Thursday, December 17, 2015

He Rules the World with Truth and Grace

It’s not often that a news article brings me to tears, but recently I read one that did.  It’s by David Von Drehle of Time magazine, titled, “How Do You Forgive a Murder?”  It’s about the people who were victims of the shooting at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina last summer, and their families.  We all remember that event, we all remember the hateful racial views of the shooter, and we all remember how the survivors and families bravely forgave him.  But this story told me who those people really were.  It helped me see how difficult it was to forgive, and how their faith made it possible.  Felicia Sanders was in that room when the shooting started.  She was with her adult son and her little granddaughter.  The son, Tywanza, was a guy who Von Drehle says was so joyous and ambitious, “if life was a multiple choice test, his answer was all of the above.”  As he watched this stranger coldly mow down innocent people who had welcomed him into their small Bible study, Tywanza bravely approached him and said, “You don’t have to do this.”  The shooter said, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go,” and shot Tywanza at close range.  Felicia Sanders saw her son die, as she crouched on the floor with her granddaughter.  She is certain that the only reason the two of them are alive today is that they both were so completely covered in the blood of her son, they looked dead.   Sanders forgave the shooter because she felt she had no choice.  If she didn’t, she was afraid the hate that shooter felt would invade her own soul.  She asked the FBI for the Bible her son carried that night. They said it was unrecoverable.  She said she wanted it anyway.  So the FBI’s high-tech lab in Quantico cleaned the Bible as carefully as possible, page by page.  This is how the article ends: “She has it now.  The pages are pink with blood that can never wash away.  But she can still make out the words.”  
We all want to believe that these were the actions of a mentally ill person, and that’s that.  But that same hatred is alive in all of us.  Every one of us, if we’re honest, would admit there is some group of people we take pleasure in looking down on.  Maybe it’s not a particular race, but people who look, think speak, dress or act differently than us in some way.  Prejudice happens when you take something about yourself that you find valuable, that gives you identity, and then look down on people who are different.  You take that difference and give it moral weight.  To give just one example: As a parent, I tend to look down on people who make different parenting choices than I do.  When I see a child running loose in a restaurant or yelling loudly, I think to myself, “We would never have let our kids do that when they were little.  We would have taken them outside.  Those must be really thoughtless parents.”  Do you see what I did there?  I made a moral judgment about someone without knowing anything about them.  I did it because it made me feel good; I am a better parent and a more thoughtful guy.  We all do this.  It just depends on what’s important to your identity.  People who are in great shape look down on people who eat bacon cheeseburgers and never exercise.  People who are hard workers look down on people who sleep late and don’t take care of their lawns.  People who are highly educated look down on people who use poor grammar.  But what if that group you look down on suddenly in some way becomes a threat to your way of life?  Then that smugness becomes hatred. Under the right circumstances, it can become violent: It's a guy shooting into a car full of teenagers because their music was too loud.  It's a tribe in Rwanda committing genocide on their own neighbors.  That prejudice is alive in all of us, ticking like a time bomb, dividing us from one another. So what is the ultimate answer?  Surely it isn’t religion, right?  After all, doesn’t religion divide us?  Throughout this Christmas season, we’ve been in a series called Far as the Curse is Found.  We’ve been talking about what God intends to do through Jesus in this messed-up world.  We’ve seen how Jesus will be a King who gives us the kind of leadership we’ve always needed.  We’ve seen how He will redeem the planet, the same way He has redeemed each of our individual souls.  But here in verse 10, we see something else Jesus will do: He will unite humanity.  How?  Come and get some good news, just in time for Christmas.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Devotional: Repeat the Sounding Joy

Friends, here is the devotional I shared during the worship concert December 13:

We’ve just heard “Good Christians All, Rejoice” and in just a moment, we’ll hear “Joy to the World.”  Some people think joy isn’t particularly spiritual.  I’ve been a pastor a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of people confess a lot of sins, but I’ve never had anyone say to me, “Preacher, pray for me.  I’m just not a joyful enough person. “   I’ve known plenty who should have!  I know that would surprise some to hear. I have a friend who says Christians are people who always seem angry because someone, somewhere might be having fun.  When we think of a righteous person, we tend to think of a fat, red-faced preacher screaming about sin and hell, or a severe old woman with her hair in a tight bun, whose face would crack if she smiled.  But get this:
·       Jesus was a man of joy.  It got Him into trouble.  His enemies accused Him
of being a “drunkard and a glutton.”  This wasn’t because Jesus got drunk or ate too much; both of those things are sins, and the Bible clearly says Jesus never sinned.  They accused Him of these things because they weren’t used to a religious teacher who seemed like He was enjoying life.  Jesus was a man of wit and warmth, a man who gave His disciples joking nicknames, who made some of His more spiritual points with humor, and whose personality was so magnetic, people would spend days just listening to Him talk.  He didn’t fit the profile of a “serious” religious teacher.
·       God is a God of joy.  Genesis 1:31 says that after God had created every thing,
He looked around at it and said, “it is very good.”  Psalm 104:31 says, Let the Lord be glad in all His works.  In other words, God enjoys the things He made.  In Isaiah 65:18, it says that God rejoices in His people.  And in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, Jesus pictures God as a father who throws a party when one of His rebellious children come home.  Imagine that: You bring joy to the heart of God!
·       In the book of Acts there are several stories of people becoming Christians.
In most of those stories, joy is mentioned.  Philip preached the gospel in Samaria, and “there was great joy in that city” (Ac 8:8).  The Ethiopian eunuch got saved in the desert, and “went on his way rejoicing” (Ac 8:39).  Paul and Silas led their jailer in Philippi to salvation, and he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Ac 16:34).  When Jesus comes into your life, He brings joy with Him.
·       Many times in scripture, we are commanded to rejoice.  We are told to enjoy
the food we eat (1 Ti 4:4-5), our friendships with other believers (Ph. 4:1), our physical relationship with our spouse (Pr 5:18-19), and most of all, our relationship with God (Ph 4:4).  We are even told to rejoice in times of trial (Ja. 1:2, among many others).  In Galatians, joy is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.  In other words, if God is alive inside you, you should be a joyful person. That doesn’t mean you always need to be happy. There are times to weep, times to be serious, even times to be angry.  But joy means you have a settled state of joyfulness. It means your default setting is to enjoy life. 
How do we get there?  Treat it as you would any other shortcoming in your relationship with God.  Confess it to the Father.  Ask Him to teach you joy.  He wants you to have it.  Then allow the Holy Spirit to show you what is present in your life that is stealing your joy.  Maybe there is an area of rebellion against God in your life, and that is what is making you miserable.  Maybe you are spending too much of your time around people or influences that bring you down.  Maybe you need professional help.  God wants you to have joy.  Do what it takes to bring the joy of the Lord into your life.
There are probably people here today who have not yet accepted Christ as their Savior.  If you’re one of those people, it’s not surprising if you don’t have joy.  We were created for one thing above all others, and that is a relationship with God.  When we try to live our lives without that, it’s like putting an eagle in a tiny cage.  No matter how much good food, how many enticing distractions you put into that cage, they can’t stop that eagle from being miserable.  Eventually, that bird will die because it is prevented from doing the thing it was created to do: Soar.  As long as you live your life apart from Christ, you are slowly dying.  Perhaps you have found distractions that temporarily keep you from noticing, but you’re dying, just the same.  You can’t experience real joy until Jesus is your Lord.  I can’t say it any clearer than that.
               In the African nation of Ghana, the largest Christian group is the Presbyterian church.  It was started over a hundred years ago by Scottish Presbyterians, and when they would convert people to Christianity, they would tell them they had to act like, well, Scottish Presbyterians.  In other words, their worship had to be very somber, very serious, very reverent.  But somewhere in the last few decades, someone wised up and said, “Hey, these folks aren’t Scots.  They’re Ghanans.  Let’s tell them they can worship God like Ghanans.”  And the only thing they’ve changed is the offertory.  For the rest of the service, they’re somber, serious and reverent.  But when that offertory music starts, they get up.  They smile and clap.  And one by one, they dance—not walk, not run, but dance—down the aisle.  And they really get after it.  They don’t wait for the plate to come to them, they dance up to it.  I’m certainly not suggesting we start that tradition around here.  I’ve got no rhythm, and I doubt many of you do either.  Offerings would go way, way down.  All I’m saying is this: Isn’t it interesting that these Ghanans only smile and dance when they’re giving their money away?  Think about that.  I think that’s a lesson to all of us.  If you don’t have joy, maybe it’s because you’re holding something back from God.  When you give it all away to Him, that’s when the music starts, and your heart begins to dance.  Try it and see.  The reason we sing Joy to the World, the reason we can have joy in the first place, is because Jesus gave it all away for us.  Hebrews says He died for us “for the joy set before Him.”  The cross was bearable because He knew joy was on the other side of it.  That joy was knowing that His death meant spending eternity with you and me.  So we chase after Him, and we find joy along the way.  We live it, we shout it, we sing it, and we repeat the sounding joy of Christ to a world that desperately needs it. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow

We live in a messed-up world, don’t we?  It’s hard to really decide what world problem to be most concerned about.  Obviously, there’s the worldwide threat of terrorism. There’s the devastation of civil war in places like Syria, Ukraine, and South Sudan.  In our own country, there’s a loss of Christian identity, as the Church and the Gospel we believe in seem to fade further from public consciousness with each passing day.  There’s racial inequality and justice for the unborn; there’s the spread of diseases like Alzheimer’s as our parents and grandparents get older, with no cure in sight, and also diseases like cancer and AIDS that afflict all ages.  But one Christian decided he knew exactly what to be most upset about.  He found out that Starbucks was releasing their annual holiday cups, and this year, they would simply be bright red, with no traditional Christmas symbols on them, like reindeer or snowflakes.  He released a video on social media that went viral.  He said this was yet another sign of the persecution of Christians in our culture.  Really.  So first, I have two things: One, it’s ridiculous for us to expect a for-profit business like Starbucks to proclaim the glory of Jesus. That’s our job.  Second, reindeer and snowflakes and Christmas trees have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus or the Gospel He brought us.  And next, I want to steal a thought from John Ortberg: Imagine this gentleman standing in judgment before Jesus Christ, and seeing the Lord celebrating all the people throughout history who have paid the highest price for His cause: He’ll see Stephen, who was stoned to death, and Peter, who was crucified upside down, and Polycarp, who was burned alive, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis, and Jim Elliot, who was speared to death by the very people he came to share the Gospel with, whose killers later came to know Christ through the witness of his wife.  Not to mention all the untold numbers of other martyrs, including 21st century Christians from the Middle East who were beheaded for their faith.  Can you imagine him stepping forward and saying, “Hey, you guys think you had it bad?  I had to drink overpriced coffee in a cup with no reindeers or snowflakes.” I don’t think so. 

The Horror!!!

But there is one positive thing about that ridiculous anger.  It reflects something that is true.  We know that a King is coming; a King who will rule forever with justice and righteousness.  We know His name is Jesus.  And we know that when He claims His throne, He will be unchallenged.  And at that time, Philippians 2 will be proven true: Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  We’re kind of in a hurry to see that happen.  So what kind of world will that be, when Jesus is once and for all King?  As we continue to look at Isaiah 11 this Sunday, verses 6-9 will give us a glimpse of what we have ahead of us.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let Earth Receive Her King

             A Muslim friend sent me a message recently asking why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25, when that likely wasn’t the day Jesus was actually born.  This was a public message on Facebook, by the way, so I’m not sharing any privileged information.  I told him he was correct; we have no idea what day Jesus was born.  There are details about His birth story that indicate it was more likely in the springtime than winter; it almost certainly wasn’t December 25.  But that’s okay.  We aren’t literally celebrating Jesus’ birthday as much as we are celebrating the fact that He came into the world in the first place.  He then said, “His miraculous birth was a blessing to man, and his return shall be even more.”  That surprised me for a moment, and then I remembered that in Islam, they believe--as we do--that Jesus is returning someday.  Unlike us, they believe He was merely a prophet, but they do believe in His return. Still, his comment reminded me of something we tend to forget about Christmas.  
              At Christmas, we tend to get nostalgic.  We watch old movies, listen to songs by artists long dead, and think about things we experienced in our childhood.  This is one reason why Christmastime is especially hard for people who are in grief.  As Christians, we tend to be nostalgic about Christmas, too, but not in a good way.  We focus on the baby in the manger, which is real and something worth celebrating.  But we forget that we have something else to celebrate at Christmas.  Our Christmas story isn’t over; it’s ongoing.  We don’t just celebrate what happened on the day Jesus was born, as wonderful as that was.  We also look forward to the day He will return, and what that will mean for us.  So starting this Sunday (November 29) and continuing until Christmas, I will be preaching on Isaiah 11, a chapter that tells us what we have to look forward to. 
            These words were written 2700 years ago by Isaiah, a prophet who advised four kings of Judah.  In this passage, he foretells a coming King.  These words were written to desperate people, and they were intended to bring them hope.  They should do the same for us.  We’ll be electing a president in about a year.  I have to tell you, none of our candidates fills me with hope for the future.  At best, I look at certain candidates and say, “Well, this one isn’t quite as scary as the others,” or “That one isn’t as much of a train wreck as those would be.”  But here is God saying that a ruler is coming who will literally make everything right.  Who is this King?  What would He accomplish?  And what difference should it make for us today?  Make time to come this Sunday to Westbury, and receive the hope you need.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Gift of Good Counsel

            This Sunday, we’re wrapping up our series called Decision-Making 101.  Our lives are the sum total of the decisions we make.  All of us can look back over the course of our lives and think of very good decisions we made, and see the happiness that we are experiencing because of those decisions.  For me, choosing to follow Christ when I was a young boy, and choosing to marry the person I married, and choosing to go into full-time vocational ministry were all great decisions.  They have set my life on a trajectory that has led to untold joy and purpose.  At the same time, we can all think of decisions we made that we’re still paying the price for, years later.  “Why did I stay so long in that relationship?  Why did I trust that guy with my money?  Why did I quit that job?”  The comedian Jeff Foxworthy talks about how tattoos are bad decisions we can’t hide.  He says the girl with the cute hummingbird on her shoulder doesn’t realize that someday that bird is going to expand and fly south.  Her future grandchildren will ask, “Grandma, why do you have a buzzard on your back?”  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to always make the right decision?  Actually, there is.  The Bible says there is a skill to choosing the right path, and it’s called wisdom.  There is an entire book of the Bible about wisdom, called Proverbs. Near the beginning, it says Wisdom calls out in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares. She cries out above the commotion; she speaks at the entrance of the city gates: “How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge? If you respond to my warning, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words (Proverbs 1:20-23). 
            The book of Proverbs imagines, “What if wisdom became a person?”  If wisdom took on flesh and bone, she would stand in the streets calling out, practically begging for people to come to her and make the right decisions.  She would call us fools for not listening, because she would rather hurt our feelings than let us keep making bad choices.  Wisdom is there for the taking.  How do we come to her?  That’s what we’ve been talking about in this series.  And here’s what we’ve said so far:  If we want to be wise people who make good decisions, we will seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  We will study His Word daily.  We will pray, seeking His will, not our own.  We will ask God to help us understand and interpret our circumstances.  And we’ll listen to the counsel of God’s people.  If you’re not currently doing those things, Wisdom is calling you a fool.  If you are doing those things, when you have a decision to make, they will all come together.  The Bible, God’s answers to your prayers, the way God helps you interpret your circumstances, and the counsel you get from God’s people will all agree on what you should do.  Then you’ll know which path to choose.  So this Sunday, we'll talk about that final way God speaks: Through the counsel of His people.
              Proverbs 11:14 says Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.  This is a constant refrain in the book of Proverbs, and we’ll look at several of those verses in this message.  The more wise people you have advising you, the more likely you are to make good decisions.  That’s a truth all of us can agree with.  But there’s a problem.  Most of us can’t afford to employ consultants and life coaches.  So most of us make our decisions all by ourselves.  Or we take the advice of the wrong people.  How can we be sure we’ll be surrounded by wise counsel?  I hope you'll be there this Sunday, to find out!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reading Your Circumstances

Every day, we make an average of 35,000 decisions.  That’s kind of a terrifying thought, isn’t it?  There have been some really bad decisions made over the years.  Once the executives at the Kodak company had to make a decision about a new product one of their engineers had invented: a digital camera.  They were afraid if they marketed this camera, it would hurt their business, selling camera film.  Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2011.  In 1965, producers at Decca Records rejected a new rock band because they believed guitar music was on its way out.  We know those guys today as the Beatles.  In 1976, 20th Century Fox had signed a young director to make a science fiction movie that none of them thought would make money.  The filmmaker asked if he could have all merchandising rights.  They said he could, if he took a pay cut.  He agreed.  His name was George Lucas, and he has earned an estimated $7 billion from all those Star Wars action figures, video games, and Halloween costumes.  History is filled with stories of bad decisions, like the Trojans opening the gates to that big wooden horse, or Napoleon deciding to invade Russia, or the builders of the Titanic deciding “who needs lifeboats?”

We’re in a series now called Decision-Making 101.  We’ve talked about how God wants to teach us to be people of wisdom.  Wisdom is what the Bible calls the art of making good decisions.  We’ve said that wisdom comes as we walk with God and focus our lives on becoming the people He created us to be, and on helping others know Him.  And we’ve said that God still speaks today, primarily in four ways: The Bible, prayer, circumstances, and through His people, the Church.  This Sunday, we’re going to look at that third way God speaks.  How do we read our circumstances?  Sometimes Christians talk about looking for “an open door” from God.  But how do we know if an open door is one God opened?  Before my wife and I were a couple, she had more than one sincere, devout young Christian man say that God had told him that she was meant to be his wife.  Was that God opening a door, or just those boys’ hormones?  (You probably know my answer to that one.) What about when you have to choose between two options that seem morally equivalent: Like taking a job that pays more, but would require you to drive further than your current job?  What about when all your options seem bad?  How do we know what God is saying to us in our circumstances?  I hope you decide to come this Sunday!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Key Connection

Have you ever done something you regretted?  We all have.  But people of wisdom manage to make good decisions consistently.  They live without regrets because they choose the right path.  In our series, Decision-Making 101, we’ve talked about how seeking God’s Kingdom and Righteousness above everything else helps us become wise people.  We’ve also talked about how God speaks to us through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church. Last week, we saw how we can hear God’s voice through Scripture.  This Sunday, we'll look at how we hear God when we pray. 

In order to be able to hear God’s voice, most of us have to revise the way we think of prayer.  We tend to think it’s presenting petitions to God for Him to consider.  We’re informing Him of our needs, and if we do it often enough, long enough, and in the right way, we can talk Him into giving us what we want.  But that’s not what Scripture teaches.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:8, your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.  Does that mean prayer doesn’t change anything?  No.  Jesus’ brother James said in James 4:2, You do not have because you do not ask.  The Bible has many stories of people crying out to God for healing, for victory over enemies, for answers to difficult questions, for wisdom to choose the right path, and God answers.  So what does this mean?  Henry Blackaby says “Prayer is not designed to change God; it’s designed to change us.”  We don’t pray to convince God to do our will; we pray to prepare us to do God’s will.  He tells the story of a time he bought his son a bicycle for his birthday, then hid it in the garage until the big day.  Then, he had to convince his son to ask for a bicycle.  Blackaby says that God has things stored up for us in His garage, so to speak.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to convince us to ask for the things He already wants to give us.  As Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, we don’t know what to pray for.  We ask for things we think are right, but the Holy Spirit knows better than we do.  This is also why Paul said in Ephesians 6:18, Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request.  When he says “pray at all times in the Spirit,” I believe he is saying, “Don’t just ask God for the stuff you want.  Try to find out through prayer what He wants to give you.”  How do we do that?  This Sunday, I'll offer two suggestions to use when you pray, to help you know God’s will.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Start at the Source

             On an average day, we make 35,000 decisions.  The way we make those decisions determines the course of our lives.  We’re in a series called Decision-Making 101.  Last week, we talked about how God is trying to make us into people of wisdom, which is the learned ability to choose the right path.  We talked about how, if we keep the main thing--seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness--first in our lives, He will provide us with what we need, including the answers we need.  Here’s what I want you to remember most from this series: As we walk with God and become the people He created us to be, we learn to make good decisions.  But sometimes, God speaks to us unexpectedly, steering our lives in a brand-new direction that we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves.  My decision to enter the ministry was one of those moments.  So how does God speak?  And how can we be sure we’ll hear and understand Him?  That’s what we’ll be discussing for the rest of this series. 
            How does God speak?  Think about stories you remember from the Bible about God speaking to people.  How did He speak to them?  In a variety of ways; Sometimes it was through an audible voice, or an angelic visit, or a dream or vision.  Does God still speak in all these ways?  He certainly can.  I have heard stories of people hearing from God in these ways, and some of them sound credible, although I’ve not experienced them myself.  Let me give you a warning, however.  In Scripture, whenever God spoke to a person through a dream or vision, it was obvious to that person that it was God speaking, and it was obvious what He was telling that person to do.  No interpretation or guesswork was necessary.  Recently, I had a dream that I was sliding down a freeway on one of those mats you ride at a waterpark. Instead of trying to interpret that dream as a sign from God, I laughed it off…as should you.
            There were other ways God spoke to people in the Bible.  Sometimes it was through the words of Scripture itself, or through prayer, circumstances of life, or through the counsel of His people, the Church.  God seems to speak most consistently these days through those four means.That’s what we’ll talk about for the next four weeks.  This Sunday, we’ll talk about how to hear God’s voice through His Word, the Bible...and how NOT to make decisions using Scripture.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Decision-Making 101

                Many people reading this are in the midst of making a big decision. Should I marry this person?  Should I ask this person to marry me?  Should I stay in this dating relationship, when people who love me tell me it’s no good?  Where should I go to college? What should I major in?  Should I change careers if it means short-term sacrifices for my family, with no guarantee of success?  Should I stay in a job I don’t enjoy, but that pays the bills?  Should I send my child to the school in our neighborhood, or to a higher-ranked school that is further away?  Should I move so that my child will be zoned to a better school?  Should I pull my child out of the public schools altogether?  Should I let my adult child move back in with me, when that didn’t work out so well last time? Should I move back in with my parents, when I’m not sure we’ll get along any better than we did when I was growing up?  Should I retire now or work a few more years?  Should I try to convince my elderly parent to move into an assisted living facility, or move them in with me?  If you’re not facing a decision like that now, you will be soon.  Life is made up of decisions.  The average person makes around 35,000 decisions every day, starting when the alarm clock goes off, and you decide whether to get out of bed or hit snooze.  The pessimists among us say, “That’s a lot of opportunities to mess things up!”  So how can we know what to do?

            Good news: Help is on the way.  This Sunday, most of our adult Bible Study classes will begin a new book called Seven Realities for Experiencing God, by Henry and Richard Blackaby, two men who have taught me invaluable lessons about discerning the will of God.  Our Bible Study classes meet at 9:45 on Sundays; if you would like to be involved, let me know ( or 713-723-6428).  Also, I am beginning a new sermon series this Sunday called Decision-Making 101.  Here's a little of what we'll be discussing:

            Making decisions well is a skill that the Bible calls wisdom.  Wisdom is different than academic intelligence; the wise person may not score any higher than you or me on his SATs, but he knows how to choose the right path.  Again, wisdom is a skill.  That means it can be learned, just like the ability to ride a bike.  How do we learn it?  The Bible says Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.  He compiled the book of Proverbs to be a guide in teaching us wisdom, the art of good decision-making.  Here’s what he had to say about where wisdom comes from: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Pr. 1:7).  For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.  (Pr. 2:6)  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.  (Pr. 3:5-6)  So wisdom comes from God, and from God alone.  But why doesn’t God just give us the answers Himself?  If He knows all things, why not just send us a clear message on each of our 35,000 decisions?  Because He wants to shape us into wise men and women, the kind of people who know how to choose the right path.  

           In this series, we'll talk about ways God speaks to us, guides us and makes us wise.  But we'll start this Sunday by looking at the main factor we need to consider any time we have a decision to make.  I hope you'll DECIDE to be there!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Power of Community

            The Europeans who came to settle North America found it vast and unexplored. "Self-reliant" was the watchword, and the scout, the mountain man or pioneer, with his axe and rifle over his shoulder, became the national hero.  In the early days the government gave away quarter sections of land to anyone who would homestead, in order to encourage settlement. People flocked west from crowded cities and villages to have their own land at last. Before they could farm the land they had chosen, their first job was to build a sod hut to live in, and most families built them right smack-dab in the middle of their quarter section. The reason was obvious. People who had never owned land before had a new sense of pride and ownership. They wanted to feel that everything they saw belonged to them.  But that custom changed quickly. This chosen isolation did strange things to people. Occasionally, photographers went out to record life on the frontier and returned with photographs of weird men, wild-eyed women, and haunted-looking children. Before long most of these families learned to move their houses to one corner of their property to live in proximity with three other families who also lived on the corners of their property. Four families living together, sharing life and death, joy and sorrow, abundance and want, had a good chance of making it.  Chuck Swindoll, Dropping Your Guard.

            We Christ-followers share some similarities with those early pioneers.  Just like them, we have embarked on this exciting adventure into uncharted territory.  We now have this new life given to us free of charge, and it’s ours…no one can take it away from us.  The possibilities are as limitless as the God we trust.  But just like those early pioneers, we can sometimes get the mistaken idea that we don’t need other believers.  And so you have an increasing number of Christians who are disillusioned with the institutional church and drop out.  And you have many millions more who experience God in corporate worship, but never get any deeper.  To them, church is very much a spectator sport.  Bud Wilkinson, the old Oklahoma football coach, once said, “Football is a game with 22 people who are desperately in need of rest performing in front of 40,000 people who are desperately in need of exercise.”  That is what these Christians experience: They watch a select group of “called” believers serve God while they fight to stay awake, or maybe—if the show is really good—applaud in some way, or even participate.  But they never really get their own hands dirty.  And like those early pioneers, both groups start to get a little weird.  We’re in a series called What the World Needs Now.  God’s plan was to reconcile the world to Himself through Jesus, and He created the church with the primary mission of bringing about that reconciliation.  As we’ve studied Acts, we’ve seen it wasn't just heroic people like Peter and Paul who made the Church great; it was everyday believers who sold their property to provide for the poor, or found a role in God’s work when it turned out the job was too big for the apostles to handle on their own, or took the Gospel with them when they were fleeing persecution and actually shared it with people different from themselves.  That’s how the Church changed the world. 

            And here’s the point of Sunday’s message: Our church can’t accomplish its mission unless it’s a place of true community.  And you can never be all God intends for you to be unless you’re experiencing real community.  When Jesus created the Church, He intended it to be more than a building, an event, or an institution.  He created it to be a family like no other, with a love the world would find puzzling and inviting.  Sunday, we'll look at a story from Acts 12 that shows how deep that love went.  We'll also talk about why you need that kind of community in your life, too.  Don't miss it!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Busting Barriers

When my son Will was very, very small, he and I went to visit my Mom and Dad one day.  We played outside in the country, and I did my best to get him good and tired so he’d sleep well in a different bed.  That night, I took him into the bedroom, where my Mom had set up a little portable crib.  I read him a story, said a prayer with him, and tucked him in.  I breathed a sigh of relief and walked down the hall to the den to sit in peace and quiet with my parents.  After maybe a minute, I felt a presence right at my shoulder.  I turned around and saw Will standing there, with a huge grin on his face.  He said, “I back!” He had never climbed out of a crib before, and he was so proud of himself.    

As we’ve been saying for over a month now, what the world needs now is reconciliation with the God who made us.  Our job as the Church is to reconcile man to God (2 Corinthians 3:18).  We’ve been studying the book of Acts, seeing what it looks like when a church accomplishes its God-given mission.  And as we showed last week, you can see Acts as the story of the Devil putting up barriers, trying to contain the good news about Jesus, and the church continually knocking those barriers down.  A Church with Jesus in charge is like little Will; they just climb out of whatever barrier the enemy sets up and say “I back!”

This week, we'll look at some of the barriers the Church overcame in the days of Acts.  We'll see an amazing story of God pushing through a barrier no one thought would ever fall.  And we'll talk about the main barriers we face today.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015


It’s now football season.  Growing up, I read lots of stories of beaten-down underdogs facing an unbeatable foe.  Their coach would deliver a passionate pre-game speech that inspired his boys to victory: Knute Rockne telling his Fighting Irish that their dying teammates last words were to win one for him, or Grant Teaff eating a live earthworm before his Baylor Bears stomped the heavily favored Longhorns.  When I was old enough, I played football myself.  And I learned a very difficult lesson.  All that “win one for the Gipper stuff” is great for storybooks and movies, but it doesn’t work in reality.  Every weekend, coaches across this country get sweaty, red-faced and even profane trying to inspire their teams, but all that emotion goes out the window the first time those boys get hit in the mouth.  The fact is, if the other team is bigger and faster, and has a good game plan, you’re going to lose, and it won’t be pretty.  Unless you get lucky enough to face them on an off day, or you get a few bounces to go your way.  But…if there is something in you that your opponent doesn’t have, the unimaginable can happen.

Our sermon series is called What the World Needs Now.  What we need is reconciliation with the God who created us.  And God chooses to bring about that reconciliation through His people, the church.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel adequate for that mission.  On paper, it looks like we’re going to lose, and lose huge.  So I’m not going to waste your time by giving you a passionate pep talk or filling your heads with positive thinking, because it won’t work.  What I am going to do is tell you that, in spite of the way things look, we have something in us that the enemy does not.  I’m going to tell you that greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world.  I’m going to tell you that even the worst things that happen to us, God can turn them into good in His plan.  This Sunday, I’ll tell you a story that shows all this happening.  And we'll talk about three things that we need to avoid.   

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Finding Your Role

We preachers can be awfully annoying.  We're always telling ordinary Christians to get more involved in God's work.  We heap loads of guilt on your shoulders, but rarely lift a finger to help you figure out what to do.  I believe God custom-designed each one of us for a specific role in His plan of redemption (Ephesians 2:10 is one of the Scriptures that give me that idea).  So how do you find your role?  I would suggest wrestling with the following six questions:

By the way, I am not talking about volunteering for church ministries.  Yes, we need people in the choir, to serve as ushers, to work with kids in the nursery.  You do these things because you realize that in a family, everyone has to do their part, or because that happens to be your calling.  I am talking about finding your ministry outside these walls.  Too often, people who want to do more for the Kingdom start by asking, "What ministries does my church have that I could volunteer in?”  Instead, the question should be, “What did God create me to do in the world, and what should I do about that right now?”  Here are some questions to help you find your role:

            What are my spiritual gifts?  Recently, I preached a series on spiritual gifts and finding your ministry. You’re welcome to go back and listen to those online (  Or google “finding my spiritual gifts,” read the Scriptures that describe those gifts, take a spiritual gift assessment online.  Ask God to show you what gifts He has given you.

            What am I good at?  I’m only good at two things: communicating and watching three football games at the same time.  One of those things is useful to God’s work, and one is not.  You need to look at your skill set and figure out what could be useful to God. 

            What am I passionate about?  Our interests can be a clue to what God wired you to do.  Whatever He made you to do, when you start doing it, you’ll love it.  It will be something that you would do even if it became illegal. 

            What need in our community grips my heart?  Maybe its homelessness or human trafficking or unwed mothers or prisoners in need of mentors.  If you don’t have a cause, ask God to break your heart over something. 

            Who do I know who is far from God?  Move beyond just family members; most family members are more likely to listen to someone else than to you.  Think about your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your children’s friends and their families. 

            How can my gifts, skills, passions, heart and relationships be used in God’s work?  This takes some thought, prayer and a willingness to write God a blank check.  On my sabbatical, I visited Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Northern California.  An older couple in the church had a son with bipolar disorder.  After a severe episode, they began wondering what their church could do to help people like them.  They started a support group.  They get together once a week for a meal and to share prayer requests and needs.  Occasionally there is a guest speaker.  Sixteen years later, it has become a nationally known ministry.  Half the people who get involved are not church members.  Here at Westbury, Brad and Maryann Bryden decided to start a Good News Club on the campus of McNamara Elementary.  Every Friday, they and other volunteers will meet with students who choose to be part of the program. They teach Bible stories and have fun with them.  I didn’t ask them to do this; they heard about this ministry, said, “Let’s try it at McNamara,” and off they went.  That’s what I’m talking about. 

 What can you do?  Don’t put limits on God.  Don’t say, “I don’t have time to do anything else.”  Just write Him a blank check, and don’t stop praying until you find your place.  Our church needs you.  The world needs that kind of church.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Ah...the old Encyclopedia Britannica.  With a random bust of Napoleon, naturally.

Once upon a time, there were Encyclopedias.  People sold them in malls and door to door.  Parents would lay out hundreds of hard-earned dollars so that their kids could have access to knowledge on virtually every subject.  The books would arrive in a big wooden shipping crate, space would be cleared on the family bookshelves for all twenty hardback volumes, and the next time little Billy Bob needed to know where Dwight Eisenhower was born, or who fought in the Crimean War, or what year the Titanic sank, he could find out without leaving his house.  But it was expensive, took up an enormous amount of space, and was immediately obsolete; between the time you ordered the books and they arrived, stuff happened that wasn’t covered in them.  Then, at the turn of the 21st century, a couple of internet entrepreneurs had a crazy idea to create a free online encyclopedia with articles written not by experts but by regular people.  Anyone who wanted to write an article could do it; after all, everyone is an expert on something.  That way, it would be available to anyone with a computer and an internet signal, and it would be constantly up to date.  In January 2001, Wikipedia was launched.  Wiki is the Hawaiian word that means “quick.”  A wiki is a webpage that doesn’t have an author; instead, people who read it are the authors.  Critics said it would never work.  “You can’t have ordinary people writing articles on an encyclopedia; you’ll just spread the ignorance.”  They underestimated the intelligence of the common person.  Just try editing a Wikipedia page in an incorrect way.  If you went on the page for the Houston Texans right now and wrote, “The Texans are the best team in the NFL,” within minutes, someone would see that and challenge it.  On the other hand, if you wrote, “since their founding, the Texans have won 88 games and lost 120,” and you cited a source like, it would stand.  Today, 495 million people from all over the world visit Wikipedia every month.  It contains so much information, if you tried to put it in print form, it would take over 15,000 volumes.  It has democratized knowledge in a profound way.  For most of my life, and for the years before, you learned things by asking experts and hoping to find the right books.  Now, all you have to do is look it up on your smartphone.  In fact, I’ll bet someone right now is checking their phone to see if I was right about the Texans’ all-time record.

We’re in a series called “What the World Needs Now.”  The Bible says what the world needs is to be reconciled with the God who made us, that reconciliation can only happen through Jesus Christ His Son, and they will only meet Jesus when His people, the Church, start being what we’re called to be.  We’ve talked about the need for a radical revival in churches today, how we need to put Him fully in charge of our lives and our congregations.  We talked last week about how, if we want to transform our community, each of us is must be willing to do more.  But what are we each supposed to do, specifically?  That’s what this Sunday's message is about. 

And here’s the sermon in a sentence: Our church will never be what it was meant to be until we truly democratize ministry.  Let me put that another way: Most members of evangelical churches think, “My job as a church member is to attend, give an offering, and pray, so the professional, trained clergy have the resources to do the real work of saving souls and changing the world.”  And those are the good church members!  Frankly, I think Satan is thrilled with that arrangement.  That way works for a lot of us, too: Ministers like me are happy because it makes us feel important and keeps us employed.  Members are happy because it absolves them of responsibility; they can see their churches as a place to get their spiritual and emotional needs met.  You know who isn’t well-served by that arrangement?  Lost people.  They never get introduced to the One who could save them.  99% of them are never going to visit a church on their own.  Even fewer will meet an ordained, seminary-trained minister in person.   They are left on their own.  Think again about encyclopedias.  For hundreds of years, they seemed like a great idea, the most logical way to get information to people.  Then some computer nerds said, “Why not put the knowledge in the hands of everyone?”  And it worked.  We need a similar thing to happen in our church; we need a Wikichurch, where everyone does their part.  Jesus had this idea two thousand years before Wikipedia was ever even thought of.  Sunday, we'll look at how it happened in the early church, in Acts 6.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Recipe for Transformation

In the days after 9-11, someone published a cartoon that showed two men talking. One said, “I sure would like to ask God when He’s going to do something about all the evil in this world.”  The second man said, “I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”  We’re in a series called What the World Needs Now.  We believe that what the world needs is Jesus Christ, and they will only meet Him when they see a Church where God is fully in charge.  Like it or not, that’s how God chooses to do His work: through His people, the Church.  Last week, we saw what it looks like when a church does that.  They saw God do amazing things, they loved people in an extraordinary way, even giving up their own possessions to help others; and they multiplied constantly. Today, we live in a time in America when most churches aren’t multiplying.  The experts tell us that the only churches that are growing are megachurches, and the only reason they’re growing is that people are leaving the small and medium churches to go where there’s a better show, with nicer buildings and cooler programs (that’s not the whole truth, but it’s true in many cases).  Meanwhile, the group of people who have no religious affiliation at all, the “nones” as they’re called, is growing faster than any religious group.  This has led many people, religious and non-religious, to proclaim the impending death of Christianity in America. Personally, I am optimistic, for many reasons. But here’s the main reason: The same God who changed the world through the tiny, under-resourced, fearful church in Acts is still God today. He still loves people just as much, and He still can do the impossible.  In fact, He loves doing that.  So today, we’re going to see how one church transformed a community in a single day.  We’ll be looking at Acts 3-4.  And here’s a spoiler: We’re going to see a man get miraculously healed, the apostles get arrested, 5000 people get saved, and the church pray so hard, they cause an earthquake.  How did it happen?  And what does it teach us about what it would take to see our own community transformed?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What the World Needs Now

This Sunday, I return to the pulpit at Westbury Baptist Church for the first time in five weeks.  I am so very grateful for a church gracious enough to offer her ministers a sabbatic leave every seven years.  I have enjoyed this time of refreshment so much.  I've gotten off to a good start on my next writing project: a 365 day journey through the life of Jesus.  I've read some great books.  And I've visited some churches that are doing an amazing job of reaching people for Christ.  (If you'd like to read more about what I've been doing and experiencing, check out the last several blog posts).  In these last couple days before Sunday, I am trying to assimilate all I've learned and come up with a list of action steps I want to apply at WBC.  But I am also looking forward to worshiping with my church family again.  And I am excited about the new sermon series I'll be starting on this Sunday, What the World Needs Now.  And no, the answer isn't "love, sweet love."  Here's a preview: 

In a little more than a year, we will be voting on our next president.  I can’t remember an election with so many candidates; it’s going to be interesting to watch how this all shapes up.  (I have some thoughts on how Jesus would choose who to vote for: click here)  I think we should be thankful that we have the opportunity to choose our own leaders, and I urge each of you to take that responsibility seriously.  But I must say, none of these men or women can fix what is wrong with our country, much less the problems facing our world.  If you are putting your hopes on a politician to make things better, you will be disappointed.  What the world needs now is not a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian or any other human leader.  It needs a true Church. No, the Church can’t fix everything that’s wrong with our world, either.  But the Church represents the group of people through whom God does His primary redemptive work on Earth.  I’m not saying we need to convert our nation into a theocracy; the Church has never done well when endowed with political power.  I am saying that politicians can only do so much; what people truly need is reconciliation with the God who loves them.  And that happens through the work of His people on Earth, the Church.  So what the world needs now, more than anything else, is for the true Church of Jesus Christ to show up and do its thing.  All this year, we’ve been talking about what it means to follow Christ in the real world. We’ve talked about spiritual disciplines, finding your role in God’s work, and relationships.  But following Jesus isn’t something you do on your own.  It is supposed to be done as part of a community, His Church.  Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at what can happen in a society when a true Church does its thing. And what is a true Church?  Not a particular denomination or worship style; a true Church is one where God is totally and completely in charge. In the book of Acts, we see the story of a congregation where God was totally, completely in charge.  This small, under-resourced group of people literally changed the world forever.  Sunday, we'll start the series with a look at Acts 1 and 2, and discover what transformed them from fearful, confused, and insignificant to an unstoppable force for good...and what it would take to see the same transformation in us.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

What I did on my sabbatical: Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

For the last church visit of my sabbatical, my daughter Kayleigh and I went to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.  Menlo is just a mile and a half from Stanford University, and less than an hour from San Francisco.  I was actually born in San Francisco; my dad was stationed at the Presidio in the year following his service in Vietnam.  I was born, then a month and a half later, mom and I went back to Texas.  I had been back once since, when Mom and Dad took us on a huge car trip through the West, including a couple days in San Francisco.  I was looking forward to taking my own daughter back there, and the trip did not disappoint.  They had a heat wave while we were there; temps were in the high 80s Saturday and Sunday.  People who found out we were from Houston accused us of bringing the heat with us.  We would have gladly traded our weather for theirs!  We took a boat ride through the bay, rode bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, saw redwoods at Muir Woods, ate ramen in Chinatown…we wore ourselves out, but had a great time. 

Would you believe Kayleigh and I met a couple of fellow UH grads on our ride to the Golden Gate Bridge?  We took one another's pictures.  

            I didn’t choose to visit Menlo just to see Northern California.  The Senior Pastor at MPPC, John Ortberg, is in my opinion the best preacher of the Gospel alive today.  Of course, he wasn’t there Sunday.  I ended my sabbatical 0-5 in seeing Senior Pastors preach; a perfect shutout.  That’s alright; I didn’t actually come to see Ortberg--I can podcast his sermons anytime.  Menlo Park Presbyterian is doing an amazing job of reaching a highly irreligious region for Christ.  I wanted to see how they do things up close. 
            Our bodies were still on Central Standard Time, so it wasn’t hard for  us to make it to the 9:30 service.  In fact, we made it there just before the 8:00 traditional service had ended.  MPPC is the only church of the five I’ve visited that still has a traditional service.  The first thing I noticed is that MPPC doesn’t look like a megachurch.  I suppose that’s because it didn’t start off that way (naturally).  The church has been in that community for over 140 years.  When it became large, the leaders chose not to do a massive tear-down and rebuild (or relocation) to more modern, trendy environs, as is common among megachurches.  Instead, they’ve put their money into ministry, including starting numerous other campuses around the Bay Area.  The sanctuary itself is a very pretty, quite traditional worship space--with actual pews!--except up front, where they have the modern contemporary worship setup.  The space itself seats around the same amount as WBC.  Outside, they have numerous tents with coffee, lemonade and donut holes.  As the traditional service ended, the worshippers stayed around those tents for a long while, catching up with each other (this could only work in a place that has year-round good weather).  There was also an easy-to-locate welcome center, and greeters just inside the front doors. 

A traditional sanctuary retro-fitted for contemporary worship.  Sound familiar?

A look at the nice stained glass windows

            Of the five churches I’ve visited, this is the first where the average age was older than me, although quite casually dressed.  There were plenty of younger people in the packed sanctuary, but they were outnumbered by the gray (or bald) heads.  I wondered if the average age was lower at the 11:00 service (It was certainly a lot older at the 8:00 traditional), or at the Saturday night service.  
            The service was hosted by the campus pastor, Charley Scandlyn, whose job it was to tie everything together.  He came out briefly to welcome us, and invited us to sing along with the band. The worship team was very young and very talented, although the congregation didn’t seem engaged in the singing.  We started with two very upbeat songs, “By Your Grace I’m Saved” and “You’re the Lord Our God,” then transitioned to a slower, more contemplative song, “Your Praise Will Ever Be On My Lips.”  Charley came back up, spoke briefly about the privilege we had to worship God, and invited us to greet one another.  After the handshake time, he reminded us of Pastor Ortberg’s sermon from last week and the new directions it signaled for the church, including a new website and goals to start new campuses, then briefly introduced the new series that was beginning today.  The series is called “I Quit,” about four toxic habits we need to eliminate from our lives in order to live the way God wants us to.  The sermon started after that.  We had been there for 18 minutes.
            The preacher was Scottie Scruggs, Executive Pastor and frequent speaker at MPPC.  It was about quitting the habit of constantly being in a hurry.  That may not sound like a very deep spiritual topic, but he did an effective job of showing us that hurry can be toxic, both spiritually and emotionally, and that God’s Word urges us to slow down.  He cited the story of Mary and Martha, and Jesus admonishing busy, hyperactive Martha to sit down with her sister and hear the Master teach.  He quoted Matthew 11:28-30 (“Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest…).  He pointed out something I have never considered: Jesus speaks of taking His yoke upon ourselves.  A yoke bound two oxen together.  They would have to walk at the same speed.  Jesus, Scruggs said, was inviting us to live life at His speed. And Jesus never hurried. He always had time for people.  He never got impatient (aside from His impatience with injustice and spiritual stubbornness).  I found it highly convicting.  Scruggs urged us to build time into each day when we unplug from the world and practice slowing down.  Take advantage of moments when we have to wait.  Schedule extended time alone once in a while.  Learn to say no to demands on our time. And practice the Sabbath weekly. 
            The campus pastor came back at the end of the sermon and gave a brief introduction to the offertory, including the point that visitors shouldn’t feel compelled to give anything.  The song during the offertory was “You Lead Me,” a very pretty song based on the 23rd Psalm.  At the end of the song, the campus pastor invited us to come forward after the service if we wanted prayer, reminded the church of a “Healing Prayer Service” that day at 12:15, and dismissed us with a benediction based on Psalm 23.  The service took about an hour and five minutes.
            There are several things that stood out to me about MPPC: First of all, there was nothing particularly Presbyterian about the worship service.  There was nothing that seemed artificial, overly formal, or intentionally "hip."  It was low-key and natural, while still being meaningful. I would gladly invite a non-Christian friend--or a friend who had grown up in church and felt "burned" by religion--to MPPC.  Second, the campus pastor did a great job of tying things together.  Elements in the worship service which may have otherwise seemed randomly placed were instead part of a cohesive whole: This was a worship service designed, from start to finish, to convince us to slow down and find rest in God.  None of the other worship services I’ve visited has done such an effective job of being this intentional.  Third, the preaching was excellent, and I cannot over-emphasize how important that is in making a worship service meaningful.  Fourth, I think MPPC’s key trait is its emphasis on small groups and support groups.  We received a bulletin with the sermon title, a few announcements, a place for notes, and a tear-off card for us to place in the offering plate if we wanted prayer, counseling or other information.  But we also received a card listing the small groups on one side and the support groups on the other.  These include: Divorce recovery, AA, Narcotics anonymous, a support group for people in debt, and another for people in job transition (and a couple others I can’t recall).  It also includes a support group for those who suffer from mental illness and their families.  I had read about this ministry in Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, by Amy Simpson.  One thing I’ve learned on this sabbatical: Effective churches these days offer people more than songs, a sermon and a Sunday School class.  There are also programs to help people with the problems they face.  As I look down that list of support groups, I realize that I don’t know a single family that isn’t touched by at least one of those issues.  Of course, most churches aren’t large enough to offer all those groups. But we must at least know how help can be found in our communities, and have a plan for supporting people as they struggle.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How Would Jesus Vote?

If you know much about me, you know that I don't talk politics.  It's not that I lack political views.  And I am not particularly afraid of controversy.  I avoid talking about politics publicly for two reasons: First, as a pastor, I realize people aren't going to take things I say as "strictly my opinion."  To many people, I represent--at the very least--the church I lead, if not God Himself.  That's a huge responsibility, and one I take seriously.  I do have opinions about politicians and political issues, but they are just that--opinions.  I don't want anyone to mistakenly believe that my views are God's views.  Second, I think it damages the Church's ministry when it becomes identified with a specific political ideology.  Non-Christians get turned away from Christ, thinking that if they follow Him, they must also adopt the political views being championed by the members.  The Gospel gets obscured. as people know what we stand against, but not what we stand for.  Christians get more excited about attacking political opponents on social media than they are about loving their neighbors as themselves.  That has happened in my lifetime, and frankly, I think it's a huge part of why we as Christians have lost cultural credibility.  I don't want to be a part of it.

So with that disclaimer, here is all I will say publicly about the 2016 election:

How would Jesus vote?  It's an important question, since everything we do should be done in His name (Colossians 3:17).  That's another way of saying we should do everything in a way that reflects His character; "What Would Jesus Do?" should be more than a cliche.  And let's be clear; Christians should vote.  We are part of a tiny minority of humankind: People who have the opportunity to choose our own leaders, to have a direct influence on the laws that rule our society.  We cannot forsake that responsibility.  So, again I ask, how would Jesus vote?

First of all, you might be wondering if Jesus would vote.  Wouldn't He instead run for President Himself?  Wouldn't He make the best leader?  Of course, but let's be honest: Jesus could never be elected President of this country.  Elections are won by people who play to the base, pay attention to the polls, adapt their views to fit the popular consensus, and spin the truth in a way that is advantageous to themselves.  Jesus, in contrast, refused to do anything that would bring Himself popularity.  He healed people, but would usually tell them to keep their healing secret.  He would periodically say incredibly harsh things that would cause the crowds around Him to thin; sometimes, He would disappear from the crowds entirely.  He could have easily gained followers by attacking unpopular groups like the occupying Romans on the cultural right or the "sinners" on the cultural left, but instead, He relentlessly spoke out against the most popular people in the nation: The patriotic, morally upright Pharisees and teachers of the Law.  In His closest brush with political power, standing before King Herod and then Pontius Pilate on Good Friday, He refused to play ball;  He wouldn't perform any miracles or give any soothing answers that could have saved His own life.

If Jesus were voting today, I believe He would reject any political leader or ideology that changed the law to fit shifting moral standards.  Jesus lived in a nation that had followed a strict moral code for centuries.  He knew that the people in power had misused the commands of God to prop themselves up and oppress others.  If we had lived then, we might have expected Him to say, "Forget the commands of Moses and the prophets.  We're living in a new day now."  But instead, in the Sermon on the Mount, He doubled down.  You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery."  But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).  Over and over, Jesus takes the commands of God in the Old Testament and says, "Not only should God's commands still stand, we should take them even more seriously than our forefathers did.  Don't just obey the letter of the Law and seek loopholes for your own benefit; live to please God in everything you do: Sexually, financially, relationally."  Jesus wouldn't be concerned with being "on the right side of history."  As the coming Judge of the living and the dead, and as ultimate King of Kings, whatever side He is on is automatically the right side.

If Jesus were voting today, He would prioritize the socially marginalized.  During His earthly life, He spent most of His time with the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors who were despised by the people in charge.  People often think Jesus was different from the God of the Old Testament; that Jesus was compassionate and gentle, where God in the Old Testament was stern and wrathful.  Not true.  Jesus said quite a bit about judgment and Hell; there are plenty of sayings of Jesus that we never put on bumper stickers or write in calligraphy in frames on our living room walls.  And God in the Old Testament continually takes the side of the widow, the orphan, the poor and the alien.  In fact, the Law He created to establish Israel was heavily weighted on the side of people who were poor.   When the Israelites lost their nation and were exiled, the prophets made it crystal clear that God judged them because they didn't do all they could to help those at the bottom rung of society.  Christians sometimes rationalize their lack of concern for the poor by saying, "Jesus said the poor you will always have with you, so it's no use trying to eliminate poverty."  But that's a classic case of taking Jesus' words out of context to fit our own purposes.  Jesus championed the cause of the poor, the sick, the persecuted and the imprisoned.  He said that at our final judgment, we will have to  account for how we treated them (Matthew 25:31-46); any good thing we do for those who are lowly, we've done for Him.  When God created Israel, He told them that if they faithfully followed His commands, there would be no poor people at all (Deuteronomy 15:4).  I think it's obvious Jesus would vote for the candidate whose ideas would do the most good for the people who had the least.

Mostly, I think Jesus would refuse to vote for any candidate who appealed to people's fear and anger. The opponents of Jesus specialized in that kind of approach, dominating society by intimidation, prejudice against outsiders, labeling opponents ("sinner" "unclean" "uncircumcised dogs"), and stirring up anger.  Was Jesus sometimes angry?  Yes.  Turning over tables and thrashing merchants in the Temple Courts was not performance art. He was legitimately, violently angry.  But here is the crucial point: He was angry at injustice.  He was angry on behalf of people who were being denied the ability to worship, so that people in power could make money in the name of God.  He wasn't angry because He felt His own rights were being infringed upon, or because He didn't want to pay taxes, or because people who were "different" were gaining power, or because "it just doesn't feel like my country anymore."  Friends, when you support a politician because he or she stirs your emotions, ask yourself, "What emotions is this person inspiring in me?"  If it's fear about the future, or anger at people you don't like, admit to yourself that those emotions don't come from the Spirit of God. If, on the other hand, he or she inspires you to higher thoughts and hopes, inspires you to want to do more for others, inspires you with realistic, credible ideas to address real might be on the right track.

The best news is this: The King is coming.  And even if our nation would never elect Him, someday He will reign nonetheless.  On that day, all the problems our politicians are powerless to face will be no more.  Amen...come Lord Jesus.