Dirty Laundry

Recently a young couple had moved into a rural neighborhood. Living next door to this new couple was Bill and Mary. One morning while eating breakfast, Mary looked out the window and saw her new neighbor hanging her wash. “That laundry isn’t very clean!” Mary told bill. “Our young neighbor doesn’t know how to get her clothes clean!” Bill read the paper and didn’t say a word. Every time the new neighbor hung the laundry out to dry, Mary would make the same comments. Bill continued to say nothing.

A few weeks later, Mary was surprised to look out her window and see a nice, fresh and clean row of wash hung out to dry. In surprise, she said to her husband, “Look Bill, she finally knows how to clean her laundry.” “I wonder what she learned?” Mary asked. Bill replied, “Honey, I might have an answer for you.” “Really?” Mary Said. “Yes, I do.” Bill said. “I got up early this morning and washed our windows. I guess we finally learned to wash the windows.” (From a video at www.openthemeeting.com)

This story of Bill, Mary, and their neighbor is the filter through which our culture wants us to view the issue of judging others. If we notice that someone else has a problem, then that problem is really just our problem because we're judgmental. It's definitely not the other person's problem.

I concede that frequently the problem is our problem. We can’t just run around trying to correct everyone. Jesus instructed us to judge rightly (John 7:21-24). We need to make sure that we are seeing the whole issue before coming to a judgment. All sides of the issue. We have to make sure that the problem isn’t just us, our wrong attitude or our incomplete perspective.

But at other times, people actually have problems, and we are called to help them. We don’t have to be perfect to practice righteous judgment. If that were the case, we wouldn’t ever be qualified to help one another out because each one of us is a sinner in need of a savior. What we have to be is humble and loving. And if we have a problem with something, then we shouldn’t start pointing that out in others (Matthew 7:1-5). People might not know how to do their laundry. What would it benefit them if we didn’t go over there and show them how to do it? We could do this in a creative and loving way. We could invite them to do laundry with us. But the goal would be helping and not just criticizing them from the comfort of our dining room table.

People might not know right from wrong. They might not have been taught it since birth. They might be out of touch with God in an area and need some help. We all have a somewhat skewed upbringing. Our society instructs us from birth that we are to let people be who they are, but some times people need to be loved out of being who they are. They need someone to show them that they can be better than who they are, that they are not limited to being who they presently are. Nobody is confined to just be who they are. Each one of us needs to work toward being who God planned for us to be. Most people have been taught by their parents how to do their laundry, but for those who haven't, they do need someone to teach them.

This is an excerpt from a larger piece asking whether we Christians are to judge and how to do that. Judge Not or Judge Rightly
.

Quitting Time


What do you need to quit? What is stopping you from quitting if you know you need to quit something?

Our church used to have the toughest time quitting anything that was already in place, but nothing should be continued just because there once was a need for it. That need could be gone now. Things should only be done because we currently have a need for it. I have had a quote hanging behind my computer for the last two years. It reads, "It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate on what is most significant and important." That Soren Kierkegaard was a genius. We need to always evaluate whether the current practices that we are investing our lives into are helping us reach the goal we are trying to reach.

It is always useful to evaluate the needs as they currently are and figure out what is the best way to reach them. The answer is often different than the program that was developed for the needs we had five years ago. The change needed usually involves us quitting the program we once started for a past need so that we now have the time and resources freed up to meet the present need.

We typically view quitting as a bad thing, but quitting a program or a practice is one of the best things we can do as leaders. We need to be quitters.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School, wrote 12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit. Here are the twelve guiding questions to help us decide if we should quit.

 1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
 2. Do the needs for which this a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
 3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?
 4. Is it more cost-effective to continue than to pay the costs of restarting?
 5. Is the vision attracting more adherents?
 6. Are leaders still enthusiastic, committed, and focused on the effort?
 7. Are resources available for continuing investment and adjustments?
 8.Is skepticism and resistance declining?
 9. Is the working team motivated to keep going?
 10. Have critical deadlines and key milestones been met?
 11. Are there signs of progress, in that some problems have been solved, new activities are underway, and trends are positive?
12. Is there a concrete achievement — a successful demonstration, prototype, or proof of concept?
If you need help, I am here to help you quit. Quitting is necessary to grow and make progress. Let us quit together, so that we can grow together.

The Hope of This World

"This nation is the hope of the earth."
Mitt Romney in the presidential debate (October 22, 2012)

"America remains the one indispensable nation."
Barack Obama in the presidential debate (October 22, 2012)

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
Psalms 65:5 (ESV)

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope 
1 Timothy 1:1 (ESV)


We are not the world's hope. The one who is our hope is everyone else's hope. Some days we are blessed to be involved in the process of sharing that hope. But let us never confuse our blessing with being the hope.

I am never the hope of the world.

We are never the hope of the world.

He is always the hope of the world.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18 ESV).


Judge Not or Judge Rightly



Some weeks I’m convicted to write articles that are so countercultural that they are scary, at least for me, to share. I fear the condemnation of others. And today is one of those days. I guarantee that this one will rub us wrong because we have been indoctrinated from birth by our society to think what I am sharing is wrong. But it’s our responsibility as Christians to allow Scripture to shape us, especially when it goes against our culture. You are faced with a choice today, like you are faced with every day. Will you follow the tough teachings of Scripture or the billowing winds of society?

In America, we exalt the ideals of individualism - “you can’t tell me what to do” - and self-expression - "just be yourself." We even hear, to corroborate these American ideals, a teaching of Jesus. 

Everyone throws it around. You would think they all follow Jesus by how much we hear “judge not lest you be judged.” Not that most know the context of the verse they utter because, in its context, it is actually teaching us how to judge. In contrast to the meaning of this statement when taken out of context, Jesus also taught, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” 

So in this article, we will take a worldwind tour through the issue of judgment. What was Jesus teaching us? If we are to judge, then who are we to judge? And what does this look like in practice? 

But before we begin, I want to define the word “judge.” The word translated “judge” from the Greek just means to make a decision on whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. It obviously has a judicial use, but it also can be used in private contexts. It means to separate the good from the bad. The grain from the chaff. Or, a modern-day equivalent, picking the all stars out from their regular teams. Or stealing the rye chips out of the gardettos - something I like to do. Or a coach critiquing a kid on what they are doing wrong so that they can do it better. 

When we hear "judge" used in a negative light, it means something else entirely. In an a message, Judging Others? Stop It!, a religious leader states, “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!”

Now, I am against all the negative things that the writer was against – hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm. But those are not elements of judging in the Biblical sense. They’re sin. Flat out sin. 

Jesus actually teaches us to judge, and he wouldn’t teach us to sin.

I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:21-24 (ESV).

Judge with right judgment. In contrast to our culture's doctrines of tolerance and permissiveness, Jesus actually tells us to righteously judge things. We’re called to lift a brother or sister out of sin when we see them sinking in it. And we can’t do that without judging whether the behavior in our brother or sister is right or wrong. 

The other side of the coin is that we are also not supposed to get upset over the actions in others that do not matter. That is the balance to keep us in control from becoming Oscar the Grouch. In the context of this passage from John, Jesus healed on the Sabbath and people became upset, upset that He would make a man well because He did it on the wrong day. For a modern day example, let’s talk about church. Church is important, and I don’t think people should miss gathering together. But if you missed the gathering to help someone, I shouldn’t be upset. Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

So how do we judge rightly? Let me give you a practical example without giving too many details. A while back I approached someone who was participating in behavior that was destructive to them and to the local church community I am part of. This wasn’t to the level of church discipline. It was just me suggesting to them that the behavior that they were participating in would not lead to the best life for them. Their behavior was causing lots of problems in their life and in our church. 

And it didn’t go so well. Instead of changing their behavior, they attacked me and left the church. That’s pretty typical in modern-day America. Instead of changing into who God wants us to be, we just find a place that won’t encourage us to change.

The response I experienced is something we always need to be prepared for in confronting someone about something. But we must ask ourselves if we love the other person enough that we are willing to risk our relationship with them to improve their life. Because not helping someone through a problem that is destroying their life – something that people are oddly oblivious to at times – not helping them is not loving them. What is loving them is to actually talk to them gently and in a loving way about it. Experience shows that some times it helps and other times we are attacked or completely ignored.

So I want to ask what makes it work sometimes and not at others.

First, humility is necessary. In both people. In confronting someone, we could very well be wrong. So we always approach the person we perceive to be struggling with a sin with love and gentleness, but we must not ignore the issue if we notice that it is destroying God's intention for the situation. 

Second, a desire for improvement is necessary. If someone doesn’t want to be better, then nothing we say or do will matter. A "perfect" person needs no help. 

Third, it is important to confront others within the context of an already existing relationship. People will often start pulling away from relationships when there is something majorly sinful going on in their life. Sadly, people disconnect when they need the relationship most. But we need to work on having that relationship with people before we approach a tough subject with them.

When you do confront someone, just point out the issue that you think needs worked on. It’s not time to bring out a shopping list of problems. Just point out the specific problem, talk about solutions, and move on. Be quick to forgive. And don’t ever hold a grudge. 

People who join together in a local church body agree to be held accountable by other spiritual family members and are willing to hold them accountable if needed, all for the sake of encouragement and spiritual maturity. This accountability is important to being a Christian, but it’s difficult because our world teaches us to avoid accountability. To make this happen, we must realize that there is a difference between being judgmental and acknowledging sin in others with the intention to encourage them to change.

One guy wrote on a Youtube video regarding judging others a common sentiment: “I've got way too many planks
in my own eye to worry about anyone else's sin.” You probably also know the plank in the eye phrase. It comes from the most quoted section on judging in Scripture.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV).

I had a friend write me a few months back. He had a problem with going to strip clubs and was looking for help in stopping. Now, am I supposed to be non-judgmental and say, “Hey, that’s fine. Who am I to say that you shouldn’t go to strip clubs? Who am I to say that going is bad for you? And who are you, my friend, to say that you need to stop doing it? Doesn’t your view denigrate everyone else that goes to strip clubs? Go to strip clubs if you think that is good for you.” Or should I say, “Hey, here are some tips to get over that sin in your life.” And then proceed, out of love, to give him suggestions of things in his life that he needs to change to get at the core of the issue. Because the issue is not strip clubs. That's just the surface issue. The real issue is the distance between him and Jesus.

Using the argument made on Youtube, I shouldn’t tell him not to go because I have different sins in my life. Who am I to help another remove the speck from their eye? But that is not what Jesus was talking about. If I have a problem going to strip clubs, then I shouldn’t be the one trying to help my friend out. Who would I be to talk about the peril of strip clubs if I had the same struggle? But that’s not my struggle. Not that I don’t have other problems in my life. But in this case, I should help my friend out. We don’t have to be perfect to practice righteous judgment. If that were the case, we wouldn’t ever be qualified to help one another out because each one of us is a sinner in need of a savior. What we have to be is humble and loving. And if we have a problem with something, then we shouldn’t start pointing that out in others.

For everyone who loudly proclaims, “Don’t judge me.” There are others who through the righteous judgment of others, changed their lives from what it shouldn’t be to more of what it should be. This has been true in me many times. Others have seen areas in my life that needed to change. They followed that observation up by trying to convince me that I needed the changes they perceived I needed. They did this through example, and they did it through conversation. We need to likewise. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has grown as a result of the loving and righteous judgment of someone else. Being rightly judged and encouraged is a great thing.

Now, I hope this article will encourage us to help one another out, but I don’t want it to unleash an unhealthy firestorm of criticalness toward one another. 

We must realize that we can’t do this life alone. We need one another. And what I am talking about usually works best through existing relationships.

But I want to clarify one thing. We don’t ever judge those outside of the church. Let me reiterate that because it is an essential concept. We don’t ever judge those outside of the church.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

We see a few things in this passage. One, we don’t expect the world to not be the world. Two, we are to purge the evil person from among us. So the world will be the world, but the church is supposed to be a shining example of heaven here on earth, the kingdom of God among us.

This brings up the heavy topic of church discipline. When, if ever, would a situation of sin reach a point where an individual would have to be removed from the local church? Paul wrote that we are to “purge the evil person.” In the case of the Corinthian church, they had a situation where a son was sleeping with his step-mother and everyone, including Paul in another city, knew about it. This public sin was hurting the mission of Jesus.

We need to be full of grace toward one another, but there reaches a point when what someone is regularly participating in is so detrimental to the mission of the church that it needs to be dealt with in a disciplinary way. I hope that is something that is few and far between. People, like me, don’t become leaders in the church because we want authority over people and want to discipline them. We become leaders because we want to mobilize people to love God and love their community. It’s the mission of the church to be disciples and to help others be disciples. 

Discipline, as Paul is describing here, happens only when the sin – because we are all sinners – is so drastic that it is destroying the church. This is the point at which a particular sin is so detrimental to the church that it is crippling other people's ability to love God and love the community they are called to love.

So if you struggle with porn and the church hears about it, they shouldn't threaten to kick you out of the church. Instead they should help you. But if you start up a swingers club, the church should ask you to leave until you’re willing to turn back to God. If you struggle with gossip, the church shouldn't kick you out, but they should help hold you accountable. But if you get on Facebook every day, making your sin of gossip public and destroy the reputation of yourself and the church you attend, the church should deal with it. If you struggle with alcoholism, the church shouldn't threaten you with expulsion. Instead, the church should help you overcome your addiction. But if you get a reputation as the town drunk, that is something the church will have to deal with.

A good test to use is to ask if the particular behavior is extremely detrimental to the mission of the church? Remember, the church is just our relationships with one another under Jesus.

Now, we must recognize that this concept of church discipline does not apply to visitors or people outside of the church. It only applies to people in the church family.

I understand that this teaching of discipline goes against some of our society’s deeply held convictions, but we exist to be disciples and help others be disciples. And if the behavior of someone in a church reaches a level that it begins to destroy the mission of the church, it is something the church will have to deal with. 

If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. John 12:47 (ESV)

Let me reiterate. We are to never judge those outside the church. Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it. The same should be true with us. We are not here to judge the world, but to be involved in saving it. Christians have a bad reputation because we get it all backward. Unfortunately, the church has been bumbling and fumbling it’s way to discerning how we are to behave in a democracy. The Bible doesn’t give clear instructions on how being a Christian in a democracy works. We have principles to apply, but the way it looks has been something we have been wrestling with since the founding of this nation. Unfortunately, on our way from being a persecuted group at the founding of the church to being a group that has some legislative power in this day and age, we have gained a reputation for judging those outside of the church. We have become known as haters and ridiculers of those outside of the church. 

Instead, we should be known as lovers of the people in the world.

So we have to clean up our own act as the church. We have to be concerned with one another in the body. That is one of the reasons we have local church families and aren't Lone Ranger Christian. Through a local body, we know who wants to be held accountable. When you’re not in the family, the family should not hold you accountable. That’s not the church's job. But being part of the family lets us know who wants to be held accountable by one another. 

There is a difference between judging whether someone is sinning combined with encouraging/rebuking/helping them strive to be who God has destined them to be, especially when you are in a church family together, contrasted with judging one’s eternal salvation. The latter we are to never do. The former is a part of what church is all about. Whether it is in helping people in their first step in the Lord, the next step in their lifelong journey, or steering them back toward God when they have gone wayward, we each need others to help us grow in the Lord.

The Bible teaches that every person has worth as a creation of God, but each have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Everyone is a sinner, and Jesus established the church to provide a place for us to help one another grow. We are all about being different tomorrow from who we are today. We are not where God wants us to be – nobody reading this is, yet we are on a journey to become more and more of who we were made to be. Together and as individuals. Despite all of its flaws, I still love the church. We are far, far from perfect, but it is beautiful when we are heading in the right direction and being used by God to transform lives.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)

Recently a young couple had moved into a rural neighborhood. Living next door to this new couple was Bill and Mary. One morning while eating breakfast, Mary looked out the window and saw her new neighbor hanging her wash. “That laundry isn’t very clean!” Mary told bill. “Our young neighbor doesn’t know how to get her clothes clean!” Bill read the paper and didn’t say a word. Every time the new neighbor hung the laundry out to dry, Mary would make the same comments. Bill continued to say nothing.

A few weeks later, Mary was surprised to look out her window and see a nice, fresh and clean row of wash hung out to dry. In surprise, she said to her husband, “Look Bill, she finally knows how to clean her laundry.” “I wonder what she learned?” Mary asked. Bill replied, “Honey, I might have an answer for you.” “Really?” Mary Said. “Yes, I do.” Bill said. “I got up early this morning and washed our windows. I guess we finally learned to wash the windows.” (From a video at
www.openthemeeting.com)

Jackpot! Now that is the story our culture wants us to believe. If someone else has a problem, then that problem is really just our problem because we're judgmental. It's definitely not the other person's problem. 

I concede that frequently the problem is our problem. We can’t just run around trying to correct everyone. Jesus instructed us to judge rightly. We need to make sure that we are seeing the whole issue before coming to a judgment. All sides of the issue. We have to make sure that the problem isn’t just us, our wrong attitude or our incomplete perspective.

But at other times, people actually have problems, and we are called to help them. People might not know how to do their laundry. What would it benefit them if we didn’t go over there and show them how to do it? We could do this in a creative and loving way. We could invite them to do laundry with us. But the goal would be helping and not just criticizing them from the comfort of our dining room table.

People might not know right from wrong. They might not have been taught it since birth. We all have a somewhat skewed upbringing. Our society instructs us from birth that we are to let people be who they are, but some times people need to be loved out of being who they are. They need someone to show that they can be better than who they are, that they are not limited to being who they presently are. Nobody is confined to just be who they are. Each one of us needs to work toward being who God planned for us to be. Most people have been taught by their parents how to do their laundry, but for those who haven't, they do need someone to teach them.

So come as you are church. Wear the clothes you’re comfortable wearing. Be your own unique self. The church should be a safe place free from hate, gossip, ridicule, and grudges. Those sins have no place in the church. But if you’re a member of a church family and you’re hurting others, expect someone to confront you. If you need help, anticipate someone helping you. We need to judge and help one another on the things that matter. That's love. Tough love, but the kind of love that transforms us from our sinful nature into more of that person that God created us to be. Loving one another is what we’re called to do. And one way we do that is through practicing righteous judgment.

If you're part of a church, you have joined together in a family to be held accountable by other family members. And you have committed to have others hold you accountable if needed, all for the sake of encouragement and spiritual maturity. Let us learn to love, even when it is difficult, so that the mission of Jesus – for us to be disciples and help others be disciples – is realized in our midst.

Put Me In The Zoo or Learning To Fly


Have you ever seen an eagle fly?

I have seen an eagle at the zoo. The eagle was locked up in a cage. It was an outdoor cage, probably designed to elicit the feeling that the eagle was in its natural environment. The powerful eagle sat there in the sun, staring at us through the fence. Despite being encaged, the eagle still looked majestic. I couldn’t help but think that there is something special about the eagle.

Two times, I have seen an eagle fly in its real natural environment. Once, I was driving over the Hoover Dam and as soon as I crossed over, an eagle swooped down nearly twenty feet from my car only to soar back up. Impressive. It seems almost a disservice to verbalize the experience of seeing an eagle fly because words cannot quite capture the feeling. There is a sense of awe. There is an experience of beauty as if beauty is something tangible. As the eagle flew by, effortlessly, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight.

Let’s change gears for a moment. God did amazing things to rescue the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land: The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous sustenance of manna in the wilderness. He proclaimed to them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4 ESV).

I love the phrase “on eagles’ wings.” The power. The swiftness. The beauty. The ease. The concept is repeated in Isaiah’s book: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV).

God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and had some expectations for them. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV).

God desired for His people to obey His voice and keep His covenant. Being His people wasn’t something that automatically happened by a declaration from God. God did choose them, but the Israelites needed to respond with obedience and faithfulness. Oh, how we long to just be zapped with a magic wand that transforms us into God’s people, but we have a choice to make. Daily. Obedience to God or enslavement to the sins of the world. Keeping our end of God’s covenant or living selfishly. The choice is ours.

The Israelites had a choice too; they chose the zoo. They said that they didn’t want to experience God directly (Exodus 20:19). After just experiencing the great, majestic, life-changing power of God, the chosen people chose safety. Instead of flying free and experiencing the world as God intended, they chose separation between themselves and God. Instead of majesty and beauty, they chose the cage. It’s like they said, “We don’t want you, God. We want someone else to be between you and ourselves. We want a zookeeper to feed us. We want the safety and security of a cage.”

God wants His people to know Him. When we know Him, we will know His voice. We will be able to act during His timing, properly discerning when to move and how to move. We will serve and not grow weary. As we grow in our relationship with God, we begin to know Him so well that we can distinguish His voice through the siren calls of our culture.

But the Israelites chose to not know God. And because of that, they missed out. They missed the beauty. They missed the majesty. They missed His glory.

Sometimes we do likewise. And we miss His beauty, His majesty, and His glory.

Are you flying?

Or are you an eagle at a cage in the zoo? The cage is always left open. Just open your wings and fly like you were always intended to.

A Christian in Politics



It’s that time of year again. One in which everyone starts misbehaving, proclaiming that if you don’t share their political views then you can’t be a Christian. This is the first election season where most of us are on Facebook, and it is difficult for some to behave themselves. Oh, what a wonderful time. I’m sure God smiles down on all of his followers attacking one another when they are supposed to be identified by their love toward one another.

But what if in this political season we got it all wrong? What if our goal in life isn’t to achieve political victory but to love our neighbor? What if behaving like jerks, to put it lightly, in the political arena actually is a distraction from our true purpose in life? What if, instead of choosing Obama or Romeny, we decided to choose Jesus?

It’s tough for many to not be a jerk when they get their news from a biased source that neglects the negative stories about their own guy. In this vaccum of news from the other perspective, one begins to believe the other side is purely evil while they are on the side of the angels. But I want to propose that neither side is on the side of the angels. They are both flawed human institutions that forget their true purpose in the hopes of winning the temporary and fleeting praise of the masses and/or some select wealthy donors.

As followers of Jesus, we must not align ourselves too closely with any human institution dare we lose our prophetic voice. What that means is that we can never become so Republican that we don’t speak out against the injustices of the Republican Party. Or likewise, we must never become so much of a Democrat that we can’t speak out against the injustices of the Democratic Party. 

The church has a purpose in our society. We are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city on a hill. We can’t do that if we just become another cog in one of the political parties, a cog that they can depend on no matter what they do. How different both of our parties would be if the people, especially the Christians who should know better, in those parties started cleaning up their own house rather than just constantly throwing mud at the other?

If one party feels that they have a specific demographic locked in, they won’t do anything to win the vote of that demographic. Why would they? They already have them. Each of the parties, like all human institutions, are inherently flawed. They are better when they are striving toward loving others and those things that are good. They are worse when they are living selfishly. We, Christians, must play hard to get when it comes to the political parties. True, we might grow old and lonely some day, but at least we won’t be a dirty whore, sleeping in bed with those who are committing atrocities of all sorts that our Savior would be ashamed of.

So the church, needs to be a place where people of all political persuasions can get along, keeping our prophetic voice alive by drawing closer to Jesus. The Democrats needs good Christians in their midst. The Republicans do too. Likewise, so does the Green Party, the Libertarians, and every other political group. Every group needs a little salt and a little light.

So let us not denigrate our brothers and sisters who might have different political views than us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the issues we disagree on, but let us not pretend that our side in the political arena is the one on God’s side. I’ve seen both sides, and they’re both pretty filthy. And that is just from visible appearances. God sees the heart. Thankfully, he has grace enough for Republicans, Democrats, and third-partiers too.

Election Day Communion at Riverside Christian Church


For those in the Antwerp area, you are invited to Election Day Communion

On November 6, 2012, Election Day,
we will exercise our right to choose.

Some of us will choose to vote for Barack Obama.
Some of us will choose to vote for Mitt Romney.
Some of us will choose to vote for another candidate.
Some of us will choose not to vote.

During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results.

But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.
Let’s meet at the same table,
with the same host,
to remember the same things.

We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

We’ll remember that, through the Holy Spirit, this power dwells within otherwise ordinary people who as one body continue the mission of Jesus: preaching good news to the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-21).

We’ll remember that freedom — true freedom — is given by God and is indeed not free. It comes with a cost and it looks like a cross.

We’ll remember our sin and our need to repent.

We’ll remember that the only Christian nation in this world is the Church, a holy nation that crosses all human-made boundaries and borders.

We’ll remember that our passions are best placed within the passion of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

We’ll remember that we do not conform to the patterns of this world, but we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

We’ll remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

And we’ll re-member the body of Christ as the body of Christ, confessing the ways in which partisan politics has separated us from one another and from God.
On Tuesday evening, November 6,
make a choice to remember.
Let’s meet at the Lord’s Table.
Let’s remember together.

Please join us for communion on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at 7:00 pm.





Ecclesiastes and Wisdom

"Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
'For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.'"
Ecclesiastes 1:17-18

I think the writer of Ecclesiastes is wrong in this section. The pursuit of wisdom is not chasing after the wind. Wisdom does not bring sorrow. That's not to say that I don't believe the book of Ecclesiastes is inspired. It's just that it is a whole book, and it, along with Job, are two of the most dangerous books to just take a section out of and act like those few verses are the truth. They are great to study and wrestle with as they show the common thoughts of the time. Thoughts that have morphed but retain their material in today's age.

The wayward journey of a life apart from God is what most of Ecclesiastes is expressing. His words connect because we can relate to the feeling in moments of despair. But the truth is that fearing God and keeping His commandments is what will make you whole. It brings meaning to the knowledge. It brings insight to the path of the Lord (true wisdom).God brings meaning to the meaningless. God brings hope to despair. God brings life to folly. While the writer of Ecclesiastes states that everything is vain, God and His people are in the business of bringing beauty into this world of messes. And this is the conclusion of the book. Throughout the book, we see the ramblings of a lost man. The ending, which many argue was tacked on by another writer, states the true purpose of life: Fearing God and keeping His commandments will make you whole.

Solomon was lost. Not because of his wisdom but because of ignoring his wisdom. He desired women, wealth, and power over doing what he knew was the right thing to do. Wisdom is knowing what is right or wrong (1 Kings 3:9). How can knowing the right way to go be a bad thing? It only is a bad thing in the mind of the depressed and despairing author of Ecclesiastes, and us when we share in the depression and despair. We love to wallow in our hopelessness. It's even better when we can share the mud with others. Not being accusatory toward anyone else; I know this from experience. But God offers hope to the despairing if we will just fear God and keep his commandments. In that place we will be whole despite our temporary feelings of brokenness.

If the writings discarding wisdom throughout Ecclesiastes is an inspired conclusion, then it contradicts with other non-poetic/non-artistic passages of Scripture. Wisdom is a thing to be desired (Proverbs 1-2,16:16, 8:11). God promises to give us wisdom (James 1:5). God was pleased with Solomon when he asked for it (1 Kings 3:10). Wisdom is just knowing how to discern right from wrong and discovering what God wants us to do with our life. It is a frustrating thing to not have; it is a beautiful thing to discover. Like the writer of Proverbs describes it, wisdom is like the prominent, powerful lady of the city. Something we should desire to be part of our lives.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:13-18 ESV).
Ignorance might seem like bliss at times. Seeing the brokenness around us does cause us grief, as the writer expressed. But knowledge is what opens our eyes to bringing about the necessary change in this world, a world that we would like to shield from our eyes at times. Wisdom lets us know how to go about bringing that change into reality. The lack of knowledge allows us to be deceived and manipulated. It also allows us to pretend like everything is fine, which leads to us not living a life passionately pursuing God's kingdom. The lack of wisdom causes us to go in the wrong direction. Knowledge and wisdom are both good things in their proper place, but we must always remember that the greatest is love.

Ecclesiastes and Job are minefields when not read in their entirety. They are not to be read like other books. They are there to keep us from worshiping wisdom itself rather than the God who gives us wisdom.

Sand the floors. Paint the fence. Wax On. Wax off.

video



When God asks you if you are ready to follow him and you reply that you are, don’t be surprised if it means that you are then lining fields for soccer, sweeping roads, moving furniture, giving cookies, writing encouraging notes, and doing other, what seems to be, menial jobs.

Sand the floors. Paint the fence. Wax On. Wax off.

In the classic 80s version of the Karate Kid – the one where they used karate rather than kung fu – Mr. Miyagi used little tasks to train Daniel to be the Karate Kid. Likewise, we must realize that God, even in our littlest tasks, is at work. He’s shaping us into who He wants us to be.

We might get frustrated at times. “God, I’ve given away kid’s clothes. God, I’ve worked to mend the broken relationship. God, I’ve sent encouraging letters. Where God? Where, oh where is the meaning in all of this?”

But we must remain focused even when it seems pointless. God is at work, shaping us and those around us into who He wants us to be. Becoming our destined self cannot be realized until we live faithfully today in all of the little things that God calls us to do. We must stay focused on the mission that God has placed on our hearts and realize the truth that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san, “Not everything is as seems.”

When Hernan Cortes came to what is now Mexico to conquer the New World, he burnt the ships that he and his army came on. This stranded his expedition at Mexico and brought us the phrase “burn your ships.” The idea is that you make your success essential. There is no escape. There is no retreat. Success is the only option.

Cortes placed his soldiers in a place where there would be no going back quickly. They would either win or die. They had to remain focused on the task at hand or there would be no future for them.

When Lot’s wife was being rescued from Sodom, she looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. When she longed for the life she once had and lost focus on God’s plan, she faced a terrible punishment.

When it comes to the mission of the Lord, are we more like Cortes, focused on God’s mission no matter what the cost, or are we more like Lot’s wife, longing for the life we have left behind? Those who do not remain focused on God and refuse to do all of the tasks he prompts our hearts to do will not receive the blessing of actualizing our calling.

We each have a mission under God. One, we need to pursue with as much passion as those who once literally burnt their ships. One we must allow to permeate even the little things we do in life.

And it begins with Christ.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV)

Corrie Ten Boom  wrote, “Look … Look around and be distressed. Look inside and be depressed. Look at Jesus and be at rest.”

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Oh, how the earth tries to grab our attention. We know people who die. Boom. We despair.  We have pains in our body. Boom. Like an explosion, we’re focused on it. We face terrible situations. Boom. We’re distressed. Our money doesn’t stretch as far as we would like. Boom. We’re depressed.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

How does our relationship with Jesus impact our reading habits? Our internet habits? Our movie watching habits? The time we spend with friends? Our work habits? Our family life? Our dreams? Our hopes? Our parenting? Our grandparenting? If it does not change every area of our life, then we need to convert to following Jesus. No lip service, no confession, no baptism, nor any amount of  church attendance can compensate for a heart unwilling to change. God is not fooled.

Unfortunately, the way we relate to Him when we compartmentalize Him is skewed. In that setting, He is not our Lord. He’s not Savior. He’s not King. He’s just a celebrity that we like. He’s just a book writer who entertains. He’s just an entertainer who makes us think. But when His teachings get difficult, we just shove Him back into the compartment we have for Him. We’ll let him out when we want him again. But for the meanwhile, we’ll lock Him away so that He can’t meddle with our life.

Sand the floors. Paint the fence. Wax On. Wax off.

We have a Lord to serve.

May we each have the courage, strength, and grace to follow Christ completely.