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!


Defining Moments

I reflect on this day every year.  Most, at least most of my generation, do, because September 11, 2001 was a defining moment much like Pearl Harbor or D-Day was for a generation before.  However, I reflect on it a little differently than most.  I also write about it most every year, so I apologize in advance for repetition of thought…

I was getting ready for the day when my wife came in to the room.  She had just gotten back from taking our son, Jonah, to Mother’s Day Out and we had a big day ahead of us.  She said, “The Twin Towers have been hit.”

We went to the living room to watch the events unfold.  We were mesmerized and confused and wondering what all of it meant.  Then we left the house.

We went to the store to pick up cupcakes.  Yes, cupcakes.  It was Jonah’s 4th birthday, and we had promised cupcakes for his class.  We took the cupcakes to the class, then rescued Jonah from “school” and headed up to Nashville with his little brother, Jonathan, in tow.  We passed the small, local airport on the way up and noticed the police cars guarding the entrance.  We headed to the Nashville Zoo.  We took pictures, waved at the animals, and visited the gift shop.  There was not a big crowd that day, and we could hear the radio reports of potential other events (which did not materialize) while in the shop.  Holly and I looked at each other, wondering, and then we headed back out into the zoo.

Our thought?  Life goes on for a four-year-old.  It has to.

You see, we are alive in a world today where everything seems to be in such chaos that it is hard to pick out a single “defining moment.”  It is as if everything is going on at all times and that we could sit and watch on the news and make memorials and remember every moment of every day.

In the middle of it all… life must go on.

I think of missiles being fired into Israel and how they must still go to work and school.  I think of beheadings and bombs and how the people still have to shop and work and celebrate birthdays and weddings.

Life must go on.

There are tragic days of our past, but we now live in a world where every day seems to have a new tragedy.  It is frightening.  It is paralyzing.

But… life must go on.

How?

Isaiah 41: 10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.


Enoch, Walking not Living, and Pursuing, not just Believing

Today, I tried to share a little about Enoch.  Yes, the Enoch in the Bible, the one who was “taken away” instead of dying.  It’s an odd story that really isn’t given as much play in the Scriptures as it should be.

Elijah was the other one who never died in the Scriptures.  His life is well chronicled, from the good to the bad, and his departure is described in vivid detail.  Enoch… not so much.

Genesis 5 says that Enoch lived for 65 years, had Methuselah, and then “walked with God” another 300 years.  At age 365, “he was not, for God took him.”  The only hint of something different in his life was that all others listed in chapter 5 of the book of Genesis simply have their life described as “they lived” but life is described as “he walked.”  I tried to share that there is a difference between living a life vs. walking with God.  The amazing thing about Enoch’s life is not that God “took” him, but that his walk was one that led up to that “taking.”

The key, I believe, to what Enoch’s life was all about is found in the New Testament in Hebrews 11.  The book of Hebrews says that Enoch pleased God, which can only be done through faith.  This faith is that God IS.  It’s that simple.  Being sure of God.  We attempt to redefine God as Someone who will fit our thoughts and plans.  We come up with phrases such as “to me…” to begin our description of Him.  However, true faith is not defining God or His word as we see fit, but allowing our faith in Him to define who we are.

Hebrews goes on to say that Enoch “believed…” and he “diligently pursued God.”  We believe in God.  This simply means that we put our spiritual condition in His hands.  However, he also diligently pursued.  I looked this phrase up.  It means to “crave” or “demand.”  This led to a thought that will be about 35 minutes quicker here than I made it this morning.

What do you crave or demand?

Enoch craved God.  That’s why he pleased God.  I think that’s why he was described as “walking with God” (Genesis 5) rather than simply “living a life” like all of the others.  I really believe that what you crave actually controls you.

I ask you who read this… What are you pursuing?

Whatever that is that you crave… Whatever you demand in life… that is what controls you.

What you are pursuing is determining what will be written about you, and will determine where and how you wind up.

If it is God, then you have a walk.  If it is anything else, then you are just breathing air.


It’s All In Front of You

This is the time of students going back to school.  I have jokingly referred to it as “the most wonderful time of the year.”  Today, however, I feel like I could cry.

Nothing is wrong.  I am just a dad that wants the best for my boys.  I want them to be safe.  I want them to realize their dreams.  I want them to be happy.

And I realize that I cannot make those things happen.

It is in days like this that I am reminded to put them in God’s hands… again.  It seems that God has to remind of this often.  He is constantly on me about allowing Him to have things on His heart so they would not be on mine.  Other days it is other things.  Today it is my boys.  The world is in front of them, and it is awesome.  I wish I could do “it” all for them, but I can’t.

I can’t make them safe.

God is our protector.  We pray His covering over them every day, and then try not to worry as we trust Him to follow through.  The biggest thing about it all is that we are not even called to live a “safe” life.  I don’t want harm to come to my boys, but I don’t want them to play it safe with life.  I want them to experience the rewards that only come from taking a risk.  The new friend that only comes because you walked across the lunch room when no one else would.  The opportunity to show a talent that was only seen because you stood on stage when others stayed in their seats.  The ability to be on a team even though it hurts and is hard and you might not get the same shot as others.  I don’t want my boys to play it safe.  God… keep them from harm.

I can’t make their dreams come true.

Part of not living a safe life is that you choose not to settle.  Don’t setting for mediocre.  Don’t settle for less.  I started off my message in church this past Sunday with sharing that only one of our McDonald’s has large drinks for a dollar.  A small is a dollar, a medium is more, and a large is a dollar.  The only reason to get a medium is that you are just not that thirsty.  I want my boys to be thirsty.  I want them to dream big and then watch what happens.  I really believe that the bigger you dream the greater the things can happen in reality.  God is the Author of their lives… I am not.  God is the One Who orders their steps… I do not.  I pray that He places dreams in them that the world would stand in awe of.

I can’t make them happy.

Happiness is a function of attitude.  We can choose to wallow in our junk, or we can choose to be happy.  School is not the most fun thing in the world, but they can choose to be happy while there.  Work might not be a “happy” place, but you can choose to be happy while there.  Whatever you are going through, YOU choose how to respond.  God has promised to give us “peace that passes understanding,” which means that you might not understand how you can have peace in a situation but you do anyway.  You can choose to have a joy inside and outside at any moment in your life.  In fact, the way you respond to things in your life will go a long way to determine the outcome of the situation itself.  God, give my boys joy and happiness today.

So today, I know that “God’s got this,” so I don’t have to.

I believe… help my unbelief… again.

Thank you, God.


What Is Going On In Israel?

In 2008 I was privileged to go to Israel on a standard pilgrimage.  It was an incredible trip for many reasons, as I determined in my heart to look past the tourist trappings of such a trip and allow the experience to broaden my mind and spirit.  I had a couple of observations that I believe would be good for anyone taking a short trip to the Holy Land to “see the sights.”

  • It’s not about the “site” but about the land
  • It’s not about the land but about the God of the land

You see, the sites are presented as specifics/traditional but are really just general.  The prophets of old and Jesus Himself walked that land, yet the building or the road are not as important as the picture of a nation and how seeing that place redefines how we view the Scriptures and, for me, how I preached the Scriptures.

The young man who led our trip was a Palestinian.  I believe that it was the first time that he had led a tour, and he had a certain amount of knowledge, but the real guide was the man who put our trip together from the states.  We stayed in the West Bank for part of the trip, and I came out of the trip with a few things on my heart to pray for.

  • A city without a Protestant Church (Jericho)
  • A school (and church) in a Palestinian town (Aboud – don’t even look for it on a map) and,
  • A pastor and family in Jerusalem (now living and ministering in Bethlehem)

All are a part of the Palestinian world and I think of these three things / places often and pray God will have his Will rule over them.

In 2010, I went back to Israel on a completely different trip.  I was a part of an Outreach Fellowship with 13 others who were to become liaisons for the nation of Israel to our congressional leaders.  I still to this day don’t know how I got on that trip.  Honestly, I think I was a hot mess while traveling, because I was praying through the revelation that I was finished at the church we led, and was walking into the beginning of the oddest 4 years of my life.  But I digress…

We had security guards because of the nature of our trip.  We drove the Golan Heights, planted a fruit tree steps from the Lebanon border, and walked the streets of Sderot which is one mile from the border of the Gaza Strip and stepped into a bus stop/bomb shelter in that same city.  I shook hands with 18-year-old soldiers on the front, nearly fell asleep sitting next to the Chief Adviser to Netanyahu, and did not make a friend of a reporter for the Jerusalem Post at a breakfast.  I had the privilege of being briefed by three members of the Knesset (the legislative branch of Israel), I visited Yad Vashem (the World Center on the Holocaust), questioned the members of a Post-Traumatic Center in Tel Aviv, met with members of the Palestinian Authority (in what seemed to be an “undisclosed location”), toured an assimilation center for Ethiopian Jews, and shared a Seder with a wonderful family on Sabbath, among other things.

I have a piece of pottery from the southern region that is 2400 years old.  I also have a picture of a man in plain clothes at the Western Wall with an M-16.  To this day I get briefings on what is going on in this nation and the territories that are so much in the news these last few days.

All of this to say that I am not an idiot concerning things of this region.

What is going on in this region is honestly beyond any of our understanding.  We have a different mindset in the U.S., and all we think we know about culture and rational behavior is thrown out the window when dealing with the Middle East.  There are a few things that I want to share about the current escalation:

  1. The escalation is not current.  You probably only heard about it on the news when Israel shot back.  I equate it to a boy hitting another with a stick over and over for days.  One day the boy being struck had had enough and picked up a bigger stick and hit the instigator with enough force to knock him down.  Then the second boy is seen as a bully and gets punished.  Before Israel struck back with accuracy rockets were being fired daily from Gaza, not as surgical strikes but sent without reason to instill terror in the citizens of Israel.  The rockets were beginning to travel further into Israel than ever before, putting more or her citizens at risk.  Israel had had enough.
  2. Israel continues to send aid into Gaza.  More than 1,904 truckloads of good have entered Gaza since the start of the operation.  On the 4th of August Israel transferred 185 trucks carrying 2,769 tons of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies into Gaza.  This does not count the truckloads of supplies that have been driven into the Gaza Strip daily (and for years) before all of this hit the news.
  3. When Israel left Gaza as part of the “land for peace” agreement a few years ago, the infrastructure was in place to provide for a thriving economy.  Most of it was systemically destroy by Hamas because they did not want anything from the Israelis.
  4. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is not the same leadership in Gaza.  The reporter I mentioned earlier (the one that I don’t think became my buddy) mentioned that all of the talk of a “two-state solution” was bogus, “two-state” meaning a Palestinian state and a Jewish state.  (I don’t think he used the word “bogus,” but you get the point.)  He said there was already a two-state situation… the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas (the terror group) in Gaza.  Until that was resolved, he stated, there could be no solution.
  5. The posturing by some in the Christian circle is mind-boggling.  I mentioned before that I developed a heart for some of the Palestinian areas and people that I came across.  It remains.  However, there is a trend that if you stand up for one thing then you must be against all other things.  In this case, some are fighting the idea of standing for Israel because it appears to be a declaration that we hate the Palestinians.  This could not be further from the case.  We are mandated by God to support His people, which are the people of the nation of Israel.  This does not mean that we always see eye to eye with leadership, but we are to stand behind His people.  We are blessed when we do this, and we will have that blessing removed when we do not.  This does not mean that we hate Palestinians.
  6. And this could be 5b, but there is justification by some in the Christian community to stand with the Palestinians because they are “more likely to be ‘Christians’ than those in Israel.”  Again, I am not ignorant of the people of this region.  We suffer from a way of thinking that if someone says they are a “Christian” then that means they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that they believe that He died on the cross for their sins and now, having risen from the dead, intercedes on their behalf before the Father.  That is what it means here, and that is what it means in the Scriptures.  There, some who identify themselves as Palestinian Christians are not meaning the same thing that we understand.  There are, in fact, Palestinian believers, and there are believers in Gaza as well.  However, some who say they are “Christians” are really identifying themselves as not being something else more than identifying themselves as something.  In other words, they are not Jewish and are not Muslim so they identify themselves as Christians.  This is a general statement I know, and if you are going to argue this point then you will argue against my point, and that is fine.  You see, I also live in an area where we are all “Christians” because we believe in apple pie and the big man upstairs, but not because our lives have been radically changed by the power of the Gospel, so the fact that words mean different things to different people is not lost on me.
  7. If Gaza (really, Hamas) lays down their weapons, they live.  If Israel lays down its weapons, Israel dies.  This is what I keep coming back to whenever I try to wrap my head around right and wrong in warfare.  Who wants peace, and who wants the destruction of another?  I tend to side with the one who desperately wants peace, even when they have to go to war to get it.  I am a “justice” guy… meaning I cannot tolerate a bully.  I know, because a personality test I took once told me so.  I want to see wrongs righted.  That is who I am.  It is what keeps my motivation going at times, AND it is what I have to take to the cross daily because there is a fight within me that wants to keep fighting (and not everything is a fight).  I know of a people who are surrounded by nations that want to annihilate them, and they keep on living.  They are vastly outnumbered, have no natural resources in the land to speak of, and the bias as a default against them is unrelenting… and yet they remain.  They send their children to get on the bus to school knowing that if a siren sounds their children will have to know to find a shelter within 15 seconds… and they continue to send them because life must go on.  Rockets have been fired constantly from Gaza since Israel evacuated, but in the current escalation since July 8: 3370 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza; 2300 rockets have struck Israel; and 578 have been intercepted by Iron Dome.  Yes, Israel has fired back into Gaza to take out targets, but from July 8, 280+ rockets fired from Gaza have hit Gaza.  Hamas is destroying their own people in Gaza.

What some think they know, they don’t know.  In the world of posturing and appearances we want to appear open-minded about everything, but there really are some facts we can rely on.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Pray for the people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that there will be safety from those meant to do harm because of terror.  Pray that God will be glorified and that the Son of God will be lifted up and draw all men (and women and children) to Him.


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