Active Christianity on Full Display in a Dallas Courtroom

This week the court case involving the fatal shooting of a man by a off-duty Dallas police officer came to a close. Its a case I had been aware of, but not really followed.

No one but the shooter, Amber Guyger, really knows what  happened that fateful evening. What is known is that Guyger entered the apartment of a man named Botham Jean and shot his as he sat on his couch while eating ice cream and watching TV. As the story goes, Guyger walked into the apartment thinking it was hers and reacted when confronted with the idea that someone was inside her dwelling.

This post is not about the particulars of the case. As I wrote above, the only witness to the shooting was Amber Guyger. But, after all the evidence and testimony were submitted to the court, a jury came back with a conviction of murder. What this post is about is what happened at Amber Guyger’s sentencing, where she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Family members were given the opportunity to speak to Guyger through what is known as a “victim impact statement.” Typically, this is when those affected by the crime are able to share the pain and suffering that come about due to the criminal offense. Those making such statements are given to restrictions: no threats and no profanity. It’s not uncommon for people making a victim impact statement to weep, to blame and to vent.

But as revealed in the video clip below, Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s brother took his impact statement in a markedly different direction:

I stand amazed at the ability of this young man to apply his faith in such a tragic situation. We might be tempted to say that Brandt Jean had every right to direct his anger and hatred toward Amber Guyger. And make no mistake, the loss of his brother was enormous. But, on this day, Brandt Jean put something above his emotions. He brought the Gospel to a Dallas courtroom. 

First, Brandt Jean practiced the Gospel by communicating his forgiveness toward Amber Guygen. And then Brandt shared the Gospel, inviting Amber to give her life to Christ. By this, Brandt was sharing the source of his strength and the wellspring of his perspective. And then, in a surprise to all, Brandt Jean asked the judge if he could give Amber Guygen a hug. For me, this was Brandt Jeans means of communicating the veracity of everything he had just said to Amber.

I’ve sometimes wondered what type of terrible situation might cause me to push my Christian practice aside because of painful, bitter emotions. I hear men like Brandt Jean offer forgiveness to the person who ended his brother’s life and I wonder: would I have the wherewithal to do the same thing?

But, Brandt Jean’s actions in the courtroom were not the only ones worthy of awe and  reflection. After the gavel was struck to signify the closing of the case, Judge Tammy Kemp went to her chambers, only to return a few moments later with a gift for Amber Guyger: a personal copy of the Bible. Here’s the clip:

Here’s how the ABC news affiliate in Dallas described the scene:

After stepping off the bench to comfort the Jean family, the judge walked over to Guyger, still at the defense table. She bent low and spoke in the young woman’s ear. “You understand?” the judge said, barely audible.

The judge appeared to be overcome in the moment, and left the courtroom. She returned a moment later, a small Bible in her hand.

“You can have mine,” the judge said to Guyger. “I have three or four at home.”

She then began to counsel Guyger. The pair were talking low, barely audible, just the two of them. “This is your job,” the judge said, opening the book.

The judge mentioned John 3:16, saying this will strengthen her. Guyger nodded her head.

“You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith,” the judge said. “You start with this.”

Guyger embraced the judge, who hugged her back. Guyger whispered something.

“Ma’am,” the judge said warmly. “It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ.”

“You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven,” the judge told her. “You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”

The judge told Guyger that she could take the Bible with her as deputies prepared to escort her to the prisoner holding cell connected to the courtroom.

And, like Brandt did before her, Judge Tammy Kemp gave Amber a hug.

To me, Judge Tammy Kemp revealed a firm grasp of what it means to walk in both truth and grace. As a judge, she had to do her job in upholding justice. But as a human being, she looked upon Amber Guyger as just another person in need of a savior.

Sometimes we need examples of how to put our faith into practice. In a Dallas courtroom, a grieving brother and a compassionate judge provided models of what it means to have the Gospel take captivity of our heart.

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A Cost of Being a Leader

I called this post A Cost of Being a Leader on purpose, as there are many costs to leadership. Those who assume a leadership role will often deal with multiple costs such as sacrifice, fatigue, loneliness, depression and pressure.

But, in this post I want to address a particular cost that often accompanies leadership: criticism and judgment that comes from those who have limited information and finite understanding about a given situation. In other words, people will allow themselves to come to firm conclusions about decisions and/or actions a leader has made, even though they don’t really know exactly what happened or why the leader came to a certain determination.

This is a common malady we can all succumb to. We get tempted to speak into a situation without having a firm grasp on all the facts. I think we live in a time and culture where leadership is regularly questioned, even when there may not be much evidence to support such doubt or hesitation. This doesn’t mean we follow our leaders blindly. No leader is above critique. But to function, every leader needs a good measure of support.

The first time this cost of leadership became apparent to me was at the church where I served as a youth pastor (my first full-time pastoral position). Our senior pastor was one of the most disciplined, fair, and thoughtful people I had ever worked for. He seemed to never rush into a decision, took time to try and understand all sides, and never used his position of authority to lord it over people in the church. This was a man who had a grasp on Jesus’ teaching about servant leadership. He wasn’t perfect, but always seemed above board in his dealings. Yet, during my twelve year tenure at this church, more than once did I witness people question, criticize and jump to conclusions with this pastor without really knowing much about any particular circumstance or situation that might be happening in the church.

In one situation at this church, a decision was made to release a person who had recently been brought on staff as a pastor. Not long after this pastor’s arrival, certain unhealthy behaviors began to emerge. Even after intervention and counsel from our senior pastor, the negative behaviors persisted to the point that some people in the church were made to feel vulnerable. After prayer and consultation with church leadership, the decision was made to let this new pastor go. Of course, the details of all that was going on was not something that could be made public to entire congregation.

Not long after, a few people in the church began to murmur and gossip, questioning the wisdom of the leadership, particularly the senior pastor.  They didn’t know the entire story, but that didn’t seem to matter. Regardless of any knowledge about the situation, the leadership was suspect.

A few times I had some suspicious people approach me, asking me about the inner workings of the decision (of which I had some knowledge, but not complete knowledge). First off, I had to let these people know the particulars were not mine to share. Second, I asked these people to consider the long-time record of their senior pastor. Had he been trustworthy? Was he a man of humility? Had he done anything to make people think that he wouldn’t have the best interests of the church in mind? Was he known to handle matters in a measured, professional manner?

For some people, this series of questions helped them get back to a more level perspective of the matter. Others, unsatisfied with my response, moved on in search of people who might give them the negative answers they were seeking. As far as I know, they were unsuccessful.

Through the years, I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. Leadership takes action and suspicion soon follows.

But, as much as it seems unfair and unprofitable, I have come to accept that it is part of the price of acting as a leader.

The apostle Paul endured such criticism and rejection at the hands of the Christians in Corinth. We’re talking about Paul! The one who gave so much of himself to help plant and nurture the Corinthian church. Yet, in their pride and immaturity, the Corinthians didn’t hold back at taking a few swipes at Paul.

If Paul had to face it, I think we ought not think ourselves immune. If such criticism could happen to Paul, it can happen to anyone else who takes on leadership.

J. Oswald Sanders, in his landmark book on leadership noted:

No leader is exempt from criticism, and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.

In a blog posting at the Vanderbloemen Church Leadership website, four points are offered to better navigate the criticism that often comes a leader’s way:

1. See it as inevitable.
Jesus was criticized as a drunk and a tool of Satan. The Apostle Paul was criticized as not being a legitimate apostle. Famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “You always find the most clubs under the best apple trees.” In fact, in some ways a pastor can rejoice when criticized. Why is that? Because Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).

2. Respond only when necessary.
Some criticisms don’t warrant a response. Nehemiah would not be distracted from his work of building the wall to respond to critics. Jesus did not respond to all criticisms. Abraham Lincoln was constantly criticized yet rarely responded. Responding to criticism can distract you—keep your eyes on the goal! As a Pastor, when I got anonymous criticisms, I immediately threw them away and told my staff to do the same.

3. If a response is necessary, be slow to respond.
“IN AN AGE OF EMAILS AND TEXTING, OUR RESPONSES ARE OFTEN WAY TOO FAST!” Proverbs 12:16 says, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” In the New Testament, James writes about being slow to become angry.

4. Consider the source.
How well do you know the critic? Have they been overwhelmingly positive in the past? Do you know their love for you? Some criticism is legitimate, and we need to learn and grow from it. But often, if the criticism is overly harsh or angry, it says more about the critic than it does about you. They may have major issues going on in their life that is boiling over to the surface.

As kids, if we ever came across a large mound of dirt, we inevitably ended up playing the game “king of the hill.” The goal of the game was to get to the top of the hill and hold your position. For those not at the top of the hill, the mission was to knock “the king” off the top spot.

Sometimes that’s how it feels to be a leader. But remember, it’s part of the deal.

(And let’s be honest: there are plenty of bad leaders out there who make it harder for people to rely on those in positions of authority.)

Thank God for those people who have taken the challenge given in Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

May we not lose heart of give up because some people seem intent on questioning our actions or doubting our motives, even when they don’t really know what’s going on. Such activity is as old as the hills. And remember: as leaders, we are not above doing the same thing to others that causes such pain and confusion within us. May God keep our hearts in check as we come under the leadership of others.

 

A Different Kingdom

Lately the news headlines have leaned heavy on stories related to politics and governance. An impeachment inquiry. An upcoming presidential election. Battles over Supreme Court justices. On an on it goes. It now seems like a regular, daily occurrence that a new scandal arises. Fingers are pointed at those perceived to be political enemies with the hopes that they will tumble out of power.

Both the pursuit of power, as well as trying to hold on to power, seems to bring out some of the worst human qualities imaginable. Amid all the political maneuvering we often find a host of lies, half-truths and deceptions. It can begin to feel like a big game of chess where the overarching motto is win at any cost. 

Such wranglings are nothing new. They span the length of human history. Political power struggles are as old as dirt. And often as ugly as dirt as well.

Sadly, as nasty as the realm of politics can often be, we too can sucked into the fear-fueled thinking that if we can’t beat them, perhaps we should join them. Why? Because we don’t want to lose power and control. So, life can often look like the early morning rush at the front doors a department store on Black Friday. We elbow our way to the front of the line because, well, everyone else is doing it…and we just have to have the new flat-screen TV. Our means become justified by our goals.

One time, the disciples of Jesus got into a bit of scrap about power. The situation is described in Matthew 20.

The mother of two of the disciples thought it wise to approach Jesus and ask Him if her sons could get the best seats in the kingdom; the seats on the direct left and right of Jesus’ throne. She envisioned her sons being close to the king, and thus close to power.

The other 10 disciples finally caught wind of the mother’s plan and acted as if they wished they had thought of it first. They realized that this woman’s two sons had figured out a way to the top and it made them want to compete for such choice seating.

At this point, Jesus decided it was time to call a meeting to bring the chaos to a close. He gathered his 12 around and shared these words:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)

The way of the world is to seek out of a position of power. And, if you can get one, hang on to it with all your might. Also, use it to lord over people and exercise authority over them. The goal is to be in charge so that you don’t have to take orders from someone else. It’s all about leverage – once you get it, use it to your advantage.

But, Jesus says that His kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. It is, in fact, the very opposite. According to Jesus, greatness is not measured by the amount of power one employs, but in the amount of lives impacted through humble, sacrificial service.

Rather than trying to climb life’s ladder in order to get your way, Jesus challenged His followers to descend it, looking for ways to think about how to help others.

John Wesley put this mindset into a memorable, highly applicable mandate:

Do all the good you can by all the means you can in all the places you can at all the times you can to all the people you can as long as ever you can.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay Salty, Keep Shining

(This post is an adaption of a message I recently shared for our church’s SERVE CDA week, a time when we challenge our people to connect with and serve alongside various local ministries such as Union Gospel Mission, Children’s Village, Love INC and Safe Passage Violence Prevention Center. The text for the message is Matthew 5:13-16.)

Interesting, the very first word of the great commandment is GO! Not STAY! The great commandment implies movement! What a great opportunity to step outside our comfort zones and explore what God is doing in the lives of people in need. And it is often outside our comfort zones that God is doing his most interesting, impactful work! But, let’s be honest…moving out of our comfort zones can be downright uncomfortable! I mean, who likes to be uncomfortable?

Yet, the call of God remains: Go and make disciples! Go and serve as my ambassadors! Go and connect with a world without Jesus! 

One of the ways that Jesus tried to help his followers (including us) to understand their calling was to speak to them using some super-understandable imagery. And when it comes to understanding our calling as representatives of the Gospel, perhaps no teaching of Jesus of is as on point as what he shares in Matthew 5:13-16. The context here is that this declaration of Jesus is made in the midst of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Some have referred to the Sermon on the Mount as the Manifesto for Jesus’ Kingdom. It’s a shout out to those who say their desire is to live under the rule and reign of Jesus. It’s a call to both higher and more purposeful living. And part of that kingdom living is wrapped up in the idea of influence. How we live hs the potential to impact some of the lives around us! So, what was it that Jesus said? Here it is:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus used two everyday items in his teaching that even a child could understand: salt and light. If I could boil down Jesus teaching to just 4 words, it would be these: STAY SALTY, KEEP SHINING. Jesus said to his listeners, “YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.” But what in the world does that mean? Two thoughts come to mind.

Obviously, we know that salt is used to season food.

With just a few shakes of the saltshaker, we can transform food that is bland to becoming highly palatable. Try and imagine a world that is unseasoned by the presence of Christians who love God and love people. A world with less sacrificial love, less mercy, less grace. A world devoid of the challenge to think about God and to live as God created us to live. Bottom line, we are called to go out, engage and influence our world. This doesn’t mean that every person we meet will respond to God. Our job is to provide a witness, God’s job is to change a heart.

The other aspect of being spiritually salty is this: in the ancient world, salt was an invaluable commodity because of its ability to preserve food.

For us, we have refrigerators and freezers to keep our food fresh. But that was not a luxury known at the time of Jesus. So, when Jesus uttered the words, “You are the salt of the earth,” those listening likely associated his words with the preserving qualities of salt. What they would hear was this: that all of Jesus disciples were to serve as preservatives, stopping the moral decay in our sin-infected world.

Pastor and evangelist Michael Youseff reflected:

“The spiritual health and strength of the Christian is to counteract the corruption that is in the world. Christians, as salt, are to inhibit sin’s power to destroy lives. This in turn creates opportunity for the gospel to be proclaimed and received.”

How’s that for serious business! But the last part of verse 13 in Matthew 5 reveals a concern: the worry that the follower of Jesus would not allow themselves to act as salt! This happens when we either:

Deliberately disengage from contact and relationships with those who don’t know Jesus…or, live such a life of hypocrisy and compromise that, as a witness, our life no longer serves as seasoning, but in fact becomes spiritually confusing and corrosive. 

The challenge is this: STAY SALTY! Watch your life and be sure to get out into the world as an ambassador for Jesus.

The other word picture Jesus used to talk about the call of the believer was light.

In verse 14 Jesus said, “You are the light of the world!” In the case of sin, our saltiness is meant to act as a preservative. When it comes to acting as light, our lives are meant to offer people a counter-perspective to how most peopleend up living! Whereas salt preserves, light illuminates! Our lives are to be an on-going witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with pure hearts, when we love others as ourselves, and when we do good without growing weary, we are lights shining. Get this, though: it is not OUR light, but the reflection of the Light of the world, Jesus Christ Himself, that people will see in us. Philippians 2:14-15 (ESV) says:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Walking, wandering or running in the dark can be dangerous! We bump into trees and we trip into ditches. Who here hasn’t at one time in their life been injured because of a lack of light! Without solid illumination we often make mistakes and mess things up! Well, everyday we are surrounded by people groping around in the darkness, separated from the God who loves them.  And God’s desire is to use His children, like beacons from a lighthouse, to show the way to Him. But, just as in the case of salt losing its saltiness, Jesus expresses concern about the believer somehow covering up their light. The way Jesus presents it, just as it makes no sense to light a lamp and then cover it up, it’s just as absurd to be impacted by the Gospel of Jesus, and then make all sorts of effort to keep that light shining through our lives. I like the perspective of DL Moody, who said:

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.

If we love God and pursue his will for our life, the light will naturally flow forth! STAY SALTY and KEEP SHINING. That’s Jesus word for us! But here’s the deal: Either we are “salt” and “light” by the grace of God, or we are willfully disobeying the One who saved us for such a time as this. If we are being “salt” and “light” then we can expect fruit from our faithfulness. If we are allowing God to use as salt and light, then today is a perfect time to repent and let God have our best for His glory.

Imagine a world without salt and light. This would describe a world where people don’t feel any tension regarding their sin, or how to find a pathway to find forgiveness from it.

It’s on us to let God use us to reach a lost and dying world!

 

What Matters Most

When asked about the most important teaching in all of God’s directives to his people, Jesus answered:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NIV)

Reduced down, the command is this: Love God, love others.

At the bare minimum, it’s this: LOVE.

This command has two aspects: how we relate to God, and how we relate to others.

The first aspect is vertical in direction (upward), the second is horizontal (outward).

My takeaway is this: nothing matters more in this life (and in this universe) than right relationships.

A lot of Christians get it that we are to love God through worship, obedience and service.

We certainly aren’t perfect at loving God in these ways, but we know what we are called to.

On the other hand, my hunch is we have a lot of work to do when it comes to figuring out our horizontal, human relationships.

Likely, this is because we have a lot of our priorities mixed up.

In other words, we value some things more than the people around us.

But here’s the deal: the pursuit of loving relationships ought to matter more than:

  • How much money we make
  • What kind of car we drive
  • Where we land on the social ladder
  • The clothes we choose to wear
  • What music we listen to
  • What we do for fun
  • The style we seek to radiate
  • The demographic where we feel most comfortable
  • The level of cool we think fits us

All these things hold the potential for pride and selfishness, but healthy working relationships are always grounded in humility and selflessness.

The apostle John’s letters seem to focus on the idea that some of his didn’t quite make the connection that loving God ought to naturally lead to loving others. Thus, he wrote:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one anotherNo one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

And just a few verses later, John gets even more direct:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21 ESV)

How’s that for straight talk?

What a challenging exercise it is to think about what keeps us from loving others as we ought.

I think at first are likely to think about the other person, coming up with reasons why they a such a challenge to love.

But I think it would do us well to stop and think about what types of things keep us from being able to, as Jesus says, love our neighbors as ourselves.

  • What are our hangups?
  • What are our misplaced priorities?
  • What are our prejudices?
  • What are our selfish preoccupations?

Whatever they are, they need to go, because these obstacles keep us from fulfilling what Jesus describes as the most important thing we can every put our mind, heart and strength into: loving God, loving others.

 

 

No Such Thing as a Ministry of Affliction

Early on in my ministry years I heard (on more than one occasion) this expression:

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

The idea, as I heard it, was the ministry leader was to be a balm to those who were in the midst of pain, but an agitation to anyone who seemed (in the leader’s estimation) too settled in and comfortable to be of any godly use.

The idea was that if you spotted someone within your ministry who looked overly cozy, it was your job to figure out a way to perturb the person to the point they get the clue that God doesn’t like snug, comfy slackers.

Essentially, the goal was to bring a measure of stress and chaos to this comfortable person’s world.

The roots of the “comfort/affliction” axiom are found in the 19th century world of journalism. It came from a 19th century newspaper columnist, and the statement came from one of the writer’s fictional characters, one “Mr. Dooley.”

Interestingly, some people have interpreted the expression as a mandate for proper journalistic practice, when in reality the original assertion was a complaint against the newspapers of the day. Here’s what Mr. Dooley (in thick Irish accent) actually said:

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.” – Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902)

But back to the topic at hand.

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Sounds noble, doesn’t it?

And yet, I find such a perspective only half correct.

Scripture is brimming with imperatives to bring consolation and solace to those who are in the midst of pain and suffering. Consider this sampling:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV)

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15 ESV)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1 ESV)

Considering all the difficulty experienced in this world, we will always have plenty of opportunities to comfort those around us. It’s almost like a full-time job.

Now, ministry is not just about comforting. Their are other aspects to take into account. Practices such as:

  • Teaching
  • Training
  • Warning
  • Guiding
  • Exhorting
  • Challenging

Our ministries are to be well rounded.

Paul, in writing to the Thessalonian elders, offered a three-fold perspective of how to minister to the needs of people:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV)

Simply put, we have to consider our unique people and the varying situations in which we find them.

But I can’t seem to find the so-called “ministry of affliction” within the pages of my Bible.

Life is full of affliction. It doesn’t seem that God’s ministers need to dispense any more than that which already plagues our people.

I must confess that a couple times in my early ministry years I actually made things purposefully difficult for some people.

Yes, I had bought into the “afflicting the comfortable” philosophy of ministry.

I took it upon myself to conclude that these comfortable individuals needed their world upset a bit, thinking that my actions might move these people to deeper discipleship.

In reality, I was simply being an annoying jerk.

My actions weren’t rooted in true discipleship, but rather, I suspect, in pride, immaturity and an unhealthy need for control.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit wasted no time to convict me of my misguided efforts to try promoting spiritual growth.

The world in which we inhabit is overflowing with pain and suffering, thanks to something called sin.

Sin steals. Sin lies. Sin kills. And sin leaves a terrible amount of damage in it’s wake.

We don’t need more affliction. There’s plenty to go around and then some.

We need leaders who will comfort us in the midst of difficulty and perhaps guide us to figure out how our struggles made be used for a better purpose.

We need shepherds, not ranchers.

We need pastors, teachers and equippers, not psychotic boot camp drill sergeants.

Jesus said His people would be known for their love.

Let’s stick with that.

 

The Whole Enchilada

No, I’m not talking about the wonderful, amazing Mexican dish.

I’m talking about the idea that Christians are to worship God with every aspect of their being.

Here’s the scripture I’m basing this on:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-32 (ESV)

This of course was in response to the question posed by a scribe. Mark 12 describes a series of questions thrown at Jesus with the intent of tripping Him up.

Jesus’ response was masterful because in two sentences, he encapsulated the intent and practice of the entire Jewish law. If the Jews had simply followed these commands, they would not have had to worry about the ever-growing list of rules being produced by their legalistic religious leaders.

In regard to the Ten Commandments, loving God covers the first four laws; the practice of loving a neighbor takes care of the final six.

But, here’s where I want to go with this. My point is that our love of God can (and should) be practiced in the way we think, the way we feel, and in the way we live.

  • We love God through our mind by learning and thinking correct thoughts about Him and the world we live in. (Philippians 4:8: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
  • We love God by matching our emotions with the types of emotions that are descriptive of God (mercy, compassion, justice, and righteous anger for example). Micah 6:8 comes to mind.
  • And we love God when we use our physical bodies to do those things that serve as acts of worship toward God, rather than using our bodies for our own selfish pursuits. Romans 12:1 says it well:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

By nature, we tend to have a bent in one direction or other.

Some of us are more intellectual.

Some are more emotive.

And others are more physical.

But may we, to the best of our ability and with God’s help, live a life that honors God in all we think, feel and do.

Finally, Jesus added that love for God was part of the equation. The other part is how we love our neighbor.

Here God challenges us to love him by loving others.

This is the challenge of relationships.

The apostle John made the point that love for God can’t be separated from how we interact with others:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. ~ 1 John 3:16-18

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. ~ 1 John 4:20-21

The temptation we often face is to try and compartmentalize our relationship with God.

We tend to lean in to the things that come more naturally and ignore the things that come with greater difficulty.

But our calling is to engage and embrace the entire spectrum of what it means to love, honor and obey God.

We love God through our thoughts. (Think Philippians 4:6

We love God through our emotions and attitudes

We love God by using our bodies in ways that He prescribes.

And we love God by passing to others the same love He shows us.

That’s the whole enchilada.

(How come I’m starting to feel hungry?)

 

 

Thankful for the “No’s”

As a basketball fan, I’m always interested in the time after the season when both the draft and free agency take place.

It’s a time when teams and players retool in order to, hopefully, become more competitive.

During this time, a lot of trades take place, which means players find themselves sent to play for another team. I imagine this might be exciting for a few players, but more likely, being traded probably feels to most like the rug has being pulled out from under them.

Back in February, Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies knew his team was talking to other teams about trading him. And Gasol pleaded with his team not to make such a transaction. Gasol had spent 11 years in Memphis, the only city/team he’d ever played for. In his mind, Memphis was where he knew he wanted to be.

Yet, despite his plea, Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors for a bevy of players and draft picks.

He’d asked to stay and the Memphis Grizzlies said no.

Fast forward to yesterday and the headlines splashed across a multitude of sports-oriented websites:

  • Marc Gasol Glad Grizzlies Didn’t Listen To Him In Trade With Raptors
  • Marc Gasol: I Wanted To Stay With The Grizzlies, Thank God They Ignored Me
  • Marc Gasol Is Grateful The Grizzlies Ignored His Desire To Stay In Memphis

Why had Marc Gasol changed his tune about the trade that sent him from Memphis to Toronto?

Because Marc Gasol attained something in Toronto he couldn’t get hold of in Memphis: an NBA championship.

That chance to experience the very pinnacle of NBA victory turned what, and one time, seemed like a sure negative into a very strong positive.

In life, we sometimes hear “no.” And in most cases, I imagine, we don’t like it. Typically, we find the “no” keeps us from what we feel we want or need.

But many “no’s” are actually doorways to something better.

I’ve often had God give me a solid, clear “no” and I responded by wondering if He really knew what He was talking about. Because I felt I knew what was right for me, I questioned whether God was dropping the ball in to giving me “yes.”

But God isn’t the God of arbitrary “no’s.” God is always working things out according to His plan and acting with our best interests in mind.

Perhaps in what could be the biggest “no” in history, the Father told the Son “no” when Jesus asked if the cup of the cross could be taken from Him.

At first glance, the Father’s response seems cold and cruel. Why wouldn’t he rescue Jesus from a death He didn’t deserve?

And yet, out of this “no” came the means for the rescue for humanity.

Sometimes a “no” is the best thing we can every hear. But to understand the purpose behind the “no” means we will have to be humble, submissive and perceptive. Too often, because we don’t want to accept a “no,” we blow a perfectly good opportunity to understand how God’s hand is moving behind the scenes.

Minda Zetlin, in an online article called “FOUR REASONS YOU SHOULD LOVE HEARING NO” offers these four points for people to no always look at a “no” as a negative:

  1. Learn to celebrate your ‘no’s” – If yes makes you happy and no makes you unhappy, you need to get off the yes/no emotional roller-coaster. When you look at no positively, you can see the value in it, celebrate it and have fun.
  2. No doesn’t always mean never – No often means not yet. It often boils down to a matter of timing. Patience and diligence can often give greater results than we can imagine.
  3. A good no is better than a bad yes – This is a very hard thing to wrap our minds around! But, if you’ve embraced the concept that a no isn’t particularly bad news, you can go forward with confidence.
  4. Every no is a chance to learn – Within every no is the information needed to move forward. We just have to be brave enough to pursue what it is we need to learn in order to grow.

One last thought: God’s “no” to our prayers and requests will always be a “yes” to whatever He is seeking to work in our lives. We can choose to cling to Him (even when His “no” is disconcerting for us), believing that He loves us, hears us, and is always at work. Just because God tells us “no” does not mean that He isn’t fully for us. Quite the opposite!

 

To Know and Be Known

The other day I pulled up to a stoplight. At the same time, two cars (one on my right, the other on my left) pulled up beside me.

Immediately, the drivers of both cars pulled out their cellphones and began fervently looking and poking at their devices.

At that moment, I wondered in my mind: What was so important that, while sitting a few moments at a signal, they both felt the need to check their phones?

I mean, to look at a phone while on the road (even when stopped at a signal) takes away from a driver’s awareness of all that is happening around them. I was sure one of these drivers would miss when the light turned green. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened!

But back to my question: what is it that drives people to their phones so much? I concluded that the primary reasons are (1) the desire to know and (2) the desire to be known. Either people are looking up information to absorb or they are connecting with someone in online conversation.

Think about it: aren’t knowing and being known two of our greatest needs?

Down deep inside of us, we have questions about life, death, eternity, purpose and meaning.

We wonder within our mind: Who am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? What’s it all about? Is there any rhyme or reason to the universe in which we dwell? What lies beyond the grave?

God has answers (found in His Word) to each one of those queries.

That’s the knowing side of things.

When it comes to being known, it’s amazing how much we would like to truly be loved and understood by someone else. To have someone to share our thoughts, ideas and dreams. Someone to accept us.

How many of us possess a desperate desire to drop the masks we often employ to keep people from judging or rejecting us?

While we may seek to find a sense of knowing and being known in the world around us, I believe that to truly experience these things we must look to God.

God has the answers to our most pressing questions.

And He also is able to love, know and accept us like no human being can.

J.I. Packer wrote these insightful words about the nature of God’s knowledge of us:

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

Yes, we can (to a degree) find significance in our human relationships. We can learn from each other, as well as find closeness and kinship.

But to really know and be known, we must go farther. We must engage God.

John Piper wrote about how well God can both inform us and know us (along with offering us a reminder of how difficult is to know ourselves):

You always have someone to go to for help in knowing who you are. You know one of the great longings of the human soul is to understand ourselves. Who are we? What is our nature? What sort of being am I? What is my deepest thought and feeling? What are my true and deepest motives? What are the relationships, deep inside of me, between my knowing and my feeling and my willing and my doing? If you think you know yourself, you are really deluded. You are so complex. You are so multilayered.

The desire to know and be known is universal. But the source from which we can experience the greatest depth of knowing and being known is singular.

The source of such understanding and deep relationship is the God who formed the magnificent universe, as well as the magnificent you.

Anything else will fall short.

 

 

 

 

Finishing Well: Humility Is What Gets Us Through

Some years ago I came on board as a staff pastor at a new church. Not long after, a couple from the church invited us over for dinner. We certainly appreciated their hospitality.

Overall, the conversation was cordial, but I did notice on occasion some complaints about the church sprinkled in.

Now, I realize every church is worthy of some complaints. No church is perfect; we all have room to grow and stretch.

But what caught my attention was the attitude in which these complaints were delivered.

These comments seemed to come with a fair measure of pride. The kind of pride that communicates, “I have all the answers, and I have a hard time with those who don’t know all the things I know.”

Also, the comments also seemed to be a bit tinged with a spirit of rebellion. Meaning, it almost seemed like going against the grain brought about some strange glee.

At one point, one of our hosts talked about her experience in Bible college and how she took great pleasure in breaking some of the rules she felt were to legalistic for her tastes.

Now, mind you, most of our time together was fine. It was just every now and then our conversation was sprinkled with these disconcerting comments.

But as my time in this church went on, this couple became more discontent and disruptive.

It got to the point that it seemed no one in our church could do anything right.

It began to feel like their perspective of us was that we were just a bunch of oafs tripping over one another.

-We didn’t teach the Word right.

-We didn’t carry out missions to their satisfaction.

-We fell way short in our expression of compassion.

Bottom line, pretty much anything we thought, said, or did was not worthy of their high view of ministry practice.

All in all, we appeared to be a source of constant disappointment to this couple that seemed to have all the answers.

Well, such dissatisfaction can only go on so long.

In time, they left our church in search of something more in line with their lofty standards. (I’m not sure if they ever landed anywhere.)

A few years after I moved on to another church (right about the time Facebook was catching on) I was online and came across the name of one-half of this constantly-disappointed couple.

Guess what? They had become divorced.

Now, it may be too simplistic on my part, but I couldn’t help think to myself: “The couple who constantly let us know all the failures we were committing at our church couldn’t find a way to keep their own marriage together?”

I don’t know the circumstances of the split, but my hunch is that the weight of their pride, disappointment and non-conformity had something to do with their severance.

After enough time, all that pressing burden caused things to finally give way.

And it makes sense. Such corrosive attitudes form a terrible foundation for any type of relationship. Especially the God-ordained relationship of marriage.

No, the pathway of the long haul relationship must be, ultimately, paved with humility, along with a good measure of contentment and a solid degree of submission.

Such is an unrelenting, overarching theme that flows from the pages of both the Gospels and the Epistles.

Its allowing things such as kindness, gentleness, deference, thoughtfulness, love, joy and peace to overcome our flesh-driven attitudes of judgmentalism, discontentment, disappointment, agitation, rebelliousness and gloating.

Of the pride that often does us in, Phillips Brooks said:

“Whatever makes us feel superior to other people, whatever tempts us to convey a sense of superiority that is the gravity of our sinful nature, not grace.”

I’ve often said that one of the quickest ways for us to feel better about ourselves is to find someone we can push down.
The truth is we haven’t elevated ourselves one millimeter. Rather, we often leave a lot of hurt, confused people in our wake.
One of the primary teachings about humility is found in Philippians 2. In this chapter, Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi not to promote themselves, but to have the well-being of others as a primary goal:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-12 ESV)
Humility is the key to what will get us through this life.
Humility is the key to our success.
Humility is the way of Jesus.