Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Letters to My Sons: On the Loss of Innocence and Racism

Racism was a somewhat foreign concept for me. That may sound odd, or even ignorant, but it is true. I grew up in a home where basing an opinion off of someone’s color of skin was unthinkable. Everyone was equal. That wasn’t just a saying growing up for me. That was a way of life. I realized racism still existed, but it genuinely existed outside of my world.

College brought on complications. I remember a young man who lived in the room next to me. He tried to bring a gun with him to school because he was a black man who was now living in the south. It was protection for him against those who were white. I remember feeling uncomfortable in my interactions with him. He was so used to being discriminated against that he assumed I must be racist since I was white.

Obama’s election added to the confusion a few years later. I saw black friends rejected by their families for not voting with their race. I heard the racist comments made. The kind of comments you only heard in the movies to signify the bad guy. Again, I just never grew up around this and I felt a piece of innocence continue to die.

I had someone ask me if the Bible spoke against interracial relationships. I was surprised by the question. Scripture was full mixed race marriages, and it was normal to see where I grew up. The innocence continued to seem to die.

I turn on the news to hear of a young man so filled with hate that he would perform a heinous act of terrorism. His goal to kill black people, and instill fear in their hearts. I have a friend/co-worker who is a black man. I respect him a great deal. As we discuss this terrible act I can see a haunting thought in his eyes. There are people out there who would shoot him just because of the color of his skin. The innocence from my upbringing shatters.

I realize something in that moment that I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America. I will never experience the struggles and feelings. I do not have to wonder why someone would shot me because of the color of my skin.

What happened this week can leave people shaken. Innocence can shatter, and we wonder how change can take place. How can the meek and humble being noticed to invoke change? Where is God in those moments?

That is when I think back to my upbringing. That is where God was. In a situation where I was raised in a family that valued his truths of love and compassion. A truth that all of humankind was made in his image. The innocence may shatter, but the convictions of those truths can produce hardness of a diamond. Cared for and crafted in a loving home, but refined in determination through the trials the world thrusts upon us. Evil seems to lurk around every corner, but God engulfs us with His presence.

I cannot change the world over night, but I can start with a small action. I can raise my children in a home that is focused on the redemptive power of the gospel. A home that preaches the equality of mankind. It can be a home where my children will have every opportunity to fall in love with God and his truths. My children will receive the care and tenderness for all of mankind, but will go through life as I pray the pressure will bring out more diamonds.

So I sit here in my son’s bed writing this as he falls asleep. Perhaps this is a letter to my children on racism in a way. Boys, I will give you the innocence I had for as long as I can. The innocence is needed because it gives us purity. Not an innocence built out of ignorance, but out of hope that we can strive for something better.

The hard truth is that men in this world will ty and shatter that innocence. Don’t lose heart. Use it to refine your convictions, and drive your actions for a purpose that is counter to their evil. Actions that make you a lover of good. If all else fails remember C. S. Lewis in his words of Christ work in this world. “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bates his teeth, winter meets its death. And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Tonight my children sleep with a dangerous world surrounding them, but I pray their dreams are bright, there childhood filed with hope and love, and that it will go on for generations, and spread to all they meet. It won’t stop everything, but I can do all I can to spread the hope and truth my parents shared with me.

A Guy Named Brian

Yesterday was one of those rough kinds of days at work. I dealt with the kind of people you really never want to deal with. They were the kinds of people that you go way out of your way to avoid running into. People who were entitled, rude, crude, cruel, and frankly downright barbaric. It was a bad day. I was worn down, and ready to go home before the day was even half way over. I was spent.

Then I got a call from Brian. Let me tell you little bit about him. Brian is a pastor who is working on his Master of Divinity. He tells incredible corny jokes that your child in kindergarten comes home to tell you after hearing it from one of his classmates. He loves giving silly impressions of other people. Brian is the kind of guy that is full of life and just can’t help but try his hardest to spread it around. Brian is the kind of guy that is on a mission.

His mission is pretty simple whenever he calls into my office. He is determined to make his conversation with whoever he talks to become a bright and encouraging spotlight in their day. He works to bring a little joy and happiness into the life of another person. He knows people deal with the crummy stuff in life on a regular basis so he is extra purposeful to bring something different into the lives of others.

You see, Brian works very hard to bring encouragement and joy into others lives, but in the process he actually brings something much greater. Brian brings a little bit of hope. Hope that humanity can behave different when Christ takes control of their lives. Hope that not everyone in this world is entirely cruel and ugly. Proof that there are people in this world who want to make a difference in this world. Prof that there are people who genuinely want to give rather than just take.

Do you know what is funny? Brian blew al of that ugly people out of the water that day. His one conversation with me eradicated any of the negative conversations I had that day. I like to think God knew I needed Brian that day to get through the remainder of my day. He knew I needed a little bit of hope to penetrate through my dark day. Brian was willing to be used by God to accomplish that.

What’s the point to all of this? You and I have a choice. There are two kingdoms in this world working like mad to gain ground. One is the kingdom of darkness, and the other is the kingdom of God. When we interact with others we are making a choose to try and improve one kingdom over the other. When we respond with hatred and cruelty we are working for the wrong side. A little bit of joy and encouragement goes a lot further though. Your encouragement to a person could outweigh all the bad they experience that day.

So what do you want to do? Do you want to be like Brian, or like the countless and nameless others?

8 red flags in a church

A few months ago I read an article of a young woman who had left the Westboro cult. The individual interviewing her wrote a very fair and intriguing stance on her experience there. I think what stuck out to me most was how this young woman believed the environment she was in was healthy She believed she was genuinely helping others with the brainwashing teaching of the cult. She was oblivious to the unhealthy atmosphere she was in.

No local church is perfect. They all have their flaws because they are all made up of flawed individuals. If you read this article trying to figure out how to find the perfect church then you are out of luck. The perfect local church simply does not exist. However, I think there are some churches that can have an incredibly unhealthy bent towards views. This post is by no means comprehensive, and I would not even say each of these points alone would justify concern, but it should get you thinking. Here are some warning signs to pay attention to when looking for a local church.

1. The “Take my word for it” pastor. This is a dangerous one. You should always want a pastor that urges you to search the Scriptures for yourself. If a pastor is actively indulging you in just keeping to your weekly sermon fix then you would be in a very stunted spiritual life.

2. They ignore evangelism. A local church is not one that meets with its doors closed on Sunday morning. There needs to be outreach. There needs to be a passion for the lost. The church is not a club. When you are looking to get involved in a local church I urge you to ask about the churches vision on outreach. What do they want to see happen in their community? How are they going to accomplish that?

3. They are “untainted”. Sadly some local churches struggle with realizing that there are strong dedicated believers outside their church walls. Even people who disagree with them on small issues are incredible followers of Christ worth partnering with. Christianity can be made more exclusive than it actually is. This leads to point number four.

4. Legalism. This is a hard one to define. People often call something legalistic when it is not. People make the mistake of confusing personal sanctification with legalism. Legalism is essentially adding to God’s Law. We mess with the rules and put our personal moral standards on everyone else when Scripture is vague or even simply silent on the issue. Legalism says there is only way exact ay to do things. There is only one way worship can be done. There is only one way Scripture can be taught. There is only one way to do a church service. There is only one way to do a Bible study. Legalism often worships tradition of God.

5. KJV only. I realize I may step on toes with this one. I have zero problem with people preferring the KJV as their personal translation of choice. Whatever works best for you. However, if you take it a step to far in saying that KJV is the only inspired version of the Bible then there is a problem. This is beyond Biblical. If you are looking into a local church where this is the predominant view then expect to see this as just the tip of the iceberg over a host of red flags. Proclaiming one Bible translation as the sole inspired version is heresy. Some take it further than others. I have know of some who believe Jesus Christ Himself preached out of a KJV Bible. It’s just something you don’t want to get mixed up in.

6. Programs: numbers over purpose. I love good ministry programs. I love having healthy Christian fun. I love playing games. However, sometimes a church can be all fun and games, but miss the bigger purpose. What is the purpose to the programs the church has? Is it outreach? Training? Discipleship? I remember in High School there was an activity planned for the youth group. It was a ski trip. Our youth pastor told us this was for the purpose of inviting our friends to join us in the group who otherwise might not come for a regular Sunday night event. The end of the sign-up deadline hit, and all he had were kids in the youth group sign up so he canceled the event. Plenty of them got ticked, but he explained that in this youth ministry everything will be done for a purpose. It wasn’t about just having fun in our little club. We weren’t a youth group. We were a youth ministry. I’ve tried to have that same attitude ever since.

7. Truth with no love. You don’t want to get involved with a group that adds offense to the Gospel. We are told to speak truth in the world, but we are also told to be smart about it. It is so important to realize that local churches like these mean well. They are genuinely tying to help people. Be careful though as this attitude can become very contagious.

8. Love with no truth. his attitude is equally as contagious and equally as dangerous. To many local churches have adopted a social Gospel. The social Gospel is not the Gospel. The social Gospel tells us nothing about Jesus Christ. It tells us nothing about the need for Jesus Christ. It is simply about meeting the needs. Meeting the physical needs without dealing with the spiritual needs will not have the eternal impact needed. These churches also have the best of intentions at heart. These two red flags require such a delicate balance that can only come from depending on Christ fully.

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list. I would not even say any one of these issues constitutes need to leave or not choose a church. However, I have known many looking for churches, but struggle with knowing what they are looking for. I have seen many get wrapped up in local churches that are simply not healthy for their spiritual growth. I wish to leave you with one prevailing thought. Any church struggling with these issues can change with the power of Christ. As I said, no church is perfect. If you find yourself leaving a church with major issues do not condemn it with your thoughts. Pray for them. Pray that God would bring healing and correction. This is Christ’s church. Any local body he submits under his authority can be changed. This is not a church bashing post. This post is a warning, but also a post of hope. Just as Christ has changed wretched sinner like me, He may also change a local body needing course correction.

A Global Impact

I’ve changed the plans for my post today. Tomorrow I will pick back up on recognizing a fool, but it would seem wrong not to acknowledge the tragedy that took place yesterday. The bombing yesterday plays into the idea of folly in a way. We often look at foolishness as something negative, but never drastic in nature. In truth, events like these are the ultimate results of the fool. Foolishness leads to no hope and taking drastic action. A fool is incapable of seeing the light.

We look at tragedies like this and wonder how they can be prevented in the future. No doubt there will be discussion after discussion on how we can better secure our nation. There will be debates over how to keep things secure, but not infringe on the rights of the people. Debates will rage all in the name of preventing such tragedies. It’s not wrong to plan to prevent these tragedies. I even hope these discussion happen, but we still cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.

I spoke similarly when we were faced with the tragic school shooting in Newtown. In the end we leave with one simple question. How do we keep this from happening? We will look to different people for the solution. Many will look to the government to fix these problems. The reality is that the government can only treat symptoms to the real problem.

What if this man responsible for the bombing had received the gospel? What is he was completely sold out to the good news? His life would have been completely changed. His actions would have looked completely different. We know nothing about the person who did this. Perhaps he heard the gospel and rejected it. Perhaps he had never heard it at all. We cannot play the “what if” game t0o much. There is only one “what if” that I know would have brought about a drastically different result. What if this man had become a Christian?

We often focus on the change to the individual that receives the gospel. It is understandable since that is where we can recognizably see a difference. An individual who becomes a true believer will change his ways. He will live for God rather than himself. He will be sold out to a higher calling. The change to the individual is drastic, but the change does not end there. We often fail to realize the impact the gospel has on the individual’s encounters. The gospel does not just impact the individual. The gospel has an impact on how that individual behaves and treats others.

If this man had received the gospel before this bombing then hospitals would have been a little emptier this week. A mother and father would be tucking in their eight year old boy tonight rather than making preparation to lay him forever in the ground. Countless lives would not have changed for the worse in a single moment. The gospel does not just impact lives for the positive, it also prevents negative impact to countless others.

The truth is we cannot prevent every bombing. We cannot prevent every instance where a man walks into a crowded place to fire a gun. We cannot prevent terrorists from doing suicide bombings. We can share the gospel though. We can witness God’s power in the life of the individual, and thus be thankful that one more individual can go out in this world to bring about a positive impact in the lives of others. We can be thankful that we were not the man that made bombs to kill innocent lives. We can be thankful of the incredible power the gospel has on a global scale.

The gospel is not simply necessary for the individual. The gospel is the only thing all of creation needs. It is the only thing that can bring about change for the good of all. We live in a world where chaos often seem to reign supreme. A world where walls come crashing down. A world where even an eight year old boy cannot be safe at a family friendly event. The gospel can bring a little hope to this world though. It can remind us of the end game. An ending where all will be set right when the king takes his throne. An ending that marks a brand new beginning. A beginning where tears of sorrow will no longer be welcomed on faces. A beginning where hope is vindicated. A beginning where the gospels impact is recognizable to all. As we wait for that beginning let us cling to the gospel, and share it with all who will listen. It won’t just impact the individual who receives. The gospel will change the world.

Things to remember as we process the shooting in CT

Today’s shooting is…. hard to swallow. There are no amount of words in any language that can perfectly depict the evil that was witnessed by the world today. We look at something like this and try to make sense out of it. We wonder why such evil continues to roam this earth in order to cause destruction. There is something extra despicable about taking the life of a child. It feels as though evil takes the most innocent thing that can exist in this world and tarnish it beyond repair. Not only has this forever altered those who died, but for the children who went through this hell, and make no mistake, for them this was a living hell today.

I have rewritten this post over and over again. In the end I only have a few simple things to be reminding us on during this tragedy.

1. Pray. Pray for the families of those killed. Pray for the children who witnessed such evil. Pray for others who have the same urge to do something so evil as this gunman did. Pray for the souls Satan has in his grasp into deceiving them that life is chaos and the only thing to do is embrace its anarchy. Pray for the family of the gunman. Pray a prayer of thanksgiving that you were not the one who drove yourself to pull the trigger.

2. Remember we live in a world with sin. I don’t know how anyone could look at what happened today and say that sin does not exist. Seeing this tells us there is a clear problem in the world. Something deep inside of us even says that this is not how it is supposed to be. I hate that we still live in such a cursed world. It saddens me that we still must see such evil. There is no real answer to this. I don’t know why God continues to wait. All I know is that I need to continue to wait on the Lord.

3. Pity that captive, hate the captor. It is easy to want to have hatred towards this man who did such evil. My heart breaks that a man was so troubled that he did this. I cannot begin to imagine what one must have gone through to reach such a breaking point.

4. Remember now more than ever why we celebrate. Yes we saw evil today, but God is still our salvation. The only thing worth hoping for in this world is over the birth of our savior.

5. Its ok to not have the answers. Many of us will face the rebukes of those who use an incident like this to proclaim there is no God because surely a loving God would never allow this to happen. It may be easy to say God has a plan in all of this (which is true). It is easy to say He loves us so much that we have a choice to rebel against Him. However, there is a time and a place. People will be angry about this and feel the need to grieve. Let them release some of that grief.

6. Pray for Christ to return quickly. The prophets waited in anticipation for the first coming of the Messiah. They were anxiously waiting because they understood the desperate need for a savior. I think we need to have that same earnest passion to see the return of Christ.

7. Do good while we wait. Last night before this incident I was meditating on the common argument made by people against God. They talk about how there is so much evil in the world and the world is such a messed up place. I notice they rarely try and do anything about it though. I urge you all to cast back the darkness by shedding a little light into this world. Our jerk reaction is to cry out against the evil which we should. This was an evil act. Rarely do we ever get passed the crying out into a phase where we try and replace what is evil with some hope and joy. The world needs it now more than ever.

In the end I leave you with this song.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’