Tag Archives: Jesus

A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

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Why I Can’t Stop: Was I just racially profiled?!?

It’s been a challenging week or two. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lost friends over the last 2 weeks of my responses to American current events. Additionally, I’ve gotten some tough notes & comments from people that think I should get back to blogging about faith & posting pictures of my kids, the Tacoma sites, & woodworking projects. And I will. But I will not stop speaking on the needs of others…

I’m Working On It

I just don’t know what that means yet. I’ve attended meetings, talked with friends, & spent a good portion of my prayer life asking God what I should be doing. I’m reading books & articles on ethnic conciliation (not racial reconciliation… because I think DA Horton is brilliant), & I’m trying desperately to unpack the responsibility of the church & a Christian man in this season of hurt & newfound awareness of the ethnic divide. 

I do not have a ton of answers. As Tony Evans once challenged, our pursuit is not sameness, but One-ness. We are called to be one in the body of Christ. And I personally love the diversity of our multi-ethnic nation; the celebrations, traditions, customs, patriarchy/matriarchy, holidays & praise Jesus, the food!! I don’t want everyone to be the same. I don’t want churches to be the same. The homogenous nature of our worship stifles Christians & their response to the goodness of God significantly more than instrumental preference. What if our churches were Gospel-centered & community focused, rather than being Gospel-centered & preference focused? Community revival. I really believe that. 

Skin In The Game

At a meeting recently, a good friend said that white Americans just don’t realize that we have skin in the game in regards to our civil rights issues. The group conversation went on to discuss how community should be actively pursuing ways, big & small, to help bridge those divides. Small things like looking into the eyes of the homeless & smiling, not staring awkwardly at someone wearing ethnic or religious clothing, & just generally treating difference as difference, not leprosy. And then a nice woman began to speak to everyone. She was different from me in ethnicity, gender, orientation, & faith. I don’t know if she was left-handed, but if she was, then we were complete opposites on the big issues of our day. Yes, handedness is a major issue. Ok, maybe not.

In the meeting, I was the anomaly. Conservative, white, middle-class, heterosexual male. If their were  5 of us there in that group of 70+, I’d be shocked. And I loved it. I loved the discomfort. But the ugly truth is that I loved it for one reason… I could walk away from it. And that washed over me the entire meeting. I could leave, step outside, & be the majority again. I could go to church, my neighborhood, the store, the mall, the park & be the ‘norm’. What must it be like to feel the inescapable reality of a minority culture, without the luxury of being able to step out of it if the fire got too hot.

In a room full of diverse ethnicities & socioeconomic backgrounds, different gender identities & sexual orientations, I’m just the white guy wearing a safety pin. And I was loved. Several people thanked me for being different. The lady with nothing in common with me, she had a great smile & gave a really good hug. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was welcome. It was just a safety pin. But it was so much more….

Coffee With a Muslim Man

You aren’t going to believe this… I’m stunned. What you can’t see in reading this is that there was a 15 minute pause in my writing. As I was typing “But it was so much more” an older white guy was stepping up behind me. I’m sitting at a high top table in a coffee shop that is mostly empty. My latte to my right, John Piper’s Bloodlines to my left, & iPad in front of me. 

“Oh, well thank God. I thought you were Arab.”

I look back, prepared to intervene for the man or woman being spoken to if the situation deemed it necessary, only to realize that this guy is talking to me. Arab? What? 

It… was… my… beard. My beard. He thought I was Arab because of my facial hair. Now first, what an awesome beard compliment!!! Part of me wanted to thank him for the compliment. But it was not a compliment. He went on to explain that under that black book (Piper’s), he saw a Bible as he was walking up. 

Wait. As he was walking up… Why was he walking up in the first place? Why was he behind me walking up? What would our interaction have been if it was my copy of the Quran or an innocuous journal? My mind was racing, so he stepped in to ease my mind.

“I see you’re a Christian & not one of those Arabs. I was nervous. [Insert horrific terror story-related insult]”

Now folks, I love Jesus, but my blood pressure was rising quickly. I pictured Hussein & his wife & kids. They practice Islam. Or Jermaine & his wife & kids. They’re black. We’ve been friends for nearly a decade, so I know how he’d have responded, & it wouldn’t have gone well. Or Ed, with his husband Tim. Or Iyesha, whose family is Hispanic, but she’s Midwest America, sharp & smart, & sarcastic with southern charm. 

So I made it known that all Arabs are not practitioners of Islam anymore than all Americans are Christian. Then I reminded him that Jesus was Arab. He tried to argue back… I cut him off. I got out of my chair, & let me be honest…

Nothing happened. He got embarrassed. He apologized. His buddy or son came over & apologized. And I’d love to say that in this moment I represented the grace & dignity of a believer. But I didn’t. 

What would you have done if I was Muslim or Arab?

I asked it a little louder than I should have. But they stopped & looked at me. 

I don’t know sir.

And I don’t either. I truly believe he had no plan. He was emboldened & clueless, not prepared for a white Christian that was ready to fight for Muslims… & bearded folks everywhere. So it ended there. No great lesson. No moral-ladened closure. No rush of people ready to apologize to me. No one asking me to leave. And no cops called. I’m still typing at my table. That gentleman left after he got what he came here for. And business is back to buzzing. 

And now I know. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I wasn’t apathetic. I wasn’t scared. I was mindful… I get to go outside in a minute & hop into a minivan, & be a white guy. I’m not different. I just have a beard that I’m shamefully proud of for a lot of macho, ridiculous reasons. 

So whatever it is that I’m going to do going forward, I will be a Christian, white, heterosexual man, fighting for the marginalized, the cast aside, the ignored & oppressed, because I don’t know how this last 1/2 an hour would have played out if I had been anything other than me. So I won’t stand by. I won’t stop. 

I believe in better days for all of us. And I believe I have a part to play.

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I Lost. Where Did I Put My Big Boy Pants??

I did not vote for Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him for dozens of reasons. And in the primary, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. So I guess I’m “one of those”. For all of you reading that did vote for Trump, congratulations. It’s a tough pill to swallow today, & I don’t have much else to say there… but, he is my nations leader in a couple months. I’ll pray for him like I have for Pres. Obama. I promise. 

So now what?

First, I am a white (mostly Scottish, English, & Cherokee, I think), Christian, college educated, & a middle-class fella. So if I speak for any group, that’s the one. And I’m a Democrat that almost never votes straight ticket. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever voted for a presidential candidate that lost. I’m 36. 

I say that to say this… I will not be telling African Americans how to feel. I will not be advising women. I can’t tell the lower or upper classes how to handle this. If you didn’t vote for President-Elect Trump, & you meet most of my demographics, I am talking to you. And if you aren’t in those circles, I hope this is helpful in some small way.

Election Night

When Florida & Virginia numbers first started coming out, I was worried. I saw the county map & knew he’d successfully mobilized rural America, & was closer than Romney was to Obama in the largely blue counties. I told Grace I was worried. It never got better. Media stopped spinning & started asking real questions, so that was nice. But by & large, it was awful to watch. 

Parker headed for bed around 8:30pm here on the West Coast. He was disappointed. He likes Hillary because ‘she smiles better’ & ‘likes brown people’ & ‘she doesn’t say mean things’. So I’m probably going to ban him from watching coverage of polling. I don’t want him to create negative opinions of the people who voted against his opinions. We have enough of that amongst the grown-ups. 

Uneducated White Women 

I watched CNN until it was basically over. Then I was just watching to see how Fox & MSNBC were handling the reality. But CNN didn’t really use the phrase ‘uneducated white women‘. I started seeing it on social media & found out a major cable network or two was wearing the phrase out. CNN was polling large turnout for ‘non-college white women‘. 

First, current polling suggests that this apparent large turnout is not true. Gotta love polling 🙄

Second, words matter. Someone on national television called my mom uneducated. My mom is a conservative Christian with an important job overseeing proposals for millions in grant money for Duke University health systems. She’s not only smart, but also self-educated & has taken numerous business classes because business is her career. She is not uneducated. And the phrase wreaks of elitism & prejudice against people, & in this case women, that don’t have college degrees. It was inappropriate & a missed opportunity to properly characterize a sizeable populous in our nation. I love you Mom.

Mom Is Wrong

Ok, Mom isn’t wrong. I just wanted a catchy subtitle. But she & I don’t vote very similarly, so we don’t discuss a lot about politics. However, I know she can be counted in the millions of us that have looked at the two main party candidates with befuddled expressions, & wondered aloud, “Really? These are the options?!?”

But she’s my mom. I love my mom. I’m grateful for the faith she helped me cultivate, the family that she & Dad made for my sister & me, the way she loves my wife, & the relentless depths to which she spoils my sons. She loves Jesus simply. She knows theology & doctrine, but she just loves Jesus. And I think that has shaped my love of Jesus & humanity more than anything I’ve ever read or been taught. So when it comes to my mom, disagreeing with her is not more important than loving her. She’s my mom, & my sister in Christ, & she human. I love me some humans. 

Loving Through Disagreement

I can’t tell if today has been awful or inspiring. I’ve argued all morning on social media. I’ve had text message duels with some of my favorite people. I’ve had my faith called into question because I’m not more anti-abortion than human equality. I’ve been called a few names, & none of them by strangers. I’ve probably lost friends today. And I think this has happened because we’ve ALL traded in our decency for some policies & fears. 

So to some of my former students, I’m sorry we’ve argued. If in my debating, I failed to remind you or uphold the measure to which I love you, I am so sorry. To my family members that don’t like my views or posts or blogs, etc., I’m not trying to attack you. But I am probably trying to offend you. And I’m sorry that the road to understanding has to cross through offense. Again, we are ALL becoming way more political than we are compassionate. And I forget that sometimes. And if you are one of those few people who look to me as a leader in faith or thought or social responsibility, & I didn’t say enough or I said too much or you assumed that being a Christian & a pastor meant I was a Republican, I am so sorry that I disappointed you, but…

Disagreeing Through Love

We don’t agree. 

I think that you can’t call yourself Pro-Life if there is any scenario, no matter how bizarre or vile, where you would permit a woman or female child to have an abortion. If you have one scenario that you can concoct that allows for a fetus or embryo to be terminated, you’re Pro-Choice. And that needs to be thought through & dealt with honestly, first in your own heart, & then with people you trust. And then maybe see who is actually getting abortions & why. 

I think African Americans & Latino Americans are the most marginalized & quietly despised ethnicities in American history. I think we have a system that batters them & then tells them to unify with us. And I can’t be quiet about human injustice. The are more people involved in ethnic hate groups right now in America than at any other time in our history. Absorb that. Change that. Fight that. 

I think our prisons are full of black men who shouldn’t be there. 

I think Big Business has butchered the Constitution & bastardized our free market. Nothing is free now. And the cost is steep, well beyond the dollars & cents. 

I think we’ve taxed college students by giving them a minimum wage that falls well beneath inflation, & tuition rates that cripple economic freedom for most that are engaged in the system. 

I think we’ve created a poverty class that has little to no hope of overcoming the economics of their situation because the media calls them uneducated or worse, pundits over promise & under deliver, many of our policies perpetuate classism, & Americans that aren’t poor are largely ignoring Americans that are poor!! 

…..

And if you’re reading this, feeling flush & getting red in the face, then we disagree. Some of those bullets points are economic, & you might be able to teach me something that grows my knowledge, & therefore my opinions on it. Cool. Teach away. 

But on some of these disagreements, I am steadfast in my conviction that change must be the order. We are as racially divided as ever. I don’t blame anyone. Blame is for people who don’t want to be bothered with correcting the problem. But our system is tilted in favor of… me. And I love humanity too much to have a Brad-first society. I like diversity too much to favor one small fraction of the ‘haves’ over the growing number of outsiders that exist around me.

So I love you, but we disagree. And I’m not going to be getting over it. But I swear, I love you. 

One Last Thing, Dear Black People…

This part is for all of you still reading that aren’t a group that looks like me, but it’s especially for African Americans. 

I’m heartbroken for America today. I’m afraid for you, especially if stop & frisk is brought back into the forefront of policing. And if the brokenness in our justice system isn’t confronted. And for whatever you felt compelled to tell your children this morning. 

I do trust God today. But I’m reminded this morning, of how Christ responded to the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus, knowing God’s will fully & completely, knew that his friend wasn’t truly gone. He knew a miracle was coming. But in the moment, at that awful place where someone else’s pain is tangible, Jesus cried. So trusting God, I weep with you today. 

I do not understand. I’m a white guy. I can’t possibly understand. But I will fight for you. And I will believe that your mourning will be turned to joy. And I will fight for that joy. And while I’m fighting for your rights in our free nation, if I can encourage Latinos, Muslims, homosexuals, the poor, refugees, & the imprisoned as well, well I’m going to do that too.

I love you guys. All of you reading this. Let’s think together, love together, & walk together. 

I John 4:7-12, 15-18 read it & dream

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Good Grief: Making a Choice

I wrote a blog last week. Over 3,300 people have viewed it. And I wrote it because I was sad, hopeful, & inspired I suppose. Tripp had died the prior week, I had been called in by his sweet wife & awesome parents to officiate a funeral that I was not remotely prepared for, & I had spent every day back home in N Carolina with someone who was suddenly fatherless, husbandless, or sonless. And that blog exploded. 

For perspective, I hadn’t written anything in over a year. And when I was writing, it would be impressive for one entry to get 200 views. And that was more than enough for me. It was an exercise in fun & public journaling, & not much more. But then Tripp died, & my name was in his obituary, & it seems like a lot more people were watching. A lot of them still are. And to all of you, thank you. Tripp’s influence will forever loom large in my life. 

So I wrote a blog on a Tuesday morning flight. And then late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Tripp’s mom died. She had been battling a rare & terminal illness that had certainly taken its toll, but she was still sweet & caring, up to the very last second. And grief came rushing back. I could not stop thinking about Tripp’s dad & sisters. And then his wife. It’s a process…

Grieving Healthy

As I write, I’m outside of an Sicilian bakery in Tacoma, Washington. I’m literally on the coastline of the Puget Sound. It’s a breathtaking picture. And the bakery is crazy good. So many awesome things that I can’t pronounce, but none of them healthy. So I make a choice; eat healthy or not. 

The cannoli was incredible… Don’t judge me. At least I walked here.

And similarly, I have found myself parked right at the door of grieving. And my options for consumption are unending. I can grieve however I want. I can numb the grief by ignoring it & pretending I’m fine, or I can find some thing or person that gives me a false & temporary feeling that just masks grief. Or I can eat healthy… but if you’re like me, there’s a dark secret about healthy living. It kinda sucks. 

Choosing

Allow me to sermonize for a moment. In the book of Joshua, God brought his people through some incredible difficulties & challenges. Often, those challenges were met by the raw emotions of people who knew God, had seen His work, & been blessed by his provision. But in the midst of their crises, some felt hopeless. Usually, it was a lot of people. And they were desperate for answers or revelation or solutions. And in a moment of profound wisdom, Joshua asks them to choose this day whom you will serve (ref. Joshua 24:15). Because, like the bakery beside me, in grief we have a choice.

I spoke with Tripp’s dad today. We talk/text daily. And today is his wife’s birthday. Yes, four days after she passed away, their family was faced with funeral visitation on her birthday. Horrible.

But they made a choice. Someone had the idea to give mom some balloons. So they gathered a bunch of the family together & sent some balloons heavenward. And while it is a small gesture, it’s a healing one. It forces them to smile through sadness. It doesn’t ‘grief-proof’ their day, but it makes the daily process better. And when the story was relayed to me, it was a happy story. And there is nothing better then happiness when you’re sad. I’m so glad that they chose good grief. Because tomorrow will have its troubles, & they will need more reasons to look heavenward. More chances to place some happiness in their sadness will be needed. So if you’re in Durham & you know any of them, send a text & tell them you love ’em. That stuff is gold!

As Joshua was finishing his challenge to Israel, he turned it personal. And that’s how I should end this blog too. It would be arrogant & foolish to pretend that I didn’t think of Tripp the moment I woke up today. And I was immediately sad. And I’ve had a rough dream or two. And when my oldest son, Parker asks me about Tripp or if I’m sad, I admit my grief & occasionally get a little lost in it. But I have a choice in my grief & sadness. And there are two things that Tripp’s family has shown me this week: choose happiness & look heavenward. So I’m going to try & do that more often. 

I hope you find a balloon today, & send your heart to Jesus. 

Brad
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ‭‭Joshua‬ ‭24:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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Bad Weather, Beautiful Location

Location, location, location!! Right?

Well, what if there’s a hurricane at your location? I’m sitting on the front porch of a beach house in N. Myrtle Beach, typing to you, watching sideways rain (a la Forest Gump) under a canopy of grey skies… it ain’t beautiful by any stretch. But it’s the beach!

Yesterday I was in 4 1/2ft of water working on my 5yr old’s swimming excellence, covered in sunscreen, enjoying the beauty of true beach-living. Same place. Different weather.

Ain’t that life? Sometimes where we stand is all beautiful & easy to embrace. When Grace & I are communicating well, & my boys are happy, no one in my small group is suffering, & my folks have had a good week… that’s an embraceable scenario. And I do have those. And I thank God for my house & my city, my family & my church in those times. I celebrate the broken road that brought me here. All is well…

But then it rains. And when it rains, it pours. And sometimes the downpour comes with torrential patterns that knock me over. Strong winds from the wrong direction, hail that serves me no good & just messes things up, flash floods & blizzards… & if I pray… I’m not grateful. I’m mad. I’m doubting the Master’s plan. I’m on an island… a sad, desperate island where I get occasional deliveries of empathy, but not one solution dawns my door. God has forgotten me. And even taking my angst to social media is unfulfilling!! All is lost.

I do that. This is not a rant to bring conviction to someone else. This is not a, ‘I sure hope they read this’ kind of a thing. This is me. Forgetting that weather changes all the time. And that sometimes, forecasts are accurate. Sure, I get shocked by an occasional cloud or drought. But for the most part, the gray cloud coming my way means rain. And it’s on me if I ‘brave it’ & leave the umbrella at home.

But I’m at the beach. And Arthur, as formidable as he is today, has turned away from me. It’s been gross today. But our baby is sleeping. Our oldest needs my help with his computer game. I love my wife. I’m down here with my folks & sister. And God… Matthew 14:22-33 reveals some odd truths about our storms. I won’t get all preachy, which is my nature! But read it. And then read this… Jesus left them to be alone. He knew the storm was coming. And he… left them. And he went & prayed. And he knew the storm they were in. And then… wait for it… on the 4th watch, he came. The 4th watch!?! The fourth follows the first, second & third watches. And he waited through all of those. And then he just walked by. Didn’t announce his presence. He allowed them to get a glimpse of him, & he waited for their faith to provoke them to act. And yes, he saved them. But it wasn’t all on Jesus. It was about faithful people riding out a storm that hit while they were simply living out their lives. And Jesus even scolded them for not having more faith. And in the end, the storm was about worshipping Jesus. Not surviving. Not getting through. Not anything… just Jesus.

So here’s to your impending 4th Watch. I hope you’re near the end of your storm. And I hope you’ve got the faith & wherewithal to see The Lord as he passes by. He’s there. Maybe he’s praying. Maybe he’s watching you. Or maybe he’s waiting for you to step out & come to him. Either way, storm’s pass. And this is the beach…

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And Drift Away…

Do you ever read a passage of Scripture that just grabs a hold of you? Perhaps it wasn’t profound. It may be obvious, repetitive, or so simple, but it’s God’s Word. And even the most cursory reading can be provocative & challenging.

I’m reading through Hebrews. Generally, as I read through Scripture, especially large chunks, I read it all once attempting to hear the Spirit of how it was written. After I read it, I’ll go back to the beginning & begin some from of ‘Bible study’. And I’m just starting my first reading, as I come across this:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. – Hebrews 2:1

Boom! Just reading through that quickly, my mind was brought to a halt. Three things pierce my heart about this passage:

1. I am so arrogant.

Chapter 1 in Hebrews is a restatement of Christ’s supremacy & His lordship. It’s a restatement. God is anointing men of faith to repeat themselves, often to people who already profess faith. Paul begins nearly every Epistle reaffirming his apostolic ministry or Christ’s authority. Jesus is often reminding the Apostles of what they had already heard Him say about himself, the Church, God, the lost, or persecution. And if I were in their shoes… I’d go crazy.

I hate repeating myself. My voice carries. I’m probably easily characterized as a loud guy. And nothing confuses & confounds me more than someone not hearing what I just said. Forget importance. I’m certain that most of what I say is useless. But if we locked eyes & I spoke up, how could you miss it?? So imagine my horror & severe dissatisfaction with the reality that I’m the reason God repeats himself so much. I could probably rattle off a few dozen verses from Scripture right now. Even call a few of them my ‘favorites’. And if God so chose to audibly respond in that moment, He may well ask, for all the world to hear, “If you love those verses so much, why don’t you live them?” And he’d by right… & I’d be ruined. I am ruined. And it is wild that I ever think that there are things in God’s Word that I ‘get’ so fully that I can move on to what’s next.

2. I like drifting.

When I was a kid, I wanted a lazy river ride surrounding my house. Nothing is easier & more relaxing than sitting on a tube, out in the warmth of the sunshine, just floating along with the current. And that fascination seems to have become a disease that inflicts believers today. We don’t have to fight, argue, or do bad things. We can just drift. Some current offers a simple, lifeless way of moving through every day, & we take it. And we can convince ourselves that this relaxation is merited. We’ve somehow earned the right to relax our devotion to God & our determination to His work in this world. So we drift, having forgotten what we’ve claimed to know, away from what saves us.

I need to hate drifting. Maybe I should install an electric fence around the house instead. Get a jolt every time I go off in the wrong direction.

3. Paying attention is hard.

What can keep us from perilously drifting? What mystery of God can quiet our arrogance & keep us held tightly to the Lord?? What wisdom, hard to find but necessary for us all, must we endeavor to seize?…

‘we must pay much closer attention…’

How embarrassing. Pay attention? No deep theology or philosophical mystery? Pay attention?!? The key to this passage is being aware, keeping vigilant, & giving notice to what you are already a part of in the Kingdom of God. It can’t be that simple. Can it?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to simply commit to giving God your time & attention, & have Him reward you with intimacy, peace, & purpose? I pray you find that commitment worthwhile. I pray that I fight my love of drifting. And that together, we can all walk so closely to God that His presence is visible on one another.

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We Hold These Truths…

I am not politically savvy. I’m not even a fan of politics, at least on the national level. But as it relates to the language of our country’s founding documents, I’m a big fan. I love the words & phrases used throughout our revolutionary history. And my favorite fragment is this blog’s title…

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident.’

As far as I can tell, the self-evident portion is just snappy English that denotes that all signing this document are unanimous in their approval of these ‘truths’ that they consider obvious, forthright, & worthy of declaring. But ‘we hold these truths’ could be the slogan used in law texts, a creed preceding the Hippocratic Oath, every good businesses strategy for a continuity of ideologies, & more to my thoughts today, should be what every church is using to begin their list of theology & doctrine… their vision statements.

‘We’ – all of us. Is that every member? Or maybe every staff member? We’ll go with staff & key leadership, because it is might be unrealistic to think that every leader can properly vet every member of their fellowship to see if they all agree on key theological issues. It might not even be right to do so. I don’t know. But it would certainly be uncomfortable, awkward, & off-putting to go pew by pew (upholstered chair by chair, for you rebels), with that questionnaire. So let’s say that ‘we’ could be a reference to the pastoral & lay leadership of your church & anyone who was there when the vote took place that one time. A unanimous stance by those called out & affirmed to lead your personal fellowship of the saints, that they believe in one view of God, Christ, Church, salvation, Scripture, sin, etc. But it would be more than a unanimous statement wouldn’t it? I think, done right, it would be a corporate passion.

‘hold’ – cling to. Whether we’re discussing something revolutionary, like nation-building, or something supernatural, like Jesus Christ & his atoning sacrifice, sinless life, unique human deity, unparalleled genealogy, discipleship, words, walk, miracles, & character, our grip on those ideas & beliefs are paramount to our beliefs & life choices. If I don’t cling desperately to Christ as the Son of God, then adhering to His decrees are no longer paramount. So again… holding. This act of passion & determination is not merely a simple touch, but the clasping of hands between one who is drowning & one who is saving. I’ve seen emails concluded just that way:

G(r)asping for Him with you

That’s awesome.

These – as in, a unique set that we have not only seen & understood, but that we now consider a possession. THESE truths – the ones right here – whether in my hands or beholden to my heart, THESE truths – for an American it may be the equality of every man & woman or the right to practice our faiths, but for the Christian, THESE truths do have, in my limited understanding of Scripture, a pinnacle truth.

Truths – this is where politics begins its division from God. Right at the beginning, a small, minuscule division is born. Truths. Plural. Franklin & Madison held truths. None more important than the other. And in the realm of this world, they were not wrong, not off, & were deeply honorable. And American historians may well disagree with me that one truth did not unite them, but what is written & held to in America is just degrees away from God’s Word.

I remember watching the Apollo 13 movie. And my heart raced to think that they had one shot to hit Earth. But how could they miss a planet?!? They could miss the whole world by starting just one degree off. And then they’d be lost to the darkness of space. It was a thrilling movie. And they hit the mark.

But my favorite line fragment from our founding documents is, to me, just a degree off. And more than 200 years later, we’re seeing the degree difference of 1776 become something of a chasm in 2012. Admirable truths, short of one overarching truth, still fall short. And that is heart-breaking & saddening.

Jesus Christ, through His life, ministry, sinlessness, conviction, torture, murder, sacrifice, resurrection, & eternal reign, has atoned any who would believe, of their separation from God. He is the only way of John 14:6. He is the Son of God. He is the Truth above all other truths.

I believe in a number of things. I believe in equality, justice, peace, love, doing what you have a passion for, kindness, gentleness, that UNC may be anointed as God’s university (kidding… just some levity)…. I believe in so many good & righteous things. But holy isn’t holy without Christ. And a nation built on Biblical principles by Christian men & women is not a Christian nation without Jesus at the helm of it.

This Jesus, the Savior of the world, is the only truth that the Church holds to be self-evident. We are a body of many parts, but there is one head to this body. We are global & diverse, but there is one Lord over us. Different languages, traditions, ideas on worship, programming, meeting styles, individual freedoms… a smattering of differences. One Truth.

We hold this Jesus Christ… to be unique, almighty, & returning.

Strip away freedoms, we hold Christ. Take away marriage, commerce, global communication, technology, & even the promise of individuality, & Christ would still be Lord, so Christianity would not die. The body lives because of Christ. No Christ? No body. Always Christ? Always believers. Where faith is illegal, faith lives. Where nations are godless, the Spirit-filled can dwell. And we prevail because of one never-changing, ever-living Truth. Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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