Be Nice

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I think I can safely go on record and declare that I am an Independent. I don’t drink the kool aid of either political party. I refuse to be blinded by ideology to the point where I can no longer see any flaws in the person who represents the “right” side.

That said, I have some advice, particularly for those of faith who are wading into political waters. Two words: be nice.

You can disagree with someone and still be friends. You can hold opposing viewpoints and still be civil. You can admit that maybe the other side isn’t evil and may have some valid arguments. You can hold your convictions with humility and reverence and remember that there’s always more than one perspective.

You gain nothing if you descend into throwing insults and defaming the character of the opposition’s candidate. That does nothing to address the issues and ailments of our society or to give aid to those in need.

Jesus said to love your enemies. He said to pray for them. He didn’t qualify that statement. He didn’t say “Treat them right only if they treat you right.” He didn’t say, “Pray for you enemies unless they insult you.”

Hopefully, you can support your candidate without making those who don’t your enemies. Still, you will have those who will vilify you anyway. You can still choose love.

At the end of the day, you don’t fight hate with more hate. You fight hate with love. Your weapon is the kind of love that led Jesus to the cross to die for sinners and enemies. It was a love that said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Don’t compromise your convictions. Take a stand for your beliefs. Just don’t be a jerk about it. Do whatever you do out of love.

Severe Mercies

I survived a wreck today.

Actually, that makes it sound much worse that it really was.

I was in a three-car fender-bender where the car behind me got hit from behind and ended up bumping into me.

I ended up with a dinged-up bumper and some shaky nerves.

It could have been so much worse.

I often wonder why God allows His people to go through dark valleys of suffering.

I know that the world we live in is broken and all of creation is affected by the fall and original sin. Plus, there’s that little matter of free will.

I also know that sometimes it takes a little pain to get our attention and remind us that our lives are about more than just us and our pleasure.

I believe that there are some precious truths and lessons that can be learned no other way than going through the dark night of the soul.

We find true community when we come together to share each others burdens and be strong for the ones who can’t be strong for themselves.

I still believe that there is no situation any of us will ever go through that is so dire where we cannot discover small blessings and at least something to be thankful for.

The Psalmist said that even in the deepest and darkest valley he would ever walk through, the Shepherd was with him.

There is nothing that will ever come against the child of God that Jesus has not already faced and defeated once and for all on that Cross of Calvary. Nothing.

That means that any trial is temporary and any affliction is fleeing and momentary.

You can survive just about anything if you can see beyond it to something better. Even Jesus endured the cross, knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side.

Ultimately, I still believe that every day I wake up is grace and everything beyond that is gravy and there are a multitude of blessings and gifts to be found along the way with those who see with eyes of faith.

 

 

What Makes Someone Attractive

I heard something at Kairos that impacted me in a powerful way– looks will make you look, but they are not what make you attractive. What makes you attractive is who you are, your character, at the deepest level.

Your attractiveness comes from how much you serve and invest in those around you. It’s about how you pour your life into your friends and family. The most beautiful thing about a person is a servant’s heart shining through.

If all your relationships are based on is looks and appearances, you’re destined for a series of shallow, skin-deep relationships that can never satisfy the deep hunger within. The best relationships are born out of being deeply loved by God and serving out of the vast overflow of that love.

True love is always others-centered. It’s counter-cultural in a culture that defines love with a “what can do you for me?” kind of attitude.

If you look at love at its best and the ultimate example of attractiveness, look at the cross. Look at Jesus forgiving those who put Him up there. Look at the most extraordinary example of sacrifice in history.

2,000 years later, no one can deny that that pivotal moment completely altered history and civilization. People are still drawn to images of Jesus hanging on that cross for love of you and me.

In an age where it’s all about “taking care of me first” and “looking out for number one,” the most attractive thing you can do is to serve someone with no other ulterior motive than for the joy of giving. The way you invest in those around you with no expectation of them ever returning the favor is what makes you beautiful.

You are never more like Jesus than when you wash the feet of others, when you serve the least of these. There can be nothing more attractive than that.

 

Amy, Amy, Amy

“And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather
I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine.

I pray Thee hush the hurrying, eager longing,
I pray Thee soothe the pangs of keen desire—
See in my quiet places, wishes thronging—
Forbid them, Lord, purge, though it be with fire.”
Amy Carmichael

“He hath never failed thee yet.
Never will His love forget.
O fret not thyself nor let
Thy heart be troubled,
Neither let it be afraid.”
Amy Carmichael

“I wish thy way.
And when in me myself should rise,
and long for something otherwise,
Then Lord, take sword and spear
And slay.”
Amy Carmichael

“Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matters beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?

Hold us quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill :
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it;
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?”
Amy Carmichael

These are just a few of the reasons why I love Amy Carmichael, who spent over half a century as a missionary in India rescuing young girls from temple prostitution. She was one of the first to fight against sex trafficking, long before the term existed.

She was of an old school faith that I think we need more of in this day and age. She never minced words and never compromised her convictions to curry favor with those she sought to reach with the message of the Cross.

I’m not saying she was a perfect saint (in the sense that most of us think of the word), but she was a saint in the sense that she was someone who had experienced the goodness of God.

I love this quote attributed to her. I think it sums up perfectly what love in the truest sense means: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”

My Takeaways

Here’s what I’m taking away from the Supreme Court’s decision to essentially legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

1) I don’t agree with the decision, but I’m not going to bash those who disagree with me. It doesn’t accomplish anything and is counterproductive to how Jesus told me to love people regardless of whether they agree with me or even love me back.

2) Just because I disagree with someone’s beliefs or lifestyle doesn’t mean that I hate that person. The old adage stands true that you can love the sinner (a category which includes all of us) while hating the sin, or more accurately, what the sin does to the person.

3) If you’re my friend and you’re gay, know that I won’t love you any less or be any less of a friend to you. I may not agree with you on everything, but I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with me (or anyone) 100%. Jesus Himself chose to dine with sinners and said that He didn’t come for those who were righteous, but for those who know they need lots of help.

4) Jesus died for sinners. Period. There were no exclusions or exceptions to who Jesus went to the cross for. If you believe in Jesus with your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved. Period. PS You won’t just be saved from hell, but saved to an incredible, amazing, everlasting and full life.

5) If you believe in Jesus sincerely and solely for your salvation, you are saved, whether you are gay, straight, bipolar, alcoholic, prideful, arrogant, drug-addicted, lazy, or anything else. Jesus doesn’t ask for anybody to clean up his act and get his life together before salvation can take place. Jesus will meet you where you are,  but He won’t leave you there.

6) There will be a lot of people who will use this as an excuse to condemn other people and pronounce judgment on them. I won’t be one of those. I know that if anyone has a right to judge and condemn, it’s God. I also know that God could very easily judge and condemn me for what I’ve done and said and thought in the past. So I choose grace instead.

I think that about covers it.

 

Blog #1,796 (or What I Took Away from Another Good Night at Kairos)

Tonight’s guest speaker was Tyler McKenzie, who spoke from the Beatitudes about what it meant to be blessed.

American culture has a decidedly different take on what being blessed looks like than Jesus. Unfortunately, too many believers (including me at times) have fallen into their idea that wealth, success, power, popularity, and recognition are what it looks like when you’re blessed.

Jesus had a very different idea. He said that you were blessed if you were poor in spirit, mourning, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted. Those are not concepts that you’ll find in the self-help section of the bookstore or in any motivational speeches. At least not in 99% of them.

Blessing involves foregoing the immediate and temporary pleasures of the now for a greater and lasting joy that’s partly now but mostly later. It means following the path of Jesus, who for the future joy set before Him endured the present pain and suffering of the cross.

Pain and suffering aren’t words we normally associate with blessing. I’d much rather have comfort and convenience (and chocolate as often as possible). I’d rather choose the easy over the hard path. Sometimes, I’m content to hunker down in my safe haven and pray to be able to coast into heaven. But that’s not the gateway to joy.

As I remember, the Greek word for blessed is a very interesting word. Before Jesus used it in this context, it wasn’t ever used to refer to people but rather to the gods. But here Jesus is saying that if you’re poor in spirit, you have the joy that God has. You can experience (or come as close to experiencing as any fallen human can) the state of blessedness that God lives in. You can have joy overflowing and life abundant.

I don’t want this to turn into another burden of “you and I really need to add this to the list of things we need to work on.” It’s not something I need to work on, but something Jesus is already working on in me. Ultimately, I’m not blessed because I have it all together but because I know that Jesus has it all together and He has me.

 

Who Is This Jesus?

That’s the question of the night from speaker Tyler McKenzie.

Who else’s birthday do we still celebrate nearly 2,000 years later? Who else do we gather together– some risking their lives to do so–to honor, to celebrate, to sing songs about, to worship?

Who else has changed the way we look at history? Literally, there is a before and after centered around this Man.

Some want Jesus to be a nice guy, a great teacher, a grand example. But Jesus’ own words don’t allow that. The best explanation of Jesus comes from the pen of one Mr. C. S. Lewis, who said that Jesus was either crazy enough to be committed to an asylum, a pathological liar on a grand scale, or He was who He said He was. In other words, Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or He’s Lord.

I bet I got a chorus of “Amen”s on that, but how many of us actually live like Jesus is Lord? Like what He did and Who He was (and still is) matters more than anything or anyone else in history?

Jesus is not a board member in your life whose advice you take under consideration. He’s boss of your life. He’s in control. To use a very non-pc term, He’s your Master.

I heard it somewhere and thought it was worth sharing– if someone rejects Christianity, the question to ask is “What version of Jesus was presented to you?”

Was it meek-and-mild Jesus who seemed bored most of the time? Was it the Jesus who just wanted us to all get along and was completely passive? Was it the Jesus who was a white, middle-class Republican who lived in the suburbs and drove a minivan?

Or was it the Ultimate God-Man who beat death on its own terms and emerged from the grave victorious? Was it that Jesus who went through it all for love of you and me?

It’s not about sin management. It’s not about having your doctrines line up like ducks in a row. It’s not about being a good Christian who fastidiously keeps the list of things not to do. It’s about once being dead in sin and now being alive because Jesus died for me and gave me His life so that I could really and truly and finally live.

That’s it.

 

A Legacy of Love That Includes YOU

 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

I attend The Church at Avenue South. Somewhere in the neighborhood of two years ago, some members of Brentwood Baptist Church had a dream about reaching out to the residents of the Melrose and Berry Hill area for Jesus and set out to make that dream a reality. They were told that it was impossible to find a place in the area for a church to meet. God proved them wrong.

45 years ago, Brentwood Baptist Church was the dream in the minds of some people from Woodmont Baptist Church. People told them that to plant a church in Brentwood was a pipe dream– there would never be enough people to warrant a church in the area. God again proved them wrong.

In 1941, someone had the vision to start Woodmont Baptist Church itself. 74 years later, who knows how many people have been affected by that one simple act of obedience? Who knows how far the ripples will reach from that one stone’s throw?

You are part of a legacy of love. Even if you don’t know it, you have a crowd cheering you on and rooting for you. Whether that’s your physical family or your spiritual family or even those who have gone on and are watching from heaven, you have people who are on your side. Even Jesus Himself roots for you and intercedes for you.

It’s easy on the dark days to feel alone, that you don’t matter, that nothing you do makes any difference. It’s easy to think that nothing will ever change for the better, that this is as good as it will ever get.

Don’t let that be the final word. Let what Jesus has declared be the final word. What did He declare? That He would finish what He started in you, that He had plans for you not for barm but for hope and a future for you, that eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him (and those He loves).

Let this Monday be the day that you run your race faithfully, knowing you have a legacy both behind and ahead of you, cheering you on and being inspired by you to run their own race.

 

Easter Saturday

tomb_closed

I suppose it was a quiet day for the disciples. Not quiet in the sense of anticipation and hope but more in the sense of resignation and despair. They had seen their Messiah crucified and buried in a tomb.

It was over. All their hopes and dreams for the future went with Jesus into that tomb and the future that presented itself was as bleak as the black sky over Golgotha that afternoon.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a state of grief where there are no more tears to cry, where there’s a quiet calm after the storm. Where it feels like you’ll never feel happiness or laughter ever again. That’s where they were as they stared at the massive stone that a legion of Romans had rolled in front of the tomb where Jesus lay. Even if they wanted to, all twelve of them couldn’t have budged that stone from its place to steal the body of their leader and Lord.

Yes, they had seen Lazarus alive and joking around after being in the grave four days, but this was different. Lazarus had been ill and died in his own bed. Lazarus hadn’t been brutally beaten and whipped within an inch of his life before being forced up the hill to his own crucifixion.

They had seen the finality of the final moments where Jesus commended His Spirit to God in a loud cry. Truly, it was over. There would be no more parables, no more stories, no more miracles, no more crowds.

It’s easy for me, having read the rest of the story, to rush past this day. But for those who were there, there was no rest of the story yet. Just a grey sky and a dark room and a dead Messiah.

Yet early in the morning, just shy of daybreak, everything for these disciples and for the rest of the world was about to change forever.

 

The Condescension of God

con·de·scen·sion

 [kon-duhsen-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

an act or instance of condescending.
2.

behavior that is patronizing or condescending.
3.

voluntary assumption of equality with a person regarded as inferior.
Ok, for the purposes of this blog, forget #1 and #2. Put them out of your mind. I want to focus on #3. Because that’s what God did for us.
Let me explain.
This is the God of whom Isaiah wrote, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This God would be completely unknowable unless He had first chosen to reveal Himself to us. He would have remained completely incomprehensible unless He had chosen to reveal His nature and His character. And  He didn’t get all high and mighty with us or look down His celestial nose at us. He looked at us with pity and compassion. But mostly with love.
Truly, this God is not like one of us, only bigger, stronger, faster. He is not the ultimate $6 million dollar man. He is holy, set apart, wholly other.
Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s condescension to man. He who was infinitely higher than we could ever hope or aspire to be, voluntarily assumed equality with those who were His inferiors, i.e. us. He became one of us. Or as Paul puts it in Philippians,
Though He was in the form of God,
    He chose not to cling to equality with God;
But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
    a servant in form
    and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
    obedient to death—
    a merciless death on the cross!
So God raised Him up to the highest place
    and gave Him the name above all.
So when His name is called,
    every knee will bow,
    in heaven, on earth, and below.
And every tongue will confess
    ‘Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,’
    to the glory of God our Father!”
I’m thankful that when I couldn’t get to God, He came to me. I’m grateful that it wasn’t me who found God, but rather it was He who found me. He wasn’t lost. I was. I’m mostly glad that He didn’t (and doesn’t) leave me where He found me but constantly makes me a little bit more like Jesus every day.
So, yeah, I suppose I do like that word condescension now.