Thoughts on Thievery 


Twice this week our church building has been broken into. I’m frustrated.

I talk week in and week out about love, but when times like these come they test our resolve to love.

What should our response be in times like these? Should we seek justice? Should we roll over like a rug mat?

It’s hard to think straight. I feel violated having someone in my office, uninvited, rifling through my desk. Fortunately nothing of high value was stolen. Fortunately no one was hurt. But now there’s this uneasiness I feel in the area. I felt this same way years ago when my car was broken into in California.

It seems so cliche, but how would Jesus respond?

Things are things. People are created in the image of God. They are loved by Him. Their lives are valuable to Him. He yearns for their salvation.

Jesus would pray first. He wouldn’t verbally try to process things and get worked into a froth first like I often tend to do. He would pray first to find his source of strength and center.

He would pray for the salvation of the thieves. He would pray for love to abound in himself that they might know God through the undeserved love of the Son. He would pray for an opportunity to love them directly in word and deed.

Would He seek justice? Only if that would lead to their repentance.

Would he spend money on surveillance and security systems? It’s hard to tell. I’m not sure Jesus would be very concerned about a church building at all. Sometimes ownership of stuff distracts from the more meaningful purposes in life.

Are church buildings a good investment? In this culture they seem to be. We are much more urbanized than in centuries past. The closer the people are together, the larger the gatherings tend to be. The larger the gatherings, the greater the need for a gathering place. And it’s cold outside. Very cold. I’m thankful for a warm place to get together with my forever family.

Jesus came to this earth and functioned within the current religious and social culture of the day. I think he would do the same today – church buildings and all.

So, what is our response when we who are striving to live for Christ are violated in such a way? Pray. Pray for the people who broke in to find love and freedom from sin in Christ. Pray for ourselves that we may find peace and lose our need for vindication. Pray to see through the eyes of Christ and love with His heart and His Spirit within us.

May God bring life-change to those who broke into our building. May God bring a forgiving Spirit to our hearts and allow us to be an example to the rest of our community and the world. May God be glorified in all things.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


You Get What You Ask For

Be careful what you pray for. You might just get it. 

When we pray, we are encouraged to pray for what we want and to be willing to follow the will of God whatever the outcome. But what if the will of God isn’t what He gives us? What if He gives us what we wanted even if that means he has to work a different outcome?

God had a plan for Israel, but they wanted a king, so he gave them one. It wasn’t exactly pleasant for the Israelites, but they got what they wanted, and eventually God worked out His will for them anyway. 

We just voted in a new president. Many churches prayed for the outcome of his election. Many Christians prayed specifically for Trump to win, but is that what the church needed? 

The American church is weak. The American church largely functions like a 40 year old bible nerd that still lives in his mom’s basement. 

Where is evangelism? Where are wonderful works of the Holy Spirit? Where are those strong in the faith who are able to speak truth without fear of their fellow man? Where are the “greater things than these” that Jesus promised we’d do?

Yes, there are preachers and some Christians who function this way, but this is not the norm. 

If the American church functions largely to put on Sunday morning bible classes and worship assemblies, then she has missed the call of the New Testament. 

The American church is full of people who claim to be Christians but don’t even know what Christ said about how to live. They look just like the world and cower at the concept of being blunt enough to tell others about the dangers of sin and the need for a savior. They don’t want to be seen as religious “nuts” and work hard to be cool according to the world’s standards. 

When has the church been strong? The church was strong under the persecution of the Jews, Pagans, and Romans in the first three centuries. The church is still strong in places where persecution is more than just a hateful glance or derogatory comment. The church is strong where there are threats of prison and death. 

Why? Because if you’re still going to choose the way of Christ in such circumstances, you’re going to have to be truly filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. There are no partial Christians in places like that. There are no “Sunday morning only” Christians in that culture. 

Perhaps what the American church needs is some persecution. Maybe she needs to lose some of her rights in this nation. Maybe her members need to be threatened in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. God has done it before. One day, He will do it again. 

I pray for President-Elect Trump and his staff. I pray for our nation. I pray especially for the church – that she begins to pray prayers more like Acts 4 – prayers of boldness and not protection; prayers of courage in the Spirit of Christ.

It’s well past time for Christians in this nation to come back to the Christ they claim with their lips but deny with their lifestyle. It’s time for the church to be a bastion of love in a world gone mad with fear and hatred. It’s time for the church to stop being “of convenience” and start being actually “of Christ”. 

What are you going to do to help the church be what Jesus calls her to be? Change starts with me, and it starts with you. 


On Christians and Halloween

About two thousand years ago, the Celts in Ireland celebrated the beginning of the new year on November 1. This was typically the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold months usually associated with death. The eve of this day was called Samhain.

On Samhain, the Celts believed that the veil between the physical and spiritual world was thin enough that ghosts and ghouls could travel across the veil and devour crops and make all sorts of mischief. On this night, everyone would put out the fire in their fireplaces, and they would light large bonfires in the villages to help ward off these spirits. They would also put on animal skins and animal heads to create costumes so that the spirits would be tricked into leaving them alone.

As the Roman Empire made its way into Ireland, some of the superstition regarding Roman deities became part of the Samhain celebration. They would sacrifice crops and other items in these bonfires to seek good fortune from these spirits.

By the 700s, the Catholic Church held high power and sought to change the focus of Samhain and give it a more Christian tone. So they came up with a day to honor all those martyred for the sake of Christ. This day would also serve to honor the saints who had gone before (their definition of Saint was much more complex than the biblical definition). They called November 1 All Saint’s Day or All Hallows’ Day. That would make October 31 All Hallows’ Eve. This would later get shortened to Halloween.

Even though they had changed the names, much of the superstition of the holiday still retained its practice.

By the 1800s, Halloween finally made a surge for acceptance in the US. The puritans had rejected the day as evil, so it took a while for this holiday to catch on here in our nation. As it began in the US, the practice was to “Trick or Treat” on Halloween in lieu of the bonfires and sacrifices. Most of the time there were more tricks than treats due to the lack of prosperity in much of the culture.

By the 1950s, Halloween had transformed into the holiday we see today where children dress up in costumes and go door to door receiving candy and trinkets. Today, Halloween is the second most profitable holiday for retail in the US; only Christmas sees more spending for decorations and food and periphery.

So, should Christians celebrate Halloween?

Well, there’s a difference between holding to the customs of the spiritual side of the holiday’s origin (which I’m not sure there are many who still do) and dressing up in costumes for a night of make-believe and diabetes.

If you cannot separate the current practice of this children’s holiday from the pagan, mystical origins, then I would say you should sit this one out. If you don’t want your kids to be exposed to frightening images and experiences, then you should find an alternative to walking streets filled with teens who get their kicks by scaring young children. If you’re a health nut, and the idea of a night of cavity-creating, diabetes-inducing indulgence make you more afraid than a teenager dressed as a clown, then you should  probably abstain.

Is this a matter of salvation or getting kicked out of the church-club? No.

Nowadays, Halloween holds to little of its roots and can even teach kids to not worry about the monster under their bed or as an inflatable in someone’s yard.

Can’t it get dark and evil? Yes. That is the part we should refrain from participating in. We are called to be children of the light. God is light. There are many scriptures about Christians not participating in deeds of darkness.

So, dress up in fun, silly costumes of favorite superheroes or Disney movie characters and find places that are kid friendly. There are many of these where you live. And let us have fun on this imaginative night without having to give in to the darkness.


Cussing Christians

tape-on-mouth

I grew up in the Bible Belt – in the Deep South. In that area, religion pervades every area of life. Even though most people are only marginally Christians, the Christian ideals influence the moral compass of that society.

In the South, there are ways a person is supposed to behave and ways they aren’t. In the South, you’re supposed to treat women right and work hard to provide for your family. In the South, what church you belong to can function as a status symbol that can help you out in social and business circles. In the South, your language matters.

Growing up in the South and in the church, I was taught often about what I am not allowed to say. I remember being told that “crap” was a bad word when I was a child. By the time I reached my teenage years, “crap” was being used by adults at church. I remember being shocked the first time I heard it used by an adult I thought was spiritually elite.

I had learned about the “B” word, “D” word, “S” word, “A” word and “F” word. I knew these words weren’t to be used in social settings, and if I stubbed my toe and said one of these, I needed to repent because saying such was a sin.

I have seen how media has increasingly incorporated each of these words into mainstream media. On TV you can hear most of these in regular programming. If you watch original programming on Netflix, you may encounter all of these words.

So, the question poses itself: are these words really bad?

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

James 3:8-10 (ESV)
…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

See? The bible talks about curse words!

Really?

If you look at the context of scriptures that talk about our language use, time after time you will see that our language is to be used to build others up. If we are tearing people down with our words, then we are sinning against others.

You can use “four letter words” to tear people down. People do it all the time – cussing someone out. But you can also tear people down with socially acceptable words that can even inflict worse damage.

Calling some “good for nothing” or “worthless” is no better nor more acceptable to God than using profanity against them. To call someone stupid or fat does the same or maybe worse than any four letter word. When we ridicule and cut and deride and slander and gossip, we are sinning against those whom the Lord created in His image to be His children.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words cut to the heart.

The scriptures, when talking about “unwholesome talk” isn’t addressing the times when you stub your toe and say a colorful euphemism. The scriptures are addressing the way you speak to others around you. Are you building them up or tearing them down?

Words are like money and guns. They are not inherently evil by themselves. Their worth is determined by how we use them.

So, is it ok to flippantly use words our culture considers “profanity”? The context of your conversation matters tremendously. When speaking about eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul refers to the context of the meal to convince Christians that their actions may inadvertently cause others to go against their consciences.

To cause someone to go against their conscience (even unintentionally) is to sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 9). So we must be always on guard with our language.

So, can Christians cuss? The scriptures don’t really address much of what goes for cussing today. What the scriptures speak to directly is our treatment of others with our words. Build others up. Don’t tear them down – no matter what words you use.


Communion…What Do I Do Now?

The Lord’s Supper is such a solemn time during the worship service each Sunday. The emblems are central to the life of every believer. Jesus said that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us and no part with him (John 6). This is probably the most important segment of our Sunday morning assembly. 

During this ritual, however, there is quite a bit of waiting. We wait and listen while the person says a few words to remind us why we participate. We wait for the tray to get to us each time it is passed around. We wait for everyone else to partake after us. So what should we be doing during this time?

I’ve heard people lead into the time of communion with the thought that we are to be examining ourselves. It is thought that we need to be introspective, considering the ways in which we are not right with God – our sinfulness. This comes from 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 which says,

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Doesn’t this sound like we are to sit there during those waiting times and rake ourselves over the coals of guilt as we remind ourselves of the myriad of ways we fall short of being like Jesus? It does if we take this verse out of context. 

What was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to write this letter? The church there was full of immorality and division. In fact, the division in the church is what Paul begins the letter with addressing. In chapter 11, he once again addresses their division as an introduction to the verses we so often read to prepare for taking the Lord’s Supper. 

1 Corinthians 11:18-19
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

Did you catch that? It is sarcasm. Paul thinks division within the church is a severe problem. In this division, the communion they partake of is not the Lord’s Supper. You cannot partake of this meal in division without judgment from God. 

In verse 29, he warns against eating and drinking without discerning the body. What does this mean? He is referring to the body of Christ – the church. Then, in verses 33-34 he encourages them to wait for one another. He’s trying to get them to practice unity. 

So, what are we to examine within ourselves while we wait? We are to see if we have some division within us concerning our brothers and sisters in the church. Do you have something against a brother? Does a sister have something against you? These divisions cause a church to be weak and sick (1 Corinthians 11:30). 

Maybe we should go back to practicing what Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount. 

Matthew 5:23-24
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

What if the church was once again concerned with the ministry of reconciliation that we are called to administer (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)?

Next time you’re sitting and waiting during communion, pray for yourself and your relationships with your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Resolve to do your part to make reconciliation. Don’t wait for them to act – you be the mature follower of Jesus and make the first move. Then we will watch the church grow in strength and health as the church becomes even more unified in Jesus as one body. This will be an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. 


… Lives Matter


Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

This song is sung in thousands of churches around the world as well-meaning leaders strive to teach the children that God loves everyone.  Have you sung this song?

The news is becoming ever more concentrated on the racial barriers that separate our world. Within our own country, one in which a civil war was fought and won to grant equality to all people, we see more division each day as story after story is told with explanations that point to racial causes.

White police officers shoot black men. A black president governs white people. Riots begin because of racial tension. “Black lives matter” is a movement now, and they are offended by people who say “police lives matter” or “all lives matter”. What is wrong with this picture?

I believe that every single person has the right to be treated with respect. I also believe that some people forfeit that right by their own actions. But their life still matters. People make mistakes, but their lives still matter.

God doesn’t rejoice when a lost person dies – He mourns. Shouldn’t we?

As long as we keep calling people white or black or brown or any other racial denomination we will never find the peace that Jesus desires for this world. Racism is a childish mentality in a world that claims to be enlightened and educated.

Even in the church there are still seeds of racism. I know people who still judge others who choose to marry inter racially. Many of us still struggle, due to the indoctrination of our upbringings, to leave off the color when describing another person – especially one who is of a different race than us.

God does not show favoritism. God wants life for all mankind – not just physical life, but the real, eternal life.

It’s time to stop saying “black lives matter” or “all lives matter” and start living like they do.

Recently, a Tulsa police officer shot another human being and killed him. I hurt for the family of the dead man. I hurt for the police officer. I hurt for our nation that is using this event and others like it to bring about a resurgence of racism. Have you prayed for those on both sides of this tragedy? Have you prayed for our nation?

Jesus came to ensure that all people could have salvation regardless of race (Jew or Gentile). Most of the New Testament urges the church, over and over again, to put racial differences aside and seek peace and unity. Paul would even confront Peter publicly over his racist actions. He would also write, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you don’t have any right to racist thoughts or actions.

How can we fix it? How can we stop this trend?

Start by putting all color-identification language out of your vocabulary. Don’t give in to the rhetoric of the mainstream media who seems to be reveling in this new constantly-controversial racism movement. Choose to speak and act to everyone with love regardless of race. And most of all, stop choosing sides on every issue. Most of the  time you don’t have all the information to make an educated decision anyway.

We are the church that belongs to Jesus that is global and inclusive of all nations, races, genders and statuses. May we be the voice of a new trend that simply says “I love you” no matter who “you” happens to be.


The Church Needs to Repent

Imagine our country decided to wage war on Christianity. If you were a Christian you would be condemned to death. Which kind of Christian would they choose to persecute? Would it matter whether you were Methodist or Baptist or church of Christ? What would matter is your allegiance to Jesus.
Church of Christ, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Assembly of God, Church of God, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.

These are just a sampling of the myriad of denominations we find in our culture today. Millions of Christians meeting in different buildings under different monikers all claiming to love Jesus and each other but not willing to fellowship each other creates confusion for those outside the church.

If I wasn’t a Christian, if I didn’t go to church, I would be appalled by what I saw in churches. I would see that they claim to have a better way through Jesus and are supposed to love one another, but they can’t even get along with one another so there is a different church on every corner. If I wanted to come to know Jesus and join a church, how would I know which one is best or right?

This kind of division flies in the face of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. Why did he want the church to be unified? Because of the spread of the gospel. So that people would know God sent Jesus.

The letters to the Corinthian church were written to convict them of their division. Now churches divide all the time even within their specific tribe, and people don’t even bat an eye. How will we ever be the true church that belongs to Jesus if the selfishness and bickering within us gets in the way?

“But they don’t teach the truth.”

Are you sure? Have you studied for yourself, or have you just been in a movement that has taught a certain way for generations. With the onset of more and more independent and non-denominational churches, can we honestly say we know their theology well enough to sit in God’s seat of judgment in condemnation of them? Should we ever sit in that seat?

Even as you read the New Testament epistles, you see a wide variety of religious understandings and practices. Jews wanted to force Gentiles to conform to their traditions. Gentiles wanted nothing of it. This was a huge schism within the church, but over and over we read of a desire for peace and unity in diversity based on the foundation of the gospel event.

It is time for churches everywhere to not only want to accept the grace of Jesus but be willing to extend that grace to others as well. It is time to remember that God’s grace covers my sins and my doctrinal misunderstandings insofar as I desire the ways of Jesus and strive to follow them as best as I understand. If that grace covers me, then it covers you too.

We look at the lists of sins and consider all the personal sins with abhorrence, but we seem to forget that the sins most written and spoken about in the NT were the sins that divided the church.

Where do we go from here?

It’s time we started to get to know and love those in the other church communities that find their direction from the Bible and look to the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation.  It’s time we presented a united front in our communities as we publicly express our unity with one another.  It’s time we repented of our arrogance and division.  It’s time we begin to recognize the one church that Jesus died for – not a building with a sign on the door, but all people who have surrendered to Jesus.


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