Don’t Panic

“Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you” (Isaiah 41:10).

There’s a wonderful series of books called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which all sorts of sci-fi shenanigans occur and in which one electronic book features prominently, the book after which the series is named, On the cover in big friendly letters are the words “Don’t Panic!”

I think that’s very good advice for these uncertain days.

No matter which way you lean politically, the end is not nigh if the opposition wins. America is not done for if “they” win.

No matter how out of control you feel right now, despair will not have the last word.

No matter how much you avoid looking in the mirror because you detest the image looking back, those voices in your head will not have the last word.

God will have the last word. Jesus already had the last words when He cried out on the cross: “It is finished!”

For those who have clung to the cross as their last desperate hope, victory is the final word. Peace is the final word. Joy is the final word.

I have read the last word of the last page of the Great Story. It is Amen. The Bible ends with the promise that the final victory is for all those who will simply drop their pretenses and come.

That’s the invitation. Come to Jesus just as you are, not after you’ve cleaned yourself up and pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps and vastly improved your morality. Just come, you and your scars and regrets and shame. He will never cast out anyone who comes to Him in earnest faith.



The Prince of Peace

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s more hatred and violence. There’s more racism and division. I know ultimately that it’s not a hate issue or a race issue. It’s a sin issue.

It’s the sin that indwells the hearts of every man, woman, and child. It’s the same sin that indwells my own heart, the sin that causes me to not do what I want and to do what I don’t want to do.

That same sin issue won’t go away by electing the “right” President. It won’t go away by passing the “right” laws or by deporting the “wrong” people.

The answer to all the hate, violence, racism, and division lies within the Prince of Peace, who chose to keep silent in the midst of His own injustice and suffering.

He chose the wrongful death so  that we could live. He chose to bear the weight of my sin and shame so that I wouldn’t have to be a slave to it any longer.

That’s what brings me comfort on nights like these when the world outside seems to have lost its collective mind. There are a lot of talking heads out there offering a lot of different ideas about what can solve the mess we’re in, but only one real solution: Jesus.

The sobering thought is that I am just as sinful and in need of grace as those who shout racist epithets and those who riot and loot. In the deepest part of my heart, I see that same darkness. I see glimpses of what I am capable of apart from the incessant grace of God.

So I’m praying for peace to the Prince of Peace and resting in the promise that the victory over evil has already been won and that one day everything wrong will be made right.

A Great Definition of Repentence

“Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged” (J. I. Packer).

That’s it. I think for the longest time I figured that repentance was turning away from what I was doing wrong. It was ceasing to sin.

That’s only half the story. As a friend of mine once told me, you turn away from a sinful behavior, but you also turn toward something positive to replace the old bad habit.

Otherwise you end up like the man in the parable told by Jesus who had been possessed but did nothing to fill the void. He ended up worse off than he was before.

If you don’t replace the sinful behavior with a good and godly discipline, you will simply replace it with another bad or worse habit. The best example that comes to mind is the people at an AA meeting who are chain-smoking. They gave up one habit only to replace it with another.

As my pastor says often, repentance isn’t beating yourself up. It isn’t feeling bad about what you’ve done. It’s like driving in your car one way, doing a 180, and driving the other way. You turn from sin to God.

The older I get, the more I see how much I need to repent from. I also see that even my repentance is a gift from God. I see that God isn’t hovering over me, ready to berate me for my foolish behavior and poor choices. He’s wanting me to claim my true identity not as a sinner but as a child of God.

The more I see myself the way God does, the more I live out of victory instead of defeat. The more I live out of grace and obedience instead of sin and despair.


Thinking About Joseph

My church, The Church at Avenue South, started a new series on the character Joseph from the book of Genesis (along with all the other campuses of Brentwood Baptist Church).

It’s a very familiar story that I’ve heard literally all my life, yet there are new lessons I can learn from the story about how God redeemed one man’s misfortune to bless and save an entire nation.

Joseph didn’t start out so well. He had dreams about being in power over his father and brothers. His decision to tell his father and brothers about these particular dreams was not a wise one. He choose rather poorly.

Can anyone else relate? I know I can. There have been seasons in my life where I’ve been poor decision-prone and where I kept sticking my foot in my mouth in conversations.

The good news is that God is for all the Josephs of the world, even during those seasons of poor decision making. There’s not a mistake or even a fiasco that God can’t redeem and turn into good in the grander scheme of His unfolding story.

Like I said before, God took every negative from Joseph’s life and used it toward His purpose of saving a family and a nation through which would later come a Savior who would save people from every ethnic group and nation.

Did that excuse Joseph’s initial arrogance? No. Will it excuse mine? No. Will it defeat God’s purposes for me and for the world around me in which I live, work, and play? No.

I am never given an excuse for disobedience, but at the same time, God can take my bad decisions and weave even those into His overall redemptive plan. While my sin will still have consequences, it doesn’t have to mean the end of my story or God’s plans for me.

God is stronger than my weaknesses and my fears. I don’t have to be perfect to be useable. I just have to be available and willing.



Judges: A Book Review

So here I am, reading through the Bible again. I just finished the book of Judges. In my opinion, that has to be the most depressing book in the Bible.

In the first few verses of the book, it tells us that after the generation that claimed the Promised Land died out, the very next generation that came after didn’t know the Lord or what He had done for His people.

That didn’t take long.

There is a familiar pattern in judges, repeated ad nauseum. The people run after the next available god, fall into sin, get into trouble, and call on God. God sends a deliverer who bails them out and there is peace in the land — until another cheap idol shows up.

I read the Bible and I see the people of God by and large acting like anything but the people of God. It can be very frustrating.

Then I remember that I am one of those people of God. I find myself falling into familiar patterns of sin over and over, despite the guilt that remains from the last time. I find myself renewing the old promise of “never again,” which lasts until the next opportunity presents itself.

So I can relate.

I’m not excusing my (or anyone else’s sin). I’m just saying that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. It doesn’t have to be the familiar refrain.

I’m thankful for a grace that goes deeper and longer than any sin. I’m also thankful for a God who refuses to let me wallow in my self-destructive sin, but will provide me a way out. He won’t rest or quit with me until I am 100% sin-free.

I know that my story is your story. It’s the story of every child of God. But I also know that story doesn’t end with sin. It ends with grace.



I’m Dreaming of a Wet (and Humid) Christmas

So, apparently my dreams of a white Christmas will have to come true in my dreams. The forecast doesn’t look promising in the least.

Try a week of mid-60s to lower 70’s with rain forecasted for every day up to Sunday. Yep, Christmas will be green . . . and very wet.

Still, it will be Christmas. There will be gifts and food and candles and food and holiday apparel and food. Did I mention food? There will be food aplenty. The diet starts in 2016.

I’m learning to live out of eucharisteo, out of a mindset of joy and thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on all those rain clouds, I choose to see that when people like you and me couldn’t find a way to get to God, God found a way to get to us. To become one of us. To live and die as one of us.

But not just to live and die, but to live in perfect obedience the life that we could never live and to die as a perfect sacrifice to pay for the sin that we could never begin to work off.

That alone is enough for a million lifetimes’ worth of gratitude. That should be enough for me.

Advent is a season not only of awaiting and anticipating the arrival of the Emmanuel, bu also of remembering why He came in the first place. Advent stirs up gratitude and thanksgiving in the hearts of those who know where to look and what to look for.

So I’ll probably get my White Christmas courtesy of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. It’s still my favorite Christmas movie and it never fails to deliver the feels.

Then again, maybe the best kind of white Christmas is this one:

Come on now, let’s walk and talk; let’s work this out.
        Your wrongdoings are blood red
    But they can turn as white as snow.
        Your sins are red like crimson,
    But they can be made clean again like new wool” (Isaiah 1:18, The Voice).




Another Great Awakening

“I have heard the reports about You,
    and I am in awe when I consider all You have done.
O Eternal One, revive Your work in our lifetime;
    reveal it among us in our times.
As You unleash Your wrath, remember Your compassion” (Hab. 3:2).

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in and amongst the American churches in general.

We’ve lost the uniqueness that made us different from everybody else. The salt has lost its saltiness and the light has been hidden under a bushel of tolerance.

We know that the Bible calls us to love everybody and we’ve mistakenly believed that loving people means accepting any and all of their behaviors and lifestyle choices. We take the admonition not to judge to mean that we can never ever call out a person’s sin, even when that sin will ultimately lead to their destruction.

We haven’t spoken the truth, and when we have, we haven’t spoken it in love.

We’ve toned down or eliminated from our vocabulary those words deemed offensive by the culture around us. Very rarely anymore will you hear about the wrath of God or hell or sin or any of those topics. We assume that love would never do that.

We’ve tried so hard to fit in and be relevant that we’re no longer recognizable as a separate entity. The love we teach and preach isn’t the Agape Love of the Bible, but a touchy-feely love that is more transient than transcendent.

There has been at least one great revival in every century of this nation. Maybe if enough of us decide that the status quo of nice religion and self-help style of morality no longer works, we will seek with tears and sighs another great revival and not rest praying for one until the fire falls from heaven again.

I know that too often I am apathetic when it comes to God. I also know that I am far from being alone in this. We’ve grown too accustomed to the things of God that we no longer hold them as sacred. We no longer meditate on the glory and holiness of God and we forget that He is the Holy Other, not a bigger, stronger, faster, smarter version of us.

I write this with fear and trembling, hoping to err on the side of grace yet knowing that the church can only blame herself for the state of the nation. I don’t claim to have all the answers or to have it all figured out. I do know that more than someone telling us that “I’m okay,  you’re okay,” we need someone telling us of our great need for repentance.

I do know that I need Jesus. I know that we all need Jesus, especially in these desperate times.



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.


Thoughts About Rembrandt


Rembrandt has a painting called Raising of the Cross.

At first glance, there’s nothing unusual about it. There’s Jesus on the cross, being raised by a couple of others and being jeered at and mocked by the surrounding crowd.

But at second glance, you notice something different about the man in the middle. He’s wearing a blue beret. Why? Because it’s Rembrandt painting himself into the picture.

There’s a profound statement in that painting. Rembrandt basically says that he helped put Jesus on the cross. And so did I.

The hymn says that it was my sin that held Him there. Because of my sin, Jesus died.

Jesus paid the highest price for the sin that I sometimes treat so lightly. It’s almost as if I can sin casually, knowing that I will be forgiven and all will be well in the end. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls that cheap grace.

Sin may not bring punishment, thanks to Jesus, but there are always consequences to my sin. The more I sin, the less I can sense God’s presence. Jesus with all the sin of the world on Him, couldn’t sense God at all. His cry of “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” came out of that.

Sin kills me inside. It’s like a scar over an old wound where the nerves don’t work as well. Sin deadens me not only to God but also to others around me and ultimately, to myself.

Yes, I’m thankful for grace. I’m also thankful that when Jesus gets done with me, sin won’t be a part of my equation anymore. I won’t ever have to live with the shame and consequences of it ever again.

That’s what I’m looking forward to. Because the absence of sin means more room in my heart for Jesus. That’s the best part of all.

Again, I believe. Help my unbelief.


More of My Mind Blown at Kairos

Tonight, Uncle Mike (or Mike Glenn, as he is known to those outside of Kairos) spoke on the passage in Matthew where Pilate offers up a choice to the people.

“Whom do you want me to release today? Jesus or Barabbas?”

He does this hoping the crowd will want to release Jesus, but to his dismay, they ask for Barabbas instead.

“Don’t you know what kind of man this is? Are you sure you want this man over your Messiah?”

I’m sure Pilate thought but never spoke these words. Instead, he washed his hands of the whole business. Literally.

I wonder if you could have been close enough, would you have heard Jesus saying, “Release Barabbas”?

The truth of the matter is that Jesus chose Barabbas. Jesus chose to go to His death so that Barabbas could go free.

I would not have picked Barabbas. He was not a nice guy in the most extreme sense. But Jesus did.

Don’t forget that Jesus also chose you and me. He chose to die for you and me so that we could go free.

You might say that you’re not as bad as a Barabbas, but the Bible says you have sinned. I have sinned. We have all fallen short of who God made us to be. We had the choice and chose the other side over God.

But when God had a choice, He chose us. Jesus chose us over His own life.

My mind is once again officially blown.