me that wants to say, “Well, I am sure there is some plausible explanation for this.” Friends of mine who did not grow up in the same privilege have a totally different perspective. My friend and fellow pastor Steven Lee recently said, “I don’t know one Black American (or Ethnic minority) who won’t candidly share their own story of race, racism, and injustice, if they are asked. Yes, people onyour Facebook timeline. In humility, make the ask, converse over a meal, listen, ask questions, empathize, repent, pray, resolve, and repeat this again and again. Color-blindness, silence, apathy and the ‘this will pass’ slogan is not the answer. We can learn and grow together!” He is right, make the ask.
  2. Be kind to police officers – I think we can all hope that the most frustrated group of people in light of these tragedies are police officers. There are so many well-intentioned police officers that truly want to do a good job. They go out every day and work hard and this seemingly never-ending feed of police violence damages the good name those officers should have. The truth is that police officers, both white and minority, can struggle with real racism and anger because they see so many horrible things all the time, every day. This is no excuse for any kind of hatred or racism they may display and we must ask more from people that we entrust with keeping the peace but it is the reality of the world that we live in. So if you want to make a practical and tangible difference, be kind to a police officer. When you see an officer doing something good reward them, remind them that the world is not only full of crime and injustice, but that there still remains a lot of good in the land they are protecting.
  3. Get involved in the political process – It is a confusing time in America and maybe most especially in terms of her politics. Christians, including myself, can be tempted to run from the political process and wash our hands of the mess in which we find ourselves. We must not do that. Now is the time when we demand justice. Now is the time to write letters to the mayor, to legislators, and to the governor. Now is the time to run for office or support candidates that you believe in. If you desire a more perfect union, get involved in making this union better. The system is only rigged because people are silent and as Christians we are reminded by a fellow fighter for justice, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, that “Silence in the face of evil, is evil.”
  4. Pray – Prayer is not as abstract as it may seem. Our greatest hope in all of life is that the almighty God would intervene. Get on your knees every night and pray against injustice; have a prayer meeting with other members of your church and pray for your city; and when you see a post that makes you angry or sad look to God in prayer before you do anything else.

On the great day of justice there will be no account left unsettled, no stone unturned, and no evil in the world left to haunt us. And this day is coming as sure as the sun rose this morning. The day is coming when Jesus, the great king of justice will finally bring perfect peace. Until that day, don’t just sit around – engage, make new, make right, make a difference. Jesus is coming but don’t forget he has already come and he is here now through the power of his church, his bride, his people. May his justice reign through us in this place, and for his glory.