"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
If you hang around with church folk very long, you will hear them speak about "covering." I remember when I first heard this phrase, I assumed they were talking about covering up. But there is a huge difference between covering and covering up.
There is only one time in the New Testament that the word "cover" is used in that context, and that is in I Peter 4:8 - "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (NIV). Sometimes this passage is misinterpreted to mean that our love for each other blots out our sin. Make no mistake: The only love that can cancel out sin is the love of Jesus manifested in his death on the cross. What Peter is talking about here is the unconditional love and acceptance that should be present in the Body of Christ creating an environment where we feel safe and secure to confess our sins to one another and repent.
James also painted this picture of how the church ought to function in his epistle: "...confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:16, NIV)
Sadly, in most church fellowships that love and acceptance is not present. This results in an environment where we dare not confess our faults to each other for fear we will become fodder for the gossip mill. Here's another way to look at it: When we don't have the love covering, we have a cover up. So we come to the one place on earth where we should be able to be real and we put a mask on and hide what we are feeling, what we are thinking, and what we are struggling with.
There is no doubt in my mind that the epidemic we are currently seeing in moral failures, divorces and scandals among pastors and church leaders has it's roots in the lack of "covering love" present in the church. In most cases, these Pastors were too proud or too isolated to seek out accountability partners.
For every high profile leader who fails, there are scores of deacons, elders, teachers and others in the church who suffer the same fate out of the spotlight. This is why the divorce rate is higher in the church than outside the church! You don't dare come to church and admit you and your spouse are struggling and need prayer, help and support, so you suffer in silence while your marriage and family crumbles around you.
This lack of "covering love" in the church is the spirit of the Pharisees, not that of Jesus! When Jesus encountered those struggling with sin He responded with compassion and understanding, saying "I don't condemn you." This in spite of the fact that He is the only person who has the right to condemn sinners. You and I don't have that right. We are like the Pharisees with rocks in their hands waiting to throw them and the sinful woman; When Jesus reminded them of their own sin, one by one they dropped their stones and walked away, knowing they were every bit as guilty as she.
If your church, Sunday School class, or small group doesn't provide this atmosphere of acceptance, you need to seek out accountability and covering for your life. Covering up your sin will only result in repeating the same behavior. So, find a group of people that you can be totally transparent with and hold each other accountable. I am not exaggerating to say that failure to find accountability in your life can result in at best stagnation and at worst ruin for your spiritual life and your reputation.
Seeking out and taking advantage of an environment where love covers will be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you will ever do. You cannot put a price on a clear conscience, and the knowledge that there are people who know you completely yet love you anyway. It is in this environment that you can begin to understand the unconditional love that God loves you with. And you realize that you aren't the "Lone Ranger." Your brothers and sisters are struggling in the same areas that you are struggling in!
This morning the dwindling number of people in the Metro Atlanta area who read the print version of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution are in for a change. In a desperate (some would say vain) attempt to forestall or possibly even prevent the historic daily from going the way of the dinosaur, today's edition will reflect a major rebranding and retooling. If the advance word from the paper is to be believed, the new and improved AJC will have more news and less opinion, and will deliver the news in a briefer, more concise manner.
Last week, on the eve of his historic inauguration as this nation's 44th President, an opinion poll showed that Barack Obama enjoyed an 80% approval rating from the American public as he takes office. At the beginning of his Presidency, Barack Obama faces an opportunity unknown since at least the beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term. He takes office with incredible popularity at home and abroad.
The Inauguration was truly a global community event. An estimated two million people filled the National Mall to witness the event in person. One million more stood on the periphery or along the parade route in Washington. In excess of two billion people watched the event on television or online. All over the globe, people gathered together to watch the event with their friends, neighbors and family. Millions live blogged or micro-blogged about the event.
The last time the global community shared in an event was in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In fact, over the last several generations, most of the events that have brought us together were shared tragedies. This week, the world community shared together in an event that held - at least on the surface - the promise of hope, optimism, change, and even a degree of national unity.
Now comes the hard part: actually governing. Obama must now lead the nation through the financial, international, and social problems that beset us. A candidate - and even a President-Elect - can make promises and pronouncements, or engage in critiques of the failed policies of the past. A President doesn't have that luxury. He has to make the policies, make good on the promises, and seek to build up rather than tear down.
Can you imagine how it must have felt for President Obama the first time he was in the Oval Office alone? Former President Bush was quoted last week as saying the first time he found himself in that position, he felt as if the weight of the world had descended upon his shoulders. When the "weight of the world" fell on Bush's shoulders in January 2001, it was before 911, before Afghanistan, before Iraq, before the financial crisis that looms over us now.
It remains to be seen how - or even if - President Obama will be able leverage his considerable charm, political savvy, personal convictions, oratorical skills, and innate leadership abilities to lead America and the Free World. I can only say that I want him to succeed with all of my heart. I don't agree with many of his positions on the issues, but I want him to be a great President nonetheless.
I want to see him bring our nation together to overcome our present challenges. I want to see him work side by side with Republicans, Democrats and Independents to make our government more responsive to the people, and reign in spending. I want to see the war in Iraq end in such a way that leaves that country as a democracy and a force for peace in the Middle East. I want to see victory in the war on terror in Afghanistan. I want to see an end to the Red State - Blue State impasse.
Can he do it? Again, it remains to be seen. To paraphrase Mark Twain: "I hope he can. I hope it... I doubt it." The odds are stacked against him. He certainly possesses the intellect and communication skills, but remember James Buchanan and Jimmy Carter were perhaps the most qualified people to assume the office, yet history remembers them as less than successful Chief Executives. Not to mention that the business of partisan politics - making your colleagues across the aisle out to be the boogeyman - is how politicians hold on to power at all costs. When was the last time you saw a politician - Republican or Democrat - exercise true political courage putting the interests of the country ahead of advancing the interest of his party? I'll give you some time to think. Like, oh, say, a week or so.
But I am an eternal optimist. I am still holding on to hope that President Obama can be a transformational leader. I hope he becomes a historic president. I hope he can take full advantage of the golden opportunity before him and us.
I hope you will join me in sincerely lifting our President up in prayer.
I have written several times here about my father-in-law, Rev. Asa Dorsey, who over the last 76 years has become a legendary figure in North Georgia. (See links to articles below). On December 23, as we were preparing to spend Christmas Day at his home with the family, Asa suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Over the course of the next several days it became apparent things would not go back to normal as he became weaker and weaker. He suffered at least two more small heart attacks in the hospital, further weakening his already frail heart.
I generally have disdain for the custom of making New Year's Resolutions. But for some reason this year I find myself looking ahead to 2009 with a sincere desire to do better in an area of my life. So, despite the obvious hypocrisy of a resolution mocker becoming a resolution maker, here is my 2009 New Year's Resolution:
I will be a better blogger in 2009.
Let's face it: If I had been arrested the past few months for being a blogger, there wouldn't be enough evidence to convict me. There are a lot of excuses I could proffer for my postlessness, most of which are actually true and were genuine impediments to blogging. I am in the process of transitioning my role at Multicast and for the last four months I have basically been doing two jobs. My travel schedule has ramped up during that time period as well. In October, I started serving as the worship leader at a new church in the Atlanta area ending almost two years of getting to just be "Joe Church Member" on Sundays and Wednesdays.
All the above did in fact conspire to make it more difficult for me to be a regular blogger this past year. But the bottom line is I didn't make time to do it. On some level, I had a desire to blog, but that desire wasn't strong enough to overcome my lack of inertia, desire and discipline. Simply put, my heart wasn't in it.
Sometimes we need to take an honest, unbiased look at why we do what we do in order to gain a renewed passion for it. That is exactly what happened to me this week courtesy an incredible piece in one of my favorite publications.
There is an excellent article in the new issue of Relevant magazine by Brett McCracken entitled "The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter." It deals with the narcissism and self-absorption that is a natural by-product of the technology that exists to customize our world for us. We give the world a minute by minute, play-by-play insight into our lives and our thoughts. We share our thoughts and opinions with the world via our blogs. Playlists on our iPod customizes the running soundtrack of our life. We customize our desktops to suit us and design RSS feeds to give us the information we want to receive, customized and personalized just for us, of course.
McCracken's observations sting and convict. You realize that one of the side effects of customization is the reinforcement of the insidious notion that the world does indeed revolve around me. Reading and reflecting on the article made me give very serious thought about whether or not I should be blogging, twittering, and being active on Facebook.
At the end of that thought process, I came to the conclusion that the answer to the question was yes, I should be involved in those things; in fact, that I should be MORE involved in those things going forward. This post, and my resolution specifically are about blogging, so the question was, 'So why blog?'
You have to search your heart and find the answer to that question for yourself, but for me, there are two primary reasons why I choose to continue to blog in 2009:
1. I need the discipline. It may sound like I have fallen victim to the very pride that McCracken was warning against, but I do feel called to write. And the way you become a better writer is to write for public consumption. You get feedback - and frequent correction - from your readers.
2. God can (and will) use it. Again, this may sound prideful, but it really isn't. If God has given you a platform, He will use you to minister to others. If you are a blogger, you know the feeling when someone posts a comment or sends you an email telling you how God used something you wrote to touch them, inspire them, convict them, or encourage them. Again, if you are not careful it can go to your head and pride will again rear its ugly head. But as long as you remember that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and not you, it is a humbling experience to know God used something you wrote (or said, or sang...) to make a difference in someone's life.
In 2008, I proved that when it comes to my personal blog, I am perhaps the world's worst Internet marketer. Every time my audience began to grow, I went through a slacker period and ended up losing that audience. My motivation for blogging has never been and will never be to monetize my blog or to build a bigger platform for myself. But a larger and more loyal audience is a natural outgrowth of regular posting of relevant content. In other words, if you do what God tells you to do, these things will be added unto you. Seems like I read that somewhere.
My New Year's Resolution for 2009 is to be more faithful and disciplined in what God has called me to do.
That and lose 50 pounds, but that is a another post for another day.
The Big Three CEOs are appearing on Capitol Hill again today and amazingly they have swallowed their pride - or more likely acquiesced to political realities - and are NOT traveling to DC on their corporate jets.
In a strange case of art, or at least comedy, imitating life, Jon Stewart predicted the future on The Daily Show when the CEOs first went to the Hill via their corporate jets. In his commentary on the story, Stewart gave a fake quote from the CEOs that said, "What did you expect us to do, drive? Have you seen the cars we are making???"
Today, the Big Three's Big Three are driving to DC. And not just in any car. They are all three driving in hybrids. It as if they are saying, "I see your symbolism and raise you ours."
They are also offering to work for one dollar a year if Congress approves their bailout.
Please, please, some enterprising journalist out there report that while these guys might be coming to Washington in a (chauffeur driven) hybrid, they are still jetting around to their homes and vacation homes in their aforementioned Gulfstreams. (One of them actually lives in Washington State and works in Detroit, so you KNOW he is not using a hybrid to commute!) And while you are at it, please also remind us that if they get 40-plus billion of our tax dollars and still fail, each of them will walk away from the train wreck with hundred million dollar golden parachutes!
Tis The Season to Kill Workers
The Friday after Thanksgiving is the traditional kick off to the Christmas shopping season. It is the time when hopefully retailers get out of the red and become profitable for the year. That is the reason it is referred to as "Black Friday." Last Friday was "black" for an entirely different reason. The death toll - let that sink in, we are talking about Christmas shopping, not the War in Iraq - the death toll from Friday's shopping nationwide was three.
Now granted, two of the deaths - the Toys 'R Us shootings in California - were only marginally related to actual shopping, but the trampling death of a seasonal temporary employee at a Long Island Wal-Mart is perhaps the most troubling commentary on our culture I've ever heard. It is bad enough that people literally killed a store employee who got between them and a good deal on a wide-screen TV, but they actually got mad at police when the store closed because of the death. "Look, officer, I'm really sorry that guy got killed, but I waited in line since 3:00 this morning to get one of them big screen TVs!"
We are in trouble. When our materialism is elevated above human life - especially when it is worst around the celebration of the birth of Jesus - we are in deep, deep trouble.
A Powerful Voice is Silenced
The folk singer known simply as Odetta died from heart failure in New York this week at the age of 77.
Her deep voice and gut-wrenching emotion gave voice to so many songs of faith. Her version of "Mary Had a Baby" was as far as I am concerned the definitive rendering of that spiritual. She also gave voice to the Civil Rights movement, notably singing "I'm On My Way" at the March on Washington moments before Martin Luther King delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. Though only in her early 30s at the time, Dr. King called Odetta the "Queen of American Folk Music." She was to sing that same song at Barack Obama's inauguration, an engagement she viewed as the fulfilment of her life's work and dreams.
Time magazine noted, "Some folks sing songs. Odetta testified."
Poet Laureate Maya Angelou said of her, "If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time."
Odetta sang right up to the time of her homegoing, her voice growing even more expressive with age. She may be gone now, but her voice and her influence are without a doubt timeless.
Read Time's obituary of Odetta here.
At the very least, it was a public relations nightmare. It was most certainly a clear sign that they don't get it. At worst, it was a vivid display of the kind of management insight - or lack thereof - that has caused the Big Three automakers to teeter on the verge of bankruptcy. I'm referring to yesterday's Congressional appearance by the CEO's of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, and more specifically to their method of conveyance to said appearance.
The three CEOs flew from Detroit to Washington on their respective corporate jets. Separately. They didn't even bother to carpool or "jetpool," if you will, in one G4. No, they each flew on their own jet at a cost of approximately $20,000 per jet.
Get the picture: The CEOs fly in pampered corporate luxury to a meeting where they arrived essentially with hat in hand begging our representatives to give them our tax dollars to rescue the companies that they placed at the edge of collapse with highly questionable leadership and vision.
Any way you look at it, the circumstances surrounding the CEO's congressional appearance showed an enormous amount of chutzpah. It is outrageous effrontery. And what's worse, the CEOs are totally clueless. As enraged congressmen called them to task about how they traveled to the meeting, you could see it in the CEO's eyes and read it in their body language: How dare you bring up our corporate jet travel, this has nothing to do with anything. We are entitled these perks. We deserve this because of our position and our stature.
Sure, in the grand scheme of things, $60,000 for yesterday's CEO airfare is a tiny drop in the bucket. Sure it is symbolic. But symbols mean something. That's why they are called symbols. And the symbolism - not to mention the irony - of these arrogant corporate bigwigs arriving in luxurious fashion to beg for taxpayer money was damning. One of the day's most astute observations belonged to Rep. Gary Ackerman (D, NY): “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo.”
You know, there's not much that Congress does well, but they are good at sticking their political finger in the air and discerning which way the wind is blowing. Over the last 24 hours they did that and realized that if they just handed these guys a blank check the public would be furious at them. So today, Pelosi, Reid and company were posturing for the cameras, declaring these guys won't get a thin dime until they present Congress with a plan on how they were going to use the 25 billion that Congress has already decided to give them (and that they would already have given to them if it weren't for the outrage over the jets.)
There's another delicious irony here: Congress is taking the Big Three to task for failing to have a plan for how they were going to use taxpayer's money. Wow. What a concept. Maybe Congress should try that strategy themselves from time to time!
I'm certainly no economist or business consultant, but one wonders where it will end. A couple months ago, the epicenter of our financial woes appeared to be in the credit markets and specifically in the mortgage market. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG were being bailed out and and $700 billion was targeted to buy out so-called toxic loans in institution's portfolios. The underlying problem, however was clearly stupidity - subprime mortgage loans were made and offered to people who could not possibly make the payments on it.
Now, just weeks later ground zero of the crisis has moved to the Big Three Automakers, we are told we must bail out Ford, GM and Chrysler. The aforementioned $700 billion has now been redirected from financial institutions to other areas that would benefit taxpayers (read: voters) more directly. And the underlying problem is still stupidity. The automakers have been on the rope for decades because of quality issues, plus their inability to make cars that people actually want to buy.
The people at the center of that stupidity were they ones appearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, staring blankly at the lawmaker who just asked them if to raise their hands if they were willing to sell their corporate jet. They are the ones who have failed to make their companies profitable, and they are now asking you and me to provide the funds to protect those companies from the consequences of their bad business decisions and lack of effective leadership.
Something is just not right about that. I understand it is a complex issue, and that there are literally millions of jobs hanging in the balance. But the idea of bailing out GM, Ford and Chrysler really, really rubs me the wrong way. I am a dyed in the wool capitalist who abhors any type of class warfare or wealth envy. I am grateful for those entrepreneurs and business leaders who create jobs and grow companies. But looking at the CEOs before congress yesterday, these men who have clearly failed miserably in leading their companies into anything resembling profitability basically asking Congress to use our money to bail them out leads me, along with tens of millions of my countrymen to answer with a resounding "No way."
We church folk have a world of our own that we live in most of the time. We have our own language (with words that most people outside of the church don't understand), our own diet (fried chicken for the most part!), our own songs, and our own singers.
Every now and then, something from our world becomes known and popular in the world at large. When this happens, we refer to that singer or that song as a "crossover." Artists like Andre Crouch, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Marvin Sapp have become well-known and popular outside the church world. Songs like "Place in This World," "Butterfly Kisses" and "Never Would Have Made It" have become popular with folks who never or hardly ever go to church.
There is a song that is the ultimate "crossover" hit. It has been sung in every church of every denomination. It has been played or sung at the coronation of kings and at the graveside of paupers. It has been the number one song on the pop charts in both the United States and England. It has been rightly called the most popular song in the world.
The song is "Amazing Grace." And the story behind the song is as remarkable as the song itself.
John Newton was a slave trader who lived a despicable life for most of his early years. After nearly losing his life in a violent storm at sea, Newton gave his life to Christ. The change in Newton's life was not immediate but gradual. He began to encourage his crew to pray and he saw to it that his human cargo were treated with kindness and gentleness, but it wasn't until years later that God convicted Newton's heart that slavery was sinful, and years more before he would openly oppose the slave trade.
At the age of 28 John Newton suffered a stroke and was unable to return to sea. He later saw that as yet another way God was reaching out to him. Despite his lack of a formal education, in 1764 Newton was ordained as a minister and was offered the pastorate at Olney in Buckinghamshire.
As time passed, Newton came to realize how abhorrent slavery was in the eyes of God. He was tormented by the thoughts of the suffering he had helped inflict on others, and became with each passing year more and more amazed that God would choose to save him, much less call him into the ministry and use him is His service. Newton became known as a staunch abolitionist and for the rest of his life he worked to end the slave trade in Great Britain.
On New Year's Eve, 1773, Newton decided to preach on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. In that passage, King David marvels that God had chosen him. As a part of that sermon, Newton decided to share a poem he had written a year before that was essentially his testimony. The name of the poem was "Faith's review and expectation." We know it today as "Amazing Grace."
The song Amazing Grace is so popular precisely because God's grace is indeed amazing. No matter who you are, no matter where you are from, no matter what you have done or haven't done, we all share the same essential testimony: "I once was lost but now I'm found, 'twas blind, but now I see." All of us know in our hearts that we did not (and do not) deserve God's gift of salvation. We all know that it is God's grace - His unmerited favor on us that has brought us to where we are today.
You may not have been as wicked as John Newton or caused great pain and suffering to others, but you know that you are someone who is in need of a Savior. Later in his life, John Newton was quoted as saying, "I know that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." That, too is a truth we all know in our hearts.
God's grace is truly amazing. Aren't you thankful for it?
In less than two weeks, if the polls are to be believed, a record turnout of the American electorate will elect Senator Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States. To be sure, his election will be a significant and historic milestone for our country. No matter what your politics, all Americans recognize that the election of an African-American President signals that the last significant vestiges of institutionalized racism in this country are gone forever. We all rejoice in that. But at the same time, no one really knows what kind of President the Illinois Senator will be.
The optimistic and pessimistic sides of me have differing takes on this. The optimist part in me thinks that Obama has the opportunity to be, as Colin Powell noted in his endorsement, a "transformational leader." He could bring us together and seek common ground with both Red State and Blue State America. The pessimistic side of me fears he might move sharply to the left and govern from there causing us to move farther away from the Jeffersonian ideal that the government that rules best rules least. (I must point out that if that happens it will, unfortunately, be just a continuation of the Bush Administration's disappointing trend toward enlarging government and moving away from a free market economy.)
For now, I will choose to hold on to the optimistic hope that a President Obama will unite rather than further divide us. More importantly, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I will support him as my President and be faithful to pray for him. Let's be clear: If I choose to follow God's Word, I have no other choice. Sadly, I fear many in the church - most notably many church leaders - will choose to be political rather than biblical in responding to President Obama.
That is the critical question facing the church in the United States today: Will we in the church choose to be biblical or political in our response to a President Obama? I am convinced that our response will in large measure determine our effectiveness and credibility for the next four years.
It is no secret that since at least the late 1970s, the portion of the Christian community known as the "Religious Right" has been solidly entrenched in the Republican party. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state for the record that I have voted for the Republican Presidential candidate since I cast my ballot for Ronald Reagan's first term in 1980, so I would certainly qualify as a card-carrying member of the Religious Right.
For a generation now, those of us on the Right have presumed to have a lock on so-called "values voters." We have assumed that God was on our side and that we were on His. We have almost deified our preferred candidates, while denigrating and demonizing opposing candidates almost to the point of character assassination. We assumed that if you were a Christian, you would vote the same way we were voting. That was a safe assumption for us to make because everyone we knew and socialized with agreed with us 100% politically.
This present election cycle has been vastly different. The "Religious Right" as we knew it for a generation foundered, unable to agree on a candidate to support. (Why they failed to wholeheartedly endorse Mike Huckabee is still a huge mystery to me.) When John McCain, arguably their least favorite candidate - one who openly called Christian leaders "agents of intolerance" in 2000 - was tapped as the Republican nominee, the damage to their credibility and influence was done.
Absent someone to be for, many of my brethren on the Right have opted instead for simply being against someone, in this case Barack Obama. In my role as Managing Editor of two Christian media portals, I receive dozens of press releases and news wire dispatches from Christian organizations in my inbox and on my Blackberry every day. Here is a sampling of recent headlines from Christian groups and organizations:
"Newscast from the Future Exposes Obama Nightmare"
"Reasons Why Obama Looks Like a Wolf"
"Barrie Hussein: Congenital Liar"
"Fake Christian Chooses Fake Catholic as Running Mate"
It is interesting to note that these same Christian news wires ran numerous press releases attacking John McCain before he became the Republican nominee for his stance on a range of issues including abortion. But there have been nothing but positive stories sent out since he became the presumptive nominee. This is a problem, folks. When we fail to be consistent and biblical in speaking truth to power, we forfeit the right to do so. When our staunch criticism of John McCain ceased when he became the Republican nominee, we are being political rather than biblical.
I can understand opposing - even strongly opposing - a candidate on the issues, but to call a man who gives a sincere testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ and who is by all accounts a devoted father and husband a "Fake Christian" is beyond the pale.
A couple of years ago, a prominent Christian leader (on the Right, I might add) stated that the church needed to repent of failing to give Bill Clinton the respect that he was due as one God had placed in authority over us. He was right. Maybe if the church had earnestly prayed for President Clinton and shown him respect even while opposing his policies there would not have been the scandals in his personal life and his presidency. If you scoff at that idea, I would suggest you underestimate the power of prayer.
The Bible could not possibly be clearer: We are to give the leaders that God places in authority over us respect. And we are to sincerely lift them up in prayer.
Tony Evans is fond of saying the white church depends on an elephant, the black church depends on a donkey, but Jesus is not riding on either. He stands before us saying, "I'm not here to take sides, I am here to take over!" The bottom line is this: My personal relationship with Jesus Christ defines who I am, not my political convictions. My relationship with Christ transcends politics.
Let's purpose in our hearts that we are not going to repeat our mistakes from the Clinton years. Let us determine at the start that We will be faithful to pray for and support our President - whether it is Obama or McCain - and ask God to give him wisdom, discernment, and favor as he leads us in the years ahead.
Have you ever heard the story of the man who slipped off the edge of a cliff and was desparately hanging onto a rope to keep from falling? The man screamed at the top of his voice, "IS THERE ANYONE THERE WHO CAN HELP ME?"
A calm, reassuring voice answered back, "It is the Lord. Let go of the rope."
Have you ever been at a place in your life where you felt the Lord was telling you to let go of the rope, but all you could see was how things looked from a logical, human perspective? I know I have, and, like the man in the joke, I was really tempted to ask for a second opinion.
Everything about our human nature wants to see it first and then respond based on what we see with our eyes. We want to see it then believe it. We want to know where we are going before we agree to start the trip. That is our human nature. And it flies in the face of how God calls us to be.
Take a look at the lives of the remarkable people whose stories are told in the Bible and you will see people who believed it before they saw it. You will see people who went when God said go even when they didn't know where they were going or what it would be like when they got there. You will see people who walked by faith and not by sight.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He allowed and encouraged Thomas to experience what he had said he needed to see to believe that Jesus was alive. He physically saw and felt the wounds in Jesus' hands, feet and side. When he did so, Thomas fell down on His face and declared, "My Lord and My God!"
Jesus responded by saying, "Thomas, you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The New International Version translates that verse this way: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
Far too often, I find myself walking only by sight. But I know it is those times when I step out into the darkness in obedience to God's call that He blesses me, and grows me, and stretches me.
What is God calling you to do that will require you to step into the darkness? Or let go of the rope?
Have you ever heard the phrase "Worship Wars"? It is frequently used to describe what has happened in many of our churches over the last couple of decades as worship styles have changed.
The two words that make up the phrase "Worship Wars" ought not to go together. Worship is holy and sacred. Wars can on rare occasions be justified, but most often they are the opposite of holy and sacred. "Worship" by definition is all about God. "Worship Wars" are most assuredly not about God. Worship Wars are all about us, about our personal preferences and what we want.
For those of us who are students of church history, we know the current "Worship Wars" are nothing new. As music changes in society, the music that is considered to be acceptable in the church changes slowly behind it. If that process never happened, we would still be worshiping the Lord through the use of first century Hebrew tunes and rhythms! Just think about it - at one time, Gregorian Chants were the new "contemporary" music being used in the church!
I read an article recently about an incident that happened at a church in Canada. This controversy over music in worship wreaked havoc and division in this congregation for over a decade. Speeches were made. Petitions were signed. A bunch of meetings were held. Threats were made. Families were divided. Many people left the church.
Was it the older members rebelling against singing choruses or the younger members complaining about singing the old hymns? No, the controversy was over whether or not is was appropriate to use an organ in the worship services, and it raged among the members of St. Andrews during the 80s. But not the 1980s... it was the 1880s!
This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart because the vast majority of my ministry career has been spent as a worship leader. And as is usually the case, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
When we take our eyes off the One we are worshiping and focus on how we are worshiping, we have a heart problem. When we cause or even participate in conflict in the church over what boils down to our personal preferences, we have a heart problem.
There are those who would say they are not fighting for their personal preferences, they are fighting to keep worship holy and acceptable to God. I would say to you if you believe that your cultural preferences are tantamount to God's will, you have a heart problem.
Nowhere in God's word does it spell out to us our style of worship. The closest it comes to that is in two very similar passages in Paul's letters - Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 - where we are told to worship God and admonish each other using "Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs." Bible scholars and historians disagree on the exact application of those terms, but all agree they encompass a wide variety of musical styles. In other words, God's words tells us to use a wide variety of musical styles to worship God and encourage each other.
No matter what style of worship you employ in worship, God always focuses in on your heart. He told the Samaritan woman at the well that the Father is seeking for those who will worship him in Spirit and in Truth. (John 4:23)
Are you or your church embroiled in the Worship Wars? If so, I urge you to surrender immediately... surrender your will, your desires and your personal preferences to God and direct your focus toward the One Who alone is worthy of our worship and adoration.
Worship is not about us, it is about Him.
As a general rule, I try - admittedly with varying degrees of success - to be politically neutral in my postings in this space. That is actually fairly easy for me to do, because these days I find myself to be pretty ambivalent politically.
It wasn't always that way. I have voted Republican in every Presidential election since 1980. For that matter, I have voted for Republicans for everything down to local dog catcher except for the occasional ballot cast for conservative Democrats like Zell Miller. I am a political, fiscal, and theological conservative, and the Republican party has, over the years, for the most part espoused those values.
"Espoused" being the operative word there, in contrast to "embodied." Over the years, Republican administrations that I voted for have been responsible for government growing larger and larger and the free market economy being ignored in policy considerations.
I have not pulled the lever, punched the chad, or checked the box with great pride for a Republican presidential candidate since the last time I did so for Reagan in 1984. The presidential candidates I have voted for since that time have earned my vote by the dubious distinction of being the lesser of two evils. George H.W. Bush. Bob Dole. George W. Bush. I was far from enthused about the prospect of any of these men leading our nation, but given the alternative - Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Al Gore, or John Kerry - I held my nose and cast my vote.
In the years since The Great Communicator left office, the United States of America has been anything but United. We have become for all practical purposes two nations - the Red States and the Blue States. It has gotten to the place now where to be elected President, you have to pander to the extreme left or right of your base and thereby alienate roughly 50% of the country. Our last two elections have been bitter, divisive, ugly, and destructive. In between those two elections, the events of September 11, 2001 united Americans in a way we haven't been since World War II. But somehow, we squandered that unity and good will and by 2004 we were right back where we were in 2000.
Now comes John McCain. When he ran in 2000, a friend of mine gave me a copy of "Faith of Our Fathers." I read it and came away with admiration for his integrity and his service and sacrifice for his country. But as a candidate, I found him lacking. Lacking in excitement, lacking in leadership skills, and lacking in the ability to make us feel good about ourselves as Reagan did so well. In 2000, I didn't appreciate McCain's characterization of Christian leaders as "agents of intolerance."
By most if not all accounts, it is a very different John McCain that ran for president this year and went on to become the surprise nominee. Like many of my friends, I have not been able to support McCain for a myriad of reasons relating to policies, leadership, and his past.
As mentioned in a previous post, many of these friends have found their rationale to support John McCain because of his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, but that VP pick has made it even more difficult for me to support the Arizona Senator.
My first impression of the Palin pick was the fact that that her razor thin resume would instantly rob McCain of one of his strongest arguments - experience. But just days later when we all saw how carefully Palin was being handled, many of us started to suspect there was a bigger problem. Why would the McCain campaign go to such pains to keep their new VP pick far away from the press? I began to suspect it was because they knew something we didn't about Gov. Palin, and that they wanted the Palin phenomenon to blossom as much as possible before reality hit.
When Palin began sitting down for carefully handpicked interviews, we saw for ourselves why they have been keeping her on a very short leash. Take her answer to a Katie Couric question about the $700 Billion Wall Street bailout:
Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy– Oh, it’s got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.
Good grief. That reply, and for that matter her entire encounter with Couric was worthy of Miss South Carolina's bumbling answer about maps. (In case you didn't see that classic bit of video, watch it here.)
I'm not alone in being a conservative who is appalled by the prospect of Sarah Palin being a 72 year old cancer survivor's heartbeat away from being leader of the free world. Writing in this week's National Review (the NATIONAL REVIEW, for crying out loud!) columnist Kathleen Parker actually calls for Palin to step aside for the good of the country:
When Palin first emerged as John McCain’s running mate, I confess I was delighted... It was fun while it lasted. Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League. No one hates saying that more than I do.
Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there. Here’s but one example of many from her interview with Hannity: “Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we’re talking about today. And that’s something that John McCain, too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must be surpassed to deal with an issue like this.”
If Palin were a man, we’d all be guffawing, just as we do every time Joe Biden tickles the back of his throat with his toes. But because she’s a woman — and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket — we are reluctant to say what is painfully true.
Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first. Do it for your country.
Even conservative icon George Will has expressed serious doubts about McCain's selection of Palin, saying, "Many cultural conservatives, who are much of the GOP's base, consider McCain's adherence to their persuasion perfunctory. By his selection of Palin, he got the enthusiasm of the base. But what has he got in Palin? In coming days, he and we will learn from a stern teacher, experience."
There's a little more than six weeks left until the election. The initial burst of celebrity has faded quickly thanks to the economic crisis. They can't keep her under wraps any longer, and the VP debates are coming up soon. (That should be interesting. Joe Biden, for all his experience is also famous for his gaffes.)
I fear John McCain will soon sorely regret his choice of the Alaska Governor as his running mate.
Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying, "Salvation and power are established! Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah! The Accuser of our brothers and sisters is thrown out, who accused them day and night before God. They defeated him through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. Revelation 12:10-11 (The Message)
In our justice system, one of the most powerful pieces of evidence is eyewitness testimony. In the days before DNA and other scientific and forensic advances, the testimony of an eyewitness could make or break a case. An eyewitness could identify the guilty party or solidify an alibi and free an innocent person. The assignment for an eyewitness is to tell the truth about what they saw, heard, and experienced.
When Jesus ended his earthly ministry and gave us the Great Commission, he declared, "You will be my witnesses." We are called - commanded, even - to be eyewitnesses to the saving, healing grace of Jesus. In the Bible, there is a wonderful story of someone who did just that. The story in found in the 9th chapter of John. The story begins with a theological discussion, continues with a miracle, and ends with a powerful testimony.
As Jesus and His disciples were traveling, they saw a man who had been blind since birth. The Disciples (sadly like many of us sometimes) were more interested in the theological ramifications of the man's situation than they were in the man himself. "why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?" they asked Jesus. Jesus replied, "It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him."
Jesus then told His disciples, "We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over." For many years, I didn't understand why He said this - it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story. But I believe what Jesus was saying to the disciples was you are wasting precious time trying to find someone to blame for this man's blindness when you should be ministering to him. (There's a sermon unto itself there, but that is a devotional for another day...)
Immediately after saying this, Jesus made mud, put it on the man's eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, which ironically means "sent." As soon as the man obeyed, he was able to see for the first time in his life! The town, which had known him all his life as a blind beggar, was buzzing with the news that he could now see. There was such a change in him that people who had known him all his life didn't think it was the same person.
There was a problem, though. The man had been healed on the Sabbath, and that was, according to Pharisaic Law, not legal. So they marched this man to the Pharisees to see what they thought. When they heard the story, there was a deep division among the Pharisees. Some of them were still spiritually minded enough to realize this was of God. Others, sadly were so mired in their self-imposed legalism that they refused to believe this was of God or that Jesus might be a prophet, much less the messiah.
They called the formerly blind man to appear before them to hear his story.
Some of the Pharisees thought they were being tricked, so they hauled the man's parents in front of them to identify him. The parents, who were deathly afraid of the Jewish leaders, acknowledged this man was their son and that he used to be blind, but said they had no idea what had happened to him. "He is of age, ask him yourself" they said.
The Pharisees would love to have discredited this man and thereby discredited Jesus. One thing stood in their way: his simple yet powerful personal eyewitness testimony.
"All I know is this: Once I was blind, and now I can see!"
You and I are often given the opportunity to use the power of our eyewitness testimony to persuade others of God's grace, love and mercy and to encourage our brothers and sisters. Let's be alert for opportunities that the Holy Spirit will give us today to tell our story of His working in our lives!
There's nothing like two hours on an airplane with no Internet access to help the seriously backslidden blogger find his way back to the web's straight and narrow. I'm on my way to Oklahoma City this morning for the MinistryCOM conference and the trip allows me something that has been very hard to come by the last three weeks... time to write a blog post.
A lot has happened in the last three weeks, much of which I planned to blog about. Some of it I will still get around to writing about in more detail, Lord willing.
John McCain surprised everyone and picked rookie Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate and a media sensation was born. A lot of my friends see this as the reason they have been waiting for to support McCain who, up to this point, to say they have been unexcited about him is a gross understatement. I have a slightly different take on it. I, too have been less than enthused about McCain, and I find myself less so now.
John McCain is 72 years old, and a two time cancer survivor. There is a greater than normal chance that he will not live out his first term. That means there is a possibility that someone could be President of the United States who just two years ago was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population around 6,000. I understand that her job is to energize the conservative base that has been so lukewarm about McCain, but I am concerned that her strident, in-your-face, almost belligerent tone will make 2008 a repeat of the last few elections, where we are left bitterly divided almost down the middle between red states and blue states.
I agree with my friend Ed Stetzer. He pointed out a bumper sticker he saw recently that summed up his feelings about the 2008 election season. It said in large letters, "Jesus 2008." Then in smaller print below that it said, "Please come get us before November 4!"
Noo Yawk, Noo Yawk...
My friend Rick Hawkins and I made a pilgrimage to New York August 31 to be present for one of the last dozen or so games that will ever be played at Yankee Stadium. It was a quick trip: we flew up there in the morning, went to a 1:05 pm game, flew back that night. The last time I attended a game there, I was seven years old, Whitey Ford was pitching, Yogi Berra was catching, and Mickey Mantle was in the outfield.
The game itself was forgettable - the boys from the Bronx lost to the Blue Jays 6-2 - but we did get to see solo homers by A-Rod and Jason Giambi. The locals we sat near were friendly, especially when they found out where we were from and why we were there, and a fantastic time was had by all.
Rick I decided we would come back next year and give the new stadium a try, but there's something still almost unbearably sad about losing a place that is home to so much history. Yeah, it's really, really old and run down, but c'mon... it's Yankee Stadium.
Two weeks ago, my beloved Aunt Sara passed away in Florida. "Sarie" was more of a second mom to me and my siblings than an Aunt. So many of the significant memories of my childhood and early teens are wrapped up with this remarkable lady. We spent our summers at her beach house on Dark Island, 25 miles north of Steinhatchee on the Gulf Coast. She taught me how to fish, how to crab, how to go scalloping, how to drive a boat. Later, she taught me how to drive (when I was about 13) using an old 1959 VW Beetle on the deserted beach roads.
Everyone should grow up with an Aunt Sara. She was the one who, when all other adults saw you as a pain in the butt, she saw you as her fishing buddy. The summers of my childhood were magical because of her. There was no place on earth I would rather have been than sleeping in the hammock on the screened in porch, listening to the boats come out and in. Uncle TJ passed in 1990, the beach house was destroyed in 1993 by the "storm of the century," and now, Aunt Sara is gone, too, and with her passing, there is nothing left of that time in my life but the memories. But, oh, what memories we all have!
My life is infinitely richer because she was a part of it for more than fifty years. Her memorial service was vintage Sara. Some tears, of course, but lots of laughter, great stories, and even a Bob Dylan song, "When He Returns."
Heaven is a lot funnier, even more joyful place today with Sara there.
Wall Street Blues
Then there's the meltdown on Wall Street. It will be interesting to see how this effects the presidential election. You can argue that Congress is at least as much - if not more - to blame for this than the Bush Administration, but historically we tend to fire the coach when the team is losing, so to speak, and McCain is both a part of Congress and tied to the current administration.
It has been interesting to hear the words that have been used by the media to describe the failure of giants like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and WaMu: "Tsunami," "Disaster," "Category 5 Hurricane." On the other end of the spectrum, President Bush called it an "adjustment." I suspect the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes.
It is a bump in the road. A larger bump than usual, maybe the largest bump we've hit in 6 or 7 years, but a bump nonetheless. My suspicion is that as a result of this bump, we will see significantly lower prices at the supermarket and at the gas pump.
We're preparing to land and the flight attendant is giving me "the eye," which means my laptop needs to go back under the seat. More from OKC later. Maybe. I don't know, I've gotten pretty adept at this slacker thing...
I suspect many if not most people reading this share this common childhood experience: bowing your head, closing your eyes (maybe peeking a little bit to make sure your brother or sister has their eyes closed), clasping your hands together in front of you and saying, "God is Great, God is Good, let us thank Him for our food..."
The Bible says on many occasions that we need to learn from and become like little children. Children believe what they are told because they trust the ones who told them. When our mother, father or grandparent told us that God is great and God is good, we believed it. No little child ever engaged their parents in a theological discussion about the goodness, the greatness or the fairness of God.
No, it's only when we get older, more sophisticated, and to be gut-level honest, more susceptible to the lies of our adversary that we begin to question how good or great God is. It's strange that after years and years of seeing and experiencing the faithfulness of God, we still question Him and doubt Him.
God is great, God is good... but if God is good, what about all of those innocent men, women and children who are dying in Darfur?
God is great, God is good... but if God is good, why did He allow my loved one to die?
God is great, God is good... but if God is good, how can He send people to hell?
You know, sometimes, as much as it pains us, we just have to admit we don't have all the answers. We don't see the whole picture. But God can and does. And we know that He is working all things together for our good.
It is in those times that we don't have all of the answers that faith comes into play. It is then, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, when we cannot trace the hand of God that we have to trust the heart of God. "For I know the plans I have for you," the Lord declares in Jeremiah 29:11, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
God is Great. God is Good. Let us thank Him.
One of the most touching stories in the Old Testament involves King David and a man with the unusual name of Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was the grandson of King Saul and the son of Jonathan. Saul was the King of Israel who lost his anointing from the Lord because of his disobedience at Gilgal.
Jonathan was David's closest and dearest friend. Even when Saul was trying to have David murdered, Jonathan remained faithful to his friend David. When Saul and Jonathan both perished at Gilboa, David mourned the loss of his friend in the "Song of the Bow" recorded in 2 Samuel 1:
"How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful..."
Mephibosheth was only five years old when his father and grandfather fell to the Philistines. When word of the slaughter reached the royal estate, everyone fled in panic. A family nurse who was carrying young Mephibosheth tripped and fell to the ground, breaking both of the child's feet. This left him crippled for life, unable to walk.
Years later when David had defeated all of Israel's enemies, he sought to find one of Jonathan's family so he could show them kindness out of love and respect for his beloved friend. David was told Jonathan's son Mephibosheth was still alive but was crippled.
David sent for Mephibosheth, who trembled before the king. "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table."
From that day forward Mephibosheth and his family came into David's house and ate at the king's table like one of the king's sons.
Mephibosheth had done nothing to deserve David's kindness. Yet he was adopted into the king's family. In the same way, you and I have done nothing to deserve God's kindness, yet we have been adopted into the King's family.
The Bible says to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). Ask God today to lay on your heart someone to whom you can show kindness for Jesus' sake.
Lord, we thank You for the gift of Your grace, freely given to us, even though we have done nothing to earn or deserve it. Help us today to show kindness and mercy to those we come in contact with. Help us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Help us to love as we are loved.
For the second time in just over three months, the congregation of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Tampa is dealing with the loss of a beloved pastoral staff member. Simeon Nix, Bell Shoal's worship pastor for the last thirteen years, suffered a heart attack late Saturday night and passed away early Sunday morning at Brandon Regional Hospital.
Simeon Nix was a big man physically and spiritually. Over the last three months, he guided the heartbroken church through the grieving process following the death of Senior Pastor Forrest Pollock and his son in a plane crash. Both in his public ministry from the platform and in countless formal and informal counseling sessions, Nix helped the hurting church realize that God was still in control and that He still had a plan.
It was a familiar role for Simeon. Earlier in his ministry at Bell Shoals he had to comfort and guide the church through the loss of Pollock's predecessor, Ken Alford, who resigned in 2002 because of a moral failure.
Gary Payne, a friend and staff colleague of Simeon's was quoted as saying, "He was never afraid to give you a big hug and tell you that he loved you."
Last Tuesday, Nix was hospitalized after experiencing significant chest pain. Doctors cleared the blockage by inserting a stent. His prognosis was good for a full recovery. He was released from the hospital Friday and told friends and fellow staff members how good he felt. He even took a short walk around the neighborhood Saturday night with his wife and some friends.
Late Saturday night, Nix suffered another heart attack and passed away a few hours later. He was 47 years old.
Simeon leaves his wife, Beth, and the two children they adopted as toddlers from Russia: Bre'Ana, 7, and Sterling, 7. His extended family was the Bell Shoals congregation, which numbers about 7,000.
Funeral arrangements are pending as of this writing.