Is the Sky Really Falling?

It sure was a big news week.  New polls were listed for the candidates.  And depending on whom you are watching Trump is either doing fine or Trump is getting trounced in the polls.  This naturally has led many news talk radio pundits to go into panic mode.  The proclaim the media is out to get the Republican party and refuses to spend any time seriously talking about Clinton’s obvious issues, like her email scandal.  Mean while, others are proclaiming that he had received an unfair media treatment because he still is essentially viewed as a TV star due to his long running series The Apprentice.  As all of this goes on, we are treated to a constant barrage of if this person is elected president the world as we know it will end.  To add to this hot mess, we have the Brexit news stories.  England decides to pull out of the European Union.  It is something that won’t happen in two years and yet it affected our stock market system.  In England there are all ready experience some massive backlash.  Hate crimes were even being reported this morning as England claimed that it’s primary purpose for withdrawing from the Union was to preserve their nationality..  From the looks of it, people honestly believe that without the European Union fully intact that the world might just come to an end.

To all of this I say breathe.  Take a deep breath and breathe.  Look, I get it, it looks like the sky is falling.  It looks like the worst possible outcomes are just around the corner.  But, I encourage you to remember this, the media only reports train wrecks.  The report them because we watch them.  Let us be honest, how many of us really pay attention when things are going according to plan.  A train running on time phases no one.  A train derails and every passerby stops and watches the chaos.  The news media outlets know this.  The put the worst possible spin on things to get us to watch.  If panic happens, great, that means more and more people will be tuning in.

The sky isn’t falling.  But, even if it were, should it really matter?  No.  Not really.  I love living in America.  I love the freedoms we have.  On Monday I will be celebrating our nation’s independence.  I will be grilling some type of meat, I will be taking my kids to a parade, I will be watching the fireworks here in town, just like I always do.  But, my hope and happiness is not contingent upon some candidate in the White House, or the existence of the European Union or the United States for that matter.  My hope is Jesus Christ.  “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:18-20).”  This is the verse that has been posted as the wall paper on my blog since I first started this blog three years ago.  Jesus is my hope.  He is what gets me by.  When the storm is brewing and all feels lost, I can trust my anchor to hold.  I can trust my anchor to not fail.  And I can trust that when the storm passes, my life will continue its journey just as it was before the storm.

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Imagine a World with No Religion

John Lennon wrote what is one of the most famous songs of his generation, Imagine.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

As a child of a huge Beatles fan I found the tune catch, enjoyable to listen to, and often found myself singing along.  As I got older I began to appreciate the sentimentality of the song.  Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped the fighting.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all got along.  But, now I see the song for what it really is.  It is about an anti-God of a song as you can get.  And the sad reality is, with the current issues taking place in this country more and more people are seeing all religion as being the problem.

In Orlando, the most recent of mass shootings, a “religious” man shot up a dance club in the name of his religious beliefs which coincide with what was once called “radical Islamic” beliefs.  Other religious groups have come out proclaiming that God sent that man to that dance club because the inhabitants thereof were homosexuals.  With religious zealots like these, it is no wonder why John Lennon’s words sounded so perfect.  Nothing to kill of die for, and no religion too.

But, what if the issue was not religion, but the wrong kind of religion?  In II Thes. 1:9 Paul wrote, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  (Now this is not meant to be a discussion on hell or whether or not religion is bad because hell is said to exist or even a discussion on who is sent there.)  I want you to focus for a moment on how eternal destruction is described.  It is away from the presence of God.  The same place the bible describes as a place of outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), a place where the carrion worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44) and a place of torment night and day (Rev. 14:11).  The God of all peace, the God of all comfort, the God that gives us every spiritual blessing is not known in hell and as a result everything awful exists there.  The more God is removed the worse things get. 

Maybe the reason our world is suffering right now is because we have removed God more and more from our lives.  More and more people are living like there is no tomorrow and they aren’t caring for their fellow man, they are only caring for themselves.  I have imagined all the people living for today and it is a scary place indeed.  The issue is NOT religion it is the wrong kind.  The issue is not God, it is having the wrong impression about who God is, what God expects, and what God wants his people to be.

Imagine there’s a heaven
It’s easy if you try
A hell below us
Above us is a God
Imagine all the people
Loving our fellow man… Aha-ah…

Imagine there’s a better country
It isn’t hard to do
A door opened by Jesus
In a loving sacrifice
Imagine all the people
Living as the Christ

 

 

Not All Christians Are Alike

What happened over this last week is a real tragedy.  To know that more than 100 lives have been impacted by one crazed gunman breaks my heart.  I call him crazed because in order to walk into a night club and open fire upon others requires something to be really off with a person.  I am calling it what it is.  This whole thing is crazy.

To add to the insanity people are politicizing this whole thing.  Some are calling for more gun control.  Some are calling for more action against Muslims in general.  Some, like the ACLU have somehow tried to place the blame of this whole mess upon Christians.  And then, you have those Westboro Baptists that take it to a whole other level.  Despite all the things they have said over the last years about homosexuality, death, terrorism, etc it still floored me.  To claim that God sent this man to that nightclub because it was a LGBT nightclub just blew my mind.

While I do not believe the bible condones homosexuality and while I do believe the bibles does indeed call it a sin in I Cor. 6:9-11 (But this is not an article about that.  Maybe some other time.)  I cannot read anywhere in the bible that Christians are to call for, hope for, long for or pray for something like this to happen.  In fact, I see just the opposite.  I see a Jesus that taught us to turn the other cheek, not to arm ourselves against evil doers.  Is see a Jesus that taught us to pray for those that despitefully use us, not to pray that God sends some cosmic lightning bolt against the sinner.  I see a Jesus that forgave a woman caught in the act of adultery, I do not see a Jesus that let’s mow them down with gunfire.  Yes, Jesus condemned sin.  But, he also condemned the sin of being merciless, unloving, and vengeful.

The more I see of this Westboro Baptist group the more I see Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.  They were notorious for essentially categorizing sins.  Some where worse than others.  To the Pharisees being a tax collector or a harlot was the epitome of all that is wrong with the world.  They would then go on to prove their righteousness by point out the fact that they tithe perfectly; even the smallest of leaves are properly tithed.  They were not better than tax collectors because they were meticulous tithers.  In fact, they weren’t better at all.  We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 6:23).  And that includes me.  I am not better than the Westboro Baptists.  Sure, I haven’t said the things that have.  But, I have lost my temper, I have yelled at my kids.  I have struggled often with gluttony.

But, what bothers me the most is that I am afraid that hurtful hateful comments like those offered by many on twitter, facebook, etc will only lead to people thinking even less about Christians.  I hope and pray my neighbors don’t confuse this Pharisaical version of Christianity with the one God reveals in his good word.

Nobody is Perfect

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           A few years ago I had the opportunity to listen to a fantastic set of sermons here at the Grinnell church of Christ by Matt Allen.  The one thing that really stuck with me through these last few years was his openness and honestness about the struggles that preachers can go through.  In the end what he did was remind me, remind us, that no one is perfect.  Not your parents.  Not your children.  Not you.  And not your preacher.

While I understand that Paul told Timothy he was to be an example unto them that believe in in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, and in purity (I Tim. 4:12). I do not think Paul was saying that if Timothy wasn’t perfect he was unworthy of being a preacher.  And yet, that is how I have often read it and I have often been made to feel.

Preachers live in a fish bowl.  I have come to accept that.  People are always watching.  They are watching my daily conduct.  They are watching how I interact with the members of the church.  They are watching how I am interacting with my community.  But, it is not just I they are watching.  They are watching my children.  They are watching my wife.  We are expected to be the perfect example of what it means to be a goodly, godly family (never mind the fact that those are actually elder qualifications).  I recall one conversation a few years ago after delivering a message about the role of the father.  A well-meaning member of the church told me my message was irrelevant because my children were not in perfect subjection.  (I had a baby, a 3 year old and a 6 year old).  It was true.  My toddler at the time was quite rambunctious as he didn’t like being recently ripped from his home.  He was trying to remind me that an imperfect life can devalue a good sermon.  What he did in the moment was make me feel the pressures of trying to be perfect at all times.

This in the end led me down a dangerous path.  If I couldn’t be perfect, I need to at least appear to be perfect.  I would put on this facade every day I ventured outside.  I was one man in my home, around my kids, around my wife.  I was another man in the office, at the building, at the grocery store, and in the homes of various members of the church.  The pressures would continue to mount.  The pressure of hiding the fact that I wasn’t perfect.  The pressure of making my work valueless because I didn’t want anyone to see any cracks in my character.  I knew full well there were plenty and the cracks were growing larger and larger.  Then fear set in.  What is going to happen if they see the fact that I have sin?  What is going to happen if they see the fact that I am not a perfect husband, a perfect father, or a perfect Christian?

The pressures eventually took their toll upon me.  While I was never a healthy person, I ballooned up to my heaviest weight as a result of it.  I tried to eat my stress away.  I knew I couldn’t be the superman that I thought everyone needed me to be.  Then one day I remembered Matt’s words. I am not perfect.  He was a preacher that so willingly and openly admitted his faults.  I tried it.  It was liberating.  I no longer had to carry the pressure of the perfect life because I was indeed imperfect and now everyone knew it.  It helped me to shed more than 100 pounds.

Due to some circumstances over the last year I have again felt that need, that urge to be perfect.  I was watching a friend suffer.  I was trying to help him through his difficulties by being a rock he could lean upon.  I was also trying to help him see what he needed to do to turn his life around.  As a result I felt the pressure of not letting him see that I too was broken.  The more I let myself put that mask on every day the more the stress started to build.  And the more the stress built up the more I returned to my old habits… eating my stress away.  To make matters worse, because I was not honest with my friend.  I hurt him.  I felt the strength leave my legs as he said that I didn’t have any love for him.  I felt my heart break because I wanted him to know how I have felt and I didn’t because I convinced myself he needed a superman, a perfect preacher with a perfect family.

So here is my day of liberation.  I am not perfect.  My desire to hide my weaknesses hurt someone I care about.  My desire to hide my imperfections has caused me to gain way to much weight.  My desire to hide my imperfections has caused me to lie to myself, my family, and my fellow Christians.  I am a broken man with an imperfect marriage, an imperfect relationship with my kids and an imperfect relationship with my God.