Remarkable Again

At this moment, UN-backed Ecowas troops are poised to enter The Gambian capital in West Africa to forcibly oust ex-President Yahya Jammeh.  Yesterday in neighboring Senegal, duly elected president Adama Barrow was sworn into office.  Jammeh siezed power in a 1996 coup and liked it so much that now, despite losing the vote, he won’t leave.

Meanwhile, in the US of A, a new president was sworn in today in front of an outgoing president. Between them there were polite handshakes, smiles, and pomp despite the ravages of a bruising election and despite holding wide differences on how to govern. The only guns in view were those guarding the now and the former presidents.  The former president is being flown to his vacation after willingly vacating the White House so his successor can move in.  

I never cease to be amazed–and praise God for, what we enjoy in this nation.  Whether your candidate won or lost, despite a new administration, no one needs to scurry for cover.  The winning political party will get to work.  The losing one will continue to publicly and freely advocate for it’s vision.  New parties may form.  Despite this country’s flaws, there’s no place else I’d rather live, and no place else where I’d rather sweat to improve.  Pray for our new president, the congress, our court, our nation: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.  Amen.

Brander, Blogger, & Jesus Follower Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like) nails it

CHRISTMAS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. THANK GOODNESS.

Through the power of the Internet, I am often able to look like I have my life all together.

I know the things to tweet and the things to edit.

I know the moments to Instagram and the ones to crop out like they never happened.

I know what to say in conversations with friends to give the appearance of stability.

But the truth is, all too often I kick my own life down a flight of stairs. I make mistakes. I blow opportunities. I chase distractions and hide. I make a mess of things. In those moments, I fear that perfection is the only path out of the chaos. That perhaps if I string together a few perfect days, I can repay the debts I’ve incurred from a life lived with brokenness.

Only I can’t. I know that. I’ve tried that a thousand times before and it doesn’t work. My track record of perfect living is perfectly flawed.

But then there’s Christmas.

It’s not what I expected. It’s not what I deserved. It’s not what I can comprehend most days. Why?

Because what is Christmas?

It is the answer to the question, “Are you loved?”

It is the answer to the question, “Do you matter?”

It is the answer to the question, “Is there more to life than this?”

Christmas is the answer to the question, “Are you loved?”
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And it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t. The gift of grace fails to line up with everything I know about the world. When you make a mistake, you pay for it with an equal consequence. When you have a debt, someone eventually calls you on the loan. You made your bed, now lie in it. That is how life works.

But not Christmas.

Christmas doesn’t work that way.

Christmas is a gift from a sender who sent himself.

Christmas is a raucous world defining expression of love.

Christmas is enough because Christ is enough.

And it’s here.

Sometimes I try to fix myself. I look at my parade of mishaps, the failures bright and loud and think I have to fix it all. But I can’t. I can’t fix me, with me. And the good news of the gospel, the good news of Christmas, is that I don’t have to.

I can’t fix me, with me. And the good news of Christmas is that I don’t have to.
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In fact, God knew I’d never be able to. That’s why he sent his son. That’s why he gave us Christmas.

It’s a gift.

Never feel your hands are too dirty to receive it. It was sent because our hands are too dirty.

Christmas doesn’t make sense. Thank goodness.

DECEMBER 24, 2014

Urgent Good News for Parents

Even if you start parenting totally green–without any training or input, the job is so hard that you will inevitably seek advice from facebook, articles, blogs, books, friends–or other parents who seem successful at it.

mother scolds her child

Probably no one admits it out loud, but all of us are looking for tips that will WORK.  In other words, we’re looking for guidance that guarantees that our little violators will begin behaving, begin showing respect, and not embarrass us in public.  What if we’re majoring on the minors?  What if something else matters most for Christian parenting?  I found Paul Tripp’s article riveting–and wish I could get a do over!  Get your Bible out and give this a read.  http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/you-don-t-need-more-parenting-advice. 

Does God Smile or Frown at You?

If you follow Jesus, is the God in your mind the one in the Bible?

Growing up, I tried to keep my mother happy.  The old adage, “Momma ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy!” fit; many frowns and severe expressions.  Our upbringings probably influence us even more than our personalities when it comes to whether we tend to be upbeat or morose, to see the best in things or the worst, or we smile a lot or mostly frown.

Maybe our parents’ demeanors and attitudes also influence our picture of God?  God’s god angrynot got a face because He’s spirit, but if you’re like me, a blurry mental picture of God comes together when I worship or pray, one complete with a facial expression.  If you do the same thing, is he usually smiling or frowning?

Some years back it occurred to me for the first time that my caricature has a mostly furrowed brow, a look of disappointment or even rebuke on His face–despite His own claim that He is full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love.  I pondered my sour mental image for some time.  Apart from much disapproval growing up, why this default image?  Maybe because I know how ubiquitous sin is?  How could God not be ticked off all the time?  Managing over 7 billion people–most of whom at any given moment are worshiping other gods, ignoring his commands, rebelling against Him, loving the world and its stuff, and just generally flipping God off, has to liquidate joy doesn’t it?  My children frustrated me at times and I was only a dad to three.  Certainly with the number God has to oversee He has more than had it–and has every right to look disgusted.

God does hate sin.  Wouldn’t you if sin’s price was your son’s tortuous execution?  Don’t mistake Him for some jolly live-and-let-live Santa Clause who chuckles at sin like a father chuckles at his infant daughter throwing food on the floor.  In Christ we’re called to repent of sin, flee it, and make no provision for it; live on a lifelong war footing against sin.  But many Christians who are but are young in the faith or so weak they repeatedly stumble in one sin area, feel pierced by His penetrating eye.  Even mature disciples who tend to walk faithfully can feel like they disgust God because even though they don’t fail much, they fail some.

But a frowning God is not a gospel God for two key reasons (neither of which are that we are really nice folks whom God can’t help but like ).  First, He’s just as happy as can be with the love He and His Son and Spirit share.  He doesn’t need a bunch of us to turn in a perfect performance for Him to be upbeat.

In The Pleasures of God, I think John Piper deals the death blow to a common myth that God created people because he was lonely.  That would mean God is not complete in and of Himself–and more importantly, that the fellowship/love He and the Son had was not satisfying enough all by itself.  In Delighting in the Trinity, author Michael Reeves argues that many Christians think God “…created us simply to get, to demand, to take from us”  as if He needs us.  That’s not true of the Bible’s God whom “…human hands can’t serve His needs–for He has no needs.” (Acts 17:25)  And, if he doesn’t need us, then our poor performance, our idolatry, and our forgetfulness of Him won’t wreck His day.

If God was perfectly content with the love He shared with the Son and Spirit before the foundation of the world and the troublesome people that came with it, why should He now be discontent and angry?  Such a notion is hilariously at odds with the gospel.

Which is the second reason a frowning God is out of character.  It is the sweetness of the good news He fashioned for bitter people that tips us off that He’s not at all a curmudgeon–grumbling about how unreliable everybody is.  Despite knowing full well we’d be a handful, God choreographed a rescue plan barbarically costly to Himself.  This sweet gospel is not just God’s fallback plan to try and clean up after a dense humanity failed to appreciate His awesomeness.  God always does things on purpose.  Just like He worked over pharaoh to show Israel how great He was (Exodus 10:1b-2), the good news is a plan God thought through and decided on before we sinned, before Adam sinned, before the world even existed (1 Peter 3:20), to make sure no one could ever brag about a do-it-yourself salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).  It’s not a whip with which to flog sinners, but a lovingly generous piece of good news in which He punishes His innocent Son instead.  And spares us.

Yes, God wants you to love and serve Him, but His day isn’t ruined when you don’t.  Yours might be, but His isn’t.  For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (Zephaniah 3:17).  Note, these very people whom God says He takes delight in are all still plagued by temptations and sin, are still stumblers, are still prone to cast sideways glances at idols, and are still battling self-centeredness and self-righteousness.  They’re just like us.  And God’s still smiling.god wrath 

Why evangelicals should donate blood in Orlando

orlando blood donorIt’s a golden opportunity.

After ISIS supporter Omar Mateen savagely shot 102 people in a gay nightclub Sunday morning, local hospitals put out a plea for donated blood to help the survivors–most of whom are probably gay.  Evangelicals should be at the front of the line.

For decades, we have been echoing the Bible that homosexual conduct is evil.  Evil is anything God hates so it is bundled together with things like stealing, idolatry, lust, ethnocentricity (fancy word for racism), gossip, rebellion against authority, etc.  Like we do whenever we speak against evil, we urge people to flee it, to repent.  LGBT forces have responded that this is hate, that to speak against anyone’s choice of “who to love” is homophobic and hateful.  We know–and many of them know, it’s a lie.  Here’s a great chance for evangelical Christians to prove it.  Give them blood to help them live.

As for the killer who apparently acted at least in part on his Islamic convictions, we should not be too quick to write him off as deranged–at least not unless we are willing to saddle God with such a label.  It seems clear that the Prophet Muhammad freely raided the Bible for its material and adapted some he included in the Qur’an.  In Iraq, ISIS forces have been executing homosexuals by throwing them off high roofs.  Did you know that in ancient Israel the penalty for the man who slept with another man, was death? (Leviticus 20:13)  In fact, there are still a few Christians who call on the government to impose this kind of punishment.

But what God was doing in ancient Israel–giving them a specific framework to operate as a religious city-state, was for a season and for a specific people/situation.  That’s why when an adulterous woman was brought to Jesus in an attempt to trap him, he did not call the people to stone her as Israel’s ancient laws demanded.  He first invited her critics to go ahead and stone her if they were without sin.  When that shamed them all into leaving, He–the God who can forgive sins, forgave her.

Recognizing our own sinfulness should enable us to genuinely love gay men and women.  It should enable us to befriend them, invite them to our homes, pray for them, offer them the truth…

And give blood for them.

Should a Christian attend a Gay Friend’s Wedding?

Since 5 unelected judges last year decided marriage was theirs to define and mandated gay marriage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, this quandary will be faced more and more by people who love Jesus and are invited to weddings of people they care about.

There is understandable fear that sons and daughters, colleagues, and high school friends, will mistake our convictions for condemnation and take our absence as a slap in the face.  Nevertheless, whenever I’m asked the question I reply “No”.  Kevin DeYoung does a far better job than I do at explaining why not.  In this post, he amends a previous one on attending gay weddings that purport to be Christian.  This one provides the same clarity as the first but also answers “But what if the service is completely secular; is it still a bad idea?”  https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/06/07/should-i-attend-a-homosexual-wedding-if-the-service-is-completely-secular/

Lesbian wedding cake figurine