Thoughts on Love & Correction

I was reading this morning from the book of the Revelation in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The first three chapter have a set up and then some words written to various churches.  These words amounted to the fact that God liked some things about them and also disliked some things about them.  God gives correction to the churches, then John begins to pen the rest of the vision that is found in Chapter 4.

God shows John an open door and invites him in.  There are angels and elders worshiping and it must have been a pretty incredible vision.  It begins with a cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and ends with a declaration of the “worthiness” of God.  He is worthy, and the chapter is awesome… but I couldn’t get past one simple thought.  God had corrected the churches, but then offered an open door to come in.  I see a perfect joining of correction and love.  Then, these thoughts came to my mind about what our love should look like, because its what God’s love looks like.

The following are my thoughts on the joining of correction and love, not found in the Bible, so take them as such:

To love so much that your direction to others is seen not as a slight against them, but as an act of compassion.

To say “this is a problem in your life” without coming across as “you are worthless as you are” can only be done when love is present.

To declare that “those things in you and around you are harming you and leading you wrongly, and I value you so much that I don’t want to see you destroyed by those things that are in your life.”

Change because of guilt will absolve the past.  Change because of love will give life for the future.


Yet Another Pastor and Church Response…

I have been watching tweets, posts and blogs throughout the day to see the response to the Election of Donald Trump as President-Elect yesterday.  I spent 8 hours watching the election results from 7 pm (EST) last evening until I turned off the TV at 3 am, having never seen anything like this election and wanting to see the final results.  It was fascinating to watch as those in the know were coming to the conclusion themselves that they knew nothing.  Wow!

Today some are angry and some are gloating, which despite what others would think or say is nothing new the day after any election.  There are those who are trying to figure out what happened, what this means going forward, and a hope that we can all come together and heal.  Again… this is nothing new.  Elections have been won and lost going on over 200+ years in this country, and each time after one I am amazed more and more that the Founders who wrote the Constitution figured out a system of government that would work in spite of who was in leadership or the political climate of the day.  It is sheer brilliance.

However, we now live in a day where our thoughts are shaped more from the tweet or a sound-bite than from rational, developed thought; and we substitute hyperbole for facts then believe a narrative based on reactions to opinions rather than digging deep to find out the truth for ourselves.  We not only name-call but we stereotype based on assumptions, and those assumptions do not come from the words that are said but from what we are told by others that those words mean.  We lump entire segments of the population into categories not based on actual beliefs of the individual, but based on what other individuals who are “like them” believe.  Then, in all of the vitriol, we blast any that might even remotely fit into one of those said categories as the source of the problem.

So, what do I do with what is before me… in the climate that I am in… in a world that is what it is and where everything will be taken out of context?

I love.  I serve.  I worship.

I am called to love everyone.  It sounds grand, but for anyone who has actually tried there comes a realization that it is hard.  People are hard.  People are self-righteous, and it is the nature of all of us to be self-righteous right back at them.  But I cannot, because that doesn’t look like love.  I cannot name call, even when I have been on the receiving end of the same, because it doesn’t look like love.  I cannot write a group off, or stand with boastful thoughts over them, or despise their existence because they came out on top, because none of that looks like love.

When the tweets are tweeted and the posts are posted and the memes are, well, you get the point… then I must stand before them and demonstrate the love of the Father who is in heaven, Who loved so much that He gave His best so they could be changed by love.  I must walk into a room of those who my flesh does not like and from a genuine heart feel a love for them that would make me do whatever it takes for them to know that they are loved.

I am called to serve my world.  Serving is easy until you are treated like a servant.  My pride gets in the way, my sense of justice gets in the way, and my dreams and plans get in the way.  When another can do for themselves but doesn’t I am still called to serve.  When it is not my place or not in my schedule or when it is hard I am still called to serve.  When I will get no accolades and when it will not advance my agenda I am still called to serve.

I must be willing to go to both those who have looked up to me and to those who have cursed me and take my towel and humbly wash the feet of the one before me.  I must bend down to pick up the pieces, even when I was not the one responsible for the brokenness.  I must find those that would be better because of my sacrifice and do whatever it takes to demonstrate a selfless spirit to give hope that there is still a servants heart in a sometimes selfish world.

I am called to worship my God.  There are times when I don’t understand, and there are times when I seem to have all understanding.  I can worship in both of these times.  There are times when the tears flow, and others when the laughter is gut-wrenching.  I can worship in both of those times as well.  When I get my way and when I don’t, when I walk in bravery or cower in fear, when I nod my head in agreement and when I shake my head in disgust, I can still worship.

I learn to worship God not because of what He does but because of Who He Is!  I sing the song that changes the earthly atmosphere to one where I sit in heavenly places.  I can partner with Him to see His Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  I can understand that from both my position behind the pulpit and from my position as a dad, husband, citizen, and friend I find a place to worship.  When the wisdom of the world is declaring the end, I can declare that God gives new beginnings.  That is worship.

So, to add to the talk…

Love. Serve. Worship.  That is my response.


Father’s Day 2016

It’s 44 minutes (Eastern Standard Time) into Father’s Day 2016.  I will set this to publish in the morning, but I am up freshly off of having a milkshake from Sonic a little bit ago.

As a sidebar, I didn’t realize that Sonic stayed open on Saturday evenings until midnight.  God bless you Sonic.

I just wanted to thank some people for this day, in a little bit of reverse order.

Isaac, my youngest son, I love you and I love your compassionate heart.  I love that you persevere, and I love that you remain a “fan” of others when the rest would have given up.  Thank you for being my bright eyed wonder and miracle.

Jonathan, my middle son, I love you and I love your heart to live.  I love when I see you shake your head at one of my many projects, but inside I know that you see it too!  Thanks for going outdoors and finding joy in enjoying God’s creation.

Jonah, my oldest son, I love you and I love your free spirit.  I love that you are not scared, even when you are scared.  You keep going and believe that you can do it.  Thanks for being stubborn like me and being willing for God to direct your will in this current adventure.

Holly, my wife, I love you.  I didn’t add anything else because I simply love everything about you.  Thank you for making me a father.  Thank you for helping me learn to be a dad.

Me


A New Year… Bashing the Old

I, along with everyone else on the planet, hope for this new year to be better than the last.

I hope that spiritually my family and I grow closer to God, learning more of His ways and falling more in love with Him.  Relationally, I hope that my family and I cherish each other more and more, and that our home be a place of peace and refuge and growth and love, and that we live up to a family motto of “Others First.”  Financially, I hope that the debt we have carried around like a pet gets finally eliminated and that we are blessed in order to be able to share that blessing with others.  There are many more categories, but you get the point…

I will begin this year with honest assessment of the past one.

I consistently see posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media venues proclaiming that 2015 was not a good year.  I understand ups and downs, and I know personally that some have experienced challenges that are difficult to comprehend.  However, when doing an honest assessment, keep these things in mind:

Sometimes we just want attention.

You’ve seen the posts.  “Can’t wait for 2015 to end…”

I say this first, because I believe that some post about tragedy in order to receive comfort from well-wishers.  In some cases, there are those who exaggerate (or even make up) tragedy in order to gain attention.  This might not be popular to put out there, but it is the case in some lives that they feel they have lacked attention and “crying wolf” is a great way to get it.

We need to be honest with both the good and the bad, and let the story be the story without embellishment or serving only the purpose of attention-getting.  Do I need help through struggles, or do I just want people to show me some love that I have been missing?

Was there good… even in the “bad”?

The major events of the past year came from every area of the world and were stories so diverse they were mind-blowing.  The tragic stories (Terror attacks in Chattanooga and France come to mind) shook us to the core.  There were stories of hope as well, and those events lifted us and challenged us to be all that we could be.  However, these hope-filled stories get overshadowed by the tragic ones, and if we are not careful we will begin to see the world through a lens of despair.

When I do think of the bad, and I don’t want to lose hope, I look for the good.  There is nothing good about a terrorist attack or some other tragedy, but there can be good that is found in the days that follow.  This year had people come together, this year had the people of God pray in unity, and this year saw a people who learned to carry on even in the face of danger.  There was good.

I can build on something I praise.

When we say we want something to be better, there is an unspoken implication that we feel the previous thing was “bad.”

I refuse to say that 2015 was bad.  It was a year, filled with both good and bad.  If I start with lowered expectations (“Well, this year can’t be worse…”) then I can settle for mediocrity and call it great.  If I am coming off of something that is good, then my expectations can be higher.

When I say I want 2016 to be better I simply mean that I will move forward from where I am.  I am challenged because I want to take the good of my past and build on it.  I don’t want to settle for just being “better” than something that I have said was “bad.”  That’s the easy way out.

I want to take the greatness of 2015 and see it blown out of the water by greatness in 2016.

That will take dedication.  That will take a willingness to value the challenge of being uncomfortable.  That will take putting my past in my past and taking each day with a vengeance.  That will take the power of God at work in my life and my will being submitted to the Will of my Heavenly Father to work.

Yeah.  That’s what I hope for 2016.

It’s gonna be a great year!


Weeds

My wife decided that we would plant a garden this year.  It is has been a little productive, but really was more about the exercise of watching things grow.  The process of having the garden has involved a lot of weeds.

Not being a gardener, I am surprised at how many of the weeds look like they should be plants that produce something.  My wife grew up around plants and a farm, and had told me repeatedly which ones are weeds and are worthless.  Even though she knows what she is talking about, I find myself not wanting to pick the weeds because they look to me like they might really be valuable plants.

How many times have I not listened to my Father, who know what He is talking about, and left things in my life that I thought would produce even they He says they will not?

Just thinking about those things that are counterfeit to His plans…and why we don’t toss them out.


The Response of the Church: On Racism

As a part of our #TRENDING series at City Church Dayton, I spoke this past Sunday on the issue of Racism.

When my oldest son was about to enter into kindergarten I took him to the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, AL, because I felt like it was important for him to understand and know the pain of racism so he could go into his new experiences with the proper mindset of equality for all.  As a pastor of a church, I know that Sundays are generally the most segregated day of the week, and I have encountered attitudes of racism in my 23+ years of ministry that I believe should not be a part of the Christian church.  With the events of Ferguson, Baltimore, South Carolina and the Confederate flag as the headlines in today’s world, I wanted our church to know how we are supposed to live with others and respond to the hate of racism from a Biblical perspective.

In the Scriptures, there are precepts.  These precepts are the rules and regulations that define what to do and what not to do in day to day life.  The Scriptures are more than this, but there are in fact some things that are outlined in the Word of God as rules to live by.

These rules (precepts) are based on universal principles that are found throughout the story of Scripture.  For example, the precept “don’t steal” is based on the principle of honesty.  This is important, because in today’s world there might not be a set precept or rule that you can locate to give you a specific yes or no on an issue, but there will be a universal principle so that you can see how to know the mind of God on an issue.

The principles that set the precepts are all themselves based on the Person of God.  In our example, “don’t steal” is the precept, and “honesty” is the universal principle that the precept is based upon; but honesty is a principle because the God Himself IS honest.  When all else is in question, look to see who the Person of God IS.

The Person of God is relevant to racism and how we live with each other because Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we are made in the image of God.  We watch God to know what the standard, the image, is.  In fact, Genesis says we are ALL made in His image.  God values all people because they are made in His image… ONE human race, different ethnic groups, but one race.  We are all joined together.  The PERSON of God tells us that we are all one.

The precept, principle, and Person idea matters when we look at the fact that Christianity is about “freedom” and the “liberty” we have in Christ.  We DO have liberty in Him.  We are not bound by the sin of our past.  However, does this mean we have the “freedom” to do what we want at all times?  The most recent flap is over the flying of a confederate flag (to take one of the hot button issues of the day).  There is not precept on flag waving, so we must look at this issue like any other issue of freedom and liberty in the context of the principles of the Word of God.

With any question of “liberty” (not just a flag) I ask a question.  “Why do you do it?”

  • Is it to “show you can”? – Then you should not, because it becomes an issue of rebellion more than liberty.
  • Is it “because you can”? – Then you should not, because it becomes an issue of arrogance more than liberty.
  • Is it to “walk in the glory of the Father”? – Then you should.

Our liberty is meant to point to Christ, not satisfy our selfish desires.  You have an opportunity to be either a catalyst or a hindrance for a Kingdom connection to the world around you.

So, what are the principles in Scripture as they relate to our liberty and freedom?

1 Corinthians 8 and Romans tell us that we have liberty in Christ.  Nothing is “unclean” that is before us, and we can live in freedom in regards to the “inanimate” around us.  Romans 14 goes on to describe what the Kingdom you are pointing to is… “goodness and peace and joy.”  However, both of these passages also tell us that when our freedom to act (or eat, or drink, or do anything) would hinder another in their walk then we should refrain from acting on our freedom.

The principle is that God values the heart of others more than He values your or my freedom.  We are to be wary of those who’s words and actions perpetuate anything other than goodness and peace and joy.  To bring this principle to the issue of racism, is our “freedom” of white or black or any-other-color pride really worth the walls that it puts up to those around us who need Jesus?

So how are we, as believers, to live in a world of racism?

We are to love.  John 13:34.  When we treat another as “less,” then we are not demonstrating love for those who God loves.

We are to forgive.  Ephesians 4:30-32.  Pain from past prejudices are real, but they are not to control and define our lives.  When we let it go, we can live together in love.

While the world is feeding off of the hate and the offense… the follower of Christ has an opportunity to change the world through love.


The Response of the Church: On Terrorism

On Sunday I spoke at City Church Dayton on the issue of terrorism. It is a part of a #trending series based on issues that the world is facing today. The hope is to answer the questions that our people are asking (even if only silently) by looking at the Bible for a proper response to the world around us.

I make a point not to preach against much, but rather to point to the way of the Kingdom of God. Generally, I believe that if you point the world to Jesus then there will be a heart change, and there will not have to be a lot of time spent keeping the world from hurting itself because those will a heart change will be following the ways of Christ. However, some months ago I felt it necessary to speak on some current issues and see what God is saying about them.

So, with the events this past Thursday in Chattanooga, TN, I scrapped my plans for the Sunday message (on the issue of “RACE” by the way) and focused on the issue of terror.

There is a war raging all around us, and to believe differently would simply be putting your head in the sand. There has actually been war and terror and danger for thousands of years. It is nothing new, but in the age in which we are in the events that unfold seem to be “closer,” if even only through social and news media. So what are the issues surrounding terror that we face?

First is the fear.

It is natural to be afraid at times. In fact, there is a healthy fear that we must understand and work with. For example, you want your child to be afraid of the pool before they are able to swim so they will stay away from the water. However, as the child matures and learns to swim, you want the fear to subside. Fear can be a nice teacher, but makes a horrible master.

When we encounter fear some tend to allow that fear to control them. They allow fear to be their guide in life, and cause them to run away because of it. They forget that courage is not the absence of fear, but a commitment to continue forward in spite of the fear. Others don’t run, but freeze in the midst of fear. They allow fear to immobilize them and keep them from any action, even the action of escape.

Second is the anger.

An actual emotion of the grieving process is anger. When terror strikes there is a also a tendency for some to move straight to anger, bypassing all other thoughts. We are justified in our rage, and if we could only strike back then it would make everything “better.”

I have seen this over and over in my ministry. Hurting people hurt people. Its what we do, and when with clenched fists we know that after the first blow the fight is on. Out of a reaction to the pain we strike back with vengeance, and we feel “right” as we are striking. The hate keeps us warm in the cold, dark days that we are facing; and revenge tastes sweet.

As with fear, anger makes a horrible master. Make no mistake, there are reasons at times to fight, but anger is never one of them.

So what does the Bible say about fear and anger?

2 Timothy 1:7 says that God gives us power, love and self-discipline, and that immobilizing fear does not come from Him. Ephesians 4:28 says that our anger should not control us, meaning that a measured response is always better than a reactionary one; and Matthew 5:39 give us a way of life that shakes the “me in me” to the very core. It says that my first reaction might not necessarily be to strike back, but to “turn the other cheek.” Some have said that this is a mandate for a pacifist mindset, but an understanding of the context is that revenge should not be a motivation for “settling the score.” In other words, not to live “reactionary.”

So what is our response to the fear and anger that comes from terror supposed to be as believers?

We are not to live in fear, but to walk in boldness.

God sends us out in to the world to change it for the Kingdom of God. The world doesn’t want to live according to those principles. In fact, there are some (as seen in terrorist activity) that seek to destroy the ones who would share the Truth of the scriptures and the love of God.  God says that the best they can do is take your life from earth, but God holds much more in His hands. It’s found in Matthew 10:28.

God is NOT asking us to sign up for martyrdom I believe, and I know He is not calling us to simply live to curse or destroy the darkness. He IS asking us to be bold enough to walk into the darkness because they really need the light. In fact, the darkness is really dark if the light refuses to shine.

Also, we are to be spurred to action, but not retaliation.

We as believers are not to react, but are to act on the direction of the Spirit in our lives. It is a subtle difference, but an important one. We are not to turn a spiritual battle into a physical one; lest we tend to believe that we have done something when we “handle it” in the physical, only to have the fight the same battle at a later date because the spiritual side never came into submission to the King. It’s Ephesians 6:12 as the guide, folks.

Our action is prayer. And is not the “action” of prayer only, because then we begin to get satisfied in our disciplines more than the answer of God. Discipline is good, and time spent in prayer is never wasted. However, it is the answer to our prayers that is the goal, to truly see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How many times have we gotten in the way from God accomplishing His will because we wanted to make a spiritual battle a physical one? Too often I would think.

I end with this.

I am not a pacifist. I will defend my family from harm and pray for the protection of our city, state, and nation. As I wrote before, there is a time to fight.

However, the issues of anger and fear are never to be a director of actions. In fact, only the Holy Spirit is meant to be our guide. We make gods of our own emotions when we allow them to control the moment rather than following the leading of the Spirit, Who is the only One that can make the way straight.

One last thing, and this is hard. In myself I don’t want to do this one. It is why I submit my will to the Father in moments like these.

Matthew 5:44

… I say [JESUS says], love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!