Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Courtroom

The nation was impressed and moved.

It seemed so rare as to be a kind of spiritual Haley’s comet. You wanted to see it because you never knew when you would have the chance to see it again – at least this deeply and on this scale.

There they were, the families of the victims of the Charleston massacre, publicly forgiving the young man who took the lives of their cherished loved ones just two days before.

They told him that if he would repent of his sins and trust God, God would forgive him and save his soul. They said they had prayed for him, that God might be merciful to him.

There was no cry for vengeance, no demand for death, and no pleading for judgment. Nobody said he would feel better if he could watch the young perpetrator die. Nobody shouted that he would burn in hell for what he did.

He had committed a vicious, bloody, heartless crime of hate and prejudice.

He had killed nine innocent men and women.

In church.

Because they were black.

After sitting with his future victims for an hour in a Wednesday evening Bible study.

They were Christians, of whom it may be said that faith was the animating center of their lives.

They were good folks; people of love.

They had, as one family member put it to the young man, “welcomed you with open arms.”

He had repaid their kindness by pulling out his recent birthday present, a .45 – caliber handgun, and shooting them.

But when he appeared in court via video to be indicted for this heinous and unconscionable act, the relatives told him they forgave him.

The state is likely to seek his life for what he did that night. Prosecutors will argue for it, the government sanctions it and most people will want it.

It’s called justice.

There will be no forgiveness in court.

He killed. He deserves to die in return.

A 21- year old filled with hate and bitterness, violent, without remorse, driven by inner demons. That’s what the government will say. God’s moral law, as the apostle Paul would be quick to remind us, is not intended to mete out mercy, but judgment. The law calls the guilty to reckoning. The state “beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13: 4, KJV).

Secular government is not in the mercy business. It’s in the law-making and law-enforcing business. Civil law judges and condemns. This is its God-given role.

But still they forgave him.

Nobody criticized these Christian believers for what they said that day in court. Nobody mocked them. Nobody called them intolerant, bigoted or a threat to liberty. Nobody said they were narrow-minded.

Instead, millions of people who have no use for Christians or Christianity found themselves in genuine and profound respect for this unarguably Christian response.

Why is that?

Because most people are as impressed with the actual practice of Christianity as they are offended by its contradictory profession. Non-believers have some sense about what Christians should be like.

Christians should act like Jesus.

That’s not a complicated theological treatise reserved for analysis at seminaries.

It’s what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity.

 Non-Christians know enough about Jesus to agree that he would forgive. They know he told his disciples to forgive. They know that those who call themselves Christians are supposed to base their lives – their words and conduct – on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.

In this, non- believers have a better read on the Bible than many Christians do – and a deeper understanding of Christian ethics.

In that courtroom, Jesus Christ was glorified.

In the wake of inexplicable tragedy and in the face of evil, Jesus was lifted up. In the midst of heart-breaking personal loss, our Savior was honored. In those moments, as those followers of Jesus spoke and wept, the sacred transcended the secular.

It was more powerful, more meaningful, more heart and mind impacting than a million gospel tracts, movies or sermons.

The state must sit in judgment. It cannot forgive. The Christian, whose first allegiance is to Christ and not the state, must forgive.

The families of the Charleston nine, sharing the faith of those who were slain, bore testimony to the world about what a true Christian is.

Hate was met with love.

Prejudice was met with kindness.

Anger was met with forgiveness.

This is Christianity – not the shallow, thoughtless and fearful caricature that the media and atheists are so anxious to portray.

This is triumphant Christianity.

As church bells tolled across Charleston last Sunday in honor of the victims, the church where they were murdered was packed. The visiting preacher (the church’s pastor was among the dead) found his text in Isaiah 54:17:

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”

Paul told the Christians living in first-century brutal Rome that nothing could ever separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

John began his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus by asserting that the darkness of this world would never be able to extinguish the light of our Lord.

May the example of our brothers and sisters in that Charleston courtroom renew our determination to follow in His steps.

May God bless you and your family.

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After All

My dad peered at me over his reading glasses.

It was the look of intent wisdom and I was at an age where I was paying more attention.

“Nobody knows what a boy is worth, and the world must wait and see,

For every man in an honored place is a boy that used to be.”

 The first time my father quoted that anonymous poem, I thought about it. In two simple lines, it composed a life. I conjured the image of a man of dignity and respect – perhaps a leader. I thought of businessmen, politicians and ministers. I thought of great and noble historic figures.

I thought of my heroes.

Then I pictured them as small boys – playing, studying, reading, and dreaming. No one knew then their destiny. I pondered their young lives influenced in hundreds of ways, many undetected. I wondered what Washington and Lincoln were like – as boys.

What events and people shaped their lives?

As a lover of history and biography, I relished and forever remembered my dad’s simple yet profound quotation. It’s true. Only God himself knows who and what will influence a young impressionable life. You and I can never forget the men and women who helped to make us what and who we are today. Their faces and voices are indelibly etched in our memories.

We remember their words – their warnings, advice, encouragement and exhortations. More than that, we remember their lives – their kindness, goodness, generosity and integrity.

We recall their example.

They influenced us.

They made “footprints on the sands of time.”

Nobody has a greater opportunity to shape another life than a father does.

The good news is that a dad’s influence is extraordinary.

The bad news is that a dad’s influence is extraordinary.

One of the greatest tragedies in Black America in the 21st century is the high and escalating number of young men without fathers. It is the root of so much heartbreaking instability and moral wantonness. Most men in prison still love their mothers. Many hate their fathers.

And so it is that the sins of those fathers are now visited upon their sons.

When he addressed graduates at Duke University in 1987, veteran television journalist Ted Koppel reminded them that “truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder; it is a howling reproach.”

Koppel said it was fundamental to the civilized world to discern between right and wrong. And to those who would embrace the idea of moral permissiveness, he declared:

“No. The answer is no. Not because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward, but no because it’s wrong.”

This liberal Jew then told the young graduates:

“What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions; they are Commandments. Are, not were. The sheer beauty of the Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time … man erases one frontier after another; and yet we, and our behavior, and the Commandments which govern that behavior, remain the same.”

It was an eloquent speech – relevant, powerful and eternally true. No Baptist preacher has ever said it better. Today, Koppel’s moral exhortation of a quarter century ago rings out with greater clarity and urgency.

In God’s economy, this timeless message has always fallen principally to fathers – to live and to convey. They have been divinely appointed the spiritual leaders of their families. It is a duty we dads assume from the day our first child is born until the moment God calls us home. Our children, even those in rebellion at the time, look to us for leadership, wisdom and example.

We dare not fail them.

Of God’s moral instructions, Moses told the people of Israel:

“Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deuteronomy 11: 19, NLT).

Live a life of faithfulness; a life of consistency; a life that takes seriously the claims of God. There is no surer bulwark against the coming tide of moral anarchy. There is no better way to help your children.

Our sons and our daughters need to know that no matter what may be in or out, ultimate truth is the unchanging command of an unchanging God.

These are eternal matters of utmost importance.

“Teach them to you children”

No one does that better than a father. Nobody has a higher calling or a more solemn responsibility to transmit, by word and by deed, the values and virtues of a holy and sovereign God.

“I will lead a life of integrity in my own home” (Psalm 101:2, NLT).

David was far from perfect, but this was still his resolution.

The home and our own family – that’s where the greatest test of integrity comes. That’s where the greatest need – and best opportunity – is.

After all:

“Nobody knows what a boy is worth, and the world must wait and see,

For every man in an honored place is a boy that used to be.”

May God bless you and your family.

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Start Here

He set Olympic records in 1976.

They wouldn’t be broken for four years.

Hailed as “the world’s greatest athlete”, his triumphs inspired millions of young people. He was a sports icon and genuine national hero: handsome, strong and all-American.

She also set a new record.

The tweets began to pile up in seconds. In four hours and three minutes, she had attracted one million followers on Twitter.

Could this be the same person?

Bruce Jenner is gone forever. He hasn’t died. He’s been transformed. Capping an agonizing and lengthy tabloid-saturated saga, Jenner is now on the cover of Vanity Fair – as a beautiful woman.

Say goodbye to Bruce – say hello to “Caitlyn”.

The response on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone loved Caitlyn. Nobody was more excited about this new and quite different icon that the advocates in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender community. Caitlyn will become a new symbol of the latest cause for those anxious to cast off moral restraint:

Transgenderism and gender identity.

That a sex change would lead the news and captivate so much of the nation speaks volumes about American culture – and how far we have come – and gone.

For Christians, Caitlyn is also a symbol – another illustration of the brave new world our children will inherit. The question for followers of Jesus Christ is not, “What can we do to change this?” but “How can we live in it and through it?”

These social trends will not be reversed politically – nor will public opinion.

How then shall you and I live?

This is not about ending the darkness. It’s about letting our light shine.

It’s not about condemning and attacking.

It’s about living – consistently, courageously and circumspectly – in a lost world.

Of course, we must speak out against sin in all its forms and do our best to resist its power, its subtlety and its destructive results. But our primary witness is not to pass judgment and tell the world what we are against. It is to live for Christ and tell the world what we are for.

Our task, as it has been throughout history, is to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3, KJV, emphasis added).

We must return and embrace First Things.

This is not easy – not ever and especially not today.

Jesus said it would come to this at the end.

He didn’t warn us about politics, law and the need to organize. Although it is both noble and necessary to speak and act for righteousness in the political arena, our Lord’s first concern was our own hearts. The Messiah who would not be a secular king, tells us that in the end times – if that is what these are – rampant sin would cause the love of many to grow cold (Matthew 24: 12).

Moral permissiveness is not our biggest threat. The far greater danger is what that permissiveness – the pervasive drumbeat of conformity to new norms – might do to our faith, our hope, our convictions and – most of all – our love for and devotion to Jesus.

In the midst of widespread wickedness, the first casualty is often conscience. Spiritual apathy and coldness of heart grow most insidiously in the soil of moral ambiguity.

Peter, living in a time of persecution and evil, tells us that we must be always prepared to defend our faith under every circumstance – without compromise, without wavering and without fear. He said we must “be ready always to give an answer.” The prerequisite to having that answer and the courage to speak it is that Christians “sanctify the Lord in your hearts” (I Peter 3: 15, KJV, emphasis added).

When that happens – when we fully internalize truth; when we know what we believe and why. When we know we can never surrender or abandon it no matter what the cost. When our hearts are aflame with love for our Lord – then we will have our reason and our hope – even in the face of the most vile ridicule and contempt.

If we suffer for our beliefs, we are to do so meekly and humbly. We must not render “evil for evil, or railing for railing” (I Peter 3:9, KJV). Jesus said we are “blessed” when people revile us and persecute us and lie about us. We suffer in our convictions for his sake.

Jesus reminds us that others, including the prophets, shared a similar fate. We should “rejoice, and be exceeding glad” because our reward awaits us in a better land where there will be no sin – no scoffing at virtue but praise and celebration for the holiness of God. (Matthew 5: 11-12).

We are, the psalmist instructs, to “be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes” (Psalm 37:7, NLT, emphasis added).

When we survey the current cultural scene we must remind ourselves that the heart of this problem is a problem of the heart.

May our own hearts be turned to God. In the midst of it all, may this be our first and chief concern.

Revival always starts here.

May God bless you and your family.

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The Benefit of the Doubt

As he scanned the incoming crowd, the guest speaker eyed one particular couple.

She smiled graciously. It was apparent she was glad to be there. Her husband, on the other hand, looked clearly pained. He didn’t speak to anyone coming in but simply took his seat.

As the speaker began his message, he couldn’t help but notice this same couple, sitting close to the front. The wife was alert and engaged, listening carefully to every word. She took notes. Her husband started out listening but after about fifteen minutes, the preacher noticed the man’s head tilting downward, his eyes closed.

How sad, the speaker thought. This godly woman had brought her non-Christian husband to the service – his reluctance overcome by her gentle pleadings. And now he embarrasses her – and offends the preacher – by falling asleep mid-sermon. The following afternoon, the husband did the same thing. He fell asleep a third time that evening, not lasting even ten minutes.

Finally, during a break in the conference before the final message, the woman approached the guest speaker. He prepared himself to commend her determination to see her unsaved husband converted and to comfort her in her embarrassing distress at his obvious spiritual indifference.

“I want to apologize for my husband,” the woman began. “I’m sure you’ve noticed he’s had trouble staying awake during your messages. Please don’t take this personally.”

She explained:

“You see, my husband is suffering from terminal cancer and the medicine he’s taking makes him drowsy. Although he’s very sick, he’s been a big fan of yours for years. When he learned that you were speaking this week, he insisted that we come and hear you and said that God would speak to our hearts. And he has. So I want to thank you for your Spirit-filled sermons – and for being patient with my husband.”

Ouch!

Well-known pastor and author Chuck Swindoll tells this story on himself. It’s a lesson – and a sober reminder – for us all.

Appearances are the easiest form of judgment. They require neither investigation nor reflection nor restraint. And, let’s be honest, most of us find some degree of satisfaction in judging others.

Why is that?

Judging others can be a subtle, subconscious attempt at self-justification. We judge so we’ll feel better about ourselves and our own failures – or perhaps our achievements. We realize we may never reach the top rung of the moral ladder. But as long as we know there is someone beneath us – someone guiltier than we are – then we rest a bit easier in our own position. In this sense, judging is the midwife of rationalization. We may be a lot of things but thank God we’re not like her!

Was this not the vain prayer of the Pharisee who went up to the temple? His was a boastful recitation of his own goodness. Without ever knowing the Publican at a distance, the Pharisee judged him anyway – with self-righteous relish.

How deceptive appearances may be.

We think we know when we don’t. We think we’d do this, but we’d be wrong. How easy it is to correct the lives of others when we’re not the ones involved. God told Samuel that not every young man who looks like a king should be a king. “Man looks on the outward appearance,” God warned the prophet. And this is our limitation – our ignorance of both people and situations. “But the Lord looks on the heart.”(I Samuel 16:7,KJV).

We are too often superficial in our judgments. We jump to conclusions and scare the best ones away. When it comes to assessing other people, we delight in knowing what simply isn’t true.

God gets to the core. He peers beneath the surface of things and so his judgments are always just.

It’s important that we ask God for help with this judging business. Jesus says we must. The verse that follows the most famous verse in the Bible is worth an equal remembrance:

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NLT).

“Judge not according to the appearance,” Jesus warns the crowd. (John 24:7, KJV). And in his Sermon on the Mount, he offers us a spiritual and moral quid pro quo:

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37, KJV). But if we insist, in our stubborn pride, on judging and condemning others and refusing to forgive, we betray our Savior’s mission and his mercy.

God does not judge us as we deserve to be judged; instead he is exceedingly gracious. Should we, as his children, be any less kind toward those he also loves?

 “Man judges from a partial view.

None ever yet his brother knew;

The Eternal Eye that sees the whole

May better read the darkened soul,

And find, to outward sense denied,

The flower upon its inmost side!”

John Greenleaf Whittier: The Pressed Gentian

 When we give the benefit of the doubt, let us give it not to the eye but to the heart.

 May God bless you and your family.

 

 

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