Inappropriate Circumstances

"If you demonstrate by dancing, you will be placed under arrest."

"Everyone have permits for those videos?" 

"You're not allowed to have free expression, free speech, in the memorial to Thomas Jefferson - the champion of free speech."

"Stop, you're dancing."

"We're allowed to dance in America."

"This is America....It is illegal to dance."

"What would he (Thomas Jefferson) think of this?"

True, I think the dancers were a distraction to the monument. I can just imagine taking my kids there at that moment when the arrests started happening. It would be total confusion. I would be talking about Jefferson and how he was one of the men who stood up for freedom, and then we would see people being arrested for dancing at his monument. I thought the policemen handled themselves appropriately regarding the circumstances. The problem was that the circumstances they were placed in were wrong. The law prohibiting dancing is ridiculous. If a fun, crazy, freedom-loving America wants to dance at the Jefferson Memorial, then they should be able to. If we can't see the irony of people being arrested at the Jefferson Memorial for harmless dancing, then we misunderstand the freedom that Jefferson struggled for. It is true that he fought for more significant freedoms than dancing, but if people aren't allowed to do something as little as dancing, then why would we presume that they would allow freedoms more significant than that?

It all reminds me of an unhealthy church. published an article last week that talked about the five core values of a church in decline. A similar situation to that at the Jefferson Memorial happens all the time in unhealthy churches across this land. You can hear the phrases, "We've never done it that way before." "That would make the Jones' unhappy." Like at the Jefferson Memorial, people act appropriate for the situation in an unhealthy church, but the situation is all wrong.

Instead of doing whatever it takes to further God's kingdom, the church will do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo.  Unfortunately, because we are in a society that is everchanging, the status quo must be everchanging. That doesn't mean that we change our DNA, it means that we change our clothes. A church that does not change it's clothes regularly is a church like a human that doesn't change it's clothes. It stinks. Nobody can see the beauty of God beyond that stink.  It's time to stop stinking.  Let's change.

What Is Worth Everything?

Last week, the news told us of the incredible story of the dog named Mason. Mason, a terrier mix, was swept away from his family's Alabama home while taking cover in the garage during one of the many tornadoes that have swept our nation in the last few weeks.  Mason’s family scoured the neighborhood, yet they could not find him. Eventually, amidst all the devastation, they gave up their hunt and tried to piece their lives back together.

Three weeks later, on a trip back to their devastated home to continue the cleanup, the family found Mason with two severely broken front legs sitting on the steps waiting for them. Wherever he had been carried away to by the storm, he would have had a tough, painful crawl back to his home.  Yet Mason had not given up.

The story of Mason reminds me of the story of one of our cats, Esa. Esa is a hit-by-car survivor.  That’s like a cancer survivor in the cat world.  Hit-by-car cats are tough. When I saw her by the road after being hit, I thought she was dead.  Over a few days and lots of tender loving care, she was successfully nursed back to health. However, one of Esa’s legs never healed properly, so she walks on three legs.

One day, Esa hopped into our minivan when nobody was looking. Lindsay then took our van and the kids to the Dollar Store in Hicksville. While unloading the kids, Esa appeared from wherever she was hiding and hopped out of the van. Lindsay searched for her and called her name, but Esa was lost in the middle of Hicksville. (Next time you see a crazy lady screaming a name in a parking lot, maybe she isn’t really crazy. Maybe she is just looking for her cat.) 

I even took a turn driving down there and looking for her. Nothing. We lost Esa.

But Esa had not lost us.  Three days later, Esa appeared at our doorstep five miles from the Dollar Store. She had made the journey home on three legs. She knew that this was the home where she was loved. And, probably most important, she knew that we feed her.

Like Mason, she sacrificed and struggled to get back to her family.

This all reminds me of one of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus taught, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” [Matthew 13:44 (ESV)].

Do we want to experience God’s Kingdom as much as Mason and Esa wanted to be with their family? Do we give our quest for the Kingdom of God our all?  Do we give everything up so that we can be smack dab in the middle of God’s will?

Is God glorified by the spending choices we make? Is He glorified by the way we use our time? By the words we say? By all of our strength? By all of our mind? Or do we just give Him a little? Or maybe we give Him a lot? But He doesn’t want just a little or a lot. He wants our all.

Mason and Esa would not have made it home if making it home was not the desire of their hearts. There was much pain, many obstacles, and a neverending perseverance.

Oftentimes, we miss seeing the greatness of God transform our reality because we lack the commitment that these amazing pets have shown. Being a follower of Jesus is not about a moment where we say the sinner’s prayer, raise our hand in response to an invitation, go through confirmation, or participate in baptism. It’s more than just an initial starting point of surrender. It is a life of total surrender.

When we stop just going through the motions, just going to church, just singing songs of praise, just professing Jesus with our mouth, or maybe we are not even doing that much - when we begin to live a life of total surrender to His will, then we will see our world and the world around us start to shape itself into God’s will. The person who is robbed the most from my lack of total surrender to Jesus and His will is me. May we find the strength, like Jesus taught in His parable, to give everything up for the Kingdom of God. It is worth it.  Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is worth selling everything for.  May God help us with our unbelief.

Last Article Due to the End of the World

In case you haven’t heard, a lot of money was spent by Family Radio Worldwide telling people that the world was going to end on Saturday, May 21. I write this on Friday before the presumed end, but if you are reading this, then you will be chuckling, along with me, about another mistaken end times prediction.

It is really baffling that Christians - and I use that word loosely here - constantly want to predict the coming of the end. In recent years, these predictions have been coming in rapid fire. There was a movement by Ronald Weinland who predicted that New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles would be destroyed in April 2008 in his book 2008 – God’s Final Witness. His website is now predicting that the world will end on May 27, 2012. Hal Lindsay, in his Late Great Planet Earth, predicted that the end was to come in 1988. The revised edition, after missing the mark, predicted 2007. Now, he is predicting in 2040. One would think that the punishment for predicting wrongly would be that the predictor would have to shut up, but it seems that the actual punishment for predicting wrongly is that you must make another prediction and go through the whole process again.

Around the turn of the millennium, nearly every crazed prophecy fanatic was predicting the end. It was a crazy, paranoid time, yet most of us got along just fine, ignoring most of the paranoia while continuing on with our lives. Then a tragedy happens like the earthquake/tsunami in Japan and some begin to wonder if this is the prelude of the end. Others read a story about Israel or Iran and begin to wonder if that is a sign of the end.

Jesus taught that the end times would be marked by wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes. One of my favorite preachers had this to say on the subject. It’s a little lengthy, but I thought it’s appropriate to share during this time.

“I do not wish to force any one to believe as I do; neither will I permit anyone to deny me the right to believe that the last day is near at hand. These words and signs of Christ compel me to believe that such is the case. For the history of the centuries that have passed since the birth of Christ nowhere reveals conditions like those of the present. There has never been such building and planting in the world. There has never been such gluttonous and varied eating and drinking as now. Wearing apparel has reached its limit in costliness. Who has ever heard of such commerce as now encircles the earth? There have arisen all kinds of art and sculpture, embroidery and engraving, the like of which has not been seen during the whole Christian era.”

“In addition men are so delving into the mysteries of things that today a boy of twenty knows more than twenty doctors formerly knew. There is such a knowledge of languages and all manner of wisdom that it must be confessed, the world has reached such great heights in the things that pertain to the body, or as Christ calls them, ‘cares of life.’ Eating, drinking, building, planting, buying, selling, marrying and giving in marriage.  Everyone must see and say either ruin or a change must come. It is hard to see how a change can come. Day after day dawns and the same conditions remain. There was never such keenness, understanding, and judgment among Christians in bodily and temporal things as now-I forbear to speak of the new inventions, printing, firearms, and other implements of war.”

He goes on to talk about the spiritual depravity of the world he lived in. If it wasn’t for the “new inventions” of the printing press and firearms, I would think that Martin Luther, who preached that message in 1522, was talking about modern times.

Jesus taught, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:35-36 [ESV]). Despite these teachings, people continue to become distracted with end times predictions. Jesus didn’t even know the day or the hour, but we trust the man on the television or the radio who is asking for our donations that he knows what Jesus, Himself, could not even know. People are missing the point.

Approximately 6,700 Americans die every day. That means that Saturday, May 21, 2011 was the end time for over 6,000 people. Some met their end suddenly in an accident or a heart attack.  Others concluded their long struggle with cancer.  It was the end for many on May 21.  Yet each one of those people who died needed to be prepared to meet God.

Too often, we get hung up on the end times rather than focus on God during events that appear like those that Jesus taught would be signs of the coming end times. Those signs have filled the ages since Christ, and in every age people thought their age to be the last. That doesn’t mean that ours won’t be, but it does seem to point out that we need to not focus on the end times but upon the God who brings about the signs. The signs are just that – signs. They are pointing to God, not the end. God is always at work in us, trying to mold us into who he intends us to be. The earthquakes, the wars, all of the great catastrophes of mankind should be seen as opportunities, albeit devastating and saddening, for us to focus more on Him.

Osama Bin Laden, Essentials, and Grace

As Americans, our emotions were all over the place after the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden. Some danced in the streets celebrating, others mourned the death of one who we logically presume did not know Jesus, others bounced back and forth between those feelings, while others did not know how to feel. It was a crazy, few days in the life of America.

I want to tell everyone who doesn’t feel the way I feel, and understand Scripture the way that I understand it, that they aren’t right with Jesus. I have this terrible, evil instinct inside myself. A place of arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness. A place where I sometimes mistakenly think that God is confined to the nice, little box of my understanding. A place where I do not allow any grace for others but gladly except grace for myself. Maybe you can relate.

Even though I think the proper response is clearly expressed in Scripture, I must be gracious to those who disagree. One of the principles of the Christian Church since its beginning in the 1800s is that we believe that there should only be a minimal set of essentials. And the way one should react to the death of a terrorist like Osama bin Laden does not make that cut. If you want to read our church’s list of beliefs, they can be check out at here.

On the rest, we can disagree. And we will disagree. But we will disagree and still call all those who call Jesus their Lord brothers and sisters. This has historically proven to be a tough place to remain because we, the church, suffer from Essential creep. Another issue becomes important, and people want to make that an essential. Then another. Then another. And soon we have a whole handbook, often times unwritten and unknowable even to the individual, that holds all of the legalistic thoughts – a handbook that tells us what to think on a multitude of issues and who to consider not a Christian.

What if we have it all wrong? What if Jesus came to earth to free us from that sort of legalism? He could have given us a legalistic handbook if he wanted to. Instead he taught us that the most important things to do are to love God and to love one another. Simple. Pure. Two noble tasks that we struggle to aspire to. Instead of struggling and relying on grace, we make little legalistic rules that we can meet so that we can feel good about ourselves. Instead of comparing ourselves to Jesus and his perfection, we begin to compare ourselves to the prostitute or the drug addict and brag about how moral we are. We puff ourselves up rather than humble ourselves at the beauty of Jesus dying for us.

I don’t know everything, but I do know that I killed Osama bin Laden in my heart a long time ago. For that I need God’s grace. May I have the strength to show that grace to others.

Real Church is Difficult

"A hunger for truth will lead to a focus on formation. You'll want to want what Jesus wants, to think what Jesus thinks, to choose what Jesus chooses, and to know the contentment in the middle of a trouble-filled world that Jesus knows. You'll yearn to be more spiritually formed, and you'll welcome the painful adventure of walking the long, narrow road to life.

But something more will happen. As both your appetite for truth and your desire to resemble Christ grow stronger, some of your friends will back away from you. You will feel disappointed in relationships you previously thought were pretty good. You will want to give more than some of your friends will want to receive. You will worry that you are becoming a whacked-out fanatic, a misfit in the Christian world. You will feel a new kind of loneliness, not the old kind that made you miserable and self-preoccupied but a new kind that makes you hopeful and other-centered but even more dark and alone-and a little weird...
But here's the point I'm getting to: nothing is more difficult than developing the kinds of relationships with fellow Christians that Jesus wants us to have because nothing else we can do is more strongly opposed by powerful forces within us."
from Larry Crabb, Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), pp. 120-121, 122.

I Killed Osama bin Laden

This is an edited repost of a piece I wrote during my old Chi Rho Live days.  

During World War II, the teachings of those who were nonviolent were misconstrued, as they are today, by war-supporting theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr gave a "spiritual" backbone to the people who wanted spiritual justification to go to Europe and fight Hitler. This stance made him a popular prophet for the people and their leaders.

In the process, Niebuhr misunderstood nonviolent people.  He presumed they were arguing "that nonresistance, or forgiveness, is a means of overcoming evil in an enemy." Nonviolent people are still stereotyped as believing we can win victory over the enemy if we just love.

G.H.C. MacGregor answered that argument in a lengthy eight-page article in Fellowship, June 1941, Part 2. "The disciple's aim in nonresistance is not to overcome evil in another, but to discipline his own life and make it more worthy of the Kingdom." MacGregor's teaching is just as relevant in our time as it was in the time of World War II. The people of God are supposed to live lives worthy of the Kingdom. Whether these lives transform those around us is not up to us. We are not the Holy Spirit; we are only followers of Jesus trying to live faithful lives, even when it comes to his tough teachings.

We can have victory over the enemy if we love everyone, but the nonviolent individual and the war supporting individual are talking about two different enemies and two different victories, one physical and one spiritual. To the follower of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus on loving our enemies and turning the other cheek do not concern an earthly victory, although that has proven to be the outcome at times. Earthly victories are not our focus when confronting evil; our focus is to be faithful to following Christ no matter what the situation or the cost involved.  We choose to follow Jesus no matter what the outcome will be.

During the midst of Hitler's tyranny, there was a powerful essay published in Fellowship, September, 1940. I imagined reworking it into an essay about killing Osama, hence the title of this post, but I just did not have the creative power. I will let it stand on its own. I pray that it will impact you the way it impacted me.  And in my heart I am guilty.  I might not have killed Adolf Hitler, but I have killed Osama bin Laden.  If you have joined me in that crime, may God have mercy on all our tainted souls.

I Killed Adolf Hitler
A Confession
By J. Carson Pritchard, a minister from Rhode Island
I have made several attempts on the life of Adolf Hitler. I remember the times--most of them--and most of the places. Naturally Hitler denies that I have killed him or tried to kill him. Hitler denies my attempts in the very best possible way; by refusing to die. I remember the first attempt I made on his life. Hitler remembers that time well. We were both younger then. He was a corporal. The Central Powers were making their last great stand. I tried then to take the lives of all the Hitler family--father, mother, cousins, all. I tried to take the life of his leader, the Kaiser. Considering the thoroughness of my plans and attempts they should all have died. They didn't. The last time I made an attempt on his life was a few Sundays ago about 11:15 in the morning. Several Sunday school superintendents had tried earlier in the day but they were as unsuccessful as I. That is; we killed him, but he refused to die.

I murdered him in my heart. I presume that my prayers lacked point; they did not lack fervor. My prayers must have been of such small bore that they were ineffectual in murder. The power behind them probably wasn't strong enough for such long range work; had I been nearer with just the Channel between instead of the whole Atlantic ocean I might have been more successful. My prayers should have found their murderous way into his heart. As it is the murder remains in my heart just as a dud shell remains in the barrel of the gun. Sometimes the explodes in the barrel and kills the gunner. I tried murdering him in 1918. I failed then. I have failed again 22 years after. My prayers must be dud.

I'm not confessing murder because I haven't murdered him--yet. No one can find a single dead body. They have to find the body before they can try a man for murder. They couldn't even get me for attempted murder because they wouldn't find an instrument of violence in my hand. This prayer gun is so much like a pop gun. I would just be laughed out of court. Anyway, I'm a pacifist and besides that Hitler is still alive.

I don't murder people in cold blood. I don't seem to be able to murder them in the heat of spirit either. I had this murder in my heart in 1918. I couldn't get it out of the barrel then. I tried to aim that murder at the Germans then. Instead of getting it in their hearts it didn't even get in their hair.

I've even tried to learn German. I thought that our God, being an English speaking god, might not be well enough informed about the real needs of those fine German people who have been corrupted by their leader. I learned a few of the simpler words of German before I gave that up. Now that they have German gods over there I may be able to do them more damage. The Jews will keep Yahweh informed. The English will keep the Anglican god informed. Now if I can draft the German speaking God we may be able to hit them a crushing blow. We should be able to blockade their source of spiritual supply.

I had quite an argument with a man about all this. He is probably a German himself or else in their pay. He was condemning my prayerful warfare on three counts; (1) that I was supposed to be a neutral and should not engage in such attempts until I declared my prayful war, (2) that I was an avowed pacifist and this murderous hope was incompatible with my pacifism, (3) that Germany had a real score to settle with the British and since England made the rules years ago Germany was playing its own game by its own rules. This man is wrong as you can see. I excuse him on two counts; (1) he is not well informed and, (2) as I said he may be in the pay of Germany (in their Fifth Column, or is it Sixth?) or else he is a German.

He was a Lutheran and as he had a great regard for Holy Scripture too, I thought I would justify my prayful warfare by a quotation from Scripture which clears up this whole matter. So I referred him to Matthew 9:4 which says that I should do the works of my Father while it is yet day. Now anyone with the least imagination knows that a German victory would be equivalent to night. The sun would set on the British Empire and all that we hold of value. Too, we know that the will of God is in this case. I turned to that verse for him. I had made a slight error! That verse was John 9:4. Before I could make that little correction he had me read Matthew 9:4. It says, "Wherefore think ye evil in your heart"? I couldn't see any connection whatever between that and needing to get Hitler out of the way of peace. Our argument broke down then into one on Biblical criticism.

But right now, I've got to do something before this murder spreads further over my body. It's like a disease that runs its course and then settles in the extremities of the human body. It was in my heart. It spread to my mind. Now murder may be settling this very minute in my fingers. Then I might have to confess a moral suicide instead of this moral murder!

A Privilege to Bring Relief

Tragedy struck the South last week in what could possibly be the worst tornado in American history once the missing are all accounted for.  Currently, this disaster sits at number two on the most destructive tornado list with over three hundred dead and over four hundred people still unaccounted for.  Beside the immeasurable cost to life, the tornadoes have also destroyed towns and cities.  Despite the size of the disaster and its recent occurrence, it is already old news.  When I write this early Monday morning, the story is already off the headlines and off of the main internet news sites. 

The apostle John and his letter to the churches always challenges me in times of disaster like this.   “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” [1 John 3:16-18 (ESV)].

The media has shrunk the world.  In a way, this is a good thing.  We can see the needs of people on the other side of the world.  But in another way, this can be a bad thing.  We can grow immune to the suffering and plight of others because it is always in front of us.  Let us heed the teaching of John.  If we say we love God, then we need to love our brothers and sisters in need.  Now is one of those times that we have that opportunity.

Sometimes I encounter the idea that we do not need to help others because we should use all of our resources to help our own.  The thought goes, “We have enough needs here in Antwerp and Paulding County.  Why should we send money to help others?”  Scripture teaches that God blesses in order for those whom he blesses to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3).  In God’s logic, he blesses those who have shown that they are willing to use what he blesses them with to bless others (Matthew 25:14-30).  We must be careful not to view it selfishly like an exchange in the marketplace.  “We bless others, God blesses us.”  It doesn’t work that simply.  God cannot be tricked by ur actions.  He can see our hearts and know whether our loving actions spring out of love or selfishness.  May we strive to learn how to genuinely love others and use our blessings to be a blessing.

The world does not have a problem with lacking supplies, food, and resources; its problem is in distribution.  Those in need could have all their needs met if those with plenty would choose to sacrifice and meet them.  There is enough to go around.  In God’s economy, we can always sacrifice to be a blessing.  That is the example that we should learn from Jesus on the cross.  Through his suffering, he showed us what humility really looks like (Philippians 2). 

So if you are looking to help during this time, there are many ways.  If you are in a denominational church, you can always contact your church’s relief wing and see what opportunities they have available.  There is always the American Red Cross.  My favorite disaster charity is International Disaster Emergency Service.  Ides ranks higher than the American Red Cross at Charity Navigator with their charity rating.   

If you are interested in doing more than just sending money, Riverside Christian Church is planning a relief trip down there next week to deliver some needed supplies and help out wherever help is needed.  The details are not finalized yet, but get in touch if you are interested in joining in our relief efforts.