And the Home of the Brave?

imagesQuite a stir in the NFL right now.  Players and entire teams are now trying to make political statements during the playing of the National Anthem.  And, as expected, since kids all over America look up to those spoiled-rotten, millionaire boys-in-men’s bodies, the “kneel down” protest has spread to middle and high schools.  It’s all enough to to make this US Marine Corps Veteran want to strap an M-16 to their backs and drop them all in the middle of Iraq or Afghanistan so they can experience what it takes to provide such immense freedom that even enables them to protest while uniformed men and women hold the flag right in front of them in stadiums, standing at attention and saluting from the first note to the last.

While some have claimed they, as Americans, have this “right” or “freedom” to protest during the anthem, it is worth noting that 36 US Code 301, passed by Congress, states regarding civilians: “During a rendition of the National Anthem . . . all other persons present should face the flag, and stand at attention with their right hand over their heart, and men . . . should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.”

We used to be a Nation of Laws.  Now, we are lawless.  We celebrate lawlessness.  Sure, if a law violates God’s Word, as a Christian, I am obligated to obey God and “protest” or “disobey” my government.  But friends, there’s nothing in the Bible forbidding us to obey our nation’s laws and protocols during national anthems.  So, believers in the Church who are defending the actions of these lawless millionaires might want to rethink in light of Romans 13.

While I support the 1st Amendment doggedly, I do not think it wise to use the National Anthem as the “platform” for protest or redressing grievances.  Imagine our Olympic athletes doing so during a medal ceremony!  Do you think the men and women in the military always agree with everything happening in our nation?  Yet they stand at attention and salute every single time.  Why?  Because they have been trained in the doctrine of law and order!  I mean, where will this end?  Should we allow people to burn the flag during the anthem?  Go spit in the faces of the sergeant holding the flag on the field?  Go punch a police officer trying to direct traffic in the parking lot?  Lawlessness leads to these very things, and no doubt someone somewhere is already planning it or maybe has done it.

And just what are these athletes protesting?  Racism.  Injustice in the law enforcement and/or court systems.  That’s what they are claiming.  And I agree those things exist.  And I agree they are sinful and wrong.  And I agree we as a nation and especially we Christians in the Church ought to be fighting hard against them.

But I disagree that this platform is an acceptable means.  And I disagree that these millionaire boys are the right bearers of this banner of protest.  After all, they have “made it.”  Many of them may have come “from the hood” but let’s face it, they ain’t there anymore!  America worked for them!

But, maybe just maybe some of them desire to use their privileged status to fight for the under-privileged.  If that is so, it’s noble.  And yet again, I want to strongly protest the method and manner of their protest.  It is actually a lawless and senseless way to go about fighting for justice for all.  A better way would be for them to sacrifice their lavish lifestyles and don a police uniform.  Start walking the beat in the hood.  Or give up your millions, like your colleague Pat Tilman, to enlist in the Army.  Or at bare minimum use your star power to establish organizations that get police officers and citizens and judges all enjoying picnics together in their towns, talking to one another, listening to one another, loving one another.  

Kneeling during the anthem accomplishes nothing.  Sacrificial love conquers all injustices, though.  And this really has been and continues to be the purview of the Church.  Right?  Of all people, we followers of Christ should know the solution to injustices can never be merely political.  And the NFL has absolutely no real power to change men’s hearts.  “Lawless” is an accurate description of every person.  And only the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can remove the penalty of God against our lawlessness.  Only a new heart given by God’s Spirit as we trust in the life, death and resurrection of Christ in our place will destroy bigotry and racism and injustice in our hearts.  We must remember, dear Christians, we were once the ones refusing to kneel before the Lord.  We once refused to salute His banner of love.  But He came to us in great mercy and gave us life and set us free to love Him and His Law (John 8:36; Eph 2:1-10).

Church, we can belly-ache all we want about these protests and the lawless condition of our culture.  And we can even disagree on the politics behind some of it.  And we can choose to turn off our TV sets, too, when the NFL games are on!  But we must never forget that this whole “freedom” and self-rule project called the United States of America rested on the spiritual values the Colonists once shared in the mid-1700s. This has been chronicled so well by Eric Metaxas in his book If You Can Keep It.  I’ll turn my attention to that in future posts.  But for now, let us renew our commitment to proclaiming true justice and freedom only through the cross of our Lord and Savior.  What these football players are protesting is real.  And the fix for it is something only the Church possesses.  So go tell the millionaires and the hourly workers, the rich and poor – only Jesus saves, and only His kingdom will know no end.  All other flags will be furled eventually.  

Until then, work for continued political freedom and law and order, for sure.  But never misplace your ultimate allegiance.  If you’ve spent hours on social media arguing about the NFL protests, why not vow to spend even more hours speaking about true righteousness, and true justice, and the solution God gives in Christ for our unrighteous, lawless hearts?

And every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever'” (Revelation 5:13).

As Russell Moore says in his book Onward, we are Americans best when we are not Americans first.               

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So, This is Science?

KIC-8462852-480In the recent edition (Summer 2016) of Vanderbilt magazine, there’s an article titled “Dim Chance.”  It briefly details how a PhD Student at Vanderbilt debunked some claims of researchers at Penn State and LSU regarding KIC 8462852.  Oh, that’s “Tabby’s star” for all you astrology nuts.

This star is some 1480 light years away, and is nestled in the constellation called Cygnus.  Interest among some in the scientific community rose up when the star’s namesake, Yale astronomer Tabby Boyajian, reported that some “planet hunters” had noticed fluctuations in the star’s light.

Now, I have no idea why this excites some people, but if you’re so far bored to tears, just listen to the conclusion of these so-called “planet hunters.”  They noticed over 100 days, dozens of uneven light fluctuations which they hypothesized must have been caused by large objects passing across its face.  So far, still fairly ho-hum.  Right?

Not so fast.  In come astronomers from Penn State to release a study which said this “bizarre light curve” was “consistent with a swarm of alien-constructed megastructures.”

I can’t make this stuff up, folks!

So this is serious science?  Or Sci-Fi?  These are the “experts” educating future leaders of America and the world.  This is what has become of “science.”  It’s been reduced to a ridiculous religion that relies upon totally unsubstantiated and un-provable beliefs.  Ironically, this is what so many scientists accuse Christians of doing!  (Even though our beliefs rest on the most historically reliable Book of antiquity, with many verified evidences.)  I wonder how many government dollars went into that research study at Penn State?

Well, thankfully, Michael Lund from Vanderbilt rescued these scientists from their own stupidity by his research showing the light changes “were caused by changes in the instrumentation – not by changes in the star’s brightness.” In other words, the instruments used to measure the brightness were not consistent over time.

Turns out, the whole hypothesis owes to human error.  Ha!  Go figure.

Oh how far science has fallen.  From men like Kepler, Pascal, Bacon, Newton, and Samuel Morse who did science because they knew a Sovereign Creator God had infused His creation with His own order and glory.  Now that’s a motivator to do science!  But with scientists like we have these days, is it any wonder kids are losing interest?

Whatever we can know or not know about KIC 8462852, our Father God knows its real number, and He calls it by its real name (Psalm 147:4).

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Contentment

3fc40ce7-9e2e-421d-826d-0e419e24a390_PersonalizationBy Lori Beard

Phil. 4:12 I have learned the secret of being content in everything.
Come on Paul.  Tell me the secret.  Yell that secret to working mommas who yearn to be home.  Tell it to stay at home moms who yearn to get away from their kid.  What is the secret?  What did you learn?  How about wives who are married to Christian fellas and are loved but not loved quite like the lady married to so and so.  Their man does not do date night, he does not say sweet things.  Can you teach contentment, Paul, to the ones who are living life so fast that there is no time to breathe?  Bible time?  Ha!  Prayer time?  Ha!  Fellowship?  Ha!  Always gotta go and be doing. More sports, more shows, more stuff.  More this and that, but no contentment.  Paul, were you really content in money and stuff?  Did you really learn to be okay with little and with less?  Can you teach that to me?  Because I often think I have to have more.  I am like the more monster.  Some is never enough.  Cliff works overtime and we miss him BUT the overtime is good because regular pay is never enough.  Well, what is the secret?  I clearly need to know.  We clearly need to know, because we are drowning in discontentment.  So how do we “learn” contentment?  Well, I go to the same source I have gone to for years – my Bible.  The sweetest source of truth ever.  So, what does the Bible say?

Phil. 4:10-13..
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

“I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”  Thankful to get support and help but okay if God was all he had. How could that be?  Verse 13 says through Christ.  Contentment is only possible through Christ.  We are not able in our own broken, sinful states to be content.  We must seek our peace and contentment in Christ alone and through his strength.  Have you asked him for contentment?  Do you even know where you lack contentment?  Clearly Paul was content even in his need.  He had not had every need met, but, he did have contentment.  Paul was content even though he was not being served and loved well by his friends/family.  Paul was content because Jesus was enough.  Wow. Big deal.

1Tim. 6: 6-10

and imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of  all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out.  What would happen if we really believed that? What if the attitude we had about our homes, our cars, our toys, our clothes and our food was that it did not belong to us?  What if we really believed that?  How would that change our contentment level?  Would we ever need more or better if we understood that all we have already is a gift from God?  What would happen to our ability to give if we knew it was not ours to begin with?  Would we pay our taxes with more joy?  Would we readily support homeless shelters and take care of widows and orphans?  Is part of our contentment problem a selfish problem?  We’re desperately trying to hold onto what is not ours.  And what about verse 10?  The love of money causes us to wander from the faith and pierce ourselves with pangs.  That is exactly what discontentment feels like – pangs of pain, shards of glass constantly eating away at your insides robbing your joy.  Never, ever satisfied.  Always in need of more.  So maybe part of learning to be content is learning to hold the things of this world loosely.  Temporal things have no real value in light of eternity.

 And that I believe is the key to contentment.  Finding out what has real value and then vesting your time and energy into that.  What do you value?  Do you value things that will last into eternity or do you value things that will only matter for this short lifetime?

Contentment has to be learned.  Paul learned it through hardship and suffering.  He learned it through loss of material things and his own personal freedom.  He learned to be content with God.  God was enough in every single circumstance.  He valued God and the things that would bring glory to God. I pray that I will find my contentment in Christ alone.  I want to stop wasting my life on things without real value.

So, what does that look like?  Well, for sure it will look like investing in my family.  Discipling my kids and grand kids.  It will for sure look like being mentored and mentoring other women to love Jesus (Titus 2).  It will for sure look like loving my husband respectfully and honorably (Eph 5).  It will for sure look radical to a culture who values everything but Jesus.  Oh God, help me value You so much that contentment and joy is who I am in Christ.

Learn to be content women of God.  You will never regret it.

 

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Constructive Criticism (Part III)

images-3In the previous two posts, we’ve been trying to wrap our heads around the concept of genuinely constructive criticism.  We looked to Old Man Webster to provide some basic definitions.  But most importantly, we have looked to Jesus to teach us how to help our brothers and sisters struggle hard against sin for the glory of God.

Like everything in the Christian life, constructive criticism is only possible in submission to the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit applying the Word to our hearts, minds and lives.  But possible it is, praise the Lord!  And I strongly suspect the reason why I, and so many of you, have dorked this thing up for so many years is precisely because we go about our day-to-day lives walking not in the Spirit but in the flesh.  Living by our own power.  Using our own wit, will and wisdom.  And that produces fruit of the flesh.  In the case of offering constructive criticism, the particular fruits of the flesh that blossom are “Enmities, strife, jealousy, angry outbursts, disputes, dissensions and factions” (Galatians 5:20).  Haven’t we all seen these things result from our efforts at criticism, or our own reception of criticism?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have noticed some trends in my 43 years on earth.  Trends that have dragged my initially well-meant criticism into the trash bin of “grumbling and disputing” (Phil 2:14).  Here’s a bullet list of thoughts and questions that I pray may assist us in discerning how to both give and receive criticism biblically.

  • Is the issue at stake a sin?  If not, I remind you once again to state up front to the person you are offering an opinion or a preference.  If a sin is the issue, follow Matthew 18:15-18 and Luke 17:1-4.
  • If you are noticing something that you think needs some improvement in a brother or sister or church ministry, spend some time praying about it before talking to ANYONE else about it.  God has a way of giving good and right perspective.  I can’t number how many times this one simple practice has kept me from saying a word to anyone as I come to realize the issue isn’t really worth it.
  • Are you talking about the issue to someone other than the person who should be receiving the critique?  The Bible calls this “gossip, backbiting” or “stirring discord.”  Repent!  Confess your sin to God, and then go directly to the appropriate person and seek his or her forgiveness for talking about your judgment / critique behind his or her back.  You may not think you’re stirring discord by discussing with other church friends the improvements you’d like to see in a church minister or ministry, and indeed, your motives may be pure.  But I know from personal experience, sadly, that where two or three are gathered to discuss their critiques of ministers and ministry, there a faction arises among them.
  • God hates one who stirs discord (Prov. 6:19).  God says, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).  Friends, this is more serious than we have let on in the church.  One of the sins I most regret is a time in my life when I was dissatisfied with the direction of a ministry and I sometimes offered a criticism to others who had some stake in the ministry, instead of going directly to the right person to hear my critique.  I was building a coalition, even if ignorantly.  And I now hate myself for it.  By God’s grace I have repented and strongly desire to not slip into that trap again.  Oh, how I need Jesus!  Oh, how I need the Spirit’s wisdom every day.
  • DO NOT SHARE A CRITICISM with anyone other than the proper recipient.  This is the only way I know of practically to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14).  Believe me, if you go offer an humble criticism to a brother, sister or ministry leader, he or she has probably been thinking of it or hearing a bit about it from others too.  Let God do the work in that person.  If God wants to get a message to His people, I have found He often hammers it home repeatedly via various people and means.  Trust Him.  No need for you to check and see how many in the church agree with you.  Just pray, keep the matter between you and God, and then if you sense Divine permission, go offer the criticism.  Then trust God.
  • Criticize rarely.  Praise frequently.  Remember, criticism does not always need to be negative!  If you’re going to be hyper-critical, then make it the encouraging kind of criticism!
  • When you are criticized, analyze very carefully how you responded.  This often takes me weeks of prayerful reflection to assess how I reacted and responded to criticism.  It always reveals much about my heart.  Where was I too defensive?  And why?  Where did I disagree?  And why?  Did I listen more than I talked?  If not, why not?  Wow.  Honestly analyzing how I received a critique seriously exposes pride, jealousy, envy and idols in my life.  Oh for grace to receive criticism more humbly.
  • If you think the critique is of such a serious nature that it may well explode, you might ask a neutral third party to sit in on it.  God typically uses that to calm and humble everyone in the room.
  • Nail down what really matters in a church, and use your Bibles to do it!  This may well be the best advice I can give when it comes to criticizing something or someone in the church.  Knowing what hills are worth dying on, or even worth debating, is so important.  I have seen people that were precious to me leave the church over issues that I considered small preference-type things.  Or over misunderstandings.  Or over a few things in a ministry not being done precisely to suit them.  It saddens me.  Church is not a place for us to exalt our egos, our preferences, or our opinions.  Church exists to exalt its Living Head – the Lord Jesus Christ.  And how shall we do that if we are “grumbling and disputing?”  Especially over personal preferences.

No doubt you could add many more tips and godly techniques.  But I hope these at least get us headed down the right road as a church.  May God unite us around our commitment to seeing His Gospel penetrate our community and world.  For His glory in Christ alone.  And may He be exalted even in the way we give and receive criticism.

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Stephen Cox - In the wisdom of God our King, He has united us to Himself in the Spirit in such a way that no progress in the Christian life is possible until we work through these sinful tendencies in our hearts individually and corporately, as the Church. The need for devotion to the Head, and likewise to the Body, is a MUST in order for us as sinners to partake of His Holiness and Righteousness in daeling with OUR remaining sin. James speaks of the tongue being a WORLD of Iniquity,that which like a wild fire consumes all it touches. We as the Church sin more with our tongues I would wagger than in any other way against each other. May LOVE Gods LOVE that never fails be worked into us all, in order that we may corporately build up the Church, not tear it down. Thank you for these post Pastor, thank you for doing with Gods word what He has called you to do, to reprove, rebuke, correct and instruct us in the right ways of the Lord. Equip us to serve the Lord, and each other. 🙂

Constructive Criticism (Part II)

Good+Choice+Bad+Choice

Do all things without grumbling and disputing (Phil 2:14).

In the last post, I made the case that genuine “constructive criticism” is possible for believers in Jesus who are filled and empowered by Holy Spirit God to love and obey the Word.  As many theologians from the past have said, “What God commands His people to do, God enables His people to do.”  And to remind us of the immensely deep gospel context of Philippians 2:14, consider this quote from the Puritan Powerhouse Pastor John Owen:

“To presume that what God commands, we have power in and of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Christ of none effect.”  

Amen Brother Owen.  Preach on!  The command to the Church to “do all things without grumbling and disputing” flows out of the humble condescension of our Lord Jesus who sacrificed Himself on the cross in our place, and is now raised and exalted to the highest position.  His perfect work for us and in us is the ground and hope and power of any good work we do or ever attempt.

So why then do so many of us believers flub this constructive criticism up?  Why can’t we seem to walk the line between an edifying critique and grumbling / disputing?  Per Webster’s definition, to criticize someone or something constructively is to make judgments about the merits of a performance and express them in such a way that the recipient can infer conclusions, feel encouraged and see the way towards improvement.  Easy for him to say!

Let’s get practical.  To begin, we should notice that to criticize is to judge.  We cannot criticize or offer a critique apart from making judgments and using discernment.  What was good about the performance?  What could have been better?  What good do you see in a fellow believer?  What areas for improvement do you think exist?  What changes might be needed?  And how can I be a part of the solution towards improvement?  This is criticism 101.

Jesus told His followers how to judge one another.  Though pundits often quote Matthew 7:1 to try and rebuke all judgments by all people, in its context Jesus was actually instructing His people in how to offer constructive criticism!  There’s much for us to learn from the Master here.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).

Several principles emerge:

  • Jesus is manifestly not forbidding His people to ever criticize or make any judgments about one another.  See also Luke 17:1-4 to reinforce this truth.
  • Jesus insists His people use the right standard to assess one another.  We know that standard is the infallible Word of God given to us in the Bible.  If you are expressing an opinion but do not have any biblical texts to support it, then make it clear you are merely giving your opinion.  If you are expressing a personal preference not supported by explicit Scripture references, or not backed up by a Biblical principle, then say so.  This kind of honesty really helps ground a critique and guides the discussion in more productive and brotherly ways.  There’s freedom for disagreement in matters of opinion and preferences!  And room to learn from each other!
  •  Never criticize anyone or any ministry unless and until you are scrutinizing your own heart, mind, and life in the exact same way.  My Dad often told me when I first started in ministry, that in his experience people in the church often accuse others of doing what they themselves are doing.  The critique is a cloak.  A mask.  Jesus confronts this very tendency!  A hypocrite is an actor. Hiding behind a mask.  So before we level any criticism at all, we must be searching out our own hearts for similar sins or mistakes or needs for improvement.  Ask yourself, “Do I have anyone looking for this same sin or tendency or pattern in my life who is holding me accountable?  Am I confessing and repenting of any known sin?  Am I willing to admit those sins to the one I am criticizing?  Do I have any real authority, experience or expertise to offer this critique?”
  • We all have specks and logs in our eyes.  Notice Jesus assumes every single one of His followers either have logs or specks!  Those symbolize specific sins or sinful habits / patterns.  But how do we know which one has a massive 2×4 protruding and which one has just a bit of sawdust?  Easy.  If it’s in my life, it’s a log.  If it’s in my brother’s life, it’s a speck.  Do you see how gospel-centered this all is?  If I’m not viewing myself as the chief sinner in the relationships I have in the church, I really should be keeping my criticisms to myself.  Or, better yet, aiming my criticisms at myself!
  • We as a church family should be seeking grace from God to deal with sin in our own lives and help our brothers and sisters deal with it in their lives too.  The goal, according to Jesus, is to “see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  And so we must give criticism very carefully, and very rarely.  And we must receive it humbly.  That’s surely what Jesus has in mind when He continues the instruction with these words:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”  

Wow.  I do not want to be the dog or pig in a church!  God help me receive criticism humbly.  Thankfully.  Knowing I, like all Christians, have blind spots.  God help me not turn and tear a precious brother or sister by my aggressive defensiveness.  God forgive when I have in the past.  God give grace to enable me to seek forgiveness from the torn family member.  God help me receive holy, constructive criticism well, so that I might also give it well.  God fill our church with this very spirit.

Is it any wonder Jesus then concludes this block of instruction on constructive criticism with an exhortation to persistent prayer?!  See verses 7-11.  We have no prayer of offering a godly critique apart from prayer.  And the concluding principle of Christ is . . .

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (v. 12).

Next post will help us with some practical ways to avoid grumbling in the Church.  A criticism meant for only a certain person or ministry far too often grows into grumbling, doesn’t it?  Join me next week for more.

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Stephen Cox - Thank you Pastor for reminding us of these critical truths which will either tear down of build up if not engaged in in the Spirit of Truth and attitude of needful humilty. The story of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven his dept, but then refused to forgive his fellow servant his dept reminds me that God really does expect us to treat each other as He has treated us, graciously. When we judge unjustly we are not acting toward another as God has us, and it stirs His displeasure greatly. Luke 18:21 to 35. 🙂

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