Here is what I know. Officially seven days into Mr. Donald J. Trump’s presidency there have been two nation-wide protests/riots. That is roughly one nation-wide protest/riot per every 3.5 days. What is a little bit comical to me, is if even only 25% of our church membership protested/rioted at our church as a direct result of my leadership on our staff, I’m confident our senior pastor would not allow me to continue serving in the position I currently do – nor should he – until a series of upfront and transparent conversations with both me and the church I serve took place. Apparently the same such transparency isn’t required in our government.

What I also know is seven days into Mr. Donald J. Trump’s presidency he signed an Executive Order indefinitely banning specific people from coming into our country. Right or wrong, like it or not – this kind of rapid, and in the minds of many extreme, action has caused an intense wave of unease throughout our country…and that may be putting it lightly.

What I do know is that no one exactly knows what the next 1,453 days of Mr. Donald J. Trump’s presidency will produce.

In the past fifteen months and perhaps right now more than ever, I am learning the true meaning of my high school Current Affairs teacher’s favorite quote, “When people begin to throw mud, everyone’s hands get dirty.”

Finally, what I know and is perhaps most important to remember, is there is one truth that remains true today that was true fifteen months ago and fifteen-hundred years ago. The only thing a person can truly control is themselves. How we think and what we think about. What we say and what we mean when we say it. How we act and what we choose to do.

And what matters now more than ever, no matter what your convictions, is that we become and remain a people who are known for action and not just declarative statements. Sadly, though, our country’s culture doesn’t seem to even understand this principle well. There is no priority on a person’s commitment to action. No real celebration of men and women actively living out their convictions. Recently I heard the interview of a famous point guard in the NBA. Remarkably, he was heralded as “a generational leader.” Essentially he was given this title because he tweeted in support of protesting the DAPP involving the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Please know that I in no way, shape or form am condemning him for apparently holding a personal position on the matter. What I am dumbfounded by is our culture’s willingness to label someone a leader simply because they formulate 140 characters about a current event.

It is imperative, perhaps now more than ever, that anyone who is a Christ-follower re-surrender and recommit their lives to follow both His life for our example and His teaching for our wisdom. In the famous words of our friend Fox Mulder, “The truth is out there.” And the truth is this: we cannot be a man or a woman who only talks about making a difference, we must be men and women who actually make a difference. Far too many people – Christians and non-Christians, Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals – are hiding behind inflated, robust, self-aggrandizing statements and not living committed, consistent, difference-making lives.

Voting and marching and Facebooking* all have their place in our free country. But I implore all of us to see the imperative command to love others and lead people to saving relationship with Jesus. It’s just that simple. With these truths as our guide, it may not be easy but, knowing what to do will be simple. Boiled down to this: if I have the chance to march for a cause – I should wholeheartedly be doing things with my life that live out that cause. If I have the chance to make a post on social media – I should daily be doing things with my life that live out the content of that post.

The best example I can give is this. I recently had a friend reach out to me because his marriage is on the rocks and they are considering divorce. I know this friend is not (yet) a Christian. I should be ashamed of myself if I am consumed with only declaring divorce is wrong and not dedicating my time and energy to showing and sharing the love of Christ with this couple – wholly intent for God to physically use me to help save their marriage.

So please. Enough marching, enough rhetoric – no matter which side of the fence you are on. May we be a generation of Christ-followers who will have it said of us, “they were men and women who didn’t just preach their agendas, but lived out their convictions with love and compassion.”

“Raise your words not your voices. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

 

*reference Facebook – may the whole world consider the following response when challenged: Please let me buy you a cup of coffee this week so we can listen to each other face-to-face.

 

This time of year never fails to pull the heart strings of us all. I’m probably a bit of a softie, but I can hardly watch a Christmas commercial these days without tearing up! If you are a Christian, clearly this time of year is one that causes us to reflect with intense gratitude on all that God has done for us and given to us.

But what about those less fortunate? Homeless. Fatherless. Family-less. Without a doubt, people in this condition exist year-round. But there is something about the cold winter holiday season that calls them to our attention more than usual. So what do we do? Pick up the phone and call the church? They are ministers, they get paid to minister to the down-and-outs, right? Here are some of my thoughts:

There is no doubt God divinely appointed the timing of your “notice” of a specific need, a specific person. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Many times I ask myself (and God) why do my wife and I live in Memphis? It could be one of the last places I might choose if I truly did whatever I wanted to do with my life. But I am trusting there could be no better city in the country to love people and live like Jesus. I’m not proposing we become radical about our understanding of God’s sovereignty. I’m simply encouraging you to consider our God is infinite in wisdom and love which means nothing is by accident – even your new-found exposure to a need.

There are scary places and dark pockets throughout the 901 and in every large city. Even my relatively small hometown had “the bad side of town” when I was growing up. But God has taught me we fear who we don’t’ pray for. I’d encourage you and your family to begin praying for your city and those in need. Include the homeless, the sick and the less fortunate in evening prayers with your children. As you do, not only will the person in need receive the blessings of your prayers but God will also direct your path of ministry. It is very possible God is calling you and your family to minister to this man. That could look like stopping and praying with him. It might also be possible that you bring him a warm meal from Wendy’s or Arby’s. It could be your church has a Benevolence Ministry that will help equip you with financial resources or gift cards.

I’ll never forget when my friend Michael and I took a homeless man a meal from McDonald’s. It was completely random, or so we thought, when our original plans to eat at a nearby restaurant were canceled. But as we were making plans to eat somewhere else, Michael and I caught a glimpse of two (appearing) homeless men sitting on the curb. My friend encouraged us to buy these men dinner and share the Gospel with them. We ordered two #1 combos and off we went. It only took a few minutes after our introduction to understand these men had already “drank their dinner” and were too inebriated to have a meaningful conversation. The funniest moment was when one of the men said, “But I don’t like Coca-Cola!” Haha! We couldn’t believe his lack of gratitude.

The men took the meals and Michael and I went on our way. Later that night, sitting at a pizza restaurant, Michael and I were stunned questioning God. We didn’t understand. “But God, we followed through with what You asked of us, why didn’t the homeless man accept Christ or receive our help?” It was then God taught us He is honored with our “yes” – our willingness to serve and follow through on our conviction. It is in God’s sovereignty that He draws men and women to Himself for salvation, we are merely the vessels of the message. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us…

When doing ministry to those we don’t’ know, safety should always be produced by our wisdom, not born out of our fear. Please always serve people alongside your friends, family or fellow church family. Rare is it that we should find ourselves ministering in a potentially dangerous context alone. Not every under-privileged person is dangerous, but every person is capable of doing another person harm.

No matter what the outcome, Jesus’s promise in Matthew 28:18-20 is not just for mission trips; He promises to be with you whether you are serving the least of these – in a Third World Country or as a family to a homeless man in your hometown. It is also really important to remember our obedience is what honors God, not the numerical result.

 

 

It’s a pilgrimage, really. Single. Married. Married with children. It doesn’t matter. It’s inevitable for us all. Returning home. “Home for the Holidays” as they call it. Thanksgiving or Christmas – the feeling is the same. You figuratively and literally put on pause the life you have built, have come to know as the new normal, to spend a few days under your parents’ roof.

Whether you love or hate “coming home”, the truth is that no matter our age our parents are thrilled. And when it’s over we can say we did our part to keep the home-fires burning.

For me, this week marks another Thanksgiving spent in my hometown. Fort Smith is one of those towns that everyone is happy to be from, but not necessarily a place everyone is clamoring to live. But, like a lot of hometowns across this great country, the longer I’ve been away the more I have missed it. My classic joke is, “everything is just like I left it…which is the way it’s been for several decades now.” Make a trip to my hometown these days, though, and you’ll see a quite a lot to…write home about.

On this gorgeous fall day, my dad and I were doing what he absolutely loves most – to drive around and talk. He could literally ride anywhere as long as he is talking and could literally talk about anything as long as he is riding around. The last few times I’ve come home to visit he insists on driving around a newly developed portion of the county. It is really incredible. Commercial, industrial, residential – this area suddenly has a little bit of everything. The city could literally hire my dad as a personal tour guide. It seems to have become his life mission to know every single detail – public knowledge or sometimes made-up – about every acre of land and every frame of structure.

The drive on this particular Monday was especially melancholy for me, though. At almost every turn a different conversation was going on inside my head. There was a voice that continued to remind me of big mistakes I’d made, struggles I’d had or ways I’d disappointed God over the years. Now granted, I was never an ax-murder and I’ve never run drugs through Mexico. But for a season of life during my young adult years I was distant from God – you guessed it – while living in my hometown. Every decision I made and every Thursday night on the town was about me. My wants, my desires. And today, this drive around town only seemed to bring all those embarrassing memories back, front and center. The all too familiar twin brothers of regret and remorse seemed to stare at me from the back seat, through the rearview mirror.

But then something extremely unexpected happened. The Lord’s voice broke through. Once loud and dominant, now interrupted and vanished was the voice of the Enemy. As I crested yet another gently rolling hill I saw yet another a semi-finished subdivision. They were everywhere; as much a part of the landscape as the sixty-foot pines that pierced through the baby blue sky. Almost audibly I could hear God’s beautiful Words as penned by the author Paul to the church at Philippi, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6) Just like the construction site on an elaborate subdivision, so too is my life being built by sanctification.

As a broken, finite man my life will have setbacks and delays. Am I to celebrate those periods of life? Should I be apathetic towards the sin that so easily entangles and postpones the work of God? Certainly not. But the lesson God so wonderfully blessed me with today we should never forget: God has an incredible plan for our lives. Lives that will bring Him glory which will fulfill us to our core. And when we do make mistakes or even if we do live a season of life distant from God, He is never distant from us. When our construction site has a setback and we have to push back the completion date, He remains faithful to continue leading, guiding and directing us. In the words of my good buddy, Ed – “He takes our broken pieces and makes masterpieces!”

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

For millions of Americans, the candidate they voted for did not win the election. Losing. No one likes to lose. Since literally childhood no person has ever wanted to lose. The strongest among us may have had the fortitude to recover from loss quickly, but no person who has ever wanted win and instead lost has been happy. The unusual experience that many Americans felt last night – and continue to feel waking up this morning – is an absence of the typical feelings of celebration associated with winning. For many the feeling is whatever the opposite of a “moral victory” feels like. Like a hamster in a wheel, my mind continues to race thinking about what feelings Christians should have. If Jesus was alive in the flesh and giving a speech, returning emails, or posting a blog – what would He tell me to feel?

Love. The Bible – God’s revelation of Himself to us – tells me to feel love. As a Christian emotions will come and go, but my identity is not in those emotions. I may feel a certain way but I am not defined by those emotions. I am not to be governed (no pun intended) by those emotions. Instead, I understand my identity to come from a book of the Bible like John. I (Jesus) am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (15:5). If we are Christ followers who truly believe what Jesus teaches, then we are to be love – no matter who our President is, what our President says or who controls what in Congress. Love. That is what we are to feel. We are to abide in Jesus the Son – our identity in Him – not in a winner or loser. The Bible continues by teaching us God the Father is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, if we as Christians are who we say we are, we will love. According to our identity, that will be the motivating emotion.

Simply put: if you are a Christian who refuses to love people with your words and deeds, you’re not doing it right! Jesus teaches in His Sermon on the Mount we are even to go as far as loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Because the truth is we can win and still lose (Luke 9:25)! I felt nauseous to learn of a prayer request from a Christian asking to pray for one candidate but specifically do not pray for another. Such a tragic and disappointing misunderstanding of who God is and our relationship to Him.

The world is watching closer than ever before. Non-Christians seem to be ravenous for Christian hypocrisy. Authentic Christ-followers seem to be entering a season of history where they will be “guilty until proven innocent” – made worse by the words and actions of a majority who claim to be evangelical. But our identity is not in emotions, it is in Jesus Christ. Now is not the time to react with emotions, but to respond in love. Love for everyone. Love for panta ta ethne – as Jesus loved. Fearless love. Love that is not affected by skin color, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference.

Make no mistake. We have an enemy. But our enemy isn’t in the White House, isn’t at a gay bar and doesn’t wear a hijab. The enemy of mankind is Satan. Loving others as God first loved us is our only weapon against this enemy. Authentic love that is grounded in truth. Sincere love that is manifested in compassion. Humble love that can survive the emotional storm of others and still abide in Christ.

 

God’s Love and Ours – 1 John 4

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Since the grand-narrative of Scripture begins with a wedding (Genesis 2:22-24) and ends with a wedding (Revelation 19:6-9) it would make sense that Jesus would begin His public earthly ministry at a wedding. It is no secret that the purpose behind Jesus turning water into wine is the same purpose behind every one of His miracles: to manifest His glory. His glory is the single most important reality of our faith. Any interpretation of Jesus’s earthly ministry or His miracles which does not prioritize His glory loses sight of the purpose of His coming.

But what does this miracle reveal about Jesus’s glory? We immediately see His power – there are YouTube videos on how to turn water into wine – by making something exist that previously did not. We also immediately see that Jesus was relationally engaged – He wasn’t locked away in an ivory tower pontificating on deep theological issues. But there is something more to be understood about the revelation of His glory through this miracle.

Turning our attention to the exchange between Jesus and his mother, Mary, we can learn a very valuable lesson about Jesus’s authority in our lives. In verse 3, we see Mary make the wedding’s problem, Jesus’s problem. The response given seems a little sharp from a son to his mother, but Jesus is not giving His mother a cold-hearted rebuke as it may first appear. John Calvin writes, “She was not sinning knowingly and willingly, but Christ meets the danger of His mother’s words being misconstrued, as if it were at her behest that He afterwards performed the miracle.” Perhaps another way of understanding the response is as if Jesus were saying: Your relationship with Me as my mother has no special power or privilege here; you are a woman like every other woman. My Father in heaven, no human being, determines what miracles I perform and when I perform them.

The reality of this truth is both incredibly good news for some and incredibly eye-opening news for others. Jesus’s response to Mary teaches us that our family tree doesn’t matter. Whether we come from a healthy, God-honoring family or a troubled, broken family – it is only our faith alone, through grace alone that saves us from our sins and allows us the privilege of a relationship with Jesus.

Do you find yourself spiritually lazy because of a healthy and comfortable family life? Or do you wrestle daily with the guilt and shame of a checkered past? Either way, may we learn what Mary was reminded by her son Jesus, that is not who or what we were that earns favor with Jesus – it is our faith and trust in Him alone that makes us adopted children of His.

 

If you have ever had a baby you know the exact moment I am about to describe. The moment when your expectations have a massive, violent collision with reality. My expectations when I woke up that morning were that everything would go great. That my two month old baby boy would be happy and smiley like all those cute babies I see on Instagram. But the reality I had come face to face with was one of emotional chaos, despair and frustration.

My wife is an incredible mother. She seems to be able to meet my son’s needs even before he thinks he needs it. On this particular day, only a few weeks after our son was born, my wife declared she needed “mommy time” and she would be back in 45 minutes. I was beyond excited about my chance to prove my mettle as a dad. Father-Son time. One-on-one. We got this! I was already preparing my “Dad of the Year” acceptance speech in my head.

The first ten minutes of this Dadapalooza was going great. I made funny faces – he smiled. I dance around the room – he giggled. He had a dirty diaper – I changed it with the same grace and coordination as Emeril Lagasse making the perfect chicken cordon bleu. It was just about time to change my initials to PTP (Prime Time Player!) until suddenly and without warning, my son lost his ever-loving mind.

Sure, no problem. I can handle this. But my funny faces suddenly weren’t funny. My dancing around the room only seemed to make things worse. And for the hundredth time, no he isn’t dirty. That’s when I felt it. Those little beads of sweat begin to form on my forehead. Like a far-off title wave, I could sense the panic heading towards me, attempting to wash me out to a sea of frustration.

The bouncy chair. Yes, that’s it. That is what will save this day. So I scrambled to the nursery and drug elephant-adorned life raft into the living room. I tossed him in, turned on the vibration and the swinging motion then stepped back to watch the miracle of calm begin. Only it didn’t. Instead his screams seemed to grow louder. With only moments to spare before I became the next dad stranded on the deserted island of futility, I texted mommy. The ultimate “break glass in case of emergency” move. But it had to be done.

Cool, calm, steady – the voice on the other end of the line simply said, “it’s time for his bottle, that’s why he’s fussy.” Without saying goodbye I dashed to the fridge and started mixing up that beautiful milk cocktail that would meet his every need. Just moments after he started guzzling down the white gold, the tears dried up and the crying stopped. The beast, was tamed.

As I sat at the kitchen table eating my lunch alone, in silence, starring out the window like a shell-shocked war survivor, I thought about how similar this experience must be to the one my Heavenly Father has with me. No, I’m not suggesting God scrambles around heaven trying to make silly faces looking for my spiritual bouncy chair. But two theological truths stick out from this story that Christians must remember on a weekly basis: God will never panic and God always knows what you need.

In Mark 4 the disciples find themselves on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. What they experienced was not that different from what I described: their expectations had a massive collision with reality as they were sure their boat would sink in the storm. To make matters even more intense, this guy they had left their jobs and families to follow – baptized by John as the Son of God – was asleep below deck! Mark 4:37-38  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?  In this moment of emotional chaos and physical despair the disciples failed to remember the promises of Jesus. We as Christ-followers are taught throughout the New Testament that we will face trials (James 1:2) and we will have challenges (John 15:20). As we experience these trials and challenges our only source of strength to overcome them is the power of God. Our hearts are healed and empowered as we cling to the promises of God. Promises like Psalm 46 and Psalm 138. Rather than looking to the winds and the waves. Rather than listening to the voice of Satan declaring your doom. Look to the promises of God found throughout all of Scripture and draw strength to preserve and overcome.

In the midst of the storms we must also remember the presence of Jesus. Christianity is not a cold religion with a distant god. Please never forget you do not have to earn God’s favor or achieve a specific spiritual status to receive His presence. He has promised He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20). These kinds of promises are not only reserved for mission trips deep into the valleys and jungles. This kind of promise is for you in the midst of every storm you face in life. The disciples experienced this kind of presence in verse 39: And He woke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” Jesus did not wake up and immediately accuse the disciples. He did not wake up, point His finger in their chest and say “well if you had watched where you were going we wouldn’t be in this storm” or “if you went to church more often and gave more money to the offering bad things wouldn’t happen to you.” No. Jesus immediately springs into action with His presence in the life of the disciples. Even when you don’t feel it or barely believe it, Jesus is always with you and is always only a whisper away.

So whether you are fighting for your life battling cancer or fighting your sin-nature not to scream at a fussy toddler, it is in those moments we must remember the power of Jesus. With only a word He calmed the winds and the waves. With the touch of a hand (Mark 1:41) He heals or with a prayer and loud voice He raises the dead to life (John 11:43). This power of Jesus is not limited to biblical experiences 2,000 years ago. Jesus’s love for you is as powerful and active as it has ever been. Don’t live your life like Samson in Judges 16 who tried to do everything in his own power for his own glory. In the midst of life-shattering storms trust in the power of Jesus.

Jesus is never asleep in your life. In the exact same way it only took one phone call to my wife, your Heavenly Father hears your every prayer. In fact, the Bible teaches in Matthew 6:8 …your Father knows what you need even before you ask Him. God has infinite wisdom and knows you intimately. He created you and is present with you. The perfect combination for knowing exactly what you need in the eye of the storm and providing it for you. May we all remember daily the promises, presence and power of Jesus.