At Just The Right Time

For the past year I have noticed that the trending debate on November 1 is “Is it the right time to start listening to Christmas music?” I must admit that as I type this I am listening to Christmas music and it feels right. I mean, forget the fact that it is 80 degrees outside, inside it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! So is it the right time? Well, I suppose the first element to define is “what are the Holidays”. We have decided that the “Holidays” should include Thanksgiving. That the time from November 1 to December 31 is all-inclusive. So by definition, Holiday music should be all-inclusive of the holidays, right? The second element to define is – are there any alternatives? What I mean by this is please tell me your top 5 favorite Thanksgiving songs. And before you respond, just because a song has “thank you” in the lyrics does not make it a “Thanksgiving Song”. So, since Christmas music reminds us of the many things we are thankful for (family, friends, food, etc.) I feel that Christmas music is the perfect music to celebrate Thanksgiving. The third element to define is the content or theme of the music. For the most part Christmas music is, or should be, focused on Christ. And it’s always the right time to celebrate Jesus, especially since Jesus is master of impeccable timing. Let me take you to Scripture.

As Paul is writing to the Romans he takes his conversation of grace to the timing of God. He states in Romans 5:6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” At the exact right time Christ came to earth, lived the perfect life, died a horrific yet atoning death for all of us. And it was impeccable timing. So the question of timing is not so much is it time to listen to Christmas music, but rather, is it time for you to follow the One whom the music is about? Jesus came at the right time, for you! So I say, “yeah”, it’s time, to follow Jesus, to love Him, and even to listen to some Christmas music.

 

You’re Fired!

I fell for it – hook, line, and sinker. I have never really had much respect for Donald Trump. I have always considered him an opportunist who lies in wait for the next chance to self-promote and boost his own ego. A classic narcissist. Yet, when Mr. Trump announced earlier this week that he would make an announcement that would change everything I resisted at first. Then, curiosity got the better of me and I tuned in to watch his “earth-shattering” revelation. Like many others i’m sure, I watched the shenanigans unfold. Mr. Trump made a seemingly simple gesture. He offered 5 million dollars to go to the charity of President Obama’s choice if the President would release his college and passport records. I will admit, I too get frustrated with the lack of transparency shown by many politicians, but when did it become okay to dangle help for those in need, like a proverbial carrot? My initial reaction was to laugh, wondering why I had tuned in to watch this obvious self-promotion tactic. Then my laughter turned to frustration as I found myself asking – if you have 5 million dollars to help those in need, why conditionally give it to them? If Mr. Obama doesn’t comply will you withhold your money? Do we really view those in need as something of a bartering chip? Laughter turned to frustration which gave way to indignation which led me to Scripture.

Matthew chapter 25 verses 31-46 are some eye-opening verses for us to consider when we play fast and loose with our help – financial, physical, or otherwise. To paraphrase what is going on in this passage, there comes a point of judgment when God puts people into two categories – those on the left and those on the right. Once he has these two groups divided he tells those on the right that they may come and inherit the kingdom because their lives had reflected the love that springs from a true faith in Jesus Christ. When people were hungry, they fed them, when they were thirsty, they gave them drink, when they were strangers, they invited them in, when they were naked, they clothed them, when they were sick, they visited them, and when they were imprisoned, they came to them. These “people of love and caring compassion” didn’t realize they had done these things. They simply let their lives be fueled by the love produced by their faith in Christ. It was a natural outpouring of that faith. The other group, the ones on the left were just the opposite. They were told by God to depart for their lack of action which was reflective of their lack of faith that ultimately produced in them a contemptuous attitude. God informed them they never offered help. Their response was aghast. Surely, they had offered their money and gave of their charity!

They were simply wrong. A heart that feels like it is going out of its way to bless someone is usually a heart motivated by self-interest, self-promotion, and self-love. A heart that simply loves doesn’t realize how much of a blessing it truly is. The difference is in following ourselves or following Christ. So when Mr. Trump promotes his actions as generous all I see is someone with 5 million dollars available to help but won’t until he knows you know that he is blessing you – wrong motivation. There are scores of people who pour themselves into helping others because they just want to love them, because they realize that God loves them and sacrificed His Son for them. So what’s our motivation? What’s your motivation? Is it love from a pure heart or is it self-promotion? I for one do not want to stand before the true God and hear what idiomatically relates to a phrase that Mr. Trump is so fond of – “You’re Fired!” Instead I want to hear “Well done” because my faith produced a love from a pure heart.

Lion Safety 101

In 1996 I recall being disturbed by a particular movie. Now, I don’t know why the thought behind the movie disturbed me. Perhaps it was that my “bear safety” logic proved false. Perhaps it was I thought somehow, someway, I would find myself in the presence of lions. Like I said, I don’t know where the disturbance originated, I just know it bothered me. It was the movie, The Ghost and the Darkness, starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. In this movie Kilmer and Douglas are tasked with the problem of ridding a camp in Tsavo, Kenya of actual man-eating lions. Here is what I knew about lions before the movie: 1) lions are dangerous but they will rarely attack humans, 2) if lions do attack humans it is because they threatened them they will single out the slower, weaker targets, and 3) if you punch a lion in the nose they will swim away (oh wait, that’s shark safety 101).

At any rate, this movie blew open my developing lion safety manual (yes, I have a manual of safety for all potentially dangerous animals out there). First, these man-eaters of Tsavo, made it their goal to seek out and eat humans. It wasn’t a matter of feeling threatened, it seemed to be a matter of sport for these two demon-lions. When they discovered their cave in reality, there were more than 35 human remains of those who didn’t fare so well against the lions. Secondly, they did not isolate the  slower, weaker targets, they were equally vicious in their attack tactics. No one, was safe. Here is where my “bear safety” logic was challenged. In bear safety 101 to avoid a bear attack you need only run faster than the person you are with. I had assumed the same in lion safety 101, but they were working in tandem and they were fast, and vicious, and knew exactly wear and how to attack. Needless to say, fear gripped that camp in Tsavo.

Why do I mention lion-safety 101. Because it reminds me of Scripture and our need for lion-safety training when it comes to the devil. Peter writes at the conclusion of his first letter: “Be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). What a horrid description of Satan and his power and presence in our lives. This image shows me that there is potential in the devil to destroy me. To pick me off, to find the right point of attack. To find that right temptation to pull me away from God and to leave me destroyed in my relationship to Jesus. And as with the Ghost and the Darkness, hiding will not keep him at bay, and I am potentially an easy target, and I really don’t think punching Satan in the nose will have any effect. So what are we supposed to do? How do we navigate without the fear of being trampled and mauled by a soul-eating lion?

Peter continues in verse 9, “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” There is our answer. First – fight! Resist! Resist because you are firm in your faith. In other words, you know that the God you serve is far more powerful than the lion who is roaring. In faith you realize that in the grand scheme of things he is all bark and no bite. And the big key of this sentence. Stick with one another. You are not alone. You are not the only one suffering or going through a lion-mauling. Others who love the Lord are there with you and together we can make it through any struggle.

My encouragement for you today, in light of my self-proclaimed “Lion-Safety-Awareness-Week”. Don’t think that lion attacks only happen in Africa, because Scripture warns of the devil prowling around ready to pounce. But realize that there is safety in your faith, safety in your fellowship, and victory in our Lord. Be safe out there brothers and sisters.

I Declare Shenanigans

Habakkuk was a prophet who struggled with similar questions that we raise. It doesn’t take long for him to dive into the problem in his short work in the Old Testament. He laments, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “violence!” and you will not save?” He concludes his raw-emotive rant with a poignant statement directed at God, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habbakuk 1).

Let’s be honest, we struggle with this, don’t we? And not in just one arena of life. We look around and wonder why the rich get richer. We look at people apart from the Lord and we cry, “Shenanigans!” when they excel and we repel. “It’s just not fair, i’m a good person” is a shout that is refrained time and again when comparing ourselves to others. It is enough to make someone wonder if God is really out there and if He really cares. There is a second avenue in which this sentiment works. People on the outside of the church look in at the church and conclude that God must be absent because evil has pervaded the very camp in which the Christians abide – the church. In fact, one great theologian, N.D. Elkins, has stated, “People often deny Christianity because of the hypocritical people that follow it. So someone who doesn’t even agree with Christianity says that its followers aren’t good enough, what merit could they possibly have?” Habakkuk lamented correctly. Mr. Elkins observes keenly. We have a problem. Why does evil persist and why do people allow sinful human behavior to obfuscate the bride of Christ?

May I submit that we are wrong in the foundation of our thinking? Mr. Elkins goes on to point out the folly in this base mentality, “The truth is no one is good enough. Except of course one man. His name is Jesus.” Habakkuk didn’t understand or see the bigger picture and he was told by God, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5). We think that we are or can be good enough, that injustice rules where it shouldn’t, and God gently reminds us that we are sinful, and we are in need of a Savior. And furthermore, He sent (for us), would send (for Habakkuk), His son to bring us God’s grace. God imputed Christ’s righteousness in us, not infused it. You see, had He infused it would be righteousness mixed with my sinfulness and the result would be lamenting as Habbakuk did. Rather God imputed, took my sin out and replaced it with Christ’s righteousness, the only one who is good enough. It was a complete blood transfusion if you will. May I encourage you today, believer, to stop looking at the world and crying “injustice”! Rather, trust that God is up to something you can’t understand, and join Him in that process. May I warn you, unbeliever, that to judge Christ and God based on a sinful humanity is folly. Christ is both just and justifier and you need him to stand before a just God, accept Him today.

Counter-Suffering

If there is one common bond among humanity it would be suffering. We all suffer. Granted to varying degrees and varying outcomes but we all suffer nonetheless. We suffer when we loose a game. We suffer when we are in pain. We suffer when circumstances don’t go our way. We suffer when relationships don’t work out how we planned. We suffer when we lose a loved one. And the list can go on and on ad infinitum. Sometimes the suffering is self-imposed – we make stupid mistakes. Other times it is simply a mystery – we don’t know why we are suffering. And still other times it is unwarranted suffering. The kind of suffering that Peter talks about in his first epistle, where he writes, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14). In particular Peter was addressing those who suffered for loving the Lord, but his principles of counter-balancing suffering apply to all situations in which we find ourselves.

Suffering is very real, and it is very painful, and I don’t want you to think I am minimizing this but I see a very real need to understand suffering and how it can be endured biblically. Too often people who are suffering turn inward. They seek attention for the sake of suffering and eventually everyone’s suffering pales in comparison to their own – or so they think. Suffering causes a debilitating case of pride. The logical conclusion is suffering becomes what defines us. The person whose conversation always turns to their suffering. The person whose life revolves around a spotlight focus on what the pain has done to them. I know the suffering hurts, but if we are brutally honest, that outlook is a bit selfish. Paul understood this. Three times he asked to have his suffering removed and Jesus responded with, “no, that suffering will be with you, not to define you, but to be used to bring me glory and to further the kingdom” (that’s my paraphrase, you can reference the exact wording in 2 Cor. 12:9). Paul’s suffering had a purpose and it wasn’t about himself. Peter understands this, so he pens his words in 1 Peter chapter 3. And we see in verse 15 that when we are experiencing suffering we are to sanctify the Lord in our hearts, turn the focus from us to Christ and be ready to explain to people the hope that we have. Explain what gets us through times of suffering without becoming incapacitated by our circumstances but rather becoming extremely capable for God’s glory. Honestly, at the end of the day, if we are going to suffer, don’t we want it to be worth something? I think so.

The question of suffering is not “if” but “when”. We will suffer and my desire is for you to see the suffering for what it is worth – an element of worship, a moment of kingdom power, a time of blessing! It is difficult, it is painful, but it is also purposeful. Remember the words of David, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

When It Rains It Pours

Perhaps we can relate to Samuel. We have heard the call from the Lord to trust Him and to follow Him. And like Samuel we have responded with “Speak, for Your servant hears.” In other words we have committed ourselves to “I will”. We say to the Lord, “because You have called me, I will..follow you…trust you…love you…lean on you…seek you…passionately and blindly give everything to you. I know we mean well when we covenant with the Lord this way. However, it has been my personal experience that this is often a “fair-weathered” covenant. What I mean is that when it rains it pours and our response, our reaction will expose how deep we really are committed to God. Let me share with you my own experience over just this past week.

I feel for Job. And while we each deal with our own critically bad situations in life I have yet to see any of us suffer the way Job suffered. The extent of his suffering is found in Job 1:14-19. Job, who enjoyed great success in life and was truly blessed, was visited by a messenger who relayed the troubling news that all his oxen and his donkey had been stolen by an enemy. Furthermore, the servants tending these animals had been killed. That news was bad enough, but before Job even had a chance to respond he was visited by a second messenger who relayed that all his sheep and those tending them had been consumed by fire. Blow number two. Finally, while still processing a third messenger arrives with news that his sons and daughters had all been together when their house collapsed killing all of them. Now to add insult to injury Job’s friends visited with the worst counseling advice one could imagine and his “beloved” wife gives him the advice to just “curse God and die” (It’s always good to know your loved ones care for you in times of trouble!) I’m sure in the midst of all this Job simply sighed, “enough, Lord, just let me catch my breath. Let me catch up to you with just the first bit of bad news.” Have you been there? This week I have experienced one family member going through a tough and trying time regarding his very physical safety. I have prayed with two other close family members as husband sits by his wife’s bed with terminal cancer. Just last night I had to pick up my wife from the ER where she was ministering to her family in the wake of horrible motorcycle that will have lasting and devastating effects. “Enough, Lord, just let us catch our breath.”

How do we find in these moments the same faith we expressed above when the weather was nice and we felt called by God? How do we keep our faith and our heads held high when everyone is questioning the walls that are crashing in? Volumes have been filled trying to answer the question why evil persists in this world. The book of Psalms is a vivid reminder that great men and women of faith wrestled with God when the walls came in. I don’t know if we will ever have an answer to this question this side of heaven. Even if we did have the answer we wouldn’t understand it. So what I would like to do today is simply share an encouraging verse that I cling to when the breath is knocked out of me, when the downpour follows start of the rain. At some point in Jesus’ ministry his teaching became difficult. So much that John states that many disciples walked away from Jesus. This prompted the question to his close group of 12, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter’s response is something we should weave into the fiber of who we are, he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). When we don’t understand, why don’t we just trust. Trust that God loves us…that He called us into marvelous light…that He will send a downpour of grace in mercy in every situation of our lives.

Who Loves You, Baby?

I am fully convinced that in our cultural milieu we have decided that the answer to the question “who am I?” comes by way of accomplishment, status, or some other arbitrary indicator that sets us apart from the next guy. Take for example our favorite conversation starter – “so, what do you do?” Or how about the dreaded ten year or twenty year high school reunion wherein we go to great lengths to describe our accomplishments by slightly embellishing the truth. Just so we will look more successful. Or perhaps you’ve been to a conference and seen the key speaker introduced by way of describing their accomplishments. Why this behavior extends even to our military. When I was enlisted I proudly wore on my dress blues jacket all the ribbons I had earned. When I was commissioned as an officer they encouraged us to stop wearing them. When my curiosity prodded enough I discovered that one of the reasons is most officers did not want to “look bad” if they only had one or two ribbons compared to an enlisted troop who had served three tours in Iraq and was bursting at the seams with accomplishments. Why, oh why, do we do that?

Perhaps it is low self-esteem. Perhaps it is insecurity. Perhaps it is envy. Or perhaps it rests somewhere in our propensity to elevate society over Scripture and give in to the temptation to pander to worldliness. This creates in us a spiritual amnesia that I want to wake you from today. Who are you? Let me tell you who you are if you are a child of God. Oh, wait, I just did. Now, let me remind you of what that means.

As Peter is writing to the chosen scattered throughout various regions he goes to great pains to remind them of who they are when they may most tempted to give in to worldliness. He writes in 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Look at that description. Chosen…royal…holy…a people for His own possession. God loves you immensely. How then can we define ourselves by anything less than His own description of us. Here’s the point – we need to quit defining ourselves by our accomplishments and instead start defining ourselves by who loves us.

Called To The Carpet

I would like to ask you to do me a favor. Take a moment and do a self-assessment. Question number one – do you read your Bible more or less today than you did a year ago? Question number two – how do you receive the sermons at your church, do you hunger for them, simply tolerate them, or can’t wait for them to be over? Question number three – Are you offended by your own sin or do you find ways to justify your attitudes and actions? Now be honest and don’t try to convince yourself that you are what you aren’t or that your answer is right because it’s what you are supposed to answer – that’s hypocrisy!

Okay, now that you have contemplated those questions I want to call you to the carpet, let me assure you first that I have self-evaluated and am standing on the carpet as well. In 1 Peter when Peter is writing to the scattered believers he is combating an urge on their part to fall into hypocrisy based on societal pressures. It would be very easy for them to believe one thing and act another way, or for them to try to hide who they were by acting like someone they weren’t. And in the course of correcting this behavior Peter gives them a foundational principle of God, namely Him calling us to worship rather than to hypocrisy. Peter writes, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). Look at what Peter exhorts. The WORD of God endures. It is living and outlasts all that fades away. Do you value God’s Word in your life? Are you consumed by it? Or is it just another book? Think of the great civilizations of history – Rome, Ming Dynasty, etc. They are all gone and have been simply left to archaeological ruins. Yet the Word of God which was there then is still here now. Think of all the history of men who have tried to discredit the Bible or snuff it out of existence. They are dead and the Word of God is still here. Are you captivated by what God has to say?

Secondly, Peter says that the word came by PREACHING. The book of Acts is a compendium of sermons that rocketed the church forward. When a man or woman of God opens the word and preaches the gospel we should be captivated and hunger and thirst for what is being given. I find it a shame when people relegate the sermon being preached to a Sunday morning “pre-lunch” event that the family attends. Your love of Scripture is reflected in your desire to hear the word preached.

Finally, Peter says that what was preached was the good news, the gospel. Do you know what the first word of the gospel is? “Repent”. Our lives are to be lived as new creations in Christ – desiring the deeper things – the Word of God and that Word being preached to us. Then we will have our priorities in order and our self-assessment will look drastically different than what we have thus far experienced. Then we will understand what it means to love God with everything. My prayer for this article is that it calls you to repentance in the way you have viewed God’s Word and His sermons. Further, my prayer is that you will get in church this Sunday and feast on the Word as it is preached.

The Word In Space

My, how the times have changed. In 1968 the world was a very different place. The first video game would not see its debut for another three years, the Beatles were just 4 years into their invasion of American pop-culture, racism and violence still marked the landscape of the American South, and I was not yet born! Perhaps the biggest difference however was the reliance on God’s Word. I suppose there was a remnant that wanted God to speak into a rapidly changing culture. I fear that today if someone were to gain a national TV audience and begin to just simply read Scripture they would be immediately shut down or tuned out.

But not so in 1968. Many of you, especially those who were around to witness, remember that on Christmas Eve in 1968 on the Apollo 8 mission the astronauts read from the book of Genesis on national TV! It was as if the entire watching audience was steeped in amazement and wonder at the new frontier we were engaging being put into context of God’s awesome creation power! I can only imagine what that felt like. Where is the centrality of Scripture today? What role does Scripture play in your life? Is it grabbing center stage in the context of God’s amazing work, or is it a simple garnishment to your proposed plans and goals? We need the Scriptures to return to speaking to us as a nation. It reminds me of Scripture.

In the book of Nehemiah there is the story of the Israelites returning to their homeland after many years of dispersion. Nehemiah is given the task of rebuilding the walls in Jerusalem. After a lot of opposition Nehemiah makes the in-roads, and the people returned. Their first order of business upon returning? They gathered together in the center of the city and they called for Ezra the scribe to come and read from Scripture. We are told in Nehemiah 8:3, “And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Picture that for a moment. A whole town gathered together, attention glued to the stage before them, and Scripture being read. It seems fundamental doesn’t it? The astronauts on Apollo 8 got it, why don’t we? My prayer for you today is simple – get in the Word! Let it guide and direct your life. After all, it is the very Word of God.

Have I Got Your Attention?

READER BEWARE! Heed this caveat: What I am about to share represents the actions of a young man influenced heavily by 1980s culture. The said individual has grown and matured and would never be found wearing parachute pants again. So let’s proceed.

In 1984 I was 10 years old. My brother and my cousin were both performers for what was a significant traveling road show. It was called the Oklahoma Kids and the show they were a part of was called “Will and the Wind”. I was to inadequate a dancer to be on stage with my relatives but I toured with the show and ran the lights. My absolute favorite part of the show was the break-dancers. There were a group of 5 guys who really knew what they were doing. I suppose they thought I would make a great mascot because they allowed me to tag along with them. I really thought I was picking up some good moves and I would practice every chance I could. One of the things that made this group of dancers so awesome is that they were street performers. They would start dancing and keep dancing until a large crowd gathered around. Once the crowd had gathered they would take turns breakin’, poppin’, and lockin’ till the crowd was in a state of amazement. Okay, here’s where it gets bad. I had watched these guys and I thought to myself “I got this, I can do it”. So right in the middle of their break session I shouted out “Hey everybody watch this!”

Do you know what happened next? Everyone turned in unison waiting to be amazed by this little 10 year old who obviously had to have some pretty great moves to be hanging out with these guys. Have you ever seen the common scene in movies where someone inadvertently gains the attention of the whole room and then just freezes? Yeah, that was me. I stood there looking back at the crowd. They looked. I looked. Then the song stopped playing as the dance group turned off the beat box to save me any more embarrassment. As we walked away from the crowd who were still scratching their heads at the oddity of this young man my friends laughed and ribbed me as was expected but then one of them turned and said, “Luke, when you get their attention you gotta know what to do with it!”

The other morning I was sitting outside praying. It was one of those moments of dry prayer. You know the kind where it feels like you are just shouting to nothing or praying to a glass ceiling. I found myself metaphorically shouting, “Hey God, look down here!” Then in the midst of my transactional negotiations with God it hit me like a ton of bricks – I had God’s attention. The question became – what would I do with it? I want you to realize something today by asking yourself the same question – you have God’s attention – now what are you going to do with it?

When Peter was penning his first epistle he quotes from Psalm 34. He writes, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). Isn’t that amazing? You and I have the complete and undivided attention of the creator of the universe. How can we possibly approach God in a transactional matter. Your prayers are not an opportunity for you to bullet point God, it’s an opportunity for you to connect and begin to obtain a view of this world and your life and His will from His perspective. Now, begin to seek His face and you will know what to do now that you know you have His attention.