Carried Away…

Image result for open highway     Source: Google Images

Sin fundamentally, is rooted in a lack of faith in the goodness of God. Therefore, every temptation is an invitation to distrust God.

Been a long time since we’ve talked, but there’s no time like the present right?

Have you ever been driving on the freeway for a while and out of nowhere you found yourself in your driveway? I’m talking about the that “I can’t even recall the last 10 miles” type situation. Or is it just me?

I imagine if you’ve had your driver’s license for any extended period of time, it has happened to you.  Somehow, some way, your mind drifted off into outer space or you were so intently focused on some music, a podcast or even your own thoughts, that your subconscious literally carried you home.  It’s a scary feeling because the one time you NEED to be fully engaged and paying attention to what is happening is while driving a vehicle; especially in California. Yet, we’ve all been there and you can’t ever pinpoint exactly when you fell into a vehicular stupor you just know you did.

This is how James, the brother of Jesus, describes the process of sin coming into fruition in a person’s life (believer or unbeliever).  Most of the time when we sin, we tend to focus on the action itself and even more so, we try to find all types of reasons to shirk responsibility, like: 1) Blaming other people; 2) Blaming life’s circumstances; or 3) Blaming God.  James says, “Nah bro/sis!”, it was your own doing.  In fact here’s exactly what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away (NASB = ‘carried away’) and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15

James intimates (I love this word by the way) that what we really believe about God is revealed in how we respond to temptation/sin.  Ever since the Fall, we humans have become expert blame-shifters, always looking for a way out, but James, pulling no punches, says, “You are to blame!”. Every time we give into temptation it is because we wanted to and have chosen to. Period. And to be clear, when connecting these verses with the previous verses he exonerates God (as if God needed any help) by basically saying, Douglass Moo writes, “God tests, but He never tempts.”  Therefore, the moment we even fix our mouths to blame God, we’ve revealed that our theology (or what we think about God) is deeply flawed.

What helps me in this passage is that James doesn’t just state the obvious end result (which is sin), but he communicates how and why it happens.  In other words, there is a process and that process begins when we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil/sinful desires (v.14).  Let the weight of that statement sink in.

Yes, having evil/sinful desires such as lust, greed, pride, are bad and unfortunately a reality we all have to endure until the Day we’re released from the presence of sin when Jesus returns (even so, come Lord Jesus). However, James says, what’s even worse is when we let these desires drag or carry us away so far that it results in the actual commission of sin.

If you notice the order of the passage he doesn’t say we are enticed then carried away, but the other way around. We are carried away and then enticed by our own evil desires.  That means an opportunity to sin presents itself after we’ve allowed our hearts/minds to be carried away.   The imagery is that of hunting/fishing.  You usually catch something after it has drifted off the path or away from the pack. Then you entice it with the bait.   So then, when we take our focus off of following Christ and engaging in healthy fellowship with His Church, our wandering, fickle hearts naturally drift away towards any and everything or to bring it home more closely, “your thing”/”my thing”.  It happens so subtlety and just as it is hard to pinpoint exactly when we drifted off driving, the same applies here.  All we know, according to James, is that it happened and we are the only ones to blame be cause we allowed those desires to simmer until they boiled over into sin. Ouch!

What’s the solution? For James, the answer is simple; trust God. You probably grimaced at that statement. Like how dare me tell you to just simply “trust God” as if it were that easy. I wonder though if our understanding of faith is not all that it should be. We tend to think of faith in terms of passivity, but what if is more of a verb than a noun?  A.W. Tozer defined faith as, “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God” (Ch. 7 – The Pursuit of God). If he is right (and I believe he is), then the way we combat temptation, the way we overcome our innate evil desires and walk in the victory secured by Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection, is to constantly fix our eyes on Him, in everything. In our work, in prayer, in the Word, in ministry, in fellowship, in parenting, in marriage, in singleness, in everything! Look to Him (through the Spirit), our all-sufficient, wonderful savior, who reveals to us our good, good Father from whence every good and perfect gift comes; even trials. Trust HIM!

If you’re struggling with sin right (and we all are), identify who/what it is your soul has been gazing upon and quickly now turn your eyes (the eyes of your heart/mind) to Jesus.  Our safety and our victory lies not in the ever-changing seasons, circumstances, desires of life and our hearts, “…but in God’s immutability” (Thomas Manton). He never changes, He never fails and has promised to reward us with what ever we need so long as we diligently seek Him, keep our gaze fixed on Him, rely ultimately on Him (see Hebrews 11:6) and above all don’t get carried away!  When it gets are, ask Him for help.  He stands willing and waiting to supply exactly what we need the moment we need it.  I’m reminded of that old hymn that goes:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each victory will help you or some others to win
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus and He’ll carry you through
Just ask the Savior to help you
To comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you
And He will carry you through
(Horatio Palmer, 1868)
What a good word for all us- “HE will carry us through”.  When we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil desires, He loves us more than we love ourselves by carrying us through this life and into the next.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Re-adjusting my focus,

T.

One Nation, Divided – Part 2…Crooked Sticks and Straight Lines.

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God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.

You may have heard this statement in a sermon or seen it somewhere online attributed to the likes of Martin Luther or Thomas Watson.  Regardless of its origin (my google research could not pinpoint it sadly), it is both a humbling and hopeful statement. Let’s break down the statement in order to see how powerful a statement it really is.

  1. God  –  the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe.  The Faithful, covenant-keeping, Sovereign, doesn’t need anything or anybody, supremely Holy, incomparably Perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient, All-Wise deity of the Old and New  Testaments.
  2. Uses – chooses to involve in His plans.
  3. Crooked Sticks – broken, deeply flawed, raggedy, undeserving men and women.
  4. To make straight lines – to accomplish His unchanging, unfailing purposes for the sake of His glory (His renown and fame) and good of His people.

Let that sink in deeply…

This isn’t some pithy, feel-good statement, this notion is found inside and outside of the Bible.   Don’t believe me? Read the Biblical accounts of:

  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Saul
  • David
  • Cyrus
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Isaiah
  • Jonah
  • The Disciples
  • Judas
  • Paul

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a sample of names to highlight my point.  There has never been a time in history, outside of Jesus, where God did not use woefully broken men and women.  The truth is, “God uses broken people because broken people are all there are.” – T. Tchividjian

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know most of these guys are legends. You also know that some of these guys directly opposed and often tried to the thwart the plans and purposes of God, yet to no avail. However, in His wise providence, God used these men in one way or another to accomplish the very things they were trying to stop.

The Problem

This election cycle, two crooked sticks ran for President of the United States.   People on both sides were desperately trying to convince the country of two things: 1) Their crooked stick wasn’t that crooked; 2) The other crooked stick was way more crooked than what met the eye.  This election was no different from any other election in the sense that there was no perfect candidate (as if there ever was or ever will be). However, this election was different in the sense that it wasn’t just about two different philosophical political ideologies, this election had an additional element; fear. As Greg Popovich, the rich white (self-described) Head Coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (which I hope the Lakers beat every single time this year) frustratingly stated,

“I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” (Source: mysanantonio.com)

He went on to say how Donald Trump used fear mongering and race baiting rhetoric from day one trying to delegitimize the presidency of the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama.  I am fully on board with Pop’s comments and where I resonated with him most was regarding his feelings of shock and awe surrounding the loud declaration and silent affirmation of most of the Evangelical Church, especially those brothers and sisters of a lighter hue.  I can’t tell you how many posts I read this election cycle from followers of Christ who blatantly diminished or silently ignored the abominable words and actions of Donald Trump.  Time after time, people pointed to the Bible and abused the notion that “God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.” Time after time, people celebrated DJT’s business accomplishments while glossing over his moral failures.  Oddly enough, a former college mate and fellow african-american made the claim that, “Our God can do more through a King Cyrus (Trump) than He can with a Jezebel (Clinton). Think about it…” Not only is this bad exegesis, but it is symptomatic of a larger issue within the Church of America.  While God did use Cyrus and while Jezebel was a terrible woman, there is no way anyone can justify parading and celebrating DJT as the Church’s “vote” just as much as Israel should not celebrate Cyrus as a man of God.

Let me go on record (again) and state that this is not a pro-Clinton post. In fact, I chose to write-in another crooked stick due to my lack of trust and disgust with the two main candidates.

The point I want to make is that because God uses crooked sticks, it does not mean every crooked stick is for Him and the Church especially would do well not to pledge their allegiance to the Cyruses of this world regardless of what we “think” they might do.  God uses crooked sticks, but we must never excuse or ignore how crooked the sticks really are.  This election cycle revealed just how far the Evangelical Church (and more specifically the 80% of white evangelicals who willfully chose DJT, celebrated him, and called him God’s answer) would go for the preservation of itself and/or America (those two are used interchangeably these days unfortunately).  Some will argue and say they voted for a platform, not a person.  My retort is that this election was much more than perpetuating a particular political platform.  This election was the Church’s opportunity to choose people over politics and I fully believe this was not the case for almost 60% of Protestants in general and 80% of white evangelicals.

There were other options.  There are always other options.

I know what some may be thinking at this point, well geez Terry, no one would ever be fit for the Office of President following your train of thought.  I keep going back to my statement that this was not a normal election.  The aftermath of riots and violence (perpetuated by both sides no less) proves that.  The Trump era has kicked off with a bang and not in a good way and the Church has to take responsibility for it.  A friend and fellow Pastor eloquently summarized Part 1 of this series by stating this isn’t about guilt, but responsibility.  Thanks, Steve.  The choice was made and now we must grapple with the consequences that are a direct result of that choice.

Why I’m Hopeful

We have no idea what the future holds for this country or any other country for that matter.  I am choosing personally, not to worry or to be afraid according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34.  I am choosing to hope rather than despair as Paul encourages believers in Romans 8:28-39.  Ultimately, I am hopeful because God has used crooked sticks before,  like the men listed above, and He can certainly use President-elect Donald J. Trump if He chooses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was one name left off of the list above purposely and not because it doesn’t belong there; it most certainly does.  God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines and I more than anyone know that to be true because for some odd reason, He still chooses to use me.

Hoping in Christ,

Terry

One Nation, Divided – Part 1…Am I My Brother’s Keeper? (For Pastors and Leaders)

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DISCLAIMER: I do not speak for all of “Black America” or African-American Pastors.

Tuesday night I decided to go to bed earlier than usual. Mainly because I did not want to stay awake and watch the inevitable happen.  I wanted to escape the reality that Donald Trump, an arguably well-documented racist, misogynist, xenophobe and sexual assaulter was going to be the next President of the United States of America for at least four years.  So I went to sleep and around 2am I was up again and happened to check my phone to see what time it was and staring me in the face were texts from friends who were in total shock.  It turned out that I could not escape it and eventually went back to sleep fully aware that the proverbial poop had hit the fan.

I should probably state at the onset that I was not a supporter in principle or by vote of Mrs. Clinton either and this contrary to many of my brothers and sisters of the same hue.  In fact, I had previously given up on politics for a period but felt this season was the prime opportunity for the nation, for the Church, to do something different.  I felt that with at least one of the candidates, there was no way followers of Jesus Christ would rally around such a person regardless of his political affiliation.  I thought for sure, those who call themselves “evangelicals” would choose people over politics; I was wrong.  Many of us were so wrong.

I woke up the next morning as a Pastor who happens to be black and asked myself what would I tell my multi-ethnic church? What would I tell my friends? How would I encourage people who I knew were just as confused as I was (am).  Beyond that, how would I encourage those who were now suddenly distraught and afraid of what the future might look like for them; for us? Even today there are outbreaks of protests and violent attacks (albeit on both sides) like we’ve never seen after an election.  It is not the typical go back to business as usual week.  Honestly, I knew then and still know the answer is in our great creed: Jesus is Lord. I know that, I believe that and with a high view of the Sovereignty of God (don’t check out on me now), I boldly proclaim that. Yet, in a strange way it (the Creed) felt and feels hollow.

I struggled most of the day with that thought and was trying to figure out what to say. I took to Facebook because, you know, Facebook.  Then it hit me. I understood why the timeless creed felt hollow in this moment.  My Facebook feed was full of men and women of color (not all but the majority and not only just people of color) who seemed like they woke up IN a nightmare.  Conversely,  there was another group (mainly white evangelicals, not all but most) on my feed who in sum, thought that this was one of the greatest victories for America.  I was floored, but then I remembered leaders like Wayne Grudem, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and so many other Pastors and leaders were some of the loudest proponents of Donald Trump’s presidency.  These well-respected men made it okay to overlook blatant flaws in character and a highly questionable track record.  Then, I started reading article after article about the number of white evangelicals (upwards of 80%) who pledged to vote and/or voted for Donald Trump.80%, let that sink in.

At this present moment, the creed feels hollow because I and many other brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, feel abandoned and betrayed by our white brothers and sisters who voted for Donald Trump. I know there has always been disparities in both parties when it comes to philosophical and even theological differences and that’s not even the point of this post, but Tuesday’s message from white evangelicals (80% mind you) rang loud and clear: “We choose politics over people.”  There is even a sense of betrayal and abandonment from those who did not vote for Trump due to the lack of shared outrage on behalf of their Christian brothers and sisters.  We may or may not agree on this, but I do hope you hear me when I say that in my mind, indifference towards the results of this election is an exercise in white privilege.  The rhetoric spewed by Donald Trump during his campaign has given minority groups every reason to react the way many have reacted.  The easy thing to do is to dismiss the reactions of people of color and other minority groups due to some of the unhealthy ways people’s emotions are being expressed.  In many ways this dismissive attitude adds to the pain and drives the wedge of separation deeper and wider.  This is not the time for any of us to be spectators, but participants and agents of the Christ’s Kingdom especially among the household of faith.

Hopefully we can all agree that minority groups have been oppressed, marginalized and ignored for years, even at and by the hands of white evangelicals and this Tuesday I thought, many of us thought, the Church would finally get it right and for whatever reason (only the Lord knows – He who ultimately elevates and eliminates kings/kingdoms) Donald Trump is our new President.  I say that resting and trusting that Jesus is still Lord and King of kings.  I also say that fully aware that there is a large contingent of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to reconcile either one or both of those two statements and this Sunday we all have to stand in front of our congregations and declare both of those statements to be true.  Only the Lord knows what the future holds and for the Christian, our hope lies ultimately in a King and a Kingdom to come, but today we must engage the vicissitudes of the present.

Whether or not your church and/or staff is multi-ethnic, chances are someone in your church is related to, knows or is acquainted with someone who is hurting, fearful, disheartened and feeling hopeless at this very moment.  I am encouraging and urging all of you not to stop at the two obvious statements, but to send out a clarion call to mourn with those who are mourning, to minister to those who are hurting, to listen to those who feel they have no voice or feel they are on the verge of the losing their voice. Not in an effort to pacify or “fix” them, but to simply love them in these ways.  Regardless of our stance(s), regardless of our affiliation(s), I am desperately asking all of us to choose people over politics now and every day. Are we are brothers’ keepers? Yes, we are.

Just another Brother in Christ,

Terry

Hurting, But Hopeful!

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I love my friends who serve in Law Enforcement, I respect what you do, seriously. At some point though, enough has to be enough. This whole Terence Crutcher situation is the reason why I sit with Kaepernick. This is why I affirm the principle (please read that last word 80 times then keep reading forward) “black lives matter”. This is why I hope the Seahawks lose every single game this season. This is why the anthem means very little to me right now. This is why if you deny systemic oppression, I won’t even engage in conversation with you anymore. Ignorance is one thing, perpetual ignorance is bigotry, especially if you have social media (huge statement, I know).

Suffice to say, I am done arguing facts.

This issue is also bigger than just “my African-American community”; this is about the Kingdom of God for me. So I will keep fighting, keep pushing, keep praying, keep checking myself, keep asking, keep knocking, keep seeking because the Gospel compels me too; with or without you. This isn’t about being right and winning an argument. There is no satisfaction to be found in being right about the realities of injustice and systemic oppression towards people of color. I understand these things may make some of you uncomfortable and may cause your feelings to be hurt. However, black lives > your feelings.

P.s. I could have a change of heart and I’m open to that.

P.s.s I don’t hate white people or America or cops or Republicans or Democrats or Unicorns. Not even a little bit. I’ve said it before, it’s hard to hate people you do life with. Who do you do life with? Not just occasionally play basketball with or see at church or see at Starbucks or sit across from them in a cubicle. I mean genuine relationships. Like you would have them house sit for you and let them eat up to the food in your fridge.

Dear Bathsheba…

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Source: http://oldandnewproject.com

Dear Bathsheba,

I thought I knew your story, until I read your story.  I had heard your story my whole life but I never took the time to fully read and comprehend your story. For that I am sorry.  I am sorry because having finally read your story, I realize that we have treated you unfairly. We have painted a portrait of you that bears no resemblance. We have called you “the adulteress”, “the harlot”, “the seductress”, “immodest” and a host of other erroneous descriptions that do not fit you or tell your story correctly.

I cannot even imagine how you felt the night everything changed.  How were you supposed to know the King was even home when he was supposed to be at war (2 Samuel 11:1)? For the record, I have no reason to believe that you did anything to elicit his attention that night.  You were and are a victim of abuse at the hands of someone you thought you would be able to trust. A man you thought had more respect for himself, his people, even one of his own mighty men Uriah (2 Samuel 23:39), and his God. Who knew that the man after God’s own heart would squeeze God out in order to take advantage of his position and power just to spend a few moments with you? Yet, that is exactly what happened. You were violated, you were raped, then, to cover up his dirt, this same man had your husband killed and was the cause of your baby’s death.

One impulsive, lustful act transformed you from being a law abiding woman (2 Samuel 11:4) into a wounded widow who eventually became another fixture in the King’s long list of wives. You did not deserve that and you do not deserve to be treated like we have done throughout history via Sunday school stories, sermons, works of art, film or any other medium. We owe you a huge apology and I personally want to admit my guilt in having believed (in ignorance) a lie.

Your story is a far too common story and it should not and does not have to be that way. You too bear the image of our Creator and should be regarded just as precious as anyone else. Especially, from those of us who have been given the charge to lead. You are not a second-class citizen of the Universe. You are not collateral and you are not property. You are a woman, created and loved by God for his eternal purpose.

My intent in this letter then is threefold: 1) to apologize for how we have treated you and your story and for allowing David’s “greatness” to overshadow his sinfulness; 2) to affirm your value and your worth as an image bearer of God; and 3) to accentuate the fact that your life did not end that night.

You may feel as if you have nothing else to live for. You may feel that the wound is too deep and the scars to visible. You may feel less than because of what happened to you.  You may question and doubt the goodness of God. Besides, how could a good God allow this to happen to you? You may feel like your life as you know it is over. You may feel like life is not worth living. You may feel like you can never love or be loved again. You may feel like you are alone. You may feel like no one cares about your pain and your hurt. You may feel like there is no justice for Bathsheba. You may feel like it was your fault for taking a bath that night. You may feel that this is all your fault and that you deserved all of it.

I plead with you to not believe the lies and fight through the doubt.  You are not less than, you are a daughter of the Creator of the Universe. You are not alone; we see you and stand with you (I am not the only one who feels this way and acknowledge the others who share my feelings). There is a countless number of people who know your pain (experientially) and feel your pain (compassionately).  It is not your fault, none of it.  I do not know why God allowed it to happen to you, but I can say that God has a way of turning tragedy into triumph.  I say that not to downplay or trivialize your experience, but to offer you hope. Your life didn’t end that night. David did not put the final punctuation mark on your life when he hurt you. He is but a man, but God is one with the pen in his hand and I can assure you that the night you were raped, that was not the end of your sentence.  In fact, this is truly how the sentence of your life reads, “And on that night Bathsheba was raped, but God.”

Who knows what will happen next?  Perhaps you will get the justice you deserve.  Perhaps, you will continue to trust God in and with your time of grief and healing . Perhaps, God will use your story to show others His goodness despite the tragic circumstances they face. Perhaps, God will even use you to usher in a greater a Kingdom; a Kingdom with no end.  I can see it now, “Bathsheba, the great-great-great-great-great…grandmother of the King of Kings!”

Hold on to life, hold on to God. It won’t always be like this.

Sincerely,

Terry

God Will Judge with Equity

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Rainbow Bridge – Odaiba Island – Minato, Tokyo, Japan

Kon ni chi wa (Hello!) from Tokyo, Japan.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would visit this country, but I’m here anyways and it is fantastic.  However, Tokyo isn’t the main subject of this post (I’ll do a full post of our adventures some other time).

Being in a far away, foreign land isn’t as bad as I imagine it was “back in the day”.  In fact today, with the presence of social media (and healthy wi-fi) you really don’t have to miss a beat. Since being in Tokyo, we typically end the night going through photos taken throughout the day and maybe catching up on things back home.  Social media then, has been a gift because we are able to keep up with all sorts of cool things taking place across the water.  However, the flip side is that because of social media we get to see all of the terribly dark and horrific things taking place back home as well.

With all of the election drama going on and starting (but not yet finishing) the new portrayal of “Roots”, I was actually glad to be able to get away from the States for a bit. As a result, being in Tokyo has been the reinforcement I needed to remind me that the world is much bigger than the US and in the grand scheme of things, our problems, my problems are but a blip on the global radar. Yet still, because of the pull of social media and my (sometimes unhealthy) attraction to it, I can’t help but to have one eye on the amazing sights here and another on my home country.

As I lay on this Shiki futon in Tokyo while dark clouds have formed and are about to bring forth seasonal rainfall, a dark cloud hangs over my home country. Sadly, these days this is a recurring theme.  Once again the nation is hurting, families are hurting.  Once again, there is this thunderous sound of voices all jockeying for position to be heard.  There are no shortages of commentary and opinions on the recent events in Orlando and other headlines. People are talking, people are arguing, people are asking questions, people are providing “answers”; everyone has something to say.  The temptation for me is to throw my voice in the imaginary ring and vie for a space and opportunity to be heard.  Yet, I fight to restrain myself and refrain from being a part of the noise especially in times like these.

Contrary to popular belief and practice, in times like these it’s all the more important for us to be:

“…quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

Why?

“For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20)

Instead, I will simply remind you of what my wife and I were reminded of this morning as we read a chapter from the Psalms.  At the end of day, when we don’t have the words to say or when there are too many words being said, we ought to take a step back and hear the voice of God.  When all other voices become clanging cymbals and when all other voices eventually fade out (until the next “big thing”), God’s Word will remain faithful and true; it (nor He) never fails. Listen to this:

We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.

“At the set time that I appoint
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
    and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high,
    or speak with haughty neck.’”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.

But I will declare it forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up. – Psalm 75 (ESV)

May His words (Word) be the foundation upon which you stand.  May they fill you with hope and peace. And finally, may they even be the basis for the words you choose to speak and the life you choose to live. For Christ’s sake, amen.

Listening to and for Him,

T.

 

 

Let Us Pray…

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“Prayer is our Christian duty. It is an expression of submission to God and dependence upon Him. For that matter, prayer is arguably the most objective measurement of our dependence upon God. Think of it this way. The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.” – H.B. Charles

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say my prayer life needs some work; like a lot.  If I am alone, then well, that sucks.  At any rate, I was driving to my hotel after work (out of town) and I may or may not have come across some Facebook posts while in traffic and something (OK, the Holy Spirit) struck me.  Most of us are guilty of posting and expressing our emotions (for better or for worse) on social media in an effort to release and reach out for the attention of others (for better or for worse), yet there is a far better medium/platform in which to do so. This medium/platform however, isn’t for the masses or seeks the attention of many, it is for an audience of One.  I am talking about prayer. If you’re like me this was an “oh yeah” moment. You see, prayer is that thing most of us turn to as a last resort and even then we do so hesitantly and/or frustratingly.  Rhetorically, what if prayer wasn’t designed as a last resort?  What if instead of releasing and expressing our emotions publicly (on social media mainly), we expressed ourselves to the One who is always present, always listening, always active and never-failing.  When I read through the Psalms, this is what the likes of King David and others did throughout their lives.  Though used in public and private settings, the Psalms often contain prayer language directed toward Yahweh.

Could it be that the ills and frustrations of life weigh us down so much because we choose to talk to everyone else about are problems except God?  Could it be that the reason we experience little to no peace in our circumstances is because we have left out the One who is our Peace?  Could it be that prayer is just not asking God for stuff, but more of an ongoing conversation between a loving Father and an ultra-dependent child?  Could it be that our first response (joyful or mournful) ought to be to fall on our knees in prayer instead of our final response?

I know for many of us that our prayer life isn’t where it could be due to distractions (sinful and not sinful) and we are due for a much needed prayer overhaul.  If you are like me, you probably don’t need to buy or read another book on prayer although books on the subject have proven to be useful.  If you are like me, you don’t need to look up anymore famous quotes on prayer to be inspired.  If you are like me, neglect in prayer is probably due to a neglect of Scripture that teaches and admonishes us to pray.  So don’t take my word for it, here is is what the Bible says (emphasis mine):

  • 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. – Romans 12:10-13
  • 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –  Phil 4:6-7
  • 8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. – Psalm 62:8

There are countless other passages on prayer and even entire teachings of Jesus devoted to prayer  like in Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13.  The point is to let life’s circumstances fuel your prayer life and even more than that, allow Scripture to fuel your prayer life.  If you are like me, you just need to pray.  There is really no excuse for any of us and we are the ultimate losers because we miss out on fellowship with God and the peace He promises to give.

So since we live in a world of #(insert)challenge‘s, I challenge all of us to pull away from the enter/send/post button and draw near to The “present help in time of trouble (and victory)”. #LetUsPray

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

– Joseph Scriven

In Christ,

Terry

 

Real Hope for Real Grief (Part 2)

Lighthouse
I have to admit that when the Holy Ghost (I’m feeling rather charismatic tonight) first put it on my heart to write about death and our response to it, I was very hesitant. Death is such a touchy topic and anyone who is anyone has at some point been affected by its reality. With that being said, I want to start this last post off by conveying that my intentions are not to cause anyone more pain than has already been experienced. I also do not want to minimize or trivialize death by painting this picture that from a Christian perspective, death is “cakewalk”. Instead, I want to paint the picture the Bible paints; a picture that includes suffering and joy, hope and loss, grief and glory.

I really believe that in order to grasp its depth (if that is even at all possible); we must look at both sides of the coin.

The Bad and the Ugly
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17, N KJV)

These words though recorded by Moses, were spoken by God to Adam, humanity’s representative. Another way to put the latter portion of that verse would go like this, “…for the moment you choose to disobey me, choose yourself over me, choose to commit cosmic treason (as R.C. Sproul puts it), you will be separated/cut off from this world (eventually) and from Me (ultimately).”

Death is a byproduct of sin. It exists because man is sinful and God is holy. Sin demands justice and justice is served by death. God did not intend for death to be a part of His marvelous created order, yet he allowed it. He allowed it because His wrath would only be satisfied by it, but also because He had every intention of using it to “reverse the curse.”

Let this sink in…Our sin is so great and so damaging that it takes the loss of life and separation from God to rectify it. We are all guilty of sin and are affected and corrupted by it. Sin has so radically corrupted everyone and everything, that no one can escape death nor the realities of it. Death stinks! Man and his choices stink!

The Good
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John11:25-26, NKJV)

Talk about a shift in perspective…

This passage in the Gospel According to John is just as real as the passage in Genesis. In John though, we find out that God allowed death to become a reality, but not finality. This passage reminds us that God can take terrible circumstances and use them for the good of His children and ultimately for His Glory. Yes it is true, “ALL things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NKJV)

As my good friend and fellow elder John Comfort always point out, here’s another example of the double-edge nature of life. On the one hand, we have this terrible reality that people are removed from this world, separated from God because of sin (in general). Yet, because of Christ there is another reality operating concurrently that screams, “Death is not the end!”

The bridge then is Christ. He makes joy possible in the face of suffering. He brings hope when we’ve experienced loss. He points us to glory while we grieve. It all happens “in Christ”; and in Christ alone.

Our first representative, Adam, led us to sin and death. Our second Adam, Jesus, leads to righteousness and life through His death AND resurrection. Because He satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of humanity death though very real is swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).

This leads me to the crux and conclusion of this post. Often times when seemingly “good people” and close loved ones die, a lot of Christians tend to send people to heaven because the thought of the loved one or “good person” makes sense and eases the pain. I have gone to countless funerals and read countless posts where people have presumed that because a person has done so many good things or may have said a prayer at some point in their earthly lives, they’re in. Regardless of the person’s theology and lifestyle, heaven is the only option.

Most people would probably never openly pronounce at a funeral that the deceased person’s eternal destination is hell, but why should that give us license to claim heaven for that person, when there is no real indication that is true. In John 11 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (the passage I used in Part 1, the writers mention multiple times that the person who lives/will live in eternity with God in heaven, is the person who lived/died “in Christ”. This is the person whose life was hidden in Christ (cf. Colossians 3:3-4). This is the person whose life was radically transformed by Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-17). This is the person whose life was characterized by Christ-likeness (cf. John 15:1-11) and the list goes on.

When we disregard a deceased person’s life and send them to heaven presumptuously, we do no damage to that person (for their eternal destination has already been set), instead, we do damage to those who remain alive. What we communicate is that there is no need to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this life, because “doing good things” covers you. What we communicate is that Scripture is true inasmuch as it doesn’t affect our ability to cope with the reality of death. What we communicate is false hope.

As Children of the Word we must stand firm on the truth of Christ that He is the only way to God and heaven; the only way. Painfully, this means that every family member will not be there on that Day. This means that countless amounts of people, who did good deeds but rejected Christ, will not make it. This means that we must be serious about this life if we want to be with Christ in the next. This means we have to be all the more diligent and zealous to proclaim the glorious, death-defying, soul-saving, bondage-breaking, new life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ to our family members, co-workers, celebrities; everybody. That whosoever will, “come” to the fountain of everlasting life. We must remind ourselves and tell others that if there is to be any hope in grief, any consolation for our pain, any joy in our sorrow, it must be by, through and in Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry, to final breath;
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Hoping in Christ,
Terry

Real Hope for Real Grief (Part 1)

Every day we are faced with the reality that people die.  I know that’s probably not a good way to start off a post, but I have to believe that the best way of dealing with reality (bad, good or indifferent) is to face it head on.  So this post is my attempt to go right at it…

The Lie

I have become increasingly disheartened as of late with how people respond to the death of others; whether it be those of a “high-profile” nature or close family members whom the majority of the world never knew existed. I have found that the common coping mechanism used to combat death is false hope.  Here are a few phrases that have become increasingly popular these days:

“I now have a guardian angel (insert deceased person’s name) to watch over me.”

“God must have needed an angel.”

“He/she is in a better place now (regardless of how the person lived).”

“He/she left such a lasting legacy of good words and deeds, surely our lost and heaven’s gain.”

The list goes on…

However comforting or soothing these words sound, they are (for the most part save the third one) built on lies and unfounded in Holy Scripture.  At best, they can only provide false hope.  That’s not the worse part though; the worst part is that as I scroll down my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, these words emanate from the hands and mouths of professing Christians.  Christians who have the very words of God near them.  Christians who claim to have the Spirit of God in them.  Christians who pledge their allegiance to the One whom declared Himself to be (and rightfully so) the Truth (John 14:6).  Yet, perpetuate lies that may temporarily ease the pain caused by grief and loss.  It is evidenced by statements like these that many ignore sound doctrine or aren’t being exposed to it as they should.  As a Pastor, it pains me.  It pains me that instead of offering and communicating true hope in Christ, we settle for lies; lies that do more damage than good.

So then, it is my responsibility as a Pastor and brother in Christ to point to the truth.  To find this truth, I turn to the one place where the truth remains unchanged; the Bible.

The Truth

In a world where we experience gut-wrenching pain of loss and grief, we find these words in Scripture:

13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep throughJesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord:We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout,with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourageone another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, HCSB)

It was the Apostle Paul who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit penned these words.  He was writing to a church that had experienced great loss, yet did not know how to cope with the reality that the loved ones who once lived among them were no longer physically with them.  Although they may have believed in the coming of the Lord, they thought those that died before the great Day were hopeless.  It was obvious that this young church was in a vulnerable state and possibly (if not probably) under the influence of false teaching about death and the “afterlife”.  Paul writes this letter not only counter the lies that were being fed and digested, but to provide real, life-giving hope; the hope of Christ.

Friends, I cannot stress this thought enough.  Wherever we find ourselves searching and in need of hope (in life or the reality of death), we must always return to Christ. For He is our hope! He is our life! (Colossians 3:1-4).

This is what Paul did in this letter (and the aim of this post), he pointed his readers back to Christ.  As such, there are four truths that I see in the aforementioned passage:

  1. Death is real
  2. Grief is real
  3. Hope is real
  4. Comfort is available

Death is Real

Paul in this letter wanted the church of Thessalonica to know that death is a reality. A reality that many people have faced and will face. Death is the climax of an earthly life. It should not be something we try to escape or try to cheat because it is a natural part of our earthly existence. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the projects or penthouse, death is the great equalizer. Job fell down and worshipped in Job 1:21 saying,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of LORD.”

Should Jesus delay His return, all of us at some point will have to come by this way. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed (by God) for people to die once – after this, judgment…”

Death is a part of God’s plan of redemption, though we may not always understand it, we must be aware that it is a reality and our lives should be governed in such that we would be ready to meet our Creator should death coming knocking at the door.

Grief is Real

Paul not only stated that death is a reality, he also acknowledged that grief is appropriate. He told the church that it is ok to grieve, it is ok to mourn. They are natural responses to the reality of the loss suffered. It is not Un-Christian to feel pain and sadness during the loss of a loved one. However, he said something very crucial in the latter part of verse 13. He said, it is ok to grieve so long as you do not grieve as the world grieves; without hope.   He wanted them to be aware that although grief is natural and is common to every man, what sets the Christian apart is that when we grieve, it is accompanied by hope.

Hope is Real

Hope is one of those words that can often be misunderstood and misused. To Paul’s audience and for us today, the word simply means “the desire of some good with the expectation of obtaining it.”

Paul wanted to the Christians in Thessalonica to know that even in the midst of pain, even in the midst of loss, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of tears that there is “some good” that our hearts can yearn for and can “expect” to obtain; that is eternal life in Christ.

You see they thought that at the point a person died, the deceased would miss out on the blessing of Jesus’ return. They thought death was final. They thought death was it. And if that were the case, I could see how they could hope-less. But not so for the Christian.   In fact, death is something God uses to usher us into eternal life. Paul takes it step further and says, that our loved ones who die in the Lord, their bodies are merely “asleep.” Waiting for the cry of command, the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. Waiting for Jesus himself to come and raise them up and clothe them with bodies that will never grow old, hearts that will never fail, imperishable, perfect bodies.

You may be asking how that is possible?

It is possible because Jesus died, to cleanse us from sin; to take our punishment. But He rose again, so that He might defeat death. He rose again so that death would not be the end. He rose again so that He could give us eternal life. That as Paul put it in 1 Cor. 15:54-55:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”

The hope we can have in the midst of grief is that even in death, we have victory in Jesus. He is our champion, he holds the key to life and death and has promised that if we trust Him, we will live even if we die. He’s coming back one day and all of us who have trusted Him will meet and greet in Him in the air.  It reminds me of the old Bill Gaither song,

Because He lives, we can face tomorrow,

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because we know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living,

Just because he lives!

Comfort is Real

Paul concluded this section by admonishing his readers to comfort one another with these words.  Why would he say this?  Because these words are true.  The promise of Jesus’ return is real.  God is faithful; which means “God will always do what He has said and fulfill what He has promised” (Wayne Grudem).  There is hope; for the Christian.  True strength is not found in fantasy or fairy tales, but in the truth of God and hope of Christ.

What shall we do with this then?  I believe their are two appropriate responses:

1) Spread the Gospel and the Gospel alone. For it is the Gospel that points us to our only hope in this world and the world to come; Jesus Christ.

2) Rejoice in knowing that those who have died “in Christ” are not lost, but are merely sleeping. Their hope is our hope; Christ and Christ alone.

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The Gospel and Fitness

"Do you even lift?"

“Do you even lift?”

I’ve been in an Adult Basketball League the last few months and more than ever before I have been confronted with the reality that…wait for it…

I.AM.OUT.OF.SHAPE.

I’ve known it for a while and have thought about doing something about it; seriously.  Well, semi-seriously.  It’s been tough because I know the journey ahead will be long and hard and I’m not looking forward to it; hence my hesitation.  This is my story and my confession.

During the season, I found myself frustrated with myself (that sounds weird) and my level of play more often than not and I definitely attribute it to my poor conditioning.  Something has to give; now.  I need to either retire from the game of basketball or get my act together and get in shape.  I choose the latter; seriously.

So starting some day, I will start using my gym membership instead of donating money every month to the 24 Hour Fitness.  I will put on my big boy shorts, lace up my kicks and get back in shape.  BUT…I won’t let it consume me; at least I pray I don’t…

I’ve noticed over the past few years that there has been a dangerous trend going on with people I know and don’t know and that is the preoccupation and dare I say idolization of FITNESS.  Of course, with the ever-increasing changes and expansion of social media, the problem has been magnified, but it’s still a problem.  I don’t think I can go a day without seeing post after post, picture after picture or advertisement after advertisement about people working out, talking about working out, posting pictures from previous workouts or videos of actual real-time workouts.  Let’s not forget about the plethora of Facebook ads, Groupons, infomercials, DVDs and the like about the subject.  Everywhere I turn I am being flooded with people consumed with working out, consumed with trying to get me to buy a product to go with working out, so much so that it scares me a little to jump back in the game.

Most people might think that I am being dramatic and that I am not serious about my health and/or dedicated to it.  Now don’t get me wrong, as a person who has had high cholesterol the majority of his life, I know the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle.  I get it.  What I don’t get is the preoccupation with it where it begins to consume the lives of people so much, that it becomes the goal of life:

  • To be healthy and in shape,
  • To feel good and look good,
  • To just lose “a few” more pounds and then satisfaction will kick in,
  • To fit some model or mold that society has crafted as the ideal body type and/or ideal lifestyle.

For a lot of people I know and don’t know, this is their reality.  They are consumed with fitness.  Fitness has become an idol.  Relationships are becoming and/or have become strained because all they want to do is run or hit the weights or talk about running and hitting the weights.   Precious moments with family, friends or co-workers are being squandered because people are choosing to forgo meals and isolate themselves for the sake of “being healthy”.  For many, they have bought into the lie that if you get in shape, you will be satisfied because of the benefits.  For many, they have bought into the lie that being preoccupied with fitness and hanging around others who are like-minded fosters authentic community.  However, the whole idea of fitness is for the most part a self-centered conquest.   For many, this worldly preoccupation with the self and self-preservation has put them in a dangerous position where they have become their own idols consumed with glory for themselves.  Consumed with the idea of being adored by others for their pulchritudinous splendor.  They have become and/or are lovers of self.

What’s crazy is that many people don’t even realize it.  That’s because it happens so subtly.  What starts out as a healthy venture to perhaps enhance one’s quality of life, quickly (if not tempered) becomes the reason for life and the goal of life.  I have seen this happen especially in the Christian community, but this isn’t anything new.   From the beginning of time, humans have taken good things and have made them “god things”.  From the beginning of time, humans have believed the lie that there are things in this world (physical and metaphysical) that can bring ultimate satisfaction.

Friends, let’s not fool ourselves. NOTHING in this world can provide ultimate satisfaction save Jesus Christ! He alone can bring satisfaction to our longing hearts.  He alone can provide a love for us and affection towards us that would make us choose His love over life itself (see Psalm 63:3).  Why?  Because His love for us, God’s love for us, is not based on anything that we do or become.  The love the Father has for us which He demonstrated through the Son is not based on any merit of our own; but on His sovereign choice.  Hallelujah!

Yes, getting in shape and leading a healthy lifestyle can enhance our quality of life, but it can never replace or even measure up to the life that  Jesus came to give us (John 10:10) or the life we have to look forward to (John 17:2).   The world may promise happiness through fitness, but it won’t last.  The world may offer you it’s caricature of what is “sexy” and/or “desirable”, but it will change.

IT.ALWAYS.DOES.

The world may have it’s perks, pleasures and promises, but guaranteed, they will at some point fail.  What will not fail is God’s love for us (Jeremiah 31:3).  What will not fail is God’s Word to us (1 Peter 1:24,25).  What will not fail is the Gospel received by us (1 John 2:24).  Who will not fail is God’s Son with us (Hebrews 13:8).

So let us take these words to heart lest we fall in love with the world and consequently, ourselves:

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

What is God’s will for us in this life? It’s simple; love God and love people.  May we never allow the pursuit of self-satisfaction and self-gratification hinder us from obeying His commands.  May we never feed into and buy into promises that cannot be kept.  May we look to and rely on the promises of the One in whose mouth was found no deceit; Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:9).

25 And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2:25)

Next time you hit the gym or the trail, take the Gospel with you and remember:

“Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.” – Jennie Wilson

Getting back in the game,

Terry